Tag Archives: interview

Stuart Aken on Blood Red Dust and the double-edged sword of superlative science fiction

The world’s full of easy reads, with a multitude added to the ranks each day. Stuart Aken refuses to be part of that army of writers. He accepts his books, multilayered and often dealing with topics many people would prefer to ignore, aren’t easy to read. I asked him about his approach to writing.


JBS: Do you have a favourite genre in which you write?

SA: Genre: a double-edged sword. It provides clues for readers to help them decide which books they might like to read, of course. But it labels writers, constrains them and, especially if published by the bigger houses, forces them to turn out barely disguised copies of the same book under different titles for the term of their contract.

I find the story chooses the genre, and most of my work doesn’t fit neatly into any one recognised slot. I’ve written work classified as romantic thriller, horror, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and speculative fiction, but all these are really cross-genre books.

Fortunately, my publisher’s willing to accept my work as it is. Dan Grubb doesn’t insist on me re-writing the last book under a different title. And, let’s face it, a publisher willing to risk a 600k fantasy trilogy, aimed at an adult readership, from an obscure author, doesn’t come along every day. Fantastic Books Publishing is a true partner for my writing and I’m grateful for the support.

Also, genre has a habit of pushing readers onto a shelf where all the volumes are more or less the same. Some readers seem never to step outside their self-constructed safe zones and spend entire lives reading about zombies, alpha male romance, ghosts, crime, or any one of a number of narrow subjects. It’s a self-imposed restriction that clearly suits some people. I try to write for those open to risk, willing to try something different (I won’t say ‘new’, since there’s nothing new in writing, apart from the unique quality of an author’s voice, perhaps).


JBS: You’ve published quite a lot of novels, and had work included in a number of anthologies. What’s your latest book?

SA: A couple of years ago, I was visited in the middle of the night by an idea for a story that begged to be written. It began a science fiction style of trilogy called Generation Mars. The first book, Blood Red Dust, was written through the eyes and viewpoint of a university student producing a dissertation from multiple reports made by various characters involved in the story. Aimed at the genre aficionados, it presents facts and assumes a certain amount of knowledge as standard, so isn’t an easy read for the general reader. Set on Mars around 2074, it details the exploits of a small group of pioneering geniuses sent to Mars to build a colony there and to protect the human race from the chaotic extinction taking place on Earth at the time.

The latest book, War Over Dust, is written in a more accessible style – a standard narrative – and looks at conflicts of culture, commercialism, the dangers inherent in religious faith, and the way custom and tradition force people to act in certain ways. This book is set a further 500 years into the future, but manages to use many of the characters from the first book due to biological advances over that time. Two cultures with vastly different priorities are forced into a conflict that might end one or both. A potential romance between two people from opposite sides provides a bridge that may exacerbate or resolve the possibility of all out war.


JBS: Who are your writing heroes?

SA: The temptation is to reply ‘none’, as I have a built-in resistance to hero-worship. I exhausted the children’s library in my hometown at the age of eleven and was allowed to take adult books from then, even though they were normally available only to those aged fourteen or older. I also read my way through the entire stock of the camp library at one of the Royal Air force stations I was assigned to in my late teens. So I’ve read a lot of books over my 69 years; I estimate the number at around 10,000. I’ve forgotten most of them, of course, but they will all have planted influence and information in the grey matter. Some undoubtedly impacted on my thinking, educated me, and taught me much about writing and about life.

Among the names that float to the surface are Ray Bradbury, Iris Murdoch, John Fowles, Graham Greene, Nikki French, Stephen King, and William Golding. But that’s to neglect hundreds of others.

I was fortunate some decades ago to come across Dorothea Brande’s excellent book, ‘Becoming a Writer’. I now advise anyone who asks me how to start writing to read her book, do the exercises and follow her advice. It’s a great way to determine whether you’re fitted for the writer’s life.

These days, I don’t read as much as I used to. From three to four books a day, I’ve reduced to little more than one a week. My eyes tire after lengthy sessions at the keyboard and screen, and I’m often too weary at the end of the day to read a lot. But I still review almost every book I read.


JBS: A lot of your work’s quite dark, and your science fiction is dystopian. What drives you to that side of story-telling?

SA: There’s a rising voice against dystopian fiction; I suspect that’s because we live in a world ruled largely by despotic lunatics, and people are generally scared enough without having terror brought to them in the pages of books.

Science Fiction, in its many guises, is often a way for a writer to express perceived outcomes. I’m actually very optimistic about the future. Human beings are an extraordinary bunch: creative, kind, sharing, funny, and often wise. Of course, we hear more about the few bad apples, since good news doesn’t sell newspapers. My fiction, however, allows me to serve warning on humanity about the follies and indifference that may overtake us if we fail to address the many problems we’ve created for ourselves, and the rest of the living world. The planet will exist until the natural course of events causes our wonderful, reliable sun to swallow it up in its final death throes. But our cavalier attitude to pollution, over-population, environment, and the development of weapons of mass destruction, along with the newly-created potential monster that is AI, poses a very real danger to our continued existence.

Once aware of these potential barriers to the very existence of our species, it seems irresponsible to ignore it in my writing. In common with most writers, I have a message to spread. But I write stories first and foremost, generally throwing in some hope along the dystopian route I follow in those tales. The general idea is to entertain readers but plant seeds of doubt that might generate concern about the world we’re creating for our children.


JBS: Your website is quite minimalist in style, and I see no overt promotion of your books. What’s your attitude to marketing and promotion?

SA: Ah, you noticed? There are two reasons I fail miserably at marketing my work.

Firstly, experience has shown me the creative mind is a delicate and suggestible state. It’s easily influenced by mood, environment, conflicting activity, and priorities. I write in a sort of semi-conscious state, creating story ‘off the top of my head’ rather than following a plot or recognisable structure. I create characters, have a theme (or more than one), envisage the world my players inhabit, provide a central problem for them to solve, and then allow them to deal with the barriers and issues I place in their way. That’s how my stories develop.

I’ve found that working on promotional aspects of the craft is an entirely different activity, using a different mind-set, which interferes quite strongly with the creative mode. Since I prefer the creative aspect of writing, I’ve tended to neglect the marketing side as a result.

Secondly, until I retired from employment a few years ago, I worked in a number of different areas, some of them involving selling and marketing. Almost without exception, I found these jobs required dishonesty and sometimes downright lies if the individual was to succeed in the way the managers/owners of the companies required. I built up a deep dislike and distrust of all sales work as a result, but was obliged to do the work in most cases simply to support my family. I wrote a short post on that aspect recently, which you can find here, should you want to know more: https://stuartaken.net/2017/07/26/why-im-pretty-crap-at-marketing/


JBS: You say you write for adults; to what extent does that influence your storytelling and subject matter?

SA: I write for an adult readership, so there’s almost always sexual content. For my science fiction trilogy, I’m working with a sophisticated society based on pragmatism and scientific principles, so there’s an acceptance that sex is an appetite that requires acknowledgement rather than restrictive laws. In my fantasy trilogy, there are several different social groupings or tribes with differing attitudes to sex and to nakedness, as we find in the world around us. I think ignoring sexual activity in the narrative would be to cheat the reader of a very real part of normal human life. In my romantic thriller, the entire story revolves around the burgeoning relationship between an innocent, but very bright, young woman and the man-of-the-world photographer for whom she goes to work to escape the control of her distinctly unpleasant father. Sex is an integral part of the lives she engages with in this new world and to exclude it would be to chop the heart out of the story.

In spite of many advances in many areas, the modern world still often looks on sex as something threatening, even unpleasant. We’re animals, with a strong inbuilt biological imperative to breed. Part of that survival programme includes a very rewarding experience in our coupling; our brains and hormonal systems ensure that sex, when undertaken by consenting adults, is probably the most pleasurable activity we know of. To exclude it from fiction seems to me bizarre, and a denial of the reality of what it means to be human.


JBS: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

SA: Many thanks for giving me the chance, Joan. In common with most writers, I can never get enough opportunities to express myself in words. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Thank you.





For Blood Red Dust:



Amazon universal link – http://getBook.at/BloodRed

Link to Publisher’s site – https://www.fantasticbooksstore.com/blood-red-dust-all-formats.html


For War Over Dust:



Amazon universal link – http://myBook.to/WarOverDust

Link to Publisher’s site – https://www.fantasticbooksstore.com/war-over-dust.html


For my other books:

Link to the page on my website – https://stuartaken.net/my-published-work/


My website – http://stuartaken.net/

Twitter link – http://twitter.com/@stuartaken

LinkedIn link – http://www.linkedin.com/pub/stuart-aken/22/1b6/aaa

Facebook Page link – http://www.facebook.com/StuartAken


The Crocodile Princess (II)


Can you hear that sad sigh? I’ve just finished Ian Gregson’s The Crocodile Princess and I feel it has so much more to give. One excerpt on my blog is not enough. The book’s definitely got its place on one of the  Got To Read Again shelves in my study.  I say shelf but it’s actually a bookcase each time and I have five main categories:

  • a Got To Read Again shelf
  • a To Read shelf (I bought over 30 books one afternoon at a local book fair last year and am still working my way through those tho the Lord knows, my To Read shelf wasn’t empty before that)
  • a Was Good, You Can Pass It On to Someone Else shelf
  • an Academic shelf (books relating to my PhD)
  • a For The Flea Market shelf

And then there’s a whole pile of homeless books wandering around and ending up in the most unlikely places. Librarians across the globe will be rolling their eyes. What do I care.

Here’s another taste of The Crocodile Princess for you.


Ian Gregson THE CROCODILE PRINCESS book cover


Keith thanked the pedaleur but said that he had urgent business to attend to at the moment, but the pedaleur said that he would return later in the day and take him to visit some girls, and all of them would be congenial and lovely, and there would be a choice – there would be some Cambodian ladies, but also some Vietnamese, some Chinese and some French (…)

Keith was suddenly shocked by the thought that such a visit might actually be wise – because sex was an activity he needed to learn and this, when no emotion was involved, might in fact be the wisest place to learn it. He was unnerved by the idea that the wisest course could possibly be so thoroughly the opposite of conventional wisdom. But a woman would certainly expect a man to be confident and competent and he couldn’t be either in a field of action he had never entered. (…)

Keith was made aware of the long silence between them when the pedaleur said that he also knew boys who could be of service to him. When they arrived outside Peter’s apartment, the pedaleur looked Keith solicitously in the eye and said that he, too, could be of service, and Keith registered the man’s gold-capped teeth, and his dark skin, the skin of a rural Cambodian, and his powerful arms and shoulders. With that sudden intensity which Keith had noticed before in Cambodians, the pedaleur said that he and Keith could go to a place he knew where, for half an hour, they could be heureux, and then he would pedal Keith tranquilly along the river, so that he could be quiet and peaceful. And this would cost only one American dollar. Keith remembered it was Sunday morning, and thought how different this was from the church-going Sundays of his Lancastrian upbringing.


(once inside Peter’s apartment, he is surprised to find a married woman there, Edith. Surely those two weren’t… were they??? This is me, Joan, paraphrasing the section I’ve omitted. Keith takes in the compromising scene, then…)


Several desperate words which hated women, which he had heard used mechanically, obsessively, during his national service, and which he had found himself using then, during that time, crowded into his head and shouted.




  • Ian, would you say that every writer is willingly or unwillingly also a politician?

All literature is inevitably political in its implications, but some forms are more explicitly political than others. In lyric poetry the politics is only implicit; the short story also has a tendency to occupy a personal rather than a political space. The novel is the most political of literary forms and the greatest novels (by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Toni Morrison etc) evoke a whole society.


  • some believe that it is impossible to teach creative writing. What’s your stance on this?

I taught creative writing for a long time so I’d have to declare an interest there. It’s certainly possible to teach writing techniques connected eg to narrative voice. I’d also hope that, as you teach such things, you instill a love of literature in general.


  • how do you feel about commissioned writing?

Nice work if you can get it, though these days I wouldn’t want (much) of it.


  • what was the hardest aspect of writing The Crocodile Princess?

Inventing comedy ideas that were appropriate,and good enough, for Peter Cook to speak.


  • to which extent does the final book correspond to the original you had in mind before you started writing?

I had a broad outline in mind which the novel does fulfill, but it developed a lot on the way and that’s one of the most gratifying aspects of writing.


  • where would you place yourself along the continuum of novelist-types: meticulously planned before I sit down to write — start writing then go with the flow?

I’m somewhere in the middle of that – I have a general idea and quite a number of specific ideas about plot and character and individual scenes, and images,etc, but the great joy is moving along through those and finding it expand and acquire its shape.


  • literary criticism: science or art? and why?

It’s a combination of the two. I do think that novelists and poets should be aware of Derrida, Foucault, Lacan etc because that’s among the most important thinking of our time.


  • why Cambodia: what is unique to this setting regarding the requirements of your novel?

It’s fascinating, beautiful place which got caught up in some major political events.


  • Crocodile Princess. two versions of the story; the  Cambodian (princess swallowed up by a crocodile) and the Dagenham version. The theme of secrets/masks, origins, double/parallel identities, public/private faces (Yuri, Dudley, Joe smoking opium to retreat from his mundane life, Edith). Unreliable surfaces, déjà vu, illusions/magic. Dialogical identity. There is a lot antagonism/tension caused by these clashing identities and their individual objectives within the plot; also:pieces of information like poker chips, owned and coveted and passed around by means of your mischievous literary style. No one seems truly happy; all trapped in their own identity crisis. dreams, illusions, nightmares…  is the title of the book symbolic merely of the ‘paranoiac petty-mindedness’ of the diplomatic community,  or of the human condition in general, in your view? To which extent is the novel a mask YOU wear to play beak-a-boo with the reader?

Well these are the bits and pieces we all work with as novelists aren’t they? And the most important thing is that they are ambivalent and polyphonic so that they can say a wide range of things at once and so go some way to evoking the beautiful mess that we live in.


  • in the novel, we hear more than once about the inadequacy of rationalism to do justice to the intricacies of human thought or to bring about some form of inner (dare I use the word: spiritual?) peace. What is your personal take on this issue? how satisfactorily are you able to function and connect to other minds in/of Western culture? Have we been led astray? How does rationalism affect you as a writer AND critic?

I don’t regard rationalism as separable from other kinds of cognition: it’s a label we give artificially to a form of thought that is thoroughly intertwined with other forms and works alongside them to help us understand our experience.


  • humour: Do your students ever get the chance to laugh in your classes?

I’d really want them to laugh but I’m not funny enough to make them laugh as often as I’d like.


  • What’s on your bucket list that you haven’t done yet? Do you have plans to do it yourself or will one of your characters see to it for you?

Really that’s my current project, where I’m combining different literary forms, – poems, short stories, flash fiction, and an essay in a sequence focused on a single subject (in this case about advertising).


The Crocodile Princess. The description on the back cover fits so I won’t try to outdo it, I’ll simply repeat it:

Fast-paced, witty, full of intrigue, misdirection and set in the heart of Phnom Penh in an extraordinary moment of history, The Crocodile Princess is a gripping read from the highly accomplished author of Not Tonight Neil.







Daily Bread (though once a week would do)

loft 17

INTERVIEWER:  How did you get your background in the Bible?

FAULKNER:  My Great-Grandfather Murry was a kind and gentle man, to us children anyway. That is, although he was a Scot, he was (to us) neither especially pious nor stern either: he was simply a man of inflexible principles. One of them was everybody, children on up through all adults present, had to have a verse from the Bible ready and glib at tongue-tip when we gathered at the table for breakfast each morning; if you didn’t have your scripture verse ready, you didn’t have any breakfast; you would be excused long enough to leave the room and swot one up (there was a maiden aunt, a kind of sergeant-major for this duty, who retired with the culprit and gave him a brisk breezing which carried him over the jump next time).

It had to be an authentic, correct verse. While we were little, it could be the same one, once you had it down good, morning after morning, until you got a little older and bigger, when one morning (by this time you would be pretty glib at it, galloping through without even listening to yourself since you were already five or ten minutes ahead, already among the ham and steak and fried chicken and grits and sweet potatoes and two or three kinds of hot bread) you would suddenly find his eyes on you—very blue, very kind and gentle, and even now not stern so much as inflexible—and next morning you had a new verse. In a way, that was when you discovered that your childhood was over; you had outgrown it and entered the world.

(from an interview given to Paris Review, 1956)

Children cheating. Love it. And so true! I’ve touched on the topic myself:

Sunday school, 1974

We’re baptised but it doesn’t really mean anything. We kind of mutter a prayer on a Sunday before we eat dinner. That’s it. And we’re supposed to say prayers before we go to bed, but no-one ever checks and I’ve forgotten the words at the end.

Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look upon this little child…

Then I la-de-da the lines I can’t remember and then it ends something like;

If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Something like that. But he never gives me any of the things I ask for. You know what grown-ups are like.


On a Sunday we have to go to Sunday school. They never go to church, but they insist on sending us to Sunday school, don’t they. Cos Wendy and I are Brownies, we have to go dressed as Brownies. It’s really boring but we can’t say we don’t want to go. One particular time, the nearer we got to the church, the less we wanted to go, so you know what we did? We walked around the church block until the service had finished and the people started coming out, then we went to the sweet shop and spent our tuppence on sweets. They never found out. They’ve never once asked us what they talked about at church, so we know they’re not really interested.

Do I believe in God? Yes, of course I do! Well, I think I do.

One last word, 1976

Am I like them? I have some things in common with my mother, yes, that’s true. I got my brains from her, she says. She could have done great things if she hadn’t started having kids and got lumbered. I’ve got her big feet. I hate my feet. But other than that, I don’t think we’re similar. I hope not.

I wouldn’t say I was really happy but then again, I wouldn’t say I was really sad. I don’t think about it like that. It’s just a normal childhood like anyone else’s. We’ve got our own house and we’ve got a car… I’ve got some nice clothes. Maybe… don’t tell anyone I said this, but… maybe if I had a nicer family… nicer parents, like… But anyway, it’s not over yet, not quite, and maybe it’ll get better. Yes, I hope it’ll get better at the end of the summer. The angels will roll the stone away like they do in the Easter Song… and if not, well, when I’m grown up, it’ll be my turn.

The angels rolled the stone away,

The angels rolled the stone away.

It was early Easter Sunday morning,

The angels rolled the stone away.

Jesus had a sad life as well, didn’t he? I mean, they killed him in the end, didn’t they?

(from Long Time Walk on Water)

Offstage (II)

I’ve moved, with utter conviction, too far from the centre to (want to) return. The margin. The margin and the Underground. That’s where it is happening. Where I feel excited.


Two nervous breakdowns, one attempted suicide, hair loss, one tooth…

                                                                 The strongest pain I feel is just me

                                        something like this but still not near enough…


They told me, Get your ideas down on paper. Called it, what was it again: a therapeutic measure. I just made it up and made it sound nice, plus She’d copied some of what She writes in Her diary, Use that, She’d written and when I read it it could’ve been me, in other words maybe.

Those therapists are all so bloody full of themselves they haven’t got a clue. They think A + B, you’ll end up with C. In this case maybe, or something approaching, but what about, say, her in Isabelle Morton? What if you end up with a letter of the alphabet you’ve never even heard of, then what? Are you gonna lie to me?

Analyse (what they think are) my thoughts, proclaim or suggest (depending); you are, turn the mirror to face me. Their You Are becomes my Am I? I take a good look, touch my cheeks, unbelieving. What is it they say: you say pig but it comes out sausage?

Some like it Hotter… Erotic Diva meets brainy li’l nympho

Erotic Diva Blakely Bennett had me on her site in the autumn:

What genre is your book? Do you write in other genres as well?
My books have been classified as women’s fiction, post-colonial fiction, British fiction. Adult fiction. Verses Nature won’t be easy to classify. I don’t mind as long as it ends up in the top ten (lol). Verses Nature has, as an overall theme, and in common with all of my fiction, the notion of self-interrogation and growth. It’s about carving out space for personal development. This can’t be done without also coming to terms with one’s sexuality – I know, I’ve tried! Sexuality, thus, plays a significant role in all my fiction. Doesn’t mean I write what generally goes as erotica, though. I don’t. I once tried to get a man to understand what I meant by the term intellectual erotica. When he still couldn’t get it, and I was at the end of my tether, I barked ‘high-brow rumpy-dumpy!’ He got it.

One of the main characters in Verses Nature is an old man called Tatar. Outspoken, verging on the vulgar. He’ll say:

Men shouldn’t assist at childbirth if you ask me. She’ll be screaming, farting, crapping, saying vile things to and about you and you, idiot, are sposed to just stand there saying Yes darling as you squeeze her hand or mop her friggin brow? Then there’s the pushing and gushing and out it plops as from a sewer. Puts a man off for life. You’ll never really want to be in there again, But we’re not allowed to say that about wifey, are we?

He’s full of tips:
You should get Him not to wash for a while so he stinks of man, then you give him a royal blow job, he’ll spray like a whale, I swear.

Sexual, yes. Erotic? You tell me.

For more of the interview, click here.


Screen shot 2014-10-25 at 12.49.10 PM

between the virtual and the real, between knowledge and doubt. Between the meaning, and consequences, of the ‘I’…

mutatus revised front cover

‘This is quite simply one of the most extraordinary and brilliant books I have ever read. Dark, disturbing, and forensically brilliant at dissecting twenty-first century sexuality. It has everything Anais Nin and Brett Easton Ellis have, wrapped up in the same incredible package.’ (Amazon)

‘Of all the books I’ve read, this has divided me against myself more than any other.’

‘This goes beyond erotica, beyond the culturally censurable. It is sheer beauty as was Henry Miller at his most liberated.’  (Authonomy)

‘I jumped at the chance to read more by this obviously talented and original authoress. I was not disappointed – ‘blown away’ would be a more appropriate description. This is an abridgment of a novel which pushes the boundaries of women’s literary fiction to its limits – a D.H. Lawrence type moment (…) I can’t say enough good things about this novel. This is a haunting work which will stay in my head for a long time.’

‘This is such a surprise! Wonderful writing, scintillating ideas and rich use of language and character. This is something I would happily read and buy copies for all my friends (maybe not my Mum, though).’

‘I don’t know what tablets you’re taking, but do, please, keep taking them. They seem to be working wonders. If you can get them on the NHS, please let me know.’  (Brian L.)

UK’s leading magazine Female First finds out more.

MUT@TUS.  available at bookstores including:


Book Depository

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon France

Amazon Germany

Deathbone by Penny Goring

This woman kinds of scares the shit out of me. For all the right reasons. Penny Goring. Rouge allure palpitante. Like it or love it. Actually, I don’t even feel up to summing her up. I’ll let her get on with it:


Every word is an object I can see clearly, I could draw them ALL… the things it can say when its on its back… some are purely from the sound if you pinch it or what it does when you spin it in circles (it throws shadows, i can see them) (oops, now it’s throwing up) or take it out for a visit somewhere special and it turns purple & smells posh


It would take guts to hand over the power one can have, as a woman. You can be any sex you like when you write. Or none at all. You can be a tree


I’m facing a brick wall built by men, by tradition, and I find my own ways to dissolve the grout (…) Wall built by dullards. My only tool is the slippery part of me that is very me. Very me speaks my words, not theirs. Very me speaks their words in my own way. Their words – used by me – can become my words.


Penny Goring Deathbonevag bone connected to the heart bone
heart bone connected to the hate bone
hate bone connected to the love bone
love bone connected to the death bone
death bone connected to the birth bone
birth bone connected to the lonely bone
lonely bone connected to the fuck bone
i love the skyy i fuck with
i fuck death with my love bone
i fuck love with my lost bone
i have never been unfaithful to the skyy

“Love this so much. The last line, “i have never been unfaithful to the skyy” left me with my mouth wide open. Awesome sauce.” (Frausto)


Get back to her blog if you know what’s good for you.

I once, I am and then: what, William Thomas?

 one manner of hunger cover picture

Unknown great man William Thomas Johnston. Aching, but never giving up. Suffering into truth, Aeschylus-style.
Take the time to visit his blog. Take the time to buy his book. He’ll be set reading one day and if not, he bloody ought to be.
You say you once saved a man’s life but that’s not true. How can you know how many other lives you’ve saved unwittingly? And as for that ungrateful bastard who didn’t even think to tip you after you had saved his life, don’t let it get to you. The number of people I’ve said Hello to, who’ve turned around and looked at me as though they’d just been spat at. Reason isn’t always reasonable!

‘I once, I am, and then’: came more:
God is nothing without his courtroom. He is a very bored, arguably theoretical being.
I have always refused to be brought to my knees by these things any longer than is necessary to rest.
When I write, I pretty much consistently ask myself if the average slightly drunk person could pick up this poem and read it as well as enjoy it.
The better I get, the more I must improve. The more often I write only adds to how often I should.

(from the private writings of W.T. Johnston)


I once flashed three hundred and fifty people
Long blonde, curvaceous, thick white stockings, thick everything in a knee-length white dress “a most unladylike way to sit,” said the adjudicator, but God did the crowd blanket me in smiles
I once climbed peaks
Arms burning worse than the sweat in my eyes, scrambling, rocks slipping, legs dangling, prayers in every gasp as I strain for another handhold, toehold, for a small tree’s roots to hold, no rope
Bleeding calluses, scratches upon thick skin, upon blisters, a grasp so strong I once straightened a bent screwdriver with my bare hands
I once saved a man’s life
Blue face, unconscious, screaming girlfriend, frail marine in my arms, squeeze, one palm a fist the other laid over it, push, choking on the steak I served him, colors returning to flesh, I kid you not when I say he finished his meal after returning to the world and did not tip
I once, and with all sincerity, asked a doctor if I was dying
Clothes cut away, naked, bloody from head to toe, three men asking me to tell them where it hurt, probing hands over an entire body of agony, weeks with a scab for a torso, months of shattered leg and fractured collarbone, and a lifetime of double looks crossing the road
I once lost my mind
Blinding white light in my insanity, Jesus delusions, psych ward scrambled eggs, so sleepy psych meds to this day, voices insistent in an empty room, electroshock therapy, missing years, foggy memories, and a decade wasted adrift in the groggy
I once wrote a book
Paper bound existence, agony adrift in its pages, catharsis, grey matter smashed between covers, lifetime ambition, one hundred copies sold, three hundred sixty five days of sweat, no best selling miracle, merely typed pages for sale, merely my thoughts for sale, merely paper
And what now
Lock myself away, the trap door to my hermitage the next great American novel, beer every night all night until the sun rises and then more, budget blown on camels with no humps, studies placed on classes with a career one merely settles for, fistfuls of friends so true you question their presence, life so long you’re closer to the end, welcoming death’s shadow with patience, budget so tight it bursts the zipper, and when the zipper bursts you merely wear the one pair of shorts, belly growing fat and stretched unrecognizable, hairline so far back it leaves old photos a joke, hands that cannot recall being held
But enough of what now, enough of what was, what next
Find it, throw myself from a plane with my life wrapped in silk, kiss a beautiful creature, carve at a hunk of wood for three weeks and give it to a stranger, sell seashells to tourists, sing badly on a street corner until I have enough change for dinner, dance badly until I collapse, turn my back on every sharp-beaked tentacled memory, mean it when I wrap arms around someone, climb a far-off mountain until I am the first white man anyone has ever seen and tell them all how much I love them, pick an Indian god and find her, pick a Native American god and bring the animal back to life, swim hard every day until I can dive to the bottom to sit cross-legged in silence, stop seeing potential in my bank account alone, fast until I am flush with food stamps
I do not know if I can accomplish all of these things but I will unsheathe the moment again
As surely as I looked just like my mother in drag.


(William Thomas Johnston, published in his blog, One Manner of Hunger.)

King doth come: who’s gonna clear up the mess?


I was told that The Lord’s Prayer and the text below, Prophets of the Streetlife, have a lot in common… Work it out for yourselves. Brain slobs and/or fundamentalists, back off. I don’t care what you lot think.

Religion and politics: a bunch of rapine, gavel-banging bigots, as the best a nation has to offer in the way of cultural diversion? You tell me… And diversion from what? You tell me…

Give us this day our daily bread  tho the Lord should know we’ll only have time for him once our basic needs are satisfied, but what does the church say about the basic need I keep referring to and which has the dim up in arms? They will insist on mistaking my sincerity for shallowness. Can’t help them. I’ve often wondered why and how the colour purple is at one and the same time the colour of sensuality and the colour worn by top-ranking clergy…

Give us this day our daily bread: watching holiday-makers befall the breakfast buffet once. Had the urge to collude with the hotel to bar their entry a day later. See how long it’d take them to get worked up. Then let them in, only to  discover: a single rasher of bacon, an egg, the corner end of a baguette and a cup of cold tea. All those hungry mouths – and fists – will have to work something out… Hidden cameras filming the rest, peeping deep  into the true heart of our kind.

At times they tell us: think (i.e.: reason), at times: believe (i.e.: don’t think). Most of the time we only believe we’re thinking, or think we believe… and behind it all the permanent attempt to mask the mere finger puppets we all are, hungry for reasons to believe anything at all… Won’t take Their finger out without a fight. Maybe I should be flattered by so much attention: seems like I’m worth fighting for after all!
Still have to clean up your own mess.

Till the next time. Yours, Tatar.


There she stood, hiding; the mother without child, the voiceless woman full of anger. Her smoked nails hammered her evaporated heart snivelling in the grotty kitchen of disaster. Her face, depleted, cauterised. Her eyes wheezed shame at what she knew would happen to her daughter, again and all over again.
Candelaria was a child with a lost childhood, a girl with volcanic bruises, ache squawking in her voice, apocalyptic rages and the teethmarks of her father on her breasts; a child whose nipples hardened when father’s fungous tongue licked them whilst she cried, bled, whilst he totally ignored her. Candelaria’s father had taught her how to fuck. Her mother had taught her how to swallow and how to quench scars with make-up. Scars that could never be silenced.
She was sitting on her chair, a butterfly without wings, the rouge on her mortal cheeks accentuating the surviving beauty of her face seeking the remains of her soul in the grey mirror image. Her black olive eyes smelled the scotch in her father’s mouth, and their lobotomised stars drowned like despairing coins in forgotten fonts. His torturing footsteps she could hear, his collapsing breath she could feel and she had stopped begging for mercy long ago, fleeing behind the lie that it was Eligio swashbuckling between her legs in order to get wet, at least, wet at least.
Mother overheard that violent bed of guilt, sputtering back and forth, sick sweat dripping, the rainy sough echoing through the daughter’s stolen body of gold. Next time I will do better, thought mother. Next time I will help her, take a pan. She knew she would not have the courage, but the illusion would calm her down, her conscience, at least her conscience.
Candelaria urinated fruitless spermicide, her mildewed brothers and sisters, before she reapplied the lipstick which had stained the maggoty nails of her genitor. In the glistening streetlight she could be free; she learned how to laugh on stigmatising streets where succulent condoms and paradisiac joints withered like the concepts of innocence and purity.

(from Prophets of the Streetlight, by Laura Gentile, published in Until Forever Becomes the End.)

Illustration by Jean-Paul Clayette

Laura Gentile replies:

‘The bruised skin of the inner nature next to the graved conformity of human surfaces. Her colourful body amputating itself from enslaving dictations, finding herself in the perversion of the cross’ silhouette, becoming flesh, getting hold of her soul by getting rid of the cross’ devouring burden, to find divinity in her proper features, unscrutinised, un-flagellated, de-victimised, humanised. She can grasp herself with her senses without the need to believe in something higher than herself, she can get there by herself, with her hands, her heart, her mind, not with a cross, in her case. Your honesty is a needle awaiting the reader in its detail.

I think it’s crucial to be able to have the choice of identification/acceptance or of deviation and an alternative quest for the self. What if it can’t be found where it is ‘supposed’ to be? We must tear ourselves from symbols that de-humanise us or constantly remind us that we need to be punished, that we need to walk with aching shoulders and that death awaits us in the end: where and what is human life in all this?

The cross you chose is very interesting; part of a mechanism (not humanism) attached to and controlled by a chain, holding it at arm’s length. It is so unnaturally smooth, basically the knife did a good job here, the surface looks ‘perfect’, no sign of blemishes. For me, it looks like an instrument of penetration that can be grasped, turned upside down, like a weapon that sends untrustworthy invitations, its double in a human form: unprotected, vulnerable and emotionally forced to be pinned down. In a sexual context, when it comes to the father (why use a capital f for where there is a father there is a mother), the cross as a photographed phallic symbol seems to be omnipotent and ever-lasting, always ready, always hungry. The way the woman in the painting gives pleasure to herself using her hands/fingers in this case, assuming the same position/form as the cross itself whilst she ‘drowns’ them (her hands).

(Hands as symbols of action. His are nailed. Hers are free to roam… She may and does act whereas all he can do is die…)

Are her hands free to roam because his are nailed or are his hands nailed because hers are free to roam? Either way nails are seeking and creating scapegoats and they play a very violent and senseless blame-game. Only when they succeeded in cornering human flesh onto a cross do they hold ‘it’ up high, in ‘exemplifying’ torment and death, not in life and action. What is this passion we speak of?’

The next big thing

Each Wednesday, invited authors answer a set of questions about their writing-in-progress, then go on to invite further authors to continue the discussion the following week. Thank you, Mike Horwood (of http://mikehorwood.blogspot.fr/) for tagging me. I in turn, propose a number of exciting authors for you to discover at the end of this post.


1. What is the working title of your next book?

Verses Nature. There’s a deliberate word-play in there; verses/versus, as I will explain later in answer to Question 3.

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?

I’ve had this really ‘big’ novel in me for a long time. The thought – fear – of not being able to rise to the occasion made sure it remained just a dream for more years than I care to remember. I’d say for well over a decade, actually. It was supposed to be some kind of all-encompassing cosmic/philosophical/theological/erotic opus, but I hadn’t a clue where to start. And with hindsight I think I was far too young.

I suppose the idea, to put it succinctly, came from the close observation of my social environment; the tensions I witnessed everywhere in human dealings with one another, the extent to which assumptions may cripple understanding. So I guess I could say I took a good look at myself, at my world, and thought: what does any of this mean?

As a plurilingual person, writer and researcher, I have long had a bone to pick with language, with the way it enslaves us. Two words to be handled with extreme care: ‘science’, ‘is’…Thinking about all of this, sucking words clean and finding them tasteless, meaningless, has led me to question the whole business of naming and defining (up pops the verses/versus word-play again).

3. What genre does your book fall under?

My answer to this question is a continuation of the question above. I don’t want Verses Nature to be immediately identifiable as belonging to any specific genre, since these, too, are part of the naming process I take issue with.

If you think about any word for long enough, try to track it back to some starting point – and fail – the word loses its meaning. In its own right, what is a word but mere noise? We have to look backward and forward, to culturally situate it, for it to yield any sense whatsoever. And this sense may always be contested. I’ve often heard: that’s not a novel/poem/add-any-other-name-to this-list. And I then think: why not? And so we come back to our assumptions about what is (not) permissible, do-able, and I don’t like that. If you stay within such endorsed frames, you’ll never break them down. What I try to do is to put such terms to the test.

One thing Verses Nature is not: chick lit.

4. Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie version?

Funny you should ask that question. Various people have flashed across my mind. I need a white male, late-middle-aged, overweight, overbearing, greasy-yet-seductive. Jack Nicholson? Robert de Niro? I need a smart, beautiful black woman, late forties. Halle Berry? Maybe a singer who can also act? Lauren Hill, perhaps? I don’t even know if she can act, but I like her aura. I need an equally smart German (looking) female, same age. No idea who’d play that role for now. One of my favourite actresses: Glenn Close, Meryl Streep?  Kate Winslet, perhaps? Maybe it would be better to have an entire cast of newcomers. Could be their big break. And mine!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Now-now-you-just-heard-what-I-said-about-labeling-I-guess-the-title-says-it-all-VERSES-NATURE-(new/ly-ordered-being)-it’s-unlike-anything-(could-say-intellectual-erotic-maelstrom?)-so-just-keep-a-track-of-it-here-and-on-my-site-(I’ll-be-tweeting-bits-too)-and-buy-it-when-it’s-out. (There’s only one full stop so that makes one sentence…)

6. Will your book be published or represented by an agent?

It will definitely be published.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft?

A draft assumes there is, was, a cutting-off point. There is no first draft of Verses Nature. I keep a logbook of every idea I have that is related to the work. The first draft, if you will, was the inspirational moment the idea for the book was born. I had a pre-linguistic flash/insight, which then had to be tamed (should I have said ‘elaborated’?) via language. This flash contained everything and it was perfect, to my eyes. The tricky task is now to make it reality. The minute you start, it’s no longer the same. Language, as art and like art, sequential to the original, insightful moment, is always too late…

8. Which other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Which genre??? My book is promiscuous as far as genre is concerned, and in such promiscuity lies a deeper message; an appeal for tolerance as we acknowledge multiplicity. I like to combine the intellectual, the social and the erotic and to do so via a mixed-genre approach. I don’t want to be ‘bookish’, and I don’t want to write a ‘dirty book’. I honestly don’t know whom I would compare myself to (we all believe we’re writing something original, right?). There are authors I admire, and who have no doubt influenced me; people who dare to do it differently. It is not important for you to know who these people are. The reader will establish her/his own intertextual references and probably compare me to authors I may never have read. It’s your book, at the end of the day. Not mine.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Excuse me, isn’t this Question 2 in a new frock?

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Verses Nature is all about questioning assumptions, about questioning our relation to reality. I have a male protagonist mouthing off all the time: ‘Some people think I’m stuck up. Think I think I’m something special. Well, I am. I’ll leave the rest of you to be ordinary’. He was supposed to be despicable, but guess what? He grows on you. I was shocked to discover how much I enjoyed developing him. I kept thinking: you can’t do that; the women in this world could lapidate you for that! Then I thought; what was that about not bowing to cultural expectations? I’m not letting the ‘side down’. To have a side is to have a boundary, a wall. I’m climbing that wall. Then I’m going to take a hammer to it. So I’ve got this man that any self-respecting woman would claim not to (want to) have anything to do with, but are you so sure you’ll be able to, or even have to, resist?

So, enough about me. Now I’d like to draw to your attention a number of authors definitely worth following.


Jessica Patient:
Short story writer, novelist and reviewer, Jessica’s self-written biography is so delightful, there’s no need for me to try to pen something better (see link below):

In 2008 she won the WorldSkills Gold Award for her short story, Jasper’s Betrayal. Extracts were exhibited at the IMAX in London.

I love her website:


Anthony Howarth:
Writer, poet, reader, speaker, photographer, Oscar and Golden Globe nominated filmmaker… the list goes on. Anthony has published several books. His writing can be refreshingly honest, hard, angry, indignant, as it can be erotic, tender, and emotional. For your delight and reflection, Peace:


Absolute peace

Is lunch on your own

Tinned tuna

Stolen canteen bread

Alone in your cell

Sitting on your bed

The day before your release

Sentence is complete

The end of strife

Everything is done

With tomorrow will come

The complexities of life

This is the moment

To savour and retain

Tonight is another lifetime


I may never be

So peaceful again

(Copyright © Anthony Howarth 1997, 2012)

for more:  anthonyhowarth.com


Federica Bianco:
Of Italian nationality and temperament.

Wishing that the sea were nearer than its own distant memory, that its freshness were closer to her feet so that one eager step would suffice to overcome muteness, knowing that indecisions are loaded but time is not, thus driven to ‘distrust flawlessly’, Federica has published an amazing volume of poetry, A Night in Gale, available at amazon (why, pray, shouldn’t the Next Big Thing be a poet??). Here’s an appetizer:

whose warmth of solace
those arms of shelter…

when longed memories of skin
are caught under the spell of slumber
awoken by waterfalls of sorrow
emotions trigger the silly shiver
in the heart of night, when slowly
fallen deep down loathed sadness
the crawling, choking sounds of silence
remind one of that love, rusted and stoned

For more: http://federicabianco.weebly.com/


That makes four, not five, I know, but as you also know; it’s the quality that counts.  Take the time to revisit these sites.  I’ll say goodbye and good read!