Resonating & resonacting

unnamedTime to highlight a wonderful and thought-provoking review of Resonance & Revolt from Rachel Hill at Strange Horizons. It’s been out for a few weeks so yeah, I don’t exactly blog at the speed of light. But in case you’ve missed it, I’m here now to share it and express thanks and appreciation for the knowledge Hill brings to the review.

To begin with, she has a winning familiarity with the history of south-east London: “A location which, from the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt to 1977’s ‘Battle of Lewisham’ (where local counter-demonstrators prevented the far-right National Front from marching), has a rich history of revolt and features heavily in her stories.”

Some reviews inspire writers to look at their own work in a new way and that’s the case with this one. Hill references the writing of philosopher Ernst Bloch on music and the utopian impulse when discussing my story In the Pines  (natch, Ernie now occupies a place on my TBR list):

stramge horizons-logo“Bloch places music as the foremost form of utopian impulse, as it affords “ways in this world by which the inward can become outward and the outward like the inward” (Spirit of Utopia, p. 231). These ways of being are full of productive “revolutionary tension.” In other words, music yokes together listeners in a shared experience of resonance which can be the basis of collective action. Similarly, Rabinowitz echoes Bloch’s structure of harmonious oscillation between self and world(s), prompted by music, as demonstrated by the collection’s first story, ‘In the Pines’.”

Hill coins a cool new word: resonacting or a “process of resonance which catalyses new action”. Such resonaction “refracts throughout the collection, propagating further revolt through new and extended frequencies”.

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She stresses the prominence of psychogeography in my stories and the role of the dérive, a concept that comes from Guy Debord (his classic text pictured left) and the Lettrist and Situationist International. A dérive is a critical wander through a city or a landscape that opens up our understanding of the environment and how it manifests its social history. It can involve breaking out of everyday relations and discovering new ways of occupying space. She suggests that Evelyn in Return of the Pikart Posse goes on a dérive through the town of Tábor and the ruins of a fortress that had been occupied by the free-loving anti-authoritarian heretics that she is researching: “Evelyn attunes herself to the resonances of the Czech landscape, enabling her body to become a channel, or a transtemporal site.” Transtemporal – I like that.

At the time I wrote the story I was thinking: hey, Evelyn’s pissed on the pivo and having a wander. As you do. While I’m no stranger to psychogeography and situationism – and I’ve taken part in activism where they were influences – I wasn’t thinking about these elements consciously.

But yes, my character is indeed dériving under the influence of heightened emotion and perception (perhaps helped by a few drinks) and a deep longing to connect with the past and a different kind of future. And then there are sensual encounters with “psychic residues”, an idea that casts some of my motifs in a different light too.

Hill also offers insight into The Turning Track – co-written with Matt Joiner – and the way its multidimensional train unites the layers charted throughout the collection. 

I’ll add that after reading Rachel Hill’s piece, I reacquainted myself with the general excellence of the reviews and critical essays in Strange Horizons – which describes itself as “a free weekly speculative fiction magazine with a global perspective”. And then there’s the fiction! This brings us to their current fundraiser and a link to their Kickstarter if you’d like to donate something to ensure that this good work continues. Be assured I’m not just making this plug because they gave me a good review – I believe it’s a project worth supporting. Really.

Des Lewis review book 3

And since we’ve been on the subject of inspiring critics and criticism… Des Lewis has collected his online ‘real-time reviews’ into a series of books. I’m in this one, alongside Nicholas Royle (as editor), Ron Weighell, Andrew Hook, Helen Marshall and Malcolm Devlin. Needless to say, I’m there in excellent company. If you haven’t read it, you can still check out Des’ real-time review of R&R online and see my comments about real-time reviews (and rugelach) here.

Finally, you might be amused by visiting a link to a humorous look at psychogeography in a cartoon by Tom Gauld. Pigeons and focaccia are involved!

 

 

Something remains…

something-remains-a002I’m pleased to say that my story “The Pleasure Garden” will appear in Something Remains, a new anthology from Alchemy Press. It will be launched 24 September at Fantasycon by the Sea.

This unique and moving collaboration differs from any book I’ve contributed to in the past. When Joel Lane died in 2013 he left many handwritten fragments behind. Some were sketches, others closer to complete stories.

Peter Coleborn and Pauline E Dungate teamed up to edit an anthology based on these fragments. Various friends and associates of Joel’s selected pieces that sparked their imaginations. Out of this emerged a collection of stories, poems, and reflections on Joel’s poetry and critical work.

I chAntithesisose a sparse and suggestive piece called “Antithesis” – here’s the original on the left. I’ll add that an important facet of Joel’s writing was its dark sense of place and its rootedness in Birmingham. However, contributors were free to place their stories in other locations if they weren’t familiar with Birmingham. For me, this translated to Kennington and Vauxhall in south London. The latter is home to a few well-known gay pubs; it is also the site of a massive surge of corporate construction projects marked by some scary crane-related activity. So out of this melange sprouted “The Pleasure Garden”.

As you’d expect, some fragments appealed to more than one contributor. I ended up sharing “Antithesis” with Alison Littlewood, an altogether fab writer and lovely individual. I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s made of the same source material.

This book will do Joel proud with its powerful line-up of authors. Sales will benefit Diabetes UK, since Joel suffered from type 2 diabetes.

“The Pleasure Garden” is technically my second collaboration. The first was with Mat Joiner – who also contributes to Something Remains – for our story in Eibonvale’s Rustblind and Silverbright anthology. Back in 2013 Joel gave us generous and incisive feedback on our tale. I only wish that I could have sent “The Pleasure Garden” to him as well.

On 24 June, the day after the EU referendum, several contributors noted the irony of the title in the wake of Brexit – and Joel sure loved his puns. A few of us wondered what Joel would have made about this turn of events. We can only speculate, but I’m sure he would have been appalled by the post-referendum explosion of bigotry and he would have put himself on the line to oppose it.

Anyway, here’s the table of contents for Something Remains. And remember, if you can’t make it to Fantasycon, Something Remains is now available for preorder here.

  • Foreword by Peter Coleborn
  • Introduction by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Not Dispossessed:  A Few Words on Joel Lane’s Early Published Works by David A. Sutton (Essay)
  • Joel by Chris Morgan (Verse)
  • Everybody Hates a Tourist by Tim Lebbon
  • The Missing by John Llewellyn Probert
  • Charmed Life by Simon Avery
  • Antithesis by Alison Littlewood
  • Dark Furnaces by Chris Morgan
  • The Inner Ear by Marion Pitman (Verse)
  • Broken Eye by Gary Mcmahon
  • Stained Glass by John Grant
  • Threadbare by Jan Edwards
  • The Dark above the Fair by Terry Grimwood
  • Grey Children by David A. Sutton
  • The Twin by James Brogden
  • Lost by Pauline Morgan (Verse)
  • Through the Floor [1] by Gary Couzens
  • Through the Floor [2] by Stephen Bacon
  • Bad Faith by Thana Niveau
  • Window Shopping by David Mathew
  • Clan Festor by Liam Garriock
  • Sweet Sixteen by Adam Millard
  • Buried Stars by Simon Macculloch
  • And Ashes in Her Hair by Simon Bestwick
  • The Pleasure Garden by Rosanne Rabinowitz
  • Joel Lane, Poet by Chris Morgan (Essay)
  • The Reach of Children by Mike Chinn
  • The Men Cast by Shadows by Mat Joiner
  • The Winter Garden by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Natural History by Allen Ashley
  • The Second Death by Ian Hunter
  • The Bright Exit by Sarah Doyle (Verse)
  • Blanche by Andrew Hook
  • The Body Static by Tom Johnstone
  • You Give Me Fever by Paul Edwards
  • The Other Side by Lynda E. Rucker
  • Of Loss and of Life: Joel Lane’s Essays on the Fantastic by Mark Valentine (Essay)
  • Shadows by JJoe X Young
  • I Need Somewhere to Hide by Steven Savile
  • Coming to Life by John Howard
  • The Enemy Within by Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Afterword: The Whole of Joel by Ramsey Campbell (Essay)

 

 

A nomination for Rustblind and Silverbright, and the scariest train song I ever did hear…

RustblindI’m pleased to announce that Rustblind and Silverbright has been nominated by the British Fantasy Society for Best Anthology. This is a great credit to the thought and care that editor David Rix has given to producing this book, and the way he drew together a varied and powerful group of uncategorisable stories themed around railways and train journeys.

This anthology includes “The Turning Track”, a novelette I co-authored with Matt Joiner, where a fantastical train runs through the multiverse to haunt the dreams of those struggling with a shabby and repressive reality. Another story in this anthology, Nina Allan’s “Vivian Guppy and the Brighton Belle”, has also received a nomination for Best Novella.

I’ve been meaning to write about Rustblind for a while, and now have an excellent excuse. I’ve also been wanting to respond to a few questions about a line sung by the dedicated station-master as he awaits this mighty multi-dimensional Train:

“I asked my captain for the time of day… he said he throwed his watch away”.

These lyrics actually come from a traditional song noted for ominous trains and lonesome forests:  “In the Pines” aka “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” The line about the thrown-away watch has fallen out of the most well-known renditions, but I think it’s one of the most haunting lines in a song full of train wrecks and decapitated bodies and desolation.

“In the Pines” is also a song about loss, and this echoes profoundly because the anthology contains “The Last Train” by the late Joel Lane. Last year’s launch for Rustblind was the last time I saw him, and that was the case for others involved with this book. I have a feeling that Joel was a guy who spent a lot of time in the pines.

While many people first came across this song through Nirvana’s 1990’s rendition, it actually dates back to southern Appalachia in the 19th century. Other musicians who performed “In the Pines” include Leadbelly, Earl Monroe, the Carter Family, Dolly Parton, Marianne Faithfull, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Greatful Dead, Hole and even Tiny Tim.

Many American folk songs portray the building of the railroads, the advent of train travel and the Depression of the 1930s when immigrants and working class people rode the rails in search of work or a better life. Music historian Norm Cohen wrote a book that explores this legacy, Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong. A good chunk is devoted to “In the Pines”, which belongs to a ‘cluster’ of songs. Songs in this cluster include the “in the pines” chorus, a stanza about ‘the longest train’ and one about a train crash where someone’s head is found in the driving wheel or ‘round the firebox door’.

I first heard this song as a teenager, and it has always fascinated me. Why does the girl hide in pines where the cold winds blow, and why do those who are outcast and bereft flee there? Some versions are addressed to a “black girl”; was she running from slavery to seek refuge in the pines? Or was she hiding there after her husband, ‘a railroad man’, was lynched?

Dominating the song is ‘the longest train’, which often stands outside time itself. The train might kill a loved one, take a loved one away, or transport a migrant worker to exile. But sometimes the protagonists ride that train back home.

This song inspired my 2006 novelette “In the Pines”, where it links three characters through space and time. This appeared in the anthology Extended Play: the Elastic Book of Music. And the melancholy chords of “In the Pines” continued to echo in my mind as I collaborated on “The Turning Track”.

To mark the nomination of Rustblind and Silverbright, I’m sharing a few of my favourite performances of “In the Pines”. It makes sense to start with Nirvana’s version, which introduced the old song to a new audience.

Kurt Cobain drew much of his inspiration from Leadbelly’s interpretation. In this recording, Leadbelly addresses the song to a “black girl”, though he sings ‘my girl’ in another recording.

Here’s a classic bluegrass version by Bill Monroe, which features that ‘high lonesome sound’. The ‘longest train’ is prominent from the first verse and we don’t hear about the severed head.

Leadbelly and his successors have left out the verses about the ‘longest train’ and the discarded watch. But this bluegrass rendition by Lori Lee Ray gets everything in, as does this Joan Baez performance. Lori Lee Ray’s video below also contains powerful images of trains, pine forests and clocks.

Finally, here is an absolutely eerie version performed by Hole. Dare I say that sometimes I prefer this to Nirvana’s rendition?

Of reviews and cats
While I’m at it, I might as well post a couple of reviews of Rustblind that came out last year, which I missed during a period of busyness and bloggage-drought. So here’s a review on Rising Shadow by Serengil and another from Nick Jackson in Sein und Werden.

Serengil describes “The Turning Track” as:

“A fascinating story about love, death and a mysterious train… a beautiful example of what authors can achieve when they know how to write good fiction and have plenty of imagination. This story is a sparkling gem of literary speculative fiction that will seduce the reader with good prose and strange happenings.”

And Nick Jackson writes in Sein und Werden:

“Mat Joiner and Rosanne Rabinowitz co-authored the final piece in the collection and take up the idea of an infinite train travelling between this world and the next. ‘The Turning Track’ concerns a gay man’s aim to complete a history of a mysterious train begun by his late partner.  This piece is particularly strong on characterisation and contains some wonderfully gory detail of human-to-machine transformation.  With all dual-authored stories, you look for the seams in the narrative.  In this case there don’t seem to be any but my money is on Rosanne for introducing a particularly characterful cat.”

Thanks Serengil and Nick. At this point I’ll offer a belated response to Nick’s comments about Fintan the cat. It was Mat who introduced the cat but I gave the moggie his name. And it was our critiquer, Joel Lane, who had urged us to make Fintan more than mere ‘furry freight’ – to give him more presence and render him ‘characterful’. My first response was ‘well, he’s cat and he does what cats do’. Then I thought again…

So I’ll leave with another thank-you to Joel.

Book launch bonanza on 4 July

RustblindGet ready for a fantastical ride at Slipstream Journeys, a major book launch event featuring five books from three independent presses – Eibonvale, Chomu and PS Publishing. There will be readings, wine and a chance to buy signed copies and meet the authors. Explore the exceptional literature that emerges from between the cracks of horror, fantasy and SF! And no doubt there’ll be more socialising and conviviality in the pub afterwards…

This is especially exciting for me because this will be the launch for Helen’s Story and the event will also launch  Rustblind and Silverbright: Slipstream Journeys of the Railwaywhich includes “The Turning Track”, a collaboration between myself and Mat Joiner. Other books on hand will be: Stardust by Nina AllanDefeated Dogs by Quentin S Crisp  and Jane by PF Jeffery.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday 4 July, 7-9pm
Review Bookshop, 131 Bellenden Road SE15 4QY
Peckham, London

Horror Without Victims

Good news! My story “Lambeth North” will appear in the new anthologyHorror without victims_thumbnail from Megazanthus Press, Horror Without Victims.

So what is meant by ‘horror without victims’? Along with a few other writers, I was scratching my head for a long time as I turned the concept over in my mind… Initially, I came up with a satire on ‘positive thinking’ and psychobabble. In this regime,  someone who gets critical, angry or even mildly distressed will often be damned for not being ‘proactive’ and for playing the ‘victim’.

I discussed this idea with my “Turning Track” collaborator Mat Joiner, and we conceived a story based around an enforced job-seeker’s workshop. Within the context of claimant compulsion and the welfare-to-work racket, the ideology of ‘positive thinking’ has been assuming sinister and invasive – as well as laughable – aspects. See here for an account of this at a workshop run by poverty profiteering multinational A4e, and here for an example of compulsory and  nonsensical psychometric testing for JSA claimants.

Other online discussions suggested that ‘horror without victims’ could be found in any story that summons feelings of unease, dread or darkness, accompanied by a low or non-existent body count.  Work from writers such as Aickman was mentioned, or classic stories like Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”.

Well, in the end I submitted a totally different story than the one I started with Mat. “Lambeth North” was partly inspired by one of Arthur Machen’s less known stories, “N”. However, the locale is moved to South London, an area that Mr Machen apparently held in some disdain.

My collaboration with Mat will still go ahead, but we’ve come to realise that under the circumstances, we might really want to have some  &%!! victims in this particular story after all!

Rustblind and Silverbright cover

Here’s a quick preview of the cover for Rustblind and Silverbright, which includes a story collaboration between me and Mat Joiner.

Mark a date in your diary for 4 July, when Rustblind launches along with Helen’s Story (a  double launch for me:), Nina Alan’s Stardust, Quentin Crisp’s collection Defeated Dogs  and PF Jeffreys’ Jane. There will be readings, Q&A and drinks. Details are here:

Slipstream Journeys
Thursday 4 July, 7-9pm
Review Bookshop 131 Bellenden Road
Peckham, London

Rustblind

Rustblind and Silverbright

Eibonvale Press editor David Rix has now released the table of contents for new anthology Rustblind and Silverbright. This includes a story by me and Mat Joiner, “The Turning Track”. I’m proud to be among a great group of writers that includes Andrew Hook, Nina Allan, Rhys Hughes, Allen Ashley, Joel Lane and Aliya Whiteley.

Eibonvale is an independent UK publisher that produces “beautiful and lovingly-designed editions of excellent writing in modern horror, magic realism and the surreal”.

“The Turning Track” was my first collaboration on a story. It was a great experience, and we have some more joint outings in the pipeline. I’ll be posting some more thoughts about the process and benefits of collaborative writing in the very near future.