Day #11591

Autumn (and a bit of Winter) in Shorts
I’ll keep this… short, because I haven’t finished reading many collections recently.  Nevertheless, here’s some updates on things I’ve been enjoying.

Silvina Ocampo, Thus Were Their Faces Toying with her readers as surely as she toys with her characters, Ocampo has a strange and icy presence on the page.  Her stories feature slightly fantastical and superstitious elements, and there is a constant feeling that she is judging and enacting revenge.  Quoted in the introduction, her contemporary Jorge Luis Borges writes of Ocampo, “She sees us as if we were made of glass, sees and forgives us.  It is useless to try to fool her.”  As a reader, I was left with a feeling that she always knew more than I did, and was enjoying demonstrating her superiority.  It was oddly compelling…

November books

Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology, Volume 6.  Ever since 2013 when I was featured in the Bristol Short Story Anthology and was bowled over by the whole organisation’s friendliness and sheer enthusiasm for supporting short story writing, they’ve kind of felt like my team.  Picking up a copy of the year’s anthology every October has become an Autumn ritual, and it is always a really good collection.  Of course I don’t always agree 100% with the judges, and my very favourite from this year’s competition was not included in the top three.  Marbles by Penny Simpson reads a little like Terry Gilliam and Tom Waits collaborating to tell a bizarre war story and is, for me, the pick of this year’s bunch.

.357  Over on .357, there has been a torrent of work in recent weeks and months, which is good news for anyone who has been following the adventures of Brother Skunk, ache1 and cog!  Reading through this mass of assembled fragments, the reader’s understanding grows slowly and the style of writing gets in under the skin.  Usually these pieces consist of conversations, often with one character relating a story to another.  As I have remarked to the author (who shall remain anonymous, in line with the practice on the site itself), the way these conversations are written means they burrow in to the brain and start to be fool you into mistaking them for real conversations you heard, not fictional ones you read (this is a good thing, and impressive).

In Heaven Everything Is Fine – Fiction Inspired By David Lynch.  I’ve found this a bit hit and miss so far – the problem being that it requires just the right amount of Lynchian influence.  Too similar to the auteur’s work and it comes across as a pastiche, too different and it may as well not be in there.

Diao Dou, Points Of Origin.  This is an excellent collection by an acclaimed Chinese writer, which I haven’t yet given the attention it deserves.  The parts of this I have read have been ridiculous and funny, defined by a struggle between the idea of a distinction between self and state.

(So maybe I will write some more about Diao Dou in the new year when I’ve read more of his book, along with some short fiction I received for Christmas (hurrah! and thanks) – The Lean Third by James Kelman as well as both Volumes One and Two of the brilliant new Penguin Book Of The British Short Story).

Words Per Minute

Soon after it happens they announce the news, using the number of words that is as close as they can get to the number of words they have calculated would be the best number of words to use to announce the news.  We measure the words and know that the news has been announced as well as it possibly could have been, but we still feel ill at ease – this is not news that will make anybody feel at ease.  It is the middle of the night.  We all hear the news and then we phone each other so that we can add more words around the announcement – adding more words helps us to deal with the news, helps us to analyse it and to establish our own feelings towards the news.  It isn’t, but it should be possible to see the web created by all the phone lines linked by the dialled-up numbers, lit up all across the city, in the middle of the night soon after the news is announced, soon after it happens.  Eventually, none of us know what more there is to say – we have put all the words we can put around the news, and now we have run out.  We all just sit there, all on the phone together, paying for silences.

pp. 23

(The following was the product of a cut-up exercise during a workshop entitled ‘Creative Writing Accompanied By Book Art’, which I attended during the recent(ish) Guernsey Literary Festival 2015.  My ‘art’ was fairly rubbish.  This was the poem I came up with by mangling page 23 of the set text, Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?’)


our sky was
post-apocalypse happy
lost lost lost
we were losing, had lost
the one good thing.
the one good thing is an absurd sentence,
which is love of life.
the opposite of life and love.


We went to a party.  I was as interesting as a cheese and onion pasty.

I wanted to say to everyone: “Just once, just for one night – no boring conversations.”

But then the onus would be on me.  They were already trying their best.  I didn’t know what I wanted.

I told them about things I had seen when I was walking home from work.

A lost boot.  A dead rat.  A whole stack of discarded lottery tickets, blown all across the pavement.

Cars were going past and I didn’t stop to pick up the tickets and check if there were any winnings.

But then I did, for some reason, start thinking about an old school friend.

He was a funny guy.

But the specific memory I had was of him leaving our school assembly in tears.

His uncle had passed away that morning.

I remembered sitting there, not listening to the assembly, hoping he was ok.

Some lottery tickets that had blown further down the road than the others and I was tempted to casually pick one up, thinking I could do it so quick no one driving past would notice.

But I didn’t.  I was thinking about whether there was a way to get back in touch with old friends.

Someone suggested that there were several websites that could be used to keep in touch with old friends.

Obviously, I knew about these already.  I had not taken the opportunity up until now, and I probably wouldn’t go looking for old friends first thing tomorrow morning.

Maybe everyone else realised this was a dead end, but I was just thinking about something else.

Then someone proposed a game.  Something fun.  Someone burped.  Someone laughed.

I laughed too.