Sort of a blog / diary / update type of thing

4 March 2015

This month, Litro Magazine  will be publishing an issue devoted to the theme of Myths and Legends. I've contributed a story that is a reworking of the Andromeda myth.

Andromeda ended up chained to a rock after her mother boasted that she was more beautiful than Nereids. Poseidon was so pissed off he sent a sea monster, Ketos, to ravage the town. The King was advised that the only way to appease him was to offer his daughter in sacrifice...


 Here is the opening of my story. You can read the rest in Litro...

Andromeda waves her rust-caked chains and screams up at the sky. She imagines her pleas, carried by the wind and spiced with sea-salt, flung into the town, the market place, the windows of houses and the church. Sometimes she even bleats like a goat, though she doubts the townsfolk appreciate the satire. They probably imagine that 48 days on a rock has shattered her mind. Apparently there are small clay likenesses of her for sale in the marketplace; some take them home and eye them furtively, others feel protected by her presence on their sill. Trouble - which might slap at any time, depending on the whim of the gods and the patterning of the stars - has been localised and caged and is no longer looking for fresh flesh.

The blue waters at her feet break and a dark shape emerges. Up rears Ketos the sea monster. He is stoned again. She can see it in the whites of his eyes, which are blurry, as though filmed with green smoke. His roar is so unconvincing that even a passing shoal of fish continue on their path; their buoyancy seems an intended sarcasm. Ketos does nothing because when Ketos is stoned he talks about everything being connected, as though he is regurgitating a watery version of Heraclitus.

Andromeda flings a rock at him. It bounces off his nose, plops back into the ocean. The fish scatter into a firework of cerise and gold.

With a limp flick of his tail, he makes a sulky descent back into the ocean.

She slumps back down onto her rock, on a cushion of dried moss that she fashioned herself. The branches of an ebony tree growing out of the cliff provide a dappled shelter. She examines her body, seeking metamorphosis. Her breasts are stained with sunburn and when she combs her bush with her fingers, it seems an inch longer. Her toenails are dirty; she dips them into the water. Before her imprisonment, she often glanced down at the ocean from the cliffs above her (how curious to think she stood there, in such happiness and innocence, unaware of how her future self would chained to their rocky sides!) and considered the stillness of the waves. Now she no longer sees the ocean as a calm entity. She watches their bustle: the swim of the sea-thrushes, the flick of the thynnis and tritomus, diving xiphias, drifting pelamis, pinnotheres scuttling with their crampy claws, the batrachus blotted and whiskered, scarus bright as birds against the dull turbot and orcynus: busier than the market place on a Friday. Every creature seems to act with such purpose and fierce intent, exacerbating her sense of aimlessness. Sometimes the salt crystals on her skin glitter as though she is acquiring scales, or her bush looks dank and green-seeped like seaweed. Becoming a monster feels like a boon compared to her deepest fear: that she is becoming abstract, as though one day her body will lose its boundaries, slop into the ocean and her quiddity will become loose and liquid, drift into the horizon, lost and forgotten forever.


15 September 2014

Earlier this month, I published an 10,000 word essay on The Weeklings website about female cult fiction. It was entitled Literary Luminaries - Gender and the Avant Garde Novelist and you can read the first part here.

I was inspired to write the piece when I visited a local bookshop and found a display of 'Cult Fiction' which entirely consisted of novels written by men. It got me thinking about the way in which the avant garde is traditionally seen as male literary territory, and which female cult writers were due more attention.

The response to the piece was the most impassioned I've ever had. It had over a 100 retweets and I received lots of emails and kind words. The essay is also going to be included on the Kingston MA in Creative Writing course, for their cult fiction module, which I'm really chuffed about.

If I was to name one 'cult' novel by a female writer that I really love and would recommend, I'd chose Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls.



1st June 2014

There is a new literary event in London called Stranger Than Fiction which has been set up by Alex Spears and Dixe Wills. I will be performing there on the 2nd July along with novelist Emma Jane Unsworth, poet Francine Elena and comedian Howard Cohen. The theme for the night is ghosts, and the setting will be the fittingly eerie basement bar in the Albannach on Trafalgar Square. I will be reading from Part 2 of The Quiddity of Will Self, which is narrated by a ghost eager to slip into Will's study. Here is a short extract from the opening:

I want to be inside Will Self. I yearn for it. If only he would let me in. His window is locked against the cold, the night, winter's shadows. I press my cheek against the glass. It solid cruelty mocks me. I watch Will in his London home, in his study, his tall frame languid in his swivel chair, shoulders hunched over his typewriter. His study is cluttered with the paraphernalia of a creative, contented family man. Post-its papering the walls, crayons, books, a small bicycle tucked under his desk, all caressed with a goldenlamp light glow. It makes me shiver, not with the cold, but a memory of cold. Snow falls through me. I wonder if the snow senses me. I tilt upwards. I have spent hours watching the snowflakes come down on the streets. As they sail towards human warmth there is friction, a chemical reaction; the snow quivers, repulses, sighs, sticks to skin, fuses. But to the snow I am nothing. Even the zgnabe I drink makes no difference, even when I feel the burn in my stomach, except really there is no burn, for I have no stomach. Just an idea of one. I am an idea. I am Sylvie. I had a body but He took it from me.

I ought to taking revenge, or telling someone to take revenge. Hamlet's father went straight to his son and gave him firm instructions. But how did Hamlet's father learn to speak? A special school? Did an angel teach him? Did he ascend to heaven and then get permission to come down? Others of my kind, I can converse with - but humans? I thrashed through my parent's bed for several nights and did not make a crease as my father wept and my mother turned a stony back on him. A moth skimming down which my father flipped away made more of an impulse than me. When I saw the moth I wanted to crush it, I almost understood how murderers murder, I wanted to steal its tiny heartbeat, takes it life, I wanted to put it in my mouth and feel it dying, even its tiny breaths would have been a comfort but there was none. But why did someone want my breath I - I -

I felt him behind me like a shadow -

Oh Daddy don't tell me don't tell don't -

It got away. I could not even catch a moth. A moth can flitter its wings and cause an earthquake in China but I can scream and not a grass stalk will quiver. This whole world is energy, pulsing currents, heartbeats on tubes, pounding carriages of throbbing skin, cables coiled through the molten earth, tides tugging heat breathing up clouds, bombs exploding volcanoes vomiting. I am outside all that: I am not even enough of a presence to become an absence. I am just a infinitesimal something, I am like a Babuska doll with a brighter shiny Sylvie thrown away and another Sylvie and another Sylvie until this Sylvie is smaller than an atom, beyond the realm of human instruments. Soon I will be nothing. Time is running out O Will open your window let me in let me in just let me feel your warmth before I go.

Here's the irony: walking through walls is supposed to be our speciality. That and coiling through keyholes like smoke. But brick and glass still stand between Will and I.


1 August 2013

Today I am celebrating the Kindle publication of a novella called The Tic Tac Man

It is about a man who suffers from gastrica volvulus penna  (drawing pins in his stomach). It was actually published about a decade ago in an anthology of stories called New Wave of Speculative Fiction and when it was reviewed by SFFworld they recommended it so:

"Perhaps the strongest story is the opener, "Tic Tac Man" by Sam Mills. Mills tells the story of a strange man, with an even more obscure and strange disease as he adjusts to his rigid life. The story examines identity and regret, and has the ambiance of a Twilight Zone episode. I wonder if Mr. Mills familiarized himself with a certain disease guide while writing this powerful and haunting story."

The novella has also been reviewed by The Workshy Fop who said,

"The two stories which make up this release are an enjoyable stop-gap for fans waiting for a full-length follow up to Quiddity; The Tic Tac Man itself is particularly sharp, full of imagination and dark humour, while The Joy of Suicide incorporates insight into modern attitudes to death while satirising the media and art worlds."

You can buy it from Amazon Kindle store for just 77 p.


12 May 2013

I have written an essay for The Weeklings - a wonderful site which features an essay a day. My essay is about meeting Will Self for lunch, the genesis of Quiddity, the Apocalypse and my father. 

It begins so:

"THE BEGINNING: It was 3 a.m. I'd been lying awake for some time and I switched on the lamp in the hope it might be morning - proper morning, when the birds would be singing and commuters rising and trains beginning their trundle from Parbold to Manchester, where I was due to meet up with my literary deity. I had spent the evening before attending a talk by Will Self. He'd been interviewed by  broadcaster Dave Haslam, made scathing jokes about Britain's disgraced TV presenter, Jimmy Savile and read from his Booker-nominated Umbrella. Afterwards, I joined the end of a long, long, long queue of fans eager to get their copies signed. It was the first time I'd ever come face to face with Mr S. I'd joked in an interview with The Observer a few months back that if it ever did happen, it would feel like "a Christian coming face to face with God." In the flesh, he certainly had a sharp stare. However, he did not yank out a pair of scales and weigh my sins in one and good deeds in the other, but signed my proof with a flourish and made arrangements for us to meet for lunch in Manchester the next day...." To read the rest of the piece at the Weeklings please click here

I will be appearing at Leicester Book Festival on Saturday 18th May. To buy tickets / for more details please click here.


22 March 2013

My Guardian piece has gone up. It cites the Top 10 most iconic fictional sex changes in literature . Woolf's Orlando features, along with Ovid's Metamorphoses and my favourite Angela Carter novel, The Passion of New Eve. The Guardian picked a wonderful pic to accompany it, taken from one of my favourite films:



The piece provoked a passionate discussion (131 comments to date). Many people bemoaned the absence of Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. She was my 11th choice and I do wonder if she ought to have been on there rather than The Season of the Witch.  A few people also moaned that I was a Sci Fi snob - but The Season of the Witch is Sci Fi; my last YA novel was also Sci Fi (ish) and so I certainly don't turn up my nose at the genre. Bridget Brophy was championed by one reader. I hadn't heard of her, so I googled her and came across this description of her book:

Set in an airport ("one of the rare places where twentieth-century design is happy with its own style"), In Transit is a textual labyrinth centering on a contemporary traveller. Waiting for a flight, Evelyn Hillary O'Rooley suffers from uncertainty about his/her gender, provoking him/her to perform a series of unsuccessful, yet hilarious, philosophical and anatomical tests. Brigid Brophy surrounds the kernel of this plot with an unrelenting stream of puns, word games, metafictional moments and surreal situations (like a lesbian revolution in the baggage claim area) that challenge the reader's preconceptions about life and fiction and that remain endlessly entertaining.

It sounded too enticing for words, so I ordered at once.

Time to take the Dodo for a walk...


7 March 2013

Someone advised me recently that you should never, ever, bore your readers by blogging about your dreams. So: last night, I had the weirdest dream about going into a gallery that contained paintings by authors who had decided to illustrate how they felt when they gave book readings. My dream logic didn't extend to matching prose styles to painting styles, for A S Byatt's painting was in an impressionist style, yellow dabs and dots for a reclining chair and blue ones for a sky seen through a window. Philip Hensher's was up next. His was a sheet of strange hexagons with swirling patterns in their centre. The dream stopped there. Will Self didn't feature, remarkably. And now no doubt, you are yawning and your eyelids are closing and your head is drooping, but I do hope the image below snaps you -

- awake!

Sound the trumpets, ring the bells, stroke the Dodo! 'The Quiddity of Will Self' is out in paperback today. It's £8.99 but cheaper on amazon and should be knocking about in Foyles, Waterstones, Blackwells etc.

At the moment I'm missing my writing because I'm publicising. When I don't write, the day seems to lose its shape and colour. Like an addict who's lost his fix, I start to suffer yearnings and bite my nails and suffer restlessness. Still, I'm enjoying doing some journalism. Coming up soon: piece for the Guardian (on sex changes), the Independent (on a trip I took to India), The Weeklings (art and religion, lunch with Will Self).


1st March 2013

If you happen to be in Manchester on Friday 15thMarch, you might be interested in wandering down to Manchester Blackwells. It's the launch night of James Higgerson's debut The Almost Lizard, a bookish party which will also include readings from me, Rodge Glass (Bring Me The Head of Ryan Giggs) and Chris Killen (The Bird Room).




If you came to see me on World Book Night last year at Manchester Deansgate and winced at my - let's be honest - fairly crap reading, rest assured that I have improved a lot since then (unless, of course, you were planning to savour a so-bad-it's-good experience). The reading I most enjoyed doing last year took place at the Latitude Festival. It was quite terrifying, addressing 200 people in a tent whom I couldn't see, such was the glare of the lights in my eyes. But by then I'd learnt to control my nerves and I finally felt I'd got the hang of speaking loud. I've also learnt to abridge my work. What works on the page doesn't always read so well when read aloud. Tightening up the prose, snipping out the odd sentence, helps no end.

"In the future writers won't make any money from books - they'll just give readings and earn money from that," someone said to me recently. I disagree with this; I doubt it will ever work as a financial model; writers are naturally introverts and they are quite different from, say, live bands who smash up their guitars at the end of a performance (I guess we could always tear up our novels but it wouldn't be quite the same). I recently looked at an online story written by a novelist who gives a lot of readings. It was fairly dreadful to read flat on the page/screen, but I could see how it would work as a performance piece; it had punch-lines in the right places, suitable nuances, rhythm and turns of phrase that would play well to an audience when read aloud. I wonder if this is a growing dilemma that authors will have to consider: a battle between mouth and pen. I'd rather be a writer who performs than a performer who writes.

I am not, incidentally, condemning all performance pieces. They can be a great art in themselves; I enjoyed savouring some of them at the For Book's Sake Bash in Manchester last October and I've been inspired by many a performance run by the Bad Language collective. But if you chose to write a novel, then I think you should be loyal to your form. I'd rather write something that works on the page and then take a red pen to it to read it aloud, than get too influenced by thoughts of PR and potential events.

This rant aside, I am excited about the Blackwells event. I'm reading with some superb authors. So I do hope you come down to Manchester Blackwells on 15th...