Why short stories are like buses

Well well well. It seems that within a period of about a week I’ve had three short stories published. Typical. You wait around for ages and suddenly three come at once.

So who’s been misguided enough to publish my ramblings?

The first culprits are the classy folk at the Stockholm Review of Literature, who published “The Sweet and the Sour” – originally a Panspermia Press tale – in their third issue, alongside Christopher Baldwin‘s accompanying artwork. Nice.

Second in line are Inkapture, who kindly took a liking to “Take the Next Exit for Love” – also a Panspermia Press original – and published it in their October 2014 issue. Also nice.

And third in line are Flash Fiction Magazine, who generously published “The Running Bath” – incidentally one of the first short stories I wrote “seriously”, although it isn’t a very serious story. Nice too.

I’d like to put it on record that I thank the editors of the aforementioned publications for being barmy enough to publish my guff. Cheers!

On eyelids in envelopes

Something quite peculiar has happened. After a considerably long period of getting “we like it, but” from editors, I’ve suddenly had three short stories accepted in about as many days. They’ll be published soon, apparently. Look out for details in a future post.

What on earth happened? It’s too much of a coincidence. Surely this is some sort of hoax. Surely the rug’s about to be pulled from under my smug little feet.

Or perhaps it’s hard times for editors. Is there a literary drought? Are editors peering into the dregs, scraping the bottoms of their barrels and finding my stories?

Maybe I’m being hard on myself. I feel that I should just accept this for what it is. It’s not a huge deal, in the grand scheme of things. It’s a tiny bit of recognition – a glimmer of validation. It’s a small but valuable lesson in the worth of persistence, of trying and trying so that you can keep improving and be there to catch a bit of luck when it comes along.

But more importantly, it’s evidence that posting small parts of your body to editors can do wonders.

I even sent my eyelids. I don’t sleep so well these days, but it’s worth it.

Easy Reading for Difficult Devils

What do you want first? The good news or the bad news?

The bad news? World War III is imminent. So grab some canned spaghetti, a bottle of Lucozade and a shovel. Now go to the garden and dig a hole. How far? As far as you can go. But before you start, make sure you peg a rope to the edge of the hole. That way you can climb back up when you’ve dug so far that the world is a speck of light above your head. Once you’ve climbed back up, call out for your loved ones. Tell them you want to show them something incredible. Take them to the edge of your hole and tell them to look down. Then shove them. Shove them with all of your love. They’ll fall and their legs will break. This will hurt, but it will prevent them from climbing back up – it will save their lives. Shout down that they should cover their heads, then throw in your tinned spaghetti and Lucozade. Sever the rope and jump down after your food supplies. When shock has numbed the agony of your broken legs, tell your loved ones how much they mean to you and how blessed you feel to have had them in your life. Then hold them in your arms and wait. And pray that it won’t rain.

So that’s the bad news.

The good news? One of my short stories has been published in Easy Reading for Difficult Devils, a dark fiction anthology edited by Zachary T. Owen. It’s called “The Adoring Dentist”, and is about a dentist who does horrendous things in the name of love. Don’t we all.

The even better news: it’s free. You can download it gratis from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Smashwords (or from all three, if you’re a collector). It’s probably best to do so before you get started on your hole. Be quick – there isn’t much time.

See you on the other side.


Jesus sandals and William S. Burroughs

You know, on hindsight my last post was a bit goody goody two shoes. In fact, you could say it was patronising. Or even downright arrogant. I mean, who the hell do I think I am, strutting in on my Jesus sandals and waving around my righteous goody-goody stick? It’s enough to turn your stomach.

In a half-arsed attempt to make some sort of amends, here’s something a little more subversive, courtesy of William S. Burroughs. It’s one of my favourite pieces of his writing (and I have many), and it never fails to make me grin.

So here’s Lee – who’s pretty much Burroughs: a expatriate barely off heroin, struggling with loneliness and homosexuality, among other things. He’s developed a bit of a liking for a young heterosexual by the name of Allerton.

Lee walked directly into the bar and ordered a drink. He drank it and ordered a second one before looking around the room to see if Allerton was there. Allerton was alone at a table, tipped back in a chair with one leg crossed over the other, holding a bottle of beer on his knee. He nodded to Lee. Lee tried to achieve a greeting at once friendly and casual, designed to show interest without pushing their short acquaintance. The result was ghastly.

As Lee stood aside to bow in his dignified old-world greeting, there emerged instead a leer of naked lust, wrenched in the pain and hate of his deprived body and, in simultaneous double exposure, a sweet child’s smile of liking and trust, shockingly out of time and out of place, mutilated and hopeless.

Allerton was appalled. “Perhaps he has some sort of tic,” he thought. He decided to remove himself from contact with Lee before the man did something even more distasteful. The effect was like a broken connection. Allerton was not cold or hostile; Lee simply wasn’t there so far as he was concerned. Lee looked at him helplessly for a moment, then turned back to the bar, defeated and shaken.

Brilliant. I love it. It’s so grotesque, funny and sad, all at once. He really hits the sweet spot. And – like the rest of Queer – it doesn’t have that acidic, warped, satirical, insectoid sci-fi element more associated with his later stuff; it’s very frank and painful, undisguised.

Just thought I’d share that with you. A little less waving around of the goody-goody stick.

The Crow Road (to hell?)

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Bit harsh, innit? Chill out, Bernie.

But I sort of see where he’s coming from.

I intended to post this at the start of the New Year. So much for that. Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans  – a quote from another saint, of sorts.

As it happens, this post is about good intentions. Hence it seemed appropriate for a New Year’s post. I was reading Iain Banks’ The Crow Road over the festive period, and a passage from it struck me as really capturing a good way to try to look at things.

Here’s some context, for those of you who haven’t read the novel. The protagonist, Prentice McHoan, is thinking of his father, Kenneth McHoan (who’s fate is in some ways a joy to read – I’ll say no more):

Telling us straight or through his stories, my father taught us that there was, generally, a fire at the core of things, and that change was the only constant, and that we – like everybody else – were both the most important people in the universe, and utterly without significance, depending, and that individuals mattered before their institutions, and that people were people, much the same everywhere, and when they appeared to do things that were stupid or evil, often you hadn’t been told the full story, but that sometimes people did behave badly, usually because some idea had taken hold of them and given them an excuse to regard other people as expendable (or bad), and that was part of who we were too, as a species, and it wasn’t always possible to know that you were right and they were wrong, but the important thing was to keep trying to find out, and always to face the truth. Because truth mattered.

I’m not particularly an Iain Banks fan. I do like what I’ve read, and he’s undoubtedly a great writer, but somehow I never I enjoy his novels as much as I feel I should. I can’t put my finger on why. He’s one of those, I guess.

But those two sentences (yep, two) struck a chord. It seemed like good timing; they suggested a nice way of looking at the world to keep in mind for 2014. And I thought I’d share them with you, in case you’d like to keep them in mind too, for what’s left of 2014 and perhaps beyond.

And yes: I’ve just filled a blog post mostly with other people’s writing. Laziness? I think that these days they call it “curation”.

Spare a thought this Christmas…

‘Ho ho ho,’ says Santa, although his heart isn’t really in it. The sparkle in his eye is dull, and ruddiness has all but left his cheeks. ‘Ho ho ho,’ he says, trying again, but his big body shakes more with hysteria than with mirth, in the same way that a man shakes when he’s about to cry.

But why? What’s happened? What has reduced this walking epitome of merriment to such doldrums? Why does he gulp his brandy with the gentle desperation of a widower, and not with the kick of festive cheer?

I’ll tell you why: IT technicians. A whole workshop full of them.

Christmas has been through a lot of changes over the years. Gone are the times of toys crafted from wood, fabric and fluff. Rocking horses, fire engines, chequer sets, building blocks, patchwork dolls, ducks on pulleys – these are relics of a bygone age, good now for nothing but the stove. Such antiques have been made redundant by the gimmickry and gadgetry of an insatiable generation; a generation in which even infants have their own smartphones. Now it’s all iPhones and iPads, laptops and tablets, Xboxes and Wiis, Blue-rays and 3D TVs.

And what does this mean?

It means that some years ago tough decisions had to be made and a bunch of elves lost their jobs. If there’s no demand you have to change supply, after all. That’s simple business sense.

And the elves understood that. ‘It’s okay, Santa,’ they’d said, patting him on the knee. ‘We understand, and we’ll be fine. Don’t you worry about us. It’s no-one’s fault.’

Such good boys, thinks Santa, sighing to himself. Such good, sweet, lively boys. He downs his third brandy and heads across the snowy courtyard to the workshop.

Entering the workshop is always depressing these days. He used to love it. He’d loved the smell of fresh sawdust and warm gingerbread, the way the elves would stop their sawing and sanding to greet him with a song.

Those days are long gone. Now he walks into a workshop that resembles the back of PC World. Bespectacled, chubby nerds sit at workstations cluttered with the paraphernalia of electronic assembly. Not a speck of worktop can be seen for motherboards, microchips and transistors. Technicians natter nasally about CPUs, MMORPGs and pixelated pin-ups. The scent of sawdust and ginger has been ousted by the stench of Subway footlongs and ozone. Gone are the jaunty cheers and songs of curly-toed elves, replaced by the awkward, whiny guff of the socially inept.

Now don’t get Santa wrong. He knows they’re not a bad bunch. They’re nice people, after all. Harmless, and very sweet in their own way. But it’s just not the same. It’s not what it was.

Santa shakes himself and leans over the rail above the workshop, scanning the pit for his designated Liaison Officer. ‘Dexter!’ he shouts. ‘Dexter!’

‘Santa!’ shouts Dexter from within the mess, lisping lightly. He waves so that the old man can spot him. ‘I’m over here.’

‘Oh yes,’ says Santa. ‘So you are. Dexter, I was just wondering if you’ve had any news on those sleigh bells.’

‘Sleigh bells?’

‘Yes, sleigh bells. If you remember, the bells that were sent were silver, even though we ordered gold ones. The sleigh needs gold bells, Dexter. It’s always had gold bells.’

‘Right, Santa.’

‘So have we sent them back and requested replacements?’

‘Let me check,’ says Dexter, punching some keys at his computer. ‘Hmm. I’m afraid they haven’t been sent back yet. Although I can see that the call was logged.’

Santa puffs some air through his cheeks. ‘That request was made two weeks ago, Dexter,’ he sighs. ‘And it’s been made twice since.’

‘Aha,’ says Dexter.

‘Aha,’ repeats Santa. There’s a moment of silence. Dexter adjusts his spectacles.

‘Listen,’ continues Santa. ‘Can you deal with this for me? I just need some gold bells. It’s simple, really.’

‘Mmmm…’ frowns Dexter, stroking the fluff around his lips. ‘No can do, Mister Claus. It has to go directly through Purchasing. Send them an email. Needs to be a paper trail, you see. If I do it myself it’ll be outside of the system and there’ll be no paper trail.’

Santa grimaces. Electronic mails and paper trails. Nothing makes sense anymore.

‘Dexter,’ he says. ‘I just want some gold bells for the sleigh. I don’t want to send another email to Purchasing.’

‘Pardon?’ says Dexter, cupping his ear. The technicians are becoming noisy. They’re gathering around a monitor to watch a viral YouTube clip.

‘I don’t want to send another email,’ repeats Santa.

‘It’s the only way,’ shrugs Dexter. ‘Needs to be a paper trail. Ask them to escalate it this time. That should help.’

Santa removes his gold wire spectacles and pinches his eyelids. ‘Listen, Dexter. I can’t send an email. My computer keeps freezing when I open Outlook. Can’t you do this for me?’

Dexter shakes his head. ‘Sorry, Mister Claus. Best thing is to give IT Helpdesk a call. They’ll come sort out your email for you.’

‘I’ve tried that, Dexter,’ grumbles Santa. ‘But it’s always the answer phone. I’ve left three messages already and still no-one’s called back. Dexter, you’re good with computers. Why don’t you come and have a quick look at it?’

‘No can do, Mister Claus. Has to go through Helpdesk. That way it’s logged. It’s protocol.’

‘Pardon?’ shouts Santa. The din is rising.

‘Protocol!’ shouts Dexter.

‘Alcohol?’ shouts Santa.

‘Pardon?’ shouts Dexter.

‘Forget it,’ says Santa, more to himself than to Dexter. He turns away and steps back out into the courtyard. He takes a deep breath and watches the snow fall for a while. Holding out his hand, he catches a snowflake in his palm and watches it melt.

When he enters the kitchen he stamps the snow from his boots. Mrs Claus is hunched over the dining table.

‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this,’ laments Santa.

‘Mm,’ grunts Mrs Claus. She doesn’t look up.

‘Do you ever miss the old days, dear?’ asks Santa. ‘Were they simpler, or is it just me?’

‘Mm,’ repeats Mrs Claus, deeply absorbed. She’s updating her Facebook status on her Blackberry.

‘Can you even hear me?’ asks Santa, his voice cracking softly.

‘Mm,’ repeats Mrs Claus.

Santa gets his brandy bottle from the cupboard and takes it to the bedroom.

So spare a thought this Christmas. Spare a thought for Santa. An old man being steadily left behind.

Panspermia Press – Deluxe Collections


My my, what’s that sexy thing I see reclining on a shelf at the Memories of the Future pop-up shop? Why, it’s Panspermia Press‘s deluxe collection – all seven previous issues from the press in a beautiful handcrafted package. Is there anything as alluring and luxurious? I think not.

Believe it or not, you can get your grubby mitts on one of these for just £4.50. Nonsensical value for money. Only six of them exist in our universe, so get in quick. And by quick I mean now. Go on. Off you go. Shoo.

The theme of the pop-up shop (which is in fact more of a festival than a shop) is analogue meets digital. It’s an interesting area. I mean, digital’s great, isn’t it. Very handy, very convenient. But analogue’s great too, for different reasons.

This deluxe collection speaks volumes on what’s great about “analogue”. It’s partially the inconvenience, isn’t it. The inconvenience of having it take up space on your shelf; the inconvenience of having to pick it up and brush its surface with your fingertips; the inconvenience of slowly undoing its velvety ribbon, of opening it up, of placing your hands inside and feeling the issues within; the inconvenience of carefully withdrawing an issue, unfolding it, admiring it in the light and reading its story.

Some inconveniences are lovely, aren’t they. Practically foreplay.


Okay, so this is getting a bit smutty. Forget foreplay. Think of it instead as ritual. This is what analogue gives us.

So get your hands on some analogue. Visit the wonderful Memories of the Future pop-up shop and check out Panspermia Press‘s deluxe collection. There’s plenty to see besides. The shop’s brimming with indie books, zines, records, artwork, workshops and biscuits. And it won’t be around for long. Catch it while you can.

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Q&A with Panspermia Press by Bees Make Honey

Just so you know: as part of their Memories of the Future DIY projects series, the adorable folk at Bees Make Honey have interviewed Panspermia Press for their blog. You can check the Q&A out here, but if you can’t be bothered to click on the link, or if you simply can’t bear the thought of leaving this website, you’ll find a faithful transcript below.

Brace yourself. Here it comes:

Next up in our Memories of the Future DIY projects series is Panspermia Press who have been gifting illustrated short stories to the City of Nottingham for the past few years. Expect a macabre sense of humour, characters drawn from well-observed human oddity and a love for taking both the sublime and the ridiculous all the way to their bitter-sweet illogical end.

…And who might you be?

We’re Panspermia Press, also known as Darren and Chris.

What is Panspermia Press & why/how did you start?

Panspermia Press is a very small DIY press. Whenever the mood takes us we print off a pile of short stories as colourful illustrated pamphlets. Then we distribute them around Nottingham, usually leaving little piles at Nottingham Contemporary, Broadway, Lee Rosy’s and Geoff Blore’s bookshop. We came up with the idea for the project while touring with Savoy Grand in 2010. We felt there was a resonance between our writing and illustration styles, and it seemed like a fun way to collaborate. That’s what happens when you get free German beer every night for two weeks.

This is quite different to the usual method of self-publishing (either ebooks, or expensive print runs), it feels a bit more like you’re giving a gift to the world, is that intentional?

I guess it is a gift in the sense that we do it without expecting anything in return. Perhaps we’re true altruists. Or perhaps we’re narcissists. Or maybe we’re just insecure, lonely and crying out for love. Who knows. But there’s definitely something good about making something just for the sake of making it, and then letting people who might like it have it. The issues get snapped up quite quickly, so it’s nice to think that they might be scattered all over Nottingham, sitting on bookshelves or amongst stacks of magazines in loos. That was part of the appeal of the project: making something physical, attractive and – in a way – collectible for people to help themselves to. And it’s not art for art’s sake: Panspermia Press may at times be dark or surreal, but it’s always accessible and humorous too.

You both have backgrounds in independent music, do you think you’ve been influenced by the DIY nature of fanzines & gig promotion?

Chris has designed posters and flyers for Gringo Records and Damn You, amongst others, so that’s helped to hone his skills. And we’re both pretty seasoned in distributing flyers and so on – not that there’s much talent in that. More generally, I’d say being musicians in independent bands (and being surrounded by that environment) has possibly made us more susceptible to DIY projects and collaborations.

Would you call your publications zines?

I suppose they’re zines in the sense that they’re printed in very limited runs and involve a fair bit of passion, effort and expense without any financial gain. But unlike a lot of zines, they’re not topical or dedicated to bands or anything like that. Each issue is simply one illustrated short story. So I guess the press is dedicated very directly to illustration and to the short story form – two things we’re both big fans of.

How does the collaborative relationship work?

Usually I write a short story that’s in the spirit of the press, and if Chris likes it enough he’ll work on an illustration and put the whole thing together. Then we usually stress ourselves out with print shops and imaginary deadlines before finally taking a stroll around town with a plastic bag full of issues. We were actually close friends a long time ago as kids, and met again by coincidence in Nottingham. So the collaboration and all of its practical elements are quite social – much like being in a band. Writing and illustrating can be a lonely, soul-destroying business, so it’s not unwise to join forces with others.

Do you make them in order to promote your other creative work (novel & short story writing/design stuff)?

We don’t really use it to promote our other work directly. There was one occasion where my first novel was shortlisted for a publisher’s online competition, and we distributed an issue to try to earn it some votes; the novel came second place, and maybe the issue contributed to that. And that novel – somewhat by accident – has now come to the attention of a local publisher through the press, so I guess there was some indirect promotion at work there. But that’s all exception and chance. Otherwise, it’s just good to have something like this on your artistic CV. And it all feeds into our other creative work in that it provides purpose, practice, collaboration and new perspectives.

Any practical recommendations or useful links for those embarking on similar activities?

As Bukowski said: “Find what you love and let it kill you.” But that’s not very practical, is it. Perhaps we should start being more practical.

Your creative pursuits are very much labours of love rather than money-making endeavours. Do you prefer things this way?

We love money. Money’s great. Hence we’ll be charging a meagre fee for the deluxe collections stocked at the pop-up shop. It would be great to always get money for doing what we love – at least in order to break even – but that’s often not the way it works and we’re fine with that. We’re used to that from being in bands. Sometimes you just have to do something because you like doing it, because you think it’s good and because you hope other people will think it’s good too. There’s a lot of this around. The digitalisation of most mediums means that creative endeavours are more accessible, democratic and widespread than ever before, which is great, but it means there’s less financial value to them, in a way. But there’s lots of other value there instead. This is romanticism, I suppose. Illogical, misguided, deluded romanticism. But we can’t help ourselves.

You’re latest release ‘Take the next exit for love’ is about a lonely man developing romantic affections for a Sat Nav. What inspired this?

I had the idea for the story quite a long time ago. I think it was inspired by an article I read about some countries having male voices on their satnavs because male drivers didn’t like to take instructions from a woman. It got me thinking and I ended up imagining the scenario of falling in love with a satnav. The idea had been bobbing around for quite some time, and when we were invited to produce a special issue for the pop-up shop, it seemed to fit perfectly with the shop’s theme of digital versus analogue. It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on the explorations of artificial intelligence and human emotion we see in sci-fi and philosophy. It’s very Panspermia Press. We’re really into taking very mundane things to unusual extremes. Hence we have stories about fatally competitive yuppies and apocalyptic paper shredders.

Many thanks to PP for answering our questions. Deluxe packs of their short stories will be available to purchase in the Memories of the Future shop from 8th October (and later online if there’s any left) at the bargain price of £4.50. Their current release Take The Next Exit For Love can be snapped up for free at Geoff Blore’s, Nottingham Contemporary, Lee Rosy’s Tea or Broadway Cinema, if you’re quick.

Panspermia Press Issue 7: “Take the Next Exit for Love”

Good news: the new issue of Panspermia Press, “Take the Next Exit for Love”, is now out. It’s a story about a man who falls in love with a satnav. It will either make you laugh or cry. Or perhaps both. Tear ducts and chuckle tubes all sprout from the heart, after all.

You can find copies scattered all over Nottingham – principally at Nottingham Contemporary, Lee Rosy’s, Broadway, Geoff Blore’s lovely bookshop, and on benches all over the Arboretum, plonked amongst brown paper bags and abandoned trainers.

This issue is brought to you in association with Bees Make Honey’s Memories of the Future pop-up shop. Copies will be available in goodie bags (free to people swapping zines) at the shop, and deluxe collections containing all previous issues will be available for purchase at a steal of a price. More on those bad boys to come…

The Alarmist


Some news: Issue 3 of The Alarmist is now out and about. As I write, it’s doing its rounds, soiling readers’ fingers and spreading literary STDs all over the shop. I’m happy to report that its many venereal delights include one of my short stories, “Pigeons”. Which proves that the editors either have a faulty admin system or are happy to publish any old guff.

But more seriously: it’s a pretty nifty literary magazine. I’m biased, of course, but I think I can cross my heart and say it fairly objectively. The terms “breath of fresh air” and “irreverent” get bandied about a lot these days, but The Alarmist is the real thing. It’s packed with stories, poems and illustrations which alternate between hilarious, horrific, smutty and surreal, and which often hit the sweet spots between. It’s eclectic, but held nicely together by Christopher Tavoularis‘ graphic design, and by what I can only call a very Alarmist tone. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet at the same time only publishes stuff which is seriously good. (Does that include my short story? Well, it’s a story about dead pigeons and dribbling grannies. Whats not to love?)

The Alarmist is only three issues old and has already earned itself international distribution, a listing as one of Foyles‘ favourites, and enthusiastic reviews from the likes of Dazed and Confused and Rough Trade. Not bad going. On top of that, its editors are genuinely open to publishing work by unestablished writers – as proven by my case. Which is nice. Basically, it’s well worth a gander for readers, writers, poets and perverts.

Right, I think I’ve pushed my nose as far up The Alarmist‘s bum as it can go. So I’ll stop there and leave you with some photos (courtesy of Jan Vrhovnik) from Issue 3’s launch night, which took place in a bunker in somewhere in London Town. I was there. In the shadows. Watching.