Thursday, 25 April 2019

"Metastasise" (Journal of Microliterature, 2012)

Met a Star's Eyes

In sequins, in jeans, no vice untried, he's hot, too famous. Sharing in a new rage, fans without sense, ability or taste were stunned by his great disco - very dazzling; such technique, each woman with a queue. Men lined up, hopeful, frustrated - he the most. No table - a rival on the scene with his ex (pert, poisoned laughter) got there first. He could sin till late, a lewd hint enough to get what he wanted. All night stud, he made endless advances. Easy Sue pursued, taking the bait, seriously in love. With excitement he lost count of the times he got on her - danger never far away, envy. Whatever the problem, a debt recalculation got him through.

While ordering his double, he licks his lips, injects himself with the weirdest elation. Sin had transformed his life. When can circumstances change? His key moment - he had to be careful. On the Med he sins again, new cocktails. A new drug treat meant more sickly daze. She was prone to dye her hair a new colour each night. Once a rogue antagonist if led astray, hope entered his life, a recovered drunk. But his weekend spirits failed - too easy to stress doubt. Wisecracking, he scolded her each night. He still spoke too much, a claim he later denied. Liking jewels, he had a greedy side, dead mean to tell the truth, but with friends she forgot all that, said all was fine, no doubts allowed, innocence assured.

The rape he denied. Any hope she had disappeared without successor in sight. There was no missed ache. She'd tear strips off him, the pain no cure. A quiet end was what he wanted to avoid. He wanted to party, longed to be wilder - not with her, coffees piled up. Fears receded. He hadn't even won friends' love, though he loved disguise. She suddenly realised all that other people missed - defied him, began to wonder, stand apart from his ego. There were other problems though - not earning, back in trouble, a loan turned down. No time to readjust. No ring, of course. It was finished, a lover gone forever, another of life's fated, casual ties.


In sequencing genes - novice, untried - he shot to fame, ushering in a new age. Fans without sensibility or taste were stunned by his great discovery - dazzling, such technique. Each woman with acumen lined up, hopeful, frustrated. He, the most notable arrival on the scene with his expert poise and laughter, got there first. He could scintillate, allude, hint enough to get what he wanted. All night study made endless advances easy. Super-pseud, he took debate seriously, in love with excitement. He lost count of the times he got honoured - anger never far away, envy. Whatever the problem, adept recalculation got him through.

While ordering his double helix he slips, injects himself with a weird distillation. His DNA transformed his life. When cancer comes, stances change. His chemo meant he had to be careful on the medicines again, new cocktails - a new drug treatment, more sickly days. He was prone to diarrheoa - new colour each night. Once arrogant, agony stifled a stray hope, entered his life - a wreck; overt drunk. But his weakened spirits failed - too wheezy, too stressed out. Wise, cracking his code, deader each night. He still spoke to much acclaim. He later denied liking duels. He had agreed, decided, meant to tell the truth, but with friends he forgot all that, said all was fine, no doubts aloud, in no sense assured.

Therapy denied any hopes he had, disappeared without success or insight. There was no mistake. Shed tears drip, soften the pain. No cure. A quiet end was what he wanted too; a void. He wanted to part, he longed to bewilder, not wither, cough. Fees piled up. Fears re-seeded. He hadn't even one friend's love, though he loved his guys - he suddenly realised all that. Other people mystified him, began to understand. Apart from his ego there were other problems though - no turning back, in trouble, alone, turned down. No time to read, just knowing of course it was finished, all over, gone forever, another of life's feted casualties.

[The "Journal of Microliterature" has disappeared, so I'm reprinting it here. It's really one homonym rather than 2 stories]

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Recent acceptances

Some recent acceptances have little stories behind them -

  • A poem in "Acumen" - my 200th poetry acceptance (out of 612).
  • A story in "Postbox" - Postbox is a new magazine that takes stories: a cause for celebration.
  • 2 poems in "Atrium" - one written in 1990, the other in 2018. I can't see much difference between them in terms of maturity, etc.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Immersion - why only writers read short stories

During March I wrote a 3000 word story - about the longest I've written. Each day I wrote one or two new drafts. I began to immerse myself in the situation before getting up in the morning, imagining myself in the back garden where the action takes place. Will readers notice that devotion? Maybe a few.

People who read long, popular novels (especially novel series) love to lose themselves in the world of the book, detaching themselves from their surroundings. They get to know the characters and the settings. Many readers seem capable of doing this. Readers who can cope with short stories are rarer - they need to rapidly acquaint themselves with their new surroundings, knowing that their investment is short-term. Reading a multi-author story anthology is harder still, becoming a lost art for the boxed-set generation.

For poetry and Flash there's sometimes the need for similar immersion. More often readers need to tune into something less palpable and enveloping - a tone, a voice, a mood. It's easier to read a single-author work than a magazine or anthology, especially if you're the kind of reader who's looking beyond the text to construct the author's psyche or identity politics.

Of course, some readers (me included, often) distrust immersion, feeling that it's a trick, looking out for the mechanics that the author's used to produce the effect. Often it's done by making the medium transparent, reducing the arty, poetic, sound/language-based effects of their work. An alternative available to poets is to immerse the reader in the sounds, the art.

Genre and stock settings/characters are short cuts to world-building. Significant details help too, as can having characters and situations that readers can empathise with. Online and in books are many tips for writers who want readers to experience immersion, and some more theoretical pieces that also consider immersion in computer games and VR. Here are just a few books and links

What character traits in readers correlate with rapid immersion? Perhaps -

  • Easy detachment from the world (daydreaming)
  • Ability to concentrate
  • Ability to deduce worlds, characters and situations from small clues

These are much the same traits that writers need, so it's no surprise that only short story writers read short stories - particularly anthologies.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Bardonecchia again

Another skiing holiday when I ran out of time to try the half-pipe. But I did read several books (mostly poetry) between ski-runs - (in reverse order of preference) "Call it blue" by Judi Benson, "Are we there yet?" by Sally Goldsmith, "learning to lie together" by Diane Brown, "No Time for Roses" by Michael Tolkien, "Weather Permitting" by Dennis O'Driscoll, "Madame Zero", stories by Sarah Hall and "Conversations with Friends", a novel by Sally Rooney. None of the poetry books had fewer than 80 pages. Brown's had over 120! They should all have been shorter. The prose books often felt denser and deeper than the poetry.

I've been reading beginner's books about post-modernism which on holiday resulted in the writing of a poem and a story - both unfinished, both worth finishing.

The snow was disappearing fast. We managed to do some country walks (saw lizards) and visit some old haunts. On the plane out we met a group of people in their eighties going skiing, so I guess it's not the end of the piste for me just yet.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Subscribing to litmags

Years ago, when I posted England's literary magazines, 1985-2012, I subscribed to many magazines. Now I only subscribe to "Under the Radar", "The Dark Horse", "Acumen", "Stand", "Flash" (Chester Univ) and "Orbis" because many of the magazines I used to subscribe to no longer exist. I try to rotate subscriptions nowadays, my choices rather affected by which magazines accept my work, though I've never been in "The Dark Horse" - it's 5 years since I even submitted.

I read occasional issues of many other magazines - "PN Review", "Poetry Review", "Poetry", etc. I'm less good at reading online magazines - I never read them cover to cover, though I regularly browse Antiphon, Spelk, and Jellyfish Review.

How much longer will paper literary magazines last? A couple of years ago MsLexia led with an article by Debbie Taylor which considered the plight of litmags. She wrote that a "combination of passion and (relative, if not outright) poverty is typical of the vast majority of souls working in the litmag sector", that in 2016 about a third of mags were print only, a third were online-only, and the rest were mixes of various proportions, and that the editors' own work often suffers because of time constraints. She pointed out that Granta and The London Magazine had private backing.

The situation's worsened since then, the souls working in the litmag sector getting older each year. On the bright side -

  • The magazines still surviving presumably pick up a few subscribers from demised ones. I suspect the ones that do the best are tied into a press, have launches, run competitions, and have a social media presence.
  • New paper-based magazines continue to appear, often with high production values.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Moroccan mules

Middle Atlas mountains. Waiting at the entrance to our hostel are the mules who'd carry our luggage.

Marrakech. A mule relaxing in a sunny side-road.

Zerhoun. Like most of the mules we saw, this one was well padded. I don't know what was in the tanks. Cooking oil?

Middle Atlas mountains. When faced with a mule, the rule is to stick to the inner side of the path. This mule was carrying supplies to the village where we stayed.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Second again

Before I retired from the rat-race I was first in the West Sussex poetry competition (1992), first in the "short Fiction" (Univ of Plymouth) competition (2006), and placed in competitions run by "Varsity", "Cambridge Writers", "Kent and Sussex Poetry Society", and "Staple". I've more or less given up entering competitions nowadays - my poetry's more suited to magazines, and my better stories are too literary, I suspect.

I make exceptions for some competitions that are free to enter, have book-publication as the prize, have a theme that I've already written a piece for, or publish an anthology.

I belong to a writers group (Cambridge Writers) that offers free entry to their competitions for members. I don't think I've ever won their story competition. Often I don't even get commended. This time I managed second again - worth £70. I think I'll try harder next year.