Smashwords Review: The Battle for the Known Unknown

The Battle for the Known Unknown

The Battle for the Known Unknown

I must say the kind of review I like the most is the following by l c:

For those disinclined to follow the link, essentially l c couldn’t really be more complimentary if he or she tried. He or she says of the first volume of the Anomaly Trilogy, The Battle for the Known Unknown: “This was by far my most enjoyable read so far this year – all categories.” The novel combines “an interesting plot with relevant discussions on scientific discoveries, religion/philosophy, as well as keeping a nerve in the story with regards to both suspense and adult content. ”  Stylistically the novel has “High quality narrative and flow. Near pefect editing,”

l c’s review may not have the insightfulness and depth of a professional reviewer, but it is well appreciated nonetheless. And I hope that l c enjoys Volumes 2 and 3 of the Anomaly Trilogy as much as the first volume.

Mercury Prize Awards 2014

GoGo Penguin - V2.0

GoGo Penguin – V2.0

I’ve made comments about the Mercury Awards in the last two years and now that this is the first time that we’ve got a set of nominations that genuinely get me excited then I guess this year should be no different.

The list includes many of my favourites: Polar Bear, FKA Twigs, Nick Mulvey, Kate Tempest and, of course, GoGo Penguin. My money is on Kate Tempest to win, but there are at least four other worthy candidates that aren’t dreary rock bands or bland pop stars (not that I’m especially sure who they are or what their music’s like).

I’m sort of hoping that a kind of corner has been turned where we are past the situation where the only musicians that ever get any media attention fall within the categories of rock and pop. I don’t deny that there may be the odd rock or pop song that might be worth listening to, but generally this fixation on a fairly narrow and totally conventional song-based form must surely be coming towards its end given that almost all the decent music generated since the 1970s has not been pop and it most definitely hasn’t been rock.

Even Radiohead can hardly be described as a rock band any more (and much the better for it).

However, before I get too triumphalist, my celebration of dance music might be compromised by the current trends in America relating to what our trans-Atlantic cousins call EDM. The kind of dance music that dominates there is pretty obvious and rather dull (if radio-friendly). And I worry about how Las Vegas is fast becoming a rich man’s Ibiza where the likes of Paris Hilton and Justin Bieber are taken seriously. And I thought Skrillex, Pendulum and Calvin Harris were bad enough.

Although Kate Tempest’s victory would be the most poetic (in several senses of the word), I’d be pretty chuffed if the groove-friendly jazz provided by GoGo Penguin made the grade. After all, who’d have predicted James Blake would have won last year?





School Discipline

Julie Delcourt: Spanking

Julie Delcourt: Spanking


I’ve never practised any of the many activities that come under the banner of BDSM, such as bondage, humiliation or spanking, but I’ve read a few novels and seen a few films which deal with the subject.

As far as I can see they come in two categories. That kind of fiction which portrays BDSM as a kind of fun activity for consenting adults and that which shows it as being brutal and entirely non-consensual. In the former camp we have the fiction of E. L. James and the illustrations by Julie Delcourt. In the latter we have the fiction of the likes of the Marquis de Sade and, of course, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Inevitably I’m more inspired by fiction which deals with the non-consensual world of such behaviour: partly because the only fascination I have with the consensual kind is that it is a kind of behaviour which is interesting but virtually impossible to understand and partly because I think there is a lot more non-consensual violence in this world and that is something to be very concerned about.

And so I’m announcing a new short story that I’ve submitted in all the usual places: School Discipline.  It deals with a familiar area of BDSM: namely corporal punishment at school which is something that some people still think is a good thing. Needless to say I no more think licensed brutality in the classroom is a good idea than state-sponsored homicide, capital punishment or any resort to violence by institutions to keep order. This short story is as far as it’s possible to be from being a fantasy to satisfy those who think a good spanking is salutary and that it never did them any harm. Personally, I think it probably did do them a huge amount of harm and the fact that they still come out with such nonsense is all the proof of that you need.

Even some of the entertainment that is meant for those who enjoy watching boys and girls being beaten (by the likes of Czech film company Lupus Pictures) is actually quite open about all that is wrong about corporal punishment as a form of discipline as opposed to a consensual activity between partners who like restraint and pain. My guess is that amongst those who get a kick from it, the real pleasure comes as much from the anticipation and the ceremony as much as from the actual administration.

So, like all my stories, there’s a strong satirical element to School Discipline where those who already suffer from a surfeit of punishment will continue to suffer from it, whilst those who escape from it are those who are already quite well-off. It becomes, in other words, yet another means for those who are privileged to arbitrarily punish those who are not.

And my belief is that the real reason for the continued attraction of corporal punishment to a section of society that watches Fox News and reads the Daily Mail (and probably have no idea what ‘satire’ means) is precisely that. Only those who envisage themselves delivering the punishment are especially likely to think it’s a good idea that it should continue to be delivered.


The Brickworks Lane Pals

Over The Top

Over The Top

And so here we are: 2014, the centenary of the start of the Great War. This was meant to be the war to end all wars, but turned out to be just World War One, with World War Two on the horizon.

So, in commemoration of this centenary (which marks more than any other the beginning of the Modern Age: in fact, the start of what Eric Hobsbawm christened the Short Twentieth Century), I’ve written and submitted a short story, The Brickwork Lane Pals, inspired by the futility and stupidity of the conflict, but also by the undeniable courage and comradeship of the soldiers involved in the conflict. And also (seeing as this is a Bradley Stoke story) something about class difference and the very different attitudes towards sex and custom that prevailed at the time.

However, as there has to be a sex element in this story and because there weren’t any women at all at the front (all the women were in brothels far away from the front and safe from enemy shells), the only kind of sex available to either officers or men was what they provided for one another. So, in other words, this short story is one of the few stories I’ve written which can be categorised as “Gay Male” or “M/M” or “Homosexual” or whatever.

I’m not gay myself, so my account of the feeling men have for one another and the sexual behaviour that characterise their relationships is based on pretty much second-hand reports and what you can see on the internet. However, I’m also not lesbian, hermaphrodite, black or any one of the various flavours of humanity and associated sexual activities that I’ve written about. Personally, since my main intention is not to give an accurate and complete view of homosexual behaviour (any more than I want to do the same for activities associated with bondage, fetishism or body modification), but to use sexual activity as a kind of excuse on which to hang a story, I think I can be pardoned.

This short story is about homosexual love in the trenches: which we know did happen though more often between fellow officers and less often (in proportional terms) between fellow enlisted men, but very rarely between officers and men. In those days, and probably not that much differently these days, the classes rarely mixed except in wholly exploitative terms. I’m sure historians can provide plenty of arguments about the actual prevalence of homosexual behaviour, but I imagine that rather like the prevalence of such behaviour in prisons and public schools it is something that happened but about which few men were prepared to admit to.

Unlike, in this case, those members of Kitchener’s Army that this short story celebrates: the Brickwork Lane Pals.






non title4 by Ryohei-Hase

non title4 by Ryohei-Hase

I’m probably not alone in thinking this, but all the news at the moment seems to represent a kind of unravelling.

The Middle East and North Africa are in the throes of violent conflict that seem to have been wholly avoidable and yet all owe their origins from meddling by a United States government which encouraged the early versions of the jihadist movements in its conflict with the Soviet Union and then made many times worse by its ill-considered trampling into Iraq and Afghanistan. As they say: Fools step in where Angels fear to tread. And the fools in this case are George W Bush’s administration. and its earlier manifestations.

But Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their puppet president (if reputedly alpha-male) aren’t the only villains in this piece. What series of presidents allowed Israel to evolve into the monster it has become: second only to ISIS in its disregard of humanity in pursuit of unobtainable ends. What combination of British and American administrations with the support of the news media and a complacent electorate has allowed such a disgraceful transfer of wealth from the taxpayer to the stockholder (and the consequent bleeding of public services). What has allowed the thoroughly predictable (and predicted) pressures of commerce and private interest to ravish the environment and bring about devastating climate change (still denied by well-funded climate sceptics).

All this is enough to make anyone despair.

But from a longer perspective, it seems more or less inevitable. Once the forces of vested interests and substantial wealth found a way to not merely challenge but to triumph over those who argued that perhaps the interests of the majority of humanity, the planet’s future and basic common fairness are more important than to further line the pockets of a decreasingly small number of increasingly rich people, well, the game was up. The allure of the neo-liberal fantasy has clearly won. The world is now on a path dictated by short-term self-interest and phenomenal levels of remuneration and everything less can go get fucked.

As, of course, it has.

The Scriptwriter

The Scriptwriter

The Scriptwriter

So, here comes my latest short story: The Scriptwriter, which is now available in all formats on my website and on the other usual suspects.

This is a case where form rather than content has definitely been the driving force as a cursory glance at the story will confirm. The entire story is in the form of the kind of script that I imagine would be written for a pornographic movie with the additional conceit that this pornographic film is about a scriptwriter of such pornographic movies. So clearly this is a short story that is deliberately self-referential as well as being slyly satirical of the very thing it pretends to be.

Interestingly, this is a story that has got a much more negative vote on Stories OnLine than most of my stories. That’s always something well worth considering because of what it reveals about the readership. I don’t think it’s been punished for reasons of plot, style and characterisation (as a glance at the most popular stories on the site will show: few of them have much in the way of redeeming qualities in those terms). It might be I’m being punished for presuming to be stylistically adventurous, but I wonder why someone confronted by prose that isn’t the normal series of short paragraphs with interminable dialogue should be bothered to even vote it down.

No. I suspect the cause is more like the reason my short story Her Husband’s Ex was voted down and that is because it is perceived as a criticism of the target readership. And in the case of The Scriptwriter I imagine that is because it satirises a form of entertainment that the target readers indulge in rather too frequently and in which they recognise something in themselves that they don’t like.

As I say, I’m don’t think I’m being punished for style, sexual content or even lack of sexual activity: there is considerably more of the latter than in most of my stories even if every half an hour of sex is reduced to a handful of short phrases and a note of its duration.


A Final Solution?

Freedom of Speech - Norman Rockwell

Freedom of Speech – Norman Rockwell

There are many possible responses I could make regarding the utterly disproportionate and indiscriminate reaction that the Israeli government are meting out on the Palestinians. However, it has to be said that we’ve got so used to it, that it’s difficult to be shocked by it any more.

But what has stood out for me isn’t just the violence. Nor the blatant hypocrisy where the stated excuse was the murder of three Israeli teens that had nothing whatsoever to do with Hamas, but where the real reason was Israel’s fear that the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah had developed so far that there might no longer be any excuses for such behaviour in the future. Nor is it the way in which the United States forever stands by the State of Israel however outrageously it behaves. There are good electoral reasons for this in a nation which is captive to the vociferousness of powerful lobbies and is barely a properly functioning democracy any longer.

What I find most worthy of comment is outlined in this interesting article in the New York Review of Books. This is written by an Israeli professor who I guess could not be described as anti-Israeli and who has faith in his country’s future. He is viewing the conflict from the inside and what I found interesting in his article was just the extent to which anti-Palestinian sentiment has become so entrenched, so every-day and so ugly. Palestinians who are a long way from the West Bank and Gaza and may well be citizens of the Republic of Israel are routinely discriminated against.

He doesn’t draw parallels with other societies that have practiced discrimination of one kind or another against people whose ethnicity and race offends the ruling party, although the list is very long and, historically, includes the United States, South Africa and Tsarist Russia. And, indeed, includes countries more closely neighbouring the Middle East such as Iraq under Nouri Al-Maliki and Bahrain.

But the article makes me understand better the frequent assertions by Western Correspondents of the overwhelming support the Israeli Defence Force enjoys for its actions from the Israeli population and the bizarre footage of weeping and wailing Israelis for the relatively minor crime of kidnap over the much greater crime of murdering hundreds of defenceless children. And the rage against a few impotent missiles lobbed over the border to land nowhere in particular as against targeted drone strikes and aerial bombardment.

And in all this, is there much freedom of speech?

Theoretically, there’s probably a huge amount of license to say and publish as you please, but as we know from the UK and the United States, the power of the press is very much in the hands of the establishment and dissenting voices are soon silenced in an atmosphere of fear and hatred and the need to get on with one’s neighbours.