I'll be reading at Haringey Literature Live in Wood Green on 3 July. Swing by for a couple of stories about sex, death, camping, ornithology, AC/DC and parking on the A34. Though not necessarily in that order.
And here's a post-script to the previous post: two brilliant authors of short-form prose read at last week's Haringey Literature Live.
David Gaffney needs no introduction to anyone interested in flash fiction - he's done as much as any writer to demonstrate how much you can achieve in tiny spaces. ("One hundred and fifty words by Gaffney are more worthwhile than novels by a good many others," says the Guardian, correctly.) His new collection More Sawn Off Tales (with uncharacteristic restraint, we're currently rationing our consumption of this to six pages a day) is in equal parts comic, disturbing, melancholic and strange. Often it's all these things in a single sentence. Sometimes just a phrase. He's on the long-list for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. He must win. Check out David's site here.
Eley Williams is a dizzyingly inventive author whose work holds words up to the light and, in examining them, finds hidden resonance and relationships. Like David Gaffney, Eley compresses comedy, sadness and lingering strangeness into a single scene. Her story about the alphabet and aphasia is like literary parkour - a feat of astonishing linguistic agility undertaken over a hard emotional ground of loss. She's up for The White Review Prize and is brilliant. Check out Eley's website here.
Unbidden, your correspondent also performed a brand new bit of flash fiction called Tommy's Snake Tattoo. The idea was to locate a moment of epic drama in the act of rolling down of a sleeve. Decide for yourself whether we managed that here.
If you're a reader interested in writing, or a writer interested in reading, come and check HLL out. They're very cool, friendly sessions at the Karamel Club in Wood Green hosted by Kate Pemberton from Ambit magazine. They're also free. The next one is on 1 May and features Robert Shearman (who re-introduced the Daleks to Dr Who, bagging a BAFTA in the process) and Rebecca Swirsky.
The Twitter action is all here: @HLiteratureLive.
Oh yeah. Delighted to report that I'll be one of the featured writers on 3 July when the theme will be summer madness. Feel the heat here.
A chance encounter with a flyer in a Tottenham Library leads us, in a roundabout way, to a cool event in north London called Haringey Literature Live - an evening, very much as the name suggests - of live literature at the Karamel Club in Wood Green. Which, in case there was any doubt about the matter, is located in Haringey.
Reading there last week was the magnificently dry surrealist Nick Parker, whose book The Exploding Boy And Other Tiny Tails you can get right here. The Guardian will explain how good it is here. If you like the sort of things we like round here, we urge you to investigate. Sara Langham read some enticing extracts from her novel in progress called (I think) How it Ends. I don't believe there's a website for Haringey Literature Live yet, but more news on all this sort of thing as we have it.
And here, excitingly, it is. You can now buy my little ebook 'The Last Eight Minutes of Light' from Galley Beggar Press.
It comes with some kind words of approval by the mighty Eimear McBride, author of A Girl is a Half Formed Thing (and officially a genius; she's up for the Goldsmiths Prize this year). "This is a great story; I hope to be seeing more of Jon Fortgang."
What's it all about? Here's the blurb: "A beautifully realised story of teenage angst, parental angst, step-parental angst and getting things into proportion..."
And here are some words from the story to whet your appetite:
For your eleventh birthday last month he gave you two things: a yellow Frisbee and a CD by a band called AC/DC. “I loved this record when I was your age,” he said, though you sensed this was for your mum’s benefit rather than yours. “Made me the man I am today.” Personally, you can think of no poorer recommendation.
For the other 4,201 words (roughly) go right here right now. It costs a quid! Merely!
We failed to announce this event while there was a chance for anyone round here to actually go, but I was delighted to find myself alongside Galley Beggar Press writers Eimear McBride, Andrew Lovett, Jonathan Gibbs and Samuel Wright, reading a short extract from 'The Last Eight Minutes of Light' at the excellent Big Green Bookshop in London this weekend.
Go here to check out Galley Beggar's stuff. Putting on our disinterested critic's hat - unworn for a while - we're kinda thinking of 'em as Sub-Pop or 4AD: there's a whole risk-taking, DIY vibe about their stuff and also a clearly emerging aesthetic.
Anyway, our small contribution to all this wonderful activity will be available to purchase as part of Galley Beggar's 'Singles Club' thing from this Friday. We will, no doubt, find time for a quick social media sweep later this week.
This is neat: over at the London Review of Books they're literally taking the term 'literally' apart.
Just a few days after taking receipt of Let's All Go To the Science Fiction Disco, which features a great interview with proto-punk firebrand and writer Mick Farren, comes the sad news that he's died after collapsing on stage at The Borderline. Our friend Sam Jordison, who conducted the interview, has posted the full transcript here. Below, The Deviants in full flight.
Delighted to report that I've won The Writers & Artist's Travel Fiction Writing Competition. "Neat, calm and understated," they say. They're talking about my prose there, rather than my general demeanor. Discover the sultry psychic significance of a lay-by off the A34 near Twyford here.
A random purchase in a Kentish Town charity shop plunges us into the eerie realm of Jane Bowles.
Jane was the wife of Paul Bowles, the expatriate, existentially-inclined, pre-Beat author of The Sheltering Sky who lived out much of his life in Tangiers, and there are some quiet but distinct parallels between their work: listless characters adrift in exotic locales fleeing their own disaffection; a private conception of reality that's simultaneously heightened and yet hazily distant. And, in the spaces between the words, a mysterious yearning for something which language can't quite grasp – an inadequacy acknowledged in the discretely ironic tone of their prose. (I covered Bertolucci's febrile adaptation of The Sheltering Sky starring John Malkovich here. Despite – actually, because of – the glossy over-abundance that characterises Bertolucci these days, I'm weirdly fond of the film.)
Both Paul and Jane were gay, and Jane also suffered from a series of debilitating psychic and physical afflictions. That's partly why she produced so little; the act of writing, she said, was essential to her yet literally tortuous. She suffered a stroke at the age of 40 and though she lived for another 16 years, her output dwindled from a stream to a trickle and finally dried up altogether. Her husband's star ascended, but during her 20 years in Tangiers she only produced two stories. Two Serious Ladies, published in 1943 was her one and only novel.
Plain Pleasures is a slim collection of darkly absurd, drily-toned shorts first published in 1966. Like the heroin-addicted writer Anna Kavan who died in 1968 (more from me on her here), whose life and work bear distinct parallels with Jane Bowles, the eerily precise veneer of Bowles' prose is ruptured every now and then by bright little shards of madness: uncontrollable, unfathomable urges; dangerous, desperate dreams; characters motivated by impulses which they can't quite apprehend.
In the story Plain Pleasures, prim Mrs Perry is invited out to dinner by a gentlemanly neighbour. Slightly disgusted – or perversely delighted? – by his attention, she gets drunk and passes out upstairs in the restaurant where something so appalling happens that it's literally written out of the text. (The story also contains the bone-dry line, "In his youth he had considered raising alligators in Florida. But there was no security in alligators." William Burroughs quotes the sentence in an essay on style. He also conceded that he and Jane "just don't click, exactly." But then, who did click with William Burroughs?)
There's an uncanny (in the Freudian sense) and oeneric tone to this writing. Yet, like Kavan, Bowles' radar seemed to be picking up frequencies from the future: certainty, structure, knowledge, truth – all those issues which post-modernism would either redefine or attempt to jettison are quietly taken apart.
The introduction to this volume, incidentally, comes from Elizabeth Young, the journalist and critic who died in 2000 after years spent championing new strains of marginalised fiction as it mutated out on the perimeter: Kathy Acker, Stewart Home, Alisdair Gray. I remember reading her in the 90s, at which point she didn't just have a finger on the pulse, but seemed actively capable of accelerating it. Young also, incidentally, had a fleeting role in The Clash's film Rude Boy. That's her kneeling in front of Ray Ganges…
Anyway, I was trying to think of contemporary writers operating in a similar field to Bowles and Kavan. Deborah Eisenberg could be one. Mary Gaitskill, maybe. Squint, and you can almost make out some of the same anxieties pulsing through the stories of the toweringly brilliant Wells Tower.
"I warn Dorothy every time I see her that if she doesn't watch out her life is going to be left starving and aching by the side of the road and she's going to go to her grave without it," writes Bowles in Plain Pleasures. "The farther a man follows the rainbow, the harder it is for him to get back to the life which he left starving like an old dog."
Writing Britain, an exhibition currently running at the British Library, is a magnificent exploration of the relationship between the island's writers and the island they've written on.
We've wondered aloud here before about the relationship between memory, words and space. This exhibition sticks a spade deep in Albion's earth and pulls up some of the worms wriggling around our collective subconscious. Plenty of this stuff you'd expect to find here: Wordsworth squinting into the twin suns of Tintern; Lear baring all on the heath; green men, Pucks, Tolkien, Blake, Lawrence, faeries and Keats.
There's JG Ballard chronicling suburbia's suppressed hysteria, Iain Sinclair's peregrinations through the psychic rubble of E9 and further psychogeographical artefacts from Tom Vague. (On display here is a poster of Notting Hill's totemic monolith Trellick Tower; I still have the original version, given away with the deliciously seditious Vague magazine back in the early 1990s.)
John Lennon gets a look-in. So too does Keith Waterhouse's long-out-of-print novel Jubb, a bleakly comic account of loneliness and voyeurism which, by rights, should have been adapted by Mike Leigh in 1966. The catalogue is vast. Our only quibble – the absence of Peter Dickinson's apocalyptic children's fantasy The Changes, in which the people of Britain develop a violent technophobia and flee from the cities; part-Edenic fantasy, part nuclear parable, part child-friendly depiction of Hobbes' state of nature, it deserves a spot next to Alan Garner's The Owl Service and Susan Cooper's richly mythical The Dark is Rising trilogy, which do feature here.
It's a brilliantly curated exhibition and it says a lot of contradictory things about Britishness – as, indeed, do the British. We're Pooterish busybodies. We're red-eyed visionaries. From the city, we gaze longingly towards the hills. From the hills, we look longingly back at the city.
It'd be lovely to see a contemporary anthology of UK writers exploring the strange set of impulses that land and location arouse, as does a woozy strain of current psych-folk: Songs of the Green Pheasant; Tout. An attitude grounded not in rolling meadows or elderly hills but in that eerie area to the side of an A-road where crisp packets nestle among the nettles.
Above, and shamelessly ripped from wiki: the original cover to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows. Chapter 7, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, depicts tweedy Toad and co. encountering Pan down by the river, where he presents them with a darkly symbolic representation of the cycle of life. Syd knew what was going on.