FERAL PIGEONS #1
EDITOR FAYE FORNASIER EDITORIAL BOARD EMMA GIBSON IAN McLACHLAN HELENA MICHAELSON REBECKA MUSTAJÄRVI COVER ART ILLUSTRATION IRENE FUGA DESIGN CONCEPT STEFANO FAORO DESIGN DEVELOPMENT FAYE FORNASIER WEBSITE www.nutshellmagazine.com E–MAIL email@example.com ADDRESS NUTSHELL MAGAZINE 77A DARTMOUTH PARK HILL LONDON, NW5 1JD Nutshell is an independent, yearly publication funded by donations, merchandise, and events. All profits go towards printing costs. Each issue is an achievement and the proof that literary magazines have an audience, and a loving one. Special thanks to our published and unpublished contributors, donators, helpers and friends.
ET VOILÀ! —
Welcome to the second issue of Nutshell, which incidentally coincides with the beginning of a new decade – a decade full of writing and reading and magazines.Yes, we have heard of the internet and the Kindle, but we believe that belonging to the endangered species of the liber promulgatio will mean our patrons (you) will protect us and treat us like some sort of darling platypus and savour Nutshell like a homemade wild gooseberry chutney. This is why we are back with renewed enthusiasm to unveil our number two. The chances are you have already flicked through this copy and have an idea of what brilliant illustrations we bring this time.What you might not know yet is how equally special the writing is. It took us the whole year but we have managed to compile an eclectic collection of topics and styles we're really proud of – our menu includes juvenile superheroes, mysterious afflictions, humour, sentiment and a dessert of inspired verse. And to complement the talent of our sprouting contributors we have two interviews with possibly the best poet living on this island today, and a children lawyer-come-bestselling author who can write breathtaking novels as easily as if they were shopping lists. We suggest you read your Nutshell on buses, trains, parks, and beaches – although it reads particularly well on trees. When you're done, why not check out the Nutshell blog, you'll find a nice mixture of extra-magazine ramblings, events information, reviews, colour illustration and videos. To submit your work, ask a question or have a chat visit www.nutshellmagazine.com
CATHERINE EDMUNDS  PHOEBE COULTON  CASPER MCMENAMIN  SJ FOWLER  RUSSELL ETHERIDGE [ 10 ]
NIKESH SHUKLA [ 11 ] DANIEL BOURKE [ 17 ]
MATTHEW PLUMMERFERNANDEZ [ 18 ] PETER BRANSON [ 22 ] BYRON BEYNON [ 24 ]
HARUKA SHINJI [ 25 ] PAUL MCGRANE [ 26 ] Interview: DON PATERSON [ 27 ]
KAT REDSTONE [ 30 ] EMANUELE KABU [ 38 ]
NEIL CAMPBELL [ 44 ]
TIFFANY ANNE TONDUT [ 47 ] RUVI SIMMONS [ 48 ] ECHAO JIANG [ 50 ] ALEXANDRA LISTER [ 51 ]
JU HYUN LEE [ 53 ] BALI ENGEL [ 54 ] DIMITRI KERAMITAS [ 55 ] MR CLEMENT [ 62 ]
ADAM J MAYNARD [ 68 ]
ELI GOLDSTONE [ 64 ] Interview: SIMONETTA AGNELLO HORNBY [ 70 ]
JARED HAMILTON [ 75 ] CONTRIBUTORS [ 78 ] CATHERINE EDMUNDS [ 80 ]
PETIT MORT —
I saw the first flutters today of tadpoles in my pond, like urgent spermatozoa in my own reflecting glass. In early spring, my broken gnome and I had hosted frog orgies: we would stand and watch the petit mort as they sank to the bottom of the silt. Then the pond stood stagnant, filled with eyeball spawn, forming globular masses that hung – as if on 'pause' – suspended in the water. Each one of hundreds held a single dot of life in its viscous eyeball white; each one a reminder of beginnings and endings as the black cat scooped up caviar with a dainty, rapacious paw.
FAREWELL HELMET — easily, said the rake, do I bend knuckle I sat afeared in the barber’s chair as he shaved off my hair gleaning a shuddering tinct to the fontanel of a baby boy grown all too well I had requested the oat of regress his profession to itch, the pickled hairs a cut like Brecht’s to induce the stares a sweep, a hinge, a sudden line my heir the air, my head is mine I picture him cigar in mouth denying the pleasure, of a man’s fingers made for measure running lathered through his hair and Brecht, the cunthound, smiling there the Polish girls at the coffee house take a double look and clap they like my cut, they sit in my lap they stroke my skull, they feel the bone now like him I will never be alone I shall repeat this haircut next time with a picture as a guide I will lay it, black and white, at my side here behold Georg Trakl, copy it! short sides, long atop, where he lies one day I will sit
THE COLOURING NEEDLE â€” though to bleeding dry akin cardinal robes that staved her womb she was born and lived Berlin a dragon brush with breasts swallows, children falling upon her skin a bowldered tenement, a draught a slake, and scent the tuppered meat within so ask me, love if with me I could take a sin I would answer pride for I would not let Periander win
OYSTER BRATS —
‘Oyster Brats, Oyster, Oyster Brats, Oyster, OI-OI-OI…’
ear to ear and bearing the fruits of their time at the forefront of global pop culture. On the first Oysty felt the flux of his energy day of school every year, Auntie swords rush through him, replacing Shazia, Bajwa’s mum, would beep his hands with gleaming blades, his her horn outside our house and muscles flexing and flinching as I would run out and join Jonnies the true Enigma electricity seared Ferres and Bajwa in the back of through his entire body. His wisdom the car and they would regale me viewfinder appeared above his right with tales of what movies they eye. He could now see in three speeds. had seen that, like, weren’t out Bratty grew by 7 inches, his triceps, here for ever, how they had played biceps, calves powering outwards actual computer games, and look three times in size. His eyes glowed at these toys they had accumulawith stun-tricity. The fingers on his ted, visions from a future I would left hand flickered as the nails grew never see in my lifetime. America to a sharp deadly platinum point. was just so futuristic and I was Now they were ready for the fight. just so jealous. Every year, the Cortisone Jones stood there, same story. giggling to himself, looking at these At the start of one particutwo kick-ass ninjas, knowing he had lar autumn term, I sat in the car defeated them before, and would do it as Jonny Bajwa showed me the again; he was only inches away from talking Kitt car from Knight Rider discovering the true mysteries of the he’d just brought home from a Embellishing Creams of Ragaton. He holiday in Pennsylvania, compleknelt down in ant-eater stance and te with an accompanying talking wiggled his fingers and flared his no- grinning Michael Knight action strils, challenging the Oyster Brats to figure. Meanwhile, Jonny Ferres their most deadly confrontation yet. told me about this film called Gremlins he’d seen at the cinema. * I sat there, grumpy. My summer had been spent playing cricket Every summer Jonny Ferres with our neighbour’s crazed and Jonny Bajwa would return teenage son; watching Why Don’t from separate two-month sojourns You and sending off for fact-packs in America, triumphant. They that never arrived; and waiting for would be tanned, smiling from the Two Jonnies to make their way
home and keep me company. I’d spent a fortune on penny sweets and comics and was sick of the sight of my own house. I sat there, quiet with jealousy, not even pretending to be happy to see them. At school, as the Two Jonnies disappeared into their classroom (for they were a year older) I went to mine and we all made our usual chit-chat about our misspent summers. It appeared that this year I was the only one who hadn’t been away. Unfortunately, Dad had started a new business and was too preoccupied to take us abroad. I didn’t understand this and was a particularly virulent little shit all summer, not moving from the sofa unless tempted with ice cream and crisps. I hadn’t even been to the cinema. It was, like, the worst summer ever. Come playtime, we descended into cliques. The footballers balled, the monkey-bar men swung, the Transformers gang transformed and Daniel Lewis, Paul Whatmuff and I sat by a tree stump, painstakingly re-crafted into a bench, wondering what we should play. Paul had no imagination and Daniel needed to be led. I was no leader though. They muttered about their holidays, noting the films they had seen at the cinema and Paul’s new A-Team pyjamas and Daniel’s Go-bots, a cheap replacement for the realdeal Transformers. I looked over at the Two Jonnies, playing with their cool new American toys,
drawing the biggest crowd in the playground, oohing and ahhing over their plastic renditions of pop culture icons like they were burping newborn grinning babies. I grimaced and turned to Daniel Lewis and Paul Whatmuff, my eyes burning with ideas.
* Mixing trickery with urgency, Oysty and Bratty battled Cortisone Jones. They traded blows with him that he couldn’t control. One would take all of his focus while the other would sneak up and pound him in the back of his head. He would switch focuses and the repeat process would happen. The ol’ switcheroo. They giggled to each other at every success, full of life and vitality. There was no way Cortisone Jones was going to break into their family’s shrine and steal the secrets contained within. He was an evil man with big ideas. They were the last protectors of the Embellishing Creams of Ragaton. They couldn’t let them fall into the wrong hands. They just couldn’t.
* ‘Well, guys,’ I said. ‘I went to Dublin this year and saw this awesome film. We could play that. Like, act out scenes.’ Paul Whatmuff’s ears pricked up and he turned away from his flirtatious stare at the Knight Rider car. ‘Yeah, it was this great film
called Oyster Brats, where these two kids, these two ninja teenagers called… Oysty and Bratty, they’re the Oyster Brats, and their parents are killed at the start by this evil genius called C-C-Cor-ti-sone Jones who wants to steal this family secret called the Embellishing Creams of Ragaton. But they’re the last defenders of the secret. And they’re ninjas.’ I obviously had skin-care on the mind having spent most of the summer staring at the bathroom cabinet from an empty bath, my legs dangling over the side, nothing else to do. ‘That sounds… awesome,’ said Paul Whatmuff. ‘Yeah, it sounds crucial,’ bleated Daniel Lewis. ‘Well, I’ll be Oysty, obviously, cos I know the story…’ ‘Can I play? Me! Can I be Bratty?’ I smiled at the control I now had on my willing group of actors and fantasists. ‘Well, Bratty is small, so Daniel, you can be him… Paul you can be Cortisone Jones. But you can also play any of the other characters we need.’ Daniel Lewis punched the air in excitement. Paul Whatmuff looked dejected. There was obviously nothing worse than playing the invented villain in a made-up film that topped the box office in Dublin in the summer of 1987. I explained the basic powers possessed by the Oyster Brats; how their parents met their sticky end;
and the origin of Cortisone Jones (it involved radioactive waste and a gas oven). They listened to me, enraptured. I was starting to amaze myself with the brilliant summer I had had in my head. The amazing and death-defying stateside adventures of the two Jonnies started to pale in comparison to my Dublin antics. We set up a scene near the final denouement where Cortisone Jones was closing in on the mystical Embellishing Creams. I gave Paul Whatmuff some pointers on Cortisone Jones’ posture. I talked about the figures and the rucksack and the movie tie-in novel I had at home. Paul Whatmuff got excited and asked me if he could borrow the book and maybe the figure of Cortisone Jones so he could get more into his character. I told Paul Whatmuff that the rucksack containing all my Oyster Brats memorabilia was being safe-guarded by my parents in our attic. I wasn’t allowed up there as it was unsafe for kids. Paul Whatmuff looked at me, upset. I told him they were collectors items and he quietly understood. He was really excited by the idea of Oyster Brats and since it had not secured a London release, it seemed so exotic for him, made in the tropical streets of faraway Dublin. Paul was a sucker for anything involving teenage ninjas. It really sung to the revenge fantasist in him. He grew up stigmatised by his name: What a muff,
muff-diver, muffy; so he wanted to know that somewhere out there were kids standing up for people like him, kicking the asses of those who sought to mock him and destroy his self-esteem. Paul used to carry around a snapped-off TV aerial that he would extend and pretend was a danger sabre. He once found a map that one mum had drawn for another for a party and had made me cycle with him to the location as he thought it was a spy rendezvous. His sense of adventure stemmed from wanting to forget the fact that he had a silly surname. His parents kept telling him he’d appreciate it when he was older. So his solution was to act older. He needed the Oyster Brats in his life. Daniel, on the other hand, was a kid constantly in metamorphosis, absorbing everything around him, listening for things he needed to watch, know about, play with, words to use. He was a culture sponge. He hung around with us because we were as inquisitive as him but we were allowed to watch television on a regular basis by our parents. He wasn’t allowed except for an hour on Saturday morning and thus had no idea who Dogtagnan was or even that the Mysterious Cities of Gold were somewhere to be found. We were his pop culture guides. Also, he knew we wouldn’t mock him for it. We used the abandoned climbing frame as the stage for
our scene. Fighting fires, I threw an action scene our way, getting Daniel to work on his posture and ninja stance. I work-shopped Cortisone Jones’ voice with Paul. We developed a low, rumbling, gruff, booming voice that instilled fear and evil in the souls of his foes. When Daniel and Paul made suggestions I incorporated them into the action in my head, sometimes shooting them down and telling them how it was done. I was the Oyster expert, after all.
* ‘You think you can defeat me, young Oyster Brats? Mmmm,’ slurred Cortisone Jones in the low, rumbling, gruff, booming voice that instilled fear and evil in the souls of his foes, the Oyster Brats. Oysty stared at him, pursing his eyebrows, feeling a tinge of pain in the pit of his stomach. That voice ringing out sent him into a montage of flashbacks, watching as the man tortured and murdered his parents. Bratty was just a baby then. Oysty was old enough to remember and he would never forget. He let out a piercing war-calling scream and jumped up ten feet in the air, raining down on Cortisone Jones with the fury of grief, regret and retribution.
* Daniel and Paul were soon desperate to be invited over for playtime so they could check out
all my badass merchandise. They were enchanted with the idea of two vengeful kick-ass ninja teens. They could relate to Oysty and Bratty and empathise with their hatred of arch-nemesis Cortisone Jones. I tried to keep any talk of Oyster Brats away from the Two Jonnies just in case they trumped my lie by revealing the truth about how I spent my summer. They knew, their mothers knew, and they were all a part of my daily journeys to and from school. They knew not of the high octane majesty of the Oyster Brats universe. Although this was becoming a lie spiralling out of control, I was already developing the plot for a sequel in my head, as well as working in continuity scenes for the first film that linked all the cartoon violence together, the plot, the substance, the exposition. Paul and Daniel were getting more and more obsessed with seeing these toys, plastic representations of their new muses and I was running out of excuses for just how valuable they were and why they needed to be kept in their boxes in the Oyster Brats holdall in my loft. Why it wasn’t a rucksack but a specific holdall was beyond me. It wasn’t easy coming up with these lies. I had a section in one of my exercise books where I kept plot notes, written in chronological order so I didn’t forget the continuity of this intricate plot. Life was becoming a tangled web of deceit and Paul
Whatmuff and Daniel Lewis were my trapped flies.
* ‘You can never truly destroy me… I am your cousin’s father…’ ‘…’
* ‘Hey, your mum never told my mum you went to Dublin?’ One of the Two Jonnies cornered me as we waited for our car home after school. ‘What? What do you mean?’ ‘Paul Whatmuff was telling me about this wicked film you saw when you went to Dublin this summer. I didn’t know you went to Dublin. Lobster Traps or something?’ ‘Oh? You mean Oyster Brats?’ ‘Yeah… when did you see it?’ ‘Erm… I… my uncle went to Dublin this summer and brought a pirate back with him and gave it to me.’ ‘So you never went to Dublin?’ ‘No. My uncle did.’ ‘So you have a pirate of Oyster Brats at home?’ ‘What? Oh…’ ‘Well, can Jonny and I come over tonight and watch it? Instead of you coming to my house? I’m bored of all my toys.’ ‘The videotape broke.’ I said. ‘It got chewed up in the video.’ ‘Oh. That’s annoying.’
‘Well, Thundercats is on tonight. We can watch that.’ ‘Nah, I watched them all in America.’
a new clique of friends. Daniel disappeared into the mists of the playground, disappointed with the loss of momentum in his created fantasy universe, while Paul joined * in the football before having his front tooth knocked out. I quickly ‘You killed my father. Prepare got myself a place on the football to suffer like he did…’ team and the shame of my lie faded into a ghostly fragment in the * playground. I wonder if Daniel Lewis Oyster Brats died the day and Paul Whatmuff ever went to the Two Jonnies were unable to Dublin on holiday, on a stag-do give me a lift home. I was taking or on a romantic break, and spent part in a computer club where we their time in charity shops and played a stock market game on an video shops tirelessly looking for early Apple Mac. The computer that forgotten Irish teenage ninja club ended early and my mother classic film that meant so much in wasn’t due for another twenty mi- their formative childhood years. nutes. I was quickly drafted in as a goalkeeper for Adam Harvey and * Nicholas Sherling’s football team in the playground. I found I had ‘Oyster stand together… safe hands and the next day when Oyster stand forever… and ever playtime came around the Oyster and ever…’ Brats were officially disbanded ‘Oyster Brats, Oyster, Oyster as I found myself rolling with Brats, Oyster, OI-OI-OI…’
WOOD GREEN —
I am listening to Weird Fishes. I have played it 17 times today. I’m not going to describe how it sounds – that never works – just go and listen to it. You’ll have it. Or get it off Google. It’ll be on YouTube or whatever. Think of it as the soundtrack to everything that happens here. It sounded particularly good in Morrisons this morning. I like Morrisons. When I first moved here it had a very stylised cow on its natural yoghurt pots. It made me feel better about no longer co-habiting and leaving a more successful neighbourhood than Wood Green which, if you haven’t heard of it, isn’t as nice as it sounds. REM recorded Fables Of The Reconstruction here and the Smiths recorded Panic. Make of that what you will. I live on the Noel Park estate, an old garden-suburb from a century ago that’s subsequently been surrounded by all the grease, stench and human litter of the inner-city suburb. 2200 homes and no pubs, built for the Artizans, Labourers & General Dwellings Company by a teetotal philanthropist. I am Wikipedia. You miss more than you think when you can’t hear what’s going on because you’re listening to Weird Fishes again. I nudged
into a fat black woman in a beige velour tracksuit by the pizzas. Her breasts were uncontrolled and her dark lips were wet and slack. I said sorry, shouting. Both she and I are fat because somewhere in the ancestral environment nature made sweet teeth useful, because high-sugar meant high-energy. Then someone invented donuts, chicken-popcorn and fries and we just couldn’t stop ourselves. When I got home I had an email from a possible client. I write speeches for people who can’t. My advert in Private Eye reads: Speeches written, reasonable rates. The email says he’s giving a best man’s speech and he just can’t get it right. He is from Edinburgh. I call him. Oh sure, John, listen, it’s not that people aren’t funny, or that they don’t know enough about their friend, it’s just that no one but a pro is going to get it done to a high enough standard. Just because you’ve been mates for years, doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to fix his car, does it? ‘I suppose so, yes,’ he says. ‘But I don’t want it to be the same old speech.’ Oh no, it won’t be like that at all. Other writers might get out the cookie cutter and give you the
same old spiel, mate, but I’d never do that, John. Even if you wanted me to, understand? I wouldn’t. He says he’ll have me. November is shaping up. I believe in marriage. Monogamy is much-maligned but if you ask me it serves the purposes of men very well and we should fight to save it. Hear me out: we have been at the controls for thousands of years, so of course the settlement, the contract between the sexes, is weighted in our favour. (The proof is this: now we are losing control, monogamy is weakening.) Take your average beta male: me, for example. Overweight, no car, bad money, bad hair. Now, while we cling to a one-womanper-man system, I’ve got a fairto-middling chance of getting permanent ownership of a woman near or above my level of attrac-
tiveness. But if men were allowed more than one wife (and that’s been the dominant alternative to monogamy for centuries), then Mr. Flashcunt City Boy in Highgate with his £1.5 million bonus, he’d have four, five, six wives, however many he could afford. And it would be in a woman’s interests to be with him, really – part share of a Ferrari’s got to be better than owning a broken Fiesta. At least you can drive the Ferrari. And where would that leave me? Six women down the food chain, that’s where. Trying to give kids to that awful fat woman in Morrisons. Monogamy is democracy in action for men. It’s a settlement between us ensuring we all get a fair go at having an OK woman to ourselves. By the way, let’s get something clear. Just so you know,
I'm not one of those who reveal more about themselves than they realise. I've read all the books, mate. I know what I'm doing. Anyway, I’ve got a date tonight and I’ve got to get ready. * The date was up at Ally Pally so I left enough time not to have to get the bus. I passed the queue for the W3, hundreds of people all smoking. The lights of McDonald’s, Wetherspoons and Hollywood Green lit my way, and the stench of the weeksold fat hurried my stride. It’s so bright the park is blackly dark in comparison. The paths were oily and muddy. The pub up by the Palace, The Phoenix, is good for a date. There’s a good view of the Thames’ orange valley and you feel exposed at night. If a woman
is a bit scared because of heights or remoteness then she’ll mistake it for being aroused. Not that you want that, exactly, but she’ll take to you quicker. We hadn’t met, but we’d got to know each other over email and text for about a month. With other dates the texts have got smutty, but not with Cathy. She was at the bar when I got there. She was fatter than in her picture, they always are, but she wasn’t fat. She had dark hair cut nice and square. She was wearing a little black leather jacket and black Levi’s. Not TK Maxx. She had a pale face and brown eyes and a square jaw that suggested spittle. She greeted me with a dry kiss. She had a thin jumper tied around her waist: insecurity. ‘I hate this bit,’ she said. ‘The actual meeting.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I told her. ‘It’s not as if we don’t know each other. What’s the front page tomorrow?’ ‘God knows. All I know is Andy Capp still won’t give Flo an easy break.’ ‘Damn that Andy.’ I get a laugh. I drank two pints of Guinness and she had two lagers. We talked about her. We went to Crouch End for food. I let her choose a South African Pinotage. I told her that I download my music now, that I prefer my possessions as memory. She wasn’t yet fascinated exactly so I told her about my nervous breakdown. I felt really happy, I said, because everything was making sense at last. I’d never thought too much of myself and suddenly I had the world and all of existence pretty much nailed. I was
channelling Bill Hicks, who’d died that summer. I remember walking across Finsbury Park, thinking he could see with my eyes, see the orange-lit paths, and see through me that the beautiful order of the world was being revealed. My mind felt as big as the universe, and the world seemed full of possibilities. It wasn’t that I was the second coming, just that I might as well be, it might as well have been me as anyone. I thought I’d unify my friends in a world-conquering business, each with our specialisation – Narcotics and Compact Discs and Books and all the rest of everything. Isn’t that a sign of the state of things then, Cathy, that my drug madness made me want to be Richard fucking Branson? The best minds of our generation destroyed by whatever. By the end of it, one of my friends had to stop my dad
getting me sectioned. It didn’t last long: a summer, then I went back to university and rebuilt myself. Sure enough, Cathy was all eyes, and touched my leg and looked like the most sympathetic woman in the world. I dropped my gaze from hers and said, and I think I’m better for the whole experience. Bone is stronger where a break has fixed. Then a program inside her seemed to crash. ‘Let’s get a taxi to yours,’ she said. ‘To Wood Green?’ ‘Let’s get a taxi to yours. Don’t over-analyse it, come on. I’m yours for the night.’ ‘What do you mean, yours?’ ‘I mean come on, let’s go before I change my mind.’ ‘What makes you think I
want you in my flat?’ ‘I thought... I mean… don’t you find me attractive?’ ‘Not now I don’t. Do you think that’s what I wanted? Here’s my story now let’s fuck?’ ‘No… ‘ ‘I think I’d better go. Don’t get in touch again.’ When I left she was starting to cry. * I put on Weird Fishes after I got in and it’s been on repeat since. Tomorrow I’m going to buy some fruit and some of that yoghurt in Morrisons. I’m going to stop eating donuts and fries. And I’m going to start making John a best man.
ILLUSTRATIONS MATTHEW PLUMMER-FERNANDEZ
THE COLLECTOR —
My name is John and I steal wild bird’s eggs. I am no beast. I watch and wait. Each clutch I take’s stone cold, fresh made. That way the hens should lay a second batch so nothing’s spent. Craft’s in locating nests. The taking bit’s the buzz I miss and find impossible to do without. Can’t share the spoils, shards blown bone dry. Hard evidence, like photographs, must be concealed, of course, from prying eyes. So these are hollow victories, hard earned. What’s left with each abortion carried out’s a barren shadow of a flawless gem: leaves me a brittle shell soon as it’s done, dead glass craving constant replenishment.
COPPICE MILL —
Deep Wildwood where, from dawn to dusk high summer days, you cast yourself outlaw, mantelled like dark wolfsbane. Mill race: off on your own you liked it best, alert to slightest stir, to drown within its rich dank taste. One end the silent grinding-mill, the other waterfall and pool where wagtails, dippers, bowed in awe to shimmering sapphire dinosaurs. Can’t reinstate those woods you knew. Storm of the century, Scotch Brook tore free, recovered gravity inside a cloud. Falls dry as hay: much worse, for you the moment’s spent. Mill pond’s entirely gone astray: where rushes whispered, willows yell as tall as six cloned houses grow where apples, pears and damsons scrumped were hard as Spelling, sour as hell.
POEM â€“ BYRON BEYNON
It is not that the nights are too long, nor that I am unsettled by the thought of the blank paper, but the room is stacked high with words and measured shelves cover the walls. Outside a silhouette in a trespassed forest walks the sleeping hours nodding in agreement that it was a good day, and eternity's not easily come by.
ILLUSTRATION – HARUKA SHINJI
BENNY HILL —
This bloke is sitting on a bus We cut to where a sign says PUSH beneath a bell the bell is pushed We cut again Outside a caff the door says PULL he pulls the door Inside the caff the waitress comes of course she’s young and beautiful We have a close up on his face He rolls his eyes and licks his lips and reaches out toward her chest her badge says PAT he pats the badge Your face looked like that actress’s when you caught me with your sister at the party in her bedroom we were dancing to old records we’d speeded up to 45 so they would sound like Benny Hill I’ve changed the ending of this scene to make it seem more humorous You’re chasing me through parks and fields dressed in heels and red suspenders mock-angry fist raised in the air And me? I’m Benny Hill! At last! With no responsibilities except for making people laugh and grabbing their extremities
PART GHOST: AN INTERVIEW WITH
DON PATERSON —
Don Paterson teaches in the school of English at the University of St Andrews and is poetry editor for Picador. He has won the T.S. Eliot Prize twice, and was recently awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. Also an accomplished jazz guitarist, he works solo and for ten years co-ran the jazz-folk ensemble, Lammas.
we can always complain – there were huge omissions. But then we always complain ...
Do you read literary magazines? If so, which ones?
A literary landscape, a knowledge of metre and scansion, and a passion for Icelandic sagas were apparently prerequisites for a life devoted to poetry according to W.H. Auden. Do you encourage your students to pass a similar kit inspection? Are there any prerequisites for a life devoted to poetry in your view?
London Review of Books, New Yorker (if that counts), Poetry, and Poetry Review... I skim a fair few others. I like a Canadian magazine I tend more towards an uncalled Brick. gendered version of MacNeice’s ‘I would have a poet able-bodied, You appeared in some of fond of talking, a reader of the the BBC’s poetry season newspapers, capable of pity and programmes last year. laughter, informed in economics, Did you feel the season appreciative of women, involved was successful? Do you in personal relationships, actively think television and poeinterested in politics, susceptible try mix? to physical impressions.' I wish there were a list of prerequisites, Yes, it was genuinely succesthough; it would imply you could sful, I think; a lot of people got to prepare, in some way. But a life hear some fine poems. What more devoted to poetry is just what can you ask? I think we’re pretty you find yourself leading, not fortunate to have a popular media something you’ve chosen. God that’s broadly supportive of what’s knows you’d probably have chosen – after all – a fairly marginal art differently. form. Jazz isn’t so lucky. Sure,
INTERVIEW – DON PATERSON
You have said we are “part ghost”. Can you explain what you meant by this and how it might connect to poetry?
you know it, you’re talking to a mirror.
It’s quite simple: we’re a strange kind of beast in that we have foreknowledge of our own deaths, and our lives are shaped by knowing they’ll end. Tables and stones look at us and see theones-who-pass; and we know this, deep down. Poetry helps us carry the weight of that, and negotiates on our behalf – in the gap between the living and the dead, presence and absence, sign and chaos, speech and silence, linear time and cyclical time, the passing and the eternal. Love would be enough, if we were dogs – it’s enough for my dog – but we need something additional. An intercessor. Otherwise it’d be intolerable. You've talked about today's poets being “Crippled by the sense of our own cultural irrelevance1”. How and why do you think this occurred?
In accepting the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, did you neutralize “such tiny threat as you once presented*”? Oh, you’re good. I’m trying to change the system from within. It’s a middle-aged thing. You’ve published three collections of aphorisms. Do you feel the form is underappreciated? Are you on a one-man-mission to bring it back into fashion? Nope. I think it’s found its level. Anyway I quit! No one else would play with me. I don’t have a high opinion of it. But the aphorism is supposed to be self-defeating. The aphorism is a flag of surrender. Aw god, I’m off again. Do you truly long to be half man, half desk?
We forgot the reader and started worrying too much about what other poets thought. The result was an awful lot of poetry that was really about poetry. It happened because we started to worry about our own cultural irrelevance; but self-consciousness is the death of art, I think. Before
Half man, half computer, deffo ... I like the feeling of moving over to silicon. It feels less ... Sore than carbon. Much less sweating, less worrying about death and teaching. I’m inspired by the example of certain atheist cylons. But work is my resting state, yeah.
Would you care to
INTERVIEW – DON PATERSON
comment on any writing projects you’re currently working on?
interview with a favourite aphorism.
Book on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, almost done, out in October; new book of poems, four or five years away ... A memoir about music. And some techy stuff on ars poetica.
Nothing is tragic. Everything is unreal. – E.M. Cioran
*Don Paterson, The Book of Shadows, p. 132.
We hoped you’d end this
Madeline danced down to the kitchen singing quietly, a song she couldn’t quite remember but had heard on the radio earlier that morning as she had brushed her thick brown hair, scraped it neatly away from her round face and brushed her very white teeth with rigour. She had peered at her round face in the oval mirror and scrutinised her skin. Satisfied that it was clear and young, and so very fresh she had frowned slightly at her reflection. A boy at last year’s sixth form dance had told her that she was pretty, but rather porcine. The word had stuck in her mind since then. She knew what it meant when he had said it, but later that night she had fetched down her dictionary from the painted bookshelf and read the brief definition, ‘resembling a pig or pigs’. Having spent her entire childhood in the sexless fug of an all-girls school, all dressed identically in brown skirts and pullovers with variations on the pony-tail, perhaps a brief flirtation with a plait, Madeline had never had to question her looks or how they were perceived by the outside world. But since the pig comment she had begun to take extra care with her appearance, appealing to her step-mother for the first time to take her shopping ‘properly’,
which involved a frantic day at Brent Cross followed by a leisurely tea in Golders Green where, for the first time, Maddy declined a second piece of chocolate torte. The trip had been a success, and she had come back with a modest turquoise dress, gracefully cut, which she had decided to wear for the first time that morning. The day not only provided Maddy with an outfit with which to embrace her adult life, but had also served as a small bridge between her step-mother and herself. Their relationship for the past three years, following the death of Maddy’s mother, had been unexplosive but tense all the same. Maddy had never revolted against her as such, but since the wedding, she had certainly retreated further into a world of fantasy and contemplation. The positive result of this was that Maddy spent more and more time bent over her desk, concocting story after story. Now, on the merits of her creative writing, she had been invited to attend a gapyear writing course at the prestigious Torway College, and was so excited that she could barely bring herself to eat breakfast, the words, ‘I’m a writer, I’m a writer!’ careering through her head and making her dizzy with joy. As she stepped out onto the
bright street, it seemed to Maddy that the gods were smiling benevolently down on her. A light breeze tickled her face and bickered with the calming warmth of the sun, and a lazy blue Burmese cat rubbed its face against her ankle as she passed the last stretch of residential houses before the bus stop. She wondered what the other writers would be like. She had visions of pale, beautiful boys with thin, sensitive fingers and hearts aching with prose. Of girls like herself, young and fresh and friendly, perhaps a couple to giggle with in the break and share holiday stories over steaming cups of coffee. On the journey, for the hundredth time, she went over her writing subject matter in her head. At school she had been praised for her vibrant prose dealing with themes of a ‘controversial’ nature, and her most successful story to date was a day in the life of a homeless man called Roy. Maddy had based Roy on a variety of men she had passed on the streets of London: lean, shame-faced young men in tracksuits, with forlorn dogs and downcast eyes. They often held ratty polystyrene cups, clenched in dirty fingers, in which Maddy would drop spare change whenever she could. These brief encounters, punctuated with a ‘Cheers love’ or ‘God bless you’, would leave Maddy with a guilty tingle of excitement, and her fertile imagination would run havoc. Maddy’s imagined ‘Roys’
were always victims of circumstance, artistic, misunderstood young men plagued with bad luck and terrible childhoods. The Roy in Maddy’s story had been the son of an alcoholic sailor and a prostitute mother, brought up in what Maddy could only describe as a brothel in Southampton. Here the young Roy, a promising painter, talent un-nurtured and un-noticed, runs away to London at the age of fourteen where he is force-fed heroin by a gang of organised criminals, and ultimately ends his own life. Having read the story out loud in class and later assembly, Maddy was sure that this was the one to bring to her course, and she had printed it out on thick cream paper, placed it ceremoniously in a plastic folder and now held it against her chest in her bag. It was only when she checked the sheaf of paper for the third time, that Maddy realised that she had left her mobile phone at home. She knew that she was bound to receive a text from her step-mother at the end of the day, but this didn’t worry her. Today was a new start, a leap of independence, and it gave her a thrill to think that she could not be contacted. Torway College didn’t quite look as Madeline had expected. Her mind had fostered up a vision of Oxbridge spires, oak-cased windows, old Doric pillars, but the building that faced her was glass-panelled and modern with
a cheap, plastic disabled railing and fire doors. She handed in her letter to the receptionist, shyly playing with a loose strand of hair, but caught herself, and smiled at the woman, ‘Madeline Lee. I’m here for the one-year creative writing course.’ The woman didn’t look up, just handed back the letter and directed her to the third floor, ‘The others are all there. Don Matthews will be taking you this week. He’ll be up in a minute.’ Madeline smiled again, gave up the search for contact with the receptionist and headed up the stairs. The room that Madeline entered was white and impersonal. The other students were littered sporadically round the room, and Madeline’s first impression was that they were much older than she had expected. She thought to herself with a hint of concern that she must be the youngest by far, and the image of soft chats in the break and pale, timid youths cruelly exited her mind. She knew that this was everyone’s first day, yet she had an uneasy feeling of seclusion, like she’d walked into some sort of members’ club where she didn’t know the code. It seemed to make her shrink, but Maddy knew as soon as they started reading their work all this would change. Perhaps the writing itself would be like some sort of initiation. After a few minutes of stilted conversation between the other
students, to which Madeline felt unable to contribute, a middleaged man in glasses wandered in, and introduced himself as their tutor, Don Matthews. He suggested that they go round and read what they had been working on over the summer and then discuss each piece. The adrenaline and excitement at the prospect of sharing her work threw Maddy into a state of restlessness. She tried to listen to the others as they read, catching the odd sentence but then she would lapse into fantasies of how she would deliver her piece. A thin woman with downturned lips was the last to read, and Maddy was shaken out of her reveries by a burst of laughter from the group and a couple of claps, and then it was her turn. She carefully slid her story out of its folder, cleared her throat and began. She barely needed to look at the page, so well did she know her Roy story, and seemed to simultaneously read and anticipate the inevitable pleasure of her listeners, so that her mind was wonderfully juxtaposed between the two, like a mindful Buddha. She took a breath before the last sentence, as Roy takes a breath before his eyes close and he sinks back, dead against his cardboard box. Maddy smiled coyly and looked up expectantly at the others. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Don Matthews seemed to realise that it was his duty as facilitator to pierce the
atmosphere and move the class on from this awkward stasis, and he cleared his throat, frowned strangely to himself and pretended to adjust his glasses. ‘Umm Madeline, er thank you. Perhaps someone would like to start with some feedback?’ There was a small movement in the back of Maddy’s mind, and it was something like a dying hope that actually she had perceived the silence falsely. She couldn’t quite remember how the feedback had gone for everyone else. It seemed to blur into a foggy distortion somewhere in the recesses of her consciousness. She felt a blush, like red paint in water, course over her face. The group were speaking now and Madeline fought to understand what they were saying. Words like naïve, inexperienced, je-jeune. The thin woman with downturned lips was laughing at something and asked Maddy if she had been kept away from the real world in a bubble. A Scottish man who Maddy hadn’t even noticed seemed to be getting angry. He kept asking her why she thought she had a right to represent something she knew nothing about, that he knew people like ‘Roy’ and they were nothing like ‘Roy’. Was she trying to romanticise something or other? What was her intention as the author? Why was the style inconsistent? Was it intentional? Someone else said something about Roy’s vernacular. She heard herself very far away speaking, but couldn’t grasp what
she was saying or what it was in answer to, and all the time this throbbing in her face and head. The rest of the morning washed over her. At break-time she found herself in the canteen, the others chatting across the table while she picked at the tuna sandwich she had prepared the night before, but the bread seemed dry, the tuna too salty, and then back to that room, and then suddenly she was out on the street where the whole world didn’t seem to be playing her fanfare any more. She had a strange feeling that she didn’t want to go home straight away, the thought of trying to explain the day to her parents was very taxing, and somehow whenever she thought of home she could see the unpleasant smile of the thin woman, lips pursed, arms crossed. She could feel what the woman would see in her home: her step-mum’s chatter in the kitchen became provincial and simple, the paintings of flowers in the living room cheap and gaudy. She caught her reflection in a car window, and it distorted her so that she became the porcine monster. Red-faced against that silly turquoise dress, like a ghastly Christmas gnome. So she walked and walked. Euston road was suffocating in mid-September, and crossing the road terrifying as lorries shuttled past her, and big red buses packed with tourists headed into central London. She
thought that the canal would be nice, maybe she could sit by the water and think the day through. Reaching the bridge on Camden High Street, she slid past the group of leering punks with their cans of Special Brew and hollers for cigarettes, and walked along the canal path. Groups of friends with beaded hair and baggy trousers didn’t give the ruffled girl in the green dress a second glance, but huddled together squawking at boys with finned haircuts and skin-tight jeans. A homeless man sat against the wall under the bridge, perhaps in his early thirties, sandy hair peeping out from a woollen hat, and a dark coat, which seemed odd to Maddy in this sweltering heat. She sat down a yard or so away, on the edge of the canal, so that her short legs hung down near the water. Through the corner of her eye she studied the man. He had fair skin, which seemed to stretch tightly over the bones of his face. His cheekbones were high and he had the humble beginnings of a beard, littered with ginger, and such blue, blue eyes. He was dirty and his clothes were shabby, she noticed a socked toe peeping out from a hole in his boot and a tear in his jeans where she could see a tiny fraction of ghostly white skin. He had a beer in one hand that he delicately sipped from every few minutes. Having noticed the girl watching him, he wiped away a bit of foam and smiled at her. Mad-
dy was surprised that his teeth were white. Pulling a packet of tobacco from a pocket, he began to roll a thin cigarette, ‘Do you want one lovey?’ he said, glancing up, head still down. ‘Wolfish’ thought Maddy and she shivered slightly. ‘Ok.’ He finished rolling the cigarette with deft fingers and passed it to her. Maddy fumbled in her bag for her purse and drew out some change, which she held out to him. The man laughed and pushed her hand away, ‘Don’t be silly love.’ Maddy blushed and put her purse away. She put the cigarette in her mouth and he lit the end for her. The rolled tobacco was harsh and strong, it burnt the back of her throat, but she puffed away in an effort to appear nonchalant. He passed her the can of beer, which made Maddy pause, but then she remembered the pearly white teeth so she took it gingerly from him. They shared a couple of cans and Maddy felt the horrors of the day peel off her. She had barely spoken to the man while they had been sitting and sipping together, but now she began to chat. She told him she was a writer, and in response he drew out a pad from his pocket and read her a little poem he had scribbled down. As he read it out, Maddy felt a flush of pleasure. She was right! He was like Roy. A real artist, living on the street, a victim of circumstance. In Maddy’s opinion the poem wasn’t very good, a little glib. She had expec-
ted more of the tortures of life on the street, something desperate and feverish, but there was potential she thought. She found that when he got up to go she didn’t want to leave her new friend, and shyly asked if he would like her company for a while. He scratched his head, looking a little bemused, ‘Alright then honey. If you like.’ Maddy bought them both a jacket potato from a stall. It was evening now, the sun was melting, burning orange and purple, and Maddy felt proud and happy next to the tall stranger. She had thought he was dirty before, but as they walked she could just smell warm tobacco, something slightly metallic and soap. Made brave by the beer and the trauma of the day, she slipped a hand into his cool, dry one and they walked on. A couple of boys in tracksuits, one holding a massive pit bull on a chain hollered over to him from the other side of the road, ‘Oi, Mark!’ He slid his hand out from hers and darted across to them. When he returned he told Maddy to wait while he went off to do something quickly. The boy with the pit bull crossed over to her and handed the leash to Maddy, ‘Look after Dolly will ya. We’ll be back in a minute,’ and the three of them disappeared round the corner. Maddy, ecstatic, held on to Dolly. This was it! The real experience! There was something inexplicably romantic about it all. And without having to win anyone
over she had been accepted. She hadn’t even spoken to the boys in tracksuits, yet straight away they had entrusted Dolly’s safety to her while they went off to do something dangerous and secret. She was there a long time. Eventually Maddy sat down and ran her fingers through Dolly’s short, bristly fur. Lamps lit up, the streets cooled, became empty, and she had on only the turquoise dress. She was starting to worry when the three men returned. Mark took her hand. Seeing her shiver, he removed his huge overcoat, and draped it over her shoulders. She thought of Sir Walter Raleigh laying out his cloak for Elizabeth to walk on. Mark. Her prince of the streets. She looked up at him, his eyes unwavering, calm and kind. The smell of him and the rough, thick wool enclosed her like the walls of a womb. The two boys whistled to them and started to walk. She trotted next to Mark, his thin arm round her neck, the two boys in front, play-fighting and shouting at each other as they headed into the backstreets of Mornington Crescent, until they came to a complex of estates. Huge, looming buildings with thousands of glittering windows, empty playgrounds and bins filled with coke cans and lucozade bottles. They turned into one of the forecourts and walked round the back of the building to a garage door, which the three men lifted so that there was a gap
a foot high, through which they all squeezed. Someone turned a light on, a naked bulb that hung limply from the concrete ceiling. It cast a dim light on a few tyres, a broken stuffed arm-chair, a make-shift table of bricks and some broken electrical equipment. Mark wiped the arm-chair for Maddy to sit on and passed her a can of beer from a pack by the table. The two boys began to take paraphernalia from their pockets: a small brandy bottle, a bathroom scourer and lighters, which they doctored with practised fingers. Soon one of them was crumbling white waxy lumps into the top of the bottle, and they took it in turns to suck out white smoke, which they held down and exhaled in creamy streams that danced up to the light. Madeline watched in fascinated silence as Mark turned away from them all to face a wall, lowering his trousers. At first Maddy thought he was going to urinate against the wall, but then she saw a needle in his hand that he held delicately, like an expensive pen. His arm disappeared, and he crouched slightly, the back of his neck tense so that the tendons stood out and his skin reddened. He exhaled a long, drawn-out sigh, pulled up his jeans and sat on the floor. His eyelids flickered like butterflies and his breathing was deep and loud. He reached out, cat-like, his hand lazily playing with Maddy’s foot. He smiled at her, but he seemed very far away, locked in
somewhere. ‘What’s it like’, she whispered to him. He tipped his head back and pulled off the wool hat, ‘Like a dream, honey pie.’ He smiled again, but this time really noticing her, ‘You want to try?’ She sat down on the floor in front of him while he tipped out beige powder onto a square of foil. She had almost felt impatient as he laboriously flamed it with a lighter and smoothed every inch with his fingers. He passed her the tube of a broken pen which he told her to put in her mouth, ‘I’ll burn it for you. It’ll roll down the foil and you hoover up the smoke.’ He lit it and the powder turned into a dark brown globule, a tiny droplet. Her face was so close to it that it made her cross-eyed as she concentrated on following the little ball as it slid down, then across, all the time breathing in the tiny trail of smoke. She thought it tasted rather like bitter bacon, which really wasn’t so bad. ‘First time, that’s enough now.’ He took away the foil and slipped an arm round her. ‘I just feel nice!’ she said out loud. There was a titter from the tracksuits and Mark ruffled her hair. She did though. She felt so utterly nice. She leant into Mark and felt her body sink against his chest where he cocooned her, her face against him, his ribs against her cheek, and she could hear the thump of his heart which made hers flutter. So she closed her eyes and felt the dreaminess that Mark had spoken
of. When she opened her eyes she saw that the two boys had gone, and Mark was asleep, a cigarette dangling in his fingers with the ash still hanging to the end. She sat up and stroked a hand against his face, then kissed him softly. She kissed him for a while before he woke up, those eyelids like butterflies again. He stretched and yawned, then pulled her into him, ‘Hello beautiful,’ he said. ‘Am I beautiful?’ asked Maddy. He nodded and kissed her, and her hands, full of life, skitted under his top, brushing against his skin, blissful. When his hands moved over her body it was like trickles of warm water. Later, naked, it seemed that her clothes had just flown away. She couldn’t remember any of
that awkward bra undoing, tights getting stuck on feet, they were simply just naked. Neither did the dirty, concrete floor feel uncomfortable. All was one. Time didn’t have a continuum, there didn’t seem to be a beginning or an end, just waves of things and positions and noises and his lips all over her body and the places she was normally so loathe to show, illuminated by that naked bulb, but today shameless. Lying together wrapped in his coat, pale and peach-like, legs intertwined, they shared a cigarette like lovers in a film. She pressed her nose into his neck. ‘So you’re my girl now,’ he said. Maddy wasn’t sure if it was a question or a statement, but ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes.’
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EAGLE ON A CACTUS — And so I got laid off. Had to sign on. Spent my days going to Stockton and back on the Transporter Bridge. You should see it, man, the sun shining on the trees, the sun shining through the blue metal bars, the light in the water, the light on the metal, the carrying cables in the rain. My own thing in my own time and over the Infinity Bridge too. I drank one night a week. Shithole in the shadow of the A19. Mackems in there. Pool. Smoking hookers. Skinny Asians counting money over kebabs in their cars. I came home chained to the Mrs and the bairns. A washing line of rabbits in the moonlight. Had a bit on the side in Nunthorpe. Husband played the bongos for P&O. She looked like Jamie Lee Curtis. Got home to her place from The Dickens. Twisted sister was with us. Ancient. Sat staring, unblinking, enough perfume for a thousand Friday nights in O’Neill’s. So Jamie Lee made something in a wok and we all had it and by the time I got Jamie Lee to bed I fell asleep with my head between her legs. In the morning she dumped a full English in my lap. I got up and had a coffee and hung my coat and kissed her breasts until Christmas. Two weeks into the New Year
and I was drunk in the afternoon and flying. It’s when you haven’t got a job or money that you need a drink the most. I walked to Jamie Lee’s house. Her kids were at school and she stood at the sink. I cupped her breasts as she washed the pots. She had a black sports car. Took me speeding home in it via a shaking stop on the windy, cloud-busting expanses of the North York Moors. Husband hit me outside the chippy. Sat in a blues club in sunglasses, fondling my silver harmonica. Joined in on the open mike to a Jimmy Reed tune about his boss. Ran out of money but got applause and four pints out of a weighty old belter who cried tangles of wet mascara. I made the dole last a week. Second week was rabbits and stolen milk and family allowance and TV. When Jez told me about the student houses I joined him. Most of them lived around Linthorpe and Ayresome Park where the Boro used to be, and Jez told me how they had parties and just left their doors open. All you had to do was try the door in the morning, go in and get the TVs and DVD players and laptops and that. And we did until we got done for it. One time we came out with a violin, a tuba and a
EAGLE ON A CACTUS
xylophone and got wrestled to the floor by a couple of fluorescent puberty police with mountain bikes. The xylophone tinkled on the paving stones. So now I’ve got a record. Textile industry was replaced by computer technology and I got laid off from both and now all of that is gone anyway. And even if I wanted a job in a call centre I couldn’t get one as I’m bobbins on the blower. In the nick after the job I read loads of books and they had this one in the library about Mexico: Conquistadors sailing the high seas in the 15th century searching for gold and spices. Montezuma, Cortés, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. And these guys, the Aztecs, they looked for a golden eagle perched on a cactus, devouring a snake. There was something on the telly too. I could while away the hours with that, and the westerns set in Mexico. Amigos and desperados and gringos and bastardos. I would have fit right in there. Give me a silver palomino and a poncho and a bottle of whisky and let me ride to a whorehouse where those black haired and brown eyed and golden coloured whispering wenches could feed on enchiladas and tequila with my fistful of dollars. I got this job as a window cleaner. Some kind of joke by the probation. Let me look in at the latest high def TVs, let me climb a ladder and look at jewellery, let
me close those open windows so I can clean them. It’s an early start but they said you just give them all a quick wipe and you’re quids in. But I do a proper job. I don’t get it but they’re scared when we knock on the doors. Only one or two old bruisers complain. And it’s all legal. But man, some mornings I don’t want to do it. I’m a slave to the system now; I’m free but my freedom’s gone. Work all week and go to the pub on Fridays, maybe still get a bit of knock-off but that’s about it. After a bit I’d saved up enough to buy a car. Golf from a garage in Acklam. I used to drive around at night, relaxed between the white lines and catseyes. Nowhere to go but somewhere else that didn’t look the same. One time I went over to Durham, all the windows down and listening to Sonny Boy Williamson. Another time I drove to Redcar and watched the surfers in the summertime running over the beach to the sea. I loved that Golf and I washed a lot of windows and stayed in on Fridays to get it, so in the middle of one night when it seemed like a little hoodie was trying to get the door open I grabbed him and shoved him to the floor. I ripped the hood off his head and was about to give him a good kicking when I saw his frightened face. Little freckle-faced sod barely out of school. Told him that I worked for that car and he got a
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knife out but dropped it and ran off and I let him go. The council got us a flat and I’ve signed up for a night class at college. At night I look out of my window at the car and beyond. The towers of the chemical plant sparkle. Smoke drifts in patterns through the lights, and flowers of flame take me away from soapy buckets and shiny ladders and shammy leather. And in the depths of sleep I have another dream:
I’m in Oaxaca as the church bells ring, flying with Cortes and the conquistadors, smelling the flowers over gravestones, floating among skulls and photos and candles and oranges, tasting mescal in the silver moon as the mariachi bands play.
TIFFANY ANNE TONDUT
THANKS FOR THE AD —
Oh for the beauty of poison! Snake venom is our future, not a pair of good shoes or a swell season. You’re such a sweethead, a trillion papillions full of coo-coo bisous and a mind full of white ash. In real time, all my friends are ‘going death’ under the heavy work of hard words, dull dinner parties, obsessed with the benefits of afternoon naps, tending their rage under a veil, reporting abuse, clicking on restraint. I’m staving off eating – getting thin in a Vivienne Westwood dress for my next best profile shoot, spending all my money on colour blend film; a flash animation in blood red shoes. I bitch, I float, I love someone I shouldn’t… Bees knees, dog's bollocks, whatever it isn’t I’m an agent for happy hardcore. I drink, I sleep - oh love, marry me! You know how underneath I’m still the same old plot. I don’t remember anything, not really.
YELLOW â€” The night rolls a marble in its mouth. It is a prospector panning the distances the darkness. Below, your hands two smears white against the counterpane scarcely touch, but yield twitching to the dumb show of your dreams. The other side of town is the far-side of the world. Spoon-faced strangers ask and tell the time incessantly, incessantly, and the pavements fatten themselves at every crossing. It is only possible for one of us to sleep at any given time. The past already arcane as a whisper, the other side of the world the far-side of town. Children steeple their fingers suddenly, pious as thieves; they can count to ten in several languages but otherwise their tongues lie heavy in their mouths as patient slugs. If I turn either way and walk I will not find you tonight, will not enter your dreams as a secret word, a magic cat, or the dread that this sleep leads only to another. The two sides of town circle themselves like a dog around its tail. For now, we can only sleep and wake, sleep and wake; for now we can only miss.
THE LANDLORD’S DAUGHTER — She used to stare at the sun without blinking, because, she said, flies laid their eggs in her eyes and only direct light from the sun could kill them. Appearing at the family pub, tiny among the bottles and brass fittings behind the bar, she wore one outfit the summer long: rugby shirt and shorts loose around legs that could twist into fantastic shapes and were so white the sun reflected off them like enamel. She swore like a sailor, broke every glass she touched, and sun-bathed with me on the sticky tar of our garage extension before disappearing as suddenly as she’d appeared, as white in the end as on the first day of summer. Since she loved to climb and I didn’t, often you would find her shouting down to me from the tallest trees, and all summer long I dreamt of stroking her woollen socks with the blue stripes over grey, in the moment before they slid down her ankles.
ON MEETING BABA, 1937 — Tentative as a debutante you were, turbanned in men’s clothes, digging up lettuces. Reduced to standing in unnatural attitude before a Georgian house, you spoke of your faded dynasty, the chronology of other waif-like beauties (all the fluffy blonds). And then there was you, faintly headmistressy, tapping to Cole Porter. In the afternoon you wore lamé and a hat tilted, just so. You were sartorial, filmy, the blossoms surrounding the house in acres of white, an 18th century Chien Lung wallpaper in the salon – a conciliatory gesture, I thought, for that place, all the bones that were there.
TO A DAUGHTER OF ROAN INISH — For my mother On Milk Street they pull up black fish, slap from the grey squall and spill, the quintessence in the air webbed in still yellow, iridescent as shot silk. Shelling crabs, you stand in your white work dress – lovebirds in drawn thread pull against your chest, the trails of burnt morning honey set on the warp and weft – taking blackened coins into the pouch by your belly. You tell me of all you will see, all the things you want, of coffee and fine wool in a place where there are starlings. Gap-toothed, you wipe charcoal across your skirts as though they no longer matter. The distance between us is quite linear, uninterrupted; I pith fallen apples for you, and listen - the boundless spirals curl inward beside me. I know you will be married when the soldiers come again, offer their shimmering combs, lime, Chinese ink, black cherries – you will see them through your veil as smudged gifts, though you link our wrists while we are dancing, though we are indivisible. I know when you are gone away that I will sit under this apple tree and weep, that I will search blindly for the step and silent flock of your feet;
JU HYUN LEE
though I guard you now, these final hours on our island shore, watching your black hair swing like jet rope, knowing your favourite word: archipelago, archipelago.
THE SURVIVAL OF THE FOOTEST — It begins with a pain in the foot. Right foot, heel, arch. A muscular ache that sashays grimly up the ankle. I walk a lot in the course of my daily routine, which is what surprises me about this foot problem. A few blocks up the street where I live it stops me in my stride, heels me as if I were a submissive dog. Now that I find it hard to take a step, my imagination runs: foot cancer? Podophagic microbe? Psychosomatic transference of fetishistic sexual trauma? The pain annoys to be sure, yet it fascinates me. Over the next few days this new pain recreates my world. It affects distances, shortens or lengthens time, warps my relations with others (essentially in the direction of impatience), modulates the day’s activities. Pain becomes something to get used to, recedes into the background of consciousness, a positive comfort I can depend on. It takes on quasi-religious overtones as the laying on of salve becomes a nightly ritual. But the cost of over-the-counter balm gets to be more painful than the pain, so I decide to see a doctor. In my HMO, everyone has his own official GP. Mine is named Dr. Miseri.
since her divorce. But she agrees to see me that very day. In fact, she agrees to see me within the hour. She even agrees to see me within the half-hour but I tell her I have errands to run first. We compromise: 45 minutes. Her office is in a house, roomy but rundown, in need of a handyman. Likewise, the doctor is not in professional whites (or light blues or greens), but in a bolero jacket over a flouncy skirt. Her hair is mussed, but there’s something deliberate about it. Before I can come to any conclusions, she bids me to sit down and undress. She checks that my testicles are homogenous, which takes her about fifteen minutes. Verifies the status of my prostate. Nuzzles the wax in my ear. Blows on the hair on the back of my neck. ‘Everything seems to be in order since last time.’ I get to the point: ‘Doctor - I have a sharp pain in the foot when I walk.’ She tells me to stop walking. How can I? I don’t have a car. She says to take pressure off the foot: hop on the other foot. Stand like a flamingo. Stop listening to foottapping music. ‘My father had something similar, and he never stopped Dr. Miseri hasn’t been herself walking.’
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‘Your father had a similar problem?’ The doctor looks concerned. She snaps her surgical gloves off, though she is a life-long general practitioner. ‘You must go to the hospital.’ ‘For treatment?’ ‘For genetic testing.’ The doctor ends the checkup by asking me to cough while she holds me, cough and cough, again and again, exquisitely, a rapture of coughs. I telephone Dad to find out more about his condition – the more which might qualify it as genetic. A feeling overcomes me – not blame but kinship. The filial connection taken for granted suddenly becomes achingly real. The feeling intensifies the pain. But what about his pain? ‘That was the result of an accident.’ I nearly drop the phone on my aching foot. ‘Not a natural condition?’ ‘Not that I know of – it wasn’t there before my accident.’ Before the accident? I try to remember this mythical Eden, ‘before the accident’, but I see only my father and his endearing limp. That is the indelible image I have of him. Dad without limp is like Mom without stretch slacks. ‘Why didn’t you say anything about the accident?’ ‘My premiums would have been jacked up!’
‘And they weren’t?’ ‘Well... actually they were.’ If it was an accident, I owe Dad a lot of sympathy. I ask if his foot is feeling okay. No, it hurts just as much as it’s been hurting for the past forty years. The difference is now there is also lower back pain, stomach upset, eyestrain, and toothaches since he had his dentures put in. I dutifully tell the doctors during my initial visit to the hospital, wondering if I could have inherited an accidental condition. ‘Someone eating himself into obesity doesn’t pass on glandular problems to his child,’ says one of the doctors. Nevertheless, I become more sensitive to obese families. Not to mention chain smokers and their hacking spouses. Also, beautifully tanned hedge fund families with their beauty spots. Could there be something to those old theories? No, the doctors are right, a bunch of Lamarcky. And now it hits me: with the absent-mindedness which runs in my family, I forgot to ask Dad what kind of accident it was. 62 cotton swabs later the genetic testing is done. It confirms that my father’s problem is not my problem. (But my father is my father, at least.) There is something in the genes though, and the doctor has an odd expression. ‘It appears that you are a
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kind of mutant.’ It appears? I spend the rest of the day looking into the mirror. I look... particular. Unique. A tad asymmetrical. Myself. But a mutant? Like in some cheap sci-fi movie? I feel sick. I feel like Sigourney Weaver waiting for the alien to burst through her delectable chest. Then I realize that if the tests are right, then I am the alien. So where is Sigourney? ‘It’s nothing visible... yet. Just the alignment of chromosomes, the structure of certain proteins.’ Mutants should have mysterious powers, according to my nephew’s DVDs. I borrow X-Men and watch it repeatedly. I take to squinting mightily at attractive women, but nothing happens. Some powers. And I still have a sore foot. I am called back to the hospital. ‘I have some bad news and some good news.’ The doctor tells me that I am not really a mutant. But get this: I may be the next step in human evolution. I may not even be a Homo sapiens anymore – if I ever was. ‘The good news?’ ‘That’s it.’ ‘The bad news?’ ‘That’s it.’ I am moved from the hospital to the research institute across the courtyard. Actually it’s a different wing, where the food is better. I no longer speak to medical doc-
tors but to evolutionary biologists. ‘We believe the pressure on your pectoral fins,’ says the scientist, ‘may be the cause of your discomfort.’ ‘What pressure?’ I say. ‘What fins?’ ‘Of the fish we all descend from.’ He pulls down a diagram of what looks like a coelacanth after a cure of human growth hormone. ‘To treat your foot, we must consider it as an equivalent to the pectoral fin you had two million years ago.’ ‘I’m not a fish,’ I say. ‘But you were,’ he says. ‘Well, I’m no longer one! It might be better to use diagrams of other mammals, or better yet, other humans.’ ‘That would be redundant. What have you got against your progenitors?’ ‘I love fish.’ (Especially red snapper fillets.) ‘Love is but a hot and heavy tropism.’ I go directly from his office to the cafeteria for lunch. They are serving fish. Instead of digging in, I study the pectoral fin on my plate. Had it encountered any particular pressure? I lose my appetite. ‘Fish is good for hypertension,’ says the researcher taking my blood pressure. ‘This is not a problem with people of our genetic make-up. But as you know,
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certain minorities have an unfortunate predisposition to high blood pressure.’ ‘They could eat more fish,’ I say. He insists: ‘No, it’s in the genes.’ I insist: ‘Less high-fat foods and more lean meat.’ ‘No,’ he says. ‘There’s a very specific gene for that.’ Not able to take it any longer I extend my arm, walloping the researcher in his canines. ‘What are you doing?!’ ‘Sorry, just a wayward gene impelling me.’ He jabs back at me, impelled, compelled or propelled (for there is some freedom of choice) by a gene sequence of his own. And that is the end of the session. The Institute is very responsive in dealing with my upset, quickly assigning me to a psychologist. An evolutionary psychologist, that is. He disposes of my anger just as quickly, telling me that it doesn’t actually exist. ‘It was a defensive reaction,’ he says, ‘preventing the researcher from usurping your role as defender of the nest.’ Better bird than fish, I think. I feel less guilty. Perhaps he has some input about the pain in my foot. ‘That may be psychological. A signal to husband your podal resources, as it were.’ ‘But why, as it were?’
‘You need your feet in condition to run down game.’ This was contingent on conditions thousands of years ago, when man needed quick steps to vanquish animals to feed his family, and fast reflexes to protect them. Since man hasn’t needed this capacity for eons, shouldn’t it have evolved out of our system? ‘There’s an answer for that: the lag.’ ‘Lag?’ ‘It takes genomes ages to catch up with changed circumstances. You’re still hardwired to run down giant rhinos.’ ‘That’s not too efficient, considering that they’re extinct. Couldn’t I just gather nuts and berries?’ ‘That’s a stage your brain might not have reached yet. That may well be the eventual course that you’ll take.’ I suppose it depends on those hard wires I am hard-wired with. I feel for them on my forearm, but find only veins and arteries, pulsing with greater pressure than usual. Mr. Buck serves in a faithbased unit of the HMO. ‘You’re correct to be sceptical. A society so secularly humanistic, and humanistically secular, is bound to pre-sell you the evolution diagnosis.’ On the wall behind Mr. Buck is a portrait I can’t make out, someone trying to look dignified
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but at the same time giving the thumbs-up sign. He looks remarkably like Alfred E. Neuman of Mad magazine fame. At one time that was my favourite periodical. I relax, discreetly giving a thumbsup back at him. ‘It’s good to get a second opinion,’ I say. ‘Do you have any idea of the exquisite complexity of this painful condition? How perfectly adapted it is to your present-day situation? That’s no accident!’ ‘Are you saying it was intended?’ ‘Better than that. It was designed.’ Is the portrait on the wall changing, or is it only my perspective? Now the face looks like the spitting image of a rhesus monkey, in the middle of an experiment gone awry. I ask if that is by intention, or design. ‘Have you ever thought about why there are so many humans, and so few monkeys?’ says Mr. Buck with intensity. ‘Scientific experiments depleting the primate population?’ ‘Five billion humans; several thousand monkeys. I’m not making that up. That’s supply-side fact!’ ‘Isn’t supply-side just a theory?’ ‘And I suppose monetarism, rational choice and neo-classical economics are also theories?’ ‘What else can they be?’ ‘FYI: Aspects of theories can
get so accepted they become real. Even some elements of godless evolution. Take your eugenics! Take your Social Darwinism!’ ‘Yes, take them,’ I say. ‘Please.’ Out comes a folder, from a biotechnology company. The portrait has changed again: The blood-orange hue cast by the setting sun makes it look like a copper penny (or wooden nickel). The face resembles the head on a coin. I try to imagine Lincoln, Roosevelt or Washington giving me the thumbs-up. The headquarters of the biotech firm is in Zurich. It has no laboratory, and doesn’t have that many offices. There is an opulent meeting room, however. ‘We are a start-up and as such don’t have much in the way of bricks and mortar operations,’ says Ganesh, the genial young development rep, discreetly texting as he speaks. ‘You have a nice space,’ I say. ‘It’s rented,’ he says. ‘We rent office equipment and supplies, too. Even the company cars.’ ‘You’re not rented,’ I say jokingly. ‘I’m on assignment from an outsourcing agency in Bangalore.’ ‘If this is a shell corporation,’ I ask, ‘where is the future blockbuster drug coming from?’ ‘India, where else? That way you get an inexpensive generic straightaway.’
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‘The prototype hasn’t even been completed, and you’re giving me a generic?’ ‘It’s much cheaper. ‘GENErics Corp is the solution’!’ The treatment is derived from synthesized frog genes, the sequences which account for the mighty leaping power of amphibian legs. My gene therapy costs $15,000. I am able to jump farther than I ever have, but the pain doesn’t go away. And my feet smell suspiciously like chicken. My problem inevitably gets my sister interested in the subject of genetic history. For $39.99 a company promises to reveal the ethnic make-up of our genome. A bit of saliva on a piece of adhesive tape, and we’re able to trace our family tree back to Egypt. ‘Yes, Egypt,’ says my sister. ‘But we’re not Egyptians.’ ‘What are we then, Sis?’ I almost say Isis. ‘We have to wait for the final results. We could be Jewish.’ ‘Jewish, Sis?’ I almost say Esther-Ann Baumgarten. ‘My ancestry coach says we might belong to the priestly tribe of Levi.’ ‘What, we couldn’t belong to a lawyerly tribe?’ Actually, I’m impressed, but my sister can’t help finding a negative side. This new hereditary profile on one side of the line, together with complications on the other, might mean predispositions
to Cooley’s Anemia, Sickle Cell Anemia, Madoff’s Cell Anemia, and many others. That’s almost as bad as being a mutant. ‘We’ll cross that Red Sea when we come to it,’ I say. ‘You don’t understand. I might not even be able to marry my boyfriend!’ wails my sister. So, maybe it isn’t such a horrible fate. But in the end, there’s no cause for alarm, nor for matzos, latkes, or kuglof. The tests confirm that our bloodline goes back to Egypt and is not Egyptian, but we aren’t Jewish either. What, then? Unidentifiable. My sister gets a rebate, and I kiss off the Levi’s genes. When my foot throbs, I start mumbling: ‘This pain is so bad, I wouldn’t wish it on …’ But I can’t finish. The pain in my foot is getting to be a pain in the ass. But I admire its persistence. It doesn’t go away when I give it a rest, when I massage it, or when I try to meditate it away. It is so there. ‘You definitely have a specific gene accounting for this,’ says Rob, my gene therapist. Why not? There’s a gene that causes the body to drown when deprived of oxygen in water; a gene that makes the body burn under the effects of searing heat; a gene that induces thirst when deprived of fluids; a gene that makes us lie down when sleeping; a gene that makes our hand execute karate chops when exposed to
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another’s snoring. ‘Rob, can you verify that? Better yet, can you falsify it?’ ‘But it’s true!’ ‘Even so, can you provide a schema in which your argument might be false? You know, Karl Popper.’ ‘Actually, you might have a Popper gene.’ Mebbe, as the Japanese say. Despite all, there’s something impressive about my pain’s obliviousness. Being an effect, not caring a fig about cause. ‘If you weren’t there the pain wouldn’t exist,’ says Rob. That’s right, the pain depends on me. I bear witness. I give definition. I suppose I could change that definition. You know: visualize, relativize, poeticize, philosophize, politicize, phenomenalize. When I try, it doesn’t work. After some temporary relief, the
pain returns. Which suits me fine, but Rob has an idea. ‘There’s an innovative new service being offered by a joint venture between a private genesequencing company and a federal research body.’ ‘Yes, what?’ ‘They’re offering to map out your genome in its entirety. Every darned sequence!’ ‘How much?’ ‘$68,000.’ ‘That’s an expensive map.’ I imagine myself a deluxe tourist of my own genome, like those billionaires who pay for trips on Russian rocket-ships, leaving upscale space debris behind them. ‘There won’t be a DNA fragment left unturned to have your pain dealt with. What do you say?’ Cued by my foot, I reply: ‘Ouch.’
LOSING OUR VIRGINITY — I remember us taking our virginities down to the woods and momentously setting them free. We held hands and watched them getting smaller until we weren’t sure what we were looking at any more. And then I said that you should go on ahead without me and that I’d catch you up, but instead I went running back deep into the woods to look for my virginity. When I found it again I held it to my chest and whispered into its ear that I was sorry. It told me that yours was on the other side of that tree over there if I wanted to take it back to you, and I shook my head and said no, let’s you and me just go home and sleep for a while. It smelled like pine cones.
THE INCREDIBLY SAD STORY OF HOW I WAS MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THE WAITRESS â€” I thought he was very droll. He lit my cigarette and I laughed coquettishly. We made several segues into anecdotes that seemed both appropriate and necessary. I realised I had worn the perfect dress. When the waitress came to clear our plates she seemed embarrassed because of how beautiful I was. I made it clear that I found her discomfort in her own skin endearing. I suggested that we took her home and made love to her. He shrugged and said that while that was a very thoughtful idea, she would probably become completely invisible next to my exposed breasts and porcelain flesh and then we would be unable to give her any pleasure anyway. I had to agree that this was true.
A COUPLE WHO STILL BATHE TOGETHER — ‘I’ve found something,’ I said. He lifted his eyes from the newspaper and made wrinkles in his forehead. These wrinkles communicated both ‘What have you found?’ and ‘Must you constantly interrupt?’ Nevertheless, he put the paper to one side and stood up, and when I gestured, he held on to my hand and came with me to the garden. Quietly, softly, I moved the blue blanket to one side. ‘Jesus Christ,’ He murmured, ‘What is that?’ ‘It’s the future.’ ‘Well cover it back up, for God’s sake.’ He wrenched the blanket back from my fist and flung it over the future. He checked nervously for our neighbours, fruitlessly of course, as I knew. They were having a bath together. A couple who still bathe together, I remember thinking as I listened to them through the wall for the first time, laughing quietly and splashing. How wonderful. And I didn’t flush the toilet because I didn’t want them to know that on the other side of the bathroom wall was a woman, listening.
YOU ARE VERY NEAR AND HOT AND LOUD â€” I imagine you are living in the pipes of my house. Not a miniature you, not you in pieces, not you stretched out like spaghetti: just all of you, all the time, in every pipe. You are sometimes the hot water that is a little too hot to wash my face in. I wash my face in a state of panic because the water gets so hot so quickly and if I donâ€™t do it this way, I will hurt myself. I like it when you are the spluttering of the kitchen tap, when the tap shakes and coughs and acts surprised and outraged to have water coming out of it. At this I laugh. You are occasionally the groan of an expanding pipe under the wooden floors. I lie down on the floor and press my ear to a knot in a floorboard and listen to you, groaning. It is a quiet groan. You are not seeking my attention. It is I who am seeking attention, by writing this story about how you live in the pipes of my house, when in fact you are a human being who lives in a house, three thousand and four hundred miles away.
ADAM J MAYNARD
I cut open a lemon And find a tiny tree inside I weep uncontrollably at the sight of it While in the room next door A wasp in a corset Watches a game show Bathed in a television’s glow So I pull back the curtains And watch that farmer Fucking Snoopy in the snow, Right there, in the middle Of a cold, dark field
ADAM J MAYNARD
Tomatoes flying around Some bunnies in a café Welcome to the café A man flying on a greasy spoon A 100ft tall bottle of tomato sauce Looming over us I look at my hands and they’re gone Everything sparkling I have wings and a beak My name is Monica Crumpled plastic and paper A green butterfly The car park has been covered in glue All afternoon I fly back and forth Bright teeth in the cold But I hate this now I just want to go thru A yellow cupboard Some midgets are eating silver bananas And drinking bottles of Grolsch Laughing inside the blocks of minutes
SIMONETTA AGNELLO HORNBY ON THE ART OF CASUAL WRITING — On a January evening, in the middle of a snow storm, Simonetta Agnello Hornby was working on a new short story in herWestminster apartment. I, on the other hand, was fighting with my saboteur umbrella, holding a ridiculous quantity of bags and floundering around on my phone in the rather desperate belief it would help me find her. When I finally got there, wet and flustered, I didn’t know how to approach her, but Simonetta is full of stories and before long I felt like I was having tea with an old friend - albeit a slightly intimidating one. Simonetta comes from an aristocratic Sicilian family. Following the wish of her mother, who believed a young woman should speak at least three languages fluently, Simonetta left Sicily aged 17 to study English in Cambridge – “Not the college, the town,” she clarifies. She met and married an Englishman, and after a successful stint as a City lawyer, she opened her own law firm in Brixton to concentrate on cases of child abuse, custody, and domestic violence.
an idea and want to write it.To be entirely honest,” she adds, “I have come to accept that I am a writer, but I think there would have been many other equally attractive options for my middle age.” Simonetta tells me she is working on a short story based on Lewis Carroll’s interest in little girls and the nature of his relationship with them. She shows me the pile of material she's researching and admits, “Working with historical material is very tiring.” Yet, as she shares the historical gossip about Lewis Carroll, going through rare books of photos, portraits and letters, she doesn’t seem tired at all. Perhaps because murky relationships between adults and children are her area of expertise. When it comes to her novels, however, the word ‘tiring’ doesn't come up. Whereas for many authors writing is a preoccupation and even a struggle, Simonetta finds it easy, quite natural. I want to know more about her approach to writing.
“Making up stories is very “Becoming a writer happened easy for me, that’s not a problem. by chance,” she explains, “It was Creating a character is not as easy, never something I wanted. I get but it’s not difficult either.With
INTERVIEW – SIMONETTA AGNELLO HORNBY
historical characters I have to ask myself more questions: shall I do this with this character? Should I change it? Is it too strong, too weak? Is it too nasty? But that’s part of the process of writing.” Simonetta’s first book, The Almond Picker, came to her in an airport; her plane was delayed and the idea for the novel formed as a coherent whole in her mind, which explains why she dedicated it to British Airways. Simonetta’s latest novel, There’s Nothing Wrong With Lucy, currently only available in the original language, tells the story of a couple struggling to keep their family together through an accusation of child abuse. On a recent publicity tour, a member of the public criticised her choice of subjects, asking why she only concentrates on topics like incest and child abuse. At the time she answered that nobody wants to read a book where nothing happens and everyone is happy. Are there other reasons too? “Only one novel, Boccamurata, is the story of an incestuous relationship,” she clarifies. “In The Marchesa, there is a love relationship between uncle and niece, which is not considered incestuous in Italy. I haven’t written that much about incest, but I have written a lot about child abuse, first of all because it’s something I
know very well through my work as a children’s lawyer, but also because there’s a tremendous amount of abuse in human relationships.” Would she say she writes from personal experience? “A lawyer is a lawyer, and obviously in There’s Nothing Wrong With Lucy there are a lot of facts I’ve had direct contact with, but the main character, a male lawyer, is very different from me. The only really autobiographical parts must be the ones describing crossexaminations in court, because it’s something I have done for 30 years, so they must reflect my style. But I’m not an autobiographical writer, I write about what I see and what makes me angry. The Marchesa is about a great aunt of my father who was treated badly by my family. This made me really angry and I wanted to put things right. The idea behind Boccamurata came to me at another airport, in Hamburg. I felt angry that many children of incest are denied their parentage, and decided to write about it. With There’s Nothing Wrong With Lucy I was angry about how the system treats people.” After three novels about Sicily, Simonetta Agnello Hornby set There’s Nothing Wrong With Lucy in London, completely changing tone and language re-
INTERVIEW – SIMONETTA AGNELLO HORNBY
gister.Was it difficult to make the transition? “I’ve never noticed that. I just wrote it, in English at first and then in Italian. It’s a different subject, so I approached it differently. I don’t pay too much attention to my writing style. Yet Simonetta Agnello Hornby’s style is very distinctive, with strong narrative and character voices that adapt seamlessly to both Sicilian and English settings. Her seemingly careless approach to writing leaves me doubtful: is she really unaware of her own writing style or does she want to appear so? “Well, I write as I speak. In court I speak in a particular way, and when I speak to my grandchildren I do it in a different way again. I suppose when I speak to the reader I speak in all those ways according to the situation.” Simonetta’s characters are often defined by their social extraction. In The Marchesa this is more obvious as she deals with the aristocracy, but in There’s Nothing Wrong With Lucy she shows how the legal and social systems reserve different treatments to people according to their social extraction. How important an element is this in her novels? “I believe that classism is a greater evil than racism. Euro-
pe is extremely classist and so is Britain. When I first went to Cambridge I spoke no English but within four months I could identify boys from major and minor public schools quite apart from those from state schools. I was shocked that there was such a difference and I’ve seen how bad this classism is, how it breeds insecurity in those who do not belong to the ‘right’ class., and how arrogant and lacking are the ones who think they belong to it. I think mobility is very important. One thing the United States of America has, which is infinitely better than ours, is a classless society. So I think it’s very important to point out how dreadful the class system is. Forget aristocracy and the non-aristocrats, it’s just the class system in our republican Europe.” So what does she perceive to be the differences between English and Italian attitudes to class and social extraction? “In Britain, if you’re of a ‘lower’ class but save enough money you can send your child to a public or boarding school. After seven years he may be a nervous wreck and a misfit, but he will look and talk and act like an upper class person. So, to a certain extent, money in Britain, at the cost of destroying confidence, your relationship with the family and your own identity,
INTERVIEW – SIMONETTA AGNELLO HORNBY
can actually make you look as if you belong to another class. In Italy you can’t do that because all schools are the same and, with the exception of regional differences, we all speak with the same accent. But it’s still something you can pick up quickly by the words one uses, or the way one behaves. It’s a terrible thing!” If her characters come from a particular social background, she explains, in describing them she might include characteristics which are sometimes associated to one or another social extraction. “I don’t do that consciously. In my books, other than when I’m dealing with titled aristocrats, I don’t tend to worry about that, I always start with what people did or said they did.” A prolific author of fiction, does she also write poetry?
read a lot on holiday, sometimes at the weekend. I re-read a lot. My favourite book is still The Tale of Genji which I first read when I was 21.” The writer is increasingly required to be a public figure, someone prepared to do book tours, interviews, appear on TV and radio etc. Does she mind? “I’m used to it. I’ve done a lot of it as a lawyer so the actual going on television is something I’ve done for years. It’s very easy and I don’t mind doing it.What I do mind is having to travel a lot to present the books, because it takes me away from London, from my family, from my life.” With all the travelling involved in her job I am curious to hear whether Simonetta has or will be investing in a Kindle...
“I have never seen one but I’ve heard of them. I think they’d probably be very useful on a holiday because they weigh How much reading does she so little. What do I think about do, and what are her favourite them? I think at the end of the books? day, the pleasure of reading is not the pleasure of holding a piece of “I read a lot before I had the paper in your hands. I connect children, but I’ve had very little reading with the paper because time to read novels and poetry in I don’t know anything else. But, the last forty years. I was studying quite honestly, it’s a pleasure of law when my children were young, the mind, and the tactile pleasure then I was running a business, I of touching the paper could be rewas the head of a practice. I placed by something else. I think “Not at all. I like poetry but I’ve never written it.”
INTERVIEW – SIMONETTA AGNELLO HORNBY
we’ve got to be modern and we’ve got to adapt.When I was really young I used to read those books where you cut the pages, which you might not know of. It was such a joy, that pleasure of cutting the pages, to take the paper knife, and the noise of cutting the pages, the edges which were not perfect. I mean, I could be lyrical about that, I could tell you about the poetry of that. Now, there are no books that need to be cut, so we’ve lost that. We may lose paper too.” Finally, I have read much about Simonetta being a pipe smoker, it seems to surprise people. Frankly, I think it fits her serious, slightly intimidating image only too well. How did she acquire this habit? Was it a stylistical choice?
tually married, used to smoke a pipe. He used to buy cigarettes for me when he took me out on dates, and at 17 I would say yes to anything that was offered, so I smoked cigarettes. However, after a while he stopped buying them for me and when I complained he was quite clear about it: now that I was his girlfriend, he no longer needed to waste his money buying cigarettes to woo me. He said, have a pipe if you want it, and he gave me a pipe. I liked it and smoked it from then on.”
Simonetta Agnello Hornby is the author of four novels: The Almond Picker (2002), The Marchesa (2004), Boccamurata (2007) and There’s Nothing Wrong With Lucy (2009). The Almond Picker and The Marchesa, have been translated into 18 languages and are published in the UK by Penguin.
“When I arrived in Cambridge I was 17 and I was friends with lots of English boys. One of those, whom I even-
IMMORTALITY MAKES IT DIFFICULT — You can’t really blame my dead wife’s long-lived guests: immortality makes it difficult to put together a proper funeral ensemble. Some mourners went cardigan, some went cocktail dress, my nephew went novelty T-shirt. Me, you ask? Formal. No better time to beat the moths out of the ol’ tuxedo than at a celebration of your wife’s life. My wife’s life was rife with strife so she put herself under the knife. You don’t have to tell me. I know that I’m too content for this occasion. It seems my daughter has spiked my bacon and eggs. Mood enhancers. The overdose isn’t her fault; she hasn’t been a practising psychiatrist since 2279. What’s it like being blissedout at your significant other’s memorial service? Picture yourself drowning in the hap-hap-happiest well you ever did see. Got it? Now imagine yourself upside down. I keep straining down to take in some of the cold, grey, grief water. But my muscles give out and I bungee back up. Everyone else is as unsure in their behaviour as in their dress. We’re all of us the better part of 400 years out of practice for this kind of thing. Some have only seen funerals in old-timey mo-
vies. Some dribble their drinks on their face to simulate tears. The whole of the congregation looks surprised by the fact that they put on shoes this morning and stare straight down trying to decipher the make and model of their footwear. It’s hard to tell if they’re pretending to be a proper funeral crowd or if they’re just uncomfortable. There’s a topographically interesting blonde at the bar. I can’t help talking to her. She can’t help talking to me. ‘I’m so, so sorry,’ she says. ‘You should be,’ I reply. We both giggle. I order shots. ‘She was such a good woman.’ ‘She was, wasn’t she?’ Why did such a good woman decide to drop dead? All the wonders of the modern age couldn’t keep her will to live alive. Virtual reality and teleportation and junk food without calories. And don’t forget you, Tom, I remind myself. You weren’t enough either. My drug-addled brain attacks the thought. Smiling white blood cells on a virus. I’m suddenly mesmerised by the paisley pattern on the side of Julie’s urn. Oh, you bet. Julie requested that I cremate her. No easy task. Immortality took care of crematoriums.
IMMORTALITY MAKES IT DIFFICULT
Too big a temptation to bring me back, she said. Like we did with the kids’ hamster. It’ll make it easier on everyone, anyway. They can pretend I moved to the moon or something. ‘It’s not natural.’ Julie’s mother has approached me in the form of an 18 year-old Japanese girl. Unlike me, she’s respectfully not overdosed on happy pills this morning, but was it really too much for her to slip into a body more becoming of a grieving mother? ‘It was her choice,’ I reply. I don't recycle Julie’s arguments with anyone; they might become my arguments. I might get temporary insanity. The insanity to be temporary. My daughter nudges me. It’s time for the eulogies. The swell of muscles that is my son moves to the podium. David tells the crowd that his mother wanted this to be a joyous occasion, that she wouldn’t want to see tears. In my head, I yell, Hey, Davey! No one knows how to cry but your teen-Asian grandmother. But the pills keep my voicebox from vibrating. David tells the story of finding a dead, smiling seagull with Julie when he was little and how she told him that it had gone on to a better place. A smiling seagull? He knows she is in that better place now. With that dead seagull. Flying. I can only just begin to hope
he inherits his mother’s death wish before I recoil back into the happy air. The crowd applauds his attempt to put them at ease. This sets the mountainous blonde’s massive rack to shimmying. My daughter is next to immortalise her mother in her own words. She does reiterate my son’s plea for good times and a call to celebrate her mother’s 467 years. She doesn’t mention Julie being in a better place. With a dead seagull. Flying. I always liked Jenny. But that could be the pills. She finishes, and it’s my turn. I stand there. I search the sky for something that will contradict what my children said. But there’s nothing in the clouds but the outline of a funny little elephant with a taco for a body. I don’t do that crumple down with emotion thing. I don’t ask Julie to take me with her. I just stare and smile. The crowd searches the ground for loose change. ‘This is all my fault,’ Jenny says. ‘Really.’ She takes my arm again. It’s time to return my wife to the cosmos. We pop the lid on the urn together and, with four hands, empty my wife, the pile of hoovering, into the sea. Ready for the big finish? Can you see it coming? The crowd doesn’t. Now, I don’t think about this; I just jump. It’s the only way around the happiness. As I’m falling into the dust storm that is
IMMORTALITY MAKES IT DIFFICULT
my better half, I hear the crowd’s collective intake of breath. This group vacuum really should suck us both into their super-charged lungs. They could imagine Julie moving to the moon, but my death would brand their brains. There’d be a queue at memoryerasure clinic tomorrow. Would I soon be in a better place? Flying with dead birds? A smiling seagull? That’s when it hits me. No, not the rocks below. The drugs.
They’re finally working with me. We’re both telling my brain that everything’s going to be just fine. Death’s not so bad. Nothing unnatural about it at all. The drop is too short for anything more profound, and the rocks are too sharp for anything close to agony. I am bayoneted and will be dead within minutes. I look up to see only my son and daughter looking down. Celebrate this, kids.
CONTRIBUTORS Byron Beynon lives in Wales. His work has appeared in numerous publications including the Independent, Wasafiri, Poetry Salzburg Review, Cyphers and The Wolf. His most recent collection Nocturne in Blue (Lapwing Publications) was launched at the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea, in March 2010. www.academi.org/list-ofwriters/i/129541/ Daniel Bourke is a newspaperman. He was born in 1977 in Aldershot, Hampshire and has lived in Farnham, Surrey, in South Wales and in South, East and North London. Peter Branson’s had poems published in magazines in Britain, USA, Canada, EIRE, Australia and New Zealand, including Acumen, Ambit, Envoi, London Magazine, Iota, The Frogmore Papers, Interpreter’s House, Poetry Nottingham, The New Writer, Crannog and Other Poetry. Neil Campbell is from Manchester, currently lives in the Peak District. Collection of stories, Broken Doll www.saltpublishing.com. Chapbook of poems, Birds www.knivesforksandspoons.co.uk mr clement, born in Hong Kong, living in London, going to China. Make art, tea and love. Phoebe Coulton is a London-based artist working in advertising. She is a talented doodler and talentless yet persistent cake-decorator. Catherine Edmunds’s style is encapsulated in the titles of her poetry collection wormwood, earth and honey and novel Small Poisons (Circaidy Gregory Press). Her artwork mostly comprises exploding dogs and decomposing toads. www.freewebs.com/catherineedmunds/ Bali Engel is a French freelance illustrator and animator based in London, recently graduated from an MA from the Royal College of Art. www.bengel.co.uk Russell Etheridge is a London based
animator, dueth and visual effects artist. He recently completed his MA in animation from the Royal College of Art and is currently working at MPC in Soho. His favourite colour is green and if he were a flavour of crisps he'd be plain coz he smells like potatoes according to his friend Sherv. www.russelletheridge.com SJ Fowler is a postgraduate student of philosophy and an employee of the British Museum. His poetry has been featured in over two dozen publications and he edits the Maintenant interview series with contemporary European poets for 3am magazine. www.sjfowlerpoetry. com Eli Goldstone lives in South London. Her stories about drinking and dreams can be found at www.pauvrelapinou.tumblr.com Jared Hamilton is trying to live up to the ideal of the romantic expatriate from the States, but so far has only managed to perfect the drinking. He teaches English for his supper and can sometimes be found working on his novel Jack Rabbit. Note: sometimes. Echao Jiang Illustrator and designer based in London. Interested in the process of how the human mind is affected by environment and circumstances, she creates beautiful visual poetry which reflect thoughts and emotions. Echao works across many disciplines and is currently working on an animation piece. www.echao. wordpress.com Emanuele Kabu lives and works in Belluno, Italy. An art explorer, he started with graffiti in 1994 and moved on to illustration, painting and music animation. He is part of several bands: hardcore KaiYanWang, electric ENT, noise/ambient GreenMine and black metal Rotorvator. www.emanuelekabu.org Dimitri Keramitas' fiction has been published in many literary journals. He worked as film critic for The Key, a Paris-based bimonthly and La Revue du Cinéma. He currently writes for several print and online magazines. Ju Hyun Lee. Freelance illustrator/desi-
CONTRIBUTORS gner. Mainly illustrating children books www.ju-hyun.com
re, Break My Fall, and is currently completing a collection of short prose.
Alexandra Lister has recently graduated with a Masters in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. She is currently writing her first novel, a work of fiction set in Kenya, and a collection of poetry, which she will complete at PhD level at the same university.
Haruka Shinji is an illustrator and storyteller inspired by history and travel. She enjoys observing people’s peculiarities, desires and obsessions to create her characters. Her imagination connects these fragments of real life and historical elements, and then creates stories www.harukashinji.com
Adam J Maynard lives in Oxford. His work has appeared in Lamination Colony, Robot Melon, Pineapplewar, Spooky Boyfriend, Surgery of Modern Warfare, Zembla, Purple, Tank and others. His book of short fiction Stumble was published by Pulp Books. He is the editor of the short fiction/poetry site My Name is Mud. His work recently appeared in Yippee magazine, The Corduroy Mtn. and Pangur Ban Party and is forthcoming at West Wind Review and Read Some Words.
Nikesh Shukla is an author, poet and award-winning filmmaker. His work has been featured in Litro and Pen Pusher. His first book Coconut Unlimited will be published by Quartet Books in 2010. He is poet in residence at BBC Asian network.
Paul McGrane misses the 'technology' that allows 33 and a 1/3rds to be played at 45. Those were the days, etc. After retiring as a pubic hair stylist, he now works for the Poetry Society.
Ruvi Simmons lives, writes and makes things in Berlin. Tiffany Anne Tondut is enamored with poetry, art and vintage photography. On weekends she transforms into a pin-up poet by the name of Miss Mink for Peek! magazine and pens sartorial graffiti for The Chap. www.pinuppoet.wordpress.com
Casper McMenamin is a London-based writer who resembles Dylan Thomas in cardigan choice, but not poetry. Casper’s ambition is to become a poet-philosopher as irritating as Socrates, bothering people about virtue on local high streets. Matthew Plummer-Fernandez creates site-specific and time based work that explores parallels between society and biological systemsa. He currently operates from an old cinema on top of a redundant factory on the outskirts of London. www.plummerfernandez. com Kat Redstone is a London based actor, writer and musician. After graduating from Goldsmiths, she went on to study Art and Design at London College of Printing, and then Postgraduate Acting at Mountview. She features as lead in provocative new featu-
FERAL PIGEONS #2