Being a new collection of short stories, essays and poems (to say nothing of the interview)
Hold the front page! (And so on…) by the editor
t’s true: we’ve gone tabloid. The change was for several reasons, but the main one was cost: it is simply much cheaper to publish a magazine of this size in newspaper format, and the drop in price means we can print more copies and sell them more cheaply to a wider audience. As Structo has been growing steadily with each issue, to the point where we are now publishing over double the amount of short stories and poems that we featured in our first issue, the change seemed like a no-brainer. We’re using a relatively new service called Newspaper Club to print the magazine. They use the downtime of the warehouse-filling commercial newspaper presses to print short-run publications like us. We came across the company on a visit to the Design Museum on London’s South Bank a few months ago – they had just won the graphics category of the Designs of the Year award, which we took as an encouraging sign. The idea behind the company is that they can “help people and communities make their own newspapers”, and judging from the results so far (including newspapers printed for Wired and the BBC, which you can find at www.newspaperclub.co.uk), they are most definitely succeeding. Here’s hoping this is the start of a beautiful friendship. The increase in the amount of published work is a direct result of a correspondingly large number of submissions for each issue. While this is excellent in terms of discovering new and interesting writing, if the trend continues we may have to take on some extra staff just to review them all. With this in mind, get in touch if you might be interested in joining the team. Our thanks go out to interviewee Lindsey Davis, all our writers, and to you for reading their words. Euan Monaghan, Editor (Bucks., June 2010)
It was so very tempting…
Keeper of the Block by erik t. johnson
he apartment was rent controlled, but wild with Brooklyn animal life. Raccoons raided the kitchen and pigeonsong reverberated through the tiled bathroom. I complained to our super, old Professor Thrill—who wasn’t a professor—but he was too busy running up and down the block, trimming trees in front of houses that weren’t even near our apartment building, dredging gum wrappers and cans from the gutter, rearranging piles of autumn leaves, putting his ear to sidewalk cracks and checking a large pocketwatch with a minute hand stopped just east of 8 and no second hand. I would have left a long time ago if I hadn’t been in love with Elena. She lived on the fourth floor in apartment 7W, which made no sense, and I lived above her in 5A. She lived alone and didn’t seem to need to work, never watched television, smelled like soap, and her eyes were as bright and kind as imaginary things. She dressed plainly and was clumsy, often putting the key in her door the wrong way. She had hands that would give a homeless guy money even though he’d probably just buy drugs with it. She didn’t seem to have friends yet was the sort of person who looked like your friend. She said hello to me in the hallway, differently each time— whispered, boldly, blandly—as though she hadn’t made up her mind about me, as though I was a possibility to consider and approach. She was gentle and I saw her saving an earthworm from drowning in a puddle. For the chance of getting to know Elena, I suffered the raccoons and the pigeons and the occasional mouse. Although I was the only son, I didn’t return back home to Washington, even when I found out the inevitable cancer was eating my father’s lungs and my mother was having trouble holding it together. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about
them. It’s just that I had started to take my daydreams for duties. One of these days I would have to ask Elena for more than a greeting. The longer I waited, the greater the chance my father’s impending death would be that much more meaningless. Meanwhile, my parents hadn’t called me in months and I hadn’t called either. What could I say to them? The truth was too insulting. Luckily, there was a terrible rainstorm. The radiators were hot to bursting and I was lying on my bed, sweating in November and trying to sleep. Of course I’d complained to Professor Thrill about this to no avail. I was woken by water pouring through a light fixture in my ceiling. It hit my sweaty face and dripped off it to the uneven floorboards, where it leaked into Elena’s quiet apartment below. I dressed and rushed out into the hall, determined to change my life. I ran into restless, silver-haired Professor Thrill on the stairway. He appeared old enough to remember vice presidents I hadn’t heard of, past retirement, busy-limbed as a baby and wearing overalls that would look right on a toddler. He had a worried look on his long face. His hands were shaking like freezing dogs. In one hand was his large pocketwatch, the minute-hand stopped east of 8. “How can you tell time with that?” I asked him. “Can’t tell time, ever,” he said, in his quick but mournful way. “But you can listen.” He ran past me toward the roof, which was turning into a swimming pool. Water began trickling down the steps as he took them two at a time but he didn’t slip once. He got to the top flight and put his ear to the steps. “So,” he said. “It’s finally here.” “What do you mean?” “Get my daughter,” he said. “What daughter?” “Elena,” he said. “Get Elena.” “Elena’s your daughter?” I asked. I’d never seen them speak to each other or acknowledge one another’s presence, even when all three of us were standing in the hallway. He looked at me like he was hanging off a ledge and I was a finger that wouldn’t grip any longer. I dashed to the fourth floor and knocked on her door. It was really happening. She opened the door wearing a bright red gown, as though this were a very special occasion. I was so used to seeing her in nondescript clothing that it took me a moment to find words. “Professor Thrill wants you. He says he’s your father.” “Yes,” she said. “It’s time, I guess.” “What’s that?” I asked, pointing at a golden chalice catching the drip of sweaty water from my apartment. “Something for me to remember you by,” she said. “Elena, I wanted to ask you something.” “I’ve got to go.” She darted out the door in a red blaze and ran up the steps. I followed, mute and bewildered. The stairs had become a waterfall and it was treacherous going, though Elena leapt up them like she’d trained for this her whole life—which made no sense since her apartment was always silent. By the time I made it to the roof they were standing in an impossible whirlpool. Raccoons and other animals that didn’t belong in Brooklyn spun around them violently. I spotted komodo dragons and tarantulas caught in the four-foot high walls of water. “Here,” Professor Thrill said. “It’s yours now.” He handed the watch to Elena. “Good-bye, dad,” she said. “I’ll make sure the block is in order, all the time. I’ll make sure the trees don’t fall and the gutters don’t flood the dead from their homes and the sidewalk doesn’t give birth. I’ll keep the tigers and the lizards and spiders from getting in the plumbing or showing their faces. I’ll stop the leaves from blowing up the noses of sleeping
trolls. I’ll make sure nothing built backwards dances up the stairs. I’ll let the raccoons and pigeons have their way. I’ll grow old until the next whirlpool hits the roof.” I called Elena’s name but the crashing water absorbed my voice like a dollar into the Lottery. They were lost together in their own little world. Then Professor Thrill waved, which was odd since he was facing her. I got the feeling they’d never really been that close until this moment. He had a chance to say something more to her but he didn’t. He vanished with the animals into the whirlpool and the watery walls collapsed, flooding the roof and washing me itsy-bitsy down the stairs. I landed with a bump on my head, drenched in confounded disappointment. Elena stepped over me. For a moment her red gown covered my face like a shroud. She tapped a stray tree-branch that had fallen down with the water. “Sounds bad,” she said, listening. “Needs mending.” She walked out the building with the branch, trying to find which tree it came from. I returned to 5A and sat on the bed, which made no sense since I was dripping wet. I didn’t understand too much of anything at the moment. I put my aching head in my hands. The phone rang but I didn’t feel like talking to anyone. I checked the Caller ID—it was my mother’s number in Washington. She hung up. I picked up the phone and booked a flight. After the funeral, I returned to the apartment building. A Bulgarian hairstylist had taken my old room, but 7W was available. I moved in. Now I see Elena all the time but she doesn’t have time for me. She is rushing about, checking the sidewalk, the trees, the weeds and what lurks behind electrical sockets, making sure everything is east of 8. But I know that somewhere in her new room, where her father once lived, she treasures a chalice half-full of stormy rain and a little bit of my sweat. So I’m going to quietly grow old here in room 7W, suffering hungry beasts, waiting for the day when the next whirlpool comes. Then I’ll go to the roof with Elena and we’ll stand in it and for just a moment we’ll share each other closely. She’ll hand me the watch. I’ll understand her, and I’ll dare to embrace her before she disappears.
A Newark Cemetery Squirrel Speaks by duncan jones
hey like it I guess. We aren’t scary, quite approachable really, that’s why they are all happy to chat to us. Tell us about their childhoods, their hopes, their fears, what they miss, who they miss, how they missed out on the love of their life, how they found the love of their life. Some of them don’t mention their families, more interested in what happened to that ring they lost out walking by the Trent one day, or their car. Did it get repaired after the crash? Did women really get the vote? Has Stuart Pearce been knighted yet? Does it still smell of sugar beet if the wind’s blowing in the wrong direction? All happy to talk now they’re dead. Some of them wouldn’t give us the time of day if they were alive. Treat us as vermin, lay poison, known to put us in a stew a few years back. If they tried to chat to one of their own they’d scare them witless. Well, that assumes them humans would stop fretting about stuff for two seconds so that they could actually hear the dead talking. We have jobs to do. It’s not all just bantering away to the dearly departed. There’s food to be collected, young to look after and keeping an eye out for predators. The noise the bloody pigeons make means that’s quite an easy job mind. It’s my turn to talk today. I’ll keep you informed what they tell me. Now, thankfully they only chat to us on the anniversary of their death. Good God, otherwise we’d never get any peace. Today is May 30th. Little Rosie, died 1832, pneumonia. She’s got a beautiful ornate headstone, little cherubs on it. Letters are fading now, bit of moss growing over the dates. Lovely kid, always positive, asks after her pet pony and the little lad with the grubby face who could
never quite look her in the eye. Funnily enough a few days earlier old farmer Machin (1892, old age) asked after the pretty little girl on the pony. She just seemed to disappear one spring when he was eight. He remembers seeing her all the time on a lane out near Barnby. Smiley face and a pony, amongst the fields. Said he often thought about her, made him happy and sad all at the same time, he never did understand why. What do I say back? I don’t. I just listen, take it all in. One day I might be able to help in some small way, but I reckon listening is help enough. Conrad Zawadski (1943, died in action). Simple white stone memorial. Nice man, quietly spoken, one of the many Poles in my little neck of the woods. He talks to me about life in Warszawa before the war. Walking through Weijenki Park with his wife, smiling, laughing, kicking the leaves. So unaware of what was to be unleashed on them. Always cries when he thinks back to the day he had to go, too dangerous to take her, he says again and again. Mr William Arthur Graham (1979), ebony-coloured headstone with bold lettering. William was an ardent Nottingham Forest fan. He was also an ardent fan of Johnnie Walker, Hanson’s Brewery and Regal fags. His internal organs were not quite so keen on them. He smiles (the dead can smile, trust me on this one), I was there in front of the telly, tumbler in one hand, fag in the other. In comes the cross from John Robertson and Francis headers it in. I was up. I was dancing round the sofa. The Missus told me to calm down, I carried on dancing … well I thought I did, she later told me I was on the floor pale as the head of a pint of stout,
while the red end of Munich went nutty. Came to in the ambulance, knew they’d won, died happy. So I sit eating an acorn by the row of trees leading up to the Polish Air Bridge monument. There has been the odd teenager with a little too much booze in recently. The dead aren’t offended if I scoot up a tree to avoid a stray can of Stella. They are happy to wait, it’s not like they’ve got anything else on.
Summer† of Love * & May by jyoti kumar
My open tresses, long and black, slumber down my slender back, They prance and dance as I twirl around on the balcony. My dress gleams as the sun hits the mirror-glass embroidery. His thoughts arrive daily, I spin around so dreamily, And the bird hums merrily, merrily chirping a tune, Teasing me of my love, merrily chirping a tune, During this summer afternoon. Hello dear bird, hello. Hello, will you give a message to my love? My chamber fills with fragrant mist, cradling bangles on my wrist, They intermingle and jingle as I write a short message to my love. Henna adorns my hands as I fold the letter from above. My clean-cloud-like pearls are twinkling, my rings are sparkling, And the bird is now chanting, chanting a sweet melody, Marinating my smile in warmth, chanting a sweet melody, Smothering me in joyful glee. Show dear bird, show. Show this message to my love. My fair skin white as milk, clothed in fabric of satin and silk, With delicate, intricate beadwork that was lavishly designed to stun. Seagreen like a churning wave that meets the red and orange sun. The flamboyant colours are dazzling, the gold sequins are glistening, And the bird is now singing, singing my favourite song, Seating itself on my hand, singing my favourite song, And in return, I sing along. Go dear bird, go. Go give this message to my love!
May, a nice soft-syllabled name for the month of spring, so lively and lovely. She carries cotton candy and disperses it on bare sticks of trees; And a cool breeze greets the petals before they dance simultaneously. The butterflies frolic and flutter with energy, resolute and free. May revives the flowers and lavishly leaks out a spectrum of colours; She carries cotton candy and disperses it on bare sticks of trees. She flourishes fresh fragrances to replace winter’s decaying odours. The rainbows are like expensive jewellery adorning the clear blue sky; May revives the flowers and lavishly leaks out a spectrum of colours. The birds begin to gaze at the embellishments of our land as they fly. We enjoy the dazzling dew that softly flows down along with the sunlight; The rainbows are like expensive jewellery adorning the clear blue sky. The rays from the sun gently caress our Earth for hues that appear so bright. And daybreak is so enchanting, tempting us to walk in the warm weather; We enjoy the dazzling dew that softly flows down along with the sunlight. Nature refreshes our senses and we wish May could last forever. May, a nice soft-syllabled name for the month of spring, so lively and lovely; Where the daffodils and tulips mingle and playfully sway together, And a cool breeze greets the petals before they dance simultaneously.
hile cataloguing the papers for the incomplete atlas, it occurred to Miss Dubois that the discovery of the ancient city was, in fact, a hoax; and while the other archivists gathered around a computer to have look at it on Google Earth, she remained pointedly behind her own workstation, affecting to be absorbed by the bland brown box in her hands. Intermittently she examined its contents (MSS, miscellaneous papers relating to the English Atlas of Moses Pitt [fr.1678]), and flicked little glances over her half-moon glasses. Peter controlled the mouse, of course, zooming in and in and in until the picture was bewildered into a clutter of pixels; then he expressed frustration, just as Miss Dubois had expected. Six backs were turned to her: two, like herself, tweed-clad, one fat and frocked, three shirted. She lifted a folio and scrutinised a cramped annotation to its printed advertisement: All persons who have any particular mapps or Relations of new Discoverys, or any more perfect Descriptions of places already known are Earnestly Desired to communicate the same to the said Moses Pits who, if the same shall be though fitt by the Persons before mentiond to be added to the Atlas will take care that the mapps be curiously graven and the maps fairly printd
by d. hildyard
Her thoughts redirected themselves from the folio to the computer screen. It depicted Ubar in Oman. Someone would have mapped it on paper by now, surely? Although it was perfectly possible the satellite images would suffice – to their radar sensors, the metres-thick windblown sand dunes blanketing the ruins were quite transparent. The ‘remote-sensing’ data provided images from a variety of perspectives which they aggregated, Miss Dubois understood, to find the scars of long-gone roads converging in the middle of the desert (the article had said, ‘nowhere’). That point, of course, marked the spot where Ubar had been, at the time when it had been a centre for the trade of frankincense used to scent shrines and homes, temples and funeral pyres. Miss Dubois confessed to herself that she did not quite trust satellites. One had only to think of the little yellow TomTom device she had received for Christmas from Cécile. Miss Dubois would be in her little Renault Clio driving up the Holloway Road, say – quite familiar with her surroundings – when the genteel, urgent voice of the instrument would suddenly alert her. ‘Turn around’, said the woman in the machine. ‘Back up.’ Cécile had sent the device preset to issue its instructions in French; Miss Dubois switched it to English. Cécile seemed to wish to uphold their mother’s memory by maintaining her tradition of pretending that Miss Dubois was merely taking a holiday in England, despite the fact that the ‘holiday’ had lasted since 1962. No, Miss Dubois did not quite trust satellites. Real maps were the thing. She lifted a portolan chart from the box, held it to the light to catch the way the rhumb lines laced and veined the page, converging on a windrose invested with the four cardinal points. Fifteenth-century: incorrectly catalogued. She temporarily removed the chart to a cast-iron shelving unit, and returned, to read the preparatory questionnaires that Pitt had sent to the compilers of his atlas. Each nation state, country or geographical area was to be described; its geology, agriculture, industry, history and government; languages, customs, minerals and productions; its natural waters: What Springs, whither medcinall, Petrifactiue, hott bituminous, Saline, Wholsome or pleasant to drink. What Riuers haue their beginning neer. Whereabout & in what manner What Aquaducts Cataracts Bridges Fords Sluices Mills dams Lakes Subterraneous Passages, Fishponds.
All these funny little odds and jobs which added up to ‘a new & accurate Description of the World’.
Miss Dubois was not quite certain as to how they should be catalogued. The image of those pent, up-welling waters caused her to think of submerged Atlantean civilisations, and suddenly, she recalled where she had heard the name Ubar before: in the story by Borges. Tlon Ubar, Orbis Tertius. The fictional world … elements from the land of Tlon, of which Ubar was a capital, she recalled, slipped through into reality. She remembered something about a language in the story. Did they have no words for objects? No nouns, that was correct: the language as Borges imagined it was a system of inflected verbs and adjectives. But now Ubar had been ‘discovered’; a city which, the article said, historians had heretofore considered legendary. T.E. Lawrence had called it the ‘Atlantis of the Sands’. Of course. Miss Dubois found reason to be sceptical about the ‘discovery’ of Ubar, although she did not seriously consider it likely to be a conspiracy. She considered it more likely to be one or two crackpots and silly billies whose web-logs had somehow found their way into the news. At lunchtime, Peter caught up with her in the corridor, and addressed her as if he were continuing a previous conversation: ‘I don’t know – don’t you think it’s a bit ironic, the way an archive is supposed to be the place where we rescue and conserve these documents for posterity, but in fact what happens is, they get buried under layers and layers of papers. So few people can actually access our holdings, when you think about it.’ ‘I do not consider it ironic, as such’, said Miss Dubois. It seemed to her that the English casually abused their tongue, using words like ‘ironic’ imperfectly, and wearing down their superlatives in such a way as to diminish their potency. Amazing. Fantastic. Awesome. Peter was the most senior member of staff, but he was also the youngest. Even during her student days in Manchester in the 1960s, Miss Dubois had been proud of the neat governess-like precision of her terminology. She had taught herself to speak English, from grammar tables and a book entitled The practice of elocution: A series of exercises for acquiring the several requisites of a good delivery. Peter looked slightly impatient. ‘I want to get the collections online, Miss Dubois, make them more accessible. I want everything backed up.’ He paused outside the lift. ‘I take the stairs’, she said. ‘Ah’, said Peter. ‘I see your antipathy to technology extends even to lifts.’ ‘I don’t know’, replied Miss Dubois. ‘It’s a little bit closetrophobic.’ ‘Claustrophobic’, he corrected, grinning affably. ‘But closetrophobic is better, isn’t it?’ Miss Dubois descended the staircase, berating herself. Claustrophobic. Claustrophobic. He was still at it that afternoon, his young, rather forceful voice carrying across the room as he read off the screen: ‘Ubar was a kind of paradise until its inhabitants brought about their own destruction with their wicked living. It may have been destroyed by the creation of a sink-hole in the sand which toppled the town into a pit.’ Miss Dubois returned her attention to the manuscripts, and pencilled some notes for the descriptive catalogue. Pitt had ended up in a debtor’s prison, and died penurious, for his mismanagement of the grandiose project. (Too grandiose: Miss Dubois could not lift the library copies of the bound atlas volumes, which measured metres across.) Of eleven volumes projected, three had been completed. Of hundreds of planned maps, but one single new plate had been made. Miss Dubois examined this map, of the Northern Polar regions. The labels that crammed the ragged coasts and islets literalised the experiences of early explorers. Hope Advanced. Isle
One of Moses Pitt’s earlier maps, the Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica Ac Hydrographica Tabula (Oxford, 1680) – Ed. of Gods Mercies. Resolution Isle. Etched around the edges were depicted Inuit peoples in kayaks, hunting whales. Why did he persist in his pursuit of this subject? It occurred to Miss Dubois, now, that Peter, too, was aware of the fictional nature of the city of Ubar, and she mulled over the idea that he was mocking them, the spinsterish foreigner, and the rest of her stodgy colleagues. That evening, as she stirred her soup, she could not rid her head of the idea. She tried to think of a way in which she could demonstrate to Peter, however obliquely, that she too could play this game of power and territory. She switched on her computer, and logged her remote-access password to the library intranet. She found the entry for the map of the Polar regions which she had entered, a mere few hours earlier, as MS Pitt 245. Only she and Peter knew its situation in the archive: eradicated from the database, it would, to all intents and purposes, cease to exist. She erased the entry, appreciating the cleanliness of the computer’s deletion: no paper remembering the pencil’s impression; no scar marking the cover-up of an underlying pen. The database skipped a row of cells, and the gap closed, perfect as once-parted water over the vacated space.
ing the game. ‘What are you working on, Miss Do Boys?’ ‘I’m cataloguing our manuscript holdings for the English Atlas. Perhaps the earliest large-scale translation of an atlas of the world into English.’ She wanted to tell her sister about this, but could not prevent the irritation which rose in her voice. ‘Cécile – is it important? ‘Mais non.’ ‘Bon – je t’appellerai ce soir,’ replied Miss Dubois. ‘I can’t talk now.’ On the rare and brief occasions she returned to France, Miss Dubois was recalcitrant, speaking in English wherever possible, affecting to misremember French terms, or confabulating incorrect constructions. Sometimes, she simply carried English words into French, and on one occasion, during her holidays from university, had exclaimed deliberately, loudly on the lack of preservatifs in the breakfast jam. Miss Dubois’ mother had choked on her toast. The recollection of this incident mildly surprised Miss Dubois: she would not, now, be so crass. But at that time she had considered it expedient to clarify the distance between her English life and her Catholic upbringing, and, once taken, she would not renege on that decision.
The next day, Miss Dubois had been prepared to call into question the premise of the discovery. Ubar, however, was not mentioned: her half-baked colleagues, she supposed, had already allowed it to slip from their minds. The telephone rang and Suzanne, the receptionist, answered it: ‘CSC library-and-archives, Suzanne speaking?’ A pause, then Suzanne said, more loudly, ‘Ahh … bonjour!’ She raised herself from her desk and waddled towards Miss Dubois. ‘It’s your sister – shall I put her through?’ Miss Dubois sighed. Cécile had been instructed not to call her at work. She had found the telephone number on the internet. It was an embarrassment. ‘Cécile. Can I help you? Is there a problem?’ ‘Not at all’, replied Cécile. Today, she was play-
Miss Dubois did not call Cécile that evening, for when she arrived home, and took the Collected Stories from her shelf to read as she ate her soup, she made a rather surprising discovery. A ‘q’ had been lost. Uqbar. Uqbar was Borges’ city. Even alone, she blushed, when she thought of how close she had come to humiliating herself at work. She would have been sent to the loony bin. The next day, she retrieved the Northern Polar regions from the oblivion to which she had, for a short space of time, consigned them, and proceeded to re-enter their details into the descriptive catalogue. When she arrived at the rubric, ‘Physical Description’, however, her mind lapsed into blankness as perfect and simple as those white expanses of ice depicted in the plate itself.
She could not, for the life of her, recall the word for the edge that defined the extent of the map. Despite the fact that both her Library Studies diploma and her Master’s in Cartography had been undertaken in the British Isles, she could not extract the term from the clutter in her mind. She had never had recourse to learn this kind of specialist terminology in her mother tongue, and yet – a word floated, sure as a buoy, to the surface of her mind: l’orle. She snapped her fingers, summoning the attention of her colleagues who one-by-one looked up from their desks. ‘I don’t know, what’s that word, you know, the edge, the little box containing what is what.’ The French accent, she was sure, was sharpening in her voice. She hesitated. She did not speak that language in front of her coworkers. But she needed the word, for the small plate was hemmed about the edges with images: spouting orca, elephant seals, and tiny Inuit, fur hooded and booted, kayaking towards the horizon.
Structo interviews Lindsey Davis by the editor
“ I suspect film-makers are just waiting around, hoping I will die and get out of their hair…” I
n 1989, Lindsey Davis introduced the world to Roman private detective (and aspiring poet) Marcus Didius Falco. Twenty-one years, numerous awards and swathes of enamoured readers later, the twentieth Falco novel, ‘Nemesis’, has just hit bookshop shelves, alongside a companion to the series. Structo talked to Davis about civil servants, the importance of historical accuracy in fiction and the reason filmmakers might want her dead.
After leaving Oxford with a degree in English, you joined the Civil Service for 13 years. Were you writing much during this period? No. Only in my final year did I write a romantic novel to cheer myself up. It was shortlisted for the Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize, which encouraged me in all ways. Did you leave the Service with the deliberate aim of becoming a full-time writer? No. I left because I was unhappy. I thought you had to have ‘proper’ work – as indeed many writers do. Did Falco’s distaste of bureaucrats stem from your time there? His knowledge is probably based on my own. I would like to say that he does not entirely disapprove of bureaucrats. His distaste is for inefficiency. In ‘The Silver Pigs’ I particularly created Flavius Hilaris, who stands for the best kind of civil servant and of whom Falco soon approves very highly. One of the pleasures of reading the books is that, as an author, you carry your knowledge very lightly. For instance we find out that Rome had horribly unstable multistorey blocks of flats, but this detail comes as a necessary feature of the action, rather than as a bit of information that says ‘I know this’. Just how accurate is the history that Falco finds himself intertwined with? I hope it’s always accurate. I see no point in writing historical novels unless you try to make them true to what we know. Of course sometimes we don’t know things – and we can never be sure how accurate our perception is. Do you have any views on the dramatisation or alteration of history in fiction? Would you say there is a duty on the part of the author or filmmaker to make it clear that events have been changed to improve the pacing of a narrative, for example? I have a very strong ethos that history (as far as we know it) should not be altered. An author’s job is to make their story match what really happened – or to go away and write fantasy. Would it be acceptable to write a modern book or film in which Blair did not attack Saddam Hussein because it affected the pace of some mimsy author’s narrative? I think not! Any plans to use your knowledge to write non-fiction, i.e. Roman history? Not at present, apart from the occasional very short ‘feature’ article. Do you find physical research useful? Have you travelled to many of the same places as Falco and Helena? I have spent a great deal of time in Rome and have
generally made brief visits to places my characters visit. Of course it helps. Nothing can beat seeing things for yourself to give you the atmosphere and inspire good ideas. However, I bet nobody can really tell where I have been and where I have ‘done it from books’! There are some very strong women in Falco’s life. Does this echo the structure of Roman society and the legal status of women at the time? Women had no legal status, so it can’t echo that. It is true to what I know of how women were perceived (i.e. scary) and how they are portrayed on, for example, tombstones, and also to what I have observed in their descendants. Italian women are still supposed to live in a patriarchal society – if you follow what men say. You left the world of the Romans, at least temporarily, to write ‘Rebels and Traitors’. Was that a conscious break from your previous writing? No, the Romans are a conscious break from my interest in the seventeenth century – but a professional with bills to pay has to go where the market is. I had always wanted to write about the Civil War. The change was extremely refreshing and I expect to find other non-Roman subjects.
Falco musing with us. But people love them, so we are clearly doing it right. Do you think that we will ever see Marcus Didius Falco on the big screen? Because I am strict about how the books can be used, I suspect film makers are just waiting around, hoping I will die and get out of their hair! The rights are available to all my books, I can say no more. And finally, can you recommend an underrated book? I think Georgette Heyer’s ‘Royal Escape’, about the dangerous adventures of the Prince of Wales (Charles II) after the Royalists lost the Battle of Worcester, deserves to be better known. It is an exemplary use of fascinating background material, but of course also a gripping tale, with excellent characterisation and a real period feel – not, of course, the period for which she is generally known.
What can you tell us about the companion book? This has been requested by readers for a long time. It’s not the kind of lexicon-style companion which attempts to catalogue minutiae, but it discusses questions I have regularly been asked about the series. There is more detailed autobiographical detail than I have ever given before, some of which may surprise people, and some sparky discussion writing and research (I’ve had a lot of very silly approaches from would-be historical novelists and my views are pretty stern). There are a hundred illustrations, many of them from my own photographic archives, and numerous quotations from authors ancient and modern. What is it about Falco that has prompted such an enduring following? He’s honest, he’s fun, and he has an attractive female partner. How do you feel about having your books narrated as audio books, or serialised on the radio? Every new version is welcome so long as it is true to my intentions. The audiobooks I license are always unabridged so that’s no problem – though people do have their own idea of what Falco should sound like and they must accept that we can’t always match that. The radio dramas are necessarily truncated and tend to concentrate on plot rather than
by suvi mahonen Wednesday, 8th of April 2009
hink we’ve found it! How fantastic. Another day more than necessary in this place and I’m gonna have to scream. Silently of course. Would never want the in-laws to think I’m being ungrateful. Need to put the hard word on Bryce; he reckons it’s a bit out of our range. ‘But we’ve saved up 70 grand,’ I’ve just pointed out to him. ‘EEEGSactly.’ (I hate it when he does that.) ‘And they want 420 for that dump.’ ‘It’s not a dump.’ He rolled his eyes (I hate that even more). ‘OK. OK. It’s not a dump, but it’s more than we can afford.’ Then he goes on about how with needing to pay stamp duty, conveyancing and avoiding the mortgage insurance there was no way we could buy it. ‘Why’d you look at it then?’ ‘I didn’t look at it.’ (Just as well Bryce’s dad had TV on loud downstairs otherwise they might have thought we were arguing.) ‘She just took us there remember?’ ‘Yeah, and that house is exactly what I want!’ ‘So you like the carpet then.’ ‘Except for the carpet.’ ‘And what about the bathrooms?’ ‘We’ll get them renovated.’ He stood up from the bed and pointed his index finger at me. ‘You’d better start counterfeiting then. Otherwise 360’s our upper limit.’ I bit his finger. He pissed off downstairs. I guess we have spent the last three days hunting. No wonder we’re getting a bit silly. It’s all accumulated stress due to moving back from Scotland, then having to shack up with the in-laws like refugees. I know we’d be more clear-headed about buying a place if we had our own place to live. It’s been 11 weeks and 1 day now since we’ve been staying with Bryce’s parents. Have had enough. Need to somehow convince him to put in an offer tomorrow otherwise we’ll have to wait till after Easter. Couldn’t stand missing out. Two realtors, three days, thirteen houses. First twelve were a waste of time. I know most of them fitted within Mr-Economic-ResponsibilityPants’ budget but let’s go over them again and see: Houses 1–8: Already covered these on Monday and Tuesday. House 9: Meant to be quaint. Apparently quaint equals needs to be demolished. House 10: Not bad actually, but block of land so steep you’d have to wear abseiling equipment going in and out of back door. House 11: So mildewed I swear saw wall move. House 12: Out of question – next door to cemetery.
The realtor was getting a bit snitty by the end. Kept ‘asking’ me to wipe my shoes. Not my fault it was rainy and muddy. Plus I’m allowed to be choosy. That’s why Bryce took annual leave now – to give us time to finally scout out. I mean it’s a HOUSE for goodness sakes. Not a pair of socks. ‘Well that’s about all I can show you up here,’ she said as we walked up path to Landcruiser. She gave me a glance that said ‘timewaster’. I glanced over shoulder, headstones still there. Anyway wasn’t too worried. We’d appointments with other agents tomorrow and next Tuesday. And I knew there must be somewhere, we just hadn’t met yet. Then I remembered Bryce’s dad. ‘You sure there’s nowhere else?’ I asked. We were almost at the office. She turned up the wipers. She looked at me. She turned them down again. ‘Actually there is one other place – ’ she paused. ‘It’s just come on the market.’
She did a U-ey and took us up a dirt road. ‘It’s a unique house,’ she went on. ‘A German guy built it around a miner’s cottage about twenty years ago.’ ‘Around a miner’s cottage?’ Bryce asked. ‘Yes. He lived in it while he constructed the walls and roof of the new place around it, then he tore the cottage down inside.’ I looked at Bryce. He shrugged. There’s not many other houses on that road, and what there are is largely hidden by the trees. ‘Why’s he selling the house?’ I asked. We went over a pothole. My teeth clicked. ‘The German guy?’ The realtor shook her head. ‘No no, not him. He disappeared years ago. A retired couple lived there for ages but they moved on. Then there was that geologist – ’ She shook her head again. ‘Anyway the German guy’s nephew decided to sell so he can pay off some of his debts.’ We started down a slope. ‘So who lives there now?’ I asked. ‘No-one for the last eighteen months or so.’ Small stones crunched as we stopped. I wish we’d brought the camera. Talk about charming. It’s just like a Swiss chalet. The roof ’s made of shingles (with dormer windows!) and there’s a wooden balcony out the front on the second level. That’s right. Second level. And guess what, there’s even a third (well, kind of, if you count the converted attic). The bottom level’s stone and the top level(s) wood and there’s flower boxes beneath every window (empty for now but I’ll change that). A tall brick wall goes around the whole property with a big iron gate at the front. We got out and went up. ‘The driveway’s a bit steep,’ Bryce said. ‘There’s no problems driving up it. It’s well paved.’ The realtor unlocked the gate and swung it aside. It came to a stop in the ivy. OK. So the yard’s going to need a lot of work. A lot. But it’ll be good for Bryce to spend more time outside. ‘How much land is here?’ Bryce asked. ‘About half an acre. It’s quite a bargain for that much.’ I wanted to see inside but the realtor was in no rush. She took us down what once was and will be again a garden path. There’s a swampy fish pond (hope there’s frogs), a small glasshouse, and lots and lots of trees and shrubs. The kind-of path even goes through a rose arch. I pointed out an empty nest in the stems. ‘And this is the covered outdoor BBQ ,’ she said. We were near the back of the house by then. She must have seen Bryce’s face. ‘You might want to replace it. It is a little rusty.’ She only had a key to the front door so we went back round there. ‘Are there other people interested in this place?’ I was anxious to know. ‘Yes. Well. Actually you’re the first couple I’ve shown around. But I’m sure there’ll be lots of bids.’ We went inside. That clinched it. ‘It’s pretty dark,’ Bryce said. I ignored him. What a fantastic house! Everything’s stone or wood. No plasterboard, no chipboard, no cork, no laminex. There’s tons of wood panelling (even on the ceilings), and oldfashioned candle lights on the walls. Off the front entrance there’s a bathroom, bedroom and walk-in wardrobe on the left, and the living area, dining area and open plan kitchen on the right. ‘You’d have a great view at dinner,’ the realtor said. Wide, almost wall-high French windows face the backyard. ‘What’s the heating?’ Bryce asked.
‘Gas ducted.’ But there’s also a big kickarse fireplace downstairs. As for the stairs, they’re great. Big red gum steps going up through the centre of the house. With wide open-railed areas on the second and attic landings so you can lean over and look right down to the ground floor. Hanging down from the very top in the centre of the winding stairs is the house’s main lights on a thick black chain. It’s a big horizontally hung wagon wheel with a light globe at every third spoke on the rim. Even Mr-Cynical-Pants admitted it was cool. ‘And here on the second level there’s a TV room, another bathroom and two bedrooms.’ She took us through them, then out onto the balcony. ‘You don’t have any children?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘Not yet,’ said Bryce. ‘Well you can easily make the TV room a rumpus room and the bedrooms nurseries when you do.’ ‘Or a study and studio,’ I pointed out. A kookaburra landed on the balcony just then. ‘They love raw mince,’ the realtor said. On drive back here to in-laws Bryce says he reckons the realtor bribes the kookaburras. Then he tells me off for being too excited about the place in front of her. OK. So the two attic rooms are a little cramped. And yes, the place does need some renovating (already decided – kitchen, then bathrooms then carpet). But how can Bryce not see that this is the house for us? Need to convince him to let us make an offer. I’m sure bank will lend us more. So what if we have to get mortgage insurance? We’ll be able to pay it off. Mother-in-law just called us for dinner. Will have to get back to this later. Should’ve helped her. Didn’t realise the time. How to convince him? How? How? Continued. Writing this by moonlight so handwriting will be a bit messy. Bryce is snoring away. Might need earplugs. REALLY hope his parents wear them. Kept whispering to him to slow down. Do it more quietly. Either that or give bedsprings an oil. Oh well. Guess I had it coming. Two and half months (with his parents just down the hall) of saying no. Bryce said yes. A number of times. Still. Good news. One of those yes’s was about making offer on house. Damn. Need to pee.
Here and There by christopher woods
nderstand that I was not in the best frame of mind for our interview with Mr Stanley. My heart was broken. Just hours before, my father had died. Now I, along with my mother, my brother and sister, was being interviewed by a man in the business office of a funeral home. We answered Mr Stanley’s questions as best we could in our distraught state. We made decisions regarding the burial arrangements. Looking at the surviving members of my family, I knew that none of us was thinking clearly. This much could be expected, I knew. What bothered me more was Mr Stanley’s odd, erratic behavior. He seemed to be with us one moment, then gone the next. The floridly complexioned man in the dark suit behind his desk seemed to drift between intensity and a distant preoccupation. The first seemed forced and labored. Then, inexplicably, he would change. Suddenly it seemed he was elsewhere, distracted, and certainly not present with us sitting across the desk from him. I wondered about his state of mind, and if he would act differently were we not there at all. If left alone, would Mr Stanley remain so absorbed in his preoccupation? It was obvious that his mind was elsewhere, but I felt that his spirit also seemed to drift from the room toward whatever was beyond it. Perhaps our being there, no matter the
tragic reason why, tethered Mr Stanley somehow. Strange, as well, to see my family like that, discussing the pecuniary and ritualistic aspects of death, when we had not done such a thing before. We were family, but the truth is that our lives were quite separate. This had to do with our personal situations, the places where we lived, and with our independent natures. No matter. For the moment, listening to the dark-suited man, we tried to make all the right decisions as a team of sorts. Our answers, and especially our occasional questions, served to bring the wandering Mr Stanley back to the room, focused once again. I suspected that his only true allegiance was to the dead. Wasn’t it the dead who brought him to his desk, his job, every day? Maybe Mr Stanley was world-weary and wanted only to drift off with the ghosts. Our being there, if only temporary, held him back. This was reflected on his face, an anxious mask of anxiety. Mr Stanley had the appearance of a man who could not choose sides, even after the battle was under way. Thinking about this, something else came to me. I realized that Mr Stanley was also keeping us in our places, if only briefly. For the moment, in his presence, we were still a family. After that, when we left to go our separate ways, well, anything might
happen. Chances were good that we might drift away from each other, for reasons I have already mentioned. But for the moment, we were there, my family and I, and even Mr Stanley, holding each other in place, passage being the only thing we all had in common.
The Hatted Fish by daniel wilcox
A few days after the downpour, That relentless raining of cats and fish, My young daughter and I trailed along the potted riverwash Under the sweltering sun, examining flotsam That the descending waters had left, Sandcombing Santa Maria-style. She quickly found three small struggling catfish Gilled in a shallow puddle, flopping about Abandoned, from the past raging torrent Of last week’s endless cloud-bursting deluge; And soon to be gasping for fishy breath, Then stinking up the hardened clay Like one of ol’ Moses’ done wonders. My daughter begged me to save them from their Niled demise. So struck by her empathy, I pulled off my dark felt hat And scooped the scaled denizens with murky water up to the brim, A vivid warmed witness to my daughter’s rosy felt heart. Then we ran like the livin’ dickens four long blocks To our two-decker house while the water rapidly Seeped through the felt, the priceless pets, Extended in front of me – in their draining pool, A votive offering to the Almighty, One more Fatherly blessed Sunday. Upstairs in her frilly bathroom, my angled angel turned on the faucet And lovingly released her little ichthys into the spotless bathtub. They swam and gobbled up fish stuff she sprinkled in; Though soon she flopped them into a glass basin. For several years the small finned orphans grew, Nurtured and watched by their waterworld sprite – Man those suckers got big! – So we finally bought A huge tank for their swimmingly aquatic life And they whiskered looming about, those Huck Finn dear ones, Rivering through my daughter’s childhood, growing. What a hat trick, so Noahed, This miracle of childhood.
The Previous Day: 7:43am, Location Undisc by r.a. martens
here was a noise scratching at the edge of Tony’s consciousness. Today was a Reading Day – no distractions. His wife had gone to something or other before it even got light, leaving him a silent house. All the troubles in the world lay in the unopened newspaper in front of him. The noise would go away. He held his coffee, in its too-small presentation Wedgwood cup (where were the bloody mugs in this place?), and warmed his hands. The sun was rising, catching the furls of steam as they made their way upward. His mind was slightly – alarmingly – blank. When had he last had a check-up? Date of last checkup, he wrote on the leather-bound notepad beside the paper. Where mugs? he added. The work surfaces began to glow in the growing daylight. His dressing gown felt good against his skin, soft and kind, and a nice place to be. He would sit a bit longer. Soon enough, there would be the whole business with the mirror: hello wrinkles, hello grey eminence! The noise was louder now. It was coming from outside somewhere. His senses pricked, and he waited for the familiar rustle and discreet aggression of the boys. But the boys now weren’t the same. The top crew had a new posting, and he got the Dteam when he was lucky. Where were they? He tilted his head a little to one side, letting his good ear rise, and looked out into the garden. The noise was very high-pitched, squeaky, almost – and furious. A protester, no doubt. How did they find the house? Why didn’t they go and bother someone else? Someone who still had a twenty-four-hour bodyguard, for example? He rose, wearily, and opened the door to look out onto the garden. The moisture of night, just gone, was still in the air, sharpening up the smell of cold November grass and leaves. “Hoi, you there! Why don’t you stop gawking like a great heifer and do something?” He looked around. There was no-one in the garden. He shut the door, went to find some shoes, and shuffled them on. The leather felt damp and sticky with cold against his bare feet. Back at the garden door, he wrapped the dressing gown around him more firmly, tightened the belt, and stepped outside feeling underdressed. He picked his way down the slope to the privacy hedge at the back of the garden. The lawn was sodden. Water pooled around his beautiful hand-tooled Italian loafers as he walked, and soaked into them. Darkness seeped up the sides, and the scent of wet leather reached his nose. He straddled the border by the hedge, risking a small holly bush up the dressing gown, and tried to peer through, but the hedge was totally fit for purpose. “I’ve called the police, I suggest you leave before they arrive,” he called, and waited, looking down. The border looked splendid. He must remember to congratulate Cherie on the gardener. “Back here you idiot. Moo! Moo! Get your bovine arse over here and bloody get rid of this bird. In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s about to tear me in half. Or shall I just hang about for a bit, tearing every sinew in my tiny body, trying to cling to the earth while you admire your floral border?” Tony turned and looked back up the garden: a lone blackbird blotted the green. “Oh well done, spotted me finally.” He walked over, squinting towards the bird, which was pulling up a worm. “Help me then, you clodhopping Brunhilde. No, sorry, take your time, take your time, I realise it’s a terrible shock for you poor moos, they impressed that on us at basic training. We must allow you to adjust. I’ll just kick back and file my nails while you absorb this. AAAAAAAAARGH!” Tony stepped up to the bird. It seemed wrong that it hadn’t taken flight at his arrival, but there it stood, hopping around a little on its clawed orange feet, heaving at the creature pulling against it. One
end of the worm was dangling over the edge of its beak. He bent over to see more closely. The prehistoric nature of the thing struck him all at once. The beak and the strangeness of feathers. The damp air smelled of wet nature, of something rogue, and the bird’s black eye looked out from somewhere he wasn’t comfortable with. “See anything you like? Hideous torture? Unimaginable pain? Have you adjusted yet? Might we move on to the matter at hand?” The voice was definitely coming from down there. Tony crouched, nearly overbalanced and dirtied a hand on the boggy ground in righting himself. He wiped the hand on the seat of his dressing gown and draped the arm awkwardly across one knee, the clean hand on the other knee, trying to keep his dignity covered. “Are you talking to me?” he asked. “Unfortunately for me, it would appear so. You’re not going to do anything, are you, you vacant great blob? Fine, right. I am an emissary from the Blathe Nebula, further away than your puny imagination can even begin to grasp, so don’t bother trying, and let’s crack on. I believe you would use the primitive term ‘Alien’ to understand me. It’s paltry, and does not begin to encompass the – aaagh! – majesty of the being you are honoured to encounter, but that’s moos for you, insufficient vocabulary all the way. Blink once if you understand me so far, moo.” Tony blinked. The bird seemed unaware of the conversation its meal was holding on the way to the scaffold. It was single-minded, pulling at the worm with all its being, and yet, the worm was not coming free. As the bird pulled and then hopped around to find better purchase on the ground, the worm would stretch and then become slack and fat again. Each time a further bit of pink met the air, the worm would cry out. “Sorry – do you have a name?” asked Tony. Where was its mouth? Where was it speaking from? As far as he could remember, worms did not have any kind of mouth. And how could it be so loud, with such a tiny body? “You wouldn’t be able to pronounce it with – aaagh! – your stupid human tongue, don’t even try.” “Might I call you something approximating it, then, perhaps? To allow for the interchange between one being and another on a respectful level?” “Whatever you like. There’s no approximation. Make something up if it makes you feel better.” “Then I shall call you Gordon, if that’s acceptable? My name is Tony.” He held out his clean left hand, and then laughed self-consciously, and took it back. “Smashing, Tony. Now we’ve introduced ourselves formally, might I prevail upon you to do something eloquent and civilised about my imminent death?” “Of course, of course.” Tony bounced a little, his elbows now on his knees; his fingers steepled. “But I wonder if you might tell me a little more about yourself ?” “Right, right, protocol is all, of course. Let us not allow the minor inconvenience of my fast-approaching annihilation to prevent us from observing social niceties. I was chosen as the first envoy of the Lumbricians to earth. The mission is to share technology (as if you lumbering oiks would have anything we would want) and knowledge (likewise); to foster inter-galactic peace and blah blah blah.” The bird pulled hard and another inch of worm appeared, along with a hearty scream. “We found the creature on your planet most closely approximating our own form, and my consciousness was transferred. Oh happy day. Done something terrible in a former life, I suppose. What I need (aside, of course, from the cessation of the agonies of imminent death) is for you to take me to whatever passes on this rock for a leader, so that I may begin talks. That’ll be exciting.” “Did you just say: ‘Take me to your leader’?”
Tony smiled. “Yes? What of it?” “… technology, you say? I am intrigued by the technological advances made by a race of beings with no …” he coughed discreetly “… opposable thumbs, as it were. Or indeed, thumbs. Digits, limbs …” Tony leant his lips against his steepled fingers, and waited. Was the worm changing colour a little? Becoming redder? It was not rushing to reply, certainly. It was an almost obscenely naked colour, the shade changing as it moved and blood gathered at the moving parts. “You wouldn’t understand.” The worm gave another cry as its saddle appeared. “I have seen things you wouldn’t believe.Warships on fire off the shoulder of Saturn. I’ve watched sea breams glitter in the dark near the Tan Hauser gate …” It paused. “I am not at liberty to discuss our technology with low-ranking humanoids.” The voice was a little quieter; awkward. “Well Gordon, that is where you are fantastically in luck. You happen, you see, to be speaking to the Prime Minister of the country in which you have landed.” Tony paradiddled his fingers together; looked down at the worm in its predicament. “Actually, the ex-prime minister. I am now involved with more important matters. I think you could already be said, actually, to be at the leader. No taking required.” “Really? You’re not just making that up?” “Indeed not,” said Tony. “In fact, I am meeting with leaders of the Middle East to broker a worldchanging peace deal later this afternoon, and I really must leave to catch a plane.” “Oh,” said the worm. “Prime Minister. So … you know about aliens, then? I suppose you’ve met a few?” “Only on the dissecting table,” said Tony, and gave the worm a beaming grin. “I jest, Gordon. I have seen Bladerunner, though, from which you rather misquoted just now. Actually, your appearance has put me in mind of Occam’s razor. Do you know it?” He pushed down on his knees with his forearms and stood up, wincing a little. “It goes like this, Gordon.’ He began to walk to and fro, hands loosely clasped behind his back. “There are two possibilities to explain the current situation. One: I am being visited by an alien creature – the first such visitation, despite various lunatic assertions, in the history of humankind. Two: I am losing my mind. “Now, however uncomfortable, sensitive and unlikely a matter the second proposition, it is nevertheless possible. And Occam’s razor states (I paraphrase) that once all impossible propositions have been discounted, the possible proposition is always the case. So I am forced to conclude that any further conversation is merely an impediment to my seeking immediate and urgent psychiatric assistance.” He turned back to face the worm and paused, standing, eyebrows raised. “Right, cards on the table. I’m not an alien. I’m a worm.” “I see.” “A talking worm, though. That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it? Worth saving for some kind of investigation? Don’t you feel the hand of history on your shoulder?” Tony whipped round, his face screwed up momentarily with confusion and rage. He looked as though he might spit. Then his face relaxed a little and he spoke with acid calm. “Worth investigating … mm … Well, I really am a horribly busy man. I really do have to catch that plane, and I’m not sure I have time to trek round to the scientists with a worm. I mean, how would that look? Think about it from my side, Gordon, if you can. “There is also the continuing application of Occam’s razor to be considered. I am afraid that
closed even with your demotion from alien emissary to talking worm, it is still most likely the case that this is all a figment of my imagination.” Tony was now absolutely composed, the moment of weakness erased. He faced the worm, his hands, dirty and clean, held out, palms up. “I understand,” said the worm. Tony could barely hear it now. “I accept that you are not ready to believe that I exist. I would, however, be grateful if you would release me from this bird before the final ebb of my strength, so that I might crawl away to die with dignity, as is surely the right of every creature.” “Gosh, yes, of course it is.” Tony nodded, and then looked down. “On the other hand,” he looked up again, “I have become well versed in the con-
cept of global warming during my presidency,” he coughed, “– my time as Prime Minister. Have you heard of the butterfly effect Gordon? You see, this garden is a delicately balanced eco-system, and as I must acknowledge your right to live, I must also acknowledge the tenacious spirit of this bird, and its right to eat. “And I find myself unable to tamper with the fragile balance of nature. I have greatly enjoyed our chat though, Gordon. Many thanks for that. I’m sorry I can’t shake your hand.” As he leaned over to look at the worm, now four inches visible, something in his back creaked. He righted himself irritably. “Goodbye Gordon, and the best of luck.” He turned, and walked slowly back to the house, closing the door on the flap of the blackbird’s wings.
Me and the MacGregors by j.s. maclean
We purchase our seeds at Granny’s Hardware down at the end of the lane we share. I sprinkle and weed the weeks away until the Fall Fair at Warrenton. MacGregor shows sweet nubile corncobs; my lean ears have been snubbed by cattle. His tomatoes are bold as baboon buttocks; while mine are deemed barely fit for pickles. My pumpkins are pinched like Jacko’s nose; yet the ones he grows weigh more than him. But it’s the sight of Mr MacGregor’s arrogant carrots, even more splendid than those on the packets, that bugs me the worst; for if I grew one … it would be the first. Sometimes to compare I hop up onto the stile and the garden on their side is really greener, except for what’s gnawing at my innards knowing Granny’s seeds are standardized. What lore lies among his hoes and cans or in the shed with the padlocked door? I’d surely wonder in hunger if his wife Skye didn’t share with me her famous rabbit pies.
We Were Here Once and Again by kenneth p. gurney Stone bowl, flint arrow heads: a ghost sings the deer down into the valley, but none answer the song. Creek bed, mine tailing sludge: the twisted trunks of junipers, piñon, crave trotting foxes, fights of jays, the scratch of bears. Dead wood, bleached thigh bone: the crows carry provisions as they flock across this economic echo.
The Puddle Under the Tree by saleel nurbhai
t had just been raining. We were walking along and I was back on my usual topic of how everything I ever wanted was beyond my reach. ‘I’ll never be able to do what I want,’ I whined. ‘I’ve sat down and worked it all out, and from what I’ve got down – ’ I pulled out of my bag the 14 pages of foolscap, each page filled both sides with tiny writing, and waved them at her ‘ – it’s all completely impossible.’ She stopped and stared at me while cleaning her ear with her little finger. ‘You know that looks like you’re chalking a pool cue,’ I told her. She ignored this. Instead she inspected her finger for traces of wax, then told me, dead casual, all matter-of-fact: ‘You’re just a cynic. You think that if you can’t do anything then it must be impossible.’ ‘No!’ I said, indignant. ‘I’m not. I don’t. I’m a realist,’ I said proudly. ‘A pragmatist.’ ‘An idiot’ she said. ‘Oh?’ I said, amused. ‘Why?’ ‘Because nothing is impossible.’ Platitudes! I had to tell her, ‘There are so many things that are impossible. You wouldn’t believe how many – ’ But I stopped, because now her arms were akimbo, her eyes narrowed. ‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Maybe. So, discounting some physical laws and mathematical constants –’ here, because I know nothing of physical laws and mathematical constants – apart from three-hundred-andsixty degrees makes a circle except when I try to draw one freehand – I shrugged ‘ – those I’ll give you. But apart from those, nothing is impossible.’ I took off my specs. ‘It’s not possible for me to see you without you being all fuzzy. You know – when I take off my specs.’ She took my specs and broke them: snapped them across the bridge. I tried to grab them back, but she dropped them and trod on them. ‘There are exercises,’ she told me. ‘You can focus on things, swivel your eyeballs. There are things you can do with candles.’ She held an imaginary candle and moved it side to side, backwards and forwards. ‘Those were my specs! There are things you can do with those candles.’ She ignored my suggestion. ‘All I’m saying is that if you practised, you could improve your eyesight. I wouldn’t be fuzzy. It’s not impossible.’ She turned and walked on. I made some attempts to pick up the remains of my specs, then gave up and ran after her. At least I think it was her. Nothing was sharp, but she had the same colour hair and the same colour coat. ‘If you put your mind to it, nothing is impossible,’ she said; so I knew it was her. We stopped again, underneath a tree. There was a puddle between us. Leaves bombarded us with big drops of water. ‘You broke my specs,’ I said. ‘Should I forgive you?’ ‘Oh, never mind. They’re only specs. I can get you a new pair.’ Then she smiled at me – that smile. ‘And besides, when we get back I can show you things. We can do things. So you’ll see: nothing is impossible.’ I blushed. I tend to get embarrassed when she does anything even remotely saucy. Even when we’re alone, all she has to do is raise an eyebrow and pucker her lips, and I get all flushed and flustered. ‘I have another pair,’ I said quickly, my voice lowered. ‘Not my favourite pair; an old pair. The lenses are a bit scratched; they’ve got this green verdigris-type stuff around them; and the metal is all pitted from body acids. Also, the arms are a bit tight round the ears. They’re not a good pair. But they’ll do – until you get me another one.’ She considered this. ‘Fair enough,’ she said.
The sun came out. A few more drops of water landed on us, anointing our heads and the backs of our necks. They were less frequent now, and had a sense of urgency about them – as if they were trying to justify themselves by causing others discomfort before the sun sucked them all away. One or two plipped into the puddle, which was already starting to dry round the edges. ‘So you will, see?’ she said. ‘So that is possible. So it’s like I said: if you put your mind to it, nothing’s impossible.’ I didn’t see the logic. I asked her: ‘What is all this? Have you been reading books on positive thinking?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well, then, have you read some article on mind over matter?’ ‘No.’ ‘Have you taken up some mystical practices from the Orient?’ ‘Umm – ‘ Before she could answer, I followed that with: ‘Is there such a thing as astral projection?’ ‘Well – ’ she started. ‘Aha!’ I was triumphant. ‘I got you. Those last two questions – they weren’t really relevant. But I put them in just to throw you. And they did! ’Cos you don’t know, do you?’ She smiled. ‘That’s possible.’ Plip-plop. We watched the puddle. I remembered something – a thing I’d probably read in a big book of facts, or something an alarmist primary-school teacher had told me. ‘Did you know,’ I started, because that’s the convention for when you’re going to give a fact, ‘Did you know that it’s possible to drown in two inches of water?’ ‘In a teaspoonful of water,’ she said, which annoyed me for two reasons: one – it was more impressive than mine; two – she’d ignored the ‘Did you know…’ convention. ‘Where did you hear that?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know. Probably read it in a big book of facts. Or my alarmist primary-school teacher might have told me.’ I looked at the tree. ‘You know what would be impossible,’ I said. ‘Nothing.’ ‘No, really – what would be impossible would be for you to climb up this tree and dive into this puddle and not drown or die or anything.’ ‘You think so?’ I nodded. ‘Here, hold this.’ She took off her coat and gave it to me. Then she winked and started to climb. ‘Is this high enough?’ she called. ‘A little higher. And a bit more to the left. There’s a good branch there, and you won’t have to jump out to hit the puddle. You can just dive straight down.’ Truth was, without my specs I couldn’t make out whether there was a good branch or not; everything was just a muddle of brown and green. But I could make out her shape against the branches and leaves. ‘Where? That one?’ She pointed. ‘No, no.’ I waved to the left. ‘That one.’ I pointed. She scrambled up and to the left – maybe about thirty feet up now. ‘Good branch,’ she called. I could just about make out that she was way out on the branch, holding onto some twigs above her. From the rustling and the movement, I think she must have been testing it for springiness. She jumped. I screamed.
The puddle had gone, splashed away on her landing, but bits of it still stuck to her head and her clothes. She stood up and wiped some water from her forehead, used it to stylishly smooth her eyebrow. ‘Ta-daa!’ I gave her back her coat. ‘That wasn’t a very elegant dive,’ I told her. ‘No?’ ‘No. Your legs were all crooked, you slipped to one side, you over-rotated when you hit the water…’ ‘Still,’ she said – and how smug she was, ‘I think that now you have to believe me.’ ‘No.’ ‘No?’ ‘Because that thing you did just then – it never happened.’ She cocked an eyebrow. ‘Well, it couldn’t,’ I said. ‘It’s impossible.’
Hometown Specter † & Lonely Death 2 Doors Down *
by carl scharwath
Gateway opens to a new beginning The winter sky painted with droplets of stars Youthful mirrors Lustrous street lamp illuminates the path An escapist journey alone in myself Legs begin to run Concrete liquefies under gliding speed Time frozen in the rhythm of history I walk in pain Deserted stores in peripheral vision Caskets of dead commerce and greed Forgotten not missed Parking lot cracks laced with weeds Lead to manicured lawns and hope Hometown neighborhood Abandoned homes released from burden Gutters rusted in the trickle of tears Displaced future Blessed in my return and plight The door closes slowly On past glories
Two sets of eyes ablaze in apathy Neither of us exists in the other’s thoughts A soul close in living, yet far apart in life The neighbor you can never fully befriend –or care to Children knew he was mean and reticent Errant ball bisecting the lawn invites a scowl Grass in perfection devoid of visitor footprints Sacred ground of senior suburbia –wasted days Red lights pierce the darkening night Reflected in the inquisitive eyes of a summer crowd A macabre show gives pause to mundane lives We witness a soul sickened beyond hope –surrendering In the bath tub a veteran donned his helmet once more Wartime memories splattered against the tiles of fate Blood soaked rivers of death drain to a lost finality Grace bestowed should have been my gift –to help another
The School of Oriental Dancing by a.h. sargeant “
ood grief !” exclaimed Carrington from behind his newspaper. “Nellie’s dead! Nellie Pemberton’s dead!” He lowered his paper to look at me. “Nellie Pemberton, dead. It says she died peacefully at her home, the Pershawa Palace in Lucknow, two weeks ago. And she was married to some prince or other. It says here she was a princess – Princess Eleanora. Our Nellie! Who would have thought it?” Henry Carrington, sometime Professor of Social Anthropology at Magdalen College, Oxford, put down his paper and beckoned the club steward: “Two large whiskies, Johnson,” he said, “One for me and one for the doctor here; we’ve just had some bad news.” He and I had known each other for many years; indeed, he was my tutor at Oxford, and mentored my PhD. He was more than a few years my senior but working together both at university and in the field had fostered a friendship that had lasted more than fifty years. We were both now long-since retired of course, and met only once or twice a year for lunch when I was in town, as now, at his London club. I was used to his habit of reading the obituaries; he regularly made the joke that on the day he read of his own demise he would order a round of drinks for everyone in the club and leave his Executers to pick up the tab! With perfect timing our drinks arrived at the very moment Carrington lowered his paper and placed it on the table between us. He nodded to the steward; “Thank you Johnson. We have ordered, give us twenty minutes or so, there’s a good chap.” The steward deferred and said ‘he would tell chef ’. Carrington sipped his whisky and peered into my face. “Well, what do you think of that, Hopkins? Nellie Pemberton dead – and a princess!” I didn’t know what I thought of it. “Well,” I offered rather lamely, “she’d be getting on a bit; she was a little older than me and I’m seventy-six.” “She was about five years your senior,” he said with some authority, “I remember that from your papers and hers at university. She was born in 1907, you were born in 1912. I recall thinking that your father was obviously demonstrating the ‘replacement principle’ before hostilities began; it’s a well documented phenomenon, you know.” Yes, I did know. I thought his remark hurtful and unnecessary but I let it pass. My father was killed in the Great War – he knew that. Carrington leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling. It was his customary gesture before beginning an anecdote. “I first went to Lucknow,” he said, “when Dr Mullins had the chair at Magdelan; I was in my third year. Mullins was a dry old stick and fiercely Scottish Presbyterian. We younger men had heard all about the erotica at the Khajuraho but Mullins’ interest was in the Royal estates a dozen miles north of the temples and wouldn’t know the meaning of Tantric sex if it jumped up and bit him!” I was a little shocked at this remark that he should know anything about it; I wasn’t sure that I did! “But,” he continued, “we were allowed our days off and on every occasion we hotfooted it to go and have a look at the carvings – we told some of the girls in our party all about them and they came with us too!” He paused for a moment as if reliving the experiences; “It jollied up an otherwise dull expedition no end, I can tell you.” He looked up at the ceiling again; “She was very beautiful, and quite a girl. She had all the men hovering around her like bees round a honey-pot. And parties! She was the party girl of the decade I can tell you!” Well, it so happened he didn’t need to tell me. She was a couple of years in front of me (and lightyears beyond) and her reputation was firmly established by the time I got to Oxford. He was right though, she was beautiful. But she was way out of my league and even later when we worked with
each other at Khajuraho I was never part of her set – she hardly knew I existed – not in that sense. She treated me like a younger brother who was still wet behind the ears. Which was, I suppose, pretty much the case. “So when I got the chair I began to consider a return visit, this time concentrating on the philosophy of the temples and completing a proper detailed analysis of the wall carvings. Then a couple of years down the line, the Milford Gift provided the cash and made the trip possible. You were then in your second year at the time I remember; Nellie had graduated by then, and proposed to use the expedition as the basis of her PhD – which she never completed of course – being, as they say, overtaken by events.” He paused and allowed himself a little smile as he recalled the circumstances. The expedition to the Khajuraho temples was in fact, my first experience of an anthropological field trip. To be entirely candid, I really had no idea of what was expected of me but fortunately with Professor Carrington’s tutorage I soon took to the work he assigned to me with enthusiasm. Since their discovery at the end of the 19th century the temples at Khajuraho remained largely unknown to all but a handful of academics. Carrington had made a general survey of the area during his first visit (when he could drag himself away from the erotic wall carvings, no doubt) and soon realized the enormity of the task. His early assessment suggested nearly a hundred temples most of which were in serious disrepair. None were in good condition but about a dozen or so gave hint to their former splendour; but more to the point, much to the delight of Carrington and his fellow students, the carvings that decorated some of the outer walls were a unique and startling celebration of eroticism in the extreme. Carrington foresaw that this site would be of salacious interest to a wider audience in the future and began to lay plans for a return visit. The objective of our mission therefore was to catalogue as many of the carvings that were still in a fair condition. We took hundreds of photographs of course, but oddly, photographs are not always the best means of recording archaeological relics. A drawing is often the best method of showing the detail and indeed a number of the students, including myself, were fairly competent artists. Nellie Pemberton however, was a most gifted and proficient water-colourist and almost literally brought the erotic images to life! Although by no means ‘tourists’ in the sense we understand today, the city of Lucknow was regularly visited by travellers, especially Europeans. We students would also visit the city with copies of our drawings and the visitors were only too willing to purchase our efforts as souvenirs of their travels and provided us with a welcome supplement to our finances. But Nellie’s exquisite and explicit watercolours outsold the rest of us ten to one. One of the reasons no doubt was that she ‘embellished’ her pictures in a manner that bordered on the pornographic! “Of course,” he continued, “I was aware of her wild ways – her father, Lord Pemberton, had a word with me before we left England, making me virtually in loco parentis – but, well, you knew Nellie! It was like trying to tie down a tiger! And after all, she was a grown woman, and it was the twentieth century! There was always a man in tow, or rather several. She flitted between them like a butterfly in search of nectar! “Even so,” he added resignedly, “I was genuinely surprised when she announced that she would not be returning to England. She had come up with this madcap idea of establishing a cultural study centre in Lucknow; she had found some premises to rent – she wasn’t short of money, having a private income from her father – and intended to run painting and craft activities together with music and dancing. She said she wanted to open a ‘School of
Oriental Dancing’. Not foxtrots and jitterbugging, but traditional Indian dancing. Partly for the benefit of the increasing number of visitors to the area, but especially young people – men and women from the middle classes and even the local gentry. Apparently the young people were delighted at the prospect – especially the young men! “I remonstrated with her, emphasizing that the cultural differences between the classes was no easy thing to surmount and that I considered the whole idea foolhardy, fraught with difficulties and bound not to succeed. I should have saved my breath. Her mind was made up and that was that! “I telegraphed her father with the news. He obviously knew his daughter better than I did: ‘Damn the girl!’ was his only response.” His account of the matter answered a number of questions that had bothered me at the time. Why had she left from the team so suddenly? Why did she not accompany us on our return to England? But I was not over-concerned being much too wrapped up in my affairs and the development of my own career. A few years later, having received my PhD, I joined an expedition to Guatemala, and enjoyed three very productive years with a group of anthropologists researching the Pre-Classic and Classic periods of the Maya civilisation, leading up to the Classic Maya Collapse. My special interest was the art and architecture in the Classic Era and the Maya Codices, in particular the Dresden Codex and the disputed Grolier Codex. My imagination was so much fired by these documents and their history that I wrote two books about them, which to my delight received critical approval among my peers and established my reputation in the field of anthropology. Ironically, whereas these books had a readership between them of perhaps only a thousand or so academics, my next book, following a visit to the ancient city of Chocolá in the south of the country, entitled The Discovery of Chocolate: the Mayan Connection, much to my surprise – and pleasure – became a world-wide ‘best-seller’, was read by millions and made me a wealthy man! I thought perhaps Carrington had told me all he intended concerning the late Nellie Pemberton but I saw that he was looking up at the ceiling again. “I suppose I gave no more thought to Nellie and her ambitions during the years that followed,” he said, “although it soured my friendship with Lord Pemberton – I think he held me responsible for his daughter’s defection. But in the late thirties, I was asked to take a team to Khajuraho to assess the site’s suitability for a Government restoration plan – which was never realised under British rule because of the war and India’s eventual independence – I would like to have you involved in the project but you were away somewhere, in Mexico, wasn’t it?” “Not quite,” I said, a little impatiently, “Guatemala.” “Whatever,” he responded dismissively. “Anyway finding myself in the vicinity of Lucknow I decided to look Nellie up. She wasn’t hard to find. She lived in a palace on the outskirts of the city. It was, well, palatial; set in beautiful gardens which stretched away as far as the eye could see. The building itself was magnificent beyond description. She showed me round a little of the place. The interior was opulent to the point of decadence. Her paintings were everywhere. She had apparently moved on to oil painting and these were life-sized, absolutely vibrant with colour, and like her watercolours in the old days explicit in the extreme. “She wasn’t married at that time and apart from the servants, her only companions appeared to be a bevy of very attractive young women, whom I presumed to be attending her classes, together with inevitably I suppose, several young men from obviously wealthy backgrounds.” He paused in his narration, permitting himself a moment or two of quiet reflection as he no doubt
reviewed the circumstances of that meeting with Nellie Pemberton, now dead, but remembered by him with as much verve and vivacity as any of her notorious paintings. He sighed gently to himself and again his eyes wandered upwards to the ceiling. I believe I could detect moisture in them. Then he returned abruptly to his London club. “She seemed very happy with her lot,” he continued, “she didn’t mention her father and neither did I. Whether the two of them were ever reconciled or not, I have no idea. He was killed in an air-raid during the war and his funeral was a very private affair with just a few relatives and friends to see him off. My last memory of her was when she waved me goodbye that long-ago evening; she appeared content with the life she had chosen for herself.” “So her School of Oriental Dancing appeared to be a success after all” I suggested naively. “Oh, it was a success all right, except that it wasn’t a dancing school. It was a bordello, a knocking-shop – it was a brothel, old chap! An upmarket establishment it must be admitted but a brothel nevertheless. Our Nellie may have been a princess but she was a brothel-keeper, a Madam.” I stared at him in disbelief. He smiled back at me, mischievously. “Come on,” he said, “let’s get our lunch!”
Before They† Turn to Dust & Old Age
by gary beck
Old men wake the restless hands of war and imagine sabers in paneled rooms. They are the makers of power who have forgotten their speeches made to men and women who carried bayonets to other lands, promising a lasting peace. When lights burn late in domed buildings they are spending our children; and while we sleep, a ghost paces the beaches of Elba watching the sky for omens.
Between the moment of decline and the last splurge peering in the mirror of power, erasing the hopes of tribute from Caesar’s conquests, youth’s unebbing hunger is eternal and denied. Images in the glass provoke unhidden derision sparkling with kindless delight at failure as drab as age, posturing a weak reflection, lasting as long as joy.
Bedside Books & Postscripts *
by wm. davenport adams
illiam Henry Davenport Adams (1828–1891) began his career as a teacher in London, before turning to the world of words; a life of newspaper editing, writing popular science and children’s books, translating and lexicography. He was a relatively well-known figure in his time, and Adams truly deserves to be remembered for his innovative, conversational style. The following short essays are drawn from ‘By-ways in Book-land’, the preface to which reads: In the following pages, the writer for the most part deals with small subjects in an unelaborate manner. He leaves the highways of literature, and strays into the fields and lanes, picking here a flower and there a leaf, and not going far at any time. There is no endeavour to explore with system, or to extend any excursion beyond a modest ramble. The author wanders at haphazard into paths which have attracted him, and along which, he hopes, the reader may be willing to bear him company. The essays ‘Bedside Books’ and ‘Postscripts’ were first published in 1888, and have now entered the public domain.
o begin with, ought there to be any such things? Ought we to accustom ourselves to having books by our bedside? Ought not ‘early to bed and early to rise’ to be the motto of every well-conducted person, and is not reading in bed calculated to render the carrying out of that axiom virtually impossible? This is the problem we have first to solve, and it may be said at once that this discourse does not apply virginibus puerisque. Girls and boys, young men and young women, are hereby solemnly exhorted to abjure all nocturnal or matutinal reading of the kind suggested. To them all the lines in the copybooks apply unreservedly. Nay, even for those of mature years it may be allowed that bed is not the proper place for intellectual study. Let the hours for reading and for repose be kept rigidly apart, if the reading is to be systematic and prolonged. So far, everybody is agreed. To make a habit of perusing books in bed is to encourage laziness, and to encourage laziness is (we all know) to sap the foundations of the moral nature. That way destruction lies. And I am bound to say that habitual, sustained reading in bed is quite as uncomfortable for the human frame as it is dangerous to the human character. It cannot be undertaken with entire success. It looks easy to do, but it is not. If you are sceptical, try it. You begin swimmingly enough. You lie down, say, on your back, settle your head cosily on to the pillow, and perhaps, to start with, hold the book before you in both hands: For a time all goes well, but not for long. The position of the arms becomes fatiguing. You withdraw one from the book and commence again. But the utilized arm speedily grows weary, and the chances are that you drop the volume and go off to sleep, leaving gas, lamp, or candle alight—which is not very safe and not very healthy—nay, is positively unhealthy and unsafe. Perchance you try the effect of reclining on one side, leaning on one arm, and holding the book by means of the other. That, also, is charming for the moment, but has a similar tendency to tire very readily. Your elbow—the one on which your weight is thrown—soon gives signs of boredom. ‘I don’t like this at all,’ it says virtually; and perhaps you turn round and try the other for a spell. But in these matters one elbow is very like its brother, and before long you are on the look-out for another attitude. What may be called the last infirmity of the determined reader in bed is his final decision to sit up and read in that fashion. Nothing could be better—for a certain more or less brief period. At the expiration of a few minutes, you realize that you are getting a sort of cramp in the knees; moreover, there is a disagreeable strain on your head; you are stooping too much, and bending your spine, and altogether making a toil of pleasure. The situation, it need hardly be said, is still less attractive when the weather is cold, and the effort to keep warm is added to the endeavour to read. You have wrapped yourself up, but apparently not to much purpose. You are conscious of growing chillier and chillier every moment. And, indeed, a very low temperature
is usually fatal to the cultivation of bedside books. Even if you lie down, and almost smother yourself in the clothes, you are bound to obtrude one hand out of shelter, or how is the book to be held up? And how quickly that hand gets cold—and how often one’s two hands have to be alternated for the purpose in view—and what a nuisance it is to have to make the continual change! One begins to think that, under the circumstances, reading is not so pleasant as one fancied, and that sleep (as the poet says) is the only certain knot of peace. One thing is incontrovertible, and that is, that bedside books, if they are to be acceptable, must be, in the first place, small in size and, therefore, not very weighty. The hand must be asked to hold as little as possible. Bed is not the place for heavy tomes; it is the appropriate locale of the duodecimo. And yet the type must not be too small, or the eyesight will suffer, unless the reader can command plenty of illumination—which is not always the case. And the book must be not only fairly diminutive, but bound and stitched in such a way as to allow the hand to clutch it and hold it with ease. There must be no unnecessary extension of the palm and fingers, for it adds so much to the fatigue. Unhappily, every volume does not fulfil this requirement, and the requisite selection must be made with care. Moreover, the ideal bedside book should be not only small, and light, and agreeable to the touch, but distinguished by special internal characteristics. Not only must the print be legible; the matter it furnishes must be in brief instalments. What is wanted is a series of short somethings which the mind can readily grasp and as easily retain. Sustained reading is for the library or the study; the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning, what you desire is simply a number of brevities, at any one of which you can glance with the certainty of being interested. Wherefore, such works as novels must be discouraged in the bedside library. There is nothing to be gained by perusing a romance, by bits, in such fragments of time as the intending sleeper is inclined or able to accord to it. Keep a novel beside you, if you like, to turn to if the night should prove an obstinately sleepless one, and to that end let the tale be by ‘Miss Braddon or Gaboriau’—one which shall really fix your imagination fast, and finish, perhaps, by sending you to rest. But for ordinary uses let the book which you take up be one of ‘Jewels, five words long,’ or thereabouts! Let it be a volume of short essays—let it be, for instance, Bacon’s, or the ‘Roundabout Papers,’ now accessible in a handy form. Let it be a volume of brief verse, such as Mr. Gilbert’s ‘Bab Ballads,’ or Mr. Lang’s ‘Ballades in Blue China,’ or Calverley’s immortal ‘Fly Leaves;’ or let it be a collection of more serious lyrics—say, Mr. Palgrave’s ‘Golden Treasury,’ or the selections from Lord Tennyson and Mr. Matthew Arnold. Or, if you like, let it be a treasury of maxims, such as those by Vauvenargues or Chamfort; or a series of select passages, such as those from the works of Lord Beaconsfield or Heine: or let it be a casquet of choice anecdotes, of which happily the supply is
large—that incomparable volume of Dean Ramsay’s, for example, or even the triter production by Mark Lemon. There is a whole world from which to choose. Only, take care that, whatever the literature is, it is not disturbing. The mission of the bedside book is to soothe the mind, not irritate it. When one lies down after a hard day’s work, one’s desire is not that the brain should be stimulated, but that it should be refreshed. It needs, not exercise, but diversion. It wants to be prepared for sleep. And if a book will effect that object, while at the same time adding to the stock of one’s ideas—humorous or sentimental, it does not matter which—that volume is to be thanked and cherished. The difficulty of putting down one’s book and extinguishing the light before the exposition of sleep comes upon one, must be left to be dealt with by the individual man. I have heard of a popular vocalist who was wont, when he had read sufficiently, to extinguish the candle by plumping down upon it whatever book he happened to have in his hand. But this is a rough and ready mode which cannot be generally recommended—at any rate, not in those cases where the book is one’s own! Some other means must be discovered. And let them be efficacious, for when any element of danger or unhealthiness is allowed to attend the use of bedside books, the sooner that use is discontinued the better.
here is, and long has been, a prevalent impression that the penning of postscripts is peculiarly characteristic of the feminine letter-writer. Cynics have even gone so far as to assert that no woman can indite an epistle without the addition of a ‘P.S.,’ and, in support of this grievous aspersion, have been wont to trot out the venerable ‘chestnut’ about the lady who accepted from her husband a bet that she would not send him a letter without the inevitable addendum—the result being that, after having composed the epistle and signed her name, she artlessly appended the observation, ‘You see I have written you a letter without a postscript,’ capping it with ‘Who has won the wager, you or I?’ It might be argued, even if it could not be proved, that, putting aside mere business communications, and confining one’s self to ordinary social correspondence, men are guilty of as many postscripts as women are. But even if the stereotyped charge against the ladies be really well-founded, what of it? Does it convey any tangible reproach? What harm is there in a ‘P.S.,’ or a ‘P.P.S.’? It may be not only a defensible, but positively a praiseworthy, thing. Often it proceeds from nothing more condemnable than a genuine overflow of feeling—a stream of sentiment which, checked by the signature of the writer, bursts its bonds and reasserts its power in a final sentence or two. What could be
more charming, for example, than the instances of this afforded in so many of the heroic Lady Russell’s letters to her husband—as in that particularly pleasing one in which, after assuring him that all the household are well, and that as he is ‘the most enduring husband in the world,’ so she is ‘the most grateful wife,’ she adds her signature, and then recurs to the subject of her children—‘Boy is asleep, girls singing abed’—telling of the proposed kindness of a neighbour towards them. Note, again, the superabundant playfulness of Cowper in one of his epistles to Lady Hesketh, where, after a few lines of personal description, he appears to conclude, but returns to the topic with a ‘P.S.—That the view I give you of myself may be complete I add the following items: That I am in debt to nobody, and that I grow fat.’ Sometimes there will be pathos in a postscript, as in the case of Beethoven’s touching communication to his brothers Carl and Johann in the matter of his deafness. In the body of the letter he has been begging them not to think him hostile, morose, or misanthropical, and making clear to them how little they know of the secret cause of his apparent indifference. Then, on the outside of the packet, comes this last melancholy outpouring: ‘Thus, then, I take leave of you, and with sadness too. The fond hope I brought with me here [to Heiligenstadt] of being to a certain degree cured, now utterly forsakes me. As autumn leaves fall and wither, so are my hopes blighted.’ Of this spontaneous running-over from text into postscript, literature has many specimens—none, perhaps, more effective in its way than the kindly stanza with which Mr. Bret Harte makes Truthful James bring to a close ‘His Answer to Her Letter’: ‘P.S.—Which this same interfering Into other folks’ ways I despise, Yet if it so be I was hearing That it’s just empty pockets as lies Betwixt you and Joseph, it follers That, having no family claims, Here’s my pile; which it’s six hundred dollars, As is yours, with respect, Truthful James.’ One might, indeed, say more for postscripts than that they are often pardonable; they are often actually useful. They can be bent to the service of the writer; and over and over again, I dare say, have been appended with careful deliberation. They are invaluable as modes of emphasizing matter contained within the limits of the letter proper. They form ‘last words’ which can be charged with any measure of significance. Many people remember the case of the sailor who, after mentioning thrice in the course of one short epistle the desired purchase of some pigtail, felt constrained to add yet another reminder in the shape of a ‘P.S.—Don’t forget the pigtail.’ Not less impressive, probably, was Sir Hew Dalrymple when, writing in 1775 to a friend to exhort him to give preferment to a worthy young cleric, he observed, in a postscript:
about. ‘I shall hav my hanbills dun at your offiss,’ he observed. ‘Depend upon it. I want you should git my hanbills up in flamin’ stile. Also git up a tremenjus excitement in yr. paper ’bout my onparaleld Show. We must fetch the public sumhow.’ Then, at the end, came the summing-up of the whole transaction: ‘P.S.—You scratch my back and Ile scratch your back.’ There is at least one instance on record in which a postscript was made to convey a smart reproof. Talleyrand, having one day entrusted a valet with a letter to deliver, happened to look out of the window, and saw the man reading the message en route. Next day he despatched another letter to the same address by the same servant, taking care to append to it the following: ‘P.S.—You may send a verbal answer by the bearer. He is perfectly acquainted with the whole affair, having taken the precaution to read this previous to delivery.’ On the whole, whether postscripts are defensible or not, it is clear that their history is eminently interesting. Some valuable matter has from time to time been put into them. There is at least one letter of Thomas Gray’s, written in 1764 to the Rev. Norton Nicholls, the ‘P.S.’ of which is worth the whole of the remainder of the communication, so charming a bit of descriptive writing is embodied in it. Then, how full of good stuff are the epistolary addenda of Charles Lamb, with whom ‘the cream of the correspondence’ (as Tony Lumpkin has it) was very often rather in the postscript than in ‘the inside of the letter,’ in the sense of its larger portion. It is in one of these addenda that one finds the first record of a well-known sentence: ‘Summer, as my friend Coleridge waggishly observes, has set in with its usual severity.’ Elsewhere one comes across such tributes as: ‘My friend Hood, a prime genius and hearty fellow, brings this.’ Always characteristic in thought and in expression, Lamb was never more so than in the finales to his letters. ‘I do not think your handwriting at all like ——’s,’ he says to Southey; ‘I do not think many things I did think.’ He winds up a dog-Latin epistle to Bernard Barton, in 1831, with: ‘P.S.—Perdita in toto est Billa Reformatura.’ And to Coleridge he says, with delightful frankness: ‘Write your German as plain as sunshine, for that must correct itself. You know I am homo unius linguæ: in English—illiterate, a dunce, a ninny.’ Sometimes a postscript is unconsciously full of humour, as in the case of a note written by a certain Mr. O. to a recent Bishop of Norwich: ‘Mr. O——’s private affairs turn out so sadly that he cannot have the pleasure of waiting upon his lordship at his agreeable house on Monday next.—N.B. His wife is dead.’
‘Think what an unspeakable pleasure it will be to look down from heaven and see Rigby, Masterton, all the Campbells and Nabobs, swimming in fire and brimstone, while you are sitting with Whitefield and his old women, looking beautiful, frisking and singing; all which you may have by settling this man!’ There can be no question that a well-planted ‘P.S.’ is of great utility in clinching an argument raised in the main portion of a communication. Thus, when Artemus Ward wrote ‘to the editor of ——,’ asking for a line concerning the state of the show business in his locality, he knew what he was
The Last Laugh by richard stokes
was sitting impatiently on an upturned wooden crate. The venue didn’t have a backstage area as such, just a store room marked ‘Staff Only’, which the acts accessed via a door next to the bar. I perched awkwardly amongst boxes of bottled beer, spirits and mixers, tapping my feet on the dusty wooden floor. I checked the time: half past ten. They were running late. I wasn’t nervous, don’t get me wrong: I just wanted everything to go smoothly. Some people in my line of work talk about stage fright in the same way a taxi driver might moan about rush hour, but I have to say that it doesn’t really affect me once I’m up there. Although I used to have a recurring dream in which I’d be halfway through a routine and absolutely everything would start going wrong: the microphone cutting out; the mixing board catching fire; the lighting rig crashing to the ground. These are the kind of things I worry about, I suppose. The things I can’t control. For what seemed like forever, I’d been doggedly paying my dues. It began as a dispiriting treadmill of open mics and five-minute gigs in rooms above pubs. From there, I’d progressed to a few fifteenminute slots at some of the better-recognised comedy clubs near Leicester Square and Oxford Circus. There are a million places in London for a stand-up to perform, as long as you don’t mind spending most of your life on the Tube, but if you want to get noticed and start earning a living doing this stuff, you need serious exposure; that was what tonight was all about. I was billed to perform on Live from the Basement Cafe. Yes folks, my first honest-to-goodness TV appearance. (Made it, ma! Top of the world!) Actually, it wasn’t as exciting as all that. The show was one of those ‘bringing you the best new (i.e. cheap) talent on the scene’ programmes, an ‘aslive’ broadcast filmed on location at a well-known comedy club. It went out once a month at two in the morning, on a cable channel that was stuck shivering in the frozen outer reaches of television-land. I wasn’t expecting anything life-changing. (Though I will admit to feeling a certain frisson when I turned up earlier to find all the Stage Managers, Assistant Directors and various pale, thin, technical-looking young men unpacking their cameras and lights and improbable furry things on poles. Occasionally they cast reproachful glances at the club’s two well-muscled doormen who looked on interestedly as they struggled with the heavy equipment. Nice to be behind the scenes.) If nothing else, the gig would provide me with the beginnings of a showreel: an important tool for attracting the attentions of the Powers That Be, namely talent agencies, producers and the like. I had my favourite place in the running order: second-to-last. I love it. You don’t get any of the pressure of headlining, and everyone has had a few drinks; an important advantage. The Basement Cafe is a pub situated, shockingly, in a basement, and you reach it by descending a long flight of stone steps off the high street in Notting Hill. The place resonates with down-at-heel cool: low ceilings, bare floors, battered wooden furnishings, brick walls, and empty bottles of bourbon with waxy candles dribbling onto every table. Some of the more established stand-ups would test out their routines here before going out on the road, as the crowds here are enthusiastic and forgiving. It was only slightly colder than a meat locker, and a round of drinks was only slightly more expensive than the average wedding, but tourists, students and honest hard-working citizens all flocked there every evening, hoping to be taken away from the soul-paralysing drudgery of their daily lives for a few brief hours. The magic of showbiz! My mouth tasted sour, so I knocked the top off one of the beers in the crate and took a quick swig. To take my mind off waiting, I thought about the girl I’d been talking to before I came backstage. The compère had been warming up the crowd,
but I’d already heard his routine at the sound check and it hadn’t been funny then either. As I scanned the room idly, I noticed her behind the bar: electric blue hair and cola-coloured eyes. She’d seen me watching and gestured me over. ‘I saw you here last week! You were really good!’ ‘You’re very kind. What’s your name?’ ‘Tess. And no, I’m not kind. You were just really good.’ She smelled intoxicating. ‘I see comedy nearly every night,’ she continued, ‘So when I say “you were good” that’s pretty much the highest compliment you can get in this place. I don’t even smile at most of the acts that come here, it just encourages them.’ ‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I’m not onstage for a little while. Let’s go for a drink, or something to eat, or … something.’ She shook her head. ‘I’m on the bar till midnight. And I’m with someone. I mean, I’ve got a boyfriend.’ I followed her outstretched finger across the room and saw a shaven-headed slab of humanity, whom I’d initially mistaken for a badly parked tank, sitting with two dark-suited business types. ‘Does he love you? ‘Cos if not, you should really let me take you for a drink.’ Her reply – something about pure talent? – was swept away by a sudden eruption of laughter from the audience. A punch line had obviously hit home. I just caught her last words ‘ … so we could meet afterwards? Outside?’ Well, this was excellent. She seemed to be arranging some sort of clandestine tryst. In my experience, these things are normally done in the toilets, but no doubt she knew best. I nodded enthusiastically, took her hand and planted a kiss firmly on her pretty mouth. The big guy in the corner, who’d been watching us all the while, had flinched visibly and began to stand up. Then someone with spectacles, a clipboard and a worried expression had tapped my shoulder and told me it was time to get backstage. Through the door I heard the compère say my name, dragging me out of my reverie. Showtime. Naturally, his introduction was as predictable, dull and unfunny as I’d have expected: ‘He’s young, he’s smart, he’s talented, his star is very much in its ascent … I hate him already, don’t you? This is his first time performing for us tonight, so I want you all to put your hands together and give a very warm welcome to Mr Sonny Mortimer!’ I stepped out to a round of applause and scanned the room. With the lights in your face an audience is just a shadowy mass apart from the first few rows. The compère handed me the mic and hissed ‘all yours, kiddo’ as he went past. I took a deep breath, tried to ignore the circling cameras, and opened my mouth. ‘I was quite a morbid child. At school, I’d be in the corner, dressed in black, watching the others – sad little puppets – go about their shallow empty games of hopscotch and tig. But one day, as I gazed miserably upon the arid cultural desert of the playground, my eyes were drawn to one corner of the yard; some of the girls were doing handstands. As each one took her turn, her skirt would fall down a little, towards her waist. At that moment, the sun came out from behind a cloud. A shining ray lit the scene, pouring over their milky young thighs like golden honey … In the distance, I heard the far-off strains of an angelic choir in full song: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Just then, I heard a voice: ‘This. Is. It. This is what you’ve been waiting for.’ Who are you? ‘Me? I am your libido. And I’ll be running things from here on in. Wave goodbye to rational thought. You don’t need it any more. You’ve got me. So prepare to spend the rest of your life … following me around like a zombie …’ You get an instinct for when the room is yours for the taking. Admittedly, there had been a few murmurs of good-natured revulsion towards the end, presumably from the parental contingent of the
audience, but otherwise I was almost literally slaying them in the aisles. One woman near the front had been laughing so consistently that she didn’t seem to have drawn breath for at least six minutes. So I was completely unprepared, not to mention quite surprised, when a male voice shouted ‘Nonce!’ I hadn’t been faced with a situation quite like this before, so I was pleased to hear myself say: ‘Nonce? That’s a little harsh. These are quite clearly jokes; I’m not actually advocating sex with children. You seem a little over-excited, though.’ I shaded my eyes, peering theatrically to the back of the room. ‘Yes … you’ve made a mess of those trousers haven’t you? Can we get a box of tissues for Table Four?’ The heckler swore again at length. Fortunately, the two doormen had now woken up to the fact that this wasn’t exactly a wholesome bit of audience participation, and started closing in on the man. I continued. ‘If what I’ve said has offended you, it’s probably something personal you need to deal with; have you considered joining the Sex Offenders’ Register?’ I saw a flash of white and a sudden movement. I ducked reflexively, and a pint glass came arcing out of the darkness. An amber trail of lager traced its trajectory in the spotlights for an instant. Then it shattered on the wall behind me. My brain allowed me to experience all of this in slow motion, filing it away for future nightmare material. ‘Not now, Kato!’ Despite my brush with death, or at least with violent disfigurement, I was still talking. And being reasonably amusing. How professional is that? As my attacker and his associates were hustled to the exit, I called after them. ‘What’s that? You want your money back? I’m sorry, no refunds for psychopaths. Your statutory rights ARE affected.’ ‘Anyway folks, my time is up. I’ve heard a shared traumatic experience can forge strong physical bonds between people. If anyone would like to test that theory with me, I’ll be at the bar afterwards. Goodnight!’ Everybody clapped. Some whooped. I smiled in acknowledgement and bowed slightly. I was a tipsy archangel drunk on affirmation. The compère reappeared to say ‘Sonny Mortimer everybody! Give him another big hand!’ The applause, renewed, sluiced through me like a dose of powerful medication. I sauntered off stage. I couldn’t spot Tess anywhere. Perhaps she was already waiting for me elsewhere. Everyone else was still snuggled up in their seats, waiting for the final act. I headed cheerfully (and lustfully) to the exit, humming ‘If Loving You Is Wrong.’ I’d just reached the open air when someone hit me, quite hard, on the back of the head. I didn’t have much time to look into this new turn of events, because then they did it again, a bit harder this time. I can’t remember exactly what I said at that point – I think it might have been ‘Ouch’ (in a reproving sort of voice, you know) – and then I began a thorough investigation of the pavement, which suddenly seemed very important. It was a good, solid bit of pavement. Whoever had manufactured it had obviously put his or her heart and soul into doing a bang-up job. No cracks or rough edges, each slab just lying there amongst its brethren, flat and reliable. It brought a few tears to my eyes, seeing first-hand that work of this quality was still being done in Britain today. However, this was getting me nowhere. My assailant seemed to have brought a few friends, who joined in enthusiastically. A few more tears came to my eyes, primarily of pain, but also rage, shame and frustration, in that order. This went on for a little while, with me yelping ‘stop’ every so often and trying to protect my crotch. I tried to lie still and think happy thoughts, but I didn’t seem to have any; at least, it didn’t work for me like it did for Peter and Wendy. Instead of being lifted aloft on a cloud of fairy dust, hands grasped the lapels of my jacket, and a man’s face appeared. What it lacked in teeth and hair it
Kingston Harbor by william doreski made up for with a particularly orangey fake tan; it was like being stared at by an angry Halloween pumpkin. I recognised him as the heckler, our great white hope for the 20 Metre Glass Throw in the next Olympics. His two pals pulled me back up to vertical. I hung bonelessly in the air for a moment, while Pumpkin Man went through my pockets. I heard a grunt of triumph, and he pulled out the small wad of cash I’d been paid for the gig. ‘Ten quid a ticket,’ he said, peeling off three notes. ‘I don’t pay to be insulted.’ Now, dear reader, I can give you no better example of how badly I had been affected by this experience than to say that I didn’t even try to answer that blatant feed-line. Normally I would no doubt have said, ‘I suppose most people will do it for free.’ But I thought he might hit me again, so I didn’t. He hit me anyway. It was a tough crowd. Eventually, someone felt moved to interject. ‘Steve! Stop it! You’ll kill him.’ This new voice was accompanied by a clattering of heels, which heralded the arrival of Tess. She grabbed Steve – alias Pumpkin Man – by his shirt collar and pulled him away from me. He growled and waved the money at me as he backed off. ‘Refund. Okay? I’m not a thief. I’m a dissatisfied customer. And the customer is always right.’ He gestured to his companions to let me go and I folded up like an empty coat. As they went, I raised my head up off the ground. ‘Thanks, do come again …’ Tess sighed and bent down next to me. ‘He’s got quite a temper. You really messed that up.’ ‘Messed up what, exactly? Getting attacked? Should I have done it better, you think?’ ‘I told you earlier. My boyfriend is Steven Moore – from Moore Talent? I thought he could help you out, but I don’t think he liked your routine …’ Realisation flickered dimly in the broken lightbulb of my brain. ‘Moore Talent … He’s who you wanted me to meet outside …’ ‘Yes! You almost ruined it when you kissed me; why did you do that? But I calmed him down. I said you were probably just pleased about getting an introduction to one of the biggest agents in London … Um. Are you okay? Shall I call an ambulance?’
Sailing into Kingston Harbor I note the jail perched on the pier to accommodate seamen arriving drunker than custom allows. I’m piloting a massive sloop bearing two acres of canvas. The rigging creaks as sailors ascend to furl the sails. No, those are red ants creeping across the notebook I left open on my desk. I’ll never steer a boat into Kingston, never spend a night sicking up in the city jail with sailors from all the islands laughing and slapping my back. The herringbone of swell beneath me represents an illness brewing and has nothing to do with the sea. The crowd along the waterfront sports red and blue T-shirts and white duck pants— men and women eager to sell me fresh Jamaican produce guaranteed to destroy my digestive system. Already I’ve eaten a bushel of unwashed mangoes, plums, and apples. I flip the page and encounter something I wrote a few days ago about the hurricane careening across the Gulf of Mexico. Something about crewing a sloop across corrugations of water no ship could possibly survive. No wonder I steered east to refuge in Kingston where the old fort grins with useless cannon. No wonder I turned the page and exposed a blank sheet for three red ants to cross as though challenging Bolivia’s salt flat, a great erasure far from the sea on which I’d love to scrawl my name.
by david kowalczyk This word was born in Warsaw, New York to Frederick Chopin and Isabel Archer. Its voice is an exaltation of larks. Its smile is a cascade of magnolia blossoms. Its heart is an archipelago. This word smells of the wild and the new. It has the eyes of a pirate; they scatter the clouds. This word is an arc of light transformed into a wave of sound.
Author biographies Gary Beck – p.17
David Kowalczyk – p.21
A.H. Sargeant – p.16
Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theatre director and worked as an art dealer when he couldn’t earn a living in the theatre. He has also been a tennis pro, a ditch digger and a salvage diver. His chapbook ‘Remembrance’ was published by Origami Condom Press, ‘The Conquest of Somalia’ was published by Cervena Barva Press, ‘The Dance of Hate’ was published by Calliope Nerve Media and ‘Mutilated Girls’ is being published by Bedouin Press. A collection of his poetry, ‘Days of Destruction’, was published by Skive Press. Another collection, ‘Expectations’, was published by Rogue Scholars Press. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway and toured colleges and outdoor performance venues. His poetry has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City
David Kowalczyk lives and writes in the one-stoplight cannery village of Oakfield, New York. His fiction and poetry have appeared in seven anthologies and one hundred and twenty-five magazines and journals, including The Buffalo News, Taj Mahal Review, Istanbul Literary Journal and The Delinquent. He is currently at work on ‘Art Most Daring’, a biography of the poet Jim Heavily
Carl Scharwath – p.15
William Doreski – p.15 William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. His most recent collection of poetry is ‘Waiting for the Angel’ (2009). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review and Natural Bridge
Kenneth P. Gurney – p.13 Kenneth P. Gurney lives in Albuquerque, NM, USA. His poetry appears mostly on the web as he spends sase and reading fee money on flowers for his lover. His latest book, ‘Fluid Shape of an Empty Womb’, became available in April 2010. Gurney’s website is at kpgurney.me
Jyoti Kumar was born on May 16th 1989, in London. She has just finished her degree in Creative Writing at Brunel University and has a strong ambition to be a writer, having a passionate interest in poetry, fiction and journalism. Jyoti has previously written for etp, an online literary magazine and enjoys reading, particularly romance and crime novels. She likes to vary her writing by approaching new topics but is highly inspired by human emotions and credits her poetry to all the members in her family and her closest friend who always believed in her
J.S. MacLean – p.13 J.S. MacLean lives in Calgary, Alberta. Hs work has appeared in such places as ditch, Why Vandalism?, The Battered Suitcase, Feathertale, Soundzine, Cross Country Skier Magazine, tinfoildresses, and various others. His most recent work appears in The Cimaera, The Toronto Quarterly, Wilderness House Literary Review and Callused Hands. In his spare time he wears various hats helping out on a new online journal, The Triggerfish Critical Review
Suvi Mahonen – p.10
D. Hildyard, 26, is from Yorkshire and lives in London. Printed or forthcoming work in publications including The Independent, Dazed and Confused, Sublime, Fuselit and The Illustrated Ape. She is currently studying for a PhD in the literature of science at the University of London
Suvi Mahonen is studying for her Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) at Deakin University in Australia. She has published short stories in various literary magazines and online in Australia, the UK (including East of the Web) and the United States, and has worked as a journalist both in Australia and Canada. She lives in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne with her husband and writing buddy, Luke Waldrip, and a family of magpies who sing for their bread. Some of her other work can be found here: redbubble.com/people/suvimahonen
Erik T. Johnson – p.4
R.A. Martens – p.12
Erik T. Johnson will probably die in New York, but his work will live on at eriktjohnson.net
R.A. Martens has a lovely collection of rejection letters, but struggles to take no for an answer, and has therefore had a couple of things published. She likes to read Margaret Atwood and Jorge Luis Borges stories whilst seething with envy, when she should be outside enjoying the sunshine
D. Hildyard – p.6
Duncan Jones – p.5 Duncan Jones is found nearer a pint of Batemans than a cocktail, is nearer 40 than 20 and according to his wife is nearer to being a geek than being cool. He has been keeping his writing to himself until quite recently. He dabbles in poetry, which can be found on-line at molethepoet.com
Jyoti Kumar – p.5
Saleel Nurbhai – p.14 Saleel Nurbhai has lived in places as various as Bishops Stortford, Dundee, Griffith (all in nsw, Australia) and Middlesbrough, before moving to Lancaster where he now works. He has published short stories and poems as well as articles, reviews and a book on George Eliot
Carl Scharwath is a father and that means the most to him. His interests include competitive running and a 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo. Print publishing credits include: Not Popular Magazine, Lake Healthy Living, Paper Wasp (Australia), Pulse and Abandoned Towers (3 consecutive issues.) Web publishing credits include: Pens On Fire, Calliope Verve, World Salad Poetry, Mad Swirl, Lyrical Passion, 63 Channels, Sketchbook (Haiku) and languagandculture.net. His work has been featured in The Orlando Sentinel and Lake Healthy Living Magazine. Both articles discussed the ‘Running Poet’. Carl recently won 2nd place in the Lake County Library’s Best Poems of 2009 and also Best in Issue in Haiku Reality Magazine, Serbia. His first short story will be published in the Birmingham Arts Journal
Richard Stokes – p.20 Richard Stokes has previously found employment as a construction worker, champagne waiter, stand-up comedian, roadsweeper, actor, furniture deliveryman, museum assistant, street fundraiser, bartender and guitar teacher, but at the moment he works part-time in an art gallery and sings for the band Aquila. He is currently writing a novel featuring Sonny Mortimer, the main character from ‘The Last Laugh’ (you can read Sonny’s blog at myspace.com/sonnymortimer). He is 30 years old and lives in Birmingham with his wife and son. ‘The Last Laugh’ is his first short story
Daniel Wilcox – p.11 Daniel Wilcox earned his degree in Creative Writing from Cal State University, Long Beach, taught literature, and wandered from Montana to the Middle East. Now he casts his lines out in The Copperfield Review, The Recusant, The Centrifugal Eye, Moria, Wild Violet, etc. ‘The Faces of Stone,’ based on his time in the Middle East, appeared in The Danforth Review. A book of his poetry, ‘Dark Energy’, was published by Diminuendo Press. Daniel lives with a second volume of poems, ‘Psalms, Yawps, and Howls’, a speculative novel, and his wife on the central coast of California—not in that order ;-). You can find him on-line at: psalmsyawpshowls.com
Christopher Woods – p.11 Christopher Woods is a writer, photographer and teacher. He lives in Houston and in Chappell Hill, Texas. His work has appeared recently in The Glasgow Review and Narrative Magazine. His books include a prose collection, ‘Under a Riverbed Sky’, and a book of stage monologues for actors, ‘Heart Speak’. He shares a gallery with his wife Linda at Moonbird Hill Arts, which you can find at moonbirdhill.exposuremanager.com
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