richard pierce

richard pierce

27 December 2013

Breaking The Silence


My annual Christmas purdah from social media and emails has given rise to some interesting thoughts this year. On Christmas Eve, I puzzled my family by coming out with a statement some of the younger ones failed to understand.

People don’t feel like Christmas anymore because our lives have become too secularised.

Once I’d explained what I meant by secularised, they all wandered off in different directions, leaving me to explain to myself what I was actually trying to say. So I, too, wandered off, to find a decent definition of secular, one that doesn’t treat organised religion as true faith, one that sets aside how faiths have been misused, and focuses on what it really means. I found it, too.

Worldly rather than spiritual.

Yes, that’s it. We have all become too worldly, too focused on the material, rather than spiritual, rather than looking at what we can do for others without putting our hands in our pockets, looking instead for material gain in all the things we do.

But it’s all about money; everything. Especially in these times.

Times are indeed hard, and England, as a country, has, for centuries, been led by hypocrites and liars, as have, actually, all countries in this world. Their failings and malevolence are, in fact, just an extrapolation of our own selfish instincts, where we put ourselves before others and where, for a few days every year, we put on a face, and pay lip service to a mawkish representation of Christmas.

But Father Christmas doesn’t exist.

That’s what people say to me. And I tell them that if they believe in any good in the world, then Father Christmas does exist, that if they believe in anything magical, then Father Christmas does exist. And I believe in Father Christmas.

Father Christmas is a symbol of the secular and represents materialism.

Only if you want him to. Giving isn’t about you giving something tangible, it’s about how you give whatever you give. A real gift is a gift of the soul, something spiritual, something more real than an expensive toy, a ring of pretence wrapped in shiny paper and ribbons and bows.

I took Holy Communion on Christmas Day morning for the first time in a while, and said my prayer for peace in the world while bombs were going off in the Middle East.

You’re just being a Bible Basher now.

I don’t really believe in going to church. It smacks too much of organised betrayal of religion, but I like to formalise what I believe from time to time. I don’t believe in forcing my faith on anyone. I don’t believe that Christianity is the best religion; I don’t believe any religion is the best religion.

Then what’s the point?

I believe that all faiths are valid, that we all need spirituality to be able to move forwards in life, to give us strength to create something that will remain when we have died, something that’s made someone else’s life better.

Yeah, well, Christmas still doesn’t feel like it should.

Take time away from the relentless chasing for the grand gesture (that’s cheap, into the bargain). Move away from the crowds, move away from the rich telling you to buy stuff to make them even richer, move away from wanting to receive to wanting to give.

I can compose no philosophical arguments or theories; my mind is not precise enough. I have not studied theology or philosophy or ethics. But I have studied reality and have to live it every day, however little I might like to.
 
And I believe that the best place of worship is the one we carry within ourselves, that flame of spirit in our hearts that makes us what we are. Just spend a little time listening to it, spend a little time on your own, in a bright corner of your existence, and spread some warmth to those you love and those you would like to love. Then go back to Christmas and see what it feels like.

14 December 2013

New writing draft


He was a sprawl of a man. In his chair. In his bed. On his feet. On his back. And today he was staring, staring at the wall, through his man servant, nothing in his mind but his dreams, his secret dreams, the dreams that never ever reached his eyes. And the swell of the sea only magnified his reach, his power, his control.

          ‘And?’ he said, lifted the glass of port to his lips.

          ‘Nothing,’ the man servant said.

          ‘You must have found something.’

          ‘Not what you were looking for.’

          The big man rustled his rump into place. ‘What was I looking for? Remind me.’ His lips were red from the port.

          ‘Gold. Pearls. Moonstones.’

          ‘Quite right. You couldn’t have missed it.’

          ‘There was nothing to miss. Nothing to find.’

          ‘You’re much too eloquent to be a man servant,’ the big man said.

          ‘I listen well.’

          ‘Too well, maybe.’

          ‘Only you can be the judge of that, my lord,’ the servant said, and bowed.

          ‘Or too much.’

          ‘You digress.’

          ‘I’ll digress if I want to.’

          ‘You are the master.’

          ‘You think I should look for the loot myself, don’t you?’

          ‘You think I haven’t looked hard enough.’

          ‘You know me too well.’

          ‘Only as a slave knows his owner,’ the dark servant said.

          ‘You were cheap.’

          ‘As you remind me often.’

          ‘Go look again,’ the man said, shifting on his cushions. ‘I can’t go rummaging through a dying man’s possessions.’

          ‘Is it only dead men you rob then, sir?’

          ‘I only ever take what’s mine.’

          The servant bowed again, wordlessly this time.

          ‘And don’t come back until you’ve found what I want,’ the Earl of Lindsey said. He waved his hand. ‘Go.’

          ‘Very well,’ the servant said and turned to leave.

          ‘Job,’ Lindsey called after him. ‘I’m serious.’

          Job, dark and his real name in his mind, stopped and swivelled on his heel. ‘I am quite aware of that, as always.’

          Lindsey waved again, dismissive. ‘Enough.’

          Job pushed his way through the gasping door of the quarterdeck, his hands calm on the greasy wood, out onto the soaking deck, rain and fog sluicing along the grain, land now finally out of sight, and the sea swaying in time with the sails and the warren of masts. He shrugged, wiped his face against the weather, strode across the straight-lined decking, lifted the nearest hatch and jumped down into it, ignoring the ladder, bracing himself as he landed, silent-soled, on the grey treads of their guest’s quarters. There, the gloom held at bay by an orchestra of candles, flames floating a distance away from their wicks, or at least that was how they seemed to him, he, hidden away around a short curved corner, watched the mystery guest heave a shallow breath as he moved heavily around the cabin. That’s why everyone knew he was dying, for slight men do not tread weightily when they are well.

          ‘I know you’re there, Job,’ the man called in an accented whisper. ‘Is he still sending you to find what treasures I have?’

          ‘Yes,’ Job said, still in darkness.

‘How long have I known you?’

          ‘Two days.’

          ‘And yet I trust you.’

          Job raised his arms, spread his hands, and made a low sound of assent.

          ‘Why?’ the man said.

          ‘Because we’re both foreigners?’

          ‘Or both slaves?’

          ‘You?’

          The man shrugged. ‘Look at me.’ He scraped his way across the floor. ‘What do you see?’

          ‘A rich man.’

          ‘How deceptive appearances are. … What else?’

          ‘Death.’

          ‘Look harder.’

          ‘I don’t know what to say.’

          Outside, the wind pushed the boat harder into the oncoming swell, the room rolling and swaying, the table shuddering with the contradictory motions, and yet neither of them sought out anything to hold on to.

          ‘I am a slave, Job,’ the pale man said, his ribs showing even through his baggy shirt. He walked back to his table, held his cold hands over the candles. ‘To the hunt.’

          ‘The hunt?’

          ‘The adventure. The craving to search for what your master thinks I already own; to find, somewhere, riches, gold, jewels, precious things I can mould into my own.’

          ‘Greed?’ Job stepped into the guttering light. ‘I don’t believe it.’

          The man laughed, lowered himself into one of the rickety skeleton chairs, pushed his legs under the table, and shook his head. ‘Not greed, my friend. Addiction, obsession. That’s what I’m in thrall to.’

          ‘So you have a way to escape if you really want to.’

          ‘And you haven’t?’

          ‘His power reaches further than I can run or swim.’ Job nodded at the small window. ‘Look outside. The land has gone now.’

          ‘I’ll buy you and set you free.’

          ‘He wouldn’t allow it.’

          ‘You’re too valuable to him, you mean?’

          ‘I couldn’t say. Only a master knows the true value of his slaves.’

          ‘You should call me Francis.’ He ran his hands, palms down, along the table smooth with age and touch and salt. ‘Why do you mean so much to him?’

          ‘I’m a shadow,’ Job said. ‘No-one sees me.’

          ‘You spy for him.’

          ‘And other things.’

          ‘What makes this different?’

          ‘You don’t treat me like a slave. You see me.’

          ‘All men are free in my mind.’

          Job bowed his head.

          ‘Do you want to know a secret?’ Francis said.

          ‘Don’t I already know them all?’

          Francis shook his head, a familiar gesture by now. ‘Oh no. The best is still to come.’

          ‘And you’ll tell me?’

          ‘Of course.’ Francis got up, achingly, took too many deep breaths, and put his hand on Job’s shoulder. He waited for the silence to settle, for even the wind to subside, and for the ship to sink into a soundless rythm. ‘The secret, my friend, is that I have none of the things your master wants.’

2 December 2013

Fighting the black dogs

I spent most of yesterday evening, last night, and today fighting against the double broadside of unwanted and frustrating physical ailments and an attack by not one black dog but a whole pack of black dogs, coming to the conclusion that this really had to be the point at which I said, “Ok, I’ve had enough, I’m not doing this anymore, because no-one wants to hear me, no-one wants to read me, and I’ve done my very best with it.” And decided to stop social networking, to stop using twitter and facebook, and to use only email or private messaging to communicate with those people I know and who might want to stay in touch with me.
 
Ok, so far.
 
Decision made, I went to the dentist, something I always enjoy, as I find it relaxing, and also a test of my powers of relaxation. When the dentist offered to numb my mouth before drilling for one of the fillings, I declined (I’ve had drilling done without anaesthetic before, when a doctor told me I might be allergic to whatever analgesic they use in those injections, the feeling of which sliding into my gums I enjoy, too, I have to admit, but not the feeling then of not being in control of my face). I was pleased with the way I controlled my breathing, felt no pain (the suction tube sandwiching my lips against my upper jaw hurt more than the drilling, which I didn’t actually feel). My spirits climbed, briefly, because I was enjoying something not many people enjoy, because I was achieving a target I’d set myself. And then it was all over. I paid my money, left the dentist, drove home to where I knew I’d left my cigarettes.
 
Enter the cold house, and the black dogs and the physical symptoms come storming out of the shadows again, running round my feet like the over-excited little demons they are, and jump back into my head and body without me being able to resist them. Back to Square One, and back to trying to shut out the world and try to hibernate in some way or another until it’s all over.
 
So, on the day job treadmill, clicking this, clicking that, entering data and comments into my database, reading emails, answering emails, ploughing on and on, and I turn on BBC Radio Norfolk, because everything on Radio 1 sucks except for Zane Lowe (although he can occasionally be very suck-uppy to stars), because Radio 2 nose-dives after Chris Evans (whom I’ve started listening to because my favourite DJ, Simon Saynor, who did Sine FM’s Breakfast Show, has finished after four and a half years) and Ken Bruce, because I love Stephen Bumfrey and Thordis Fridriksson, partly because they gave me a chance to go back onto the programme again and again, and still invite me back because they like who I am, and partly because they play good music, and the chat between 2 and 4 every weekday afternoon is hilarious, or riveting, or educational, or all three at once.
 
And that’s how I came to be listening to Franko Fraize, a rapper from Thetford, at twenty to four in the afternoon, the mist rising, the darkness already descending, talking to Thordis, and telling it how it is, for artists trying to get a break. Ok, he was talking about music, but it could equally well be applied to writers published for the first time, or writers who are self-published, or writers who are just finding their way. What he said, and I paraphrase, was “If you want to go and do something, you’ve got to go and do it. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. And if you’re doing it and don’t like the hustle, don’t moan about it.” That sort of woke me up. I can’t just give up on the words and on the books, nor on the causes, like pulpculturemagazine, like local music and writers, like the libraries campaign nationally, that I support, no matter how I feel inside. I need to marry the wastedness with something that’ll grow.
 
And there I am, back on the networks in my head, because no-one will have noticed me not contributing for a day (which is a good thing not to be noticed for something like that). So there I am, deciding that I will plug Dead Men again, after I finally managed to persuade my recalcitrant publisher to cut 75% off the price of all ebook versions for December (though I didn’t manage to persuade them to cut the paperback price or to think again about supporting a new talent for more than one book and taking on A Fear of Heights after all).
 
And here I am, back plugging my self-published The Failed Assassin again, because it’s one of the best serious erotica novels anyone could hope to read, because there are five fabulous hand-bound copies, works of art, of it for sale at £50 each (and I’ll do a separate post explaining exactly why I’ve done that), and because I finally decided to do a paperback copy of it after all. I’ve got to get my words to market somehow, even if they reflect my black-doggedness, even if my black dogs want to discourage me from doing something, anything, and would rather I sat here under my SAD light realising it wasn’t really working, and descended into the dark for always.
 
So, here’s to not being helpless under siege, here’s to even momentary relief from bleakness, and here’s to celebrating my words, my achievements, because after all, the effort’s been all mine, just like the efforts of all artists have been theirs, no-one else’s, because it’s always 95% perspiration, 5% inspiration.
 
And, if after all that, you don't want to order a signed, dedicated copy of Dead Men as a Christmas present for all your family, friends and enemies, I still won't give up.

30 November 2013

This

The last few mornings, tired,
I have crawled across the bed into the space you left,
To wallow in your warmth, in your scent,
For just a few moments
Until I hear you downstairs,
Rattling, humming, moving,
Baking bread for the children,
Your eyes out into the burgeoning morning,

And I have woken, an hour later,
Still cocooned in the heat you left,
Still wrapped in the perfume you left,
Light now knocking on the curtains,
To the sound of other voices and echoing stairs
Rolling in through the half-closed door, and
Forcing me into consciousness and action,
Feet out into the cold, onto the floor,
Sit up and feel the cool air on my chest,
My breathing shallow from being deprived of you.

These may be normal mornings, boring even,
But they fill me with a new content,
Make me understand what it is to grow older
Together,
Organically, some goals still not reached,
And others there already, from the beginning
And forever.

Look, the sun, just cracking the horizon.
I know not to speak into your mornings now.

For M.

R 29/11/2013

25 November 2013

History


The stars shift.
Orion glowers.
The Pole Star wanes and stutters,
Extinguishes a gap in time,
Bridges an nth dimension,
Red and pale.

The night shivers behind the moon,
Its dominant light nothing but a reflection from the centre,
The invisible star the other side of our mis-shapen globe.

An explosion in the East is not the rising of day,
A silhouette of something that happened a long time ago,
Soundless and unobserved.

History is just the passing of the light.

17 November 2013

The Foreign Country - for Oscar on his 21st birthday


The morning,
This morning,
Seems the same until the sun
Falls in through the window at a different
Angle, and life becomes
A foreign country.

All you know is what was,
Never what is to be,
And learning is all new and uncertain,
Dark and light,
Dim shadows and questions,
Motes of disappeared dust.

We have no answers
To the changing keys of existence,
We cannot see the future
Clearer than now.
Each page we open has fresh words
And undone endeavours.

A paraphrase of hearts.

 
R, 30/10/2013

1 November 2013

A Universal - for Charlotte on her birthday


How do I grab seventeen years of words
And wrap them into one page
When I can’t remember each detail
Of that day you came to life
And we shared cold toast and worry,
Laughter and fear?

How do I turn my age into wisdom
When you’re learning more than me,
When you know more than I do,
And I am clueless, and your pain
Is more than I can paint?

Remember that walk, when you were
Much younger, and wrote your words
Into another one of my poems? That’s
Always my living memory of your birthdays,
When you became more than the sum of me.

How do any of us grab a life and
Throw it into a few lines of letters?
The possibilities are endless, and finite.
All things are a contradiction, as we are,
Hot and cold, loving and hating

From one second to the next.
That’s how we always will be,
The way we are built;
Unpredictable,
Sharp and blunt.

How do I grab all those years of you
And make new words again?
I look at you, and hug you,
And see a whole fresh universe,
Far beyond what I have created.

R, 19/10/2013

17 October 2013

An Experiment

Some people have been busy telling me that everyone is tired of writing reviews. So be it. I can understand that. And it doesn't just apply to book reviews. There's a plethora of emails every day asking me to review one thing or another that I may or may not have bought, and beyond attaching some random stars to the items, I can't be bothered to write any words describing what I might or might not think about these spurious items of materalism gone mad.

But, going back to the header of this post, the experiment I'm conducting is one of genre-hopping and self-publishing and creating a work of art. I have explained in a previous post why I've gone down the road of writing erotica (Why I've become sexually explicit), and it's been an interesting road to wander along. I'm disappointed that there's only been one review for The Failed Assassin, but so be it. The great thing about that one review is that it made me realise I had written a good book, because the reviewer got it and summarised his "getting it" in that short review. That's what writing is all about.

And now we're gearing up for the creating art bit. Five handbound copies of The Failed Assassin are currently in production in Oxford. And they will be works of art. I've had interminable and endlessly constructive and nice email conversations with the binder, who is brilliant and understands what I'm trying to achieve. I do sometimes ask myself why I'm doing this with the erotica novel rather than with A Fear of Heights, my Everest novel which is still looking for a publisher, but then the light bulb appears above my head, and I understand what I'm doing.

There are very many literary novels out there that deserve our attention, ones that don't even breathe a word of sex, books that are worth reading just because they exist, and that exist for reading. Literary erotica is very difficult to find, though, and the waters of good writing and good sex writing have been totally muddied by (a) Fifty Shades, and (b) the current furore about self-published abuse erotica (and dinosaur erotica ????????) finding their way onto the WH Smith site (through Kobo). Let it just be recorded here, in this very fragmented note, that real erotica and real writing don't deal sympathetically with illegal activities which damage and threaten and ultimately kill.

I am unbelievably thrilled and excited about converting an e-book into a collectors' hardback book. I am incredibly grateful to Lucie Forejtova for agreeing to do all the hard work (and I met her by good fortune when opening the Not The Oxford Literary Festival at the Albion Beatnik bookshop earlier this year), and for binding into physical shape words which might be construed by some as irrelevant and inappropriate. The whole point of this is that, regardless of what anyone might tell us, sex is one of the great driving forces of our lives, if not the greatest. Love and sex drive all creativity, I think. And to be able to give that physical expression, a coming together (deliberate pun) of literature and handiwork, of words and shape and tangibility, is a great privilege.

We will see what happens, with the e-book, and with the limited edition. I have 3 qualified presales for the 5 (not cheap) copies, and might decide to do another 5 if there's more demand. That doesn't matter, nor the fact that I'd like more reviews. To make something real, and to know it's good, is all that matters. The next books are calling, waiting to be written - and life is not endless. There is still much to accomplish.

15 October 2013

A Question of Class

We passed the thieves on the road,
Our hands full of silver,
Their faces gold in the dying sun.
We were faster than they,
Horses against donkeys,
Petrol against diesel,
Honesty against truth.

We pretend.

A punctured cloud dropped
Into the valley, ruptured our sight,
Day blindness, dawn-dark,
Mid-afternoon, and quieted
The panting transports.
Our turn to look over our shoulder.

A concentration span shorter than a story.
We should have known.
There was nowhere to hide,
Nothing to hide, the loot obvious
On our teeth and lips, our smiles,
Our fat bellies and buckled legs.

They caught us, the thieves,
Asleep against our radiators,
Engines still warm but out of fuel,
A ringed cavalcade, a convoy of one,
In the middle of somewhere
We should have avoided,

Amateurs that we are.

They took all we had,
Everything we had lied for,
And left us with our deceit and their spoils.
We walked another mile before we gave in,
Reached for our mobile phones
And called those who rule
To save us.

Our thieves, of course, starved,
True as they were.
Wrong connections, wrong schools,
Wrong class.
It was obvious.

Nothing changes.

3 October 2013

On National Poetry Day - Loss

I have saved last year's snow for you,
stored it in the freezer next to my food
and other artefacts of past life,
before

scientific brutalities,
the shedding of emotion,
your loss,
my loneliness,
a sudden fear

behind the closed doors and limp curtains
where no-one can see.

I hold my breath
as I put my hand into the freezer
to touch your snow,
the white meant for you
but harvested too late,
broken flakes,
cold dust.

An empty space in our bed.
My bed.

It's too warm
now to bring the snow
to your grave.

26 September 2013

Small Hearts

Such small hearts
                   in all things.
The dying mayflies litter
damp concrete by the front door,
a solitary greenfly clings
                to the frame outside
within scent of the warm
through the locking-out glass.

Tick, tick, slower beat,
                 and we never felt it
Inside our bigger forgotten hearts,
because we always neglect
what keeps us alive,
                   clock under our ribs,
until it breaks, one way
or another, soundless and red.


29 May 2013

How the ECB, Sky and the Tories are destroying cricket

Imagine this. You’re the captain of a village cricket team and you’re trying to get players together for a league match. You phone almost 50 people, and you manage to get only 9 people prepared to play. Imagine, too, that you’re a Level 2 coach, and that you’re tasked with getting as many children to junior training on a Friday evening, and only half the 48 who attended last year turn up. How do you feel, and who or what do you blame.

There’s the weather, of course, which last year, and at the beginning of this year, has been so atrocious that it wiped out 50% of youth training sessions, though not many games. Then there’s on the player availability side, social mobility. More people than ever are having to move away to get jobs or go to university (sometimes that’s a life style choice, sometimes it isn’t a choice at all). But that’s all a little simplistic.

The last couple of years, and this season (and we’re only 5 games in), it’s becoming obvious to me who the real culprits are. If I take it in reverse order of my headline, let me blame the Tories first of all. Our current economic climate means that people are working flat out all week, just to make ends meet, mothers and fathers, players and their families. They don’t want to spend the weekend, or one day of the weekend, playing cricket, when they’re knackered, when they’ve been away from their families all week, when they’re hard-pushed to put food on the table, never mind paying a £7 match fee. And, yes, I do blame the current government for this, because this exercise in austerity is failing, because there’s no effort to stimulate growth or alleviate the tax burden for the poorly-paid, because the 1% are still not paying their fair share in taxes.

Next, Sky. It’s ludicrous to allow test matches to be, to all intents and purposes, to be privatised. They should be broadcast on free-to-view channels so that anyone who wants to watch them can, so that anyone who doesn’t want to, or can’t, put money into fascist Murdoch’s pockets, can watch them. Not only that, watching cricket on TV has been formative for many generations in this country, and successive generations have now lost out on the test cricket watching experience, because it’s become a commercial venture rather than delivering sport to the masses. The West Indies are experiencing similar problems, and the decline of their cricketing fortunes can be directly linked to subscription TV, and to the glorification of high-earning sports rather than respect for a game which encapsulates life more than any other game ever played. It is an outrage that the game’s governing authorities have allowed themselves thus to be hijacked. And the net result is that less kids experience cricket on the telly, and that less kids are interested in playing it.

Last, and not least; in fact, the greatest culprit of them all, at least here in England – the ECB. The governing authority of the game, the guardians of the game, more powerful now than the MCC, they have it within their power to deliver cricket to free-to-view channels. There are ways and means of making it pay and pay enough to maintain the game at grassroots and international level. But will they do it? No. In fact, they permanently send emails to village clubs asking them to endorse Sky coverage in exchange for free Sky subscriptions into what may well be non-existent pavilions with running water, electricity and bars. And those letters and emails can sometimes take on a threatening tone, although precious little money actually cascades down to the level at which I play cricket. I have written to them at least once asking them why they don’t distribute more of their blood money to village clubs, why they aren’t more explicit in their support for small clubs, why small clubs are always struggling for money, even when their membership numbers are fairly healthy.

And it’s not just that that’s discouraging people from playing, people from joining cricket club committees, volunteering to help on a weekly basis. The ECB’s Clubmark scheme, which marks out clubs as being well run and efficient and worthy of support, requires so much paperwork, on an almost daily basis, that most clubs can’t actually cope with the administrative burden. It’s almost a full-time job for one person. Those employed by the ECB, of course, to check on these Clubmark clubs, are paid, are employees, are possibly even on ECB part-funded pension schemes and happily send so many emails to club volunteers that they’re just about spammers. But club volunteers don’t get paid; they’ve got day jobs and families, they’ve got other interests and concerns besides cricket; and, most importantly of all, they’d like to, just now and again, play cricket without having to worry about risk assessments, forms that need to be filled in, and Ts to be crossed and other letters to be dotted.

There is a crisis waiting to happen in English cricket, where grassroots cricket collapses, and only public school players are afforded the luxury of playing regular cricket, where there will be no significant talent moving the blurred pathway to international cricket, where Twenty20 slapabouts will be the order of the day and no-one understands how to declare or bat for a draw, or play the game fairly. And that day is not far away.

18 April 2013

Kara's birthday poem

I should have posted this at the end of March, when it was Kara's birthday.

Histories

Where should I start,
And how do I begin?
There are stories in all of us
That want to be told.
This is what history is.

One day, you too will be old,
With a million stories to share,
And more, with those who will want
To listen; children, children’s children,
Friends, followers.

Write them now already,
All those fears, mistakes, and joys,
Those happinesses and hopes, tears,
Until you think there are no more
Words in the world.

And then you will find some more,
For words are eternal,
As are you.

9 April 2013

Remembering The Dictator


So she killed my generation
And I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut?
So she killed my county
And we’re supposed to be kind to her
Now she’s dead?

Let her family mourn in peace
And remember
Those she didn’t allow to rest or cry in peace,
Those whose walls and safety she ripped away,
Those whose livelihoods she stole,
Those whose families she murdered,
Those industries she stole from the nation,
Those in need she despised,
Those helpless she ignored,
Those holy words she abused,
That hate she propagated,
That spite she spat,
That venom she made,
That poison she injected into the world
In whose veins it still flows.

She was evil, and evil doesn’t die.
It lives on in her successors,
The hypocrites,
The fat liars,
The bankers,
The bureaucrats,
The racists and fascists,
The apathetic,
The greedy.

Even if I forgave her
She would be beyond redemption.

25 February 2013

Birthday poem for Alex


How It Is


This is how it is.
 

The things we do best we never plan.
We just let go, so our bodies take over.


The memory of where our feet fell,
In beautiful balance, at that perfect moment.
And our arms, hands and fingers,
As we abandon ball and fear,
When we watch, outside ourselves,
The red trajectory,
And our heart stops and leaps,
Because we win.

 
Parenthood is like that,
Bowling out of the dark into the light,
With no hope and no plans,
And the best moments the ones
We never dreamed of
Until they were complete.

 

22 February 2013

A Study - transcript from my journal, 20/02/2013

Sitting in Waterstones Piccadilly. Queues forming for Nicholas Sparks and two actors from his latest book to be made into a film. I'll be there one of these days. I refuse to give up now.

Have tweeted that I'm here till 6 if anyone wants to buy my book and have me sign it. That was 15 minutes ago, and no one's shown up yet. That's not really a surprise, is it?

I fancy a quiet pint with a fag. Not much chance of that either, though.

Lots of short people here, too short to see my book on the top shelf of the P section.

I wish I could sketch. So many interesting shapes and faces. Different types of hands, fingers, ways of walking, talking, breathing.

Is the man opposite me famous, the one who's on the phone saying he doesn't know what he's doing because no one told him where to go? So he leafs through his paper, headphone in one ear, the cable white against his ruddy cheek, a blue beret on his unruly dark brown hair, squints, frowns, crosses his legs, feet in suede boots, licks his finger, turns another page, short attention span, then finds something of interest, lingers, motionless, on the same page for minutes, and then the cycle begins again. Paper finished, he taps his fingers on the chair's armrests, gets his phone out of his coat pocket, screws up his eyes, messes with his fingers on the screen, looks up every now and then as if he's waiting for somebody, looking for somebody, and impatient at having to do so.

One minute to six. Still no one for my book.

Now he's closed his eyes, supports his head with one hand, looks like he's dozing. His phone rings, and he's off again, complaining about not being told where to go. Call ends, and he's back to masking his restlessness with apparent indifference. And then he bites one of his fingers, makes a decision, and off he goes, down the stairs and away. I wonder who he was.

14 February 2013

Valentine's Day poem

The things I wish for always disappear.

I don't see enough of you,
naked,
in the soft light of day,
nor in the harshness of artificial light,
now I think about it.
Routine and habits divide us.

Sometimes, at night, I wake,
and traces of brightness push their way
through the curtains to leave their trail
on your face.
You look so young then,
and I touch your youth
until I fall asleep again,
cower up to your heat
and dream of seeing you again,
naked.

It's not just sex, it's being.
A graze of touch isn't enough,
here and there,
to remind me of your beauty.
I want to drink empty, to its base,
this cup of passion we first poured
all those years ago,
without an audience,
in an echoing room,
without self-consciousness.

I want you
every second of every minute,
every minute of every hour,
every hour of every day,
every day of every year,
because I love you,
because I don't see enough of you,
naked.

14 January 2013

Why I've become sexually explicit

Let me tell you a secret. At one point in Dead Men, I closed a chapter without what my editor considered a suitable climax, for want of a better word. So he asked me to write a sex scene, so that “readers wouldn’t be disappointed, so they could see that the relationship had actually run its full course.” Being a debut writer, I duly obliged, albeit in a way I thought tasteful; no description of the mechanics of sex, but an intimation of intimacy. Interestingly, a Guardian reviewer noted that “He could also have lost the later sex scenes, which feel a bit dutiful.” Right on.

And now I have just finished a novel I initially thought of as a literary riposte to Fifty Shades of Grey, where I have gone entirely the other way, and the mechanics of sex have become just as important as the plot. Originally, I thought a plot would be unnecessary in response to a book which I thought was poorly written. But then something happened that I should have predicted; as in all the books I write, the characters develop a life of their own, and I ended up with a plot that assumed the Yugoslavian civil war and ethnic cleansing as its centre of gravity. And this after I had written page after page of explicit sex, which, for the avoidance of any doubt, is entirely fictitious and based in no way upon my past or present sexual relationships.

The process of writing was interesting, because, invented or not, the sex did echo with memories, extrapolating on certain situations, mingling with wishful thinking, possibly, for the future. But most of all, I felt depersonalized in the writing of it, and it’s an exercise I may well not repeat. I kept telling myself it was an exercise between “serious” books, and one I don';t think I'll attempt again, although I was pleased to produce 76k words in seven weeks.

When I was about 5k words in, I had an interesting discussion about erotica with Stephen Bumfrey on BBC Radio Norfolk. If I remember correctly what I said was that it was difficult to write about sex because it was so personal, so intimate, so emotional, and that the recounting of – imagined or not – sex somehow destroyed that intimacy, that it reduced sex to pure rutting, to nothing more than mechanics. I left that interview wondering if there was any point in continuing with the book. Thought processes are weird, because what I ended up with was a book that, although 75% of it is pure, unmitigated and often perverse sex (but no bestiality or necrophilia, nor anal sex, nor bondage), contrasts pure lust with love, breaks down the walls between the two, shows how possible it is for lust to mature into love, for something that’s akin to hate (the fulfilment of a base instinct) to become the exact opposite.

My agent for Dead Men isn’t into representing erotica, so he gave me his blessing to shop The Failed Assassin (31 Days of Shade) to other agents, where it is at the moment. I hope someone will pick it up, because I do think it is a worthwhile book. I could revisit it, and rewrite it without the explicitness, but it would lose its visceral energy, would lose the symphonic quality of its counterpoints between sex and love, between hate and love. At one point, the main male character says to the main female character, “You’re not planning on tying me up, are you?”, to which she responds with “I’m not that primitive.” For me, that encapsulates what I have come to believe of good erotic novels – they don’t have to be basic; they can and should reflect the human condition, just like any other great novels do.