Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Perhaps you're not seeing everything, ever

I mostly try to write unsettling stories, psychological horror, the horror of the everyday and the things that people do. That's because, if I can quote Mark Kilner (who you will like reading, by the way), the whole "horror as in werewolves and goblins or horror as in psychopaths running around with knives" doesn't really do it for me.

What makes a story scary, horrific or just plain unnerving for you? I recently read an excellent view on this in Eva Wiseman's Observer column; I think you should read it too (here's a link) but even if you don't, here are a few paragraphs from it that make some fine points.

Walking home after seeing the Blair Witch Project at the local lido multiplex, a thing ran across the pavement in front of me and maybe it was a massive cat or maybe it was a deathly monster. I suppose I'll never know. But this is the joy of horror. That the stories never tie up neatly, and that perhaps you're not seeing everything, ever.

...

At times, it seems that every story suggests blockbuster horror. Like, for instance, these recent regional news reports about a fox that returns to the same woman's garden in suburban Leeds every night, to make an offering of another single shoe. I mean. Or the woman accused of murdering her elderly parents, alleged to have buried them on top of each other in the garden in Nottingham one bank holiday 15 years ago, but who it's claimed continued to send Christmas cards to the extended family, saying she and her husband were travelling in Ireland "because of the good air". The good air.

All these stories are fascinating because they're creepy, and they're creepy because they're thrilling, and they're thrilling because we don't understand them, and because hopefully we never will. That rich combination of tragedy and fear, and sadness, too, that fresh scent of mourning that we can examine from afar. The difference between jumping off a building and riding a rollercoaster. We feel the feeling, the shudder, and then we get to go home and put the kettle on and maybe have a bath.

The idea that perhaps you're not seeing everything, ever, is what keeps me awake at night. How about you?

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Anatomy of a bookshelf

More cartoon brilliance from Tom Gauld.
Illustration by Tom Gauld. Copyright (presumably?) © 2014 The Guardian
As spotted in The Grauniad, Saturday 24th May 2014.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A story within a story within a story...

This blog is about writing - mostly, but not exclusively, mine. This post falls squarely into the "not mine" category.

I watched The Fisher King for the umpteenth time recently. It's a terrific film, in my view, beautifully shot and with a wonderful story at its heart. In the course of the film we discover that Perry (Robin Williams) was once a college professor with a particular interest or specialism in the fisher king fable of Arthurian legend (the story within a story). Later, in a rare moment of calm lucidity, Perry tells Jack (Jeff Bridges) another version of that fable (the story within a story within a story)... and it's lovely. At the risk of being sentimental, let me reproduce it for you here:

It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he's visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God's divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, "You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men." But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn't love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn't see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, "What ails you friend?" The king replied, "I'm thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat". So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, "How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?" And the fool replied, "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty."

So what am I saying here, really? Firstly, The Fisher King is brilliant, go and watch it. Secondly, I'm going soft in my old age. And thirdly (mostly), I am envious of the ability to write such an entirely satisfying short story in a single paragraph.

Don't worry, normal service (the macabre, twist endings and tales of the unexpected) will be resumed shortly.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Ballardian children's fiction

Spotted this in the Guardian at the weekend and couldn't help but repost it. I also couldn't help but wonder whether an old friend of mine, creator of some uniformly excellent Ballardian fiction himself, saw it too.

Illustration by Tom Gauld. Copyright (presumably?) © 2014 The Guardian
As spotted in The Grauniad, Saturday 12th April 2014.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Sales - neither rhyme nor reason

Weird, isn't it? In January, I had my best month, sales-wise, for well over a year. In February, I didn't sell anything at all. Not one word.

Probably best not to over-analyse, eh...?

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Interested in a signed copy?

Hello you. Yes, you. You look great today, by the way, have you done something different with your hair?

Right, now I've buttered you up... can I interest you in a signed copy of my paperback collection of unsettling short stories, Dark Steps? Yes, signed, with (if you like) a personal message.

If you'd like to buy one of these, for the bargain price of £3 + £1.40 P&P, you have until the close of play on Thursday 20th February to let me know. Include your email address, and I'll send you a PayPal link to send me the £4.40. Don't forget to include any personal message you might like.

After this date, signed copies will still be available but may cost a little bit more.

Dark Steps - a collection of short stories by Martin Pond
Dark Steps - it's pretty good, if I may be so bold. I think you'd like it.

The most read thing I've ever written...

...is a tweet.

Yep. Three and a half years on from my first publication, after short stories, narrative essays, a collection and a textbook, after endless wearying self-promotion and promotion and promotion... the most read thing I've ever written is a tweet. Potentially.

You see, I went to see David Baddiel's new show "Fame: not the musical" last week (it's excellent, by the way, so go and see it). Afterwards, I felt sufficiently impressed to write a review in 140 characters - a tweet review or, if you absolutely insist, a tweview. No, that's an awful contraction. Erase it from your minds.

Anyway, I wrote the tweet, namechecking @baddiel... and he retweeted it. And then some of his followers retweeted it too. Hell, some even favourited it (favourited: another word abomination). Add up all of Baddiel's Twitter followers, and those of the people who retweeted it, and mine... well, at the time I took the screenshot, this is what that looked like:

The retweets of my review of David Baddiel's "Fame: not the musical"
All it takes is a retweet from the right person

81 + 51 + 45 + 41 + 1,552 + 751 + 39 + 329,642, that's 332,202 people. Plus my 818. That's 333,020 Twitter users. A potential audience of a third of a million people...

Before you say it, I know they won't all have read it. For many (most?) it will be buried in their timeline. Others will scroll happily by. But even if one in a hundred stopped to read it, well... well, what, exactly? Three thousand people would then know what I thought about David Baddiel's (brilliant) new show.

So what?

I still haven't sold any books at all so far this month...

Monday, 3 February 2014

Libraries... use them, or lose them?

The library - use it, love it, join it... or lose it?
This Saturday, the 8th of February, is National Libraries Day. As an avid reader and wannabe writer, libraries are special places for me, and I'm very lucky in this regard: there's a well-stocked and active library in the village, and I'm just five miles, as the crow flies, from the busiest library in Britain. And my parents are still regular customers of the mobile library van they took me to as a child.

National Libraries Day seeks to celebrate the diverse services modern libraries offer, in the hope that those who have forgotten their value get a timely reminder. And timely is the operative word there, for in these days of austerity, library budgets are an easy target for council spending cuts. First there will just be shorter opening hours, then there will be fewer mobile libraries, and finally just fewer libraries of any description... and that would be a calamity.

So take a look at National Libraries Day, see what's going on at a library near you or, better still, simply dust off your library card and go and get a book out. At the risk of stating the obvious, the easiest way to support, and hence preserve, your local library is simply to use it for its primary purpose.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A short story for you... just not one of mine (yet)

In the run up to Christmas, The Guardian's Weekend magazine Saturday supplement included four Christmas ghost stories. Whilst they were all good, Jeanette Winterson's Dark Christmas deserves a special mention. Pick of the bunch though, for me, was Light and Space by Ned Beauman, a terrific piece of psychological horror that inevitably prompted the "I wish I'd written that" feeling in me that I think most aspiring writers feel on a semi-regular basis. Bottom line? Light and Space is the best short story I read in 2013.

You can find all four stories online here.The website also has a bonus fifth story, from Penelope Lively.