Friday, 21 December 2012

National Short Story Day

OK, so I missed National Short Story Week, but it turns out there's a National Short Story Day as well.

Thanks Comma Press!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Well, this is certainly an original project.  I haven't quite got my head round how it works.  See what you think:

Anyway, I'm very interested in Oral Literature in Africa by Ruth H. Finnegan

If it's blurb is anything to go by, we're all duty bound to download this free ebook and read it immediately:

"First published in 1970 by Oxford University Press, this classic study has been hailed as "the single most authoritative work on oral literature”. It traces the history of story-telling in Africa, and brings to life the diverse forms of creativity across the African continent. Author Ruth Finnegan is thought to have “almost single-handedly created the field of ethnography of language” with this book, and it continues to be a go-to text for anyone studying African culture." 

Sounds good.

Monday, 17 December 2012

William Owen Roberts

Also from the Dalkey Archive, here's a very interesting interview with William Owen Roberts, who contributed to the Best European Fiction 2011 anthology. 

I had no idea Welsh-language fiction sold in such numbers, but it makes sense considering how many people speak the language.

William Owen Roberts happens to be a very good writer as well :)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Best European Fiction 2012: a one-word review

Here's a one word review of Best European Fiction 2012


Actually, I'd use the same word to describe all four volumes of this anthology series so far.  That includes the 2013 anthology which I haven't read yet (although it's already available).

Fiction translated into English is a scarce commodity, and short story anthologies are equally rare, so when so many great European short-stories are brought to the attention of the English-reading public in such a comprehensive way, it's worthy of the word "important".  It's almost worthy of the word "vital". 

Besides anything else, Best European Fiction 2012 is a brilliant book - consistently interesting, surprising and entertaining throughout.

Book of the year, maybe?  Difficult to say.  I'd have to read all the other books just to make sure.  But I reckon it's up there with the best.  

Visit the Dalkey Archive website for more details, including readings, discussions and author profiles, etc. 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

'Jesus' by Stephen Michael McDowell

Well, here's a writer who knows what he's doing.  

Nice one. 

Free PDF download here.  

See also, 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Things I've Done For the Internet by Lauren Marie Grant: a 23 word review

I recommend you download this free ebook - a collection of funny, weird and original prose, ripping the piss out of online silliness. 

Tantalisingly we're promised: "If you donate $3 or more, you can receive a physical copy and a handwritten note (and maybe a surprise!)."

Read / download here.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Hans Fallada

Hans Fallad's Alone in Berlin was only translated into English a couple of years ago, as noted in this Guardian article.

I've just read it, and can confirm that its much-delayed success is entirely well deserved. 

The edition I bought has the author's biography at the end.  I was fascinated to discover the details of Fallada's troubled life, including his drug addiction, long-term imprisonment and mental health issues. As noted on

"It has been said that writers draw their creativity from their own pain and experiences. In the case of Hans Fallada, this may well be true. After being deeply affected by the changes in his life, pain was still to come. During 1910, when Hans Fallada contracted typhoid, he somehow decided that this life was not for him. So, in boarding school, he was able to find a friend whose thoughts were along the same lines as Hans Fallada. In an attempt to disguise their suicides, both boys decided to on a duel. Unfortunately, like most duels, only one person falls down. This person was in the person of Hanns Dietrich, Hans Fallada’s friend and boarding schoolmate.

Hans Fallada went through a lot of tragedies and heartaches. After shooting his friend, he decided to take the gun into his own hands and extinguish his life. However, this plan did not go according to his plans. After surviving the shot he himself instigated, Hans Fallada was sent to trial. Yet again, he was able to avoid a bleak future. Unfortunately, the story does not end here. Because after Hans Fallada was declared innocent of all charges due to insanity, the mental institution he was sent to was just the beginning of a long string of failures, addiction, theft, political fears and fascism."

I've never paid much attention to author biographies but I'm tempted to read Jenny Williams's book, More Lives Than One.   
Sometimes writers draw their creativity through the lives of other writers.


Thursday, 22 November 2012

New ebook - Things That Don't Exist: a Manifesto

Having previously published  flash fiction, short stories, poetry, humour, sci fi, horror, experimentalism, literary fiction, Philistine Press have a new genre to add to our ever-expanding list: the manifesto.  

And what an astounding piece of work this manifesto is. 

In the words of the anonymous authors: 

"The world at it’s currently run relies on the assumption that each and every member of the earth’s population believe in three fundamental ideas: money, nationality and status. These three concepts have one thing in common: they only exist in our imaginations. Not everyone recognises these concepts as valid, but officially we all do.

As far as the media are concerned, the non-existence of these three works of fiction is the greatest taboo of our time. They’re taken for granted in the same way volcanoes are taken for granted. They’re part of our world, and out of our control.

Now is the time for questions. Where did these beliefs come from? Why are they here? And how do we get rid of them?"  

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

National Short Story Week: whoops, I missed it...

As is the way with these things, I realised it was National Short Story Week a week after it happened. 

As a bit of belated support, here are a bunch of short-story related websites that are worth investigating:

National Short Story Week website
Thresholds Short Story Forum
The Short Review
The European Short Story Network
Short Story Radio
Comma Press

I could go on and on and on, but it would take me a couple more weeks, by which time I'd be far too late. 

Thursday, 15 November 2012


This Hungarian film set on the Budapest subway system is an absolute classic.  It's available to view in full online via You Tube...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - a one word review

As previously mentioned on this blog, I recently finished reading War and Peace. (I'm just bragging, really.) I'll be the first to admit that my one word review serves no real purpose, but there's no other way of summing up Tolstoy's masterpiece in a single word:


Of course, I'm pointing out the obvious. The one thing everyone knows about War and Peace is that it's the size of a breezeblock.

In my view, it could've been the size of a house. In the hands of Dickens, for example, War and Peace would've been several times its length. The economy of Tolstoy's prose could almost be called minimalist. (Indeed, I'm sure it has been, several times. I'm joining the conversation a little late.)

Editing the book would take some doing. I'm tempted to argue that every single word needs to be there. The only way to shorten it would be to remove some of its sub plots.

The trouble is, there aren't really any sub plots. There are hundreds of characters, but arguably they all need to be there for the story to make sense.

Of course, you could say the same about any novel. Edit bits out and the book loses a percentage of its power. That being said, there are plenty of long, rambling epics that would benefit from shedding a couple of hundred pages. (Would it be sacrilege to suggest that certain classics would work better in abridgement form? Oh well, I've said it now. My delete key doesn't work. Maybe that was Tolstoy's problem.)

Anyway, despite its length, complexity and relentless misery (which at times makes the book an uphill struggle), War and Peace is highly recommended. If I'd written a four word review, I'd've said 'Long, but worth it.'

And now that I've said it, Tolstoy can rest easy in his grave.

Nice one, Leo. 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Five Poets From Latin America

Allow me to introduce you to yet another free ebook from the World Writers series:

Translated by Ilan Stavans

These poets are:

León de Greiff, Jorge Luis Borges, Dulce María Loynáz, Darío Jaramillo Agudelo, Santiago Mutis Durán

Amongst other things, I've never had the pleasure of reading Borges' short essay, Borges and I. I was going to quote from it, but through the magic of copy and paste, I might as well quote the whole thing:

Borges and I

The other one, Borges, is to whom things happen. I walk through Buenos Aires, stop, maybe a bit mechanically, to look at the arch of an entrance way and a grillwork door; I have news from Borges by mail or when I see his name in a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, 18th-century typography, the taste of coffee, and Stevenson's prose; the other shares those preferences but with a vanity that turns them into an actor's attributes. It would be an exaggeration to affirm that our relationship is hostile; I live, I let myself live, so that Borges can plot his literature and that literature justifies me. It doesn't cost me anything to confess he has achieved a few valid pages, but those pages can't save me, perhaps because what's good no longer belongs to anyone, not even to the other, but to language and tradition. In any case, I'm destined to be lost, definitively, and just some instant of me will survive in the other. Little by little I cede everything, even though I'm aware of his perverse tendency to falsify and pontificate. Spinoza understood that all things want to be preserved in their being: the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many by others and in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried freeing myself from him and went from the mythologies of the arrabal to the games with time and the infinite, but those games are Borges' now and I shall come up with other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to the other.
        I don't know which of the two writes this page. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Coronology by Claire Bateman

This brilliant online chapbook can be read for free on the World Writers website.
It's a series of prose poems written as an alphabetised anatomical directory.
Here, for example, is the entry under H:
H.   Deep in your burrowing place under the blankets, you wake to a racket on the roof that must be announcing the descent of the hailstone crown, though who's to say for sure? The (hailstone crown - bold) is alarmingly indeterminate, subject to sudden transformations. Maybe even now it's changing into a shower of turkey gizzards, or human gallstones, or wisdom teeth. Tiny magnets shaped like Scottie dogs? Petrified little brides and grooms from abandoned wedding cakes? Silver suitcase keys? Miniature spun-glass beehives? Or marbles, like so many calcified points of no return-not the elegant Sulphites with their silver doves and swans glowing spectrally at the center, but micro-Pee Wees, coreless Lutzes with their gold sparkles searing tiny burn marks into the storm. Or maybe Irish Diamonds, which are really rock crystals, or American Rubies, which are really garnets-no less radiant than authentic gems, but so much more appropriate for this particular zip code. 
Confusingly, and interestingly, the author has written two different books, both with the title Coronogy. This is a shorter version of one of them. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast

This series of podcasts hosted by the legendary Richard Herring ("Best Podcaster Ever," according to me) is very interesting and very funny.  (This is a pretty short review, but I think that covers everything.)

Here's the link. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Monday, 24 September 2012

What We Choose to Remember: Nonfiction Narratives by Steve Heller - a one-word review

A one word review of What We Choose to Remember: Nonfiction Narratives by Steve Heller...


That's pretty much everything you need to know about Steve Heller's tremendously warm-hearted - and free - online collection.

If you need more than one word, this is from Mark Spencer's introduction:

'Heller captures—through the evocation of the past, present, and future and through a blend of fact with fantasy (fantasy being as much a part of our realties as any car crash, failed marriage, or trip to the grocery store for a jar of peanut butter)—the richness, the ambiguity, the mystery, the flux of life, all intertwined with the dissipating smoke of time and the fog of memory.'

That just about covers everything.

Read it online here.  

Monday, 17 September 2012

Booktrust free short story archive

The Booktrust short stories website has a bunch of short stories by some big-name short story writers (and others, like Ian Rankin, who are more well known as novelists), which can be downloaded for free here

Needless to say, this is a good thing.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Adriano Zanni

Adriano Zanni is responsible for the cover image for the cover image for The Republic of Naught by Jay McLeod.  Here's another picture as a sample of his work, which can be found at

Nice one, Adriano.

Friday, 7 September 2012

New ebook - The Pit Bull and Other Tales by Tom Hamilton

"Shock was better than forgetting. It was more like never knowing. A great natural defense mechanism; the mind’s way of turning off the projector, canceling any image, benign or malignant, which could cause the flickering brain pain..." 

Here it is - a collection of five horror stories from the travelling maestro of trepidation, Tom Hamilton. 

Download it for free from, alongside Tom's first Philistine Press ebook, The Darkened Corner.  

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Gee, You're So Beautiful That It's Starting To Rain by Richard Brautigan

Oh, Marcia,
I want your long blonde beauty
to be taught in high school,
so kids will learn that God
lives like music in the skin
and sounds like a sunshine harpsicord.
I want high school report cards
to look like this:

Richard Brautigan

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Where are they now, your 17 years? by Vladimir Vysotsky

Where are they now, your 17 years?

You lost seventeen good years
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
Went through seventeen great fears
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
Your black hand gun- anywhere?
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
What's the place without you there?
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
Need I remind you of that house once more?
Naw, you still remember, that's for sure.
Yes, anybody's life is only half complete,
If you haven't walked Koretnyi Street.
I'll bet you yes
You lost seventeen good years
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
Went through seventeen great fears
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
Your black hand gun- anywhere?
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
What's the place without you there?
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
Well, a while ago they changed it's name,
Things are turning into a whole new game.
No matter where you go to find what must be found:
I betcha that Koretnyi Street is all around,
I betcha yeah
You lost seventeen good years
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
Went through seventeen great fears
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
Your black hand gun- anywhere?
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.
What's the place without you there?
At Bolshoy Karetnyi.

Translated by Hans Sleurink

More here 

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Edinburgh Ebook Festival 2012

This is a slightly belated shout, as the Edinburgh Ebook Festival has just come to an end. 

However, as an online festival, it has the advantage of being available for a short time afterwards. 

The Festival is an important advocate of alternative online literature, and I hope lots and lots of people have visited the website during its 17-day run.  While we're on the subject, I should also mention that Philistine Press were featured as one of their guest bloggers.

Here's our entry.

For me, the highlight of the Festival was The Censorship of Invisibility, an open letter to delegates at the Edinburgh World Writers Conference.  I've pasted this below...

The Censorship of Invisibility

This is an open letter to delegates at the Edinburgh World Writers Conference – and a wider public who may be interested in the issues raised.

Edinburgh World Writers Conference Censorship Debate.

I have listened with interest to the first two days of the Conference. Several of the delegates have mentioned the role of the market and it would seem that the Censorship debate is the place to raise the issue of the censorship of the market.

Many writers are currently censored by the market where, as several of your delegates have pointed out, a quantitative version of success is promoted. While there has been a bit of coy dancing round the subject of digital publishing and ebooks – some vague references to ‘the internet’ in relation to publishing – only one of your delegates has addressed the topic and this in the loaded term of a ‘class struggle.’ This invective is both immature and unhelpful. We resist, reject and ridicule this attitude.

We do not consider it appropriate to engage in the epublishing debate using references to ‘the cultural elite’, or as we have been dismissed by this delegate ‘the digital masses.’ We are not the Babylonian hordes he would have you believe. We are not coming to eat your babies.

We are, in most respects, writers just like you – with established ‘professional’ track records, winners of awards and with mainstream publishing credits – who have chosen to seek to develop a less market mediated approach to publishing our work. We are all subject to (victims of?) market forces but we would rather that the reader has the power in this regard. To that end we strive for unmediated visibility and to develop a readership who can make personal informed choices about what they want to read and how they want to read it.

We no more threaten or challenge the ‘establishment’ than the Paralympics do the Olympics. As Ali Smith pointed out, it’s a big world and there’s room for all of us.

We are not whining or complaining about our position. We are not at war with anyone. We simply resist the current marketing model. We have a common goal with you : communicative interaction with readers.

We believe the censorship imposed by the market is ‘visibility.’ We are happy to note that the Conference adopts the mature recognition that ‘talent will out’ and ‘success is quantitative’ are myths delivered by a profit driven market model. We hope that despite being in many cases locked into this censoring market, your delegates will be able to look to the wider world and realise that the new ‘indie’ writers as publishers do not have any argument with them, and are not either at war or in competition with them. Many of those now ‘indie’ publishing have been where you are now. Many of you may be where we are now in the future. We are all writers. We all seek to find readers for our work. The emergence of epublishing does not mean that any or all of us are turkeys voting for Christmas if we engage with it.

We have set up our own parallel festival (a virtual online ebook festival ) to run concurrently with the International Book Festival. This has been achieved in 8 weeks with zero budget and in the first week has received 6,500 views employing only grass roots promotion (which suggests there is clearly something of a market for independent writers). Our festival offers over 100 featured ‘events’ and showcases the work of nearly 50 writers. We offer short stories, poetry, writers polemic, focus pieces, and commentary and discussion of issues related to publishing . We aim to inform and entertain in equal measure. We hope to redress the mistaken belief that all self/indie publishing is low quality rubbish through the work that we showcase. Included amongst authors at our festival are Bafta nominated writers, winners of established writing awards, several writers with over 40 mainstream and traditionally published titles, and many with professional track records over 20 years. One of our featured authors has been in publishing for 50 years this month. We also welcome emerging writers who are finding readers through their own hard work using social media.

Why have these writers chosen to engage in an independent model of digital publishing? There are many reasons. Bringing back out of print work is one of them. Publishing non mass market writing that does not fit comfortably into market fashionable genres is another. But the primary motive of the indie writers we showcase is the desire to connect with readers, to throw off the cloak of invisibility which is the censorship of the market. To open the debate.

We are not demanding to be heard. But we respectfully ask you to acknowledge that far from being a battle between the ‘masses’ and the ‘elite’, the role of many independent writers as publishers in our current publishing revolution is that of opening the market and working against the censorship of ‘invisibility.’

These writers are not your adversaries. We hope, like us, you will see beyond the myth of competition between writers and open yourselves to the possibilities of new co-operative methods of engaging with the reader. Mostly, we hope that you, like us, will acknowledge that if writers are subject to a market driven economy, those with the power in that economy should be an informed readership not the profit driven publishing conglomerates.

Cally Phillips Festival Director of the Edinburgh eBook Festival

and Editor of Indie eBook Review.

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Here's a shout out for a proper alternative publisher, Outpost19...

And here's a web trailer for one of their wide and diverse selection of books, Spaces by Joel Kopplin... 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A History of Sarcasm - the ebook

A quick plug for my short story collection, A History of Sarcasm (Dog Horn 2009) ... just mentioning it's now available as an ebook. 

Download details here

Details of the book on

Some quotes about it

Praise for A History of Sarcasm

"A wonderful collection of decidedly weird short stories. Every single one of them is a gem. If you don't believe me, why not linger for a while and read the first one, a dysfunctional love story told in alphabetical order? I think you'll like it."

Scott Pack, Me and My Big Mouth.

“The writer William Burroughs once called language “a virus from outer space”, and there’s a sense of that in A History of Sarcasm, where Burton holds words up to the sun and lets the light shine through them.”
David Swann, author of The Last Days of Johnny North

"Frank's characters are startling, fragile, hilarious and chilling. If you haven't had a chance to delve into Frank's world yet, and you're not afraid your visit might turn into a long-term, straight-jacketed order of commitment, I highly recommend it. Every time I think he can't outdo himself again, he ups the ante and takes it one stupendous step further."

Deb Hoag, author of Crashin' The Real

Monday, 13 August 2012

War and Peace - the second epilogue

Tolstoy doesn't need me to big him up on this blog, but I'll say this anyway: War and Peace is worth reading to the end.  

Considering the bleakness of the subject matter and the fact that it's one of the longest books available in print, it's fair to assume that a large proportion of people who begin reading the book don't get round to finishing it.  

This is a shame, because it means many people will miss out on reading the second epilogue. (That's right - just when you think the damn thing's over, there's two epilogues.  And they're both several chapters long.)  

My advice is, if you don't have time to read the whole thing, skip through to the second epilogue.  

It begins like this... 

History is the life of nations and of humanity. To seize and put into words, to describe directly the life of humanity or even of a single nation, appears impossible.

The ancient historians all employed one and the same method to describe and seize the apparently elusive – the life of a people. They described the activity of individuals who ruled the people, and regarded the activity of those men as representing the activity of the whole nation.

The question: how did individuals make nations act as they wished and by what was the will of these individuals themselves guided? the ancients met by recognizing a divinity which subjected the nations to the will of a chosen man, and guided the will of that chosen man so as to accomplish ends that were predestined.
For the ancients these questions were solved by a belief in the direct participation of the Deity in human affairs.

Modern history, in theory, rejects both these principles.

It would seem that having rejected the belief of the ancients in man's subjection to the Deity and in a predetermined aim toward which nations are led, modern history should study not the manifestations of power but the causes that produce it. But modern history has not done this. Having in theory rejected the view held by the ancients, it still follows them in practice.

Instead of men endowed with divine authority and directly guided by the will of God, modern history has given us either heroes endowed with extraordinary, superhuman capacities, or simply men of very various kinds, from monarchs to journalists, who lead the masses. Instead of the former divinely appointed aims of the Jewish, Greek, or Roman nations, which ancient historians regarded as representing the progress of humanity, modern history has postulated its own aims – the welfare of the French, German, or English people, or, in its highest abstraction, the welfare and civilization of humanity in general, by which is usually meant that of the peoples occupying a small northwesterly portion of a large continent.

Modern history has rejected the beliefs of the ancients without replacing them by a new conception, and the logic of the situation has obliged the historians, after they had apparently rejected the divine authority of the kings and the “fate” of the ancients, to reach the same conclusion by another road, that is, to recognize (1) nations guided by individual men, and (2) the existence of a known aim to which these nations and humanity at large are tending.

At the basis of the works of all the modern historians from Gibbon to Buckle, despite their seeming disagreements and the apparent novelty of their outlooks, lie those two old, unavoidable assumptions.
In the first place the historian describes the activity of individuals who in his opinion have directed humanity (one historian considers only monarchs, generals, and ministers as being such men, while another includes also orators, learned men, reformers, philosophers, and poets). Secondly, it is assumed that the goal toward which humanity is being led is known to the historians: to one of them this goal is the greatness of the Roman, Spanish, or French realm; to another it is liberty, equality, and a certain kind of civilization of a small corner of the world called Europe.

In 1789 a ferment arises in Paris; it grows, spreads, and is expressed by a movement of peoples from west to east. Several times it moves eastward and collides with a countermovement from the east westward. In 1812 it reaches its extreme limit, Moscow, and then, with remarkable symmetry, a countermovement occurs from east to west, attracting to it, as the first movement had done, the nations of middle Europe. The counter movement reaches the starting point of the first movement in the west – Paris – and subsides.

During that twenty-year period an immense number of fields were left untilled, houses were burned, trade changed its direction, millions of men migrated, were impoverished, or were enriched, and millions of Christian men professing the law of love of their fellows slew one another.

What does all this mean? Why did it happen? What made those people burn houses and slay their fellow men? What were the causes of these events? What force made men act so? These are the instinctive, plain, and most legitimate questions humanity asks itself when it encounters the monuments and tradition of that period.

For a reply to these questions the common sense of mankind turns to the science of history, whose aim is to enable nations and humanity to know themselves.
If history had retained the conception of the ancients it would have said that God, to reward or punish his people, gave Napoleon power and directed his will to the fulfillment of the divine ends, and that reply, would have been clear and complete. One might believe or disbelieve in the divine significance of Napoleon, but for anyone believing in it there would have been nothing unintelligible in the history of that period, nor would there have been any contradictions.

But modern history cannot give that reply. Science does not admit the conception of the ancients as to the direct participation of the Deity in human affairs, and therefore history ought to give other answers.
Modern history replying to these questions says: you want to know what this movement means, what caused it, and what force produced these events? Then listen:

“Louis XIV was a very proud and self-confident man; he had such and such mistresses and such and such ministers and he ruled France badly. His descendants were weak men and they too ruled France badly. And they had such and such favorites and such and such mistresses. Moreover, certain men wrote some books at that time. At the end of the eighteenth century there were a couple of dozen men in Paris who began to talk about all men being free and equal. This caused people all over France to begin to slash at and drown one another. They killed the king and many other people. At that time there was in France a man of genius – Napoleon. He conquered everybody everywhere – that is, he killed many people because he was a great genius. And for some reason he went to kill Africans, and killed them so well and was so cunning and wise that when he returned to France he ordered everybody to obey him, and they all obeyed him. Having become an Emperor he again went out to kill people in Italy, Austria, and Prussia. And there too he killed a great many. In Russia there was an Emperor, Alexander, who decided to restore order in Europe and therefore fought against Napoleon. In 1807 he suddenly made friends with him, but in 1811 they again quarreled and again began killing many people. Napoleon led six hundred thousand men into Russia and captured Moscow; then he suddenly ran away from Moscow, and the Emperor Alexander, helped by the advice of Stein and others, united Europe to arm against the disturber of its peace. All Napoleon's allies suddenly became his enemies and their forces advanced against the fresh forces he raised. The Allies defeated Napoleon, entered Paris, forced Napoleon to abdicate, and sent him to the island of Elba, not depriving him of the title of Emperor and showing him every respect, though five years before and one year later they all regarded him as an outlaw and a brigand. Then Louis XVIII, who till then had been the laughingstock both of the French and the Allies, began to reign. And Napoleon, shedding tears before his Old Guards, renounced the throne and went into exile. Then the skillful statesmen and diplomatists (especially Talleyrand, who managed to sit down in a particular chair before anyone else and thereby extended the frontiers of France) talked in Vienna and by these conversations made the nations happy or unhappy. Suddenly the diplomatists and monarchs nearly quarreled and were on the point of again ordering their armies to kill one another, but just then Napoleon arrived in France with a battalion, and the French, who had been hating him, immediately all submitted to him. But the Allied monarchs were angry at this and went to fight the French once more. And they defeated the genius Napoleon and, suddenly recognizing him as a brigand, sent him to the island of St. Helena. And the exile, separated from the beloved France so dear to his heart, died a lingering death on that rock and bequeathed his great deeds to posterity. But in Europe a reaction occurred and the sovereigns once again all began to oppress their subjects.”

It would be a mistake to think that this is ironic – a caricature of the historical accounts. On the contrary it is a very mild expression of the contradictory replies, not meeting the questions, which all the historians give, from the compilers of memoirs and the histories of separate states to the writers of general histories and the new histories of the culture of that period.

The strangeness and absurdity of these replies arise from the fact that modern history, like a deaf man, answers questions no one has asked.

If the purpose of history be to give a description of the movement of humanity and of the peoples, the first question – in the absence of a reply to which all the rest will be incomprehensible – is: what is the power that moves peoples? To this, modern history laboriously replies either that Napoleon was a great genius, or that Louis XIV was very proud, or that certain writers wrote certain books.

All that may be so and mankind is ready to agree with it, but it is not what was asked. All that would be interesting if we recognized a divine power based on itself and always consistently directing its nations through Napoleons, Louis-es, and writers; but we do not acknowledge such a power, and therefore before speaking about Napoleons, Louis-es, and authors, we ought to be shown the connection existing between these men and the movement of the nations.

If instead of a divine power some other force has appeared, it should be explained in what this new force consists, for the whole interest of history lies precisely in that force.

History seems to assume that this force is self-evident and known to everyone. But in spite of every desire to regard it as known, anyone reading many historical works cannot help doubting whether this new force, so variously understood by the historians themselves, is really quite well known to everybody.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Mindfulness by Lars Palm

On first glance this collection appears to be the same poem repeated over and over again with a different title each time.  Fair play, it's never been done before, so the least you can say is that it's original and interesting.

On closer inspection, this is more like one long poem, with each virtually identical version flowing through to the next.

It's a free download from

Read it here.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Stand Up Tragedy

This is very very very very very very very good podcast (and live event).

In their own words:

A new night where people get up on stage and do some tragedy: part cabaret, part variety show. Come and let some great performers make you sad, make you think and make you smile. Sometimes they’ll be putting a new twist on what they do with brand new material tailored towards the theme. Expect music, comedy, true stories and more, all playing up to the tragic form but not taking it too seriously. The night will end, not with a whimper, not with a bang, but with a cathartic sing-a-long.

Brought to you by Sony Radio Award nominated writer, musician and performer Dave Pickering, this monthly show will be recorded and released as a free weekly podcast at and through iTunes.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

(Locked Up) DIY Heroes III

I can't be the only person who nearly choked to death when British Airways' new Olympic broadcast was aired with The Clash's warning about nuclear holocaust and the rise of fascistic authority 'London Calling'. Popular culture, as someone once pointed out, will eat itself. However, 'punk' can still be a valid form to carry protest. Our 'punks' are all prats, but take a look at these Russian punks. Three of them are in jail in Russia for this anti-Putin stunt (it brings to mind one of the most famous dada art stunts of the early twentieth century in France). If you want to do something about their arrest and treatment, go to the Amnesty International appeal here - to learn how to get involved (with just one text message).

Monday, 30 July 2012

Gertrude Stein & Pablo Picasso

Gertrude Stein's poem, "If I Told Him - A Completed Portrait of Picasso" can be read and listened to here.  (The audio version is good for a laugh.)

And here's Picasso's painting of Gertrude Stein:

I think that covers everything.  

Sunday, 29 July 2012

New ebook - Otherwise by Gregory Liffick

If you haven't yet read or downloaded our latest ebook release, here it is:

Otherwise by Gregory Liffick

Gregory Liffick's poems are short, sharp and direct.  Big stories in small spaces. 

Sample poem...

in a
to match
to be
near a
on its
the sky

Monday, 23 July 2012

Spike Milligan - Have a Nice Day

'Help, help,' said a man. 'I'm drowning.' 
'Hang on, ' said a man from the shore. 
'Help, help, ' said the man. 'I'm not clowning.' 
'Yes, I know, I heard you before. 
Be patient dear man who is drowning, 
You, see I've got a disease. 
I'm waiting for a Doctor J. Browning. 
So do be patient please.' 
'How long, ' said the man who was drowning. 'Will it take for the Doc to arrive? ' 
'Not very long, ' said the man with the disease. 'Till then try staying alive.' 
'Very well, ' said the man who was drowning. 'I'll try and stay afloat. 
By reciting the poems of Browning 
And other things he wrote.' 
'Help, help, ' said the man with the disease, 'I suddenly feel quite ill.' 
'Keep calm.' said the man who was drowning, ' Breathe deeply and lie quite still.' 
'Oh dear, ' said the man with the awful disease. 'I think I'm going to die.' 
'Farewell, ' said the man who was drowning. 
Said the man with the disease, 'goodbye.' 
So the man who was drowning, drownded 
And the man with the disease past away. 
But apart from that, 
And a fire in my flat, 
It's been a very nice day.  

Monday, 16 July 2012

March of the Workers by William Morris

What is this, the sound and rumour? What is this that all men hear,
Like the wind in hollow valleys when the storm is drawing near,
Like the rolling on of ocean in the eventide of fear?
'Tis the people marching on.

Whither go they, and whence come they? What are these of whom ye tell?
In what country are they dwelling 'twixt the gates of heaven and hell?
Are they mine or thine for money? Will they serve a master well?
Still the rumour's marching on.

Hark the rolling of the thunder!
Lo the sun! and lo thereunder
Riseth wrath, and hope, and wonder,
And the host comes marching on.

Forth they come from grief and torment; on they wend toward health and
All the wide world is their dwelling, every corner of the earth.
Buy them, sell them for thy service! Try the bargain what 'tis worth,
For the days are marching on.

These are they who build thy houses, weave thy raiment, win thy wheat,
Smooth the rugged, fill the barren, turn the bitter into sweet,
All for thee this day--and ever. What reward for them is meet
Till the host comes marching on?

Hark the rolling of the thunder!
Lo the sun! and lo thereunder
Riseth wrath, and hope, and wonder,
And the host comes marching on.

Many a hundred years passed over have they laboured deaf and blind;
Never tidings reached their sorrow, never hope their toil might find.
Now at last they've heard and hear it, and the cry comes down the wind,
And their feet are marching on.

O ye rich men hear and tremble! for with words the sound is rife:
"Once for you and death we laboured; changed henceforward is the strife.
We are men, and we shall battle for the world of men and life;
And our host is marching on."

Hark the rolling of the thunder!
Lo the sun! and lo thereunder
Riseth wrath, and hope, and wonder,
And the host comes marching on.

"Is it war, then? Will ye perish as the dry wood in the fire?
Is it peace? Then be ye of us, let your hope be our desire.
Come and live! for life awaketh, and the world shall never tire;
And hope is marching on.

"On we march then, we the workers, and the rumour that ye hear
Is the blended sound of battle and deliv'rance drawing near;
For the hope of every creature is the banner that we bear,
And the world is marching on."

Hark the rolling of the thunder!
Lo the sun! and lo thereunder
Riseth wrath, and hope, and wonder,
And the host comes marching on. 

Monday, 9 July 2012

China Stories

The brief introduction to The Guardian's China Stories series highlights the fact that China is "the world's biggest publisher by volume". So, with that in mind, it would be pretty impossible to provide a proper introduction to Chinese literature. But this is as good an introduction as any.

I particularly recommend The Accident by Murong Xuecun - a writer described by the New York Times as "the laureate of corruption."

Thursday, 5 July 2012

God Bless You Dr. Kevorkian by Jeremiah Walton

A great poem, written along similar lines to Annette Greenaway's The Joy of Atheism...

Monday, 2 July 2012


So, here's a website that's doing exactly what Philistine Press are doing (amongst lots of other things).

The "lots of other things" can be digested here.  

But, speaking as a non-profit e-publisher, the highlight of the ALTX online network is their selection of high-quality (and highly cool) ebooks, which can be downloaded for free here.

Among plenty of others, I heartily recommend Twighlight of of the Bums by Raymond Federman and George Chambers.  Not that many writers / publishers advertise their work by using the word "postmodern" - I suspect because many people don't know what it means, and many of those that do find it pretentious.  I wouldn't use the word myself either but I'm OK with it.

The publishers' note on the authors says:

"George Chambers & Raymond Federman are the Abbot and Costello of postmodernism. You never know who's on first or who's at bat but the result is always a home run. GC's most famous book is The Bonnyclabber or maybe The Last Man Standing and RF's is Double or Nothing or maybe Take It Or Leave It.

Though this is the first publication of The Twilight of the Bums in America, the book has already appeared in a german translation under the title Penner Rap [we, the bums, would have prefered the Bum Rap] -- and the book is currently being translated into French."

ALTX have been around for years - Twighlight of the Bums was published in 2001.

It's good to see this stuff is still available.  There are plenty of quality literary sites that don't exist anymore.

So, long live ALTX - and long  live their readership.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Monday, 25 June 2012

Etgar Ketet in Asymptote Journal

The current issue of Asympote features a very early story by one of my favourite short story writers, Etgar Keret.  The story, "Like Bats" is introduced by the author with the following words:

I wrote this story twenty-four years ago—during my three-year stint in the army, very shortly after the death of my best friend who had served with me. The bat insignia mentioned in the story was very common in my army base. Some units had lions, tigers, sharks and elephants to represent them; one had a bat. I'm sure many must have wondered why any unit would choose such a small and ugly and blind animal for an insignia but personally, I quite liked it. During my army years I've felt much more like an upside-down hanging bat than any of those proud predators in all those other units' insignias.
—Etgar Keret

It's accompanied by this piece of artwork by Hugu Muecke: 

Needless to say, there are many equally interesting things on the Asympote Journal website. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Patrick Whittaker - Interview

Patrick Whittaker interviewed by Frank Burton

Patrick's novel Sybernika can be read online and downloaded for free from and

Would you say Sybernika is a pure sci fi novel, or are there elements of other genres thrown into the mix? 

I think Sybernika is as pure science fiction as you can get – like one of those fancy vodkas that have been distilled three times and then filtered. In it, I’ve extrapolated a future based on current trends – societal and scientific – and come up with a future I think is entirely plausible.

Of course, the future won’t be as I imagine it. Even the best science fiction writers have proven lousy at predicting the shape of things to come. But that isn’t the point. Good sci-fi is about the present not the future.

What I’ve done with Sybernika is examine some of my obsessions and create scenarios with them. It’s crammed full of possible answers to some of the many “what if” questions that keep me awake at night. For better or for worse, the answers aren’t particularly comprehensive. Sybernika – like a lot of its characters – is actually quite shallow.

Who are your influences? 

Oh gosh. Always a tricky one this. It’s a bit like working out what happened in your childhood to make you the person you are today. I mean, I’ve been writing for a very long time and have hopefully developed my own voice which means my influences are buried in the deep, dark recesses of my mind.

Would I be writing the way I am now if I’d never read anyting by – say – Edgar Allan Poe? Hard to say, really.

Back in my formative writing days, I suppose there were certain writers I tried to emulate. These would have included (in no particular order) Michael Moorcock, J.G. Ballard, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Conan Doyle and Lewis Carroll. Hopefully there’s little or none of the Asimov influence left in me. I tried reading something of his the other day and thought the writing was just dreadful.

Not all my influences are literary. I’m sure the likes of Monty Python, Marcel Duchamp, David Bowie and Salvador Dali have left their fingerprints on my work. At least I hope they have.

Is writing as a female narrator a difficult task as a male author? 

I found it shockingly easy to write as a woman. Then again, I made it easy by not delving too deeply into my heroine’s psyche. Rhiannon, after all, isn’t a real woman. She’s a computer simulation. So in a way, I wasn’t writing as a woman, I was writing as a computer.

I have no special insight into the workings of the female mind, but I do understand computers.

(This reminds me of a conversation I recently had down the pub. A lady acquaintance of mine declared that no man can possibly know what it’s like to give birth. I told her that having recently had a prostate exam I knew exactly what it was like. She wasn’t impressed.)

What is the appeal of writing a novel about virtual reality? 

I was for many years a computer programmer and remain fascinated by the potential of what is still a very immature technology.

It’s kind of a cliché to talk about something representing the next stage of human evolution, but that’s how I genuinely see the computer. It gives us the god-like power to create, experience and even control our own worlds. There may come a day when people spend all their time in virtual reality, either voluntarily or otherwise. If it happens, it will be the biggest change in the way we live since our ancestors came down from the trees.

The laws of physics being what they are, it’s unlikely we’ll ever set foot any planet beyond the solar system. And – apart from the one we’re on - there’s no planet within the solar system that’s even remotely hospitable. We’re doomed to be an Earth-bound species until we become extinct. Our one true hope of exploring strange new worlds – to boldly go where no man has gone before – is to create those worlds ourselves.

Cyberspace is the real final frontier and it’s within our grasp.

Once that frontier really opens up, it’s likely to be as lawless as the old Wild West. Who’ll own what bits of it? What rights will its colonists have? Who’ll control it?

Writing about virtual reality is a fun thing to do. It’s also very relevent. In fact, the questions posed by VR’s potential may be the most important ones we’ll face within the foreseeable future.

Is Sybernika prophetic? 

Yes and no. I think many – if not all – of the things it depicts will come true but almost certainly not the way I’ve imagined them. Then again, there could come along something new and unexpected – a black swan, if you will – that takes us all down a road none of us could have foreseen.

There’s a story that in 1943 Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, declared "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers".

I recall from my youth programs like Tomorrow’s World promising us that by the year 2000 we’d all have flying cars, robots would do our housework and we'd holiday on the moon. No mention whatsoever of the Internet.

Is Sybernika prophetic? Only time will tell.

How do you feel about online literature?

That’s a bit like asking how I feel about literature on papyrus or clay tablets. Literature is literature no matter the medium it’s carried on.

Then again, it’s not like that at all, is it? I mean, a clay tablet made by me here in Blighty isn’t going to be accessible to thosands of people around the world. Not unless I scan it and put it online.

Frankly, I love online literature. I love the anarchy of it. I love the fact that anyone can do it. How can that be anything other than a good thing?

So what if 90% of it is crap? 90% of anything is crap. (That’s Sturgeon’s Law, by the way.)

All I have to worry about is how good my own work is. If there’s a lot of dross out there, it makes what I do look all that much better, so bring it on!