It's been a busy old first half of the year, so I thought it worth pausing to collage together some of the various notable bits and pieces that have had my name attached in these last six months...
The Woodcutter and the Wolf - have a scuttle around inside the second issue of Deracine Magazine and you may well chance upon my re-telling of the Little Red Riding Hood folk tale. It's a weird little story that develops from a deeply disgusting first line, through to something a little more philosophical and reflective. It was a story a long time in the making - one of those pieces I've gone back to and nibbled at to try and make it come together. The first seed of it came from reading Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and watching Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves, which Carter also had a hand in writing. I was disturbed by The Company of Wolves and it's depiction of what has come to be termed toxic masculinity. I confess to having a 'not all men' reaction to it when I first saw the graphic transformations of men into bloodied phallus-like werewolves hungry for virgin blood - a depiction that seemed to suggest that masculinity is defined, biologically, by the rabid wolf which lurks inside men, desperate at any moment to burst out and set to eviscerating everything. But perhaps this is a problem in dealing with folk and fairy tales whose characters tend to be archetypal and ancient, and therefore suggest the ubiquitous. The Woodcutter and the Wolf attempts to address some of these notions by peeling away the skin of the woodcutter - the oddly sidelined male 'hero' of that most gusty and bloody tale.
Come and See the Whale - a deep sea beast lurking in issue six of The Cabinet of Heed, this is another one of my animal stories directly inspired by Leviathan, or the Whale by Philip Hoare (an excellent and extremely thorough natural history of whales, whaling and Moby Dick) and the documentary film Blackfish. This latter has done a sterling job of putting the pin in the Seaparks bubble and letting out the toxic stench of animal cruelty that has been brewing inside, and it made me want to explore the argument that a captured animal placed on display for human entertainment (whether in a Seaparks, zoo, aquarium, or on the horse racing field etc) is ethically acceptable if the animal in question can be accurately said to be wholly and fully provided for and, therefore, happy.
Clever Girls - more animal-based fun, but this time in the form of dinosaurs. Myself and brother Rickerly were commissioned by Flim Nite to retell the last half hour of Jurassic Park for a performance piece. It was an utter delight to put together, being that it was a great excuse to get back in the 'studio' with Rick, and JP just so happens to be one of my most favourite, and formative, movies. The last half hour contains, of course, the exquisite kitchen scene, and that is where the main inspiration for our piece sprang. By great fortune, the performance at Flim Nite in Newcastle was captured forevermore on video and is now doing the rounds on YouTube. Here it is for your convenience:
I'm now pretty much exactly at the half-way point of this Creative Writing PhD thingy and I'm going to gently and tentatively say - I think it's going OK, I think I'm on track and I am, for the most part, very much enjoying it still. The major news is that I managed to cobble together a first draft of the novel which I have now farmed out to some readers for feedback. Their comments have been a real mixed bag of positives and negatives, but nothing that has derailed me too much. I'm on the verge of diving back in to figure out a strategy for a second draft and I'm already sensing that there are going to be a heck of lot of changes. It may well be time to trigger a second #100DaysofWriting to build that all-important momentum again.
I've reflected upon some of the interesting elements that have come out of writing a first draft of a novel about autism in this Medium blog: "Narrative in Flux: Notes from Writing Autism". The blog lays out the framework of 'rules' that I started the novel with in order to try and avoid (and actively challenge) cliches and stereotypes of autism. I also consider the important role of consulting with autistic people for expert feedback alongside one of my most favourite depictions of autism in the popular culture sphere.
On the critical thesis side of things - well, dammit, it took me to Canada! My first transatlantic trip, my first time abroad as a solo traveler, all the way over that glittering sea to Hamilton, Ontario. To McMaster University, to the Embodiment in Science-Fiction and Fantasy Conference, where I gave a presentation about manifestations of autism in science-fiction with a particular focus on Blade Runner (1982). For those interested, the text of the presentation is available here on Academia.edu, or here as a Google Drive PDF link. The paper was titled "Seeing Things We People Haven't Believed: Autism, the Cyborg and Seeking Neurodiversity in Blade Runner." It seemed to go down well and triggered some very stimulating conversation. The conference as a whole was fantastic, with many more discussions about disability and SF, as well as a host of similar crossovers with identity and posthumanism. Highlights included a whole panel on the maternal ethics of Denis Villeneuve's fantastic alien invasion film Arrival, an intriguing analysis of Pre-Raphaelite art through the lens of fantasy theory and a paper discussing the historical correlation between The Shape of Water and dildos.
I also managed to put together another Fantastic Autistic video where I have a little think about autism in relation to Star Trek: Discovery and utopia. Here, have a watch if you fancy it:
Bluedot - check me out on the listings for the Bluedot Festival! That's right you lovelies, I'm going to be talking on a panel at the Bluedot alongside Kayo Chingonyi and Honor Gavin talking about 'The Future of the Book.' If you're at Bluedot (and if not, why not? Get a ticket, dammit!), swing by the Starfield on Saturday afternoon to catch me blagging my way through it.
The Weirdstone Walk - a couple of weekends ago, I had the immense pleasure of being the 'Writer in Transit' at a unique literary hiking event as part of the Macclesfield Barnaby Festival. The walk traced the first half of the route described in classic children's fantasy novel The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, which takes an intrepid traveler from Alderley Edge to Macclesfield via a route charged with ancient magic and mythic tales. There was a group of around twelve walkers, including me, and twice along the way we stopped and I read some of my own tales while talking about the huge influence that Garner has had on me since childhood. I took my Dad's tattered old copy of Garner's Elidor and told tales of ghosts, fathers, jesters and landscapes. It was a most treasurable and enigmatic way to spend a sunny Father's Day steeped in the mythos of the mercurial Cheshire countryside.
The Hillside Curation - me and brother Rickerly have crafted together another Hillside Curation mix. This is the fourth megamix of literature and music which we vaguely themed around the concept of the weird and surreal. Our choices this time around push at the boundaries of storytelling and music making and feature such literary luminaries as Fat Roland, Ada Hoffmann, Jack Nicholls, and Judith Mesch, melded with the tones of Oneohtrix Point Never, James Blake, Mutabase, and Holly Herndon, among many, many others. Headphones recommended because I really pushed Rick's mixing skills, especially with the opening section. Likes, shares, feedback and encouragement greatly appreciated. Oh, and if anyone has any ideas on how we might give HC a boost (radio play? other streaming services? promotional tactics), do let us know. But for now, here is Hillside Curation 4: Savick Road...