We Were Strangers - The Launch
The launch of We Were Strangers was a roaring success, even if I do say so myself. The room was packed out, everyone seemed to enjoy the evening, and there were less copies of the book for sale at the end of the night than there had been when we’d started.
Here, for posterity, are some photographs, culled from various sources, including Sarah-Clare Conlon, David Gaffney, Nicholas Royle, the good people at Waterstones Deansgate, my mum (thanks Mum!) and your trusty friend and editor: me.
"This matt-black bound collection is likely to be desired by every Joy Division fan. But for those readers who aren’t familiar with the band, these stories exist boldly in their own right… United by some unleashed kinetic force from long ago, these collected stories are achingly modern and fully embrace contemporary anxieties and preoccupations. They confront us with intense feelings and show us places we may not always wish to be, but – just like Joy Division themselves – they have the collective power to stay firmly rooted in our minds."
We Were Strangers, my new book, has had its first review. It’s in The Observer and, friends, it’s an absolute ruddy corker.
It’s incredible to get such a positive review, but it’s also great to see one for a short story anthology from a small press which is so detailed and prominent appearing in The Observer. There are a great many indie publishers which have been doing fantastic and daring work for years, frequently on a shoestring, many of them based outside of London, but it finally feels like they may have finally gained the attention they deserve from the national press. It's also rather thrilling to be reviewed by Carol Morley, a novelist but also one of my favourite film directors (if you’ve not done so, do watch The Falling).
You can read her full review here and - hey! - why not pre-order the book here?
We Were Strangers
We have always lived in the factory. We were born here, amongst the engines and the lathes, the conveyor belts which stretch for miles. Not one of us has been outside. Few of us have even been so far as the wall which rises like an end to things, grey and hard and irrefutable, beyond the last of the warehouses.
We Were Strangers, a brand new book of brand new short stories edited by me, is now available for you to pre-order.
I've commissioned ten of my favourite authors to each write a short story which takes its title and inspiration from one of the tracks on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, making a kind of accompanying fiction playlist which collectively reflects on and responds to the record’s themes, imagery, history and *vibes*.
This is the first book I’ve edited. For various reasons, not least its captain’s inexperience, We Were Strangers has navigated a long and at times choppy journey from idle notion to bookshop shelf, but that protracted period of gestation has, in my humble opinion, resulted in a collection of rare quality, definitely one of which I couldn’t possibly be more proud and certainly one you should seek out.
For one thing, I struck gold with Confingo, an independent publisher based right here in Manchester who share my belief in books being a good read as well as – just look at the thing – objects bel.
Secondly, here is what the table of contents looks like:
Sounds good, right? Well, it'll be published on 6 September, BUT luckily for you, it’s now available for you to pre-order direct from the publisher’s site here.
Or, once it's published, you can get it via Amazon here.
Or you can get in touch with your local bookshop. For all you ISBN fans: the ISBN is 9780995596610.
Finally, I’ll be hosting the book launch at Waterstones Deansgate on Friday 14 September, with readings from David Gaffney, Zoe Lambert, Sophie Mackintosh and Nicholas Royle, tickets for which are available here.
Thomas Hardy at Halloween
I love Halloween, both in its resplendent gaudiness and in the strange, numinous seriousness which underpins it. Early each autumn I develop in my mind airy plans to write a great nonfictional treatise on Halloween and how those two interlink – the plastic pumpkin toys and the cosmic chill that lurks within us – and each year I find I’ve simply not got the time.
And yet I read, and one thing I’m always on the lookout for is quotations on Halloween. Christmas, its traditions, symbolism and cultural detritus, are awarded a seriousness and great writers’ observations are there to be collated (I have done some of this collating myself in the past). But Halloween, not so much.
John Burnside is one of my favourite authors, precisely because he spans numerous forms: poetry, criticism, novels and a handful of liminal memoirs. He’s also the writer who, fleetingly, comes closest to writing in that serious way I’d love to write about Halloween, that is approaching it not simply as a festival of spookiness and schlock but also as a time for interrogating death and darkness.
Here, for instance, is the opening of A Lie About My Father, Burnside's memoir concerning his terrorised relationship with his hard-drinking father.
And here is a poem by Burnside, ‘At My Father’s Funeral’, first published in the London Review of Books in 2012 and included in his most recent collection, All One Breath. It touches on Halloween in a similar fashion, slightly fearful and wholly reverent.
We wanted to seal his mouth
with a handful of clay,
to cover his eyes
with the ash of the last
bonfire he made
at the rainiest edge
of the garden
and didn’t we think, for a moment,
of crushing his feet
so he couldn’t return to the house
to stand at the window,
smoking and peering in,
the look on his face
like that flaw in the sway of the world
where mastery fails
and a hinge in the mind
swings open – grief
or terror coming loose
and drifting, like a leaf,
into the flames.
Another book which comes to mind is Hardy’s Return of the Native, which doesn’t mention Halloween itself, not entirely surprising for a novel of 1870’s provincialism, but takes place during the season, the time of year when ‘pale lunar touches which make beauties of hags’, its tragic love story set against a backdrop of village festivities and disruptive customs, with the modern, urban world intruding onto the distant fringes of the pastoral Heath.
Hardy goes some way in imparting to the reader the appeal of the dark season: ‘to light a fire is the instinctive and resistant act of man when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout Nature. It indicates a spontaneous, Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, Let there be light.’
There’s also Ray Bradbury, a writer I’m a little fearful to say I don’t think of as being particularly good. He’s far too homely and periphrastic for my tastes, but it’s hard not to have a soft spot for Something Wicked This Way Comes, a paean to October, ‘a rare month for boys’, and those who revel in its dark quintessence: ‘For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth... Such are the autumn people.’
And finally, who else? Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Spirits of the Dead’, as well as being Poe at his most Poe, is possibly the most successful distillation of the spirit of the season I can think of, where solitude, darkness and a meditation on the dead all converge, resulting in a kind of black awe. Here is the poem in its entirety.
Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.
Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness — for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.
The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.
Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.
The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries.
What other Halloween passages are there? Are there some obvious ones I’ve missed? Any obscure observations hidden away in quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore? if so, let me know.
Tell Me How This Ends Well
The year is 2022. Israel is no more. Having been annexed by its hostile neighbouring countries, its citizens are now global refugees, many of them relocating to the States, which has subsequently become a forcing house for violent racism: everywhere Jews find they are subject to widespread verbal abuse, anti-Semitic public demonstrations and targeted murders.
Top 10 Modern Epistolary Novels
Our book, The Night Visitors, is a horror novella told through an exchange of emails between two women who are investigating an unsolved murder. Gradually, the effects of their mutual obsession evolve into hallucinatory madness and the supernatural begins to intrude on their correspondence. There were two of us writing, and we each composed one side of the exchange, sending the emails to each other “in character”, then swapping sides after the first draft to edit. We like to think it was the joint folly of the writing process – a kind of spontaneous mutual insanity – that spawned a tale of possession, telepathy and bloodshed.