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My short story ‘reboot’ is to be a part of the very first issue of new literary magazine, 404 Ink. The theme of the first issue is ERROR, and is available to preorder now for release in November 2017.

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There’s a link to the 404 Ink site, blog included, here, and they also have an active voice on twitter.

Naturally I’m over the moon. My work in print, amongst other experienced and talented writers, is a strange and giddy feeling. It would be incredible if 404 Ink can establish itself and have a successful launch. So if you’re interested, please do visit the site and pre-order the first issue!

Quick update: I haven’t given up, I’m just busy.

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Very busy. By the end of this month I will have submitted work to seven literary magazines, publications, short story competitions, etc, etc. Each with a different piece of work entered. And there’s more to come in October and the rest of 2016. Some stories have been kicking around for a while. Some already existing pieces have been rehashed and reworked into more coherent wholes. Others are completely brand new. Some of it I think is pretty good, some still needs more work, and some of it won’t go anywhere, but I have a bit more choice and perspective over what has worked and what hasn’t.

(I’ve had some good news already but I can’t say more that that right now)

It’s been intense (and a real strain at times) but I am slowly building a small body of work – whereas previously I just had a few nice prompts on a blog. I’ve loved working on the prompts and updating the blog in general; the occasional complimentary comment from readers and the photographers I’ve been inspired by are fucking great to see, and I really appreciate them. But at the same time, they won’t get me anywhere. Where am I trying to get to? I don’t know. But I do like writing stories and if I want to take things more seriously I need to push myself.

So I apologise for the lack of content, now and possibly in the next few months, to the few who do regularly visit my blog, and to myself, because I do enjoy writing here. But I’m doing it for the right reasons.

Also I’m 26 today (fuck!)

where your words mean nothing

Photograph taken by Michael Marsh, a stunning image taken on a beach in Whitstable, Kent. See more of Michael’s work on his Flickr photostream.

The world is crowded and I despair the noise of modern life. Too often inner thoughts are lost; drowned in the superfluous swells of people, traffic and advertising. With these eras of anxiety and neuroses and the burdens of responsibility there is not enough time spent on the self. The inner mind, solitary and unique. So rare it is now that those who do indulge in the self are dismissed as dreamers, romantics, hopeless fantasists. Clinging onto unrealistic desires. Floating through life with naive optimism. Clairvoyant wanderers, twilight visionaries. I just want space.

These surroundings desolate and at times unforgiving. With its emptiness however is a landscape perfect for self reflection. Spiritual reckoning. I walk out for miles to reach the very point where the sea merges with the sky, a transfusion of brine and cirrus clouds, a totality reached between water and air and no way of separating the two. Horizon consumed by a blue surface reflecting the brilliant white light of the sun. Towering wind turbines stand defiant with mechanical motion and the incessant whir across the waters. Hear them roar. The faintest ebb and flow from the slight winds rolling off the ocean out there. Time may be paused or passing at a slower rate.

Standing on a street of shingle surrounded by the calm waters and I acknowledge the obscene vastness of the sky above. Tranquility found, peace at last. But for how long. Hold it close because when it’s gone, it’s gone. Why don’t I do this more often? I should call my mother. Get in contact with my friends across the sea. Stop drinking so much. Become comfortable in my own skin.

My phone rings. Irritable as if vibrating from under the skin. I am torn and withdrawn from the sanctuary of my mind. Helpless as one by one the turbines slow then groan, rust and die. Sheets of worn and weathered metal stripped by the wind and carried away. The propellers fall into the sea causing spray to erupt into the air, and while a majestic sight it is also sad. Not long after follow the towers, emasculated and inert, crumbling away. With nothing on the horizon to stabilize me I look down at my feet but they are submerged and the growing waves lap over them. I have lost the coast.

Eventually I leave the beach. It is dark. My feet are wet and I see lamps swing on some distant pier. The wind turbines continue to hum across the water into the night. I reach my car. A parking ticket tucked under the windscreen wiper. 

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

suttree

While not composed of the intense chases (No Country For Old Men), brutalistic violence (Blood Meridian) or nihilistic bleakness (The Road) of some of his other works, Suttree is arguably McCarthy’s most ambitious, sprawling novel; a tale of a man’s abandonment of clean living and a rebuttal to his former life of privilege. For the most part any semblance of plot is absent in Suttree. And while vivid, rich descriptions in McCarthy’s And so I can’t really describe what the book is about, other than detailing the titular protagonist, Cornelius Suttree.

Suttree describes the life and times of Cornelius Suttree, in particular the events taking place in and around Knoxville, 1951. We are introduced to a setting of a post-war city, growing quickly while leaving its poor and injured to survive and attempt to co-exist on the periphery. Suttree lives on the banks of the Tennessee River, aboard a listing houseboat slowly disintegrating and sinking out of existence. Suttree has rejected a life of privilege, leaving a wife (a girl he met in college) and their son, to catch the occasional catfish in his fishing skiff. Suttree is an alcoholic, a lowlife, and yet he is not a psychopath or murderer. He rejects society like Ballard does in McCarthy’s earlier work Child of God, but he is nothing like Ballard; Suttree attempts to have a code. He has friends and while he doesn’t see them all that often, he cares for them. He helps them where he can. Suttree’s decision to dissociate himself from the normal path of a man is done in an almost noble way.

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Once or twice the narrative might skip to an acquaintance of Suttree, the most notable being the young Gene Harrogate, a naive and misguided man child who first meets Suttree in jail, or work camp, having been caught violating a local farmer’s melons (and subsequently nicknamed the ‘moonlight melonmounter’). Suttree attempts to help Harrogate settle down after his release, but Harrogate’s boyish ambitions are far higher (and a great deal more stupid, although involving a certain strand of ingenuity) than a lot of the elder men he surrounds himself with. Some of his foiled and hair-brained schemes include mass poisoning bats to collect a bounty on them, stealing coins out of pay-phones and tunneling under the city using dynamite to find hidden and forgotten treasures.

There are some hilarious capers, mainly observed from Suttree’s wry, understated viewpoint. I’ve seen Suttree described as a twisted, debauche version of Huckleberry Finn, and the similarities are there. It’s one ‘adventure’ to the next. There doesn’t seem to be an endgame, but a succession of conversations and experiences that lead Suttree to where? It is clear that at times, he himself does not know. Suttree often finds himself waking up in fields or on the floors of brothels or unrecognised surroundings, with the sole purpose of getting himself back to his boat, away from the hand of the law. And while his relatively decent nature (in comparison to the ensemble cast of criminals, drunks, perverts and reprobates) earns him an unspoken respect among Knoxville’s delinquents, it also puts him at the mercy of friends, or attached friends. A personal highlight was when Suttree is roped into the dumping of the body of an old man in the river with Leonard – the poor old man who had been rotting in his home for months, and never moved so the family could continue to collect welfare.

So there is humour in Suttree, more so than in any other McCarthy novel (which in their bleakness can often contain small portions of dark gallows humour), but Suttree as a character holds immense sadness, and as comic as the book is, there at times it is heartbreakingly sad too. Such is the desperate struggle of Suttree and his associates with poverty that a scene in a bar or a cafe, where the men collect their coins and pass them across the counter for a coffee and a grilled cheese and cuss and swear at one another with affection, is genuinely warming.

I never did blame ye for leavin out. Poor luck as we had. I reckon ye’d of done better never to of took up with us to start. Did you ever know anybody to be so bad about luck?
Suttree said he had. He said that things would get better.
The old man shook his head doubtfully, paying the band of his cap through his fingers. I’m satisfied they caint get no worse, he said.
But there are no absolutes in human misery and things can always get worse, only Suttree didnt say so.

At over 20 years in the making Suttree is not only McCarthy’s longest novel at nearly 500 pages but also his most personal. Autobiographical or not, Cornelius Suttree’s understated nature and descent into squalor is a fascinating character study. We understand his want to shy from the restraints society once held on him. And there is hope by the end of the novel, where is considers his stance that has removed him from a normal life, with wife and child, to leave Knoxville, and find some kind of happy medium. Suttree is not my favourite McCarthy book but I will say it is his most enjoyable, and an American classic.

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Photograph taken by Flickr user ‘kiekmal’. Check out his Flickr photostream for some outstanding work in abandoned scenes, creating fascinating narratives despite the absence of life.

Of which direction the voices originated I could not say for sure but I thought it wise to keep my head down as I lay prone alongside a bank of earth. Face down and cheek pressed against sprouting moss and wild mushrooms. In a localised dialect they spoke low and urgent and I could not piece together their concerns. When the voices had passed I continued in the opposite direction, occasionally looking back over my shoulder while wading through the leaf-covered ground, stepping across fallen branches and in between stumps. There was no sound here but the crunching of my footsteps and the singing of distant birds. After some time I found myself walking on broken and cracked concrete, roots bulging beneath, an absurd feeling under my feet when all around me such an edenic environment – vines and ivy and dead or dying trees crawling over all – and yet here, something created by man. It became apparent I stood on what once had been a road, as when I glanced left to right I began to notice the faint outlines of doors and windows through the walls of green. I picked at random a door ajar and stepped through a curtain of matted vines into a hallway that was bare but for the staircase at the end. Musty scents overbearing in the confined darkness. Climbing carefully but the silence continued.

At the top of the stairs windows without glass were covered from the outside by vines and ivy and bathed what seemed to be an apartment in a sleepy green glow. If it was an apartment it was modest, with a few tables and several chairs scattered and abandoned. Dusty plates and empty brown bottles and on the cold concrete floor a large wall sign with peeling paint that spelt ‘RESTAURANT’. When I turned a tall thin man stood in the empty frame of a doorway. His hair was grey and his skin covered with dirt and dust. His shirt ripped and his trousers rags. But his eyes were bright and blue and looked alien on his weathered face; they made him look incredibly sad. As if his eyes took no willing part of this. “Who are you?” he asked.

“Excuse me please. I’m just passing through.”

“Through my home?”

“It doesn’t look much like a home.”

“It was a restaurant. We are closed for renovation. Sorry, you need to leave.”

I looked around. I doubted this man was the owner of the building, and much less once the proprietor of a small business. More likely he found shelter here, hidden in the forest and squatted in his filth and solitude. As I regarded this place and the man’s place within it he spoke again.

“I know what you are thinking. You do not believe that this place was once something else entirely, much like I was once someone different entirely. I understand why you would think that but that is the very nature of time. The beautiful thing about time is that it will continue to pass. But for now, it remains my enemy. For now I must remain closed. I cannot reopen. Who would use this restaurant? Nobody visits this part of the world anymore. The streets are covered by forests and cobwebs, long grass and dead leaves hide the concrete surface and the only clue that this was once a street are the stained and weathered signs, pointing to other, living, streets. This street is dead. They need something to come for. Would they come all the way into the forest for a restaurant? No. They might come if there were people here, living people, enjoying a fountain and rows of classical houses decorated with hanging baskets of floral beauty and elegant street lamps, and there were vendors and stalls selling fresh meats and ripe fruits and handmade trinkets, that can not be understood by foreign tourists but are revered all the same. If this street had all of that, something worth visiting, then I would open my restaurant. Then I would get customers and they would be in awe of the food and the drink and they would ask, how can you prepare such cuisine in this unforgiving climate?”

I wished the man all the best for the future and I left. Shielding my eyes from the blinding rays falling through the canopy of trees I stepped out into the street. I heard more voices, once again in a manner I could not understand. A couple were emerging from the forest and before they could see me I leapt into the long grass and continued in the opposite direction.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

Frank Formsache

Image taken by Frank Formsache, who manages to capture breathtaking details in beautiful scenes. See more of Frank’s photography on his flickr photostream here.

I want to document certain changes I have witnessed on site recently, starting from the discovery of the pit, to geological anomalies and later strange behaviour I have noted from the men. This is not about me, and my perceived understanding of what may or may not have been unearthed in this quarry. I have a logical  and sound mind, a man of science and physics, and the last week has raised… No. Let me start again. This is bigger than me.

Something has changed here since we found the pit. It appeared in the quarry one morning when we woke to eat breakfast. The chewing mouths fell silent and cups of coffee spilt as we witnessed a hole in the centre of our dig site, astounding in its size and depth and inexplicable being. Gathering around its circumference we had two main questions. Who, and why? Workers, supervisors and watchmen were questioned for any insight or leads but the answers were the same: nobody saw or heard anything suspicious overnight. While inquests were carried out we used the reserve drilling equipment to carry out readings on the shifted sediment and groundsoil investigations at the bottom of the pit. The water table had sunk and there were large samples of black soil, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and manganese. We couldn’t fathom the presence of a soil typically found in the tropics. Our thoughts clouded with the false possibilities we raised. A tectonic shift or earthquake? No other sign of disruption in the surrounding hills and valleys, and no reports of any shaking from those awake. An asteroid strike? Again, no sightings of flashes or explosions, and the debris from any collision would not be neatly piled to one side of the crater. A sinkhole became the most likely scenario, and a large proportion of the men repeated surveys (having already been passed weeks prior) of the soil and its composition, for no building work could take place on unstable ground.

For the longest time I suspected a joke. It became obvious, however, that this could not have be done by our workforce. To dig a hole of this magnitude (no exact measurement was undertaken, but my trained eye would suggest a rough circle 200ft in diameter at its widest and 80ft down at its deepest; and although the pit sloped gradually to this depth, I was uneasy to walk too close to the edge) would have taken our thirty-five men days to complete. No, the notion that a rogue faction of pranksters from within our ranks was laughable.  The night following the discovery of the pit my assistant and I walked atop the excavated mound of sediment. It was all deposited on the west side of the pit, piled high and steep, and one of the officers warned against such a climb. But curiosity got the better of me, and after a gruelling ascent we reached the top. Despite the bizarre and frustrating circumstances (for this interruption I knew would delay the project, even threaten its abandonment entirely), we admired the view of the surrounding quarry. That is, until my assistant shouted as we watched one of the cranes at the edge of the pit begin to move. We could see there was no man in the cab; as crazy as it sounds it was moving of its own accord. There was no slope, and no visible force to push the crane in. In all honesty, it appeared to us it was being dragged. Helpless to act, we shouted out to get the attention of any nearby workers, but it was too late as the crane toppled over the edge into the pit below. The machine lay discarded and rigid, as if in a state of shock.

The head supervisor left without permission the next day, leaving me in charge of the men. My first objectives was to extract the fallen crane. They set to the task with discipline and efficiency, but when I attempted to stop them at five they insisted they wanted to continue into the night. I was impressed if a little confused at their dedication to the cause, and retired to my office. I was awoken at an early hour of the morning to the sound of several machines operating from what sounded like the pit. Anxious I left my bed and walked down to the hole. The men, dripping with sweat and moving in almost synthetic unison, were slaving away, entranced.

They did not listen to my commands and they would not stop working. I put up with this for another 24 hours, what else could I do? It seemed I was the only man in this quarry who still regarded sleep as essential. Even my assistant traded his administrative duties for labour, to join the men working down in the pit. They had changed. There was no lust for women or cars or money, just an insatiable need to dig. Soon my frustration got the better of me and only when I struck one man in the face did they stop their work and pay attention. So disturbed by a sense of malevolence I felt from each one of them, that I ran back to my office and barred the door firmly shut and fastened the shutters over the windows. That night a group of them tested the door handle and whispered unintelligible words through the broken glass. I kept my lamp burning throughout the night. I should give up on this pit. Some questions cannot be answered, and some answers cannot be understood.

They don’t sleep or eat anymore, I don’t think. The machines are running night and day and when they do stop, I hear earthly drums and distant wailing from down in the pit. I should probably try and force my way out of here, it’s been months and still no one has come for me. But despite the threat I like it out here. The air is heavy with salt as if we were stationed on a seaside coast. While I have not seen the men with my own eyes for a week they still leave meals and water outside the office. If they meant me harm, why would they bothered with this? The next time I sense one nearby I shall try to get its attention. Ask what they are doing down in that pit. Maybe I can help.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

Tanzania - Mt Meru - Spooky tree

Image taken by photographer Marco Homrighausen. You can see more of Marco’s photography on his Flickr page here.

In the spectral morning light silhouettes played against a canvas of grey sky. A foreign landscape of twisted trees and the heaving shapes of waking creatures emerged through the murk like ancient thespians performing under a council of cloud. The audience a thousand droplets of dew, sat on tired xerophytes and dusty shrubs, which would have glistened but the sun seemed a distant prospect up there, somewhere far beyond the veil.

With caution the ranger unzipped a section of the mosquito netting and one side of the tent flap and held the flap open. Peering out this small porthole into the fog. The air was cool and he enjoyed the breeze, a fresh relief from his stifling quarters. Through the night his sleep had been plagued with dreams and night sweats. He closed his eyes and listened to the rustling undergrowth and far away to the east wild dogs yelped. He eased himself up and stepped out the tent, scanning the ground and treading lightly so as not to disturb resting spiders or scorpions before choosing a spot on the damp ground on which to sit. With a gas stove he boiled coffee and ate a slow breakfast of dried biscuits and fruit.

To the west there was a ridge that slowly ascended to the top of the valley. It could not be seen in these conditions but the ranger knew it was sitting there idle. Time passed and while the light shifted the veil did not. He continued to stare at the void around him, a vast and consuming gloom and he saw the mist disintegrate from something whole to multiple somethings; individual shrouds that interlinked and became one, then decoupled and dispersed between each other again, then became one, then many, one, many. The mist was alive and the ranger was captivated. So vivid and wonderful were these visions that he had to check that it was ground coffee he was drinking, and not by accident ingested a cup of peyote.

From somewhere behind the tent the ranger heard footsteps and this sudden and unexpected approach panicked him to such an extent that he let out a cry and retreated back to the tent. Here he waited and waited, listening with shallow breath and shaking hands. A man of considerable knowledge and experience in the field reduced to a blinded child in a sandstorm. Because last month he had seen his dead wife drift past in similar conditions, and this is why the ranger found the mist so troubling. She would not turn around and face him but such was his fear of dread he was relieved she kept her eyes hidden. He scratched at an imagined rash on the back of his neck and exhaled in despair.

A rabid and inexplicable fear took hold of the ranger and he reached for the hunting pistol in his pack before he realised that it would be no use. There was nothing outside the tent that could hurt him. Where is my mind? He whispered and he found himself looking out into the mist once more. Like a veil the cloud descends and obscures not only the landscape but the mind, to transform both into uncertain plains. Can you spare me this fate? He softly spoke to the mist but there was no response. Sleep brought more dreams. He woke in relief, tangled in his sheets. Beside him his wife slept peacefully and he reached over to brush the hair off her face and lightly kiss her forehead. She stirred and smiled and opened one eye, and he kissed her with passion. 

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.