They come at night.
They always come at night.
I have a notebook by my bed so I can write them down.
They come at night.
They always come at night.
I have a notebook by my bed so I can write them down.
Books. I love ’em. But only the good ones. Only the unputdownables, whose brilliance has you gasping/ salivating/ doing a bit of a sex wee.
But there’s a thing, and the thing is this: I don’t have time to read for pleasure any more. What with reasons and stuff and things, the only sort of bookage my eyes get to see is that-which-I-am-being-paid-to-edit.
And then last week happened. I took a basketball to the chops, stabbed myself in the foot with a fork, and the laptop threw a six. What’s a gal to do when she can neither walk nor work?
And so, I started a sentence with ‘and so.’ Then I regrouped and decided to delve into the pocket universe of Steve Shaw’s Black Shuck Books; specifically, the Shadows collection. T’is a darling l’il assortment of tasters —micro-gatherings that showcase individual authors. Or, y’know —single-author collections, as they’re more commonly known.
Gorgeously designed by Steve himself, and complimenting one another like blackcurrant ‘n’ liquorice and pineapple on pizza (what?), these wee bookies are a delight to behold. And once beheld, they shall be reviewed. And the reviewer should read a book in its entirety, right? Because unputdownable, remember?
Nope. Nuh-huh. I just read a story so fucking good I just had to put the book down. I had to leave it alone while I did a rather ungainly thigh-wobble of a jig, and immediately messaged seventeen-thousand-and-thirteen friends to tell them about it (the story, not the wobble).
This was a first for me —virtually nothing impresses me these days— but Gary McMahon just.fucking.floored me. The fucker.
I couldn’t think straight. I could barely breathe. And no —I’m not exaggerating. I was bouncing off the walls and squeeing ’round the house. I just wanted to savour the taste of those words —that idea— a little longer, so I didn’t —couldn’t—move on. What I’d just witnessed was, well, perfection.
I’m talking about *Text Found on a Defunct Webpage; which opens Gary’s collection, At Home in the Shadows.
Jesus. Hermione. Christ. How on Kepler-452b has this work of art passed me by for eleven frickin’ years? And how the HELL am I supposed to do it justice without spoilers? I dunno, like. But I’ll try.
Originally published online as ‘Under Offer’ (The Hub, 2008), this story is smarter than the average bear. It is, as they say in those parts where they use terms like ‘a fucking diamond,’ a fucking diamond.
Not every story has to be story-y. Not every beginning has to begin with a start. IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT, FOLKS! I’m not talking about clever choices of tense here, or ‘surprise’ dog-POV, or anything of the sort. I’m talking unique. Despite its originality, the piece is deceptively simple. And yet, this dude is writing so far outside the box that he isn’t even in the vicinity of the forest where the trees are felled to make the cardboard.
I’m not gonna do that fucking annoying comparison thing. McMahon isn’t the next so-and-so, and neither is his work reminiscent of such-and-such in their finest hour. But what I will tell you is this: it’s impressionism at its best. Monet didn’t paint every leaf, right? He painted GREEN; your brain fills in the rest.
From conception to execution, Text Found is one of those sinister AF pieces that stays with you for yonks afterwards. Why? Because omission, my friends. Because ambiguity. The power of suggestion —literally (and I mean ‘literally’ literally, not figuratively, before you say it, pedants). Take an idea, suggest the events, hint at the characters, and tease the reader. Be subtle; leave ’em wanting more —brevity is the order of the day. Be sneaky; be wickedly funny. And be out-and-out creepy. Be everything on the list of must-haves and definitely-dos, and do none of the don’ts. Be. Just be.
And Gary McMahon has beed, indeed. And that ending —damn.
The Obligatory Link (i.e. the BUY EEEEET) Section:
Black Shuck Shadows on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bookseries/B07NRKT4M5/ref=dp_st_1913038114
And, for Steve Shaw’s freelance design: http://www.white-space.uk
Black Shuck Books: https://blackshuckbooks.co.uk/shadows
This daycare daymare is the horror. The madness of sadness and the onset of fetid, fettered recollections where your snark and sarcasm eventually battle to the death, fighting with, for, and against your thoughts.
The thoughts in the brain that sits in your head; the head that rests on your pillow; the pillow that adorns your bed; the bed that’s in your room —the room where he used to be.
And he —what of him? Is he now? Shall he be? All you know is that once, he was. Unsure of what he appeared to be, and as uncertain now as he had been back in That Place.
There, transmogrification took time and it took forever, where a week was a month and a month was a year —and a year was a nanosecond for the taking. His face, his eyes – they haunted and they haunt. Where were they then? The same place as now? The fuckspace of demonic intervention that your memory inhabits?
You saw them.
That’s the only matter of importance: that you saw them.
It was those eyes that had drawn you in and ushered you out of yourself, all things inherent in a persistent world of unfinished symphonic celibacy and helplessness, where you were expected to lead.
But you hindered, despite all your best efforts to save him from himself and from the particular You who was a petty rescuer, ill-equipped and foreboding.
Love, then. Or that which seemed to masquerade as such. The veils that spilled, those which dripped down in drab droplets from the planetary persuasions of his sentiment; chairs uncomfortable, recliners upright – a bitter suite for the tetchy, harmonious soul.
Temporary temperaments would reveal themselves inside a package of narcotic hotness, amidst a rushing crowd of skewed, queuing people, all waiting for the same incoming outcome. The post orifice of Valhalla’s aunt would have it that lines of scores of dozens of white embittered souls collected that day at six, all for enveloped missives, to where, to whom, and how?
Insensibility, insensitive illogic where nothing is anything and everything is less than zero. Unscrupulous festivity and blame for a life of lovelessness across the other side of an expanse not unlike the one that surrounds the globe and its moons, stars that are long since dead; dead seas continuing to undulate and outlive you via the emission of light that is no longer being emitted at source, but which is nonetheless travelling in the faculty of space. He’s there, exactly where he is/was/will be— but no longer does he wait for you. And as he no longer waits, so did he never, and neither did he ever. As he no longer loves you, not once did he so.
Think on this: recalling him erases you, yet erasing your thoughts puts him back at the front of your mind and its demons of forever, a haunted, tainted taunt to paint the blood of his kind inside rudimentary cascades —wherein lies the rub.
To sleep, perchance to undream him.
To never dream again.
To awaken yourself from this madness, this event of erupted terror.
And then, may you sleep.
It seemed as though my verse had gone;
I hadn’t rhymed in far too long
He took my words and killed them, see;
And then, there was no poetry.
No stanzas came, no stories nor;
All victim to my saboteur
My words no longer coursed through blood;
For what is poetry, sans love?
Of pen and ink: my paper broke;
Of diction: nary a word was spoke.
“Close your legs– it’s not very ladylike.”
What utter bollocks. What the fuck does that even mean, anyway? “Lower your hem, girl! Rein in the swearing, dress like a lady, cover your cleavage, don’t sit/stand/dance/breastfeed/breathe/exist like that …”
Oh, do fuck off.
Some ladies I Googled earlier today.
Why don’t they just come out and say it? Instead of telling you to be all ladysome and shit, what they really wanna say is “see this set of rules, madam, first penned in 1645? I demand thee adhere to every last one, woman. I implore you, do not dare even think, for pity’s sake, lest ye be considered ungodly – and ye shall also be sure to refrain from that dreadful modern pastime known as free speech. Good LORD, do keep thy pantaloons on, Madam, petticoat fastened, for it is undesirable to have another knave glance in your direction, what with a gentleman’s fancies being the female’s fault and all. You are MY property, and mine alone, do you hear? Women were designed for the sole pleasure of men, after all, weren’t they, chaps?”
Yeah, whatever, mate. I’ll tell you what –WHO– a real woman is – and she doesn’t put up with such inane horse shit from the layabout likes of you. She has a sexuality, and she’s gonna use it. And guess what, fuckface – if said sexuality happens to be of the girly persuasion, it’s for her pleasure, not yours. “I’m a lesbian” is NOT – repeat: NOT – an invitation for Neanderthal bullshit bingo: “Wa-hey! Can I watch?”
– Again, do fuck off, there’s a dear.
Your father-in-law is the worst for this shit. Ten-years-widowed, he tells you he’s met a lovely lady (there’s that fucking word again). And he doesn’t even know how old she is, because you never ask a lady her age.
Oh, WOULD you just fuck the fuck off? Why the frig would you not ask a WOMAN her age? Is it not the done thing? *Adopts northern drawl* “In my day, round these ‘ere parts, we’d never be seen dead asking a lass’s age. We’d be STRUNG up if we were caught ever so much as looking at her ankles, by golly. And proper ladies, they’d keep themselves covered up in the first place. None of this godawful tattooed malarkey you see today. Women looked like women, and acted in accordance with [insert specific Victorian Value here] —and in any case, as long as she bakes the bread and mops the floors, we don’t mind if she’s an old crone. Should be grateful for the work, she should. Ahem – the ‘marriage’ —I meant the marriage.” Same diff, buddy.
This was the same father-in-law who would avert his gaze to the ceiling whenever I was breastfeeding his grandchildren. I suppose he thought that was the gentlemanly (yuk) thing to do. Erm – a universe of no. Look at your beautiful grandbaby here. And while you’re at it, LOOK AT MY BAPS. See these titty marvels of norky nature, from which I can boobily-produce everything that’s needed? No, you don’t see. Because you won’t look. Fuck off, then. You’re the one missing out.
Ah, I recall those good old days back when I was courting his son. Yeah – courting. That’s the term he used, because of course it was. Of course, the sort of courting we were doing required the removal of one’s unmentionables. Yes- that’s how he refers to a lady’s undergarments (another word that makes me want to yell KNICKERS at him).
Whenever anything unmentionable is … erm … mentioned, he’ll go ketchup, stare at the floor (I don’t know what the fuck’s down there but it must be something incredibly fucking interesting because he does it a lot), and mutter something I can’t quite make out about those aforementioned underthings. And he doesn’t even say that properly. It’s more like unmuffables. He’s one of those word-swallowers from the circuses of yore.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t sit there all day talking to my father-in-law about lacy thongs and crotchless panties – but certain subjects do crop up from time-to-time, because his grandkids exist. Like the time I had to pack for my daughter’s school trip:
Me: “KNICKERS. Yep – packed ‘em. Need to buy her some new BRAS, too, Frank. Her boobs are getting big, you know. And she’s gotta stock up on SANITARY TOWELS, too – she’s been bleeding a lot lately. So those KNICKERS – she’s gonna need a lot of ‘em.”
He: *Heinz-kipper/stares at the floor/makes excuses to leave the room*
Some knickers I Googled earlier today.
And yup – you guessed the fuck out of it – ya goddamn right I’m not letting him away with it. I say these words on repeat, every chance I get.
Back when my daughter was small, which seems a million years ago now, there would be times I would – shudder – need help (GASP!). I might be doing something else, like perhaps being pre-occupied with, say, BABY VOM all over my clobber, and require a little grandparental assistance, such as nappy-changing. Would he do it? Nope. Because she was a little girl. SO fucking prudish and worried about what people would think, that to even accept my daughter has a fucking VAGINA (say it with me, Gramps) would be a threat to his generation or have his god strike him down for daring to acknowledge that biology was even a thing.
And of course, that particularly unmentionable netherpart is one that must exist for a person to be considered female, because, y’know, being transgender isn’t a thing, either. His grand-daughter’s best friend, born a boy, can’t possibly be a girl now, right? Nah – he’s the expert on everything because he’s been 43 and I haven’t been 84. Yes, he says that, too. Born a boy, you stay a boy. No such thing, it’s all in their head. It’s a mental illness. Of course, I try and educate him on such matters – but it’s difficult; there’s only so much of him I can take before my inner monologue becomes an outer one. And I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate my telling him to GET FUCKED, being that ladies don’t think –let alone say– such things, right?
My daughter’s friend was never a boy, her birth certificate just happens to say she was. She was a girl with a knob, that’s all. No, she doesn’t want to be a girl. She IS one. Girls have all sorts of bodies, some are different than others. That’s IT.
Now, fuck off.
It’s not just that, though. Stuff like this – and my brother’s wonderful queerness – are not things I would expect a man of that generation to understand. Most of ‘em are set in their goddy little ways, too late to change. That’s not cool, though. It’s not an excuse any more – at least, it shouldn’t be. And despite people having been cunty towards me for a metric fuckbunch of my existence, I believe in the power of change. Maybe if we start with the little things, we might stand a chance. After all, themz the things wot add up to the big ‘uns, right?
And it’s the little things that get right on me tits- especially when they come from females.
I’ll tell my Mum, for example, that I’ve been to see the doctor. First thing that’ll come out of her mouth is “what did he say?”
He. Because it’s only men who are:
a) capable of such complex scientific study and
b) ever going to do well in life.
As such, the male gender is assumed whenever I care to discuss surgeons, pilots, soldiers (because macho, right?), plumbers, et fucking cetera – but if I’m talking about the person who served me at the supermarket, that’ll —of course— be a lady (bollocks – they’ve got me saying it now.)
Anything even remotely bad of ass is reserved for men – and men only. It’s all part of the misogynistic society in which we live – and that misogyny, in turn, plays a massive part in rape culture. That’s why I challenge this shit like a fatherfucker possessed – every fucking time.
My rape is almost on its 28th anniversary. Yeah – rape. I’m just gonna come out and say it – pigbollocks if I’m gonna ease you in slowly. I’m thinking out loud – got a problem with that? Or are we good?
So this thing – this dreadful thing that shaped who I am as a woman, writer, and fighter, happens all.the.fucking.time. You mention your story on social media, you’ll be bombarded with “it happened to me, as well…” comments and private messages.
So, ME TOO has become a hashtag. And a movement. An empowering one, at that. And I have to say, I’m surprised that folks are surprised by the response. That’s like Surprised Squared, or something: did folks REALLY have no idea that everyone is a Me?
So let’s talk about it some more.
Let’s talk about why all these women were/are made to feel shame, made to feel like it was/is our fault. I believed that bullshit, too, because even the fucking POLICE made a big deal about what I’d been wearing. About the fact I was drunk. About the fact I had some sexual experience (because that gives fellas the wrong idea, don’t ya know?).
Let’s talk about the pubes that were plucked out of me as I lay naked on a steel slab usually reserved for corpses. Or the cuts and bruises that were photographed. Sexual history –dissected and paraded on a fucking sandwich board. In front of my parents.
But you were wearing a short skirt.
But you were wearing make-up.
But you had your hair suggestively teased.
But you once snogged a boy round the back of the bike sheds.
But the girl you were hanging out with that night, had actually (gasp!) gone ALL THE WAY with a lad.
This was the irrelevant bullshit that ate at me for over twenty years, wondering how I should have dressed/behaved/existed/yadda yadda.
If Present Me were to talk to Past Me, I’d refuse to allow her to stand for it. I’d refuse to allow her to put up and shut up, or to buy the constabulary’s bullshit that her behaviour/attire were to blame. When they told her the case was dropped because it wouldn’t hold up in court due to [insert fucked-up excuse here], she would fight that monkeydung argument until she was blue in the heavily-made-up face.
“Don’t wear that – you’ll give men the wrong idea.”
Ah, that’s right – a person only gets the wrong idea because they’ve been GIVEN it, yeah? The onus couldn’t possibly be on the PERSON WITH THE WRONG IDEA, FOR HAVING THE WRONG FUCKING IDEA? Nope – the notion of any sort of autonomy or independent thought is a difficult one for people to grasp. The suggestion that a person is responsible for their own actions, well, that can’t even be a thing, surely?
Nah. Don’t be silly. When a woman is raped, we ask what she did to egg the fucker on. Why was she asking for it, and how, exactly? When attention is GIVEN to a woman, she must’ve quite simply given ‘em the wrong idea. Simps.
And it goes deeper still. Even today, I find myself having arguments with family over my youngest daughter’s underwear choices. She’s only ten, and isn’t in a bra yet. Doesn’t like ‘em. Too uncomfortable. But trying to convince her to wear one SO THAT BOYS DON’T STARE? Because otherwise, she’s ASKING FOR IT?
FUCK THE FUCK OFF.
Don’t you fucking dare tell my daughter to cover up.
There’s logic there: I understand, whether I agree with it or not. They have concerns that she will be bullied for having sticky-out-pokeys (as I’d been, when I was younger) and are trying to nip (sorry) the problem in its proverbial. But really, I’m asking myself why they aren’t challenging this. Why aren’t they taking a stand? Why aren’t they prepared to educate BOYS?
Let’s suppose, two years from now, she’s bra-less, in class. The boys are distracted –because, y’know, “it’s in their nature and to be expected …” and my daughter receives some unwanted attention. Perhaps she’s even (shudder) physically assaulted. What then, of me? What would that say about me? Should I have prevented the assault by insisting she cover up? Or, y’know (just throwing this crazy idea out there) – should the BOYS HAVE FUCKINGWELL BEHAVED THEMBASTARDSELVES?
After my rape, I had to contend with all manner of crap. From WOMEN, no less.
Does it weird you out, my calling it My Rape? I hope so. But know this: I own it. It’s mine, and it happened to me, so I can call it whatever the fuck I like (I won’t bore you with the details, I won’t take you back to 1990. Because it’s not your fault. But guess what? It wasn’t mine, either. And it took me a shitload of time to realise that).
But, as usual, there’s a thing, and the thing is this: still it grows. As long as we nurture it, it grows. We’re the petri dish, and our daughters are the experiment. It starts from a word… a thought … from a family member, teacher, or friend. Those who are closest to us. And it thrives. Unless we change the conditions, it replicates via binary fucksion as it soaks up assault after assault by fuckmosis.
No wonder they call it Rape Culture.
Well, rape culture can fuck off. Are you with me? Will you stand up next to me and stop being part of the problem? Are you going to challenge everyday misogyny from the misogynistic? Will you call people out when they suggest in ANY WAY that a person is to blame for their own assault?
I fucking well hope so – or you can go ahead and fuck off, too.
Yes – You, Too.
(My story is here, if you’re even arsed: https://liberatetutemet.com/2014/10/09/asking-for-it/ )
On Brian Bilston and why he rocks and stuff and things.
I’m not one to compare writers. I hate that. Yuk. Sure, it’s great for marketing, I suppose – if you must market. “Fans of such-and-such will love this novel by so-and-so…” YAWWWN. That sort of crap is lazy and unclever, and has never once given me that I JUST GOTTA HAVE IT vibe.
It’s somewhat pissing on the author’s skills, too: when the blurbage tells me that Writey McScribe is the next Clive Barker, all I hear is “this guy is wholly unoriginal, having re-hashed some dying old trope or other.” Talk about damning by faintstuff.
What I will do, though, is tell you who my own particular boat-floaters are, just so you know where I’m at; this *chick is notoriously hard to impress, particularly when it comes to those who poe. If you’re gonna rhyme your way straight to my heart, buddy, your wordplay is going to have to…
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A head on TV said it’s like this and that
Then another head joined into this little chat
The two heads then talked and yammered and yawed
With no full cessation of flapping of jaws
And of earlier times, they did reminisce
Though every word spoken was quite meaningless
Expounded they did on American greatness
Insisting so much that white men were thankless
But this greatness they wanted so much to restore
By showing the brown folk the exiting door
And then flashes of fascists appeared on the screen
King Asshole on stage, flanked by Asshole Queen
King Asshole then smiled, his mouth like an ass
And by freak of nature his voice was then shat
He said, “Thanks for the crown and the loyalty, too,
But I’m loyal to no one. The joke’s all on you.”
Then he won the election, ascended to throne
And he dropped every pretense that he had a soul
He rounded up brown folks and started some wars
He killed many children, I hope they weren’t yours
Yet he’s emperor crowned and we’ve all grown so tired
Now we’re against a wall and we wait to be fired