NEW (LONG) SHORT STORY PUBLISHED - ANOTHER KIND OF KINDNESS

Friday, 2 October 2020 / Leave a Comment


 Neil Randall is delighted to announce that his new (long) short story Another Kind of Kindness has been published by literary journal The Write Launch. In the story, a daughter recalls her often strained relationship with her father, a world-famous novelist. A distant figure throughout her childhood, he nevertheless tries to instil in her the purest of human qualities – kindness, compassion, empathy. Only as she gets older, she realises that he himself is singularly incapable of displaying the same qualities towards other people, so obsessed is he with his literary work.

      In terms of inspiration, revisiting David Lynch’s The Elephant Man during the COVID-19 lockdown period planted the seeds for this story. I hadn’t seen the film for many years and was struck, more than anything, by the contrast between the kindness and compassion some characters display towards John Merrick and the utmost cruelty and nastiness of others. For I felt it represented what is best and worst about human beings in general.

      Here’s the opening scene from the story: 

It was no secret that I hadn’t seen or spoken to my father for many years prior to his passing. A fact which fascinated a great number of people – literary aficionados, academics, biographers and journalists. You don’t achieve that level of professional success without your personal life coming under intense scrutiny. In that respect, I cannot even begin to recount the number of interviews I have declined over the last decade. But my desire to tell my story now has nothing to do with appeasement, or of trying to set the record straight. Nor will it be sensationalised nonsense penned purely for financial gain. I want to write about my father to try and understand our complex relationship, and work out exactly how I feel about him today.

      In my early years, father was a very distant presence in my life. Naturally, he spent a lot of time locked away in his study. Each evening, I distinctly remember him coming into my bedroom to kiss me goodnight. Most vividly of all, I recall his subtle pinewood cologne mixed with pungent cigarette smoke, the bristly feel of his stubble on my cheek, and the soft, whispered words he invariably spoke: ‘Sweet dreams, my child’.

      To say the least, he kept very peculiar hours. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get up in the morning and find him sprawled out unconscious in an armchair, or sitting outside by the swimming pool, bare top, dishevelled, in only his underwear, drinking wine or whisky at what constituted dawn or a little thereafter. In those moments, he could be incredibly tender and affectionate. He would beckon me over, pick me up and perch me on his knee. Again, a collection of very adult smells assailed my senses – the strong liquor and distinctive Turkish tobacco, the almost sweetish smell of his sweat, the earthy scent of hair that had gone unwashed for many days. None of which was unpleasant, I must stress, but things which, even now, evoke memories of those stolen moments we shared before the rest of the household woke up. ‘You see the way the breeze stirs the surface of the water?’ he said to me once. ‘You see that slight rippling effect, like crumpled sheets upon a love-spent bed? You see how beautiful it is, how a breath of wind, a mere caress, can create such a wonderful, calming vision? That, in so many ways, is the best that we can hope of each other. If, in some small, infinitesimal manner, we can produce even the most fleeting moment of beauty in this life, something which touches and moves another person, we will have ascended to the level of the gods’.



 

If you want to carry on reading, you can read the whole story on The Write Launch website now:

https://thewritelaunch.com/2020/10/another-kind-of-kindness/

 

 And if you’re interested in my published novels, why not head over to my amazon page:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Neil-Randall/e/B00JYXI862/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

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CASE STUDY - NOTES FROM THE ANIMAL FARM PART ONE

Friday, 10 April 2020 / 1 comment



Case Study on Devotional Delusion in the Nuclear Family Context, Deconstructed, in Third Person Narrative Form
Benoit had been married to Juliette for thirty-seven years. Theirs had been a very conventional relationship. Meeting in their mid-twenties, both had been single for some time, having had eerily similar experiences with former partners, whom both would always consider to be the love of their lives. Coming from quasi-religious, solid middle-class backgrounds, both Benoit and Juliette were painfully aware of their social responsibilities; they knew that people got married, set up home, and started a family in their mid-twenties. For that reason alone, they were almost ridiculously keen to adhere to the norm, the structure/stricture of their class. Crucially (although that’s probably an inaccurate way of describing the dynamic of their relationship, for they could quite easily have settled down with literally anyone, as the need to settle down itself far outweighed potential suitability of any eventual partner), they got on well with each other, had similar temperaments – easy-going, undemanding – neither had any intellectual or artistic pretentions, both liked material comforts, they only read books featured on the bestseller lists, they only saw the most commercial and popular of films, they sought only non-challenging, non-threatening cultural forms, they liked the idea of two weeks on the beach in the summer, a fine, reliable automobile.
     A qualified chartered surveyor, Benoit had a promising career in local government – high on the public sector pay scale, with good holidays and a secure pension. Also in local government (that was, in fact, how the couple met, through mutual friends employed in respective departments) Juliette had a low-ranking but nonetheless fulfilling position at the local library, an administrative post, updating and modernizing ways in which disabled, housebound citizens could have access to everything a modern library could offer (one of her most worthy initiatives was extending mobile library routes to more rural areas).
      Nine months after meeting, they married. Nine months later, Juliette gave birth to their first child, Nicholas Junior. Due to Nicholas’ relatively high salary, Juliette was always going to give up her job to bring up a family. This was unstated, expressly – they never actually sat down, or lay in bed at night to come to that decision – it was just the ‘done thing’ for people of their background and income.
      The next five years saw two new editions to the household – another boy, Jean-Paul and lastly, the little girl they had both hoped for, the angelic Binki (well, Belinda, but the baby name of Binki stuck with their daughter for the rest of her life).
     With the family circle now complete, husband and wife devoted themselves to the upbringing of their children. They made sure that they had every opportunity possible – there were music lessons (Nicholas Junior becoming very adept at piano, Jean-Paul, always the more outgoing of the three children, the guitar, and Binki, the violin, of which she would go on to enjoy a spectacular career, becoming a virtuoso with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra), sports, amateur dramatics, they travelled extensively as a family, in the main, educational/historical trips: Egypt to see the pyramids, Rome, the Coliseum, diving at the Great Barrier Reef, they even spent four weeks riding the Trans-Siberian Express when the children were in their teenage years.
     With such a rich, wholesome and fulfilling upbringing, each child went on to be an incredible success. University-educated, Nicholas Junior became a veterinarian with his own practice, Jean-Paul a music teacher (his rebellious streak had lasted up until around his seventeenth birthday, when he fell madly in love with a beautiful trainee teacher, a few years older, whom he married at twenty-one), and, as aforementioned, Binki went on to be one of the most famous violinists in the world, a rare and universally admired virtuoso.
     It gave Nicholas and Juliette great pride to see their progeny turn into such well-rounded individuals, worthy, intelligent human beings who brought such joy to the lives of other people. In particular, both parents remembered the time Binki performed an incredible violin solo at the conservatoire (where she eventually graduated with distinction) that reduced them both to tears. And while their marriage may not have been particularly passionate or romantic, they shared the most wonderfully tender and intimate moment that evening, when Nicholas was almost choked with emotion, and Juliette reached out in the darkened auditorium, surrounded by dozens of other beaming parents, and squeezed his hand tightly, a moment which perhaps made up for all those cold, perfunctory nighttime kisses, the premature dwindling of their lovemaking following Binki’s birth, lovemaking that could only ever have been classed as functional, pedestrian, purely procreational, at best.
     But they had been good parents – something of which they were both righty proud.
     On entering his sixth decade, with the children having left home many years ago, there was talk of Nicholas applying for early retirement. Head of his department, he’d been such a valued, proficient member of staff, his colleagues tried to talk him out of it, they couldn’t see how the department could continue to flourish without his guidance and leadership. But, in truth, his mind was already made up. Of late, he and Juliette had spoken about selling up the family home and moving to warmer climes, about a quiet life on the coast, of cultivating a beautiful garden, of taking up painting, perhaps, buying a small boat and learning how to sail, of a tranquil, relaxed way of life, about really enjoying the autumn of their years. Money wasn’t an issue. Both sets of parents had died, quite close together, leaving them very well-provided-for indeed.
      On his last day at the office, his colleagues threw Nicholas a party. Nothing special – a big cake and a few bottles of good champagne – but their well-wishes were heartfelt and genuine. Over the years, Nicholas had been a thoroughly modern and approachable team leader, a friend more than a superior. For that, his team both liked and respected him.
      When he got home that evening, a little lightheaded from the champagne, he found the house unusually quiet. Confused (in fact, at the back of his mind, he wondered if Juliette hadn’t arranged another surprise party), he called out her name and walked through to the back of the house, to her almost exclusive province: the luxury farmhouse-style kitchen where they spent the vast majority of their time in the evenings and at weekends.
     But when he entered the room, all he found was Juliette’s laptop open on the kitchen table with a post-it-note attached to the screen: Play Me.
     Not really knowing what all of this meant, Nicholas nonetheless sat down, tugged the post-it-note free of the screen, manoeuvered the cursor over the video player already cued up and pressed play.
    Initially, he had difficulty making out what he was now watching, even if the quality of the images was high. Too many memories invaded his consciousness for him to concentrate solely on what was taking place. For this footage had clearly been shot at their first home, the modest apartment where they had embarked upon married life. Specifically, the bedroom of that particular abode – Nicholas recognised the pretty patterned sheets and a reproduction Matisse that hung above the bed itself. Into shot came Juliette, completely naked, close behind her a man, also naked, whom Nicholas had never seen before. Immediately, he was struck by his wife’s youthful beauty, her full rounded breasts, flat stomach, shapely hips and long legs, far more than the fact that she was now kneeling down and performing the kind of wanton, wild fellatio on this stranger that she had never bestowed on her husband during almost forty years of marriage.
      “What?”
     But it was just the beginning.
    No sooner had this stranger withdrawn his penis from Juliette’s mouth and ejaculated over her breasts than a new segment of footage started up. This time in the front room of the same apartment, before a roaring fire, footage of Juliette engaged in frantic intercourse with two big, broad-chested men with black leather masks covering their faces. Again, the images soon faded out to be replaced by different footage: Juliette engaged in an orgy at their holiday home out by the coast, a property they bought shortly after Binki was born. And if that was the case, then it must’ve been the time they spent a fortnight there about twenty-five years ago. It must’ve been the time Juliette complained of a devastating migraine and asked Nicholas to take the children out for the whole day to give her some much-needed respite – there was literally no other possibility, no other window of opportunity. Whilst Nicholas thought his wife was lying in a darkened room with a cold flannel over her forehead, she was, in fact, being penetrated in every orifice by any number of muscular, well-hung men, young studs with rampant sexual desires and incredible stamina.
    It went and on, the video, like a compendium of depravity, a video diary charting Juliette’s wild sexual antics (some of which featured long-standing colleagues from the office, men Nicholas had regularly socialised with out of office hours, men he played golf with, men he considered friends, men who’d attended his leaving party earlier that day). Only as the years progressed, her proclivities, those she’d clearly recorded for posterity, to present to Nicholas in the cruellest and most calculated manner imaginable, darkened, became more violent and perverted. There was S&M, bondage, rape fantasies, what looked like brutal beatings at the hands of sadistic thugs in quite ridiculously clichéd leather outfits. In one particular scene, Juliette demanded that her ‘master’ (well, that’s what she called her tormentor in the video) strike her repeatedly across the face. Once again, Nicholas ran the likely timelines through his head. Yes, he thought to himself, I remember that bruising on her face; she told me she’d walked into wardrobe door when she was dusting.
     To his disgust (and he really did feel close to vomiting now), the next substantial piece of footage showed Juliette performing oral sex on a German shepherd dog.
    It was too much; he hit the stop button, banishing those truly awful images from the screen.
    For the whole duration of their marriage, Juliette had been indulging her crudest sexual fantasies to the full. Whilst the children were at school or college or later, away at university, whilst Nicholas himself was at work, out on site, attending meetings or conferences, his wife had been committing the most sinful and imaginative of infidelities. Whereas before he had always looked upon her as a woman of impeachable moral character, a respectable, modest, unassuming mother and wife, she was, in fact, nothing more than the most reprehensible of filthy whores.
     And Nicholas didn’t know, truthfully, at the core of his very being, if he was angry at her for having conducted this secret life, or the fact that he’d just accepted a staid, boring sexual non-existence for himself, that he’d let his natural libido dim to a dying ember so early, that he thought his wife wasn’t interested in sex, that she was far more concerned with bringing up her children, that a family life was more than enough to sustain her, that she was possessed of a natural frigidity derived from a stuffy background.
      And he wondered, if he’d talked to her about this, frankly, in a mature and adult manner, if it would have made any difference to their lives, if he’d have been able to enjoy a fulfilling, even exciting sexual life with Juliette, if he could have been the star of one of those video clips, giving and receiving such intense sexual pleasure.
     And he couldn’t help but think back to a film he’d seen many years ago, a film which had made a deep impression on him – Cinema Paradiso. Only Juliette’s tawdry compilation didn’t feature the beauty of a lost or stolen kiss, but the schizoid depravities of a lost, lonely woman to whom the finer feelings in life meant absolutely nothing. And Nicholas realised, without having to go upstairs to the bedroom to confirm as much, to confirm that all of Juliette’s possessions were gone, that he would never, ever see her again.

Therapist Shaun Fox is the protagonist in Neil Randall's latest novel Bestial Burdens (Cephalopress). To order you copy of the book, click on the link below:


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DO THE MAIN CHARACTERS IN BOOKS HAVE TO BE LIKEABLE?

Sunday, 5 April 2020 / Leave a Comment




Characterisation: Do Protagonists Have to be Likeable?
Many years ago, when I first started writing, I joined a peer-led website set up by the Art’s Council to help budding authors develop their skills. In essence, you uploaded the opening chapters of your novel (or a short story) to the site. To gain a reading credit (i.e. to get another member to read and review your chapters) you had to read somebody else’s sample first. There was a categorised scoring system – 1-5 – for Use of Language, Dialogue, Settings, Characterisation et cetera. At the end of the month, the top ten best-rated stories would be read and reviewed by a leading literary agent.
      This was a hugely beneficial if frustrating experience (there was a lot of tactical scoring, hatchet jobs, time-wasters). But it certainly made me – someone with no writing background to speak of – a better writer, more aware of the ruthless editing process essential to the development of any story.
     Almost inevitably, I became involved in a spat with a member over one of the samples I’d uploaded to the site. Not only did this particular reviewer score my story very poorly, they took to the member’s notice-board to complain about what they saw as me glamorising sexual assault. To put the scene in question into context, I wanted to make the villain of my novel, A Quiet Place to Die – a cowboy builder – as odious and reprehensible as possible. To do so, I set him up as not only conducting a clandestine affair with a local divorcee, but humiliating her in a rough sex scene. As this took place relatively early in the novel, I wanted the reader to know that this particular character was a horrible bastard, the ‘bad guy’, even though the novel’s other main protagonist – a psychopathic bank robber on the run – was a far more dangerous individual. In this graphic, unflinching manner, the attempt was to shift sympathy, allegiance, from one unworthy character to another.
     In response to the comments left on the site’s notice-board, I tried to explain exactly why I’d written such a brutal scene and what I hoped to accomplish – and the very fact that the reviewer had reacted in this way made me feel as if I’d succeeded in what I set out to do.
      Opinion was split.
     Some members who saw the post fully agreed with the reviewer. For them, sexual violence of any kind had no place in literature. Others were in agreement with me – that if an author provokes such an impassioned reaction in a reader then they’ve succeeded in their role as a writer.
      But the incident, the online spat, was nothing if not instructive. In the aftermath, I asked myself: do the main characters in books have to be likeable? Does there have to be some balance between good and bad? That if you create a truly reprehensible character, do you have to offset that with a character of proportionate goodness? In other reviews for my other stories, it became a recurring theme – how readers wanted to be able to cheer someone on (and that’s exactly how the vast majority actually expressed it), that each story has to have a sympathetic character, a ‘good guy’.
      But – both then and now – I’m not sure if I agree with that.
     For a compelling character is a compelling character. And just like in life, not all stories have a happy ending. Not all people are good. And not all stories are black and white. Naturally, an S.S. officer at Auschwitz or a mass murderer or child abuser (and I know they’re extreme examples) are not going to be likeable characters. Their acts are far too reprehensible. But in less dramatic incidences, greedy, self-serving, back-stabbing, lying, cheating, swindling, philandering characters – the anti-hero as a vehicle to drive a novel forward – can be the most satisfying and riveting of all. Even if they don’t necessarily undergo moral regeneration (Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment), see the error of their ways (Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol) or get their comeuppance (Patrick Bateman from American Psycho) these characters are the most interesting, complex and colourful in literary history.


      Fast-forward to today.
     My latest novel Bestial Burdens has just been released through Cephalopress. I actually wrote this novel way back in 2011. At the time, I felt it was certain to be my breakthrough book, that a contemporary novel about sex and therapy was a sure-fire winner, that it had all the ingredients a modern novel should have – big characters, big ideas. Sadly, it garnered little or no interest from agents or publishers. Every six or so months, I’d take the manuscript out of my desk drawer, play around with a few things, and scour the internet for a publisher that might be interested in putting out something different from the standard genre fiction fare which dominates today’s bookshelves. In my darker moments, I wondered why the novel had failed to generate any interest whatsoever. My reluctant conclusion: characterisation.
      There are two main characters in the book: Shaun Fox, a narcissistic therapist, an arrogant, conceited, complacent individual who treats his many sexual partners like objects, or worse: portable case studies. And his new client, Lucas McGoldrick, an ex-porn star struggling to come to terms with fatherhood late in life, a former alcoholic and drug addict, a man who’s done many shameful things in his life (most notably star in infamous seventies porn film Animal Farm).
      Undoubtedly, Shaun is a gifted and empathetic therapist – he’s very good at his job. He helps people with a range of emotional/mental health issues. But his attitudes towards women, sex, relationships make him a very unpleasant character indeed. Hardly somebody any reader could “cheer on”. But that doesn’t make him any less of a compelling personality. The duality of his character – personal and professional – is counterbalanced with his developing relationship with Lucas.  And it’s this duality that is at the heart of the book – the parallels Shaun starts to recognise between not just his own colourful sex life but his outlook and worldview in general, and Lucas’ dark past, the drink and drug addiction, the countless intimate acts with countless strangers, the meaninglessness of sexual gratification, that made up life in the 1970’s porn industry.
       And again, I’m drawn back to the issue of whether characters have to be wholesome and good and worthy to attract a more general readership. And why aren’t more readers interested in deeply flawed personalities? Is it because such negative traits are too close to home? Do they need their fictional favourites to possess characteristics they, or anybody else on this planet, don’t naturally possess?
     For the reasons outlined above, I suspect that many people will dislike Bestial Burdens, that they’ll find the Shaun Fox character too distasteful. To the extent, that they might only read a handful of chapters. But I created these two characters to examine modern attitudes towards relationships, intimacy, making a connection with that one special person, of treasuring that above all other things. In many ways, it is both critique and sad lament to each individual’s search for love, something more important than mere sexual pleasure. If the route taken is an unpalatable one for some readers, then I’m afraid they’ve picked up the wrong book.
     
Bestial Burdens (Cephalopress) is now available to buy in both paperback and Kindle. Click on the link below to order your copy today:




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BESTIAL BURDENS - RELEASED TODAY!

Wednesday, 1 April 2020 / Leave a Comment


Today sees the release of my new novel Bestial Burdens (Cephalopress). As many of you know, it's been a long road to finally seeing the book in print. A nine-year long road, in fact! But as the Russian proverb goes, "Every seeds know it's time". And knowing that Bestial Burdens has found its rightful home with Cephalopress gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

Here's a video of me reading the opening pages of the book:




To give you a better idea of what the novel's about, here's the blurb from the back of the book:

There is no such thing as a feeling
Therapist Shaun Fox runs a successful creative writing programme. A modern, free-thinking man, unfettered by social convention, he has many sexual partners, and avoids long-term commitment at all costs. But his private life is taking a darker turn. Increasingly, he’s drawn to damaged, vulnerable women, women he can manipulate into becoming no more than sexual objects, women he has no genuine feelings for, leaving him cold and empty inside.
When ex-porn star Lucas McGoldrick is referred to him after a botched suicide attempt, Fox begins to see worrying parallels between his own narcissistic lifestyle and the life his new client used to live. Through a series of creative writing assignments and therapy sessions, Fox learns of McGoldrick’s own sexual odyssey, from tender, adolescent innocence to a nightmare of pornography, violence and addiction.

Refusing to acknowledge his own failings, Fox embarks upon another illicit affair, this time with a married woman, and is finally forced to confront the essential truths surrounding himself and all human relationships.

To purchase the book in either in paperback or on kindle, click on this link:

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BESTIAL BURDENS UPDATE - RELEASE DATE OTHER NEWS

Tuesday, 31 March 2020 / Leave a Comment

In light of the corona-virus outbreak, and the fact that all of our lives have both been put on hold and turned upside down, the vast majority of public events have been cancelled indefinitely. But, I'm delighted to announce, the release of my latest novel Bestial Burdens will go ahead as planned. In such uncertain times, with so many millions of people in lock-down, we felt that one thing we need right now is distraction, entertainment, cultural and intellectual nourishment in our lives. And in our own small way, we hope that a novel like Bestial Burdens can go some way to providing that.

Put simply: not even a global pandemic can get in the way of great literature!

Therefore, be on the lookout for both the paperback and kindle version of the novel winging its way to you as of tomorrow.

Here's a reminder of what the book is about:

There is no such thing as a feeling
Therapist Shaun Fox runs a successful creative writing programme. A modern, free-thinking man, unfettered by social convention, he has many sexual partners, and avoids long-term commitment at all costs. But his private life is taking a darker turn. Increasingly, he’s drawn to damaged, vulnerable women, women he can manipulate into becoming no more than sexual objects, women he has no genuine feelings for, leaving him cold and empty inside.
When ex-porn star Lucas McGoldrick is referred to him after a botched suicide attempt, Fox begins to see worrying parallels between his own narcissistic lifestyle and the life his new client used to live. Through a series of creative writing assignments and therapy sessions, Fox learns of McGoldrick’s own sexual odyssey, from tender, adolescent innocence to a nightmare of pornography, violence and addiction.

Refusing to acknowledge his own failings, Fox embarks upon another illicit affair, this time with a married woman, and is finally forced to confront the essential truths surrounding himself and all human relationships.

Till then, take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Hopefully, we'll all see some light at the end of the tunnel soon.

PS - Please note that, despite the book release going ahead as scheduled, all Bestial Burdens related public events - readings, signings, TV, radio appearances etc - things you may have heard about through the literary grapevine have been cancelled until further notice.

WATCH THIS SPACE! 




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PERSEVERANCE FURTHERS

Sunday, 15 March 2020 / Leave a Comment



Next month sees the release of my latest novel Bestial Burdens (Cephalopress). For many reasons, I’m incredibly excited about having a new book coming out. First and foremost, because I think it’s a great piece work. Then again, I would say that, I’m the author and naturally biased in such matters. But what perhaps gives me the greatest satisfaction in seeing Bestial Burdens finally hit the bookshelves – physical, virtual or otherwise – is that I actually wrote the book nine years ago.
     That’s right – nine long years between typing The End and seeing the book in print.
     By any standards, that’s a long time. In context, it took two years to build the Eiffel Tower, three years the Titanic (not that she lasted very long), ten years your average Pyramid (if that was heavily labour-intensive work) and twenty years, the Great Wall of China, all 13,000 miles of it.
      Very vividly (and not without a true sense of fondness), I remember working on the late drafts of the novel, in a quiet little cottage on the coast, refining the story, getting it down to the bare bones – or as Columbo used to say: “Just the facts, ma’am” – and thinking, with more and more conviction each day, that I’d written something quite unique, something, with a mix of sex and therapy, that would be a complete piece of piss, easy sell, to any agent or publisher I might happen to approach. In itself, the opening line should rightly have won any number of prestigious literary awards (who knows, it might still?):

When Lucas McGoldrick walked into my office, I had no idea he’d starred in infamous seventies porn film Animal Farm.

      Put simply, I thought, after much trial and a huge amount of rudimentary error, I’d finally found my voice, that I’d finally written my BREAKTHROUGH NOVEL.
    With great care, I crafted an eye-catching approach letter to literary agents. In all, I selected around 25, some of whom had requested full manuscripts before, some of whom I’d actually met face to face to discuss the possibility of taking me on as a client. I didn’t see that there could be any way that I wouldn’t be fighting off the great and the good amongst them with the literary equivalent of a shitty stick.
      Imagine my disappointment, my despair, when I received not one single full manuscript request, when each approach letter/email I sent out was summarily rejected – or ignored.
    Months passed, twelve of them, a year, two years, three…you get the picture. From time to time, I’d take the manuscript out again, read it, tweak a few things here and there, and send it off to an independent publisher, more in hope than any real conviction. And I guess there comes a time when you admit defeat to yourself, when you feel that this or that book or short story or poem just isn’t ever going to see the light of day, that – and this is of course the most soul-crushingly unwanted admission of all –it simply isn’t good enough to be published, full-stop.
    Around that time, I became interested (almost obsessively so) in the I Ching, the ancient book of changes. In terms of the publishing industry, with some pretty stunning failures already under my belt, I’d reached a point which is probably best described by that great Einstein quote (and forgive the paraphrase) – “Insanity is best defined by doing the same things over and over again, and expecting the same results”. And that’s what it felt like, holing myself up in a room for months on end, writing a book, sending it out to agents and publishers, and receiving blanket rejection slips.
    Hamsters on wheels make more real, tangible progress.
    Long story short. I changed tack. I started to consult the I Ching about every single facet of my life, not just my writing. If I had to make a choice, if something was bugging, me, I’d write it down, like a little piece of flash fiction in its own right, I’d toss the coins and build my hexagrams, I’d read the text and commentaries and, where possible (and often this went against my better judgement, against basic common garden common sense), I followed the advice.
     During this period, one phrase kept cropping up again and again and again – in truth, for someone like me, someone about as spiritual as a tin of economy dog food, it started to get on my tits – perseverance furthers.



      But, ultimately, it did, and I did – in terms of my writing – I persevered. Only I did so in a far more considered manner. In consulting the oracle, in getting things down on paper before rushing in like an idiot, I attained a new perspective, a new calm. I started to believe more and more in the act of writing itself and how much I was fascinated by it, how much I enjoyed sitting down each day and crafting sentence upon sentence, the sum parts of a story, something that hadn’t in that particular, specific form, unique to my eyes, , the filter that was and is and will always be my mind, existed before. And I found more truth in that than anything I’d ever put my faith into before.
      Perhaps there’s nothing particularly profound or inspiring about anything I did back then. If you love doing something – manually disconnecting nasal hairs, playing pick-up sticks with your arse-cheeks, writing a novel – you’ll carry on doing it no matter what. No matter how many houses you could redecorate with rejection slips. No matter how many people tell you that you’ll never produce anything of any worth or merit.
    And nine years later, on April 1st of the 2020, Bestial Burdens will officially be released.  




Click on the link below to order your copy of the book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1650323808/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0



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MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT - BESTIAL BURDENS RELEASE DATE

Wednesday, 19 February 2020 / Leave a Comment


Neil Randall and Cephalopress are delighted to confirm the release date for Bestial Burdens - 01/04/2020. Both author and publisher are hugely excited by the prospect of unleashing such a controversial and thought-provoking book on the reading public!

To give you a better idea of what the story is about, here's the blurb from the back of the book:


Therapist Shaun Fox runs a successful creative writing programme. A modern, free-thinking man, unfettered by social convention, he has many sexual partners, and avoids long-term commitment at all costs. But his private life is taking a darker turn. Increasingly, he’s drawn to damaged, vulnerable women, women he can manipulate into becoming no more than sexual objects, women he has no genuine feelings for, until he’s left feeling cold and empty inside. 

When ex-porn star Lucas McGoldrick is referred to him following a botched suicide attempt, Fox begins to see worrying parallels between his own narcissistic lifestyle and the life his new client used to live. Through a series of creative writing assignments and therapy sessions, Fox learns of McGoldrick’s own sexual odyssey, from tender adolescent innocence into a nightmare of pornography, violence and addiction.

Refusing to acknowledge his failings, both personal and professional, Fox embarks upon an illicit affair with a married woman, and is finally forced to confront the essential truths surrounding all human relationships.

If you can't wait until the 1st of April, why not read Neil's short story The Case of the Crocodile Man, now featured on the Cephalopress website:


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READ UNPUBLISHED SHORT STORY - THE CASE OF THE CROCODILE MAN

Thursday, 19 December 2019 / Leave a Comment



To whet your appetites for a big, BIG 2020 release, Neil Randall and Cephalopress have teamed up to bring you a brand-new unpublished short story entitled The Case of the Crocodile Man.

The story is very much inspired by a recurring dream the author has suffered since early childhood – that of being eaten by an actual crocodile (of the family Crocodylidae). Weird bastard, you might say, with complete justification. But an active interest in Freudian case studies – The Wolf Man, Rat Man, The Schreiber Case –both psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in general (dominant themes in the forthcoming novel release), coupled with a strong aversion to being considered a foodstuff of any kind (no matter how successful the unrepentant riverside predator involved) helped bring this particular story to fruition.


(Note: Hand not author's own)


To read the story in full, click on the link below:


And be sure to watch this space for more news regarding the forthcoming novel. It’s one you really don’t want to miss out on.

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THE STORY OF A DOG'S BODY - PUBLISHED BY MISERY TOURISM

Tuesday, 17 December 2019 / Leave a Comment



Neil Randall is delighted to announce that his new short story, The Story of a Dog’s Body, has been accepted for publication by online literary journal Misery Tourism. There’s some great stories and poems (and some weird and wonderful artwork) on the website. If you like your literature darker than dark then I’d strongly recommend you give it a look!
     Here’s a little taster of The Story of a Dog’s Body, the opening scenes, in fact:

This story is told from the point of view of a family dog who wakes up one morning in the grips of a debilitating depression. It can’t even look at the tinned dog food its owner scoops into its bowl. The thick pieces of jellified meat, once so tantalising, appear gross and unappealing. The mere smell of the stuff makes the dog feel nauseous, and he trudges away and slumps down in his basket in the corner of the kitchen.      
      From this lowly vantage point, the dog observes the usual morning pandemonium as the rest of the household wakes up – the shouts up the stairs, padding feet on the landing, the sound of running water, the toilet flushing, the rumble of the boiling kettle, toast popping out of a toaster.
      The family itself consists of a husband and wife and a young son. A normal, happy, functioning unit – the man and woman go to work each day, the son goes to school. Their lives are ordered, regimented almost, and this is perhaps (while not overtly stated) the root cause of the dog’s malaise, how each morning is exactly the same as the morning that preceded it, how he is expected to play out his designated role – scampering eagerly over to each family member in turn, jumping up, licking hands and faces, getting under feet, being lightly admonished, pushed away, occasionally patted, stroked, hugged. But today, he has not the energy or inclination to participate in this banal charade. He wants to do nothing more than lie motionless in his basket.

Click on the link below to read the story in full on the Misery Tourism website:


And if you liked that, why not check out my published works on amazon:





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THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE NINE LIVES OF JACOB FALLADA

Sunday, 22 September 2019 / Leave a Comment



Stories can have fluctuating gestation periods. Some offer the writer no resistance whatsoever. From idea to pen to page. Others can be far more elusive, trickier to subdue, pin down, flesh out, tame, and ultimately execute. That was very much the case with The Nine Lives of Jacob Fallada. This series of nine interconnected short stories started out life as one single scene inspired by yet another odd encounter I had with my old nemesis: the canine.
      One typically English Easter Bank Holiday – blanket drear, thick fog, torrential rain, blustery wind, plummeting temperatures – I sought to escape the elements by sensibly taking refuge in the village pub. Due to the weather conditions, the place was packed with day-trippers, very much a silver army, the blue-rinsers, the bald, freckle-spotted pate OAP brigade. You’ve probably seen them around. Baby boomers. Financially (and literally), the last of a dying breed, in terms of fully paid up pensions and any chance of financial security in their old age.
    But I digress. 
    As I edged towards the bar, I noticed a group of these geriatric spendthrifts crowded around the largest St. Bernard I’d ever seen, a dog that made the legendary Schnorbitz look like a mere ankle-biter. Keeping my wits very much about me – I’d seen Cujo and knew how this movie could quite conceivably end – I squeezed my way to the counter, got myself a pint and a whisky chaser, and somehow managed to snare a recently vacated seat directly in front of a roaring open-fire.
      As I sat there sipping away at my drinks, I watched this hulking hound bound from one part of the bar to the other, dash this way and that, turning over tables and chairs, sending glasses smashing to the floor, paying no mind to the doddery clientele, knocking OAPs over like pins in a furry game of bowling, bloodying elbows and knees, noses, snapping brittle, arthritic bones in two. It was chaos, carnage. The St. Bernard was too big and intimidating, the space too small. It was as if it was the dog’s pub and us humans had to get the hell out of its way or suffer the consequences. The only thing that it didn’t do in the short period I was there was go behind the bar and start pulling pints! I couldn’t believe that the owner, the landlord, anyone! could let the dog run riot like that. It started to freak me out, piss me off. I wanted another drink, maybe more, but daren’t venture from my seat for fear of getting trampled underfoot, bitten, mauled and/or inadvertently stepping on a fallen pensioner in the throes of a fit or seizure. It didn’t seem right. The man/beast scales had been tipped. The pendulum had swung in the wrong direction. The barroom, the last bastion of the working-class hero, had become the backdrop on which a canine version of The Planet of the Apes was being conducted right before my eyes!
      Naturally, I left as soon as the dog’s back was turned.
    A day or two later, I wrote the scene pasted below (pretty much as you read it now), but I had absolutely no idea what to do with it (for seven years):

Jacob Fallada didn't know what shocked him more: that a hulking St Bernard was sitting on a stool at the bar, smoking a cigar, or that nobody else in the traditional hostelry was paying the immense canine any attention – not the morose-looking old-timers sitting at a nearby table, or the much younger, smartly dressed couple deep in conversation in a booth by the window.
      Almost involuntarily, Jacob found himself walking towards the bar. When he reached the counter, he stole a quick glance at the dog. Its thick white coat had black and brownish flecks; its bull-like neck; its whole body seemed to ripple with a heaving, muscular vitality that was as impressive as it was intimidating.
      The barman, a shifty, wall-eyed Transcaucasian, shuffled over.
      “What can I get you?” he asked Jacob.
      There was a brief silence, where Jacob tried to divert the barman’s attention, discretely nodding in the direction of the dog, his eyes (if the barman had been observant enough to notice), clearly said: Look, there’s a huge dog at the end of the bar, smoking a cigar, don’t you think that’s a little strange? But there was nothing, not a glimmer of recognition, indicating that the barman did indeed find the St Bernard’s presence in any way unusual.
      “I said: what can I get you?”
      “Oh, sorry, miles away,” Jacob lied. “I’ll have, erm…one of those, please.” He pointed to one of the real ales; one of the cheapest drinks available.
      “Coming right up.”
      As the barman pulled off the pint, Jacob darted another glance at the St Bernard, happily smoking away, seemingly oblivious to everything, like any thoughtful, melancholy drinker found in any bar across the globe.
      “There you go.” The barman put Jacob’s dark, frothy pint on the counter. “That’ll be seven-forty, please.”
      “Right, okay.” As he took a handful of coins out of his pocket, Jacob felt duty-bound to make some reference to the dog.  “I, erm…didn’t know smoking was allowed in public places anymore.”
      Something he immediately regretted. For the dog shifted its immense body around on the stool, and glared at him.
      “No, no,” said the barman, “that only applies to humans – the smoking ban, I mean. Far as the management is concerned, any of our canine regulars are more than welcome to enjoy a smoke at the bar.”
      “Oh, right, that sounds reasonable enough,” said Jacob, nervously, feeling the weight of the dog’s stare. “Not that it bothers me in the slightest. I happen to love the smell of a good cigar. It’s just that I wasn’t aware of the regulations.” He placed a final coin on the counter. “There you go. Thanks very much.”
      The barman gathered up the coins and walked over to the cash register.
      As Jacob reached for his ale, the canine started speaking to him in a clear human voice.
      “You have a problem with me smoking at the bar, young man?”



Years passed (seven, I just told you that) before I managed to come up with an idea to complete the story: the dog acts as a matchmaker, setting Jacob up with a young lady with a Lee Harvey Oswald tattoo on her arm, on their first date they attend a pig circus, where a Large White Bred pig is dressed up in a tuxedo and tried for its part in a crime it could no way have committed. Standard plot-like fare you’d find in Brown, Archer, Cooper (J).
      Not long after this, I wrote another story with the same Jacob Fallada character called Three Little Boys, which has recently been published by Iowa’s Mark Review literary journal. Here’s the link if you’d like to read the story in its entirely:


But it wasn’t until two, maybe three years later that I conceived of more stories (nine, I just told you that), about an outsider, a lonely, misunderstood young artist who chronicles all the unpleasant things that happen to him in life. Abandoned by his parents, brought up be a tyrannical aunt, bullied at school, ostracized by the local community, nearly everyone Jacob comes into contact with takes an instant, (often) violent dislike towards him. Like Job from the bible, he is beaten and abused, manipulated and taken advantage of. Life, people, fate, circumstance force him deeper into his shell, deeper into the cocoon of his fledgling artistic work, where he records every significant event in sketches, paintings and short-form verse, documenting his own unique, eminently miserable human experience. At heart, he longs for companionship, intimacy, love, but is dealt so many blows he is too scared to reach out to anybody. On the fringes of society, he devotes himself solely to his art. When his sketches, paintings and verse finally come to the attention of a local gallery owner, Jacob tragically dies and never gets to see his work receive the recognition it deserves.

If you want to find out what the finished product turned out like, the book is now available from amazon:


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