Thursday, 21 July 2022 / Leave a Comment


There’s not much you can do with 180 characters…or is there?

      One fine day, I came across a post on social media that went something along the lines of – Nostalgic for my first proper boyfriend in the 90s. We had no money and would buy second-hand answering machines from charity shops, get stoned, and listen to the old messages.

     Which made me not only feel nostalgic for those plasticky, crappy, tinny machines of yesteryear, but gave me a whole host of Lynchian, Blue Velvet style ideas for a story.

     A year or so later, I’m delighted to say that I not only wrote that story but that it has just been published by the good people at A Thin Slice of Anxiety magazine.


Here’s the opening scene:


We met at a house party. Wary as I was of the situation – teenage girl getting chatted up by a much older boy – I’d seen him around town before. I knew he had a bit of a reputation – trouble with the police, shoplifting, selling drugs – pretty much the holy trinity for anyone in their early twenties. Maybe that was the attraction.

       “You fancy a smoke?” he asked.

      “Yeah. All right. Why not?”

      We went and sat in an empty bedroom upstairs. After much trial and error, both in keeping the joint alight and trying to smoke it properly, I not only got stoned for the first time, but really enjoyed it. I just couldn’t stop laughing. But more than anything, it was the first time I’d ever really been alone with a boy like this. Course, I’d had snogs and stuff with lads round mates’ houses, fumbles in darkened rooms when their parents were away for the weekend. But I don’t think I’d ever been in what you could call intimate surroundings before. ’Cause, inevitably, I s’pose, we ended up kissing, sharing these soft tender smooches. And it was all so lovely and new to me, so different from having some sweaty, panting seventeen-year-old groping roughly at your tits or trying to force his hand in between your legs.

      “Hey,” he said, “you wanna do something tomorrow? Maybe meet up in town ’bout lunchtime. Hang out. You’re a top girl, Georgina. I really like your company.”

     And that’s how the whole thing started between me and Will Crabtree.


If you want to read more, the story can be read in its entirety on the ‘A Slice of Anxiety’ website. Click on this link:

And if you’re still hungry for more, why not check out my published work at amazon:

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Thursday, 2 June 2022 / Leave a Comment


Often, the myths and legends that surround a movie are as interesting as the movie itself. Potential miscasting – Ryan O’Neil as Rocky Balboa, Christopher Walken as Han Solo – chaotic shoots running massively over-budget (Apocalypse Now), famous feuds (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford).

     What could’ve been, what never was, and what will never be.

      At the height of her fame, post 9 ½ Weeks, screen siren Kim Basinger agreed to play the titular role in a controversial film based on Philippe Caland’s story Boxing Helena. Whether she was badly advised, or whether she simply hadn’t studied the script in enough detail, Basinger pulled out of shooting the movie (as did, interestingly enough, Madonna). As a result, she was sued for such a huge amount of money by the production company, it all but bankrupted her.

      What was Basinger’s beef?

      Simply, that she would spend half of the film minus her arms and legs.

     For those not familiar with the storyline, Boxing Helena is a tale of dangerous obsession. A surgeon, played by Julian Sands, becomes so infatuated with Helena, a stunningly beautiful woman played (in the end) by Sherilyn Fenn – a love that is not reciprocated – that he removes her arms and legs so he can keep her all to himself.

     Although it sounds like a typically dark male fantasy based on feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem, and although the film was panned by the critics (and seen as pure Rotten Tomatoes award-winning fare), there was something about the premise that always fascinated me.

      Many years later (nearly 30 to be precise) an idea starting forming in my head after I revisited Boxing Helena during the lockdown period. I saw a link – tenuous, admittedly – between people being confined to their homes and the dreadful fate that awaited Sherilyn Fenn’s character in the film. I ran with the idea – a story about a man waking up one morning to find that both his arms and legs had been mysteriously removed, and no one being able to explain the why, the how, or the wherefore behind it.

     And I’m delighted to announce that the story, entitled Helplessness, has just been accepted for publication by the Fahmidan literary journal. 

To whet your appetite, here’s the opening page or two: 


During the height of the lockdown period, Nigel Randolph awoke into a terrible nightmare reality. Not only had both his arms and legs been removed, but he could no longer speak, only gurgle like an infant. At first, he thought he was indeed dreaming. Neither in pain nor particular discomfort, he had no memory of anything untoward happening. Moreover, when he examined himself, each point of amputation looked to be smooth and clean. There were no signs of redness, recent scarring, blood, no bandages for that matter.

      None of which made any sense.

      Ever since the restrictions came into force, Randolph had spent the vast majority of his time working on his latest screenplay. Progressively, he had lost all track of time. He had become so absorbed in his work, he found it hard to distinguish where one day started and another ended. As far as he could remember, he had written until the early hours of the morning and gone to bed as normal.

      Lifting his head, he looked over towards the desk by the bay window. As expected, he saw his laptop, a pile of manuscript pages, old print-outs from earlier drafts, his notebooks, a few empty wine glasses and coffee cups. Turning his head to the right, he managed to steal a glance into the adjoining kitchenette. Like his desk, it was in a state of semi-disarray. There were dirty plates piled up in the sink, empty beer and wine bottles on the work surfaces, alongside fast-food containers and a pile of old newspapers he had been meaning to throw away for weeks.         

      Wearied by his exertions, he let his head sink back down onto the pillow and then burst into floods of tears.

     It took quite some time for Randolph to calm himself down, to gather his thoughts and assess the true gravity of the situation. He lived alone, was unmarried, and didn’t have children. He kept himself to himself. He rarely saw other people or left his bedsit for any period of time. Not being able to go out or meet in large groups had been natural for him, an extension of his normal working routine. Nobody – not even his agent – would find it odd or out of place for him not to make any kind of contact for weeks on end. This scared him. He was completely helpless. If he didn’t manage to raise the alarm somehow, he faced a slow and horrible death. But how he would go about doing so, he had no idea. The block of flats was populated by a rough mix of drug dealers and misfits, migrant workers, prostitutes. Even if he manoeuvred himself off the bed, he would still have to crawl or roll some fifteen feet to the front door. And there was no guarantee that he would be able to generate much noise, or that any of his near-neighbours would take much notice if he did. 

If you like what you read so far, you can read the story in full on the Fahmidan website.

If you’d like to find out more about my published work, why not visit my amazon page.

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Sunday, 11 July 2021 / Leave a Comment


Neil Randall is delighted to announce that his short story The Factory has been accepted for publication by the good people at Ex-Pat Press. The story is very much based on Neil’s experiences working in a food factory during his younger days. Narrated from the point of view of the factory itself – a dark, omniscient presence overseeing everything that happens on each and every shift – it tells the story of the downtrodden and underappreciated workers and the mind-numbing, backbreaking jobs they have to perform each day.

      Here’s the opening scene, to give you a flavour of the story:


The whistle blows. Workers from the late-shift trudge out of the main building. All have that beaten weary defeated look about ’em – ten till six soon takes its toll, fucks up the body clock, leaves ’em all deadbeat and disorientated, stumbling from one night shift to the next, an empty, void-like existence…just how we like it.

      The Factory is watching.

      The six till two brigade shuffles out of the subsidised canteen, a poky little prefab that serves swampy tea and bacon sandwiches full of gristle. Some take a few final drags on cheap cigarettes; others chat inconsequentially amongst ’emselves while putting on hairnets and rubber gloves. Dawdling. Tick-tock. Work-shy bastards who’d do anything to delay the inevitable, to steal a few seconds, to diddle us out of our precious man hours. I never take my eyes off’a ’em. You better believe it. The Factory is watching, my friend, the Factory is watching.

      We opened here way back in eighty-nine, one of those government schemes, a partnership between local farmers and a big frozen food conglomerate from Scandinavia. Located in the rural heartlands, we cart fresh produce straight from the surrounding fields – fruit and veg – wash, chop, freeze, package, and box the goods on site. Ten thousand square feet of pure factory floor crammed with the latest cutting-edge technology, a maze of mechanical conveyor belts that rumble and judder around the clock. Steam hisses. Big industrial vats bubble away, cauldron-like. Giant extractor fans grunt and whir. Fork-lift trucks career around the loading-bay – Warning, vehicle reversing, warning, vehicle reversing – music to my ears. Production, production, production.

      We employ over three hundred people. In the main, hopeless cases, drop-outs, social misfits, saddos who never went to school very much, who only got the most rudimentary of educations, who can barely read or write or recite their times table. We get ’em all here – the dregs. Half are bloody immigrant workers who can’t speak proper English, the other half are so docile you have to prod ’em with a stick from time to time, just to make sure they’re still breathing. People so useless, they ain’t got a chance of being employed anywhere else.


If you want to read the story in its entirety, head over to the Ex-Pat website:


If you like what you’ve read, why not visit my amazon page to check out my published work:

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Friday, 12 February 2021 / Leave a Comment


Neil Randall is delighted to announce that his new short story A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A DEATH has been accepted for publication by UK literary magazine Dissonance. The story has a special place in Neil’s heart as it was the first piece he wrote following a near-death experience which saw him undergo three life-saving operations. In fact, it was when trying to capture this brush with mortality that he stumbled upon what would become the inspiration for the story itself: a social media post about Danny DeVito cutting hair in a funeral parlour before he became famous.

Pint-sized comedy legend anecdotal gold aside, Neil felt this was an incredible setting for a story. Thus, A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A DEATH was born – a story, as the title suggests, about life and, more specifically, death.

Fun Fact: When Neil told friends about this story, he repeatedly and mistakenly (and probably in a highly Freudian sense) told them that Danny DeVito used to cut hair in an abattoir rather than a funeral parlour. Which, on reflection, may well have made for an even better story, if it would pose some serious questions as to the how and why. But being a non-meat-eater, Neil would feel seriously compromised, morally, in writing a story about a cow, for example, getting a haircut prior to being murdered for its flesh. 

Neil is sincerely grateful to Katrine and the team at Dissonance Magazine for publishing the story and giving it a good home. To whet your appetites, here’s the opening scene: 

I got the job at Shepherdson’s completely by chance, answering an ad in a local newspaper: Vacancy for Funeral Parlour Assistant, Duties Varied, Good Rates of Pay. I rang the telephone number provided and spoke to Mr Shepherdson Senior, the then sprightly, seventy-eight-year-old undertaker himself. ‘Stop by this afternoon,’ he said, after listening to a rundown of my qualifications and experience. ‘You sound like the ideal candidate’.

      Later that day, after the briefest of interviews, the kindly old man introduced me to the rest of the team – the chauffeurs, casket bearers, manageress Valerie Morecambe, not to mention his son and proposed successor Rupert. Warm and friendly, they made me feel as if I really belonged there, as if the job was already mine.

      “Welcome on-board, Clarence,” said Mr Shepherdson Senior, confirming as much, with a firm handshake. “To begin with, we’ll have you working under Mrs Morecambe. She attends to a whole host of duties, from answering the telephone to washing and dressing the corpses prior to the funeral services themselves. There’s a lot to take in, but if you keep your head down, son, you’ve got a job here for life.” 

You can read the story in full on Dissonance magazine’s official website:

 If you like what you read, why not check out Neil’s latest published novels THE NINE LIVES OF JACOB FALLADA and BESTIAL BURDENS on his amazon page:


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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:


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

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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.
     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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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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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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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.


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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:

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