New rooms in the House of Mirrors


She showed me her ID. It didn’t look like her. I took it from her and told her to stand in the corner while I checked it.

I went to the computer and typed in the number on her ID. “Not found.”

I went back to her and told her she wasn’t who she said she was. She didn’t reply. Just looked at the floor. She might have been smiling. I told her again that she wasn’t who she said she was and that her ID was invalid.

One of the Mirrors came in, grinning. He pointed at her and asked what was up. I told him that she wasn’t who she said she was, then showed him her fake ID. He grinned even more and pointed at the photo on the ID.

It took me a few seconds to see it was me, wearing a wig and makeup. I looked like a woman.

The Mirror left the room, laughing.


They played peek-a-boo in the ruins of the mannequin factory, scampering around the hulks of the machines, frightening the cats.

They played hide-and-seek at the bottom of the sea, oblivious to their own drowning.

They played “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?” in the heart of the iron forest.

They played “It” on the rings of Saturn.

They played chess in someone else’s headspace, until they were evicted.

They played solitaire in a circle of Hell hidden from Dante but revealed to all users of social media.

They played with themselves under the table while your mother served them soup.

They played the parts written for them by the Bird King.


The birds in Eve’s ribcage panicked and shrieked.

Wolfish eyes watched from behind the curtains as we acted out the seasons of someone else’s life.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. No one had warned us we would be reduced to marionettes. No one had told us our badly written dialogue would be drowned out by Eve’s birds.

At the end of the first half, during the blackout, I lost my bearings and fell off the stage. It was thirteen years before I hit the floor. During that time I changed into something else: my skin flew off in flakes and my hair thickened into a crown of snakes.

By the time I landed the theatre had been turned into luxury flats. An elevator took me to the top floor, where sluttish mannequins danced motionlessly in bone cages.


House of Mirrors is an ongoing collaboration with artist Viviana Hinojosa. You can see more of it here and here.


The Bird King is mad again

“A brilliant piece of work.” Jeff Noon, author of Channel SK1N, Vurt and The Automated Alice.

The Madness of the Bird King is a poetic picture book for grown-ups. It presents the reader with the enigmatic Bird King and his world, in a poem made of twelve fragments, each with an accompanying watercolour illustration by Diana Probst. Originally published in 2012, it has just been reissued in a new edition, available here.

In constructing our book, Diana and I wanted to offer the adult reader the feelings of delight, wonder and joyful terror that young children experience daily, when immersing themselves in picture books like The Gruffalo and Where the Wild Things Are. Much of that rich emotional experience is a result of the potent combination of text and image; the magic of The Madness of the Bird King is generated by the connections and disjunctions between my words and Diana’s beautiful pictures, which are not illustrations in any traditional sense. Although each painting was inspired by a Bird King fragment, we have not paired them up. Indeed, some of the pictures were inspired by material that didn’t make it to the finished poem.

What follows are the first three parts of our twelve part work. In the book, my text appears on the left hand page, and Diana’s illustration appears on the right. The Bird King himself may sometimes be glimpsed, fleeting between the two.



The Bird King is mad again.

He caws
through empty midnight streets,
moulting tar-black



The Bird King’s wings:
stiff machinery
cobbled together from wire,
corrugated iron.

But the feathers are real, seasonal:

Spring: urinous, downy.
Summer: purples, scarlets.
Autumn: rust-tinged greys.
Winter: a widow’s fan.



The Bird King spends much of his time
asleep on a throne of lightbulbs,
dreaming of love.

Waiting in the wings: his retinue of electricians.

Sometimes he wakes,

His laughter breaks glass,
frightens animals.

He cackles and crackles on his electric throne.


Copies of the book can be purchased here.

Find out more about Diana and her work here. You can read Diana’s account of her work on the Bird King book here.

All texts on this site are the copyright of James Knight. All images on this post are the copyright of Diana Probst. All rights reserved.

Making a killing


We were head hunted. We dined like gods. We shat gold. Women fell at our feet. Men applauded. Hot machines squealed.



We made a killing. We drove hard bargains and fast cars. We gave motivational talks. We nailed it. We nuked them.



We showed them who’s boss. Our eyes were searchlights. Our mouths were iron maidens. Our hearts were crude oil.

13 imaginary friends


1. He had 13 imaginary friends. They knew him better than his mother did.

2. His imaginary friends were all born of a cat on the night of a blood moon.

3. His imaginary friends had grey skin and red eyes, giving them the appearance of dead people. Their cheeks flushed silver when they blushed.

4. His imaginary friends had held a grudge against him for thirty years. They never forgave him for neglecting them by playing with other children.

5. His imaginary friends regularly gathered in the folds of his curtains, whispering about him.

6. While he slept, his imaginary friends opened the curtains, turned on the lights and displayed him in the window like a mannequin.

7. His imaginary friends were stage managers, orchestrating the bleak theatre of his life.

8. Having sex was difficult with his imaginary friends present.

9. Whenever he saw them on the station platform or in a coffee shop, his imaginary friends would look right through him, as if he didn’t exist.

10. Once, his imaginary friends killed a pigeon and left it on his doorstep. It was intended as an ambiguously threatening message.

11. His imaginary friends maintained their sangfroid by using his fridge as their chillout zone.

12. His imaginary friends were more real than his house, his car, his job, his girlfriend, his parents, his past, his desires, his life.

13. Whenever his imaginary friends felt tired they folded themselves in half and slept under the rug in his living room.


Ymir used to be a big nothing;
Now he’s everything.

His hair is the grass, the trees, the reeds
His scalp is the desert
His skull is the empty vault of space
His brain is telecommunications
His skin is a reality made of matter and mirages
His forehead is the Ten Commandments
His eyebrows are lethargy and a thousand easy lies
His eyelashes are the meshes of love
His eyes are stars, supernovas, lightbulbs, fireworks, napalm, nuclear war
His ears are the remains of imaginary animals
His nose is a sad farewell
His nostrils are wormholes to another dimension where the Bird King reigns from his electric throne
His lips are a debate on the meaning of the word jihad
His teeth are Coca Cola
His tongue is mother of all languages
His cheeks are zoology
His chin is Mount Olympus
His neck is an execution at dawn
His spine is history
His nervous system is capitalism
His shoulders are art installations attempting controversy through the juxtaposition of childhood and terrorism
His arms are escape routes to Valhalla
His hands are bird cages or prison cells or holding bays or rooms without doors
His chest is archeology
His ribcage is the phantom city at dusk
His heart is time
His lungs are the four winds, weather, disaster
His abdomen is sentiment
His digestive system is a labyrinth of corridors and offices
His hips are cemeteries
His genitals are every whimsical thought anyone has ever had
His buttocks are creationism
His anus is Hellmouth
His legs are mannequins staring murderously at passersby
His feet are flawed arguments
His blood is the sea of dreams.

The rest of Ymir remains uncatalogued
In boxes
In a basement
Under the ruins of a building
Forgotten by the story-tellers.


This poem was written for Nicky Mortlock’s Norse mythology project.

Dr Chimera: seven fun facts!


1. It is not advisable to allow Dr Chimera to take your temperature.

2. Whatever the diagnosis, Dr Chimera always prescribes a course of dried rats’ brains.

3. Dr Chimera enjoys administering napalm enemas to influential individuals whose politics differ from his.

4. Dr Chimera runs a private clinic staffed by hyenas. Patients who fail to facilitate performance targets are binned, shredded or atomised.

5. Dr Chimera takes every opportunity to poo-poo Dr Manticore’s combined health clinic/funeral parlour empire.

6. Dr Chimera specialises in the treatment of psoriasis, baldness, creationism and broken heads.

7. Dr Chimera disputes the reality of most major illnesses, which he regards as the psychosomatic byproducts of poor reading habits. In his book Have a Heart, he attributes coronary disease to neurosis brought about by reading the novels of Will Self and Jilly Cooper. As for slipped discs and other spinal problems, he has stated quite emphatically that they’re brought about by reading Russell Brand. Finally, Dr Chimera warns that if you have ever read anything by Martin Amis you will, at some point, experience severe vomiting and diarrhoea.