An Owl’s Tale


I’m unapologetic about the fact that my favourite book is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, a book that has fascinated me since I was a small child. Magical stories, or at least narratives in which the tyranny of reality is overthrown or subverted, have fascinated me since. At different stages in my childhood and adolescence I read such fiction to the exclusion of almost everything else. In my teens and twenties, intoxicated by the rhetoric of the bygone European avant-garde, I dismissed realism as an innately reactionary way of presenting the world, and although now (in my forties) I can see that my anti-realism was ill-informed and quaint, my predilection for the bizarre, the mythical and the surreal remains. Kneel Downe’s books satisfy that craving, and An Owl’s Tale does so in a particularly idiosyncratic way. 

The book is a collection of mythopoeic tales, told by Owl to a little girl called Amelia, who makes significant appearances elsewhere in Kneel’s work. The framing device of Owl’s narration allows the reader to sit at the author’s knee and accept each magical story in the same way that a young child accepts Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel. This is a children’s book for adults, and it makes an enchanting alternative to the conventions of story-telling we accept as the norm when we are beset by mortgages, career ambitions, money worries, responsibilities. The language of An Owl’s Tale is artfully archaic, full of syntactic inversions and olde worlde vocabulary, but at the same time it is terse and punchy. Take this example, from “The River That Fell in Love with the Sea”:

Slipped the seasons and cold came unto the world… 

And her back turned harsh and white.


But beneath she endured.

Grain by grain…

This style looks at first like an acquired taste, but the fluidity and confidence of Kneel’s writing carries the reader along, and the stories quickly become accessible and engaging. The book taps into ancient story-telling traditions that we greet with a smile of recognition when they manifest as “The Wolf Who Lost His Reflection” or “The Prince Without a Throne.” 

The best children’s books are objects of beauty, with windows to other worlds in the form of illustrations. An Owl’s Tale offers its adult readers the same aesthetic joy, thanks to Susan Omand’s elegant ink drawings, which introduce each tale. The combination of Susan’s pictures and Kneel’s words is powerful and exciting. 

If you love traditional tales and myths or are fascinated by the act of story-telling, you should buy this book.  


Mono: a work in progress


He’s on the TV again. A grand announcement. His mouth moves like a machine. His teeth are too white. Someone’s working him from behind. 

You don’t masturbate often. Can’t muster the enthusiasm. Anyway, your hands are reptilian, and that’s a turnoff. 

Things happen fast, but nothing changes. You’re quite the philosopher. 

When you look at blood under a microscope it wriggles because it objects to the gaze of the observer, especially if the observer is male or creepy or dead. 

Supermarkets are morgues for the living. 

A woman came up to you the other day and asked if she could bite your neck. You had no idea how to respond, so you pretended you hadn’t heard her. She asked you again, quite loudly, and people around you struggled to feign a lack of interest. You looked at her red mouth and felt sick. She was probably an actress. You couldn’t see a camera crew though. 

Dreams are nothing to be ashamed of, except perhaps for wet dreams. 

In your favourite dream you run a business that manufactures countries and sells them to drug addicts. Profits soar, like eagles. Bar graphs strike mean poses. Your minions do everything you say, even if you’re only joking. It’s a massive turn on. 

You once killed a bear and flayed it. Then you made its skin into a suit, which you wear to the office whenever you’re up for promotion. A bear is easy to kill. All you have to do is stun it by reciting haiku, then finish it off with a sonnet. It’s child’s play. More people should try it.

When he’s speaking cities crumble and monuments to his decisiveness, Machiavellianism and virility shoot up from the dust. Members of the opposition droop in the shadow of his achievements. Snap snap snap chat chat chat. Cameras and eyes and mouths go mad. If you see his face on a billboard you’re likely to feel nauseous or afraid or angry. If only you could remember his name. 

Faulty dream. Not for sale. 

It was a faulty dream. It was not for sale. 


It yawned, or the darkness yawned. It stretched. Limbs rooted around. It couldn’t contain itself.
It found a mouth, teeth, a tongue. It tried words: BLOCK, FOG, KNOT, THROTTLE, POT, LOCK, NOD.
It sprouted a tail. The curious curl made a question mark. Red, but not hot. It was calm. It pulsed quietly in the dark.
It added one to one, and then two to two. It smiled at its hands, its crooked smile in the mirror of the lake.

It set about inventing. First the flower. Then the window. Next came the book, the gun, the mountain, the moth, fear. 
It spoke the language of the bees. They took nectar from the delicate machinery of its words.
It died fifty times a second. Its screams were inaudible. We all remember funeral number 700,890,761. 
It lived in a city that existed only in the memory of a film of a book.