More micromonomania

  
You sit in the window, watching for her. Passersby mistake you for a prostitute.

—–

  
When you look at yourself through a microscope, all you can see is Dr Mort’s frown. 

—–

  
You keep your memories in a cage. When you’re trying to sleep, they shriek and squawk. 

—–

  
Life is like a silent movie. Incidents stutter. There is poetry in their melodrama. 

—–

  
Occasionally, friendly faces interpose themselves between the world and you. 

—–

   
 
Eve’s children mock you from the woodlands. 

—–

  
Eve is not as you remember. Her eyes seem different, expressionless. 

—–

  
Things are ambiguous. They stare at you. You can’t write about them. There are no words. 

—–

  
When you whistle, your enemies drop dead. It only works on Sundays. 

—–

Thanks to everyone who provided source photos for these Mono miniatures. For further micromonomania, click here.

Trying to write about them is pointless

When people ask me what kind of book Mono is, I find it difficult to give a short answer. In many ways, it’s like a novel; when I was writing it I thought of it as a continuous narrative. However, there isn’t a consistent plot: the events narrated are often mutually contradictory, even though they orbit around fixed themes and motifs. If Mono is a novel, it’s closer in spirit to the nouveau roman of Alain Robbe-Grillet or the surrealist stories of Robert Desnos and Michel Leiris than it is to what most readers would recognise as a novel with a plot, believable characters and incidental detail. 

Another problem with labelling Mono a novel is its organisation. Each of the 60 double pages features a monochrome picture on the left and some text on the right. The text never takes up the whole page and always ends with a full stop, making it look like a self-contained piece. In her review of the book, Susan Omand understandably referred to Mono as a “collection of loosely related verses“. Perhaps it is, despite what I had in mind when writing it. Maybe it’s a prose poem or a sequence of 60 prose poems. Maybe the sequence doesn’t matter. 

When I wrote the blurb, I referred to Mono’s “kaleidoscope of mutating story-lines”. Although there is no stable plot, there are some events to which the book keeps returning, obsessively: an abduction, an interrogation, an incident that occurred when the protagonist was nine. And there is a small cast of characters: Eve, Serge, Dr Mort, the Pickled Punks and a dictator who is essentially the Bird King. A few others appear too: Mr Punch, the White Queen (a nod to Lewis Carroll) and the Mirrors, who may or may not be human. And of course, there is a protagonist, in this case an anonymous man always referred to in the second person. Writing in the second person felt right. When I was eleven, I was addicted to Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy game books, which established the convention of the choose-your-own-adventure narrative that has since been taken in interesting directions by the likes of Alina Reyes. The second person turns the reader into the protagonist and can be exciting, terrifying, threatening. Although Mono does not offer the reader distinct narrative choices in the manner of the Fighting Fantasy series, its use of the second person and multiple, contradictory story-lines that co-exist like parallel universes give the book, I think, a sense of freedom and adventure.

There are several themes I played with in In the Dark Room, to which I found myself returning in Mono: memory, dreams, fantasy, and how they affect identity. Above all, the book is about language and the problems inherent in trying to provide an accurate account of even the least complicated of events. The book’s protagonist wants to write about things he has seen and experienced, but the task is impossible:

You’re trying to write a book. It’s about the Mirrors. You know what they are and how they work, but you don’t know how to describe them. The words haven’t been invented yet. They’re not even called Mirrors. You call them that, but that’s not what they’re called. They aren’t called anything. There isn’t a word for them. So trying to write about them is pointless.

If we can’t describe things accurately, how can we hope to let people into our inner worlds? The protagonist of Mono is terrifyingly alone. Despite the book’s absurdities, free associations and gothic whimsy, it boils down to a solitary man sitting in a room, trying to find the right words to describe things he struggles to remember. 

What does all of this mean? Does it have to mean anything? I don’t know. Writing Mono, I let the images and plot fragments go where they wanted. I felt I had some important themes to explore, but I didn’t attempt to impose my will on them by creating a message. As the protagonist says at one point:

These are preliminary notes, sketches, doodles. Everything’s preliminary. Never trust a man who promises the finished article. The finished article is a dead thing. All you can do is write what comes to mind and hope some of it is true.

—–

You can buy Mono here.

13 reflections on the House of Mirrors

For Viviana Hinojosa

1. There is no point trying to look beyond the surface. The surface is all.

2. The House of Mirrors appears to contain a dizzying multitude of rooms, but in reality there is only one: your bedroom.

3. Visitors to the House of Mirrors are asked to leave their dogs, shoes and heads at the door.

4. The House of Mirrors has several residents, including Eve, the Bird King and a gang of feral children.

5. I left a poem in the House of Mirrors. When I went back for it, the words had multiplied. Stanza breaks were pregnant pauses.

6. Meals and sleep are not permitted in the House of Mirrors; the dreams there depend on your hunger and insomnia.

7. In the House of Mirrors, the concepts of reality and unreality are irrelevant.

8. Many enter the House of Mirrors, expecting to find themselves there. Instead, they are presented with voodoo dolls of themselves.

9. The House of Mirrors is more prison than playground.

10. All roads lead to the House of Mirrors.

11. The House of Mirrors smells of lavender, cinnamon and burning plastic.

12. The House of Mirrors is more theatre than domicile.

13. Windows are mirrors, in which you see a reflection of yourself.

—–

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

Competition to win a copy of Mono

To celebrate the publication of Mono, I’m offering a free copy and other prizes (including publication in an ebook) to whoever wins my creative writing competition.

The competition 

Look at the three monochrome pictures further down this page. I made them all using image-editing software. Your challenge is to choose one and write a creative response to it of no more than 200 words, posting your work as a comment on this page. 

The rules

1. Please give the number of the picture to which you have responded.

2. Your response must include a title.

3. Your response must be in English and not exceed 200 words. 

4. You may make up to three entries, but if you do, please select a different picture as your stimulus material each time. 

5. The competition closes at midnight BST on Friday 31st July 2015. 

The prizes

All of the best entries will be published in an exclusive free ebook called Broken Reflections, which will be available through this website and Lulu.com. 

The overall winner will receive a signed copy of Mono, plus the ebooks of The Mannequin and In the Dark Room. The ebooks are compatible with Kindle, iPhone, iPad and Android devices. 

Two runners-up will win the ebooks of The Mannequin and In the Dark Room.

Some pointers

I used my pictures as stimuli when writing Mono. They were springboards for free association. I did not try to merely describe them or provide a written equivalent of them. So my advice is to react freely to whichever picture(s) you choose, interpret them, see where your thoughts take you. 

The pictures

1. 

  
2. 

  
3. 

  
Have fun and good luck!

Micromonomania

Yesterday, to celebrate the launch of my new book, Mono, I invited Twitter users to tweet me pictures, which I turned into monochrome oneirographs, adding a brief text, in the style of the book. What follows are the micro Mono pieces that I tweeted as a result. 

—–

  
You found your hand in a bird cage. Dr Mort had put it there. Your fingers chirped. 

—–

  
In last night’s dream Eve put her hands over your eyes and Dr Mort stuck nails in you. 

—–

  
Cats adore you. When you’re sleeping they hiss at the vampires gathering at your window. 

—–

  
His spies disguise themselves as birds. Never feed them. 

—–

  
You work the machinery of the clouds. Your face distils pleasantries into poisons. 

—–

  
You tried to write a factual report, but it was impossible. Dr Mort rolled his eyes. 

—–

  
When you were nine years old Mr Punch sent you to work in the derelict factory. 

——

  
In last night’s dream you made a black hole out of coat hangers. It was child’s play. 

——

  
Serge’s plot depended on the presence of a cat, which was to be kept in a lead box. 

—–

  
Under the microscope, everything looks like history. The present loses definition. 

—–

  
In the dark room, everything multiplies. The faces stop being faces. 

I don’t like blurbs

  
A blurb can make any book, nomatter how idiosyncratic, sound very run-of-the-mill. I suppose that’s its job, up to a point: if you’re going to challenge a reader with something outside the mainstream, you need to secure that reader to begin with, and the best way to do that is to entice them with a blurb that says, “This book is interesting and exciting, but not totally alien.”

When I wrote the blurb for my new book, Mono, it was with that consideration in mind. The blurb doesn’t appear on the back cover (I prefer a plain back cover, decorated with nothing more than a barcode), but will appear as the product description when the book is available from Lulu, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, et al. Here it is:

Set in a surreal totalitarian state populated by spies, vampires, robots and chimpanzees, Mono offers the reader a kaleidoscope of mutating story-lines. Eve is abducted and imprisoned in a subterranean compound. The sinister Mirrors inject readymade dreams into the minds of citizens. Dr Mort brings extinct animals back to life. Serge plots the assassination of a dictator… Binding all the strands together is the portrait of a writer who is desperate to expose the truth about the bleak world in which he lives, but who cannot distinguish between memories, fantasies and dreams. 

Accompanied by sixty monochrome illustrations and written in Knight’s characteristically terse, darkly humorous style, Mono is perhaps best described as an entertaining nightmare.  

I found the blurb much more difficult to write than the book itself and I don’t like the end result, but I do think it’s OK, from a marketing point-of-view. Of course, in adopting a recognisable blurb style, I have provided a misleading impression of the book. The blurb implies that Mono is a novel. It is not: it doesn’t tell a story. Instead, it suggests or sketches out multiple, mutually contradictory stories that are never realised. And the “writer who is desperate to expose the truth about the bleak world in which he lives” is nothing of the sort, really; in writing about him in the blurb style, I’ve mistranslated him into something altogether more coherent and sensible than he is in the book.

Another way in which the blurb is misleading, is in its cursory reference to the illustrations, which are not illustrations at all, in that they do not illustrate or clarify anything in the text. They are not secondary to the text. In fact, the pictures are just as important as the words. The book is divided into 60 unnumbered parts, each occupying a double page spread, with a monochrome picture on the left page and writing on the right. In each case, the writing was inspired by the picture, which provided a platform for free association. Once I’d completed the first five or so parts, the ideas cropping up in the writing started coming not just from the pictures but also from what I’d written before. And so Mono developed its own illogical coherence, its own structures. I merely recorded them. 

All being well, the book will be available on Sunday, with a Kindle ebook version appearing some time next month.