This week, the ebook of my text-and-image piece Mono is free. I’ve described it elsewhere as an entertaining nightmare and as a surreal dystopia, but it’s easier and less misleading to say what it isn’t. It isn’t linear, it isn’t a novel and it isn’t poetry. You decide what it is.
I am pleased to announce the publication of Broken Reflections, a free ebook of adventurous writings by fifteen authors, including Marc Nash and Chimera members Sean Fraser and Adam Wimbush. It’s available in multiple formats from Smashwords.
The ebook is the result of a creative writing competition I ran back in July to promote the publication of Mono. You can see the results of the competition and read some of judge Kate Garrett’s comments here.
I am delighted to announce the results of my creative writing competition. Judge Kate Garrett has been very generous with her time, reading the anonymised entries, deciding on a winner and runners-up, and advising on which entries are worthy of a place in the forthcoming ebook, Broken Reflections.
So here goes…
The OVERALL WINNER is Ethan Miller for his piece “Panic Slip.” Here’s Kate’s comment on it: “This piece freaked me out, the wet/dry contrast for the end of each of two halves of a body – it’s creepy genius.” Ethan wins a signed copy of Mono, plus the ebooks of The Mannequin and In the Dark Room.
There are two RUNNERS-UP: Voima Oy (“Flowers of Alba”) and Ian Foulger (“End Game”), who win the two ebooks. Kate said of Voima’s entry, “The language in this piece is wonderful.” As for Ian’s piece, she had this to say: “Creativity and anxiety at their finest juxtaposition. I love this one so much.”
Kate also made special mentions of the entries by Marc Nash (“Love the language and the way it relates to the image on which it is based”) and Saxon Pepperdine (“This piece is disjointed, stubborn and bleakly wonderful.”)
Joining all of the above in Broken Reflections will be entries by Monsieur Mess, Anjvs, Sean Fraser, David J Wing, Daniel A Nicholls, Danielle Matthews, Pleasant Street, A V Laidlaw and Adam Wimbush.
Thanks to everyone who entered the completion. I shall be in touch with the winner, runners-up and everyone whose work has been selected for Broken Reflections. In the meantime, here are the top three entries, as chosen by Kate. Enjoy.
WINNER: “Panic Slip” by Ethan Miller
It was draped over the edge of the well, flaccid and starting to tear in the middle. Its bones were broken trampled and the sharp edges only made further tears. Its batteries were charged with only enough power to send a tiny neon tingle up and down it’s length. It sang a tired beacon ping ping ping.
The half that finally, after millennia, fell on the outside of the well met the dry matted weeds with relief and a sense of closure. It would dry out there, it would be so much dust under the warm sun.
The half that fell into the well used what little strength it had to writhe in panic. It was not the death that had been washed clean and scheduled with the moonrise. It was darkness and armies that would march through tissue, merging and transforming to make swarms and matrices. Nothing there was just itself, nothing there could possibly recognize itself for more than an instant.
The panic lasted longer that it did; panic turned liquid and locked in cell walls, panic as molecular cogs turning sporadically. There was also panic turned into nocturnal birds that glided in the slippery moonlit atmosphere.
RUNNER-UP: “Flowers of Alba” by Voima Oy
What fragrance is produced by the white flowers of Alba? It has been compared to the aroma of peonies blasting from a laundromat in November.
No. And it is not the smells of a seaside holiday, the ozone of an approaching storm, the petrichor of Paris, or fresh-cut grass. It is not the gasoline of a truck stop off the interstate, or coffee at 2 am.
But it could be a blend of these things.
It is gathered in the silent gardens where the flowers bloom among the vines of moonflowers and lilies.
It is gathered under the light of the waning moon by the widows of Alba.
It is a scent that never leaves them. It clings to them like dew. It lingers on their fingers, and they cry as if they were cutting up onions.
It is addictive, intoxicating–the perfume of nostalgia, melancholy, saudade.
The flowers weep, tears of snails for the sea.
RUNNER-UP: “End Game” by Ian Foulger
Stereo is on max, Meatloaf screams about a fledermaus transcending from Dante’s inferno.
I sit pondering whether Mozart ever experienced the smell of bat guano?
Is it possible to push a needle into one’s eye without pain?
What does it feel like to inhale fire and let it cook your lungs from the inside out?
Soon I will know and with all the other questions of the universe answered, I may return to tell you or I may not.
Will you wait?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Two runners-up will win the ebooks of The Mannequin and In the Dark Room.
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.
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.
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.