Tag Archives: 2013

My writing in 2013

Short stories written in 2013

  • The Walls of Tithonium Chasma (2400 words) – SF, Mars
  • The Sleeper (1600 words) – SF, Mars
  • The House-sitter (7200 words) – SF, time travel
  • Tunnel Vision (2000 words) – general
  • To Ashes, Dust (2500 words) – SF, Mars
  • The Man Screaming His Scream (1200 words) – SF
  • First Cashpoint on Mars (1000 words) – SF, Mars

Flash fiction written in 2013

  • The Puzzle Box (250 words) – horror, entry for Apex flash fiction competition
  • A Christmas Tradition (250 words) – horror, entry for Apex flash fiction competition

Longer fiction written in 2013

  • Mercy (73,000 words) – YA novel, finished & edited
  • Carus & Mitch (16,500 words) – horror novelette, finished & edited
  • Untitled time travel novel (25,000 words and counting) – in progress

Short stories published in 2013

By my reckoning, that’s about 138,000 words written this year (including deleted words, excluding planning and editing). Not bad going, whilst working full time and taking two months off after the birth of my son…

Combined with stories and novels from the previous two years, I’ve written about 320,000 words of fiction in total. I read somewhere that writers only find their voice, or write anything worth a damn, after completing their first million words.

First million words ometer 32That feels about right.

Favourite tracks of 2013

Hungry Face by Mogwai – the most perfect theme imaginable to my favourite TV show of the last few years. / Casino Lisboa by Dirty Beaches – my most-listened new track of the year. I love the moment about a minute in, when the drums kick in and knock the bass riff upside-down. / New York / It’s All About… by Marina Rosenfeld – NY performance artist Rosenfeld is joined by Warrior Queen for a sparse, echoing shoutout. / Fall Back by Factory Floor – endless and hypnotic. Can’t shake the disappointment that the eventual album didn’t contain more like this. / Ludwig’s Children by Roj – a bedtime treat from the former Broadcast member’s early tape work EP, The Amateur’s Attic. / The Weighing of the Heart by Colleen – the aural equivalent of finding yourself dozing off beneath a tree on a sunny autumn day. / Major Tom by The Space Lady – recorded in 1990 and reissued on her Greatest Hits album, predates Julia Holter and Grouper with only a Casio and a winged hat. I’ve had this track on constant rotation since its release. / Low Light Buddy of Mine by Iron & Wine – Sam Beam moves even closer to a MOR sound, but this track’s an absolute earworm. / Water Park Theme – Take 2 by Dirty Beaches – the other side of Alex Zhang Hungtai’s 2013 output, as serene as ‘Casino Lisboa’ is frantic. / Brennisteinn by Sigur Ros – spluttering amps, synths and guitars, this is a tweaked sound for Sigur Ros, but the sense of bewildered glory is still present and correct. / LDWGWTT by SHXCXCHCXSH – unrelenting techno from the unpronounceable Swedish duo. / Full of Fire by The Knife – the rotten heart of Shaking the Habitual. / Breaking up the Earth by Colleen – frankly, I could include most of The Weighing of the Heart here, but I’m limiting myself to two tracks. This one’s more Arthur Russell than Grouper. / Willow by Rosy Parlane – one of a number of great Touch ambient tracks I might have included, and difficult to pinpoint what’s special about it. It just is. / Where Are We Now? by David Bowie – as wonderful as it was to have Bowie reappear out of nowhere, this track has only improved with each listen. / So Far So Clean by  Inga Copeland – a nice match with Marina Rosenfeld’s EP, the female half of Hype Williams finally strikes out on her own, hinting at excellence to come. / Waayey: The Butcher by Sidi TouréAlafia is an excellent, uplifting album. This track in particular does it for my three-month-old son. / Iyongwe by John Wizards – avoiding the Vampire Weekend-isms of the rest of the album, this track straddles genres perfectly. / Universe in Crisis by Wareika Hill Sounds – former Skatalite Calvin ‘Bubbles’ Cameron plays trombone in a fudgy, late-night haze. / Not Your Ordinary Blanket (live) by Groupshow – a track that I can only grasp onto for a few minutes before it merges into whatever daydream I’m in. / Hello Stranger by Julia Holter – a match made in heaven as Holter performs a stunning cover of Barbara Lewis’s song, one of my favourite ever pop tunes. / 10.17.2009 (for CCG) by M. Geddes Gengras – formless, pulsating, overwhelming.

Here’s a Spotify playlist containing all the tracks, just shy of 2 hours:

Favourite albums of 2013

colleen-weighing-cover

The Weighing of the Heart by Colleen

From the first hummed note of ‘Push the Boat Onto the Sand’ to the final echoing cello plucks of the title track, Cécile Schott’s latest is an exercise in swooning beauty. Lullaby-like rhymes and melodies appear and overlap, choral vocals become lost under layers of delicate rhythms. The sampling trickery is subtle and disarming, ‘Ursa Major Find’ and the single-phrase ‘Break Away’ feel at times like sweeter takes on Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’. But the outstanding moments are instrumental: ‘Geometría del Universo’ and particularly ‘Breaking Up the Earth’ channel Arthur Russell’s World of Echo. Colleen succeeds at fusing the sweet and genuinely, unnervingly progressive. Each time I listen to The Weighing of the Heart I fall in love with it all over again.

 

Drifters & water park

Drifters / Love is the Devil and Water Park OST by Dirty Beaches

There’s an obscene generosity to the amount of music that Alex Zhang Hungtai has provided in 2013. The Water Park soundtrack is beguiling at first, little more than a hum heard from another room. But I’ve listened to this 28-minute EP countless times and now playing it is like hearing the sound of something remembered from childhood. It’s simple and beautiful.

The double album Drifters / Love is the Devil is another beast, at least at first. The first half represents more familiar Dirty Beaches territory – Suicide casio thumps and rockabilly-from-hell vocals swamped in reverb. This reaches a peak with the compellingly riffy Casino Lisboa, my personal song of 2013.  The second half of the CD revisits the same aural soundscapes as Water Park. Less essential, certainly, but packaging Drifters and Love is the Devil together is a throwaway gesture that most artists wouldn’t dare contemplate.

 

Dozzy

Plays Bee Mask by Donato Dozzy

Bee Mask’s Vaporware EP is pretty great. But this album, in which Italian techno producer Donato Dozzy, remixes the title track again and again over seven tracks, is outstanding. I’ve listened to a lot of ambient music this year, but there are few albums that manage to be both moodily evocative and also lodge themselves in your mind. I get the feeling that the circumstances of this piece couldn’t be replicated.

 

UR055_COVER_F

Collected Works Vol. 1 – The Moog Years by M. Geddes Gengras

More ambient perfection. Sun Araw, Akron/Family and LA Vampires collaborator Gengras fiddles about with Moog Rogue and MG-1 synths and creates something divine. The track ‘10.17.2009 (for CCG)’ is an aural swoon.

 

Other albums in the mix

Albums 2013 rack

Shaking the Habitual by The Knife, for its bloodymindedness, magnificent bloat and a handful of thumping pop hits. The entire Mallet Guitars series by Ex-Easter Island Head, culminating in this year’s Mallet Guitars Three, all EPs together forming an essential album. Exit! By Fire! Orchestra, some of the most terrific free jazz, despite being tricky to schedule into a working day. And finally, The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits, long-awaited and wonderful.

 

EPs

EPs

Live at Skymall by Groupshow –  like many of my favourite albums this year, a listen that merges with whatever activity you’re doing. P.A./Hard Love by Marina Rosenfeld, a surprising favourite given its abrasive unpredictability, but totally compelling. No More War by Wareika Hill Sounds for chilled, alien trombone tunes.

 

Favourite record labels

Thrill Jockey (new releases from Matmos, People of the North, Mouse on Mars’ Jan St. Werner, Sidi Touré). Room 40 (Bee Mask, Marina Rosenfeld), Touch (Chris Watson, Rosy Parlane, Mika Vainio, Bruce Gilbert & BAW) Hospital Productions (Vatican Shadow, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, Alberich).

 

Favourite albums overall, new to me, from any year

Suicide (Suicide, 1977), an album that made me furious that nobody had introduced the band to me before. Womblife (John Fahey, 1997), produced by Jim O’Rourke and featuring some of the wonkiest sounds imaginable. Moondog & His Friends (Moondog, 1953) , an eye-opening account of the Viking of Sixth Avenue. I Am Sitting in a Room (Alvin Lucier, 1981), a simple sonic experiment that morphs into something intangible and ethereal. Illuminations (Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1969), apparently abandoned by the artist but superb and alien. Strumming Music (Charlemagne Palestine, 1974), another experiment with warmth and humour. We’re Only In It For the Money (Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, 1968) – batshit insane. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, 1969)  – everybody else loves this album already, evidently, and it was mostly familiar to me, but hearing the tracks together was a revelation. And, already mentioned above, The Weighing of the Heart (Colleen, 2013) and Drifters / Love is the Devil (Dirty Beaches, 2013) are the two albums that stand out this year.

Favourite films watched in 2013

Warning to the Curious

Other than Alfonso Cuarón’s essentially perfect Gravity (see my review), the only other 2013 film I saw that was worth a damn was Stoker (Chan-wook Park), a terrific and seedily terrifying reimagining of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.

As for the rest of my film viewing, A Warning to the Curious (Lawrence Gordon Clark, 1972) was one of the most unsettling film experiences I can remember, up there with Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout (1978). Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) was an expected pleasure. Whether or not the demon should have been omitted, as per Tourneur’s original intentions, is moot. With or without it, this is a peculiar masterpiece. I found Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966) striking and shocking – pop-culture familiarity still doesn’t prepare you for the experience. Sunrise (F. W. Murnau, 1927) was another absolute surprise – far more melodramatic than I’d imagined, but also far more dry and blunt, too. And it was a vast relief to see a (relatively) modern film with as much time to pay to its characters as Together (Lukas Moodysson, 2000), an unflinching and strangely warm account of communal living.

Favourite books read in 2013

Rabbit

Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom novels (John Updike, 1960-2000)

I found reading Rabbit, Run (1960) a revelation. Its third-person, present-tense point of view lends the story an immediacy, but that would be nothing without Updike’s immaculate observational powers. That vast sections of the novel feature nothing more dramatic than Harry driving around in the dark, yet are still gripping, speaks volumes. While I found the switch to Janice’s point of view the least satisfying element, stylistically, the narrative bombshell dropped still makes me choke.

Reading a novel that you fully connect with is wonderful. Discovering subsequently that you have the ability to follow the same characters over forty years at decade-long intervals… that’s a rare treat. Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit is Rich (1981), Rabbit at Rest (1990) and the novella Rabbit Remembered (2000) each cover subtly different aspects of changing American culture and, more importantly, of the psyche of the average American male. Taken as a complete work, they are as perfect a novel as I think I’m ever likely to read.

 

The-Martian-ChroniclesThe Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury, 1950)

This ‘half-cousin to a novel’ (Bradbury’s own words) comprises 28 loosely connected stories. Most of them had been published previously in the late Forties in various SF magazines. In collecting them here, Bradbury traces connecting lines between stories and recurring characters. The effect is a disorienting series of snapshots that nevertheless builds up a far more complete vision of the future than a more straightforward novel.

And what a vision! At times, Bradbury’s prose can be staggeringly beautiful. For example, from ‘The Locusts’: The rockets set the bony meadows afire, turned rock to lava, turned wood to charcoal, transmitted water to steam, made sand and silica into green glass which lay like shattered mirrors reflecting the invasion, all about. Bradbury’s Mars, modelled in the image of the memories of homesick astronauts, tells us far more about nostalgia for one’s childhood than about the Red Planet.

At heart, my favourite science fiction has little to do with science. I may have only read it for the first time this year, but The Martian Chronicles is my favourite science fiction novel.

 

Other EyesOther Days, Other Eyes (Bob Shaw, 1972)

A down-at-heel scientist accidentally creates glass that holds its image for years. Inventions, breakthroughs and problems ensue.

I read this in a couple of sittings, amazed at how much mileage Bob Shaw gets from a simple, hypothetical invention. The eventual use of ‘slow glass’ as a surveillance tool prefigures issues topical today: CCTV and Google’s Streetview and Glass projects. Throughout the novel, interspersed sections paint vignettes of different aspects of life that have been irrevocably changed by the invention of slow glass, many of them heartbreaking.

While the main plot may wrap up a little too quickly, and the love interest is under-developed, Shaw’s novel dwells on the human resonances of an important breakthrough. I’ll be searching out more of his novels in 2014.

Favourite TV shows of 2013

Returned

The Returned (Canal+, Channel 4) was hands-down my favourite TV programme of the year, and up there with my favourite ever. Its glacial pace, the steady gaze of the camera, terrific performances, Mogwai’s perfect soundtrack, made every situation gripping. Not since Twin Peaks have I felt such a familiarity with each location in a TV series. The ending may have baffled, but I have high hopes for the next season, whenever Canal+ choose to broadcast it.

 

Count Arthut

Count Arthur Strong (BBC) is a very traditional sitcom, the likes of which would be hard to imagine being commissioned before Miranda Hart’s repopularisation of the form. Despite the show’s long gestation period, the first episode is as perfect a sitcom script as I’ve seen. Middle episodes flag a little, but the warmth of Steve Delaney’s Arthur allows for some surprising turns, resulting in heartbreaking scenes in episode 6.

 Adventure

An Adventure in Time and Space (BBC) Easily my highlight of Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary year. Mark Gatiss found the perfect throughline in William Hartnell’s reluctance and later warming to the role of the Doctor. David Bradley’s performance was eerily perfect and the reconstructions of classic scenes were exactly the type of nostalgic trip that I’d been hoping for.

 

The summer months of 2013 were bizarrely filled of weighty, risk-taking television. Jane Campion’s The Top of the Lake introduced us to seedy New Zealand rednecks with a mystery that remained fascinating until the disappointing final reveal. Channel 4’s Run ventured into experimental territory with four interconnected tales, each reflecting different aspects of London communities. Christopher Guest’s Family Tree was a genial ramble led by Chris O’Dowd and featuring aimless cameos from everybody funny ever. The final half-season of Breaking Bad began to creak at the edges but still retained all of its promise until the final episode where it inevitably frayed at the edges, unable to support the weight of its own complicated lore. And Arrested Development Season 4 remained a vast disappointment, despite being more-or-less everything that a long-serving fan might have wished for.

Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)

Gravity

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity makes good on the promise of the Lumière brothers’ L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de la Ciotat. Although stories of the Lumière film terrifying spectators may be myth, the 1895 film is an immersive experience, even today. It’s all spectacle and zero plot and it operates perfectly.

Gravity features a plot, but only barely. It’s the most basic type of thriller: it sets up a difficult situation, piles on the peril, and then allows us to watch its protagonist try to grapple with the problem. It’s a rollercoaster ride, almost literally. The camera swings and banks, carrying the viewer along – except it can achieve far more than just thrills of simulated motion. As in David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), the fluidity of the CGI camera allows us unprecedented and unexpected access to characters. One moment in particular stands out as a cinematic watershed: the camera views Ryan Stone’s panicked face, then seeps through the visor of the spacesuit to view the projected readouts and view of the Earth from within. It reveals far more about Stone’s predicament than any dialogue or facial expressions. Cuarón trusts viewers to empathise with characters through shared experience.

For such a lean and kinetic film, there are a surprising number of static moments. While some viewers have found Stone’s foetal position too bluntly symbolic, it functions as a peculiar and necessary still centrepoint, following one exhausting experience and preceding others. Similarly, the dialogue isn’t much to write home about, but again functions as shorthand. Finally, although it may have wrongfooted some cinemagoers, the casting of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney fits Cuarón’s approach perfectly. He has so little interest in developing backstory for the characters (What kind of doctor is Stone? What’s the purpose of her scientific project? What do we know about Clooney’s Matt Kowalski at all?) that the familiar, A-list faces serves as shorthand. It allows the film to clock in at a tight 91 minutes, dispensing with the usual flab of Hollywood blockbusters.