EARWIG, Brian Catling

First book of 2020. A weird, cruel thing, as warped and sharp and wriggly as barbed wire. The language fascinates:

It was at that moment that his watch slurred, its arms resting on lazy elbows, its tick slowing to a tock.

I love that. And this:

The dramatic change in temperature had not helped. He was shrivelling away to nothing, so that on some nights when his mongrel bladder barked awake and he had to pad along the shivering corridor to the unheated water closet, he could barely find himself, and stood fumbling and pinching in his pyjamas while the thin pipes giggled with ice and the refrigerator in the kitchen shook so deeply that it made all the crockery shudder in nudging, unlit chuckles.

“Giggled with ice.” Catling writes like a painter – he’s also an artist, a sculptor and a poet. And he has a fine eye for the eccentric, revealing stroke:

Her companion Monsieur Edmund was older, an ink-wash of a lounge toad starched with Dracularian elegance; the ancient white hair dubbed into negative, a blue-black ink trickle of it pinned under the arm of his heavy spectacles, their tint even darker.


This is the story of Aalbert Scellinc, the earwig of the title, introduced in almost Samsaesque terms, an unpleasant and unanchored man of supernatural hearing and mnemenic difficulties. He is being employed, in his latter years, to attend to a young girl with ice teeth and a glass tube in her mouth for transportation of her saliva into ice trays for the production of more teeth. This is the start of the book. It does not become more normal or less disturbing.

It’s an extremely cruel novel, thin like a blade, and I find its concluding movements extraordinarily haunting. An uncomfortable and exquisitely wrought novel to begin the year.


stillicide, n     1. A continual dropping of water. 2. Law – A right or duty relating to the collection of water from or onto adjacent land.   From Latin stillicidium, from stilla drop + -cidium, from cadere to fall.

STILLICIDE, Cynan Jones:

David came up what the sea had left of the steps. The tidal defence panels to either side were bleached grey, had the compact, matted look he imagined the pelt of a seal must have. That they were moulded from re-formed blades of decommissioned wind turbines seemed right.

Fancy some Lyric Grim?  Cynan Jones has got you covered. Look at that. Flood defenses made out of old wind turbines.  It takes you a second to do the extra processing about this future condition, and then you get that shudder of “oh shit. That’s grim.

Although, you know, it’s not like you haven’t been prepared:

The boy’s hand opened and closed as if he reached for a glass of water but it was just the nerves dying through his body.

STILLICIDE is about water, Britain, and desperate attempts to engineer a way out of a future we caused out of a series of dumb short-term decisions.  In its structure, it may appeal to people who liked mine & Jason’s TREES graphic novels. It’s certainly a book I felt a degree of kinship with, despite the fact that Jones’ command of the language is several dozen levels higher than mine. There are also structural notes of John Brunner’s big eco books, STAND ON ZANZIBAR and THE SHEEP LOOK UP.  But STILLICIDE is very much its own thing, very much of its place: a collection of pen-portraits of the end times, all tangling together like weed in a rockpool. It’s a wonderful, sobering thing that still manages to shine with new light.

I suspect this is where I go out and buy all the rest of Cynan Jones’ books.

STILLICIDE, Cynan Jones (UK) (US)


I’ve been reading NOTES ON THE CINEMATOGRAPH by Robert Bresson. 

Bresson was an austere and eccentric French filmmaker with very specific developed views on what film should or should not be.  As just one example, he exclusively referred to his actors as “models,” as he believed acting was a hold-over from theatre that had no place in film. His NOTES are essentially a long list of epigrams, aphorisms and fragments. Here are some:

The faculty of using my resources well diminishes when their number grows.

An image must be transformed by contact with other images as is a colour by contact with other colours.

The truth of cinematography cannot be the truth of theatre, not the truth of the novel, nor the truth of painting. (What the cinematographer captures with his or her own resources cannot be what the theatre, the novel, painting capture with theirs).

Nothing more inelegant and ineffective than an art conceived in another art’s form.

Expression through compression. To put into an image what a writer would spin out over ten pages.

Be sure of having used to the full all that is communicated by immobility and silence.

His “flattened” images and his interest in silence and immobility seem to me to have an unusual amount to say to the comics form.



Not sure how I ended up on this particular comps list, but, hey, it’s a new Raymond Briggs, I’m not complaining. A trailblazer and a master.

In his customary pose as the grumpiest of grumpy old men, Raymond Briggs contemplates old age and death… and doesn’t like them much. Illustrated with Briggs’s inimitable pencil drawings, Time for Lights Out is a collection of short pieces, some funny, some melancholy, some remembering his wife who died young, others about the joy of grandchildren, of walking the dog… He looks back at his schooldays and his time as an evacuee during the war, and remembers his parents and the house in which he grew up. But most, like this one, are about his home in Sussex:

Looking round this house,
What will they say,
The future ghosts?

It is a beautiful book, and, on first inspection, performatively melancholy but fiercely alive. He’s 85 now, and if this might be his last book, then it is a fine point on which to sign out and leave the room. And if, as one hopes, it’s not? Then, in these October years, we know that he’s still smiling to himself and still stretching. What a joy to be gifted a new Briggs this season.



Just arrived today, from writer/designer Richard Littler, the latest SCARFOLK emanation.

Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. 

I have loved the SCARFOLK work forever, and am delighted to now possess an actual Annual (hardcover Annual books in this style were a mainstay Xmas publishing phenomenon back then). This stuff is always funny, bitter, weird and chilling in equal measure, and never less than witty and wonderful.

Order your own: (UK) (US)

A Christmas necessity. Stand around your burning oil can at Yuletide as you roast some rats and read it to each other over the constant wail of sirens in the distance.


I am, infamously, Not Good with poetry. But, googling around after falling for the record SING AS THE CROW FLIES by Laura Cannell and Polly Wright, I found this short book of Polly Wright’s poetry, COLD BLOW MARSH.

It arrived as the temperature dropped here, so “Winter, Always Winter” immediately struck a resonant note.

It is gorgeously written, with surprising bursts of humour, and it speaks of places I know. The rusted melancholy of broken microwave ovens laying in fields with their mouths lolling open, old homes being eaten by vines.

Teeth rattle in tobacco tins with rusted corners

she says, and I know exactly what she means. It’s a book of the life of the haunted marshes, the sparse woodlands we throw out old dreams out into, and the sounds of the past whistling through the long grass.

It’s nine quid from this website, and I loved it.

Five Books That Changed Me In One Summer

I must have been around 14.  Rayleigh Library and the Oxfam shop a few doors down the high street from it, which someone was clearly using to pay things forward and warp younger minds. In a single year — may even have been just spring-summer-autumn — these things happened to me:

  • ON THE ROAD, Jack Kerouac.  I wasn’t reading particularly widely at the time, so god knows why I picked it up.  I have a dim recollection of Alan Moore likening Eddie Campbell, whose comics I’d just discovered, to Kerouac.  It may have been the first time that prose spoke to me like music spoke to me.  An album I never wanted to end.  In the next four years I read everything Kerouac in print at the time. (UK) (US)
  • NOVA EXPRESS, William Burroughs.  I was mostly a science fiction reader at the time.  This was exploded science fiction, a league beyond the Philip K. Dick I’d already devoured hundreds of pages of.  I loved, and love, Philip K. Dick, but this was the real unfiltered sound. (UK) (US)
  • A CURE FOR CANCER, Michael Moorcock.  I read this before THE FINAL PROGRAMME, in fact.  And, in a weird way, it let me connect up Kerouac and Burroughs, in that you could fracture narrative and also be of your time and place no matter where it was. (UK) (US)
  • CRASH, JG Ballard.  Which, to me, was the new horror fiction, and talked about landscape and society and change in new and thrillingly relevant ways to a kid who could see, literally week by week, the roads widen and the concrete spill over on to the woodland. (UK) (US)
  • SHIKASTA, Doris Lessing.  Which was like dropping a bomb on the four other books.  That book is so underrated, even today, so misunderstood, with such brilliant, jewelled and incredibly human prose.  Even the pen-portraits therein feel like condensed books, and I would spend minutes staring into space and just thinking after each page. (UK) (US)

(Written 16 March 2015, recovered from morning.computer)


MALIGN VELOCITIES by Benjamin Noys is a recent work on the subject of accelerationism, a notion whose general thrust is that, in order to achieve the goals of revolution, capitalism should be unchained, turbo-charged, and driven to its natural conclusion so that it explodes and dies. Noys provides an extremely thorough historical context for the idea, and it’s a fascinating deep dive. I lingered on a wonderful bit about the Italian Futurists, which lead me into some memory-refreshment on the Vorticists. There are times, in the early part of the book, where it feels like Noys has some score-settling to do, but it quickly becomes a superb and largely non-technical exp;loration of a very interesting space.  For me, it didn’t sustain towards the end, with a Freudian seizure of a chapter on “anal capitalism” and a tangled final statement, but everything up to that was marvellous.

Accelerationism is, for me, worth studying briefly, as it seems to me to be a response to pervasive capitalism brought on by the mental illnesses that capitalism has induced in people. (Schizophrenia is talked about, a lot, e.g. “in Nietzsche’s ‘schizo’ delirium he announced ‘I am all the names of history’”) Noys himself calls them “the fetishists of capital” at one point, but I have a feeling, and Noys often implies, that it’s a deeper malaise.

Capitalism is lately cast as that Lovecraftian force that some people should not look directly at for fear of going completely mad and being banged up in the Arkham Sanitarium. Maybe meditating upon it as some Dark God From Beyond Space that is crushing the world into new shapes just leads some people to rub their mouths on it and plead for it to go faster. And never stop.

(Also: accelerationism, like speculative realism and its surrounding notions, kind of strikes me as Science Fiction Condition philosophical enterprise. its roots may indeed go back to the 19th Century, but the modern conception is something else.)


(originally written 2 Jan 2015, recovered from morning.computer)

LENZ: Early Cosmic Horror

….the heavens were a stupid blue eye…

Wayne Chambliss put me on to Georg Buchner’s LENZ, which I read in its entirely before sleep one night.  Because me smart.

At last it grew dark inside him, he experienced a soft, profound compassion for himself, he wept for himself, his head sank down upon his chest, he went to sleep.

It is a speculation upon the true story of Jakob Lenz, who, having become increasingly “eccentric,” is sent to a rural location by his associate Goethe.  Lenz has a complete mental break.  Buchner imagines that descent into madness.  It feels completely true, and is completely chilling.

In his breast hell was rehearsing a song of triumph.

It’s been described as the beginning of modern prose.  I was aware of Buchner, having discovered DANTON’S DEATH as a teenager, but had never read this. Wayne put me on to it because I’d been talking about cosmic horror and this, to him, had its overtones – perhaps even its original notes.  He was quite right.

Next morning he came down and told Oberlin quite calmly how in the night his mother had appeared to him: dressed in white, she had stepped from the dark churchyard wall, a red and a white rose fastened to her breast; she had sunk down into a corner and slowly the roses had overgrown her – she must surely be dead; he was quite untroubled on that account.

It’s a magnificent act of immersion in an alien mind. It has utter truth.  It has real, human horror – looking out through the eyes of a man losing his mind.  I’ve seen people describe reading it as transformative, and I can see why.

On the morning of the 8th he remained in bed. Oberlin went to see him; he lay there almost naked and was greatly excited. Oberlin wished to cover him, but Lenzcomplained bitterly, saying that all was so heavy, so very heavy! that he did not think he could walk at all, that never before had he felt the immense weight of the air.

LENZ is most readily (and, I think, cheaply) available as part of a collection: (UK) (US)