Tuesday, 12 November 2019


The Street Cleaners

Talking with a friend

Downtown outside late at night

Blur of passersby

You don’t see what is

Happening but someone takes

The moments away

I think I’m one of the street cleaners myself: I sweep the past into my novels, not as it happened, but tidying it up until it fits the story.

The Headhunter of Hands

At night

I go down to the lake

And search for your hands

I find a certain antiquity

In bones tinkling under the moon

Stone flowers amid lacustrine trees

In the blue-baited dawn

The bandicoots return to the shaggy black moss

Growing quietly on the north side of a tree

They stuff what is left

Of your hands

Into their pouches.

Lacustrine trees! blue-baited dawn! I’d like to go there to finish the business and be happy.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

@chandlerisms: Outrageous similes

From Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep:

Decorative trees trimmed as carefully as poodle dogs

Meaty leaves like the newly washed fingers of dead men

He used his strength like a show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings

A smile as wide as Wilshire Boulevard

As empty of life as a scarecrow’s pockets

Blood began to move around in me like a prospective tenant looking over a house

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Good news, friends. I was awarded the Colorado Publishers' annual award for "best historical novel". Above the certificate "suitable for framing"!

Tuesday, 6 August 2019




Monday, 15 July 2019

@amreading Carolyne Van Der Meer, Journeywoman

Here is a collection of poetry that reads like exquisite prose full of evocative imagery.

Think of the etymology of “journeyman”, which describes a stage in learning one’s craft. It’s derived from journée, a day’s work or travel. And these poems are about becoming a master of womanhood, but also about the journey itself – where does life take us? In Van Der Meer’s poetry we travel the whole distance, from the gritty to the sublime, from food and sex to the dental chair, from cancer to sainthood.

Here are some of her recipes for life:

Tapas in the Plaza Ana

…On the second day,

we visit the Prado

buy handmade Mallorcan tap shoes,

then sink into wicker chairs,

sip rioja and local Naturbier

order tapas-

liver paste,

oiled salmon, blue cheese,

chorizo and jamon


despite sore feet

sweaty brows

I attempt poetry

jagged lines spiked emotions

inspiration from dead Spaniards

Homemade Pasta on New Year’s

The more you put into it, the better it tastes…

later when I roll them around my fork

with porcini mushrooms drenched in cream

I savour the harmony of tastes

remember the hardness

his arms

shudder, satiated, understand

the more you put into it

Monday, 8 July 2019

@amreading Rayanne Haines, Stained With The Colours of Sunday Morning.

Did you know that a family epic can be written in 60 poems? Rayanne Haines has managed this astonishing feat. In a slim book of poems she tells us the story of three generations of women – Georgia, Isabella, and Alina, whose Italian heritage lives on in Canada. All of life is contained in these verses: sex (my skin carries the spices/ of men I’ve made love to), marriage (don’t ask the wild women heart in me to bend), the mother-daughter relationship (my angry daughter, unreachable by me), even the Canadian weather: We wondered if the earth/was trying to finish herself off./ Each February was the same./Our bodies desperate/for the lush wine blood of the sea.

My personal favourite: Questioning Birds

in italy my grandmother

had two canaries

housed in separate cages

so they would sing to the other

…released only occasionally

from their shackles

for a brief taste of flight

i never understood

why they let themselves

be controlled  confined

why they did not rebel

               remain silent in protest.  

@amreading Michael Helm, AFTER JAMES

Alph, an experimental creativity pill and the concept of neuropharmaceutical enhancement of your brain is ghosting around in this novel. Ali, who tests it, has a numinous lifting. It brings a feeling of simultaneity, not tick or tock but both at once, sustained. It opens the mind to connections otherwise obscured by temporal distances, by fading and forgetting. One of the subjects had written of “absolute presence.”

Henry James (the “James” of the title) set the precedence in his novel The Turning of the Screw. His ghost story seemed to confirm the existence of a thing not yet named, like an invisible planet postulated through math. James understood these internal phenomena. The effects of Alph were not supernatural and yet brought the presence of something unseen.

Ali reads James’ novel and has a vision – Alph was crossing the blood-brain barrier. The chemical appeared as small attenuating swirlings in the blood, like tornadoes…the image lasted only a few seconds, but it was as certain as the remembered lines of text. They return with more force than when she read them. She was in two places at once, in two times at once. Was the border between the states of vision and reality eroding? And was her present reality itself already compromised? Certainly she was experiencing slight jump cuts in time. Without seeming to have returned to it, she was back at her desk.

Is the protagonist of the next chapter on the same drug? He has been hired by the enigmatic Durant to interpret poems posted on a website, but soon finds that anyone who tried to penetrate it began to see their own lives communicated back with terrifying veracity. He experiences a heightening of his senses. I was aware of my failure to see, of having grouped a series of first glances into a type based on a general similarity and so overlooking each distinct feature. It was what everyone did, this lazy way of seeing. Suddenly he recognizes the man who was following him. Was it a sharpening of his senses or just paranoia?

In the typical fashion of contemporary literature, Michael Helm disdains explaining things to the reader. You’ll have to figure them out for yourself.

Thursday, 4 July 2019


So where are the horses?

Never mind the horses! We are only interested in hats.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

@amreading Ian McEwan MACHINES LIKE ME

Although McEwan’s novel is set in the 80s (probably to sneak in Turing as a character), we are somewhere in the future when you can buy a robot that looks and acts perfectly human and is a more perfect human than you. He knows his Shakespeare, he knows his manners, he knows the stock market. But of course you have to programme, or at any rate fine-tune him first.

Why leave the adjustment to me? But of course I knew the answer. The company doesn’t want o take the blame. A worldwide corporation with a precious reputation couldn’t risk a mishap. Caveat emptor. God had once delivered a fully formed companion for the benefit of the original Adam. I had to devise one for myself.

You plug him, and the thing awakens: His movement was entirely convincing in its projection of a thoughtful self…When he was facing me full on, he met my gaze and blinked, and blinked again. The mechanism was working but seemed too deliberate. He said, “Charlie, I’m pleased to meet you at last. Could you bear to arrange my downloads and prepare the various parameters?” He paused, looking at me intently, his black-flecked eyes scanning my face in quick saccades. Taking me in. “You’ll find all you need to know in the manual.”

We know where all this is going to lead. Robots will replace human workers, in which case we need a universal wage. It was a cliché and a lie that the future would invent jobs we had not yet heard of. When the majority was out of work and penniless, social collapse was certain. But with our generous state incomes, we the masses would face the luxurious problem that had preoccupied the rich for centuries: how to fill the time. Endless leisure pursuits had never much troubled the aristocracy.

But can you really teach a robot language? Chess maybe. It’s governed by rules that are consistent, unlike life, which is an open system. Messy, full of tricks and feints and ambiguities and false friends. So is language – not a problem to be solved or a device for solving problems. It’s more like a mirror, no, a billion mirrors in a cluster like a fly’s eye, reflecting, distorting and constructing our world at different focal lengths.

Yes, Adam learns to speak, and what’s more: It turns out he was sentient. He had a self. But he was also property, paid for by Charlie – so would it be a crime to kill the thing?

Sunday, 23 June 2019

@amreading Milan Kundera’s The Festival of Insignificance

Hm. Not sure whether to recommend this one. It’s billed as a novel, but it has no plot. And yet one keeps reading on, perhaps as the review in The Guardian says, pitched halfway between hope and boredom.

Well, it has its moments, as in the story of the suicidal woman who wants to drown, kills her would-be rescuer, and survives. Her life, unexpectedly recovered, is a kind of shock that breaks her determination; she no longer has the strength to concentrate her energy on dying. And so she swims to the shore and goes on with her life.

There is also the meditation on the attractions of a woman: Her behind? Her legs? Her breasts? All very well, but here comes a young woman whose sexy navel is visible between her low-cut pants and her cut-off T-shirt. How to define the eroticism of a man (or an era) that sees female seductive power as centered in the middle of the body, in the navel?

There are tourists everywhere in Paris, earnestly studying art and architecture with the help of their guidebooks. Then there are the Parisians strolling in the Luxembourg Gardens, paying no attention whatsoever to the art works in the park. Ramon inhaled their indifference like a soothing calm. Gradually a slow, almost happy smile appeared on his face.

I think that’s hat happened to me reading this book which nonchalantly goes on about the incongruous, the superfluous, the useless, in other words celebrates the insignificance of life, as I know it.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

#amreading Olivia Lain, Crudo.

Perhaps a biography of postmodern enfant terrible Kathy Acker, perhaps just a critical review of society’s ills, definitely a shake-up of the traditional novel format!

Maybe biography (and history in general) should be the domain proper of a novel. Memory, like the protagonists of many novels, are unreliable after all.

This was the problem with history, it was too easy to provide the furnishings but forget the attitudes, the way you became a different person according to what knowledge was available, what experiences were fresh and what had not yet arisen in a personal or global frame. Aids, specifically… What insights might we have now? It was uncomputable, it was the province of the novel, that hopeless apparatus of guesswork and supposition.

Does weather affect your  memory?  

It’s August but it feels like autumn, slanting light, a smell of rot and ripeness. It’s pleasant but makes her feel bad, like a lot of old news is churning under the surface, returning unexpectedly. Memory showers desire, desire infects memory.

Do other people in the room affect your memory?

He hated shouting, he hated l sudden noises, a dropped fork would make him flinch, if he broke a glass he felt bad all day.  He wasn’t fragile exactly, he was just transparent, transparently hurt of scared, closing up around himself like a starfish, a sea anemone.He was hunched at his chair, his head poking forward like a turtle. You’re filling the house with your nervousness, Kathy told him. You’re making a complex architecture of anxiety and fear…it was one of those days where her skin and hair felt coated in a thin layer of grease, when nothing hung right. 

Or do you just want your memories gilded?
They had that multilingual good manners veneer that only comes with money.
Maybe possessions were like beauty, they made you impermeable. Kathy loathed permeability, she wanted to be gilded, I mean everyone did.

Saturday, 27 April 2019


Farewell to the beach.

Starting out – by car, not by bike, but Third Street Promenade is a pedestrian zone.

Pointing the way in case my co-driver gets lost.

On the road

Saguaro cacti -- Nature's art installation.

No, that's not us, but I love Airstreams.

They have fancy washrooms in Texas.

 And "nodding donkey" pumps.

Need a break.

Home – just kidding. The snow was gone when I arrived.

Susan Ingram took the photos.

Sunday, 21 April 2019


I was invited to join Jewish friends for Seder last Friday, to get away from commercial Easter, from the cutesy chocolate bunnies on display everywhere, and revive a meaningful tradition that fosters

“We who were slaves, we who were strangers…shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger. When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. You shall love them as yourself.|”

“You shall tell you child on that day” the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

“Cast out the plagues that threaten everyone…the making of war, the teaching of hate and violence, despoliation of the earth, perversion of justice and of government, neglect of human needs, corruption of culture, subjugation of science, learning and human discourse, the erosion of freedoms.

Thank you, my friends, for reminding me of these human obligations, and ending the evening on a note of cheer: good food, good company, good conversation!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

More #QuentinCrisp wit, this time on love and sex.

More or less sex?

Staring at the front of people’s trousers is, after a time, even less rewarding than gazing into their eyes. As the appeal of any pastime weakens, the habit of it strengthens. I found that it required a continuous effort of will to keep in mind that what was needed to make sex tolerable was not more of it but less.

Hetero or gay heaven?

By heterosexuals the life after death is imagined as a world of light, where there is no parting. If there is a heaven for homosexuals, which doesn’t seem very likely, it will be very poorly lit and full of people they can feel pretty confident they will never have to meet again.

Sex or entertainment?

I have been accused of flirting with everybody, but my intention was not to arouse sexually. It was merely to entertain…I did not know that a reputation for wit is earned not by making jokes but by laughing at the pleasantries of others.

Decent or indecent?

Decency must be an even more exhausting state to maintain than its opposite. Those who succeed seem to need a stupefying amount of sleep. By ten o’clock at night the streets…were empty of every living thing but toughs.

Decency must be an even more exhausting state to maintain than its opposite. Those who succeed seem to need a stupefying amount of sleep. By ten o’clock at night the streets…were empty of every living thing but toughs.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

@amreading Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant.

The ideal woman: Marlene Dietrich?

I thought about her a great deal, wore her clothes, said her Sphinxlike lines, and ruled her kingdom. 

If a man wants unbearable pleasure indefinitely prolonged, he has to invent for himself a woman who is both beautiful and unattainable. We have come a long degrading way from women like Brigitte Helm, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich to Mlle. Bardot. The fault lies not in our movie stars but in ourselves. Those beauties of the last generation symbolized hopeless love. Today no one has the time to pursue hopeless love. Someone had to come up with a mechanical doll whose only recommendation was her infinite availability. The woman who came to embody this ideal to the full was Marilyn Monroe. Her directors persuaded her to flaunt her astonishing sexual equipment before us with the touching defenselessness of a retarded child. She was what the modern young man most desires in life  -- a mistress who could be won without being wooed.

The ideal novel?

If you describe things as better than they are, you are considered to be romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you will be called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you be thought of as a satirist.

Quentin Crisp book is a satire, which is hard on readers. As one of them said: I wish you hadn’t made every line funny. It’s so depressing.

Saturday, 19 January 2019


James Houlachan took the pictures.