I was on an artists’ residency in Finland through the entire month of May, and one of the many things I discovered during that time is that I’m actually really funny. I know you wouldn’t think it from reading my books. But look, I contain multitudes. Or at least two things: the tendency to write extremely dark horror, and the ability to make people laugh.
I’ll be writing about all the things I do to distract myself from what I’m actually supposed to be doing. And in a weird, meta twist, I’ll be sending out weekly newsletters, so I’ll be forced to focus on writing and producing content every fucking week.
Look, I’m just going to try to be funny and entertain you at my own expense, okay? If you already like me, you’ll enjoy it. And if you only read this blog because you hate me and it makes you happy to see me fail, you’ll enjoy my substack even more.
I’ve been in a few writing groups over the years, but the Novelistas is the smallest and the funnest! We started off as almost total strangers and we’ve still never met in real life. (I was supposed to meet up with Sarah a few months ago, but I ended up spending a week in hospital instead… a sign that it’s a bad idea to try to jump between dimensions?) They’ve been my biggest cheerleaders and constant support whatever I’ve got up to (travelling around Croatia for three months, going off grid in Finland, being despised by various cats…) And I generally just feel super lucky to know them – and super proud we got an article into one of the UK’s biggest writing magazines!
I’ve got a new little book coming out in July (but you can pre-order it now). It’s a collection of seven short stories, all set in the same universe – which is our world, except that a house has inexplicably appeared on the moon. The house drives some people mad, while others don’t even believe it’s real. But everyone, from under-employed millenials to global superstars, is affected.
I wrote these stories over a period of three months while I was travelling around Croatia, which is a very beautiful country with some of the best-looking people I have ever seen in my life. Some of the settings in the House stories are lifted straight out of Zagreb, Split, and the islands of Korcula and Badija. But I swear to God I didn’t kill anyone there. Not even a little bit.
Ten years have passed since I arrived in Edinburgh, got a job, found a nice wee flat by the river, worked out that ‘how’ meant ‘why’ and that ‘getting your messages’ was nothing to do with telecommunications, ken. Ten years walking the cobbled paths, the snaky wynds, up and down thousands of steps, along the river, along the railway paths, to the sea, to the hills, to the forests. Some of my favourite things to do in Edinburgh: walking through New Town streets in winter, peeping into the houses with round red rooms and paternosters and oil paintings. Trying to get lost in the tangled higgledy-piggledy overlapping streets of the Old Town. Cycling to the beach at Silverknowes and walking across to Cramond, tide permitting, or up along the River Almond, looking for kingfishers. Having stupid hair and pretending to be famous during the festival. Looking out of my window in the mornings, seeing a heron or cormorant or once, thrillingly, some otters playing in the river. Sitting in my flat with the windows open, watching a torrential storm, lightning flaring over the water. Other things I’ve loved: being in a falling-apart classroom with too many students, trying to work out what the fuck a poem was about. Sitting in the workroom with colleagues, laughing ourselves silly over some nonsense or other. In lockdown, standing outside in the snow with my neighbours, drinking cups of tea and pretending to be normal. Lately, sitting out in the sunshine with the neighbours, slagging off the airbnb wankers in my stair.
Ten years. And now I’m leaving. My job is finished. Notice given to my landlady. All my stuff is packed in a yellow suitcase. I don’t know where I’m going, not exactly. But when I get there, I’m going to write. That’s the plan. That’s the whole of the plan. Wish me luck!
The people at Unsung have been busy putting together an anthology of stories “raising awareness of mental health issues” with the proceeds going to a mental health charity, Together for Mental Wellbeing.
There are some amazing writers featured in the anthology, including Aliya Whiteley, Alison Moore, Nicolas Royle, Malcolm Devlin and many more. I’m one of the ‘many more’ – my story is called The Lightness of Their Hearts. I have forgotten everything about this story, to the point that I’d forgotten the title and keep calling it The House on the Moon, which might have been its title once, some time in the distant past. It’s the only short story I’ve written in quite a long while, and I’m just too scared to read it now in case I want to change/delete it all. All I can tell you is that it features a house, the moon, some balloons and some post-natal depression. Hopefully it passes muster as part of this wonderful-looking anthology.
If you’d like to support the anthology and get hold of your own copy, details are here. And please share with friends and on social. Most of us are only too aware of mental health issues, but what sometimes escapes our attention is the fact that others are aware of us, and sharing our troubles. I hope this anthology will make its readers feel understood.
Having said that, I was surprised and delighted to take home the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction for my story White Rabbit a couple of years ago, so who knows, I might get lucky again. That story’s in This House of Wounds, along with another story called Her Bones the Trees which was also nominated for the Best Short Fiction award last year. So it’s a lovely honour and I hope it will spark some interest in the book. Apparently my collection is now available at The Last Bookstore in LA and I’m very much hoping that Charlie Kaufman will wander in and buy a copy. I assume he lives in LA. If not, this plan is a bust.
I was very pleased to see Julie Travis’ fantastic Tomorrow, When We Were Young nominated for the Best Short Fiction award this year. It’s a book I absolutely loved and which filled me with wonder, and was one of my standout reads of last year. Congrats to all the nominees in all the categories. I’m only sad we won’t all be having a drink together at the award ceremony!
In other good news, my copy of Aliya Whiteley’s latest novel Greensmith arrived this morning and it looks amazing. I’m a massive, MASSIVE fan of her books. The cover blurb from Irenosen Okojie calls it “a brilliant, mind-altering, intergalactic delight.” Eek.
A wise person once said that opinions are like bumholes, in that everyone has one. This has always struck me as the perfect expression of distaste towards the unsavory practice of having opinions. I would, however, counter it by saying opinions are not at all like bumholes, in that no one has 50,000 bumholes.
I myself am in possession of several thousand opinions, few of which have the slightest merit or basis in anything other than sheer whimsy. Indeed, I have been known to opine at length on subjects in which I have literally no expertise, knowledge, or even interest. I consider this to be a terrible character flaw, albeit one which I share with most of the population at large. Hardly anything is less pleasant than listening to other people’s untutored, unfounded and ignorant opinions. But to be the expounder of such opinions is delightful. It’s so much fun to just talk, to say whatever inane nonsense passes through your brain, without a care for truth or honour. It’s especially fun to get worked up into an outrageous steaming froth about the sputterings of some random twitter egg or facebook not-friend.
(As I am one of the elite and enlightened few who has eschewed social media, I no longer suffer from the constant urge to express myself online. I now reserve this disagreeable activity for close friends and captive audiences at bus stops and in the post office queue.)
Another way in which opinions are not really like bumholes is that hardly anyone identifies with their bumhole in any meaningful way. Most people probably couldn’t even pick theirs out in a line up, unless it was an especially fancy one. Yet many people do very rigidly identify with their opinions and consider themselves to be the sort of person who thinks this, that, and the other. The thinking of this, that, and the other indicates to the world that they are the right kind of person and that they are very good. Such individuals tend to have clusters of opinions that go together and often these clusters merge with other clusters to form one giant opinion which is taken so seriously and treated with so much gravity that it takes on cosmic mass and becomes a giant bumhole of groupthink. This enormous bumhole hoovers up all the messy freeform thought that swirls around it, and pulls it down into its dark mysterious depths, never to be seen again. Now the person-with-important-and-correct-opinions finds themselves in thrall to a giant bumhole, a position which requires some careful manouevring if they are to escape unsullied. Many individuals, however, seem to take comfort in the giant bumhole, which is warm and crowded with others just like them, and they find shared purpose in patrolling its rim, defending its integrity from critical observers, and fighting off anyone who attempts to help them get free.
A third way in which opinions are unlike bumholes – and yes I am now fully committed to this analogy, although I admit I do have some regrets – is that while a bumhole is a sturdy thing that with luck and care will last you a lifetime, opinions tend to be fickIe and flimsy and floaty. There is nothing really basic or fundamental about opinions. They come and go, briefly providing the illusion that you know what you’re on about, before disappearing in a puff of logic, evidence, growing up, or having a change of heart. Opinions are, put simply, not to be trusted.
To torture the analogy to its painful conclusion, I propose that opinions, like bumholes, should be a private and somewhat embarrassing concern, of no interest to anyone outside your most intimate circle. Certainly not something to be identified with or especially proud of. The ability to think clearly and compassionately is more valuable to society than knowing the right things to say to appease the great giant bumhole in the cloud – or even to rail against it. There is no reason to aspire to having good or correct opinions, any more than one would waste time wishing for extra bumholes.
My writing space is a lie. I’ve never written here. I
put the desk together myself during late-summer, whilst video calling
a friend, in cheap cotton panties and a camisole. Those metal legs
are chill year round. I haven’t been gagged with the unicorn duct
tape, the truffle-coloured bunny remains nameless, I am forever
European. Out of sight is an Ikea bookcase that displays my
collection of plastic lo-fi cameras, and five envelopes containing
poetry chapbooks. The wall to the left is crumbling from damp. There
is a promise somewhere
to fix it.
say you ought to write each day but I find I’m too precious with
words, I can’t seem to let-go. This is how I write: I’ll discover a
word, then I’ll sit on it for a while. Or a title. Currently it’s
‘Terrible Grasshopper’ which I’ve been with since before the new
year. I’ll add to it now and then – on scraps of paper, via notes on
my phone, I’ll leave a thought with someone. Until.
like to let music bleed into my work. Bjork, Maximo Park, something
poppy and melodic. Though more often than not I prefer being read to.
Salvador Dali’s ‘Oui’ is a favourite, or wikipedia articles, Nabokov.
I like the process of tuning-out, of taking no notice on a conscious
level and letting the subconscious pick up what it wants.
is a distraction. Little Cora Vespertine. My anxieties. Love. Fear of
never being read, understood, appreciated. I can’t write without a
pen; utilised as a false moustache.
most enjoyable part of writing is not writing, it’s sharing my words
and my weirdness with another who doesn’t desire an explanation. I
find this is also the least enjoyable part.
proud of everything I write. It often feels like a challenge to get
the words out – if you know me you know I don’t talk much, that
voicing my thoughts doesn’t come easy – so every finished something
is a little ‘yay’. My first proper chapbook ‘Some Pink Star’ was
released about a year ago through Eibonvale Press. David Rix did a
stunning job, and I am still besotted with it.
Right now I’m working / not-working on a series of insect poems though, of course, they’re not really about insects. I think ‘Ant Eating With Three Fingers’ is my favourite title so far, or perhaps, ‘Honeydew or Number One Sugar Daddy’ which is about aphids and age-gap relationships. I’m excited to see where I take them.
Sophie Essex is a poet, organiser of spoken word events, and a publisher. Her chapbook Some Pink Star is available here. Her small press Salo publishes both prose and poetry.
Have been off social media for a week or so and it’s clear to me I made a great decision. I feel very free. I also have a lot of thoughts and ideas about what social media is doing to writing and writers, but I’ll save them for another day.
Just a quick heads up for anyone who enjoys podcasts, ghost stories, or being read to: this fantastic podcast by Tony Walker is one you won’t want to miss. He recently did an episode on Little Heart, from my collection This House of Wounds, and it was such a wonderful experience. Tony’s reading brought so much insight into the story and we had a great discussion afterwards about what it all could mean.
It inspired me to write some story notes about my novella Honeybones, which weirdly enough tie in with a lot of my thoughts about social media. I suppose it’s not that weird, given that Honeybones is a story about mind control and violence and not living in reality but inhabiting a simulated world which is designed to disempower you and alienate you from your material existence… Anyway, it’s interesting to think about, and if anyone wants to have me on their podcast or blog or publication to talk about this stuff, that would be great.
CYMERA 2020 took place online a couple of weeks ago and was a fantastic experience. I really enjoyed all the panels I saw and appreciated how much work went into making them run so smoothly. My own panel was on ‘writing the weird’ with Laura Mauro and Kit Power, and was a really fun and interesting chat. But my highlight of the weekend was Penny Jones, Tracy Fahey and Katie Hale discussing ‘The Female Monster’ – they covered so much in the discussion but it felt like they could have gone on for hours, and I would have been there for it! All the panels from CYMERA are on youtube and worth checking out.
That’s all for now! Hope you are all staying well and safe <3
My writing space is an alcove of the dining room using a regular PC, keyboard and screen. It’s not perfect, but when the house is empty or everyone’s asleep it does allow me to create some headspace and it does mean I’m surrounded by books; including the shelves containing everything I’ve been published in (out of shot in the pic). I did have a dedicated office space in the upper part of the house where I wrote for over sixteen years. It was ideal. But when our daughter Cora was born she moved in there so my ‘office’ went downstairs. Seven years later my eldest daughter moved out, Cora moved into her room, and my old office is now my partner’s office. Go figure.
I prefer to write when there’s either no one in the house or everyone is asleep. I’m a bit of a grouch when it comes to being interrupted. If I’m writing short stories then these tend to fall out of me fully formed. I rarely have to edit those other than a few word changes or grammatical edits. I tend to write them in one sitting. Anything longer than four thousand words just depends on the unavailability of everyone else. It can take months to write a novella, snatching a bit of time here and there. So whilst my writing days are few, when I do write it is productive.
Other than listening to music to create a mood (see below), I don’t have any other stimulants. I don’t drink tea or coffee, and very rarely drink alcohol at home. I might just have some ginger beer and some peanuts within reach. Other than that it’s just myself and my imagination.
Because my writing time is rare, anything that can shut out the rest of the world is welcome. Music is perfect for this. I sit down, hit play, and I’m immediately back where I left off in the story. I won’t choose anything too abrasive or lyrically challenging, as this works against the process, but anything subtle can help with ambience. And once I’ve begun writing, the music barely registers, it fades in and out of my consciousness, even when the same song is played over and over (the record for this is “The City Never Sleeps At Night” by Nancy Sinatra which I played seventy times whilst writing a short story called “Blanche” – published in “Something Remains”, Alchemy Press).
Favourites include Bjork, Blonde Redhead, Coeur de Pirate, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (but only the album “Push The Sky Away”), late Echobelly, The Flaming Lips. I know some writers prefer soundtracks and although that’s not my thing, for one nature-themed story recently I did write solely to birdsong. A few years ago James Everington asked me a similar question and a link to his blog (with links to the music) is here.
Distractions: the 9-5 day job, the Sunday job, the freelance proofreading I do most evenings… although the biggest distraction is a seven year old who has taken to staying awake til 10pm. On the other hand, my mini-collection “The Forest of Dead Children”, is inspired by my reaction to that. So, swings and roundabouts.
can’t write without solitude. Interruptions border on the violent.
The most enjoyable part of writing is actually doing it. For me, writing is so much a part of how I identify that having the space and freedom to get on with it allows me to be myself. I don’t find anything about it that isn’t enjoyable. I know a lot of writers aren’t keen on editing, but I don’t tend to do much of that and don’t find it much of an issue. Being immersed in creativity is a real high.
I think my best writing in this space has been what I’ve come to call my ‘celebrity death’ stories. For those reading this who I haven’t already bored to death with this theme, I’ve written twelve stories based on the lives of Golden Era Hollywood celebrities who died young. I really felt I was channeling something important writing these pieces – and occasionally goosebumped myself in the process. They’re intricate, multi-layered, respectful and affectionate. It’s just a shame that I can’t seem to sell them for toffee.
For the first time in about ten years I’ve lost impetus with short stories. The market seems to have shifted and (from my point of view) it appears genre boundaries have returned to parameters which are more clearly defined and my work doesn’t easily sit within that. Last year I began a novel without any idea where it might go and as it turned out it didn’t go more than 7000 words. So I’m in a rare period where I feel disheartened. As an alternative, I’m trying my hand at non-fiction, working on a book about a film. I can’t say much more than that at the moment, but this will be my work for 2020. Of course, writing non-fiction is a hundred ways different to writing fiction: I can’t write with music, I tend to eat constantly, and I actually have to remember stuff and do research. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m writing fiction again, but I am enjoying it.
Andrew Hook is an unstable entity whose material form suffers from interdimensional glitching. His fictional output in our dimension has been prolific, with over 150 stories published, as well as several collections, novels and novellas. Find out more here or just go straight to EvilCorp and buy his books.