distracted!

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.

So I started a substack. It’s called Distracted! and you can subscribe now for free. And you should! Because it’s going to be awesome.

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.

SUBSCRIBE!

my tribute to Louise Bourgeois

A mini review

Very happy to see this kind review of The House on the Moon from Teika Marija Smits on her website.

I love this little collection but it seems to have flown under the radar for the most part, so it’s lovely when it does get a bit of attention!

Meanwhile, someone on substack mentioned the setting for the first story in that collection, and I just happened to have a photo to hand of the actual place where this story is set. Truth be told, I have about four million photos, because it was just too stupidly beautiful. I hope I get to go back someday.

Weekly humorous articles published on Substack from July 2022 ongoing – https://thedistracted.substack.com/

Dating in my 50s, in Business Insider – https://www.businessinsider.com/dating-younger-men-pros-cons-2024-6

A Novel Approach, in Mslexia blog – https://mslexia.co.uk/magazine/blog/a-novel-approach/

Book review: They Shut Me Up, by Tracy Fahey, in Interzone digital, 2024 – https://interzone.digital/a-review-of-they-shut-me-up/

Book review: The Shape of Guilt, by Lisa Fransson, in Interzone digital, 2024 – https://interzone.digital/a-review-of-the-shape-of-guilt/

Book reviews: Chasing Spirits, by John Llewellyn Probert; Beyond Glass, by Rachel Knightley, in Interzone digital, 2024 – https://interzone.digital/a-review-of-chasing-spirits-and-beyond-glass/

Book review: Umbilical, by Teika Marija Smits, in Interzone digital – https://interzone.digital/a-review-of-umbilical/

Book review: All That’s Lost, by Ray Cluley, in Interzone Digital, July 2022 – https://interzone.digital/a-review-of-all-thats-lost/

Book Review: Black Mouth, by Ronald Malfi, in Interzone Digital, July 2022 – https://interzone.digital/a-review-of-black-mouth/

ESCAPE ROOMS: Interviews with 12 authors, 2019 – 2020 – https://georginabruce.com/category/escape/

Poscast review: The Fountain Road Files, by Richard Maclean Smith, in Black Static #77, Nov/Dec 2020

Book reviews: Regret, by Robert Stone; The Wash by Daniel Gothard, in Black Static #76, Sept/Oct 2020

Book review: You Let Me In, by Camilla Bruce, in Black Static #75, May/June 2020

Interview with Priya Sharma, in Black Static #72, Jan/Feb 2020

Book review: Ormeshadow, by Priya Sharma, in Black Static #72, Jan/Feb 2020

Book reviews: Wounds, by Nathan Balingrud; The Girl in Red, by Christina Henry; Sealed, by Naomi Booth, in Black Static #70, Jul/Aug 2019

Interview with Nathan Balingrud, in Black Static #70, Jul/Aug 2019

Book review: Water Shall Refuse Them, by Lucie McKnight Hardy, in Black Static #69, May/June 2019

Book review: New Music for Old Rituals, by Tracy Fahey, in Black Static #71, Sept/Oct 2019

Book review: The Water Cure, by Sophie Mackintosh, in Black Static #68, March/April 2019

Book review: Halcyon, by Rio Youers, in Black Static #67, Jan/Feb 2019

Book review: Gamble, by Kerry Hadley-Pryce, in Black Static #66, Nov/Dec 2018

Interview with Kerry Hadley-Pryce, in Black Static #66, Nov/Dec 2018

Book review: Figurehead, by Carly Holmes, in Black Static #65, Sept/Oct 2018

the novelistas

My writing group has been featured on the Mslexia blog. Check out the article here!

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!

You can check out the other novelistas here: Ninette Hartley, Mel Piper, and Sarah Myles.

the house on the moon

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.

in through the out door

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!

out of the darkness

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.

well, if this isn’t nice, i don’t know what is

My short story collection This House of Wounds has been nominated for a British Fantasy Award. So that’s nice! The other nominated authors are Maura McHugh, Laura Mauro, Paul Tremblay and Aliette de Bodard, so obviously I’m not expecting to actually win!

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.

50,000 bumholes

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.

ESCAPE ROOM: SOPHIE ESSEX

This is not a writing space

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.

Folk 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.

I 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.

Life 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.

The 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.

I’m 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.