Pleased to announce the launch of A Smaller Hell on Kobo this week. With a fancy new cover and sleek edit, it has been tempting new readers into the spider/fly dynamic of Doyle/Black, which bears ever greater relevance as we uncover yet more sordid conspiracies amongst the powerful. Hierarchy and authority lead people to this madness. Take a chance and find out just how mad Dianne Doyle gets … https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/a-smaller-hell
‘Don’t let your
mum find it. I want it back when you’re done.’
it. She finds everything.’
‘Hide it under
kill me too if she finds it. She’ll know I gave you it.’
‘Is it that good?’
perhaps. This exhange took place almost 30 years ago between me and another
11-year-old boy, furtively examining a VHS tape in the shade of a giant oak
tree. School was out for summer, but for us, it was forever: our last day of
primary. Ties loosened, shirts unbuttoned and laces undone, we were finally
free and Rob T lived up to his term-long promise that he would bring in this
film for me.
‘Watch it when
your parents go out.’
‘I don’t want to get in trouble.’
‘We could go to mine and watch it. My parents don’t get home from work until seven’
Back at Rob’s, we settled down with a plate of barely warmed fish fingers and tomato sauce and pressed play. The scratchy white lines fizzed and flickered across the screen as the tape got going, indicating that it had been watched almost to the point of wearing out.
‘It gets better. Probably just needs tracking.’
This was no X-rated “adult film”, nor splatter/slasher gore horror. This was something different. I could hear a message in the film, something more profound than “Don’t pick up strangers”. The Hitcher was a brutal, cathartic experience that made me value peace and resent violence. After the final credits rolled, I couldn’t wait to see my family to make sure they were all still in one piece and hadn’t picked up any hitchers in the two hours I’d been at Rob’s.
It was probably
the first time I had seen an actor convey his message with such startling
presence. Rutger Hauer’s portrayal of a mysterious homicidal nomad is a
performance I will never forget. His ability to slow down time onscreen was matched
only by Reed, De Niro, Nicholson, Day-Lewis etc.
What made Hauer
such a great villain was the ever-present slivers of endearing humanity he
would weave into the performance, confusing the audience by earning their
sympathies and respect one minute, their abject disgust the next.
heroes were often shot through with irritating flaws, sometimes full blown
personality disorders. Still, we loved them. We wanted them to overcome
adversity all the more because they were like us: imperfect.
I can’t wrap up this short tribute without mentioning Hauer’s greatest unsung work: a little-known sci-fi thriller that brings to mind Bladerunner and Alien. Split Second is far from being a perfect film, but there is much to recommend it. The scene between Hauer and Kim Cattrall is particularly memorable because of the unexpected tenderness therein and reminds us how powerful he could be as an actor, even in the midst of a rather chaotic narrative and concept. If you’re a comic book/graphic novel fan still unsatisfied by cinema’s adaptations of the form, you could do a lot worse than to check out this highly enjoyable flawed gem.
There are not
many actors or artists out there as memorable as Hauer. I’m grateful, as I am
to all actors with soul, for the inspiration. He altered our collective
consciousness with an ad-lib, ffs (see Blade Runner roof scene). That takes
Thrilled to announce that my short story about a suicide in a hotel room has won second place in Writing Magazine’s competition. The judges gave it a lovely review, which you can read alongside the story itself here.
Delighted to have made the shortlist for this one, being the first poetry competition I’ve entered in a few years. Thanks to Writing Magazine. It will be available to read in a collection called The Crystal Barrel, due for release later this year.
On 20th December 2018, mysterious drone shenanigans occurred at Gatwick Airport, England, causing huge disruption to over 100,000 passengers. What really happened during those curious 36 hours when a tiny flying device brought a major international airport to its knees? Here’s a theory in the form of a heartwarming Christmas bedtime story, suitable for all ages.
When I began writing this book, I had no idea that the duration of my protagonist’s exile would match the time it would take me to complete it. I like to think that I would have carried on regardless had I realised, but fifteen years is a long time. It’s about something intangible, yet powerful, like the scent you catch in the air every now and then that makes your heart swell with nostalgia or the child’s smile that brings a tear to your eye. It’s about something good that still exists in a bad world. Like the lone snowdrop on the rubbish tip, this beauty will always find a way. This is the best story I can come up with to frame the notion of a force within all of us that can survive anything: grief, addiction, trauma, enslavement, conditioning and, in near-future Britannia, even a natural disaster and the rise of a terrifying new brand of fascism.
An early map for The Horseman’s Dream, showing how the British Isles have been reduced to a tiny archipelago by a near-extinction level natural disaster.
When I came up with the idea for the story, I had a job working late shifts in a local restaurant and that morning, I could barely face sunlight, I was so tired. I poured a styrofoam cup of scorched coffee from the MOT garage’s grotty percolator and sat down to check out the reading material on the table. Next to the mountain of Heat, Hello, Ok!, Cosmopolitan, Loaded et al sat a pristine hardback of the Holy Bible. The juxtaposition of the literature seemed absurd, even more so when flicking between them. It made me consider how human consciousness might have evolved over two millenia, if at all.
Two years earlier, 9/11 had brought religious fundamentalism into the spotlight with an event that was truly shocking to witness live on TV. It felt unreal, like a waking nightmare. I’d stood on top of one of the buildings a year previously and the memory made me shiver. A toxin was leaking into my bloodstream through the television as I watched these hellish events unfold. It was tough to escape the feeling that somebody had crafted this nightmare for a specific purpose: to alter the consciousness of the world, to upset the balance to serve their own ambitions, whatever they might be. Someone had turned down the dimmer switch for humanity and all its higher virtues, leaving us all suspended in a darkness, not of physical light, but of the spirit.
I set down the literature and drank my coffee, none too keen to wriggle any further down the rabbit-hole without more caffeine. I could feel The Horseman’s Dream rumbling in the distance or so I thought. Turned out to be my car failing its MOT on a knackered exhaust.
I was thinking about my experience at Ground Zero, where it was all no longer just on the TV. Since I had been booked for label showcases in New York before 9/11, I assumed that they would be cancelled, but I was wrong. They went ahead anyway in the November. Getting on a plane became a totally different proposition overnight. Twitchy faces seemed riveted to their headrests, casting anxious glances at their fellow travellers and security checks both in arrivals and departures took so long that you could see the weariest visibly ageing as they stood in line. It wasn’t just the time it took or the draining effect of air travel: they had been poisoned like me. They were afflicted by the same sadness that took control of the veins, arteries, nerves, muscles and ligaments, not just the brain or the heart. A genuine malaise that saw altruism and other romantic imperatives smeared from the collective consciousness and replaced with a cold objectivism.
An early impression of what the broadcasting corporation’s logo might look like.
Reading the tributes amidst the still-rising smoke and dust at Ground Zero was harrowing. As a young man, I had been looking forward to writing stuff that would comfort people and encourage them to be kinder to each other, to make the world a more interesting, peaceful place. It suddenly seemed a most naive, childish ambition, and my motivation to write faltered badly during the following two years.
The Horseman’s Dream was the idea that broke the drought. My styrofoam coffee cup now empty, I scribbled as many notes as I could fit within the confines of Ben Affleck’s forehead, before I had to move on to Jennifer Aniston’s dress on the next page of the magazine. I inconspicuously removed the notated pages and stuffed them into my pocket before diving back to the Bible. Flipping it open randomly landed me in Revelations.
I remembered that feeling of apocalyptic dread as I watched the Twin Towers fall on television. It made me wonder whether the apocalypse would take the form of something so awfully spectacular in the physical world or whether the apocalypse of the soul would be the thing to finish us off. This imperceptible parasite travelling through airwaves and feeding on higher virtue seemed to me to be a grave, real danger and it was clear that we had all been affected by it. Infected by it.
I still like this idea for a cover. What do you think?
I took the idea of a reality TV mogul rising to power and using media and technology to control and ultimately destroy the minds of a population to achieve complete dominance. I had always been disturbed by the incredible influence that the media has over people, but post 9/11, it became an assault rather than an influence. Something wasn’t right. And that pristine passport. Building 7. Temperatures required to melt steel beams. I don’t know if you remember, but people were openly talking about these things in polite company. I remember when the phrase “conspiracy theory” wasn’t dirty, laced with ridicule or used to undermine alternative opinions and ideas. The manipulation of that phrase became a source of suspicion in itself. Conspiracy theories about conspiracy theory. To the shadowy forces at the helm of this dark vessel cleaving through the waves of the collective consciousness, tampering with crime scenes seemed like more of an afterthought. Their real quarry seemed to be our very souls and it was jaw-dropping to see truth and logic escape from family and friends as they belched and regurgitated the desired narrative, becoming more exhausted and enraged by cognitive dissonance by the day.
This was the beginning of fake news as we now know it. The parasite no longer lived only in the airwaves, now it had fibre-optic broadband and the ability to create hate, confusion, polarisation and foster narcissism, cruelty and desensitisation in anyone on the planet in microseconds.
Fortunately for the resistance, short wave radio still works in Britannia.
And it’s still working. The ego is inextricably entwined with social media in a way that TV, radio and print has never been, creating more profound lacerations to the user’s psyche and generating slow-burning, but dark consequences for our society. A week ago, a seven-year-old boy was slashed with a knife only a few miles from my home. I recently received death threats for intervening to prevent a woman being verbally and physically assaulted by four men outside a local bar. The hunt is still on for the man who thrust a pint glass into someone’s face at the bottom of my road a few weeks ago. Not far from the supermarket, a running street battle with machetes took place last month, resulting in some horrific injuries. And in true Ballardian fashion, someone recently smashed up a police mental health support vehicle while the officers were in a nearby house, attending to an emergency call.
And all the while, funding for health and emergency services is being strangled to death. Or to privatisation, I should say.
I don’t think it takes a genius to see that someone is conducting a symphony of chaos from the wings.
The arrival of dreck like the Jeremy Kyle Show and X-Factor fed the parasite, which had found its natural home online for the reasons outlined above. These programmes were designed to appeal to the lowest aspects of our humanity: merely an update of the Victorian freak show, so that people could give air to their desperate need to sneer at the pathetic plights and dreams of the poor, vulnerable and mentally-ill. Like a self-sufficient, perpetual eco-cycle, the circus continues ever apace, gathering more momentum every day under the watch of leaders who care nothing for us and everything for their offshore bank accounts.
And all this before I’ve even mentioned Brexit.
The Horseman’s Dream became a revenge story for the meek and a tale of justice for the abused. A protest against faceless, psychopathic corporations controlling our governments and our minds. The perpetrators would see their own cruel weapons turned against them amidst the howl of trumpets from the skies. I wrote that the horsemen would not come as War, Famine, Pestilence and Death, but in the form of an institutionalised, 16-year-old catatonic. His weapon would not be a flaming sword or burning bow, but something else altogether more nebulous and abstract.
Years later, when a coiffured tangerine was elected as the most powerful political leader in the world, I knew that The Horseman’s Dream was coming true. I worried about Alice Grosvenor being a “pantomime” antagonist until I saw this guy delivering his address from the White House as if he had won an episode of Big Brother (somewhat ironically – George Orwell would have had much to say about this hot mess we live in, I’m sure).
Political Reform: Wheel of Fortune Edition
The polarisation of the public in the UK and the USA continues to worsen, aided by technology and social media to create wider and deeper contamination and control of our people. It’s highly recommended to be a hustler, a playa, a gangsta, an outright narcissist or a gold-digger in our culture: anything else and you’re “weak”. The sneering attitudes fertilised by reality TV (or reality “programming” could be more apt) have become the norm, while the wretched mantra of the staunch objectivist might as well be tattooed on our foreheads: “I’m alright, Jack.”
As a protest and admonition against that, I wanted to create a shrivelled, cruel near-future where a tipping point has been reached: a world where kindness, honour, loyalty, compassion and altruism would finally be rewarded by a mysterious cosmic power operating outside of the grimy reach of the Establishment. A power that makes their attempts to control others appear quite ridiculous and futile. A power that meets their unkindness with a vengeance a thousand times more powerful than anything they could muster. A power to whom we could all be grateful for liberating us from our slavemasters’ thrall.
When I finally finished the novel last year, I went through a stringent drafting process and reluctantly let go of about 30,000 words, leaving the final draft at 75,000. In a fit of childish enthusiasm, I offered the manuscript to Will Self after attending one of his lectures in Liverpool and he was gracious enough to accept it. It was an exciting moment for me until I returned to my car and realised what I had done: I had just given a manuscript to one of the most complex, capable (and acidic) novelists ever for a review. I never knew I harboured such masochistic tendencies. What did I expect? What a ludicrous notion that he might even read it. A novelist of Will Self’s level has much more important stuff to do than read my twaddle. I blushed even though I was alone and drove home, cursing myself as an idiot for most of the journey.
I put the episode out of my mind until a few weeks later when I received an email from Professor Self. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared of opening an email. I needn’t have worried: he was most polite. It wasn’t the “kind of thing he usually read”, but he said it was “full of fascinating ideas” and said that he would speak to someone who might be interested. Although I’ve not heard back since, I’m still relieved that I wasn’t completely eviscerated, at least. Just having one of the finest novelists of the last century read my work at all gave me a confidence boost, which has since been bolstered again by a few tough beta-readers who have come back to me with enthusiastic reviews.
I’ve been knocking together a few ringbound proofs in anticipation of the next step, which is to print a short run of paperbacks to sell from the website and perhaps the odd art/book fair here and there in a bid to remain as independent as possible. If you can’t wait and would like a ringbound proof, email me and we’ll work something out. Readers have bartered beer, guitar strings, homegrown vegetables and cigars so far, all of which I will continue to accept as tender until the paperback is released.
Ringbound proofs with holographic foil covers.
If you have any thoughts on any of the above, feel free to put them in the comments or send me an email.
Misprints feel like such a waste, so I deployed Arthur here as a beta reader.
If you’d like to read a few snippets The Horseman’s Dream (and others) and check out some weird doodles, click here
If you’d like to read the odd sarcastic tweet or see some nice art (I RT a lot of paintings/photography), go here
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Monday marked the 100th anniversay of the start of the “third battle of Ypres”: Passchendaele. This poem and piece of music is my tribute to all those who died in the trenches. Sent over the top as fodder to the Maschinengewehrs, often packed with amphetamines to quell their terror, some as young as 13 years old, raced and palpitated towards a lonely, painful death in the mud and barbed wire of No Man’s Land.
I remember the atmosphere on the coach heading towards the trenches we were due to visit on the first day of our week-long school trip: laughing, play-fighting, general high spirits. The mood upon our return to the bus was silent shock. No-one spoke to each other: we just filed back on to the bus and sat in our seats in silence until one boy burst into floods of tears. No-one laughed at him because most felt the same way, including myself.
It felt as if some kind of shadow had crept into my young bones or gas into my unsullied lungs. Some of the lungs and hearts were only the same age as ours when they had been stilled by a machine gun round or a cloud of gas. They had ceased to be people: used only as meat. I was horrified then and I’m no less horrified now. Their training, physical condition, intelligence or raw bravery made no difference to their chances of survival once they went over the top. They might as well have been stepping off the edge of the world, launching themselves into a cold, airless vacuum.
I’m not sure if my History teachers intended the trip to have this effect, but I set about learning why these boys had been hurled into a meat grinder in the way that they were. What I discovered has led to a lifelong mistrust of hierarchy, a hatred of propaganda and a yearning for meritocracy and diplomacy. How’s the fight going, you ask? Turn on the TV, read a newspaper or click on social media. Depressing, right? Nodding your head solemnly at remembrance ceremonies doesn’t make you patriotic and is not going to prevent this happening again. I’ve marched in enough remembrance parades at Hamilton Square to realise this. Diplomacy, intelligent research/debate and a refusal to be drawn to our basest instincts would be of much more use. Although, when I posited this to a newspaper editor, he told me that any newspaper selling virtue over scandal would fold within a week.
War is big business. Don’t ever underestimate how cruel humans can be when they are corrupted by money/power. Let’s all keep fighting the warmongers, instead of each other.
When I’m gone and turned to dust,
You’ll still click my link, I trust,
Give us a like or even a love,
I’ll be watching from above,
If creation truly be not a sin,
Maybe my uploads will get me in?
Followers come and followers go,
Like lovers you never really know,
Unless they too have uploaded theirs,
And put in order their affairs,
So that they can also live forever,
By seeding clouds with their endeavour,
Hoping there might come a rain,
To drop them back to earth again,
If only to give a vague idea,
Of what it meant when they were here.
Will doc files cleanse the streets,
And bring on revolution?
Bedroom wavs rock halls of power,
Will jpegs of outstanding worth,
Become like stained-glass,
Worshipped by some hipster,
Still talking out of his arse?
But what happens when,
The wind blows again,
And we all take shelter below?
If we survive,
Will we be deprived,
Of the things that we love and know?
If the cloud blows away,
And the authorities say,
That it was always our decision,
We submitted and signed,
We’ll become deaf and blind,
Under a deluge of derision,
Incision and division bells,
Silencing the voices,
That scream against the toughened glass,
Of gilted Rolls-Royces.
Take your books below with you,
And cherish all your vinyl,
So that if the cloud should fall as rain,
Your ecstasy won’t be final.