Eyes Open to the Elements

Snatches of conversation as we fade in and out of conciousness, echoes of San Soleil. The cinematic touches the everyday. Fiction and fact are just library tags, they don’t separate the fake from the real. The sleepy heat draws slumber compared to the wide awake cold outside. Eyes open to the elements – the sleet, the fog, the sheet rain quivering like flying arrows in the light of a solitary street lamp. We are and we aren’t there now. A whisper in the shadows, slipping effortlessly away from outstretched fingers tips. The footfall of a fox at dawn. The intangible belongs to the dreamer snoozing against a black window pane. The pages of a book are audibly turned and we know from the pause a new chapter has begun. A new era is about to write itself. If we pause too long to dwell on what we leave behind, we’ll lose confidence to make the leap into the unknown. Every story starts with transition, an equilibrium unbalanced, scrambling off the cliff into chaos. The train pauses at the station. Someone steps off and checks the sky. We wait. The engine rumbles back into action and we set off again. Onward.

© Kirsty Fox 2015

All we never wanted

In the spiral of chaos there is nothing but tears and love and absolutes. Tenderness and doom enraptured in a dance. You know when you’re really crying because your throat hurts. It aches with cries you’ve never sobbed and screams you’ve never howled. It aches with every word you were never brave enough to say. There is nothing beyond the great spiral and nothing before it. It tunnels in on itself while growing ever greater. An all-consuming force that is at turns reassuring and terrifying. The spiral of chaos has no fate, no ultimate destination. It doesn’t promise that the right thing will happen at the right time. It promises that something will happen. You will happen to someone and they will happen to you. That bones will crack and splinter and spray. That lessons will be learned and unlearned at the bottom of a wet mountainside. We will be cowed by the spiral for she is all. All we ever wanted and all we never wanted. A phonecall. A conversation. A thoroughly well-time hug.

© Kirsty Fox 2015

Ghost Ship

The ship creaks beneath my feet, a loud aching creak like the bones of an old whale turning in his watery sleep. We drift on the dark ocean, yet it is the sea which seems to move only while we stay still. A solid steady weight afloat on fluid dreams and an imagination drawn to whirlpools. Spiralling down to an ocean bed of starfish and sea horses and beautiful ugly incredible things that man has never seen.

The ship drifts towards the whirlpool or rather the whirlpool drifts towards a still ship. A lonely creaking entity weighed down with history. War, fishing, rum, piracy – all in a day’s work. Claustrophobia and agoraphobia all at once. How do you survive in this tiny place amid so much space? How do you tell the stars from the sea? The clouds from the white wash? Are we moving or is the world moving us? Will it suck us down spinning with bubbles and deceptive light. Down into a purgatory not unlike the one we’ve left…

© Kirsty Fox 2015

Nocturnal Ponderings

Photo by Phil Formby

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer and publisher over the last few years it’s that selling books is hard. Really hard.

Both from the side of pitching to agents and publishers and the other side – getting people to part with money in exchange for a bunch of pages into which you poured hours of grueling-exciting-wondrous work. And once they’ve bought that book it may well sit on their shelf for months, nay years, before they tuck into it. I say that as a person who owns more books they haven’t read, than books they have read.

It’s understandable. A book isn’t a throwaway thing. A book is a commitment. A good book that you take your time over is a relationship all in itself. It’s a personal thing and an act of solitude in a world that bombards you with bright shiny distractions every five minutes.

I’m currently trying to sell a book to people. A book that I feel deeply passionate about, in a very personal way. It’s strange to be in the position of editor and and publisher when you’re used to being the writer. It’s a whole different relationship because you’re a reader, but more than a reader, because you were there. You’re the damn midwife helping that beautiful babe get born. You can’t take credit for the genes, but you can still be super proud.

I’m proud of Darren Simpson. He’s a great writer and it’s fascinating the way he pours his personality into it. As I said in this recent interview about the project

“I like Darren’s writing because he’s not afraid to take risks and have fun. There’s a rawness which traditionally published books tend to lack because they’re edited differently and are too self-conscious of their market. It’s like when you get a really good piece of music that’s overproduced. The Dust on the Moth takes an idea and runs away with it in ways that are both incredibly silly yet also still profound. It makes you laugh while also potentially giving you an existential crisis. I think that might be my favourite kind of art when it’s done well.”

I published my novel Dogtooth Chronicals a few years ago now. Someone came into the shop where I work today and bought a copy, not knowing I was the writer until I awkwardly told him. It feels strange and alien to talk about it now, the questions people ask are still the same – ‘Wow, it’s a big book, how long did that take you?’ It made me feel a little strange.

After he left I kicked myself for not mentioning The Dust on the Moth. After all, he was clearly a man of fine taste. And therein lies my issue. I’ve never been a good salesperson. I am zero-sales-patter-fox. From days of bartending, to these new days of funding applications and crowdfunding experiments. I don’t have the elevator pitch down, I can’t sell you a book or a really great social enterprise in one snappy sentence. I don’t lack passion or bloody-minded self-determination. I just lack swagger and effective punchlines that make you feel like the product I’m pushing will make you’re life better.

I do have some sales patter, sure. It just takes seven or eight paragraphs of your time to emerge. I’m all about the super soft sell. I want to empower people to spend their money on products made or designed locally. On stuff that is meaningful, rather than meaningless. On things they feel like they’ve ‘found’ all by themselves. Like wandering up some weird little alleyway into Cobden Chambers and finding a book in a shop you’d never been in before by a writer you’d never heard of. And then you meet the writer and she’s socially awkward, which is how all writers should be.

It’s a nice story. But it happens so rarely. And when you have a book to sell, time is never on your side. Especially when you’re running a crowdfunding campaign with only four days left. But to hell with it. If I was afraid of failure I would never have quit a wage slave job to become a social entrepreneur. As Vin Diesel once said as he pretended to roll out of the back of a plane “I live for this shit!”

So, I watched this video again tonight, despite it containing both my face and my voice. And I felt that even though we might not quite make it. I’m still pretty flippin proud of what we’ve achieved.

Someday I hope that man who bought Dogtooth Chronicals today will accidentally happen upon The Dust on the Moth, and get that nice feeling you get when you find hidden treasure.


Two Awkward Mannequins

The grass was green where we stepped. Changing underfoot from the straw of midsummer’s empty gasp to the green of hesitant optimism. We laughed and talked of things bigger than us. Bigger than the world. But however small and meaningless we were, it was meaningful to me. Tentative steps towards a joint future. A something. I really wanted that something. I still do.

But the grass stopped turning green underfoot. The silences grew longer. For all our talk of worldly things and existence, we couldn’t talk about you. About why you’d never meet an admiring gaze. About why you didn’t want this in solid form. The initial sketch of us was fine. It was just pints and sex and music and TV. But I couldn’t flesh us out. I couldn’t add shadow or definition. I couldn’t harden those outlines to a couple. Rather than the vague suggestion of a couple.

We stood on the corner in the cold. Awkwardly. Two awkward mannequins not knowing what to say. I was dizzy & light-headed from a lack of sugar or a sense of fatigue. Eventually, I hugged you and you hugged back like the world was about to end. The grass is concrete and the picture begins to fade. First to monochrome, then to mere lines. Finally a blank page.

© Kirsty Fox 2015

Sketch (the sound of cucumber)

A sketch is a suggestion of a world, a suggestion of a place, a time, people, objects. Leaves blown in through an open door. The absence of something you thought was there, but instead it was in another place, another time. A lost duck. A falling down wall. The innards of an old analogue tape strewn across the concrete. The white noise in your head expressed in marks on a rough surface. The smell of recently eaten toast and the sight of cold crumbs on an empty plate. The way autumn seems to to sum up all the autumns that have already passed you by in your life. The anguish of a daft dog licking your ear. The sound of cucumber (a kind of empty silence you might expect in the middle of an arctic tundra). The gentle weight of a head rested against your shoulder.

A sketch embodies these moments, these abstract concepts that are familiar and strange all at once. It is a stream of conscious not quite tangible to any mind other than the one that conceived it. And yet it still conveys some of the magic. The intrigue. The tiny sensation of what’s at the tip of our fingers……………

As Blue As The Land Beneath The Ice

The summer you gave me has frozen over inside an empty flat. Black on blue like the bruises insomnia leaves below my eyes. The flat is the barren plain where scraps of scrub grow resilient to the weather which beckons their death. The shabby forms of five writers sit on the shelf above the television set which is fuzzy and speaking only in tongues. Icicles form stalactites below the broad shelf, the scuffed shoes of the writers dangling as they look to each other for an answer to the question my eyebrows pose.

Jack scrapes grit from his boot with a dirty finger.

“I know the most about this winter. This icesheet. But why should I help someone who has condemned me as tired cliches your young self believed in?”

He looks at Gabriel.

“No pedestal for me when sat next to him. But I make you write don’t I? Because you think you can do better. With him you tremble with love and forget the plot.”

Gabriel said nothing. He grinned at me warmly. His face was weatherbeaten and tanned. But a tan in the light of winter looks a strange and suspicious thing. His teeth were crumbling, the more he smiled the more they slipped from his mouth like sand. His dark eyes held a love and sadness that made my heart break. That simultaneously brought value to what I felt and devalued it as trivial nonsense.

Margaret is reading. A shabby old leather-bound book, the title so faded that I can’t make it out.

“Margaret,” Jack says. “Surely you have an opinion? Like me you always do.”

Margaret lowers her reading spectacles with a long finger and peers at me and then over at Jack. They look like the construction workers hanging over New York City in that famous photo. Smiles and lunch boxes, legs dangling into the metropolitan abyss. But Margaret is the tallest and the only one who doesn’t wear a hat.

“Are you making this political, Jack? You’re not always subtle.”

Jack pointed to a spider shivering in is cobwebbed lair. “I don’t make it. It’s just the shape it comes. The pieces just fit together what the picture says is up to you.”

Margaret chuckled wisely and turned to me. “Make of that what you will!”

Her voice is clipped. American English. Two Americans and one Latin American. And what of the others? Who are the mystery pair in shadow on the end of the shelf? The whites of their eyes faintly visible in the gloom as they study the cold room with puzzlement.

“Why is it winter in here and summer outside?” I ask aloud this time. My voice shakes as though my vocal chords are wired up to a distortion pedal. as though the frog in my throat is a snake’s rattle.

The distortion moves around the room, latching onto other sounds which gather like a storm until the writers’ voices are lost. The creaks of the house become shrieks. The slight hiss of electricity becomes a mass. The spider scuttles to safety.  Time folds up on itself like origami crushed under foot. And inside the folded pages I hold my ears and cower, waiting for the end.