A Prolonged Kiss
This story, set in the theatre and inspired by a production of The Seagull that I saw at the National Theatre, was published in December 2020 in The Lonely Crowd 12.
In June 2021 it was short-listed for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award 2021, the world’s biggest and most prestigious prize for an English-language single short story.
The kiss comes at the end of Act Three, just before the interval. It’s really what the play has been leading up to all along, and its high point. We try hard, but the fourth act is an anti-climax. Which is perhaps the point – new forms, new forms – but still you wish, with all due respect to the author, that it was stronger. The kiss is the moment we all, not just me and Colm, have been working towards. Our job is to establish the conditions for its existence, to have it seem inevitable, when it comes.
This was commissioned for inclusion in #1 Short Story Anthology (Vanguard Editions, 2015), which also includes work by Joanna Walsh, Hanif Kureshi, Stuart Evers and Daniela Cascella. The collection is linked to the monthly literary event in Camberwell, south London, run by Richard Skinner.
She flew in with just a handbag and sailed out four days later with two suitcases packed full. It was an affectation she knew, but it was also exquisitely practical – you’re visiting New York for a shopping expedition, what do you really need to take with you? Once through immigration, she’d breeze straight past baggage collection, looking neither right nor left, then take a cab direct to Saks, for essentials and an outfit or two to be going on with. Then she’d check into her hotel, take a shower, dress and head back out to find a café and plan her itinerary.
You can buy a copy of the anthology here.
This story appears in the second, Autumn 2014 issue of the Dublin-based journal Gorse, which from the word go put itself firmly on the map as a source for modernist-inflected fiction, poetry and thought. Fiercely edited and beautifully produced, Gorse is a welcome addition to the European arts literary scene, and I’m very proud to be in it. It was also included Salt’s Best British Short Stories 2015.
‘Festschrift’ is, seemingly like a lot of my recent short fiction, about sex.
Can there be, can there honestly be a more stirring monument to the depthless mysteries of the male mind than this: that there exists, for each and every one of us, a lifetime tally of sexual accomplishment? A number it is given to few to know precisely, but an empirically valid one nonetheless. It is the figure you look back on, on your deathbed, and, proverbially, would never wish lower than it is.
Buy Gorse here.
in 2019 I expanded ‘Festschrift’ to become my second novel, The Large Door.
The Faber Book of Adultery
This was first published in 2013 in the first issue of Lighthouse, a journal from Gatehouse Press in Norfolk, which went on to publish Anna Metcalfe’s Sunday Times EFG-shortlisted ‘Three’. The story (and, in fact, Anna’s) was then anthologised in the Best British Short Stories 2014 (Salt, edited by Nicholas Royle) and then published online at The Barcelona Review. The story is about a writer, god help us, and about adultery, god help us further.
Actually, I’ve got this fantasy, this book I’m going to edit. The Faber Book of Adultery. The joke being, I suppose, that the subject is so all-pervasive as to make the selection entirely otiose. It could be pages taken at random from any book, published ever. They’re all about adultery. A sweep of his arm, as if reading from a banner. The. Faber. Book. Of. Adultery. The Faber. Book of. Words.
Twigs snap, trees grab, leaves underfoot slip and give. Fuck fuck fuck, goes Josh, in time to his breathing. Says it or thinks it, who knows.
Josh is eleven years old, running like hell through the exploded maze of the woods. His lungs heave fit to burst, but his mouth’s clamped tight shut, eyes strained to slits, all to avoid the thin whipping branches of the trees and saplings and bramble hogs he’s barely dodging. And the bees.
Shortlisted for the inaugural White Review Prize. Available to read online, along with the seven other shortlistees.
There were seven of us sat around the table. Seven grown adults, sat around the table. It was late. We had eaten, and we had drunk, and now were drinking more. The table, the heavy oak table, was if you will a beach from which the tide of a long and boozy dinner had receded, leaving its surface strewn with a tideline detritus of cork, crumb and ash. Among which, on the table, having first cleared a space, with his hand, the side of his hand, Matt, a bottle. An empty wine bottle, laid on its side. Upon which, Matt’s hand rested, like a spider, fingers braced and knuckles up, as if to make a bridge in snooker.
He wafted the bottle casually this way and that, the way a hoodlum sweeps a machine gun from side to side to cover his cowering targets, its malevolent arsehole neck-hole eyeing us each in turn.
Come on, he said. How about it?
An experiment in ‘ambient storytelling’, ‘J’ is a story that I wrote on a dedicated Twitter feed (@365daystory), running from January 1 to December 31 2013 and improvised at the rate of one tweet a day. Intended to work equally well when read ‘straight’ in its own Twitter timeline, or ’embedded’ in yours, if you followed it, it had a very definite shape and purpose, that will became clear only as it grew. This wasn’t a story that I’d written, then chopped up into tweet-sized pieces. It is a story that I wrote as I went, day by day, most often on my iPhone. Nothing at all was written ahead; very little was planned ahead, beyond the very general story arc. I wrote something more about the story in a post on #twitterfiction, here.
And you can read it, in toto, in traditional linear fashion as a downloadable .pdf file here: J by 365daystory
Kicked into the furious blizzard of sound and light that only later turned out to be the world, J fought and fought to die, but all in vain.
Phrenology, of the Causes of Crime
A short story entered for a competition run by the Edinburgh Genomics Forum, asking for stories inspired by genetics. I’d been wanting to write something about phrenology for a while, ever since hearing about a study that linked high levels of testosterone with a pronounced jaw… in other words, you can tell something about a person’s temperament (if not precisely their moral character) from the shape of their head. The Genomics Forum printed it as a lovely pamphlet along with the other competition winners.
‘Here,’ says Morley. ‘The coronal region. See?
I track the movement of his fingers, how they glide across the head’s shaven crown. They trace arcs and points, marking out fields on the skin as surely as if he were using a scalpel. His fingers move down to behind the ear. ‘Compare to the squama temporalis.’ His eyes find me. ‘Show me,’ he says.
Then, when I hesitate, ‘He won’t bite.’
This was my piece for the UEA Creative Writing Anthology, which is published by Egg Box Publishing and available from their site. Not currently online. Again, not an extract from Randall, but about him.
Perhaps, if I’m honest, I always had it in the back of my mind to write something about Randall one day. What crystallised the thought, though, was having Ed Hitchcock sat in my living room, interviewing me for his biography of him.
A short piece on the McSweeney’s website, it was followed by
for the online magazine Diagram. (Which they published in their anthology Diagram.2, like they say here.)
Lay your head on the table and your arms on either side of it. Lie your head this way, and you are faced with a partial inventory of culinary detritus: ketchup bottle, upturned salt cellar, stainless steel cutlery. That way, the sink and the window. Most likely the sink, but more properly the window needs cleaning. The window will always need cleaning. The time does not exist in which it is, was or will be free of smeared dirt…
Further installments of Suggested Venues For Grieving (Part 8: The Half Pipe and Part 9: The Old House) appeared in Tank magazine but aren’t available online.
This on McSweeneys.net too, a long time ago.
A story in the 1997 Pulp Faction anthology All Nighter, where I was published alongside Iain Sinclair, Niven Govinden and others.