AN INVITE TO ETERNITY

An Invite to Eternity. Tales of Nature Disrupted, takes its cue from John Clare to address the most pressing issue humanity is facing: anthropogenic climate change.  Edited by Marian Womack and myself, and with a foreword by Helen Marshall.

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BURNING

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I can see where it began to unravel. That summer; the one the whole country remembers. I was twenty-five-years-old, the tarmac of London oozing in the heat. Hotter than Spain, screamed the headlines. Much flesh on display.

The city was burning. Five night of riots, triggered by something so common we’d almost all forgotten it was a travesty. The police choked a young black lad squeezed the life out of him, as they’d done to so many before. It was out Wood Green way.

PK and I had taken our fair share of batterings out on the demos, and Andy once took a beating in the cells of Stoke Newington for having too much of a mouth on him. But we considered ourselves lucky – we put ourselves in those situations. I see that now. The police didn’t come looking for us.

For whatever reason, people weren’t having it that summer. Who can blame them. Push people too far, then punish them for having the gall to react – the sheer nerve of it. The put-upon of London reacted with torched squad cars, bricks through the windows of Currys, looting all those things they were told they needed to be a proper person, but could not afford.

Petrol bombs burst on riot shields, a gorgeous, compelling and frightening sight. The memories of London streets lit at night by oily flame, so beautiful. Rip it up, tear it down, smash, start again. If only it had been that way.

Even back then I knew the violence, the unhappiness and unrest, was nothing new to London. This ancient city, my home, a place I knew like one of its rats, eking life out in the cracks and gaps. I had this… what’d you call a gift. A gift that isolated me.

I could see the ghosts of the all the cities London had been. I’d often catch glimpses of men and women in outdated clothing, and wonder. It was so hard to tell who was living and who was dead – with retro fashion booming, second-hand chic a thing, even skinhead fashion suffering a fashionable re-appreciation, how could I tell when anyone was from? And who was I, anyway, to pass judgment on this? Whether I was decked out, like I was back then, in the black and white t-shirts of bands from the early eighties, or smartened up in polo shirts, when the hell was I from? I burned with nostalgia for times that never really happened.

The weight of the city I lived in crushed me. I couldn’t verbalise it. It was a drug. I’d sit and watch old Pogues videos, flick through my shelves of London fiction, stare out high as a kite over the view from London Bridge at five am as the sun came up, and the knowledge of where I was, what this city was and the fact that I lived in it – I lived in it – became unbearable. Like a pill you’d taken that you knew was too strong, with the rush of emotions feeling enough to buckle me at the spine. I never knew what to call those feelings. Some kind of extra, unnecessary, sensitivity.

I saw the spriggan on Parkland Walk struggling to get free of the brickwork when no one else could; I knew the golem in Stamford Hill was real. I studied the tarot, I loved weird fiction, and took an interest in things like the collective unconscious. I had taken mushrooms, acid, even DMT down on the south coast in Hastings, an experience which almost made me believe in an afterlife.

That night as the city burned, we thought we’d nose out what was going on, try and live up to some of the creeds we claimed to adhere to. I can still see Jess, in her light denim jacket with covered in patches promoting causes that mattered in those days, plain black T shirt, hair shaved along one side of the head like the girls used to do back then. It was before we really got together, and way before it all turned to shit.

We were running down a side road off the Green Lanes, fleeing it as a whole unit of riot police done up like a dystopian enforcers marched down the street. Turks and kurds leaning out of their windows above the kebab shops and grocery stores. I have a memory of a tipped-over box of Turkish peppers, those pale green ones your cook up with eggs in a metal pan, arranged like an absurd, crushed corona on the tarmac

 Some of the Turks were out on the street, tooled up with cleavers and bats that should have been hitting softballs in London’s parks. They were a community that knew how to look after themselves, and I always respected them for that. They were defending their property from the looters, people we presumed they knew as neighbours.

We ran down the alley as the Green Lanes went up in flames and came down in smashed glass and scorched brick. Jess and I had lost the others, and it felt like we were in theold Alex Cox movie, Sid & Nancy, excited and adrenalised by the fact that things were happening and for once the status quo was wobbling. We kissed in the shadow behind a green industrial recycling bin, a piece of smouldering cardboard wafting above us like a burning angel.

THE SCORCHED MUSIC OF THE EMPEROR WORM

‘There is a writhing worm in all of us, waiting to be freed.’
– From The Salvage Song of the Larks, and Other Stories, by Michael Ashman

I have a story in the latest Coffin Bell Journal that you can read here.

A PERSONAL ANTHOLOGY

I was pleased to contribute to the excellent ‘A Personal Anthology’ series run by Jonathan Gibbs. The concept is simple – a writer chooses twelve pieces of favourite short fiction and explains why others should read them.

My list:

  1. ‘Black County’ – Joel Lane

  2. ‘The Stains’ – Robert Aickman

  3. ‘The White Cat’ – Joyce Carol Oates

  4. ‘The Husband Stitch’ – Carmen Maria Machado

  5. ‘Wide Acre’ – Nathan Ballingrud’

  6. ‘An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk According to One Who Saw It’ – Jessie Greengrass

  7. ‘The Horse of Iron and How We Can Know It (And Be Changed By It)’ – M John Harrison

  8. ‘Four Abstracts’ – Nina Allan

  9. ‘The Man Whom the Trees Loved’ – Algernon Blackwood

  10. ‘The Cheater’s Guide to Love’ – Junot Diaz

  11. ‘The Last Clean, Bright Summer’ – Livia Llewellyn

  12. ‘The Unwish’ – Claire Dean

You can read it here.

‘Fiction is becoming darker, weirder, bent-out-of-shape’

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I was very pleased to get a mention in the Irish Times this week, via their interview with Ashley Stokes of Unthank Books. So thanks Ashley! He said some kind things about my work, as well as my good mate Gareth E. Rees, as well as mentioning us in the same breath as Angela Readman and Daisy Johnson (Fen was a brilliant collection). Here are some choice quotes:

'At grassroots level, and by that I suspect you mean writing that’s not influenced by MA programmes, is becoming darker, weird, twisted-out-of-shape, dripping with fear of the end and apocalypse. The new writing I’m enjoying at the moment – the likes of Gary Budden and Gareth E Rees – are potholing in these caves.

'I also find myself looking out for Angela ReadmanDaisy Johnson and Gary Budden, the latter being someone who meshes weird horror with a very English rumination on place and landscape to create stories simultaneously eerie, yet oh-so realistic.'

You can read the whole thing here.

CONTEMPORARY SMALL PRESS REVIEW

I had a nice write up in The Contemporary Small Press, reviewing the launch night of the Diisonance anthology in Bethnal Green. I read my story (from the forthcoming Hollow Shores) 'The Wrecking Days' at the night:

Gary Budden read from his new story collection The Wrecking Days [NOTE: it's called Hollow Shores] which explores themes of nature and narcotics, writing from the margins of society ‘where reality thinned a little.’ His piece suggested that the artificial and the natural are not opposing at all, instead they are transcendent. Budden writes about youthful and reckless days spent on the London marshes. In such places of in-between, on the fringes of London, Budden writes about notions of being and belonging: the idea that ‘memory is a marsh’ as the world diffuses in mist and nostalgia. The marshes act as a psychogeographical jettison between two places, between city and country, between artifice and nature. Such spaces, as Budden presents in his collection, allowed them to explore their minds, without ‘shutting parts of yourself down.’ It was ‘a way of seeing the world for what it really is,’ to find their own version of what it means to be free: to be and belong on their own terms. But Budden acknowledged, through his tales of the wrecking days, that being able to see the world as it is can also pull you apart.

Read the whole review here

GREENTEETH

You can now watch 'Greenteeth', a short wyrd fiction super-8 film by Adam Scovell, based on my British Fantasy Award-nominated short story of the same name. It follows the gradual disintegration of a woman living on a canal boat in Kensal Green as the folklore of Jenny Greenteeth begins to manifest in a city of rapid redevelopment, rising rents and gentrification. It's an attempt to use folklore and the weird in the service of addressing a real modern problem. Enjoy.