Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Importance Of Story Titles

When you've written a novel, the title is very important. It has to leap out at a potential reader, it ought perhaps also to suggest what the book is about. It represents the first hook, along with the cover design.

But when one is talking about a collection of short stories, then the title of each of the individual stories is released from such a burden. Then the author can think about the title's relationship to the story, whether it adds a layer of meaning, revealing something that isn't perhaps so accessible just from the text itself. Or perhaps it offers a counterpoint that takes the story in a wholly different direction from that seemingly in the text.

One of my favourite films Nick Roeg's "Bad Timing" is a twisting and turning non-linear narrative, which the viewer comes to realise all hinges around the title itself. I love that idea, that everything stems from and ultimately comes back to the starting point of the title.

I've published 4 collections of flash stories, some 128 tales. I went back over them and picked out my favourite ten titles and below explain what I like about them. The common theme is how they integrate with the thrust of the story, but that doesn't mean they all came first before I wrote the story itself. far from it. Some come part way through, many came only after the story was finished. it's quite rare that I have a title and that everything flows from that. But finding a title at the end of the process of writing often comes from a way of sewing it all up in a pleasing way, even if that way offers some echoes that reverberate after the story has ended. See what you think.

1) "Lunar Tic" (from the collection "52FF")
A man is in prison with the electric light on 24 hours a day so he can't distinguish night from day. My spin on werewolfism, as he is afflicted with a mental state where he longs to see the moon for the transformation it enables. The title puns his mental affliction with the catalyst that brings it on.

2) "Cry Baby Bunting" (From the collection "Long Stories Short"
A story about a child being snatched during a street party to celebrate a Royal Wedding. I originally wrote and published this on my blog in real time on the day when such a royal occasion was being celebrated up and down the country, though not in my area. Writing live, the title was "A Royal Weeding", but when I came to turn it into something more honed, the metaphor of bunting features heavily in the story as both celebration and mocking threat, that I knew it had to have a central prominence. Then a dim and distant recollection of the nursery rhyme came to me and it was perfect for the story.

3) "Ur, Um" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
I think this is perhaps my favourite ever title as it tickles me with its sense of playfulness. It's a literary story about language with a title that seems to represent a total lack of literacy and articulateness. The ancient city of Ur is taken as the first ever human city and the prefix has come to stand for the primal or the first in many fields - in this case an Ur-language, that is the ancestor human tongue from which all languages subsequently developed, which in my tale a man wakes up one morning to find he can only speak in this tongue. Since it is related to all our current languages, people think they recognise it, yet can't understand him. hence the 'Um'. The story is subversively comic as he becomes a celebrity and a diplomatic incident all at once.

4) "Strains" (from the collection "16FF")
Like many words, 'strain' has several shades of meaning. Firstly there is that notion of straining to attain something at full stretch. Then there is the notion of straining a liquid through some sort of filter or membrane. There is also the notion of a family strain, as in being related to the same (genetic) strain. Finally there is the meaning of strain as distant music or sound in the air. This tale combines several of those different strains of meaning (did you see what I did there?) It is about trying to recapture the quality of sounds heard while still in the womb, but forever being denied the membrane of the mother's abdomen through which such sounds were filtered. It's a simple one word title that perhaps suggests more than it reveals until you have finished reading the story.

5) "The Caller To The Bingo Caller's House Calls House" (from the collection "52FF")
I like the repetitions of the words in this, but each time the same word has a different meaning. The whole story is contained within the title, as the tale is told in bingo calls by a man who comes to prey on the Bingo caller's house while he is away calling numbers. This title was definitely the last piece in this particular jigsaw and only arrived when the story had been finished.

6) "Just Aphasia Going Through" (from the collection "16FF")
A pun on the word 'aphasia' as sounding like 'a phase you're' "Going Through". For a story all about creeping dementia and the loss of recall of words. unfortunately of course, dying brain cells are anything but 'a phase'. This title came about halfway through writing the piece.

7) "28 Grams" (from the collection "52FF")
This was an easy title to come up with, for the piece was literally that, 28 lines, each containing a word with the suffix 'gram' in it. It also was intended to echo other titles such as the movie "21 Grammes".

8) "Tendering Her Resignation" (from the collection "Long Stories Short")
Tender is a wonderfully multi-layered word. Nurses tender. Money is tender. Jobs are put out for tender, while when we've had enough of a job, we tender our resignation. When we are resigned to our lot, that such a job is not for us. In this tale, a daughter gives up her own life to stay at home and tend to her housebound mother. but her frustration bleeds out around the edges, much as with her mother's ulcerated wound staining each fresh bandage. The daughter is both tender and resigned.

You can sample the full story here.

9) "Calliopes, Caltrops and Cantos" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
This title took an age to come up with. It's a story about a poet-soldier and I knew I wanted to show that seeming contrast between the creative act of poetry with the destructiveness of war in the title and that I had it in my mind it should be alliterative. 'Cantos' represented the poetic, 'caltrops' (an anti-cavalry defence) symbolised the war and 'Calliope' interceded between the two, both standing for the epic muse of poetry and song, but also being a discordant steam organ emitting squalling sound as the antithesis of Calliope's divine singing.

10) "Per Capita" (from the collection "28 Far Cries")
'Per capita', that slightly technical economic term derived from the Latin. Meaning per head, which is exactly what i wanted to allude to in a tale about a beheading video. I wanted to explore how these videos are designed to play on the emotions, they are recruiting ads within their constituency after all. The victim is a pawn in a much larger game of symbols, so that even as they are decapitated, their fate is calculated to boost support to the cause of the executioners. After 3 per capita videos, the US and the UK have recently decided to declare war on ISIS. I've blogged on the legality & impact of these videos here.

11) "Compulsory Consumer Choices Even Unto Death" (as yet only published to blog)
I wanted a long-winded bureaucratic title to reflect the world gone mad in this dystopian tale and yet one that also meant exactly what it said. How even in death and the manner of our despatch into the afterlife, we are faced with choices.

Is Viewing A Beheading Video A Crime?

While indisputably morally repugnant, viewing a beheading video is not a crime. Sharing it online however is a grey area. A crime has been committed, that of homicide. But who do you report it to? The act happened in Syria, so reporting it to your home police force isn't going to achieve much. The intelligence services of the West couldn't find Osama Bin Laden for 10 years and they're unlikely to track down "Jihadi John" unless a ground campaign kicks ISIS out of Syria. Sharing such videos, which after all are designed to inflame passions to the extent of recruiting more followers to the ISIS cause, could be deemed to be incitement to commit terrorist acts, which would constitute a crime. But no one took FB to court when they (albeit briefly) hosted beheading videos in the name of debate, until public outrage forced them to take them down.

There is a parallel here with sharing images from the London riots of 2011. Many people on the streets were not participating in the destruction, violence and looting. But they were stood there recording the action on their cameras and phones in order to share on social media and blogs. Again one could say they were committing the offence of not reporting a crime (or rather a lot of crimes), but who exactly would they have reported them to? The forces of law and order were completely stretched and overwhelmed by trying to deal with the riots. Phoning in an incident would not have prompted any police response. In that case, posting images to FB probably wouldn't be regarded as incitement and certainly not to terrorism. But the point remains, what is the responsibility of file sharing of contentious footage?

I've written fiction about a beheading video. But my exploration was about how these are designed to wreak an effect, what the symbolism is about and how it works. And of course existing solely in words, there isn't the instant visual force of a video, much as has centred around the argument this week over Hilary Mantel's short story about the assassination of Margaret Thatcher, which has seen senior political figures call for a police investigation into the legitimacy of the story as art, or whether it represents a crime. So I don't think I have to turn myself in to the cops just yet.

Clearly the boundaries need still to be defined.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Compulsory Consumer Choices Ceaseless Even Unto Death - Friday Flash

He hadn’t been shopping in a store like this for years. The last time must have been when he and his wife bought a king-sized double bed. As newly-weds they had ensured to try every mattress available, lying down and making out on each one. All in the name of test driving the springs. When his bride to be donned that Learner plate for her Hen night, she had already been thoroughly road tested. But their bed was one-sided now. He got lost in its voluminosity. The only place in this satellite system world where it was still possible to become lost. That is until they invented a GPS of the emotions. They probably already had, but presumably there wasn’t much call for it in this hurly-burly world. People were perpetually on the move and had no time to ascertain how others were disposed. 

She must have undertaken her own version of this shopping trip without him knowing. When it was still voluntary perhaps. She had opted for being dumped at sea and becoming fish food. A second mode of human transport sending her into the beyond after she had died in a multiple pile up on the motorway the size of a back alley. However the immersion in a flotation tank which he had just undertaken, had only made him throw up. He had never been terribly comfortable in water. And with this experience, he had certainly not fulfilled the brochure’s promise of losing all sense of his bodily boundaries and just gently flowing with the pacific swell. Nor had they introduced any fish to pluck at his flesh. But then the brochures never advertise that do they? 

So he wasn’t likely to be buried alongside his beloved. Even though a GPS could probably muster the location of her remains. These days humans were tagged like biological specimens in the wild. Now that they had no actual creatures left to tail after reclaiming their habitats for tarmac, leaving a mountain of tracking tags going spare. It wasn’t clear to him if the push for cars led to the upsurge in GPS devices, or the other way around. He was tagged of course, under the shoulder. But there would be no one interested in picking up his path now. 

The heft of this actually felt okay. None too weighty. He couldn’t sense the touch of the wood against any part of him. He hadn’t expected that. Maybe the wood was coated with some mild neural numbing agent. A bit of a cheat to encourage sales. Somehow he was possessed of the perception of a ton of earth on top of him, but he wasn’t experiencing it pressing down on him directly. The wood must be bearing the brunt. He could smell it though. Redolent in his nostrils, clammy, like potato skins. But he knew that he must have that inverted, tubers smell that way because they spend their whole growth in the earth. What did any of this matter anyway? He was only afforded his senses because this was a dry run.

Since he wouldn’t be able to feel the sides of the coffin’s wood when he was gone. Soil would possess no smell for his corpse to inhale. He wouldn’t be imagining he could feel the weight of anything by that point. And the contrivance of an ambient temperature, controlled by the store for the recumbent comfort of customers, would be irrelevant whether it was purchased for eternity, or not an add-on feature purchased for greater outlay. Besides, everyone knew this was a con trick. There were no cemeteries any longer. Devoured like the rest of the land beneath the ever hungry demand for roads. The human delusion of rushing around somehow forestalling the abrupt cessation brought by death. A coffin purchase could only entail a cremation, though he wondered how the authorities advised their authorised death service dealers to allow the customer to sample an incineration.

He reckoned that the ever more frequent motorway pile-ups, which had led the government to demand pre-planning with regards to body disposal, were also prompted by the car manufacturers. After all, the GPS devices should have been able to forestall most of the crashes shouldn’t they? But he couldn’t figure out how if the numbers of drivers were reduce by crash culls, how that could enable them to sell more vehicles. But what good did any of this speculation do him? He’d had the same car for a couple of decades now, so he was not a target customer dead or alive. He’d taken his wife’s wreck to a chop shop where they’d merged it with another chassis. Just so he could stay close to her. Inhale her dying breath every single day. 

Next on the menu was an air funeral. He had always liked buzzards and vultures at the zoo. Maybe there might be some spiritual communion to be had here. At least they wouldn’t try and hide the incontestable fact of your flesh being devoured by creatures with this one. He was shown into a gallery with a glass screen as a carcass of some poor animal was wheeled into the room beyond the glass. All he could see was his wife’s broken body there on the trolley. He was sick again. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Vanilla - Friday Flash

*Content warning*  Allusions to sex and violence

“I demand to see my personnel file”

“The Agency is sorry for your loss. If there’s anything you need to help with the funeral arrangements, you have all our resources at your disposal- ow!”

“I w-a-n-t to read my file”

“Well you can put in a request in writing to access it-“

“Take this gun at your forehead is my request. Six bullets in the chamber, that’s double triplicate”

“Real tough guy pistol whipping someone sat on a chair”

“That barely scratches the surface of what you’ve had me do in the past”

“Course the psych report did highlight certain ego issues. But not the id. That was all in order I’m glad to report”

“Just give me the goddamned file”

“The missions are in another file-“

“I’m not interested in the mission stuff”

“But if someone tried to kill you, you’ll need to look back over the missions to work out who”

“I know who tried to kill me. It was you fuckers”

“Don’t flatter yourself”

“How do I know it was you? I saw the timer and the device rigged up. It’s all Agency kit”

“On the job even when on the job eh? Ow! One of our enemies could frame us, make it look like we put the hit on you. I mean a beheading for goodness sakes. I know it's all the rage, but just not our style"

“I k-n-o-w it was you, because you screwed it up. Big time”


“Well what?”

“You’re waiting for me to say it”

“Say what?”

“That we screwed it up because we couldn’t put our best agent on it”

“Nice double bind play. Prove I really did have ego issues if I agree with you”

“Found what you’re looking for yet?”

“I never screwed up a single mission. So you can’t be icing me for that. Never disobeyed a directive, never gave you any trouble. It’s not about any money…”

“It’s always about you isn’t it? - Ow!”

“No, it’s about my wife who is lying on my bed in two pieces, fully bled out”

“Yes no more receiving head from her I’m afraid”

“You motherfucker! I’ll rip your head off your shoulders, see how you smile on the other side of your face across the room then”

“Ow, ow ow!”

“Fuck, there’s nothing in the file”

“Oh there’s everything in the file. Pass it me, let’s see if there are any clues there? Sexual orientation… Hetero”

“I was married for fourteen years. Longer than working for this backstabbing outfit”

“She wasn’t stabbed in the back- Ow! Stop hitting me”

“Stop playing games then. You know why this has happened. The directive would have come through your hands at some point, if you didn’t issue it yourself that is”

“I keep returning to the sexual orientation. You ever play away from home?”

“No. I loved her too much”

“Not even any honey trap missions? I’ll need that other file…”

“No. I never had any of those. You better not be playing for time here. Someone comes through that door and I plug you first”

“I’m simply trying to help you get some closure here. I’m telling you, it’s all about the sexual orientation”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You may not have done honey traps, but you’ve done enough surveillance work where you’ve recorded the mark making the beast with two backs before you lay him out on his back for good”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well we, um know the sexual predilections of all our agents as a matter of course”

“You snap us having sex?”

“Well it makes for good currency, or at least it did anyways before people started making their own porn and posting it online”

“You sick fucker. I bet you watched it in your downtime right? Made you all hot and hard did it?”

“Not really. And that’s kind of the point. In your case we didn’t have to update it. Ever. Like clockwork you two. Same night of the week. Exactly the same time at night. Same place within the house, the marital bed…”

“What’s wrong with that? We had a very loving marriage”

“If you away on assignment I bet you could just as effectively phone it in- Ow!”

“You’d know if I did, since you’re sure to have bugged my phone”

“It’s all just a bit… vanilla isn’t it? Ow! Well, tonight was the designated night of your termination from the Agency-“


“We felt you were, well, just too set in your ways. Not able to respond to our changing times. Gone stale”

“What, based on my sex life?”

“Of course not. But that was the exclamation mark on our analysis. Anyway, for years and years we’d seen you and your wife gently doggy. I ‘spose so she didn’t ever have to look at your face, while you couldn’t see her disinterest and going through the motions- ow! Ow! Okay okay, that was a bit gratuitous I grant. So anyways, on this one carefully planned night, with all the contraption rigged up and primed, there you guys go and change up on us and she’s on top, her head where yours was supposed to have been. And, well you know the rest…”

“If you wanted to take me out, why not just do it and dump me in an alleyway or the desert? Why was she supposed to have to witness it?”

“Because it would ensure her silence. She would know the price of opening her yap”

“You do know, you of all people, that I have been trained in all manner of torture. Affronts to the body. Grievous physical afflictions and psychological degradation”

“I’m fully aware of that. I wrote the textbook on it”

“Well you’re just about to become reacquainted with it. A refresher course”

“End of the Vanilla Man. I’ll have to make a note in your file before you get started on me”

Sunday, 14 September 2014

If Music Be The Food Of Love - Songs about food

American Pie, songs about women called Candy, bubblegum pop... food is meat for coverage in music. So feast your senses on this cornucopia of nourishment, or not as we tuck into a chart of ten songs about grub. Enjoy!

1) Lee Scratch Perry - "Roast Fish & Cornbread"
Traditional Caribbean repast, traditional (ie pre-commercial) reggae. If you listen to some of the songs of this era, you can hear the water background as befits an island culture. Moreish.

2) Gary Clail - "Beef"
A song lacerating the treatment and slaughter of cattle for our consumption of meat. People preferred Morrisey's reedy exhortation that "Meat is Murder". I know which one gets my vote. Juicy.

3) The Undertones - "Mars Bars"
Throwaway song on the B-Side of the "Jimmy Jimmy" 4-track 7" single, but it grew a life of its own. More boyish than laddish which encapsulates the band. Toothsome.

4) Pink Floyd - "Apples And Oranges"
One of Syd Barrett Floyd's last offerings, this is a curious mix of the Beatlesque and psychedelic. it almost seems that the vocals are trying to catch up with the instrumentation, or that there are too many words to deliver and fit into the rhythm. Very odd. Tart.

5) Gang Of Four - "Cheesburger"
I love Go4 but they really seemed to have lost it by the time of their fourth album "Hard" where this track came from. Maybe they'd just sung all their protest lyrics that they had and run out of ideas, while the punk-funk vibe jarred with the critical nature of their lyrics. Since their recent return however, they seem to have rediscovered their mojo and their first album in years isn't half bad. Gristle.

6) Cop Shoot Cop - "Eggs For Rib"
If you want a bit of beef in your music, or even a bit of full English behind it, takes a bunch of Americans to deliver this glorious greasy spoon fry up of a song. No idea what the lyrics are on about, but love it all the same. Calorific.

7) The Carpenters - "Jambalaya"
Carpenters do Cajun, who knew? Hey it's the Carpenters, so what could be bad right? Is it in bad taste to include anorexia sufferer Karen Carpenter in a food-themed music chart? Piquant.

8) Jack White - "Sixteen Saltines"
Do the English have saltines? I love my crackers, Ritz, Water Biscuits etc, but can't say I've ever knowingly bitten into a salteen. To me it sounds like a dried fish or something like anchovies. Still it's a good riff and a half decent song. Seasoned.

9) Squeeze - "Pulling Mussels From The Shell"
A classic. I myself don't trust seafood as to its healthiness given the pollutants pumped or jettisoned in the seas, so don't indulge. But then I guess this song warns against trusting too much as well so I seem to be in step with its sentiments. Squeeze were one of those bands who you were glad populated the charts with a level of edge and quality that kept the bland pap music in check, but you never actually went out and owned any of their records yourself... Brackish.

10) Portishead - "Biscuit"
Not sure what this has to do with biscuits, but oh my what a voice dripping emotion. Savory.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Stem Cell - Friday Flash

He was going stir crazy here. Which was odd since this hotel room was infinitely more luxurious than any jail cell he’d occupied. A double bed which was both too spongy for a spine seasoned against prison cots and which moved on its castors rather than being chained in place to the floor. The space afforded by it being ‘King-Sized’ was also fazing. A bed fit for a king, but a king currently without a realm to lord it over. He couldn’t settle either in its middle, which seemed too far from either edge for any emergency exit, while to favor clinging to one side over the other still unnerved him, as all that expanse behind left him feeling vulnerable to any shiv attack from that direction. Even turning the bed and moving it against the wall hadn’t solved that unease. 

The carpet was too plush under his feet, which entailed he had to keep his shoes on to cut out the excruciating feel of the pile against his callused flesh. The curtains were made from such a flimsy fabric, it meant too much sunlight came through the tiffany material and stopped him from sleeping, when he was used to the pure prison blackout at night. And the en suite bathroom with the fluffy robe, let’s not even begin to dissect the alienness of that set up. He supposed hotel rooms were not intended to have their guests holed up in them twenty-four seven, hence their design of punishment through sumptuousness. Frills rather than thrills. 

Yet there were some compensations. Not least the mini-fridge, though that was finite since he had banned the maid-service from entry which meant that his fridge couldn’t be restocked. Neither could he risk room service, besides his supplies of jerky and chips were holding out just fine. So he was rationing his consumption of alcohol. But it was hard man, so damn hard. He stared at the fridge door but it was early yet. 

He spun off the corner of the bed and scooped up his knife from under the pillow. He strode over to the dresser and picked up the block of wood and resumed his carving. Another habit he’d carried over from prison life, though out in the free world he was afforded a better quality of blade. Scrimshawing it was called, practised by sailors on the high seas to while away the tedium of days without any land being in sight. Those fellas were just as incarcerated as any guy with three strikes and out on his rap sheet. And they hadn’t gone into it any more willingly than cons; they’d been press-ganged by thugs, just as crims were by cops.

The wood hadn’t yet taken any firm outline to suggest what it might be in the shape of. At this juncture, it could become an image of anything. Like human stem cells. Odd name that, ‘stem’ implied it was a stopping up of something. Like stemming the blood flow. The gush. Stemming the source of a leak. The snitch. And of course the word ‘cell’, the single word that had most defined his life up until now. The cell as a unit of one, of isolation and punishment, yet here in biology just one of a huge structure built by millions of replicas. There was no uniqueness in that. He knew ‘stem’ also meant the trunk of something, the solid structure at the centre holding everything together. From which all else sprouted. He couldn’t hold both meanings of the word together in his mind. Stemming was unutterably to do with lopping off a body part. Deadheading. Pruning. 

Though unformed, the wood was definitely erring towards the human. Blockish voodoo. Though it wasn’t a conscious impulse, he knew that it was heading towards a simulacrum of his wife. He even had a lock of her hair in his wallet that he could append to the figurine if he chose. But it would be pointless since she was already dead and beyond the persecutions of sympathetic magic. Or shouldn’t it really be unsympathetic magic?

He looked at the blood red digits of the digital alarm clock by the bed. Yes at last, it was time to allow himself to crack open the fridge.  He opened the door and was aghast to see there was just a solitary miniature bottle left. Nine pins down on the bowling lane, no chance of either a strike or a spare. The label announced it was a tiny bottle of Chardonnay. Wine wasn’t really his bag, but one thing he knew was that if it came with a screw top rather than a cork, it was likely low-grade. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers. He hesitated, for while he felt at ease pitching the spirit measures straight from the bottle down his throat, it didn’t seem quite right doing it with wine, miniature or otherwise. He retrieved a glass from the bathroom. It was meant to stow a toothbrush, but he hadn’t brought one with him. He poured the wine, its puddle barely covering the bottom of the glass. 

As he sipped the drink like a bird, he opened the tiny freezer compartment. In between the ice cube trays lay another miniature bottle, though one without recognisable label or branded shape. He removed it and held it up to the light of the window. The blood had frozen to a darkened hue. He knew the cells were all dead, for he’d not added any chemicals to remove the blood’s water content. Yeah he’d stemmed this leaky cell for good. Iced one bitch snitch that would never testify against him. His knife had wrought much more direct unsympathetic magic on her flesh. No spousal immunity for her.

He drained his glass and transferred the blood miniature from the freezer to the chill part of the fridge instead. He had one more bottle left to drink after all, then he’d hightail it from this place.

from The Masquerade Crew's prompts, Chardonnay, a hotel room and a knife

Friday, 5 September 2014

Will We In The West Never Learn? - ISIS a triumph of manipulation

Two beheading videos and the threat of a third with a British victim this time have changed the whole political landscape. Politicians are now talking about military intervention in Iraq and the war-weary public ground down by body bags from Afghanistan and Iraq before it are not shouting them down quite as vociferously as they would even six months ago. Well those were some video productions then if they have provoked such a response. ISIS have played the propaganda war perfectly.

Because they want Western troops to engage them in battle. They know that nothing will recruit numbers to their cause, more than infidel soldiers in the cities with holy Muslim shrines, or aerial bombing killing innocent civilians. It happened in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein being booted out of power. I called it a "Grand Tour", the opportunity for Muslim sons to kill a GI in every holy city. ISIS initially represented a perverted version of the International Brigades, going to fight the tyrant dictator Assad as against Franco in Spain. But reports are now beginning to filter back about how disillusioned some British recruits to ISIS have become, because they are not nobly fighting against Assad. Instead they are engaged against other Jihadi sects, or off fighting in Iraq and a party to atrocities they didn't necessarily sign up to. Western Jihadis are second class citizens in ISIS, since they are seen to lack the military skills having not fought in previous campaigns stretching back to Bosnia, Chechnya and of course Afghanistan. While culturally they are not well versed in notions of a Caliphate and certain Medieval practises such as forced conversion and beheading.

And this is the point. The Caliphate left alone to its devices would in all likelihood collapse under its own violent excesses. (It reminds me of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia which cut its own throat by continuous purges for in the name of purity). But if the West dedicate itself to destroying the Caliphate, that can only inject new life and support to its cause. The West may eventually be able to bring it down, but at what cost and what future fertile ground for continued extreme islamic opposition to all things Western? You might cavil that we cannot simply let the Caliphate exist while it carries out mass executions in cold blood of any sects who won't convert to their religious ideology. But that is happening right now without much in the way of the West being able to prevent it. And it only further makes the case that ISIS continuing to function this way will push all its opponents with Syria and Iraq to unite against them, just in the name of self-preservation. I understand the case that the West could never trust the Caliphate not to try and expand its borders from where it stands now, but there is nothing to stop the West acceding to the de facto Caliphate borders as they are and protecting from further incursion with suitable defensive forces. Give the Caliphate time to destroy itself.

I am not a politician, I have no military background nor do I work in Intelligence.  I am just a writer, doing a bit of research from open sourced information and then taking a pause to actually think about how this thing might play out. I wrote a work of fiction back in 2011 about suicide bombers and the recruitment to a death cult and ISIS is the next development out of this. It is very clear to my mind that if the West went to war with the Caliphate, it would be an unmitigated disaster. It would play into the hands of ISIS strategists and rather than allow the Caliphate to fall under its own stresses, would ensure people rallied to its cause and therefore a much longer campaign to defeat it.

Breakdown of ISIS fighters by country of origin

"Not In My Name" UK US - The journey to recruitment for radical Islam

"graduation from a human being, into a human bomb. The knack, is to change the bomber’s desires from embracing life, into a hankering after death.
Interview after interview, I was presented with similar, reedily intoned versions of how this was brought about. One strand had them sat drooling at the feet of some hierophant in a madrassa, as he categorically untangles the frayed threads of life, while they scratch their carpet-fluff beards and nod accordance. I’ll tell you something, if I was promised myriad virgins in the Afterlife, I’d probably enlist myself. Blissfully blow myself to Kingdom Come. Presumably, it’s one virgin to tend each bit of the body atomised by high-explosive. Of course, rather than nubile women, why couldn’t it equally be the ghosts of the 72 camels slain for Fatima’s wedding? That’s the drawback with numerical symbolism. It’s open to double counting.

Alternatively, they paraded before a paramilitary hawk, sharpening the recruit’s claws on his steel gauntlet. The logic he advances, is that the mission should be beyond fear, for no other soldier has such certainty of whether he will return alive or dead from his next action. Whereas the suicide bomber knows to the precise minute. What a boon.

By whichever method, these fellows are striking a deal with their egos. They don’t shut them off, rather they believe they are swapping a pretty squalid life not for death, but for another, improved life up in the clouds. A literal leap of faith. Trouble is, when their heads are blown upwards off their body towards Heaven, sure as hell it hurtles back down to earth under the prosaic ministrations of gravity. Does each bomber actually possess the finer shades of understanding, exactly what the Holy Text suggests is in store for them? Ultimately, they remain just teenagers on the most extreme and ugly of promises. And as to the secularist bombers, they too are left in no uncertain terms that they will become pin-up poster boys on the walls of Gaza and Baghdad. This is the poor man’s version of celebrity. A pension from Iran or Syria will see that their family is well provided for, a sort of posthumous dower. Or a divorce settlement."

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Wrist Assessment - Flash Fiction



The perfumer sprays her scent on to her own wrist and then offers it to the man to incline towards her in order to inhale its bouquet. He only smells the aroma of the rest of her. 

Leather straps had always rotted away in time, so he had opted for the segmented metal strips to cincture his modish watch. When he removed it at the end of the day, he liked the inhuman indentations left in his skin, like an insect’s thorax, or a barcode. 

The man shot his cuffs with great deliberation. The aurora of his diamond encrusted cufflinks twinkled before their eclipse beneath the jacket’s sleeves. She was attracted to them as to the eye spots of a butterfly which draws down a predator into the miasma of confusion.

The man slammed against a wire mesh fence cutting off his escape. He beat it in despair before turning and offering his forearms for the cops to cuff. They whipped him round and bound him behind his back, spurning his supplication.

The man brought his wrists together perpendicularly, making the sign of the cross to ward off the invisible tormentors who were whispering in his ear. In his agitation, he rubbed them together like sticks, as if trying to ignite and purge himself.

The woman studied the veins in her pallid wrist. As her finger traced the filaments, she felt like she had been knitted together in yarns of blues and reds. Only somewhere along the journey she had misplaced the knit pattern.

Having scanned the room for the invigilator, the girl surreptitiously eased her blazer’s sleeve down and consulted the cheat notes she had inscribed on her wrist. Sweat had made the ink run. 

The woman raised her arm to her mouth as if to wipe away some mote, or bite off some frayed strand on her cuff, but as her jaw muscles jagged behind her half-baked occlusion, she was fooling no-one. She was conversing with her unseen controllers.

She had nails and bloodied stigmata tattooed on to the underside of both wrists. She was still awaiting her Mary Magdalene to come tenderly bathe her wounds, though there seemed legionnaires aplenty ready to skewer her with their long-stemmed spears. 

She inverted the knife so that the blunt edge was against her skin and moved it up and down the length of her wrists. The blade chafed harshly against the scarred levees of previous communions between the two.

Taken from "Extra-Curricular, Tales Told Out Of School" 45 flash fiction stories available in print and e-book from Amazon & I-Tunes