Pushcart Prize nomination


I’m pleased to say that I have been nominated for a a Pushcart Prize for my story ‘Amy’, which appeared in New Short Stories 3. I still have a few copies of the anthology, which you can buy by sending a paypal payment of £6 (includes P + P) to nholdstock@hotmail.com.

Inherent Vice, Chapter 8


PLOT – Doc meets up with his parents; Nixon’s face appears a lot (on banknotes, and TV); Coy Harlingen, pretending to be someone else, disrupts a Nixon rally.

p.113 The parking regulations at Gordita are said to have been devised ‘by fiendish anarchists to infuriate drivers into one day forming a mob and attacking the office of town government’.

If only it were so… I suppose this might be construed as the idea that technology will enslave us, and control us, far more than even the forces of order might have bargained for.


After Doc’s parents get a random phone call, threatening them, Doc reflects that

in the business, paranoia was a tool of the trade, it pointed you in directions you might not have seen to go.

As Michael Wood said in his NYRB review, being crazy can, in a circuitous manner, lead one back to insight.

p. 118 Further parallels between domestic and foreign US policy, with Nixon’s face being found in banknotes, in the same way he was put on bills in Vietnam.

p.122 Coy Harlingen turns out to be a police informant, something that Doc has already been approached about. He is here identified as Ric Doppel, which means ‘double’ in German and might refer here to the ‘doppelganger’-motif or shifting identities in a more general way. The theme seems to be prominent in this chapter. The films mentioned on p.115 belong in this context, for example. In Black Narcissus, Kathleen Byron’s character, Sister Ruth, can be seen as the dark double of Deborah Kerr’s Sister Clodagh. In Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, the somnambulist Cesare commits crimes when he is under the hypnotic spell of the title figure; Caligari himself may be director of a circus attraction or of a psychiatric hospital. In Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, a character called Maria is replaced by a robot.

The Golden Hour Book Vol. 2


Now on sale from Forest Publications, the latest volume of prose, poetry and music (it comes with a CD) from the monthly Golden Hour cabaret at the Forest Cafe in Edinburgh.

It features contributions from Andrew Philip, Alan Gillis, Robert Alan Jamieson, Kapka Kassabova and myself. Ron Butlin, Edinburgh’s current Makar, had this to say about it

‘There is genuine wit, deep feeling and real entertainment in this most enjoyable volume. Light-hearted and serious by turns, ‘The Golden Hour Book Volume II’ contains some of the best and freshest new writing I have come across for quite a while.’

You can now also buy Stolen Stories (an anthology I c0-edited) from the Forest Publications site, as well as many other fine publications.

Reviewing by numbers


There’s a chance of me doing some reviewing in the near future, so I am of course paying particular attention to such pieces, especially the lead sentence. The following, from William T. Vollmann’s review of Philip Caputo’s Crossers, seems like it could be endlessly reused, with only the author’s name altered.

Once when I was so weak with amebic dysentery that all time not spent on the toilet was passed in bed, I found in my host’s house one book in a language I could read. It was one of those storm-tossed but ultimately upbeat women’s romances, a genre I had not yet sampled. I read it, then read it again and again, since there was nothing better to do. If I ever have the luxury of repeating such an experience, I hope to do so with a Philip Caputo book.

All I would need after that is a plot summary and a few sentences of mostly unsubstantiated opinion. That usually does the trick.

Bridport prize shortlist


A story of mine entitled ‘The False River’ has been shortlisted for the Bridport prize.

Whilst this is all very nice, please do not confuse this with me having a) won anything or b) being in contention for anything. The Bridport ‘shortlist’ is actually about 80 people long. The real shortlist is the 13 people who are still in contention for the prize itself. Being shortlisted for the Bridport prize is one of the boxes that short story writers like to check, especially in their bios.

Vasectomania, and other cures for sloth

A rebellious monkey refuses to give up its glands

A rebellious monkey refuses to give up its glands

Cabinet magazine issue 29 has a fascinating article on the use of monkey glands by Christopher Turner.

The physiologist Serge Voronoff, a Russian working in Paris, was one of the most infamous of the gland doctors. He thought that the lazy, mentally disabled, run-down, and aged could be revitalized by testicular transplants. Many wealthy men underwent the costly surgery; Voronoff transplanted the testes of executed criminals into millionaires. Legal contracts were drawn up with prospective donors, but apparently willing individuals were in such short supply that what one scientist called a “despicable trade in organs” began to develop. According to one newspaper, men were even being mugged for their testicles, “knocked unconscious and then robbed of the long-sought-for organs.”

Voronoff solved this crisis by slicing and grafting the testicles of monkeys onto those of the men who sought his treatment. In his book, Rejuvenation by Grafting (1925), Voronoff promised the patients who acquired his monkey glands that they’d be able to work longer, and that they would be blessed with improved memories, eyesight, and sex drives. He set up a special breeding center on the Italian Riviera for chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans that was run by a former circus-animal keeper.

Inherent Vice, Chapter 7



Sauncho fills Doc in on the Golden Fang’s mysterious history, which includes a 50 year disappearance in the Bermuda Triangle. Doc hangs out with some surfers who end up talking about Lemuria, an Atlantean lost continent of the Pacific. On an LSD trip Doc meets a Lemurean who shows him a vision of Shasta on the deck of the Golden Fang.

p.89 Sauncho (which only now has made me think of Don Quixote, and Doc being the one who tilts at windmills) grows ‘strangely evasive’ when asked about the Golden Fang. Not for the first time, he avoids what is, at least within the narrative, a siginificant question by changing the subject to something that happened on TV. Whilst this puts watching TV (and perhaps also reading books) on a par with drug use, in their capacity to tranquilise our fears, it also undercuts this by showing how even our best attempts to avoidance can inadvertantly lead back to what we wish to avoid.

There was pulse of embarassed silence as both men realized this could all be construed as code for Shasta Fay and Mickey Wolfmann

p.90 Sauncho talks of debt from credit cards obtained ‘from institutions in places like South Dakota that you send away for by filling out the back of a match cover’ which echoes Zoyd’s thoughts in Vineland in regard to Isaiah Two Four’s business proposition: “expecting some address in a distant state, obtained from a matchbook cover.” (p. 19 )

p.90 When Doc sights the Golden Fang, it is described as having ‘not a flag of national origin in sight’, which recalls Michael Wood’s comments about the vessel representing global capitalism (New York Review of Books, Sept. 24, 2009 ).

p.91 ‘Tentacles of sin and desire and that strange world-bound karma which is of the essence in maritime law’- this takes us back to the novel’s title, and with it the suggestion that there is something inevtiable about our Fall, that we are continually paying for the sins of ourselves or those we would have been in times before. This is in many ways the antithesis of paranoid conspiracy theories: there is no ‘they’ who can be blamed; there is only ‘us’.

p.93 Sauncho on the fate of the Preserved, which later became the Golden Fang:

Better she should have got blown to bits in Halifax fifty years ago than be in the situation she’s in now.

We can read this as a general comment from Sauncho, namely that losing the First World War (and all the death and destruction this would entail) would be preferable to the state of society (both in the late 1960s, and by extension, now). In some ways, this extreme nihilism could be viewed as an entirely legitimate response to what Sauncho perceives as the dire state of society. Anything else is denial.

However, it is Doc, not Sauncho, who here changes the subject:

Sauncho, get that weird look off your face, man, you’ll wreck my appetite.

p.98 Merging of the motifs of the desert and the automobile.

the exhaust from millions of motor vehicles mixing with fine Mojave sand to refract the light toward the bloody end of the spectrum, everything dim, lurid and biblical, sailor-take-warning skies.

This also recalls the motif of light being refracted in Against the Day.

p.100 Further talk of general sin and exculpation, in a description of the Saint.

the deep focus of a religious ecstatic who’s been tapped by God to be wiped out in atonement for the rest of us.

But we might question the tone of this: the idea that some old surfer is a Christ-like figure who will redeem us may be a joke, but it also speaks of desperation. Whilst we might smile at the idea of the old surfer as Christ, there is a tension behind our amusement, borne of the notion that whilst the Saint may be no messiah, we may still need forgiveness.

p.100 Another coined acronym’ GNASH, the Global Network of Anecdotal Surfer Horseshit’. Possibly meant to mock the claims to knowledge and usefulness of MICRO and especially ARPA, the internet precursor.

p.101 First mention of Lemuria, ‘Atlantis of the Pacific’, ‘something that sank long ago and is rising now slowly to the surface again’. More info about Lemuria here, which has, in cultural terms, been around, so to speak.

Lemuria may be a lost glory, but also one that may be regained. It is thus part of the classic narrative of Fall and Restoration. What is Utopia if it is not a kind of Heaven on earth?

The dream of Lemuria is quickly punctured. On p. 105 it is suggested that both Lemuria and Atlantis sank ‘into the sea because Earth couldn’t accept the levels of toxicity they’d reached’. The theme of environemntal devastation also appears on p.104 where ‘Channel View Estates reminded him strangely of jungle clearings’ (the implication being that both domestic and foreign policy has similar goals- dispossesion for the purpose of profit) and on p.108, with ‘Tiny Tim singing “The Ice Caps Are Melting”… which had somehow been programmed to repeat indefinitely’.

During Doc’s acid trip he finds himself

in the vividly lit ruin of an ancient city that was, and also wasn’t, everyday Greater L.A… [He] and all his neighbors , were and were not refugees from the disaster which had submerged Lemuria thousands of years ago.

Even this, a retreat into fantasy, may, as in Doc and Sauncho’s opening phone conversation, have accidentally circled back to the truth, or at least a cousin of it, so long as one accepts that there was a period, perhaps even before history, when things were not as bad.

p 109. Extends the fantasy to include the war in Indochina which in these terms is actually ‘repeating a karmic loop as old as the geography of those oceans’. Doc, true to form, remembers nothing of his trip.

After just over 100 pages of convoluted plot, suspicion, paranoia and mysterious coincidences, Pynchon provides us with a warning (p. 108):

“I’d be very surprised if they weren’t connected,” Vehi said.

“That’s because you think everything is connected,” Sortilege said.

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