A wild slim alien


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Coming soon – The Edge of the Object

By Daniel Williams
Published by the Half Pint Press, autumn 2021 (publication date to be confirmed)
Three-volume limited edition with letterpress-printed wraparound slipcase

For more information or to be added to my mailing list, please contact me.

A visually arresting triptych, Daniel Williams’ first novel is a playful exploration of words and space, and of presence and absence, both on the page and in the mind of the narrator: a young photographer who has swapped a London high-rise and the city’s music scene and for a storm-damaged cottage in Normandy.

Escaping his solitary confinement, the Leica-less photographer heads off on a tour with two up-and-coming indie bands, Solar Plexus and the Faceless Saints. In Bordeaux he is introduced to Sophie, a meeting that shapes the rest of his stay…

Set in the 1990s, and written predominantly in striking second person prose, The Edge of the Object is a study of love, music, alienation, and of France through the lens of a Francophile, captured in a sequence of stunning calligrams.


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Kerplunk! – [Yacht]

 Yacht

Your cycle limps out of Le Havre.  The back tyre was flat this morning, and the hotel proprietor brought you out a bowl of water.  Too busy repairing the puncture, it is only at the top of the climb out of the town that that you realise the escalating groans of protest can no longer be ignored.  The diagnosis is not good; the wheel is buckled and spokes snapped – serious therapy will be required.  The choice is to descend back into Le Havre, or press on the 20 km to Etretat, and hope to find a cycle shop there.  It’s a big hill you’d have to climb again, so you gamble on going forward.

Halfway at midday, you turn off the D road to lunch as close as you can to the sea.  The basic, uncoloured roads on your map run out well before the blue, though you feel sure there will be a path down to the water.  You find such a path but increasingly you gain the impression of being high up, so that you are not surprised to see the way end suddenly in a cliff edge, and beyond it, the sea.  Unlike the night before, this is welcome isolation in which to eat a meal, the kind that’s thrilling, that depends upon being alone, the paradoxical danger and attraction of your insignificance mixed with an acute sense of being the one who is alone, the one who is there at the centre of the universe.

If this were the view from your high-rise in London, would you swap that sea of city, for this stretch of chameleon aquamarine, which today is deep blue with a hundred thousand eyebrows of white?  Peering over the edge, as over the balcony down to the toy houses, people and cars floating in the noisy swell below, a blast of wind rises up from the drop, buffeting you.  Stepping back with a shiver, the cliff edge shields you, and the wind is balmy where fifteen floors up the tower block, it howled and whistled unceasingly, the eerie sound mixed in with the ceaseless cooing of the pigeons who colonised the block’s refuse shoot.

You’re a world away from that now.  You eat with a relish that the food served up by last night’s restaurant could never give you, sitting among untroublesome insects, wasps and butterflies, wild flowers and grass.  And come the end of September, the blackberries growing here would have made it an even fatter lunch.

A toy yacht sails around the Port pétrolier that juts out into the sea to the north, and tacks into the coast.  You wave as it passes beneath you, and see a glint of watching glass in return.  Your eyes dance along with the yacht a while, till it is lost beneath the cliff face, to the south.


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Kerplunk! – [Hexagon]

Hexagon

Though the British Isles is a witch, or a policeman beating Ireland with a truncheon, and Italy a boot with a ball at its foot, all that can be made of France is a hexagon.  This is the shape that your geography teacher used as the easiest representation of the country you are now fleshing out for yourself, circling out from Trouville along longer radii and in wider arcs.  France is a pond, and you are a dropped stone sending out ripples to find the limits of its reach.  Eventually, thrown in from the north bank, you will ripple out south and west, and find the shores or mountains of four or five sides of the hexagon.

Sidestepping a return to the château, you decide on a tour of the natural curve of coast from Le Havre to Fécamp.  The day on which you set out is not optimal for cycling any distance, but you gain from the sun in terms of attitude what you lose to heat.  It bakes your hair, tans your face, browns your arms and legs as you cycle through the harvest colours, past proud lines of trees, past a calvary cleaned to a porcelain white, shining and tortured and at odds with the cool interiors you can see through the open doors of houses in the village to which it belongs.  You even have a greeting for a carload of holidaying Brits picnicking by the wayside.

After a straight descent past industrial and high-rise estates, the town seems promising and large, a city and a port, a resort with more than the usual façade for the sea to dance before.  The hotel you hit upon is being decorated, but the workmen try some standard schoolboy English on you, and the proprietor is kind, with dark eyes that speak half of weariness, half of joy.  When you refuse breakfast, she says you are to take it anyway, and you feel a scrooge in the face of such generosity.  Her mother and a curly-haired child of three look on, each possessing the eyes of a dreamer.  Your room is family-sized, dark, dusty and orange.

Le Havre.  You like its chameleon name, that changes as grammar demands: au Havre when you are going there; du Havre when you are coming from it, or apportioning an object or person to it; Le Havre, its stately overall title.  Fitting that the Seine should have at its head the Harbour, and typical that the Thames has Canvey Island and Southend-on-Sea.

In your roaming search for the restaurant – you have the time and a tendency to be fussy – you cross an arched and asymmetrical bridge which allows larger boats to pass into a rectangular basin of the harbour and right into the city.  You find one to your taste and pocket in rue de la Crique.  It is only after you’ve made your decision and are about to push open the door that you notice the one word, the same in French or English, scrawled in big white letters on a nearby wall –

SOLITUDE


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Kerplunk! – [The island]

 The island

You stare at the maps of home in the back of your diary, spending hours tracing the path of your life, circling out from a point on the fringe of the capital to a succession of dots within a fine web of country lanes on the flats of Suffolk, then plunging back into the heart of the City, shooting off like a cardiograph stimulated by palpitations for weeks and weekenders away.  Plymouth, Nottingham, Exeter, Leeds and Brighton – all become connected – England as far apart as Amble and Penzance.  You imagine some watcher over humanity tracing your whereabouts and movements on a large scale map, recording the circles and strange turnings and goings-back-on-yourself that you make during the course of a week or a year.  You wish that your paths were as undeviating as those of aircraft lines across the globe, that the watcher over humanity might give you a few hints as to where you should be going.

Such a spirograph would also chart the M1 and M6 hitch into Strathclyde, the first leg of an eight day figure of 8.  From the mileage chart in the diary you work out you fell just short of four hundred miles for the day.  When you reached the club that night, in a little west coast town jutting out like a nose into the sea, you and your friend manage to clear the dance floor simply by taking to it, wild and unrestrained, misshapen, round pegs trying to fit into a square hole.

You travel between the twin sentries guarding the Highlands, Glasgow and Edinburgh, where, on a freezing morning, you kiss another friend goodbye, walk out of town and drop down to Stoke.  There, with a feverish headache from want of warmth and food, you watch an early performance by the friends who are soon to come France, in the back room of the Gorgon’s Head.  It is one of those seemingly carefree but charged early displays of their melodic manifesto, out of which they later gained recognition, and inevitably is witnessed by only a few people; the early days of a group when spontaneity comes more easily and self-belief pugnaciously, and it is freshness rather than success which inspires.  Whether it’s the music or the spirits or an unsuspected reserve of energy, you don’t know, but your headache disperses.

Reaching Bristol the next day is easy, with your lift, a student farmer in a Morris Minor, taking you right into the city and over the antiquated, single lane, one way, roller coaster flyover.  Touching down, you feed a score of swans with a left-over roll, in what you will later learn to call the Floating Harbour.  Your trio of friends receive you enthusiastically in the city they’d set out to conquer, grateful for the impetus a visitor provides in the black hole of dole-time.

And so back to London, on a hitching high; with your City-mask not quite fully resumed, the tube journey home is taken in rare exuberance and a feeling of being above the City, impervious to its constraints and its customarily grim set.  Once you are reassimilated, only weekend alcohol lets you laugh in the stony face of the weekly cycle of imprisonment which is the bargain London forces on you.

There is also an Underground map at the back of your little black book, around which you can catch remembered trains.  On this graph within a graph, you chart hundreds of journeys into the centre with Louise, and hundreds more elsewhere and without her.  You even have an enlargement of the West End and the City, to re-enact the dramas of couriering, exploration and drinking, in a spirograph of celebration and misery.


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Kerplunk! – [The scooterist]

scooterist

Without having mentioned your list of household wants, Monsieur Drouet’s son, the scooterist, comes over with a table, a chair and a radio.  You don’t remember sending up a prayer for these items, so you make a note to get down on your mental knees later.  He also brings radishes from the family garden.  And lettuce, onions and parsley.  These are almost more pleasurably received than the unexpected loan of the radio.  You take the chance to ask him for a saucepan, and he invites you back to his home for an apéritif – it is a little after twelve.  In the simple dining room, the first room arrived at via the front door, Damian produces a bottle of Canadian whisky to which you give an assenting nod, and pours himself a Ricard.

He sits with one arm resting on the table tightly clutching his glass.  The whisky loosens the rudimentary French lodged precariously in your memory.  Between dark brown hair and moustache, he has a sharp pair of eyes as yet unglazed by too much of the liquid in front of him.  His head appears older than is suggested by the rather teenage clothes he wears about his slight but wiry frame.  He would drive a burgundy four-door Renault but, he confides, he lost his license for drink-driving; apparently he is still entitled to scooter about.  He has no fixed occupation, plays football for the team in the next village, used to compete at clay pigeon shooting, and dreams only of having his own sleepy village bar.  To this end he spends much of his time where you first found him, slowly knocking back the Ricard, occasionally serving behind the bar when either the woman with the cash-till eyes or her droopy-faced husband are out.  The couple are childless, and Damian is their spiritual, if not legal, heir.  Certainly his moustache is well on the way to looking like Droopy’s.  Madame Drouet, coming through from the kitchen, is unflustered by her son’s account of his essential inactivity.  You suspect his father is more than occasionally inflamed by it.  But despite his devilish name and idle hands, Damian is for some reason disposed to be friendly to you, and you are grateful.

Madame Drouet, built on as small a scale as her husband, is spry and playful, her joy inextinguishable.  You will never see her pensive, or too far from a smile, although sometimes she will appear tired.  So far, she is the only villager who speaks slowly for you.  How to explain to her, when she asks what you do at home, that you are a photographer, but you haven’t brought a camera with you.  So you tell her that you are on holiday from two jobs – photography and an office.  She asks you what then will you do with all your time, and you cannot say, because you don’t know yourself.

It was getting repetitive, taking shots of repetitively similar-looking quartets, quintets and sextets playing repetitively similar three and three-quarter minute pop songs based on the repetitive premise of repeated verse-chorus sequences with inevitable middle-eight guitar forays and slogan poetics.  With reasoning so slow-dawning that it could hardly be described as logical, you arrived at the idea of six months of photographic celibacy.  And when you ask yourself why others give up drink, or sex, or chocolate, or love, or writing, it’s no easier to put together a chain of thought that reaches back to first causes.  The simple answer is because you’ve had too much of all that you’d been pointing your camera at, and the shutter release no longer does for you what it used to.  But the simplest answer is no answer at all.