‘She smiled. You’re deconstructing my face into a set of lines, reducing me to a mathematical equation that will make sense to you.’
A drawing is a set of lines. So is a letter. In S.D. Stewart’s prescient novel (published by Ghost Paper Archives), both are evidence of a reality which has been compromised and corrupted. The setting is a sunless future in which the earth has undergone ‘the Change’. It’s a claustrophobic world of enclosed cities and tunnels, of censors and fragmented memories, of artificial air and birdsong, and of Code Red days and masks. In an effort to retrieve what seem vital elements of his corrupted, compromised memory, the novel’s isolated and introverted central character keeps a dream journal, and looks for a way out of the nightmare in which he finds himself.
If the novel is dystopian, it’s because we are already facing multiple dystopian situations. It anticipates our near future, and the present which has come to pass even as the novel was having its finishing touches applied. In mostly simple sentences – themselves a set of lines – it generates mysteries which are both quotidian and complex, drawing you into the puzzling web of a world and a mind gone badly wrong; mysteries that neither its central character nor we as readers can ever quite hope to solve. The novel’s terrain lies somewhere between the surreal, labyrinthine hell of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark and the apocalyptic imagery of Anna Kavan’s Ice, and the end result is worthy of being filed on your bookshelves alongside those two immersive, unsettling fables.
Recently WordPress suggested that posts be tagged ‘longform’ to enable readers drawn to weightier fare to find it more easily. What an ugly word. I’m not doing that, even supposing it did mean losing countless visits. But with all the competing verbiage around, I have wondered how well-read my longer posts are. So I’ve decided to try writing shortform. I learnt the discipline of working to word limits while writing reviews for a listings magazine. If I remember correctly, I was paid £14 for 300 words. Didn’t seem a fortune at the time. Now it feels generous, for what it was. Imagine if I got £14 for 300 words here! My U alone would be worth £56.
Everything I’ve ever written has been thoroughly considered. I need to force myself to give in to the here and now. Any finessing will come in attempting to squeeze what I have to say into exactly 300 words.
Only me being me, I’m going do it 300 times. Over time, to no particular deadline. 300 x 300 = 90,000. By the end, I’ll have a book. I can’t help thinking in terms of books. They’re what I was bred on, what I always aspired to write. So much of what I’ve written has been in the form of parts of something larger, a book to contain it all. The web has changed everything. Like water through all but the most watertight system, words find a way to their readers. In comparison, a writer can start to believe that what books do is hide words away. But I am still in love with the book, and I want one all of my own, like the Clash wanted a riot.
300 words. That’s all. No other prescription. Anything as a subject. How hard can it