What Sparks –  bookscover2cover


Another story of mine has been posted at bookscover2cover. This one is called What Sparks and can be read by clicking on the link. It was written as a celebration of William Blake, who gave me half of my pen-name and was ever so good. His picture “Glad Day” begins this post.

The story has its basis in the following incident, which I quote from  Wikipedia:

At the age of eight or ten in Peckham Rye, London, Blake claimed to have seen “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.” According to Blake’s Victorian biographer Gilchrist, he returned home and reported the vision and only escaped being thrashed by his father for telling a lie through the intervention of his mother.

To finish, here’s a song from the person who provided, by circuitous routes, the other half of my name, Johnny Cash. And, as a special bonus, let’s add some Joni Mitchell too –

What Sparks

Everything hurt.  The sight stunned the boy and almost knocked him senseless.  His bones shook and his head span; his eyes watered and his skin flushed beneath the sudden flare-up of heat, then shrank under the icy blast of cold that immediately followed.  He stammered out incoherent words in an unending stream – was he trying to apologise for intruding?  He hadn’t meant to intrude.  Was he asking for help?  He wasn’t sure if he needed help.  Or was he trying to express wonder and welcome?

The angels watched him with unblinking eyes.  Their taloned hands clutched the branches of the trees and they hung there, gazing down.  The boy stared up at them and scanned their faces – he saw smiles and he saw frowns.  He wanted to run.

With an effort, the boy stopped himself from speaking that incoherent language he’d never heard in his life before.  At once, he regretted it; the silence that closed in around him felt fathomless and eerie.  Turning, cautiously, he made to go.  Home was nearby and he needed to get back there, but all the while his teary eyes stayed glued on the towering angels, searching for any hint of what to expect.

Seeing the boy’s intention to leave the angels launched into the sky, wings howling with every beat.  All the fields of Peckham Rye shimmered beneath their bright wings, bespangling the clouds like stars.  Dazed, the boy tripped and fell; scrambling along on his hands and knees, eyes clamped shut, he hurried on with his escape.

An oppressive burning smell choked the boy and brought him to a stop.  Sounds of scraping metal clanged heavily about.  Flinching, expecting some impact to come clattering down on his head, the boy’s eyes peeped open, anxiously.  Thick reams of smoke drifted across a landscape he didn’t recognise anymore.  Dense and tangled foliage blocked his path wherever he looked.  The air was cloying in his lungs, tasting sickly and decayed.  He gagged and, with an effort, found his feet again.

Bewildered, he pushed his way through the forest with difficulty.  The angels who had first awed him, then spooked him, were nowhere to be seen.  He scanned the sky for any sign of their blistering wings but it was still now, silent, and suddenly night.  The shadows engulfed the boy’s senses and swallowed him whole.  Arching above him, the symmetry of the bleached tree trunks formed a ribcage that locked him in; the black and orange leaves rustling as they knitted together, tighter and tighter, like a skin.

The boy ran wildly in circles, searching after an exit.  In his panic he tripped and fell over the dreadful heart that lay shrivelled and dormant on the forest floor.  At the impact a spark fizzed across its surface and made the blackened flesh glow red.  Thunderously, it started to beat.

From the dark sky spears of torrential rain flooded down.  The sound of roars filled the forest.  Blinded by confusion, tears streaming down his face, the boy turned and ran directly towards the source of the roaring and there found the only exit before it snapped shut at his heels.  Looking back over his shoulder as he sprinted towards safety he saw nothing but ravaging fires and teeth and claws.

But it was over – the fields of Peckham Rye loomed about him again, sedate and unchanged and welcoming him back.  Returning home with a dazed expression and blood caked on his hands and knees, his parents scolded him for the mess he’d gotten into.  The boy stammered as he tried to explain, tried reporting the tremendous vision he’d seen of bizarre flocks of angels that roosted in every bough.  At that his mother shook her head, sadly, while his father swore and grabbed the boy by the collar. Angrily, the old man said it was too much to stand and listen to those excuses, and it was only through his mother’s desperate intervention that he escaped being thrashed for telling lies.  He didn’t tell about the tyger yet.


 This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #176 – The following sentence must be the FIRST line in your submission: “Everything hurt.   You must also include a reference to the media prompt.


The other stories in the link-up can be read by clicking on the image below.

speakeasy 176

Football vs. Books


Once you start publishing your writing, whether online or in book form, it’s only a matter of time until you’re asked about your influences.  Like most people I could happily ramble on for ages about writers and stories that have meant a lot to me, from Marvel comics to William Blake to Philip K. Dick, etc.  However, recently I realised that the first, and therefore founding, influence on my approach to writing arrived when I started watching Glenn Hoddle play football – he made me appreciate elegance of delivery, vision, invention, unexpectedness, poise.  To this day, when I set out to make sentences and stories those are the qualities I aim for.


In honour of this abiding influence on my creative instincts, it occurred to me that I should provide an entirely unique and unwanted service, i.e. to make football an absorbing, thought-provoking experience for creative writers whilst turning literature into a fist-pumping rollercoaster ride for football fans, with extensive footnotes.

And so –

In England the new Premier League season began at the weekend1.  It’s only fitting that the team whose adventures we will follow is not only Glenn Hoddle’s former team, but the most literary sounding of English football2 clubs: Tottenham Hotspur (aka “Spurs”).  Note the fine Shakespearean pedigree of the name Hotspur, and the competitive, medal-chasing spirit evinced by the character of that name in this line from Henry IV, Part 1:

“To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon”3

It should be noted, however, that despite the Shakespearean allusions of the name, Spurs of late is a club that evokes nothing so much as a desperate, parodic and hysteria-tinged, version of the condensed works of Jane Austen: always chasing, with panting breast and flushed cheek, after an elusive and shadowy Mr Right who will offer a stable home, steady income, and shining trinkets that will allow the blushing bride to meet the eye of the unbearably snooty neighbours, proudly and without demur.  The latest Mr Darcy wannabe is a smouldering Argentinian gentleman by the name of Mauricio Pochettino.

Jane Austen's crush

Jane Austen’s crush

Daniel Levy's crush

Daniel Levy’s crush


Match Report –

West Ham United vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Saturday 16th August)

The 2014-15 season began with the first London derby of the campaign, adding the antagonism of local rivalry4 to an already crucial5 fixture.  Before kick-off Upton Park, the home of West Ham, rang out as always with a cacophony of song:

“I’m forever blowing bubbles

Pretty bubbles in the air,

They fly so high,

Nearly reach the sky,

Then like my dreams,

They fade and die.”6

And on that ringing, teary, yet celebratory note the referee7 blew his whistle and the match kicked-off8.

Match Highlights –

Kyle Naughton of Spurs is Franz Kafka’s “K” sent tumbling into the world of professional sport.  Each time he takes his place on a football pitch I see the bewildered attitude of a man who has no understanding of the nameless forces that dictate his appearance in that location at that time.  Clearly, there are rules that govern his being there but of these he seems to have no real comprehension; pained and perplexed by the withholding of this knowledge, so crucial to his wellbeing and sense of self, he struggles desperately for ninety minutes to find an exit from his excruciating predicament.  Yesterday K’s predicament was ended mercifully early by his being shown a red card and sent off9.

This meant that Spurs were down to ten men and at the mercy of their opponents, who still fielded eleven players10.  But luck was with Spurs on this occasion.

Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager11, boasts an approach to football that Hemingway would consider overly concerned with the attributes of machismo, physicality, guts – his players are locked in an unyielding, elemental struggle with the opposition, with the forces of nature itself, in a brutal duel that leaves only one still standing. In fact, if Allardyce could slip eleven football shirts onto eleven rampaging bulls and send them onto the pitch on match day, in some bizarre re-mix of Death in the Afternoon, it would pretty much constitute the team of his dreams.

This approach to the game naturally lends itself to rough and illegal play, to countless fouls being committed12 and red cards being shown by the referee.  So it was that a West Ham player was also soon pulped and the match was played out as ten versus ten.

The match descended into a repetitive mishmash of misplaced passes and players running into dead-ends, like one of Gertrude Stein’s dispiriting modernist experiments with cubist prose.

Finally, however, in the third minute of added time13, Eric Dier sprinted into space from the Spurs defence.  Rounding the hopelessly exposed West Ham goalkeeper, Dier slotted home on his competitive debut and was immediately pronounced the latest in a long line of would-be boy wizards at White Hart Lane.  Sadly, in the real world, and even in the utterly unreal world of Premier League football, such magical triumphs tend to be fleeting, soon forgotten.  Meanwhile, another long day’s journey into Thursday night Europa League qualification awaits Spurs over the season ahead.

Final score: West Ham United 0 : 1 Tottenham Hotspur.


Footnotes –

1 – This equates to the publication of an all-new blockbuster saga by the most stellar name in publishing: “Bigger, better, brasher – more irresistible than ever before!”  As the blurb would unfailingly have it.

2 – i.e. “soccer” in those parts of the world with curious notions about what constitutes “football.”

3 – The meaning of this particular line of verse was better rendered by a former Spurs captain and poet laureate of White Hart Lane, Danny Blanchflower, who pithily pronounced: “The game is about glory.”

4 – Think of Hachette vs. Amazon.

5 – Hyperbole is the lingua franca of all sports writing and is especially true in the case of football.

6 – Readers will of course note the fatalistic romanticism that is the default emotional setting for the English football fan, making the stadiums of England the rightful home to the spirit of the Lyrical Ballads.

7 – The editor of the text, always attempting to excise the bad and promote the good, although often succeeding in achieving the exact opposite.

8 – Page 1 of the story is begun.

9 – The reviews are in, and so overwhelmingly negative that the entire print run is pulped.

10 – The Spurs chapter has pages missing, while the West Ham chapter still has all its pages.

11 – The team’s author.

12 – Bad grammar, essentially.

13 – Having already finished the last page you then decide to go back and reread it from half-way down.

“Death Is No Bad Friend” – short film

William Blake is one of my favourite authors, creator of some of the wildest, weirdest, most spirited and beautiful writing in the English language. He was also talented enough, and cool enough, to add startling illustrations to his work, laying the foundations for the idea of graphic novels hundreds of years ahead of schedule.  For example –

Ghost of a Flea by William Blake

Ghost of a Flea by William Blake

G. E. Gallas is a screenwriter and graphic novelist whose blog, The Poet and The Flea, is an illustrated imagining of the life and times of William Blake.  It’s a great way of bringing Blake online, with dramatic drawings that weave around quotes from his poems, and I’ve enjoyed reading through its pages ever since I started my own blog, back in May.

It was by virtue of following The Poet and The Flea that I read a recent post by G. E. Gallas in which she asked fellow bloggers with a love of R L Stevenson to write a positive/insightful blurb in support of a projected film of his life, called “Death Is No Bad Friend.”  For me, the magic of Stevenson’s writing can be summed up by the fact that on my bookshelf I have a copy of Treasure Island that I first read, as an adult, not too many years ago.  It’s a hardback book, with the spine hanging off; the pages are wonderfully mottled and darkened around the edges (so it almost looks like a manuscript that was lost at sea); its original owner was a schoolgirl, and on the inside cover it bears the legend “angela mannell, class 7” in studiously neat, joined-up writing.  The book has been in my family since the 1950s.  It’s a fantastic story that was loved when it was first read in Stevenson’s time and loved in the 1950s; and, if I started re-reading it today, its effect would still be the same.

1950s edition of Treasure Island

1950s edition of Treasure Island

And so this explains why I wrote the following in support of the fundraising drive for “Death Is No Bad Friend” –

R L Stevenson is one of the well-springs of modern fantasy, a genre and mode of thinking that increasingly influences the mainstream of both literature and cinema. Besides this, he remains one of the major proponents of Scottish culture worldwide. On both counts, it is fitting that we take this opportunity to celebrate his achievements.

This script captures Stevenson as he balances precariously between the competing demands of life and death – his genius and joy of life pulling him back into the world, while his sickness ushers him out. Feeling himself “unable to go on farther with that rough horseplay of human life,” he yet struggles on. Why? The script answers that question in two ways.

Firstly, Stevenson remains energised by the great literature he feels still latent within him: “Thence, as my strength returns, you may expect works of genius […] And when is it more likely to come off, than just after I have paid a visit to Styx and go thence to the eternal mountains?” It would be unbearable for him to let that promise go to waste, especially after the nightmare of illness and suffering he endured in order to retain his grip on it.

Secondly, when speaking with his fiancé, planning a honeymoon on Mount Saint Helena, Stevenson assures her: “We are to fish, hunt, sketch, study Spanish, French, Latin, Euclid, and History. And, if possible, not quarrel.” This is a moving portrait of a man seeking to hold onto life by summoning to mind its most simple pleasures. The attempt to keep his wishes small and within the bounds of realism (“if possible, not quarrel”) lends it a pathos that most people will recognise and relate to from their own lives.

Equally, I’m sure Stevenson speaks for almost everyone when he announces, with knowing irony: “Lost? Not lost at all! We only cannot find our way.” This script honours the achievement of a man and a writer who fought hard to find his way and, in doing so, provided the world with classic stories that still enthral and entertain people today. It promises to produce a film that will be an insightful and moving tribute.


Anybody who shares our enthusiasm for R L Stevenson is encouraged to visit G. E. Gallas to find out how to send their own message of support.