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post-Gutenberg

Shoes have illuminating walk-on parts in both The XX Factor and Agency Woman - photographs: postgutenberg[at]gmail.com Shoes have illuminating walk-on parts in both The XX Factor and Agency Woman
– photographs: postgutenberg[at]gmail.com It is to a new novel that we at post-Gutenberg find ourselves turning to answer the question of whether the human race can continue by sexual reproduction – now that men and women have begun to live and work in ways growing ever less distinguishable.

In The XX Factor: How Seventy Million Working Women Created a New Society, published last year, Alison Wolf tells us that among the trend-setting elite of educated, high income-earning couples in the West, and for both men and women …

The new graduate norm is a full-time job, whether you are single or part of a couple. With no old-style wife to come home to.

Men in this social tier, she says, ‘put in more unpaid household work … the more educated the women.’ Will the shrinking gender…

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post-Gutenberg

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He grew red roses and white lilies on the edges of deep shade in his lush garden — the owner of the page for today in every diary that was ever ours — and the birthday card we could have sent him, if he were still here, might have been a salute to his green thumb.

But birthday cards addressed in familiar scripts on stamped envelopes have been making their way to the same old-media life-after-life as floppy disks. E-cards are a thin substitute. We have seen scarcely any not designed for mass appeal in styles that remind us of our multimedia-artist friend LCM’s opinion of the look of the Facebook site: ‘It’s like walking into Walmart.’ Paper cards, in the decade or two before they began to vanish, came in an infinite variety – from Hallmark-treacly and bland to clever, quirky, idiosyncratic and even cryptic, if you knew where…

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THERE'S BEEN A MURDER

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Thomas Ford is the only survivor of the car crash which killed his wife. He is also the only witness who would be willing to identify the young, reckless driver who caused the crash. But the driver has no intention of ever letting himself be identified, not to mention what his father’s intentions are…or those of his girlfriend, Lorna, the hospital cleaner. The young driver’s father is Jack McCallum, the powerful entrepreneur who has built a housing empire, McCallum Homes, on the high hills surrounding the city. Jack has his own dark secret to protect, as well as his business edifice to hold onto. There is no way in the world that Jack McCallum will ever let anything threaten the future of McCallum Homes. Robert Ferguson, the passenger who was with the young driver on the day of the crash, curses himself for ever getting into the car. He watches…

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Agency Woman

Happy to announce the release of my new novel, Agency Woman, on Kindle!

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Available here on Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Agency-Woman-John-A-Logan-ebook/dp/B00I6VUFAA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391592682&sr=8-1&keywords=agency+woman

Here on Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Agency-Woman-John-Logan-ebook/dp/B00I6VUFAA/ref=la_B008NTJW54_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391593133&sr=1-1

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A lost, wandering and damaged man finds himself drafted back into the world he thought he had escaped, when the local branch of a powerful, international Agency needs a mysterious job done in the remote Highlands of Scotland.
The new companion who leads him out of disaffected early retirement is a seductive, young, novice female agent, but could there really be far more to her than there at first seems?
They find themselves in a world of natural beauty, mountain and beach, which they will only contaminate with extraordinary rendition, abduction, bloodshed and torture.
The modern bureaucratic world of paperwork and subcontracting will mean that no-one actually knows which government or country is behind the operation, but one man will soon remember why he left Agency work like this and why he hates it so much, even though it may really be love that has dragged him back into it all.

A dark, Scottish tale of conspiracy, espionage, murder and terrorism, with an existential edge, and the spirit of an ancient mountain looming at its centre.

“The specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair.”
Soren Kierkegaard

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The Russian, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, has been oft-described as one of the first “psychological novelists”; followed up, some would say, by the 1890 publication of HUNGER by the starving, post-tubercular Norwegian, Knut Hamsun.
Tough books, coming from the toughest of experiences/life stories…nothing precious about Dostoyevsky or Hamsun.
They both seemed to set down the facts/details of a decade of suffering and survival in a first book: Dostoyevsky in HOUSE OF THE DEAD, Hamsun in HUNGER.
But, this done, they would tend to let the imagination and spirit soar in the following books…the facts and details of their histories still embedded there though, felt, sensed, like psychological rock strata, unyielding.

D. H. Lawrence, the English miner’s son, took on the “psychological” penetration of that rock strata next, delving deep, fusing the exploration with elements of impassioned drama and story which brought such a potent mix of public acclaim/disapprobation.
While, in Czechoslovakia, almost on the same timeline, Franz Kafka, son of a successful, hardened businessman (himself the son of a Jewish shochet/ritual slaughterer), was investigating the same existential meat of the mind, with glorious results.

There is no doubt that, behind the curtain there, at least to an extent, lay the joint influence on the European mind, of the founding fathers of modern psychology, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.
This influence was not confined to an intelligentsia, or any one social/economic class…the starving artist or miner’s son could be infected by it, just as surely as by the tuberculosis that also seemed to fell half of the writers in the first half of the 20th century.
These things, for good or ill, were just “in the air”…
The plan to supply universal education to all classes of British society, which George Bernard Shaw had opposed so vigorously, had gone ahead, and now the working class had been taught letters en masse, and who knew what beyond-the-pale literature some of them might end up reading…there were even libraries for them now…

As often happens though, following upon the opening of those doors in the first half of the 20th century, the second half of it saw a sinister closing of those same doors.
By the 1970s, the controversial Scottish psychiatrist, R. D. Laing, would insist that if Franz Kafka were to enter the 1960s Glasgow psychiatric system he would be instantly diagnosed, even if only on the basis of the texts he had written, as paranoid schizophrenic, and given the appropriate regimen of drugs and electric shock therapy to the brain popular in the day.
THE TRIAL and THE METAMORPHOSIS would no longer have been art/analogy for Kafka in 1960s Glasgow…through chemicals and electricity he would have experienced them for real.
 
Slightly earlier, in 1951, an inmate at Seacliff Lunatic Asylum in New Zealand, a post-drug and electro-convulsive therapy patient, diagnosed with schizophrenia, Janet Frame, had recently published her first book with Caxton Press, a short story collection entitled, THE LAGOON AND OTHER STORIES.
This did not stop the hospital scheduling her for a lobotomy, though, an operation to remove part of her brain surgically for “therapeutic” purposes.
But, as happenstance would have it, Janet Frame’s book won  the Hubert Church Memorial Award for fiction that month, one of New Zealand’s most prestigious literary prizes.
The hospital therefore had to cancel the lobotomy for public relations reasons, and they released her from Seacliff Lunatic Asylum only four short years later, from whence she left New Zealand for England, where a doctor at the Maudsley hospital in London told her that he believed she had been wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia and had never had the condition.

In 1962, Ken Kesey published ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, the result of his experiences working night shifts at the Menlo Park Veterans’ Hospital in California (interestingly, he worked night shift there with Gordon Lish, who would later become Raymond Carver’s editor)…and, of course, in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST it is Randle P. McMurphy whose antics are finally sorted out by Nurse Ratched via lobotomy, as the chemically-coshed inmates look on.
Surely, for acid-fuelled Kesey, this was a case of “There But for the Grace of God Go I…”
A sensing in fiction of what societal dangers could lie in wait for the artist’s mind…if the artist didn’t watch out…

In 1974, Robert Pirsig’s ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE was published.
Between 1961 to 1963, Pirsig had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and clinically depressed, receiving a great many electric shock treatments to his brain during those years, which he later wrote about in his book in great detail.
Finally, he decided the only way to escape the hospital was to behave as the staff wished him to behave, speak as the staff wished him to speak.
After several years of post-hospital recovery, Pirsig then wrote his book, about the psychiatric profession in part, and his own view of “insanity as the new heresy”, scientific logic having replaced centuries of religion in the collective mindset of modern man.
Pirsig believed that to challenge the mind-set of society was to risk being punished as a heretic, a modern disbeliever; assent to the societal norms or be punished by the burning/neutralising/neutering effects of the electricity…the new fire to which the heretic, out of touch with the logos and mythos of their times or peers, may be put legally in order to force their recantation.
(Interestingly, it is not quite true that ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE was rejected by 121 publishers, as Pirsig once noted in an Afterword to an edition of the book. Later, in an online interview, he gave more detail…a careful man, having learned not to waste time, he had written only the first few chapters of the book, early in the morning before his day job, in cafes, and had then sent this sample out to 122 publishers…out of these, four publishers replied, expressing interest in seeing the finished book…but only one editor kept in close contact with Pirsig throughout the four years it took to write the book, reading it and suggesting revision as the book progressed, and it was this editor who finally published the book, though he did not believe it would sell well, and certainly he never anticipated it becoming a 1974 bestseller.)
 
 
Recently, a friend left this link on my Facebook page:
A 3.09 recording of a talk by the philosopher, Alan Watts.
“What do you desire…what makes you itch? Let’s suppose…What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life? Let’s go through with it…what do you want to do? You do that, and forget the money. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a really miserable way. And, after all, if you do really like what you’re doing…it doesn’t matter what it is…you can eventually become a master of it…it’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it…and then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is…so don’t worry too much….somebody’s interested in everything…and anything you can be interested in, you’ll find others will…”
                                                    Alan Watts
 
 
A reminder then, for us all, that art has healed minds, and authors’ lives have been saved, or healed, or prolonged, or made joyous, by the writing of the books, time and again, not to mention how many untold readers’ lives have been enriched, healed, saved, and enlightened by those very same books.
The production of the books being an important act, in and of itself, and a delightful one. 
 
 
 
Having recently watched Roman Polanski’s 1976 psychological thriller, The Tenant, for the first time, I was struck once again by the degree to which films have influenced me when it comes to narrative structure. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t been influenced far more by the past 400-years’ worth of novels we’ve been gifted to read…but somehow, as Tanita Tikaram put it back in the 80s, cinema has been the Twist in My Sobriety where narrative is concerned.
 
 
I’d loved The Fearless Vampire Killers and Rosemary’s Baby, re-watched them many times since initial encounters with them during childhood(!)…
And it seems my response to Polanski duplicates my response to Tarkofsky, or to Knut Hamsun, or to Mikhail Bulgakov, where I seem to fall in love early with one piece of work (Tarkofsky’s Solaris, Hamsun’s Hunger, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita)…this one piece of work then mesmerises me as I watch and re-watch, or read and re-read, through decades, attempting to simultaneously fathom, imbibe, assimilate, ruminate, meditate, on whatever message in the scenes/text has transfixed me.
I feel no need to go on and view/read the other work by the particular artist, in fact I feel protective of the initial encountered masterpiece, not needing any more or wishing to be exposed to risk of disappointment in other work.
It doesn’t always go that way, though…when I encountered D H Lawrence, Philip Roth, Stephen King, Robert Pirsig, Dostoyevsky, Milan Kundera…the desire was to instantly branch out from the first text found and go on to hoover up all the other books available, mainlining the author’s essence…
Kubrick, Powell and Pressburger, Sidney Lumet, same thing…I had to know all and see all of their work once I’d been contacted by it.
 
Tarkofsky’s Solaris stunned and overwhelmed me on first contact with it.
Aged about 10, viewing it on an old black and white portable TV in the 1970s, my mind slipped off that film’s Teflon surface, but the outer membranes of the subconscious had been penetrated, the film was in there somewhere ever since.
I next tried at 21 to take the film in as a whole, but still my mind could only accommodate its fragments…I watched it in the darkness, in colour this time, while a friend less sympathetic to unlocking the mysteries of 1970s Russian cinema, snored on the floor nearby.
It was only after I’d completed my fifth novel, The Survival of Thomas Ford, aged 42, that something had shifted internally, so that when I “re-watched” Solaris for the first time in about twenty years, I was really seeing it all for the first time, I felt the whole film go in, mainlined straight to some mental lobe or nodule that was now ready, I felt it lock into the hard disc permanently, lodged like Polanski’s tenant now is, into the fabric of my being.
Tenant indeed.
Solaris filled me right to the fingertips, or nail-tips…invisible tendrils of tenticular power surging back and forth, pulsing electrically…this could not be contained and wasn’t.
The influence caused a short story to pop out, Napoleon’s Child, the third story in my collection, Storm Damage.
An influence only I could ever see I think…an old man in a desert, visited by apparitions perhaps, or are they real? The wind speaks in that place, the mind a chamber for its own echoes.
But Solaris was still in my system.
Another short story popped out, Unicorn One, the first story in Storm Damage, a hairdresser from a remote Scottish town is selected to be the astronaut for Scotland’s first Independent Space Mission to Mars. Can her mind cope with it?
I could feel the influence of Solaris in the DNA of both stories as I typed…an influence beyond conscious interference…the desert in one story, space in the other…but each set in a zone of seething, black emptiness which turns out not to be empty at all…
Sometimes it is the spirit of the film which possesses.
 
 
Werner Herzog’s 1972 cornucopia, Aguirre: Wrath of God, did the same deep-penetration job on my brain, again after a three-decade puzzled flirtatious courtship with peripheral synapses only…one day Aguirre simply shafted my brain to the depths with images I can’t speak of here for fear of spoiling a surprise for somebody.
To be fair, though, this was a double-pronged attack on the poor brain, abetted by my long-delayed first reading of Heart of Darkness in 2006.
It was Aguirre’s spell, along with the trance caused by what is only a passing thematic reference in just the first 7 or so pages of Heart of Darkness, that caused me to spend a year on my third novel, Starnegin’s Camp, set in a forest on the world’s far side two thousand years ago.
2006 also saw a double-viewing of two colossally different masterpieces from what seem opposing ends of the cinematic spectrum.
And, in both cases, on first viewing of the film, I was absolutely confused by what I had seen…I wasn’t sure that I had not just been ripped off or conned or manipulated…
I re-watched each three hour, or three hour plus, film carefully on another day…separate days for each film of course…fully prepared for disappointment or anger at manipulation.
One of the films had seemed to be just too slow for the first two hours, only to detonate at the two-hour point and explode into something heartbreakingly and astonishingly powerful.
This was Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.
 
 
The other film I had never intended to watch, only to record on VHS…I’d missed the first two minutes, pressed record, had never heard of this 1970s French film before…I couldn’t stop watching though, watched an hour of it which seemed to be enough.
The next day I watched the next hour on tape, and again this seemed to be all my mind could take in.
On the third day I watched the last hour-and-a-half.
Synchronicity entered in then: I had an email from a friend who told me it was sacrilege to watch a film unless it was watched all in one go, as in the cinema.
Simultaneously, an Iranian director was on TV saying in an interview that he only ever watched a film in 30 or 60 minute sections, so as to fully assimilate…
This second film watched in three sections was Jacques Rivette’s 1974 classic “story about story-telling”, Celine and Julie Go Boating.
 
Having been absolutely puzzled by and suspicious of both Barry Lyndon and Celine and Julie Go Boating on first viewing, I re-watched both and on second viewing let myself fall in love.
There was a third viewing of each. A fourth.
Then I showed both films to a friend. Then another friend. And another.
They loved the films too.
Then I started to watch these two films every few months, simply to let it sink in, whatever magic of narrative pace and structure had caused such confusion at first, only to deliver such disproportionate rewards and riches for continued attention.
I know those narrative lessons got into the fabric of the three novels I produced in the following 30-month period, Agency Woman, Starnegin’s Camp, The Survival of Thomas Ford.
It may be that the narrative lessons imbibed from cinema (or TV, like the 1970s TV adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles which still haunts me) enter the mind at a different strata or zone than the lessons assimilated from beloved novels (in my case, I constantly feel the workings of decades-ago-read texts as I explore a new narrative’s possibilities…and I know which texts: The Master and Margarita, Hunger, The Idiot, Crime and Punishment, Notes From Underground, Steppenwolf, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Cain’s Book, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Leopard…earlier than that, Stephen King’s The Stand, It, Thinner, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption…Peter Straub’s Ghost Story…Watership Down…
The books that blow your mind.
The films that blow your mind.
The ones you love, that tap into some deep and secret well-spring of dream and hope which probably/certainly go back beyond Cervantes’s Don Quixote, into the different religious books, or pagan books, or mythical books, that first breathed the inspiros of life into brains drifting between the strata of painting the cave walls…first with beasts real…and then with beasts imaginary…brains hovering between the marks that make images direct…and the marks that signify the logos that can mainline into the brain itself and detonate the fireworks of unforeseeable magic on the great Walls of that Darkest of Caverns.
And today it is Polanski’s Tenant, re-arranging his furniture in the sanctity of my frontal lobes, making noise at night, sitting afraid and strangely clothed in his chair, finding things buried in the walls of that room, screaming his discontent into the black depths and influencing me, terrifyingly, beyond my miniscule power to fathom. 
 
  • NORTHWORDS NOW – The FREE Literary Magazine of the North: Issue 23 Spring 2013

    Very proud to see The Survival of Thomas Ford get a mention on page 9 of the new edition of Northwords Now, in Mandy Haggith’s article about the success of Highland Scotland-based epublishing:

    “Publish and be Glad! – Mandy Haggith surveys the Ebook Revolution in the North”

    Northwords Now is free and widely distributed via paper throughout Scotland. You can also download a free pdf of the issue here: