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I told my writing buddy about the new anthology launch – at the Sun pub in Drury Lane, near Covent Garden – London, you know – on Saturday 16th December (4.30-7.30pm) – why not come along and see what’s on offer?

I said, they’ve described my writing as ‘modern noir’, whadcha think of that? She said, it sounds like the name of a paint. I’ll wear tweed, and a black raincoat, and brown leather shoes (which my father warned me against when I was quite young).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seems to me it sounds more like the name of a dark chocolate, but hey, as long as you enjoy watching it dry!

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Here’s early warning of a new Showcase title due out soon, published by Inktears, including a fistful of stories from BHD:  Click on the cover to go to their preview page and sign up for a copy on publication, or click here

You see, never to be left out of it…now BHD’s gone and got something else into print….in Issue 4 of the Black Market Re-view which that was a link to, back there <. Thankfully, he’s buried among lots of good writing, from all over the place. So, why not go and take a look?

Also, while we’re here….Did you know BHDandMe are leading a workshop as part of the Borderlines Festival in Carlisle? 10.00am-12.00 noon, Thursday 5th October, at the Library (in the Lanes)? Come along and play around with ideas of how the humble (or even arrogant) triangle can inform the situations we create for our fictional characters in the short story.

Sadly, Pewter Rose Press has now ceased trading…and I’ve taken the last remaining copies of BHD’s short story collection, Talking To Owls and his novella (or is it a novel…we can never decide), A Penny Spitfire. If you’d like a copy of either, I can supply at £5 each including postage (simply drop me the money  to the Paypal account of M.Smith at brindleyhd@aol.com and send me an e-mail to let me know your address).

Here’s what people have been saying about them:

 

Comment on A Penny Spitfire (080716, by J.F.D.)

I just finished re-reading your novel. I so enjoyed it. I read it slowly this time and really took in the descriptions at the openings of the chapters. The cumulative effect is to evoke a really strong mood that varies but is pervasive throughout the tale putting a clear picture of post-war destruction and gloom in my mind. The altered people, relationships, sense of difficulty in finding meaning and re-directing relationships and lives was palpable. I recognise what you portrayed as authentic because my adopted parents were old and they lived through rationing and and respectability. I so recall being shocked if my father swore and I knew my mother was unwell when she swore once. There was also the whole business of not saying things. You really captured that culture of not having a language for emotion (emotion not being useful for Empire building or war). I was so pleased Paul was alright and Burma Sammy by the end.
Thanks for a good read.

 

TALKING TO OWLS  (by Anon.?)

The characters in these stories embrace novel solutions to life’s many difficulties. A group of lonely men, retired to the countryside, find an unusual means of communication; on an otherwise idyllic Scottish island, a new resident tries out various ways to deal with the old problem of noisy neighbours; three members of the Grough family experience an urgent need to get home from the pub as quickly as possible. And a snail decides it must be rid of its shell. The author presents a range of colourful individuals, from His Lordship to the devious Willie Nobutt, speaking in a range of voices and dialects.

But while many of the stories are comic or fantastical, some are touching or haunting, and present mysteries which only the reader can solve. Many are experimental in form, and they vary in length from half a page to thirty-five. Many have already won prizes.

The writer can command a versatile range of styles. No Time Like The Present depicts the revelation of family secrets through photographs in a novel way, with some beautiful descriptive passages:

…the water was clear, transparent as a veil, and the sandy foreshore, mottled with rocks, showed through. Sunlight sparkled off the waves, riding their oval shadows, sky like a backdrop.

But maybe the author’s strongest suit is humour. In The Sweetest Sound two characters discuss the bagpipes:

‘Yer no a fan of the pipes then?’
‘I can tek em or leave ’em’
‘I can think of a few places I’d tek ’em’
‘I can think of a few places I’d leave ’em’…

While Cover Story, an absurd but sinister tale, set in a pub, featuring a writer and two men in ill-fitting suits, ends in this way:

…my foot….must have caught the tray, leaning up against the table-leg, because suddenly it rolled out into the centre of the floor and fell, spinning like a tossed coin, noisy as a dustbin lid, flattening out with the sound of metal fantails on a snare drum.

It seems to sum up the quality of the story, and in a way, the humour and originality of the collection as a whole.

4.0 out of 5 stars Only four stars as it is too short

 

By M. A. C. on 29 Dec. 2012 on Talking To Owls

Often when you read a short story, or come to that a full length novel, you will sigh and say to yourself ‘that was a good tale well told’. Talking to Owls isn’t a book like that. No, if you read this book, at the end of each of the short stories you’ll wonder if it is you who has changed. Brindley Hallam Dennis has a knack of making you think about how you react to events. The Mackwater Seam is a perfect example of how a short story should be written. It will stop you in your tracks and confront your prejudices. Naturally some stories in this collection are better than others, but although sometimes they appear to be lightweight they are not. Each story makes you think, but they don’t preach. Excellent value for money and the magic will go on working long after you have read each of the 140 pages. Buy and enjoy!


5.0 out of 5 starsA Penny Spitfire – Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

By Daniel on 2 Nov. 2011

Format: Paperback

A Penny Spitfire
Brindley Hallam Dennis

Thank God it’s all over, that’s what Charles Bury thought. That’s what they all thought. It just took them by surprise, afterwards, the way it was…

This is a very original novel, in subject matter and form. It is set in a small industrial town (which remains unnamed, though it may be Burton-on-Trent) immediately after the 2nd World War. Rather than dwelling on heroic exploits and victories achieved, as so many novels do, it describes the spoiled and broken lives of those who came back. It recounts their efforts to come to terms with the overwhelming experiences they have had, while adjusting to a world in which the structures they knew before they went to war have been swept away.

The various characters, across the social classes, find their previous lives and relationships irrelevant or impossible, or turn to drink to forget the terrors they witnessed. There are still guns to be had, and criminal characters and feral children gather on bomb-sites. Even in peace-time, violence and cruelty have not disappeared.

Rejecting straightforward narrative, the author tells his story in a sequence of scenes, as in a play, or more exactly, a black-and-white film, the setting for each scene often beautifully described: mostly dark, nocturnal, always poetic. He also employs a novel way of mingling speech and thought, the difference between them blurred, almost as if the characters are buried in their own memories and experiences, inarticulate, communicating incompletely with each other, before relapsing into recollection and introspection.

While much of what happens is difficult and gritty, and there is a violent denouement, the characters are richly-drawn and sympathetic, and the descriptions throughout are unusual, atmospheric and haunting. And towards the end of the novel the author gives us a glimpse, at least, of hope for the future:

And all around, the fields stood silvered in the moonlight… and the train, gathering speed as it moved away, drawn by the black lines of its track, carried, beneath its ermine cloak of steam, a single point of fierce orange light, lustrous as a new-made penny.

5.0 out of 5 starsA compelling glimpse into the aftermath of war

 

By Anne McDonnell on 8 Jun. 2011

Format: Paperback

In a Midlands industrial town, partly bombed, the locals are coming to terms with the legacy of World War Two. Their world has changed and yet their patterns of behaviour were set years ago.
In A Penny Spitfire, we follow Derek Fitton, as he struggles to connect his pre-war life of work and picnics with the experiences of war in India and post-war expectations. Jack and Paul, too young to have fought, fall in with Clive Dandridge, their Corp, who trains youngsters in his version of commandoes. And Charles, the younger son of the local industrialist who feels there has to be another way. Class and social distinctions are no longer so certain and no-one knows how to discuss any of it.

With evocative descriptions of an industrial world that no longer exists, and a style of writing that blurs the edges between thought and speech, Dennis opens a door on a time and people often forgotten. The characters and their lives remain with you long after the book is finished.

 

By Nicky Harlow on 8 Dec. 2011

Format: Paperback

Penny Spitfire is a poignant and prescient study of the impact of World War II on a small midlands town. We see the world largely through Derek Fitton’s eyes. A car mechanic foresighted enough to open a garage before the war began, he has returned from India to find that he can no longer connect to his own town, community, even his marriage. Dennis’s prose pulses with sensory detail. It seems coated in axle grease, powdered with dust. Read it and you smell metal and oil, turpentine and cigarette smoke; you can hear the clank of trains shunting into the nearby station, the revving of automobiles unused since 1939. It tastes of blood.
In this town the war is almost a character in its own right. It is the glue that holds together a group of dispossessed men and women – and the wedge that has been driven between them. The novel exists in a silent, held breath, a time between two worlds. The war is over; the process of change – social, ideological and technological – is already in motion. But for all the distant clanking, the dust has yet to clear.
This is a technically adept work. Dennis’s omniscient narration is no Dickensian voice, haranguing and moralising. More it is the voice of a presenter or an MC; a slow strip-tease revealing a society in flux. His characters – the dreamy socialist, Charles Bury, the traumatised Burma Sammy, the lying ne’er-do-well, Clive Dandridge, and Fitton himself – have been curtailed, interrupted. Their relationships are still dominated by the war; just as the town is still dominated by a huge bomb crater. It seems that death is all they have to look forward to.
Only the ever buxom and garrulous landlady of the Odd Dog demonstrates any joi de vivre. But even this seems forced. The past is not `another country’ in this novel. It is more vivid than the present into which it bleeds. It infects the town with a hazy nostalgia, filtering everything through its sticky nicotine-stained lens.
Penny Spitfire’s poetry clings to you long after you have read the final chapter. There is a strong metaphorical element here, exploited to great effect by Dennis. The railway carrying trains that are either going away or being shunted into sidings, the penny that pops up under many disguises: as payment for thoughts, for the spitfire, a lapel-pin fashioned from left-over metal, or to close the eyes of the dead. And there is something inevitably Denis Potterish in the sexual repression that seeps into all the characters’ actions.
The ending comes as a cruel irony. In what is considered by the characters to be a symbol of hope, we are offered a glimpse of our own twenty-first century crisis.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Dennis finds the seeds of our destruction in his story of post war Britain. Writing of this quality is as hard to find as a penny spitfire on a bombsite.

 

BHD’s salacious story of dark veined Cubans and smooth skinned Connestogas (cigars!) Hecho A Mano is among Liars Leagues’ TOP TEN STORIES of all time (well, their first 10 years!)…. You can vote for it too….on the link below!  Hecho a Mano, by the way, means  – roughly translated – a hand job!

http://www.liarsleague.com/liars_league/2017/04/vote-for-your-top-liars-story.html

Have you checked out these guys yet? CUTalongstory

A couple of years ago, inspired by a meeting with a local ‘self-publishing expert’ I decided to have a go myself at putting my short stories, poems, and essays on Amazon/Kindle.

Over the previous few years I’d had several disappointing experiences with small press publishers that had accepted collections for publication, but not proceeded to actual publication! Their reasons might have been entirely understandable, but the outcome was frustrating. I also, around the same time, had a more pressing experience – involving a midnight ride in an ambulance – with the National Health Service, bless ‘em, which led to me being kitted out with a couple of stents. You get to watch, on a largish TV screen, the stents being inserted, which is fascinating, but the adverts are lousy.

A stent not only frees the arteries. It focuses the mind. With John Donne’s wingéd chariot rattling around in your sub-conscious you start to consider what it is you really want to do. I’ve been there before, twenty years ago, and fate, or whatever, obviously felt I needed a reminder.

Primarily I write to amuse myself, and sometimes I do! But I also do it to make some sort of connection with other people, and that means publication. Indie presses are great, and I’ve self-published the odd poetry pamphlet in the past. I even published a small collection of short stories, of which I still have a few copies left (Second Time Around, 2006). Publication is the last part of the writing process, and nowadays we don’t have to wait for someone else to do it for us, or to have the wealth that enabled authors to publish themselves in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The internet and online publishing programmes have sorted that out for us.

Of course, it means there is a metaphoric sea of unreadable tosh out there, into which we must jettison our own writing. But, publication is still the last part of the writing process, if the work is to be offered to others. I leaven my collections with material that has been published elsewhere, or has been performed, or won prizes or commendations. In fact the last poetry collection I published (An Early Frost, 2016) contained nothing that hadn’t been used, or prized, somewhere else! It doesn’t prove anything, of course, except that someone, perhaps a group of people somewhere, liked a particular piece for reasons known only to them, and not necessarily ones that chime in with your reasons for writing, but it’s perhaps a pennyweight in the decision making process: of whether or not the collection is worth a look.

Thankfully, it’s not my job to convince anybody of that, but I’m always pleased when somebody is convinced, and even more pleased when they go on to try to convince others.

Time is something that has formed a background theme to many of my stories, and poems (and even, in convoluted ways, some of the essays), and time, stents remind, us is running out. It’s running out from a reservoir the size of which we have no idea. I called it somewhere ‘a stick of indeterminate length being pulled from dark water’. We never know, until it happens (and perhaps not then), when the end of the stick will break the surface.

So, over the last year I have been publishing stories, and poems and essays ‘like there was no tomorrow’, which, like the horror stories of a bad winter to come that the press feeds us every year, will be true one today. I’d like to finish as much of the process before that day breaks.bookcoverpreview-tmt

“Painters do not, as far as I know, visit the galleries in which their pictures are hung and retouch them there; nor do sculptors hack at their monuments after they have been erected in public places.” So says H.E.Bates in The Writer Explains, his introductory essay, to the 1938 compilation of his own short stories, published as Country Tales.

Neither should authors, he asserts. ‘The finished work of an artist, in a sense, no longer belongs to them.’ But Tobias Wolff takes a different tack. Writing in A Note from the Author at the beginning of his 2008 collection, Our Story Begins, he says: ‘If I see a clumsy or superfluous passage, so will you, and why should I throw you out of the story with an irritation I could have prevented.’

In fact Wolff’s whole ‘note’ – just over a page long – is a discussion of why a text is not ‘sacred,’ or indeed ‘original’ at a point of publication in any meaningful sense.

The debate is entered into by both these writers, Bates seeking to justify by his analogy with painters and sculptors, his innate belief that ‘The author should resist impulses to tamper with it,’ Wolff defending his belief that because ‘they (the stories) are still alive to me I take a continuing interest in giving to that life its best expression.’

Both make telling points, but ones that will not necessarily bend our own beliefs to their way of thinking. Bates questions the legitimacy of bringing to a published work ‘the touches of a mature experience and technique’ whereas Wolff questions the legitimacy of seeing any version of the text as “the original form” – the quotation marks being his, as well as mine.

In fact, I’m inclined to think that rather than representing the two sides of an argument that must be won and lost, these two viewpoints reveal the stances of the two writers to their writings. Both seem to be product oriented, but whereas Bates sees publication as a mark of completion, Wolff sees it as yet another stage in the process of editing, and re-editing. My own position might be, and probably is, that one can straddle the two standpoints. I’ve certainly found myself thinking of some earlier works of my own, that they were the best I could do at that time, and that they were somehow beyond making more of. In a sense they were, are, stories I have left behind – and the same might be said of poems, plays, and notably, essays. Others however, I have found myself dusting off, metaphorically, and re-fashioning with the benefits of hindsight. Mostly these have been unpublished works, but some have been previously used, and are up for re-use.

Theoretically I favour Bates’s opinion, but in practice, I feel with Wolff, that where I can see better, I’ll try to make it so, with the proviso that the story must still ‘live’ for me. Perhaps that is the key thing – a story that we use the analogy ‘alive’ for, is still in the process of being made. A story that is ‘finished,’ perhaps loses that metaphorical ‘life.’ To try a resuscitation, bringing it back to life, might be seen as a Frankenstein-like undertaking.

Perhaps a hidden question raised by the comparison between the two viewpoints is that of at which point in the creative process does one publish? Wolff makes much of the editorial input of the publishing team: ‘an editor had read it with pencil in hand,’ ‘another editor looked it over,’ I would have given it yet another going-over,’ ‘and done so again.’

Bates never mentions an editor: ‘Except in the ordinary way of proof reading I have not revised them at all.’

Do these widely diverse expressions tell us something about the differences between two authors, or about those between two publishing models spaced a three-score-years-and-ten and an ocean apart? Either way, the discussion might help us to see ourselves more clearly, which is always helpful (isn’t it?).

BHDandMe in his English Derby....

BHDandMe in his English Derby….

I’ve been writing about Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s short stories. Q, who has been dead these seventy years, is one of those forgotten writers. He doesn’t make it into the recent Penguin two volume The British Short Story, nor was he in the 1997 Short Fiction Reference Guide (St James’ Press).

When I write about short stories by dead writers I’m conscious of being in some way against the grain. So much so in fact that I feel it’s an activity I have to make a point of justifying, not only to the world, but also to myself. What is the justification for writing about stories that are in one sense over and done with? What is the justification for reading them in the first place?

The answer brings me to a confrontation with much that is going on around me, and to some degree explains my decision in the last quarter of last year, to withdraw from the steering committee of the local ‘book festival.’ I could encapsulate that decision in something fellow writer Vivien Jones wrote, pointing out the difference between ‘book’ festivals’ and ‘literary’ ones. Implicit in those two terms are both the differences between the festival types, and the reasons for reading, and encouraging discussion of dead writers.

The ‘book festival’ mindset is focussed on commercially available products with a view to encouraging sales. The ‘literary festival’ mindset is focussed upon the writing that can and often does find its way into commercially produced books.

I was recently given a subscription to The London Review of Books, and the first copy turned up just before Christmas. I’m not going to suggest that lrb is doing anything that it doesn’t say it’s doing on its packet. In fact, it says nothing on its cover about what it’s doing, but look inside and it becomes apparent that it’s reviewing a particular type of book ….the type that is in print, and newly in print at that.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but in these days when just about anything that has ever been published is available online, and when an awful lot of stuff that would never have been published – but which is quite likely to be better than an awful lot that has – is also available, the newness and ‘in printness’ of books is really only important to the people who have put them into print.

What’s new always catches the human attention, however limited the span. I suppose it’s a survival mechanism. Whenever anything new shows up in your habitat, it’s important to find out quickly whether it’s a threat or an opportunity. Reading for pleasure – in the widest definition of that – though, doesn’t need to be reading of what’s just shown up. I come back to the reminder of how children’s favourite stories are the ones they like to read and read again. In fact, a story can’t become a favourite if you have forgotten it. It has to be remembered, and can be renewed by rereading, by re-hearing or retelling in an aural tradition.

One of the differences between stories, and bookselling, is that stories exist in their own right, whereas bookselling is about brands. A lousy story by a well known writer will outsell a great one by an unknown. And whereas the well known writer’s sales might drop off over a series of lousy stories, and an unknown writer’s sales increase over a series of brilliant ones, the fact remains that the publishing industry is building, and selling on a sort of brand awareness, which favours the collection over the anthology.

Our own reading lives however, create personal anthologies, much as the music lover these days creates his or her own play lists. The play lists of the short story reader can free that reader from the limitations of the traditional book publisher’s need to produce another ‘new’ volume for sale. They can be made up of the works of dead writers; made up of living stories. [some publishers, Turnpike, for example, are specializing now in reviving ‘forgotten’ writers]

And here’s the critical difference. If we concentrate on finding stories we like, to anthologise in our private play lists, we move, conceptually, away from concentration on the writer, towards a focus on the writing. As I have found again and again, stories written hundreds of years ago, by writers I had never heard of, can bring the greatest pleasure, and can spark new stories, and sit alongside new stories quite happily. That’s why the great, and growing resource of the past, from a reader’s perspective, is worth quarrying, mining, harvesting or plundering – whichever is your metaphor of choice.