“The day the crow came began like any other.
The hunched, dawn-defying
shoulders of the town shrugged
plumb-lines of dew through a
skin of soot, and gave no notice
to the bird
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“There was a fog gathering on the ocean.
The people heard something
turning in its belly.
They said: it is the sound of cannons.
They said: it is the cackle of many guns.”
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The Boy with Nails for Eyes is the first section of a three-part novel-length comic.
In every life there comes a moment which teaches that the world and the child living in it are not the same thing.
This was Bobby’s moment.
He went back inside.
He went to bed as he always did.
But there swam, beneath the calm surface of his routine, a sensation of profound loneliness.
That night, the dreams began.
Imagine a sea creature – some strange deep-dweller that has hauled itself up onto the land, unfolded its tentacles, and fallen into a dank, troubled sleep. That is what the town looks like – a sprawling, beached creature, with bad dreams.
If you descended, sank into that town – if you wandered through its streets to the edge of he ocean, turned your back to the thick half-circle of chimneys that locked in the town on the landward side, and looked across the water, you would see monsters. Vast machines, behemoths striding to and fro, fighting one another across the horizon. The war.
Any day now, you might think, those great machines will turn their eyes in this direction, see the small town across the ocean, and turn lumberingly to destroy it.
The sky over the town is thick with crows.
All his short life Bobby has lived in this town. Now he too has begun to have bad dreams.
Night after night the dreams come. They set their saddles on the cells of his blood, chase one another whooping along the veins and arteries. Bobby is going mad.
One morning Bobby hugs his mother goodbye and sets off. But he isn’t going to school. He is heading for the old abandoned bunker, perched like a vulture on the hill at the town’s centre, fast by the shore.
There is more magic to be worked, in the black pit of the bunker.
The Boy with Nails for Eyes
In the Valleys of the Sea
“If all things were turned to smoke, the nostrils would discern them.
If to air, then touch. If to light, the eye.
If the world were turned to milk, or honey,
The tongue would trace through it both territories
Of bitterness and sweet, and constellate
A rainbow where they met. And if the world
Were thunder, the ear would breed a thunder
In it, and crib it in a residue of silence.
The world is fire.”
In the Valleys of the Sea is a verse play based on an ancient Greek myth, the story of Demeter in Eleusis.
Six months ago the Greek armies came, invaded Nira’s country, killed her husband. The land lost its name, became a principality of Greece – now Nira and her three children live in an occupied country.
Six weeks ago, the drought came. The wells dried, the crops withered, one by one the animals succumbed. The family began to starve; Demara, Nira’s youngest daughter, a baby, is soon very ill – dying.
And then the old woman came.
It was Iambe, Nira’s middle daughter, who spotted her out in the fields, stumbling, bleeding, delirious. Iambe and Kallithoe, Nira’s eldest, brought her into the house.
There the old woman babbles nonsense. She tells them she is the goddess Demeter. Her daughter was abducted by Hades, god of the underworld; now she searches the earth for her. It is she that has called down the drought, and has vowed it will remain until her daughter has been returned.
In the Valleys of the Sea is a verse play in three acts. It is going to be adapted into an opera by composer Ed Scolding.
the smooth cloud;
the calm water;
a million edges
bloom within a circle.”
Wreckage of Dreams
Night. A small raft, adrift on the sea with a dead engine, is alone under the moon.
In March 2011 seventy refugees fled Libya, heading for Europe across the Mediterranean. A few days into their journey, the engine died…
On Harrowdown Hill
In 2003 a body was discovered in an area of woodland known as Harrowdown Hill in Oxfordshire. It was identified as that of Dr David Kelly, who had been at the centre of the ‘Dodgy Dossier’ scandal during the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq…
In 2012 I entered two scripts into English National Opera’s Miniopera competition; both were selected as finalists.
Both of the scripts have been released to the public domain; several musicians and composers have already produced works based on them, and I’ve been lucky enough to attend performances of some of them in London and Gothenburg, Sweden.
Follow the links above to download either script in pdf or text format, and to listen to some of the pieces they have inspired.
He Holds His Bottle In Both Hands
He holds his bottle in both hands. His dog
Is by him. Blankets. From the shoulders down
He is massy as a stone; like a stone
He has the task to shrug off wind, the rain
That eats him drop by drop. Dirt occludes him,
Dirt impervious to rain has been ground
Into the ground of him; he knows, so he
Places the cup before him for the coins.
Once villages with plague did much the same.
Beyond the door nailed shut, the lintelled coffin
Hatch crossed in red, whose angel was absent
To halt the destroyer that hopped the threshold;
Beyond the path (green with three days’ grass);
Beyond the houses and the sprawl of the disease
They found a stone with a hollow, a cup
In its bone, like a newborn infant’s skull.
They filled the cup with water, left coins there;
The traders came and took them in exchange.
Left bread, such medicine their science could afford.
So the village, closed, hingeless as a stone,
Still maintained a commerce with the world.
They went so far and no farther: they shared,
So as not to meet, a mutual orbit.
He holds his bottle in both hands. He raddles
His blankets round him, strokes the dog. Then
He dips his fingers in the cup, feels the copper
Laid there to bait silver; they come back wet.
Three Stromness Acrostics
Forward and back roof-raddled the cat,
Round and around rolled the moon,
And Venus and Mars in a carafe of stars
Noodled the night’s afternoon.
“Kaleidoscope cat, my syrup, my fat,
Liminal lynx” – said the moon – “my love
I see that your eye waxes, wanes, as do I,
Now a crescent, now plump as a dove.”
“Render me puss, oh answer me this:
Or my dark or my light find you nice?”
“Ah – I like you best when you are half-dressed.
Dim – for the sake of the mice.”
Grim sea, ink on this wild night,
Rise. Wind, prepare a nib, an edge of
Air and frost. Black sea, come. Write
Your secrets on the lapped lids of the town –
Satisfactions only for the birds.
Name your mysteries, your underwater
Ossuaries, the hug and knell where lipless mouths
Urge a second deluge. Confess all, waves:
State safe your deepest soul in midnight ink.
The coming day will clean the slates, unread.
Below, a segment on a patterned top,
Runs the town. Behind, hill-hurdled, the Atlantic. What
Is the hand that spins us but the sky, and,
Now, this dawn, the Spring-appointing air? Winter
Kept things close, stilled the thrumming cells with sheeted
Ice. That age is over. The island stretches,
Enters the uppermost sun-dabbled sea of sleep
Spreads skein of sky of wing, and lunge of lung.
Broad sphere, you share the moon’s illusion:
Regarded at horizon, seeming greatest.
Ah, but – between itself and its own limit runs the eye in
One Blow Breaks…
One blow breaks these floorboards, shows the bones
Where the dead damped down, bravely or morose,
To be built upon. All graves are shallow:
Worm on barrowed worm, dead on dead laps storying;
Apartments, tower blocks as in water,
Shown in their inverse, sinking, tend their quiet
Occupation to the cold core of all
Beginning; and we on the lowest floor.
There are clouds in the crawlspace. The soft rain
Eases, balling its fists between the bricks,
Downward. All graves are shallow. Bald of a clock
Still the walls show times, the years’ slippage
Into disorder – windows seamed with mould
And autumn leaves loose in the citadel.
The garden has been sown with dragon’s teeth.
Summer brazens through the mulch of spring,
Itself the chewed stuff of autumn. Beneath
The flowers draw their blades. Trees cast leaves, fling
Upon the lower world their cuckoospell
Of shadow, shuddering the pollen. Warm snow.
Thousand-coasted, million-mated world, swell –
For the year’s yolk is in its overflow
And over-golden, too big for any shell.
I’m a part-time artist, writer and graphic novelist based in Stromness, Orkney.
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. According to my parents by the time I was three they’d leave me alone for hours with a load of pencils and paper and let me get on with it.
When I was 12 my dad found me reading an issue of Batman and gave me Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which for the first time made me want to be a comics writer as opposed to just creator of comics. If you haven’t read Maus, you should.
When I was 16 I moved to the UK for my A-levels with an art scholarship. I went to a boarding school. I didn’t fit in. Aside from a few good friends and some great teachers, I hated it. Apart from the art instruction I received there, I’m self-taught.
I’m essentially to be found hunched over a keyboard or drawing board, doing art, usually in the company of my wife and fellow artist Anna. Sometimes there’s a cat in my lap.
In 2011 two of my scripts were amongst the ten finalists in the Minioperas competition run by English National Opera. These scripts are now in the public domain and can be used by anyone.
In 2015 I received two prizes in the Ware Open Poetry Competition, taking second prize overall and sharing the sonnet prize.
Why ‘Basement Garden’?
Anna playing with (the much missed) Bo in our old garden.
We used to live in the basement of a converted Georgian house in Bristol. It was cold, damp and dark. The only saving grace about the place was the garden, to which we’d escape when the weather permitted.
The garden was lovely. Our bedroom let out onto a lawn which blended into wanton overgrowth at the furthest end. A fox had its den somewhere in the tangled gardens beyond; one night I woke to see two fox cubs playing just outside our door.
Anyway, the effect of this was that I actually found myself writing out our address differently through the year. Basement flat, garden flat – winter, summer. I’m guessing the rest’s obvious.
What programs, equipment, techniques do you use?
Equipment/techniques for traditional art
Anything that’ll work. Chalks, acrylics, spray paint, ink, various pencils, pens, charcoals, collage, photography.
Weird stuff I’ve used at one point or another: dripping wax; razors; sponges; eggshells; bits of wood.
In the case of The Boy with Nails for Eyes, the images are generally composed with gradual ink washes onto pencil outlines, which are then detailed with acrylic, chalk, charcoal and pencil, then scanned into Photoshop.
Almost everything I do these days involves Photoshop at some point. This can be a case of simply adding colour, bringing in various photographic or digital elements, or altering the original image in some more drastic way.
I use Adobe Photoshop version 9, ‘CS2’ as it’s commonly known, along with a Wacom Graphire.
(I’ve also tried GIMP and it’s great, but I’ve already paid my moneys.)
For compiling pages and adding text I use Scribus. It’s a free, open source desktop publisher and it’s fantastic. Without it I couldn’t have put The Boy with Nails for Eyes together at all so, if you’re looking for some completely free, powerful desktop publishing software, I can only recommend it.