Ontological Claustrophobia – A Short Story

So there I was, sitting amongst philosophers, and we were all talking about ontological claustrophobia, the fear of being, that kind of thing.

The room was getting a bit stuffy. We’d been there a long time, talking and talking and talking. Suddenly I felt out of breath. ‘How about opening the window,’ I suggested. ‘That will help, I’m sure. Then perhaps we can talk about something else.’

The philosophers grumbled. ‘You don’t understand,’ they said. ‘You never understand.’ Read more

The Bulgarians and Me: a New Year’s Tale of Disappointment

Well, what a disappointing day the first of January 2014 was. After spending all December reading the tabloid press (and the Telegraph as well), I’d whipped myself up into a state of some excitable frenzy at the thought of 50,000 Bulgarians trooping past my door from the first of January. So in the spirit of Anglo-Bulgarian friendship, back in December I ordered in five thousand copies of my Bulgaria-based novel, [amazon_link id=”9380905076″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Descent of the Lyre[/amazon_link]. What a sales opportunity, I thought: fifty thousand homesick Bulgarians filing past my door, finding their feet in a new country. They would see my book, feel a pang of nostalgia, and snap up a copy. Read more

How the Revolution Began

After reading Julian Baggini’s piece on burning the Encyclopædia Britannica in Aeon Magazine, I couldn’t resist reposting this story about book-burning that I wrote way back (as one of my series of Yijing-based stories), and that was published on Necessary Fiction back in 2010. The story was called ‘How the Revolution Began’, and featured not a blazing encyclopaedia, but instead whole libraries of burning books, culminating in a set of blazing dictionaries.




First they banned novels, because they said — reasonably enough — that the world was complicated enough and the problems of the world grave enough, without the distraction of imagined worlds and non-existent problems. I was a young man back then. I remember standing outside the City Hall and watching the people bring cart-loads of dreams, fantasies and imaginings to fuel the pyres set up by the authorities. And perhaps I was not alone in feeling a kind of glee at the sight of those cheery orange and yellow flames, at the satisfying crackle of paper going up in smoke.

Afterwards, it was strange how quickly we adjusted. We got used to reading other things on the bus as we travelled to work. We filled the empty spaces on our shelves with ornaments. We got by.

Two years later, they outlawed books of poetry. There were protests, mainly from the poets themselves, but the reasoning of the authorities was sound: light verse, they said, was inconsequential; ballads were stories in disguise, and thus should, for the sake of consistency, go the same way as novels; love lyrics fostered delusion; sonnets were impossibly elitist; limericks inclined the mind to disrespect; and haiku — well, haiku were just downright odd, and foreign with it. Besides, nobody had read any poetry for years, even if — unaccountably — there were many who persisted in writing it. Read more


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