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Authors/New Voices Notes of Inspiration Writing/Reading

Writer’s Blog: Michael Hampton – On the Act of Writing

In his last post, Michael Hampton author of ‘”A” Death’ published in Breve New Stories Issue Zero, reflects on the act of writing.

from Unshelfmarked

In declaring writing to be an ACT consisting of modes and exercise (eg the jargon of art criticism), before it is a definitive profession, and therefore closer to Derridean écriture, or the presence of writing, I would like to return to the ground and issue of writing at its most fundamental level, that of mark-making. Starting out once again from the primordial human impulse: to articulate signs in language systems, or para-language systems such as cuneifrom and hieroglyphics, re-sets the way words are perceived, and therefore used; forever bearing in mind that their order and meaning can always be fatally scrambled.

 

The emergence of so called art writing (see my thoughts on this phenomenon in Letters to the Editor Art Monthly #352, Dec-Jan 2011/12) has taken place at the interstice of these psychic domains, the literary turn in fine art of the 1990s exemplified today by migratory figures such as Tom McCarthy and Katrina Palmer, or the calligraphic modernist painting of Cy Twombly. Personally I try hard to confound the way society and the market force us to become wholly defined by our job descriptions, hence my endeavours over the years to produce verse, book & exhibition reviews, philosophical discourse and occasional short fiction, with a current leaning towards conceptual writing.

I’ve been assembling a set of prosthetic extensions to texts already in print. Here the term ‘extension’ is suggestive of its modern usage, applicable to hair, building, ballet movement and web addresses. Typically these extensions will derive from sources at the edge of the popular, but not necessarily high brow either. For instance in ‘The Holmes Doppel’ I combed through dozens of cheap imitations of Conan Doyle stories in the British Library and extracted instances of cross-dressing or disguise, which have then been aggregated as a list or anthology, illuminated by an endnote. In ‘Pulled from the Wreckage’, fragmentary material is lifted from Wreckage, 1893, a collection of short stories by the now forgotten symbolist writer Hubert Crackenthorpe, which gets butted up against technical data taken from the report into the Concorde air crash of 2000, and then blended with the diary notes of a London flaneur, in act of unlikely bricolage; a reminder that no text is ever finished absolutely.

Michael Hampton

Michael Hampton’s Unshelfmarked: Reconceiving the artists’ book ISBN 978-1-910010-06-8 is published by Uniformbooks www.uniformbooks.com

 

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Authors/New Voices Notes of Inspiration Writing/Reading

Writer’s Blog: Michael Hampton – Notes of Inspiration

Michael Hampton author of ‘”A” Death’ published in Breve New Stories Issue Zero, talks about the authors and stories that inspire him.

The cautionary tale is as old as the hills and starts orally with your worried parents telling you not to put your hand in the fire. But the format is for grown-ups too as learning is lifelong. My short story ‘”A” death’ fits this profile, its grotesque nature identifying it as a precise literary sub-type: the conte cruel or cruel tale, a refined form that emerged from the fairy stories of Charles Perrault and Brothers Grimm, but was made explicitly modern by practitioners such as Auguste Villiers De L’isle-Adam, Guy de Maupassant and H H Munro, more generally known as “Saki”.BREVE-LOGO

De L’isle-Adam led a bohemian life, and his stories were as A W Rait notes in his 1963 introduction to Cruel Tales, “often written on dirty, crumpled scraps of paper stained with the coffee and wine of the café tables at which Villiers, generally more or less homeless, spent much of his time”, possessing titles such as ‘Flowers of Darkness’ or ‘The Apparatus for the Chemical Analysis of the Last Breath’ that hint strongly at their baroque content.

Contemporaneous with him was the short story maestro Guy de Maupassant. In ‘A Piece of String’, first published in the collection Harriet, 1884, a frugal peasant is unjustly accused of theft after being spotted picking up a bit of string off the road. The police clear him but despite the object in question (a lost wallet) being handed in, the man continues to be stigmatised by the local villagers, who suspect him of involvement come what may. Wholly innocent but unable to clear his name in the community, as a result he suffers an apoplexy and dies insane. This is classic Maupassant: a tragedy based on an impulse to which the reader is an eye-witness, but can do nothing to prevent as it unfolds in slo-mo.

The short fiction of “Saki” however can be lighter in tone, Monty Pythonesque even, but still trades on the uncanny and weird. His favoured locale is the countryside, but more especially the goings-on amongst the doomed upper classes just before the Great War: fox-hunting, card games, garden parties and Christmas gatherings often the backdrop to madness and mayhem. Ironically in “Saki” the pastoral settings are never quite what they seem. In ‘The Peace of Mowsle Barton’, 1911, a holidaying city gent discovers that the place he imagined to be the very picture of rural bliss harbours dark forces, witchcraft in fact, practised by two old women who spend their time cursing each other and everything around them. In one hilarious scene the gent watches in horror as a group of ducks drown one after the other in the village pond, while the farmhouse kettle refuses to boil as if bewitched. In the end he leaves in disgust, relieved to find himself back among the hustle and bustle of Paddington station. Relying on the odd incident rather than the quotidian ‘plotlessness’ of soap opera, the cruel tale discharges a flare into the night sky, often signalling that all is far from well in the universe. Twisted, acid and unsettling (thus sharing traits with the Edwardian English ghost story) it focuses on arbitrariness and malignant disorder, as if undisclosing the contents of a restricted police file.

Perhaps such writing is a prophylactic against insanity? But by focusing on the incident that comes out of the blue, out of nowhere, horror gets sharply etched on the reader’s disbelieving mind; so in a 24/7 news media environment suffocating in wholesale death and destruction, in end-of-the-world speculation, the trivial yet telling moment that appears to have no explicable metaphysical cause, operates as an indexical mark, generating a grim brand of humour. Once upon a time such encounters were superstitiously classified as intersection points, the workings of fate, and might still be if there was an agreed upon framework of meaning amongst human beings; but normality was the very first casualty of the World Trade Center attacks.

Michael Hampton

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Authors/New Voices Notes of Inspiration Writing/Reading

Writer’s Blog: Michael Hampton – The Idea Behind ‘”A” Death’

Michael Hampton talks about what inspired his story ‘”A”Death’ published in Breve New Stories Issue Zero.

It is a pleasure to be asked by Breve’s editor to add a gloss to my short story ‘“A” Death’, due to be published in issue zero.BREVE-LOGO

The narrative was written during a miserable period of my life when I was on a work placement at an office in south-west London. This involved a tedious red bus journey which was occasionally brightened up by spotting some of the physical details recounted in the text, whilst the central phantasmagoric incident described here is the result of extending certain logical possibilities, or hidden dangers present in the fabric of every day life; a random suburban event against which no insurance policy can safeguard. Recently the traditional short story has been joined in the literary landscape by flash or micro fiction, even nanofiction, that differ in wordcount terms yet also bear family resemblances, certainly stylistic traits and structures that distinguish them from the novel, especially the contemporary blockbuster. ‘“A” Death’ is a minimal story, its format low on packaging, yet still capable of maintaining suspense and conveying horror in a dry, understated way, without much psychological elaboration. It is a cliché but here the facts speak for themselves, revealing life as subject to grotesque contingency, the individual despite their best efforts destined to end up as a tragicomic victim, robbed of agency. My tale is the product of daydream related with an almost administrative detachment, the sudden temporal shifts not only representing a discontinuity of experience but also the gaps between writing sessions; evidence of a slow sort of plotting, and fastidious revision.

Michael Hampton