This is a blog about By All Means (Nine Arches Press), a short story collection by Tim Love. It's ISBN 978-0-9570984-9-7 and is on sale from Inpress

Saturday 19 January 2013


Two reviews have appeared so far, by Tony Williams and Jim Murdoch. They point out the stories' similarities and differences so I'll deal with those issues first, adding some observations of my own.


  • In many of the stories a person journeys (often by train) in an attempt to make sense of something. "Method of Loci" could have been the collection's title.
  • In several of the stories ("The Big Climb", "Late", etc) one of the significant characters is absent.
  • Some repetition between stories became evident when the collection was assembled. Rather than remove all the overlaps I decided to organise them so that there was a controlled daisy-chain of links between the stories.
  • All the stories (except Olga which fast-forwards years at the end) have narrational durations of at most a day (often just hours) punctuated by flashbacks (which may be extensive). Tony Williams alludes to this when writes "I liked best the personal history pieces, which usually throw us into a present moment and then unspool backwards to show the narrator’s past"
  • Tony Williams points out that nearly all the characters could be middle-aged men, and that they're all first-person stories. A previously published female-PoV piece and 2 non-character pieces failed to make the cut. I've tried doing kid-PoV, unsuccessfully. I've had SF published, and I got some money for a comedy piece. I do short high-art cross-genre compositions. But I suspect my sad pieces go down best.
  • Jim Murdoch writes "Like all the other stories there’s humour here". Perhaps I should have kept this under more control.

Some of the uniformity of the selection is due to the editorship - there's a case for having thematic coherence in a collection. It's not supposed to be a "best-of" anthology. But at my disposal I have a restricted set of voices from certain strata of society - given the narrow range of people I meet nowadays I feel increasingly fraudulent when trying to write about the common people.


Tony Williams sorts the stories into three groups - "the artfully constructed personal histories, the metafiction-y ones, and the rest". When I submitted the long-list of stories, I accompanied them by a classification -

  • Mainstream - Prague 86, The Big Climb, Late, Doors and Windows, Olga [4 others not chosen]
  • Pretentious - [all 3 not chosen]
  • Gloomy loner - Fractals [1 other not chosen]
  • Non-realist - [all 3 not chosen]
  • Comedy - [all 2 not chosen]
  • Narratively challenging - Method of Loci, Definitions [2 others not chosen]

One aspect where I think I'm more flexible than many is along the transparency scale. The extremes aren't all illustrated in the book, but the stories vary along this dimension

  • Words can become opaque, non-mimetic, a sequence of letters or sounds.
  • People and Objects can shimmer, lose their solidity, become symbols connected to other symbols.


"Death of the Author" may have applied to my poetry pamphlet, but reviews of this book have so far tended to focus on the author and/or narrators. They make me think of the book as my "Dorian Gray" painting in the attic, a painting of misery and regret. Please don't destroy the book. Most interesting in this regard is Tony Williams' comment that "often the [Narrators] seem to be middle-aged men, so that you wonder if that’s a theme or if the narrators are all versions of the author grappling with versions of his own concerns (actually that’s probably two ways of saying the same thing)". Well, the remorselessness of the theme's the result of editorial selection, but editors can only work with what they're given. Most of the stories were written when I was middle-aged, though I'd say they deal with "what-ifs" rather than concerns.

When I write stories they often develop by slow accretion, not always starting with a character. I'm relieved whenever my attempts at character-creation come off. Jim Murdoch writes about "Late" that "really I just felt embarrassed for these two" which pleases me. Come to think of it, "The Big Climb" is a bit that way too.

I hope that within the uniformity there's sufficient variety. Jim Murdoch writes "sadness is like love, just as there are many kinds of love there are many kinds of sadness; there are at least nine kinds in this book", which is fine by me. But I should try harder to write in different ways on different themes. I think I have more trouble doing this in prose than in poetry because the effort needs to be sustained.

There's a goodreads site for the book too.

Monday 14 January 2013

The Big Climb

This is one of the stories in the book where a main character is absent. The elephant in the room materializes only a third of the way into the story when the little boy, alone for the first time, starts crying. The father tries to bond more closely with the son (or at least tries to get information from him), but the jokes fall flat. Sid and Doris seem an impossibly happy, settled couple, though the main character strives to imagine that they have their secret problems too. His expectations have never been high, it seems - "Laundrettes became part of my social life, only to fade away with marriage. Now it's time to introduce my son to them". It's going to be a big climb - for his son if not for him.

I pepper the piece with sentences that are ready to mean more - "From now on the views would be boring: more of the same but smaller each time we look back"; "We'll just have to wait and see", etc. It's not clear how confidently he maintains the illusion that one day she'll return.

Parts of a Swanage campsite feature here, as well as a caravan site near Naples. I've never been to the Lake District with children - I've been once with a bunch of students, and once with my wife.

The top of p.22 shouldn't be a new paragraph.

Friday 11 January 2013

Prague '86

I visited Prague, pre-revolution (before Tescos moved in). In some ways I felt more alien there than in Morocco, where I could speak French and didn't assume that I was under observation. I recall seeing Kafka's house (see right), browsing in shops that all had the same products (including many Russian books printed on cheap paper - I bought some chess books and a calendar), seeing a castle, and watching Canada play basketball against the Czechs. Lots of dumplings. On reading the story, my host told me that they "used to do the radios thing with an old jewish lady in the old town". I think all the rest of the material for this story comes from other sources, perhaps from China as well as Eastern Europe.

For a change, the narrator isn't introspective - he's perhaps rather gullible, needing someone else to interpret events. As in "Olga" there's a glimpse of the political world, though I wouldn't trust the historical detail in this piece, or the Czech words. The main character (like the one in "Definitions") isn't what she seems.

This is perhaps the book's most standard piece. The symbolism's provided by the looming castle, the state of the Aunt's mind, and the radios all kept on in the hope that at least one will be right - aka free-speech ;-).

Saturday 5 January 2013


At the start we learn about the character by discovering his interests and how they relate to his past. The first four sentences start the story in a way that's typical in this book - fact, character development and symbolism all in action.

My parents’ loft is full of broken pieces of my childhood. There’s a suitcase of Rupert Annuals with sellotaped spines. The annuals included origami instructions — a historic breakthrough for the British Origami Society. When there was a bird in a story, they had instructions to make a bird with flapping wings, as if the bird could escape from the printed page.

I like writing that way. The story's final sentences do a similar job, e.g. - "When mum used to drive me home from swimming practice I sometimes closed my eyes, guessing from the turns and braking where we were. Often, as we turned into our drive, I'd convinced myself we were somewhere else".

The story's a combination of 3 Flash-length pieces that I never sent anywhere.

  • The initial part about children's literature is from a woman-PoV story where she's wondering whether to have another child. She's researching children's literature (incidentally, Tintin goes a bit meta in one picture where a Tintin book is shown)
  • The section about "Graham's DVD" is from a piece about how you sometimes learn more about an event (or a net curtain) decades after.
  • The Fagan material belongs to a third short piece.

I had the following poem published once. It provided an image and some mood-music for this story -

Middle Age
Spending half-time flicking through channels
looking for the Corrs' cover version of
Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams"

Throughout, there's lots of rewinding and replaying - "Krapp's Last Tape" meets "A la Recherche ...". The character says that "Those who write about childhood often do so to get out of depression". He's writing about writing about childhood. I wish him luck.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Method of Loci

My favourite piece, with many quotable phrases. I can almost believe the section in italics. The language theme is sustained throughout the piece. If you want to know about orange, sunflowers, train gauges or even multidimensional grammars, this is the story for you - an oasis of humour in a collection that's not exactly a laugh a minute. "just use your imagination" the narrator's told. This narrator addresses his readers more directly than the others do.

The collection might well have been called "Method of Loci" because so many of the stories involve people going to places in the way that others might eat madelaines.

I've visited Morocco, Interrailing. The ticket collector comes from there, nothing else. Once back in Spain I got mugged strolling along the shore at night. Next day I found the possessions of mine that they'd discarded, including this picture of a leather treatment workshop.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Doors and Windows

In a film you never see "a man in a kitchen", there's always detail, unavoidably so. In prose each scene's a slow reveal, details sequentially and selectively described as if a blind person were being led from one item to the next, each object specially chosen. But what if a described item or event lacks symbolic resonance, if it doesn't further the plot? Why is it there? Maybe it's mentioned only because it was there, because that's what really happened - an incidental detail with a ring of truth.

This "reality effect" is used extensively in this piece. I was pleased when I finished writing it because it was long (I'd been struggling to write pieces longer than 1000 words) and packed with non-autobiographical detail (though I recognise snippets from Bristol, Portsmouth, Criccieth, Cambridge, London, Liverpool, etc, and I learnt to drive in a Morris Oxford estate). Again, a protagonist looks for a place hoping to recover a time - if it worked before it might happen again. When a new opportunity opens up for him at the end, his reaction is to go further away, further back.

Doors and windows are an insistent leit-motif throughout the piece - of residences, but also those of out-houses, shops and lifts. Doors let us through. Frustratingly, windows both block us physically and let us see what would otherwise be hidden. One of the new windows turns out to be a TV screen. When the character says "A father's a son's window. A son's a father's door" it's supposed to sound like pearls of wisdom whose pretentiousness had irritated others in the past. Maybe it wrecks this new relationship before it's even started. The final few sentences pile on the symbolism.

I wondered whether to make the initial flashback less sudden, provide a rationale. In the end I just got on with it. I wondered whether to make more of the contrast between the two sons of gay fathers growing up in different eras.

Sunday 16 December 2012


The story (which always seems shorter than I remember it) is broken into sections introduced by definitions. These make for a more entertaining read, and their ambiguity ties in with the story's theme - labels, definitions and identity. The main character seems comforted by habits. He's found a haven from the hurly-burly of society, a microcosm where people wear labels, and gender definition is a matter of which changing room you use. But you still have to choose. Dave feels accepted and respected. But all is not what it seems. Even here Dave's not safe. At the end Dave has to decide how to react to institutional compromise. Instead of taking the bribe, Dave asserts his identity.

I have a version of this where the main character's gender is switched. There are pros and cons. I had some left-over definitions that I'd still like to use. I think the final "unfail" definition best illustrates how I wanted to use them. There's a typo - The "kiple" section should begin "I use Kipling as a litmus test".