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, 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".

Friday, 7 December 2012


There used to be a McIlroys department store in North End, Portsmouth. It's gone now - or rather, it's become some smaller shops and flats. The dead friend in this story had a lead role in "Evolution" (short fiction 1, 2007). Glenn Lambert didn't commit suicide, and I've never visited his grave in Milton, though I mean to. The rest is fabrication, though I do tend to have trouble with reunions, camera batteries, and automatic doors. The cemetery's based on one in Cambridge, off Mill Road. My guess is that the main character is similar to the one in "Dreams", as much stuck in the past as he is in the present, left behind.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


"Prague '86" 19872008
"The Big Climb" 19971999
"Doors and Windows"2006
"Late" 2006
"Method of Loci" 20072009
"Definitions" 20092011
"Olga, December '76"2009
"Fractals" 2010
"Dreams" 2011

When the first draft was put together, the editor put the stories what seemed chronological order of their settings. They stories weren't quite written in that order, as you can see from the table, and "Prague '86" took over 20 years to be published in a magazine. Some repetition between stories became evident. Rather than remove all the overlaps I decided to organise them so that there was a controlled daisy-chain of links between the stories. The diagram shows a snapshot of my intentions some months ago, before "Dreams" was added.

As well as repetition of objects, there's some repetition of theme. For instance, in several of the stories ("The Big Climb", "Late", etc) one of the significant characters is absent.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Olga, December '76

A visit to Cambridge University Library sparked off this story. There was a little exhibition about Pink Floyd (a Cambridge band). When life dishes up symbolism like the strange-but-true pig story, it's a shame to waste it. So I added a plot-line to create broadly parallel themes: money and practical problems versus Art and Principles; artistic differences; people going their own ways, growing apart.

In the Afterword to her "The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge" novel, Patricia Duncker writes "Novelists need help with their inventions". She then lists about 26 names - experts in French law, Jodrell Bank, Hebrew, gardens, etc. I'm not very good with names, and I'm not a novelist, but I think I need similar help. I went on a 3-day peace march in the 1980s but I wasn't at all active. We passed through Cambridge - only the second time I'd been there. Somewhen on the march we stayed in a Friends Meeting House. I can't recall where but if it was in Cambridge it would have been where Cambridge Writers now meet. The only memory I used from the walk was that people were (probably correctly) suspicious of a guy who was taking lots of photos. I read a book about UK protest movements to fill in details, and found out that one tactic used by peace protesters was to live in trees so that they wouldn't be cleared to build bypasses. Residences have extra protection under law, and if a postman delivered mail to a tree-dweller, that made the tree a residence. I think the info-dumping's fair enough - the narrator's an academic after all.

The room in the story's an amalgam of many student rooms, with additions. The woman is a similar mix of memory and imagination. The main character, living for a day a flashback of how his life was, decides once and for all on his future. At the end we discover that he's no longer following that alternative lifestyle. Instead, he teaches about it, and gets his kids to unconsciously live out his erstwhile dreams.

Given that he's re-assessing life options, I think I should have more explicitly suggested he wasn't happy with how his life was going. That would have made returning to the Olga-style a more serious possibility. Also, I was worried about how she knew his term-time phone number (this was long before mobile phones). I decided to avoid the issue rather than try to give an explanation.

And here's a watercolour I did years ago.

Saturday, 20 October 2012


Many people contributed to this book, unwittingly donating an anecdote, a gesture, or a phrase.

Firstly, a big thanks to the people at "Nine Arches Press". Bringing out short story collections takes courage nowadays. The editors of the long-deceased magazine "Panurge" (John Murray and David Almond) put up with a lot of stuff I sent them. Anthony Caleshu, editor of "short Fiction", deserves mention too. I note that Helena Nelson (of "Happenstance", the publisher of my poetry pamphlet) is mentioned in the acknowledgements of Richard Meier's "Misadventure". I suspect I'm only one of many authors grateful to her.

As regards writing, the influences aren't so clear. Some books or stories have inspired me over the years, kept me writing when I'd dried up, or showed me new approaches. Munro's The Moons of Jupiter, Vanessa Gebbie's Notes from a Glass Bubble, Borges' "Labyrinths" and James Lasdun's story "Ate, Memos or the Miracle" all helped, as did AL Kennedy's books. Vanessa Gebbie's kind words have bolstered my morale just at the right times.

I go to Cambridge Writers meetings. Barely a prose evening goes by where I don't wish I could write like someone there. They bring out my competitive nature. I keep telling them to send more pieces out. The people at Eratosphere similarly keep me on my toes.

And I must thank all those trains I've been on.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


You might have heard of Fractals, or have seen Mandelbrot patterns. Big claims have been made for them

  • Alice Fulton wrote "Just as fractal science analysed the ground between chaos and Euclidean order, fractal poetics could explore the field between gibberish and traditional forms"
  • M. Birken and A.C.Coon wrote "Fractals may be the most complex and the most subtle examples of patterns found in both mathematics and poetry"

So what are fractals? Symmetry is when you can do something to a shape so that it matches itself - with rotational symmetry you rotate the shape; with reflection symmetry you reflect the shape. You can look upon fractals as another type of symmetry where instead of rotating or reflecting, you magnify. In real life you can get a rough idea of how this works by looking at a tree (the pattern of the boughs is like the pattern of twigs when you zoom in) but pure fractals only exist in maths - it doesn't matter at what scale you look at certain mathematical objects, they'll always look the same.

In "Fractals" I try to use this idea as a guiding analogy - depth gives you repetition on a different scale, not profundity; writing about writer's block leads to a confusion of fact and fiction, re-writing life. The framed story leads to the frame. A wood is full of trees made of wood. A character is described in words made of characters. It's another of my favourite pieces - given its brevity I think it packs a lot in.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Where stories come from, and where they go


Two fragments that gell; an episode or phrase too good to be wasted; something written in an extreme of emotion just because you want to write; a character who takes over the story; a plot; an exercise. Yes, any of these. Sometimes they grow organically, sometimes they grow by accumulation, material added from trawling notebooks or doing research. A new sensation may emerge from inside the text as it grows. Maybe the initial idea can be thrown away now that the text has found its real purpose.

In the PEN/O'Henry 2011 anthology, Jim Shepard wrote that his piece "began as many of my stories begin lately - with my browsing around endlessly in an utterly nerdy and bizarre subject and then finding my imagination caught by a particular moment that resonates with me emotionally in unexpected ways". That happens to me as well - how artists have used sunflowers through the years; Pink Floyd's legal wrangles; how the legal status of protesters living in trees changes when a letter's delivered to them.

Alice Munro wrote "The stories that are personal are carried inexorably away from the real. And the observed stories lose their anecdotal edges, being invaded by familiar shapes and voices. // So one hopes, anyway". I use a mix of personal and anecdotal material. Yes I've been to Prague, and a school-friend has died. No, I've not seen inflatable pigs. I've stayed in a caravan, but that's the only personal part of the person-centred "The Big Climb" story where two people fail to connect with each other while learning about an absent third person. There are quite a few absent third persons in these stories.

In general I find prose much more of a reality-guzzler than poetry is.


If you can't change, move. AL Kennedy, amongst others, uses rooms and cities to represent identity. Journeys are traditionally quests. She often uses trains, but not as quests. As one of her traveling characters says, "You can relax here - this isn't anywhere. Whatever happens outside, there's nothing we can do about it right now". Kaye Mitchell says of Kennedy that her trains are "free of the expectations and judgements of others, a space in which to meditate freely on the past and her possible future". In many of my stories a person journeys (often by train) to make sense of something.

If you can't move, make the most of your stillness - find a form. Elsewhere I've used some tight forms. Here they're much looser, as in "Fractals" and "Definitions". Symbolism can become structural as in "Doors and Windows".


Suppose a text were just the symbolic lines? The white space surrounding such a piece might, like wet blotting paper, absorb the effects. Suppose the symbolic lines ended a non-symbolic story? We'd have a lyrical, enigmatic ending where the energy rebounds off the other text then is projected into the future, the white space beyond the writer's control. Why not embed the symbolism so that the surrounding text becomes infused? Why leave the best bit to the end?

In the Guardian (14/5/12) David Gaffney wrote "Make sure the ending isn't at the end. In micro-fiction there's a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken". Maybe I do that too. In "Doors and Windows" the pretentious main character says "A father's a son's window. A son's a father's door". He receives no reply, but the influence of that symbolism is supposed to seep back as well as forth through the work.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The launch

About 30 people attended the launch beside the canal. I read twice - first I read the beginning of "Dreams" to show how I try to make things real if I start from an unreal idea (I slap on a lot of reality), and then I read "Definitions" to show how I try to cover my tracks if I start from something real. I said that unlike Alice Munro or Ali Smith I tend not to re-use raw material, so I need to keep seeking new ingredients. It's the first time I've read prose to an audience. I think I improved as the evening progressed.

I met Joel Lane after a gap of decades. He's written several books, both poetry and prose. I suggested during my reading that though some writers of poetry and prose say that their poetry's more personal in my case it's the other way round. I meant to ask him whether he agreed. I heard Dragan Todorovic's stories for the first time and look forward to reading his book.

A 4 hour round-trip but it was worth it. I walked off with a pile of my books. I'm going to be busy the next few days, sending them off. You can buy the book from Inpress.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Announcing the launch

As part of the Warwick Words festival Nine Arches Press are putting on a 'Short Story salon' at 9pm, Sunday, 7th October, at the Grand Union in Leamington Spa. My "By All Means" story collection (ISBN 978-0-9570984-9-7) will be launched there.

And here's Nine Arches Press's page about the book.