Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Lost Teachings of the Cathars

The Lost Teachings of the Cathars, by Andrew Phillip Smith, is now out. The book features an introduction by me. Get one here.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

New article published: David Lindsay, walking, landscape and the self

The new issue of The Gnostic is now available, featuring my essay on the role of walking, landscape and the self in David Lindsay's work. You can buy a copy here.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

"Daddy, what did you do on National Poetry Day?"

I was four but I turned four hundred maybe
Encountering the ancient dampish feel
Of a clay floor. Maybe four thousand even.

Anyhow, there it was. Milk poured for cats
In a rank puddle-place, splash-darkened mould
Around the terra cotta water-crock

Ground of being. Body’s deep obedience
To all its shifting tenses. A half-door
Opening directly into starlight.

Out of that earth house I inherited
A stack of singular, cold memory-weights
To load me, hand and foot, in the scale of things.

Seamus Heaney, Squarings xl (from Seeing Things)

Happy National Poetry Day.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Long Russian films with lots of mud and other fluids in them

Hard to See the Point is the final film by the legendary Russian auteur Boris Germanuniform. Based on the novel by the Stroganoff Brothers, and first circulated in samizdat form in 1963 in the outskirts of Leningrad and then translated into Finno-Ugric by a dissident taxi driver, the film tells the story of a planet that has revered to medieval savagery while scientists from Earth join in and pretend to be gods. The locals revere the earthmen, despite the fact that the lead character, Fukaski, breaks noses every three and a half minutes for the whole of the film’s three hour running time. The film follows Fukaski as he fails to respond to the prayers of the locals, as the city is overrun first by the troops of a local bloodthirsty warlord - said to be based on every Russian premier since 1917, and several BBC celebrities - and then by fanatical monks, who show even less mercy than the out-and-out bastards. Most of the characters die horribly, but as most of them are covered in mud and snot for most of their onscreen time, it is difficult to make out precisely who dies and in what order.
  It rains, at first a lot, and then torrentially for the remaining four and half hours. This was apparently due to the rain machine becoming stuck in the “on” position during the film’s legendary nine-year production schedule. The film’s other many troubles included the death of the scriptwriter - the script can be seen burning in the second mass-carnage scene in the first ten minutes of the film’s opening tracking shot -  and the banning of Germanuniform from the filmmakers’ union bar in Moscow. Filming was further halted as communism collapsed and Germanuniform was trapped inside the filmmakers’ union bar, holed up for months with nine hundred bottles of vodka and a case of Kalashnikovs. The advent of perestroika saw the legendary director released from the bar, and he was able to resume work on the opening tracking shot, featuring a van load of Hungarian extras who had been waiting in a skip outside Budapest for eight months without pay, food or shelter.
  But the opening shot is where the film’s troubles really start. An obese monk - played by a former Soviet shot-putter and television host - is given a rectal prolapse in slow motion and his body then rotates very slowly on a torture wheel for fifteen minutes while a herd of cows is burned alive by nuns with five o’clock shadows on the church battlements. Fukaski embarks on a tour-de-force of nose-breaking, and we see several extremely obese village matrons have sex with the monastery’s battering ram. This subtle scene was largely thought to have been a satirical reference to Politburo scandals of the late 1970s, and led to Germanuniform being stripped of his Russian citizenship when Vladimir Putin came to power.
  By that time, the opening half hour had been completed, with more Hungarian extras being flown in from a submerged quarry near Cardiff. The extraordinary spitting scene - where everyone, waist-deep in human excrement, spits at everyone else in a communal cess-pit while bellowing a tune said to be based on the Bulgarian national anthem - was shot in Reading, Home of ING InsuranceTM, but the sheer horror of Middle England led to the suicide of several of the extras, as well as the cameraman. Those actors who survived this appalling banal scene - complete with Meal DealsTM, Phone a Friend and a by-election - were made Equity honorary life members and promptly flown to a ploughed up airfield near Bratislava, where Germanuniform had already begun work on the next tracking shot with a new director of photography. This remarkable sequence, involving a huge wooden dildo attached to a trebuchet, sees the monks finally giving the village ladyboys the seeing-to they’ve been after since the opening tracking shot ended with a close up of a severed penis in a puddle of rabid wolf vomit and All State Union Ball-bearing Factory cafeteria semolina (shot in difficult circumstances outside Vladivostok). Honorary mention must go to the Bodily Fluids department in the next scene, for the extraordinary realism they bring to the mass expulsion of fluids as rival bishops experience competing grand-mals during the final peasant burning marathon of this lengthy and complex crane shot.
  Meanwhile, the satire becomes less subtle as Fukaski decides to kill the remaining characters for no apparent reason. This remarkable scene, involving a 45 minute tracking shot through the dungeons of the castle, was in fact made up of several different takes shot years apart for reasons that no one has been able to ascertain. Starting on a decomposing cow - said to be a reference to something - the camera then tracks Fukaski as he’s mistaken for a British spy, flogged by the inquisition, given an enema in the sewers by his nemesis (the Stroganoff brothers’ original translator, here making his final cameo before returning to taxi driving in Belgium), before finally being skinned alive and roasted on a spit in a cave outside Kiev. The final orgy of destruction takes place when Fukaski is restored to life by a shaman - although it’s difficult to tell, as he’s as covered in shit as everyone else - and sits in a puddle farting while the hugely overweight bishop is disembowelled as he’s being buggered by the insane little boy from the Russian All Union Institute for Insane Little Boys Traumatised by War. This last, extraordinary slow-motion garotting, which lasts a full half-hour, brings the film to a conclusion, a mere nine hours after the second half began.
  Germanuniform spent eleven years then editing the film in a shed with no roof at the bottom of a coal mine in the Urals. Sadly, the director died during postproduction, of, it is said, exposure and malnutrition - a feature of all Germanuniform’s editing schedules. The final four-hour tracking shot was completed by his son, with the aid of the remaining Hungarian extras and a UN disaster relief team. The film plays for one night only in a bus shelter just north of Washington services on at A1. It will be introduced by Germanuniform’s son, who will then urinate on a dead tramp in homage to his father. More satire, it is thought, but as I’m writing this from inside a car crusher outside Murmansk, I’m not sure what any of it means any more. And now, back to the studio.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Radio Interview - Newstalk FM, Sunday 27th September

I'll be appearing on the programme Talking History on Dublin's Newstalk FM on Sunday 27th September at 1900.

You can listen in online here. Just click the 'Listen' icon in the toolbar.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tricky Dicky at the Festival of Politics

I'll be introducing a screening of Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men at the Festival of Politics in Edinburgh this Saturday (15th August), which takes place in the Scottish Parliament (Members' Room) at 1830. The film will be followed by a Q&A. More info and tickets can be found here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Beyond Neptune...

Photo: NASA

Their main immediate abode is a still undiscovered and almost lightless planet at the very edge of our solar system—beyond Neptune, and the ninth in distance from the sun. It is, as we have inferred, the object mystically hinted at as “Yuggoth” in certain ancient and forbidden writings; and it will soon be the scene of a strange focussing of thought upon our world in an effort to facilitate mental rapport. I would not be surprised if astronomers became sufficiently sensitive to these thought-currents to discover Yuggoth when the Outer Ones wish them to do so….

When I left Brattleboro I resolved never to go back to Vermont, and I feel quite certain I shall keep my resolution. Those wild hills are surely the outpost of a frightful cosmic race—as I doubt all the less since reading that a new ninth planet has been glimpsed beyond Neptune, just as those influences had said it would be glimpsed. Astronomers, with a hideous appropriateness they little suspect, have named this thing “Pluto”. I feel, beyond question, that it is nothing less than nighted Yuggoth—and I shiver when I try to figure out the real reason why its monstrous denizens wish it to be known in this way at this especial time. I vainly try to assure myself that these daemoniac creatures are not gradually leading up to some new policy hurtful to the earth and its normal inhabitants.

H. P. Lovecraft, 'The Whisperer in Darkness', V & VIII

Monday, June 22, 2015

Just published: A Short History of Disease

My Book of Lurgies, A Short History of Disease, is out this week. A social history of afflictions from the Year Dot, it includes all the big ones - malaria, TB, plague, HIV, Ebola - and some lesser known maladies. Madness, war and capitalism make cameo appearances. Available from all good bookshops, plus the usual online tax-dodging barrow boys. You can buy a copy here.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Backlist reprints

The Gnostics, The CatharsThe Black Death and Alchemy & Alchemists have just been reprinted in paperback. For the latter two, this is the first time the revised editions have appeared in paperback. The Black Death is a slight update of the 2007 edition; likewise Alchemy is a very slight update (mainly new things in the Bibliography) of the 2006 edition.

Here is a shot of my author comps. They make a colourful set.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Now appearing at a Goodreads page near you...

I'm now a Goodreads Author:

There is also a link to this on my Facebook Author Page (which can be found at

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Solaris in Manchester 30.04.15.

I'm introducing Tarkovsky's Solaris at the Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on Thursday. The film starts at 1800, and there will be a Q&A afterwards, led by yours truly.

The film is free. (Although the bar isn't.)

More info here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On the joys of physical books

Although I read a lot of fiction on my e-reader (and use it a lot when travelling), the arrival earlier this week of a copy of David Vann's new novel reminded me what's so special about actual books. I ordered a US edition of Aquarium, published by Atlantic Monthly Press. Everything about it is nicer than the UK edition - better paper, coloured ink, nicer font, and also.... colour photos of fish. I don't know if David Vann is going down the WG Sebald route here (Max's books contain photos), but they're certainly a nice touch.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Tarkovsky's Solaris in Manchester 30.04.15

I'll be introducing Tarkovsky's Solaris in Manchester on 30 April. There will also be a QA afterwards, if anyone is in a fit state to ask questions. (When I first saw the film, I certainly wasn't. I remember coming out of the NFT and staring into the Thames for 10 minutes.) More details can be found on this link: