The Apocalypse Primer: Novels

The Apocalypse Primer - Five of our favourite post-apocalyptic novels.

The apocalypse has long been fertile ground for the literary imagination. There’s something irresistably fascinating, it seems, in the idea of total destruction – whether that be by means of war, plague, natural disaster, or something more odd and unpredictable.

Now more than ever, a sense of doom seems appropriate – and with our apocalypse-themed issue on the distant horizon, we thought we’d put together a series of posts on the apocalypse as it appears in all manner of literary forms.

Here you’ll find our five favourite books about the end of the world… but we also plan on sharing our favourite cataclysmic short stories, poems, games and films. We hope you find this fabulously bleak reading material inspiring. If you do, submissions to the magazine are currently open…

"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy - a beautiful but depressing read.

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

It seems odd to call such a brutally depressing book beautiful, but McCarthy’s prose is a pleasure to read, even when it’s describing a planet burned beyond recognition by an unspecified (but likely manmade) disaster. The story is simple: a man and his child amble across the blasted continent of North America in search of food, shelther and salvation, but find very little of anything. The Road is a deeply affecting read – one that can be, at times, difficult to face. If you fancy an easier ride, try the movie: it features Viggo Mortensen and completely misses the point of the book, but is, at least, a little less bleak.

"Z For Zachariah" by Robert C O'Brien - an intense post-apocalyptic thriller.

2. Z For Zachariah by Robert C O’Brien

The half-finished manuscript of this classic young adult novel was completed by the author’s wife and daughter following his death. The book, published posthumously, tells the story of Ann Burden – a teenage girl who believes herself to be the last human left alive after a deadly nuclear war. When this turns out not to be the case after all, she is forced into a terrifying game of cat and mouse with another survivor. With the protagonist trapped by radiation in the valley that was once her home, Z For Zachariah has a lot in common with classic horror stories, but there’s enough apocalyptic majesty to make it feel distinct and interesting.

"Level Seven" by Modrecai Roshwald - a bleak, anti-nuclear novel.

3. Level Seven By Mordecai Roshwald

This 1959 novel tells the story of a nameless soldier forced to take shelter deep underground in preparation for a global nuclear war. Taking the form of a diary, the narrative avoids situating itself in any particular country or province – instead referring only to “enemies” and “neutrals” in the world outside. Given that most of the action takes place in a deep underground bunker, the sense of suffocating helplessness is palpable, and only grows stronger as events unfold. Level Seven is clearly intended as a warning against the folly of nuclear war, and – saturated with utter despair as it is – it should be a fairly effective one. A pity, then, that nobody who actually has access to a nuclear button is ever likely to read it.

"The Stand" by Stephen King - morally unambiguous end-of-the-world fun.

4. The Stand by Stephen King

At over eight-hundred pages in length, it’s safe to say that The Stand is something of an epic. It begins with the accidental release of a strain of weaponised superflu, and goes on to describe the collapse of civilisation. In the aftermath, survivors gather to form two new communities – one basically good, and one very obviously evil (The Stand is the first novel to feature King’s recurring antagonist Randall Flagg). Hints of the supernatural give this three-part story a fantasy flavour, but in King’s talented hands the magical elements don’t feel corny or overdone, and there’s plenty of good old-fashioned end-of-the-world-ness to languish in.

"Flood" by Stephen Baxter - a sci-fi take on rapidly rising sea levels.

5. Flood by Stephen Baxter

This wide-ranging science-fiction novel examines an unusual apocalypse, which has a tenuous but fascinating grounding in real science: underground oceans are swelling the earth’s sea levels, swallowing up more and more land each day. Billions of refugees are driven ahead of the steadily rising tide, while others take shelter on self-contained cruise ships, in raft cities, in submarines, or in domes at the bottom of the ocean. Baxter’s narrative spans many years, but feels consistently fast-paced and urgent – and there’s even a sequel (Ark) if you want to know what happens to the few survivors who decide that a watery Earth really isn’t worth the hassle.

Interview: Ed Cottrell

Ed Cottrell - Image by Robert Self.

We talk to Ed Cottrell (whose story appeared in issue forty-four) about parasites, horror, and how to pronounce the unpronounceable.

The world is filled with interesting parasites. Did any in particular form part of your research or inspiration for “Catastrophe (Or Larva)”?

There isn’t a specific parasite, but perhaps, somewhere in the back of my head, I was thinking of the parasitic wasps which lays eggs inside the bodies of mice.

When I started writing this story I had no clear image of the larva. I still can’t visualise it – except for specific parts (particularly its teeth, belly and legs) which become visible at particular moments. I was mostly interested in finding ways to describe it that were both cute and repulsive. I invented various physical characteristics as I needed them to appear in the story. That’s partly because it’s more fun to write that way, and it also meant the characters who care for the larva never really “see” it. I pictured the larva weaving a cocoon of cute fantasies around itself, through which it is occasionally visible.

Sound seems to be important to your story. There are howls, clacks, clicks and murmurs. It would be an interesting piece to hear read aloud – but do you have an idea in your own head of how the name of the larva might sound?

Exoskeletal mouthparts are necessary for some of the larva’s clacking sounds. As it sounds in my head, you could approximate the larva by smacking your teeth and snapping your fingers at the same time. The trilling sounds are a bit like a parrot.

The name of the larva (in my head) does not have a particular sound. (If anything, I think of it as an anti-sound, a kind of inverted language or a vanishing point. But this isn’t really in the story, it’s something in the back of my head.)

Some characters in your story are disgusted by the larva, while some are loving and affectionate towards it. Did you aim to make the reader feel a certain way about the larva? What are your personal feelings towards creepy crawlies?

I was hoping to produce a kind of sensory oscillation – flipping between fear or disgust on the one hand, and caring instincts on the other. That’s actually quite similar to how I feel about insects in general…

“Catastrophe (Or Larva)” could be classified as a horror story. How do you generally categorise your work? Does genre matter?

Genre doesn’t matter hugely to me – I’m more drawn to an author’s style rather than the genre or category they’re fitted into. When I’m reading I don’t immediately differentiate between realism and fantasy or horror. That said, a lot of the time I am drawn to monsters and monstrous or transformed things. My earliest interest in weird creatures probably goes back to the stop-motion animation in Jason And The Argonauts (harpies are imprinted on my earliest memories). I love the strange creatures and the skewed logic of many Studio Ghibli films (particularly Porco Rosso). I also love Tove Jansson’s Comet Over Moominland (which is in some ways an apocalyptic story full of imaginary creatures). The Melancholy Of Resistance by Laszlo Krasznahorkai is maddening and apocalyptic, and includes a gigantic taxidermied whale and a strange, stunted character known as “The Prince”. I’m currently reading the collected stories of Leonora Carrington, which are brilliant and funny and weird and horrifying… But I’ll stop here, to avoid turning this into a list of books I like at the moment…

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Ed Cottrell lives in London. He was a winner of the 2014-15 Ideas Tap “Inspires” national story competition, and in 2015 spent two months as a resident writer at Toji Cultural Foundation in South Korea, where he worked on a novel manuscript.

Interview: Eric Shattuck

Illustration by Jia Sung.

We talk to Eric Shattuck (whose stories appeared in issue forty-four) about Presidents, freelancing, and the art of the short story.

In your story “Signals Of Fear And Uncertainty” the narrator runs into the President Of The United States. When you wrote the story, were you imagining any particular living president?

I started working on this story during the home stretch of Obama’s presidency, and so a bit of him inevitably crept into it, especially in terms of the cadence of my President’s dialogue. There are also bits and pieces of Presidents who are no longer with us – LBJ and Nixon in particular were always at the back of my mind while I was writing it. Though oddly enough, I never had a clear image of the character’s physical appearance in my head. It was always a bit like looking at a blurry photograph, which I think ended up being appropriate. It’s certainly strange to look back on it now, given the current state of things.

“Signals Of Fear And Uncertainty” takes place in a surreal prison cell, while “Days Since Our Last Accident” occupies the more mundane setting of a haunted stock room. What inspired each of these tales?

The idea for “Signals…” came from an interview with a soldier captured during the Vietnam war. There was a bit that stuck out to me where he mentioned that he knew his family was praying for his safe return, but what he often found himself worrying about was whether or not the people who sent him to fight were ever thinking about him, and whether they thought he was worth negotiating for. So the story grew out of that, and was originally much more grounded. But it felt forced, a bit sappy, and so I started over and let the story lead me off in a much stranger direction than I’d originally intended.

“Days…” actually started out as a writing exercise. I’m part of a wonderful online writing group that comes up with weekly prompts, and one of them involved all of the participants coming up with a story that centered around a very loosely pre-defined setting – in this case, a giant big-box store where everything was just slightly off. So everyone came together at the end of the week and there was sort of a jigsaw puzzle of very cool ideas and atmospheric writing, and I enjoyed it enough that I wanted to explore the idea further.

Do you believe in ghosts and visions? Why do you think that people tend to believe in them?

I’m not a believer myself, which is strange considering how often they appear in my writing. I can see the appeal, though. Symbolically they serve as a way to reckon with the weight of the past, and in an existential sense they represent the extension of consciousness after death, a deeper permanence of the self, which for a lot of people is a comforting idea. So I suppose while I don’t believe in them in a literal sense, I do think that there is a certain kind of power in the idea of them and what they represent.

What, in your opinion, makes a good short short story? How does flash fiction differ from standard short fiction?

I’ve always loved Kafka’s quote about fiction serving as “an axe for the frozen sea within us.” For me, reading a great story is always a bit like an electric shock, whether it’s beautiful or ugly or sometimes even both. I don’t think there’s any real formula for it, or at least not one that I’ve found. Great writing confronts the heart of the story instead of dancing around the edge of it.

I’ve always been drawn to flash fiction because it’s such a balancing act. You can get away with structural and stylistic choices that couldn’t be sustained across a longer piece of writing, but it also requires quite a bit of confidence – not only in your own abilities as a writer, but also in your audience, because there isn’t space for all of the usual connective tissue. Subtext becomes a crucial tool, and if the reader can’t connect all of those dots, you’ve failed. But some of the masters of the form are able to create whole worlds and lives and narrative arcs in the space of a few hundred words, and it amazes me every time. Flash creates a lot of room for innovation and experimentation, and I think that’s part of what keeps me coming back to it.

What kind of freelance writing do you do? How do you manage it alongside your literary writing? Do the two ever overlap?

I’ve done a bit of everything, from churning out blog content to doing ad copy, to ghostwriting the introduction for a weight-loss book. It can be difficult to balance the two, especially if I go through a period where I’ve got a very heavy workload and just the thought of writing anything else is tiring for a while. A lot of it isn’t particularly interesting, but every once in a while I stumble across a project that leads me down a rabbit hole. Sometimes a story or a character comes out of it, and at the very least I learn something new.

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Eric Shattuck is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. He studied at South Carolina State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and served as an editor for the Inkwell student literary journal. His work has been published in The Nottingham Review, 99 Pine Street, The Molotov Cocktail, Gone Lawn, and the Kentucky Review, among others.

News: Submissions Summary (2016)

For a few years I kept a record of submissions to Neon Literary Magazine, in the hopes that it would be fun and instructive. In fact, you can take a look at the summaries for the years 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 by clicking the appropriate links. In 2015 I decided against continuing this series – although it was fun to see just how many submissions I had read in the previous year, the metrics I was tracking didn’t really convey anything useful.

This year, I’m bringing back the annual submissions summary, but with some new (and hopefully more illuminating) categories. Here are the numbers, with explanations to follow.

Total Number Of Submissions Received: 1654
Submissions From Supporters: 202 (12.2%)
Submissions From Non-Supporters: 1452 (87.8%)

Number Accepted: 24 (1.5%)
Number Declined: 1590 (96.1%)
Number Withdrawn By Author: 40 (2.4%)

Average Submissions Received Per Day: 4.5
Average Response Time: Sixty Days

It’s great to see that in 2016, 12.2% of all submissions came from writers who had chosen to support the magazine in some way – whether that was by making a donation, purchasing an issue, or signing up for a subscription. That’s up by around 1.2% from 2014. I’d like to aim for around 20%, as this level of support would mean the magazine would likely never be short of funds again.

Highlights
Shortlisted Submissions: 146 (8.8%)
Unusable Submissions: 203 (12.3%)

Shortlisted submissions are ones that were kept back for repeated readings, and almost made it into the magazine. It can be really tough to choose from the many brilliant works received, and sometimes it takes two, three or even four reads to decide whether or not a piece is right for Neon. Last year, in addition to the 40 authors published, 146 were shortlisted.

Unusable submissions are ones which I couldn’t properly consider for the magazine. This includes submissions which were openly sent to hundreds of editors via a carbon copy email blast, submissions of full-length and non-fiction books, submissions with openly-threatening cover letters, submissions without contact details or any identifying features, or submissions which came with unworkable requests regarding publication attached (for example, “please only consider for publication in your US edition”).

Geographical Breakdown
UK: 33.8%
Rest Of Europe: 3.0%
USA: 61.8%
Rest Of World: 1.4%

In 2016, most submissions received were from the USA, with submissions from the UK coming second. Submissions from the rest of Europe and the rest of the world combined made up just 4.4% of submissions, but came from a long list of countries which included Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Malaysia, India and Nigeria. I’d be delighted to see further submissions from all of these places and more in the coming year!

 

 

Review: “The Frequency Effect” by James Stark

"The Frequency Effect" by James Stark

Publisher: RedBlue Publishing | Author: James Stark | Buy: Website

As eReaders become ubiquitous and virtual reality pops its high-resolution head over the horizon, immersive storytelling is starting to look as though it has potential. And, indeed, there are already a number of early experiments into which you can sink your teeth: take a quick look at the Interactive Fiction database for some samplers, or try out iPoe or iLovecraft for some classic material with an immersive twist. Whether it’s a hypertext adventure that allows you to pick your path through the story, or a straightforward novel enhanced by music, video or the occasional quicktime event, immersive fiction is a new genre that’s rapidly finding its feet.

The Frequency Effect is a novel in this vein, and a promising-looking one at that; the blurb paints a picture of an eerily-familiar society in which people all over the world are hypnotised by their phones. Smartly ironic then, you might think, that the story is best absorbed through just such a mobile device. Of course, the existence of the above-named examples belies the back-cover claim that The Frequency Effect is the “world’s first” immersive novel, but it still looks, from the outside at least, like a glossy and exciting prospect.

Here’s the thing, though – it doesn’t quite work. If you’re reading in print the interactive elements are just added faff to get to – you do so by visiting a URL or, I suppose, having the central website open on a handy device as you read. In short, it’s a whole bunch of immersion-breaking effort to access interactive portions that are usually fairly short and often don’t add anything to the story. Reading in the book’s digital format is slightly better, as you can simply follow hyperlinks to each item – but at the same time the interactives are so limited in scope that they tend to do more to interrupt the reading experience than enhance it. Several times, for example, you can view a website from the world of the novel, but each of these is simply a one-page affair with nothing to discover or look at beyond the initial screen (the websites that do have a complete complement of content are actually those of the novel’s sponsors). Most of these elements, one can’t help but feel, would have worked just as well as a static image.

An interactive element from "The Frequency Effect..."

One thing I can say, however, is that the interactives are slickly-produced. The websites may be limited in scope, but they’re put together to a very high standard. They are convincing artefacts – I just wish there was some substance to them. The other type of interactive element is short video or virtual reality clips, and these too are well-produced – they don’t feel as though they were made on a budget, and they feature a real band who play actual music, and play it well. If they were a more necessary part of the story, these high production values would be a real plus.

There is, however, a sharp contrast between the design quality of the interactive elements and the quality of the writing – the latter just isn’t there. The book reads like a first draft. Whole swathes of text are redundant, clumsily-phrased, or technically wrong. It’s glacially slow at times, and needlessly awkward at others. Characters speak in a bizarre, robotic tone that resembles nothing a real human being has said or will ever say. Here’s a short sample taken from a random page:

“Go on…” said Mike, sharpening his gaze.

“Well, I may have come up with an explanation and I would like to get your take. It may sound a bit farfetched…” continued Ben.

“Hit me with it!”

“I have reason to believe that we might be drugged up without our knowledge. Through our use of technology devices, we have all become addicts of consumption. I mean, can anyone live without them? They have sucked us in.”

At times the unnatural dialogue feels like irony – here are characters so consumed by technology that they’ve become cyborgs themselves, the natural flow and tone of conversation long lost to them. I’m inclined to think, however, that this reading is giving the story a little too much credit.

The website of "The Frequency Effect".

The main thing The Frequency Effect might benefit from is an editor. In its present state it might be wrong to think of it as bad, when really it’s just kind of broken. All the elements of a good story are there. Quite apart from the slick interactive segments, we have a storyline that mixes cyberpunkish adventure with observations of surveillance and corporate control in the present day, along with a questioning look into mental health. We have characters with backstories that would be compelling if they were handled well, and we have a narrative that stretches and compresses effortlessly through time. The interactive elements are basic but could easily be expanded – and there are hints of espionage and hackery that could lead to some seriously fun hidden extras.

In short, the raw material is there, but it’s… well… raw. Any interactive project that draws in elements of video, web, and graphic design is going to be a difficult thing to get right. In this case it doesn’t work, but The Frequency Effect represents a brave attempt, garnished with some great visuals.

Interview: Our 2017 Forward Prize Nominees

We spoke with our three Forward Prize nominees – Stephen Devereux, Lydia Armstrong and Frederick Pollack – about poetic forms, inspiration and editing.

What makes for a strong poem, in your opinion?

Stephen Devereux: I like poems that  are closely observed, that use original metaphors, similes and images.  I think there needs to be some kind of connection between subject matter and form or a deliberate contrast between them, such as a sonnet about something disturbing and sordid.

Lydia Armstrong: I think honesty is the best element of a strong poem. Good writing should make you feel something authentic. It should hit you in the gut a little bit, and a writer usually has to be vulnerable on the page and honest in what they’re saying to achieve that. I’d rather read an honest poem that isn’t the most eloquent than a beautifully written poem that isn’t saying something real.

Frederick Pollack: Any poem is a conjuncture of historical forces – political, cultural, biographical, conscious and unconscious. What makes a poem strong is the power of this conjuncture: IE, its historical necessity, which is not the same as “timeliness”. Though this quality cannot be successfully planned, a poem whose conceptual horizons are narrower will probably not achieve it. The horizon of today’s “mainstream” poems is the ideology of the private life; their rule is “Have a childhood (or a bad marriage, etc) and write about it.” What passes for the avant-garde, meanwhile, is an academic diversion. The former will be forgotten when the “middle class” finally rots; the latter, when poststructuralism no longer impresses. Poetry, for me, is about something. A good style serves content. A strong poem is about something that is a) important, b) not perceived by the ideologies of the time or expressible in their language.

Why do you write poetry? When did you start, and was there anything in particular that compelled you to do so?

Stephen Devereux: I enjoy making something that someone else might find interesting. I’ve always done it but only began offering poems for publication about ten years ago.

Lydia Armstrong: I started writing as a kid. I had journals and stories and poetry by the time I was seven or eight. I got really into poetry in high school. I was a rebellious teenager and had a really hard time finding my place in the world, and poetry gave me a voice. My notebooks were one of the only outlets I had to work out how I felt and who I was. I actually spent some time in a couple juvenile detention centers as a teenager, and would steal the broken tips of pencils to write poetry in my cell. When we would have recreational time in the yard, I would walk the perimeter and write a new poem out loud to myself, repeating it over and over to memorize it until I could get my hands on some paper to write it down. I think that in a hopefully non-cliché way, writing saved my life as a kid.

Frederick Pollack: I knew from the time I was twelve that I had to write. Poetry was my first love, but I was less interested in my moods than in telling stories. The obvious solution was narrative poetry, but for 150 years poetry has meant lyric; every narrative poet must reinvent the genre. After writing two novels, neither published and both garbage, I wrote my first good line of poetry in 1979, when I was 33. Since then I’ve written 43 books, either book-length poems or collections. Three have been published; one is scheduled to appear in 2018.

Can you name a poem that has influenced you or that you particularly love?

Stephen Devereux: John Donne – all his poems. George Crabbe – “Ellen Orford”,  “Peter Grimes”, “The Village”. Anne Sexton – “My Kind”, just about all her poems. Emily Dickinson – “I Felt A Funeral In My Brain”, most of her poems.  Robert Bloomfield, “The Farmer’s Boy”. John Clare, “The Shepherd’s Calendar”. Anne Bradstreet – most of her poems. Ted Hughes – most of his poems.  Walt Whitman – “Leaves of Grass”. Robert Lowell – “For The Union Dead” and many of his other poems. Liz Lochhead – most of her poems. Norman MacCaig – “Summer Farm” and all the rest. Hugh Macdiarmid – “Island Funeral”. Sylvia Plath – “Cut” and most of her poems. George Meredith – “Modern Love”. Thomas Hardy – all of them.  That will have to do for now.  If I could only have one poem it would be AE Housman’s “Cherry Tree.”

Lydia Armstrong: I love Anne Sexton. Her poem “The Abortion” really struck me when I was young – that someone would write so honestly about such a taboo subject. It felt really personal, and I think that helped to shape what I consider to be powerful writing. I used to carry around a volume of her collected works everywhere.

Frederick Pollack: Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound” – both loved and a great influence. Six other favorites, if you’ve room: Salvatore Quasimodo, “Quasi un Madrigale”; Gottfried Benn, “Wenn etwas leicht…”; Edwin Arlington Robinson, “Old Trails”; Robinson Jeffers, “The Double Axe”; Zbigniew Herbert, “Why the Classics”; Czeslaw Milosz, “The World.”

What inspired your nominated poem? And what was the writing process like?

Stephen Devereux: Looking at old family photos. The writing process varies.  Sometimes I get most of the words in my head and scribble them down as soon as I can, then type them and have a go at getting them into some sort of shape. With others there’s something I want to write about and I keep trying until it gets somewhere (or not). “DNA” came out in five minutes and wasn’t altered very much.

Lydia Armstrong: “The Doctor” is about a man that I kept meeting around town in this really fateful way. He was strange and forward, and never recognized me or knew who I was, but each time I saw him, he would single me out and interact with me in some odd, charming way. Finally, we exchanged phone numbers and hung out a few times. He asked me to leave everything and move to California with him, where he was going to finish medical school. It was like our third or fourth date. It turned out he was a tremendous alcoholic and had been drunk every time I’d ever seen him, even one afternoon shopping in Target with his mother. So I broke things off. He was a train wreck, but the whole experience was sort of magical, like one of those moments of your life that feel a little bit like a portal into something bigger than what happened. Like a look into the human condition, or some layer of the universe that we normally can’t see into. He gave me a bullet he found on the street. I still have it.

Frederick Pollack: I was thinking about Blake’s “giant forms.” He avoids allegory by making each figure represent broad sets of facts and ideas. I decided to court allegory; capitalism, for example, appears as a figure called “Capitalism”. At the same time I recalled an insight of William Burroughs’s: that drugs, heroin especially, are the ideal product; they require no advertising, and are always a sellers’ market. The writing went quickly and was great fun.

Do you write in other forms? If so, how does your poetry differ from your other writing?

Stephen Devereux: If you mean different poetic forms then I like to use free verse, rhymed verse, blank verse, sonnets – whatever seems to help the process.  If you mean other genres – I’ve been short-listed for a couple of playwriting prizes, I’ve had short stories published, as well as essays – lit crit, travel etc. I’ve also written a novel that is too odd for any publisher to get any money from publishing it.  I find writing plays the easiest – once I’ve got the characters right I let them fight it out. Short stories are the hardest to write because they have to make no sense the first time you read them and a great deal of sense the second time.  Poems need time and the courage to abandon them when you can’t get them to work the way you want them to (which is what happens with two thirds of them).

Lydia Armstrong: I actually consider myself to be more of a fiction writer than anything. I’ve been working on a novel for several years, and have written less poetry lately as I focus my efforts on finally finishing it. Writing a poem is a pretty quick process for me. They usually come out in one or two sittings, and I edit lightly. I think if you have to edit a poem too much, you wrote the wrong poem. Poetry is a way for me to organize thoughts and feelings I have. I think my poems are more about what I’m saying to myself, and the novel is what I have to say to the world. And the fiction gets edited to death.

Frederick Pollack: I’ll write essays if asked. Otherwise, prose has been cauterized out of me.

News: 2017 Forward Prize For Best Single Poem Nominations

Each year Neon Literary Magazine nominates a select handful of its featured poems for the prestigious Forward Prize For Best Single Poem. The award has been running since 1992, and is recognised as one of the greatest honours for poetry in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Past winners include Claudia Rankine, Seamus Heaney, Alice Oswald, and Carol Ann Duffy.

Perhaps, in the future, one of the names below might be added to that list. Our three nominations for this year’s award are:

“DNA” – Stephen Devereux

“The Doctor” – Lydia Armstrong

“Giant Forms” – Frederick Pollack

You can click the links above to read the poems online, or download the issue in which they appear for a price of your choosing. Best of luck to all three nominees!

News: Issue Forty-Four Preview

Issue forty-four of Neon Literary Magazine.

Issue forty-four of Neon is set to launch in a blaze of confetti on Thursday 9th February 2017. Tickets to the launch party have sold out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pre-order the issue and get your hands on it before almost anyone else.

In this edition we visit the quaint yet dystopian English town of Scarfolk, observe the goings on in a haunted stock room, meet a rather more respectable imaginary version of the president of the United States of America in a dream prison, sit in on a number of brutal executions (one historical, one sexual) and witness the creation of some seriously amazing fantasy inventions. There’s a graphic short story by acclaimed illustrator Stephen Collins, and some beautiful illustrations by Jia Sung.

That aside, issue forty-four is filled with mind-shredding fiction and poetry by Thomas Evans, Elizabeth Sackett, Ed Cottrell, Cheryl Pearson, Frederick Pollack Eric Shattuck, Molly O’ Brien and James Hodgson. You can pre-order it here, or check back next week to download it in digital form.

Review: “The Sea Wave” by Rolli

"The Sea Wave" by Rolli

Author: Rolli | Publisher: Guernica Editions | Buy: Print / Digital | More: Goodreads

Rolli’s novella-in-flash-fiction The Sea Wave begins with a curious dedication: “To anyone,” it reads, “who has ever drowned.” Odd, but eerily beautiful, I thought – and I was pleased to find that the story itself begins in a similar fashion. Our wheelchair-using narrator – name unknown – is “stolen” by a strange elderly man, but takes comfort in the fact that she still has hold of her memorandum book. It is this book, it seems, in which she is writing out her story whenever her captor’s back is turned.

The narrative, ostensibly composed under extremely stressful circumstances, is naturally fractured and complex. We jump back and forth between our narrator’s present situation and memories of her life before the kidnap. Each chapter is no longer than a page or two, but generally manages to accomplish what all the best flash fiction does, which is to tell a story that extends far beyond the scope of its length in words.

You might think that the predicament of the narrator would occupy the lion’s share of the pagecount – but while it’s clear that she is mystified and scared by her kidnapper, she never dwells too long on what is happening to her in the moment. Instead she delves into the past, plucking up memories seemingly at random. She recalls the humiliations she has suffered at the hands of her teachers, the endless arguments of her parents, the tenuous friendships and connections she has made. It feels like, in the extremity of her fear, she is scribbling urgently, desperate to create some kind of lasting record of her existence before something terrible or final takes place. Her life – even before being abducted – was clearly difficult, and yet her curiosity and wit make her a sympathetic narrator, despite repeated dives into abject depression.

The vignettes that explore the narrator’s memories are thoroughly beautiful. They are composed with a precision and a strength which, although sophisticated, never seems to forget the young age of the narrator. The narrator has an eye for detail, and there’re some observations that can only be described as gorgeous. My personal favourites, perhaps, were a pair of tales about separate incidents in which the narrator and an old man at the library accidentally soil themselves. It’s a testament to Rolli’s skill as a flash fiction writer that he manages to wrest a beautiful sentiment from something that seems superficially so gross.

The chapters which narrate the kidnapping are, however, sometimes rather difficult to make sense of. This is in part because the actions of the man who has stolen our erstwhile narrator are scattered at best: he drags her across a remote field, growls and barks like a dog for hours at a stretch, and smashes up a part-derelict house – all without much in the way of provocation. Comprehension is not helped, however, by the frequent insertion of chapters comprised of the transcribed ramblings of the old man. In the beginning, at least, the narrator doesn’t indicate that these dream-like and surreal segments are courtesy of her kidnapper, and as such they caused me more than a little confusion. Once I understood their nature, however, I enjoyed them largely for their strangeness and musicality, but couldn’t help feeling that they didn’t have the same resonance and weight as the rest of the novel.

The Sea Wave is a slight read – one that you can get through in a single sitting… and one that is compelling enough that you quite probably will. I’ve encountered few books in which the narrative voice and the sense of mystery are so compelling. Be warned, of course, that you shouldn’t expect a neat or comfortable ending. The Sea Wave is deeper and more nuanced than that. It is a strange novel, but one that – having read it for this review – I keenly want to read again, just for the pleasure of the atmosphere. Perhaps you’ll feel the same.

Event: Joint Launch Of Issue Forty-Four And “When You Lived Inside The Walls”

"When You Lived Inside The Walls" and Issue Forty-Four of Neon Literary Magazine

We’re not usually one for events, but with the upcoming launch of issue forty-four coinciding neatly with the launch of Krishan‘s chapbook of short stories from Stonewood Press, we thought that there was something worth celebrating.

As such we’ll be gathering in Norwich at The Sir Garnet pub from around 19:00 on Thursday 9th February. There’ll be readings, wine, rats, games, a raffle, and the opportunity to buy copies of both volumes in print. If you want to be there, just book your ticket using Eventbrite – there are only twenty-four spaces available, and it’s first-come, first-served.

With stories about resurrected lovers, haunted stock rooms, parasitic entities and sweeping, onrushing doom it promises to be an oddly-unsettling evening, but we’ll do our best to make you feel welcome with wine, confetti, a cryptic scavenger hunt, assorted literary games, readings, and the opportunity to buy or barter for copies of both freshly-printed volumes.

When You Lived Inside The Walls features three of my favourite short stories, including the award-winning “Days Necrotic” and one never-before-published story about the consequences of hoarding. Issue forty-four of Neon is, likewise, filled with mind-shredding fiction and poetry, including work by Thomas Evans, Elizabeth Sackett, Ed Cottrell, Cheryl Pearson, Frederick Pollack, Eric Shattuck, Molly O’ Brien and James Hodgson, as well as illustrations and comics by Richard Littler, Stephen Collins and Jia Sung.

If you’re not likely to be in Norwich when the festivities begin on the 9th February 2017, you can still pre-order both books. Go here for When You Lived Inside The Walls, and here for issue forty-four.