boorangeMy story ‘Lost Touch’ has been selected from over 500 entries to be published in the FourWtwentyfive anthology from the Booranga Writers’ Centre, Charles Sturt University. This year’s competition was particularly fierce, given that it is the Australian literary centre’s 25th anniversary.

fourW twenty-five will be launched in Sydney on Saturday 22nd November 2014 at Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe commencing at 3.30 pm, in Wagga Wagga on Saturday 29th November 2014 at Wagga Wagga City Library commencing at 2.30 pm, and in Melbourne on Sunday 30th November 2014 at the Robarta Bar, 109 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, commencing at 2 pm.

The publication of ‘Lost Touch’ will also mark an anniversary – of sorts – for me, as I also had a piece – ‘The Great Bear’ – published in fourWtwenty-four. ‘Lost Touch’ is a very short piece, which is considered to have more than a touch of the John Irving’s about it… Watch this space for publication details.

untitledThough I’ve hung up my reviewers’ hat for the time being, one of my cronies – the excellent Guy Mankowski – recently contacted me for a bite-size review of his forthcoming book ‘How I Left  the National Grid’. Seeing as though I’m such a fan of Guy’s previous work (‘Letters from Yelena’ and ‘The Intimates’ – both Legend Press) I couldn’t refuse.

So here’s my bite-size review:

‘This book is the epitome of cool. A cross between Twenty Four Hour Party people and Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers, written by Julian Barnes. It contains a narrative as spiky as a punk set, a whole symphony of ideas composed by Mankowski within a few subtle bars of text. A brilliantly written literary treat.’

About Guy Mankowski

Guy Mankowski was raised on the Isle of Wight, before being taught by monks at Ampleforth College, York. He formed a Dickensian pop band called Alba Nova, and released an EP on Comfort Records. After that he trained as a psychologist at The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London. His debut novel, The Intimates, was chosen as a ‘Must Read’ title by New Writing North’s Read Regional campaign. His second, Letters from Yelena, won an Arts Council Literature Prize. He travelled to Russia to research it in the world of Russian ballet, and was one of the first English people given access to the world-famous Vaganova Academy. An extract from the book was used in GCSE training material by Osiris Educational in 2014. You can follow him on Twitter @Gmankow.

Buy his books here.

Get your laughing gear around this quick aperitif from my novelette Teeth which is available to read in full here.

indexTEETH, BY AJ KIRBY: AN EXTRACTION

The pillows on Ross Marker’s bed were the kind that mould themselves comfortingly around your head. They were, like most of the products in the house in fact, freebies after a job well done. These days, apart from the major council account, the main work Marker Creatives undertook was on behalf of whatever company could provide Ross with something he wanted or needed for the house. And although he’d not won any industry awards for a long time, he tended to look upon the expensive pillows, the flat-screen TV, a couple of the cars in the garage, his regular holidays to the Caribbean as his trophies. His just desserts.

He lavished his pillows with the kind of attention he denied the cat, for one (and it was always the cat, never referred to by its real name, Henry.) He had the cleaning woman wash the pillow slips on a daily basis; had her plump them up for him too. So when he woke up that morning to see his entire pillow drenched in blood, shock wasn’t his overriding emotion. No, he was more apologetic than that. My poor pillows… Quickly he removed the pillow slip to check whether the blood had seeped through; noticing something small and white tumbling out and onto the floor as he did so, but not pausing to look what it was. The foamy interior of the pillow was indeed stained red. Purple in fact. There was so much blood it looked like a big, spongy heart cut from the insides of some large, lumbering animal.

Only when Ross Marker had stripped the bed and flung every single item off it into the big top-loading washing machine in the wash room off the kitchen did he return to the room to find out what the small, gleaming white thing had been. On all fours he tried to wriggle under the low-slung bed; he was sure he’d seen it bounce away under there. He was also pretty sure he knew exactly what it was, although he didn’t want to admit it to himself. Not yet. Not while there was still a chance it might be something else. Something the damn cat had dragged in, perhaps.

It was a tooth. There was no doubt about it. When his trembling, but well-manicured hands closed around it, he recognised its smooth, enamel polish. He pulled in his arm with the missing tooth enclosed in a clenched fist. Hardly dared look. Had to look. It wasn’t what he was expecting to see. As he slowly unfolded his fingers the tooth was revealed to him, but it didn’t look like one of his own teeth. Because it wasn’t just a tooth; it was the whole, stringy blood and guts shebang. It looked like the guts of something the cat had dragged in, but it was, when everything came down to it, his tooth.

Absently, his tongue felt around inside his mouth and he touched… He touched absence. He touched a hole about half way round his mouth on the top side. As his tongue explored the strange crater – which felt huge inside his head – he marvelled at how tingly-tender his gums were. It was a feeling like one he’d long forgotten. He’d not felt it since he was about seven or eight in fact, and then, he used to think it felt just like sticking his finger (or tongue as the case may be) in the electricity socket which powered his own skull. Tasting coppery blood took him inside himself in a way he’d not been for thirty years.

Suddenly, Marker started to feel very faint. Squeamish at the best of times, he didn’t like thinking about the inside of his own body and how it was all put together. He didn’t like to think how random it all was. How poorly designed. Why had his goddamn tooth chosen to fall out? Why had it not just stayed there, under the surface, just doing its job of winning contracts, as well as occasionally biting and chewing?

He shoved the tooth into his dressing gown pocket, staggered out of the bedroom and made for the en suite. Splashed some water on his face and dared himself to have a look at himself in the mirror, half expecting to see his face all collapsed-in on itself like someone with their false teeth removed. Like a corpse, some morbid part of his mind commented. Gingerly he lifted his head up and looked in the mirror and saw…

…he saw himself. He saw mostly the same old Ross Marker, still looking bright-eyed and bushy tailed despite the morning’s shock. Maybe it was the fake tan. With more confidence, he started to contort his face into ever more unlikely poses. The gap in his mouth, he concluded, was hardly noticeable. The missing tooth was a wisdom tooth, after all. And who needed wisdom when you had money?

He tried his full range of Ad-Man smiles in the bathroom mirror, realised he could get away with pretty much the whole lower end of the spectrum; the damn right smile, the sure-thing smile, the trust me smile. Sure he couldn’t risk a full-blown the deal’s sealed, honey smile, but he could go a day without that particular one. And the dentist would sort it all out before Thursday Date Night anyway.

He returned to the bedroom and called up Maggie on a phone so razor thin he could have cut ivory with it.

‘Won’t be coming in this morning,’ he said, realising with some alarm how strange his voice sounded. One tooth gone and it had changed his self-secure voice into something resembling McCall’s drunken slur from the previous night. McCall! The curse.

‘You okay, Mr. Marker?’ asked Maggie. ‘You don’t sound… uh… your usual self.’

‘Can you get me an emergency dentist appointment, Mags? This afternoon. ASAP.’

‘Euuurgghh,’ spluttered Maggie. ‘I hate the dentist. All them needles. Eek. You got something wrong with your teeth, Mr. Marker?’

‘One of my teeth fell out in the night,’ he said, wondering why he felt the need to explain himself to the woman. ‘I’ll be fine, but get me that appointment, will you?’

‘You know what they say,’ burbled Maggie. She was like a proverbial stream at times like this. Usually the only way he could stop her was simply to walk away, but on the phone? Couldn’t put the phone down yet until she’d confirmed she’d book the appointment. She was the dreamy-type. The type that needed telling twice, just like Gemma was… had been. ‘They say it symbolizes money,’ Maggie continued frothily. ‘You’ll come into money and good fortune. I read it in my dream book only the other day. Isn’t that good news?’

Marker had put up with quite enough of that kind of nonsense for one call. ‘Just get me the appointment,’ he snapped. ‘And give that damn tooth fairy a call as well. She owes me some money…’

He snapped his phone shut and gurned some more in front of the full-length bedroom mirror. But he was no longer so comfortable looking at himself. His sudden memory of McCall and his curse had given him pause for thought. What if?

‘What if nothing,’ he muttered at his reflection. ‘It’s fucking bad luck, that’s all. Got nothing to do with nothing.’ He pulled his best suit from the wardrobe and unpacked a new shirt ready for a trip to the dentist.

Originally posted on white house press:

AJ Kirby’s White House Press novel, When Elephants walk through the Gorbals features in the latest edition of Writers’ News magazine. A scan of the article is below. If you’re interested in purchasing the novel, follow this link for the ebook, and this link for the paperback.

when elephants screenprint

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Check out the table of contents for the forthcoming Forging Freedom II anthology.

DIMENSIONS

My article, ‘Why we all love Sepp Blatter’, has been published in the latest Home Defence UK update. You can read it here.

sepp

Wayne Rooney and Juan MataPrior to Saturday’s game against Swansea, there was a sense of giddy optimism swirling around Old Trafford. The new broom of Louis van Gaal was expected to sweep the place clean of the cobwebs of misery remaining from the David Moyes regime. United fans were quietly confident that a top four finish – and therefore a Champions League place for the next season – were well within reach. Some got way, way ahead of themselves and predicted United might challenge for the Premier League title. Buoyed up by the belief that the absence of European football might leave the path clear for a championship challenge (a la Liverpool last season) and with the “mad genius” new boss at the helm, reds were starting to believe again.

After 90 minutes of football, that bubble has now burst.

Those who talked of a 21st title have so much egg on their faces now. Those who calmly predicted a top four finish will be twitching uncomfortably. For there wasn’t much on Saturday to feel confident about. Prior to the game kicking off, there was much talk on the phone-ins about what United fans would consider a success for the 2014-15 season. I’m generally a pessimist where football is concerned (that way you sometimes get nice surprises). I said a good season would be an improved home record. Decent football. The reds putting up more of a challenge against our rivals.

That improved home record thing is already out of the window. Saturday was the first time since the early 1970s that the reds have lost the inaugural league game at home. And though the display showed more promise, more planning, than anything we were forced to witness in the dark days of Moyes, it was still Swansea. At home. Liverpool, city, Chelsea, Arsenal will all blow Swansea away at home this year. So will Everton. Spurs too.

So where did it all go wrong? We never looked like scoring really; the Rooney goal aside (and this was a result of poor-marking). Never created many chances. And after Swansea took the late lead, heads dropped. The midfield looked limited, and slow. The attack ponderous. The defence wide-open.

There has been talk that Van Gaal fielded such a weak-looking line up in order to force the board’s hand. To guarantee funds to bring in at least one new player over the remaining two weeks of the transfer window. But I will believe it when we see it. United have signed fewer players than ANY OTHER team during this transfer window, despite the fact we are in dire need of new blood. The two signings we have made were – coincidentally (hah!) – sealed the week season ticket renewal forms went out. Since then we have been unable to sign anyone. Despite all the rumours, Hummels, Vidal, Cuadrado et al have not come.

Hummels is perhaps the most sorely needed. An experienced, cultured centre-back is crucial for Van Gaal’s system. Hummels is a younger version of Rio Ferdinand. A Rolls Royce of a defender. And he is an admirer of United – back in the day, his eighteenth birthday present from his family was a trip to OT to watch United in the Champions League. And yet we can’t persuade him to come.

Hell, the Argentinian defender Rojo went on strike at his current club in order to force a move, and yet we still can’t sign him up.

Ed Woodward – the equaliser – has truly levelled the playing field in the Premier League. His incompetent bumbling, his omnishambles of three transfer windows surely leave him in an untenable position… Unless he is tasked with not signing players.

That would make sense, actually.

People make a lot of the fact that United’s most successful spell in their history has come during the ownership of the (vampire) Glazers. But during their regime the club has been caught up, and taken over, by a number of Premier League clubs, let alone the European powerhouses of Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern etc. Talent drains away from the club and is not replaced. They won’t spend. United should be up there with FC Hollywood, Bayern Munich. That is the size of the club. And yet the Glazer mentality is to do things on the cheap, to make a quick buck out of the club every season…

We’ve now fallen so far behind that we won’t catch up again without serious investment. And yet, under the Glazers, nobody can seriously believe this will come.

Sad, sad times.

PLAYER RATINGS FOR SATURDAY 16TH AUGUST 2014

David de Gea – 6 – Nothing to do but to pick the ball out of the net. Twice.

Jesse Lingard/ Adnan Januzaj – (6) 7 – LVG has a reputation for ‘discovering’ new positions for players but Lingard didn’t look a wing-back before he was taken off injured. Januzaj, played on the wing, sparkled for 20 minutes and dragged United back into the game, however faded towards the end. Was kicked repeatedly.

Phil Jones – 6 – An awkward display in the main, but some lung-bursting runs provided the power United lacked going forward. One excellent tackle in the second half.

Chris Smalling – 5 – Clumsy. Poor distribution. Often bullied by Bony.

Tyler Blackett – 7 – An assured debut. He looks a proper player. Only spoiled by his lack of nous in giving the ball back to Swansea too quickly at a free kick, meaning they could burst up the pitch and score while United were still regaining their positions.

Ashley Young – 6 – A mixed display. Some lovely touches going forward but looked a little scared by the defensive aspects of the game. First goal came from his side of the pitch.

Darren Fletcher – 6 – Whilst it is great to see Fletch back from illness, he has always been a limited player. His first instinct is always to go backwards.

Ander Herrera – 6 – One woeful first half pass aside, he looked good. Substituted, when probably Mata should have gone off.

Juan Mata – 5 – Lightweight, slow. A major disappointment.

Javier Hernandez – 5 – Less touches in his first half showing than even the non-involved ‘keeper, David de Gea.

Wayne Rooney – 7 – Though he was careless with his passing, Rooney remained the one true hope of a goal, and took his goal very well.