Friday, 12 December 2014

People who write games should be engaging with literary culture as much as they engage with games culture.

I’ve spoken to a number of game writers and developers who’ve expressed, in one way or another, that games should be treated with the same critical weight as more established cultural-capital-letters like Literature, Art, Cinema. It’s an old and pretty boring argument; games are art, games aren’t art, art is urinals, urinals are games, etc.

I'm on the side of games. I fully believe they are an interesting, important medium. What really frustrates me about this though is that when you ask those game writers to talk to you about literature, they’re pretty unwilling to go outside of their particular niche. Rarely do they stray outside of science fiction and fantasy. They seldom go to live readings and they almost certainly don’t read literary journals.

This is a massive generalisation, both of gaming culture and the routes into literary culture, but I have been struck nevertheless by the gaping hole between the two camps. There wouldn’t necessarily be anything wrong with this if it weren’t for two important things:

1: Gaming culture is going through a seismic shift in identity and the nerdy young male hegemony is being shattered by the inclusion of new audiences. Unless games writers widen their literary nets to engage with a new set of audiences they will lose them.

2: These are writers we’re talking about. It would be pretty unthinkable for a novelist or short story writer not to be engaged with a wide variety of literature, and it is entirely arrogant for a games writer to demand acceptance from a literary culture when they themselves refuse to properly engage with that culture.

Writing has up until now been an ancillary part of game design, normally done by the developers themselves who most likely haven’t had much in the way of writing practice, but a new wave of writers/developers is putting greater importance on quality of writing. Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy from Cardboard Computer and Dan Pinchbeck from The Chinese Room are each pushing the boundaries when it comes to games writing, and all of them have shown an engagement with the wider literary culture, from 20th century avant-garde theatre to 19th century Romantic novels.

Games writers who think they can survive on mediocre writing need to up their game, because developers like these are increasing in number. You need to read wide and read deep. Read outside of your medium and outside of your comfort zone.

You need to get reading now because there are better writers coming your way.  

Friday, 29 August 2014

My Little Fox (Scene for RIFT's Macbeth)


The three sisters begin with a short scene together, where one says she has seen a fox. This short scene ends with the three sisters each leaving with a handful of audience members.

The following scene is the same for each sister.  As she tells the story, she ritually washes the audience. She wipes their sweat and washes their hands/arms.

After that scene, the three sisters come back together.

1 Three together
2 Three apart 
3 Three together


Sister 1:                                What hast thou seen, sister?

Sister 2:                                I saw a fox.

Sister 1:                                Where didst thou see it, sister?

Sister 2:                                Along the corridor.

Sister 3:                                You didn’t see a thing.

Sister 2:                                I saw a fox. A fox, a fox. 

Sister 3:                                There was no fox.

                Sister 2 becomes sad at the thought. Sister 1 comforts 2.

Sister 2:                                My speech is weak. It’s falling down.

                Sister 3 removes 1 from 2.

Sister 3:                                Prop yourself up.

                Sister 2 pulls herself together.

                                            There’s more to come.
                                            There’s a ritual now that needs to be done.

                Sisters separate and take one third of the audience each with them.



Take your time.

Sister sighs and visibly relaxes. She becomes more ‘natural’.

Are you tired?

Sister encourages the audience members to (briefly) speak to her on the subject of sleep. Her response to their speech is friendly yet cold.
The sister can admit that she is tired.
“Your eyes look heavy.”
“It’s the worst thing to be told you look tired, isn’t it?”
The sister fills a bowl with water from a bottle and dampens a towel. This will be used to ritualistically clean the audience members, ie, dampen their brow, clear their hands, wash their arms.
If an audience member asks the sister where she has been, then she continues with the following speech. Otherwise, she should manoeuvre the conversation to lead into the following speech.

I wandered through a forest, the trees dark…the soil wet…A fox, a fox. It ran between the trees…
            Sister moves to select a bottle of white wine and brings it to the centre.  

I wandered without my sisters. I pushed the branches away. My wrists were black and blue. I wandered home and where the trees all grouped together I waited and called but there was no sight, there was no sound.

Was I asleep? When the trees grew sparse…When I wandered towards the city lights? Was I sleeping when I walked by the road?


Do you know the place? Where the forest meets the city?

The trees stop when you lean against the barriers.

Only one car stopped as I stood beneath the streetlight. The window was spotless. I tapped at the glass.
           Sister drinks. She dampens the towel.

I sat in the leather seat. The air conditioning was cold.
           The Sister uses the wet towel to wash the brow of an audience member.

“Breathe. Calm down,” he said. “You’re breathing so quickly. Calm down.”

I could see the trees in the headlights. Lit up. The branches yellow. The bark brown.

“I can take you to the police,” he said. His voice was so calm. “I can take you there now.”

But I didn’t want to go to the police. He took me to a hospital. I didn’t go inside…I stood by the door and after he drove off I wandered out.

There was no-one else there.

Are you comfortable?

The Sister uses the wet towel to wash the hands of an audience member.

Was I sleeping in the forest still? The ground was wet beneath my head…A fox, a fox…That wandered against me lying there…I walked along the streets.

 I called for my sisters but no-one answered…I wandered past the shops. The lights were all turned off. I looked into the windows and I could see the clothing…The skirts and the dresses …Arms spread…black bird…There was a bird flying between the branches.
              The Sister uses the wet towel to wash the arms of an audience member.

 “Give me your arm,” he said. “Rest it here on the leaves.”          

I walked past the buildings. I looked at how high they were…I walked on my own, beside the river. I headed east. Something drew me back, I didn’t know where else to go...

The tower was the only place I knew.

Did you feel the same way? Did you feel like this was the only place you could’ve gone?

Sister drinks from the bottle of wine.

You must be so tired. You’ve been awake for so long.

I leant my back against the wall and rested for a moment. I caught my breath…A fox, a fox. I saw a fox beside the gates.

Was I sleeping still?

Was my head on the ground? Were my sister’s beside me?

I thought…I thought it was raining…the rain fell on my head…wet head…the little drops…he’d kept me dry…at least there was that…dry and clean… I thought it was raining…the rain was coming and there was only the gate to the tower…only the gate to go through.

I pushed the button to his floor and the lift took me up.  I went to his floor. I opened the door to this flat and he was waiting.

“Give me your arm,” he said. “Rest it on me.”

The Sister uses the wet towel to soak the hand of an audience member.

 “There’s Witchcraft in the way you kiss me,” he said.

I looked at the window, at the lights spread out...the buildings all lit…TVs on…the walls all blue…the people sat together…and there I watched as he called his friends…I watched their faces reflected as they walked through the door.   

“My little fox, you’re breathing so fast. Rest your head on the leaves.”

They came and stood around me….their boots…their heels...the trunks of the trees.

“My little fox, you’ve come to wash us clean.”

So I washed their hands and I washed their feet. I washed the dirt from their fingers and I cleaned the sweat from their necks. I peeled the dirt from the bark but…but the trees came down …I called for my sisters but there was no sight, there was no sound. The branches fell…they scratched at my skin.

“Rest your head on the leaves. Let them cover you.”

And they covered me. They covered me.

             The sister drinks from the bottle again. The sister slams the bottle down (smashes it?)
 This point should mark a change in the sister. She becomes intimidating in the way she    speaks.

But I pushed them away…I pushed at the fingers, the thorns…“Breathe and be still.” I would not be still. “Breathe. Calm down. You’re breathing so quickly. Calm down.” I would not calm. I stood up straight. I tore at the bark. “Your nails are sharp. There’s fire in your eyes.” And I tugged at the branches…I kicked at the brambles…I pulled at the roots ‘til they popped from their sockets.

All the toil that was piled on me. All the trouble I’d cause in return.

They called me a witch… They don’t like the look of me now… They choose that way to see me when I made this tower my home.

The eye of newt… tongue of dog… poison’d entrails… Swelter'd venom sleeping got…

 (Mournful) I just wanted to be with my sisters…I only want to be with them.

Sister pours gas into the bowl of water and lights it. She drips the audience’s sweat (from the towel) on the flames.

In my arms I collected the twigs and in a bonfire I burnt them. I emptied a can of petrol …I lit a match…The smoke went high into the air.

Was I sleeping still?

Was I sleeping when I saw a fox beside the flames…a fox who leapt and danced…who kicked its back and raised its jaw…

Was I sleeping?



The knocking keeps on ticking.

There is a change in mood. The ritual is over. The sister puts out the fire by draping the wet towel over the flames.

The sister walks back to the concourse where she is joined by the other sisters, each returning from their same scene.

Sister 2:                                A fox, a fox. I saw a fox.

Sister 3:                                There was no fox.  

Sister 2:                                I saw it in my room.

Sister 1:                                The foxes are all gone. They’ve long gone from here.

Sister 2:                                I saw it as I slept.

Sister 3:                                Macbeth hath murdered sleep.

Sister 2:                                Macbeth, Macbeth. Those knock keeps on coming.

Sister 3:                                The knocking won’t stop.

Sister 2:                                I called for you my sister…

Sister 1:                                I called for you my sister…

Sister 3:                                I called for you my sister…

Sister 2:                                But you wouldn’t come.

                Lead into the next scene.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Website and Guardian


Brief message to say I've got a new website (here). I'll still be using this blog to put up sketches and stories.

I also had a recent feature with The Guardian about immersive theatre and video games. You can read it here.


Monday, 27 January 2014

Jim Froydon’s Lines

Jim Froydon’s Lines, with uncompromising force of vision, has delivered a shot in the arm to the American sitcom; a genre that to many has become stale, predictable and ubiquitous. Froydon’s excellent show, premiering tonight on British television, takes the basic form of the sitcom genre and flips it on its head.

We are all used to seeing the interiors of flats, cafes, restaurants, offices. These are where the scenes of shows happen, the places that the characters meet to joke, argue, fall in love. Yet what Lines does, and what has already built a definite buzz across the Atlantic, is deny us entry to these scenes, to limit us to the places between those locations. We follow the characters from the moment they leave the door of one location, walking to the coffee house, catching the bus to the office, and we leave the moment they arrive at their destination. There are few words, maybe the occasional conversation with a stranger, an enquiry about the price of a return ticket. Sometimes the characters have tears in their eyes, sometimes they can’t stop themselves from laughing.

Was that her voice? I heard it coming from the room.
What? I can’t hear a thing.
I thought I heard her. Something she said, I could swear it was her.
Your hands are sweating. It’s making me nervous.
You can tell they’re sweating?
They’re sweating. I can see the sweat from here.
You should be nervous as well.
I’m trying not to be.
I’d be nervous if I were you.  
There’s every reason to believe it’s a baby.
Wait. Is she groaning now? Are they covering her mouth?
We have to believe it. The equipment isn’t infallible.
And tumours don’t kick.
And tumours don’t kick.

Much of the episodes take place on public transport. The camera pays equal attention to the parts of the characters’ bodies as it does to seat-cushions and handrails. The heavy eyelids of a character come into the frame for a few moments before cutting to the pale blue tessellated pattern on the floor of the train. What might sound like a tedious experience is surprisingly easy to watch and, with complete honesty, I found the gentle rocking of the carriage in these drawn-out sequences to be incredibly soothing. I’ll admit that as the character drifted into a short sleep so did I, and when my head jolted back to consciousness it was just in time to see the same action performed by the character on the screen.

Tell me the details.
They pulled it out…the shape of an egg. She was so tired afterwards. It stank, apparently.
She almost passed out but the stink of it kept her awake. There was a glistening film. Glistening was the word they used. It was coated in a wet film that dripped over the midwife’s hands. She gagged and had to pass our baby to the doctor. And his face gave it all away. The look he gave to that thing in his hands must’ve been much the same as the one he later offered me when I sat with him in his office. I’d say horror, confusion, futility. In the end all he could do was shrug. It has a heartbeat, he said. It has a heartbeat but it doesn’t have a heart.   

The nervousness about the trip is often palpable, as if the characters are on the way to an imminent breakup or a family death at the hospital. In the first two episodes given to reviewers I followed several different characters that reappeared throughout. There was a twenty-something lady with bleached blonde hair, a bald middle-aged father, a pregnant woman, a handsome man with a neatly trimmed beard. These people, although never given names, quickly become familiar to you. When the pregnant woman stared out of bus window I wanted to know the reason for her bottom lip to quiver. When she sighed and her breath momentarily clouded the cold glass I wanted to know the reason for her to sigh so deeply.

It’s about a foot, a foot and a half. It’s egg-shaped. It has a round base and it tapers up towards the top. It’s smooth. It was smooth. Yesterday it was smoother. Now there’s a kind of roughness around the base. If I touch it… it’s hard. Metal. A hard plastic. When we first brought it home it seemed a lot softer. It’s gotten harder. It must’ve gotten harder. There are ridges now, around the base. If I touch the ridges they…
How does she…
You know…
No. I don’t know.
Breastfeed. How does she breastfeed?
Jesus. Why do you have to ask that?
It’s an honest question. Does she do it the same way you normally would? Does she do it at all?
I don’t know. Ask her.
People want to know.
People? What people?
Does she put her nipple in the opening? People say there’s an opening.
What people?
Puckered. A puckered hole. It’s reported that there’s a puckered hole. Can you confirm or deny the presence of a hole?
I think there’s a hole.
Is it puckered?
I don’t know what you mean.
Something like this.
Oh, right. It’s a little like that.
Are you writing this down?

Froydon’s genius comes from preventing the audience from having any clear insight into the characters. It seems like it would be all too easy to continue following the character once they pass through the front-door of their home. There were times while watching the first episode that I shouted violently at the screen. I screamed at the moment a bleached-hair young lady turned the key into what can only be assumed to be her flat, just as I thought a glimpse of her actual life might slip from its hiding place behind the door. My body shivered close to the edge of the seat, I looked for clues to her life, and suddenly the camera cut to the swollen paunch of a man waiting patiently in the snow for his bus to arrive. I threw a pillow at the screen. If I had a stone I would’ve thrown that too. I turned my computer off for a few moments, stood outside in the garden. I looked at sun, at one thousand colours of blue sky. I would have stayed there but, as if the programme had wrapped an invisible cable around my neck, I eventually drifted back inside to continue to the end.  

I have to plug her in every day.
Plug it in. Will you listen to yourself?
It’s what the doctor said I should call it.
And what if you don’t plug it in? What then?
She wilts. And don’t even think about convincing me to stop breastfeeding, because I can’t stand to see her wilt. I won’t do that, don’t ask me to do that. 
I’m worried about you. What if it makes you sick, what if it hurts you somehow?
She won’t hurt me.
You don’t know that. For all you know it could bite. Maybe there’s a needle. It could stick you with a needle and fill you with…I don’t know…with poison or something.
You’re being grotesque.
I’m just saying there’s a lot we don’t understand here, you have to remember that.
You don’t understand. She came from our bodies. There isn’t anything that would hurt us, there aren’t secrets. She needs to be plugged in and then she rests.
You can feed it from a bottle, what’s wrong with that?
We tried, remember? She spat it up.
Well what did the doctor say about the keys? I’ve tried to type on them, I’ve tried again and again, but nothing happens. I’ve typed out whole paragraphs but nothing comes up on the screen.
Do you know many babies that can speak after two weeks? She has to learn. She’ll learn from us. 

Janet Malory from The New Yorker, who in her already famous interview with Jim Froydon ended her questioning with a swift left-hook to the show-runner’s jaw, has said that Lines offers an antidote. An antidote to modern life? To a sickness? What exactly it offers an antidote to has been picked apart and argued by nearly every American with access to a keyboard and, if you haven’t already done so, after tonight’s premiere you’ll be able to join that debate. What is clear is that there is a cure somewhere in this programme. After getting through the second episode, after coming to terms with the fact that I was never going to see the interior lives of these characters, I felt a definite weight lift from my shoulders. I felt as if I was floating up to the ceiling.      

The operating system isn’t one I know. I tried to enter the console commands that I found online for all the versions of Windows. I called Apple. I booked a slot in the genius-bar. They were useless. No help at all. I asked a friend who knew Linux but he didn’t know where to start. Whatever the case, there’s definitely an input now, there are keys and ports and...
Are you worried about whether you wife cheated on you?
What? No.
Maybe she got bored one of the weekends you were away and well…
Well it doesn’t exactly look like you, does it?
Don’t say that. I’m in no mind-set to hear that.
There’ve been some developments. She’s grown. She’s the size of a table and she’s lost a lot of weight, she’s flatter than she’s ever been. Her keys work now. I’ve registered my details. God knows how I managed it but I’ve registered them on her screen. The doctor said we should call it a screen. Still seems strange.
Wait. It wanted your details?
There isn’t a normal keyboard, I wasn’t sure what I was doing...
Is it fine just to put your details in like that? Did you put your wife’s details in as well?
Of course I did. That was the first thing I did. What child doesn’t know the name of its mother?
And bank details?
It’s not a scam. The bank details were just one of the sections. I put in my shoe size, eye colour, favourite film. There were pages of things I put in. Every time I wrote one thing it asked me to write another.

For a specific example of Froydon’s technique, I want to talk about a moment in the first episode which has lingered in my thoughts. Somewhere near the middle of the hour run-time there is a short sequence where a woman rides in an ambulance. I took her to be roughly in her thirties. We do not see much of her. There are glimpses of her arms, her hands. Her body is covered with a blanket.  Mostly we focus on her face. There are no windows in the ambulance. There are no sights outside to look at. There is a man sat beside the woman, a paramedic. The woman seems to be a patient, a victim, for some reason needing to be rushed to casualty. She is pale, sweating. The make-up around her eyes has slightly run. On the other side of the woman, his hand resting on her shoulder, is another man. Perhaps this man is her husband, or lover. Perhaps he is her brother. We never see more than his hand but the tightness of the grip is noticeable. The noise of the siren is loud. The woman shakes, her eyes focus on something in the distance. It is a moment of high drama or, perhaps more specifically, it is a moment teetering at the threshold of high drama, but after about a minute, once they have arrived at the hospital and the doors open, once the reasons and consequences for this woman to be in the ambulance are about to be exposed, we are unceremoniously taken away.

Someone is knocking at the door.
Go back to sleep.
Someone is there. I heard it. What if they come to take her?
No-one is coming.
I wrote in her today. I wrote some horrible things in her.
You know the doctor said we shouldn’t do that anymore. Not until they’re sure where it all goes.
I tried my hardest to get through them all but my hands felt so tired. What if they come to take her away? After the things I’ve said to her. After the things I wrote.

Yet we do see the woman from the ambulance again, later in the same episode. There are no signs of an accident. She is sat alone in a back of a taxi and she reads the newspaper. There is a look of concentration on her face but not to an uncomfortable level. What story she is reading in the newspaper we cannot see. The lines of her brow furrow and the corners of her mouth tighten. There is no hint of fear. Her face is immaculate. There are no tears in her eyes. No smudged make-up. She wears an elegant blue dress, as if she is returning from a party, and yet daylight streams in through the windows. Perhaps she is going to work. There is no sign of the man who so tightly gripped her shoulder, there is no hint of whatever illness she may have suffered from. Whatever problem caused the ambulance to take her to the hospital has been resolved without our knowledge. Froydon doesn’t give us the answers. He doesn’t let us know.

I…I wrote in her for hours. I sat there and I answered all of the questions she had. I let my hands touch her ridges, her soft keys. I felt the body which we both made. And…and there’s so much love behind her screen, I know it’s there. If I could open her up and see it.
We both know it’s there.
If I could only hear her speak back I’d be sure of it. We’ve given her so much of us. Do you understand me?

I wanted to know what happened. I wanted to know what went on when the characters reached their destinations; these places they have no clear reason to reach. But their thoughts were inaccessible to me. If there was a reason for the characters to go to the office or to go to the bar, a reason to ride to the hospital or to get a taxi home, then it is given offstage, away from the camera. No matter how hard I pleaded at my screen there was no definite reason for the characters to travel from A to B. Lines forced me to accept that. It forces us to accept that. What happens before and after these moments is not for us to be certain of.

She’s crying.
No-one is crying.
She’s humming through the wall. Can’t you hear it? There’s a low hum. Listen. There. She’s crying. It’s all because of me.
What did you do?
After all the information we’ve given to her. All she wanted to know about us. We’ve been so honest. I felt so exposed…
My love, what did you do?
Her screen shines in the light. Her base is squat but the edges above are so sharp that I’m worried I’ll cut myself. Her mouth opens and closes, waiting for milk. She’s so hungry. Her heart beats through the casing and when I place my fingers on her keys I feel it surge beneath. She’s so hungry. It wears me out. She needed more of me… The sight of that mouth…I couldn’t look at it any longer. A tissue, cotton, a towel. I pushed my fingers until her mouth couldn’t close.

I was locked out. I accepted that.
And yet when I fell asleep that night, when I closed my eyes and lay in the dark the woman was there in my dreams. The taxi I’d seen before had taken her to my home and when she arrived she’d climbed the stairs, entered my room. In the dim light of the evening she’d undressed, unzipping the outfit she wore to let it slip down the skin of her shoulders.
I watched it fall past her hips, down her legs and onto the floor. She lay in my bed and she reached out for me to join her.

Sleep, my love. Stay with me. Close your eyes and try to dream.
I’m trying.
Rest your head.
I’m trying. I’m trying but someone is knocking at the door.
You’re hearing things.
Someone is knocking at the door.

It’s going to be talked about. It will make Froydon a household name. Because by the end of the programme you will feel drained, as if you have spilled part of yourself onto the screen. You will feel drained and yet you will feel lighter.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


Originally part of an artist residency at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Summer 2013.



I walked back from work along the beach that day. We’d not finished until later than expected, the sun was almost set on the pier and I’d always loved the sight of it there, cut in half by the old railings with the blue paint half peeled to dust.

I’d walked slowly past the stalls with cockles for sale, them on my right with the dying sun on the left. The reddish light bleeding into the water made the pier seem as if it had stabbed the sky. Hard to think then of the arcades and old ten-pence machines littered at the end.

I should’ve been home by then. There was dinner to pick up, TV to watch. She’d be sleeping beside me at night, her head turned against the pillow, her body unmoving. When we’d first married she’d always snored. Now she was always silent as she slept.

I took the time to walk off the street, over the beach with the pebbles felt under foot. The sea spread out, grew darker as the sun dipped below. There was time yet to enjoy it; shoes slid off, socks tucked away.

I felt the foam of the waves then, watched the pier stand on the sea.



Look at your eyes drifting from place to place, hanging from one wall then another, grazing along the edges of the ceiling, waiting in the corners. I see you looking at all below; your strong legs, your arms, your chest. I see the skin between your shoulders and your neck. I see your lips. I’m happy that you are here.

I was born the most beautiful of three sisters. I say this not because of pride but because it’s what I was told. My beauty was so great that the Goddess of Love grew jealous and saw fit to claim that I was cursed. You above all know that love can forgive, it can forgive all things but jealousy. In punishment for my good looks I was cursed to wed not a man but a beast, a monster who would put his seed in me and the child that I bore him would be a monster also; a creature who would conquer nations, leave them turned to dust and ruin. All this I was told.

My father, he was not a brave man. When he heard the prophecy he would not let me stay.

He took me to a cliff, my two sisters stood behind, and there in the sight of the sea, in sight of the sun as it bowed behind the waves, he offered me up.

King:                           Whatever slithers out from between your legs will kill us all. The wind will take you now daughter.

Psyche:                       I’ll remember you all, my mother, my father, my sisters. I’ll remember you all, each face and smile.

King:                           Passive aggressiveness is not a virtue.

My toes were dug into the earth, a few inches further and my body would tumble to a heap of broken bones. I was stripped, my clothes taken, my skin soon turned to goose-bumps. In front of me the sea spread out, grew darker as the sun dipped below.

Sister 1:                       Are your nipples numb, sister?

Sister 2:                       Will the wind be able to carry away a stone statue?

Psyche:                       If I look down I can see the waves below coming one on one. The rocks look hard, sisters. If I fall I will smash to pieces.

King:                           Then close your eyes, my daughter. Shut them tight.

So I did. All was dark then.

So I waited…

(Wind builds)

And the wind came…

(Wind builds)

And it came…

(Wind builds)

And it blew me away.

I spiralled downwards. For how long I fell I do not know, but when I awoke I was in a different place. No cliff remained. No sea below. I was stood in a tower with columns piled one beside the other, each on a platform, each platform piled on another below.

By day I could walk the stairs of the tower as I chose, pass into alcoves and dine in the gallery. But at night I was to walk down, step by step, to the dark chamber below.



And he found me there, splayed on the sheets with nothing on and legs akimbo.  My breasts were out to kiss the air but if you’d been in that room you’d see not a single thing, not an inch of flesh. Complete darkness was all that was lain out in front of me; a black silken sheet draped over every curve and sweep of me, light over my sockets, heavy in how it sat on my chest.

The way that darkness pressed down on my body, resting snuggly on the tips of fingers and toes, it was not until his fingers made themselves known that I jolted back to life.

And you can imagine it was a shock.

They’d whispered over and over, as I was led to the edge of the cliff, as I’d stood there naked with only seagulls cracking up at the sight of a woman waiting for the wind to take her away. They’d told me then that it would be a monster who would have me. With no light in that room it was the monster that I imagined. A great big heaving beast, mouth open, fangs wet at the sight of me there, a sight which even I couldn’t see in the darkness of the bedroom. I heard the springs through the mattress, the squeeze and release of them as he moved closer to me lain with a pillow against my head.

I’d planned to kick out. Whatever monsters may be like I was sure they’d all come down quick enough with a knee in the right location. My muscles tensed in the dark, without anything to see there it seemed they tensed even harder, coiled up in shaking rows, ready to spring out at whatever body-part came close enough.

But he has a hand on each ankle now, and I’ve not yet kicked.

He’d kissed me there and I had not yet kicked.



The pier cut into the shore, my feet dug deep in the wet sand. I should have gone home by then, the time on my phone later than I had thought it would be, but I only stared deeper into the waves away on the shore.

In the dimness I’d lain on her but she felt unmoving.

She’d sighed and her dark eyes seemed so far away.

And it was such a good old pier. It was funny that I hadn’t noticed; that without knowing I’d begun to trace the path I’d always traced, as if it were the only possible direction to take: Down the boards above the sea.

The pier had been here when we’d first moved to the coast, it had been here long before that. In pictures before the war it was there, the last century it was there. The spread of it, the posts below all pressed in the shore. Each post was so ornate. Each one a tower that spiralled down.

I walked step by step towards the end, towards the sea ceaseless, unending.



At first I’d not known what to do. I’d let him take me like I’d seen dogs do in the street. In the dark I could think of other things. I’d think of home, of food.

But as the days turned to weeks…

Soon I would wait impatiently for night to come, when I would be led down the stairs to the dark room with him there. On the veranda I’d watch the sun set into the sea below, my heart beating when it went out of sight.

A heavy dark

A whispered breath against my neck

A finger tip

I waited each night until I could feel his lips on my spine. When could feel him tracing downwards, step by step.

My father had told me that I would be with child, that whatever babe was to be born with my husband would eat me up. It would slip out of me like a terrible fish they’d said, snapping up at the mess, chewing and swallowing, filling its belly until my flesh was stripped from my bones.

I wouldn’t let it.  I’d told myself I’d smash its little head in as soon as it crowned. Bash it flat. My own child would not tear me piece to piece! I’d squeeze it and hit it and pull it out and swing it against the wall.

So scared so scared

Open up

And still his lips tracing downwards.

Open up

I wondered if there were others watching me. All looking in the dark from balconies far above where I lay.



Peering over the edge I looked for my face in the waters below, but I was too high and the waves were too fast, they would not keep still. Any face in that water would taken apart and thrown in every direction; cut up and split between the reflected lights dancing one way then the other.



I was not seeing things. There were two faces who looked down at me. Up I gazed and there, peering from above between the columns of my tower, were two women’s faces, my two sisters’ faces.

Sister 1:                      Sister, where is your husband?

Psyche:                       He’s waiting for me in the bedroom.

Sister 2:                     Oh sister, does he have big teeth?

Psyche:                      Yes sister, as big as a crocodile.

Sister 1:                     Does he have big claws?

Psyche:                      As big as an eagle.

Sister 2:                     Oh beautiful sister, what colour are his eyes?

Psyche:                      …I...I don’t know.

What colour would they be? As a wife I should know. Would they be as brown as a forest? As blue as the sky?

Look on his face and see the eyes of death.

And so, that night in the dark room my hand shook as I reached to light the candle. The box of matches hidden under the pillow, I’d been so careful for the striking not to make a sound.



In the dimness I’d lain on her but she felt unmoving.
She’d sighed and her dark eyes seemed so far away.



A heavy dark

A whispered breath against my neck

A finger tip

He traced his kisses down my spine. Step by step. Tracing the path he’d always taken, each time i’d lain with him; a path half remembered but always followed, a kiss followed a kiss, my ribs turned to arches, my limbs to columns, my spine to steps...

And suddenly I was afraid. If I lit the candle would it fall apart? Every sigh and ache, every arch of my back that i’d built on those sheets, crumbled to dust.

Would the light change me?

My lips parted and a moan passed into the air. His lips had spiralled from my back, step by step, falling once more down my front and I remembered tumbling all those months ago; the edge of the cliff above me, the rocks streaming upwards, the sea spread below.

I do not know how long I fell, but the light of the candle pricked the dark.

Gentle listener, I did exactly as i’d planned. I lit the candle and looked at what I could see. Through that gap in the blackness I saw my husband’s face.

It was no monster there. All the things I’d felt on him when he’d been on me, all the ridges of his spines, the teeth ready to strip, the legs of a beast, the snake between, none of that was there. All the things I’d used to make up a picture in my mind, things I’d felt with my own fingers in the dark, felt as they’d passed over…all that melted away.

In the faint candle-light there was only the face of a boy. 



No-one else stood on the pier. A long time had passed before I’d looked for the time again.

She’d be asleep now. No missed calls.

I looked at the surface of the water peering through the gaps in the boardwalk. I was as far as I could go, as far as the pier went.

Where has my desire gone?

Please, God, help me find it.

And I’ve tried. I’d cooked us dinner and listened to her speak, tried my hardest to keep eye contact. But she’d known what I’d wanted, maybe that was what made it so pathetic.

We’d done it with the lights off. It didn’t take very long. It was over and she was soon sleep, her head turned towards the pillow.

Where has my desire gone?

I looked down from the edge of the pier, the waves darkly lit, each rise and fall barely seen and I thought I’d wait there a little longer.