In the Travelling Through bookshop on 6 April near Waterloo station, my new novel The Beasts of Electra Drive launched alongside Dan Holloway‘s new publication Kill Land. The launch was compered by novelist Jane Davis, under the aegis of Safeena Chaudhry’s organisation Novel London. It was a joyful occasion.
For more information about The Beasts of Electra Drive, see here.
For reviews of the novel, see here.
For links to all retailers of the novel in paperback format, see here.
For links to all retailers of the novel in ebook format, see here.
The following video shows the lively Q&A session with Dan and me, moderated by Jane:
The following video shows me reading mini-chapter 1 “The lone violinist in the woodlands at dusk (Ghost, as Hook)”, mini-chapter 97 “Kelly smudges Scorpio” and mini-chapter 53 “Jaymi creates Shigem’s and Kim’s soundtrack” of The Beasts of Electra Drive, as recorded and edited by Novel London:
The following video shows the same reading by me (of mini-chapters 1 “The lone violinist in the woodlands at dusk (Ghost, as Hook)”, 97 “Kelly smudges Scorpio” and 53 “Jaymi creates Shigem’s and Kim’s soundtrack” of The Beasts of Electra Drive), but instead as recorded and live-streamed on Facebook Live:
The following video shows Dan reading the opening of Kill Land, as recorded and edited by Novel London:
And the following video shows the same reading by Dan (of the opening of Kill Land), but instead as recorded and live-streamed on Facebook Live:
(Most of the above videos can also be seen on Novel London’s website here.)
The first of the three mini-chapters of The Beasts of Electra Drive that I read out, as shown in my two reading videos above, was mini-chapter 1 “The lone violinist in the woodlands at dusk (Ghost, as Hook)”. The text of that mini-chapter is as follows.
Woodlands at dusk in the late summer, somewhere on the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska.
In a clearing burns a bonfire, surrounded by a scattering of teenage girls and boys, sitting up or lying back on dry grassy earth. A joint glows red from time to time, then is passed through the smoky haze.
Nervous on the group’s edge, a sixteen-year-old Jaymi plays a violin, and the liquid magic of his music is delighting his audience. An end-of-summer hour, near the end of all their childhoods. And doubly endless: first, within its own enchanted brevity; then endless again, through infusing a dusk-shadow whisper of sweet fire-smoke through the very different later lives of all those present.
A noise cuts in, from the end of the clearing.
A band of adults, looming through the trees. As they approach, many become recognisable as parents of the assembled. They are heading straight for this group. No words from them yet, but their manner is confrontational; they are here on a mission.
The first couple of adults stride into the clearing. One grabs Jaymi’s violin and bow, smashes them against a tree and hurls them up and away into the air; while the other snarls at him that his music is perverting the other children, and if he doesn’t leave town then they will hurt him.
So mellow has been the group’s mood, that its members find themselves unequipped to fight against the parents’ force in yanking their offspring up from the ground and hustling them away.
As soon as the last fragments of his violin and bow have curved down and hit the ground, Jaymi sees flashes, through his shock and sorrow, of these same emotions in the eyes of the other children while they are marched off. Within those glimpses, which he catches in slow motion and will remember for the rest of his life, he perceives that the shock and the sorrow he’s seeing in them add up to something essential. These emotions bring him together with them against a common enemy—all that meanness and fear, which appear to be the preserve of grown-ups. He and these other children who were rapt in his music, plus the occasional adult who still remembers, are all united as the outnumbered prey of the more usual kind of grown-up-ness—the kind whose main aim seems to be the destruction of any primal magic it encounters, while lacking the self-awareness even to know this about itself.
Soon the last teenager’s complaint has receded into the woods and out of earshot, leaving Jaymi alone beside the smoulder of the bonfire—his eyes full of knowledge, shock, contempt and ambition.
An hour after his audience was banished, there he remains in the dark of the clearing: a lone violinist, imagining the music he’d be making here, as if for all time, while he sits with his smashed violin and bow beside him on the ground.
Next day, carrying whatever essentials he can, he steps off the grass verge of a highway on the outskirts of town, clambers up through a metal door and takes his place in the passenger’s seat of a massive truck, on a hitched escape from Omaha to New York City.
Soon the truck is miles out of town and gaining speed, with his music soaring grand above the highway ahead…
The second of the three mini-chapters of The Beasts of Electra Drive that I read out, as shown in my two reading videos above, was mini-chapter 97 “Kelly smudges Scorpio”. The text of that mini-chapter is as follows.
At the bow window on Jupiter Drive late next morning, Jaymi resumes work on Scorpio’s creation cycle—unaware that someone else is also paying attention to the very same thing, up in the Sunset Boulevard building.
As Jaymi recalls from having met her, Kelly Kandy is a fun-loving party animal with an easy manner and a reassuring smile. The simple truth of this impression makes it perhaps surprising, at first, that she’s also someone who will hate this latest Beast on sight, with a chemical hatred. Her horizons are so shaken by Scorpio, in fact, that she forms an immediate intention to fuck him up for good. Confronted by a creature so gorgeously anguished—so cross-cut with sex addiction, of a gender identity so complex and a self-esteem so fractured—how can Kelly wish otherwise than to ramp up his anguish still further? Concerning the reasons for this, she is incurious by nature; though Jaymi has little difficulty in recognising that behind her general hipness, she’s really very “Cosy Score”.
Well then, Scorpio was made for her, Jaymi reflects.
In any case, as soon as this Beast’s delicate Scorpionic beauty, sleek depraved face, sulky mouth and luscious darkness of obsession appear on her screen for the first time, all as aforementioned and in one package, Kelly applies her skilled fingers, state-of-the-art software and well-used keyboard to the task of smudging his visuals as painfully as possible.
There he is on the monitor right in front of her, clinking champagne glasses with some woman in a busy nightclub. Kelly pounds her keys, clicks her mouse, and sends her cursor curving and flicking all across her screen’s image of the nightclub.
As she does so, Scorpio senses the air in the room being flicked and whisked by a slicing of damage that has yet to gain ingress. His little silver cross swings flashing through the space between his nipples, sweats and glints in the candle-light and lands at a slant on his chest, while he glances around him … and then she breaks through.
An attempt to smudge a Beast’s visuals is felt as a visceral distaste, flavoured by the nature of the Beast, at what the smudger would presume to impose. And so he slides down, from a diva on a champagne-high of club chic, to a fey little fly buzzing drunk above a sleaze-pit. Kelly sees the barbed-wire coiled around him, ramps it up and rams it through the cells of all the others in this room—self-mutilation as the darker side of narcissism, flowing through these clubbers gathered here—a perverted, delirium-obsessed scent of visuals, gleaming in their eyes and revealed as the engine of a nightmare of culinary events.
By queasy degrees, he understands what is flowing through the room.
He fears, in other words, that he may be eaten by these people, in a literal sense: chefs and long pigs…
In shock, he sets off at a run, across the room and down a passage—then halts as he sees a girl of five, just ahead, playing with a high-fashion doll whose legs are so exaggeratedly long and elegant as almost to suggest grasshoppers’ thighs. The girl is practising ballerina moves, while talking in a cute, flirtatious, young-adult way, very “Hollywood” and precocious for a five-year-old. She turns to face him. “Hi! I’m Nutmeg,” she grates in a different voice, a voice of guttural harshness—and through her veil, Scorpio sees that this five-year-old’s face is much older than he thought. It even has lines around its eyes…
Black light blazes and her head rears up, a mass of pulp with several eyes pushing out at odd places. Shrieks cut the air.
He turns and sprints back down the passage, knowing she’ll be watching as he runs—but after fifty metres, the barbed-wire around his torso catches on a nail in a door-frame, so he has to turn back in her direction and scrabble at the wire, in a frantic bid to unhook it before she can reach him.
While he fumbles, with tears pricking the backs of his eyes, he feels the tickle of a drip of blood running down his chest beneath his black clothes, behind his crucifix.
The girl scuttles sideways up the length of the passageway, towards him. “I like to have my eyeballs licked!” she grates; and a black steel worm curls out from inside the eyeball nearest to Scorpio, as if to invite his tongue to dip down and lick it.
Without any warning, Nutmeg starts scalpelling herself, with her own smiling consent to the process—and inside a moment, a full operation is in progress, performed by Nutmeg using a single deft hand. “When I’m with you alone, late tonight,” she grates sweetly at Scorpio, “I’ll let you see me rip my face off, leaving just a slab of flesh—”
A shot of pain flickers up in Jaymi, from groin to heart (the Scorpio places). Crying out, he springs at his keyboard and starts hammering out multiple batch-reversion commands, until he has reversed Kelly’s work, returned his Beast’s visual world to what it should be, then sealed off the cockroach-hole Kelly wriggled in through. Sinking back into his seat, he spits through the open bow window.
The third of the three mini-chapters of The Beasts of Electra Drive that I read out, as shown in my two reading videos above, was mini-chapter 53 “Jaymi creates Shigem’s and Kim’s soundtrack”. The text of that mini-chapter is as follows.
Jaymi pulls his study chair closer to his monitor and rubs his hands in glee: Shigem’s and Kim’s soundtrack! This will be a joy. It will also be his first attempt at channelling a soundtrack born of two Beasts at once. As such, it will derive from their love for each other, despite their not quite having met yet.
So unfinished are Shigem’s and Kim’s individual creation cycles, neither of them has even realised that the object of his own inchoate yearning will be another Beast. Yet somehow Kim does already possess a nugget of knowledge not often attained by someone until much later—after he or she has found and run with another individual alone, composed a major or minor symphony of interpersonal music with them, then lost them forever. The thing Kim knows, with such precocity, is that all the private running and music shared in any such temporary union are for all time, being parts of everyone throughout history and the future—as is likewise true for such union’s private losses.
There’s a rustle and a whisper behind the skin of night, with a scent of limonene, as his knowledge coalesces: shrill girls giggle, then they shush one another, as he hears them and looks around in vain to see who’s there … and Jaymi smiles, for this kerfuffle is the opening of the soundtrack he’s about to reveal.
Next comes the chuckle of an Arcadian brook, on whose idealised bank Kim is reclining in the garb of a shepherd, blond and Classical, contemplating how nothing lasts, nothing can be grasped forever, everybody passes and decays at last.
Dawn glows pale at the side of the heavens, his flock is scattered peaceably around the field behind him, and blue through the air comes a call from that heifer lowing at the skies—an echo of a footnote of stone via song.
Before this eclogue can wilt into too etiolated an idyll, Jaymi electrifies it by touching Kim’s shoulders with a jolt of something new to him. Almost pre-physical, certainly pre-sexual, it’s nonetheless an ecstatic ripple that runs through his body like a touch of the divine, as if from a figure leaning down from behind—a young female figure, he senses (for thus has Jaymi shown himself, on this unique occasion). And THIS exists also! she seems to be informing Kim.
Into his pastoral aloneness comes her touch, an intimation of her smile, and a promise that before too long (oh soon, very soon) he will know about things he doesn’t yet know about. Until then, she’ll watch to check he’s still on track to know them. And she’ll love him unseen, while he nears that knowledge—so he may feel her breath upon his neck, while she watches. She knows Kim will have to see horrors on his journey. She’s sorry in advance: so sorry he will have to see that, so sorry that the other one will do that, so sorry they will leave him such an echo and a stain… But she’d hate it even more if he were not to break through, to his arrival and completion.
An electronic pulse floats down into the soundtrack—the sexiest music Kim has ever heard, though he wouldn’t yet know to call it such. That Greek Golden-Age paradise of Arcadia slides down the hill-slopes, into the town on the island. His unseen protector leads him through its narrow whitewashed alleyways to the entrance of a little club called City Bar. Standing close to him in the alleyway outside it, she attends with sweetness to Kim’s appearance, straightening and smoothing down his shepherd garb, during which their eyes hardly meet, until he lays his head on her shoulder. She puts her finger to her mouth, bidding silence, whispers something indistinct and kisses him on the lips, soft and warm. Then she turns away to leave. He keeps hold of her hand for a moment, then lets it drop. She slips off into the gathering crowd, around a whitewashed angle of wall, and is gone.
Jaymi’s attention departs in her—but then it reconsiders this, eases up and out of her, and floats around and down again unseen, where Kim walks into City Bar.
Inside the venue, Kim’s and Jaymi’s eyes take a moment to adjust to the dark. Under the spotlights, a skinny sexy boy is dancing manically, feminine and ash-blond, and Kim hears his own voice asking in his head, “Am I silver who needs gold, or am I gold who needs silver, or am I either silver or gold who needs more of the same?” The androgynous stranger catches his eye for an instant, without expression … and this whole soundtrack clicks one step closer to full orchestration, as the half-created Kim achieves his first realisation that the object of his own inchoate yearning will be another individual Beast.
Obvious perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight. But no Beast is coded with all such knowledge ahead of time—not even one who likes to think.
“Perhaps, when I find him, he’ll have green eyes,” Kim murmurs to himself.
Kim cannot yet have any intimation of Shigem in particular, but this soundtrack straight away features the incursion of an audio sample so imbued with soft dark enchantment that it almost feels like an intimation of him. This sample is arcing back here from a point far ahead, deep in the game-play of The Imagination Thief, where Jaymi will use it as a sound from Kim’s amber days, thus: “That soundtrack was playing, and now it reached the infinitely creepy-sweet ‘Mysteries of Love’. And through your leaded window, all those distant background figures, standing still or gesturing in talk or crawling ant-like across the frame, were sealed in a different world, photographed and laminated here in your memory.” And Jaymi’s eyes feel as if they glow, to recall that that moment in the game will occur just before Shigem and Kim will meet and pair for life.