Indie Book Promo would like to welcome Chris Bell to the blog! He is the author of many stories, but is here today to share some information about his latest, The Concentrated Essence of Any Number of Ravens. If this book sounds like something that you would be interested in reading, please use the buy links at the bottom of the post to pick up a copy or two!
Do you like to read your fiction in small packages? If so, there may be a space in your electronic library for The Concentrated Essence of Any Number of Ravens.
Did you know that Sara Bernhardt’s right leg enjoyed a brief but successful solo career following amputation? Or that Hermann Göring was reincarnated as a stainless steel saucepan?
These very short stories create a patchwork of intricate and potentially disturbing themes: a disintegrating rock band, public transport, kindness, cars, books, libraries, the fall of the Berlin Wall, crime and punishment, the Arab Spring, digital alienation, misanthropic barmen and matchbox collecting.
With a title taken from a line found by chance in a Charles Dickens story, The Concentrated Essence of Any Number of Ravens is a collection of 50 mostly unpublished flash fiction works by the author of Liquidambar (http://amzn.to/QChmjx), The Bumper Book of Lies (http://amzn.to/QChsHW) and Saccade (http://amzn.to/QChFel).
Humour, history, magical-surrealism, sci-fi, pastiche, romance, gothic fantasy, social commentary and a cast of offbeat characters who might have escaped with the beat of black wings from the author’s library, The Concentrated Essence of Any Number of Ravens is unconventionality at its most readable.
“Bell is very, very good indeed. His work is smart, mythical, intimate and wonderfully international in flavour” Terri Windling, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror
“Exhibiting a tremendous facility with style and form, Bell can produce everything from vigorously plotted cyberpunk narratives to whimsical daydreams” Paul di Filippo, Asimov’s
Foreword by Chad Taylor (http://www.chadtaylor.co.nz/)
Chris Bell was born in Wales and lives in New Zealand where he works as a writer and editor. His fiction has appeared in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (the St Martin’s Griffin US anthology in which his work has had three honourable mentions); The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror (Constable & Robinson) and This Is The Summer of Love (Postscripts, UK). His short stories have been published in Not One of Us (US); The Third Alternative (UK); and The Heidelberg Review (Germany). His poem ‘The Graves Have Turned to Powdered Wind’, won a Writers Choice Award at the Edit Red writers’ community. His poetry has also been published in Snorkel and foam:e (Australia), the late Norman Hidden’s Workshop New Poetry (UK), and Scree (UK). His first novel, Liquidambar, a surreal Chandleresque story inspired by 12 of Edward Hopper’s paintings, won the UKA Press global ‘Search For A Great Read’ competition. He is old enough to remember Winston Churchill’s funeral, steam trains, life before personal computers and to have had a numeric CompuServe email address.
Bus stop; 12pm, 14 August 2012
The digital sign that shows when the bus is due has already reset itself from 6 MINUTES to 5 MINUTES when it resets itself again from 3 MINUTES to 5 MINUTES. The bus operators appear to be reminding me Time is just a construct.
A lady with a cast on one hand arrives at the bus stop with four supermarket shopping bags and sits down on the bench next to me. She is white-haired, maybe 60 years old. I ought to offer to carry her shopping onto the bus, I think, and so as usual I rehearse possible lines in my head, while we wait for the bus that’s currently travelling backwards through time.
Moments later a young mother who scarcely looks old enough to be out of school uniform joins us. She is pushing one of those cumbersome off-road pushchairs and smoking a cigarette. There is a baby in the pushchair and she coos at it, “Are you going to see your Nana today?”
I am reconsidering my plan to help the Cast Lady with her shopping – is the plan still sound or should I now help the Young Mother with her baby instead? Or should I somehow help both? Depending on the mood of the bus driver I might not have enough time for both acts of kindness, random or otherwise. Might this newly arrived Asian youth offer to help one of them if I set a good example by helping the other? Is it presumptuous of me to suppose he needs me to set him a good example?
As the digital sign adjusts relative time yet again, the Young Mother pushes the pushchair over from the far side of the bus shelter and positions it between the Cast Lady and me. So I pick my bag up off the bench, put it on my lap, making more room for the Young Mother to sit between us. “Do you want some of this?” she says to the baby, producing a bottle from her bag.
“He certainly knows what to do with that,” says the Cast Lady.
“Yes, I pay extra for the special orthodontal teats,” says the Young Mother. “They’re really expensive and they get discoloured after a while so you have to replace them.” She sounds bubbly, unselfconscious, or at the very least medicated.
“Oh, really?” says the Cast Lady, as though left with more information than she’d bargained with.
I look at the baby but then look away before we make eye contact, worried the Young Mother might think I’m some sort of weirdo. “He’s such a good boy, though, aren’t you? But his other bottle has dropped down between the kitchen cabinets and I can’t reach it.”
“I know. What a pain. We’re off to visit my Mum this morning. She’s at work. In a shop at Greenwoods Corner.”
“Oh really?” says the Cast Lady. “I live near there. Which shop?” They exchange pleasantries about the shop and how nice it is and the digital sign rolls over from 3 MINUTES to DUE.
I stand up, trying to sight the bus. The Young Mother stands up. So does the Cast Lady. The sign rolls back to 3 MINUTES. It’s starting to make me feel queasy.
“Oh, I’ve stood up for nothing,” says the Cast Lady as I sit down again.
“It said DUE a minute ago,” I say to the Cast Lady. “But now it’s gone back to three minutes.” My opener sounds apologetic. I don’t know why; the lateness of the bus is not my fault.
“These signs aren’t very accurate. It said five minutes when I first got here,” says the Young Mother. “Have you finished, darling?” she takes the bottle back from the baby.
“How old is he?” the Cast Lady asks.
“He’s just turned one. Yes, he’s a lovely boy. So well-behaved. Aren’t you? Yes. But I have to do everything myself.”
“His father is a complete arsehole,” says the Young Mother, as though telling her his profession. The father is unavailable for comment, of course, although something had already told me he might be an arsehole (even though I might not have expressed it in so few words). The child’s father did not immediately respond to requests for an interview. I fidget somewhat with embarrassment for my gender; guilt is never far off, especially if you go looking for it.
“Yes, he’s trying for custody. Wasn’t interested in him the whole time, never fed him, never bought him anything, never changed his nappy, abused me mentally and physically while I was pregnant and now he wants custody.”
“Yes, I’m off to court tomorrow morning for the hearing. It’ll probably drag on and his lawyer, she’s a real bitch. Mine is gorgeous. She’s totally pristine” – a nice word choice for something, although possibly not for what she thinks it means – “She’s always really nicely turned out and we always crack a few jokes together, that kind of thing. She wears lovely outfits and she’s really buff. His lawyer’s a grumpy old cow, she’s a total frump and he’s probably paying her about $500 an hour. So, yes, we’re seeing my Mum today to keep my mind off it and just hoping it goes well tomorrow.”
Here’s the bus. At last.
“Can I help you with your shopping until you find a seat?” I ask the Cast Lady.
“Oh would you? That’s so kind of you. What a kind young man,” says the Cast Lady to the Young Mother who couldn’t give a shit. I’m not young but I’ll take any compliments I can get. The Young Mother gets on first with her pushchair and manages perfectly well without my help or anyone else’s. I grasp the four yellow PakNSave shopping bags, being careful not to drop them or bang them against the side of the bus. About a dozen other passengers have manoeuvred their way between us by now so that the Cast Lady gets on the bus before me. I can see her searching the bus for me as I rehearse my Three stages, please line for the driver. Perhaps she’s worried I’ve absconded with her shopping.
The Cast Lady finds a forward-facing seat near the front of the bus and the Young Mother finds space for her pushchair directly opposite.
“Oh, thank you so much. That’s so nice of you,” says the Cast Lady as I position her shopping at her feet.
“Can you manage?” I ask.
“Yes, thank you so much. I’m only going a couple of stops.”
I make my way to the back of the bus, imagining faint pats on the back from my fellow passengers; the same passengers who averted their eyes as I passed them.
The Cast Lady gets off the bus two stops later carrying her shopping bags in her good hand and without requiring further assistance. The Young Mother gets off at Greenwoods Corner, also without help, thanking a schoolboy who stands aside to let her lift her pushchair down onto the pavement. I rehearse calling after her, Good luck in court tomorrow, but I don’t say it.
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