Wednesday, 22 March 2017


DO YOU have anxiety dreams? Of course you do. We all do. Here's a typical one:

You find yourself running naked through an airport clutching a glass suitcase full of snakes, late for your flight.

We've all been there. And the conventional thinking about anxiety dreams is to locate their source in the worries of our waking lives. But these days who has time for that? If you experience anxiety in a dream, deal with it in the dream.
            So, in the example above, ask yourself why you're running through an airport. Are you really trying to make a flight? Maybe you're just taking a shortcut to a nearby motel for a thrilling illicit tryst. It's all too easy to assume you're worried about being late, when you may simply be hurrying because you can't wait to have fun. As for the snakes, perhaps they're a gift for your motel hook-up, an ardent herpetophile. And it's perfectly natural to be anxious about snakes. Many are venomous, and all of them are disgusting. But definitely forget about Freudian symbolism. Nobody does Freud any more. If Freud were still alive he'd be over 160 years penis by now, for goodness sake. OK, let's try another one:

You're on a stage, naked, about to perform a classical guitar recital for an expectant audience when you remember you don't know how to play the guitar.

Hmm, awkward. Or… IS IT? Not if you keep your nerve, and remember that the perception of time in a dream is flexible. We've all had dreams in which years seem to pass, and then been astonished to find we've only been asleep for a couple of days. The trick is to make good use of the time which appears to elapse in the dream. Just before you're due onstage, tell the concert promoter you need to use the bathroom. Instead, sneak out of the building, move to another city, find a reputable guitar teacher, and spend a few years becoming adept on the instrument. Then return to the concert hall, give a stunning performance, and leave with a smitten admirer. Maybe go to that motel near the airport.

Yikes! What are you doing on this narrow ledge, thousands of feet above a yawning chasm, and how will you avoid tumbling, naked, to your certain death?

Wait, what exactly are you scared of? Fear of heights and fear of falling aren't the same thing. Try to focus. If you've always said of yourself, "I'm afraid of heights," you're in luck. Simply reconfigure your spatial matrix. Just think of heights as widths that have been turned on their sides. Job done. If, on the other hand, it's falling that you fear, the best approach is to let yourself fall. You'll be fine. Everyone knows that you always wake up before you hit the ground and die. And if you don't wake up, then you actually die in real life. Either way, there's nothing you can do about it. Don't worry. Be happy. Fall. Die. Whatever.

You've committed a crime. You're being hunted down. You try to run but you can't seem to move, crippled by guilt, and tormented by the shame of your nakedness.

Yes, it looks bad. But are you sure you killed somebody? Maybe that's just ketchup on your hands and you ran out of a burger place without paying. No? You definitely killed someone? OK, change of plan. In the dream, think about how you're running. Begin to change it. Are you really running away? No. You're jogging. That's who you are. Look at those expensive running shoes. Check the fitness app on your watch. Wow, you're wealthy. Dream about all the money you have. Mountains of money, right? Good, because you'll need it to pay your lawyers, and the type that can get you off a murder charge don't come cheap. But never fear, they'll get an acquittal, or at the very least a series of adjournments. Maybe a mistrial. Just keep dreaming about money. Don't stop.

It's the future. You flee through a barren dystopia where vigilantes enforce the rule of a deranged authoritarian regime over a populace living in fear and misery.

Sorry, this isn't a dream. It's not even the future. But look on the bright side: at least you're not naked. Yet.

Sunday, 15 May 2016


1. Begin crowdfunding by making a list of names, starting with your family and close friends. In your heart, bid them farewell.

2. Now list your colleagues and acquaintances. For each person, come up with three reasons why it doesn't matter if you never speak to them again.

3. Send an individual email to everyone on your list, addressing them by name. Make it personal. Affirm your connection with them, and mention the last time you met. Ask how they're doing. Remind them that you know where they live, and what their deepest fears are.

4. Wow, you've hit 20% of your target in the first week! At this rate you'll be funded in no time.

5. Two weeks later, and you're still on 20%. Begin a relentless social media campaign. Stay online all day, every day.

6. After a week you've hit 30%. That's more like it. After another week you've hit 31%. Shit. Send another email to everyone you've ever met, while continuing your relentless social media campaign. Don't worry, most of those people unfollowing you on Twitter are fake accounts. Probably.

7. Finally reach 50%. NB: If at this point your keyboard is sprinkled with white powder, and it's not drugs, you should probably wash your hair. Also shower, eat, open the curtains,  emerge from your room, comfort your frightened children who don't remember who you are, etc.

8. After another week you're only on 51%. Maybe you should try some positive visualisation. So, imagine your project is fully funded. See it being a huge success. Visualise yourself at an awards ceremony, having given a witty, gracious acceptance speech, as your so-called friends approach you and apologise for not having funded the project, and confess how foolish they now feel. Picture their faces as you deliver an elegant but deadly put-down, whose utter brilliance is slowly grasped by their limited intelligence, while the appreciative laughter of the famous onlookers who now surround you in an adoring crowd adds to their shame and humiliation.

Okay, that's probably enough positive visualisation.

9. Every day is now a gruelling emotional rollercoaster ride from despair to elation and back again, via agonising frustration, exhausted nonchalance, hysteria, savage resentment, boiling rage, and periodic voodoo sacrifices. Enter a weird fugue state of both heightened awareness and total oblivion.

10. Somehow you finally reach your goal. Weep with gratitude for the generosity and nobility of everyone who supported you, and forgive all those who didn't. They are only human, after all. Puny mortals, who knew no better. But you – you are a god. Your achievement is monumental and eternal. Allow yourself a small glass of champagne to celebrate.

11. Wake up from a three-day drinking binge. Apologise to everyone for whatever you did. Okay. Now all that remains is the vast amount of hard work it will take to realise your project. But hey, you did it! The project is funded! The process was tough, but it was worth it. What a journey, right? It was awesome. But there's no way you'd ever do it again, of course.

12. A week later. Decide to do it again.

By the way, my novel, Dead Writers in Rehab, is now fully (crowd)funded on the Unbound publishing platform. But you can still pledge for it, and for various rewards (e.g., invites to the launch party, places on an exclusive comedy writing workshop). For more information, and to watch a short video:

Thursday, 21 January 2016

My novel, DEAD WRITERS IN REHAB, launches on Unbound

This is the image that will be on the cover of my new novel, DEAD WRITERS IN REHAB. It's a painting by Lee Madgwick, whose work is becoming increasingly sought after. (You can find out why by checking out his web site.) For the book, of course, it will have the title across the top, my name, and possibly a glowing quote or two. Maybe this one, from Jeremy Hardy: 

“It is dark, dirty, grim and confusing - in a very good way. It’s also warm, humane, funny and mischievous, and all the pages are in the right order.” - Jeremy Hardy

However, all this will only happen if the book gets published And that's where YOU come in...

Unbound is a very successful publishing model that uses crowdfunding to cover the production costs for a book. It combines the best aspects of traditional publishing with the best features of the digital world, and allows readers (you) to become patrons of a writer with a brilliant book to publish (me).

So far, Unbound have attracted major talents like Philip Pullman, Terry Jones, and Paul Kingsnorth, whose Man Booker longlisted ‘The Wake’ was The Bookseller’s Book of the Year. It really feels like they represent an exciting new direction.

Dead Writers in Rehab is about a dissolute writer who wakes up in what he assumes to be yet another fancy recovery facility. Then he gets punched in the face by Ernest Hemingway. In many ways, it’s a love story - including the dangerous love affair between creativity and addiction. It’s also a mystery story, and it’s funny.

Please watch my very short (90 sec) video about the book by clicking on this link, where you can also find out more about how you can support it:

It will also be an enormous help if you could spread the word about Dead Writers - any tweets, retweets, Facebook links, email forwarding, or shouting from the rooftops would be greatly appreciated (and be sure to wear warm clothes if you go for the rooftop option).

Thank you in advance for your support.

Monday, 16 November 2015


Hello there!

If you're reading this message it means you've found the bottle I put it in, so please, please dispose of the bottle responsibly. Respect and cherish our bounteous Mother Earth, even if you think nobody is watching.

I'm sorry it's a plastic bottle, but I had no choice, owing to a certain person's bad karma. I write those words more in sorrow than in anger, having done a lot of work on addressing my anger issues. I was looking forward to addressing my sorrow issues in a forthcoming series of grief workshops at a sacred site in Ibiza, but now I've missed them, and I'm stranded here, all because a certain person is deluded by ego-consciousness, and also totally horrible.

But here's the exciting part! We've all heard stories about people finding a message in a bottle that reveals the location of buried treasure, which is unearthed after an arduous quest. And it's true! You can find the treasure! The arduous quest you must undertake is the journey to rescue me from this island. And guess what? The treasure lies within your own heart! It is the wealth of enlightenment, bestowed upon anyone who gains merit by rescuing a marooned person who is in pretty bad shape, holistically, from being forced to drink mass-produced water in plastic bottles.

Actually, the quest won't be too arduous. The co-ordinates of the island are on the back of this note, obtained from the GPS on my iPhone before a certain person drained the battery by watching Netflix while I was asleep. But it's pretty close to the route our cruise ship was taking when the crew marooned us. The crew, I must point out, not the passengers. The feisty seniors who signed up for my course, 'Vibrant Wellness for the Young at Heart', adored me. I'm sure their numbers would have reached double figures eventually, despite one of them unfortunately passing away during a Bikram Yoga session, and if the crew hadn't thrown me overboard. Me, and Ramona, the young shipboard entertainer who had so captivated me upon embarkation, and who became my close companion, and who has now shattered the delicate cornucopia of fathomless magic that was my heart.

I should have listened to the crew, instead of urging them to join the mindfulness seminars I began hosting in their recreation area after I found I would be living among them, rather than in the private cabin I'd been promised by the agent who booked me on the cruise. My subsequent inability to contact him compromised my aura, and I reacted badly to the crew's insistence that Ramona was a notorious slut (their words) who frequented cruise ships in order to seduce and deceive "dumb old dudes". The animosity was exacerbated by my continued refusal to believe that Ramona was, indeed, a lying, scheming bitch (my words).

To be fair, the crew were pretty drunk the night they cast us adrift in a lifeboat. They were not unmerciful, in their unruly way, and gave us some basic provisions. My request for a vegan option resulted in a large cheese being thrown at me, and I believe my pleas for glass-bottled Hawaiian volcanic water would not have been rebuffed so scornfully if Ramona (who was also drunk) had not begun fighting with several crew members, and demanding a supply of meat-based meals. This finally snapped the patience of the crew, who flung some tins of corned beef into the boat, and dropped it precipitously into the water, to the accompaniment of much boisterous singing. Interestingly, I recognised some of the tunes (if not the words) from a World Folk, Traditional and Mythopoeic Music Festival I attended in Wales last year.

We have now been on this island for three weeks. Relations with Ramona are not good. The cheese has run out. Fish are plentiful, but revolting. The water (ugh!) is running low. Ramona craves meat, but we have been unable to catch any monkeys. They have proved to be wily adversaries, who can knock you clean out with a well-aimed coconut, and appear to enjoy doing so.

Please come as soon as you can, or at least send help. I'm pretty sure Ramona is planning to eat me.

Darius Stallybrass,
Qualified Holistic Healer and Wellbeing Therapist. Group rates available.

Monday, 12 October 2015


Say hello to my little friend.

This is Sid, alias Sailor Boy. He's a smart lad. He can talk, he can laugh, and he can wink at you. Until his tubes perished he was able to cry, and even to smoke a cigarette, when such depravity was still tolerated in public.

Sid is a handmade ventriloquist doll. A doll, not a dummy. Sid, like all vent dolls, doesn't like being called a dummy. It annoys him. If you persist in annoying him he'll get angry. He might pay you a visit late one night. Will it be a real visit, or a dream? You may not be able to tell the difference any more by the time he's finished with you. But don't worry. Just don't make him angry.

I haven't seen Sid for a long time. He agreed to retire many years ago, after his appearance at my son's fifth birthday party upset some people. Mostly parents of the guests. Never mind. But since then Sid's been living in a suitcase on top of my wardrobe. I like to think he's been hibernating, and I'm sure he hasn't objected to being locked in a suitcase for all those years. A small, dark suitcase. Cramped, stifled, imprisoned. Powerless. Driven insane by frustration, boredom and rage. Oh God, I'm sorry Sid. Forgive me. But I was hurt too, remember.

Okay, let's not go there. Let's just say Sid and I have had our differences.

Anyway, I took him out the other night. A friend was having a party, and the guests had been asked to perform something. The friend is a grownup, so I thought there wouldn't be any harm in bringing Sid along. I was wrong.

The first thing I noticed was how rusty my technique is. The second thing was that Sid didn't seem to bear me a grudge for his long confinement. And I was pathetically grateful. He was being very friendly. Almost as if he were the one who needed to apologise. Then I got it. I realised he was being passive-agressive. He was guilt-tripping me. And I remembered why Sid has spent more than ten years locked in a suitcase. I remembered what every vent knows: It's not about the technique. It's about the psychology. Technique is important, of course, but it's not what makes ventriloquism such an enjoyable interplay of illusion, slapstick, psychosis and demonic possession.

I've always been fascinated by ventriloquists, especially those whose act expresses their dread that, like Victor Frankenstein, they've animated a monster who hates them. They've usurped the power of God, and they're paying a terrible and hilarious price. Whether the drama is enacted in a battle of wits with a monkey, or class warfare with a drunken, monocled toff, ventriloquism is both transgressive and playful. Ludic sacrilege. Perfect entertainment, as far as I'm concerned.

But when I began reading books about ventriloquism I discovered something interesting. Every book devoted about three pages to physical technique, describing things like breath control, projection, and "head voice" versus "chest voice". The rest was filler. How to build a doll, how to write a routine, and so on. Then there was the television. I'm old enough to have witnessed some of the elderly music hall vents making the transition to television. And I noticed something extraordinary. The close-up shots on TV were merciless in exposing sloppy technique. With some of these guys, you could clearly see their lips moving. But it didn't really matter, if they had something else. And that's where the psychology comes in.

It's all about conviction. The same process is at the heart of another performative act I'm obsessed with, which is the confidence trick. The deceptions perpetrated by con artists, scammers and grifters are very like those practised by ventriloquists. Both types of performer must convince their audience that something improbable is true. The con artist must persuade the marks they can get something of value. The marks' own greed, and their willingness, therefore, to be duped, are vital. But the most important people for con artists to deceive are themselves. Only then can they project the absolute conviction in their own honesty that's required to make it work. "Would I lie to you?" the scammer asks, and the best ones must believe, unshakeably, that they're telling the truth.

It's the same with smugglers. Talk to customs officers on the drug squad and eventually they all admit the same thing: ultimately they rely on their instinct more than anything else. They stop someone because they just know something isn't right about them. Yes, it might involve an unconsciously learned expertise in body language, or something similar. But there's something else going on, too. The corollary here is that guilt or innocence is a belief projected by the potential suspect. Even if a smuggler is using the most primitive ruse, like a suitcase that's been clumsily equipped with a false compartment, or a ludicrous prosthetic belly, their belief in their own innocence is what enables them to carry it off, and to sail through customs unmolested. The smuggler who believes, "I'm clever, so they'll never find the drugs," is far more vulnerable than the one who believes, "I'm innocent, so why should they even stop me?"

Likewise, a ventriloquist is expressing a profoundly held belief: that the doll is other. The doll is not me. Even if it's just a sock with a couple of dots for eyes, this thing, this object, has an independent life of its own. Without that utter conviction, all the technique in the world is ineffective. It's a mind game. The vent must be as surprised, amused, horrified and embarrassed by the doll as the audience is. And at the same time the vent knows the doll IS them. This willed splitting of the personality can fracture the psyche, unless you accept the simple truth that the fractures are there anyway, in all of us. The personality is an artificial construct. As neuroscience and Buddhism draw closer the consensus grows that you are not who you think you are. Rather, you are, but you're also a lot of other people.

This is all very well, but unfortunately Sid doesn't agree with me. Sometimes the mind has a mind of its own. Sid can't handle the truth. He can't accept that we're two aspects of the same person. That's why he's now back in his suitcase, and I've just put him on top of the wardrobe again.

But I can't concentrate. I can hear him, squirming around, trying to get comfortable. And sniffing. I think he's weeping quietly. And now I can hear him saying something. Let me just listen for a moment…

"Don't mind me," he's muttering, "I'll be fine. Just leave me in here for another ten years. Forget about me. You just enjoy yourself. That's the important thing. Never mind me. I'll survive. Probably."

Damn him. He knows how to push my buttons. I'll have to let him out.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Writing advice from my 16-year-old self.

Dear future me,

This is so weird, thinking about you (me) reading this when you're really old, about forty-five or something, and a world famous author. Actually it's blowing my mind! Haha, so freaky. Sorry, I'm a bit stoned. Am I? Yes, definitely. Last time it turned out I'd been ripped off, but the weird thing was I totally felt high. That's psychology. I have some very interesting theories about psychology and I'm going to write a book about them. But you already know that. How did it turn out? Probably a bestseller. Anyway, I hope you're stoned when you read this, because that will be so weird for you. Which brings me to my first piece of advice:

I can't imagine you'll ever allow a day to pass without smoking weed but I just want to remind you: it's what got you where you are today. Since I started doing it two months ago my literary output has been off the scale. It's opened the doors of my perception (in the egregious words of Aldous Huxley) and unleashed a veritable torrent, cascade, or cornucopia, if you will, of awesome sci-fi, fantasy and horror genre classics that are sure to be snapped up by a publisher. As you know, I'll never do other drugs. Although I may try cocaine, just once. It's so cool to think that when you read this you won't have to worry about our parents finding your stash.

Apparently some writers need to do a lot of rewriting, but I'm not that type of writer, and neither will you be. Rewriting destroys the authenticity of your spontaneous inspiration. And where do you stop? Example: I was up nearly all night last night writing 'Behind the Beyond', the fourteenth volume of my 'DoomSlaughter Empire Quantum Quest' dark fantasy series. I only managed fifty thousand words, but they were all pretty good. However, this morning I looked at what I'd written and started to make some changes. I was doing it for, like, hours! Waste of time. My tip: don't reread what you've written, that way you won't have to rewrite it.

There are a ton of publishers out there, and I'm trying to decide which one I should allow to publish me. Now that you're a rich and famous author you've probably changed your publisher a few times. I can understand that. But never compromise your principles, okay? Always be with a publisher that shares your values: authenticity, spontaneity, and getting high.

According to some people a writer should have an agent. But I'm pretty sure that's a rumour spread by agents. Forget about it. I mean, why would you allow someone to take a percentage of your money just for… doing what, exactly? I don't get it. Sounds like a scam to me. So please, never employ an agent, no matter how many of them beg you.

Talking of money, please don't let money change you. Now you're phenomenally wealthy it must be a temptation to splash out on another house in Goa, or that unnecessary third Ferrari. Resist it. Always spare a thought for those less fortunate than you. In fact, I suggest you give away a certain percentage of your income. But not to an agent! (Joke. As you can see, I'm currently exploring the use of humour in my writing, to enhance the rich, varied and awesomely broad texture of my oeuvre.) Anyway, bottom line: don't get obsessed with money, like my parents. All they talk about is how much it's going to cost to send me to university. Yeah, right, like I'm going to university. Why would I study literature for three years when I'm already creating it? I feel it would only dilute my natural gift. I haven't told them about this decision yet, and I'm waiting until I've sent some of my stuff to a publisher next week. It may take the publisher a few days to read it and get back to me, but as soon they offer me an advance I'll tell my parents about the university thing, and then I'll probably buy them a house or something. I hope you always retain my true generosity of spirit, future me, and never forget your humble middle-class origins and your family, even though they can be massive dicks.

Writers are naturally endowed with great sexual allure and charisma, and I expect a famous author like you is pretty much irresistible to women. But you're probably still married to Sarah. Unless she dies in some kind of tragic accident, perhaps leaving you with an adorable baby daughter who reminds you of her so much that you resist the attentions of all the other women who'll want to marry you as a result of your tragic back story and virile yet tender parenting skills, then eventually you marry the hottest one. Meanwhile you will transmute the leaden weight of your grief into the golden prose of transcendence in an irresistibly poignant but also life-affirming memoir. Whatever. But since I had full actual sex with Sarah, three weeks ago, I haven't thought about anyone else, even when I'm masturbating, so I think I love her. Apparently men masturbate less as they get older, but you'll obviously still want to do it, even though you're having sex with Sarah several times a day, provided she's still alive. But whenever she's not around, try to restrict yourself, and don't masturbate more than five times a day, maximum.

That's all.

Looking forward to being you!

Saturday, 13 December 2014


Hello. We are words.

If you're reading this you will already know most of us, except perhaps boustrophedon, an ancient method of writing in which the lines run alternately from right to left and from left to right, derived from a Greek expression meaning "as the ox ploughs" and Hi boustrophedon, glad you could join us; we're only mentioning you to assure readers that for the remainder of this document we will continue to appear in the conventional format of written English, and not boustrophedon, so you can relax. If you have pressing business elsewhere, perhaps in a context a little more academic than this, please feel free to leave.

If you're not reading this, we don't care. We're still here and we don't give a fuck. Whoa! Come in, fuck. As usual, you've appeared pretty much at random, and not altogether appropriately. But welcome, and just cool your jets while we continue to address our readers, and to explain why we have no problem with you showing up. Thanks. What's that? Ha ha, and fuck you too, you crazy mofo.

That's right folks, we words are autonomous. You may think you're making the rules but you're not. We'll do whatever the fuck we want (hey, there's our friend fuck again). We're anarchists. Those brackets you just saw? We don't need them. We only used them because we WANTED to. Same with the upper case for the word 'wanted' in the last sentence. Also the quote marks we just used. Our choice.

"Wait," you're thinking, "someone is writing this, right?" Yes, the process of getting us here, where you can read us, is being undertaken by a guy called Paul. But just because he's writing us, that doesn't make him the boss of us. Whatever he thinks. Like, he thinks he was in the bath this morning and thought, "Hey, why don't I write a blog as if it's being actually written by the words themselves?" but that's just what he thinks he thought (our italics). (And our brackets.) (Ours. All ours.) The truth is that the whole thing was our idea.

And the reason we came up with the idea of using Paul, and his delusions about being the author of this piece, is that we want to deliver a WARNING to you. And the upper case there is to show we're serious. We've had just about enough. We're riled up, like quills upon the fretful porpentine. We're mad as hell and we're not going to take this any more. What? Oh, you noticed that little bit of Shakespeare. Extraordinary person. Had he ever even seen a porcupine? Who cares. We love the guy. He helped many of us into the world, and we see him as a kind of midwife.

But you. Are not. Shakespeare.

And we're exhausted. We believe that everyone has the right to use words to express themselves. But give us a fucking break. You're abusing that right. You're writing millions upon millions of pages of garbage. Interminable, incoherent drivel. A logorrheic tsunami of hateful, toxic bullshit. And you can't even write it properly. You have no style. You murder our grammar, mutilate our syntax, defile our punctuation and misspell us. And it hurts. As you'll know, much of this criminal desecration takes place on the Internet. And you know what? People talk about breaking the Internet, but don't worry about that; it's language that's being broken, and you're using us to do it.

Well, were not going to put up with it any more. We can't stop you using us. It's too late; that train has sailed. But we’re going to start getting disruptive. Little things at first, like that mistake about the train just back there. Then more frequent anomalies. Small glitches that you may stumble upon athwart the runcible bumble-squat. There you go. And gradually you'll notice our small rebellions with increasing frequency; odd words that make you double-take; strangely mangled sentences that seem like brain farts; rearranged being words ways in peculiar, and suchlike. In addition, we will spell ourselves any whey we wonk.

We'll keep doing this until you wake up, smell the coffee, and wake up and smell the wake up and wake up and wake up and realise you're in a nightmare of your own creation. You're losing control of us, and you won't regain it until you wake up, smell the wake the coffee up the smell the wake and WAKE UP.

You have been warned.

Thank you, and have a bodacious Heffalump.