Over a year has swept by since my last update and, if I measure time by the story I inhabit, a matter of hours. I previously mentioned working on “Rat Trap”, a short story to be included with Dr Craine’s Body. Quite of its own accord, the short story grew into a vital organ of the novella it was to lie beside, distending and freely bleeding into the narrative. With that flow of literary blood, carrying fresh dilemmas and tensions to explore, the novella broadened into a novel, absorbing “Rat Trap” as a key chapter. Once the terrain of the novel is crept into, things change, with not just the range and contours of Dr Craine’s Body changing, but the sign announcing the in-bloom landscape…
The Bodies of Doctor Craine
There are story-related reasons for this somewhat grander, wide-canvassed title, including, as befitting The Rivastones Murmurs, metaphorical implications which sharpen as the novel unfurls.
Unexpectedly finding a new novel to toil over, I’ve honed my ideas and plans for The Rivastones Murmurs. Switched, cut, deepened, carefully considering how to best render this series. It is important I do this now, while the entries are consciously unfinished, sometimes wholly unedited, the words undisturbed since first tumbling to the page, rather than after locking the stories and burning with regret.
Thoughts of release dates fade as I bend to the novel which emerged over this past year. And it has been a trying year…
A new job to stay afloat while the creative endeavour simmers away in the background, in a bank, an institution renowned for its unfailing generosity to the striving artist.
After a tiring week at the day job, stirring from a rare deep sleep, thanks to earplugs and a sleeping pill, to find the house burgled, the CCTV of a neighbour later revealing with chilling candour that in the dead of night three men crept around downstairs as I slept sound upstairs, snapping open a backdoor lock with career-criminal ease, working their way through the rooms, tossing, turning, opening, gloved hands snatching both junk and valuables, the camera picking up the glints of their flashlights through the windows, and sloshing oil and washing-up detergent on the kitchen tiles before leaving to mask their bootprints. I haven’t quite slept right since. And the abode is an ex-council house in a decaying stretch of town. Desperate times even for qualified nocturnal raiders then.
Being struck by Covid, leaving me bedridden for a fortnight. Then being swamped with long Covid, having to push through a viral mire as stubborn chains, binding both body and mind, dragged at me. Despite riding out the height of the corona-storm unscathed, catching Covid at some point wasn’t unforeseeable.
Then an entirely unexpected health scare, demanding a spell in hospital. A burst of pain, a quick swelling and a loss of mobility along the hand. An urgent medical appointment, the pain now like something chewing away on the hand from the outside while a smaller creature fitfully bites from the inside. The doctor at the clinic grave, uttering “orthopaedics”, making phone calls, “hospital referral”. The nurses at the hospital wincing with concern, conferring, taking blood and X-rays, summoning specialists. The orthopaedist serious, uttering “surgical emergency”, making phone calls, “a risk of…” The root of this torment revealed to be a tendon infection, spreading like an oily blaze, most likely a belated complication of tendon-repair surgery had many years ago in the very areas of the hand that erupted, lost function. Fears voiced of the inferno crawling into the bloodstream, reaching the heart, a fatal conclusion. Prodded, injected, hooked up to IV drips. The visiting surgeons firm, “We’re operating tonight”, making phone calls, “We’re operating in the early hours”, leaving, “We’re operating soon”, returning, “…a shortage of beds.” Underfunded, overstretched. A gnawing wait. And then, in a whirl and a rush, operated on. Awakening from the abyss of anaesthetic slumber, the entire hand burning and bandaged. Hooked up to more IV drips. Fierce painkillers. Prodded and injected. IV drips. Blood drawn and tested. Time passing in a hospital ward with the crawl of a malnourished animal. The pain starting to relent, not the paralysis. The despair of the ward creeping in, surrounded all day by the decaying, the dying, their moans and groans throughout the night, coupled with the screech and clatter and lights of new patients being wheeled in, chasing off sleep. The ward getting too much to bear. The ward exacting a mental toll. Hope dangled down, “We’ll discharge you this evening”, pulled back, “We’ll discharge you tomorrow”, flung away, “We’re not discharging you until we’re certain that…” A hard-won discharge, promises given that medications will be continued, prompt returns made when summoned. The hand still smouldering but the mind more at ease. Fresh air, daylight. Then learning to live one-handed. T… y… p… e…… o… n… e… – … h… a… n… d… e… d. Write, or scribble squiggles, left-handed. Brushing teeth an endeavour. Preparing food needing deliberation, eating and drinking strategy.
My hand continues to recover and gradually, too gradually, regain mobility. Even as I write this, though, the pain nests there, more nibbling than chewing now, with the occasional sharper nip. Pressing on through such tumults, no release dates. But there is a refined release order, to be laid out soon, alongside other developments for The Rivastones Murmurs. For now, prescription-grade painkillers popped, follow-up hospital visits and physiotherapy arranged, I return to the page.
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Summer heat prickles the skin, dust-fattened moths tap at the windows, but the trigger is not disturbed. Production of the Hollow Shotguns deluxe edition, signed in shotgun shell powder with special extras, continues to hit snags, but the Covid-related delays may work in my favour. I want to give Dr Craine’s Body and “Red” a similar treatment, the novella signed in “bloodied” surgical suture and the short story in specially produced neon ink, and release all three in close proximity as they’re now formally part of The Rivastones Murmurs, a loose series of stories both independent and interconnected, creeping through voices and genres to bring alive a declining city and its inhabitants.
All my Rivastones City-set fiction will fall under this series, including my second novel, The Fires of Red, and its two follow-ups, which will form both a self-contained trilogy and part of the series, the trilogy-related title after that, two subsequent novels, Craine and Murmurs, and an upcoming short story, “Rat Trap”, to be included in the deluxe Dr Craine’s Body hardback, where it best fits. Taking place in Forest Heights and featuring established characters alongside new, “Rat Trap” will be my first short story since 2013’s “Red”, a path from what’s already come to what is to come.
As the series grows, the reasons behind it being called The Rivastones Murmurs will become clearer, narratives sinking into the city’s social consciousness like the dead into clay, words gaining metaphorical value, the literal yielding to the mythic.
I’m also, in snatched moments, here, there, working on something outside the Rivastones continuity. Provisionally titled Come Heaven, set around the time of the 2001 northern England race riots, it’s spurred by the literary exhortation that if you know or want to read a story not yet told, you must tell it. The novel will draw from personal experiences and be backgrounded by the peculiar, at times ruthless, madrassa system that underpins the lives of many young working-class British Muslims. Widespread, underexplored, thousands of children are shunted to mosques, often unregulated, after school each evening to learn Qur’anic recitation, Qur’anic literalism and ancient Islamic customs startlingly relevant to their lives, such as how to clean a well left impure after an animal stumbles into it and dies. It may ruffle feathers but, hopefully, challenge assumptions too. I’ll probably aim to release this the traditional way, seek an agent, publisher, an unrealistically fat advance, all that, rather than the experimental guerrilla approach taken with The Rivastones Murmurs.
No release dates to be offered in these locked-down times, where everything is often destabilized, time itself seeming to shrivel and bloom in strange ways, distort, contort. When these titles are ready and available, subscribers will be the first to know.
The Hollow Shotguns hardback is almost ready. The near-final proof sits beside me, beautiful, close to every detail of the artwork captured. The interior crisp, paper premium. It would have been out next week but I’m pushing the release to summer. Covid-related restrictions mean production times are too slow, erratic, to release this as intended. I’ve been quietly working on a deluxe edition too, signed in shotgun shell powder with black sprayed edges and loaded with extras like art cards (more on this soon). I wanted it to be available alongside the regular unsigned edition, but struggles obtaining the tools, mediums and materials, and that the various crafters and artisans I’m liaising with are experiencing their own difficult turnaround times, mean if I do release that now it’ll be half-cooked. I’m not keen on half-cooked.
I’ll fill the delay with fresh versions of Dr Craine’s Body and “Red”, as outlined in Plan and Toil. My website KhalidPatel.com is also being refurbished, the ability to purchase products from the site instead of outside retailers being implemented. That will be complete by summer, so better to drop the book then as everything converges neatly.
Besides, the story is set in summer.
In short, Hollow Shotguns main hardcover edition locked and loaded, beautiful, expectations met. But the finger will quiver hairbreadths from the trigger until summer heat prickles the skin, dust-fattened moths tap at the windows. At which point it will blow your head clean off.
My health has been precarious for the past couple years, longer if going beyond diagnosis. Though lockdowns have been difficult, testing, they have offered time and space to attune to inner and outer self, each day a stroke of blade against leather strop, sharpening and restoring creativity, artistry, focus…
To come: Hollow Shotguns in hardback, featuring cover art hand-produced on a raw slab of slate, evoking the story. The text is a lightly edited version of a 2012 draft, subsequent revisions harming the original intention. Foolish, but I needed to go through that process to reach that realization. To cure that pick-at-it syndrome. Independent publishing generously permits risk and experimentation, but the guerrilla approach can be messy, complex, unpredictable, sometimes demanding trial and error to get right, so the best way to describe previous versions is as uncorrected proofs. To be burned or buried, or to at least have PROOF written in large black marker on the title page. This final version is for the bookshelves, not least as I’m working to craft something of aesthetic beauty too. There will also be a less attractive paperback with different artwork but the same text as the main hardback, akin to a mass-market edition.
Handmade cover art for Dr Craine’s Body and “Red”. No more digital art. Then a physical release through Sev Inks of final versions of the two. And yes, Severest Inks will be rebranded as Sev Inks. Sharper, unobtrusive, encouraging exploration of the lifeblood of the publishing house, the stories, art, authors. Too many have launched into debates with me over pronunciation (like Everest not-), over whether it’s a good name, over… while ignoring the works and writers. Sev Inks. Snags attention without hangups on the name. Sev Inks. Sharp. Subversive. Different. Buy one of our titles…
Speaking of writers, I’m planning a digital standalone of “Georgia Rouge” by Tammy Bartlett, a great story which I intended to release long ago before retreating to the shadows to sort myself out. If anything, after Trumpism and the deeper realization of an America, largely away from urban spaces, which culture has failed to fully explore, depict, this story has only grown in relevance. It’ll receive the individual treatment it deserves.
Possible hardback of The Sev Inks Shorts, stories from the aforementioned author and more by Eryk Pruitt, Charmaine Pauls and Hunter Heath. The Hollow Shotguns hardcover I’m working on will determine if hardbacks are feasible for a tiny publisher like Sev Inks. These things are expensive, both to produce and purchase, and while the printer I’m working with is great, also printing for more eminent publishers like Random House and Oxford University Press, its process demands time and money. Hopefully, the final product will be satisfying and affordable enough that the process can be replicated.
A second novel, The Fires of Red, the start of a crime epic.
The second book in this crime trilogy, The Cinders of Red.
The third in this generational crime saga, The Ashes of Red. In a recent blaze of creativity I mapped out most of the story, ten days of sweet artistic inner inferno, so I know how it unfurls. After feeling creatively depleted it just happened. I’m not sure how that happens. I suspect most writers and creatives don’t.
A fourth novel directly knitted to the Red trilogy, without “Red” in the title.
A graphic novel, possibly an adaptation of Hollow Shotguns, long mulled with the best excuse for it being that some may struggle with the language of Hollow Shotguns, this lets them more accessibly experience the journey of those five boys. Not the best reason. But I’ve gradually formed ideas that could only be executed through this form. To tell the story of Hollow Shotguns anew, or even an original story, in ways only this particular medium allows convinced me to commit. I’ll script and illustrate the book myself.
Anything in between?: Unlikely. Sev Inks is closed for submissions, when or if it reopens uncertain. A cause of my malaise was pushing myself creatively while pushing other people’s works, some not even reaching publication for one reason or another, while toiling at the ever-draining day jobs, ignoring warnings such as a chest of lead, fleeing of sleep, waning focus, swelling aches, an exhaustion felt under the bone. It makes little sense to accept submissions while my own creative ideas simmer away. I can’t fully commit to one or the other. If Sev Inks does reopen it’ll seek projects that preserve my creative energy, comics, graphic novels, forms of storytelling not strictly prose, easier to work on, guide. I stick by everything, everyone, already under Sev Inks, but don’t expect more while I focus on playing the long game with my own works.
Can we help, support?: When these projects drop buy them, but right now mere verbal and moral support goes far. In a world that feels increasingly hostile towards the arts, simple shows of support and encouragement can immensely enrich, and apathy and dismissiveness profoundly damage. Support artists, writers, creatives, however possible. It’s especially valuable during head-down quiet toil when the creative endeavour is yours alone, the kick of publication yet to come. Those who show generosity, support, even in these hushed moments, when less expected, are the most remembered.
I cried more times than I can remember in the weeks following 22 May. Often not even outright weeping but that more painful state where the sense of numbness and shock stops the tears from fully bleeding out. The depravity of the act. The children involved. That it happened in a place and city deeply rooted in my everyday life. The gnawing knowledge that were circumstances a little different that day I would have been caught up in the bombing (the spot where I hang before my train was in the blast radius). But some part of me also mourned because as soon as the attacker was reported to be British, what I’d been sensing and fearing for years had come to a head.
I see many young Muslims feeling cultural uncertainty, sometimes not even cognizant of it. Dual identities pull them so hard in opposite directions they’re ultimately left with no identity. I knew what his background would be before they described it. Alcohol. Partying. Drugs. Girls. And a sudden guilt-trip 180.
Though I’m increasingly ambivalent towards organized religion, I have blood-deep understanding of working-class British Muslim culture, where many of these attackers have sprung from. While we can blame foreign policy and such issues (and yes, they are factors), this is still on us.
We can blindfold and deafen ourselves. This won’t shroud the truth that difficult conversations about aspects of British Muslim culture are needed. And because we aren’t having them, the far-right is. Hate peddlers are. Tabloids craving headlines have hijacked the conversation. Theresa May and her cohorts. Well-meaning but naive liberals who insist our communities are fine when they have no real understanding of the struggles underpinning our lives. And they can never have these conversations with the nuance, insight or experience we can.
It’s difficult, I know, but those among us capable of using our eyes and ears, of perceiving certain realities of British Muslim life, must swallow pride and start seeking and offering solutions to issues wounding our communities. This also means focusing on things the media tends not to. The link between gang/drug culture and jihadism. Why many of our young are still taught in madrassas by imported teachers with zero awareness of cultures beyond their own. How meaningful integration in no way means you must reject your native identity (some of the best integrated Muslims aren’t those clubbing and drinking, but those enjoying regular open-minded dialogue with others).
And allow me to loosen my tongue a little more before I lay down my next sentence…
Another issue that needs addressing is the superiority complex some Muslims have, where just because they were born into being a Muslim they feel they’re somehow above non-Muslims. I’m no theologian, but I think this stems from an excess of cultural pride, and perhaps dodgy parental influence, rather than religion itself. Telling too is the immediate gut reaction of many British Muslims to such events. Usually some variation of, ‘This is what Syrians feel like’, or ‘That’s how Iraqis live’. Earliest Islam never mandated expressing more empathy and concern for someone a million miles away who you’ve never met or will meet than your own community. It all comes from this culturally-skewed and politicized idea of ‘ummah’. The original concept of ‘ummah’ included non-Muslims, and Hadiths explicitly state Muslims whose neighbours are not secure from harm are denied paradise. It’s human for us to feel sympathy towards the Middle Eastern oppressed, but when it’s always the default response, and tool of deflection, it’s clear a dangerous Us and Them mentality has somehow become collectively entrenched.
And I’m not even wasting energy on the ‘It’s all a conspiracy’ crowd right now.
We can’t passively wait until another of our broken, misguided or disturbed young men drift down dark and depraved paths and then call some hotline. What usually comes of it?
No, it’s on us.
“This writer breaks some rules and he breaks them across people's faces. Khalid Patel represents a new age in fiction. He examines traditional fiction and turns it on its head with technology and innovation.” ― Eryk Pruitt, author of What We Reckon