Friday 22 January 2021

people you'll meet in cairo

  1. Dr. Emily Quibbell. Egyptologist. Easily flustered. Constantly misplacing her glasses. Possibly autistic. Too busy thinking about the Old Kingdom to listen to whatever you're trying to say. Bad habit of accidentally summoning ancient gods.
  2. Colonel Horatio Bump. Retired British Army officer. Walrus moustaches. Thick neck. Hangs out in gentleman's clubs all day complaining about the natives. Full of colonial stories. Weakness for gin and Arab boys in eyeliner.
  3. Milton Prescott. Rich American tourist. Owns a soap factory in Milwaukee. Says "Gosh!" and "Gee willikers!" to everything. Wears a checked suit. Hangdog expression. Not sure why penniless young women keep trying to seduce him.
  4. Lady Cynthia Traverse. Horrible old dowager. Reduces hotel staff to tears over a forgotten icecube or a stained napkin. Dangerously clever and vindictive. Widely rumoured to have murdered her husband. Secretly pursuing his real killer.
  5. J. J. Leavitt. Journalist for a top American newspaper. Pushy. Loud. Boastful. Offers everyone cigars. Tries to bribe people you can't actually bribe. Can't get in to see the tomb opening he's here to cover, and deeply pissed off about it.
  6. Countess Nina Belenova. White Russian émigré. Escaped Odessa with her grandmother's diamond necklace in a box, one step ahead of the revolutionaries. Translates for a living. Bleak sense of humour. Interested in Hyperborea. Occult friends.
  7. Bruno Colombo. Wealthy Italian playboy and daredevil. Pencil moustache. Flies biplanes. Gambles recklessly. Secretly a dangerous anarchist, responsible for the bombing of a Roman bank and the death of three policemen.
  8. Dr. Ruben Ghazarian. Self-proclaimed spiritual teacher who claims to have learned tantric secrets from the White Masters of Tibet. Followed by excitable young students who hang on his every word. On the run from the tax office.
  9. Jules Pichon. Private detective. Silly little Frenchman with a head shaped like an egg. Master of criminology and psychology. Pretending to be on holiday. Secretly on the trail of the international jewel thief known as the Sparrow.
  10. Constance Fairweather. Frivolous flapper in cloche hat. Listens to jazz and dances till dawn. Claims to have inherited a fortune from dear old Uncle Charlie. Secretly the international jewel thief known as the Sparrow.
  11. Jim Hyde. Failson from a good family. Opium addict and low-grade conman. Hangs round hotels cadging drinks off tourists, trading off his education and good breeding to sell fake artifacts at bargain prices. Lives in a filthy apartment near the souk.
  12. Lenny Logan. Aussie digger left over from the Great War. Still has the bullet wounds from Gallipoli. Flies a small plane full of smuggled cigarettes, booze and the occasional mummy. Friends among the Bedouin. Cheerful and ruthless.
  13. Musa Mwembe. Enormously fat Ugandan man who runs a crime ring from a Turkish bath. Floats in perfumed steam, up to his nipples in warm water, eating figs from a golden platter. Loads his friends with gold, drowns his enemies.
  14. Omar Hegazi. Crooked local politician. Fat. Wears a fez. Always smiling. Three wives and at least a dozen children running round his feet. Knows everyone and gets a cut of everything. Throws lavish parties at which people sometimes disappear.
  15. Captain Fareed Zulficar. Officer of the Cairo police. Completely humorless. Unbribeable. Brilliant detective. Despises Westerners and will take any opportunity to punish one, as long as it's entirely within the bounds of the law.
  16. Ismail Gamal. Idealistic young lawyer. Dreams of overthrowing the British empire and replacing it with a pan-Arabic socialist state. Defends rioters in court. Writes for small, angry journals. Secret love affair with wife of British official.
  17. Selim Shafei. Hotel concierge. Enormously dignified. Polite but not obsequious. Loves his hotel and will defend its reputation to the death. Will go to any lengths for the comfort of a guest. Proud of his very fine suits. Underpaid.
  18. Zainab Ammar. Nightclub owner. Gold rings. Heavy eyeshadow. Aging as gracefully as she can manage. Stages the most risqué shows in town. Runs back rooms where highly specific tastes are catered to. Possessive of the girls and boys in her employ.
  19. Leila Kanaan. Cabaret singer. Sultry and mysterious. Likes to hint at tragic past and romantic liaisons with European royalty. Rumoured to have sold her soul to a djinn of the deep desert in exchange for wealth and fortune. Lies a lot.
  20. Cyrus Mohebbi. Stage magician. Claims to perform Zoroastrian fire sorcery, conjuring doves out of flames. Sweaty. Balding. Won't admit he's losing his touch, no matter how badly he burns his assistants. Would like to cast one real spell before he quits.
  21. Aam Salama. Oriental dancer. Does a nightclub act with a three-metre-long African rock python named Boris, painted gold and wearing a Cleopatra headdress, acting out the battle between the sun god Ra and the serpent Apophis. Sarcastic. Smokes.
  22. Abdu Ali Hassan. Small stout merchant operating from a carpet stall in the souk. Oleaginous. Wants you to invest in his new guaranteed get-rich-quick scheme. Always in debt. Can get you anything, but will probably blackmail you about it.
  23. Reem el-Sherbini. Fortune teller and spirit medium. Patronised by rich Westerners who believe in Oriental magic. Floaty scarves. Incense. Crystal ball. Terrified that actual ghosts will find out about her fake seances and punish her.
  24. Nour Anwar. Folk healer and apothecary. Little shop in the souk full of herbs, amulets, bones, mummy powder and reptiles floating in jars. Gossipy. Earns most of her income from covertly selling rhino-horn erection pills to British officers.
  25. Thomas Abdallah Aziz. Bookseller. Absent-minded. Shop in the old city cluttered with everything from detective paperbacks to medieval manuscripts. Knows all of history but forgets the names of his grandkids.
  26. Waleed Mostafa. Pushy tour guide. Won't take no for an answer. Tells you the whole story of wherever you're standing, then asks you to pay for it. Insists he's always right, even when contradicted by history books.
  27. Yasmin Ezz. Expert forger. Sensitive eyes. Hates bright light. Works mostly by touch. Long nimble fingers. Used to be a seamstress. Rarely leaves the cramped apartment above her son's grocery store, full of cats and half-completed relics from fictional tombs.
  28. Ibrahim el-Din. Half-blind old cleric with a long white beard who wanders the streets barefooted. Beloved by the city's poor, who won't let him come to any harm. Expert in Sufi mysticism and Islamic law, which he uses to judge beggars' disputes.
  29. Malak. Cheeky little street urchin of indetermine gender. Picks your pocket and runs into dark alleyway where the rest of the gang awaits. Bare feet covered in weeping sores. Has a knife. Expects to be ruthlessly beaten if caught. Genuinely dangerous.
  30. Dawada. Queen of the beggars. No legs. Skin diseases. Goes around on little trolley, pushing herself with strong arms, asking for alms. Nobody refuses her twice. Hides a fortune in gold at her stronghold in the Cairo Necropolis.

Tuesday 19 January 2021

the catch + real live dinosaur

Written a couple of short horror stories recently. Putting them in one place for your convenience.

The Catch is about creepy things happening in a small English coastal village, which in my view is one of the best things a story can be about. Reused some Marcher Lords content for this. I'm still fixated on weird Celtic mythology and want to do more with it. Also Brexit is involved so it's topical.

Real Live Dinosaur is a creepypasta I posted to r/nosleep. Collective online horror fiction interests me, and was a big inspiration for the Black Auction post I just did. I know even the best creepypastas tend to be slightly shit, but that's part of the charm. Want to do a few more of these in the future.

And here is a podcast episode I did with my friend Jo on why the novel sucks so much these days and what can be done about it. I have a whole socialist podcast I do if you're interested in that kind of thing.

The common thread here is the interplay between the "official" system for publishing fiction, which controls what books you read and what movies you watch, and which has become stultifyingly conservative over recent years, and the weird online stuff that blossoms in the cracks and that nobody has yet figured out how to capture in boring solid prose. How come there's writers out there who did six blog posts and disappeared, who have been read by perhaps a thousand people ever, who are obviously more talented than anyone who's published a novel in the last decade? Increasingly creeped out by this question.

Edit: Youtuber Uncle Koko did a reading of Real Live Dinosaur on his channel, check it out.