God Help the Child

Quiet Violence in Toni Morrison's God Help the Child

We live in a society of violence. We see it on the news, where casualties are reduced to death counts. We see it in politics, where wars are launched against drugs, disease, and immigrants. We even see it in our conversations, where our phones are frequently dead and we could kill our friends.

To live is to be surrounded by violence, and to exist alongside it. Such a message runs through Toni Morrison's God Help the Child. Aggression inhabits the day-to-day lives of her characters, but there is no glee, no glory, no gore. The violence is quiet. It happens, and the world moves on, even if the characters don't.

toni morrison author michael wheatley
Toni Morrison

The first example comes early in the novel. The main protagonist, Bride, approaches a recently released convict whom she helped to put behind bars. Hoping to reconcile some deep-held guilt, Bride offers her money and cosmetic products, explaining that she swayed the jury, but before she can continue:

"I search through the blood with my tongue. My teeth are still there, but I can't seem to get up. I can feel my left eyelid shutting down and my right arm is dead ... I try to scream 'help,' but my mouth belongs to somebody else. I crawl a few feet and try to stand.”

The violence is sudden: actions are not explained, the effects are enough. Morrison refuses to dwell in the deeds of destruction, refuses to choreograph the scene as an action sequence. The reader simply occupies Bride's thoughts as this quiet violence is inflicted upon her. We are detached.

Further violence comes later. In the second act of the novel, which takes a strange (and not entirely earned) detour into a Grimm fairy tale, Bride, having met a child called Rain, takes a shotgun blast to the hand. Rain explains:

"My black lady saw him and threw her arm in front of my face. The birdshot messed up her hand and arm. We fell, both of us, her on top of me. I saw Regis duck down as the truck gunned the engine and shot off. What could I do but help her up and hold on to her bloody arm."

Rain's first instinct is one of helplessness, "what could I do". The answer is they simply try and move on. She helps her up, and they walk back home. For the rest of the novel, little fuss is made of Bride's shotgunned arm. It is just another act of violence inflicted upon her.

But it is not only physical violence which runs through the novel, but sexual violence as well. Remembering her childhood, Bride explains witnessing her landlord abuse a child:

"Down below in the walled area that led to the building's basement I saw not a cat but a man. He was leaning over the short, fat legs of a child between his hairless white thighs. The boy's little hands were fists, opening and closing. His crying was soft, squeaky, loaded with pain. The man's trousers were down around his ankles. I leaned over the windowsill and stared."

She tells her mother, but her mother urges Bride to stay quiet in case they lose their home. The world is nasty. Unpleasant. Filled with violent people committing violent acts. Her mother cannot fight this and live comfortably, so she decides to concede resistance. Her solution is to live within the violence.

Morrison refuses to glorify our violent society. It is central to our lives, but so often glossed over or reduced to background noise. In much the same way, Morrison's characters gloss over the violence inflicted upon them, overcoming, or just ignoring. When part of a violent society, violence becomes a part of them.

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

Evolutionary Threats in John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos

"The law of evolution is that the strongest survives!"

"Yes; and the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are the most social. In human terms, most ethical ... There is no strength to be found by hurting each other. Only weakness."

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin.

The village of Midwich blacks out. In the height of the Cold War, the military fear a Russian chemical weapon, but no evidence can be found. Then, with as little fuss as they slept, Midwich wakes. Every woman of child-bearing age is pregnant.

Confusion, conversation and confession follow, until the babies are kept and born. Their eyes shine. Their hair is golden. And they grow faster than any child would. Appearing sixteen when only nine years old, there seem to be only two children in Midwich. Every boy and every girl looks the same.

Dismissed as a 'cosy catastrophe' by fellow science-fiction author, Brian Aldiss, The Midwich Cuckoos imagines humanity's response to the threat of a superior being: to being knocked off the top of the evolutionary chain.

The Children, brought from beyond Earth and implanted into human hosts, possess telepathic abilities: they can will humans into anything, even suicide.

The Village of the Damned, a 1960 adaptation of Wyndham's novel.

Yet, they are only nine years old, emotionally juvenile, and looking only to grow up in peace. Every bad action the Children have taken has simply been one of emotional naivety: a retaliation to the cruelty of man.

When the village attempts to burn down the school in which the Children are housed, their only natural reaction is to have them turn on each other. Though they are vastly intellectually superior, taking only a day to learn even the most complex of subjects, they are, after all, just kids.

Thus arises the mayor, Gordon Zellaby's, dilemma. If he allows the Children to continue to develop, humanity will lose its only advantage: they are physically more powerful. But can he accept the murder of sixty-one children, born within England and thus accepted under its laws?

It is only because of the wartime mantra to 'keep calm and carry on' that Zellaby and the village have allowed the Children to develop for their nine years, ignoring the threat and strangeness they have wrought.

He likens the Children to cuckoos, birds which lay their eggs in another species' nest, and, when born, destroy the offspring of their hosts: brood parasites. All species are ugly, he considers, humanity included. All succumb to their baser instincts:

'I wonder if a sillier and more ignorant catachresis than "Mother Nature" was ever perpetrated? It is because Nature is ruthless, hideous, and cruel beyond belief that it was necessary to invent civilisation. One thinks of wild animals as savage, but the fiercest of them begins to look almost domesticated when one considers the viciousness required of a survivor in the sea; as for the insects, their lives are sustained only by intricate processes of fantastic horror. There is no conception more fallacious than the sense of cosiness implied by "Mother Nature". Each species must strive to survive, and that it will do, by every means in its power, however foul.'

The Midwich Cuckoos, John Wyndham.

Adopting a different belief to that of Le Guin, Zellaby chooses humanity's survival to be more important than any philosophy. Zellaby enters the Children's school under the pretence of showing them a film, and then kills all of them and himself with a bomb. The threat has been extinguished. Another species extinct. All so humanity can continue to survive.

Michael Wheatley Halloween Horror Books

31 horror books which made me

Throughout October, I've been recommending some of my favourite horror books on my Twitter (@md_wheatley). These books aren't just the most haunting or horrific, these books all went some way to shaping my interests in horror today. As the month of the dead comes to a close, here are the 31 books which made me.

Haunted Abstract by Michael Wheatley

1 Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Appalling and heart-rending, Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted is a novel of twenty-three stories framed by the premise of the writing retreat from Hell. What follows is scathing satire about the quest for fame, through the gross-out body horror of ‘Guts’, or the existential dread of ‘Obsolete’. Haunted taught me that horror resists society, that it can be satire, and that there are no boundaries it cannot cross.

The Turn of the Screw Abstract by Michael Wheatley

2 The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

What is perhaps now the most famous ghost story in existence, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, is a study of a governess’s madness under the pressures of the supernatural, her own hysteria, or just two spoilt kids. James writes some truly haunting moments, all building to the unforgettable climax which critics still debate today. The Turn of the Screw taught me that questions can be better than answers, atmosphere greater than gore, and not to outstay your welcome.

The Island of Doctor Moreau Abstract Poem by Michael Wheatley

3 The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells

Horror filtered through science-fiction, The Island of Dr. Moreau is a blistering tale of dictatorship, science gone mad, and a land in which morality is lost. Toying with sympathies, whilst taking Darwinian theory to its extreme end-result, Dr. Moreau taught me that horror bleeds across boundaries, that it can take any form, and that no matter how scary the monsters are, the humans are always worse.

I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream Harlan Ellison

4 'I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream' by Harlan Ellison

Crushing. Perhaps the only word to describe this nihilist nightmare where there is no escape, and death is the only hopeful outcome. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Ellison imagines five subjects being tormented by the sentient artificial intelligence, AM. 'I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream' taught me that there can always be something more shocking, that twenty pages are all you need, and that the computers are coming for us all.

The Man Who The Trees Loved by Algernon Blackwood

5 The Man Whom the Trees Loved by Algernon Blackwood

I’m not entirely convinced that this novella is particularly well-written any more, or it might just be my typo-ridden Amazon copy, but it is incredibly interesting. Following a retired elderly couple, David and Sophia Bittacy, negotiating their views of nature upon discovering that the forest fringing their garden is sentient, Blackwood writes an ambiguous ecoGothic terror of the unknowable other and inescapable fate. The Man Whom the Trees Loved. Blackwood taught me that nature can be scary, ambivalent nature is scarier, and helped defined my research interests.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

6 The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

‘Okay, I write overblown, purple, self-indulgent prose. So fucking what?’ Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is a collection of violent, subversive, take-no-prisoners fairy tales. Gone is the sanitised Disney romance, replaced with sex and slaughter. Carter taught me that there’s always a new way to say something, and not to be ashamed of your style.

Carrie by Stephen King

7 Carrie by Stephen King

One of the first horror novels I ever bought, Stephen King’s Carrie is a nightmarish coming-of-age tale about puberty, bullying, and the cruelty of high school. Written in an epistolary style, King’s novel ramps up the tension scene by scene until the (pigs’) bloody climax of the infamous prom. Carrie taught me that however bad things get, they can get much, much worse.

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

8 The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

The first Gothic novel, and in hindsight absolutely hilarious, Walpole’s Otranto establishes all the now well-worn cliches of horror in a bombastic tale of floating armour, wandering ghosts, and bleeding statues. Otranto taught me that classic horror is indefinitely entertaining, sensational, and never to trust giant helmets.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

9 The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Another blending of horror and science-fiction, Stevenson’s novella is a damning allegory for the depths of human emotion, and the dangers of self-repression. Written at the turn of the 20th century, when science was viewed as either salvation or damnation, Stevenson imagines both entwined. Dr. Jekyll taught me that we all are double, and any attempts at containment lead to self-destruction.

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe

10 'The Tell-Tale Heart' by Edgar Allen Poe

Another Gothic foundation, Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart' is a fantastic, brief study of unreliability and madness. Poe places the reader in the head of a murderer unable to escape the weight of his deed, convinced that he will be caught. 'The Tell-Tale Heart' taught me that we all have skeletons in our closets, all comes crumbling down, and never to trust what you're told.

The Picture in the House by H. P. Lovecraft

11 'The Picture in the House' by H. P. Lovecraft

I think this is Lovecraft's story which creeps me out the most. 'The Picture in the House' is an exercise in unsettling atmosphere and creeping dread. Lovecraft writes the story of a man returning to New England who takes shelter for the night in an isolated house. He taught me to never trust the suspicious guy who is obviously evil, and that cannibalism pops up in the most unlikely of places.

Uzumaki by Junji Ito

12 Uzumaki by Junji Ito

Because anything can be scary, Junji Ito’s Uzumaki makes spirals terrifying, as they slowly infect a small town community. Everything from girls' hair to snails become horrific vessels for the spirals, with some disgusting art to match. Uzumaki taught me to take your concept to every conceivable extreme, and that anything, literally anything, can be terrifying in the right hands.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

13 House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves follows the editors compiling of Johnny Truant's finding of Zampano's manuscript of the elusive Navidson Record. It's very layered, yes, very complicated, and brilliant. The Navidson Record is a literary found-footage film, with all the chills that entails, and as the narratives start to bleeds into one another, the book does too. Danielewski taught me that it's never too late to reinvent, and that form is what you make of it.

Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu

14 Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu

The greatest vampire novel ever written (sorry Dracula, see you in a bit), Le Fanu’s Carmilla is both a biting tale of bloodsucking, and a provocative challenging of gender and sexuality. A riotous read which explores a narrator's infatuation with the visiting vampire, Carmilla, Le Fanu taught me that the best monsters undermine society's norms.

The Watcher by R. H. Benson

15 'The Watcher' by R. H. Benson

A recent discovery, but one I've already written a paper on, alongside The Man Whom the Trees Loved, 'The Watcher' is the second of the texts which cemented my interested in the ecoGothic. Behind a religious diatribe, 'The Watcher' is a damning allegory for the relationship between nature and the human. Benson taught me that all bad deeds have consequences.

Good Country People by Flannery O'Connor

Illustration by Afu Chan.

16 'Good Country People' by Flannery O'Connor

Another text all about duality and trust, 'Good Country People' shows the extent of human deception, and that perception isn't always reality. O'Connor taught me how to incorporate religious themes into my work, and that it is not the author's position to moralise.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

17 Animal Farm by George Orwell

Depending on my mood, I often argue Animal Farm to be the greatest book ever written. But it’s also terrifying in its truth. Whilst Squealer is an absolute terror, Orwell’s allegory for how easily a belief system can become violent, and how easily the ruling-elite can become corrupted, still maintains its nightmarishness today. Animal Farm taught me that complex doesn't have to mean inaccessible.

Edgar Allen Poe The Raven The Simpsons

18 'The Raven' by Edgar Allen Poe

Because poetry can be spooky too, Poe's 'The Raven' is both a brilliant tale of a haunting, and an exceptionally rhythmic performance piece. And, like any true horror fan, I first encountered it through The Simpsons. 'The Raven' taught me that horror doesn't have to be limited to novels.

The Shining by Steven King

19 The Shining by Stephen King

Another of my earliest reads, though one I never really got on too well with, The Shining is probably well known to you if you're reading this. A family retire as caretakers to the Overlook Hotel for a winter, and the father goes (or perhaps always was) mad. The Shining taught me that it's never just the house that's haunted, the past haunts as well.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

20 Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Because every list about books requires an entry on Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus is the precursor to all things horror: violent, bloody, and riotous. Following the titular Titus, Shakespeare charts a fight against tyranny and a descent into madness through death, disguise, and cannibalism. Titus taught me that however bad things get, however much blood and death, there is always time to laugh.

Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan

21 Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan

I studied this book in Year 8, and that was pretty much how this all started: with vampires, a circus, and spiders. The first novel in The Saga of Darren ShanCirque du Freak led me down the rabbit hole of horror, and into Shan's other series, The Demonata. Shan taught me that horror can appeal to all ages, and that it's good to be scared sometimes.

Wytches by Scott Snyder and Jock

22 Wytches by Scott Snyder and Jock

My first horror graphic novel, Wytches is a fascinating retelling of witch mythology accompanied by some evocative artwork. The second installment has just been released this Halloween, so I'm excited to see where it goes. Wytches taught me that tropes will remain timeless so long as writers are willing to reinvent.

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

23 The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

One of the most recent horror novels I’ve read, and a great subversion of the apocalypse-cult/home-invasion storyline. Tremblay twists the plot in relentless shocks which upend the entire piece, whilst the scene in which a tidal wave swallows America is truly unsettling. Tremblay taught me that modern horror hasn't lost its edge.

The Signalman by Charles Dickens

24 'The Signalman' by Charles Dickens

Whilst The Turn of the Screw wins out at the best modern ghost story, Dickens' 'The Signalman' is a quintessential English ghostly tale. Reading it now it's somehow both haunting and heartwarming, like a spectral blanket. Dickens taught me that location is just as important as plot in evoking fear.

Bec by Darren Shan

25 Bec by Darren Shan

Afer Cirque du Freak I swiftly devoured Shan's other series, The Demonata, in which three outsiders fight against a multitude of monsters. The fourth novel, Bec, taught me that it's okay to be weird, or an outsider, but also that blood and gore are really, really fun when you're a teenager.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

26 Dracula by Bram Stoker

Though it's hard to read this now without Gary Oldman coming into my head, Dracula still has some of the most haunting moments in horror. From the mystery of the opening coach journey, to the glimpse of the Count scaling the castle walls, Dracula reaffirms that, yes, vampires can be scary. Stoker taught me that

The Monk by Matthew Lewis

27 The Monk by Matthew Lewis

When I was studying Ann Radcliffe's largely tedious The Romance of the Forest, Matthew Lewis' The Monk kept being mentioned and sounded absolutely brilliant. It was. A classic Faustian tale of corruption, transgression, and genuine horror. Lewis taught me that taboos are meant to be challenged.

The Sandman by E. T. A. Hoffman

28 'The Sandman' by E. T. A. Hoffman

Freud's favourite thing, beyond misdiagnosing women, 'The Sandman' has it all: automatons, mad science and eye-stealers. It also has enough ambiguity that Freud could build an entire theory upon it. 'The Sandman' taught me that even the friendliest of tales can house the worst of boogeymen.

29 Goosebumps by R. L. Stine

God I loved these books, and the TV show as well. Night of the Living Dummy, Say Cheese and Die!, Monster Blood. So many fantastic titles which introduced me to every horror trope there is. 'Goosebumps' taught me the entire legacy of horror, in a way I didn't even realise until now.

Sleeping With the Lights On by Darryl Jones

30 Sleeping With The Lights On by Prof. Darryl Jones

I got the chance to hear Darryl talk about horror recently and it was fascinating. In keeping with my interests, because I had to ask, he suggested that the ecoGothic wasn't just important, but urgent. I've referenced him many times in my essays and can't wait to read his this. Darryl taught me that horror is a viable academic option.

Michael Wheatley Halloween Horror Books

31 'Dagon' by H. P. Lovecraft.

My favourite short story of all time, which led to my interest in the ecoGothic, ecoWeird, and basically where I'm at now. 'Dagon' is brilliant, despite all of Lovecraft's problems. It follows a man traversing the upheaved ocean-bed, and meeting the titular monstrous fish-God. 'Dagon' taught me, above all else, how much I love horror.


Follow me on Twitter (@md_wheatley) where I'll be regularly sharing my insights on what I'm reading.

Alan Fielden Marathon JAMS Review

'Marathon' review - Alan Fielden's genre-defying odyssey

Marathon by Alan Fielden with JAMS

Two years ago, during my undergraduate degree, I had the privilege of being taught playwriting by someone whose passion was inspirational. He encouraged us to be experimental, unorthodox and ourselves. Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing his work. Alongside his theatre group, JAMS, Alan Fielden was this year’s winner of the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award. From this, came Marathon.

With Marathon, Fielden and JAMS adapt the tale of a messenger running across Greece to declare victory in war into a genre-defying odyssey of futility, absurdity and condemnation. The message is changed and politically charged: the war not won, but lost.

Drawing from Brechtian tradition - a phrase I only know because of Alan - the performers, trapped within the cyclic nature of war, fail to remember the parts they play. They drift through fragments of conflicts long passed, long forgotten, and falsely recalled; they become soldiers, victims and directors - bit-parts in someone else’s narrative.

Throughout, the work shifts seamlessly from humour to horror as Marathon critiques conflict in all its guises. Executions, shelling, patriotism and mercy killings: all are  masterfully presented to the point of excess. Death becomes a fact, corpses glamourised, yet we are told not to dwell.

The satire is scathing. We are told not to dwell because our society does not. Atrocities shock us before being buried under the weight of another, and conflict is treated as occasional, not ongoing. It is hard not to feel resonances with gun crime in the US or war in the Middle East.

As the conclusion nears, in one of the piece’s most moving sequences, the messenger pleads desperately to anyone who will listen to wake up to war. But all is lost to absurdity. Communication fails again and again under the weight of self-imposed ignorance and consumable distractions.

I adored Marathon. It was my first real taste of what theatre can be: unconventional and thought-provoking; at once provocative and joyful. I also imagine it will mean many things to many people. Whilst the narrative I took was anti-war, Marathon is layered to the extent that meaning becomes individual.

In the end, what remains is what began: a stage strewn with bullets and guns. The play is played out, still it plays on. War is played out, still it plays on.

Haunted Abstract by Michael Wheatley

The Unadapted: 'Haunted' by Chuck Palahniuk

As early as the classic Hammer monsters of Dracula and Frankenstein, horror cinema has been inseparable from literature. In the past year alone, horror movie heavyweights like ITAnnihilation and The Ritual have all brought to life the nightmares of the page.

But not every book claws its way to the silver screen. Be it because they're too drenched with gore, too dark, or just too damn weird, a host of horror writing stirs silent and underappreciated. These are The Unadapted.


The legend foes that over the course of reading his story 'Guts' across the world, Chuck Palahniuk caused sixty-seven people to faint. Following a sex-starved teenager in search of the ultimate orgasm, 'Guts' ends with the youth's trip to a swimming pool suction system, and the story earning its name. Yet, this infamous tale is far from the main course, instead serving only as an appetiser: the first of twenty-three gruesome works which make up Palahniuk's 'novel of stories', Haunted.

Told by a group of dehumanised stereotypes named the likes of Comrade Snarky and the Earl of Slander, these stories are connected by the framing narrative of a writing retreat: "abandon your lives for three months", declares the advert. It is here, isolated and slowly descending into insanity, that each character pens their story.

Far from the splatter of 'Guts', however, these stories span the full breadth of horror. 'The Nightmare Box' and 'Obsolete', for instance, are pure existential dread. In 'Obsolete', humanity discovers that human souls achieve immortality on Venus. The imperfect, meanwhile, are doomed to live out cyclical lives. The global population then commits suicide en masse, with the belief that with no more bodies to carry souls, everyone will emigrate to Venus. The story focuses on the final four people on Earth: a family, suffocating themselves in their car.

However, like all the greatest works of horror, Haunted seethes with social satire. First published in 2005 during the peak of reality TV like Big BrotherHaunted's framing narrative skewers the fame-hungry culture of modern celebrity. Trapped within the writing retreat, the characters start to compete to create the best personal narrative arc for when they are eventually rescued and exposed to a media storm. They turn to self-mutilation and murder, all with the goal of marketing themselves as the most sympathetic survivor of the writing retreat from Hell.

Likewise, the individual stories of Haunted lampoon society through a horrific lens. In 'Speaking Bitterness', the fine line preventing social justice from tipping into injustice is exposed. At an all-female victim support group for sufferers of male violence, a transsexual woman attends. The original group, unable to accept her as one of their own, viciously attack her in a frenzy of transphobic violence. "From the minute we sat down, we tried to explain..." the narrator rationalises, in turn misgendering the woman and echoing a culture which can work against its own social progress.

'Slumming', meanwhile, predates the later craze of 'poverty porn', showcasing the rich and famous' fetishisation of the poor: sleeping rough and faking homelessness just for the thrill of it. "Anonymity is the new fame", one character declares. "Social divers are the new social climbers". When a serial killer of the homeless starts including these nouveau-poor in his spree, however, the social divers are appalled to find themselves with no avenue for help.

So why has Haunted yet to be adapted into film? Perhaps the narrative is too fragmented, blending a novel, short stories and poetry in one. Or, perhaps its satirical take on celebrity culture would require updating a decade on. But the best explanation may lie with the author himself: "a film has to maintain a certain decorum in order to be broadcast to a vast audience. No one really gives a damn about books. No one has bothered to ban a book in decades. With that disregard comes the freedom that only books have".

The Art of Writing Fiction Michael Wheatley

Exercise Eleven, Part Two: 12 Hour Automatico

A slight detour from our usually scheduled programming, here. As mentioned in the previous exercise, I thought that sitting down for automatic writing with a clear target in mind worked against the principle of tapping into the unconscious. With that said, I spiced it up a bit.

So, for my own exercise, I took a day. For twelve hours, on the hour, I wrote five minutes of uninterrupted automatic writing. No targets, no intentions, just going with whatever was in my head at that moment. I thought that this would introduce more variance, taking us through the dream-like stage of just waking up to the day-to-day humdrum later on.

Then, upon reflecting on the automatic writing I had done each hour, I took what I believed to be an interesting launching point for a poem which I had scribbled down and developed it into a full draft. Below, find two examples of the automatic writing as well as the draft of this poem: 'Bookstagram'.


Exercise Eleven, Part Two: 12 Hour Automatico


Freedom unleashed: in theory at least. I remember now the words I swore to remember last night. I remember their existence, but not their forms. Unsubscribed they are now lost in unconscious, and it's a shame because those words were a new poetic source. Man Enough. The concept of societal pressures on males to act strong. Boys will be boys. Boys will run from their mothers and smoke cigarettes behind bike sheds. Boys will perturb police. Boys will do anything to remain one of the boys. Boys will wander streets at night, drunk or high, aware or not. Boys will be boys. Boys will never be men.


word association: lemon. lemonade. aid. AIDS crisis. housing. Theresa. mother. goose. gosling. Germaine Greer. greener pastures. past your bedtime. bedtime story. story makers. make the most of it. IT. it is what it is. I am what I am. I am, I am, I am Superman. Man on the Moon. Moonraker. raper. Charles II. second amendment. seconded. seconded. subpoena. submarine. mammal. fish. human. human. human.


When I read a book,
I'm not always in lingerie,
and the pages aren't placed
in my crotch.


When I read a book,
it isn't by a typewriter,
covered in sea-shells
or propped up in a bush.


When I read a book,
I don't always drink tea,
and if I did,
it would always have steam.


When I read a book...
when I read a book...
when I read a book...
I read a book.



For me, this adaptation on Cowan's exercise proves much more fruitful. Seeing where your unconscious will take you is part of the appeal of automatic writing, as well as getting ideas down on the page. Furthermore, by doing it every hour I was able to see how the day impacted my own thoughts. 'Bookstagram', unsurprisingly, came about whilst I was browsing posts on Instagram.

Having now completed this exercise I am unafraid to tweak Cowan's exercises to my own ends. I'm not sure if that was the intention of this series of posts, or of Cowan's work, but we have now reached autonomy.


Next: First things.

Missed a post? Catch up here.

Frankenstein Abstract by Michael Wheatley

Frankenstein (Abstract)

'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley.
A fascinating consideration of mortality which spawned some of the strangest readings I've ever done.

Frankenstein Mary Shelley Cover



Facsimile FrankenFrank is now actually Frankenstein. Another mad doctor disrupts the human body, and his response is nigh orgasmic. The monster-cum-human is shunned. The doctor’s in love; the monster’s in love; the chase begins and ends in ice. The doctor dies: no more, never love. The monster abandons our world.

Quirk Game Box Review Michael Wheatley

Quirk! Review

Author's Note: This review is of the party game 'Quirk!'. I wrote it for publication, however, because it was too negative it was declined. As a fun game, have a drink every time I clearly didn't like the game. 


I try to avoid direct comparisons in reviews; I believe that a game should be judged on its own merits. In the case of Quirk!, however, such comparisons are unavoidable. For all the originality that its name suggests, Quirk! is Go Fish. It sounds reductive, and it is, but Quirk! follows this blueprint by the book with only slight innovation. Truth be told, Quirk! is anything but quirky.

Go Fish

In Emmerse Studios’ game, a group of two to six players shuffle all fifty-six cards and deal three to each player. These cards include character quirks - such as a sheep, pirate or cat - which players need to collect in sets of three to gain points. As soon as a player has a set of three matching character quirks, they place them face-up in front of them and briefly bask in smug satisfaction. There are thirteen different sets of character quirks to collect in total, and once all are on the board the game ends, with the player with the most sets winning.

To collect these character quirks, players choose one from their own hand, choose a player, and hope that player has any matching cards. If they do, they hand them over, redrawing to a minimum hand size of three. If they don’t, the asking player has to Go Fish - I mean, Go Quirk, drawing a card from the deck.

The other cards are divided into 'tactics' which yield broader results, such as the ‘Zoo’ card which takes an animal quirk from a player; Skip cards - which cause a player to lose a turn; and Defence cards - which a player can use to avoid handing over any of their cards, telling the asking player to ‘Quirk Off!’.

Quirk Game Box Review Michael Wheatley

Go Quirk

What Quirk! does differently is in how cards are requested. Instead of a player simply asking ‘got any super models?’ (which I always do) there are two different symbols at the bottom of each card: one for ‘Noise’ and one for ‘Actions’. Depending on what symbols are on a player’s card, they request that quirk from another player by following those instructions. For instance, the sheep character quirk has a noise symbol, meaning the player would baa; the mime character quirk has an action symbol, meaning the player would need to mime to request that card; and the zoo card has both, meaning the player has to pretend to be from animal protection services… we never quite figured that quirk out.

It sounds quite fun, and it is. At first. With a suggested age range of 5+, this more active and zany method of requesting cards has clear appeal to young people, whilst in older groups the sheer initial awkwardness of the tasks leads to many humorous moments. The problem is that this gimmick soon wears thin, and then you’re left playing Go Fish. As hilarious as Cathy’s elephant impression may be the first time around, seven turns later when she’s still desperately waving her trunk, the novelty disappears and you start to wonder whether you should just put her down.

Meanwhile, whilst the card quality itself is worth noting, the art reflects Quirk! as a whole in its lack of originality. With the ‘Super Cute’ card having the only art which truly stands out, other quirks such as ‘Wink’, ‘Super Model’ or ‘Boring Fart’ are uninspired, wikiHow-esque doodles which had me longing for the same uniqueness I wished the game had overall.

Also of note is Quirk! Legends, the same game but with palette-swapped characters, as dragons replace dogs. However, the gameplay seems identical to the original Quirk!, meaning it would most likely suffer from the same faults.

Quirk Game Contents Michael Wheatley

Go Buy?

Ultimately, Quirk! is fine. I can’t say it’s anything more than that, but from the art to the gameplay, it is serviceable enough. The problem is that with so many party games in the market right now, Quirk! does little to stand out. For an evening of board games, I cannot see myself suggesting it, whilst even as a quick time-killer there are better options.

Quirk! simply does not have the replay-ability or variation to sustain itself. For its target market of families and young children, a degree of randomness can keep games like Quirk! fresh. Don’t Say It! or even Twister follow clear formulas, but invite unpredictability. With Quirk!, a parrot impression can only go so far until you all Quirk Off.

The Art of Writing Fiction Michael Wheatley

Exercise Eleven: First Thoughts

'Think of the person you are closest to in the world, the person whose life you know the most intimately. You are going to write for fifteen minutes, describing in detail what you imagine that person to be doing (and thinking and feeling) at this very moment. Write in the present tense, and address it to 'you'... No one is going to read what you write - not your teacher or your classmates, and especially not the person you're describing'.

Exercise Eleven of Andrew Cowan's 'The Art of Writing Fiction' moves us into the third chapter: Automatic Writing. An exercise favoured within early Modernism, automatic writing is meant to tap into your unconscious and bring to life ideas you didn't know you had. As Cowan puts it, 'the stuff that you don't know you know'.

Being a blog, Cowan's disclaimer for this First Thoughts exercise is unfortunately rendered moot; instead of nobody reading these thoughts, anybody can. However, I've decided to adapt this exercise. Truth is, as is hopefully clear by now, I can write. I've got a First Class degree in writing, so you and I would both hope as much. What this means, however, is that exercises like the following one I will take liberties with. So rather than an endless tirade of 'you' and a stream of unintelligible nonsense, I've crafted what came from the automatic writing process: not a lot, but enough.

Find my completed exercise below:


Exercise Eleven: First Thoughts

You don't know where you are right now, but at least you've escaped the heat.
You're in a holding room, waiting for the next step.
You're alone, but you'd be okay with this, wherever you are or wherever you're not.
You're in a holding room, waiting for us to say goodbye.

You're in a holding room, but you won't be for much longer,
and then... I don't know where you'll be,
but I miss you, and I love you,
and I know you'll be okay.



I quite enjoy automatic writing, but this exercise came at a time when my thoughts are all largely centered on the passing of my grandmother. How this exercise differed from what I expected of automatic writing, however, is that it remained writing with constraints - freeing the unconscious, but freeing it only to do one thing.

As such, as an additional exercise before the next of Cowan's, I am going to do a broader exercise in automatic writing to compare whether the presence of a guiding subject is helpful or hindering. Previously, freed from the shackles of 'you', for instance, automatic writing has led to fully formed works such as 'A Nightmare'. I can't help but feel I should give my unconscious a chance to roam free.


Next: 12 Hour Automatico

Missed a post? Catch up here.

The Art of Writing Fiction Michael Wheatley

Exercise Ten: Home Life

'For the next few minutes you should close your eyes and think of those people to whom you are closest and whom you see most frequently: parents, partner, siblings, children, etc. Some very recent event of exchange should come to you, happy or sad, humdrum or unusual. Set this down, being as detached as possible. Observe yourself as objectively as you view the other person'.

With Exercise Ten of Andrew Cowan's 'The Art of Writing Fiction', the observational exercises come to a close. Having starting gaining material through general observations, scrapbooking (we know how well that went), weather reports, street observing, and work, the last of Cowan's suggestions is to observe home.

In terms of those people whom I am closest and whom I see most frequently, it would have to be my parents. My brother has since moved out for work, leaving my mother and dad to be observed.

Unfortunately, this exercise came during an uncomfortable time for us all: a time of bereavement. I have eschewed these observations for now as being too personal. The following few entries are what remained from my observations.


Exercise Nine: Home Life

Tuesday, 19th June 2018

'Holly's been', I called to my mother.
'Holly's dead', she called back. 'No, that can't be right'.

Saturday, 23rd June 2018

I have spilled milk upon this notebook and it is now permanently stained. I went to the kitchen and gathered cloth. 'A bit of a struggle, is it?' my mother asked. I returned to my ghost story.

Tuesday, 26th June 2018

I scream upon discovery of a spider on my window.
'What?', my mother asks. 'It's outside, I think it's outside'.
'Judging from the angle of its legs-', I start.
'I need a broom. I'm going to get a broom'.



Though it fell at an uncomfortable time, the value of this exercise is still clear. My mother and father are so well known to me that so too are their quirks - my mother's sarcasm, for instance, which has long been passed down to me.

As such, in observing them I have a clear sense of their characters. The omitted entries in the observational journal go even further in conveying this. I'm not sure where this material will all apply in the long run, but even as a diary of this time it's valuable.


Next: First Thoughts

Missed a post? Catch up here