21 thoughts on “Murmured In Dreams – Stephen Bacon

  1. I reviewed the first story in 2012, as follows in the original context


    Cuckoo Spit

    “Sunlight was crowding the edges of the curtain. The clock ticked a comforting heartbeat. Timber was stretching within the structure of the building. The fridge began humming to itself, distracting her.”

    [Stephen Bacon is a rising star of the Horror genre whose work appeared on three separate occasions within ‘Nemonymous’ from 2008. So very pleased to see his work synchromeshing with ‘Black Static’]. An atmospheric, well-stylised, often effectively poetic Cumbrian tale of feral concupiscence — conveying a similar (but equally different) relationship between a daughter (Megan) and her mother to Cassie’s relationship with her own mother in the previous story, both relationships containing parallel senses of detachment by creatures or outgrowths or ‘were’-nesses acting as vehicles for humanity, and vice versa. The relationships here are also well-drawn and any metamorphoses are sufficiently subtle-haunting without allaying their head-on power as horror images. No mean feat. And the cuckoo spit’s conceit as salaciousness is another subtle but striking momentariness of realisation. And, arguably, the metaphor of the cuckoo as occupier is present here. Who is the occupier? The animal-human parasite/host symbiosis? Or simply Megan subconsciously assuming control of the house just before her mother’s ‘departure’? Not even the characters always know their own motives because, in my experience, any author is often powerless to help such characters’ eventual puzzlings-out of self (thankfully). And that lack of ultimate control works for me here, even if Bacon may not have consciously intended to relinquish any authorial control for creative purposes. [Me brainstorming:- In tune with the chain of cause and effect: the empty page from the first story above: awaiting some unknown force to start writing upon it — so as to help alleviate those challenging tentative tusslings that most writers (old and new) have when beginning a story from scratch or claw. That unknown force is ‘occupying’, in micro, this portrait of Cumbria or, in macro, the fluid-glistening White Noise of ‘Black Static’ itself?] (20 Feb 12 – three hours later)


    “The server asked Novak if he’d like anything else. He declined, and the server left them.”

    There seems a rarefied reason in a café for a server. As if murmured in dreams, a more subtle vehicle for communication than what I’m writing on to write about it to you. I follow Novak (Alexander) and the woman in a mask in that café, amid implications of their past, as unacknowledged by omniscience. And urban deprivation and its ghosts, its memories.
    This is a genuine weird classic. Pleased to say this. Surprised I have not read it before.

  3. I reviewed the next story within its context in September 2013, as follows:


    “Ahead, his destination loomed like a beacon for the destitute.”
    I have long had a rapport with the fiction of Stephen Bacon – and here, I simply knew I would come away from this story tantalised – even while being creeped out by the stock urban seediness and then the suspenseful imminence of something, all of which was narratively workmanlike and enjoyable enough, but as (similar to Boyd’s story’s ‘feel’ for the gun) I begun to feel as if I could handle the gun here, too, regarding a boy’s story that I hear about. Later, I imagine the retribution about to be wrought following the boy’s story told through the potential gunman’s mind and the resulting dilemma or weakness does not end up just simply tantalising me but literally radiating out in untold directions of further tantalisation.
    And the story itself seemed to become, for me, a set of bound apports paging me…


    “Without Facebook, it never would have happened.”

    A ribbon of detritus, I think it said in this workmanlike story. A reunion in a pub of soldiers from Fallujah. And retribution upon an erstwhile bully via the beard-cutters et al, one of which gives this story its title. Bare facebook under the mask; social mania reaching out its iraqnid legs of unfriending…


    “But houses dream, too,…”

    Dereliction of the street revisited, in older age, with walkie-talkie, and still high-pitched voice of youth transmitted, but into which Elysian Fields or nightmares are held here for his revisit? A tantalising story that is not so much workmanlike as untoward creative. Sometimes this author hits on things that hit the nerve almost accidentally, or by some preternatural force that uses him as a conduit? Naivety with complexity hid within it.

    “As he drives, I can hear his toolboxes rattling in the back.”

  6. I reviewed the next story in its context, as follows in September 2015:



    “That’s the word I use – ‘nauseous’, not sick,…”

    Although I thought I understood this story, it has been nagging at me ever since. Which is a good thing.
    It is what I would call a simple-tantalising tale, of a brother ‘exiled’ from his sister for ten years, with our never knowing fully why they have not been able to have a reunion (although it becomes easier to guess why) – till their mother died. The sister has changed, he notes, with her now liking dogs when she didn’t before, has a boy friend who accentuates his biceps, needs to be whittled down to size, I guess, like the boys at the end of the Jeffrey Thomas story did with their long sticks, making the human bandersnatch frumious….
    There is a sense of wrongness with the Bacon story, so utterly wrong, so aversionary, I was left with undercurrents of bad taste but mixed artfully with the Carrollian.
    Practice makes perfect. Dogleg and wrist.

  7. I reviewed the next story in its context, as follows in September 2016:


    FEAR OF THE MUSIC by Stephen Bacon

    “‘You can’t half bust some moves on the dance floor yourself.’
    He glanced at the quotation and smiled. ‘Nietzsche.’”

    Somewhere in this otherwise workmanlike text, it is claimed that there is no longer any middle ground. This story is an ironic emblem of a middle ground itself, I guess, as if trying to prove that the passion of a new relationship — the fire perceived and envied in the belly of your lover’s life, the art of dancing as proof of that fire — comes to one of two extremes: a point of ennui or a desperate self-dosing. Ecstasy as a two-way filter. Meanwhile, the spontaneous fire eventually burns itself out. Within and without. Metaphorically and literally. Strictly, too.


    “Another piece of my heart crumbled.”

    A moving account of childhood on the cusp of puberty during the hot summer of 1976. With a sense of mortality and bodily changes tinging the wonder and dread of new discoveries, real and fictional. Close to the reservoir and the old colliery. The secluded den. The eventually tragic tunnel. Making me wonder if life’s rite of passage is a dead-end tunnel or an open-ended gambol in childhood’s endless summers? Never to become an old man? Questions ever murmured in dreams.

    “I had begun to see the world through the eyes of a man who told life’s truths through the art of fiction.”

  9. I reviewed the next story in its context, as follows in October 2014:


    The Devil’s Only Friend by Stephen Bacon
    “He smelt vaguely of stale, enclosed rooms, like the interior of caravans or a musty attic; nothing too unpleasant, but, somehow infinitely sad.”
    A perfect portrait of a seedy and rundown seaside resort seen as a palimpsest of six years ago and today – dislocated with new street line shop patterns, added Aldi supermarket et al. A well-characterised arsonist who has done his due time returns to his haunts and loves here – and to face his demons and to make meagre amends. That palimpsest seemed to me to indent further the story’s ‘widening gulf’ metaphor: an apotheosis of Exodus. And this seems to sit tellingly with this book’s earlier ‘stone and hammer’ syndrome, those chunked out gaps to escape from as unwelcome gaps in themselves and, paradoxically, to use as welcome gaps that become the very means of escape–
    “There was just a rocky slope leading away, tongues of black seaweed carpeting the ground.”


    “Nature’s way of sorting things out.”

    Not so much the title’s herbal flavour as an old wives’ method of controlling the cross-grains of life, but more a strong dose of story as a parallel sorting of things out, as if fiction is a purging enema for life’s natural woes — here an old widowed man today leaving the house where he spent his married years, and the strong dose of story he has to tell his adult grandson becomes an extrapolation of what used to be crude measures as a way of humanity’s coping with birth and death, here both birth and death as a simultaneous curse upon a woman’s body even after it has been purged. An extrapolation taken to extremes, as only fiction can do, by making even the worst imaginable of things believable, with believability itself being essential to off-loading the unwanted at its most demonic. Dig it up and see.

  11. I reviewed the next story when reading it over a year ago in the mighty MURMURATIONS, now murmured in today’s dreams, as follows:


    “A click of the switch revealed magnolia walls, faded watercolours, yellowed skirting.”

    A heart-rending story you will never forget, about previous happiness of a family, the story’s male protagonist, his wife and daughter, but, as prefigured and later nightmarishly agented by the kookaburra they saw at the zoo, their subsequent dealings with cancer, suicide and eventual spiritual reunion in a new happiness…….. or pie in the sky? That now peeled sky…

    “The sky was losing its final vestiges of light. The birds had fallen silent.”


    An image during my review of MURMURATIONS:


    “Maybe the meaning was lost in translation.”

    The meaning of the milk moustaches, that is. At heart, a workmanlike story of an Englishman called Saxton on a strange Greek Island, trying to unlive his tragic backstory as a temporary teacher with passive deadpan primary school children who seem already to know about this backstory. The island itself has a genius loci — relating his backstory to its own. Yet there is more. A thing that Bacon is good at, making me relish his stories without always knowing exactly why. As if his writing is as instinctive as the paintings that Saxton finds in the strange church nearby. Like ideas in a head that the head didn’t put there. Young and old heads alike. Mine is older than many. Crept out.

  13. I reviewed the next story in January 2014, in its context then, as follows:


    What Grief Can Do
    “She clenched her teeth in an effort to prevent the rawness from spilling out.”
    A powerful short short that deals with bereavement, misbegotten love and whatever else spills out, bursting through the dam of denial. A “funeral” that eventually becomes “feral” with animalistic sobs of shame as well as of grief, this way or that to exorcise life’s vile baggage. With the sky’s first light spilling out of this New Year’s Day, it makes me wonder if the world itself has a giant skeleton in its giant cupboard, a whole world’s reality with its own version of Nick’s tank under its floor?


    “It smells of tears in here.”

    Hey, this is even better than I remember it. I haven’t read it since I was responsible for publishing it in a 2013 classical-music horror-story anthology. I may be biased, but it is utterly musical, non-workmanlike, with visual word assonances like ‘teat’ and ‘tenant’ and creepy ideas that will haunt you, a real dream if there can be such a thing, two flats opposite each other where the tenants watch each other at night, the sound of Chopin’s Nocturnes coming from elusive room 313, in 2013, in a book published at a no. 113 where I live. Murmured in dreams, for sure. And a mug with lipstick on it. Languid connections, even an unspoken, barely felt sexual attraction, with a throwaway mention of female genitalia almost unnoticed. And the rat poison from the Medea piece. A classic story, this, playing the ivories, dare I say. Why is it not more well known? Probably because I was crap at distributing books in 2013!


    “This time she managed to haul it against the side of the hole.”

    A woman with cancer has a reunion with her ex from university, having since lived the rich ‘dream’ as it were with a more societally acceptable man. The ex takes her to Scotland to meet an older magus who heals her through this hauling of a rough hessian sack of herself in a crudely dug hole. I sense I was by-passed as an unwanted influencing witness and it went somewhere I could not, should not follow.


    This story of a female UN official in North Africa, her encounter with the locals’ religious beliefs and the eponymous hybrid boy as produce of a demon and human woman, and her nightmares, is unquestionably very well written, hellish and at times erotic, but it does not have what I infer as the Stephen Bacon extra indefinable ingredient, an ingredient needed to evolve it into one of his classics. Those who read all these stories and those in his previous collection will sense what I mean. But I suspect, perhaps, that even Stephen Bacon himself does not know what that extra ingredient entails!

  17. Well now I’m no hero
    That’s understood
    All the redemption I can offer girl
    Is beneath this dirty hood
    – from THUNDER ROAD (the late Bruce Springsteen)


    I knew Morecambe, having lived there for two years in the late sixties, and now in the future’s future, when most of our heroes are gone, we are allowed a haunting glimpse there of a dead holiday camp and its dubious denizens, and of the way our sadnesses and sins can be assuaged by surrogacy. Who knows how death can be replaced, or forbidden lusts catered for, or even whether artificial intelligence is artificial at all? Even fantasies are culpable if you can’t prove they’re not. Yet more came.


    “He mentally counts her breaths, losing himself in the numbers.”

    A most moving, frightening, embracingly human, end-of-the-world story.
    If the basic concept is original, it should be honoured and also made into a cinema film. This should happen, even if the basic concept has been used before. The story itself as a story feels intrinsically original. All I know is that it worked strongly for me.


    “Were these things simply pieces of art?”

    Like ‘The Cambion’, this novelette is very well written, a narrative that is a real story, a workmanlike adventure with perhaps deeper meanings, involving believable characters and their reactions, an insectoid monster and an orphan boy with a machete, and sculptures or statues, about a photographer in Rwanda in the 1990s, and its aftermath’s effect on his life and loves. A sometimes tragic adventure where his quest — for a crystallised photo to earn, perhaps as a crazy ambition, the Pulitzer prize — is set against those frozen works of art of humans as crystallised in our mad world, a world that started going mad even before we realised it. The Gestalt reached, pieces of art as one. Art as craziness incarnate?

    This whole book gives further evidence that Stephen Bacon’s canon of work often needs crystallising, and real-time assessed at each stage it reaches. Whether this on-going canon is underrated or not, it is time that we make sure that we start rating it properly as it already deserves, and as what it may become beyond as well as within genre. It came from the ground.


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