07 May 2015

Leaving London - Pay What You Want on PDF and Kindle Mobi file

I’ve decided to place a Pay What You Want button for both the novel, Leaving London, and the book of short stories, All of Us with OurPointless Worries and Inconsequential Dramas, (that’s a title and a half), on this site.

Why have I decided to do this? Well there are a few reasons. Author Julian Gallo wrote a great piece a few weeks ago called Piracy and the Web Dept on his website, Desvario, and he allowed me to chip in my two cents on this subject. I’m not hugely concerned about these websites that rip off your book and give them away for nothing, because basically I think a lot of them are phishing websites, and whenever I’ve reported them and had them taken down, another one simply pops up in its place.

Something should definitely be done about these phishing websites, although Google have contacted me and said that the ones I’ve been reporting lately have nothing to do with them, and that I should just contact the website owner – yeah - like that’s going to do any good. So, I’ve kind of given up on that.

I do think there is a more positive side towards giving your books away for next to nothing to readers who cannot afford to buy, plus the main point as well is to increase your readership. I also think that PWYW is a way to stop Amazon and other online publishing sites from taking a chunk of your money, although of course they do provide the publishing service. When it comes to the paperback version, there’s nothing much I can do about that side of things. If I sell a paperback copy of Leaving London for £10 then my profit from this is very minimal – under £2 at most. Also I left my printing press in my last house when I moved.

So far I’ve had readers buy the PDF/Mobi versions for $3.00 each, which is less than advertised on Amazon (but who says my price on Amazon is the right price?), but no one has yet taken the $0.01 option, the minimum amount that the books can be purchased for. I still do have to pay a Paypal fee on each sale.

There is the option, (although I’ve still not worked out how to do this on this site), of giving copies away for free and then having people donate (or not) after reading - the donation of which is how much they think the book is worth. That’s another interesting concept, paying what you think something is actually worth rather than paying the stipulated manufacturing price. I’ll give some thought to that…or even work out how to do it.

There are some people who think writers (and there are plenty of others using this method) are mad for using the Pay What You Want or Pay What is Fair sales method. The quote from Gene Simmons when he heard about Radiohead using this method for their In Rainbow’s album is, “I open a store and say, ‘Come on in and pay whatever you want.’ Are you on fucking crack? Do you really believe that’s a business model that works?”

But, maybe people will pay what they think is fair or what they can afford instead of being told what the ‘right’ price is by businesses. I always hear people say, “yeah, in an ideal world we’d be able to…” and then they tell you why you can’t do something because we don’t live in an ideal world - immediately shutting off any change in direction.

I also kind of like the Paul Arden (yes, he was in advertising) thinking on not coveting your ideas. Arden said, “If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish. Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you.”

Okay, this ramble has gone on long enough. To buy either of the books just hit the button to the right and remember to write note saying either PDF or Mobi file. Thanks

I’ll end by saying immense thanks to Laura for completely proof-reading Leaving London, which must have been some task, and I think she still has her sanity. The new digital copy is available now and the paperback will be ready in a few days.

Also thanks to Baxter Ivon for interviewing me recently on his The Wind Sings website (funnily enough, this interview has already been copied by the pirates and is being used to advertise their free books service).


26 March 2015

My Book isn’t selling. Here, Let Me Shit on Yours

Indie ‘maverick’ writers setting the rules.

* This article was first published in Expats Post

Quick note re this article. This not a rant and shouldn't be taken as such although you can if you want. Who the hell cares? - that is all.

The easiest way to stifle creativity –  just follow the rules.

In actual fact, the title of this article should be, “You’re promoting your book using social media? What the hell? Let’s have no more of that nonsense, plus you’re doing it all wrong” followed by a strongly worded tweet about those age-old rules that must be followed during promotion, the social netiquette you must follow when publicizing that book you’ve spent years writing and really wouldn’t quite mind if people heard about it and then paid a few dollars to read it or not.

Who are these gatekeepers, the ones guarding those ancient chiseled-in-stone tablets of the almost mythological rules of indie publishing? The ones who feel the need to shout down others for having the tenacity to promote their books?
Well, they’re on twitter mostly.

You can find them easily, just follow the links to their latest book or the book before that or the one before that (in some cases there’s at least the space of a month or two between books before the next one hits the virtual shelves). You’ll also find that they don’t just place these links for a week or two or maybe a month or two after their book has been launched. No, they’ll do it every single day, multiple times per day, hourly sometimes, across every online channel they can find. And it’s fine for them to do that, I personally don’t have a problem with that and applaud their tenacious, never say die spirit but it seems that if someone else promotes their own book on their own Twitter feed then there are some golden, hallowed gatekeepers who suddenly sprout wings and fly from their ivory towers with an overwhelming need to dispense advice to that oh so naive newbie writer to inform them that there are rules you know, even in the world of indie publishing.

The ‘newbie’ writer who was the recipient of this tweet just happens to be someone I know who has years of experience in the writing world and simply blocked the gatekeeper, which is a shame because I’m sure that advice would have been invaluable to someone who has written five novels, books of poetry, has appeared in journals and on literary websites, is the founder of a literary website and has ran his own publishing press in the past. The things he could have learned but will sadly miss out on now as he forever roams the tumbleweed strewn, virtual highways, wailing in anguish and muttering, “If only I’d listened.” Ah if only indeed.

Okay, so we have people who tweet the so-called rules (seriously is there some book I’ve missed out on with these rules – I’ll check Amazon or Twitter) but we also have another set who are outraged to Scanners-like, head exploding levels of anger because writers are using certain methods to get their books seen. “Friends are reading their books and leaving reviews, they’re doing free promotions, they’re using fucking Fivver to try and advertise their books – may they burn in hell for pissing all over the sacred stone tablets of indie publishing!”

Let me clue you in outraged ones. Indie writers usually have minimal to zero advertising budgets and they’re up against millions of other writers, all trying to get their books seen. Imagine walking into a book store and seeing millions of books by unknown writers but at the front of the store you see racks of best-sellers, many of which are selling for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Best sellers by big names such as E L James, yeah you know who she is. You know who she is because she’s never out of the newspapers and her books, cinema adaptation, branded soap powder, chocolates, hand-cuff wearing teddy bears and regurgitated edible undies are plastered all over the internet.

You’re probably sick to death of having 50 Shades of Mediocre Soft-Porn being thrust into your face from your screen every day but yes, let’s be enraged by that indie writer who is trying to promote their book using links or book reviews from friends rather than those professional marketing men with their million dollar advertising budgets who present us with their golden literary jewels and which the majority of us buy into. Because we’re not being manipulated by them at all are we?

I’m not a big twitter user because frankly I cannot be bothered by what seems like a wall of rolling advertisements. But I see the advantages of it for writers – it costs nothing to use, you can reach an audience and you can put some work in and engage with other writers.

But there’s also the downside. The ones who want to shout down others for not following the rules, their rules. There are no rules. It’s indie publishing, you’re supposed to stick to your own way of thinking – you’re not beholden to the big publishing companies. You can do what you want, write what you want, share what you want. You are not beholden to anyone’s rules.

There’s a line of thinking that writers are filled with jealousy about the success of other writers – it’s a line, you don’t need to buy into it. If your book isn’t selling then you can become frustrated and you can let bitterness seep in and start shitting on others, on their work or on the way they go about promoting their work.
Or how about you simply become inspired enough by others to push yourself further with your next book and simply leave those who have an overwhelming need to set rules to govern over those who have a need to follow them.

02 March 2015

Author Julian Gallo Explores Creative Posterity, Doubts and Second Chances in New Novel Rhombus Denied

Author Julian Gallo at home in New York
“All creative people, at some point in their lives, dream of stardom, fame, importance, what have you. Then you get on the path and pursue your dream and little by little the reality of what it actually is slowly begins to sink in – and it’s absolutely nothing like you imagined it to be. If you’re lucky, you’ll be observant to have your attitudes change, your expectations become more realistic. If you’re not, you’re in for a hell of a crash.” – Julian Gallo, Rhombus Denied.

Julian Gallo’s latest novel Rhombus Denied may, at 108 pages, be slim compared to his previous books but it’s nonetheless a compelling page turner exploring the themes of artistic posterity, second chances in later life and that issue faced by most creatives whether artists, actors, writers or musicians – those sometimes crippling, always excruciating and in many cases career-killing doubts and insecurities.

Dante Russo is the narrator, a man a few years shy of his fiftieth year living a seemingly contented life in Morningside Heights, New York. In his 20s Dante had been a budding actor and playwright but his dreams of a career under the Klieg lights burned out rapidly when a production he was involved in was scathingly reviewed by a critic who has since carved out a successful career as a film reviewer. Dante’s own career now consists of, “teaching theater to a bunch of starry eyed, naïve, dopey kids at a city high school. Talk about crushed dreams…” His wife Julia, an actor in her younger years, has now found her niche on Wall Street, earning considerably more than he and it’s thanks to her earnings that they’re able to afford the upmarket apartment they live in and the nice car they drive.

For all intents and purposes Dante leads a life where he clings to the edges of the acting/theater world albeit in a teaching capacity with some lingering regrets but no apparent silent screaming. The catalyst in Dante’s life and in this story seemingly arrives in the form of the death of Jacques Martre, his long-time mentor and inspiration in the world of theater. But it’s Martre’s play that is the real catalyst, the experimental Rhombus Denied, a play so controversial that it caused riots when staged 60 years earlier and has never been produced since.

This is the play that Dante, with the help of some of his old theater friends, decides to produce as a tribute to his mentor. But with this production the stage is also set to reignite Dante’s long-held doubts and grudges as well as offering up an underlying message on the true value of creativity in a society where artistic success is mostly defined by financial worth.
Rhombus Denied is a book that delves deeply into the theme of posterity and what that actually means to creative individuals.

The playwright Jacques Martre didn’t care about posterity. Martre’s wife Margot reinforces this to Dante, “His attitude was if you missed it while he was alive that was everyone else’s loss.” Dante on the other hand is a man conflicted,  having given up on his dreams long ago, he still has, unconsciously, something to prove to himself and to his former critic Kale Forbes, a writer who decades earlier described and dismissed Dante’s acting efforts as wooden. This is a man who has lot at stake in this play in terms of second chances in later life and his own shot at some form of posterity. But success doesn’t seem assured with a play where even the current cast are having trouble understanding its meaning.

There’s a lot to like about Rhombus Denied. Written in a journal style, the reader gets a hilarious trip behind the scenes including cast auditions, in-fighting and creative squabbles. And Gallo also explores the changing face of New York and a theatrical world where audiences are more enthusiastic towards ‘jukebox musicals’ than experimental theater.

This is a book that should appeal to a wide range of readers but those involved in the world of writing, acting or theater will definitely recognize and get additional pleasure from the themes explored. Those bad reviews we pretend not to care about but with one more chance we’ll change that critic’s mind or those ‘what could have been’ moments when those set in stone artistic dreams have been chiseled away at bit by bit until they’re little more than dust and the realization hits that we’ve been fully committed for decades now to a nine to five world wondering how the hell that happened, and is it too late to make a change.
While Dante has spent decades pondering over what might have been, time has marched on and he recognizes this all too well when looking over his class of hopeful, starry-eyed students – “Generation X is greying now and still invisible in the shadow of the aging “Baby Boomers” and these kids…”

It is posterity that wins the day in this novel although not in the way Dante imagines. Ultimately, the play itself has its own way of living on and affecting people after the playwright Jacques Martre has passed on.

For anyone out there working through those nagging doubts whilst writing that book or play or creating that work of art and trying to find the answer to that haunting question of, “what’s the point?”, Rhombus Denied should help you to realize that in the end there’s only one person who can answer that question, and a little patience may be required.

Rhombus Denied Book Trailer

I talked with Julian Gallo recently and he discussed his new novel, the new generation of online indie book reviewers and the changing face of New York.

Dante seems to be a very conflicted character. He’s telling his students one thing, (the introductory quote above) but he’s unconsciously doing the opposite and chasing again the dreams he had 20 years earlier, even goes as far as inviting the reviewer who provided the bad review two decades earlier. Is this Dante’s second chance, to put an end to this inner conflict and to get rid of those doubts that have haunted him?

Dante is most definitely a conflicted character. When he was young and very green, he had the kind of artistic aspirations most young people do. They all believe that they are going to make a huge success at whatever their chosen medium is. They usually have fantasies of “fame”, “stardom”, “riches” and “importance”. They usually enter the field with ideas they gleaned from reading their favorite books about their favorite artists or have been bombarded with images from Hollywood or MTV and these days “American Idol”. This is perfectly normal, of course and some do actually succeed in that way, obviously. But the overwhelming majority of them do not. The majority of us do not.

So Dante went through his journey and came out the other side a little disillusioned. He learned that perhaps the reality didn’t quite measure up to the fantasy he held onto his entire life. His first learning experience was being stung by a bad review with regard to his acting, which haunted him to the point where he thought perhaps he wasn’t as talented as he always believed himself to be and thought he’d be better suited behind the scenes. So he turned his focus towards playwriting and directing instead. And he found some measure of success in doing that, having produced a number of little known, off-off-broadway plays over the years but that success didn’t coincide with the one he had always wanted for himself.

 “Generation X is greying now and still invisible in the shadow of the aging “Baby Boomers” and these kids…”

Now middle aged and of course, over time, while one is pursuing their dreams, life happens. He got married and needed to make a living so he winds up a drama teacher in a specialized Manhattan high school, something he never saw himself doing. He learns more about himself while teaching this next generation than he learns about the kids he’s teaching – a generation weaned on “American Idol” and other reality shows which often focus squarely on the “fame” aspect of pursuing the arts. It seems alien to him, having come up through a more “underground” scene in his youth. In a way, it frightens him and in another way, it kind of makes him think about his own situation, how he wound up where he did, how those seemingly naive dreams were able to slowly dissipate over the course of his life.

On one hand, he accepts it for what it is. On the other, while not exactly bitter about it, sees an opportunity to give it one “last hurrah”, one last go around on the ride. On the surface, he’s merely paying tribute to a dear friend who he always believed should have been more known than he actually was. Underneath, it’s also a chance to redeem himself, to feel that he hadn’t really “given up”, that he still had something to share with the world, even though, again, it’s more behind the scenes. The question is, though, what is he trying to prove and to whom?

A main theme of this book is the doubts and insecurities faced by writers, playwrights, actors, people who put their work out there and are judged by others. Dante is a character who in the past has been crippled by doubts and is haunted by one bad review, still holding a grudge against the reviewer, it does seem as if this bad review stopped Dante from pursuing a career as a playwright. But now this grudge spurs him on, he has something to prove. Could this be a case that perhaps bad reviews push writers or should writers always completely ignore ‘bad’ reviews as simply a negative influence on the writing?

I think it depends on the review and who is giving it and how it’s given. Anyone pursuing this kind of thing knows full well that not everyone is going to think you’re so great at what you do. In a lot of instances, when it comes to critics, the default position is cynicism, doubt. Rarely do you find a critic who is enthusiastic about a new work going into it. They sometimes begin from a more jaded perspective and of course a more deeply personal one (some are just trying to curry favor with a particular “in-crowd” and should just be ignored altogether). I think a lot of the time a bad review will spurn a writer or any other artist on because they will either take the criticism to heart and try to improve or they won’t and try to stick it to the reviewer. Either way, if a bad review helps an artist push themselves forward, it’s not really all that bad a review, right? Dante does have a grudge and he’s working that out through the process of trying to put on this work that he knows in the back of his mind that most people aren’t going to care about. Yet he does it anyway.

I think all artists are plagued by doubt and insecurities. All artists want people to like what they do, to feel like all their hard work meant something. The interesting psychological aspect of creative people is that most will do the work because it’s what they love to do. What people think about it isn’t the primary motivation for why they are doing it. However, we all put our work out there in some way – whether we publish ourselves, or start blogs, or send our work around to get published or performed – musicians will take to the stage – and the reason why we do this is because we want accolades. We want someone to applaud and say, “Good Job!” We want to touch others the way other artists have touched us. So there’s that sort of psychological contradiction taking place. A true artist will continue to create, even if it’s purely for themselves. It’s a compulsion, a drive, a need. Criticism is part of it and necessary, as long as it’s constructive and is meant to help an artist. The other kind – the so-called “hatchet jobs” that many writers are so enamored with (unless they’re the target of one, of course), the petty sniping, and other infantile things you often see are best ignored by everyone. This kind of criticism – to me – says more about the critic than the artist.

A line I read recently – ‘everyone wants to be a writer now’ due to the popularity of indie publishing. Along with the huge increase of self-published writers there’s also been a huge increase in ‘professional’ indie book reviewers as well as companies that charge writers for book reviews. Do you think this is a positive especially now that it seems some of these reviewers think they can ‘make or break’ a writer as well as for instance the many stories that have come out recently of the bullying reviewers and cliques that are going on in places such as Goodreads.

Overall, I see it as a good thing. It has given many writers who may have lacked confidence to gain the confidence to just go ahead and do it. The whole Indie Author thing is something new for a lot of people out there. As I’ve said in the past, it seems the idea of authors taking control over their own work and careers wasn’t anything unusual when I was young but for many – those who had never been exposed to the alternative scene before – never thought it possible to do, thought it even taboo. But over the past seven years – since I put out my first novel – attitudes are changing about this, even to the point where these highly sophisticated panels discussing the “changes in the publishing world” are taking place all the time at book expos and the like.

However, sometimes things have a way of becoming what it was supposed to be an alternative to. The so-called “Indie” world among writers have their own gatekeepers too, those who took hold of it and started imposing rules on everything from how your book should look, to how one’s blog should be and just about everything else in between. Of course this also brings in those who have other motivations – usually financial – and start creating these book review websites, blogs and “services”. They themselves suddenly start becoming judge and jury, seeing to, as you said, “make or break” a writer. Other writers, too, have also become this monster, some going as far as suddenly feeling the need to “snub” those who are just starting out, those for whom a little attention has gone to their heads. With regard to the bullying tactics you see on Amazon or Goodreads, it goes back to what I was saying earlier: it reveals more about them than it does the artist. It’s frighteningly petty and I don’t think any fair minded person takes it seriously.

The theme of posterity runs through Rhombus Denied and Dante seems to be chasing this not only for the (recently deceased) writer of the play but also for himself as he heads towards his fifties. Is posterity an issue that concerns writers, it’s their chance to leave something behind or is the whole notion slightly absurd?

That’s a great question because the answer to this is sort of
elusive. What I mean is, I suppose we all seek some sense of posterity because we put the work out there for public consumption. Then again, after I’m gone, I’m not going to care, am I? I won’t be around to benefit from it, so what does it matter? In a way it is absurd. Most of the world’s highly respected artists are all dead and gone and many of them did not achieve the success that they now have while they were alive. The Chilean author Roberto Bolaño comes to mind. Here is – to my mind – a brilliant writer who had some measure of success while he was alive in the Spanish speaking world but didn’t live long enough to enjoy the benefits of the world wide, critical and commercial success he now enjoys. Another example is John Kennedy O’Toole, the author of A Confederacy of Dunces, a book he could get published while he was alive but becomes published and a massive success after he committed suicide. Writers like Jack Kerouac are far more influential and have more of an impact now than he did when he was alive (although he did achieve some measure of success while he was alive). For these writers – and this is only a small sampling – posterity worked out very well for them, although none of them are here to enjoy it or even be pleased by it.

When it comes to posterity, I tend to think more along the lines of Woody Allen who said in a recent interview, something that makes a good point, although it may seem a little cynical to many. He said something to the effect that in 100 years time, everyone we know, every book, film, etc, is all going to be wiped away and something and someone else will come and take its place, that most of it will be forgotten and it’s senseless to worry about posterity, even if something does survive the test of time. The creator of those works won’t be around to see its impact, so what’s the point?

In Dante’s case, he struggles with it, as most artist do, deep down. His idol, his mentor, Jacques, couldn’t care less about it. He was never a major success. He lived a comfortable life due to money from his wife’s side being able to keep them afloat and live in that nice apartment in Paris all those years. Jacques did his work, the way he wanted to do it, and cared little for what people thought of it after he was gone. He got the stage in his life where he was comfortable being who he was and was proud of the work he did, even though many wanted his neck for it. Dante, on the other hand, still needs to discover this for himself. He still has an axe to grind, still has something to prove, even if it’s to himself. Perhaps one day he’ll truly learn the ultimate lesson from his mentor and he’ll make peace with his creative demons. Perhaps the performance of Jacques’s play will help move him in that direction.

There’s some great advice for writers, artists, actors etc, running through this book especially with regards to the ‘don’t chase money, don’t chase stardom. It’s creating that counts’. The whole story is almost a cautionary tale for creatives and yet throughout the book you see the creative act at work, the risks being taken and the hard work to get the play out there, even if ultimately it might not be seen or understood by anyone. It’s kind of the antithesis to today’s American Idol concept where people are judged by others within a few minutes then deem themselves to be a failure because a judge says no as well as the thought that a creative work isn’t seen as successful by some unless it makes a lot of money.

Yes, this is the ultimate shame of it all because there are many very talented people out there whose work is worthy and interesting, provocative, original and creative and ultimately, most of the world will never know about them or their work. The advent of the internet has changed this, of course, and for younger artists, they have no idea how fortunate they are to have this tool at their disposal. Now someone in the most remote places on earth can reach just about anyone, which was something completely unheard of 25-30 years ago. It even benefits someone like myself, who is old enough to have experienced what it was like pre-internet, when “word of mouth” wasn’t as easy as it is now. There were no “share” buttons or “Facebook Likes” in those days. It was all word of mouth, underground print publications and literally mailing off packages to places that you weren’t even sure if you’d ever get a response from. Technology has made it much easier today but in a lot of cases I don’t see people taking full advantage of it. For many, it’s a mere stepping stone to something larger, a means to an end rather than a tool to build something for themselves.

I think shows like “American Idol” and their like-minded offshoots have done more harm than good. These shows reinforce the idea that an artist’s hard work isn’t worthy of attention unless it is anointed by someone else. It reinforces the notion that a creative individual needs “permission” to do their work, something I never believed in, obviously. To be fair, those who follow this route are specifically seeking a certain level of fame and celebrity. These are the kids who want to be the next Beyoncé or whoever else. If that’s the level of success you want, then this is the trial you must submit yourself to. I also think it gives a lot of young people the wrong message, ultimately. There are different levels of success one can reach. It isn’t all or nothing. Sure, most will have to contend with making a living some other way but they can also continue to pursue their passions and find an audience for it. If there is a cautionary tale to be told in the novel it’s to try to keep your head screwed on as much as possible, that a lot of what they see is smoke and mirrors, that there is a good amount of work that goes into making these celebrities who they are – marketing teams, publicity agencies, advertising – a whole big business machine behind it all, carefully crafting how they want their clients to be seen and presented. In a lot of ways it’s fiction in and of itself.

There are a lot of creative people out there who need to understand that the work that they produce is a worthy effort, no matter what happens. It’s a part of them. It’s self-expression. When you look at those cave paintings in southern France and Spain from 35,000 years ago, they were being done without any of this bullshit in mind, right? The people who created those did so because they felt a need to express themselves and their surroundings. Ironically, there is a sense of posterity there because we, the humans tens of thousands of years in the future can catch a glimpse of how little difference there was between us and our ancestors, the huge difference being that those cave artists most likely didn’t care about posterity, although it’s quite possible that they did, who knows for sure? It’s a most basic part of being a human being. It’s when all this other distracting bullshit gets in the way that ruins it – and in some cases, even drives some unfortunate folks to suicide, this sense of ultimate rejection they must have felt to resort to such an extreme act; and all of it brought about by turning what is most basic and human into a “business”, into something that makes one feel that part of who they are is ultimately up to scrutiny by everyone around them, that their worth as a human being is up for judgment by those who merely put themselves (along with the artists themselves, sometimes) into the position to judge, leaving the fate of their hard work into the hands of others who really don’t have a stake in it, unless it’s to profit from it.

You’re from New York and that city has always been a magnet for those in the creative arts but it’s changing rapidly in terms of affordability especially Manhattan, although many of the boroughs are becoming just as unaffordable – $2500 + minimum per month for small apartment is definitely out of my price range as a freelance writer. In the novel you mention the disappearance of certain establishments over the years and there seems to be daily online reports about long-standing New York eateries, cafes and bookstore closing due to rising prices. It may have become a safer city compared to say the 1980s but has it lost something in the process and how do you think it’s going to be in say the next decade?

It most definitely lost a lot of its character, sure. Compared to the 1980s it’s an entirely different city and today’s young people have no clue as to what it once was, how vibrant it once was. But I’m sure the generation before ours were saying the same thing once I started venturing downtown when I was a kid. It’s funny because I just saw a panel on C-Span’s “Book TV” the other night discussing the changes in publishing and how hard it is now for a novelist to earn a living off their writing these days. One of the panellists said something to the effect that it used to be where a writer could live in “decent poverty”, where he/she could afford the rent, send their kids to a decent public school which today, of course, is utterly impossible.

MacDougal Street, New York
The old “bohemian enclaves” of the past like the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village are completely out of the price range of an artist these days and besides, those neighborhoods are now tourist traps and real estate gold. Even the new so-called “artist communities” become gentrified and ridiculously overpriced once the real estate folks get wind of it. And this, of course, affects long-time residents of that area, who see themselves being pushed out with very little options as to where they can go. What I find ironic is that most of the people who live there now, who do so for its “bohemian vibe”, are paying all this money for something that no longer exists. They usually get rid of all those interesting places to either make room for them and their “luxury housing” or the convenient chain stores and banks in order to cater to them and it just turns into anywhere else, really. Only absurdly overpriced.

Lately, a lot of what they call the “creative class” is fleeing New York for more affordable, artist friendly cities. You simply can’t make a decent living as an artist in New York. You have to have something else to pay the bills. The next decade doesn’t bode well either because many of the places that once made these areas unique and vibrant have been giving way to banks, chain stores and luxury condos and there is no sign of it abating any time soon. The whole vibe of the city has changed. I’m about done with it, to be honest. After a lifetime here, I don’t really see the point of trying to eke out a living where most of your income goes to rent and bills. It’s not important to me anymore to be in New York. Nearly 50 years is enough. I’m starting to seriously consider going somewhere else, somewhere warmer, somewhere more laid back. I don’t really do the things I used to do when I was younger, anyway, and I no longer have the patience to hang out in the clubs, bars and be surrounded by people young enough to be my own kids. It’s their time now, I guess. Let ‘em have it. I can write anywhere. I never really believed in the whole “bohemian thing”, anyway. I’ve never lived my life that way and I never identified as one. I come from a very typical Italian-American stock and even though my father was a Jazz musician in his younger years (in which he never made a living from, by the way) and had other relatives in the arts (who also never did), I was brought up with a different sensibility to begin with.

I notice in the novel that Dante and Jacques both have wives with a lot more money that they do. Jacques is able to continue writing throughout his life due to being supported by his wife’s money. There was a recent article in Salon about writer’s who are supported financially by a partner and also about the fact that it’s the rich who can afford to write full-time and also have the publishing connections. Is this ‘living the writer’s dream’ without ‘paying their dues’ as some have said?

Yes, I saw that article and found it highly interesting. I’m not sure if it’s “not paying one’s dues” as it is that these writers aren’t making a living off their work and don’t want that to be known so they conveniently leave that part out of the discussion. The connections help though, I’m sure, especially when the “new hot author” is the child of an “older hot author”. I think it’s to create the illusion that that’s all they do in life. If you have a benefactor or patron, sure, it’s easy, but most don’t. Most get by with a day job and many writers – even well-known writers – have them. You only have to read the author bios to see this. Many of them are creative writing teachers, some are lawyers, a lot of the current Italian authors are either journalists, lawyers and one – Paolo Giordano – who is phenomenal – was a particle physicist when his first novel came out. The point is that many authors hold down other jobs and there’s no shame in that. In the end, it’s the work that counts not what the author is or does with his/her life. Even the past masters, someone like William Carlos Williams and Louis-Ferdinand Celine were doctors. Jack Kerouac had a bunch of odd jobs like a railroad brakeman and a fire watcher (which he writes about in Desolation Angels) to earn some money and Julio Cortazar was a translator for UNESCO. Does it really matter?

I think a lot of this also comes from the fictional, Hollywood portrayal of what a “real artist” is supposed to be. Very few are lucky enough to earn enough off their writing so that is all that they do. But whether one does it for a living or not isn’t relevant, at least to me. Just be honest about it because there’s no shame in it. Whenever I hear someone is a writer in New York who isn’t a worldwide bestselling author, I know they have something else to pay the bills because many of them aren’t selling all that much in order to afford the New York City cost of living. No fucking way. I once met an author who had a novel nominated for the National Book Award and he holds down a day gig too. And Junot Diaz, whose monstrously successful The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – which has just been deemed “the best novel of the 21st Century so far” – is a creative writing teacher at MIT. Even every young novelist’s hero David Foster Wallace was a creative writing teacher. To be fair, perhaps some of them do this because they want to, not because they have to, but let’s face it, the cost of living in New York is way too high for someone to live off their writing income alone for most. So there’s a lot of myth and misunderstanding surrounding all this and this is one of the things Dante tries to teach his students: that just because you might have to contend with a day job doesn’t make your art any less legitimate.

And there is no way that someone like Jacques could have survived either, living in a city like Paris, although not as expensive as New York, is still an expensive city. He and his wife were fortunate enough to have had an inheritance (from his wife’s family) to live off of because the type of work he did would not pull in that kind of audience. In Dante’s case, his wife – who was originally part of his acting troupe – has a high finance job and Dante himself is a high school drama teacher. The bills and rent have to be paid somehow and having a job is the only way it’s going to happen. And not everyone is fortunate enough to earn a grant either, but that’s a whole other topic.

Rhombus Denied works through a lot of the issues faced by those in the creative arts. This is your sixth book – do you still encounter these issues, such as doubts, insecurities and frustrations or has it become easier with each book?

With each and every book I write, I am plagued with self-doubt and insecurities. It’s gotten a little easier because I’m beginning to learn that to worry about what people are going to think is a waste of precious energy because for the most part, most people don’t care anyway. Some of these feelings of doubt and insecurities were worked into this story as well because I think all creative people who are serious about what they do feel this way and Dante is sort of typical of those who were serious about making their way but have either run up against obstacles or utter indifference from those he thought wouldn’t be so. Most especially in the literary world, in which I see it more than in any other medium. Writers are obsessed with certain things that after a while, I try to steer clear from because it only makes things worse. But when it comes to the work, the doubts and insecurities creep in all the time. I’m still trying to work out why this is.

What’s up next for you?

I’m writing all the time. I do get out but not nearly as much as I did when I was younger so a lot of time spent at home, I’m working. If I’m not working on my books, I’ll work on my blog or write in my journal. If I can’t work I’ll do research, if need be, take notes for a project I’m working on or a projected project for the future.

I have another novel just about ready. It was written back in 2013 but it’s gone through a number of drafts. It’s called Breathe and I’m thinking of releasing it later this year. I’m personally very proud of this one because it’s very different from anything I’ve done previously. It’s a more “serious” novel, with more serious themes, and with none of the “transgressive” influences the others may have had, much like “Rhombus Denied” is absent of them as well. I’m trying to turn the page so to speak, move onto something different, though this doesn’t mean I won’t write another with those elements in it.

I’m currently working on another novel, one that is proving to be difficult due to the subject matter and research involved in it because part of it is based on my great-grandparents and their time in Tunisia in the early 20th century before coming to America. The rest of it is a contemporary story, set at the beginning of the Arab Spring. It’s proving to be a challenge. I also have two others that I’ve been working on but they are only partial drafts and will eventually get back to them.
Plus I have plans for a new set of short stories, which I outlined, but haven’t begun writing them as of yet. So I have a lot on my plate. It’s just a matter of not being distracted by the internet, social media and other bullshit and get disciplined enough to actually sit down and write them. I tend to procrastinate. A lot.

Rhombus Denied is available at Amazon as an ebook.

Also available in paperback.

Read more from Julian Gallo at his blog - Desvario

Also by Julian Gallo

17 January 2015

Short Stories: All of Us With Our Pointless Worries and Inconsequential Dramas

Short Stories - Garry Crystal

Worries and dramas can be seen as either tragic or comedic - it all depends on your point of view.

Collected together in one volume, these 17 short stories and six plays focus on relationships, love affairs, adultery, office politics, family and the lies we tell ourselves and others. Stories of urban dwelling twenty and thirtysomethings trying and often failing to make the right choices in today’s less than utopian society. These contemporary fiction pieces are a snapshot of life in the 21st century, most of which are set in the cities of Paris, London and New York - cities that the inhabitants love and hate but from which they seemingly cannot escape except through the minutiae of their self-created dramas.

This collection includes The Paris Quartet. Four interconnected stories dealing with themes including a first date gone wrong, looking for any exit from a city in which you feel trapped, the end of a marriage and a family dinner marred by a threatening atmosphere.

"How did I get so old in this town?
It was never like this in the city. I never felt old in the city but this town, this fucking town has the ability to suck the sunshine from the sky. This town with its many bridges, bridges that seem to recede the closer you get to them and may as well be brick walls or soundstage backdrops for all the good they do me. These bridges with their illusion of escape make me feel as if a clock is ticking every time I see them. But I can’t see them, not from this room." - Anywhere But Here
Book Reviews

"All in all, this is a wonderful collection of short stories (and plays) which mine deeply emotional and personal territory, which is one of Crystal’s major strengths as a writer. All of these stories are deeply relatable and hyper-realistic – you either know these characters or perhaps you have found yourself in these very same situations. Each of them leaves the reader with much more than what is on the surface – ala Ernest Hemingway and/or Raymond Carver – and will have you thinking about them long after you finish reading them." - Julian Gallo, author of Naderia and Europa. Book Likes.

Available on Amazon as Ebook and Paperback

PDF Book copies are available for review purposes. 

Novel : Leaving London

Leaving London by Garry Crystal

Emotional baggage can lead to fear. Fear can lead to missed opportunities. And missed opportunities? They can change the course of your entire life.
"It’s not like I didn’t have a life before she arrived. She didn’t magically appear and give my life meaning." - Cal

"Your problem is that you’re more like an empty book and you’re waiting on someone else to write your pages for you. For someone who doesn’t believe in fate, destiny and all that shit, you seem to spend an awful lot of time waiting for something to happen to you.” - Sofia

Temporary jobs, temporary friends and temporary relationships. Temporary can easily lead to a disconnected life where loneliness is an ironic by-product of living in a city of eight million people.

After a recent break-up Cal finds himself living in London, trying his best to traverse the metropolis by maintaining only the most temporary of responsibilities and relationships. Unfortunately, the city has other plans. Mugged on Christmas Eve, daily office politics, a suicidal escort-worker flat mate and a writing job for a less than responsible employer all conspire to add to his constant hangover. But when Sofia moves in, a woman he is both attracted to and suspicious of, he soon finds himself in a co-dependent relationship full of anxiety, turmoil and hard truths. It’s easy to find someone in city of eight million but trusting someone, that’s a different matter.

Drink, drugs, sex, love, hate, loneliness, game-playing relationships, an escape to New York, dreams and the daily grind – just another day in the city. Leaving London takes place within one year. A year when two people who are doing their best to protect themselves may ultimately have to let down their guards.

An anti-romance story for the analyzation generation. A humorous, gritty and sometimes very dark look at life in a city where staying disconnected can sometimes be the only survival tool.
Leaving London Book Reviews

"The city of London itself plays as a major character in the narrative. For those who have been there it will invoke wonderful memories of the city and for those who have never visited, it will make you want to hop the next plane and shoot right over and walk in Cal’s footsteps. The city’s vastness, in all its glory and wonder, grime and grit, seems to echo Cal’s emotional state at times and his sense of being “lost” and “rudderless” as he struggles to maintain his footing in a place very unfamiliar to him. Cal not only seeks his place within London itself but within his own emotional sphere as well. Garry Crystal has a very original voice and I have no doubt that you will enjoy this complex and thought provoking story. Highly recommended." - Julian Gallo, author of Naderia and Europa, Expats Post.

Cal works for a temp agency and is truly living the single life although he is not satisfied or settled with where he is - geographically, financially, or emotionally. The story focuses on his exploits and alongside them, his struggle to come to terms with where and how he wants to spend his life and with whom. Because he is often wandering the streets in a chemically altered state late at night, he subjects himself to the seamier side of life and gets robbed, beaten up and has sex with whomever he ends up with at the end of the evening. Most of his contemporaries seem to do the same. There is a theme of loneliness running throughout the book and Crystal captures this quite well and you find it easy to see why many get disheartened and feel a strong sense of alienation because they get stuck in jobs that are low paying with little chance for advancement.” – OnlineBookClub.org

“Yes this book is about relationships. Those relationships are ephemeral. That we are either doomed to repeat our mistakes or protect ourselves with walls, not out of fear but as a sort of silent dignity. There are many passages that I find beautiful and I find myself getting back to them just to read the prose and how they resonate with important points in my life. To me Leaving London is a lengthy love letter, like a message in a bottle. I hope it reaches more readers out there.” – Baxter Labatos, Sphere Music 

Available on Amazon in Ebook and Paperback.

Quotes from Leaving London Quotes

PDF Book copies are available for review purposes. 

28 November 2014

Short Story: Detours

Detours is the final short story from All of Use With Our Pointless Worries and Inconsequential Dramas that I’ll put up on this blog and it’s probably one of the most personal I’ve written or maybe it was just one of the hardest to write.

Ostensibly (I like that word) it’s a story about a dinner party, a family reunion of sorts but as with a lot of family parties there’s something more running beneath all the chatter. This is a story with clues running throughout as to what lies ahead or what the story is really about. It is basically about death and the way we sometimes avoid talking about that subject – the elephant in the room, as it were. Okay, enough, here's the story.


“You always wear those big boots.” Esme says as we finally jump into the street after descending five flights of stairs.

“You always wear a permanent frown.” I shoot back.

“If it was permanent I would naturally always be wearing it, you messed that up. I’ll give you it though. Although I think I have reason..”

“I know,” I interrupt, “I know.”

“Well at least you dressed up. The suit looks good. We need to get some wine.”

“Or Champagne? We can splash out for once.”

“Wine will do or we can buy some single malt if you want.”

“Single malt, that’s a definite. Then we can take it back home and drink it on our own and avoid this altogether?”
I’m sending that idea out quickly although I’m 100% sure of the answer.

“We’ve talked about this, it’s been arranged. We’re expected. I have family and these people are now your family whether you like it or not,” she smiles, “it’s too late to change and you agreed that this is what we would do.”

We walk down Rue Oberkampf. The street is empty, not quite deserted but almost, as if Christmas day has arrived seven months early. I cannot believe that some of the shops and bars are still open although no one is visible behind the illuminated windows. I nod over and smile to a woman riding by on her bicycle, a women I must have seen a thousand times around here but have never spoken a word to. She smiles back. No trouble riding her bike today on the traffic free streets.

Yes, I don’t have any family but Esme’s are such a nightmare most of the time that I think I might have gotten off lucky there. Her melodramatic mother, her blowhard brother, her neurotic sister…but I’m sure things will be different tonight. Of course they’ll be different. Esme is the only thing that’s important to me anyway. I’m going for her and god knows where I’d be tonight if it wasn’t for her.

“Did your take your pill?” I ask.

“No. No, I decided against it.”

“Okay. That’s good, I guess. I suppose you can always take it later if you change your mind, you still have time.”

“I don’t think I will.”

I light a cigarette.

“You stink of cigarettes.”

“Well you,” I think for a second or two, I’m grappling here, “stink of yoga.”

“Oh that is ludicrous.”

But we both laugh.

“Don’t light up here.”

“Oh come on. You’re mother smokes, she won’t mind.”

“It doesn’t look good arriving at the door with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth. Why don’t you just open the whisky bottle and have a swig while you’re at it.” I don’t know why she’s whispering. If I can barely hear her no-one inside can.

“You’re worried about appearances?” I say. She shoots me that look I’ve seen many times. It’s a look I admit I’ve grown to love and I also admit I’ve been known to annoy her at times just to achieve that expression. It’s a look that a mother gives to a five year old son or daughter and which means, ‘I’m certainly not going to tell you again’.

“Okay, okay.” I whisper back before returning the cigarette to its packet and ringing the door-bell again. Esme’s mother answers, a cigarette in one hand and a glass of something in the other. She puts down the glass on a small marble table next to the door but keeps hold of the cigarette.

“Esme, Esme.” She embraces her daughter.

“Mama,” Esme exclaims, “you look beautiful. Is this new?”

“I thought I would make the effort. Jacques created it especially. Said I was the only one he would do it for at such short notice, he didn’t even charge although…you know I did offer to pay.”

“You’ve given him plenty of business over the years and what’s the point in charging you. Is everyone here?”

“Yes, everyone’s inside.”

Margot finally turns to me, opens her mouth as if to say something but stops and then surprisingly, she puts her arms around me and even more surprisingly, kisses me gently on the lips.
She takes a step back and looks me in the eyes, “Thank you.” She whispers.

“No, no. We split up about a year ago. You didn’t hear? Almost wiped out my bank account.”

Esme’s brother Tomas, drunk already although it’s only around seven, is reminding me, as if I need reminding, that what appears to be a successful life can disappear in an instant, although I don’t think anyone has been providing him with much sympathy lately. Of course I had heard about it. He had an affair with a woman who was at least 10 years younger than him, he left his wife and then his lover left him three months later. I had heard he had begged his wife to come back, did all the usual acts of contrition and some highly unusual ones as well from what Esme had told me but he couldn’t buy or talk his way out of this one.

It’s not that I can’t feel sympathy for him or that I don’t understand how he must feel, it’s just that he’s always been such a dislikeable guy. Conversations with him always centred on money, how much money he had, how much his new car or his new set of golf clubs or his new suit or his month long vacation in Monaco cost or how much money he had sunk into his now worthless investments and pension schemes, and I always knew when talking to him that the conversation would eventually lead to how much money I didn’t have or that I was wasting my life eking out a meagre existence through my writing. I had always considered him an asshole and my opinion wasn’t going to change simply because his wife had come to the same conclusion.

“Anyway none of it matters now does it?” He says mournfully, pouring another glass of the whisky I had bought. But I know that this does matter to him.

“Maybe not but what does matter now is the people who are here tonight. The ones who are here with you now.” Sometimes everything I say feels like a cliché. Why did Esme leave me alone with him?

“You were right, you chose the life you wanted, regardless of what anyone else said or thought. I wish I had done that. I wish I could have been so…so…fearless.”

“Is that a compliment I’m hearing? It’s been a long time coming. And there’s nothing fearless about sticking to one thing because I didn’t know or have any desire to do anything else. Come on, you followed love,” or more likely your dick, I thought, “that’s a brave thing to do, even if it didn’t turn out how you thought it would. You still tried.”

“I did, didn’t I?”

It’s something for him to hold on to. I can give him that at least.

“There are lights in here you know.” Esme says as she enters the drawing room. “Why are you both sitting hunched up together in the dark?”

I hadn’t even noticed that the room is now only illuminated by the almost night sky. I also hadn’t noticed that I’d been unconsciously moving the large stool I’m sitting on, edging it away from the shadows creeping into the room. I’d been too lost in my thoughts as well as listening to Tomas.

“Leave the lights off. Just use candles if you must.” Tomas says, taking Esme’s hand as she bends down to the table in front of us.

“Have you finished the entire bottle between you?” She holds up the bottle that was full only two hours earlier.

“You’re lucky we have more. And don’t get drunk or maybe you should get drunk, I don’t know. Maybe we all should just get drunk.”

“That’s got my vote.” I reply.

“Seconded,” shouts Tomas getting up shakily from his chair and walking to the door, “and thirded, fourthed, whatever.”

“You,” I say as Esme sits next to me on the stool and takes my hands in hers, “have some messed up family.”

“You, definitely fit in well then.”

Esme rests her chin on my shoulder and we sit in silence for what seems like a long time.

“I’m at a party in a huge house in the country,” Esme whispers into my ear, leaning in closer to me, “and I’m looking for an escape route because I’ve grown tired of all the people and the embellished stories they tell in order to assuage their fears that they’re really not as interesting as they’d like to think they are.
So I leave the party through the huge patio doors and walk outside, down the concrete stairs, away from the lights and the noise and into the darkness of the garden.

And before long I find myself wandering along little pathways and past fishponds so motionless that I can clearly see the moon illuminated across their surface, past the hedges that are taller than I am and I keep walking deeper into the gardens following the moon until I’m so far from the house that the conversations and the music have been replaced by the hooting of owls and a breeze that moves the grass and keeps time with me as a I walk. And I walk further still until I come to a very old tree, a tree with enormous outstretched limbs underneath which sits a bench and even though it’s raining lightly the bench is dry, sheltered by the tree’s branches.

And there I sit, in the warm evening air, in the darkness, accompanied only by the sound of the creaking branches and the music of a thousand droplets of rain falling softly upon the tree’s leaves. I sit on the bench alone and I wait.”

“For what?”

“For you to come and find me.”

I look down to see that the shadows have crept further, almost to the far wall, leaving only one sliver of glowing light trying to outrun the darkness.

I’ve only been in this dining room once, on my first visit a few years ago when I was given the grand tour of the apartment followed by a family dinner. It’s almost bare in comparison to the other rooms, save for the dining table and chairs, the shelves along the wall and the two floor lamps. But the lamps haven’t been switched on and the room is lit only by three large candles, which sit in the centre of the table and even the moonlight drifting in through the balcony doors at the far end of the room doesn’t reach the corner where we are now sitting.

Small talk. Forced small talk is happening but I’m not listening. I’m looking at the ornaments on one of the shelves, a strange collection of glass and chinaware with no theme to it whatsoever. For a woman who is immaculate and precise in all other areas of her life it looks like Margot has given no thought at all to this collection of small cats, china plates, music boxes and tacky-looking holiday souvenirs, and in the centre of all of this disarray sits a large glass elephant, facing directly forwards towards the dining table. The only piece on the shelf that looks as if it has been placed deliberately.

I look over at Margot and I realise that she’s been watching me as I look at the ornaments and it looks as if she is about to say something but then she turns her head back to the shelf and then back to me and then she smiles. And I’m not completely sure what she has shared with me in that moment but she puts down her empty glass and announces to the table, “I’d like to say a prayer before we start eating.”

“Oh come on mother,” Tomas, who is sitting to her left, says loudly, "none of us here are religious. You know this.”

“You don’t have to join me. I’m not asking for that.”

“You should have gone to Notre Dame with the rest of them then.” He retorts. A sneer in his voice, slurring his words slightly.

“Just give me this can’t you. One prayer. Just one!”

“Let her say her prayer Tomas. What difference does it make?”

This is the most I have heard Esme’s sister Adele say the entire evening apart from our first greeting. She’s sitting directly opposite me and it’s only now for the first time that I notice how much she resembles Esme. The same long dark hair and brown eyes, the same caramel colour to her skin, the same slightly turned down mouth that can make her look unhappy even when she’s not, although I haven’t seen her smile in a long a time. But Adele has a slight scar running down her forehead, about three inches in length and which you can only see if her hair is pushed back. Plus Adele worries about everything. Esme is a worrier but not nearly to the same level as her sister. I wish I had asked Esme how Adele had received that scar.

Margot finishes her prayer and then gives thanks that we’re all here tonight.

“I can’t remember the last time we were all sitting together like this but I’m glad we are.” Says Adele.

“I can.” Tomas replies while filling everyone’s glass again.

I can remember as well and I hope he has it wrong or that he thinks more about what he is about to say and doesn’t say it.

“When you were pregnant remember and we had that dinner to celebrate.”

Adele looks stunned as if she has had her breath taken away from her, “Oh yes, that’s right. That was it. I forgot. I mean…”

“Well I don’t how you can forget that, come on it…”

“Do shut-up Tomas and put your phone away for once.” Margot cuts him off.

“Idiot.” Esme hisses at him. She takes her hand off mine and reaches over to hold Adele’s hand.

“I’m sorry. Look I, I didn’t think. You know what I’m like. I’m sorry Adele, I’m sorry.” He is almost pleading with her. I can imagine this is the same way he pleaded with his wife, who he’s no doubt hoping is going to text or call tonight, which is the reason he has barely let go of his phone all evening. After all this time, a year later, still hoping.

“It’s okay. It doesn’t matter. It was a long time ago. I just forgot with everything going on. Although, no, it has been on my mind for the past few months, now and again but it’s not important.”

But even in the candlelight, with her head bowed, I can see the tear running down her face and although I want to stop seeing that tear, to turn around and look out through the balcony windows, I don’t.

“It is important,” Margot says, “and you shouldn’t forget. None of us should.”

The half-full plates remain on the table long after the meal is over. None of us has had much of an appetite it seems but we are all drinking the wine and the scotch, and the nervous, subdued conversation is now no longer a problem. Esme has decided to tell the story of the drunk woman we had met outside a bar a few weeks ago.

“..and she was sitting there on the ground, so drunk, I mean incredibly drunk and we are just standing around her smoking cigarettes, and she keeps saying something but neither of us can make out what it is, and then suddenly she raises her arm in the air as if she’s asking a question and Michael, the idiot, bends down and slaps her hand with his, gives her a high five.” Esme has told this story a few times and each time she finds it hilarious for some reason. “And the woman looks stunned and then shouts at Michael that she’s asking to be picked up not given a bloody high five.”

Everyone begins to laugh.

Esme’s mother, who I have never seen laugh this much or even at all, shouts out over the table, “I’m glad I never went swimming at the beach with you Michael.”

“A few days ago I saw a man walk in front of a car. Straight into the road, straight into the traffic.”

“Was he drunk?” Tomas asks.

“At first I thought he was because his face was emotionless, glazed over,” Adele replies, “the way he just walked casually out into the road but the cars stopped for him and he continued to the other side. But then, instead of walking on he turned round again and he walked out into the traffic, and he kept doing this again and again.”

“Did anyone hit him?” I ask.

“I don’t know. I just drove past him. No one was helping him and no one stopped him. When I looked in my rear view mirror he had turned his back and was walking deliberately into the oncoming cars.”

“With what’s going on in the world today I don’t blame him at all.” Says Tomas while pouring another glassful of whisky.

We’ve all had plenty to drink but the drunkenness has gone now and I don’t think it’s going to return no matter how much we try to recapture it.

I wonder what Margot and Esme are talking about. Margot had said she wanted to speak to each of us alone. They’ve been gone for about half an hour now. I look at my watch and calculate that there’s not enough time to spend half an hour with each of us I don’t think but I know or at least I think I know that Esme has always been Margot’s favourite, even though parents aren’t supposed to favour one child over another. But that’s usually the case.

Esme finally returns and I can see she has been crying. “She wants to see both of you together.”

They both stand up and look at their older sister who says that it’s okay, that there’s still time, and they walk slowly out of the room.

“Does she want to speak to me?” I ask as she sits down next to me.

“No, she said you would understand and she would only be telling you what you already know.”

The candles have almost died out, the flames flickering but still holding on. I want to ask Esme if she is scared but her reply, if it’s a yes, will only make me more scared and I don’t want that but I can feel my heart racing and I take the half empty bottle that’s at my feet and I drink from it to try to extinguish the fear. I drink a large amount of the whisky and pass it to Esme who drinks from the bottle, her arm tightly around my waist and as I look at her as she drinks I wish that we were anywhere else but here. She puts the bottle down and rests her head on my shoulder.

“Tell me again.” I say.

The room is almost in complete darkness by the time Margot, Adele and Tomas return. There’s only the moonlight to guide us now.

“Well, it’s time.” Says Margot quietly.

I take Esme’s hand and we all walk towards the balcony doors and I push the handle down but then stop before opening the door.


Margot looks at me and nods.

A soon as I open the thickly glazed doors I hear screaming and shouting coming from the streets below. The illuminated city appears in front of us as we step out onto the balcony and I take a deep breath of the cold night air. I put my arm around Esme, pull her tightly against me but there’s nothing I can do to stop her shaking and I steady myself, steady both of us by placing one hand on the balcony railing.

Tomas stands drinking from a bottle, muttering something again and again but I can’t make out what he is saying. Adele is holding onto Margot who is motionless, staring up into the night sky but then both of them back away from the railing until they reach the glass doors and slowly slide down until they are seated, their arms around each other.

Esme tries to say something but her shaking has become worse and the noise has become so loud that I begin to feel light-headed and I’m finding it hard to breathe but I’m sure I can hear her say, “you…” and although I don’t want to I turn my head from her to confront the black sky.

And I see the hundreds of dots, glowing and becoming larger, dwarfing the tiny stars behind them.

All of Us With Our Pointless Worries and Inconsequential Dramas is available as an e-book and paperback on Amazon. Interview with Julian Gallo on Expats Post.