Thursday, 25 November 2010

Cocking a Chapbook Snook

A chapbook is a cheaply-printed pamphlet often regarded as a 'sampler' of a particular author's work. Chapbooks may feature essays, stories, poems or a mix of all three: they have a venerable history in the publishing world. My own first chapbook was issued in 1995 by an obscure outfit known as Wyrd Press and it consisted of fourteen short stories.

Since that time I have had a further five chapbooks published and I have always regarded them as worthwhile additions to my growing body of work. But lately I have been entertaining doubts about the wisdom of doing this. What value do they have really? Not much. True, I never gave them the same status as proper books: I always listed them separately in my bios. And yet I still listed them. The truth is that they don't deserve to be acknowledged in that manner. I have given up keeping a record of anthologies my stories appear in, so why should I persist in glorifying what are essentially just flimsy squares of stapled sheets? It seems perverse. I have thus decided to stop listing chapbooks among my publications. I will now acknowledge only my real books.

Another thing. Too many readers who have ordered copies of my three most recent chapbooks have complained that they never received them. Clearly there is a problem with the publishing house involved, Ghostwriter Publications. The chapbooks in question are: Madonna Park, Plutonian Parodies and The Fanny Fables. A so-called 'box set' of all three titles was also issued under the name Tempus Fugit. I do have a few spare copies left. So if you ordered any of these titles and didn't receive them, please email me ( and I'll send you what I've got left until it runs out.

I'm rather an easy-going chap. I rarely complain when publishers fail to pay me, issue books years late or fail to issue them at all, riddle my fiction with typographical errors, even spell my name wrong, etc. Life's too short to fret about such things. But when readers pay money for goods they never receive, I must draw the line. That's simply unacceptable. Therefore I have decided to officially break with Ghostwriter Publications and also turn my back on chapbooks in general. Why settle for something so spineless?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Porcelain Pig

A daft short story by
Rhys Hughes
Starring: Hogwash and Bum Note!

Did I ever tell you the tale of the two explorers who discovered a gigantic porcelain pig in the jungles of Yuckystan? They climbed to the top of it and had an adventure that turned into a riddle. I don’t think I did tell you about this, partly because I’ve never met you before; and also because I’m making it up as I go along. Making it up off the top of my head! But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. As for tops of heads: mine is perfectly smooth and sealed and doesn’t feature a slot.

Yuckystan is a remote and inhospitable land and nobody knows much about the ancient civilisation that thrived there in the dim and distant past. So dim and distant was that past, in fact, that the people were required to go everywhere with powerful lamps on the ends of long poles. If they didn’t do this, they tended to blunder into the margins of this paragraph and beget bruises on their brows and noses. How fortunate we are to live in a bright future where artificial illumination is needed only at night!

The names of the two explorers were Hogwash and Bum Note. They were an intrepid and valiant pair and already responsible for a number of astounding discoveries. Hogwash had explored Aplantis, the sunken vegetable continent, and charted the Awful Anguished Alcoves of the Alliteration Nation. Bum Note had explored his own sexuality in a Soho nightclub. Together they were a formidable team and on their very first joint expedition they even sneaked across the borders of Nullity itself and discovered the source of the Nil.

“Tell them about Wearyland too, won’t you?”

Excuse me. That was Hogwash requesting that I inform the reader out there about the time he realised the landscape he was crossing was so heavily eroded that it was literally worn out: he encountered a yawning chasm. Even geology has a right to be tired! I went to Wearyland myself once, searching for a mythical mud monster. After many weeks I found it too, and wrote a report about it. I delivered my report on the mud monster to the committee of the Eldritch Explorers’ Club but it just didn’t wash.

“And what about NoNoLand? Don’t forget that one!”

Now Bum Note is trying to get in on the act and create another digression, but I won’t be too hard on him and in fact I’ll do what he asks and mention the occasion when they visited a micronation so small it was occupied entirely by the embassies of other countries with no territory left for itself. I haven’t been there myself yet. By the way, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. My name is Thornton Excelsior and I’m a tack of all jades, a sharper but greener version of the familiar jack.

So. The two explorers in Yuckystan… They hacked their way through the tangled vegetation of the rainforest with hire purchase machetes and sweated in the humidity like tightly gripped overripe fruits. Then they burst into a clearing and saw the pig. Thirty feet or more it towered above them. What could it be? The statue of a snuffling god? They used a grapple and a length of rope to get to its summit. In the very centre they discovered a narrow slot that dropped into the hollow interior of the thing. Hogwash was astounded.

“Why, it’s nothing more than a grossly magnified piggybank!”

Bum Note cried, “But what’s it for?”

“Saving monumental pennies,” guessed Hogwash, “no doubt.”

“They must have been a frugal people who built it, a civilisation of skinflints. I wonder if there’s any spare change left inside? It’s too dark to see very far down but if—”

“Look out, Bum Note!” shouted Hogwash.

But his warning came too late. The other explorer had leaned over too far and was in the act of falling headfirst into the slot. Hogwash lurched forward, grabbed one of Bum Note’s ankles and managed to pull him out. But this feat of heroism so unbalanced Hogwash that he tumbled into the slot and disappeared. Bum Note heard the sickening thud of his body as it landed and all his bones broke. There was also the sound of vast clanking pennies deep in the belly of the pig. Hogwash had sacrificed his own life in order to rescue his friend!

Bum Note climbed down and erected a small memorial by the side of the loathsome but financially astute edifice. Then he left Yuckystan and never returned. He gave a lecture at the Eldritch Explorers’ Club that was attended by nearly every member. At the end of his talk he declared himself happy to answer questions about the expedition, including those primarily concerned with the dreadful fate of Hogwash. But the main question that everyone in the audience wanted to ask couldn’t be answered at all.

Which of the two explorers was saved?

Note: This is the first in a series of stories about Hogwash and Bum Note. Every story in the cycle will be (invisibly) prefaced with the following data: "All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is Life. Medium atomic weights are available -- Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver, Steel, Wood, Cheese, Catnip, Drizzle, Rum, Coke, Marmalade, Hogwash and Bum Note. Hogwash and Bum Note have been assigned..."