The Founder Effect – no. 9


I am about to leave.

And then, I am not.

I am not ready to leave. I should but I won’t.

The Frenchman is back behind the saloon doors and has taken a phone call, cackling obnoxiously like an invasive species, stupid and hidden and preying upon something I cannot see but know is rightfully mine.

She is no longer down the aisle. But she has left a wake. Invisible to all but me, I feel. A wake, a trail, a residue, an illusion, floating in the air like functions and formulas dissipating in the mind of a hapless genius.

I get to the end of the aisle and she is still gone. I look left, right, turn and walk to see the other aisles.

She is not by the cat food. She is not by the choke collars. She is not by the medicines.

But I feel she is near. Halfway across the store I hear the Frenchman again in his musty office, his heels on his desk, ensconced in his dimwitted pigpen of obsolete appliances and stacks of forms attempting fraud, outyelling the criminal at the other end of his call.

I wonder if she ever goes in there. My body is going numb. I have sprung a leak, my body’s walls sagging into me. I am collapsing into myself. I am running out.

She is not by the kennels. She is not by the register. She is not by the entrance.

I remember the groceries in my knapsack. I need to get home to feed Eve.


Eyes glistening, my head hits the pillow, nudging a sigh through my smile. In her cage out in the living room, Electra gracefully meanders through an adagio solo flirting with middle C. Eve stands in the hallway quietly licking her bowl clean of the tartare – steak, fish sauce, ear, Époisses – that I prepared with love.

Love. What a word, what a word.

Philia, storge, eros, agape. The book on my chest is The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. The hand I hold it with has each finger tucked between a different pair of pages.

The girl. She is a vision, has become a vision.

This was the last thing I expected. It occurs to me that this must be a little bit like what it must have felt to be Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. I can think of nothing else. I have a new purpose.

But how did this happen? This is all too soon.

This is not right.

These words are unfolding in a wrong way. Just like the bit about the philosophers of language, or that smug punning of manage, ménage, and menagerie. They didn’t come out right. They can’t be part of my terrain, my element. Trees have knots and knobs. But language, too?

She wore jeans and a t-shirt, ordinary hair, small as a child. Hardly the stuff of a vision.

This is not coming together the way it’s supposed to.

Is this how feeling happens? An urge bubbles up out of nowhere?

I’d call it intuition but there are other signs. Electra has grown silent, and there’s now a Bonsai on the ledge in the window alcove that wasn’t there before. Neither the tree nor the alcove.

She was dressed in white and blue. Her hair, black as velvet, black as a panther, a gilded aura on the edges like a panther, straight as a feather.

I have to go back.

There was nothing there. The first time I saw her, there was nothing. I was there for the Frenchman, for Eve.

At one of my fingertips sits the passage, “The especial glory of Affection is that it can unite those who most emphatically, even comically, are not; people who, if they had not found themselves put down by fate in the same household or community, would have had nothing to do with each other. If Affection grows out of this of course it often does not their eyes begin to open.”

But I hardly noticed her the first time. Is that Lewis’s point? Were she and I emphatically disunited? Comically disunited?

There is an invisible hand here in play.

I know it and I can feel it. There is a stack of mail on the side table now that wasn’t there before. It was on the table in the dining room before and I know I didn’t bring it in here with me.

Pure and regal, and delicate, a shock darker than country night.

I would say I’m strongly against this but somewhere inside me I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure that I’ve been against this very much at all. Or even a little, a portion.

After all, I paid the Frenchman to provide me with a creature, “shall we say, supremely challenging to obtain?”

After all, I told him, “Surprise me. Impress me.”

Could it be that when I said this, I meant something else? Something unsaid?

Could it be – what a frightening thought! – but could it be that I have thus far conjured enough of myself in these words to assert that I in fact have a subconscious? That my mind has a motivation beyond the periphery of reason? That inside of me there is a creature of its own being?

Or is it the invisible hand?

Beneath the covers, I am all words, tattered phrases, sentences waiting to be finished. But the part of me that shows is real, in the flesh, done. There is no going back.

Philia? Storge? Or perhaps the Chinese ai? In the Buddhist sense?

Of the book on my chest, I have already memorized one passage, one alone, learned completely on first sight as if I had written it myself: “Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give.”

I could not stand if I tried. I have been smitten.


The Founder Effect – no. 8


In three hundred forty five words I will be hated. In one hundred nine sentences I will become a criminal. In fifty five paragraphs I will fall in love.

Minutes, hours, days. I have run out of food and tobacco.

The moment I close the door to my flat, my next-door neighbor appears, as if she had been waiting. She is ruddy and blonde and hefty and wears a ponytail and an apron with a frilly trim and I dislike her.

Wat het jy gedoen? she calls to me, holding a rolling pin, a fatfold in her wrist, all of her but one of her feet visible in the threshold of no. 8.


Wat het jy gedoen? she barks again. Wat is al wat skree? Is daar iemand wat bly met jou?

I turn the key in the lock and respond, Ah, the noise. Yes indeed I do have someone staying with me.


Half facing away, I answer, Her name is Electra.

She pats the rolling pin like a billy club. ‘N vriendin?

Girlfriend? Of a kind, I suppose.

She points the rolling pin at my chest. Is sy nou hier woon? Is dit hoekom jy die hondjie?


I reply, Yes, she does live here now, but the puppy came first. She did not make me get a puppy; she does not make me do anything. What she does do is make a lot of noise. A fact, really. I hope it’s not something you can’t live with.

She punches the rolling pin above her head like the hammer of Thor. Sy is te hard! Sê vir haar om stil te bly! Ek kan nie slaap nie! Ons kan nie dink! Jy vertel haar dat!

At this, I take my hand from my pocket and hold it out to her, twisting my wrist, fanning open my fingers, telling her, Electra can be as loud as she wants, and if you want to keep that stick of yours you’ll go back inside and mind your own business, Mrs. Boerenpummel.

(Boerenpummel, n., yokel. Afrikaans, from Dutch, boer ‘farmer’ and pummel ‘boor.’)

Her eyes nearly cross. Whoa! she whispers before slamming shut the door.

I leave. I travel, and considering this exchange, I wonder if I just did right by the rules of the Enchiridion.

I place peaches, bread, and milk into my basket to make pudding for dinner. Pistachios for Electra.

Está a xogar? the butcher asks.

No I’m not kidding.

Moe-lo? O bisté?

Yes, just put it through the grinder.

Cinco quilos de file mignon?

Yes. Has no one ever asked you to make dog food before?

As far as days go, even those of these bones, this one is trying. I fit my groceries in my knapsack with just enough room for a carton of cigarettes, and while I am eager to get back to avoiding people by returning home to keep company with Eve and Electra, I get a second thought.

I leave the grocery and turn, not the way I came.

I slip my cigarette butt into the receptacle before the glass doors open.

There’s something different about the pet shop. Changes have been made, little ones, touches. It seems a bit darker. A bit more crowded.

Then I notice a new banner hanging from the rafters. There’s a new standing display, too. ‘Free Neuterings.’

The Frenchman launches himself from an opening with saloon doors. He makes a grandiose gesture, as if releasing a dove into the air. Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour! Il est là! Ah, il est si bon de vous revoir, monsieur.

Oh. Yes, and you as well.

He practically reaches into my pocket to shake hands. Vous êtes de retour si tôt. Vous devez vraiment aimer ici, hein…?

I wouldn’t say I love it here, but I’m very happy with the puppy and the parrot.

L’oiseau? C’est bon?

Fantastic. Her name is Electra now.

Incroyable. The Frenchman drops his hands and poses like the Virgin Mary. Mais nous ne visons à satisfaire.

The girl enters from a side aisle. Buenos días señor.

The Frenchman flicks the air. Zou! Pas maintenant.

She shrinks away. My eyes follow.

The Frenchman puts his arm in mine, turns me, walks me, takes a secretive tone. His cheek is close to mine, as if his whispers issue from his ear. En tant que client particulier, vous devriez savoir que mes services peuvent être très vaste.

‘Extensive services.’ I grow nervous.

The Frenchman reaches his free hand in front of us and pans it patiently, dreamily, as one would if unveiling the horizon. Il ya des animaux de tous les coins du monde, belles, exotiques, et je peux vous les fournir si vous voulez. Tout animal à tous.

Looking down, I notice the limp, vague spirit of a goose step in his gait. He is talking business and it possesses his body, crown to toe.

I look up and see the girl down a different aisle. She is lingering, eavesdropping, doing a poor job of seeming busy. The Frenchman does not notice her. She twists some cans to make the labels face out.

I ask, Any animal at all?

He grins like a toad. Mais bien sûr.

I let myself fall into his trap. I ask, Even ones, shall we say, supremely challenging to obtain?

His head almost slides off his neck. Monsieur, le plus difficile la tâche, plus je suis ici pour vous servir.

The more I speak, the more I understand him. I grasp where this is going.

I slide my hand inside his vest, tuck a wad of bills into his pocket, and pat him on the chest.

I say, Surprise me. Impress me.

He lets go, faces me like a soldier at attention. Ce sera mon devoir.

I glance at the girl. She walks away, dragging her fingertips along the shelf, fighting the need to look me in the eyes, I am certain of it.

I say, Thank you. I’m sure that it will.


The Founder Effect – no. 7


In the morning I awaken, face down, bent kneed, open mouthed, fully clothed, with each of my fingers wedged stuck in the neck of an empty bottle of beer. Electra insisted on celebrating and coaxed me into the lion’s share. I do not remember how it ended.

I kick off my boots one after the other and try to rub my face but the bottles tinkle and clack and alarm me.

Raat! “…Warriorrrrrs! Come out to pla-ayyyy!”

Eve slinks over to inspect the scent of my boots. Her balance has improved, grown into positive gracefulness.

I have to squeeze like vices both armpits to pluck the spent twelve-pack off my hands. Electra mimics each windy pop.

The desk in my bedroom is that of an architect, wide, minimal, clean lines, of manmade material. The shelves in the wall are wood painted white. Books have spilled off of them onto the desk, a single thought having yanked each volume from its perch into a pile or a space of its own, and the books have papers tucked into them, some messily so, signs of having been used. Books scattered, referenced, some even on the floor. There are pens and pencils dropped on the desk mid-idea and ashtrays full with crushed filters and soot. Continue reading “The Founder Effect – no. 7”

The Founder Effect – no. 6


I need to clear my mind. The Amazon is exhausting. It’s like talking with a computer. It perceives my every utterance as a thrust it needs to parry.

But more and more I get a feel for it. The glances of my blows give it shape, relief. I can feel its force there behind the words, the direction it’s coming from. The angles of deflection are telling. Like chipping away at a block of marble.

But who am I to judge? After all, isn’t that the extent language affords? Are any of us more than merely the words issued forth on our behalf? Is there really a there there? Beyond words? Is not being conjured through words? And is not every word of our being an approximation, an approach to the limit, of who we are and not the exact definition, floating and bobbing, never quite one with the current? Perhaps this is the quantum physics of language. That all we are are the traces we leave.

And if genius is measured by the width of our analogies, the Amazon certainly qualifies. It rants constantly, pausing only to eat and drink, a living almanac of irony. Continue reading “The Founder Effect – no. 6”

“a masterpiece of surreal fiction” – Review of The Ascent of Isaac Steward on Risingshadow

The Ascent of Isaac Steward Cover ImageOn the Risingshadow website, Seregil of Rhimini has reviewed Mike French’s debut novel The Ascent of Isaac Steward, republished by Elsewhen Press as an eBook in April and in print last Friday. Seregil starts his review by saying “I can honestly say that The Ascent of Isaac Steward is one of the most imaginative, extraordinary and challenging novels I’ve ever read.” He goes on to say that “One of the best things about this novel is that Mike French writes beautiful prose.”

He describes how Mike manages to balance reality with fantasy, he “fluently combines reality and fantasy” and as the story unfolds the “reality blends strongly with fantasy”. The inner struggle of the protagonist reveals “interesting” and “disturbing visions of love, violence, death and destruction. The images that the author conjures up from Isaac’s subconscious are both touching and horrifying.”

He concludes by noting that readers will be “rewarded by a beautiful and touching story of a man who tries to find reconcialition. I think that readers who are familiar with magical realism and surrealism will like it very much. If you like literary, unique and experimental novels, you should read The Ascent of Isaac Steward. It’s a powerful novel that won’t be easily forgotten.”

His final words…“Excellent surrealism!”

You can read the full review here


Blue Friday by Mike French published today

Blue Friday by Mike French is available from today as an eBook in all 32 Apple iTunes Stores, all 6 Amazon Kindle stores (US, UK, DE, ES, FR, IT), and on Kobobooks.  At only £2.49 (€2.99 or $3.99) it’s a bargain!

Blue Friday Cover (click for more details)In the Britain of 2034 overtime for married couples is banned, there is enforced viewing of family television (much of it repeats of old shows from the sixties and seventies), monitored family meal-times and a coming of age where twenty-five year-olds are automatically assigned a spouse by the state computer if they have failed to marry. Only the Overtime Underground network resists.

Dystopian science fiction, Blue Friday tells of a future where many live in fear of the Family Protection Agency, a special police division enforcing the strict legislation that has been introduced to protect the family unit. Combining dark humour with a vision of the future that inverts the classic dystopian nightmare, this latest novel from Mike French follows in the tradition of great Speculative Fiction satirists such as Jonathan Swift. Thoughtful, while at the same time prompting a wry smile in the reader, it reverses the usual perception of a future regime driven by productivity and industrial output at the expense of family, demonstrating that the converse may be no better.

Mike French is the owner and senior editor of the prestigious literary magazine, The View From Here which has been called many fine things since it started in 2007 including, “Attractive, informative, sparkling and useful” by Iain M. Banks and for having a “great passion and drive” by Booker shortlisted Tom McCarthy. Mike’s debut novel, The Ascent of Isaac Steward came out in 2011 with Cauliay Publishing and was nominated for The Galaxy National Book Awards which due to an unfortunate clerical error was awarded to Dawn French.

Born in Cornwall in 1967, Mike spent his childhood flipping between England and Scotland with a few years in between in Singapore. Splitting his time between his own writing, editing the magazine, running author workshops and working with atp media in Luton, Mike is married with three children and a growing number of pets. He currently lives in Luton in the UK and when not working watches Formula 1, eats Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food and listens to Noah and the Whale.

The Founder Effect – no. 5


Last night I dreamed for the first time. A dream of pure emotion. There was nothing to see, nothing to hear, no light or dark, no space or surface to oppose my form. There was only me, a presence without matter, and over me poured a cascade of words that flowed in streams of syntax, each strand a line of thinking, a grammar, an ecstasy of tragedy, running and running down me without end. It was a deluge of everything that has ever been said, been written, been thought, followed by every possible permutation of language, that is to say, everything that ever could be articulated in words. Every variant of reality that has ever been and ever could be. And because it was happening, I knew that there was no such thing as time. Continue reading “The Founder Effect – no. 5”

The Founder Effect – no. 4


I hang my key ring on the wall as she makes her way around. Snout stiffly to the floorboards, her gait is loose and clumsy. Each step flops in a different way. She’s better at smelling than walking.

A dog’s sense of smell is thousands of times better than that of a human. This alone made the dog worth taming, although there were other advantages. They chase away vermin. They hear well and sleep lightly. They express and comprehend subtleties of emotion through eye contact. They smile at pleasure, are loyal, even delay gratification. Australian aborigines have a saying, “a three-dog night,” meaning a night so cold one needs to huddle with three dogs to stay warm enough to sleep. Sharing sleep is the ultimate intimacy, a manner of becoming one. It’s enough to make you wonder if humans domesticated dogs or if dogs will naturalize humans. Continue reading “The Founder Effect – no. 4”

The Founder Effect – no. 3


I have yet to make a friend, but that is by design.

The beauty of existence in a verbal dimension is that nothing is a product of happenstance. There are no coincidences, no mistakes, no serendipity. However, there are demands. When your life is measured by the story it unfolds, it requires relations. As a word needs a language, a character needs a milieu. Antagonism. One is what one does, and the effects must reciprocate.

A friend might be a bit much. I should say what I need is companionship. A friend, by definition, harbors concern. But a companion: well, a companion is nothing if not a trove of secrets.

The objects of my relations are not most important. Most vital are the relations themselves and their dynamics. The how of my being will say more than the what. I need to initiate a relation. Continue reading “The Founder Effect – no. 3”

The Founder Effect – no. 2


I know enough to realize that my identity, my story, and my life are one and the same. To that end, it’s more important to travel a path than it is to clearly define a sense of self. I’ve told you who I am, and it’s all true, but I can’t keep in that place for too long—I need to move. I want to grow and growth is a movement. If my flesh is words, my blood is grammar. I want to spread. A trickle to an ocean.

I need an arc. Me and my surplus of bones and my contempt for the cowardice of nature, clenching ancient codes, we need a thrust, to launch ourselves at a right angle against gravity. To make an arc. Continue reading “The Founder Effect – no. 2”