Saturday, 22 October 2016


The Librarian is the debut novel of Brooklyn based poet/writer John Grochalski, published by Six Gallery Press back in December 2013. As usual, I am late to the party. Not late to the party in a fashionable kind of way, more like in a kicking yourself because it was a fucking great party and you wished you'd been there from the start kind of way. The story follows several months in the life of Randall 'Rand' Wyndham, the titular (former) librarian. Rand is a drunken misanthrope who wastes his days in a variety of meaningless, dead end jobs and his evenings drowning his sorrows with the other barflies in his local boozer. I believe this is that 'American Dream' that I have heard so much about!?

We first meet Rand in the banal offices of a temp agency, about to be interviewed for jobs that he neither wants nor cares about, and is also very much over qualified for. His opening exchanges with the sour faced interviewee, explaining why he is no longer a librarian, had me genuinely laughing out loud:
"If there's something you're not telling me, Mr. Wyndham... I need to know."
"I headbutted a fellow librarian." I said.
"Headbutted? Could you be more specific?" 
"Yeah. I took my head and slammed it into his head."
There are not many novels that have made me laugh out loud within the first few pages, so I knew instantly that I was on to a winner here. Comedy is a highly underrated commodity in a novel like this. Without it, it could easily become a depressing, melodramatic slog to get through; reading about a cynical drunk as he wades through the day to day shit that you're currently knee deep in yourself. The comedy, the laughs, the wry smiles, the winks and the nods, they turn a good novel into a great novel. They make you connect to the characters and make you want to continue wading through the mire with them. Pulling for them to come through the other side. Too many writers take themselves far too seriously, but John Grochalski just tells it like it is, warts and all, cards on the table. The irony being that if Rand Wyndham took himself a little more seriously he might not find himself in the hole that he's in, but life's a bitch like that ain't it?

Grochalski's prose is crisp and concise, just the way I like it. A fine example of that old phrase "less is more". It would be all too easy to make comparisons to the likes of Charles Bukowski and Dan Fante, because they perfected this form of comical, confessional, painful existence burned onto the page. I don't know how much of this story is "confessional", or how much of Rand Wyndham can be found in John Grochalski, but I do know one thing, the man's name is definitely not out of place next to the likes of Bukowski, Fante and those of their ilk.

Do yourself a favour and grab a copy right now, right here

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


YES! It's that time again! Another LIT FIEND INTERVIEW with a writer that has appeared in PAPER AND INK so many times that he is basically part of the furniture. A writer, poet and all round nice dude that I am a huge fan of, and once you read this interview you will be too...

What's your name, where do you come from, and what do you do?

My name's Gwil James Thomas, I'm from Bristol, England. I generally spend my days trying to make sense of life through writing. I'm a collector of shitty punk records, seashells, knives and parking tickets.

In your poem, The Mule's Early Retirement, you document a vast array of jobs you have undertaken over the years, what do you find yourself doing for work at the moment?

I currently work for a news agency - when the stories and pictures get sent in from the journalists and photographers, several people including myself, effectively archive them. There's a lot of content to go through from the newspapers to news sites online, internationally. The pay's okay and I spend most of the day listening to music, or Joey Diaz podcasts (after I recently discovered him). I'm constantly reading the news too, which although is largely depressing, is interesting and changes enough to keep my mind occupied. You get to see a bigger picture and how different papers chose what to report on and what they chose to ignore. A lot of them simply twist words and create fear to help justify people's beliefs. This is nothing new, but it's strange seeing it a little closer, once you know the actual facts behind the story.

I was at war with most of my old jobs and bosses, so it seems strange to say it - but my job at the moment isn't too bad. I can hear a younger version of myself calling me a sellout for taking a day job seriously, but I've had so many shitty jobs before this, that I know it could be a lot worse. I list a lot of the jobs I've worked in the poem, but the most frequent job that I undertook was dishwashing. I dished in many places across the UK and as far away as Austria, where I got stuck once.

The aforementioned poem is one of nineteen that feature in your debut collection GWIL VS MACHINE, tell us a little about the collection...

I don't really feel that there's one particular theme that runs throughout the collection - but there was a lot that was going on between the period of time of writing them, that ties them together. They were written in various places and various states of mind. I've seen a lot of change in the last few years, but I've changed too and mostly for the better. I think there's been growth for me as a human being and as a writer. I'm proud of the collection and I think the poems work together well, does that sound arrogant? I dunno. I certainly don't always feel that way about my work. Not only that, but it's been packaged together beautifully, with each poem typed up on an old Olympia. None of which was of my doing. What makes it even more fucking special is that there's only a very limited amount - so get one while you can or spend the rest of your life in regret!

The final poem in the collection is an affectionate farewell to the late great Dan Fante, was he a big influence on your writing? What other writers have you found to be influential on your work?

His father, John Fante was the first writer to really inspire me, he changed the way I looked at literature, plus you never forget your firsts. Dan definitely had an influence on me though - his life story was one of survival and more than enough to inspire. If I mention a Fante, I can't say that Bukowski didn't have an influence on me either. I like Raymond Carver too and how his stories seem to give you more of a glimpse into a life, or scene and often it's up to you to work out what happened after it ends. I discovered Billy Childish in my late teens and loved his music, then discovered his poetry and prose. His influences are clear, but at the same time there's something very original and authentic about his writing, enough for it to be very unique. There's some writers whose work's influenced me, but I've only read one book of theirs - like Virginia Woolf, Charles. R Jackson, or Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy's Blood Meridian, was a great book, amazing imagery. Italo Calvino's book If on a Winter's Night a Traveller was an interesting read and he had an interesting voice - confusing and intriguing.

I have been a fan of both your poetry and prose for a long time now, having first read your stuff in Hand Job zine a few years back. Do you prefer writing one or the other? Is there one form you feel more comfortable or natural with, or does it just depend on what you are writing about?

It took me a while to warm to idea of writing poetry, I was a closet poet. Both formats have their pros and cons. Given the nature of it, poetry can be a lot more experimental and there's a certain freedom with that, that's difficult to replicate. I rarely write poetry and prose simultaneously. I like to rotate between them. If I'm honest the whole process of writing can be love/hate for me at times. A good evening's writings can can be more satisfying than anything, but sometimes the process can be maddening. Each time you write something new it's an individual experience, I'm not sure if poetry feels more natural, as I've always been a bit of a story teller - but on the whole I'm more comfortable with poetry.

You published a novel several years ago, Captains of Sinking Ships, tell us a little about that and how people can get their hands on a copy?

It was based around a character called The Youngblood. He constantly carried an ideas book and a knife with him and wandered about, searching for more out of life. It was a coming of age type book really. I wrote it when I was pretty young and think there's a couple of things I'd do differently and a few things I also had to learn writing wise. Unfortunately copies are very difficult to find these days. There were a few on eBay and Amazon a while back.

Other than that, I'm writing another novel at the moment, it's currently titled The Gospel Truths of a Compulsive Liar. It's a prequel of sorts to Captains of Sinking Ships, or at least hints at where Captains came from. It wouldn't make much difference if you approached them separately, but by reading, you may see where they could cross over.

In content though they're really different. The biggest contrast though is in the person writing them. I've seen and written a lot since writing Captains. Even if I have to publish the The Gospel Truths of a Compulsive Liar myself - I want to get it out there.

You do not currently have any social media presence, or a blog, or website. In 2016 this is quite unique for a writer, especially one under the age of 30, what is the reason behind this? (if there is one)

Maybe it's not always in relation to writing, but people ask me this a bit. I have nothing against making a personal website. But I've never have a Facebook, or anything like that really. It's not that I hate social media, I've just gone this far without a Facebook account. However, I'm sure that one way or another I'll inevitably be forced into getting one. I'm also aware that a hell of a lot of people use it and that's not going to change until Facebook possibly becomes obsolete. For now I can still get by with emails, occasional letters and my phone. I'm paranoid and find social media pretty invasive. At the same time I realise that there's other sides to it, I seem to miss quite a lot of submission calls because of it and I can see that it's handy if you lose your phone.

You've been published in numerous zines and lit mags over the last few years but your 'author bio' always makes particular reference to your work being available in Greek bookshops, what's that about?

Years ago, I put together a short story collection and it was taken up by a Greek publisher. It's currently only available in Greek. The collection was called Halfway to Nowhere - which was intended to sound more lost at sea, or drifting through space, than anything depressive. I think the publishers ran a bookshop and dropped a few off in some bookshops in Athens. I haven't spoken to them in a long time, but they were nice people. The Greeks though have generally been good to me in my life. As a child, I had my life saved by Greek people. I was a pretty hyperactive boy and I'd gone on holiday to Cyprus (the Greek side) and me and my brother were mucking about outside and cutting a long story short, I ended up running through a glass door. I received some nasty cuts and lost a lot of blood. This barman heard the smash from across the street. So the barman, leaves his bar, runs over, sticks me in the back of his Merc and starts bombing it through all these red lights - while I was getting blood all over the white leather interior. Passing in and out of consciousness, he drove me to a hospital over there and I was swiftly doped up on morphine. I thought I died several times, hallucinated and tried to escape, before they sewed me back up. I ended up being stuck in that hospital there for about a month in the end. I remember one of the nurses bringing me something called a Gyro - it was good shit. It was sort of like a wrap/kebab hybrid from what I remember, it wasn't the healthiest thing, but I liked it at the time. I think that answers your question.

You currently reside in your home town of Bristol, are you very involved in the lit scene there? Do you get out to many readings or poetry nights at all?

Not really. The last reading I did was one Joe Ridgwell had organised. It was in The East End of London and it was just before I left London, or was chased out. The reading was in a basement of an old pub, there was darts, good poetry, fiction and an 'adult cabaret' and of course lots of booze. But that was over a year ago. If I'm honest, there's been a lot of change in my life between, which has impacted on parts of the writing process. Admittedly I haven't been as involved as I could. There are a few reasons for this, other than readjusting to different places and Googling poetry groups, I've wasted a lot of time getting suckered out and ended up in watering holes, when I could have been writing. There was one bar I went to where apparently they've had readings, but after a minor disagreement, someone ended up bottling me and me and my friend ended up getting banned, after my friend swiftly stepped in and threw the prick that bottled me into the road. So that one's off then list. I'm lazy and easily distracted, but over the last six months at least I've been keeping myself inside, bolting the door, switching my phone off and working on a variety of written work. One of those writing endeavours was Gwil Vs Machine.

Do you read much in your spare time and if so is there anything in particular that you are you enjoying at the moment?

Yeah, I read when I can and as much as I can. I was given a copy of Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, which is a mammoth read, but an interesting one. Besides that I ordered a copy of Jared A Carnie's Waves, I've only read a couple of pages, but I'm enjoying it. A friend of mine, also introduced me to his uncle Raficq Abdulla and I'm going through a copy of his poetry collection Reflecting Mercury, which is as complex as it is beautiful.

Finally, what does the future hold for Mr Gwil James Thomas?

First and foremost, hopefully old age. In terms of writing, once I've finished the novel I've been working on I want to put together another short story collection and poetry collection too. I also have two short stories in an anthology coming out at some point (I would mention who its for, but I think they're still keeping a low profile with it - you'll see soon enough). Other than that, I wouldn't mind having a go at writing a script for a short film. It's only an idea, but that's how everything else started too.

Gwil, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.


Thursday, 15 September 2016


This is a poetry/photography collaboration zine by Jim Gibson and Sophie Pitchford who are the dynamic duo responsible for the underground literary sensation that is Hand Job Zine. Children of Snakehill is an aesthetical side step from the riso printed, rough 'n' ready feel of Hand Job, it is printed on high quality silk paper and looks stunning. Pitchford's photography and Gibson's poems compliment each other perfectly, as the pair revisit the titular Snakehill, a local spot they frequented as youngsters. This is pure nostalgia and contemplation, and evokes memories of the Snakehill of one's one youth. Everyone will have their own Snakehill, that place you escaped to as a kid and remember fondly as an adult, and this zine will take you right back to it. Apparently this is the first in a series and I am definitely looking forward to the next one!  Grab one right here.


This art zine by illustrator Arielle Gamble was sent to me by insatiable zine fiend Abbie Foxton, all the way from MCA Zine Fair in Sydney, Australia. Maybe she remembered that I had been through a break up at the end of last year, maybe she just knows that I like dark humour. Either way, this zine had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. It is filled with beautiful illustrations which are accompanied by humorous but morally/legally questionable suggestions for getting over your ex. It is a quick read but a most satisfying one. Check out more of Arielle's work right here.


Eggy's Dead is a submission based literary zine created by the team behind Riot Radio Podcast out of Philadelphia, USA. This is the inaugural issue and features a variety of short stories, flash fiction and a few poems thrown in for good measure. The words are accompanied by some freaky illustrations, all by the same illustrator throughout, which ties the whole thing together nicely. The writing itself is a bit of a mixed bag, the opening story by Kevin Esposito, 'A Swift Kick to Someone Else's Nuts', was a particular highlight, a sci-fi dystopian story that definitely lives up to its title. Check it out right here.

Sunday, 4 September 2016


Sometimes You Just Don't Want to Know is one of two new Mark SaFranko short story collections from Murder Slim Press (the other being The Artistic Life), both featuring the further misadventures of SaFranko's literary alter-ego Max Zajack. 

The last time we saw Zajack, chronologically, he was howling at the moon like a madman at the end of 2007 novel Lounge Lizard. Sometimes... picks up with Max some years later and we are introduced to a more reflective, ponderous character. No longer the hard drinking, womaniser that we came to know in previous publications, Max appears to in equal parts regret the poor life choices that have to led him to his current station, but also wish that he had gone more balls to the wall when he had the chance. Torn between what ifs and what could have beens, and learning to accept the way things are, and the way things have to be. You can't sprint forever, and Max knows this. Sometimes you have to just sit back and appreciate the smaller things in life, whether that be coconut gelato or a beautiful rainbow. Sometimes... isn't all regret and nostalgia, however, and Max still finds himself in some extremely awkward and highly amusing situations, the old Zajack shining through in defiance of himself.

SaFranko's prose is as crisp and succinct as ever, perhaps even more so. His ability to harness the human condition and get it down onto the page in such a manner is nothing short of remarkable. This type of confessional writing is not to everyone's taste, but in my opinion, there are few greater skills than to bare one's soul with such brutal and unabashed honesty whilst making it sound damned good in the process. 

Grab a copy of the book directly from publisher Murder Slim Press or from Amazon (UK).

Oh look, a Mark SaFranko Zajack review that didn't once mention Bukowski. Get the fuck outta here!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016



This short story collection by Michael Wayne Hampton came highly recommended to me in an interview that I did a few months ago with poet C.M.Keehl. She said that anything by Hampton was incredible, but Romance for Delinquents she described as "wowza". Now I am no expert, but that sounds like pretty high praise to me. The title of the book sounded like it would be right up my alley and I knew that I had to track down a copy for myself. Released by Foxhead Books in 2013, the physical paper and ink version now appears to be out of print and prove to be a bit of a bastard to track down without paying through the nose, but that just made getting my hands on a copy all the sweeter.

Aside from the old lit fiend satisfaction of tracking down the hard to find, this really was a fantastic and fascinating read. Hampton's stories feature an array of different characters in wildly differing scenarios and stations in life, but similar themes of loneliness and detachment and misplaced love run throughout each. Loners and outsiders, out of place, out of sorts, searching for connections in all the wrong places. Each character is nuanced and unique, and Hampton is equally at home writing working class, everyman characters as he is writing about the study of theoretical physics. In the best possible way this collection reminded me of my favourite short story collection, Loners by Mark SaFranko, which has similar themes and characters (and you should check out right now at This is deft and delicate writing, an authentic voice that deserves a much wider audience than it currently receives.

If you can track down a copy of this book then I highly recommend that you do so, immediately. If not, I believe there is a Kindle (shudder) version available. And if C.M.Keehl ever recommends a book to you, you damn well listen to her!

Thursday, 7 July 2016


I first became aware of poet Miggy Angel when Jim Gibson, editor of Hand Job literary zine, began singing his praises. Anyone who has ever read an issue of Hand Job will know that Jim Gibson knows his shit when it comes to poetry, so I made a mental note to get my grubby mitts on a copy of his Miggy's debut collection, Grime Kerbstone Psalms. Cut to just over a year later and shamefully it has taken me this long to finally get around to reading it. On the one hand, yes, it was worth the wait, but on the other hand it is so bloody good that I wish I had read it immediately!

Miggy grew up in South London and "lived to tell the tale". Grime Kerbstone Psalms is that tale. A tale of struggle and addiction, of disconnect and indifference, of resilience and recovery, and ultimately one of survival and hope. Miggy's poems cut deep into the soul. They do not so much tug at your heartstrings, but wrap a fist tight around your bloody, beating heart and pull it straight out of your chest. If you ever have one of those days when you're not sure you know how to carry on, when it feels like it would be easier to lay down and give up than to stand up and fight, then those are the days when this book will come in handy. I am not saying it will save your life, don't be absurd, but it will certainly give you a swift kick up the arse. Because if nothing else Grime Kerbstone Psalms is a testament to the power of words, and a poignant reminder that life will kick the shit out of you if you let it, so don't let it. In the words of Miggy himself, YOU are the riot you seek.

Grab a copy right now from Celandor Books.