Saturday, 31 December 2016

#SuicideAwareness. The Tale of Boy-who-was-Fish.

Here is my parabolic tale told in the style of a Just-so story on the ‘expunging’ of emotional vulnerability in men. It may not resonate with many, but I offer it for what it is worth.

“The Tale of Boy-who-is-Fish”

(a tale told somewhat in the style of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just-so’ stories by Alan Gilliland.)

Boy-who-is-Fish is swimming, as fish do.
He is swimming in Sea, who is clear, blue and very, very warm.
She and he are closest.
Sea caresses his skin with rippling strokes, tickling his skin as he swims through her as fishes do.
She has been there always, like this, carrying him warm and snug in her belly. Her belly so huge there is no end to it he can see.
He flies weightless in her caressing warmth and she lets him do as he pleases.
Sand there is below: white, white Sand. And Sky above, bluer than Sea. Through Sky scud little patches of Cloud, which sometimes fill Sky, rippling just like wavy ripples in Sand below, so that Boy-who-is-Fish sees above as below, Sand as Sky.
But Boy doesn’t care as he spins and turns and flies hither and thither, free and weightless, for it is all the same to him: up and down.
Boy-who-is-Fish sometimes burrows in Sand, so that white Clouds follow him just like in Sky, but burrows not so deep as to lose Sea, his Mother.
Other times Boy tries to burrow into Sky, but Sea follows him into Sky, reaches out with many silvered fingers to fetch him back with laughter splashing all around.
So they go on, Boy-who-is-Fish, his great Mother Sea, Sand and Sky, from day to sunny day.
At night, Sea strokes him to sleep and purrs, “Shhh..., shhh...”as he slumbers on her shoreline. She laps about him and rises to embrace him.
Always, when her fingers stroke the nape of his neck, Boy awakes and drowsily lets him be taken into her huge warm belly.

Bye and bye, Boy-who-is-Fish crawls further out of Sea-who-is-Mother, out onto Sand-which-is-White, and leaves her fretful lapping behind.
He learns to stand, and finds himself in Sky-which-is-Blue with his toes in Sand, finds himself somehow with a heavy Heart, something like regret, leaving Sea behind, if only for a while.
But this new feeling too excites Boy, and he wiggles his toes into the hot hot Sand and stares up at the bright yellow eye of Sky watching him as he feels the last tickly caresses of Sea as she trickles down him into Sand.

As days turn one into another, a whispering is heard among the Green-that-is-Leaf on the shoreline between Sea and Sky, a soft whispering in the winds:
“Oh, look at Boy-who-is-Fish,
How Sea drops away from him like Scales.
See how smooth and white is his skin, smooth and white like Sand.”
And they whisper this, these Leaves-in-Wind:
“How like Palm tree he stands, so tall and erect, how like Palm his hair grows thick and bushy.
Strange, his hair, so white upon his head.
But see his eyes, strangest of all. Not Blue like Sea and Sky, nor White like Sand; not Green like Palm, nor yet like Coconut, fruit of Palm, Green.
Not bright colour, like these, but Brown. Brown like old Sea-worn-Coconut, fallen and all dried up.”
And this strangest-of-all brown, Brown Eyes betrays him to his Mother Sea, who cries to herself softly, “Am I losing you, my son?
Where are your silken scales a-shimmering with lights?
Where your sleek tail swishing freely through my warm belly?”

One day at dawn, as Boy-who-is-Fish slumbers at the shoreline as he always does, neither in nor out of Sea, strange Creatures happen by: Man and Woman, arm in arm.
Seeing Boy-who-is-Fish at the shoreline, neither in nor out of Sea, Woman cries out:
“Oh, look at that beautiful Boy, half-in, half-out of water! Oh, Man, rescue him before he drowns!”
And Man leaps bravely into Sea, right up to his ankles, leans down and snatches Boy from Sea, who murmurs angrily, and Man shouts:
“He’s alive, thank God. He’s alive!”
This sudden snatching and loud shouting wakens Boy-who-is-Fish, who cries out in alarm and struggles to be free of this iron grip and return to Sea, to the warm womb of his Mother.
But Man will have none of it, and holds firm onto Boy, while Woman coos:
“Our own little beautiful Boy, it’s a Miracle!”

So Boy was taken away from Sea, from his warm mother, and taken far from there.
Man and Woman, they took him far away to a cold, cold land, far from Sea, and called him their own little Boy.
Boy-who-was-Fish became Son-of-Man and Child-of-Woman, who both possessed him because he was theirs.
They brought great Fuss with them to take care of Boy in the best manner of that country.
Great Fuss was called Nanny, who looked after him wherever he tried to go and brought him back and up.
He was brought in daily to show Man and Woman and Man-and-Woman’s friends and relations what a Good Boy he had become. Boy was much admired for his beauty and his never-speaking-out-of-turn.
But Boy’s silence was a great hole in his heart - was a void of longing for the warm caress of Sea, his Mother.
He was burned by Eyes all around him, which touched him like hot pokers, prickling his skin with their hard scrutiny.
Because he was their Prize Possession, their Pride and joy, Boy was sent away to be with his own kind who were not, but were cruel and hard, whose prying was harsher than Eyes.
Boy cried at night for his mother, Sea, and his tears trickling warm down his cheek brought him briefly close, feeling her soft caress.
His own kind didn’t like Boy’s tears, which frightened them, so they rubbed them harshly away and handled him like rocks in a storm of bruises, dark clouds across his Sand-white skin.
When Man and Woman, who called themselves Father and Mother, came to inspect Boy they were proud of their Son, who was learning so well to hide his feelings.
But one day his yearning and longing for his warm mother, Sea, swept away all his learning and impelled him to return.
He was found and brought back and his Father said: “You belong here and here you will stay until you learn to forget this foolish Childishness.”
And Boy’s mother, when he tried to touch her and hug her and have her run her fingers through his hair all trickly down his neck, started and said: “Don’t be silly Dear! You’re a growing Boy now and that’s not how we do things here.” And she looked away from him, as far away as possible to hide her own silly Weakness-of-Woman and made an end of it.
Boy behaved.
He behaved so long he grew to learn to forget and became for All-the-World like every other Young Man.
Except in that space which he kept secret: where his Heart beat, “Sea… sea…” which he could hear when it was dead-of-night and all was quiet around him.
Thus he carried Her within him, rhythmically surging through his arteries and veins, washing warmly through every part of him - invisibly all though him - Sea.
He learned to adapt to the cold ways of Man. He learned to “measure up,” and to measure others, too. He acquired Talent, Success and Possessions, as all Men in that country want to do.
One day he found himself an Asset: he acquired a Wife, as most Men do, and Family to go in House, which is called Home when fully equipped with these Possessions.
He had Happiness, which was measured by Success and Wealth, consumed by Family, and so on.
To all outward appearances Boy-that-was-Fish had become Man-of-Substance.
He was entirely Normal, just as he should be, Praise be the Lord.
But deep down a worm gnawed. A little Sea-Worm, such as burrows in Sand-below-Waves, hungering for Sea and all her Gifts.
Worm burrowed into his Heart a tunnel, always in the direction of Sea, down which poured a torrent of yearning for that pure Grace in which he had once swum free.
Then one day came Other-woman, who carried with her something of Sea.
In Her he tasted Saltiness-of-Surf, smelled Fish-of-Sea, felt in her rhythmic caresses, his once playful Carefreeness.
He knew he must follow Her to the far sea-girt land from whence she came.
He was sure she could lead him Home.
Her home was a Land-almost-sea, formed of the lapping of waves on sand, and its sea grasses rippled in the breezes like blue-green waves of the sea.
Other-woman too, he thought, was born of Sea.
She swam in Surf’s surge with an ease born of Nature, and joyful Ecstasy broke over him in waves.
As he watched her run and dive, disappear and re-appear in that grey choppy swell against the grey-clouded sky he laughed.
She emerged, laughing too, and skipped over the wavelets towards him and dragged him, so willing, towards the great Sea swell.
He felt “Now, at last, all will be well.”
Icy cramp seized him, dragged him from her.
Its grip tightened on his chest like a clamp and its claws dug deep into his heart.
It suffocated him, strangled him, bloating him purple like a corpse.
His own Mother Sea!
Frigid, cruel, winterblast counterfeit!
Breaching the waves, he clung desperately to her surface, crying out for release.
In the distance, he saw Other-woman, sitting on a rock, perfect in form, in substance perfectly remote, remote from his comprehension.
Mermaid, Ice-Maiden, impenetrably smiling, looking out far away, oblivious to his agony.
He slipped beneath the waves, icy fingers dragged him down, heart growing cold.
Suddenly she was lifting him to the surface of the grey icy sea, guiding him gently to shore.
He lay on the shore, bloated, burning with cold, gasping for breath.
Other-woman looked down at him with Pity in her eyes for this Man-who-could-not-swim and she could not help him.
She slipped quietly into the waves so icy and her wild hair in the frothing surf was the last of her.
Man-who-was-once-Fish left the cold unfriendly shore of that Land-almost-sea and returned to his place.

But from that moment on Despair took up residence under his roof and ate his bread, starving the Hope that sustained Yearning.
He never recovered from the cold shock of that day.
His breathing became short and laboured as if the air in which he swam was alien, choking him.
From that first cold swelling of his body, eruptions volcanically spread in crusty flows across his skin, slowly encasing him as he withdrew inside himself.
All around stared in awe at this Transformation in him.
Doctors came to inspect and name its parts. Cold Urticaria. Chronic Asthma. Psoriasis.
These were some of the names.
But their naming of parts did not drive out those demons of despair.
As the days dragged, wheezing, one after another, ever slower, he withdrew entirely.
His last breaths gurgled, a gentle bubbling, whispering, “Sea… sea…”
And, as they covered him over with a sheet, one doctor was heard to remark to another:
“His skin – so scaly – almost like a Fish.”

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Selling my 1973 Holdsworth Equipe OPEN TO OFFERS

I am selling my 1973 Holdsworth Equipe, owned from new and bought from their Putney shop.

Make me an offer. I think it is probably one of the most easy recognized colour schemes of that era, riding on the back of the professional team’s successes (that’s what made me buy it).
My bike had a recent full service at J. E. James Cycles, Chesterfield, with parts replaced as listed below at a cost of over £200.

It is now fully operational, but unfortunately I have discovered I can no longer ride in a sustained crouching position after a lower spinal disk was destroyed.

I am reluctant to part with it (as are my kids) as it has been a part of my life since adulthood but would be happy to see it giving pleasure an enthusiast.

Holdsworth Equipe 1973.
Colour - orange / blue-green
Frame 60cm
Frame number 39438
Rear derailleur - Campagnolo Valentino Extra
Front derailleur - Shimano
Gear shifters - Campagnolo
Gear cogs - two front ; six rear (new) ie. 10-speed original replaced by 12-speed.
Brakes - Weinmann 750 Vainqueur 999, centre-pull, front and back.
Tyres - Schwalbe Active Line K-Guard (new)
Frame - Reynolds 531 steel, I believe.
Pedals - steel, original, rust marked.
Chain - new
Handlebars and pillar - GB, with wreathed images on bar-tops.
Condition of frame paint - good for age, usual scrapes, marks etc.
Frame condition - good, straight (no accidents)
Old wheels etc. - kept in case enthusiast wants to restore.
Owners - one, from new, bought at Holdsworth’s Putney shop, 1973.

Contact: Alan Gilliland on 07950-469186 or

Here is a link to more pictures: HERE

Monday, 21 March 2016

My response to Kelly’s Index (author) Efficiency published by TeleRead

Yesterday TeleRead published that response querying some aspects of Kelly Gallagher’s Index of Efficiency, a tool for assessing an author’s future viability (Ie. Whether to ‘keep’ or ‘throw’) that he outlined in a speech at the Digital Book World Conference  recently.

You can read that response here.

I did not attend that conference but read about it in TeleReads and Publishing Perspectives via Book2Book. 

Sometime this week they are intending to publish another piece on the “marketing/accountancy led publishing milieu” which is actually talking about the acceptability of complexity (challenging readers) stimulated by a quote from Umberto Eco.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Thoughts occasioned by the death of Umberto Eco.

Reading of the death of Umberto Eco, I came across this quote that resonates with me: “It’s only publishers and some journalists who believe that people want simple things. People are tired of simple things. They want to be challenged.” (To the former group I might add ‘some agents’?)

   I find it strange that an agent’s response to one of my books (an historical Gothic ghost tale as it happens) was firstly that they didn’t get the ending and secondly that I must spell out every aspect as a linear novel because I can’t expect people to actually have to work at figuring the story’s various threads before they come together at the end (ie that they don’t want to be challenged but have all laid out on a platter).
   Finally, that “authors seldom break out of their genre” – despite the fact that my first book was a children’s nonsense adventure, my second a Gothic tale, my third a YA ‘magical realism’ murder story, fourth a plague tale, fifth a terrorist thriller, etc.. (only one and two are published) – and that I must stick to that Gothic Horror Genre from then on in order to establish my ‘Brand!’
  So was revealed the fact that publishing has become an exercise in corporate and individual ‘Branding’ for ease of marketing and little to do with the individual’s exercise of imagination in telling stories, whatever form those stories may take, in whatever ‘genre’ branding agents choose to slot them after the fact.
  Somehow I find this whole marketing/accountancy-led publishing milieu alien. When I read ‘The Spire’ I, as a reader, didn’t think, “gosh, this isn’t in the same genre as ‘Lord of the Flies’ – I can’t read this.” William Golding was a great story-teller. That was enough in itself to take me to the next book.
   And what the hell is wrong with complexity? With offering readers the chance to think, to figure out, to be challenged?

  Fortunately, my Gothic tale attracted some good responses (as well as bad), such as:

A gold-mining boss.
1st. Tweet to @OnundTreefoot: Just finished ‘The Flight of Birds’ - fantastic! it had me deferring
the Times Crossword on the commute to London each morning

2nd. Review: “This is a truly astonishing book. The cleverly spun threads will draw you into a web of intrigue and mystery that will have you gripped throughout. If you enjoyed the Quincunx you will love this - I can't recommend it highly enough.” 
(He last year reached the finals of the Times crossword competition but was unable to attend due to his business commitments. He met me at the London Book Fair soon after that review and offered me £10,000 on the spot for a share in my business. I stupidly turned him down, thinking I was acquiring the agent mentioned. When I mentioned the agent’s remark that the ending was for him a “What the fxxk!” moment, he agreed that, for a few seconds the shock hit him also until he realized that the entire convoluted logic of the story led inexorably to this moment.)

A blogger wrote.
“The story itself is hugely intriguing. ... (describes the tale)
Kate’s future lies in the past and terrible secrets and revelations come to the surface. Intrigue is the key here. I absolute loved the story. Alan has created a rich history filled with high drama through to delicate relationships and some truly shocking moments. Buy this book.”

Another gentleman.
“A book that's sounds frankly weird. A girl goes back in time, whilst remaining in her
current time and follows her family’s history back 400 years. This sounds all nonsense but in reality is one of the best books I have ever read. Readers of medieval whodunit novels (CJ Sansom lovers)
will love this book. This is an author with great ideas, way beyond many others. He also could easily write separate books about many of the characters in this book.”

An 18-yr-old young lady.
“This is a book which fills your mind with wonder. The characters live on in your mind
long after the last page has been turned and the story is clever, deserving applause for the
gripping plots. This book is a book to read if you want to experience a beautiful piece of writing which will stay with you forever.”

Even a 14-yr-old (who reached the finals of a national poetry competition).
“I really, really enjoyed it. Okay, maybe it was a little bit gory in places (maybe a lot), but I thought that it was really clever and a really good read. It’s what I’m always looking for - a mystery, stuff from the past, betrayal, horrid stuff like that; but that's just the sort of thing that is really very exciting. There is as much interest in the chapters set in the present day as there is in the tales from the past; I love it I love it I love it. Thaaaank you, Mr. Alan Howard!” 
(Howard is my middle name, used here to avoid this macabre tale being accidentally picked up by those younger fans of my nonsense kids book, ‘The Amazing Adventures of Curd the Lion (and Us!) in the Land at the Back of Beyond.’ That book has sold 9,000 @ £15 in the UK and further 9,000 in China and South Korea so far.)

Now these are among what one might call, in America, “my kinder readers!”

Before I receive accusations of cynically plugging my book off the back of the death of a great writer, I must tell you that the book is currently out of print, so that I am not in a position to sell it (It did sell over 3,000 @ £10 in the UK before my signings were unceremoniously curtailed by edict of the new MD of the Waterstones chain in the summer of 2012).

My purpose in writing this is to relate my delight in finding that quote by Umberto Eco, reflecting my own frustrations.

If, after reading this, someone is intrigued enough to wish to read this story (The Flight of Birds: there are other posts relating to it here), do please contact me:

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


Thought I should post that I was invited by Immanuel Nataf to join Reedsy’s professional network providing services to independent authors as well as publishers of all sizes.
Reedsy won an award at the Future Book Conference in London last month. It is growing incredibly fast internationally and its professional service providers are thoroughly vetted.
I provide illustration services and cover design.

My page has a large portfolio at the bottom showing the range of my work and lists clients past and present, including the Penguin Group, Hachette Partworks, Osprey Military, Windmill book packagers, etc.
It is an innovative fast-growing development in today’s publishing world.

Please take look.

My REEDSY homepage is