Book Review: Surrealist Women, An International Anthology

Hello my little dustpan brushes sprinkled with attractive gems. Recently I read Surrealist Women: An International Anthology. The kindle version is slightly cheaper than the hardsurrealist-women-cover copies but still costs a whopping thirty pounds. I do think it’s worth saving up for, however, as it is an almost exhaustive encyclopedia of all females involved in the art movement from the twenties to sixties counter-culture to now, including examples of their work.

The essays at the beginning of each new era, separated into chapters, refutes the idea that women were not as involved as men. While they were not seen as full members during the twenties they were just as passionate, and only a decade later their participation exploded. It only seems to be outside critics and scholars who have omitted them since.

This passage offers an explanation for the reticence at the start (Andre Breton’s wife, Simone Kahn, wrote several letters to her cousin Denise Levy in the early years): “Although masculine egotism surely existed in the Surrealist Group, what is known of Kahn’s correspondence refutes the temptingly simple but shallow argument that the relatively small production of the first women surrealists can be blamed on male chauvinism alone. What held these women back, more than likely, was a complex of inhibitions and fears inherited from centuries of French and European patriarchal, capitalist, Christian culture; notions of “feminine reserve,” “woman’s place,” and “biological destiny” that they had internalized more or less unconsciously as children and which continued to wreak havoc in their psyches in later years, despite themselves.”
Meret Oppenheim's 'furry cup'
Meret Oppenheim’s ‘furry cup’
The author mentions other biographies of individuals but Surrealist Women is packed with primary research and any omissions of a particular writer/artist’s contribution to surrealism is addressed. She also looks at surprising aspects of surrealism, such as it’s affinities with Trotsky and other leftist leaders as well as feminism. In the early thirties the wall street crash brought a tide of woman-hating against those who ‘stole the jobs of men.’ Two high profile murder cases took place in France during that time, the Papin sisters – maids who killed their bosses – and Violette Noizierre. Both were reported vitriolically by the press as examples of women running amok, but apparently the Surrealists were one of only a few groups to point out that all women involved were being abused and possibly acted in self-defense.
I discovered several writers and artists I had never heard of as well as learning more about others. As a huge fan of Anais Nin I was excited to discover Nelly Kaplan who, under the name Belen, wrote “erotic tales of black humor.” She is also a filmmaker, one of her best known being A Very Curious Girl (1967).
There was also Suzanne Cesaire, born in Martinique. Though her husband, Aime, often overshadowed her, she was very active and started the magazine ‘Tropiques’ with him. There’s Joyce Mansour, the best known Surrealist female poet once told by Breton himself “Your gift is that of a genius,” and Rikki Ducornet, artist as well as author, who has illustrated books by Jorge Luis Borges among others.
I enjoyed it and learned a lot, and now have plenty of further reading and art to explore, as will you.
Below is a short documentary about Leonora Carrington, also featured in the book. Incidentally one of her stories is in The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, another I highly recommend.

Disturbing, Strange And Beautiful Animation ‘Decoration’ By Ben Wheele

Bonjour! I’m in the final throes of the second edit of my novella, thus I don’t have long to spend with you. However I wouldn’t want to leave you empty handed so here is an animation by Ben Wheele.

It’s beautiful, with Georgian overtones, but also rather dark so only watch it if you like dark things.

How To Get Story Ideas – Tips For Creative Writing And Authors

Hello my little slightly burnt quorn sausages which turn out OK once the surface has been scraped a bit. I trust you are well?

I made a little video of tips and advice that I’ve gathered from other sources as well as what works for me, so any writers out there will hopefully find this useful.

P.S. the T Shirt is by Betty Rocksteady, whose novella was published by Eraserhead Press the same time as mine.

Weird Fiction Short Story On The Other Stories Podcast

Bonjour! I hope you’re well, it’s been so long since we last spoke. A whole several hours. Dry your eyes because yet another podcast with a weird fiction story of mine was released last night. They’re like buses!

They kindly said of it: “Madeleine Swann’s disturbing, difficult, beautiful story reaches towards the complexities of the human condition, whether they have conditions or not.”

Follow this link to listen and to see my story in it’s written form. Enjoy!

 

3 New Bizarro Horror Stories On The Wicked Library Podcast

Ooh, look at me! More of my words have found a nice little home. Three of my stories appear on the latest episode of The Wicked Library, the longer one read by author Jessica McHugh. Wow!

705-wicked-library-madeleine-swann

Guest Post: Tommy Wiseau, Goat Simulator and Rewinding Time: Weirdest Indie Games Pt. 2

Welcome back to the second and final part of our weird game experience, here’s Part 1. Today’s words are brought to you by the talented Angie Hewitt. Follow her on Twitter and watch her on Twitch. Enjoy!

roomgamehed

Last time, I wrote about some of the weirder or less mainstream gaming experiences out there. My hope is to broaden people’s definition of what computer games are and can be. We are entering the brave new world of Virtual Reality (a post for another time), but it’s still worth noting that there are plenty of games already available which can offer players something different.

Life is Strange

LiS is another narrative-driven game, but this one is episodic. Episodic means releasing games in short segments, putting out “chapters” periodically. It’s a format that’s been used before by studios such as Telltale Games (with beloved older titles like Sam & Max), and increasingly popular in games such as Hitman, Tales of the Borderlands, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, Minecraft Storymode and The Walking Dead.

Back to LiS: you play Maxine, an awkward girl who’s studying photography and trying to fit in at a new school. Whilst witnessing a violent crime, Maxine discovers she is able to rewind time to a certain point, to remake decisions and to change the future. As with most episodic games, the decisions you make mean something and will lead to different slightly outcomes, so be careful which path you choose. Whilst one course of action may seem like the right one, it can have unintended and tragic consequences, especially when you can only rewind time so far.

It’s an interactive drama which had been lauded for its emotional impact. It’s also been mocked, too, with some critics labeling it “Tumblr: the game.” This is because the game deals with some complex themes, including identity and depression. Oh, and the two main characters are female, so of course it’s been dismissed as a SJW (social justice warrior) game.

I haven’t played through the whole thing myself yet, but I plan to, and I already know a few spoilers. I’ve read reviews where critics have been bereft by a choice you must make in the game, so be prepared.

Also, one of the characters says “hella” an ungodly amount of times in the first episode, so consider yourself warned.

The Room (the game)

No, not one of the many mobile games where you must try to escape a puzzle-locked room. This The Room is an unofficial tribute to the movie of the same name.

The Room is a playable version of the cult film The Room. Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed and starred (as Johnny) in one of the most unintentionally funny films ever made. It gained notoriety for its terrible acting and odd story choices. Characters appear and disappear at random (often because actors were walking off the set in despair), the dialogue was horrific (anyone for a scene where a character tells a story about domestic violence, which is then dismissed as an amusing anecdote?!), and the plot made no fucking sense. What little plot there is depicts Johnny as a victim, loved by everyone except his manipulative fiancee, Lisa, who makes his life hell. It very much seems like Tommy was dumped in real life and decided to make a movie out of spite. They’re actually creating a film about the surreal and terrible making of The Room, which I am absolutely watching.

In the game, you play Johnny, reenacting the scenes from the film. However, there is original material as well which gives the story an actual, coherent plot, something the film failed to achieve. There are secrets to be discovered (such as what the hell creepy Denny actually keeps in his room), which make this fresh and interesting, despite how many times you’ve endured the movie.

It’s a charming and amusing game experience which will probably be a lot funnier if you’ve actually watched The Room. If nothing else, the sight of a naked 8-bit Tommy Wiseau should be enough to tempt/horrify you. The game is free to play online.

The Stanley Parable

This is one game I haven’t played, but mostly because I’m terrified to do so. It’s another interactive fiction, exploration game (are you sensing that I have a preference here?), but it’s much more open than most. You play Stanley, an office worker, whose computer suddenly goes blank. You get up to find help, but there is no one around. A narrator explains parts of your situation, but the story is decided by you. Or not. It’s complicated.

There are six different endings in total and which one you end up with is determined by the choices you make. Where a choice is possible (e.g. go through the left door, or the right one), the narrator will tell you which one you should pick. However, it’s up to you to decide whether you follow his advice or go against him. Or you may not make a choice at all.

From the gameplay I’ve seen, The Stanley Parable is a surreal and inventive take on interactive fiction; one critic likened it to Being John Malkovic. Davey Wresden, one of these game’s designers and writers, wanted to create a game where the player had the ability to choose, unlike other games which had a set of rules about your destination and how you should get there. The reason the game terrifies me is that a) I’m a wuss (ask Madeleine – she will testify that I spend most horror films hiding behind a cushion) (EDIT: This is true, and yes we torment her – Madeleine) and b) the surreal landscape of the gameplay that I have seen has been somewhat unnerving.

If you want something more than “press X not to die” in your interactive fiction, this is an interesting start.

Reigns

This is the only mobile game on the list, but it’s so very different from your everyday Candy Crush imitators and Farmville clones.

Reigns employs a mechanic more typically seen in Tinder: swiping left or right. You play a king, and the aim of the game is to achieve a longer and longer reign through various incarnations. To do this, you are offered choices to determine the fate of your kingdom and, eventually, you. You must maintain and balance four elements: the Army, the Church, the People and the Treasury. Nearly every choice you make has some impact, but you can only choose Yes or No by swiping left or right. Do you want to heal the people? Great! The People will be very happy, but, ah, the Treasury is going into the red because you’ve had to spend money to build hospitals. Keep one element happy and you’ll do well, adding years onto your reign, but what benefits one can weaken the others.

Trying to ensure no element is too weak (the Treasury is bankrupt! The kingdom revolts and you die in a ditch!) or, conversely, too strong and well-off (the Treasury is full! You eat a sumptuous feast to celebrate and die from choking on a fishbone!) is a difficult task to manage.

However, you will die; that’s inevitable. Once you do, you start again, sometimes with different goals to achieve and choices to make: you can meet the Devil, follow the dog, uncover the conspiracy, find a lover, employ a witch, and so on. After multiple playthroughs you will notice some repetition, but this is part of the game: it’s all about learning from past mistakes and trying to be a better king, all whilst trying to unlock different endings. It costs a couple of quid, but well worth it for the amount of time sunk into it.

Farming Simulator and Goat Simulator

Oh god, these games. OK, so I’ve talked about dating sim games (Hatoful Boyfriend: forever in my heart), but a new genre of simulators had been gaining popularity in recent years.

The strangely successful Farming Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator 2 (where you are literally carrying out realistic farming and driving jobs in a computer game) may seem an odd way to spend your evenings, but there’s an audience for it. Just go on Steam right now and you’ll see cooking simulation, train simulation and plane simulation games aplenty. This popularity is either because the games are often meant to mimic real-life tasks closely (and thus almost act like training), or because some people just really, really like relaxing by taking a tractor around a computer-generated field.

Farming Simulator had sold over four million copies so far, and counting. Bear in mind that Destiny, a game with a massive launch and studio behind it, has 25 million users worldwide: in context, this weirdly specific Farming Simulator game has achieved nearly a fifth of the same amount of users. And their game is literally about carrying out farming chores.

Goat Simulator is a different take on the simulator experience. You play a goat. Your aim is to create mayhem. Using your oddly elastic tongue, you have challenges to compete, and damage to wreak. In one playthrough I found, the YouTuber had managed to get the goat to chill out on the top of a hang-glider, whilst another persisted in just throwing people around the map.

It’s very, very stupid and is intended as a humorous diversion. Goat Simulator is fun to play for a while, but it’s not exactly got a compelling plot to hook you. Be warned: this game is reputedly buggy as hell, which is conversely one of the reasons people love it; more often than not, they’re trying to break the game and glitch the goat character in the silliest way possible.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and some of the games have been out for a while. If you really want to explore insure gaming further, itch.io is a site focused on sharing indie games, games which can be very experimental (the previously featured Succulent being one of them). Some of these games are free or pay what you want, but if you’re unsure whether they’re worth it, check out YouTube to see if anyone has done a Let’s Play, just so you can see whether it’s to your taste or not.

Happy gaming!

Guest Post: Story-telling, dating pigeons and homoeroticism: weirdest indie computer games Pt. 1

Today’s words are brought to you by the talented Angie Hewitt. Follow her on Twitter and watch her on Twitch. Enjoy!

hatoful-boyfriend

Think of computer games, and what comes to mind? Call of Duty, Super Mario, or World of Warcraft? These sorts of big studio titles are well-known, but gaming has always had an indie side. Efforts have been made to unite the two: the highly anticipated No Man’s Sky promised to be the first big budget game with an indie aesthetic and endless exploration. However, the mixed reviews reveal the inevitable disappointment that comes with a hype-culture, a world where zealous fans send death threats to journalists for the crime of reporting a delayed release date.

Despite the industry’s problems, I enjoy playing games; I recently did a 24 hour game marathon for charity, and was lucky enough to have some strange titles to choose from, all on my console. Indie gaming has become a popular business, and part of this may be down to consumer boredom with the same old narratives in more mainstream games. It could also come from platforms like Steam Greenlight, where you can tout a game in the hope people will like what they see and vote for it to be made and released. There’s some utter dross out there, too, and more than a little controversy about a lack of quality control; however, there seem to be more games than ever trying to capture the weary audience’s attention or, better yet, a YouTuber looking for something weird to play.

YouTubers have been doing Let’s Play videos for years and increasingly search the fringe for something original. It pays to stand out when surrounded by clones of Uncharted or Fallout. For those unfamiliar with Let’s Plays, the premise is simple: a YouTuber captures footage of them playing a computer game, often with voiceover and on-screen video of their reactions. For the uninitiated, it may sound odd to derive enjoyment from watching someone else play a game, but many tune in for the YouTuber’s entertaining commentary. Don’t knock it:  PewDiePie makes quite a good living from his unique style of play, with a reported net worth of $12 million.

If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten track, here are a handful of games which aim to deliver something different, even if that means not being to everyone’s taste…

Succulent

I could write an entire post about Robert Yang’s games, and perhaps, God-willing, one day I shall. Yang is one of the most interesting creative minds to come out of the games industry in recent years. Whilst at first glance his games seem silly or merely titillating, they often have a deeper meaning. Hurt Me Plenty, for example, may just look like a game where you spank a dude, but it slowly reveals itself to be a thought-provoking take on consent.

Succulent is intended as a parody of ‘homo hop’, and the idea that male gay bodies should all conform to a certain type (toned, white, abs for days). The gameplay is simple: “Castro clone” stands before you, an ice lolly in his mouth. Your job is to move the lolly around as he sucks on it. That’s it. Oh, and then the guy also consumes other… things. Play the game and then check out Yang’s blog for an insight into his thought processes (don’t read before playing as it contains ending spoilers!!!). Succulent is available to download for pay what you want.

Virginia and Gone Home

One of the most recent releases on this list, Virginia is part of a sub-genre of gaming often referred to as exploration games, sometimes less charitably called ‘walking simulators’. They are usually short (around 2 hours long), with minimal action required (press X here, walk there), and the focus is on the narrative. Virginia is a prime example of this. You are an FBI agent in the 1990s, sent to a little U.S. town to solve a missing persons case. However, you have your own secrets to reveal, and they’re not always pleasant ones. The twist? There is no dialogue throughout the entire story, and part of the joy is working out what the hell is going on. The game reminded me of Twin Peaks with its dream sequences, and there was more than a sly nod at an X Files influence. Play it if you can; it’s definitely an interesting experience.

A quick shoutout to Gone Home as well – another game set in the 90s, your role is to walk around your childhood home and uncover the mysteries within your family. Unlike Virginia, it has dialogue provided through diaries, letters, phone messages and voice recordings. This interactive story takes time to build characters, making you care about this supposedly everyday family before you even realise it’s happening.

Though your main task is to find out what’s happened to your little sister, the father was a surprise: he proved to be a more subtle and rewarding character than initially presented. You won’t necessarily get all the subtext straightaway, but clues about the father’s past, and what drives him, are peppered throughout.

Hatoful Boyfriend

From one unique experience to another…

Hatoful Boyfriend is based around the visual novel genre popular in Japan. Again narrative-focused, it’s more like watching a story unfold based on your choices. However, there are multiple endings (HB has about 14) and the point is to play through the game again and again, making different decisions to unlock the different outcomes. These kinds of games are usually dating sims, where you’re trying to pick which boy or girl to romance.

Hatoful Boyfriend takes the idea of the dating sim and puts a new spin on it. For reasons neither Jesse Cox nor I understood, you are a human girl at a school for birds. Yes. You are trying to romance birds. Talking birds, no less, ranging from a puffy aristocrat, to a deranged athlete obsessed with pudding.

Don’t ask why because it will not tell you, at least, not at first. The storylines are often bizarre and surprising; if you don’t make the correct choices, a ninja comes to murder you in the night, meaning you have to start all over. However, stick with it: a strange narrative emerges. You get a glimpse of this during a sequence where you’re travelling. There is meant to be a section unlocked if you successfully romance the ‘bad boy’ characters (helpfully called the ‘Bad Boy’ storyline), which reveals how the world came to be in this state. I’ve yet to complete it, but God speed, pigeon fanciers!

Journey

Another exploration game of sorts, Journey stole my breath away. It is, visually, one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. You are a traveller on a journey, with the ability to flutter along the wind. As you fly around, music soars as well, creating a sense of joy and adventure.

The puzzles are interesting, though may not be challenging enough for some, especially as other, silent players will show up to demonstrate what to do next. That’s fine, though; it just means you get to spend more time appreciating the style and feel of the desert world. It is one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played, and thoroughly charming. At less than a tenner, it’s well worth your time.

Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015

Not a game I’ve personally played, but one I’ve watched, SWYDS (because I’m not typing that out every time) is a fast-paced arcade game which sounds creepier than it is. The idea is simple: some 8-bit dads and sons are at a swimming pool (I guess?), but the sons are lost. You must guide and match the right son up to their dad and… yeah.

A somewhat subversive take on quick-reaction games, there’s a healthy sprinkling of dad jokes in here and reviewers have said it’s highly addictive as the difficulty increases. SWYDS is going for 79p on Steam at the moment, which sounds like a bargain to me.

The Bunker

Horror games are a staple of YouTube Let’s Plays, where players get to demonstrate their reactions to jump scares and creepiness for the audience’s viewing pleasure. The Bunker had proven a popular choice, partly for its horror storyline, but also for its visual style.

The Bunker is a psychological horror, and a fairly bleak one. Harking back to the 90s, this is a FMV game (i.e. based around filmed video, where clips play after buttons have been pressed and choices made). You guide John, a man who has grown up in a bunker after a strongly implied nuclear disaster has taken place. Now an adult and the only survivor, he’s all alone…right?

I enjoyed this whilst I played it, even if the gameplay did feel more like an interactive movie. The writing is solid and the central performance of Adam Brown as John is outstanding, looking perpetually like a lost schoolboy with too many secrets. The tense, claustrophobic atmosphere ramps up as things go wrong, and you start to wonder exactly what John has seen, or done.

That’s part 1 for now. In part 2, I’ll be looking at Reigns, The Stanley Parable, Life is Strange, The Room (a game based on the infamous cult film) and Goat Simulator.