Man of Letters: Psychedelic Writings


Out Now: A collection of fourteen psychedelic-themed essays, several of which have appeared in Psychedelic Press, The Oak Tree Review and Reality Sandwich, covering countercultural history, avant-garde and psychedelic cinema, and the psychology of altered states. They touch on figures such as Thomas DeQuincey, Charles Baudelaire and William Burroughs; and in the field of cinema, directors including Ken Russell, Roger Corman, David Cronenberg, Terry Gilliam and Ben Wheatley are explored.

The essays revisit the ‘Alphabet Wood’ hallucination of the Plym Woods in 1975, the mushroom-inspired ‘Cult of the Novel’ messianic quest to turn the world on to ‘reality fiction’, and contain updates to the ‘trippy movie’ coverage, including 2022 films Avatar: The Way of Water and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

The alphabetic cover comes with its own story, dating back to my ‘Strange Days’ of the mid-1970s in Bournemouth, and stretching into the realms of contemporary horror and fantasy cover design. Read the full story on Medium: A Tale of Two Covers

Further details regarding Man of Letters, and purchase links can be found here: DV Publishing

AI Images by Des Lewis from The Empty Chair and Literary Stalker

As a compliment to his unique real-time reviews, Des Lewis has been experimenting with AI imagery related to reviewed material, the results of which are as weird as Freud’s dreams projected onto Salvador Dali’s landscapes. Des was kind enough to create some images drawn from my novels The Empty Chair and Literary Stalker

The assemblage of Empty Chairs, some of them on lonely film sets, ominous equivocal father figures, shadowy stalkers in libraries, Singing Detectives and nightmarish tentaculate silhouettes brings it all back…the writing and the source material…

Nemonymous Night

Some AI visual experiments triggered by my reviews of Roger Keen, reviews linked here: and

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Avatar: The Way of Cliché

Thoughts on Avatar: The Way of Water, done with reference to my ‘Psychedelia in the Movies’ strand, revisited and updated in the soon-to-be-published collection Man of Letters

The 2009 film’s innovative Fusion Camera System 3D was enchanting in a notably ‘psychedelic’ way, but does the sequel build on this trend…?

In December 2022 a long-awaited moment finally arrived: the cinema release of the first of four projected sequels to the ground-breaking 3D blockbuster Avatar, after a thirteen-year gestation period. Within the psychedelic community Avatar was noted for a having a distinct trippy quality, albeit an ambient one, which made it comparable to movies such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, which caried the tropes but didn’t feature the actual drugs. As Erik Davis said in his 2010 article ‘Aya Avatar’:

Eco-futuristic dreams are now indistinguishable from the visionary potential of media technology itself. Indeed, whether you are talking form (ground-breaking 3D animation) or content (cyber-hippie wetdream decor), Cameron’s visual and technological rhetoric is impossible to disentangle from hallucinogenic experience.

Indeed Avatar, together with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland – released three months later – seemed to portend a new dawn in ambient psychedelic movies where 3D and state-of-the-art VFX enabled a quasi-altered state within the cinema viewing experience itself… Read More on: Medium


Ian McEwan’s Lessons and The Empty Chair

December 11, 2022 Leave a comment

I very much enjoyed Ian McEwan’s new novel, Lessons – and another dimension to that experience lay in its uncanny similarity to The Empty Chair. This piece explores that common territory and looks back at other concrescences of Ian’s and my work, such as the identical twist endings of The Mad Artist and Sweet Tooth. It also revisits the controversies over similarities between Atonement and Part Three of the wartime nursing memoir No Time for Romance by Lucilla Andrews, and between The Cement Garden and Our Mother’s House by Julian Gloag.


Lessons is Ian McEwan’s best novel since Atonement, a true late major work, perhaps a late masterpiece. He handles an armada of complex interlocking threads with breathtaking aplomb, from broad historical strokes through to microscopic dissections of human emotions and perceptions. Take an early scene in which a detective visits Roland at home, where he is caring for his seven-month-old son after the dubious disappearance of his wife, Allissa. During the conversation — perhaps an interrogation — the baby squawks, demanding attention. And then the infant’s point of view is given, speculatively, in considerable detail:

A shaded emptiness, a grey winter sky against which impressions — sounds, sights, touch — burst like fireworks in arcs and cones of primary colour, instantly forgotten, instantly replaced and forgotten again.

And presently, there’s more speculation on the effect of the mother’s desertion on her young son, the nature of the ‘scar tissue’ it is forming. Reading Lessons, one is constantly aware one is imbibing writing of an exceptionally elevated calibre.

Read more on Medium


The Singing Detective and other BBC Classic Dramas

December 2, 2022 Leave a comment


Bernard Hill as Yosser Hughes in Boys from The Blackstuff

To celebrate its centenary year, the BBC has been airing reruns of many of its best and most-loved classic dramas on BBC Four. My favourites are Boys from The Blackstuff, Our Friends in The North, House of Cards and, of course, The Singing Detective. There is something warm and fuzzy about watching these works, from what has now in the 2020s become a ‘bygone age’. They’re all in colour, yes, but the 4:3 screen ratio, leaving big black side borders on today’s televisions, and the somewhat grainy and not very high resolution 16mm film, lend an archaic atmosphere that is nonetheless counterbalanced by sweet nostalgia.

What has come over from the rewatching, personally, is how much these dramas mean to me and how they have influenced my writing. Take the episode Yosser’s Story in Boys from The Blackstuff, which shows the unemployed and unstable eponymous character in the throes of an existential crisis, leading to him becoming totally unhinged. Bernard Hill’s peerless performance got everything just right – the frustration, the sense of victimhood, the self-pity, and the crazy fulminating anger – so much so that back in 1982 he reminded me all too clearly of my own father, when he got into those kinds of moods.

Four years later, when I commenced my novel about a bad father, The Empty Chair, Yosser became a prototype for various versions of the bad father character, and when the film-within-the-novel develops, it is an older Bernard Hill who is cast to play that screen father.

Michael Gambon in The Singing Detective

Similarly, The Singing Detective, first broadcast in 1986, the very year The Empty Chair narrative commences, became a kind of ongoing parallel story. Its progression through misanthropy, psychosomatic illness, analysis of childhood, psychotherapy and the act of writing itself, mirrored everything in my novel. And when filmmaker Steve Penhaligon reaches the final stages of realising his film about his life, it is The Singing Detective’s mimed song-and-dance routines that unlock his idea to do the same with prog rock – King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ and Jethro Tull’s ‘Living in the Past’ to name two of the tracks.

In view of The Singing Detective’s rerun, I have republished a review I did for The Digital Fix from about ten years ago: The Singing Detective: The Triumph of the Invented Self

Will Self and the Drug Memoir

October 14, 2022 Leave a comment

My article “Will Self and the Drug Memoir” is now available in the new Psychedelic Press journal XXXVII, and an extract is also out on their Substack. The piece focuses on Will Self’s memoir Will – which details his drug use from age seventeen to twenty-five, taking in his years as an Oxford student and concluding with his rehab in Weston-super-Mare – setting this against a brief history of the drug memoir genre and featuring the key works of Thomas De Quincey, Charles Baudelaire, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Aleister Crowley, William Burroughs and others.

Though Will Self’s memoir mainly concentrates on heroin use and addiction, there are sections on other drugs, including LSD, and my article highlights this and also Self’s psychedelic philosophies.

“In his recent drug memoir, simply entitled Will, Will Self writes about himself in the third person, presumably to gain an extra measure of objectivity in what is necessarily a significant act of self-examination. Early on he says that drugs are neither a hobby nor a genre, but drug memoirs can certainly be considered as such, or at least a category—Amazon lists them under ‘Alcohol & Drug Abuse Biographies’, which includes the usual raft of celebrity confessional tomes, rubbing shoulders with the classics, such as Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception: And Heaven and Hell, which, 68 years after its first publication, still sells well enough to make the top 100.”

Read more on Psychedelic Press Substack

Literary Stalker – Kindle version free for a limited period!

January 21, 2022 Leave a comment

Literary Stalker: The Adventures of Crazed Author Nick and his Alter Ego Jago is set in a skewed version of the British Fantasy and Horror community…No writers, editors or critics were harmed in the making of this novel…Honestly!

What the real critics said:

Des Lewis: “It seeps with real threat disguised within playfully literary semantic syntax, as well as hilarity, filmic and horror-literary references galore. Bi-sex and bi-genre.”

Simon Clark: “Suspenseful, impeccably researched, grisly, with judicious helpings of macabre humour, I relished this ‘Russian doll’ story-within-a-story.”

Noel Megahey: “Literary Stalker works wonderfully as a genre thriller with a delightfully absurd comic edge…”

Jim Mcleod: “Keen could have taken the easy route and written this as a straightforward novel with a linear narrative, but Keen isn’t your average writer…”

Josh Hancock: “Ideal for fans of both comedic and suspense thrillers, the novel proudly wears its influences on its bloody sleeve and succeeds.”

David Dubrow: “Throughout the book, Keen aptly skewers both the act of writing and the business of writing so accurately that I found myself simultaneously snickering aloud and squirming in my chair…”



Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Review of The Empty Chair

Empty Chairs by Des Lewis

Now in his mid-seventies, Des Lewis – aka D.F. Lewis – is an elder statesman of the British horror- and fantasy-writing scene. In a long career he has published several novels, over a thousand short stories, and he won the BFS Karl Edward Wagner Award in 1998. Since 2008, he has been conducting his unique Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of stories and novels, recording his ideas as they occur within the reading journey, creating a fresh, spontaneous improvisational commentary on the experience, which differs greatly from the usual sober punctilious kind of review put together with hindsight.

Des was kind enough to review my previous novel, Literary Stalker, and to my delight he commenced another review of The Empty Chair upon publication. Such a long novel – running to fifty chapters plus an epilogue, containing over two hundred thousand words – would seemingly merit a similar reviewing approach under Des’s method, and that is exactly how it turned out. Des produced an epic review of more than ten thousand words, rendered in instalments like episodes of a favourite radio or TV series, over a period of around one month.

I was amazed and enraptured by Des’s technique, picking up on most every subtle nuance and ‘clue’ within the metafictional framework, sometimes riffing on elements in the text with the inventiveness of a John Coltrane sax solo, and even in parts emulating William Burroughs’s cut-up method. Here are some choice quotations:

In my 2021 review of this author’s 2017 novel Literary Stalker, I speculated on the great novel I saw within its potential. I am confident that this brave new novel is that very promise fulfilled. […] In fact this whole book is fast – or slowly – becoming a tour de force with a felicity of novelistic skills that are breathtaking. […] I know I might risk allegations of serially overpraising it, but with regard to this huge unending tap of a book, it seems to be the actual great novel I predicted coming out of this author’s earlier novel.


Goodfellas dudes banter killer weed awful churn Bristol Yardies Beethoven Oxford…I feel my own head expanding unduly, ready to burst, as I readily read the motley ingredients of Steve’s world as split open again for us, good with bad, black with white. Skis seriously off piste. Once Bullish Shares now in a Bear-pit. […] It simply ever-expands with a Zeno’s feast — obviously directly experienced narratively at some uncertain level of the freehold / leasehold ladder or relay of truth — of powerful readerly vicariousness in the TV/film world of the period, with a seemingly endless treasure of recognisable references….


Bravo! to this book and what utter belief of its realities it conveys so realistically within it, whether it is Steve at last joining his bridge together as he ‘walks through the mirror’ with his Potter-vamped Empty Chair, as he indeed walks into Channel 4’s expressionist architecture together with all the name checking of famous actors and potential notable film-crew members […] But do I necessarily believe any of its claimants as narrator or author, and the unchanging names that become unnamed, and the others that arise in their guise? […] these scenes are attritional, testing the reader’s ability to appreciate them, but one does somehow appreciate their over-the-topness because they are setting false misprints of fabricated archetypal romcom to make you misbelieve truth itself, the truth that they often lead to tragedy.


This novel gets even better and better. Despite it once being rejected, it says here, by its author’s agent for further representation…but then there was still so much more mileage of the above ‘found art’ of wisdom, truth and creativity to travel, a ticket for endless travel within its pages. […] But I do believe it all, I do have a fearless faith in fiction, for example, to believe The French Lieutenant’s Woman scenes at the Cobb, the ‘telestocracy’ if not the teleology. […] Some of this endgame is utterly gut-wrenching, inspiring, too, as we muddle along, as our man does, in later life, picking up the pieces, exploiting one’s meagre strengths as I hope I do with fiction gestalt quests. […] And this is probably the most remarkable ending to any novel that I have ever read, one I could not put down today. So emotional, so spiritual, so utterly Jungian and Proustian….

The full review can be read here:

The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews



My previous review of Roger Keen and this publisher:

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

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The Empty Chair – A Novel Thirty-Four Years in the Making

It wouldn’t be strictly true to say The Empty Chair took me thirty-four years to write – I hardly did a stroke of work on the project between 1988 and ’98, the period in which I was trying to reinvent myself as a ‘horror/crime’ writer – but that span of around a third of a century was necessary for the work to find its final form, and there could be no shortcuts.

Just like in the marvellous Richard Linklater film Boyhood, which was shot over twelve years, with the actors ageing in sync with their fictional counterparts, so the narrative of The Empty Chair had to make a real-time journey, from Steve Penhaligon’s Bonfire Night vision on November 5th 1986 to the final narrator’s ruminations as an ‘OAP’ in March 2020, just before the pandemic wiped out life as we knew it…

The Empty Chair is indeed a tale that expanded in the unfolding of its many iterations, and at 216,000 words it’s almost certainly the longest single work I shall compose. What’s it about? Well…a hell of a lot of things…I sketched a complex Venn diagram of its many strands and themes, but it’s too fiddly to reproduce in palatable form just at the moment, so instead I made a more straightforward list of some of the issues covered: Abuse. Anxiety. Alzheimer’s. Depression. Delusion. Obsession. Paranoia. Psychotherapy. Psychosis. Psychedelia. Incest. Nightmares. Self-harming. Sex addiction. Catholicism. Spiritualism. Synchronicity. Suicide. Murder. Death. Life after death. And all that in a novel which focuses strongly on the British film and television industry in the ’80s and ’90s…

Is it the story of my life…? Well, no, not really. It is not a roman à clef. I aimed to make sure the story pans out significantly differently to my own. But…it does contain many scenes that are taken from life, some that are light fictionalisations of real events, and many more that are complete fabrications. Which is which? Only I know for sure, and like in my previous books there is constant game playing with the relationship of truth and fiction, which layers-up into metafiction as the story progresses and those nudge-wink moments and intertextuality increase more and more. The fundamental idea, developing on from The Mad Artist and Literary Stalker, is that the act of telling a story about your life eventually becomes the story itself. Read more…

The Strange Days of the Mid-1970s

It was fortuitous that publisher Trevor Denyer happened to see my trippy photomontage ‘Man of Letters’ from my time at art college on my Facebook page The Mad Artist, publicising the memoir that details those years. He came to use it for the cover of his Strange Days – Midnight Street Anthology 4, featuring stories by many writer friends, including Simon Clark, Allen Ashley, Rhys Hughes, Gary Couzens and Terry Grimwood.

The image – reflecting a very ‘strange’ period in my life, as an art student in my early twenties – obviously resonated with Trevor and evoked the strangeness of more contemporary life, as reflected in the stories; and indeed as the year 2020 has progressed an even greater Strangeness has enveloped us all, so there is some prescience all round in words and images…

In looking at the montage again, plus the other associated photographs from that era, memories have been brought back – and it was a highly crazy, turbulent period.

I was sharing a flat at the time with Vince, a fellow photography student, and we had many wild drunken times (see The Mad Artist Chapters 15-17). We partied on the Isle of Wight, picked up girls together, and once attended a college party where I almost started up a train, and I ended the night having a ‘friendly fight’ with Vince where I sustained some mild facial damage. The hangover was far worse! I was absolutely ‘mad’ in those days, hence the title of the memoir.

Our flat had the capacity for four people, and Vince and I had constant trouble filling the other spaces – and we had to endure interference from our puritan Irish landlord, who thought it was ‘immoral’ that boys and girls should share together.

One of our flatmates was the ditsy Zoe, who was escaping a troubled home life with her parents. A crisis was precipitated when she later stole a selection of albums from everyone in the flats, the police came around to investigate, and the landlord evicted Zoe and her suicidal boyfriend on the grounds of their multiple sins.

Vince went back to the Isle of Wight for the weekend, I was left on my own in the flat, and I decided to drop some LSD, as you do…It was a weird trip, involving boa constrictors on the ceiling, and looking in the mirror to see my Syd Barrett-like appearance transform into Neanderthal Man and many other things (full details in Chapter 17). But a lasting outcome was a resurgence of my letters-of-the-alphabet textural hallucination encountered on other trips (see Chapter 3).

Vince was a very talented photographic artist and his speciality was photomontage – I liked his work and wanted to somehow emulate it. Bearing this in mind, I decided to produce the photomontage based on the trip ideas.

At my previous art college, I’d already fashioned the letters out of plywood, each around four inches high, and now I positioned them on a colorama in the studio and photographed them with a wide-angle lens to give the impression of a landscape. Then I got Vince to photograph me in a phone box, a faraway look in my eyes as I held the receiver to my head, an action inspired by the strangeness of having to phone my parents during my first ever acid trip, also recorded in the Psychedelic Press XXIX Journal (sold out, unfortunately).

With the addition of a dramatic afternoon sky, shot in the New Forest, the elements were ready, and I composited them together using a scalpel, scissors and glue, as this was eons before the Age of the Computer. Vince was sceptical at first, but when he saw the finished result he gave it his seal of approval, and it was my best picture at the end-of-year show. Now it lives again in the equally – if not more! – Strange Days of the 2020s, thanks to Trevor.

More details about Midnight Street Anthology 4

More details about The Mad Artist

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