As part of a series of reflections upon my own six novellas continued from HERE, I shall now be concentrating on the novella below.…


The InkerMen Press 2013

RHYS HUGHES from his review of the whole LAST BALCONY here:

“In fact, ‘The Apocryphan’ (subtitled ‘The Epifany of the Augusthog’) is Des Lewis’s best work so far, i.e. the best work of his that I have encountered. It goes without saying that this is purely my own opinion. I consider the piece immensely refreshing, bracing even, for here at last, Des has opened out his prose. I won’t go so far as to say that ‘The Apocryphan’ is light reading, no, but it’s perfectly viable rhythmic modern English literature with plenty of momentum. It is extremely well written. More importantly, in terms of literary definition, it is non-horror, non-fantasy, non-weird weird, or rather it is weird writing that seems to be approaching the weird from the mainstream, rather than the other way around, in the same way that a jazz band like the Mahavishu Orechestra approached rock from jazz, rather than approaching jazz from rock, as did The Soft Machine. But enough early ’70s jazz fusion music analogues!

“I regard ‘The Apocryphan’ as closer in tone and style and achievement to Ian McEwan, Patrick McGrath or even Will Self than to the standard horror writers one images a modern horror writer would wish to emulate. Set in the rain-drenched seaside town of Bonnyville, the story meanders pleasingly but troublingly through a series of vignettes, little scenes graded in oddity. The background menace, which is always there, never feels contrived or even unavoidable; and the atmosphere is deeply nostalgic instead of horrific. Sadness and dread are there aplenty but muted and made bearable by the solid and therefore ambiguously comforting feel of real life as it is lived all around. There are acute observations galore: I enjoyed the pitch perfect analysis of a barmaid’s task at acting the flirt in such a way that she appears not to be acting to you alone, a sort of play within a play. But that is just one minor example among many. For a relatively short novella it manages to pack a heck of a lot of incident and half-incident into its pages.

Back in the mid ’90s, Des published a story entitled ‘A Brief Return to Bonnyville’ in a now-transformed magazine called The Third Alternative, and I remember at the time being impressed with the superior pacing of that story and the wider spaces that opened out within it as a result; but that piece was still claustrophobic and controlled, whereas in ‘The Apocryphan’, Bonnyville seems like a place one could genuinely stroll around, dig behind, poke around in; there’s an authentic sense of place. And the characters that inhabit this novella are three-dimensional too. The fact that the story is told in many interrelated brief sections, rather than as a single clump, also helps to open out the piece still further and lighten it more; or perhaps the structure was necessitated by the spry content (the tone is spry, but it is dark sprightliness.) And yes, the mode is melancholy despite the briskness; and the briskness is luxurious, not hectic; and this peculiar mix of rates of flow and density of detail is handled with supreme skill.”

My own hindsight views on it appear in the comment stream below…


  1. This novelette was publicly drafted on-line around 2008 and first published by The InkerMen Press (D.P.Watt) in ‘The Last Balcony’ collection of 2012.
    If I say so myself, it now strikes me as possessing an engagingly singular sense of place and of characters within a seaside environment not unlike the Clacton-on-Sea where I have lived for the past 20 years. It is an enticingly complicated murder-whodunnit, fundamentally. But also gradually a global-warming post-holocaust vision of sorts, with political and Essex pirate radio references from the Sixties. It is written in the form of a patchwork quilt that eventually becomes the sea. Humour provided by the police.

    Below are two passages from its beginning, the former being perhaps a solution to the MH370 mystery, which today marks its one year anniversary…


    A huge low shape passed abruptly overhead towards the sea, sensed as only missing my head by a few feet. Its shadow quickly spread like disease around us, but vanished just as quickly. You would have expected screaming jet engines. But the thing silently met the waves creating a fountain fit for the major attraction in a magnificent modern city. I had not seen whatever it was full on. Only the results. And it was then that real screaming did ensue, if belatedly. Making me forget what I had not seen.

    Many first encountered the Apocryphan in the form of an iconic Red Indian figurehead embedded within – or merely stuck upon – a brick wall near a back entrance in a side street. It was often embossed upon an ornate door of an arcade shop, even in a main thoroughfare – an icon that aprocryphised itself time and time again. Unnoticed, although recorded here.
    There was an Apocryphan in a road opposite Bonnyville pier, erected upon a bricked-up door-opening that had once been the entrance to a fish shop (a baguette shop in more recent years). This particular ‘Red Indian’ was a statue or sculpture with a smooth hard mineral-looking skin of a wonderful shining deep blue. Its head-dress was of multicoloured feathers … an inscrutable expression on its face, with most of its body sunk into the brickwork, but still visible as a recognisable body. The left arm was invisible behind its back. But in its right hand could be seen a hand of standard playing-cards, splayed in a fan, as if ready to play.
    Like most icons, religious or not, this blue Apocryphan became barely noticed over the turning years, if noticeable at all. Bonnyvilleans – during the seemingly endless Winter seasons – trudged past it on their various duties of survival, with not a single side glance. The sense that they knew it was there, however, remained as powerful as ever.

  2. My self-commentary on YESTERFANG will now appear HERE

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