The Collaboration Issue

Reviewed by Steve Redwood & Peter Tennant

PT: Sein und Werden, the name meaning 'Being and Becoming' (at least that's what Editor-in-Chief Rachel Kendall tells us, and not being bilingual, or bi-anything much, we're not going to argue the point), started life as a website and then, in 2006, followed in the honourable footsteps of Whispers itself by adding a print-zine to its portfolio of goodies. While dear old WoW concerns itself with what we like to call 'the darkly atmospheric', those people at SuW are much fancier, with a remit 'that seeks to merge and modernise the ideas behind Expressionism, Surrealism and Existentialism'. So, in your face horror and erotica then (oh come on, don't think you're fooling anyone with all that avant-garde pretentious twaddle). (SR: Bugger: if I'd realised that...)

Each issue of the magazine comes with a theme, and for #3 that theme is Collaboration, with one or more writers, poets, artists joining forces to produce work hopefully greater than the sum of their collective parts. Getting into the spirit of the thing, we here at WoW decided that a collaborative review would be the perfect response (little realising what we were letting ourselves in for), and I suggested this to Steve Redwood, who had already agreed to review the magazine in a moment of uncharacteristic altruism. Steve lives in Spain and apparently wires got crossed, as his initial response was 'Do you want me to be Slime or Vermin?' to which there is no real answer (though readers are welcome to try). Eventually we got down to brass tacks though, which consisted of Steve doing his bit and then waiting a couple of months for me to do mine, by which time he would hopefully have forgotten all about the magazine and not be in a position to contest my opinions.

SR: After a quick read through Sein und Werden# 3, and finding I understood maybe 48% of it, I panicked. I thought of pretending I'd never received it. I thought of admitting I had received it, but of sending an enormous box of chocolates to the beautiful but deadly Miss Kendall (PT: Deadly?) as an apology for not reviewing it. I thought of faking my own death. As a last resort I even considered not faking my own death. Then I thought of reading it again more carefully; surely, on second reading, I would understand a bit more. And so it was: I understood maybe 49% of it. I panicked. I thought of pretending I'd never received it, of sending an enormous box of chocolates to the bbd Miss Kendall, and of faking my own death. When I found myself balanced on the window ledge seven storeys up, I realised I was going in circles, but about to change to a straight line.

Eureka! The Shogun of reviewers, Pete Tennant, had suggested that as Issue Three was a collaborative issue, so the review could be collaborative. (PT: Erm, why are you comparing me to a four wheel drive vehicle?) Was this my chance to squirm away from the fate I had brought on myself by agreeing to review the magazine? I emailed him, and suggested how we could split the review: I would review the four 'normal' stories, and he would review the rest, the things that had left me scratching my pate like a dust-bowl farmer during the Depression. We could then comment on each other's reviews with a “yes, that's just what I thought, great minds and all that!”, and my honour would have been saved.

Don't be fooled by Tennant's public persona, by his gentle fictional phallic fables, his charming tales of the parsonage! The unspeakable swine wanted two of the 'normal' stories for himself, and suggested we draw lots for the other pieces. A macabre scene it was! A gibbous moon cackled hideously above as two desperate figures hunched on a blasted heath throwing dice made from the skulls of murdered pixies. Here is the result.

The Birth of Athena: Redux by Peter Tennant (yes, him!) and Paul Bradshaw opens the magazine. George has a very understanding girlfriend, so when he hammers his father to death (for being a nag), she enters fully into the spirit of the thing, and after doing a striptease in front of the dead father, she invites George to have a wild screw over his corpse. But on climaxing, they notice that the dead man is moving, and muttering the word “Athena”. He also has a huge erection. Huger than George's--“the old bastard was still putting him down”. So, a few hundred more hammer blows to the skull, a bread knife to cut the erection down to size, and a visit to the abused mother's grave to put the severed organs in the stone vase instead of flowers are called for. However, after this rather uneventful idyllic Ambridge-y beginning, things become a trifle unpleasant... The authors obviously enjoyed themselves trying to outdo each other in nasty images, and (shock!) I enjoyed reading it. What one might term gross full-out horror is (for me) usually tedious, or simply unpleasant, but in this case highly entertaining. I think this may have a lot to do with pacing, quality of the writing, unexpected and imaginative developments, and the “Careful--it could be your turn next” message I unexpectedly received. The tell-tale signs of collaboration (sudden changes of register, etc.) aren't noticeable here, which only goes to show that Tennant and Bradshaw are equally in need of TLC.

PT: Yes, well, I did have thoughts of reviewing my own story (pseudonymously, of course) and letting the whole world know how brilliant it was, pointing out all those subtle touches that other reviewers will have missed through the inconvenience of not being me, so I was somewhat put out when that blighter Redwood deprived me of this opportunity by selecting it for himself. I had expectations of another one of those prissy little diatribes about excessive violence and gore that he's prone to indulge in (no doubt trying to impress some woman somewhere with how sensitive he is), but in the event he appears to have employed a little objectivity for once and almost gave my (and Paul's) genius the recognition it undoubtedly deserves, and there is now hope that he might abandon his own futile efforts to be the next Terry Pratchett (SR: That's a coincidence- Terry wrote to me himself suggesting the same thing, mentioning, I don't know why, that he'd just bought a fly-swatter!) and write some proper fiction instead, with a little bit of guts and some more guts. Steve's efforts (which only required a minimum of editing on my part to shape up) somewhat dulled the hurt of the backhanded compliment paid our story by SuW's Print Editor Spyros Heniadis, “We start the party off with The Birth of Athena: Redux by Paul Bradshaw and Peter Tennant, and it only gets better from there.” We'll deal with Mr Heniadis later. (SR: This only confirms my impression that I was wise to rewrite my original review of Athena.)

Anyway, for my own opening salvo, and one of those stories Mr Heniadis considers to constitute getting better (Bitter? Moi?), there is Haute Couture by Garry Charles, a writer who knows how to go for the jugular (with an ice pick, usually), and Helen Taylor, an unknown quantity (according to the Notes on Contributors this is her first published story). The story has sections in normal print and sections in italics, an idea we liked so much we pinched it (cheers Garry and Helen), with one strand depicting the creative endeavours of fashion designer Verrier, whose work owes more to Guignol than Gautier, and the other filling in the back story of down on his luck journalist Branigan, who has been awarded an exclusive interview with the great man. The story effortlessly draws the reader in, but as soon as Branigan's distinguishing physical characteristic becomes clear the plot is also made transparent, a variation on the familiar mad artist prototype, albeit elevated above the crowd through some vivid descriptions and macabre invention, so that it unsettles regardless of predictability. What appealed to me the most, were the details given of Branigan's past, his fall from grace, used here as plot cement but with the potential to provide a story more intriguing than Haute Couture itself, and I hope the writers will return to explore this further.

SR: I have included Career Path by Dominy Clements and DF Lewis as among the 'normal' fiction: everything is relative. DFL stories are frequently beyond/above me. But this one is a little gem. It begins as matter-of-fact understated horror, as a brother and sister are as good as destroyed by accidents, but glides into something else entirely when a 'consciousness' is created from their 'crippled synergy'. This 'being' is ironically referred to as a Bodhisattva, and yet it does seem that it gives the sister the strength to seek her own form of enlightenment, both for herself and her brother. But don't expect a ghost story or indeed anything easily classifiable.

At this point, the panic set in again. But the die (and the dice) had been cast.

PT: Leaving Mr Redwood awhile to panic and play with his dice, or whatever pet name he has for it this week, let's pause to consider the curiously titled No Red Worms by Sarah Crabtree (a lady who used to put herself about a bit on the Small Press circuit, but now seems to have gone into seclusion) and the estimable David Price from the Principality of Wales, and I have to admit being somewhat surprised by this little ditty. Surprised not in a bad way exactly, but rather to find in a magazine with Sein und Werden's experimental agenda a story that wouldn't look out of place in the oeuvre of James Herbert or Shaun Hutson. Arthur retires to an 'insignificant little town', one of those outwardly idyllic and self-contained enclaves beloved of Horror writers the world over, where all that remains is to discover how much shit can hit the fan, and sure enough Arthur gets his share as the town is overrun by a particularly pernicious species of radioactive worm. The story trundles along merrily touching base with several genre points of reference as it goes--the hidden laboratory, grotesque fruit and veg, dead fish in the river, mysterious illness, government quarantine and sanctions with the use of deadly force--ending with the inevitable hint of much worse to come just when you think it's all over bar the shouting. In many ways it reminded me of Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space segueing into The Return of the Living Dead for its grand finale, and is enjoyable enough for what it is, a schlock horror romp with an ecological subtext that isn't all that important. Yet for all of that there is a certain listlessness to the story, as if the writers were just going through the motions, with no real belief in the material, so that in places the prose is flat, the characters almost two dimensional. There is more potential here than this rendition allows; it needed a few more edits to realise that fully, and a final twist to pull everything together.

SR: I steadied my nerves, and tackled Lights Behind the City by DeCeglie and Streat, which needs to be read with concentration but simultaneously letting the words run by like booze in the city it describes. After reading it, I really felt like I'd been on a binge drinking session with this group of friends. The hopes, fears, suppressed (usually) violence, sex-hunting, drunken philosophising, morning-after vomiting and depression, the apparent 'quality and resonance' of the night 'now just mostly evident and perceptible static', are excellently described, and intermixed with impressionistic images of the streets and their ever-changing light.

PT: Adam and Eve offers us the most novel take on the idea of collaboration. The poet Juliet Cook produced a prose piece which the writer Matt Williams rendered into poetry, while Cook prosified one of Williams' poems, both creators working in mediums with which they are not overly familiar (and, in parenthesis, it would be fascinating to see the original works which were then transmogrified). Williams' Eve's Equation is a vivid and evocative account of a highly charged sexual act and the abortion that is the aftermath, words and images fizzing off the page. Adam's Trial and Error by Cook is equally powerful but somewhat more oblique, as Adam copulates with Eve, implicit in what is described a reluctance, the hint of some never clearly stated subtext, a taint of corruption and betrayal above and beyond the Biblical. These two works dovetail elegantly and eloquently, each throwing light on the other and containing for my money the best prose in the magazine.

Words seek to carry equal weight in Cameron Pierce's novella Keeping Angels, the third part of which is published here and which I ended up reviewing by default, having read the previous episodes. It's not really much help. Serialising longer works is a risky business, especially in a magazine that appears quarterly, as there is a tendency for readers to forget what has gone before, barring a strong narrative framework or artificial recapping. My preference is to hold on until the entire story is out there and then read it in one go, but that's no good if you have to write a review. All I can usefully say at the moment is that there's some frantic wordplay here, madcap invention that brings to mind writers like Burroughs and the PKD of the Valis period, but as yet no real sense of anything greater than the sum of its parts emerging.

SR: Now, perchance Mishaps Sometimes Happenstance by Fabian Delecto and Lillehammer(?) has some deep inner meaning that I've missed. The impression I get, though, is that the writers believe that simply by taking a ridiculous situation and playing with it, they are producing something profound. If there is something meaningful--or even funny--in a woman spewing up kilos of sponge (due to 'human-sea-sponge hybridization'), a man pissing on the closed seat of a toilet, a bunch of students who 'stretched their legs over their necks and giggled manically', and the sea-sponge woman finally turning into a 'burbling bolliwock', well, I did not spot it.

PT: How Does a Man Who is Dead Reinvent His Body is one of those works that lays out a trap for the weary reviewer. Ostensibly a selection of love poems from the oeuvre of dead Australian poet Thean Morris Caelli, these appear to actually have been written by Peter Boyle and MTC Cronin (Google is no help in determining Caelli's authenticity, leading only to an article on a book by Boyle and Cronin, so I consign him to imaginary realms and the blessed company of Jeff Lint and Kilgore Trout). Though there are many fine phrases and stylistic flourishes, the poems themselves and accompanying snippets of prose are simply word pictures and serve more as touchstones for the imagination, than self-contained works or parts of some greater whole (albeit they are meant to represent and convey something of the flavour of that greater whole), valuable in the main for the trains of thought they spark in the reader, the images and possibilities conjured up.

SR: The perceptive reader will note that I honestly confess when I am baffled, whilst my senior colleague neatly sidesteps with failsafe phrases like the above. It is clear he is still reeling from Mr Heniadis' unusually honest introduction. (PT: Hoy, Redwood, what happened to--'We could then comment on each other's reviews with a “yes, that's just what I thought, great minds and all that!”'??) Most of my own bafflement comes in the smaller pieces and poetry. You are all invited to rewrite what follows in such a way that it actually says something! On page 11, you have a ghazal on the loose. The fact that I thought Ghazal was a terrorist or a fleet animal before googling tells you how qualified I am to judge Ghazal! (For other thickies like myself, it's a Persian form, a series of couplets, where the rhyme of the second line is repeated throughout the poem, and there's a refrain.) Even with this new knowledge, I'm still lost, seems to me a kind of love poem to a decaying city, with some rather good images. Witches of the West and Gypsy on the Boards contrast two different kinds of 'sorcery'--the safely-English teacup leaves and the more exotic, perhaps more sinister, fortune-teller of the city. Infinite Jest has a rather cuddly monster pic to go with an unremarkable message on the joke that is life. Choking, by that Heniadis chap (two of 'em), whose laconic review of the Tennant-Bradshaw story almost led to a collaborative suicide, may be an ecological message, or the expression of someone's depression worsened by external factors. Untitled is the Empress Editor herself being, I suspect, a bit naughty as she imagines what it would be like to be able to inscribe a 'half-veiled poem' on her lover's back 'sounding out consequence and desire', the text superimposed on an image created by the photographer John Brewer. (And Pete queries why I think the lady is deadly!)

PT: Atom Bomb by Willie Smith and Paul Kavanaugh is perhaps the piece in which collaboration works least well, with plenty of striking stand-alone sentences and images, but no real sense of their cohering, flowing into each other, so that it jars as you read, and the end result is not especially satisfying, the story coming over as little more than a vignette told in fine language, a snapshot of decadence tailed with a reference to De Sade to provide context of a kind and a whiff of knowing, self-mocking irony. Reading this I was reminded of the Dire Straits song Les Boys and, curiously, also of Tristan Tzara's thoughts on How to make a Dadaist Poem. I feel about Atom Bomb rather as Steve did with Mishaps, albeit it did make more sense.

SR: A word on the production. I strongly feel bigger print would have been a good idea; better to sacrifice some quantity to achieve more quality. Lights Behind the City was especially difficult to read because it is solid blocks of text, and only someone used to working on quantum computers would be at ease with such density. There is a lot of good (if not always comprehensible) reading here, but, for me, the tiny print somewhat spoiled the experience.

PT: I have to agree with Steve as to the size of the print, with the same caveat that larger print will mean less content, and that may not be a good trade-off (but there are blank, or completely black, end pages that could have been put to better use).

Anyway I think we're both agreed that SuW is a magazine that's carving out a path of its own and publishing material you won't find the likes of elsewhere, for which the editors deserve recognition. For those who want to sample Seinism, before making a decision to buy, an online edition of the magazine, with content exclusive to the web, can be found here. #11 contains a discussion about photography between the two editors, a group interview with a bunch of four editors, fiction and artwork from the likes of Joshua Gage, Neddal Ayad, Juliet Cook, Wallace Funeral and many others.

Sein Und Werden edited by Rachel Kendall and Spyros Heniadis. A5, 64pp, £3.50/$6.50 or £14/$26 for 4 issues (for postal addresses in UK and US, and for payment options see website).

Website: -

Return to Whispers review archive