The role of drugs/chems in Pharmakeia

Timothy Graves Author

The Role of Drugs/Chems in ‘Pharmakeia’

Pharmakeia is a transgressive tale on many levels. But, these days, is it transgressive to take drugs? In many quarters, they seem so commonplace, particularly on the gay scene.  But what is relatively new in the gay community is sexualised drug use. And the specific drugs that ramp up the libido like nothing on earth – crystal meth, GHB and methadrone..

I was lucky enough to go to the opening of the documentary ‘Chemsex’ at the ICA in December. This surely is a wake-up call to the gay community as it follows several very brave gay men and their descent into sexualised drug use and drug addiction. Gay men are shown ‘slamming’ or injecting crystal meth on screen. And, in no way, did I wish to minimise the potential negative effects of some of these harder drugs by referencing them in ‘Pharmakeia’. Indeed, I am aware that many gay men, who…

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The Emotional Marathon of Writing a Novel

I thought it might be a good idea in this post to talk a little about the writing process for Pharmakeia. It took a little longer than anticipated but then I was teaching full-time for most of that period. I also ended up meeting a version of that untoward antagonist, Jean-Baptiste, in my own life ( a case of life imitating art, perhcance!). However, metaphorically speaking,  I bravely stepped out of the car wreckage – that was the result of that particular encounter – (wasn’t it Churchill who said when you’re in hell you just keep going..) and stoically carried on to publication. But more about that car crash when the memoir eventually gets published..

In a previous post, I mentioned that the short story, ‘Bright Fire of Morning’ (published in The Mechanics Institute Review 8) was the springboard for my novel ‘Pharmakeia’. I seem to remember reading somewhere that amongst writers this is quite common – for a short story to propel one into writing a novel. For those of you who haven’t read ‘Bright Fire of Morning’ (which is a reference to Lucifer – that angel who was ‘hurled headlong from the ethereal sky’ Milton), the story deals with a sex hook-up with rather sinister, supernatural undertones. Suffice it to say, there is also a grandmother in BFoM, as there is in Pharmakeia, and, as in Pharmakeia, she also appears right at the end.

 

          I paused for a moment. His eyes were more than blood-shot this time. They’d begun to bleed and in the corner of the hallway an older man, a hologram of red and purple light, gave a knowing smile.

          ‘Get off me!’ I struck a blow to his head and down he went. Then summoning all my strength and with sheer bloody-mindedness, I pushed down hard on the handle that refused to budge, hell-bent on opening that door.

           And there she stood, bathed in white light, a picnic basket replacing her stick, looking right as rain.

I often reflect on both endings, not only because of the similarities, but also because my only remaining grandmother, died on Christmas Day a few years ago. Again, without meaning to sound trite, it feels like another case of life imitating art. It also makes me reflect on the difference between the male characters and the female characters I have portrayed in both ‘Bright Fire of Morning’ and ‘Pharmakeia’. One could argue that in both pieces, it is the female characters who are the most endearing.  In ‘The Seven Basic Plots’, Christopher Booker, makes use of Jungian archetypes to outline what he believes are the universal and essential characters in any given narrative. I sometimes wonder whether Jean-Baptiste, Daimon Mount-Stuart and Christiano would fall into Booker’s category of the ‘Dark Masculine’. Of course they do! In the same way that Gran, Candy, and to a certain extent Caroline in ‘Homo Jihad’ could be considered to fall into the category of the ‘Light Female’. But, returning to the idea of the ‘Dark Masculine’ does their author,(moi!) and indeed a sizeable portion of the population, tend to fall for a bit of a bad boy? Perhaps…

 

But back to the matter in hand – the writing process. It took me roughly a year to write the first draft of ‘Pharmakeia’. Some people call this stage a ‘word vomit’. Indeed I think it was William Faulkner who said,’ Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.’   I agree. I think many artists, whether writers, actors or painters, often have a strong Inner Critic that tends to get in the way. And the way to manage your Inner Critic? Tell it ‘Not now. I’m working!’

However, for me, the ‘word vomit first draft’ thing is going perhaps a bit too far. I am still aware of the style I am writing in at this stage of the writing process but also focussed on getting to the end. I must say though, I wasn’t quite sure how things would end for Mahvand in Pharmakeia. And perhaps this ‘not knowing’ allowed for better storytelling. I often remember one piece of advice from a brilliant tutor on the Birkbeck MA in Creative Writing course I did a few years back: It’s better if you feel slightly out of your depth when writing fiction. I guess you could say not knowing how things might end is feeling a little out of your depth/comfort zone! And if truth be told, part of how things end in Pharmakeia, are down to certain insights I had whilst parking my bum on my meditation cushion each morning during that period! And – as Dorothy Parker says, ‘art is applying the ass to the seat.’

I do think though, if you are writing a novel, you need something that will continue to inspire for at least a few years. After all, it’s an emotional marathon! I was interested in exploring the theme of temptation whilst writing ‘Pharmakeia’ and there was more than enough mileage/emotional charge there to keep writing! I certainly never got bored whilst writing it – perhaps a little guilty but never bored. (I remember, when describing some of the blasphemous pieces of conceptual art in Pharmakeia, that I had crossed a line) But where would avant-garde theatre or literature be if artists were constantly afraid of crossing that line.

In terms of how to structure a novel, I know there are some writers out there who plan meticulously. They have an outline for every chapter and plot things out on graphs. This approach has never worked for me. I tend to have a basic idea and go for it. Although, I must say, that I do have a rough idea for the trajectory of my novels. And there are certain scenes which I call ‘set pieces’ which, by hook or by crook, will form the backbone of the novel. So, for example, in Pharmakeia, I knew from the outset that I wanted a big, fuck-off club scene. Hence the chapter, ‘Kaos’, with it’s cray-cray, carnivalesque atmosphere. I also knew that towards the end of the narrative there would be a scene detailing Mahvand’s opening night for his debut exhibition. The latter scene required a trip to White Cube gallery and a meeting with Sophie, Head of Archives, which was most informative! I think this approach to writing fiction is best summed up in E L Doctorow’s assertion that, ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.’ I think I prefer this more intuitive way of writing fiction for several reasons. To begin with, I tend to operate in a more intuitive way out in the Big Bad World. But I also like surprising myself – allowing the creative process to create the magic. Of course, I know it’s me at the end of the day – but this emphasis on ‘allowing’, I feel is key. This approach, for me, feels as if it prepares the ground for a state of ‘creative free-flow’. I’m focused yet relaxed and I certainly don’t notice time passing. Before you know it you’ve channelled all sorts..

After the first draft was completed I began the editing process. Whole chapters, which slowed the pace of the narrative, or just didn’t add much to the overall picture, were got rid of. This was the stage where I paid even more attention to the language and style I was writing in. The prose may come across as effortless but I can tell you I wrote and rewrote many passages several time. After the first major edit I sent my manuscript off to The Literary Consultancy in London. Sally O-J, Sarah Walters personal editor, wrote a full-length report, which when I first read it, took some time to digest! However, it was extrememly useful getting an outside eye. Thus began another major edit – this time focussing on the balance between the humour and the dark stuff! Sally got the whole hybrid genre thing but she was right in pointing out that I needed to readdress the balance of light and dark/ humour and supernatural shenanigans at key moments of the narrative. I also made efforts to make Mahvand’s character slightly darker earlier on. This last major edit took about 6 months. I then got the text proofread and responded to recommendations made concerning spelling, punctuation, grammar and any narrative inconsistencies. Then the text was formatted beautifully by Kristen Harrison at The Curved House publishing company. So yes – a lot of work! But worth it – although slightly worrying. I read somewhere recently that each novel becomes part and parcel of your DNA..so entwined is one…

And if you haven’t purchased a copy – why not? They are available of course from Amazon bookshops such as Foyles and Gay’s The Word in London.

I finish with a few more quotes about writing:

‘A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer.’ (Joseph Conrad)

‘Writing is its own reward.’ Henry Miller

‘The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.’  (Anon|)

‘Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the backyard and shot it.’ (Truman Capote)

 

 

 

 

Pharmakeia – drugs

The Role of Drugs/Chems in ‘Pharmakeia’

Pharmakeia is a transgressive tale on many levels. But, these days, is it transgressive to take drugs? In many quarters, they seem so commonplace, particularly on the gay scene.  But what is relatively new in the gay community is sexualised drug use. And the specific drugs that ramp up the libido like nothing on earth – crystal meth, GHB and methadrone..

I was lucky enough to go to the opening of the documentary ‘Chemsex’ at the ICA in December. This surely is a wake-up call to the gay community as it follows several very brave gay men and their descent into sexualised drug use and drug addiction. Gay men are shown ‘slamming’ or injecting crystal meth on screen. And, in no way, did I wish to minimise the potential negative effects of some of these harder drugs by referencing them in ‘Pharmakeia’. Indeed, I am aware that many gay men, who, in the past, used other party drugs recreationally, such as ecstasy or cocaine, find themselves completely out of their depth when it comes to drugs like crystal meth/methamphetamine aka ‘Tina’ to those in the know on the gay scene.

However, for my purposes, as a novelist writing this particular story, I decided to make use of the drug crystal meth. (which initially presented some problems as crystal was not that readily available on the streets of London in 1997! – although it had made inroads in The States.) When Mahvand smokes crystal meth at the club Kaos, thereby losing his drug virginity in a full-on way, it represents a further temptation/slide into the dark underworld, which is populated by shady characters such as Daimon Mount-Stuart and the conceptual art collector/dealer, Jean-Baptiste Lebeau-Chevalier.

The use of methamphetamine in the novel also relates directly to the title of the book, ‘Pharmakeia’, which is a Greek word, and appears in the New Testament. It is often translated as ‘the use or administration of drugs’ / ‘witchcraft’ or ‘sorceries’. Crystal meth, is purported by some, to have a supernaturally dark side and enable the user to see ‘shadow people’ demons etc. (However, it is also well-known for inducing psychosis and even schizophrenia..) I guess it’s all about perspective!

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For my story, I tapped into the sorcery/witchcraft perspective on crystal meth because I was interested in a transgressive narrative which has the theme of temptation at its heart. In the chapter ‘Kaos’, Jean-Baptiste smokes crystal from a glass pipe, and says, ‘I like to think of this pipe as a glass portal to another world.’ He also smokes the drug, as does Mahvand, during their sex magick sessions which culminate in visions for disturbing pieces of conceptual art.

At one point in the writing process, I edited out all drug references to make the ‘magick’/fantast element more real. But then I decided I liked leaving the reader in a state of ambiguity. Is what is happening actually ‘real’ or a drug hallucination? Or a combination of the two? Towards the end of the narrative though, I hope I have given enough textual clues to enable the reader to decide which perspective is ultimately the deciding one!

I think the relationship between drugs and magic is an interesting one. In the chapter set in the nightclub, Kaos, the antagonist, Jean-Baptiste, quips, ‘I like to think that encoded in the very DNA of every drug is some kind of spell or enchantment.’ The Oxford dictionary defines magic as ‘the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.’ In ‘Pharmakeia’, crystal meth is the doorway or portal that allows the supernatural, diabolical demonic entity of Belial to manifest. Another definition of magic/magical, according to the Oxford dictionary, is (that which has) ‘a quality of being beautiful and delightful in a way that seems remote from daily life.’ Again, in ‘Pharmakeia’, drugs (namely crystal meth) are used in sex sessions so that the characters who have consumed them can gain experience that is remote from daily life. Whether the experience can be described as ‘beautiful’ or ‘delightful’ is open to interpretation. I certainly enjoyed writing some of these passages, in part, because I could allow my imagination free reign! This is a passage, towards the end of the novel, when Mahvand and his lover, Jean-Baptiste, have just made love.

‘Mahvand collapsed on top of Jean-Baptiste quite spent, and rested his chin on his lover’s chest, which was splattered Jackson-Pollock like, with jism. He realised the magick was still at work, when JB’s throat was adance with flecks of dark light. Each one exploded in a tiny puff of smoke before giving birth to its very own pair of black, paper-thin wings. A cool breeze snuffed out the remaining candles and Mahvand witnessed a host of black butterflies make their way to the open window and towards a sickle moon in a sky now stained red by the early morning sun.’ (pg 239)

There are many parallels between ‘Pharmakeia’ and my first novel, ‘Homo Jihad’. In both stories, the main character takes drugs. But, unlike Mahvand in ‘Pharmakeia’, who, at the beginning of the narrative, is a drug virgin, David Underwood, in ‘Homo Jihad’ is a seasoned club kid who takes drugs in gay clubs in Vauxhall, London. David’s ‘jihad’ or struggle is to overcome his addiction to recreational drugs and the lifestyle that goes with it. To know whether he does or not, you’ll need to read the book! Suffice it to say the endings to both of my novels are quite different!

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My own views on drugs are nuanced and complex. I think, in some shape or form, humans have sought to alter their everyday reality and their perception of it, for thousands of years. Whether it be the shaman in the Amazon ingesting an hallucinogenic drug or Athenian citizens in Greece drinking vast quantities of wine at the festival of Dionysus. Certain hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD can enable the user to experience a sense of their own expanded consciousness – and indeed this particular drug, along with MDMA has been used in psychotherapeutic settings. (Although such drugs don’t come without side effects and can in some circumstances be dangerous)

So, in some respects, the drug experience, and whether it is positive or negative, depends on many factors. These include the context they are taken in, what drug it is, the dose, who you take it with, general state of health etc. However, all pleasurable activities, can easily turn into addictions. The negative side effects can outweigh the perceived benefits. Pleasure can turn to pain. However, I recently read, Johann Hari’s ‘Chasing the Scream’. It is a book about drug ‘addiction’ but has an interesting take on ‘addiction’. Hari argues that the old ‘pharmaceutical’ model of addiction is misleading and erroneous. The pharmaceutical model of addiction would argue that drugs literally hijack your brain and diminish your will and autonomy to such an extent that you are turned into a helpless addict. Narcotics Anonymous may work for many, but it’s premise is built on the pharmaceutical model of addiction.

In short, Hari, whose book I thoroughly recommend, proposes that much drug addiction is due to the life history and quality of life of the ‘addict’. In other words, if you have a satisfying job, partner, good friend, a good standard of living, and grew up in a family where you felt loved, and that you belonged, the chances are, if you do take drugs at some point in your life, you are less likely to become addicted than someone who does not experience these positive conditions. In some respects, you could argue that minority groups in society such as the LGBT community are more prone to issues of addiction because of the underlying conditions of inequality and injustice. Perhaps this is partly why I, as an author of gay fiction, am drawn to write about drugs and the issues surrounding them.  All the studies I have read suggest that gay men tend to take more drugs and for a longer of period of time than their heterosexual counterparts. It’s easy, but erroneous to individualise, or even stigmatise groups in society who have been marginalised, criminalised and discriminated against. If the gay community does have a problem with drugs, straight humanity needs to share some of the responsibility for this.

I leave you with a song from the Brit Pop era – Suede’s ‘The Chemistry Between Us’ I hope you enjoyed this post.

 

 

 

YBA’s and Conceptual Art

 

Pharmakeia is set in the iconic year of 1997, when Tony Blair came to power with Nu Labour and Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. The late nineties were when conceptual art really took off in the UK. ‘Sensation’ was held at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1997, exhibiting the contemporary art of Charles Saatchi. Yong British Artist, Damien Hirst, exhibited his shark suspended in formaldehyde solution, entitled ‘The Physical Impossiblity of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. Another YBA, Tracey Emin, exhibited that infamous tent, ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With’, and Marcus Harvey’s ‘Myra’ (a portrait of child murderer Myra Hindley) was also on display.

The penultimate chapter of ‘Pharmakeia’ takes place at White Cube gallery, then situated in Duke Street, St James. It was famous for curating artists with international appeal and YBA artists. This, of course, is where Mahvand exhibits his shocking and blasphemous pieces of work, including a fibreglass statue of Christ being buggered by a shepherd’s crook. It was important that the works of art were transgressive as they were the culmination of Sex Magick practice. (Read the book!) Although there were plenty of transgressive or blasphemous pieces of art at the time, including Andres Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ’ and the Chapman Brothers ‘Fuck Face’.

 ‘Piss Christ’ by Andres Serrano

In some of these pieces of art, and indeed the pieces of art conceived of between Mahvand and Jean-Baptiste, one could argue that it is the collision between the profane and the sacred that provokes or outrages, depending on one’s sensibilities. One could also argue that it is this artificial division between the profane and the sacred, the body and the spirit which is harmful. After all, if God is not in the bedroom, where is she? Up in the clouds..? Whether the Christian Church is partly responsible for this splitting or simply reinforced it, is a matter for debate..

But to return to ‘Pharmakeia’ and White Cube gallery, I must say what a joy it was to meet up with Sohphie Grieg, then Head of Archives at White Cube, one afternoon. She talked about the vibe of White Cube back in the nineties and showed me numerous photographs of celebs who would visit – The Pet Shop boys, Janet Street-Porter, Jarvis Cocker etc. Some of these have cameos in the White Cube chapter of ‘Pharmakeia’. She made me realise how small the old White Cube was and filled me in with details such as the tradition of drinking bottles of beer, and not champagne, at YBA events!

However some of what happens in that infamous chapter is down to ‘poetic liscence’! The roof to the real White Cube was reached, apparently, via someone’s flat.. I thought this would be a tad too comical, so Mahvand just climbs a few flights of stairs before he reaches the roof.

 

 

 

 

 

Pharmakeia – front cover: ‘Dante and Virgil in Hell,’ by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

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The image for the front cover of Pharmakeia comes from the oil on canvass painting,’Dante and Virgil in Hell,’ by the French painter, William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It was painted in 1850 and can currently be viewed at Musee d’ Orsay in Paris. The scene depicted in this painting was inspired from a short scene from the Dante’s fourteenth century epic poem, ‘Inferno’, set in the eighth circle of Hell, where Dante, accompanied by Virgil, watches a fight between two damned souls. The critic and poet, Theophile Gautier was very complimentary about the painting, stating, ‘Monsieur Bouguereau depicts magnificently through muscles, nerves, tendons and teeth, the struggle between the two combatants. There is bitterness and strength in this canvas – strength, a rare quality!’

My good friend, Sina Shamsavari, who I dedicate Pharmakeia to, first suggested using this image for the front cover of the book. I submitted the idea to Curved House publishing company who looked into it and got back to me with the news that the image was in the public domain so we could use it! I thought it related well to some of the themes in the book – namely temptation and transgression – which in the Christian grand narrative presupposes damnation! (Although in Pharmakeia, Mahvand is not damned – but you could argue that by the end of the narrative he is suitably punished for his transgressions/crimes!) I also thought there was a certain homoeroticism in the image, albeit somewhat ‘devilish’, which would reflect the transgressive sexual relationship between Jean-Baptiste and Mahvand.

Moreover, in Chapter One, ‘Forked Tongue’, set at the Literary salon in Bethnal Green, when ‘Belial’ ,aka Jean-Baptiste, performs his epic poem on stage, he makes reference to Dante’s ‘Inferno’:

‘Finding myself (I won’t say how)

In that dark wood,

Not quite halfway on life’s journey,

I must confess, dear Dante

No leopard, she-wolf, nor lion saw I,

Nor virtuous pagan poet, nor philosopher of old,

Virgil, Socrates, Ovid

Wandering in limbo

As you self-righteously fortold..’

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Candy Darling – The No-nonsense Geordie Transexual

 

In Pharmakeia, Candy Darling is the no-nonsense Geordie transsexual who mans the sex shop in the basement, below Soho Books. Of course, I named her in homage to the American transgender actress better known as ‘Warhol Superstar’, who starred in some of Warhol’s films such as ‘Flesh’, and ‘Women in Revolt.’

It would seem, from the feedback I have had so far on ‘Pharmakeia’, that Candy Darling is one of the most loved characters in the book. I think this is for several reason. She, notably along with Gran, provides much needed comedic relief in the novel. In one particular scene, set in the book/sex shop in Soho, she turns to Mahvand and says:

‘I would have you myself, if I hadn’t gone ahead with the Vaginoplasty..’

She has a chequered past (knows crims at Pentonville prison and was heavily into speed in her younger days) and is also not afraid to stand up for herself, often with a mean right hook. She punches Jean-Baptiste when he tells her that she, more than anyone, should know what it is like to endure a hybrid identity.

‘Candy put the receiver down, marched over in her killer six-inch heels, and swung her arm back into position. Jean-Baptiste lifted his hands to shield his face. But not quite in time. Candy’s fist, still bruised from her latest escapade in Soho, smashed into Jean-Baptiste’s perfectly proportioned Roman nose.’ (Chapter ‘Belial’)

Suffice it to say, that this Candy Darling has a feisty side to her nature. I wouldn’t mess with Candy! But she also has a heart of gold. She plays the protective, substitute mother to Mahvand, whose own mother was murdered in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.

‘You’re the son Ah always dreamed of having. Me ann flesh and blood, queer through an’ through. I’d fight tooth and nail fre yee te become the artist yee watnt to be.’

It is Candy who goes with Mahvand to visit Gran at Sunny Pastures, the old people’s home. And it is Candy who puts up Mahvand in her digs in Wood Green, North London, when he is made homeless. In some ways, she is Mahvand’s FGM (Fairy God Mother).

Candy is also pretty sorted. She has redefined what it means to be successful for herself. And in her own terms she is highly successful. ‘Cabaret artist, sex shop impresario, entertainer extraordinaire..’

However Candy’s love life is perhaps not as successful as her professional life. She gets hit on my dodgy tranny chasers from the suburbs and was dumped by a married Ghanaian postman on New Year’s Eve. In her own words, Candy recognises that need to search out what Quentin Crisp refers to as ‘The Great Dark Man.’

This quest for ‘The Great Dark Man’, of course, is mirrored in Mahvand’s relationship with the mysterious Jean-Baptiste.

If you enjoyed the character of Candy Darling, please leave a comment saying what your favourite moments were… x

 

 

 

 

Sex Magick

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In my novel, ‘Pharmakeia’, Mahvand and Jean-Baptiste engage in a number of sex-magick sessions. Without giving too much of the plot away, I thought it may be of interest to delve a little deeper into this unusual sexual arena. I gained a lot of my information and inspiration from researching that well-known, Victorian bisexual occultist – Aleister Crowley. Born in 1875, Crowley, who embraced the title of ‘The Beast’, founded the religion and philosophy of Thelema.  In Egypt, apparently whilst on his honeymoon, Crowley channelled a supernatural entity that enabled him to write ‘The Book of the Law’. This book was considered sacred by disciples of Thelema who adhered to the dictum ‘Do what thou wilt’ and sought to align themselves with their Will through practicing the dark arts and Sex Magick.

A premise of Sex Magick is the concept that sexual energy is a potent force that can be harnessed to transcend one’s normally perceived reality. One particular practice of sex magick is to use the energy of sexual arousal or orgasm to visualise a desired result.

Spoiler Alert…

In Pharmakeia Mhavand and Jean-Baptiste engage in sex magick practices in order to visualise ground-breaking, yet often blasphemous and darkly disturbing pieces of conceptual art. These are referred to in the novel as ‘magical children’…And indeed, there are further parallels between Crowley and JB since Jean-Baptiste also channels a supernatural entity – the demon, Belial, which eventually culminates in his/their book, ‘The Book of Belial’.

As part of my research into Crowley, I made my way through a biography of Crowley by Lawrence Sultin, ‘Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley. In the biography, Sultin writes about Crowley’s homosexual relationship to Victor Neuburg, who became one of Crowley’s disciples. At one point in their relationship they travelled to Algiers and Crowley, with Neuburg as his disciple, performed esoteric rituals and Sex Magick in the desert. Magic circles were drawn in the sand, supernatural entities were summoned  and Sultin makes it clear that Neuburg found the experience terrifying and never truly recovered.

So why was I drawn to write about this – or rather to use aspects of Crowley and Neuburg’s relationship and the tenants of Sex Magick to create my own ‘Seduction of an Innocent’ narrative? There are probably several answers to that question. In terms of writing style, I wanted to try something different to the prose style of ‘Homo Jihad’, my debut novel. And at the time I was getting into Angela Carter and other magical-realist writers. There are several elements of the fantastical in Pharmakeia – which I thoroughly enjoyed writing, despite the transgressive nature of the content of these passages! And there are also elements of the fairy tale – Mahvand nearly always wears a red hoodie and lives with his Gran! I also wanted the protagonist, Mahvand Amirzadeh, to transgress on a number of different levels so Sex Magick was an ideal vehicle for sexual transgression. But in some respects, there is also a strong moral compass in the narrative which is perhaps more apparent towards the end when Mahvand is punished for his transgressions. It seems to me that many stories when you strip them down to their bare bones are a conflict between the forces of Light and Dark. This is perhaps encapsulated when Jean-Baptiste, who has just been punched in the face by Geordie transsexual, Candy Darling, says:

‘After the Sons of Light waged war with the Sons of Darkness, the fallen ones came into the daughters of men and taught them charms and spells and showed them the cutting of roots and stems.’

 

 

Pharmakeia: the Impetus & the influences:

Pharmakeia took longer than I anticipated to complete. It all started out as a short story (which I published as ‘Bright Fire of Morning’ in The Mechanics Institute Review 8′. You could say that this short story served as a springboard for writing ‘Pharmakeia’ the novel. In both, I was interested in the theme of temptation. Don’t we all listen to the ‘bad angel’ at moments when we know that we shouldn’t? And ignore that quiet voice of conscience?

I wanted to construct a narrative around this theme so started reading novels and watching films that portrayed Satan. I remember thinking at the time this was all a bit transgressive but, as I am wont to do, threw caution to the wind! Indeed one particular scene from Bulgokov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’ provided the inspiration for ‘Forked Tongue’ – chapter one in my novel. There was something fabulously theatrical and ‘carnivalesque’ about it all…

Films, such as ‘The Devil’s Advocate’, ‘Angel Heart’ and ‘The Ninth Gate’, similarly provided inspiration for the creation of my antagonist – Jean-Baptiste, although, admittedly none of these devils spoke French or were nowhere near as good-looking as JB!

Similarly, I researched Alistair Crowley and sex magick which helped me write the final sex magick scene where Jean-Baptiste transforms into a Sabbatic goat and Mahvand experiences moments from previous incarnations.. For me, it was important that Mahvand transgressed both creatively and sexually.