Dark Mountain: Issue 18 – FABULA

Our first book of uncivilised fiction

Today we are excited to announce the publication of our eighteenth issue, available now from our online shop. Containing 30 short stories from writers around the world, 32 pages of colour artwork, specially commissioned illustrations, a bookmark, a selection of audio versions – and wrapped in Fiona Banner's uncanny and mysterious cover artwork – FABULA is dedicated to uncivilised fiction.

Since 2015, in addition to our regular spring anthologies, we have published an autumn issue on a special theme. Previous autumn issues have explored technology, uncivilised poetics, the sacred, travel and belonging, and ten years of the Dark Mountain Project. Our Autumn 2020 book is dedicated – for the first time ever – entirely to fiction.

Fiction has always been at the heart of our call for ‘uncivilised’ writing. In a world convulsed by crisis, when old certainties are collapsing and narratives are falling apart, it is to stories that we look to bear witness to the state we are in. Unlike essays, non-fiction and facts – which, in this post-truth world, become more distorted by the day – fiction does not approach the fears and hopes of our times directly but obliquely, moving us in unexpected ways and changing our hearts as much as our thinking brains.

Issue 18 cover

In the pages of FABULA you will find short stories, flash fiction and excerpts from novels and longer pieces, as well as colour artwork and specially commissioned illustrations. You can also hear a selection of the stories as audio versions read by the authors. This book is a journey through modern fairytale, absurdist parable, vision and dream: from the bogs of a dystopian Ireland to near-future West Africa; from the drought-ravaged Australian Outback to the mouldering wreckage of enterprise in the all-consuming Amazon. You will encounter a vengeful river, litigious bears, a mythical forest guardian, the ghostly shades of America’s wars, stories of sexual and ecological ecstasy, swarms of butterflies and drones, and be exposed to a global pandemic – but not the one you’re expecting.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing some stories from FABULA. Normally we would get you started with the editorial, but – in an issue dedicated to the imagination – we didn’t want to neatly explain things away but rather to let our readers take a step into the dark; to set off on an unknown journey without a manual or a map; to get a little bit lost on the way; to be challenged by the terrain; to find their own paths through. So today we’re going to start at the end… with the book’s afterword.


What do the birds say?

‘There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre’, writes Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five. ‘Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.

‘And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”’

FABULA bookmark. Illustration by Caroline Ross

Perhaps there is nothing intelligent to say about 2020. To say ‘Poo-tee-weet?’ in a world that feels as fictional and as fantastical as Vonnegut’s novel – which ranges through space and time from the 1945 firebombing of Dresden to the alien planet Tralfamadore – is not to deny, or to mock, the seriousness of the crises we’re in. It is not to give up on reality, or to invite despair. But during the long, strange months of lockdown, when skies cleared of vapour trails and motorways became eerily silent, what many people commented on was the sound of birdsong. Once the omnipresent roar of human activity was suppressed, the quiet, insistent language of birds bubbled back into people’s consciousness. That reminder of the living world, still present underneath — and despite — everything that is burying it, increasingly seems to make more sense than the clamour of human noise: the frenzied rationalisations of political commentators who feel the ground shifting under their feet; the demagogic bellowing of populist leaders everywhere; the polarising narratives of social media. A fleeting moment of quietness — like the silence after a massacre — allowed us, briefly, to hear something else. Birdsong tells its own story.


The Editors, Autumn 2020

A fleeting moment of quietness — like the silence after a massacre — allowed us, briefly, to hear something else. Birdsong tells its own story.


Over the next few weeks we will be sharing some of that birdsong with you here, starting with a short story from Cynan Jones, illustrated by Nick Hayes. In the meantime the book is available from our online shop.

Our online launch on 16th October is now sold out, but the event will be recorded and available afterwards. Watch this space.


Cover art
Fiona Banner aka The Vanity Press
Arial (sinking), American Garamond
Oil on found painting, 2019

In this series of paintings Fiona Banner aka The Vanity Press reflects on a period of suspended animation and future uncertainty. The central convern of her practice is the exploration of language and communication; here she focuses on their breakdown. Banner has returned to a type of figurative painting, a tradition she rejected some years ago, turning instead to verbal language as a way of making pictures. In these works she presents a series of interventions to found genre paintings: seascapes.  She has painted out the original subject, mighty seafaring vessels, battleships and destroyers, replacing the instead with black full stops.

Image © Fiona Banner aka The Vanity Press


Dark Mountain: Issue 18 – FABULA

The Autumn 2020 issue is dedicated entirely to fiction, featuring short stories, illustrations and colour artwork
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