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Key, Frank

Entry updated 1 May 2024. Tagged: Author.

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Pseudonym of UK author and broadcaster Paul Byrne (1959-2019), whose early work appeared as limited-edition pamphlets – often self-illustrated – from the London-based Malice Aforethought Press which he co-founded in 1986 with Maxim Décharné (also published by the press). The first to be of genre interest, if tangentially, is perhaps Forty Visits to the Worm Farm (1987 chap). Key's stories tend towards surrealism and Absurdism, with promised adventure or detective-mystery plots losing themselves in digressions and such Oulipo-like flourishes as long strings of adjectives in alphabetical order. His landscapes are littered with rusting and incomprehensible machinery, with occasional Steampunk trappings such as Balloons and Airships, as in the story "By Aerostat to Hooting Yard" in his first book-length collection Twitching and Shattered (coll 1989). One near approach to sf is the spoofish Crop Circles: The Crunlop Experiment (1991 chap) as by Professor Zoltan Crunlop, in which the titular phenomenon is investigated with the aid of a lengthily described mechanism having something of the pointless and redundant complexity of a W Heath Robinson device. The title story (written and circulated by email in 1994) of Unspeakable Desolation Pouring Down from the Stars (coll 2007 chap) includes a character whose physical appearance is that of the Frankenstein Monster as described by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818; rev 1831). The same collection ends with the brief Space Opera "Far, Far Away", which namechecks Ayn Rand and opens in characteristic mood: "Far, far away, there is a galaxy of shattered stars, stars crumpled and curdled and destitute ..."

As a fiction writer Key was silent for almost a decade from 1994, a period he later called his Wilderness Years, though he published occasional graphic whimsies such as calendars. In 2003 he launched the website Hooting Yard – a recurring place-name in his work – to archive his existing tales and release new ones. From April 2004 until his death he hosted the popular weekly Radio show Hooting Yard on the Air for the London-based Resonance FM; the content consisted largely of readings of his own work. These later narratives, essays and squibs are collected in several volumes under the author's Hooting Yard Small Press imprint, beginning with Befuddled by Cormorants (coll 2006). Themes of Fantastika continued to feature. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard: A Frank Key Reader (coll 2014 ebook) is a retrospective collection covering the author's whole career. Key's best work has a zany charm in which his evident love of verbal extravagance is often entertainingly at odds with the constraints of logic or common sense. [DRL]

see also: Basilisks.

Paul Byrne

born London: 29 January 1959

died London: 13 September 2019

works (selected)

collections and stories

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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