Issue Two of Shooter Literary Magazine, a new London publication that features short stories, poetry, and non-fiction, includes a full-length, 7,000 word essay I wrote this Spring on perfume, memory, family and identity titled ‘Through Smoke’.

It was an interesting project. Each issue of the magazine features contemporary writing from a selection of international writers gathered around a thematic nucleus – the inaugural, fiery and pulsating issue was fittingly called ‘Pulling The Trigger’, but in contrast, this time the concept that the writers submitting work were given was ‘union’.

I am a very compulsive, impulsive and instinctive writer, just expressing and blurting out what comes to mind when it comes to me (as you will be quite aware if you read The Black Narcissus regularly), and I must admit it wasn’t easy for me, at first, to ‘fit’ my writing to a theme and tailoring it to another person’s vision. Initially, at least. As I thought about it more though I realized that perfume and ‘union’ do go hand in hand in so many ways, and I ended up exploring varying, different tangents on what perfume is, how scent, and smell, are, in many ways, our ‘invisible link’.

In the introduction, the editor of Shooter, Melanie White, writes:

“….More unusual unions, too, provided rich sources of inspiration. Neil C Chapman’s passionate meditation on perfume, ‘Through Smoke’, gives tremendous insight into the connections between scent and memory, fragrance and identity, as well as the increasing (and dismaying) commercialisation of the perfume industry. He rounds off his essay with a mesmerising section on the significance of scent in Japan, showing how deeply the sense of smell is rooted in Eastern culture”.

I don’t know if the piece is mesmerising, but it is interesting, reading through the magazine as I have been these last few nights, coming home from work, how it fits in with the other selections, which, though seemingly disparate at first, are all threaded with a touching, often poignant atmosphere, reflections on loss, the ephemeral nature of existence, love, and the death-transcending ties that bind us.


Filed under Writing


  1. Marina

    Tried finding the publication in Montreal at a Press Internationale to no avail. I’d love to read it.

    • Thanks, M.

      I suppose it’s not a major publication yet so you won’t be able to get it everywhere, but I was quite excited to be in it. It was edited a bit, but not too much, so it does really sound like me (ie. an over the top fool).

  2. Would love to read this Neil. Will have to try to find an online source. If you have a link, please share.

  3. Holly

    Ooh – I can’t wait to read this. I see from their website that you can either buy an annual subscription or single copies.

  4. ninakane1

    Looked for it when in Foyles when down in London but was a day or two early and it wasn’t in yet! Will have a gander next time i’m down. i’m sure the article is beautiful.

  5. Robert

    I too look forward to reading the piece, especially to see how Neil C Chapman’s over earnestness comes through and how it compares to the Black Narcissus.

    Though an avid reader, not wanting to flatter the author for the sheer quality of writing that all too often finds expression on the blog, I’ve hesitated from commenting! But only this morning I was thinking of you, your writing, and what it could be if you were published. What forms and directions you would take, I would love to discover. Can’t you find a publisher to do the right thing? Aren’t there many visionary publishers out there!?

    Anyway, as I said, looking forward to reading the piece.

    • Thanks Robert, or should I say ‘O-To-San’ xxx

    • I actually do have an agent though, and am going to contact her again now I am not quite as thoroughly obscure and unknown as before. I am just not quite sure what tack to take with any book I would write. I want to do one on Japan but also on perfume (I wonder if I could mix the two?).

      Hope we get to see you soon. x

      • Robert

        Of course you could, and more, which is the exciting part. Isn’t any pattern possible if you have imagination for it? And I think we’re all agreed that you do! Sorry for another rhetorical question, by the way.

        You must, when you get back from your East Asian sojourn. There’s someone I want you to meet. Follow the links to see what all the fuss has been about…

  6. Neil Chapman, I love your writing and am not surprised that your article was published…what does surprise me is that you don’t get more recognition for your fine writing as well as your perfume reviews. I love your style of writing and also the content.

    • Thanks very much. I think to be honest that I have that Sagittarian quality that repels some people: I think I am a bit of an acquired taste. But that same quality made it nice being a part of a new and small magazine like that. I hope to do a book one day.

  7. Woo Hoo! Congratulations on your elevation to Hard Copy. Will they be sending you copies to have & to hold? How nice to have yourself in something so glamorous and real. Big squishy hug.
    Portia xxx

  8. Nancysg

    I finally read this column and have now ordered my copy of the magazine. Couldn’t resist the opportunity to read something more about fragrance from your special vantage point.

    • Nancysg

      I ordered a hard copy, but they had just sold out! I did receive my e-copy quickly though. What a beautiful article you have written. The comments about scent memory and the feeling of particular scents being integral to your being are very touching for me.

      • Really? Thank you for saying so. It took quite a bit of work, that one, which is why it isn’t as flowing and instinctive as some things I write. On the other hand I did want to submit something carefully pored over and considered, with depth.

  9. Robin

    I have been on a week-long reading binge, Neil, gorging on your writing here since discovering your site. If, as you say, it is an acquired taste, I have indeed acquired it. I like how you bring in so many interesting cultural references, and purely how well you write, but I think what is most compelling for me is how much of yourself you put into your writing, how much you reveal: how honest you are about yourself. That is more than talent or skill. That’s guts, my dear. I honour you for it.

    • I shall cherish this. Thank you.

    • I often think that this whole site is a kind of mirror, or a diary: a reflection (the name I chose for it, and there was never any other possibility for me, ‘The Black Narcissus’ was certainly no accident). Perfume is one of my greatest passions in life, but I do think it is more of a conduit, here, really, a portal into other things. Of course as I am the person writing it, probably it goes without saying that I am the ‘fragrance’ of the whole blog (and what a pungent one it must be – I know I can be very overpowering), but as for the bravery aspect of revealing myself, for me it doesn’t quite work like that; it’s almost as if I have no choice. I just have to. But you have picked up on something interesting, actually. I do know that in life generally, I don’t meet very many people that know themselves or can express themselves so easily, deeply (shamelessly?) as I can, yet I also don’t always know why I feel the need to just press publish and allow myself to be exposed the way I do (the psychology goes like this: I have a very strong ‘F you’ mentality to so many things, but the second I have frantically written it down and put it out into the world I feel horribly naked, actually, and think about erasing it). It is a familiar pattern for me. Ultimately though, I think that the rawness which is there (but usually covered in flowers ) is an almost cathartic moment for other people, at the very least a few minutes where they don’t feel as if they are drowning in bullshit (which is how I almost always feel when forced to watch television, for example): the pure honesty on here and the sometimes painful, embarrassingly ‘childlike’ earnestness might make me feel at times like a hideously self-indulgent dickhead, but in the end I feel that I just have to do it. I think people who appreciate it realise that I am expressing, if sometimes embellishing, my truth.

  10. Robin

    And you make other things a portal into perfume for us, too, Neil. I love that. I see what you mean about expressing/exposing yourself through writing being more about necessity than bravery, per se, but you do open yourself to the fear that comes after pressing publish, so that’s pretty damn gutsy, at least after the fact. Another thing I admire, and a huge reason why I find you so readable, is that you need fragrance; it is central to your life. A lot of us feel the same. And you know your stuff. I get more enlightenment here than anywhere else. Also, because you write so well, you give us another layer of pleasure in our experience of fragrance. Your piece on Narcisse Noir (hmmm) is a great example of that. I can put on a drop of vintage extract, inhale it, read what you have to say about it, and suddenly I smell more of what it’s all about. It’s lovely, really.

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