Sunday, 15 January 2017

Writers Resist London - Only 30 Years Too Late

Today, Sunday 15th January 2017, writers and authors in London finally raised their heads above the parapet. They joined the 'Writers Resist' movement based in America but taking in many cities outside the US in holding an event to protest the imminent presidency of Donald Trump as a threat to democracy, rights and civilised values. Unfortunately I couldn't attend the event, having a previous reading commitment in London, notwithstanding that I only found out about the event yesterday via Twitter and some detective work on my part (what writers call 'research'). Humble writers like myself aren't on the BCC lists, we didn't get the memo because it wasn't sent out to us.

But that is not the source of my frustration. Without coming over like some sort of contradiction in terms as some sort of putative member of the UKIP Metropolitan Elite, what about the threat to democracy in the UK? After the election result and Cameron being returned, a small group of us writers commiserated on twitter and all pledged to write political fiction - something I have always done, from Khmer Rouge Cambodia to beheading videos, Syrian migrants to Latin American death squads - but nada. After Brexit there was the same level of wailing and gnashing of teeth and calls for some sort of protest fiction - again I have penned an 11,000 word short story, but not too aware of similar works. This is hardly surprising to me as there has been a dearth of political fiction in this country because politics is seen as a dirty word when allied to the term 'literature'.

Of course it wasn't ever thus, go back to "Gulliver's Travels" for when Brits did write politically and satirically. Where poets get put in a revolutionary Sandanista government and author André Malraux was minister for culture in France, we get chicklit write Louise Mensch as an MP and MPs like Douglas Hurd and now Nadine Dorries permeating their own boredom in the service of state by penning works of fiction. Where Camus, Sartre & De Beauvoir led every march going in 1968 Paris, with the honourable exception of the late Harold Pinter, where are our authors marching under banners? Nowhere that's where. I marched with cartoonists and graphic artists in opposition to Section 28.

Is our democracy indeed under the same threat as Trump represents to that of America? Well where have you been for the last 30 years if you have to ask that? Ever since the 1980s there has been a systematic ideological assault on the rights and values held dear in the UK, under the guise of Britain needs to get its economic housekeeping in good order. Social spaces of social and public subsidised art, local government being cut back to the bone, libraries and youth clubs being starved of funding, trade unions and associations being diminished, council housing being sold off without being replaced, clampdowns on public marches and protest, all meant a reduction in the public's ability to gather together and discourse. The arts had to demonstrate a profit line ahead of artistic ideas and exploration. Ever since then there is a distinct lack of public discourse within Britain. The British sense of justice and fair play has been undermined by the rigorous assault on the Welfare State, targeting the poor and needy (ATOS, bedroom tax), rather than bringing bad employers to book over working conditions/low pay and an unrepresentative level of corporation tax. The divide between rich and poor has got wider and these fault lines were revealed by the Brexit referendum, which should have come to no surprise to keen-eyed watchers, which is why it seems to have come as such a seismic shock to most. Brexit has unleashed hate crimes and will signal the UK withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, something PM Theresa May has been itching to do long before the referendum delivered its vote. Where was the artistic protest on any of this? In the 1970s the British theatre stage was dominated by Marxist and Left-Wing playwrights like Hare, Brenton, Edgar, but they were unable to counter the 1980s ideology of Thatcherism and that seemed to signal a retreat in political art. Our rights have since been further stripped by the anti-terrorism legislation and our decency threatened by the increase of hate crime in the wake of the Brexit vote. 

I understand that the current Writers Resist movement is keen on being seen as non-aligned politically. Labour in the 1990s did nothing to underpin  any of our depleted rights and values from and are just as culpable. But the current UK government will seek to push through radical policies that 1980's Thatcherism only dreamed of, not least the assault on out most precious value that of the National Health Service and social care for the elderly which feeds into the current crisis. As heinous as I regarded Ronald Reagan's presidency, America has one protection we in the UK do not; the First Amendment enshrining the right to free expression, therefore not even Reagan was able to dismantle the arts community as happened in the UK. However, even that protection is now under threat as Trump will start with press freedom as he looks to hobble his opponents there and after that artistic expression would be vulnerable starting with liberal Hollywood - I suspect that the realisation of this is part what has sparked the Writers Resist movement to spring up in the US. Of course other fears are the roll back of civil rights either by law, or de facto as racism is more overt and less clamped down on by the forces of law and order. But the fact remains that the USA may be facing what we experienced in the UK in the 1980s and which we've never recovered from. 

So Writers Resist London, first you need to open up your invite lists because there are some grass roots writers who have consistently been producing political work of resistance. At present you risk just talking to yourselves ( I see the same network of writer names as all work together anyway) and we had all that nonsense with UK Occupy, a talking shop which fizzled out quick enough once the housing and jobs market perked up. Believe me, I may have a modicum of the readers you have, but with all due respect you ain't at the level of Harold Pinter and so the people you need to be reaching are no more likely to be aware of you and your voice than they are of mine and the likes of me. If we're going to do this thing let's do it properly. There are so many challenges not just politically, but in terms of language and fake versus truth versus fiction. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Flesh Wound - Flash Fiction

Lonely heart
Cold shouldered
Chin up
Toe in water
Shoulder to wheel
Give eye teeth
Stick neck out
Caught eye
Thumbs up
Shot in arm
Mouth watering
See eye to eye
Mind blowing
Feel in bones
Shivers down spine
Joined at hip
Body and soul
Belly laughs
Head over heels
Fevered brow
Love muscle
Leg over
Bees knees
Wandering eye
Achilles heel
Back foot
Face the music
All ears
Lips sealed
Cat got tongue?
Two faced
Blood boiling
Clean breast
Flesh wound
Cut own throat
Skinned alive
Given elbow
Shoulder to cry on?
Lonely heart
Slit wrists

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Guest Post - Author Louise Wise

I have a thing about time travel. I've written a novel about it and a flash tale on the subject also appears in my current flash fiction collection. So I am always fascinated to see how other writers treat the subject. And today's guest Louise Wise has a similar interest in the paradoxes of acting on the past in order to change the future. Her latest book "Wide Awake Asleep" was published last month on Kindle and adds a paranormal element to the time travel, in that each jump in time comes accompanied with inhabiting an unfamiliar body previously owned by someone else. Sounds a fabulous read. I asked Louise to talk about the book and its themes and she kindly offered the following. Over to Louise -

If I had a time machine, I’d love to travel to events of tragedy and save the day! A superhero I am most definitely not, but who wouldn’t want to save the lives of those lost on the Titanic or those from the World Trade Centre? 
But I also believe in the inconsistency of time-travel (the meet-and-kill-your-grandparent-and-you’ll-not-exist paradox).
If I went back to Henry VIII’s time and visited the gorgeous Anne Boleyn I’d warn her not to be so flirtatious with the men around her because she was executed for having ‘relationships’. But then what would have happened? 
Henry VIII would probably have become Henry II—not the same, is it? Besides we’ve already had a Henry II in 1133! And then Anne Boleyn wouldn’t have become the household name that she is today. She’d have been remembered like Catherine of Aragon—who? Exactly!
Would I change anything from my own past? I can honestly say, no. Small things, maybe, like the time a so-called friend told me to scrump apples knowing the owner of the apple tree was lying in wait and who would clip my ear! Back in the 70s ears were frequently clipped!
And then there are bigger things, like warning my aunt not to take her family swimming that fatal day where my six-year old cousin lost his life. Had I been able to save him then his younger brother would probably not have been around. 
That’s the thing with time travel, one cannot and should not mess with it, unless they are prepared for the changes it would, undoubtedly, create.

Book Blurb: ‘Past events can be changed but one must be careful of how one does it because it’ll impact on the rest of one’s life.’—Dáire Quin, Modify your Destiny if you Must, 2003

No one saw Julie’s car leave the road, no one saw her crash into the watery ditch, no one saw the gnarled tree branch pierce through the window screen and impale her to her seat.
No one heard her screams.

Yet, this was the beginning of Julie’s life.

Julie Compton, is a forty-something woman, striving for success in a male dominated business world. She thinks she’s made it. She thinks she has it all. Trouble is, her destiny has been travelling in the wrong direction and Julie is now forced to relive her life by occupying people’s bodies from her past in a time-travel, paranormal adventure.

For readers who enjoyed books like 'The Time Traveler's Wife' and 'The Lovely Bones'.

Available from Amazon (all territories)

Novel Excerpt:
Disorientated, I looked around at my surroundings. I had the strange feeling that I wasn’t here at all. I thought I heard a voice, and I cocked my head, but it was carried away on a gust of wind. The feeling of hands touching my body subsided and I was left in this paradox universe where I was me inside someone else’s body.
I looked down at myself and the first thing I saw was a plaid skirt, and thick tights, which sagged at the knees and ankles.
My heart began to beat in horror. No, no. Please, God, no. 
My hands touched the stained cardigan over my large droopy breasts. Up further to my face…
My hands recoiled.
I felt a moustache!
I gasped in horror. I was ‘Auntie’ Iris Grimshaw!
It was bad enough being goofy Sarah Marshall, but now I had a moustache! And a bloody monobrow! 
Iris began to walk, and I felt a sharp pain in my hip. I slowed, but the pain persisted. It shot down my left leg every time my foot touched the ground. No wonder the old sod was grouchy.


Louise's author bio:

Louise Wise is a British author. She lives in the Midlands with her husband and four sons, and works as a pharmacy technician.

Her debut novel is the acclaimed sci-fi romance EDEN, which was followed by its sequel HUNTED in 2013. 

Her other works include A PROPER CHARLIE (romantic comedy), OH NO, I’VE FALLEN IN LOVE! (dark, comedy romance), and SCRUFFY TRAINERS (a collection of short stories). She has written numerous short stories for women’s magazines including Women’s Own and Take a Break.
Her latest novel, WIDE AWAKE ASLEEP, was published December 16th 2016. In this novel, she has mixed time travel and romance with her on-going theme of isolation and loneliness. 

You can contact Louise through any of the following media:

I'd like to thank Louise for giving me the opportunity to talk about her latest book and would urge you to go out and read it

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Maxwell's Demon - Flash Fiction

He had locked on. He now possessed full control over the satellite. Mattered not whether it was media or military propelled. It made no odds, both were death-dealing hawkers of lies. In a post-truth world, only data counted. Noughts and ones. In his case, the vengefulness of the noughts. He started recoding. He would bring it tumbling down back to earth. Recast it into a fireball. Put on a scintillating show as it burned up in the atmosphere. The planet’s safety net for catching Icarian plunges back to earth. The hubris each satellite represented, taking its place in the firmament, only for the likes of him to puncture its aggrandised gravity. Mere fleas on a dog. These devices weren’t ever meant to return to earth, so they didn’t bother designing them with blunted contours to lessen the murderous friction on re-entry. There was too much space junk littering space already, time to clean house. They were all at it, hackers around the world trying to outdo one another, plucking the petals from the Kevlar coronal garland around the earth. No that was too poetic, too grandiose. More like applying a flea collar to the mutt. Kids who in previous generations would have been bullied by those who fired air rifles at birds in trees, or set fires. But all that paled into insignificance with the power they now held in their keyboards. If his hacking peers were anything like him, they too played out imaginary revenge fantasies, always aiming over an exact city full of bullies to bring the satellite crashing down on to, were it somehow to defy the purging heat of dragging against our humble air. Those selfsame bullies who now occupied the highest offices of state. For they hadn't stood still in their metamorphosis either. His only response to a world turned upside down, was to bring the sky crashing in to right it again. 

Monday, 19 December 2016

Contingency - Drabble

The terminally ill child bears her fate with far greater acceptance and equanimity than her mother, who after all, has spent her longer lifespan neglecting the import of her own attendant mortality. The child has had less time to become beholden to the reasons for life, or make the deals with herself as to why it might be held to be valuable. Her thread is not as extended as that of adults. Her sense of permanence less entrenched. Her mother had calculated to plug the void of meaning, by rearing a child. And now that stratagem was collapsing around her.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Songs About Heaven And Hell

You'd figure that heavy rock and metal would dominate songs from the Abyss, but not a bit of it. As for songs about fluffy clouds, would that be the province of fey indie bands? A few surprises possibly on the way between halos and horns.

1) Husker Du - "The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill"
Husker Du were the powerhouse band they were because all three members were songwriters. Not too often these days you see the drummer is the lead singer. Not the greatest sound quality, but you can see the energy of this genuine power trio.

2) Mobb Deep - "Hell On Earth"
Well if it's not Heavy Metal singing about Satan & Hell, obviously it was going to be Hip Hop and Rap decrying the hell on earth that are the urban ghettos. As here.

3) The Cure - "Just Like Heaven"
Did someone say fey indie band? Of course the Cure's Gothic look might have them pegged in the camp of devils and demons, but no, here's a jaunty ditty devoted to more Elysian Fields.

4) The Fall - "New Face In Hell"
Shame there's no footage of this being performed live, but it's just one of the tracks off the Fall's best of their 30+ albums "Grotesque After The Gramme". Divine stuff.

5) Stone Roses - "Breaking Into Heaven"
Songs with 'Resurrection", "Heaven", "I Wanna Be Adored" suggest a passing interest in religion and divinity, or maybe just Ian brown's god complex. This is not one of their better songs imo

6) White Stripes - "Catch Hell Blues"
The clue perhaps is that they always wore red and black, Satan's home colours. And the other clue being The Blues, Satan's own in house music.

7) MC 900Ft Jesus - "I'm Going Straight To Heaven"
Taken from his album "Hell With The Lid Off", again another with a god complex seeing himself as a 900ft tall Messiah!

8) Gang Of Four - "To Hell With Poverty"
and don't they make a glorious infernal racket in this song, even if their concerns were always very much grounded in the temporal and political rather than esoteric.

9) Bob Dylan - "Knocking On Heaven's Door"
Did they let you in Bob? Is that why you changed religion?

10) Killing Joke - "This World Hell"
Beginning to see a theme develop here, Hell is very much located on Earth, while Heaven is the wistfully viewed place to escape our tribulations.

11) Led Zeppelin - "Stairway To Heaven"
Severely doubt that the road to Heaven is paved with twelve string guitar solos. The Butthole Surfers released a wonderful homage/spoof album called "Hairway to Steven".

12) The Pogues - "Boys From The County Hell"
Doesn't Shane MacGowan look fit and well back in 1985? One of the best live bands ever, this was definitely one of their stomping dancefloor tunes.

13) Tricky - "Hell Is Round The Corner"
The music for this sounds just like a Portishead track. In fact the Tricky/ Massive Attack/ Portishead symbiosis suggests that Bristol trip-hop bands were all very incestuous, musically I mean.

14) ACDC - "Highway To Hell"
Run out of Heavenly songs, it's all Hellish from here. Well I did promise you some heavy metal...

15)  Three Wize Men - "Urban Hell"
British hip-hop was really really sad wasn't it, trying to ape Old School US stylee.

16) The Clash - "Straight To Hell"
As sampled by MIA for her song "Paper Planes"

17) The Streets - "Heaven For The Weather"
This song name checks both Heaven & Hell, so seems the perfect song to conclude with.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Suicide Note - Flash Fiction

What is the ideal length for a suicide note? Asking for a friend. I suppose the major variable  is how many people the note is directly addressing, each with a personalised plea petitioning their forgiveness. But that doesn't apply in this case. I - my friend - has no partner, no children, will not be survived by any parents, no siblings, a classic example of a solipsistic singleton, though in truth any suicide is a solipsistic act. No friends even - oh crikey, there goes the pretence. So this note won't be padded to excess by any valedictions. In that sense it differs from a lonely hearts advert, where you are charged by the word. It pays to be pithy in love but prolix in death.

I have too few readers of my books even to address them with this note. Which is a pity as the one thing this letter would be is well-written. Literary even. Yet I can't see that any of them would be terribly upset at my passing, even were they to notice it. Because my books are only digital, no possibility of them dusting their bookcases and noticing one day in years to come that the spines of my tomes have not increased in volume recently. Nor do we quite have the relationship whereby I could inform them retrospectively by this note written ahead of time. Seeing as I don't know any of their names.

So I write this for the sole pair of eyes likely to be clapped on to it. Belonging to someone I have never met and again, whose name I do not know. The policeman who is called by my faceless neighbours when the smell of cadaver me rather begins to offend. Nil by mouth. Nil by ears (even though I will henceforth make no noise across my floor). Nil by eyes. Omnia by nose. All of me will just be nil. An all round nullity. In death as in life. Actually bureaucracy will likely entail that these words would be perused by two readers, as the Bobby on the Beat passes it over to the coroner. A brace constitutes an audience. A readership. So now I have something to aim for. Perhaps I should research the length of an average coroner's report and thereby ensure that this my last missive is longer than that particular testimony. I don't suppose he would be obliged to include a verbatim record of this my final pronouncement signing off in order for him to sign off on my death, but it would double the length of his monograph. However, something to tilt at perhaps... Only such research, like any normal writing assignment, represents nothing more than procrastination on my part. And I cannot afford that. Even though I am sure I will still be in the mood tomorrow. Or the next day. So I ask again, what is the ideal length for a suicide note?