Thursday, 28 February 2013

Calliope, Caltrops And Cantos - Friday Flash

He reached back into his quiver and strung a fine quilled verse into the arched bow of his lips. He released the quivering tension within the shaft of his glossa and hurled the finely crafted heroic quatrain at his adversary. His aim was directly targeted between the other's eyes.

The other man raised his forearm up to his own brow, seemingly in a gesture of warding off a powerful blow. But his arm continued its motion over his hair as if peeling off a layer to directly access his own cranium beneath. His other hand flicked up over his mouth, then his nose and out toward his rival and brought in its stead a cataract of iambic pentameter projecting from his mouth like a Catherine Wheel. A furious fusillade of frenetic phonic flow. It felled his foe, who ricocheted back into the amplifiers like a skalded cat. But the conqueror did not refrain form his flow in order to don the proffered victor's laurel wreath. Instead he strode over to the crumpled casualty and brought the mic to his ear and poured a villainous villanelle of five withering tercets and a final quatrain which perforated the wretch's eardrum.

He would have served time for assault, this man who was in a hurry, but plea bargained in stanzas from the dock and agreed to serve in his nation's army. There he found a bounded outlet for his innate aggression, but his unusual aptitude for language meant that somehow his insurgent attitude towards authority was missed by his bamboozled ranking superiors. He represented his unit in mixed martial arts and in slam poetry contests and swept the boards in both. Gradually he rose up the hierarchy with stars and stripes pinned to his jacket. His rhymes softened from those jagged shards of the street, though his brutal rhythms became utterly martial.

He was given his own troop to command. His men were utterly loyal to him, for they knew no bullet could best him, nor any inferior superior officer could outblast his versified attacks on them. Even Generals took his adept poesy as a sign that he was a deep thinker. Gradually he began to strategise for divisions of men. Working in his tent by a candle glued into a skull by magma of melted wax, he plotted the ellipses of armies in the field like the rhythms across the paper. And when he had cracked the required manoeuvres, he relaxed by penning some battlefield verses to inspire his troops.

And while the prisoners of war were being rounded up, he took a tour of the latest liberated hamlet or suburb. He composed verses as he went. Paeans to the bilious, oily smoke plumes rising like diabolic elementals. Rhapsodies over the trituration of brick, the warping and shredding of steel structures. He coupleted cabling splayed and jutting from the mangled remains like jungle tendrils. Inverted pastoralisms. Villages rendered deserts under flame, towns metamorphosised into wastelands ("Take that Thomas Stearns Eliot, you only wrote about a figurative one, whereas I have both brought it about and them composed an epic treatise on it). He staked out a unique territory of a poetics of ruin and back home his adoring public loved his metered missives from the front.

But increasingly in his tent at night, it wasn't only mosquitoes which pricked his skin. He began to agonise about how the harmony and beauty of perfectly harnessed language in the form of a poem, could sit astride such horror and destruction. And more pertinently, how the same two forces pulling in contradictory directions could both reside within him simultaneously. How could he be a great, gifted man shone down upon by the creative light of the gods and muses, if he was also this terrible inhuman monster who lay waste to everything natural and manmade he encountered? And to then make art from it? To engender suffering and then romanticise it? His work went so much farther than mere propagandist doggerel of military and patriotic glorification. Rather it was the very essence of the human soul he was touching with his words. Because his own soul was so utterly debased? That could be the only explanation. Sowing dissonance everywhere in his wake, in order to plumb a personal seam of assonance?

In the isolation of his tent afforded by his stature and rank, he took his military pistol and brought it to his head seething with rhymes. The successful warrior could not be a poet. The successful poet could not continue to fight. As he pulled the trigger, he lost his first ever battle in his life.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Film Adaptations Of Novels

I see that a film adaptation of David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" opens this weekend. Recently we had all the excited pother around Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" being committed to screen. Two seriously literary heavyweight books I've read, but have no inclination to see either on the big screen. I rarely, if ever do.

Both these novels make demands of the reader's imagination. "Pi" has three changes of tone, starting with a light, charming tale of a boy's exotic upbringing in Pondicherry, moving into the fabulist and gripping shipwreck where he has a man-eating tiger as his onboard companion in the lifeboat, to the ending that turns the whole book on its head and makes the reader question everything that has come before. "Atlas" has six completely different stories, set in different times, written in different genres and linked thematically. The work that the author is asking of the reader in order to engage with these shifts throughout the novels, occurs within the reader's personal imagination. Because film is a visual medium and the visual is, for better or for worse, mankind's dominant sense, visualising what formerly only existed in the reader's imagination does I think, diminish the artistry of what the books achieve.

The remote relationship between a reader and an absent author, takes place through the words on the page. That's why there is such latitude for the reader's own interpretation to occur. The reader only has the words and his or her own interpretation of them. A film closes off too many of the options, bringing the director's interpretation to the script. Of course it is still perfectly possible for a film to leave much to the viewer's imagination. But faithful adaptations tend not to. The director and scriptwriters have each already played the role of reader, stamped their own interpretations of the book on the shooting script, so it enshrines an additional singularity of interpretation before the cinema audience sit down to watch the movie.

There is a question of when does a film stop being an adaptation and become 'based' on a particular book. The entire spectrum from faithful adaptations, through loose adaptations to inspired by a book exists. I cannot see the point of faithful adaptions. I don't believe that a film can bring the book to life any more than the book itself has done. Loose adaptations and 'based on' or 'inspired by' can do so, as they make a genuinely new work of art from that of the original book. That is the book may serve as a launch pad for a whole new artistic work. "Apocalypse Now" I believe is an example of just this. It's not merely Joseph Conrad's "Heart Of Darkness" updated and transferred from colonial Africa to the Vietnam War. It is wholly a vibrant, creative piece of art in its own right and one that acknowledges its literary sources of Conrad and TS Eliot in what is actually rather a literary film.

This differs from when say Shakespeare plays are given modern or historical settings other than those of Shakespeare's originals. Taking Macbeth, setting it in 1920s Prohibition Chicago, or the Politburo battling for power on Lenin's death, actually limit Shakespeare's art rather than expand it. For the words remain the same, as Shakespeare wrote them, so this is not genuinely a new art work. And though there may be some resonances with the power mongering of an Al Capone or a Josef Stalin, that history is already either known or sufficiently mythical to us, that again it closes too many interpretative options for its audience than it would when set in its vaguer and less well known times of 11th Century Scotland. The supernatural and prophetic element of Macbeth makes more sense in that setting than twentieth century Chicago or Soviet Russia.

Then there are the movies of books that are supposedly "unfilmable". William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" and Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" being two such. To me a film director's assault on these great texts smack of hubris; they've been told that they are unfilmable, but they're going to try and rise to the challenge and make their movie anyway. The film versions of both sought framing devices to try and navigate a way through these difficult texts; "Naked Lunch" had the author Burroughs himself as character in the film, which kept jolting the action of the film out of the fiction it was supposed to be portraying. "A Cock And Bull Story" used the device of actors playing a movie director and actors trying to film "Tristram Shandy" as some sort of comment about the layers of distancing the narrative that was already opaque (the book itself prefigures post modern literary techniques, of unreliable narrator- who doesn't even get born until Book 3; of insertion and rearranging another writer's text- a technique Burroughs also used; parody and literary and philosophical allusion). In my opinion, both films failed lamentably and only boosted the notion that these novels are indeed unfilmmable and accordingly ought to remain unfilmed.

While some authors may well have the film version in mind as they write, literary novels that are written qua novels ought to remain unsullied by celluloid in terms of adaptations. Firstly I think it's lazy of scriptwriters, or more likely film executives, in their relentless casting around for fresh celluloid 'meat', to settle on a novel to bump up their quota of ideas to pitch. In the same way that novels are written for the artistic medium and narrative form of literature, films really should develop their own inhouse filmic language right down to the level of an original script. Film does so many things better than novels, particularly in telling a certain type of story, that it should stick to ploughing that rich furrow. The one area of a novel they can't really replicate is its interiority. Yes an actor and some mis en scene imagery can highlight and illuminate key interior moments of a film, but a cinema audience outside of an arthouse crowd are unlikely to stand for, or rather sit through, an entire film of interiority conveyed in just such a way. The worst example of a book being mutilated by a film I experienced, was David Peace's stupendous novel "The Damned United" which is set entirely inside the tortured mind of a real life professional sports' team coach, but its sheer artistry renders it clearly as a work of fiction. The film version was a limp trotting out of the real life events that the book refers to, but was completely unable to convey the interiority of the man which made the book such a triumph of writing.

I may be a Puritan when I say literature is literature and film is film. And I'm sure I'm in a very small minority when I say this. But there is a difference between literary fiction  and commercial fiction, which mainly revolves around the latter's centre-staging of telling a story, which makes it have much in common with the art of film making and the two can be perfectly suited to one another. Equally, to base a film on a literary book as its start point, but to then proceed to make the film as a wholly different and fresh piece of art, such as "Apocalypse Now", is entirely a legitimate endeavour. I grant that sometimes the line between the two is hardly distinct, but it does seem to be the difference between an 'adaptation' and 'based on' or 'inspired by'.

So no, I won't be seeing the film version of "Life of Pi" or "Cloud Atlas" anytime soon.

My post on why "Apocalypse Now" Is My favourite film of all time and its literary roots.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Insanity And Murder - Why Apocalypse Now Is My Favourite Film Of All Time

Sometimes it amazes me that films ever make it all the way through on to the screen, such is the welter of hands clawing at any singularity of artistic vision it could ever hope to possess. Scripts that go through innumerable scriptwriters, endings that are trialled and changed before release, the input/meddling of powerful lead actors swinging their weight, the interference of the Executives worried about bloated budgets and how the film will be received. "Apocalypse Now" had all these and more, yet still emerged as a stunningly literary and mesmeric piece of film-making that for me still outmuscles any film about modern warfare.

Like most scripts, John Milius' for AN was constantly rewritten, even to the point of Michael Herr being brought in well down the shoot, to write interior monologues for Martin Sheen without which the narrative would make far less sense. The film had so much material, that the "Redux" version was brought out twenty-two years after release with 53 minutes of footage omitted from the original (and to my mind adds nothing that wasn't already in there, while serving only to break up the narrative flow). Other inundations on the production included a typhoon in the Philippines which wrecked several sets and forced a hiatus as everybody decamped back to the US. Marlon Brando arrived on set appallingly overweight which made demands on how all of his scenes were shot. Such an ensemble of bon vivants as Hopper, Brando and the then alcoholic Sheen, were forced to make their own entertainment in remote jungles. A recipe for diaster. Sheen aged 36 suffered a heart attack, but bounced back into the production in under two months. Goodness alone what fourteen year old Laurence Fishburne made of it all, having lied about his age to land his role. He was seventeen when the shoot finally wrapped up.

The film uses Conrad's "Heart Of Darkness" for its narrative spine, swapping the Congo for the Mekong. It too is an investigation into a jungle-borne colonial heart of darkness, represented in the figure of Brando's Colonel Kurtz a direct echo of Conrad's character of the same name. Kurtz is the colonial gone native, ascending to a tribal god. Summed up by Hopper's photojournalist character as "The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad". It tilts at the "fisher king" archetype of Fraser's "The Golden Bough", a book Kurtz is shown reading, where the infirm king is culled by the young Pretender, thus healing the infertile landscape, in this case Sheen's character is the assassin that must commit the patricide of terminate Kurtz's command "with extreme prejudice". The circle of literary references in the film are completed by Kurtz reading TS Eliot's "Hollow Men", which has Conrad's "Mistah Kurtz he dead" for its epigram.

So with a strong narrative armature in place, the film goes on to fashion a uniquely cinematic treatment of its themes. On an epic level, there is a clash of mythological proportions between Sheen and Brando's characters, resolved to the haunting echo of The Doors' Oedipal song "The End". The complexity of both characters knocks rival films like Oliver Stone's "Platoon" into a cocked hat, since they offer little more than a good versus evil scenario. What elevates AN to a unique pinnacle, is that it didn't just pursue a "war is terrible, war is futile" line, but actually suggested the insanity of war on the ground. Here I believe it is in Lance Johnson, the only other character to survive the carnage by the film's end,  who holds the key to the movie. Johnson is a Californian beach bum and renowned surfer, GI grunt fodder for conscription. A likely stoner back home, his hardening drug use along the course of the journey up the Mekong is the filter through which this war is refracted. He drops LSD and views the stunning battle scene for the bridge at Do Long as an array of psychedelic lights and colours. It is Johnson who gets more upset at the loss of a puppy, than the slaughter of its human family he has recently helped perpetrate. And it is Johnson who is so dehumanized by his experiences, that he readily adopts the pale-face paint on his face and bow and arrow armoury of the legions who follow Kurtz the tribal god once they are in Cambodia. Sheen has to lead him by the hand back to the boat at the film's end, an adult who has fully regressed into a bewildered childlike state.

Vietnam may not have been the first asymmetrical war of liberation from a colonial power, but it probably represents the biggest reversal for a first world power (and of course it was an American war and America has Hollywood). Here was an enemy who would not engage along a battlefield, but rather emerged from below via tunnels, or from above with snipers and booby traps in the jungle canopy. 'Hostiles' who could not be determined from the 'friendlies' and neutrals just by looking at them. This war was already shaping up as something of a hallucinatory battlescape compared with prior conventions, before some of the American troops resorting to drug use to help get them through it. The scene where the Playboy Bunnies are helicoptered in to a stage erected in the river to entertain the troops, is sufficiently unhinged without the use of mind-altering drugs; juxtaposed with the hard material fact that Sheen's character is trying to secure the necessary diesel to keep the boat fuelled for its journey. This hyperreality is what Johnson's character represents so well, and indeed all the boat's crew have no idea where they are heading and to what purpose. It is a delicious irony that this mission is to wipe out one of their own. This level of cultural blindness, of not coming 'to know thine enemy' as Kurtz actually does, is what undermines the entire American campaign (and just about every campaign fought since), which is why I feel the main addition in the "Redux" version, of a long scene on a vestigial French rubber plantation where the characters discuss colonialism is redundant, because it's already utterly coursing through the grain of the film.

These represent the bigger picture, but there are so many powerful vignettes, so much wonderful dialogue within the film that have really seared it into people's minds. I'm unsure what the appearance time limit on a cameo role is, but Robert Duvall gives what I reckon is the greatest cameo appearance ever committed to celluloid, where he just picks an already engaging film up by the scruff of the neck and hurls it to new heights. Much like the boat that his choppers airlift and drop into a Nung river tributary. The film's fiery, apocalyptic opening is played out to the Doors' "The End" and segues into Sheen's inverted face and the opening line, "Saigon, shit I'm still only in Saigon". In fact, I'll just give you a link to some of the movie's best quotes, but I'll end with what is probably my favourite, from the scene of the battle for the Do Long bridge, when Sheen asks a beleaguered GI "Hey soldier, do you know who's in command here?" to be met with the response "Ain't you?" The chaos of an unwinnable, rudderless, aimless war summed up in two lines. I commend you to another look at this masterpiece. But don't watch the "Redux" version. Somehow, by hook or by crook, the original 1979 print forms the definitive film. 

Sunday Sample - The Pub!

What might life be like if you came from a world where the public house drinkery did not exist? If you'd had no exposure to pub mores around the dartboard, the jukebox or even the male toilets? If you'd never been exposed to the chill threat of having to make your exit past the killing ground of the pub car park?

Such a situation faces the main character from the comic scifi time travelling novel "Time After Time". He is from the future, a future where women hold sway and alcohol and violence are both unknown to the males of that society. Unknown, but reputed...

Here is a section of the novel where the assassin travelling back from the future encounters his first pub in the present.

She grabbed his hand and wrenched him forward. The involuntary jolt made him bite his tongue. She stayed behind the end lean-to and extended her head to take a peek out. F-10 tentatively brought two fingers to his wounded glossa.
"That's it, I think they've got bored and left us alone now. Thank heavens for poor attention spans."
"Um?" he said distractedly and with his fingers still in his mouth. She stared at him, trying to evaluate whether she was about to hop from a skillet into a wok. Well that's what aspirational TV cookery programmes could do to a person's terms of reference. She straightened her coat as best she could with one hand and marched them out of the refuse area holding his wrist with her other.
When his tongue had lost some of its tenderness, he inquired as to where they were heading. It was more a vague conversational gambit to test out his wounded organ, rather than providing information for the machinations of his brain to advance a plan for killing her. Everything all in good time. And now was not a good time. Head bowed, he trailed behind her as if he were her dog being walked.
"The pub of course!"
The pub? Was he at last going to experience one of these legendary mystical temples to the cult of man in the flesh? Well, in the bricks and mortar? He swallowed hard. He knew they were places of consecrated holy violence. Seeing what he had already experienced, he could scarce begin to imagine what that might encompass. Apparently the 'car park' was the holy sanctum where the highest rites of orgiastic violence kicked off after the other ceremonials had concluded.
"... Thanks by the way."
"Um, what for?"
"For being in the wrong place at the wrong time!" He looked nonplussed at her as she flashed him a wry smile. "My name's Hayley by the way."
Bingo! It truly was her. What were the chances? Whatever they were, Jolly had calculated them to a remarkable accuracy, so respect was due to him for that. He was so happy he could pass out. Which given the current disposition of various parts of his anatomy, he might have been on the threshold of anyway. But no, he was this close to securing the success of his mission. He had to gather himself. No longer the hangdog expression on his face, he gambolled up to fall in step with Hayley by her side. She responded by gripping him closer, so that their shoulders were touching. A bitter little grin broke across her countenance.
"Insane isn't it, having to run the gauntlet every time you want to go out for a drink? Didn't even want one when I set out from home, but I bloody well need one now. You look as though you do too-"
"-Just... you're cutting off the circulation in my arm!"
"What? Oh sorry!" She released her grip and his numb arm flopped down by his side. He started shaking it to try and get the blood flowing again. It looked like he was trying to throw some robotic dance shapes. She looked at him incredulously, but was beyond forming judgements without the prejudicial prod and warp of alcohol.
"Here we go. Our temporary oasis. Should be relatively peaceful this early in the morning. Thank god for all day opening hours eh?"
He looked up. A squat building sat behind a wire mesh fence. Its once white walls had been almost completely obliterated by graffiti and an enormous sooty scorch mark beneath a boarded up window. The rest of the windows were behind thick steel grilles. There was razor wire along the low slung roof, interspersed with embedded broken glass that was catching the sun as it was beginning to break through the clouds. For a temple, it certainly didn't seem very welcoming of a congregation.
"Looks like the last building left in a city siege doesn't it?" offered Hayley dispassionately. "If the aliens ever landed here as their first taste of Earth, they'd head right on out into the Cosmos again and who could blame them? Well, come on in. I’ll stand you a drink. It’s the least I can do... So, what’s yours then?"
      Alcohol, he was actually going to get to taste the forbidden nectar that was alcohol. He looked around the bar for a menu on any of the tables. None was forthcoming. He did nonetheless, remark that the tables and accompanying stools appeared to be chained to one another and the chain tethered to the floor. "Er, whatever you're having."

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Alkahest - Friday Flash

The Countess clapped her hands together impatiently. Despite her small delicate hands, the percussive force of their imperative bounced around the bathroom's tiles. A gnarled handmaid shuffled into the chamber and took up station behind her mistress. The aristocrat extended her arms like wings and the crone gently pinched her fingers around the sleeves and gingerly slid the material off over her mistress' flesh without it touching the skin. Since this regimen was all about the skin.

Shucked of the robe like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, the Countess stepped elegantly into the bath. The old woman folded the robe as her social superior squatted down in a refined bevelling motion into the red tide that abutted her. The blood was too viscous to ripple or eddy. Instead it rose with the displacement, only slanting down where it met her skin. Paying her obeisance. She was long inured to the metallic tang of her bathing fluid. Nor did it feel glutinous against her flesh. The sole intoxication was the anticipation of the lustre of her skin cleansed in the keen blood of the young.

She scythed the flat of her hand through the sanguine sea and held it up for examination. The red plasma forged a trail across her palm and bulged and pooled at the heel. Under gravity the gore string distended downward, but its tensile strength saw it maintain its integrity. It looked like a red stalactite. She brought her hand to her face and draped the blood thread over her chin and tightly sealed lips. Her lady in waiting dipped a sponge into the red gore and squeezed its serum over the alabaster shoulders and back of her lady. She enjoyed her privileged position in the household. She knew her age insulated her from having her veins opened and the vital juices distilled into the bath.


He bathed his latest belle in the chemical developing tray. Fixing her features, mummifying any inkling of life, wrapping it up in servitude of the image. He gently swept some of the solution over the submerged paper. The eddies momentarily effaced her form, but as the fluid regathered its tranquillity, the composition of the woman coalesced upon his own retinas once again. His practised eye penetrated through the slight refraction of the chemical bath, lasering the precise dimensions of her outlines against the paper. He silently pronounced himself satisfied. She like all the others, was in thrall to the light binding her.

He gingerly pinched the edges of the paper and slid the paper out. He pegged it up on the PVC coated line hanging in his darkroom and stood back to take in his work once again. Another stellar timeless specimen rendered by his eye. His optic lens aligned with that of the camera, like a sniper with his telescopic sight. Splayed her in light, riddled her in shadow.

His lens was as that of a diamond cutter. An intense focussing of pointed light. Surgical lancet to make flesh flawless. Shrouding skin's fallibilities. He was less enraptured by skin and pulchritude. The dermis was just another surface playing host to light which was his real enticement. The universal constant of the universe so scientists claimed. He liked to shuffle and concertina it like a deck of cards. Its interplay over solid, brute matter, each informing and distorting the other. There was nothing constant about his light. How he wielded and wrangled it.

Taking the brute matter of their flesh and abstracting it to the ideal. Radiance and luminosity never emanating from the model, but from the pools of lambency bathing her. Pressing her back into the grain of the paper. Effacing her. He and his lenses decorticated each and every model and left her a coiled rind on the floor of the shoot like spooled camera film. Meta-studies, using light to illuminate and frame light. The woman was the raw marble, the light the sculpted shape emerging from within. The flesh was negative space in his mind.

As the paper dried and stiffened, another model's insolent defiance arrested and chopped off at the knees by the guillotine of his lens, stared bloodlessly back at him. He'd seemingly invested her with everything. A women reified, rendered eternal like a demigoddesses. Every man wants her. Every woman wants to be like her. Incidentals. Surface frivolities, for the only truth lay in the play of light's tones. Only the light could wholly possess her.


The beldam handmaiden didn't live to see her mistress brought to justice, when the blood baths took their toll of the local young female population beyond the threshold of deferential denial. Her punishment was to be immured in her own castle. Never again to feel the warmth of the sun against her flesh. Her once marble skin, now chalky and scored in granular scratches. As if the irritation had been pricked by the unrequited avidity for blood's caress.


Even into his late seventies, he still trained a camera at beautiful young women. Though now he was less able to bend and fold his own body at the angles required to sequester the light to his bidding. And each evening when he retired alone to his house, staring at the reflecting lens of his bathroom mirror, there was no denying the long march of wrinkles, pouches of fat, greying hairs and liver spots advancing upon him. The unimpeachable time lapse trail of his own dissolution. That which he customarily denied in his models, as he tossed them aside the moment their skin thickened enough to blunt the light passing through them. The light that now revealed to him his own withering, was no longer liberating. His mania had become so opaque, that he was now fully transparent. Time may have betrayed him, but it was light's capriciousness which revealed it.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Guest Post - a Kickstarter Project Appeal

Today on my blog I'm delighted to host a guest post from Linda Parkinson-Hardman. Linda is a writer, blogger, reviewer and all round good egg who I've been lucky enough to meet recently through social media. She's also the founder of the Hysterectomy Association. I've invited her to post a guest blog here as she has an exciting and important project she is looking to get off the ground via the crowd sourcing not-for-profit online funding tool Kickstarter. Over to Linda!

It is true what they say, it is often the smallest things that can make the biggest difference, especially when it comes to our lives.
Estimates suggest that 1 in 5 women will have a hysterectomy at some point; in the UK around 60,000 are performed every year and in the US the number is closer to 600,000. It is said that a hysterectomy cuts to the heart of what being a woman is all about; and I know this is true because the small stories I hear tell me this.
Simple stories from women who have undergone the trauma of hysterectomy can make a huge difference to others having one later. Such stories help them to feel less unsure about their decisions, less stupid about the questions they ask and less alone than they do even with family and friends.
But not all women have access to these stories and so The Hysterectomy Association is planning to pull as many together as possible into a new book called ‘In My Own Words: Women’s Experiences of Hysterectomy’. But we can’t do it without your help. We need to get this project funded.
Please will you pledge to the project today; a small amount of even £1 takes us closer to our goal of £2,500. These amounts soon mount up when lots of people pledge and I’d rather reach 500 people who have each pledged just £1, than 40 people pledging £5. Of course, if you can pledge more it will always be very welcome.
Please pledge today at to help us get this book out to the women that need it. We need to get pledges to the whole amount by the 9th March otherwise we get nothing.
This is a project that is close to my heart, over the years I’ve spoken with, emailed and comforted tens of thousands of women and each one has a story to tell, and each story deserves to be heard. Click here if you’d like to see some of the stories women have shared on our website, just to see how powerful they can be 

Here is the video for this Kickstarter appeal


Linda Parkinson-Hardman is an author, social media strategist and a social entrepreneur. She works with clients to help them make better use of the Internet to build their personal and business brands. Her social enterprise, The Hysterectomy Association currently works with around 200,000 women every month. You can find her online on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and if you have a question you only have to ask.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Lupus - Friday Flash

His hide wasn't covered in fur so much as scales.

The only flesh he consumed was when his scabs rubbed off on his pillow and he unwittingly ingested them in his fidgety sleep.

If he awoke stained with blood, it was from where he had vigorously clawed at his nettling skin during the night.

He wasn't restricted to howling by the lunar calendar, for his lesions throbbed night and day.

The sole shape shifting was the slow collapse of his face as the ulcerations burrowed into the cartilage.

The medicinal silver bullet of the pill was failing to slay his condition.

Taken from the flash fiction collection "28 Far Cries" available from Amazon

Happy Valentine's Day

Flowers, fantasy and fidelity. Seared in blood. St Valentine, just another executed Christian martyr, beatified into sainthood. Roman soldiers in uniform, Chicago Cops in their blue. Most Roman soldiers were mercenaries from parts of the Empire. The two Cops who lined up seven members of the Northside gang under the leadership of George 'Bugs' Moran, were actually gangsters in disguise. It's never been proven who gunned down these seven men spreadeagled against the wall, but it's thought to be a consequence of a bootlegging turf rivalry with the Southside gang under Al Capone.

Capone actually operated his organisation "The Outfit" from Cicero, a town nine miles outside of Chicago and under a different and easily bribed legal jurisdiction. Prohibition fuelled the hired muscle of the politicians turning the tables on their former masters, as they employed the politicians on their payroll, because of the money flowing through the illegal alcohol trade. It was the genie that could never be restoppered, as Organised Crime fostered the development of Las Vegas as the gambling capital of the world; of gangster Lucky Luciano working with the US government and military during the Second World War campaign to invade Sicily; and even the endemic corruption of the playboys' paradise that was President Batista's Cuba, which helped inspire Castro's revolution to overthrow it.

Sometimes unsold flowers in shops are sent to hospitals. Capone came to head The Outfit by protecting Crime Boss Johnny Torrio as he lay wounded in hospital after an assassination attempt by then Northside gang leader Dean O'Banion. Capone ringed the hospital's entrance with armed goons. A grateful Torrio turned his gang over to Capone and got out of organised crime. We mark death with flowers, so the message of flowers for a sick person is somewhat ambiguous. Flowers might signify life, vigour and health, but cut stems soon die soon enough. Severed from their vinculum of life. The one victim of the St Valentine's Day Massacre who didn't die on the spot was Frank Gusenberg. Lying in a hospital bed and being quizzed by the Cops, he answered the question of 'who', with "Nobody shot me" despite the evidence of 14 bullet wounds in his body. That ridiculous denial under the gangster code. He died within three hours for all the good his vow of silence did him.

Dean O'Banion ran his criminal enterprise out of a flower shop. Flowers were very important to the gangsters, be it the lavish wreaths they sent to funerals of both rivals and comrades, or the buttonholes these dandified killers wore in their sharp suits. For every Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti, or Samuel "Nails" Morton, there was a Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd or a George "Baby Face" Nelson. Not quite Oscar Wilde's posies and lilies, but none too far removed. O'Banion was an expert flower arranger and was shot while arranging some chrysanthemums. Moran took over from O'Banion.

And with their sharp clothes, highly impractical for hefting illegal alcohol from trucks that had crossed the border from Canada, or their own illegal stills and factories, these hardened men were living a fantasy. Two of the killers in the St Valentine's Day massacre were dressed up in the fancy dress of their other enemy, the Cop. It's not conclusively proven that Thompson "Tommy" sub-machine guns were ever secreted in violin cases or not, but the convergence of clinical hard gun metal with the plush lining to house a musical instrument is part of the fantastical mythology. The only thing not fantastical about the mental life of these men, was when they had a gun in their hand spraying machine engineered death from the barrel. O'Banion refused the offer of stakes in brothels, because he abhorred prostitution. Capone's years in prison were blighted by syphilitic infection which had reached his brain.

Capone was jailed for tax evasion. The St Valentine's Day Massacre didn't kill his rival Moran, but their murderous feud had its wings clipped by the Great Depression which bit into their profits and then the repeal of Prohibition's Volstead Act. Economics was the ultimate arbiter, though of course organised crime continues to this day. And still on economics and the free market, when the garage that had hosted the massacre was finally to come down, the bloodstained bricks of the 'Murder Wall" that the men had been lined up against, were bought by a collector and entrepreneur. After a few different incarnations on display, they are now housed in the Las Vegas Mob Museum, which opened on this day last year. Less the few bought by ghoulish collectors.

So within these tangles of an alternate, male version of St Valentine's Day, we have similar if muddied emblems of the day. We have flowers. We have sexual disease (Valentine's Day - VD). We have fantasy self-images and a warped romantic mythology. Are they any less relevant than Hallmark cards, gnomic poetry from anonymous admirers and confectionary in heart shaped boxes? Happy VD!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

School's Out For Half-Term - 10 songs about school

Since my kids are about to have a week off for half-term, thought I'd do a school-themed music chart in honour of having to cook two meals a day for them instead of just the usual one. But as they've got older, this half-term they're going to have to revise for their first serious external exams.

1) "Mary Of The 4th Form" - Boomtown Rats
Before he became beatified for shouty importuning on behalf of starving Ethiopians, Sir Robert of Geldof was the frontman of Irish punk band Boomtown Rats who to my mind didn't quite get punk rock. But that was okay, they knocked out a few half-decent singles that saw them regularly on our TV screens in the Pop Charts. Like Clockwork really...

2) "High School" - MC5
Remember when Bands were so politically dangerous the US authorities chased them from pillar to post, harassed them, arrested band members etc? No? Well Bobo & Simon Cowell could hardly prompt such fears now could they? Admittedly this is not one of their best tracks, but I love the band and this track is about school, so there! Kicks Out The Jams MFs!

3) "School's Out" - Alice Cooper
And though from a similar part of the post-industrial US decline in Michigan, Alice Cooper was non-political and just aimed to put on a good show. I was never a fan, but this is still a great anthemic song.

4) "Art School" - The Jam
The Jam always came in for a lot of stick form their contemporaries because they wore suits and looked
more like Mods and covered Who and Wilson Pickett songs. I always wondered whether this was partly their riposte to that wing of British punk that emerged from Art Schools such as Adam Ant and the Malcolm McLaren/Jamie Reid influence on the Sex Pistols.

5) "Headmaster Ritual" - The Smiths
Arggghh! Anyone who follows me online knows I really don't like The Smiths and yet here is the second recent one of my charts in which they appear. Guitarist Johnny Marr may well have been a fretboard wonder, but I always found his jangly sound reedy and thin. And yes Morrisey's reedy and thin vocal probably did compliment the guitar wonderfully well, but I just found it equally irritating. Still loads of people loved them so what do I know?

6) "I Don't Wanna Be Learned" - The Ramones
You gotta love The Ramones right? Millions of songs played very fast lasting no  more than two minutes and then all sounding exactly the same! Sort of Status Quo but played faster. And then they go and play a goofy love song with a string orchestra backing them - genius! ("Baby I Love You")

7) "Playground Twist" - Siouxie And The Banshees
It's funny, those first two Siousxie And The Banshees' albums were really a cutting edge of punk, taking it away from being dumb one-chord thrash (take a bow The Damned) and into a really quite arty precursor of New Wave and yet Siouxie is never mentioned in the same breath as the New Wave bands like Gang of Four, Joy Division, Magazine et al. Partly because she went Poppy quite quickly, quite Gothy soon after that and because the two musical masters behind that early Banshee sound, Kenny Morris and John McKay departed the band after those two albums. What might have been eh? Instead Siouxie released "Hong Kong Garden" and "Israel".

8) "Another Brick In The Wall Part 2" - Pink Floyd
'But Marc' this has no mention of school in the title' I hear you cry. True, but it has the inimitable refrain "We don't need no education". Lead singer Roger Waters was thrown out of the same school I ended up attending and has said in interviews that it was his experiences at school that lie behind the whole concept of "The Wall" album. There, that's my shared claim to fame! I too was scarred by attendance of such a school! Though I failed to be expelled. Didn't even get a detention, ever.

9) "School Spirit" - Kayne West
With albums called "The College Dropout",  "Graduation" and "Late Registration" Mr West takes this education thing very seriously. Still, the usual cussing and bad mouthing of rap, plus the ridiculous vocal manipulation makes this sound more like David Bowie's "Laughing Gnome". Ergo hard to take seriously...

10) "School Mam" - The Stranglers
The dirtiest bass intro in rock gives way to um a real smutty fantasy. I'm just going to leave it there...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Microclimate - Friday Flash

The wind was blowing the sheet rain away from the vertical. Where the trajectory propelled through the wash of the streetlamp, it was briefly illuminated like tracer fire. Then it dived back out of the spill into the blackout just above the ground. Only the bombination of their report against the concrete, evinced their persistence.

The occasional dipped car headlamps bounced their skittering rays along the slicked road. Cast an illusion of the rain recoiling upwards off the tarmac, spiting gravity. Even from those headlamps with their own runty wipers to keep their lenses clear of waterborne refractions.

The cars precipitated a further, less transient coalescence in their wake. Those miniature rainbows formed in oil stained puddles by the kerbside. Molecule to molecule interdiction with the forsaken slick perdus, while the rest of rainwater sped by through the gutters plunging towards the storm drain.

As with the car headlamps, the mound of matter on the pavement was wreaking a distorting effect on the local meteorology. Its bulk served as a levee, damming up the water coursing across the paving flags. Until the flow reached critical volume and spouted like a cataract, inroading the gutter.

The blood running with the runnels of rainwater failed to break up into any rainbow spectrum. Blood being thicker than water but not oil, it just sat there in its own immiscible layer, gradually diffusing through the sheer volume of the rain.

The blood was seeping from a body. Where the bullets of rain hit that body, their soft-tipped heads penetrated the sodden clothing and bit into the flesh. In the dark, it appeared that the lump of flesh was being riddled by gunfire.

As the body lay there with its mouth draggled open, the rain zeroed in. Maybe the corpus would be extinguished by drowning rather than exsanguination from the hole in its gut. But the water kept sluicing back out through the downturned corners of its mouth. The body seemed like it was trying to speak, but only liquid words poured out.

The wind was also whipping through the body. As if the skin breach was a vacuum sucking in the air trying to staunch itself. The street litter propelled along in the gusts brushed the body, but none would stop to seal the hole. The magma eruption of blood that had attended the initial piercing, had ebbed as the tectonic waves of pain subsided into equipoise. The body's internal pressure now effaced by the sensation of the driving rain against the numbed flesh. The body's temperature had dropped closer to that of the surrounding atmospehere, so that the weak puffs of expiration emerging from the mouth no longer condensed against colder air.

Inside a building, another body was drumming its fingers against the window sill in syncopation with the rain striking the pane. A cloud had descended upon that body and occluded the previously warm front. A storm was surely building.

This story is published in my third collection

available from Amazon

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Moral Responsibility Of The Author Part 2

This book is an important and troubling one. A middle class researcher for a political thinktank befriends a South London gang and her book is an excellent insight into what remains a very alien mindset among such youngsters, utterly cut off from the rest of the society they prey upon. It's a really important record to be in the public domain, no matter how troubling its insights are, since it gives a wider readership the opportunity to see and understand where such alien values arise from and to follow the strange logic applied by such youngsters. I for one am glad this book exists and salute the achievement of the author in producing it.

However, the book is also deeply troubling in other ways to do with the author's own role in the narrative, that is the very real life of the boys she reports on. Quantum physicists state that the mere act of observation distorts the results that are being observed. And to my mind the same could be said to apply in this 'sociological' study. With worrying effects.

The author befriends a gang and with varying levels of interaction with individual gang members, comes to actively intervene in their lives, particularly in the case of one of the gang called Tuggy Tug. She wants to 'save' them and ultimately Tugguy Tug in particular from the bleak prospect of jail, death, addiction or sectioning under the mental health act. A highly noble aim, but as flawed as the Victorian Missionary's intent to save the 'noble savage' by converting them to Christianity. The book traces her coming to an understanding of both the barriers to these boys escaping their fates, but only by making mistakes that cost the boys along the journey. She comes to an understanding of not only how the boy's poor literacy levels works against them, but also how the system of bureaucracy is set up to thwart their likes at the bottom of the social heap. But only after dragging Tuggy Tug through the process of signing on to a Job Centre and raising his hopes unrealistically in doing so. Part of that process uncovers that he has a huge debt against his name of housing benefit he failed to back up with paperwork. An added stress brought upon him, where previously because he was entirely outside of the benefits system, had no way of catching up to him.

But even these well-meaning errors are nothing compared to more alarming elements. There is a minimal amount in the book about the author actually questioning herself as to her motives in all this. Maybe it is axiomatic that trying to help one's fellow man needs no justification, no matter how misguided. And yet I'm curious why she zeroed in so much on Tuggy Tug to the point where she is virtually mothering him (her actual son remarks on her having photos of Tuggy on her phone, but none of him, her own flesh and blood). Maybe it's because he responded the most positively to her actions of all the gang members. She remarks on his small size, maybe she is responding to a seeming physical (and emotional) vulnerability in him, but again there is no self-reflection on these matters. Perhaps she feels that as an objective researcher, she cannot allow her feelings to be openly displayed within the pages of the book. But that only leads her further into murky waters of responsibility. I find it significant that the end of the book has her recounting the tenor of some unseen (by her) documentary film footage of an interview with the now jailed Tuggy Tug. In it he extols her loyalty and efforts on his behalf as the only reliable adult in his life. To me that reads like a character witness in her defence, against unwritten accusations of failure, of meddling, of ignorance, of bull in a china shop. That it's the author indirectly averring that failure or not, it was all with the best intentions and appreciated by her study object. It's self-hagiography which blares out against the complete lack of personal reflection throughout the rest of the book.

Another way her personal stance would have been instructive, concerns the criminality displayed by the gang in her presence.  Drug taking, setting up drug deals, reports of theft and violence all take place in her presence, particularly in her car. Now while I have no issue with her allowing these things to take place on her watch because she realises it is part of the hand to mouth existence of these boys, I'm curious that she doesn't analyse her own journey of acceptance, of moving from the staunch law abider to a willing bystander, if not an actual facilitator of criminal activity. Now she is an influencer of government and policy by dint of her job. So again she may have felt that she could not openly comment on this illegality given her official position of responsibility. But what could be more illuminating in how she, a member of the establishment, was actually so influenced by what she observed on the streets as to reach a position of scarcely batting an eyelid whenever flagrant law breaking occurred in her presence?

She buys the boys food, takes them out to restaurants and museums. Gives them money. She is trying to materially affect their lives in helping them to elevate themselves into work and a 'normal' life. But they gang unerringly and depressingly shuffle along into their prescribed fates. One in prison, one in a mental institute, one addicted, one dead (their male mentor and admittedly not from gang violence) and one who has made it into designer clothes, but who had family money and influence behind him in the first instance. As much as this book is really important in being available to read, the process in which it was produced was ultimately exploitative and consuming of its cast of real life characters. There was hope throughout its pages but ultimately and for all the author's interventions, none escaped their fate. So part of me feels also that this book shouldn't be out and making money. That as an influencer with access to the corridors of power, her private observations should maybe have been kept for those policy documents as anonymous case studies. I don't know, I'm really torn on this one. But I do feel the author currently is getting an easy ride, since I'm unaware of others picking her up on her moral responsibilities and the consequences of her actions that take place within the pages of the book.

There's a world of difference between a fiction author withdrawing a book because of a turn of real life events, and a non-fiction author intervening in the subject matter of her book, to possibly detrimental effect.

What do you think?


You can read my post on The Moral Responsibility Of the Author Part 1 here, in regard to Stpehen King withdrawing his novel "Rage"

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Moral Responsibility Of the Writer Part 1


Stephen King decision to withdraw his novel "Rage" from publication, is explained in his latest Kindle published essay "Guns". King cites four cases of boys attacking others in their schools who each made mention of King's "Rage" (the book, not any animus felt by King). He quite reasonably explains in "Guns" that his writing neither "broke [those boys] nor made them killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken".

Despite claiming that the book had no causative influence, King still took the decision to remove his book. This seems to me to contradict his own faith in his contention that the book has no baleful influence. At best, it is simply because he is uneasy at the thought of even being associated with such terrible events. That though there is no blood on his hands, somehow there is secondary spatter transferred on to his shirt sleeve.

King tries to draw the comparison that his book is protected under the 1st Amendment for free speech, so that he was under no compunction to withdraw it but did so voluntarily as a responsible act, with the position of automatic gun owners; that they are entitled to own such guns under the 2nd Amendment's right to bear arms, but out of responsibility the mass killer semi-automatics and automatics ought to be voluntarily handed over to the authorities. Nice sentiment, but the mentality of a gun owner isn't readily comparable with that of an author, there being a chasm of difference between a work of literature and the cold hard steel of a gun. Sorry Mr King, but all of this seems to me to demonstrate a hopeless wishful thinking.

As a writer myself here in the UK, the gun ownership debate doesn't really enter my thinking at all, let alone my work. But I was struck by King's stance awkwardly straddling the issue, as well as his decision to withdraw his own book. Personally I think any artist who puts their work out into the public domain, ought to believe in it to the extent of standing by it no matter what. If they don't, then they are admitting that they got it wrong, which is of course both possible and proper to own up to, but fundamentally compromises your reputation as a decent artist. Good artists manage to produce prescient work, work that tips us off ahead of time as to certain occurrences possibly coming to pass. That such events are so terrible, but do actually occur, is no reason for the artist to backtrack on their work and apologise for demonstrating imaginative foresight. King didn't withdraw his story "The Running Man" which has a similar ending to what transpired at the Twin Towers in 9/11. And nor should he. Presumably he felt there was enough distance in that futuristic, sci-fi scenario, from the extreme religio-terrorist reality that struck the Twin Towers.

I don't believe an artist has any responsibility other than entertaining their audience and staying within the laws of the land on things like obscenity, offense and the like. (Whether said artist agrees with such laws is a different issue). Artists are only responsible for backing their own work, defending it to the hilt if required. Equally they can make no demands of their audience to react only in certain prescribed ways. Audience members will run with a work in whatever way they will. Audiences bring their own value systems ahead of contemplating any work of art, ahead of opening up  a new book and no artist or author can control this. All the artist has to do is maintain responsibility for any ideas they put into the public pool of thought and conception. Beyond that, it's open season.

The author has to be aware of the likely reception to their work if it contains inflammable ideas. Once the author has gone ahead and published said work, then it behooves them to deal with the fallout in the public reaction. And that shouldn't include withdrawing the book from publication. Self-censorship is the most insidious form of censorship. A good artist edits themselves at the outset, instead of censoring themselves late in the production and distribution process.


Tomorrow I'll blog about a different aspect of the moral responsibility of the artist, when an author puts themselves into the lives of those people they write about.