Monday, 16 July 2018

Wordclouds


I made some wordclouds for each of the three main characters in my new novel and in  doing so spell out what links them all both physically and thematically.






D: Creatrix 

N: Crone



A: Mother





Published by Dead Ink Books 26/07/2018

Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK



Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Treachery Of Language

Rene Magritte "The Treachery Of Images 1928


Marc Nash/Google Images "The Treachery Of Language" 2018


Magritte's painting has the caption "this is not a pipe". In doing so he is admonishing/advising the viewer that it is not an actual pipe, merely the representation of one in painting. Yet there is a further distancing layer than that even, in that it is a painting of the image or the symbol of what we mean by the word 'pipe'.

Marc Nash's version is that whatever the treachery held by imagery, there is further treachery upon treachery, when you introduce language into the picture. 

Firstly let's not overlook that without Magritte's caption painted on the canvas, the painting would have far less meaning to transmit. This painting without its words, would be a fairly contextless painting of a pipe. It is only the injection of language through its caption that transmits Magritte's meaning, as it sets up the resonance through the paradox it presents. 

But Nash points out language is equally treacherous. The word 'pipe' does not conjure up a singular, universal image. Magritte's pipe burns the solid state of tobacco and produces gas in the form of smoke. Nash points to a whole host of pipes who don't deal in solid states at all, but channel the passage of fluids and in some cases, like a car exhaust pipe, gases too. 

Apart from a sprinkling of onomatopoeic words, few of which are employed as object nouns (most are sonorous verbs or objectless exclamation nouns such as 'boom'), the sound of a word bears no relationship to its meaning. It is this disjunction that makes language treacherous. Without the visual image Magritte provides, we would have no idea if 'this is not a pipe' refers to something not being a smoker's pipe, or a hosepipe, some duct piping, a drainpipe,  an oil pipeline, a sewer, the outside of the Pompidou Centre, or a pipe bomb. 

Magritte relies on language to contextualise his painting, but in doing so undermines it at a stroke. It is language whose treachery far outstrips that of images. Images and their referent symbols are nothing without the labelling of words grouping them together as 'universals'. Yet it is that very universalising that reduces much of the essence of things, grouping together broad categories of objects which have significant differences one from another. Can you smoke a sewer pipe? You can light it and it would likely explode from the gases passing through. A literal approach to the word sewer pipe would be fatal in such a case. Can you pass water through a smoker's pipe? Well only if it was one of those comedy bubble-blowing pipes perhaps. And the ingenuity of the crack smoker, who forges a crack pipe out of anything that resembles a piece of tubing, merges the two 'universal' meanings of the word 'pipe' into a single function. 

Now Magritte's work has led to self-reflection on the image within the art world, but there has been far less investigation in fiction of the treachery of language; of the dissociation between the sound of a word and its meaning. Consider how we acquire language - as a child language is modelled for us by adults and the child imitates those sounds. Over time the child starts cohering those sounds to associate them with specific words which further will be constructed together into sentences. By age 2 they will have a grasp of pronouns, by 3 they are able to construct sentences and by four understand directions for them to respond to. It is only when they start nursery school that they begin to be taught how to read write and spell these words they have already mastered vocally. They learn to spell by wrote or by reading and picking up spellings, because there is no logical relationship between sound and meaning. 

This is one of the themes I explore in my novel released in 10 days. 

Published by Dead Ink Books 26/07/2018
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK



Saturday, 14 July 2018

Lift The Siege 8 - Sidney Street




Jack The Ripper had been active in the last decade of the nineteenth century and part of the hysteria had wrapped itself up in virulent anti-immigrant feeling since Whitechapel and the neighbouring areas were heavily settled by Jewish refugees from Russian pogroms. This persisted into the new century and reached its apotheosis with the siege of Sidney Street in the first days of 1911. 

Many Jews were regarded as revolutionaries, anarchists and socialists and the Sidney Street gang of Latvians were dubbed as anarchists, whereas in all likelihood they were just armed robbers, who justified their thievery as expropriation of property. Interrupted during a night-time attempt to break into a jeweller’s shop, the gang shot and killed 3 unarmed policemen and also managed to fatally shoot their own leader in the struggle. The gang dispersed, but were gradually rounded up by the police following tip offs from the public. The last two suspects were holed up in a house at 100 Sidney Street in Stepney. A shoot-out ensued, but the police firearms were easily outgunned by those of the two gangsters and they requested, for the first time in London, the assistance of the army. 

Then Home Secretary Winston Churchill turned up to view proceedings and was jeered by the onlookers for the perception of a liberal immigration policy laid at his feet. This was also the first siege captured by news cameras, in this case the Pathé newsreel service. Eventually the two gangsters were killed as the house went up in smoke and claimed a final victim when one of its walls collapsed and crushed a fireman to death. Churchill’s proposed tough immigration bill was defeated as being against British values, while the other supposed gang members were all acquitted for lack of evidence to convict them. For such carnage, only the accidentally killed gang leader and the two in the house at Sidney Street were deemed responsible, despite eye witnesses that there were at least three teams involved in the robbery of the jewellers. 

As a final kick in the teeth to authorities, in 2008 the local council named two tower blocks after one of the minor gang members, a full two years before any commemoration of the fallen policemen and three years before a memorial to the fireman. Perhaps the area did house anarchist sentiments after all. 

*

"Three Dreams In The Key Of G" has three female voices in a state of siege. One a young mother in sectarian Northern Ireland, just after the Good Friday Peace Agreement has returned paramilitary fighters from both sides back into the domestic realm for an uneasy peace there. The second a Waco-like siege in Florida, as the FBI, DEA and ATF surround a compound full of women, which they see as a threat to all of mankind. The third is in laboratories all over the globe, the Human Genome is being besieged by scientists as they try and uncover its code for life. 

 The siege will be lifted 26/07/2018
Published by Dead Ink Books 
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK






Thursday, 12 July 2018

Lift The Siege 7 - The Siege Of Derry

 






The seventeenth century was a brutal one for Ireland, enmeshed in wars of political and religious succession emanating from England. After executing the king, Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland and embarked on a campaign that historians estimate caused a shrinkage in the local population of between 20-45%, through conflict, famine, disease and indentured service in the English colonies. Two sieges of walled cities were particularly horrific, Drogheda where citizens were killed after they had surrendered, some of whom had taken refuge in a church whose sanctity was ignored and Wexford, which was breached during the negotiations for its peaceful surrender. 

The restoration of the English monarchy made some modest restitution to the dispossessed Irish aristocracy, but then they were plunged into conflict all over again with the 1688 Succession Crisis and the contest between the Catholic King James and the Protestant King William. Over in Ireland, the Catholic forces were bearing down on the walled city of Derry. The city’s governor Robert Lundy was dispatched with a Protestant force to meet the oncoming Catholics, but a cowardly man, he beseeched his men that all was lost and they should do everything to preserve their lives. The Catholic forces at nearby Omagh adopted an equally cowardly stance and retreated, until the following day when news reached them of their erstwhile opposition’s flight. 

Back inside the city walls, Lundy again showed a lack of appetite for any fight and argued that they should surrender, at which point the city gates were slammed shut and the inhabitants began a chant of “No surrender” which has been handed down and still in use today. The irate inhabitants turned on Lundy and various myths about his escape from the sealed city abound, including dressing up as a woman with a bundle of matchwood on his back to make good his exit, through to scaling down a pear tree beyond the walls. Rumours flew that Lundy had swapped the keys to the city for a bap bun amidst the starving city, so that all in all, the word Lundy became a byword for ‘traitor’ in Northern Ireland and bandied about even today by politicians in the province. Lundy is burned in effigy annually on the December anniversary of the gates being slammed shut by the citizens. Traditionally the effigy was hung for its burning on a pillar erected to Lundy’s replacement as governor, until the IRA blew up the pillar in 1973. A case of dynamite being used to destroy a symbol such as pervades many cultures, be it the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan stone Buddhas carved into a cliff, through to 1970s bombings of the sculpture of Karl Marx that marks his tomb. 

In my novel, the setting is Omagh, the same location where both armies facing one another turned and fled, while it also has an attack on symbols, in the form of a guerrilla raid to destroy the universal SI of units of measurement. You can’t blow up a metre or a candela any more than you can detonate an idea. Oh and for the record, the Protestant defenders of Derry were able to hold out against the siege for 105 days, until their relief forces were able to break the floating barricade across the River Foyle and reach them, whereupon the besiegers gave up the blockade. 




*

"Three Dreams In The Key Of G" has three female voices in a state of siege. One a young mother in sectarian Northern Ireland, just after the Good Friday Peace Agreement has returned paramilitary fighters from both sides back into the domestic realm for an uneasy peace there. The second a Waco-like siege in Florida, as the FBI, DEA and ATF surround a compound full of women, which they see as a threat to all of mankind. The third is in laboratories all over the globe, the Human Genome is being besieged by scientists as they try and uncover its code for life. 

 The siege will be lifted 26/07/2018

Published by Dead Ink Books 
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK




Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Diary




I have never kept a diary. So please forgive me if what I imagine are the reasons for maintaining one is incomplete.

  • A diary as a way of preserving memories of events and feelings
  • A diary as a log of one's personal development

  • A diary as a way of conducting a conversation with yourself to play out problematic scenarios or figure out your feelings about an event or incident
  • A diary as a way of blowing of steam, as catharsis

  • A diary is where you can share your vulnerabilities and anxieties without fear of disclosure or judgement


although Kurt Cobain would seem to disagree on this last point.



I’ve always rather regarded writing fiction as fulfilling many of the functions of a diary. As did Picasso apparently (though painting rather than writing in his case)



It certainly let’s me blow off steam, while the emotional journey undertaken through the pages of a book often provides catharsis. The process of writing frequently involves thinking through scenarios and challenges, how the character would think and feel.

Are those characters inevitably you, are those situations ones drawn from your own life? I honestly believe that all writing is autobiographical, including fiction, for the simple reason that no writer can write something that is completely outside of them. Even if you write something based on something you read in a newspaper, or an anecdote someone told you, the fact it resonated enough with you to remember it and later to work it into your writing, means that it has become part of your own experience, even one imported second hand. However, what a writer has to do is work their autobiographical material to make it more universal, so that it has the possibility to engage its readers, rather than remain so personal to the writer that it can't communicate itself.

Where writing fiction does diverge from writing a journal, is that the writer is exposing their vulnerabilities and anxieties by making their book public, unlike the secrets that stay cached in a diary (unless someone else steals in to read your private journal, or like Cobain youm invite others in to unravel him because he couldn't do it for himself).

Time is a key element of a diary. If you make entries every day, then the time is largely structured already for you. If you catch up to events more sporadically, then time is not so determinate of your entries. As a child I did possess a previous year's diary which I used as a notebook rather than a diary. If I had made any entries surrounding events of that day, they would have been already fictionalised since the page they appeared on, had a day and date that only matched up in the past, not in the present. 

When you have children, everything in your life can revolve around them. Manage to escape for an evening for a meal out with your partner, the chances are the conversation will be dominated by the child at home. When our twins were born, someone presented us with two Baby Books to maintain a record of their developmental stages such as first solids, teeth and words. In a way these books are diaries, marking the early years on entry into the world. (There's a question as to whether the parents should retain the Baby Books for their own memories, or present them to the children themselves once they have grown up, after all they contain clippings of their hair and nails and a baby tooth or two (reappropriated from the Tooth Fairy).

In my new novel "Three Dreams In The Key Of G", a diary plays a central role in the narrative. The mother of two young daughters keeps a journal, so that when her second daughter arrives, she has a supposedly ready record from her first born to refer to. However, all the pages and therefore the chronology of events appear to be out of order. Why ever could that be?


“Loneliness is the diary keeper’s lover. It is not narcissism that takes them to their desk every day. And who “keeps” whom, after all? The diary is demanding; it imposes its routine; it must be chored the way one must milk a cow; and it alters your attitude toward life, which is lived, finally, only in order that it may makes it way to the private page.

William Gass - "Temples Of Texts"




                                           


 A date for your diary 26/07/2018
Published by Dead Ink Books 
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK





Monday, 9 July 2018

Lift the Siege 6 - Operation Nifty Package (General Noriega)




When BFF’s fall out. President of Panama and drug kingpin Manuel Noriega was finally felt to be  such an embarrassment to the US, they moved to depose him in “Operation Just Cause’s” 1989 invasion of the country. Noriega took refuge in the Vatican’s Embassy and the US were faced with the legal and reputational problems were they to mount an armed assault of de facto Vatican territory. Instead they set up loudspeakers and cranked out a 24-hour barrage of tunes such as Guns N Roses “Welcome To The Jungle” and The Clash’s “I Fought The Law (And The Law Won)” as part of a PsyOps campaign to break down Noriega’s resistance. After 3 days they desisted and later admitted the whole idea had been “a low moment in US Army history… silly, reproachable and undignified” (National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft). In the end Noriega did surrender himself after 10 days, not due to the US’s persuasive efforts, but those of the Vatican ambassador himself, employing some considerable psychological tactics of his own, despite the 8th commandment against misrepresenting the truth to others. He had threatened to up sticks and set up a new Embassy in a Catholic school, thus de-sanctifying the Embassy’s grounds in law, which would allow the Americans to move in on it. 

This was possibly the first time the term PsyOps entered the public domain and music was to feature as a weapon again during the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo, a playlist that included Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and “I Love You” from kids TV show “Barney”. Metallica, a band notorious for suing for lost royalty payments, even taking on their own fans in copyright battles, however seemed perfectly happy for their music to be played in torture sessions. 


Perhaps Julian Assange holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London had better watch out, lest our authorities start blasting the likes of Sam Smith’s theme song for the Bond movie “Spectre”, some of Wiley’s Grime tracks, or the “Go Compare” advertising jingles on an endless loop to fill him with a sense of futility and make his ears bleed. I don’t have any music used in my scene of a siege in my novel, even though Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking” was blasted out at the siege of Waco upon which my siege was based.

The US military's secret weapon


*

"Three Dreams In The Key Of G" has three female voices in a state of siege. One a young mother in sectarian Northern Ireland, just after the Good Friday Peace Agreement has returned paramilitary fighters from both sides back into the domestic realm for an uneasy peace there. The second a Waco-like siege in Florida, as the FBI, DEA and ATF surround a compound full of women, which they see as a threat to all of mankind. The third is in laboratories all over the globe, the Human Genome is being besieged by scientists as they try and uncover its code for life. 


 The siege will be lifted 26/07/2018

Published by Dead Ink Books 
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK




Sunday, 8 July 2018

Word Clouds

Here are some word clouds from my upcoming novel. One cloud for each of the 3 main characters


Creatrix

Crone

Mother


Mother




Creatrix


Crone



Published by Dead Ink Books 26/07/2018
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Lift The Siege 5 - The Siege Of Stalingrad




The siege that turned the tables on the besiegers. Stalingrad was of little military or strategic value, yet Hitler was hellbent on obliterating it from the map, probably because it bore the name of his arch foe Stalin. The Russians forces were surrounded, but managed to keep sending in troops through the river Volga’s access into the city, just long enough to hold out until winter. The Russians then launched a counter-attack in November, punching through the Romanian and Hungarian allied forces of the Germans and were able to complete an encircling movement so that it was now the Germans pressed back into the city. 

The same bitter fighting continued as before, but now the Germans were unable to supply their forces, nor could the airforce be brought into play with the zero visibility of snow storms. Despite constant petitions for the army to fight their way out of the siege, Hitler refused his troops from leaving the city. They were left to rot there, suffering from the twin assaults of the cold and starvation in addition to Russian attacks. Stories of troops eating their own dead supply horses abound. 

After five months General Von Paulus negotiated a surrender with the Red Army and the tide of the war had turned against the Nazis. At Stalingrad, they had lost an entire battle group, one of their three in the whole of Russia and never fully recovered their strength, while further weakening the Western Front defences to bolster the Eastern campaign. In all up to two million lives were lost at Stalingrad, including civilians trapped there.

*

"Three Dreams In The Key Of G" has three female voices in a state of siege. One a young mother in sectarian Northern Ireland, just after the Good Friday Peace Agreement has returned paramilitary fighters from both sides back into the domestic realm for an uneasy peace there. The second a Waco-like siege in Florida, as the FBI, DEA and ATF surround a compound full of women, which they see as a threat to all of mankind. The third is in laboratories all over the globe, the Human Genome is being besieged by scientists as they try and uncover its code for life. 

 The siege will be lifted 26/07/2018


Published by Dead Ink Books 
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK




Thursday, 5 July 2018

Lift The Siege 4 - Crusader Castles




A chain of stone castles running from Cyprus through the Middle East and southern Turkey, built on steep hillside slopes or even mountains, making assault and (under-)mining very hard for the superior numbers of the Muslim armies. The Christian knights were able to hold out for years, until gradually their number shrunk and they were unable to devote sufficient manpower to garrison them effectively. 

Several of these 12th and13th century fortifications are still standing in full order today. One of the castles the Crac des Chevaliers which had been deemed impregnable and resisted even the mighty Saladin himself, only fell in a 1291 siege after what seems to be a bit of a running theme in this series about sieges, a bit of deception; a letter was forged purporting to come from a Christian authority in Libya urging the surrender of the castle’s inhabitants. 

In the current Syrian conflict, when Assad's government forces attacked the local village to Crac des Chevaliers, once again some 900 years later the villagers sought refuge in the castle, but they were attacked there as well and finally the castle has suffered some material damage. 

Another castle Kerak held out against various assaults from Saladin for five years. In this age of chivalry, Saladin received word that a royal wedding was taking place inside the castle and ordered his catapults not to aim for the wedding pavilion and thereafter to avoid the new marriage quarters. In return he was sent some of the wedding feast.

*

"Three Dreams In The Key Of G" has three female voices in a state of siege. One a young mother in sectarian Northern Ireland, just after the Good Friday Peace Agreement has returned paramilitary fighters from both sides back into the domestic realm for an uneasy peace there. The second a Waco-like siege in Florida, as the FBI, DEA and ATF surround a compound full of women, which they see as a threat to all of mankind. The third is in laboratories all over the globe, the Human Genome is being besieged by scientists as they try and uncover its code for life. 

 The siege will be lifted 26/07/2018

Published by Dead Ink Books 
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Palimpsests



Perhaps parchment was relatively expensive to come by, or just too much of a labour to prepare to receive ink, so it was often 'recycled'. Rubbed clean of the former writing and written over again to present the new text. But there would remain a trace through the impression of the nib or stylus. And in time this hidden text could be revealed, much as when you take a pencil and shade the top page in a notepad to show what was written on the preceding page now since torn out. This is a fairly regular scene in detective and spy fictions or dramas on TV.

The written palimpsest is similar to pentimento in oil painting. Artists frequently recycled their canvases, much for the same reasons of economy as scribes and writers. Though often the buried versions beneath the paint reveal the artist's sketches and drafts of the same image that gets its final rendering in the finished product. With palimpsests, the aim is to purge the original content in order to put across the new message. This functions in much the same way that Christianity annexed pagan festival days to plant its own celebrations on, in full knowledge that populations were used to marking such holy days. They merely changed the narrative. 

Whatever the economic drive for overwriting previous words, the mechanism does have an element of colonialism about it. Of banishing, or censoring the previous voice. This can be most clearly seen in the Archimedes Palimpsest (yes, he of "eureka" in the bath renown), where an ancient Greek treatise on Mathematics and Geography was overwritten by Christian monks with their own liturgical text and the original work thought lost to mankind forever, until new technology brought it back into light. Think of it as one of the banned books locked away in the secret library from Umberto Eco's "The Name Of The Rose". 

However with our technological abilities allowing us access to the words underneath, we can also see elements of rebellion in the palimpsest. In the Novgorod Codex the same writer is responsible for countless texts written over one another, in which he conceals some fairly heretical interpretation of the Gospels buried deep within. But they're there, embedded and preserved. 

And how do we bring these hidden texts to light? Through use of wavelengths of light not accessible to the naked human eye; ultraviolet; infrared and X-Ray. (see my blog post on the limitations of the human senses to come). The man charged with deciphering the Novgorod Codex is pursuing a methodology rather similar to that employed by scientists decoding the human genome. He has to ignore and move on from chunks of text that remain indecipherable because they are so degraded and diffused into the wood, or so closely packed together (the original scribe eschewed spaces between words), so he is reconstructing possible words only by dismissing other permissible letter combinations as 'meaningless jumble'. The scientists trying to nail down the human genome are having to sift through some 3 billion genes to just isolate the active genes responsible for programming life, (currently pegged at around 20,000), therefore they are dismissing the rest as junk or pseudo DNA, posited to be without function. Yet as with the letters that can't be read in the Codex, they're there for a reason. They may not be junk, they could feasibly contain the dead ends of genetic mutation which therefore can reveal to us own own evolutionary history. Or they could track how our bodies changed on a genetic level to defeat diseases that we are now unaware even existed. Or they can act discreetly, as spacers for those genes that do have a function. There are endless possible explanations lying way beyond our grasp.

So thus the palimpsest. A fascinating phenomenon, usually emerging from humble housekeeping calculations of economy. But it offers a powerful metaphor, that of overwriting, of burying what comes before, of rebellion and revelation between the cracks. Now imagine that in human terms. Not one, not two, but three voices - each unknown to one another - yet each overwriting and influencing the behaviour and fate of the others. And that is one of the essences of my new novel "Three Dreams In The Key Of G". 


 







In Peace Agreement Ulster a mother rears her two daughters as her husband is decommissioned from his violent paramilitary past.

In Florida a septuagenarian runs a community refuge for women- only the authorities have surrounded it as a threat to national security.


In laboratories all over the world the human genome is being dissected and decoded.

Mother, Crone and Creatrix, all under siege, unknowingly inform and influence one another. 


                                      

 The writing will be revealed 26/07/2018
Published by Dead Ink Books 
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK



Monday, 2 July 2018

Lift The Siege 3 - The Balcombe Street Siege




In 1974-75 the IRA brought their campaign to mainland Britain and at age 10, this was probably the first time I became aware of the issues in Northern Ireland. An IRA Active Service Unit had been responsible for a series of bombings and shootings in London and the Metropolitan Police responded by flooding the streets of London to catch them in the act. Two policemen got on their trail and hailing a taxi gave pursuit of the getaway car. The four IRA men took refuge in a flat in Marylebone, seizing the two occupants as hostages. A standoff took place for six days before the planted threat of the SAS storming the flat led to a peaceful end of the siege. All four were jailed for life and suggested most strongly that bombings in Woolwich and Guildford were down to them, rather than the men who were currently serving sentences for these attacks. However, nothing was done about their claims, so that 11 other men were still held in prison for another 15 years until their guilty verdicts were overturned as unsafe. 

*

"Three Dreams In The Key Of G" has three female voices in a state of siege. One a young mother in sectarian Northern Ireland, just after the Good Friday Peace Agreement has returned paramilitary fighters from both sides back into the domestic realm for an uneasy peace there. The second a Waco-like siege in Florida, as the FBI, DEA and ATF surround a compound full of women, which they see as a threat to all of mankind. The third is in laboratories all over the globe, the Human Genome is being besieged by scientists as they try and uncover its code for life. 

 The siege will be lifted 26/07/2018

Published by Dead Ink Books 
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK



Lift The Siege #2 - Waco