My new novel "Stories We Tell Our Children" is published on July 15th. Here's a short video revealing the cover and talking about where the concept for it emerged from.
Tuesday, 8 June 2021
Sunday, 11 April 2021
Six months before I was born, my parents bought themselves a cat. He was an ordinary black, non-pedigree moggy and went on to live to the ripe old age of 23. Once I was moved out of a cot and into my bed, that cat slept on my bed every night until his death, even when I was no longer living at home having gone to university.
He was my animal familiar. Not in terms of he and I collaborating in performing black or white magic, just that we communed with one another and had a deep bond. After he died, I never had such a connection with any other animal, but I did mentally opt for new spirit animals. And here is where I would describe it as performing magic, in the similar manner to the Tarot or I-Ching. Not in any sense of supernatural divination; rather you double down, consider the questions you bring to the table and with the aides memoire prompted by the yarrow stalks or cards, you perform some self-divination and gain some self-insights around the questions you were asking.
So when I say my adopted spirit totems of the tarantula and the vulture, it is purely in this theoretical way rather than that I had with my black cat. While I have stared into the black, black void of a vulture's eyes at a zoo, I certainly wouldn't want either creature perched on my bed while I lay asleep. Both animals served as aides de memoire. Aspects of their physical being and behaviour, allow me to conceptualise and relate back to things about life. I have written flash fiction stories about both, "Eight-Legged Amy" (tarantula), "Rich Pickings" and "Cop Aesthetic" (both vultures), about life, death, rebirth, criminality and war.
But move over guys, a new familiar is in town. Or rather the oceans. For I have become infatuated with jellyfish. One of the oldest species in the history of the planet, these remarkable beasts have a whole host of associations and images that they conjure up. Firstly there is the rather unique case of the
Monday, 11 January 2021
Hollywood had fallen as easily as a stage flat. Militias from Idaho and Montana were dispatched to de-core the Big Apple and root out every last maggot. The President was equivocal over assailing Wall Street, but they had carte blanche on deviant lawyers, journalists and artists housed in Gotham. They were also encouraged to hunt down radical Islamic terrorists who were assumed to be embedded there.
The campaign started with simultaneous assaults on MOMA and the Guggenheim. Sculptures were attacked with chisels, mysteriously transformed into harmless palette knives on first contact. Tins of house paint were hurled against paintings mounted on the walls, but some inherent shaman-artistic force bunched the paint splashes like Hokusai waves, before sending them slithering to the concrete floor, whereupon they proceeded to reproduce a variety of Jackson Pollock canvases. The only blow these crack squads landed was successfully shooting up several Jasper Johns’ Target paintings, scoring perfect bulls’ eyes. Museum curators felt this added to the paintings’ interactive spirit of the familiar, though art critics felt it merely exhibited the AltRight’s two-dimensional literalism. The discourse raged on, with this first wave of shock corps oblivious to their part in the colloquy. An Islamic Anti-Blasphemy squad came across them at the upper echelons of the Guggenheim, launched a copy of their Taliban and ISIS Guide To Perfidious Art into the gallery they occupied and then fled. The manual had just a lone page, a photograph of a stick of dynamite. The Breitbart Division mined the top story, but their hoped for Helter Skelter failed to materialise. Instead they were thrown off balance and tumbled all the way down the Guggenheim’s spiral incline and were bounced out by their own philistine perspective, followed by all the creative energy their blast had liberated from behind glass.
They took their war to the streets, but New York’s awakened soul defied them at every turn. Broadway turned Boogie-Woogie and seethed and pulsed with animated light and color that refused to offer itself up for landmarks by which the militias could orient themselves. Other Mondrianic effects warped and disarrayed the grid pattern, so plunging the troops into anomic motion homesickness. The mid-Westerners didn’t trust the solidity of Joseph Stella’s Brooklyn Bridge, so Brooklyn remained unmolested for now. When Koons' creations walked the streets, these supermen thought them to be real cartoon characters and halted their operations to sit down and enjoy their progress, reliving their own bucolic childhoods. The sexualised scents emanating from the O’Keefean blooms that bedecked New York’s flowerboxes, made them sick just below their paunches and scores fell away invalided from the campaign with inexplicable erections. Many saluted Lichtenstein’s Flag and were frozen in patriotic Old Glory immobility. KKK Quartermasters tried to secure rations from One Hundred Cans, but they stubbornly refused to multiply in order to feed the five thousand. The image of Leutze’s Washington Crossing The Delaware employed for their banners, mysteriously transformed in NYC’s rarefied air into Colescott’s version, which saw them jumping up and down on their own cloth and setting fire to it, the only art they managed to burn throughout the whole campaign. Finally, a man in leathers was crouched crosstown, with a whip protruding from his rectum, at which point an Islamic terrorist cell fled for their lives at this visitation by Shaytan himself.
The Young British Artists pledged their support for their fellow American BoHos. But no matter how exhausted the New York resistance were, none could bring themselves to resort to Tracey Emin’s donated bed for rest and recuperation. While Damien Hirst’s leering jewelled skulls were felt to be a hex, though the diamonds proved useful in supplementing their lasers and machine tool production in the fight against the Übermensch. Hirst’s dead shark was wheeled into a New York thoroughfare, its case opened up, but the formaldehyde just pooled in the gutter before disappearing down the sewers, while the fish itself lay forlornly in the street holding up traffic, though no one considered this the least bit surreal, nor worthy of comment.
The Neo-Nazis retreated from Manhattan, but they had successfully liberated Marsden Hartley’s Portrait Of a German Officer and managing to overcome their own vertiginous revulsion at its bewildering Cubism, at least they could center themselves in the insignia of the German army at its heart. Thus they regathered themselves to storm Brooklyn, bolstered by reinforcements from Ohio and Florida. They put aside their antagonism with the Islamists for a joint onslaught. They dug themselves in, erecting an Eruv of gas ovens at their perimeter in order to sap the will of the besieged. However, Rothko canvasses appeared everywhere and at every angle, like a Roman Legion’s tortoise formation. The AltRight couldn’t get their ovens to work, the gas to flow, the flame to light. When they sent in their engineers, they observed how the oven doors were indistinctly and imprecisely edged, being of poor fit and allowing the chemicals to escape. The gas too had condensed into thick pigmented layers, rendering it too dense to ignite. Rothko’s hues sucked the heart and space out of them, demanding a crepuscular meditation they just could not offer up. Instead many jumped inside their own ovens and begged for combustion to take them completely away from this claustrophobic Hell. And so a retreat from New York was engendered, back to the snowy wastes of the Heartland.
Tuesday, 3 November 2020
I'm writing this as US voters go to the polls, with no idea of the outcome of the ballot, nor the potential outcome beyond the counting of the votes, whether the result will be accepted and we get a peaceful transfer of power if Biden wins.
I have a few observations from this side of the pond, none of which add up to a thesis, but which I think have some resonance for the UK's and democracies across the globe.
If Trump loses, what has the last four years been about and what has it achieved? One can question Trump's initial motives to run for President, either an extension of his reality tv persona o the next level, an ego trip to become the most powerful man in the world, or the opportunity to milk the office for him and his family to make as much money as possible, but whatever they were, they don't seem very ideological. He has achieved very little in policy terms. The coal and steel industries have not returned as promised, though the economy seems to be doing better, but this is more due to where the US is in its economic cycle than anything contributed by Trump. For all his bluster, there is no wall excluding migrants from the South, trade with China is fractious but ongoing, while America First in global trade hasn't been delivered and he's only partially repealed Obama Care.
His foreign policy initiatives have been few and far between. He's favoured Russia (both in Syria and Ukraine) and Israel, but the position with North Korea is still unresolved, while he has not been able to get the rest of NATO to pay its fair share of running costs. It's quite common for oligarchies to distract their populations from the money they are raking into their own pockets with foreign policy initiatives, but Trump doesn't seem to have done that. Instead he's ridden on the wave of furious support versus opposition over issues such as Russian electoral interference, using state influence to manipulate private dealings (Ukraine), relations with porn stars, Black Lives Matter protests and COVID19 to keep people divided and off-balance. It's scrutiny, but not in the right places, or rather in so many different pockets that there was never any central laser focus to really damage Trump. And what could be more derisory than an impeachment vote that everyone knew could never get through both houses of Congress?
And this I think HAS been the point of Trump's 4 years. To sow chaos and division under the guise of draining the swamp, that brings the very fundamentals of democracy itself into question. Elections that can't be trusted, elections where the vote may not be respected out on the streets, the assault on the media despite the constitutional protection of free speech. And we have yet to see how the new Supreme Court shapes up. Trump has managed to completely warp reality so that we can't be sure of anything, not facts, not the report of our own senses. Trump can be shown in old footage to be shaking hands with someone and then 5 years later deny that he ever met that person and it's shrugged off as par for the course. Criticism is a witch hunt, evidence is fake news. In four years, his opponents have failed to land a knockout blow on Trump, despite the weight of steel available to lace their gloves with.
Now Trump is the perfect person to sow disorder and chaos wherever he treads, but who gains by him doing so? As said, he's no ideologue, so this is not a precursor on his part to bringing in a whole raft of laws to establish some thought-through blueprint of a Trumpian democracy. However, the undermining of reality and being unable to rely on anything as true, has the hallmark of Vladimir Putin's Russia. Peter Pomerantsev has written extensively about this strategy. But the destabilising of US democracy and hallowed political institutions also has the grubby fingerprints of Steve Bannon all over it, even though he was kicked out of Trump's cabinet at an early stage. Seems like the seeds of chaos he laid down have sprouted in his absence. He hasn't so much as drained the swamp, as allowed the swamp to break its levees and cover the whole country in effluent.
If Trump loses and even if there is no civil unrest in response, it is hard to see how Biden, a singularly unimpressive figure who once plagiarised speeches from Neil Kinnock remember, could ever heal and reunite the nation now so divided down, ironically enough, ideological lines. Anti-immigrant, America First, anti-Vaxxer, anti-lockdown, anti-science (and facts in general) are the rump of Trump's support. That is Trump's legacy, four years of no material progress for the fabric of society, only regression. Trump has had four years to make America great again, by his own boasting he shouldn't need caps proclaiming the need for four more years. One more hopeful legacy that may also arise, is that the Republican Party may be forced to embrace a greater diversity to reflect changing demographics and that it can no longer just get by largely on just the white male vote. Yet if power is peacefully transferred to Biden, then one can only celebrate the American people's mental acuity; they tried the Trump experiment, adjudged it a failure and moved to change the outcome by rejecting it and going in a different direction. Unlike us here in the UK, who after the disaster of Austerity, the looming disaster of Brexit, the cretinous mishandling of the pandemic, have continued to return Conservative government after Conservative government, with none of the litheness possibly demonstrated by the US electorate tonight. Britain has been punching itself in the face for over a decade now. I hope and pray the American public don't do the same.
Monday, 15 June 2020
|The queue outside Nike's flagship store in London on the day of reopening|
Now I get that it could be viewed as an assertion of freedom, that finally we have been released from virtual house arrest. But to me it rather serves as testimony to being enslaved by corporate consumption. What could be more important after 13 weeks than buying the latest Nike models? Did all their shoes fall apart under lockdown? From all that exercising they probably undertook (irony klaxon). Equally, did all the folk waiting for entry into Primark (below) have to replace clothes that had succumbed to being moth fodder in the last 3 months?
How do you best express your recovery of freedom? Apparently you go out and look to buy goods that are not perishable in the short-term as food is and which have been branded as non-essential for a quarter of the year. It demonstrates the stranglehold certain goods and logos have on our imaginations and desires, that they become our first course of action, the number one thing we reach for in the outside world. Consumption is a declaration of who you are, but only after having had your independence of choice utterly manipulated by the marketing of these brands as 'the must own' or 'the latest model'. The same shrivelled imagination that left some people completely unable to make their own entertainment during lockdown, because they've always had somebody else or something else do it for them.
And yes we all want to support our local stores and to help reignite the economy that has slumped since March. But I can't help feeling such altruism is not high on the shopping list of these consumers. They are feeding their own appetites first and foremost, so that any assistance to the country as a whole is somewhat secondary.
Typically it's women who are said to be obsessed with shopping and particularly shopping for clothes. But the majority of those outside Nike are male. I think there is probably something about their identities and how they see themselves, that they have to associate themselves with global sports brands that axiomatically stamps them as athletes and men of prowess, even if they don't chase after balls or hit things with bats. It's that same drive that makes you want to have the latest Apple product that replaces last year's model. A Frankenstein's monster patchwork of globally available, logo-driven identities that supposedly constructs your unique, individual essence. And makes you feel totally invulnerable. Against a virus that takes no notice of brand names.