Sunday, 27 January 2019

Ink - Flash Fiction

Ink had become a rare commodity. As precious in value as pearls. With e-readers, the market wouldn't sustain for continued ink manufacture, while trees were being preserved through the lack of demand for paper. As alternatives, squid and octopi proved a short-term fill-in, but we'd hunted and fished them to extinction, just as we had with oysters.

E-reader titles were produced by computer programmes, Linguistic algorithms and rapid speed digital analysis of word and plot patterns in best sellers churned out the next big thing. Human authors were nearing the endangered status of the humble biro pen. Yet they still resisted, still sought to publish their writing wares. Samizdat made a comeback, mainly written in charcoal from barbecue briquettes. which made its publication rather seasonal in the Northern Hemisphere. If you were caught asking for barbecue stuff in winter, you could be arrested. Some authors shortcut the whole process and composed in their own blood and other bodily fluids, despite the disreputable echoes with certain performance art of the previous century. They wrote on toilet paper which tore easily beneath even their blunted nibs.

In time even toilet paper disappeared from circulation. Authors took to writing on stones and pebbles. returning to the prehistoric dawn of art. They took to the forests where they could forge their own supply of charcoal by burning wood. They decided to further reach back and commune with their ancient brethren, and took to caves. They cast stencils of the alphabet and then holding them against the rock to spell the words they were compounding, they chewed charcoal and breathed its fine powder over the stencil to form the text. Their very breath giving life to and preserving their art. Their expression. Samizdat was eclipsed for artefact and unlike the memory capacity of e-readers which demanded periodic purges, these books remained permanently in print. 

Friday, 18 January 2019

Two Food Groups - Flash Fiction

I sliced a segment from the onion and placed it into the frying pan to test the temperature of the oil. On contact, the oil spat at me like a cat with claws drawn and raked my exposed skin. The flesh instantly bubbled up and I went to the sink to mollify it. When I returned to the frying pan after my involuntary ablutions, the onion was turning from caramelised brown to charred black. I was sorrowful that my neglect had engendered its own contusion spectrum of burn. I extinguished the gas and tried to scrape the segment with the spatula. It took some considerable effort to detach its melted glutinous tendrils and I stared at the ghostly black impression of where it had lain on the anodised steel. A sooty shroud intaglio imprinted on the skillet. 

In time my skin repaired and renewed itself smooth and pink once again. In its incipient stages, the blister had filled with the fluid detritus of the damaged skin and I panicked at the uncanny recreation of the trapped water beneath the oil droplets that had precipitated this calamity in the first place. However, the onion, which out of guilt at the abortive ruination of one of its members, I had kept in the fridge, never did regrow and renew itself, but merely shrivelled and discoloured. Through a bruised yellow, to a caramelised brown. I threw it away before it reached the black obsidian hue of immolation. 


As the logging industry drives the local fauna into further and further shrinking acreages of forest, so governmental legislation herded smokers into ever smaller zones. And while we were relatively unassailed and unsullied by fuming fugs in our places of work and leisure, the transition between the two arenas was choked and befogged by the concentrated tobacco plumes bookending both termini of any journey. Huddled in the doorways of offices and public houses, where once they occupied snug bar and hunkered in basement bunker nicotine yellow smoking rooms. 

But a new plague had broken upon the city as the technology moved on apace. The streets themselves were now vaporous with exhalations from portable mini-chimneys or urbanised sylvan pipes. Now while it’s true these were only harmless steam droplets emanating from vaping, they were from ersatz infusions drawn from the fruit food group and thus far from benign. So one is blithely perambulating along an arcadian avenue devoted to the atelier and the artist studio, when one is artificially pitched headlong into a synthetic orchard through the unhappy coincidence of walking in the wake of one respiring the scent of apples or cherries. Perhaps instead you are determinedly tromping the concrete pavement of the thoroughfare, composing in your mind the pitch to put across at an imminent sales meeting, when you are thrust into the factitious citric or olive grove through the effluential pestilential emission mimicking the action of car exhausts, as they too profane the air you locomote through. So now one of my intended set of destinations, that of restaurants and other eating places, is now tainted by the fact that my nostrils have already tasted the desert course before I have even sat down to the hors-d’oeuvres. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Brexit - The Limits Of Democracy & Free Speech?

There are (at least) two sides to every argument. And that means there will always be adherents of both sides. How do you decide which is right, or at least the correct path to follow? Well science is usually a good way to go, we don't have all that many flat earthers around these days, though they do still exist. Same as those who believe as per the Old Testament that the Earth was created just a few millennia ago and in just seven days. Science suggests that there is actually a higher level of 'truth' and 'fact' and empirical evidence that ought to be able to be employed to convince hearts and minds. But not all issues are able to be proven by scientific fact. Slavery was (eventually) felt to be a morally reprehensible institution, but it still took the carnage of a civil war to see it abolished in the US, rather than Congressional voting. So, unfortunately, might is also a way of prevailing in argument.

Democracies have been pretty good at avoiding outcomes whereby questions are settled by force, (at least where internal issues are concerned, not so good where the decision is to go bomb another country). The nature of representational democracy being, in the main, the two sides debate, take a vote, the majority wins and the defeated accept the decision honourably. However, you might interject that the notion of honour is a class-based one, as tends to be the make up of most parliamentary memberships. You might also reasonably aver that those interest groups with the money to influence or buy professional lobbyists, also distort this notion of honourable and fair debate. But perhaps the notion of honourable acceptance of decisions is breaking down anyway.

The trend was perhaps symbolised by the statement during the Brexit referendum campaign by Leave campaigner Michael Gove MP when he said that the public have had enough of experts. He was tapping into an emotional seam; there are so many people feeling disenfranchised and economically lagging behind others, who felt that the status quo and all the old, established arguments had delivered nothing to them. Gove just gave them a mandate to dispense with belief and trust in experts, because experts hadn't got it right in their case and made their lives better. So science, statistics, economic forecasts, none of this is going to wash with them. Hence when the referendum comes along, it gets (perfectly understandably) hijacked as a means to express the disenfranchisement and misery swathes of people feel, and very little to do with the EU itself. The EU is swept up as the villain, hosting many other grievances which actually it bears minimal responsibility for causing: migrants, sovereignty, detached political elites, are historical and cyclical targets for blame, only here they are all pinned to the mast of the EU for causing them. 

This is not a UK/Brexit only phenomena. Climate change science is denied, especially in the US, with powerful pre-existing economic interests in the oil industry funding lobbying and advertising to blur the scientific narrative by blowing enough (hydrocarbon) smoke. Currently they have the ear of the President, which means they also have the support of his electorate who probably don't care all that much about the fate of the planet's future, they have more pressing economic and identity issues. So science is taking a hit. And the role of force to settle arguments rather than debate is on the rise, witness the 'Gilets Jaunes' taking to the streets in Paris, again a cohort of the populace who feel utterly disenfranchised by the ruling class and damn well want to let them know. And not politely either (again, a class division over what is 'proper', polite behaviour.  

You can make an argument about anything and you will find supporters taking to social media to air their particular side. Compromise seems impossible, while these days an honourable acceptance of defeat in debate is far less tolerated; you have your view, it's perfectly legitimate to hold such a view, therefore it must be recognised and legislated for, is now the prevailing assumption. Because this is no longer a debate about ideas, but has become heavily invested with emotion, with identity, people will not simply admit that they lost the argument. To do so is perceived as denying their existence, their identity and their rights. Democracy may just have hit its limits, because our societies are so divided between the two or more sides of any argument you care to raise. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Retelling Of Myths In Modern Fiction

I am not a fan of myth. While it served a purpose once in pre-history and may be interesting to study from a sociological and anthropological perspective now, in a modern world with greater comprehension of cause and effect so as not to have to prescribe supernatural causes to natural phenomena, I can see no place for myth to still resonate.

In this video I explore this and go on further to explain why I am not interested in modern retellings of myth in literature.

Please feel free to disagree with me in the comments.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Politics & Fiction

I regard myself as a political person. I also regard myself as a political writer. Whatever that means... 

I've written a novel about homegrown terrorism. My current novel is about post Peace Agreement Northern Ireland and also has a character who launches an assault against the symbols of patriarchy. So two absolute touchstone political themes given the centrality of Northern Ireland to the current Brexit farrago and the MeToo movement.

Yet my books will not bring about any change. They will have not one iota of impact on these issues. Not just because a well read literary fiction book means having had up to 2000 readers, a tiny drop in the ocean when it comes to influencing political power. Even J.K.Rowling whose books have been read by millions, and significantly she got readers when they were young and impressionable, yet when she ventures to express a political opinion, her views are dismissed and she is told to concentrate on addressing what she knows about, boy wizards. Britain, the country that in the Brexit referendum were offered the opinion that we no longer trust experts, has never really trusted, or been terribly interested in the opinions of its artists, outside of their art.

Somewhat of a pity I think. SJ Bradley's book "Guest" asks the question how could the British state ever credit that it could penetrate environmental protest movements as threats to national security; and to allow the police force to plant undercover officers who set up false families with members of these groups to the point of siring children whom they then walked away from once their operations were deemed over. Her novel ought to prompt inquiries into both of these legally and morally dubious events. Haroun Khan's novel "The Study Circle" which represents every possible shade of thought, identity and values throughout the entire spectrum of British Muslims, should be compulsory reading for any politician who would review the anti-terrorist "Prevent" strategy, which is not fit for purpose and incidentally is racist in its profiling. I have an 18,000 short story/novella about youth knife crime. But amidst all the hand-wringing currently indulged in by politicians and the judicial system as another 5 young lives bleed out on London streets in the last week, would any of them in their calls for contributions of causes and solutions ever conceive of admitting the offerings of an author like me? 

So you can call yourself a political author and it really amounts to very little in reality. In my case my work goes a lot further than these specific issues. It is radical, calling into question accepted notions of the consensus of what we call reality, or truth. And especially the notion that out language develops organically and therefore is neutral since no one is in control of its development. But no matter how radical the challenges to received/accepted truths, they are only offered in the context of a work of fiction. Being radical within your narrative form may tilt at some sacred cows within the history and heritage of literature, but counts for precisely nought in the wider world. Fiction, by its very name, is largely offering escapism into the world of the novel, rather than direct engagement in the real world. It's called suspending your belief, not a great catalyst for real world analysis. 

All an author can do is contribute the ideas contained within their novels to the repository of all human knowledge and who knows, maybe it will eventually reach critical mass through readership to change people's perceptions. But don't hold your breath. Orwell's lacerating visions of Soviet Communism in "1984" and "Animal Farm" did nothing to hasten their collapse. And Harriet Beecher-Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" may well have influenced some thought in the Northern United States, but it still took a bloody civil war (fought as a struggle of competing economic and cultural ways of life rather than any idealistic liberty reasons) to dismantle slavery. 

You might also be interested in:
Can fiction writers also be political activists?
What Can Fiction Tell Us Of Real Life? 
Remembering Clause 28
The Author - holy fool or underground revolutionary?
The Politic Body - New Political Metaphors For A New Politics
Grenfell Tower Fire - A Dereliction Of Political Duty

Thursday, 15 November 2018

A Literary Scavenger Hunt Around Paris

Join me for my Paris vlog - invited there for an event, I took the opportunity of checking out a couple of Paris' most famous literary spots. Musing on art and death in Montparnasse Cemetery and generally being an Englishmen abroad. Enjoy!