Normally these sorts of letters are about his Mum. It’s been a few months since the last wrangle and the postman’s been on time for once, so that’s something. Brian takes the official-looking envelope into the kitchen and sets it down on the counter. 25 Castleton Road. There’s no hurry to open it. He’s used to throwing forms or money at what’s left of her problems. All in good time. First he clunks the mechanical arm of his espresso machine and spoons fine earthy grounds into the basket he cleaned out, as always, after yesterday morning’s coffee. He’s not the type to leave muck in his kitchen overnight. He wipes spillage off the marble worktop and sets the machine trickling. The emerging smell welcomes him into the world and makes him feel that a day’s work will be possible after all.
The Wardrobe Ensemble, who have previously looked at relationships and sex in the 1970s and how it still relates to today have in their latest endeavour jumped forward a couple of decades to 1997. The setting is a local comprehensive school, looking at the staff and student relationships within the context of both Tony Blair’s recent election victory and the UK’s success that year in the Eurovision song contest. The story is mostly told through the impressions of a German classroom assistant Tobias who is new to the School, exploring many of the issues and events that were topical in 1997, from New Labour to Tamagotchi’s. The cast play both students and teachers, which means some quick changes.
“This is a true story,” says Fargo’s opening tagline. “At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” This is an untrue but apt prefix for an iconic tale of bloodshed and deceit. Fargo was the first film by Joel and Ethan Coen to receive an Academy Award, winning the 1996 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. With its dark humour, vivid neo-noir cinematography and lush Carter Burwell soundtrack, Fargo is a crime drama typifying the Coen brothers’ unorthodox style of filmmaking. In 1987, Minnesota car salesman Jerry Lundergaard conspires with thugs Gaear Grimsrud and Carl Showalter in Fargo, North Dakota to kidnap Lundergaard’s wife and blackmail his wealthy stepfather into handing over a lucrative ransom.
I’m sure I am not alone in feeling scared, uncertain, angry, and powerless in the current political climate. Between Brexit and Trump, the world is a scary, unsettling place. As always, when in doubt, it is often best to bury your head in a book which challenges your world view or at the very least serves as a suitable distraction from the horror of day to day life. That’s my motto anyway, cumbersome as it is. The world-weary volume serving to distract from the news of Nazi protests and impending nuclear doom this week was Begat: an entertainment for the Trump epoch by Richard Major, writing as Felix Culpepper, published by Indie Books.
Life is a tricky thing. What is the purpose of it all? Where are we going? Who am I? These are three questions that bombard the mind of Gameson’s protagonist, Win, as she has an existential crisis of Buddhist proportions. She undergoes a death of self, a destruction of her memories and personality in order to attain enlightenment. It is the ultimate form of impermanence, a recognition that the soul does not truly exist. Who she is has nothing to do with her past, but is determined only by her mindset and her level of focus in each and every new moment. She stands aloof from her family and utilises an approach of non-attachment to everyone and everything. And as such the dangers of such a mindset are explored with touches of humour and equal measures of seriousness.
A voice tells him to make himself comfortable. A disembodied, non-British voice, its accent impossible to place but with the curled vowels of American English. An international-school voice. Female, of course – but then they always are. Clients find female voices more appealing than male ones, regardless of the gender or orientation of the client themselves. Much research has gone into confirming this. He looks to the four corners of the ceiling. No evidence of any kind of public address system. The voice may as well be coming from inside his own head. Once again the voice - this ideal voice - tells him to make himself comfortable. But this only makes him feel less relaxed, as if he’d been doing it incorrectly before and now needs to be corrected. He is not in his world. That’s how Bob would describe it, if anyone were to ask.
It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that a monumental event occurred which shook the UK to its core, divided communities and severed relationships. No, I’m not referring to the Great British Bake Off’s shift to Channel 4 but rather Brexit. Ah, Brexit, I seem to have spent much of my time in post-Brexit Britain considering my future, my political beliefs and the beliefs of those around me, my role in society and how much impact I can have in changing the world. It appears I am not alone. Little Soldier Productions have taken these feelings of disempowerment, confusion and anger alongside a desire for action and personal engagement and created Derailed, the latest production from this innovative, exciting theatre company.
So, after yet another hectic weekend, the scourge of the summer months, some rest was required. Being of a relatively antisocial bent at times, I wanted a chance to sit by myself and simply exist. In my extensive experience of avoiding others, a good book is always a worthwhile companion and so I managed to form a delightfully withdrawn bubble of isolation for a short while this week. The trusty defence against social intrusion was Virtual Living by Gary Beck. Published by Thurston Howl Publications, this is a collection of Beck’s poetry previously published in a wide array of publications including Boston Poetry magazine, collated for the first time into a slim, snappy volume. Virtual Living is a ‘revealing glimpse’ into our ever-evolving relationship with technology, particularly our relationship with online spaces.
Inspired by Rene Magritte’s L'Empire des Lumieres. Lalice watches the last train arrive, its passengers spilling out into the platform in a blur of shadows and setting sun. Most are in a rush to get back home, footsteps haste and barely touching the floor. Only one took his time, and Lalice studies him as he leisurely walks out of the carriage with his hands in his pockets. He was looking around. Lalice caught a glimpse of his unnerving blue eyes. Before her, the train hums, gets ready to leave. In the stranger's distracted wanderings, he collides with another. The last of the passengers disappear beyond the flashing green exit signs, and the doors are now beeping. The automatic doors shut, and the train rumbles back to life.
The story of a man caught between two lovers - one male, one female - was the first film to feature a gay kiss. It's one of the finest examples of British social realist cinema and reached a surprising level of mainstream success given that it came out only 4 years after decriminalisation (it featured stars like Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson, and earned multiple Oscar & Bafta nominations). It demonstrates that, while lawmakers were still blustering about deciding what was legally 'proper', real people's lives and sexualities were far more complex.
Despite having visited the City of Lights countless times and almost exhausted all its major league tourist attractions, I'd somehow never found myself scaling the exposed plumbing of the Pompidou Centre until last Wednesday. Whilst these tubular escalators offer spectacular views all over the city, on a hot summer's day one does feel somewhat like an ant being boiled alive by a sadistic magnifying glass-wielding schoolboy. They are currently hosting a summer exhibition celebrating the life and work of perhaps Britain's most famous 20th-century artist, David Hockney.
Guantanamo Bay is a ridiculous place. It could quite easily have been conceived by George Orwell or J.G. Ballard. Ironically enough, George Orwell’s books are banned from the base, as Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve found out when he would take books to a British detainee named Shaker Aamer. Originally, 1984 was allowed in but Shaker Aamer’s essay on what the book was really about, opened the eyes of the otherwise ignorant guards, and these rules became more stringent. ‘Unbelievable’ really is the word.
The lake is crystal blue, shimmering in the summer sun. It is surrounded by healthy trees on three sides. I sit on the fourth, overlooking the Nene Valley nature park with Basic Nest Architecture in my hand. It is poetry written to be read outdoors. It is a celebration of nature and all that she entails. Indeed, in the Wordsworthian tradition, the poem ‘Lake Fever’ evokes the importance of nature to humans. It is home; it is a refuge: it is where we are meant to be. For Wordsworth, the Lake District was the absolute epitome of this; it was his poetic muse; thus, he spent his life there writing.
Theatre innovator ZU-UK was born from the collaboration between Zecora Ura and Para Active, two companies engaged in alternative experimental theatre for over two decades. 'In 2006, we came together to create Hotel Medea' explains ZU-UK’s Co-Artistic Director Jorge Lopes Ramos. 'This was an overnight piece where we refined our approach to game design, participation, interactivity, live performance and multi-disciplinary innovation, later also with the inclusion of technology.'
Juan the orphan joined the Circus Invisible on the afternoon of his ninth birthday, but he spent that morning, like any other, wandering his neighbourhood of Sant Pere looking for something to eat. Stomach grumbling, he picked his way through the darkened alleyways hung with loops of washing and lined with convenience stores, hair parlours and family shops that only sold pyjamas or underpants. He shivered in the spring air and ran halfway down Calle Princesa. He turned a corner and almost collided with the other members of his gang, Pepé and Slippery-Iñaki who were lurking opposite an ATM smoking cigarette ends and trading mock blows. "M-m-morning, c-c-compa's," said Juan.
For me, the migrant crisis has always felt like a crisis the news media is unequipped to deal with. While terrorist attacks or natural disasters are presented to us with the ease of a cinematic finale; with images that force our jaws to hit the floor as we comprehend what exactly has happened and what it means, whenever I see the images of refugees like Aziz, arriving by some fraudulent description of a boat, I am left with a great big void where comprehension should sit. We don’t and cannot see the Syrian civil war that interrupted Aziz’s life as an engineering student or that visited ‘despots, droughts, and deities’ to his country. We don’t see the packed-out vans or the threats of torture and death.
Upcoming on the 3rd August from renowned indie press Myriad Editions is The Favourite, an assured, compelling debut by the elusive, London-born Manhattan-based S.V. Berlin, who is very much a writer to watch. Myriad Editions prides itself on unearthing and nurturing fresh literary talent, reaping nominations and awards in the process, such as the Scottish Book Trust Pick of the Year in 2014 for Liam Murray Bell’s The Busker and the People’s Choice Wales Book of the Year award in the same year for Tyler Keevil’s The Drive. Aside from their imprint of diverse fiction, from bone-chilling crime thrillers to scintillating literary debuts, Myriad also boasts a wide array of graphic books and atlases, such as Una’s Becoming Unbecoming, a memoir of male violence in 1970s Yorkshire.
Your early twenties. A lot of us were at University then - with the accompanying drinking and debauchery - Late nights, late mornings and the occasional lecture. What seemed like moments later would come the dull terror of starting a first “grown-up” job, discovering the horrors of taxes, bills and grubby house-shares. All fairly awful, but dealt with easily, normally with the aid of the cheapest bottle of wine on offer in the corner shop. Now take those feelings of uncertainty, doubt and unpreparedness that we all felt, and imagine that you found out you were expecting a child too - those boozy times swapped for nappy changes, sore nipples and endless sleepless nights.
SJ Bradley is a writer from Leeds, UK, whose short fiction has been published in the US and UK. She is the organiser of Leeds-based DIY literary social Fictions of Every Kind, an award-winning editor, and the director of the Northern Short Story Festival. Her second novel, Guest, will shortly be published by Dead Ink Books and here, she talks to Disclaimer about the influences behind the work and allows us a peek at an extract: The character of Samhain, an angry punk squatter who never knew his father, came to me one day as I was making fliers. I was my friend's basement at the time, rolling the treadle on an antiquated, ancient letterpress printing machine. Printing ink on cards, then alternating the fliers, still wet with ink, with old newspapers.
BJ McNeill’s celebrated debut play ‘Torn Apart (Dissolution)’ is back in town for a month, and lovers of West End Fringe theatre won’t want to miss this chance to catch a future classic in the full flush of its youth. ‘Torn Apart’ is a fascinating, fleshy, deeply challenging work, and this production sees six stunning young performers giving their all, and more, in the Hope Theatre’s sweatily intimate upstairs space.
Nobody’s here for the story. As the Scarecrow points out, while nursing a pint and grinning fiercely, ‘Sure, no-one’s seen this fucking story before …’ Dorothy blushes, wondering whether her straw-headed friend was joking when he told her he was gay, or if it was his later pronouncement, that he wants to come back to Kansas and fuck her brains out, that was serious. Either way, Dorothy and her glove-puppet dog are a long way from home right now, and the audience is hanging on a drunk Irishman’s every eye-rolling pratfall while a lanky cross-dressing Wicked Witch plays a laconic keyboard.
Authors that write novels about their own personal experience insert a new level of emotion and power into their writing. Juan Laurel immigrated to Spain in protest against the government in Equatorial Guinea. Just like the men in this book, he fled his mother country in search of asylum. His is another story against the backdrop of many who have wished for a better life away from the horrors of corrupt governments.
It’s Independence Day week in America, and appropriately enough Wonder Woman is flying high in the charts more than forty years after she first captured the heart of a nation, and a world, in America’s bicentennial year of 1976. The latest Wonder Woman reboot has already earned Patty Jenkins distinction as director of the top grossing live-action box office hit by a female director. Film critic Rich Heldenfels hails Wonder Woman: Rise of the Warrior as the “most important film this year” and, according to Variety magazine, Wonder Woman is the most tweeted about film of 2017 across the globe. Earlier this summer the film simultaneously topped the box office charts in both the U.K. and U.S.
The latest offering from the Mancunian indie publishing house Comma Press is an unashamedly outspoken, politically-charged ode to the long history of protest and resistance movements in the UK. The scope of this collection spans British history from the Middle Ages, kicking off with the Peasant’s Revolt spearheaded by Wat Tyler, up to the present day, with its last piece tackling the 2003 anti-Iraq war demonstrations. Ra Page and his team have brought together talented wordsmiths, the likes of Kit de Waal, Maggie Gee and David Constantine, and leading sociologists, historians, and eyewitnesses to collaborate on what they call ‘well researched, historically accurate fiction.’
After the warmest week, London’s had in a while, my partner, big brolly, and I headed out into the pouring rain towards the Unicorn Theatre. Situated just a short walk from London Bridge, the eeriness still hanging in the air, I was more than happy to enter the venue - colourful, modern and full of children’s laughter. The show is ‘Double Double Act’. It's created by Tim Cowbury, Jessica Latowicki, and Christopher Brett Bailey (the pair are also performers in the show). Unicorn Theatre is the UK’s leading professional theatre for young audiences.
Following a rather hectic weekend, I found myself with an hour to kill before my train on Sunday. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and a beer and a nice sit down beckoned. Luckily, I managed to squeeze into a tight, comfy nook, beer in hand and was able to remain pleasantly unbothered by the rest of the world. However, upon opening the slim, delightful volume I have had the lucky task of reviewing, a herd of elephants could have come crashing into the table next to me and I doubt I would have noticed. Luckily, I didn’t miss my train but it was a distinct possibility as I raced through the spellbinding tale in front of me. That all consuming volume was The Proof by César Aira, translated by Nick Caistor and published by & Other Stories, a publisher which focuses on contemporary world-class fiction.
The West often dreams about the East, but this relationship is reciprocated as the Orient also dreams of the Occident. We all look for a sense of meaning in life, a reason to carry on, and for the little Buddhist monk the reason is a dream of the West. He wishes to relocate; he believes such a thing will make him happier in life and more content. A random encounter with a French couple sets him on such a path; however, as Aira shows us so eloquently perception and reality are two separate things altogether. The monk begins to guide the couple to various cultural landmarks that help to define Korea. As the narrative progresses, he realises that their vision of the East is somewhat distorted. It is generalised, completely lacking in individual character and undiscerning in regards to the rest of the Orient.
Mister Babadook, a grey-faced, spindly-clawed and top-hatted demon who inhabits a cursed children’s book, has become an unlikely gay icon. He is the antagonist of Australian psychological horror film The Babadook (2014), the debut of self-trained director Jennifer Kent and a work which has transcended the frequently panned horror genre to become culturally iconic. BBC critic Mark Kermode even named The Babadook as his favourite film of 2014. So why is it cinematically affective enough to have become such a phenomenon? Though The Babadook has a supernatural pretext like many horror films, it is unorthodox in lacking a happy-go-lucky setup, instead of having a sombre surface narrative that unnerves viewers from its beginning.
A world of angry nuns, a repressive father, sexual experimentation, and forbidden desire… Not, as you may be imaging, my school years (for that replace Nuns with Vicars and the word “repressive” for “hugely accepting” and you’re about there…), but instead “For the Love of God, Marie!” a stunning graphic novel by Jade Sarson, published by Myriad. Laying in bed on a lazy Sunday morning, I rarely want to pick up anything too complicated to read, so pushed aside some of the weightier tomes on the pile next to my bed and uncovered the rather eye-catching cover of “For the Love of God, Marie!” With a ginormous mug of tea and a purring cat on my lap, I was ready to dive into the world of Marie – one filled with love, emotion, sex, and warmth – in short, the perfect read for a quiet morning.
Down to a black and narrow stair, I enter the intimate space of Leicester Square Theatre – a semi-hidden door behind the namesake garden in central London. The show of the night is Thirty-Three, Australian new writing at its UK premiere. I purposely sit on the front row and have the chance to completely immerse in the friendly atmosphere the few props have already set. If the mention of the Southern hemisphere points to a play rather far from the messy and hectic life of Europe – in my imagination, Australia looks like an untouched island, where houses have large backyards and people don’t work in overcrowded offices -, test your views again. “Human” would be the best adjective to describe the story unfolding, and it doesn’t really cling to any specific country.
I'm always keen to receive an invite to Ovalhouse, where the wooden furniture in the café and the comfortable sofas in the lounge make me feel at home. Also, if there were a perfect way to start the short walk from the underground to the venue, Oval station would master it. Going up the escalator towards the exit, I was welcomed by triumphant classical music, shelves filled with books for the commuters to exchange them, a notice board with an inspiring quote of the day and several plants all around. As a part of a major regeneration scheme, last year the venue was granted a new sustainable and fully accessible purpose-built home in Brixton, which is due to open in spring 2018.
There really are very few places I like as much as London’s South Bank on a long summer evening. So, it is only natural that this week, once I entered the area of the Underbelly Festival, I couldn’t possibly think of leaving without a drink or a little dance – and of course a show! The festival, which presents comedy, circus, and family entertainment, is host to a 60-minute circus show until Sunday called “And the Little One Said…”, performed by Australian circus artist Jess Love. “Love is the drug” are the producers of this one-woman show presenting elements of circus and physical theatre in the Spiegeltent, a classically designed circus tent that instantly takes you into another world. The show itself presents morbid and surprising elements.
There is a disconnect. Some of the funniest moments on television in the last years have come from Alec Baldwin’s grotesque portrayal of Donald Trump; Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah are almost elegant as they stiletto the Donald. Political humour has never been more cutting - nor more needed. Yet, political drama is in crisis. Former favourites have seen their ratings plummet. First during presidential election season, then once Trump was inaugurated. We are engrossed as politics itself becomes drama with Russia, Comey, possible impeachment being played out 24 hours a day on television and social media. Is it just fatigue or is there something else going on?
At the theatre’s exit, I usually have one dominant thought, one line that stays with me, one actor’s face impressed in my mind. But it is hard to say what might be the one - and only one - this time as I walked out the Shakespeare's Globe after Tristan and Yseult by Kneehigh. It wasn’t one but numerous. This is an impressive revival of the myth of Tristan and Yseult, if the term “revival” can include a production completely stripped of any medieval connotations. The performance comprises acting, singing, dancing, 360 degrees of engaging theatre that speaks about human feelings to a 21st century audience through a 12th century legend.
Burning Brightly with A Powerful Story, Gareth Brookes Powerful Artwork is Both Vibrant and Unsettling
Flowers sprout out of the television, wild vines climb the walls and burst through the window. In the garden, alien children spin around - arms outstretched and helmets on their heads, narrowly missing troops of soldiers who parade down the street. It's disorienting and strange, yet I'm unable to tear my eyes away for a second... No, I've not just dropped a particularly potent tab of Acid but instead, I'm curled up on the sofa reading "A Thousand Coloured Castles" by Gareth Brookes, published by Myriad Editions. It's a beautifully drawn graphic novel that brings the mundane and the sinister together, forming a world that brings a truly unique viewpoint direct to the reader
When we in Britain talk about the World War Two, we do so as victors. And why not? We have plenty of proud images to choose from. Winston Churchill flipping the v’s to Hitler, spitfires loop-the-looping over our defended sovereign nation or the Queen herself, the embodiment of Britain’s living memory of that period, asking us very politely to keep calm and carry on. We talk about the Britain whose army liberated Bergen-Belson and saved Ella Blumenthal from the typhus and TB that had ravaged the camp. The same British soldiers who, upon securing the concentration camp, removed Olga Horak from a German hospital where the nurses refused to treat the Jewish patients. But victory can distort our memory and while we got to write the history of the Second World War, we seem to have forgotten a number of important factors that led to its necessity in the first place.
Back at the dawn of time, before ‘Spooky’ Mulder opened his first X-File, before Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof inflicted the obnoxiously opaque Lost on us, before multi-season long-form storytelling was even a thing, a tousle-haired Buddhist and a strait-laced network scriptwriter sat down with a copy of the rule book of writing for television, and stabbed it in the face. What killed it was loss of blood, from numerous shallow wounds, no single one serious enough to have caused death, but by the time this televisual odd couple had finished the deed and were wrapping the corpse in plastic sheeting to dump in a frigid river near the Canadian border, the encyclopaedia of received narrative wisdom was thoroughly extinct.
I’ve worn my voting finger to the bone funding grade-school classes in music, drama and visual arts, believing that education must go beyond “the three Rs” if people are to lead happy, fulfilling and productive lives. But suddenly, years of hearing my two oldest sons complain about what happened in their “enrichment” programs have combined with memories of how my own early impulse toward the arts barely survived nine years of ham-fisted instruction, leading to a belated Epiphany. So now, as my youngest child is poised to enter the same gauntlet of classes in which maintaining compliance and force-feeding curriculum are more important than nurturing students’
Navigating Their Way Through Bizarre Alien Cultures, Two Cases of Culture Shock emerge war-torn and enriched
Fledgling Press are to be lauded for investing in new novel-writing talent – in a time when mainstream publishers have become every bit as risk-averse as the cowardly studios of Hollywood, it is to the small presses we must turn for the shock of the new. Here are the paths untrodden, where agentless authors huddle, nursing the bruises of the dog-eat-corpse ruthlessness of the self-publishing industry, and desperately hoping to be the next Eimar MacBride, the crossover experimentalist turned critical darling and, more importantly, hardback-shifting best seller.
Given the unbearable heat and insufferable wave of BBQ’s and rowdy pub gardens endured this week, I was more than ready to escape from the outside world for a while. Managing to find a couple of stolen hours to curl up in delightfully antisocial solitude, my reverie was temporarily broken by a thunderstorm of epic proportions, full of lashing rain and rolling thunder. Very atmospheric and very appropriate given the nature of the slender volume I was cradling in my slightly sweaty grasp. The book I was reading as the sky started falling was Writing on Water, a collection of eleven short stories by Maggie Harris, published by Seren Books, Wales’ leading independent publisher. As the title suggests water is the main theme which draws together each story in this collection.
A Russian man was recently given a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence for inciting religious hatred. His crime? Playing the popular augmented reality (AR) game Pokémon Go on his smartphone in a church. Sacred spaces and games have long had an uneasy relationship. In 2002, a setting resembling Amritsar’s Golden Temple appeared in the violent video game Hitman 2. Controversy ensued. But more than digitally recreating sacred places, we now have games that physically encroach on those spaces, incorporating them into location-based AR systems. Inside Gujarati temples where eggs are forbidden, were found some of Pokémon Go’s “virtual eggs”. Controversy ensued, again.
A mini-heatwave rests upon the garden with all the welcoming grace of a hefty stranger resting in your lap on the tube. Blinding light and raucous neighbours force me to scuttle into the dark to find a cool, lonely place. A dingy corner in which to brood over haunting tales of demons and unwanted knowledge. I am reading The Automaton by David Wheldon and Paymon’s Trio by Colette de Curzon, two upcoming releases from Nightjar Press, an independent publisher specialising in limited edition single short-story chapbooks by individual authors. Nightjar Press takes its name from the Devil-Bird of Sylvia Plath’s Goatsucker. The corpse fowl, as it’s often known, is a nocturnal creature with a ghostly reputation and this sets the tone for the eerie publications released annually in pairs by Nightjar. The first of the two for 2017 is The Automaton from the award-winning novelist and poet, David Weldon.
An expansive short story collection which explores the past, future, and mortality with imagination, compassion, and humour, Gregory Norminton’s The Ghost Who Bled, is ‘a tour de force of literary worldbuilding.’ A lecturer a Manchester Metropolitan University, Norminton attempts to uncover the deeply personal through the prism of a (sometimes distant) witness. The opening story to the collection begins with the narrator speaking directly to the reader. The Poison Tree tells the story of a Vietnam veteran named Roger, whose life is saved by a man who, after the war, becomes his neighbour until Roger perceives the life-debt he owes to be too much of an unspoken burden.
At the dawn of time before it all began Before stars and comets Before the B of the Bang Before Moisture ether bone and tooth Before Jesus Mary Joseph the truth Before creation civilisation Before the dawn of man God was putting the final touches to his master plan But scratching his head and drawing all he could muster He contemplated the task of building Manchester Location Culture Industry Its humans
The gentle pattering of heavy rain and the distant threat of thunder intermingle with birdsong. I’ve managed to find a comfy corner in which to hide away and as I momentarily glance from the window, I wonder how the promise of summer was broken so swiftly. I’m delighted. I’m reading Comma Press’s newest collection of short stories; Thought X: Fictions and Hypotheticals. This anthology is the just the latest in an acclaimed series of science-inspired short-story anthologies, Science into Fiction, which Comma have been producing since 2008. Edited by Rob Appleby and Ra Page, Thought X focuses on breathing life into thought experiments.
I often find myself lost in Victorian novels, following ladies dressed in crinolines as they cross cobbled streets, or hiding amongst mudlarks who hover outside penny gaffs. I have wondered whether it is the 19th Century in which I truly belong: a maid of all work dressed in a corset laced too tight, scrubbing the cold floorboards of my master’s study as I daydream about life as an author. But who, in the 19th Century, would read a woman’s work and take her seriously? In 1847, an exciting new novel by Currer Bell was making even Royals salivate. It told the tale of an orphan named Jane Eyre who, after being sent away from her Aunt’s home to an institution, becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall where she meets Mr Rochester, her employer.
I come from County Fermanagh and was brought up in the Unionist tradition. The west of Northern Ireland is a wild and beautiful place - often held to work to different rhythms than the more strident cities and suburbs to the East. The Unionist minority there, perhaps mindful of that demographic deficit, has always tended to moderation. This was more of a ‘live and let live’ space, closer to the Atlantic than the ghetto. And yet, the legacy of the horror visited on the Protestant population of the Fermanagh border during the Troubles is an enduring reminder of how much remains to be done to reconcile the past with a more hopeful future now much at stake in the current constitutional tumult.
It's not enough when you've reached that independent age to throw dynamite at cars and violate graves rather in this postmodern cyberspace parasite American Psycho age where only the body (and, at times, the psyche) are sacred to make a name on Devil's Night you have to burn Camden or Detroit and even as you watch the neighborhood where you grew up collapse in on its own orange and yellow heritage you gotta laugh back the tears and make them think you're happy to be rid of the memories * * * they sat and had a drink at the Café the Madonna and the performance artist. The waiter, a down-on-his-luck poet offered braised tongue of Céline for $34.50. The artist's eyes flashed television, C-SPAN, maybe, or TNT and the Madonna blackened in the still-aflame Camden fire of 1991 [no break] looked out onto Knife Street with something akin to desire. The drinks tasted of blood slight sweetness of formaldehyde mixed in and the Madonna grinned her approval FLASH: the Emergency Broadcast Network across the artist's eyes. The police bomb LA.
I was at home, sitting on the sofa with my wife when it happened. We were watching some mindless cooking programme on the television after what felt like a long day. Since returning from work, we hadn’t said much to each other, which had become the usual state of affairs. Every now and then I’d mention something, which would be returned with a brief nod or the beginnings of a sentence, which trailed away as her attention was diverted. I blamed myself – I was the one who had bought Molly the damn phone - beforehand she’d had a brick of a thing, so on her last birthday I’d presented her with a new one, top of the range. It hadn’t been a gradual process - it had only taken a few weeks for the phone to creep between us. Now, she was always on it, checking her social media, reading emails, following news stories.
Dystopias are all the rage these days. From zombie-infested country towns to post-apocalyptic authoritarian states, parallel universe Nazified America, to post-global warming alternate realities. Alien invaded Earths, vampire bloodbath cattle farms, you name it, if you can think of an earth shattering mega-carnage dystopian world, then it's probably on Netflix. But why? Why are we so obsessed with dystopias? Well, perhaps it's because we are living in one, and it makes it just a little more bearable if you create a mirrored reflection of reality that is really just a bed time scary-story. Just make-believe. Don't worry darling, there's no such thing as bloodsucking world-dominating vampires willing to gorge on defenceless victims and turn them into mindless minions for their psychotic overlords. Is there?
Just let go. No. So what’s your plan then? Plans are not my department. I deal in self-preservation. Soon the pain in his fingers and forearms brought the argument with his subconscious to a conclusion Jim dropped. Not like the cat of his imagination, more like a heavily tranquilized sack of spuds. In his state he barely registered that he had been falling for longer than he had expected. His balance failed him completely. His left foot hit the floor well before his right, which was still falling. If he could have seen himself, Jim would have found the sprawling high-kick pose funny but this only lasted for a moment. Under his entire bodyweight, the knee buckled and twisted. An almighty flash of bright yellow agony burst up through the lumpy barrier that the pills had created, right into the core of his brain. The rest of his body landed heavily, as if it were a jumble of separate pieces.
Jim stood in the alley, listening hard for signs of movement, using the side of his head to press his ear against the door. The cold of the metal seemed to ease the pounding within his skull. It was two hours since the chemist shop had closed and the shop front was shuttered and locked safely. This back door seemed to be a fire exit. There were scraps of newspaper and other litter collected on the low step. It would have been swept away if the door was in regular use. He was sure that everyone had gone home and that they would have left from the main entrance onto the bright busy street, not into this dark and cluttered home to shadows and soft scratchings amongst the bins and the piled up boxes.
We went in whiter than white cars, holding hands. toward bends, that led to culverts and bunds, inside our heads, we never even knew existed. you were the cool, all knowing one, dainty, slipping through swings, waiting for TA sessions, in between our kissing rings. was there nothing else we spilt over in rewind mode. bake houses called “KR” still stand with old chairs stuck between, long indignant stares.
I encountered A Man in Inverness a few days ago, disorientated, in the middle of the road, wailing at a couple of passers-by for help. They crossed the road quickly, as far from him as possible. The Man was suffering from acute alcoholism; yellow-skinned, red-eyed, urine-soaked breeks, his hands purple-mottled, heavy, spongy paws - like water filled rubber gloves. He was sobbing and in pain. The passers-by called out, tersely, “The doctor’s that way.” I took him off the road and called an ambulance. As we waited, he (Nicholas) shared some mercurial words. “Look at that,” he said looking at a child on a tricycle, “Beautiful. Children.” And, “O, that Labrador. Dogs. Lovely.” More harrowing, “I still love my wife.” Tears then and, “She died 17 days after we were married. Cancer. Let me tell you something,” he went on, “… loneliness.”
West Ontario somewhere - April Hub-Cap Farm I got a short lift up the road this morning to what the driver called, The Hub Cap farm. I asked what they farmed, and he said, you’ll see when you get there. It isn’t near anywhere but it will be a good place to get a lift from. He was right - the barn is covered in hubcaps. Apparently it shines so bright that aviator’s use it as a guide. There must be hundreds and hundreds of them. Not all of them so shiny. Nearly every one of them has a story attached or a photo booth photo with a carefully written note that has run in the rain from when the condensation has got inside the plastic envelope. I saw at least one with a dog tag and another with the date of birth, and death punched out on those blue plastic strips that are like a telegram. You know the tool you dial around then punch out the letter or number. It must have taken ages to get it right. I wonder how many goes they had - now it’s there forever.
Science fiction is a genre with a reputation for prophesising. The dystopia of George Orwell’s 1984 has returned to popular acclaim in age of alternative facts and surveillance statism, while Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World seems to have predicted the psychological engineering of the mass media. The earliest works of science fiction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, by the likes of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, imagined technological advances such as space travel that were surreal and fantastical to their readers. But there is a lesser known work of science fiction which is as prescient as Orwell and Huxley’s works, but which was written the same era as Verne and Wells. Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World (1907) is unique in being endorsed as prophetic, in the literal theological sense, by the world’s highest religious authority - with Pope Francis believing that Benson’s nightmarish vision was divinely inspired.
Once upon a time, there was a lovely vicar’s daughter called Goldilocks, who wore expensive animal skin trousers, and lovely animal print shoes, and was very fair to everyone who gave her exactly what she wanted. Goldilocks lived in the house of the three bears. There was Mutter Bear, Papa bear, and their petulant little cub, Wee Bear. At first, the lovely little girl didn’t mind remaining with the bears, as she was best friends with little Wee Bear (as long as Wee Bear always did exactly as she was told) and there was a certain amount of economic stability. It was a charming house with plenty of porridge for her to eat, comfy beds for her to sleep in and where all bananas where a regulated shape. However, it was always such a bore to follow the bears’ silly rules, or pay them money which could be spent on the NHS and so, after a lot of very careful thought, consideration, and virtually no planning, Goldilocks decided that she was going to leave the three bear’s house.
Many years ago, before the revolution, there is living in a giant tower built in a rich land, a great, stupid emperor. This flabby, baby-man, he is caring of nothing but ratings of the television and the purchase of the finest silks and golds. So vain and stupid is this Emperor that he is wearing this stupid blonde comb-over, even though all the people know that the man with the balding head is most virile and superior. Far away from this stupid Emperor lives a strong and mighty Tsar. He has the good looks and the torso of a god, but he needs gold for the invasions of nearby countries - in self-defence of course. This tsar, he hears of this stupid, rich emperor and sends his finest tailor to him as a gift. The Tsar’s tailor, Sergey, travels to the Emperor and promises to make him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is either stupid or unfit for his office.
The dog showed up one day out of nowhere, and everyone said it wouldn’t hang around long. It was old and mangy, blind in one eye and half-blind in the other, brown and black with patches of whitish skin that made it look like it had undergone chemotherapy. People fed the dog scraps or gave it water, and it got to know almost everyone in the neighborhood after going house to house several times. All the kids got along well with the old hound, who wagged his tail and licked their faces when they petted him. Some kids called the dog “Buck,” others “Spike,” and one knock-kneed, thirteen-year-old girl, Ina, called it “King Dramilo,” because it reminded her of a Slovenian fairy tale her mother once read her.
Today, I want to talk about one young man called Tom Thumb. He was born to an economically disadvantaged background. He didn't have access to the kinds of opportunities, such as private schooling or music and art classes, that children of wealthier families too often take for granted. Tom was extraordinarily small. He was no larger than his father’s thumb, yet the Tory austerity meant there was no support allowance for his family. He was even forced out of the local school which - due to a rigged system which favoured the establishment - didn’t have the support staff to cope with his different abilities. This kind of treatment of our most vulnerable simply will not happen when a socialist government is elected by the British people.
We watch films for many reasons - to laugh, to cry, to be awed, to be provoked. At their root, though, films exist to make us connect. They take us deep into the lives of people we might never ordinarily engage with, and compel us to empathise. There are few better examples of this than Moonlight, a film so human you’d think the reels themselves had a heartbeat. A tender, aching portrait of a black man’s adolescence in an impoverished district of Miami, Moonlight follows Chiron at three stages in his life: first as a boy, then as a teenager and finally as a man. The three actors sharing the role are superb. Young Alex Hibbert barely says 20 words but is mesmerising, laying the foundations of this sensitive, painfully closed-off boy while James Laxton’s fluid cinematography shows the wonders and dangers of Liberty City through a child’s eyes.
He pushed the staff down through the tangle of brambles and weeds that grew at the base of the wall. Dusk was falling. It was the best time of day to make an attempt. The watchers were tired, their shifts would end soon, they’d be losing focus. He inched along beside the wall, testing the earth with the staff as he moved forward, lifting it up, hammering it down, looking for signs of weakness. Thud. Thud. Thud. The ground was solid. He kept going. He must have walked a thousand kilometres over the last few weeks. Always on the move, he’d trudged through forests and fields, across streams and rivers, through burned cities, scarred towns, over hills and mountains. His broken boots hit the ground with a steady reluctance, his soul willing his body to take another step. Thud. Thud. Thud.
Once upon a time - a very long time ago, in fact - there was a beautiful and great land with green hills and lush green pastures. Within this land, there was a village and within that village lived a young shepherd boy. He was the youngest head shepherd in generations and was a good looking, boyishly handsome young man. He was charming and intelligent, with a purer than pure heart and good character, and wanted nothing more than for his sheep to prosper. So, when a big, bad, wolf threatened his sheep the young shepherd boy cried out to the village, “Wolf! Wolf!” The villagers came running out and he explained that the wolf was intending to privatise their heathcare, make children work up chimneys and other bad things. So the villagers, trusting the boy’s sweet smile, put an end to the wolf. This meant the boyishly handsome young shepherd boy was free to privatise health care himself. Although the villagers and his sheep protested, he explained, quite rightly, “I’ve dealt with the wolf, I’m the good guy!”
We grow up with habits demanding upgrades, into lives needing sustainable liquid assets. Iphones. Sega Genesis. Craft beer and coolers. Season tickets. Big cars with Bose speakers and space for possible gun racks. The culture is petulant and consumptive. Our parents went to college and worked hard. Our parents skipped college and worked double shifts. Our parents played guitars and sung about unions. Our parents tucked heirloom tomato seeds into the freezer. What our parents did before us doesn't matter. By the time we're born, their parents’ faces sag like helium-drained balloons. We try not to stare because we don't want to pity them. Feeling sorry for the bunny in the road makes you wish for a bullet to end its misery. The sun sets in bars across the vinyl carpet. We vow ourselves elsewhere.
Right. Now, as it is of vital importance for us to learn lessons from the past, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a particular issue of national importance recently brought to my attention. There was, at one time or another, a great famine that settled over a land, far, far away. This famine created many child refugees. Two young children (let’s call them Child H and Child G) were cast out of their family home by an evil Step Mother and left to starve in the deep, dark wood. These two starving children decided that they would be at an economic advantage if they were to journey through the deep dark, wood and into a magical land that they heard was awash with sweeties and magical benefits that the townspeople gave away to children like them. Not unlike Britain today.
Now, I tell great stories. The best. No, I do, I really do; I tell great stories. I have this one story, it’s the best story. It really is. It’s great. It’s about these pigs. These three pigs. Three of them. Great pigs, great pigs. I love pigs, some of the best people are pigs. There was that guy… Porky. He was a pig. Great pig, and ‘Babe’. Babe was a great pig, really, really great pig. Did a great job, great job. Some people don’t like pigs, think they’re dirty, roll around in dirt; that’s what I heard. It’s what I heard people say. I don’t think that. I haven’t got a bad word, great pigs. Terrific, terrific pigs. Now, these pigs, and they were great pigs, steady jobs, families, hardworking pigs. Good guys. They wanted the same thing all Americans want; to build homes, have good jobs, and protect their families.
Janet Nordstrom cursed as she tried and failed to pick her way across mounds of debris in order to reach the sink. The room more closely resembled a trash heap in Rio than the wooden floor of a suburban bungalow. Piles of paperwork had toppled and slipped to form a paper Death Valley with a riverbed of orphaned electrical leads. It was populated by a varied wildlife of shrivelled candy wrappers, paperclips, dribbling ink pens, used bus tickets and the occasional whiskey bottle. It was on one of these bottles, its shiny shoulders poking out from under a ream of address labels, that her left foot skidded, causing her to slam down her right onto the top of a heaving bank of research papers which she slid down until she hit the body of a vacuum cleaner and, wavering for a second, fell flat on her back.
By the end of his year covering the 1972 US presidential election, Hunter S Thompson was exhausted - both mentally and physically. The man who'd ridden with the Hell's Angels and searched for the elusive corpse of the American Dream in Las Vegas had become a self-admitted 'political junkie.' In true Hunter fashion, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 opens with the following scene: "One afternoon about three days ago the Editorial Enforcement Detail from the Rolling Stone office showed up at my door, with no warning, and loaded about 40 pounds of supplies into the room: two cases of Mexican beer, four quarts of gin, a dozen grapefruits, and enough speed to alter the outcome of six Super Bowls... "
“Take your broken heart and make it into art.” When Meryl Streep quoted those words from Carrie Fisher, she was talking about the responsibility of artists to respond to the political turmoil of the last few months and the uncertainty of the next four years. Artists and satirists have reacted to the central figure of this turmoil in a variety of ways, most famously Alec Baldwin in SNL sketches. Illma Gore’s painting, Make America Great Again, gained viral status for the raw and humiliating depiction of its nude subject. A similar image, this time depicted in sculpture by the anonymous anarchist street art collective, Indecline, titled The Emperor Has No Balls appeared overnight in cities all across America including New York, San Francisco and Seattle. The works were quickly cleared away but not before their image was shared, tweeted, and blogged about online.
Once upon a time, long before Peppa Pig snorted her way into the hearts and minds of children everywhere, fairy tales provided the foundation for our moral compass: a light introduction to good versus evil, bravery versus injustice and the perfect platform to reinforce archaic gender stereotypes. Via the dark yarns of the Grimms, Hans Christian Anderson and Charles Perrault we learned that women were ice maidens, or driven mad by vanity; they were cannibilistic childless bitches; helpless victims with exceptionally long blond hair or near-fatal narcolepsy. Men on the other hand were kings, huntsmen, long-suffering fathers tricked into marriage by a money-grabbing evil stepmother-in-waiting or simply the sought-after prince who saves the girl, dragging her into a life of riches and respect
The encore is a predictable number. The crowd is typically torn-shirted and jack-booted, ritualistically colliding with each other, conkering smaller Mohawks out of the clearing. All heads, all elbows - the entity revolves around itself, crashes into itself, destroys and rebuilds itself like an asteroid belt. Bored lumps of rock pumped full of energy and desperate for contact, impact of any kind. Why won’t the pretty girl with the piercings smash me in the face? Boys with no hair, clothed in tattoo, bang heads against invisible walls in time with the music. Their illustrated arms tell no story whatsoever, except that of a young life inked over with the word ‘REACT’ in mundane, faintly-nationalistic lettering. A history of fascism still glistens like sweat over the body of the crowd.
‘Shall we go for the third row?’ someone asks as they shuffle awkwardly between chairs behind me. The audience has been thrown into disarray by a last minute change of location, rendering the allocated seating on their tickets useless and causing a sudden increase in social anxiety. But what do you expect from an anarchist? I’m at the panel discussion of Gee Vaucher’s first major institutional show in the UK, Introspective, at Colchester’s Firstsite Gallery. This exhibition “charts her journey as an artist and activist from the late 1960’s to the present day: from local activity to international ambition, from domestic concerns to world politics, and from healing the planet to healing the mind.”
The news, at the tail end of 2016, that the UK government is ensuring £369 million to renovate Buckingham Palace, the residence of the Royal Family, provoked a predictable reaction. In Austerity Britain, where homelessness has increased and disabled people in social housing are being charged the bedroom tax, it has provided an ideal opportunity for anti-monarchists to advance the republican cause. Graham Smith, CEO of anti-monarchist campaign group Republic, called it as an “absolute disgrace” and an “indictment on the Queen’s scandalous mismanagement of royal finances over six decades.”
I first learnt about the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), the recruits from China who came to work for the British and French armies behind the Western Front, when it was announced that '14-18 Now' would commemorate the centenary of WW1 through a series of arts commissions. I typed the words 'Chinese WW1' into my search engine and to my surprise, articles about the CLC popped up. Why had I never heard of them before, having studied WW1 at school during my 'O' levels? What had happened to wipe their contribution out of the history books? In Dec 2013, the Shandong Government toured an exhibition of the CLC across major European capitals, including London. The pictures of a Chinese interpreter eating with a British officer; a Chinese labourer cleaning a British tank; two CLC carrying British bombs on their shoulders; and CLC dressed in British army uniforms, was affecting.
Sometimes there’s nothing more uncomfortable than being inside your own brain. The as-yet unreplicable machine up-top that runs on a diet of oxygen, adrenaline and nostalgia; that quite literally makes you feel alive whilst simultaneously fostering a feeling of internal entrapment. Forever locked inside your own carefully and powerlessly curated thoughts. Or, you know, maybe that’s just me. But my own very obvious issues aside, this is why The Museum of Cathy, from Orange Prize-shortlistee Anna Stothard can occasionally make for uncomfortable reading as a raw, intricate look into a young woman’s beautiful, broken world. At times the reader can feel like a human pinball, being fired through the erratic psyche of the three main characters, stuck in their innermost thoughts in desperate need of fresh air and a faster pace.
The body rested just outside Warwickshire. The ground was consecrated by no less than seven Catholic priests who, by performing the act, agreed that Jonathan Stoakes was not only honourable, decent and noble but also, at least by the manner of his deeds, divine. His gravestone attested to this notion and along with the date of his birth and his death it bore the line: ‘Should we in our modesty ever know again the goodness of Mr Stoakes then rejoice, for we shall live in the kingdom of Heaven.’ The walk to this grave is not an easy one and by the time Mr Prince, Viccary and Holland arrived at the site their feet were blistered and sore. Holland’s boots were only by the grace of tightly tied pieces of string able to remain on his feet. “What sort of person gets themselves buried all the way out here?” asked Holland, breathing heavily.
To understand this is to achieve the impossible. To accept that is to acknowledge the limitations of human thought and imagination. We are beasts who have mastered worlds and space but our dominion is finite, even petty. Words, which both govern and elevate us, are also tyrant’s prisons spanning beyond fantasy but with walls stronger than any fortress. They are the only language we speak but they are not the only language there is. Without them we are not what we are but with them we can only be what we are. We are all-consuming but constrained. Despite everything, our only significance is our lack of it. Great cities are only dust; in the end we are all dead. The best we can do give poor translation to what we can never comprehend.
Vince clenched my shirt collar and pulled me close. “This is not complicated,” he said, slipping the vial into my shirt pocket and giving it a friendly pat. “You dump this into his drink then get the hell out of there.” His face was up in mine but my heart was pumping hard and his voice sounded far away. “You calmly serve the drinks,” he growled low. “Tell them you’ll be back with their food, walk slowly through the kitchen, down the hall, and out the back door. You’ll find me right here with the engine running and we’ll be drinking on a beach in Mexico before anyone knows what happened.” “And you’re sure it will kill him? There’s no way it could just make him sick?” “He’ll be stone dead,” he assured me. “There’s enough in that vial to kill everybody in the building.”
“One of the penalties for refusing to take part in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”- Plato In the second decade of the 21st century politicians actively strive to be famous personalities and build on their notoriety in order to rally support and propel their policies as a means of getting things done. However, since when did it become a social norm for celebrities to cross over into the industrial territory of world politics? The answer is since first politics existed: votes have often been cast in favour of the popularity and status of the candidate. That being said, in Classical times, reality television and film production hadn’t invaded government as it has today. The most notable celebrity politician in the ancient world was Gaius Julius Caesar - branded as Julius Caesar.
Was it my imagination or did I catch a whiff of salty air as I walked into the auditorium? When theatre promises to be dynamic all sorts of things strange can happen. And In Our Hands promises a combination of live acting and puppetry; it bills itself as making a difficult subject matter accessible; it. The production, based on the true story of Stefan Glinski a fisherman who strode successfully to change our consumption habits, does not have (at least at first glance) the most promising subject material. If you think the fishing industry does not make for interesting drama, think again: man not only contends against nature but he (or she) contends against big business and their own demons.
In a year that has seen the rise of a xenophobic demagogue, and an escalation in the number of police shootings of unarmed black men, Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is a film that has arrived right on time. DuVernay, who made her name with the critically-acclaimed Selma, has produced a documentary not just revelatory but necessary. It has every right to be a film angrier than it is, but instead we have been provided with a feature with an intellectual rigour that will draw you in and leave you feeling like you’re seeing the world with new eyes. 13TH is an investigation deep into the psyche of the United States of America: it stretches from the plantations of the Confederacy right through to the streets of modern day Ferguson.
If we truly live in a post-truth society where the likes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are able to say what they like without the cumbersome responsibility of it needing to be true, then it is not enough for them to not tell the truth, they also have to provide a non-truth. They have to tell us something artificial to fill the void of that brushed-aside truth. In Slavoj Žižek’s three-part exploration of truth, beauty and good, Disparity, he discusses the revelation of the number zero in mathematics. The concept of the number zero having equal importance as a positive number (one with value) was considered ridiculous in mathematical study for a long time, but its inclusion enabled a multitude of theories to suddenly become possible.
In a week that’s seen post-Brexit malaise only deepened by the ever-increasing ugliness of our tabloid press, Phone Home at Shoreditch Town Hall offered up the perfect tonic. A production devised by three companies from across Europe, Upstart Theatre (Britain), Pathos München (Germany), and Sforaris Theatre Company (Athens), have created an example of what can be achieved through European collaboration - it’s even co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union, something we will surely miss. These three companies have sought to construct a performance upon the theme of home, and what it means to leave it. Inevitably, this brought them into the realm of the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time - the Syrian Civil War, which has seen swathes of innocents displaced and forced to seek refuge in Europe.
It’s the morning of Tuesday 28th June 2016. I’m sitting in a café in London with a director from Germany, a director and dramaturg team from Greece, and a playwright from Leeds by way of Zimbabwe. We’re about to start a week of writing and development on an international theatre project. But all we can talk about is the result of the Brexit referendum and what it means for the future. The British team, myself and playwright Zodwa Nyoni, are still in the state of shock that characterised the 48% immediately after the referendum result was announced.
Developed in conjunction with professional psychologist Dr Roger Bretherton Zest Theatre’s Thrive takes an unassuming look at the important issue of grief and adolescent mental health in Britain. Utilising a more unusual immersive stage set-up, the play allows the audience to both move among and interact with the actors on stage. As a device this allows the audience to feel directly connected to the performers creating a stronger sense of shared experience. This is particularly important for this production as it is primarily designed to speak directly to a younger audience, especially those who may be experiencing a similar situation to what is being presented on stage.
Back in the eighteenth century the Lord Mayor of London and his officials would travel down the Essex coast in steamers and row round a stone in the water three times. They drank a toast “God Preserve the City of London” in a ceremony that marked the end of the city’s jurisdiction of the Thames estuary. The story is one of the many historical jewels that adorns Estuary: Out from London to the Sea, the latest book by the London-focused historical writer Rachel Lichtenstein. The City’s limit used to run to the something called the Yantlet Line that connected the Crowstone with the London Stone off the opposite bank.
What is it about LSD that makes people believe they are Jesus Christ? There must be something about it that breaks down the final barrier of their ego there to remind them that they have not only thought about doing horrible things but that they had actually done them. In The Haight in ’67, I met a bunch of Jesus Christs. They would turn up out of nowhere, with disciples and revelations in tow, ready to lead whoever was inclined to follow to a redemption that was so clear the only sin left on you once you understood the truth was how you had been so blind to have not seen it before then. There were so many Jesuses in California that I was sent to do a story on it. I had long hair at the time and this was reason enough for my editor to pick me for the assignment.
I started to consider buying a house the other day. I’ve been completely priced out of the market in this country but I wasn’t looking in this country. For the first time in my life I was seriously considering emigrating. Not for better house prices or mortgage rates or anything quite so mercenary but because I was starting to see divisions growing at a scale and a temperament I have never witnessed before. I’m not about to jump ship but I will admit to walking up and down the deck to nervously check on the lifeboats. It was in this frame of mind that I set about writing a profile on the 2012 winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, John Agard in readiness for the upcoming tour of his new show ‘Roll Over Atlantic’.
How did Jimmy Savile, a popular BBC presenter unmasked as a predatory sex offender after his death in 2011, get away with it? It has only become more sickening and bewildering as the gravity of Savile’s crimes has sunk into the national consciousness. How did this serial rapist and paedophile, who the police believe assaulted dozens of victims - most of them children and young people, many vulnerable or disabled - perpetrate these offences nationwide over six decades and go to the grave without facing justice? These were the difficult questions asked by Louis Theroux in his documentary Theroux: Savile. Theroux originally interviewed and befriended Savile in the early 2000s for his awkwardly comical When Louis Met… series, for which Savile’s “loveable eccentric” public image seemed perfectly suited.
A pinewood fire crackles and pops in the grate a little too whitely but I can’t work out how to alter the contrast on the remote and I don’t have time to faff; this episode of ‘Fireplace for Your Home’ is only an hour long so I have to get my hygge in quick. I’m settling down to read the latest collections from two young, award-winning, female poets that couldn’t be more different; Trammel by Charlotte Newman, and Sunshine the third book from Melissa Lee-Houghton, both published by Penned in the Margins. Charlotte Newman’s Trammel ‘is a radical book of poetry for an uncertain future’ and is described by Jack Underwood as ‘Expansive, punny, and feminist’.
‘"Look at him!’ Marcus skidded across the floor on both knees, welcoming the cockapoo into his wide-open arms. Rolling left, right, and allowing himself to be licked and nibbled: the willing victim of an adorable attack of canine amour. He growled. The cockapoo growled. All in good fun, though! Olive looked on. This was annoying. Such a rare display of excitement and life. Did he... love this dog? She continued to stare, the innocent bystander in an unbridled display of affection. She felt like the gooseberry in a threesome; embarrassed, on a number of levels. "Get up Marcus for God’s sakes. You'll rip your trousers."
I’m in a former industrial hub turned hipster-hive-of-the-up-and-coming where wooden planks leaning against one another constitute tables, benches, even plant pots, and bearded young men play ping-pong in the dark. “This is the Peckham dream!” says one girl as she reaches down from her bar stool to pick up her drink from the coffee table. I’m at the Honest Publishing book launch for its two newest works: Belly Up! and Love and Fuck Poems. As well as getting a chance to meet the publisher, there is a powerful performance of poetry by Koraly Dimitriadis and hilarious deadpan readings from Darren Allen and William Barker, authors of Belly Up! Koraly Dimitriadis’ Love and Fuck Poems was first published in 2011 as a zine.
One of the most all-time ridiculous conspiracy theories is the accusation that in order to get ahead of the Soviet Union in the Space Race, NASA and the US government colluded to elaborately fake the Apollo 11 Moon landings of 1969. None other than Stanley Kubrick, who portrayed deep space exploration in 2001: A Space Odyssey is alleged to have being employed as the director who staged the counterfeit Moonwalk footage for this top secret project. This theory is mentioned in Room 237 (2012), a documentary by Rodney Ascher which explores the interpretations and alleged hidden meanings within The Shining (1980), Kubrick’s loose adaption of Stephen King’s 1977 horror novel. The Shining tells the story of the Torrances: father Jack (played by Nicholson, Kubrick’s first choice), mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd).
Can we take one in? Melissa’s message said. Tom was in the middle of a meeting and glanced at the notification on the screen of his cellphone. Now what? he thought. He’d already come home once before and found a stray kitten purring delightfully on his side of the couch. It was looking at me with these big eyes, she’d said to him, I couldn’t just let it stay on the street. It’d starve, or get run over by a car, you know how these things go. Tom just rolled his eyes and sighed. He swiped open Messenger. Now he saw she had attached a link. “There are almost 300...” the text said. A picture showed people sitting with their backs against a red garage. It still didn’t make a lot of sense. He clicked on the link.
In 2013 Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing,was released and with it came the story of an author who fought for nearly ten years to publish a book that was exciting, challenging and experimental in a literary atmosphere where the novel is constantly accused of having sold out to stories of easy-to-read fantasy or dystopian fiction. An exploration into the mind of a woman as she grows up alongside a handicapped brother and a domineering mother, its prose was on par with the complexity and veracity of William Faulkner. It felt like a slap in the face of modern literature’s numerous critics who lament the lack of a contemporary to James Joyce.
Margaret Diddler, with two no-neck bodyguards flanking her, strutted across the Vinny Barbarino Elementary cafetorium stage. The overflow crowd half-sat, half-squatted on eighteen-inch-high kindergarten chairs. Waves of fidgeting flowed across the sea of humanity as the chairs - designed for maximum discomfort in adults - worked their magic. Margaret yanked a mini-sledge hammer from her purse and gaveled the Parent Teacher Association meeting to order. A chunk splintered off the side of the podium. “This meeting is called to order. The only item on the agenda is the Spring Bake Sale.” An outraged murmur bubbled up from the crowd. “If you don’t like it, you should have been at the meeting last year where the parents appointed me president-for-life.
Much of the British media has drawn negative comparisons between the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and their London predecessor. But how does the legacy left by the London Games really compare to other recent host cities? Leading sociologist Dr Gillian Evans was embedded inside London’s planning operation. Her new book, “London’s Olympic Legacy: the Inside Track”, examines London’s imperfect but broadly positive legacy and how its experience offers valuable lessons for future Olympic hosts. Rio was hindered by the unexpected political and economic crises that hit Brazil after it was awarded the Games. It did well to pull off this summer’s massive undertaking. Nonetheless, hosting the Olympics and Paralympics looks unlikely to leave many lasting benefits for the people of Rio.
Midway through rehearsals it wasn’t working. They had assembled some of the best talent available: writer Jack Pullman’s credits included Jane Eyre (1970) for film and War and Peace (1972) for television; the director Herbie Wise had started his career at the Shrewsbury Rep and worked in television for twenty years; the cast mixed well-known names such as Brian Blessed, Siân Lloyd, George Baker and Margaret Tyzack with newer but impressive talent - Patrick Stewart, David Robb, John Hurt and Derek Jacobi. Yet something was not right. There was no gel. The production, at £720,000 (£14 million in today’s money), was relatively low-budget but there was a danger that the BBC’s adaptation of Robert Graves’ classic historical fiction books - I, Claudius and Claudius the God - would be an embarrassing flop.
There is a seeming paradox about novelist Mary Renault. The truism that novelists write about what they know is both true and false of her. As someone who wrote historical fiction that Renault would write about worlds which were morally and socially alien to her then modern sensibilities is obvious. It is also true of all writers to an extent. But the paradox goes further. Renault wrote from her own experiences but she also explored concepts and ideas of identity that were far from her own world. Born in 1905 to a middle class family she attended St Hugh’s College Oxford where she studied under J. R. R. Tolkein. She later wrote a historical novel set in medieval times but destroyed it for its supposed lack of authenticity. After graduating she worked as a hospital nurse and during the war she treated Dunkirk evacuees.
Last Sunday, almost a week since the infamous hate preacher-cum-celebrity-villain, Anjem Choudary, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, I chanced upon an unlikely parallel at Somerset House's current exhibition, Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick. Choudary's case highlighted an increasing tendency for peoples' speech and the ideas they express to be falsely judged on the basis of other peoples' actions, resulting in their arrest for so-called 'hate speech' or incitement to violence. His sentencing was no doubt influenced by the various examples of young, radicalised Britons joining ISIS in Syria; meanwhile, back in the Seventies, Stanley Kubrick eventually felt forced to remove his 1971 cult classic, A Clockwork Orange, from circulation after a series of grisly 'copycat' crimes.