There’s a lot of bad movies out there. Most simply get consigned to the scrapheap of history, destined to be no more than an obscure pub quiz answer, languishing unnoticed at the bottom of Netflix’s ‘What to Watch’ page. It takes something extra for a movie to not just be bad, but so bad that it’s good – so irredeemably awful, in fact, that it becomes a cult favourite, playing to packed-out midnight screenings and being remembered more vividly than many critical favourites of its time. The Room is just such a movie. Now, 14 years after its release, The Disaster Artist aims to peel back the lid on how such a wonderfully terrible movie came into existence.
Michael Loomis’s hand, slick from the morning heat, slipped on the thumb-break of his holster. Tags current. Blinkers worked. He knew the outcome was in his Creator’s hands as he slipped his own back ten and two on the wheel. Still, he prayed for a way out. The officer approached. She was a petite gal, made thicker with the vest and uniform. She lacked the cop waddle but didn’t exactly glissade up to his vehicle either, instead walking tactically in sure, short steps. She paused at the back of the work van, studying his bumper stickers on its blacked out windows. He kept his hands visible on the wheel. Her last name was Smith. Eyes behind tinted Prizm lenses guarded their movements. She carried a Sig 9 on her left hip, a southpaw. “Officer, I must inform you, per my Second Amendment right under the Constitution of the United States of America and state law of Arizona, I am in possession of an open-carry firearm fully registered and duly licensed.” The Constitution was meant to protect citizens from government, not the other way around.
Jivan Singh returns to his childhood after a long absence, there to witness the unexpected resignation of Devraj, founding father of the Company - a vast corporation that sits at the heart of Indian life. At the same time, Devraj's daughter absconds - desperate to escape from the prospect of marriage. Her older sisters are handed control of their father's company - and there begins a vicious struggle for power, from the luxury hotels of New Delhi through to the slums of Napurthala. India is a frequent topic for writers the world over but they rarely capture the essence of such a multi-faceted country, instead veering between semi-nostalgic tales of the British Raj, or slum set tales of poverty that blend uplifting inspiration with heavy doses of condescension.
I sat down earlier this week filled with good intentions. I had a new collection of stories to read and, rather mendaciously, told myself I’d just read one. Just one. I didn’t. I devoured the collection in front of me, moving irresistibly and greedily from one story to the next, incapable of stopping. The addictive book in front of me was Letters Home by Martyn Bedford, published by Comma Press whose mission is to put the short story at the heart of contemporary literature. Letters Home is a collection of twelve short stories, some previously published elsewhere, and some created for this collection.
The seven artists of Protein line up at the front of the stage, staring at the audience. There are a few moments of silence, then the undulating voice of Anthar Kharana echoes, and the show starts. Border Tales groups together fears, stereotypes, identities, struggles, and the vibrancy of today’s multicultural community in London, weaved in a brilliant choreographed dance, music and spoken narrative. Everything is accompanied by sounds. Part of the music is pre-recorded, but a lot is done live by Kharana: from strings, to percussion, to modelling his voice.
Dai George was born in Cardiff in 1986 and studied in Bristol and New York, where he received an MFA from Columbia University’s writing programme. He has had poems and criticism published in The Guardian Online, The Boston Review, New Welsh Review, Poetry Review and others. His poetry has appeared in several anthologies, including the Salt Book of Younger Poets and Best British Poetry 2011 and 2013. His first collection, The Claims Office, was published by Seren in October 2013. He is an editor at Prac Crit and a funded PhD candidate at UCL, where his thesis will examine the role syntax played in American poetry's postmodern turn. He is currently finishing a novel about the Gunpowder Plot, with the playwright Ben Jonson as the central character. Dai's fiction is represented by Georgina Capel Associates.
No one remembers who really came up with the idea, but it was taken up by the new government with enthusiasm. It dealt with an epidemic that had been growing for years, and did it in a way that kept the addicts both comfortable and out the way of the masses, while still allowing their families a certain level of access to them. Gambling had been getting out of control, mostly amongst men between the ages of 25 and 65, and up until that point no one had suggested a workable solution outside of more regulations and more taxation. The gambling lobby simply would not have it: casual gamblers, they said, who genuinely gambled only on occasion for a bit of “light fun”, would suffer due to the excesses of immoral disreputables and the unfeeling iron gloved hand of the nanny state.
As a part of the new exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics, organised in partnership with the Royal Opera House, the Victoria and Albert Museum last October hosted Hospital Passion Play, a live choral performance led by founder and artistic director of Rosetta Life, Lucinda Jarrett. As a charity, Rosetta Life is devoted to changing the perception of those who live with life-limiting illnesses, involving them directly in cultural initiatives and performance-based programs. 'Rosetta Life was set up to challenge the stigma of illness and perception of disability by enabling people to tell and perform their own stories,' explains Jarrett. 'We began 20 years ago by enabling those facing life-threatening illness in hospices to tell their own stories and, with a grant from
Just breath! Fog Everywhere, a Camden People’s Theatre production, is one of the more unusual artistic opportunities in that it reminds the audience of the harm involved in a vital and simple act of daily life in London. Known for its foggy air and sinister atmosphere, the British capital has reached appalling levels of pollution. In January, it was reported that the yearly toxic legal limit was broken by the city in just five days. So small it cannot be seen, apart from the black stains on the tissue after blowing your nose or when checking the train directions in the grey and obscure underground tunnels. London isn’t mysterious. It is just very dirty. With the issue of air pollution in mind, a group of young Londoners directed by CPT’s artistic director Brian Logan explores the arguments and risks of pollution in the city. The result is Fog Everywhere.
Atresbandes, the experimental Catalan theatre company, are back in the UK with a tour of their latest show ALL IN, that stopped in London this week at the New Diorama Theatre. Formed by Mònica Almirall Batet, Miquel Segovia Garrell and Albert Pérez Hidalgo in 2008, the company aims to question everything its members encounter, believing that doubt and uncertainty are as important as mutual understanding. This time, they have also teamed up with performer Melcior Casals Castella - the first time that ATRESBANDES have created work with someone from outside the company. Despite having interviewed Atresbandes for Disclaimer, I was still surprised by the show. It takes you out of your comfort zone. It forces you to ask questions.
Adam Day is the author of Model of a City in Civil War (Sarabande Books), and is the recipient of a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for Badger, Apocrypha, a PEN Emerging Writers Award, and an Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, The Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, Lana Turner, Poetry London, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere. He coordinates The Baltic Writing Residency in Sweden, Scotland, and Blackacre Nature Preserve.
Rebecca Goss grew up in Suffolk and returned to live in the county in 2013. She studied English at Liverpool John Moores University and completed an MA in Creative Writing at Cardiff University. Her pamphlet ‘Keeping Houston Time’, came out in 1997 with Slow Dancer Press. Her first full-length collection The Anatomy of Structures was published by Flambard Press in 2010. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals, anthologies and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Arts online. Her second collection, Her Birth was published in 2013 by Carcanet/Northern House. It was shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection, won the Poetry category in The East Anglian Book Awards 2013, and in 2015 was shortlisted for The Warwick Prize for Writing and The Portico Prize for Literature. In 2014, Rebecca was selected for The Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation Poets.
SEX WORKER’S OPERA will be touring the UK, beginning in Cambridge, 4 November and culminating in London’s Ovalhouse, 2 December. The delightful and potentially ironic titled show aims to destroy the stereotypes and stigma that have long plagued the sex worker profession. Beginning its life in 2014, this is the fourth outing for the SEX WORKER’S OPERA. Across the cast, crew, directors and tech team, there are always at least 50% sex workers, with all creative processes sex worker led and all songs and scenes either written and sent in from sex workers or devised by all as a group. There are currently over 60 different stories sent in from 17 different countries and across 6 continents.
Chris McCabe's poetry collections are The Hutton Inquiry, Zeppelins, THE RESTRUCTURE (all Salt Publishing) and, most recently, Speculatrix (Penned in the Margins). He has recorded a CD with the Poetry Archive was shortlisted for The Ted Hughes Award in 2013 for his collaborative book with Maria Vlotides,Pharmapoetica. He is writing a series of creative non-fiction books that aim to discover a great lost poet in one of London's Magnificent Seven cemeteries. This began in 2014 with In the Catacombs: a Summer Among the Dead Poets of West Norwood Cemetery (which was selected as an LRB Bookshop book of the year) and was followed in 2016 with Cenotaph South: Mapping the Lost Poets of Nunhead Cemetery. With Victoria Bean he is the co-editor of The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (Hayward Publishing, 2015). He blogs at http://chris-mccabe.blogspot.co.uk/
I was nervous about this book. The main character sounded like someone I could relate to and the Chilean setting intrigued me, but it's positioned as a millennial zeitgeist novel with gamer appeal, and I'm pushing forty with pop-cultural references that fade out in the late nineties. I needn't have worried: even I recognise Tetris and Super Mario, and with more mentions of Metallica than Facebook it's easy to forget the era and concentrate on the universal themes of love and stupidity. We Are The End is Gonzalo C Garcia's first novel and was published as a paperback in October 2017 by Galley Beggar Press. Set in Santiago, Chile this is a dark comedy about love, loss, and game design. Tomás is a failing game designer, a part-time university lecturer who hides under the desk whenever he's in the office, a man whose girlfriend has not only left him but gone to Antarctica.
What does it take to hold onto power? Steadfastness? A sense of duty? Or a swirling morass of scheming, in-fighting and paranoia? In The Death of Stalin it’s absolutely the latter, and it’s served up to such a degree that it makes the recent Conservative Party Conference look like a family picnic. The Death of Stalin, based on Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin’s graphic novel is the latest from master satirist Armando Iannucci, adapted from a French graphic novel. After skewering fictional Westminsters and Washingtons in The Thick of It and Veep, Ianucci now turns his gaze to a real-life chapter of history (and a dark one, at that). Setting a comedy in the Soviet Union is a tough ask, what with its tendency for purges and gulags. However, Iannucci and his co-writers tread the line perfectly.
Benedict is a journalist and lives in London. His poems have been published in Ambit, Magma, Orbis, Acumen, Other Poetry, Prole, Borderlines, Morning Star and South Bank Poetry. He’s a member of the King’s Poets, and makes poetry films – The Royal Oak was commissioned for Channel 4’s Random Acts. His first, Cul de sac, was shortlisted for the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival competition, Berlin, then included in a Special Programme of ZEBRA highlights at the 24th International Short Film Festival, Berlin. Both films have since been shortlisted for other competitions and have appeared at a number of festivals, with The Royal Oak winning the Best Animation Audience Choice Award at the Purbeck Shorts competition at the Purbeck Film Festival. Benedict has recently been awarded three time and space residencies with METAL Southend. For more information, visit benedictnewbery.com
“Learn how to spear a frog neatly,” one crane once said to my crane, “and you’ll live like a king in the swamp,” though I only smiled my wise-ass smile as I overheard that bird go on and on. ‘Truth be told, my crane is lucky if he can pierce French toast, much less come up with the slippery master of hops and plunges. However, my crane’s not a dead loss by any stretch. He comes to me able to analyze the motives in your love letters, and he’s always more than willing to wade through the tall grass of your sentences and the squoosh of your emotions. The fine mornings he flies down to my patio, he wastes no time getting to work on your latest letter after I’ve tossed it into the sunlight gilding the picnic table and turned back to polishing off my breakfast.
ATRESBANDES, Experimental Catalan theatre company, is going on tour in the UK from 23 October to 11 November with their new show ALL IN, a sharp, surreal and humorous exploration of the millennial condition and the tyranny of the crowd! ATRESBANDES is a company from Barcelona with an international reach, whose work centres on a collective creative process, inspired by a diverse range of disciplines. Formed by Mònica Almirall Batet, Miquel Segovia Garrell and Albert Pérez Hidalgo in 2008, the company aims to question everything its members encounter, believing that doubt and uncertainty are as important as mutual understanding. In part an experiment in form, the role of the outsider is taken by performer Melcior Casals Castella and marks the first time that ATRESBANDES have created work with someone from outside the company.
Standing outside its neoclassical entrance on a mild October evening is itself a pleasure, but entering the British Museum is to enter a trove of human history. Last week, however, the museum hosted an unusual show.Playing with words, beats and imagination, Impropera presented Muso, an improvised performance centred on the museum’s rich cultural collections. First started as an experimental project in 2015 at the Grant Museum of Zoology in University College London, the opera returns with a series of events for 2017-2018. First on the line is the British Museum, where the performance is centred upon its recently-opened exhibition Scythians - Warriors of Ancient Siberia. What Impropera aims to do is to create a connection between the audience and the artefacts that, in their cases, may look cold and far away.
Maria Apichella;s debut collection Psalmody has been shorlisted for the Forward Prize in the catergory of Felix Dennis Best First Collection, one of the most sought-after accolades in the UK and Ireland for established and emerging poets. Her book won the Eyewear, Melita Hume Prize in 2015. Her pamphlet Paga was a winner of the 2014 Cinnamon Press Pamphlet competition. She wrote these as part of her PhD in English and Creative Writing at The University of Aberystwyth in Wales, which was home for ten years.
Dipping a slice of roti into a bit of curry, the audience enters one of the two theatre spaces at the Stratford Circus Arts Centre. A dancing Moon Gazer (Joseph Barnes Phillips) welcomes them. He/she is dressed very colourfully and she dances at the rhythm of a Trinidadian music as they take their seats. A couple of questions here and there to the public, laughter and the curry in the cups is finished. The lights go down, and Moon Gazer slowly suspends her fluid movements to tell a tale, of Sensible Bill and Stupidity Bill and the latter’s questioning on love. Big Foot easily and immediately engages. This original new script is intended to touch a chord many will find familiar: those butterflies in the stomach, the impulse of doing everything and to be everywhere now and together, the feeling of the head flying.
Lisa Jones is the pseudonym of a real woman who, in 2003, fell in love with a man called Mark Kennedy. An environmental activist, Lisa was with Kennedy for seven years until, in 2010, suspicions grew that Kennedy wasn't who he said he was. Lisa and her friends investigated - and found that Kennedy was an undercover police officer who had infiltrated their group in order to gain information on the plans and objectives of the activists. The life that Lisa had built for seven years was a lie - going public with her story led to a public apology from the police force, and a public investigation into undercover police officers. What wasn't explored though - save for the odd newspaper interview - was the impact that this had on Lisa Jones.
Khairani Barokka (b. Jakarta, 1985) is a writer, poet and artist in London. Among her honours, she was an NYU Tisch Departmental Fellow for her masters, Emerging Writers Festival’s (AUS) Inaugural International Writer-In-Residence (2013), and Indonesia’s first Writer-In-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2011). Okka is the writer/performer/producer of, among others, a deaf-accessible, solo poetry/art show, Eve and Mary Are Having Coffee. It premiered at Edinburgh Fringe 2014 as Indonesia’s only representative, with a grant from HIVOS. She was recognized in 2014 by UNFPA as one of Indonesia’s “Inspirational Young Leaders Driving Social Change", for highly prolific, pioneering international work in inclusive, accessible arts. Her first full-length poetry collection, Rope, will be published by Nine Arches Press in October 2017.
Beach Drive has always had the smoothest pavement in the city because that’s where the money lives. I remember how the steering wheel vibrated in my hands—maybe “trembled” would be a better way to put it—that afternoon as I drove along the edge of North Shore Park, and I made a mental note to check the tire pressure in the morning. But then it occurred to me that in three or four hours I would be dead, and the Porsche would become someone else’s problem. I nudged the gas pedal and the Boxster’s engine responded, as if it had been anticipating the weight of my foot all along, just like it always did. I slipped past slower-moving Jaguar S-Types and Lexus SUVs piloted by retired hedge fund managers and solitary platinum-blond soccer moms.
“It’s a story that must be told.” Although we already know the end, although there is no historical document that would prove the events, although the interpretations of the legend are multiple and the facts narrated date from ages ago, there are plenty of reasons not to miss The Hartlepool Monkey by Carl Grose. Gyre & Gimble, in association with Fuel Theatre and Stratford Circus Arts Centre, presents a sparkling production, combining the fascination of a myth and a strong message for the present. Hate and fear are often connected, and both the feelings link with the unknown.
The atmosphere in Waterstones Deansgate in Manchester is positively electric, the room is crammed with people and the excitement is palpable. Around the room, tables are filled with copies of the latest works published by a range of Northern independent publishers including Comma Press, & Other Stories, Dead Ink, Blue Moose, and Peepal Tree Press. Joining forces to give the London centric publishing monopoly a run for its money, these publishers have banded together to form the Northern Fiction Alliance, a collective designed to establish the North as a hive of creativity in UK publishing.
The high roof of the Union Chapel makes the chanting of the Arsenal supporters resound exactly like the singing of Sunday worshippers. The faith with which the two different audiences approach their weekend appointments looks more or less the same. In this Chapel, Fever Pitch – The Opera by the Highbury Opera Theatre, based on its namesake, the autobiographical book by Nick Hornby, premiered last week. A curious feature was the form chosen for this adaptation. Would an opera be the best medium for a football-centred story? Looking at other stage adaptations in London there are a couple of other examples where the source material is far from a theatre script; Obsession at the Barbican Theatre (2017) and American Idiot are just two that stand out. The former, Obsession, did not receive great applause from the critics, despite Jude Law in the starring role of the seductive Gino. The reason may fall on some odd artistic decisions.
John McCollough's poems have appeared in places including Poetry Review, London Magazine, The Guardian, Poetry London, Best British Poetry and now Disclaimer. His first collection The Frost Fairs (Salt, 2011) won the Polari First Book Prize. It was a Book of the Year for The Independent and The Poetry School, and a summer read for The Observer. John has produced commissioned poems for both The British Museum and The British Film Institute. His second collection Spacecraft is out now and published by Penned in the Margins. It was named one of The Guardian's Best Books for Summer 2016, and was a Book of the Year for both Sabotage Reviews Critic's Choice and the London Review bookshop.
Fran Lock is a dog whisperer and poet, now living and working in London. Her debut collection Flatrock (Little Episodes) was launched in May 2011. Her work has appeared in various places, including Ambit, Poetry London, The Rialto, The Stinging Fly, and in Best British Poetry 2012 (Salt). Her second collection The Mystic and the Pig Thief (Salt) came out in September 2014. She is the winner of the 2014 Ambit Poetry Competition. She won third prize in The Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition 2014.
In this wanton riot of individuality, we hear the story of a struggling author who works in a book shop by day and experiments with hard drugs for artistic inspiration by night. Michelle Tea writes in a fast, edgy style that reflects the nature of her character; it is chatty, modern, and slightly eccentric. The protagonist, also named Michelle, lives a life with no stop lights. She works. She parties. She writes. She works. She parties. She writes. The cycle continues until Michelle gets a particularly strong dose of recreational drugs and burns out, alienating those that love her most and attracting the attention of friends that are clearly no good for her. The writing is undeniably honest, holding very little back. There is a strong sense of freedom of expression, freedom on the page and in Michelle’s own life.
Cyrus sat in the St. Louis County Courthouse next to his son, Octavian, and wondered what he could have done to save them all from the angry, disappointed look on the judge’s face when she asked his other son, Francis, to explain why he tried to rob the plaintiff as he entered his house. Francis kept his head down and said quietly, Because I needed to get high, ma’am. The plaintiff, a tall, thin, suited black man named George Davidson, whispered something to his lawyer before standing up and asking if he could make a request. The judge, took her glaring eyes from Francis and agreed. I’d like to ask that Mr. Munroe not be sent to jail, your honor, he said. They all turned to look at him and Cyrus held his breath. I have a niece and, well, she’s addicted to drugs.
I always enjoy going to the Soho Theatre – it’s the fringe venue par excellence that is not afraid of staging shows for many different types of audiences and ages, such as How (not) to Live in Suburbia, advising under 18s to perhaps stay away. In this hour-long autobiographical piece containing live performance, narration, video, and new and old music hits, performance maker and writer Annie Siddons bares all by revealing the story of her struggle with loneliness and how this can affect and hurt so many more souls than we think. In her own words: “I’m an inherently gregarious person. I’m not the person that you would think would be lonely. But I became pathologically lonely, and it affected me really deeply, changed my personality and my outlook. It became impossible for me not to talk about it.”
I like a strand of darkness in my fiction so I was delighted when this collection landed on my doormat. Before I even turned to the unsettling tales within I was captivated by the design, the robin egg blue edging and the illustrations of selected birds' eggs after the dedication. Ornithology is, I believe, the first foray into book publishing by Manchester-based Confingo, better known for their magazine of fiction, poetry, and art. It was released in June 2017 and brings together sixteen of Nicholas Royle's stories featuring birds. This is Royle's third short story collection, one that we are promised will be disquieting and surreal but will also offer moments of black comedy. Several of the stories were written for horror anthologies but there is little of blood and guts here, with most tending to the weird and uncanny, and one (Gannets) that seemed like straightforward literary fiction.
For a story about a small-town rugby league team, “Underdogs” contains multitudes. More than a great sports book, it is a gripping and witty insight into a neglected, working-class community struggling to find its place in a changing world. Redolent of “Friday Night Lights”, author Tony Hannan does for Batley, West Yorkshire what that classic did for Odessa, West Texas. The year Hannan spends embedded with the Batley Bulldogs is tumultuous. On the field, the modestly resourced club have their most successful season in years. Off it, their colossus of a captain, Keegan Hirst, comes out as gay. The Brexit referendum highlights the long-ignored struggles of towns like Batley – most tragically of all when the popular local MP, Jo Cox, is murdered. Meanwhile, issues of racial integration and economic decline remain unresolved. The support Hirst receives from within the club and (mostly) beyond as Britain’s only openly gay, active professional rugby player is a heart-warming demonstration of how, in some respects, society has changed for the better.
Why are you going to the cinema this weekend? Are you watching the latest Marvel production, a comedy, or an action-packed movie? Films are not limited to these big categories, but it wouldn't be difficult to group many of the current productions in with any of them. One of the most recent exceptions would be Dunkirk. Although historical movies can't do without post-production and, now more than ever, without an increasingly present process: visual effects.
The Old King in His Exile by Arno Geiger is one of the most exciting offerings published this year by literature in English translation specialists And Other Stories. It marks a departure from their usual fare of literary fiction, as it is Geiger’s memoir of his experiences caring for his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, a work of literary nonfiction if you will. Expertly and sensitively translated by And Other Stories founder Stefan Tobler, the book moves through the decades of August Geiger’s life, from his birth in the Austrian Alps into a farming, schnapps-making family in 1926, to his conscription into the army as a “schoolboy soldier” during World War II, an experience that left an indelible but unspoken mark upon him, right up to his later years, spent in the grips of dementia.
Picking up How to Be a Kosovan Bride my automatic response was a resigned sigh of ‘all quiet on the Western Front’ – yet another human-fates-and-bravery-in-a-war-torn-era tale. War has definitely been thoroughly used and explored in literature, and there is no end in sight: Hosseini hit the target with his Afghanistan novels; the BBC Spitfires WWII period drama and modern crisis series at a steady pace; Nolan blew the box office with Dunkirk; and Tolstoy is a permanent victor with that War and Peace of his. War as a backdrop is a safe bet to provide enough story line potential for a brick of a novel (looking at you Tolstoy) or a seemingly never-ending series thereof (the Sharpe saga, anyone?).
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.
Usually it’s Pendril and the Celt what bring me the news from the villages tween ere and Croydon. They come to me when they’s passing through Penge on the way to the markets up London Wall way. They tell me who’s sick round their parts, I tell em what I’ll need to make their folk better, and then they fetch it for me from the herb sellers at the Wall. I don’t pay em for their troubles, but Ailsa creates certain protections for em now and then, and that’s payment enough for any man. What’s the matter with you two? says I when I stepped out to meet em that last time. They was busy tyin up their orses like they normally do, but even in that ordinary endeavour I could see a sombreness about em. It’s Swayne,Mister Apothecary, says Pendril, when they was done. The Celt took off is cap and came and stood beside Pendril oldin a sack. Pendril just put is ands together in front of isself, all respectful like. E’s in a very bad way, sir.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.