Opinions & Rants


 

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A phenomenon is scaring me.

No, not just SCROTUS, although he’s a big part of it.

There’s a peculiar anti-word, anti-thought movement spreading through our societies, which opposes reason and embraces slogan. Nothing new there, a blunt cudgel of opinion-bashing has its historical precedents.

Which should be terrifying by example. I’m not telling you where to look. I don’t need to.

Go check a random oppressive regime. How far down the list do you find ‘silence the thinkers’?

Here’s a mini test:

Name three regimes whose policy was to slaughter intellectuals.

Name three governments who imprison opponents without trial.

Name three countries which spread misinformation and propaganda to sway their population into supporting their own agenda.

(Hint: you probably live in one and this is why we need a free press, even if some of them are gits.)

One of the scariest phrases I heard was Michael Gove’s comment during the Brexit campaign: “Oh I think people have had enough of experts”.

These inexpert, self-interested campaigners for anything that will get them up the career ladder speak for ‘The People’. One of their base tools is arguing against argument. It’s the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting your own position over and over until ‘The People’ (or ‘Folks’ if you want the current Imbecile-in-the-White-House version) can repeat it verbatim.

This is a crass, patronising assumption on every level.

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Firstly, ‘The People’ enjoy argument, rationale or reason. Engaging and discussing issues in person often leads to a less fossilised position. Online is a different matter. Comment is as dehumanising, reductive and debasing as a scrawled cartoon of a bear shitting in the woods. But it still works. Make us yell at each other and we take our eye off the argument. Sit us in a bar to chat and it’s a whole different game.

Secondly, simple words – make, great, take, ours, us, we, sad, bigly(?), danger, wall – is a reductive and banal way to communicate. Joined-up thinking requires a sense of cause and effect. People – yes, even ‘The People’ – are aware the credit crunch and subsequent drain on the working and middle-class was not due to immigration, fake news or or the liberal elite, but rampant pocket-lining by the very same people who tell you ‘You Ne-ver Had It So Good’. (One syllable at a time, folks.)

Thirdly, attacking people who dare to show some more articulacy than bellowing ‘Lock her up!” are derided for being elitist, intellectual and not of ‘The People’. It’s much more difficult to reduce the problems inherent in destabilising the EU to a tidy ALL CAPS phrase on a banner.

Lastly, how highly do you rate your supporters when you stand up in front of them and lie? Lie loudly, repeatedly and with bombast in the conviction they will believe it. If this is your methodology, your rationale must be that ‘The People’ are truly stupid.

We are not. You, me, all of us will be remembered by our thoughts, our words and our actions.

In a time like this, words are the bridge between thought and action.

They could not be more vital.

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“He lives in a world where the highest compliment you can give a woman — even your own daughter — is that you would sleep with her.” Alexandra Petri, Washington Post

The usual news and politics interest took a back seat this past fortnight, as I had other things on my mind. Since my mother died two weeks ago, I’m having trouble understanding how everyone is still going about their business. I stop and stare at people catching trains, buying grapefruits or commenting on news, wondering how they can just carry on.

But today, and her behalf, I have to re-engage. Because I am raging.

I am a feminist. So was my mother. She taught me my body and mind are my own, and no one takes advantage of either. She taught me to respect other people’s views, religions, cultures and sexuality, but most of all to respect myself.

Perhaps because my friends and loved ones are of the same opinion and my selective news sources reflect my own views, I got complacent. I assumed the sexism thing was on the way out.

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Mum and her grandaughter, Ellie.

Scenario A:

Well-known friend and I attend an awards ceremony. Two magazine editors approach and ask if my friend would do a centrefold for their magazine.

She: “Sorry, not my kind of thing.”

He: “Why not? Seriously? Because I’d do you. Really, I would.”

Scenario B:

I interview a writer I admire. I share a clip with my writers’ forum.

Female #1: Good interview! I think he fancied you.

Male: Course he did. She’s well fit.

Female #2: (Quotes male) Nice!

Male: (To Female #2) Oh, you’re well fit too.

Scenario C:

Friend posts on Facebook:

95% of women have intelligent DNA in them. Unfortunately most of them spit it out.

Three points:

  1. Trump’s comments about ‘grabbing pussy’ and ‘do whatever you want’ are not an archaeological find from 1975. It’s typical of a certain kind of contemporary discourse which MAKES WOMEN’S LIVES SHITTIER. Including those of the daughters and wives quoted above.
  2. Not all men talk and think this way.  See Jackson Katz. Many men are angered and offended by this casual demeaning of half the population, who call out this kind of attitude and reject ‘easy’ sexism.
  3. Trump should be allowed to make a total arse of himself. Exposure works two ways and some volunteer personal embarrassment daily. Go right ahead, Donald the Dickhead.

Trump and his ilk want us to go backwards – knuckle-dragging, hair-pulling, tribal-warring, meaningless grunting – so I’m sticking my not-very-high heels in on behalf of my mother and all my sisters and saying NO.

The women (and men) in my family, my friends and associates are all brilliant, talented, funny, capable, nurturing, articulate, powerful, self-defining, imaginative, strong, sensitive and a million other things. The last thing on our minds is whether Trump and his locker-room boys consider us fuckable.

Not in a million years, Donald.

So you and the lads can lock yourselves in and fuck off.

PS: Sorry for swearing, Cooty, but I think you’d understand.

 

 

 

 

A rant-ette.

On patronising readers.

This summer, I read a lot of crime and ‘psychological drama’. Some good, some not so much. But something bugged me. Like summer flip-flops, one minor irritation rubbed a soft spot and grew into a big fat blister.

Here is where it bursts.

Surely…

Author: Surely she wouldn’t have walked out on him without even leaving a note?

Reader: Well, that’s what it looks like.

Author: Surely he’s just being friendly and has no designs on my nubile body?

Reader: Are you really that naïve?

Author: Surely these teethmarks can’t possibly mean he bit the victims?

Reader: Yawn. What’s on telly?

DO NOT TELL THE READER WHAT QUESTIONS TO ASK!!!

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Look! Can it really be? Not a mini snail? Surely?

Readers actually like trying to work things out for themselves. Those who enjoy crime (and this year’s irritating umbrella term ‘psychological’ drama) read such things to analyse the information given and come to their own conclusions.

‘Surely’ has the same effect of someone behind you in the cinema saying, ‘Did you see that bangle/photograph/cricket box? That will be significant later’ or ‘I hope you noticed Simon’s unhealthy interest in hedgehogs’. All in an annoyingly smug voice.

Variants on Surely…

Had he really emptied their joint account and fled the country?

How could she lie to her sister, our mother and her own children?

If they really had killed before, what was to stop it happening again?

Did three brutal and spookily similar murders indicate a serial killer?

Deduction allows your reader to take all the clues and knot them into an explanation, theory or wild goose chase. Then after the author’s cunning denouement, compare their map-reading, character-comprehension and familiarity with the genre to see how your theories (mis)matched.

Induction beats them around the head and face with blunt signposts until they accept the fact your naïve protagonist would accompany the psychopath to a deserted castle to be sacrificed to the God of Unlikely Coincidence, who happens to be called Shirley.

When we (and here I speak for readers) put the book down and do something which allows cogitative thought, such as dog-walking, lawn-mowing or glass-blowing, we are perfectly capable of conjuring questions of our own.

Why did s/he do that? I reckon it’s because…

Just as you leave a party and reflect on your new acquaintances, you add all the signifiers together and form a subjective opinion. That person is funny/needy/weird/sexy/dodgy/sociopathic. This game becomes far less fun if each party guest has a Post-It on their forehead saying, ‘Slimy Womaniser’, ‘Gold-digging Divorcee’, or ‘I Hurt Gerbils’.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a reader, writer, or someone like my mum, who does both. So here’s some knuckle-bloodied advice for free.

Write your first draft as a writer, then change in a phonebox and read it as a reader.

If Reader You wants to punch Writer You in the face and shout ‘Don’t patronise me. Who do you think you are?’ something may need to change.

Surely.

 

 

 

Back in February, tramping through knee-deep snow, a friend said something which surprised me.

Nationalism is a force of destruction.

No, I argued. Nationalism is a force for unity and joy.

Love, loyalty and celebration.

Admittedly, I was only thinking of the streets of Cardiff outside the Millennium Stadium after Wales had just won. The joy, the laughter, the hugs and happiness at what our tiny, brave, beautiful country just achieved. “Way-els, Way-els, Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi…”

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Wales won last night.

Normally I’d be waving flags and cheering and gently teasing all my non-Welsh friends. But yesterday, displays of nationalism left a very bad taste.

You may not have heard about the UK referendum. Perhaps you’ve got a few problems in your own backyard and couldn’t give a toss how the British government’s petty in-fighting gambled with the future of the country and lost.

There’s a stupid six-letter word to describe this, but made-up, fallacious, simplistic, emotion-over-logic, reductionist bullshit is what got us thus far so I refuse to use it.

Let’s leave aside the likely break-up of the (dis)United Kingdom, campaign promises which were nothing more than empty slogans, the collapse of both leading governmental parties, international economic consequences, the impact on the EU’s geo-political security and the immediate uncertainty around who is responsible for clearing up this pile of political vomit.

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The fact is the damage is done.

The British public is polarised, enraged, divided and shocked by its own behaviour. Much like the Scottish independence referendum, the hate and vitriol stirred up did not disappear after the decision.

The fury at ‘the other side’ continues with ever more extremist and personal attacks, retreating into its own media outlets and sticking its fingers into its ears as to anything which puts a balanced view.

Political parties practise self-defense/immolation while the electorate, whichever way they may have voted, says…

Oh Holy Shit.

At the heart of this is nationalism.

A deluded belief: absolutely fine on our own, thanks very much, never needed anyone’s help before, you need us more than we need you, our superiority complex has never let us down yet.

Nationalism is not a force solely of destruction or unity. It can be both. But it is certainly emotional and heartfelt, which can be used for positive, inclusive, joyous means or the exact opposite.

Much as I am grieving over Britain’s colossal political cock-up, I still have faith in (most of) its people. Our language, our culture, our cuisine, our infrastructure, our openness and our economy depend on the ability to absorb and embrace the rest of the world.

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Britain is not the sum of its politicians.

It’s the sum of its people.

And we are so much better than this.

So, anyone got a plan?

 

Thanks to JD Lewis for all these beautiful images. Check out more of her work here.

 

So things are happening…

Triskele Lit Fest: Sept 17, London

Pop-up bookshop, genre panels, Preserving the Unicorn, Human Library, goodie bags and non-stop booktalk.

This is not ‘talking about diversity’. This is being diverse.

Authors are invited to talk about their work – regardless of publishing route or ethnicity – readers are invited to add their opinions. This is for writers and readers, publishers and booksellers.

Rumour is, there’ll be a party too.

 

Creative Spark

Photo0030Sharpen your pencils, writerly sorts.

We have TEN weeks of creative writing exercises from expert tutors at your disposal.

Free. Yes, seriously free. No sign-up, no cash, no email address, this is open access.

And it is an imagination workout from some of the best international tutors there are. Drum roll…

Emma Darwin, Tracey Warr, Roz Morris, Jo Furniss, Amanda Hodgkinson, Lindsey Grant, Jessica Bell, Karen Pegg, Laurence O’Bryan and Triskele Books on all aspects of writing technique.

Starts July 1st and subsequent Fridays.

Join in, comment, share your results (if you like) and flex those writerly muscles.

 

The Woolf

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Zürich’s cultural quarterly changes with the seasons.

Our next issue is themed Beginnings.

Have a look at our last issue – Borders.

And if you’d like to contribute something thinky and artistic, bring it on.

 

Unity

Can’t sign off this week’s blog without a comment. (It’s my blogpost and I’ll rant if I want to.)

All the above and more – Triskele Books, TLF, Creative Spark, The Woolf, WriteCon, Words with JAM and Bookmuse  – are the result of creative collaboration.

Collaboration is bloody hard work, often boring and frustrating, with as much energy devoted to peace-keeping as to creativity.

Sure, each of us could vote out and go it alone.

We could drop the whole thing and pursue our own egotistical agendas. Wear fake tan, go blond and thump our individual tubs.

But we don’t. We argue and discuss and get pissed/pissed off and laugh and agree and remind each of why we wanted to do this.

Every single project needs the hard slog of negotiation and commitment to the end result.

It works. It really does.

Generosity and openness, concessions and compromise lead to fabulous things, which sometimes involve Prosecco.

Teamwork, togetherness and the daily niggles of trying to do stuff with other people is damn good shit, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

The EU is hard work. But that is what democracy means. It cannot be summed up in a slogan, an image or a chant.

But I will quote my university professor: Go the bloody hard way. Don’t give up.

For me, that means Remain.

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Tomorrow, the UK votes on whether to leave the European Union. A non-resident for over ten years, perhaps I should keep my trap shut. Or… not.

I live in Switzerland, I read and listen to a broad range of opinion and I care deeply about my continent. And I’m voting to stay.

I believe in unity and how collective power achieves more than the individual. That’s why I think Britain should stick with the EU and effect change from within. My arguments, please note, are based on the positives (well, ok, the last one is arguable). But fear-mongering paranoia merchants should be discounted from the first time they mention ‘The War’.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/easethemain/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/easethemain/

Reasons to Vote Stay

Peace

Diplomacy, negotiation and compromise will never make for dramatic Hollywood fodder. It’s hard work and often pretty tedious. However, sitting around a table beats bombing each other into the ground.

“The EU has helped secure peace among previously warring western European nations. It helped to consolidate democracy in Spain, Portugal, Greece and former Soviet bloc countries and helped preserve peace in the Balkans since the end of the Balkans War. With the UN it now plays a leading role in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and democracy building.” ProEuropa

Power on the International Stage

The heft of the EU is far for influential than a bunch of disparate states. The collective might and unified will of 28 countries can withstand attempts to destabilise and divide its members.

“Post-Brexit, Britain would find it harder to keep close foreign-policy and security links with the EU, not least because it would no longer be in the room. There is a broader geopolitical point, too. Partly because its foreign-policy role has grown, the EU has become a key piece of the West’s defence and security architecture. Brexit would weaken the EU—and so the West.” The Economist

Power against Corporate Might

Britain’s submission to big business has been thus far held in check by European directives. Tax avoidance, minimum wages, working conditions in adherence to Human Rights Laws can only be battled by a unified power.

“Multinationals are becoming ever more devious in trying to control our lives…just look at all the fines the likes of Microsoft, Google, banks and others have had to pay out to the EU and others. This can only be effectively done if these organisations are policed and controlled by larger organisations such as the EU. Britain on its own will find it hard to fight its corner in the face of ever more powerful multinational organisations.” SayYesToEurope

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Freedom of Movement

This means in and out and is NOT the same as immigration. Our doctors, your granny’s flat in Marbella and the ebb and flow of an international workforce which supports the country’s services. “These are the rights that, reciprocally across countries, allow people to send their children abroad to study, shop internationally with consumer protection, buy houses in sunnier climes, retire and collect pensions, get emergency medical treatment, marry and have normal family life and social benefits with a foreign European spouse, and countless other shorter and longer term cross-border mobilities.” London School of Economics

Media muscle

This quote from Anthony Hilton in the Evening Standard will suffice.

I once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. ‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.’

Self-interested A-holes

Boris, Farage and Trump support Brexit. Need I say more? DonaldDick

 

And finally here’s The Clash, just because they’re The Clash.

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“It’s a token payment, obviously.”

“We’re a charity, so can’t offer a fee.”

“We’re offering exposure instead of expenses.”

“To speak at the festival, you’ll have to buy a full-price pass.”

UPDATE: http://www.thebookseller.com/news/joanne-harris-withdraws-festival-over-unreasonable-demands-322968

Philip Pullman set off a mushroom cloud by resigning as patron of the Oxford LitFest because they do not pay authors.

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The principle is very simple: a festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing?

 

This led to a call for a boycott by author Amanda Craig in an open letter to The Bookseller.

amanda craigFor too long, authors have been persuaded to give our services to the public for free – even though the public is paying in good faith to see us. We are the only people in festivals who are not paid, and yet without us the festivals could not exist. Writing is a vocation but it is also a profession, and it is time we all stiffened our spines, dug in our heels and said No.

 

This was not the first criticism of literary festivals and the treatment of writers in general – Nicola Solomon of The Society of Authors sounded the alarm last November and again in January.

illustration by @jabberworks

illustration by @jabberworks

 

We should ensure that authors are paid properly for appearances.

Making appearances involves preparation and travelling time and authors earn their living as freelancers, so it is only fair that time is paid for.

 

 

 

I agree.

I stand up and applaud.

As a writer, speaker and panellist, of course. But also as a workshop and conference organiser.

audienceThe Woolf pays people for their time and experience (not just the event, but the travelling and preparation, plus expenses). It’s only fair. Speakers are the main reason people attend the event and should be remunerated. In the early days, we gave our time for free and even shelled out for any shortfall, but the speakers were always, always, paid.

Photography by Libby O'Loghlin

Philip Pullman, Nicola Solomon and Amanda Craig deserve applause and support for exhorting all of us who benefit from writers.

We need to make a New Year’s Resolution:

So here it is.

Ideas underpin publishing houses, television series, literary festivals, bookshops, bedtime stories, erotica on e-readers, audio-absorption for commuters, escapism to another world or examination of this one.

Ideas provide private introspection and collective water cooler conversations; stories, tales, narratives we need to make sense of life.

Ideas would be impossible without the imagination of the artist.

Ideas are worth paying for.

Treasure the storytellers.

Credit the creators.

Cough up.

 

JJ Marsh, Susan Jane Gilman, Joanna Penn, Libby O'Loghlin and Emma Darwin

JJ Marsh, Susan Jane Gilman, Joanna Penn, Libby O’Loghlin and Emma Darwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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