This is crazy. I have just been lying in bed working on a short story set on the London canals in the deep night – and a peaceful dawn breaks at the very end. Now I am utterly convinced that it’s morning and that I should probably get up soon . . .
One very key element of the liberal left has long been under threat: its liberalism – that is, its willingness to debate with anything outside a narrow range of opinions within its own walls. And the more scary and incomprehensible the world becomes, the more debate is replaced by edict and prejudice: literally pre-judging.
The Guardian sometimes nails it spectacularly, sometimes perpetuates the very problem this article highlights (obviously – it’s created by many different voices). The problems outlined here concerning the political left can be extrapolated to cover pretty much any issue that needs to be fought for, including those in the book world, and as a result it is rather close to the bone for me. It seems to be one of the biggest problems with even the most progressive areas of thought: what’s the point of any of the big issues and causes if the ‘majority tone’ is that of people stifling debate due to their own insecurity and if they are unable to cope with the blurred nature of reality? Hey – I like debate, I like to discuss things, or at least I used to. I like it because the world is fascinating and because there are so many things we still need to work out and understand as a species if we are going to get anywhere. But we are reaching a state where I simply will not discuss or involve myself with subjects like feminism, animal welfare, food, heath, racism, religion etc. Even book genres for gawd bloody sake! So even though I agree with most of what the people involved are fighting for, they will have to fight for it without me. I am not aggressive and we don’t NEED aggression – we don’t need abuse and dogma. We need thinkers – we need sense and reason and questioning of everything. The kind of bickering, selfish and defensive quarreling that seems to predominate achieves zero. It is tiresome and stifling but infinitely worse than that, it’s making enemies when the whole point of these causes is to work together and be open in order to make something better in areas of thought that none of us have a full understanding of.
These days these topics are pretty much limited to my novels, where I can tackle them without every single comment needing to be a weapon and a suit of armor. They are a way to explore such subjects without the need to be defensive because they are stories about how humans function rather than attempts to put together a thesis. Such is the magic of characters acting out a narrative. And maybe this aspect of fiction contains a heck of a lot more it could teach the world than many think.
The most basic awareness in all these subjects needs to be that nothing is black and white, nothing is clear-cut and simple, that we don’t even begin to know the ‘truth’ – simply because that’s not the way humans or nature work. Never has, never will be. We don’t even know ourselves in any real sense yet, living lives filled with illusion and delusion and in an entirely artificial environment, both physical and mental. We are all just fumbling our way towards these things and towards ourselves. A lot of our ideas are inevitably going to be wrong or incomplete but that’s ok because everything can be a step closer to further understanding – and yet we act as though we are some kind of messiah of ideas that must be worshiped or else. People need to realise that the complexity of reality does not invalidate any single one of these issues. The only thing that threatens to invalidate them is ourselves, if we have tied our identities and egos to our beleaguered ’cause’ or ideas to such an extent that even slight disagreement or asking questions is grounds for excommunication. The author of this article calls it the paradoxical voice, but for me any subject has to contain these paradoxes otherwise something is missing – incomplete. Unsatisfying. Any basic idea is going to be both right and wrong. And any major issue, as listed above, even more so.
Those who identify with the “paradoxical voice” self-censor because they know they are going to get rocks thrown at them – not by their enemies but by their friends. That’s not only a bad feeling; it’s a tendency that’s bad for democracy, for politics, and the wider movement we call the left. And the left – in its compassion, freedom and concern for social justice – is the only hope for the future of this country.
Another of my short stories has just been published, this time in Wordland 5 from Exaggerated Press. You can read it online here along with plenty of other great writers – or you can get the hardcopy soon.
The theme was True Love. I am a bit of a twisted, bruised romantic, so the theme was certainly a good one to play with. The result was a bizarrely icy, lonely and surreal horror story about the underground music scene set in London – lonely concerts in bizarre industrial warehouses, a hefty dose of urban alienation and an unusual amount of the surreal for me. The Black Sheet Moth spreads its wings . . .
One of my (rare) shorter works has been published over on the Sparks of Consciousness blog and can be read for free online. Called Blood is Not Pink, this is an odd one for me – a whimsical but dark and even slightly cruel slipstream miniature. Click through and have a read! You don’t often see things this small with my name on them! And yes, it features my character Richard Jarvis, the English Gentleman . . .
Writing a book is like being in love – as you work on it, as you get so intimate with it, there is no question whatsoever that this is ‘The One’ – and no way will you ever be involved in the creation of anything better. It has all the sense and rationality and intellectual reasoning we tend to show with our human relationships.
And then it’s over – it’s finished – it’s gone out of your life . . . the reviewers start mauling it around, and that process is a bit like your friend buying you a drink and saying “Hey, I know you were close but, you know, she’s just another novel. There’s plenty more fish in the sea”. And you sigh and nod and stare forlornly at your completed work . . .
And then before you know it, you are hard at work on another ‘The One’ – and your friends are rolling their eyes with a hint of weariness, muttering ‘here we go again . . .”
It’s a rare enough event so I have to get a bit excited. It’s rare considering how slow my output is and that when I write a piece, the creative process seems to go on forever. Stories tend to be large, take at least five or six drafts and are always beleaguered by the day job and the small publisher I run, Eibonvale Press. But anyway – my story Duet has been accepted for publication in Wordland 5: True Love from Exaggerated Press.
I am a bit of a twisted, bruised romantic, so the theme was certainly a good one to play with. The result was a bizarrely icy, lonely and surreal horror story about the underground music scene set in London – lonely concerts in bizarre industrial warehouses, a hefty dose of urban alienation and an unusual amount of the surreal for me. The Black Sheet Moth spreads its wings . . .
As an aside, I do have another piece accepted for publication soon that i am not at liberty to mention yet, save that it is possibly my favorite story yet. So watch this space. :-)
I am currently working on two slipstream novels simultaneously now – one with the underlying theme of general social frustration and over-regulation (entitled Meat – now in the polishing stage) and one on more direct themes of sex, liberation vs. repression and judgementalism that suddenly came out of nowhere and wouldn’t let me rest until I had at least started sketching it out. I am tentatively calling it Triangular Sky but who knows if that will change. I am going to have to go into more details about both of these elsewhere, but for now i will say that both books feature my mighty supernatural adversity, the Polyhedron! And they are both slightly activistic books giving me a chance to vent a bit on various aspects of modern life, though i hope not overtly or in your face. These are fantasies with such issues as backdrops, not idea- or politics-driven stories. I have a massive allergy to books that lecture or preach too much – so I am always very conscious indeed of the fine balance that needs to be struck in this area.
However, the current chaos of Scotland is reminding me that there is one huge societal issue that I haven’t tackled in either. In Meat, I drew on a highly fantastical and surreal version of the London Riots and set it sometime in the future where everything we know has got just that little bit worse. In Triangular Sky I am looking at the rise in PostModern Prudery and possibly a bit of UKIP-style politics (again – just tinges in the background). I almost feel as though I am being left behind by history now though because even as I process that idea, here’s another thing going on right now that is crying out to inspire some hot Polyhedron action. It’s a good thing that themes are timeless, even if history isn’t. The excitement and ugliness of what’s going on in a part of the world I always used to feel very close to is going to be the defining memory of the Scottish Independence Referendum, regardless of how the country votes. However noble some of the aims of both sides are, it seems unable to escape a sense of ugly nationalism and partisan entrenchment – sense and debate running wild into polarized bullying and tribalism on a societal level. This has been made very clear by a vast number of comment threads and articles and personal accounts. The old familiar chaos of a run-away vortex of emotion that ends up helping no one, only digging things in and reinforcing resentment. I suppose that is almost inevitable in any major issue (it is clearly visible in English politics as well, not to mention globally) – but that doesn’t make it any prettier. So maybe there will be a third novel at some point – the ultimate incarnation of the Polyhedron. I can’t think of anything more Polyhedral than this kind of partisan obsession and excitement.
It would definitely not be a novel about Scotland, let me make that quite clear – I doubt any human being knows enough to do that for a LONG time and besides, that’s not the way I work. I am interested in the small scale. The personal, set against the unknowable mystery of society as a whole and the even more unknowable future.
And then maybe I can lay writing about this kind of thing to rest for a while and get back to the quiet seaside strangeness I was playing with in Feather! Because I will tell you one thing . . . this kind of writing is EXHAUSTING! It takes me to some of the ugliest places in the human soul and then I have to somehow make sense of them . . .
Now – if i can just find a way to combine it with Guerrilla Knitting . . .
Thank you my dear Virgin Broadband for a really interesting and edifying experience today, when your nice shiny new government mandated ‘web-safe’ internet filter accidentally got switched on for a while.
I must confess it was quite a shock at first, when my writing lead me to research some minor specifics of feminine hygiene (I am NOT taking any chances with even such mundane things when it’s probably second nature to half my bloody readers!), only to come up against a brick wall plastered with talk of pornography, hate, drugs and suicide.
There was a second shock a bit later . . . I would not have equated the minor surgery that I recently underwent and was trying to research as anything to do with hate or porn either – and likewise recovering from it hasn’t driven me to suicide yet. But hey – always happy to be corrected about these things!
Shock number three was that image on tumblr that came out of nowhere of some woman or other with what looked like a butcher’s meat hook through her perineum. I will chalk that up to ‘extreme body piercing’ and ‘some people like to do weird things to themselves and who am i to judge?’ and then try and forget I ever saw it. I am sure I will survive . . . but apologies in advance if cosmetic meat hooks turn up in some story or other in about 10 years time . . .
Virgin, I fully intended never EVER to touch these filters, even with a six foot pole. But I am kind of glad it got switched on for a while. It was an education, showing very clearly that they don’t just sit on the ‘useless’ fence, they plunge right over into the badly maintained and thorny garden of ‘worse than useless’. If anyone doesn’t believe me, just try the following little experiment. Switch it on for a bit, go to Tumblr or something similar – even wikimedia commons – and just run a few searches. Not for things you might want to discuss later maybe, but just try it. And tell me how effective they are.
Then for gawd sake turn it off again!
That’s the useless part. They don’t protect anyone at all from anything at all except maybe from more focused and specific research. You will always be able to find the porn, and if it’s hate and racism you want, just go to the YouTube comments sections! The worse than useless part is the false positives – and beyond that, the further cementing of many natural normal parts of life as somehow ‘dirty’ when they really desperately need liberating for all our sakes – the simple act of trying to constrain the frank and unmoderated discussion and sharing of information and experiences – the pretending that certain things don’t exist when they really do exist and need addressing on many levels. Even making users imagine they are somehow ‘safe’ when they aren’t . . .
I am not often shocked or disturbed these days, but even I draw the line at meat hooks! That time – that ONE time – I might just have appreciated a bit of protection. But hey – I’m never going to get it without damaging everything else in ways that are beyond unacceptable to me. I am aware of and accept that inescapable fact. You can’t program or legislate human taste. So, as you go down the path of life, you just have to accept that you are going to find a few roses as you go – and the occasional meat hook . . .
I can’t blame you, Virgin, really of course. It’s the government’s fault for pushing these useless things onto us with all the usual crap about some kind of morality that never represented anything meaningful. I also appreciate the fact that you were the last of the major ISPs to bow to government pressure on this. That is something I will remember. But neither we nor you, Virgin, should just quietly accept it when they mess us around and interfere in things it is clear they don’t understand. People in general need to think about this – need to realize that these filters are about far far more than somehow blocking things that you personally regard as icky. And then SWITCH THEM OFF! Take charge of your own internet instead, people, and make your own decisions!
It seems the TPP is getting perilously close – as is the less well-known European version the TTIP. And I am getting increasingly bombarded with emails from my various activist groups about it, all exhorting me to fight and fight harder if we are to have any hope of preventing some of the worst corporate damage in history!
It would be nice to think that I and others are worrying unnecessarily – and that the fears are overblown. Reading through the EUs own web page on the subject, one might even be convinced that is the case, if it wasn’t for one major point. Why is it that what may be some of the biggest deals in history are being negotiated in such attempted secrecy that even now so few people really know they exist or that they are at all significant? To my mind, that fact alone gives plenty of reason to worry. It suggests that those involved have a very good reason for keeping the public in the dark about it as much as possible. They know it would not stand up to scrutiny. They have a guilty conscience, in other words.
What we do know only seems to back that up. The businessmen and politicians talk of economic benefits, but the activists and watchdogs promise horror stories in the truest sense of the term – the perversion of what we have, and the deeper entrenchment of much that is wrong with the world and the resultant dwindling of our chances of improvement. The death of the internet as we know it and the final signing over of the world to corporate control and commercialism.
I remember these agreements from the days when we knew nothing about them at all, but the organisations and public that keep a wary eye on the world were so worried about the extreme secrecy that there was actually a totally crowd-sourced bounty of $70,000 offered for a leak of the TPP draft. Are there any other comparable times in history when the public has actually come together to ‘buy’ a whistleblower like that? That is also a somewhat strange indication of the world we are moving into – where we both need to and CAN do such things. At any rate, that leak eventually came, and in the years since then we have begun to get a look at these things that have been brewing behind closed doors.
There are two distinct but connected sides to the worries about this. On the one hand, we have people deeply concerned about freedom of expression and creativity being stifled by a drastic and draconian increases in intellectual property and copyright regulations. As an artist, that is of course of great concern to me – but the other side of this is potentially even more serious in that it represents a signing over of power to corporations on a scale unique in history.
The 30,000 word leaked chapter on Intellectual Property came as a shock, though a somewhat familiar one, threatening to increase the stranglehold already enforced on information, sharing and expression, complete with the old familiar enforced policing by ISPs and draconian and incomprehensible copyright regulations – the sort of things we have been fighting for years coming back again like heads of the Hydra. We can see where this is going online because, quite simply, the internet has already suffered massive damage and the glory days of the web as a carefree place to be yourself, exchange ideas and information are long gone. Now the net is shot through with dirt or threats of dirt on every level – spying revelations, censorship, filters, self-censorship / paranoia, postmodern prudery, prosecutions for expressing opinions, damaging copyright laws etc. It seems that even as it just began to flicker into being, an end is nigh for any kind of truly free sharing of information and freedom of expression, as well as any kind of escape from or alternative to corporate control. Will we ever be able to find that glorious freedom that the internet stood for again without constantly having one eye over our shoulders?
These agreements should be seen as one part of the negative progression, just one more nail in the coffin of the internet, given that this is what the corporate world has been striving for for years – and if so, it could be a decisive one. A kind of last wound that brings it down. One of the things about the internet is that, unlike when you are sitting there being fed information as you are from a TV, you are in charge and thus you can never know the consequences – just about anything you do online COULD POSSIBLY be illegal and there is rarely any way to know for sure. Remember the days when they were trying to crack down on BitTorrent file sharing, and the only advice they could give was ‘the only way to be sure you are not breaking the law is don’t use it’? Yes – their only response to the problem was to suggest shutting down an entire technology – which was approximately equal to shutting down email to stop people sending spam messages. That was an extreme case, but it is symptomatic of the entire internet. Many of the things we naturally want to do online and offline may also become illegal. That video you watch and put on facebook? That image you find and share? That quote you take of something you love? That thing you want to show your friend? That inspiration you draw on as an artist or that criticism or satire? It doesn’t really matter to them. And with the powers provided by this new system, entire websites could vanish or entire families could be kicked off the internet for nothing more than a blunder, to say nothing of the times when such things are totally justified – e.g. allowing access to stuff you can’t see any other way, either because distributors can’t be bothered to distribute or (infinitely worse) because they are locked up by region coding, censored in your part of the world or in your language, or even just chained up in some ‘rights’ or other that are always entirely bureaucratic and no benefit to the artist or those passionate about it.
This of course, is of especial concern to anyone involved in the arts since, even offline, creativity is also increasingly stifled by intellectual property (which is increasingly becoming a dirty word for any artist), which represents a very worrying trend in the world. Entire art forms are already ruined by over-regulation and more will follow, with art itself seeming more and more like a subversive and quasi-underground act. True collage or found art, cosplay as a hobby, fan fiction, any sort of direct satirical art etc., all these are all either threatened or could be threatened. Fan fiction (as an example) may not seem a very significant area, but it’s a harmless chance for some people to be creative and I have to ask, if a character or concept has become a household word, then why should people not be able to reference it in their own creativity if they wish, either as a homage, satirically/critically, or just as a bizarre pop-culture reference? And preventing artists commenting on much of the real world (without playing that weird satirical game of finding ways for the audience to get the message without ever actually saying it) also seems extremely damaging. This piece of street art is a good example. This is something that is already only possible anonymously on a wall otherwise the number of potential lawsuits would be quite large. This is why anonymous street art is often seen as the purest remaining artform, and the last thing we need is more types of creativity following it into the underground. Collage and art using found objects, some types of independent film, even street photography, though that is somewhat removed from the subject of this article – anything that either doesn’t want to or can’t play the commercial game, basically.
But of course, this is not just about art and censorship, though as an artist that is one thing that bothers me deeply. Another big worry is the serious increase of power that these agreements threaten to give to corporations at the expense of the poor and even of governments themselves. One aspect that bothers is the stranglehold of Big Pharma at the expense of affordable medicines in the developing world. And similar things with patents controlling farming and the cultivation of food. But perhaps the spookiest thing so far comes from our own European TTIP, the way it would give corporations the power to actually sue governments if they implement regulations that could be damaging to them – i.e. environmental or public health matters. That is, governments could be sued for keeping corporations from damaging nature, trying to control polluting or other industrial damage, increasing the minimum wage, animal welfare, trying to implement other laws that promote fairness at the expense of their pockets.
I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but these two agreements are starting to seem to be up there among the scariest things to have come along in my lifetime.
I quote Assange, from a while back but maybe still relevant: “If instituted, the TPP’s intellectual property regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”
We have already seen off several of these horrible plans and agreements and proposed legislations – SOPA and PIPA and ACTA spring to mind, but they were nowhere near as big as these seem to be. Maybe we can kill or neutralize this one too, since the controversy is only growing – and it is also important to remember that it is still being argued, still in draft form. It may be that those who are insisting on the more draconian inclusions (the USA seems a major culprit, again playing the role of the world’s supervillain) will be overruled, especially if enough people provide pressure.
Myself though I am starting to despair! As an artist, as one who really believes in the potential of the internet, and simply as one who wants to see a world that works far far better than it does now. But there seems such an inevitability about this march of commercialism and control that I wonder if there is really any point hoping? If this is beaten, then wont there just be another – and then another – and then another – as long as the world functions the way it does? Until the internet is just another totally controlled drip-feed like TV, corporations really do possess more power than countries and money is the ultimate controlling factor.
But anyway, I would urge people to at least stand up and be counted here. Easing trade between nations (which is the avowed goal of these agreements) is a very good aim, since the world is indeed ridiculously complicated, ridiculously unfair and far too bound up by national boundaries. But can’t we negotiate such things without smuggling through additional problems like this? And is there any reason at all why a trade agreement cannot be decided on with complete transparency and openness – and fairness and progressiveness? Maybe these things don’t need to be destroyed – merely reformed so they can do no damage. Or maybe they should indeed be destroyed because can we ever really trust the forces that are trying to shape our world, either political or corporate? I honestly don’t know.
 WikiLeaks publishes secret draft chapter of Trans-Pacific Partnership – http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/nov/13/wikileaks-trans-pacific-partnership-chapter-secret
 This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy
 The lies behind this transatlantic trade deal – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/02/transatlantic-free-trade-deal-regulation-by-lawyers-eu-us
 nottip.org.uk – About TTIP – http://www.nottip.org.uk/aboutttip/
 The Hidden Threat of the TTIP Deal – http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-d9e2-The-hidden-threat-of-the-TTIP-deal
 TTIP: 9 Risks Clegg And Farage Won’t Tell You About The US-EU Trade Deal – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/02/ttip-us-eu-trade-deal_n_5050117.html
 TPP Leak Confirms the Worst: US Negotiators Still Trying to Trade Away Internet Freedoms – https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/11/tpp-leak-confirms-worst-us-negotiators-still-trying-trade-away-internet-freedoms
 3 things you need to know about sharing and collaborating online – https://openmedia.ca/blog/3-things-you-need-know-about-sharing-and-collaborating-online
There is an absolutely delicious irony about cycling at the moment. Read any online mention of cycling, no matter how peripheral, and I can tell you precisely what you will see there if comments are enabled. At least 50 people moaning about cyclists jumping red lights, another 50 moaning about cycling on pavements, and other creative criticisms like riding across crossings or the wrong way down roads. Presumably cyclists are a different species of human who all wear lycra and who’s mating rituals involve butting helmets and ringing bells? Whoever they are, it is ok to discriminate against them en mass even though racism is now frowned upon. It is very depressing. Vehiclism is on the rise!
Meanwhile, back in the real world, London is actually becoming a pretty cycle friendly city in some ways – incorporating a lot of the latest designs for integrating bikes. I have even been involved with testing some of it with the TRL (a rainy day testing a new way to get bikes around bus stops – over and over again). And this is where the irony comes in. What do we see among these new designs? Cycle routes that hop on and off the pavement depending on safety. Traffic lights that let cyclists move at different times to cars (jumping lights, in effect, though safer obviously) or directing us across crossings with pedestrians instead. Even cycle routes that run contrary to the flow of cars or the wrong way down one way systems. Funnily enough, EXACTLY what everyone has been moaning about so much is now being incorporated officially as the latest cutting edge! The irony is beautiful!
I was always too . . . what is it? . . . law abiding to jump lights or ride around in weird places. But it was always clear that sometimes it was safer and I am very glad to see these new changes. The rules of the road are totally geared towards cars in foundation and don’t even fit bikes very well, so it’s no surprise that some take the system into their own hand. Bikes are still in an awkward place, not quite fitting in either on the road or off it – and we have to work with that as best we can, trying not to annoy people in the process but also trying not to get killed and trying to actually, well, move!
Then again, some of any vehicle do drive like idiots as well. I could tell a few stories . . .