Interviewed by Frank Duffy

I was recently given a lively interview by Frank Duffy on Facebook – great fun to answer and I wish all interviews were this energetic.  I am publishing the full text here:


Who the hell are you?  (In 200 words)

As authors go, I feel like a misfit.  I have my roots in horror fiction (the classic atmosphere of Machen and Sarban etc.), yet also chafe against it – partly because I am a rationalist and the things I am afraid of are more social/cultural than spiritual/organic.  I venture into speculative fiction as well, yet it is still not home.  I cannot call myself ‘literature’ by any means, yet I am not ‘genre’ either.  I guess I am Slipstream – the parasitic writing that feeds on everything yet is aligned to nothing.  I work slowly, producing a small number of very carefully crafted longer pieces – a work plan that almost guarantees obscurity.  And yet I believe that writing matures like wine and I can imagine no alternative.  My publications include What the Giants were Saying, A Suite in Four Windows, Brown is the New Black and the novella/story collection Feather, which was shortlisted for the Edge Hill prize. I am currently working on several novellas and two novels, one big, one small.  Who knows which will win?  Almost at the 200w point now – so here’s some magic words: human identity, contemporary classical music, the seashore, urban underground, railways, rocks, homes, poverty, canals.


Questions on writing:

  1. In the modern age of the jobbing writer, is there such a thing as an average writing day for you?

Nope.  I try and get at least some writing and/or editing done every day, but don’t always succeed.  I try and keep several projects on the go at once, but there’s always days when I utterly loathe ALL of them, and then there is little to be gained by fighting with them.  And yes, sometimes there’s just days when I haven’t time, or the needle of my brain meter is squarely on empty.  Maybe there is a norm here after all: that of struggling to avoid the most important activity of one’s life being squeezed to nothing by things you don’t particularly want to do.  I imagine that is the default for many or most writers, and the negative energy of that must have infused the entire literary scene!


  1. How often do you feel a seething envy whenever one of your writer friends posts about their latest publishing success?

Hmm, let’s see, what time is it now?  Nearly 8PM … so that would be …

I know I know, in this business of specialist presses and tween-genre literature, when one succeeds we all succeed … divided we fall.  In fact, succeed and we’ll probably fall anyway.  And yet, it’s not exactly envy but there is a certain desolate feeling that comes trickling into the brain when I watch more prolific authors yelling with excitement over publishing their six hundred and twenty-fifth story this year while I am still toiling through the foothills of my second!  It’s not envy because – oh ok, who am I kidding? It’s most definitely envy!  Not of success but of speed!


  1. Should prolific writers be tied to a chair for a few days, before being allowed to post constant updates on social media sites relating to their literary prowess?

It’s one of the most miserable and embarrassing admissions of my entire life that I sometimes actually use a blocker app to shut down facebook for a period.  I dunno about my literary prowess, but it is the mother of all distractions as I sit there scrolling through what everyone else is up to, twitching slightly as the fix takes hold.  So I suppose if someone else is involved who would care to take on such responsibilities, then great.  Yes ma’am!


  1. How long does it take you to complete a short story from start to finish in the age of the internet and Facebook?

As I pontificated earlier, I am a slow writer, with the slowness of a strange gnarled tree growing while all the little bushes come and go in a heartbeat.  Your story goes from a gleam in your eye to that mournful feeling when you know there’s unlikely to be any more reviews, time and again, and I am still sitting there, patiently putting my piece together, polishing it and maturing it … and occasionally I am defiant enough to delight in that.  It can take months,  even years.  In fact, there is a part of me that knows stories are never finished.  You just reach a point when you can’t face fiddling with it anymore and have to draw a line under it.


  1. Can controlled substance abuse really aid the writing process?

Booze (not controlled so much as hassled) can work up to a point. Some of the others though … I am not sure one CAN write under such circumstances.  The sheer poetry of the way the lines intersect in the corner of the room is too interesting, or you are too busy hugging every single one of your friends for the thirteenth time.  Even with booze there’s several caveats, the biggest being you will have to do a LOT of editing afterwards!  I have been known to get drunk while writing scenes about people getting drunk to try and catch some of that splurge of thoughts and feelings.  The results were good, though as I said, they needed a lot of editing to fit them into the rest of the piece.  Writing is not just about inspiration and ideas, it is about craftsmanship, consideration and hard work, for all of which you probably want as little impairing your faculties as possible.


  1. What are your thoughts on setting word targets each day? Are they constructive, or is it something only an insufferable pedant would claim essential?

I dislike it intensely for the unarguable reason that I can’t bloody do it.  Discipline?  Oh yes, I think I heard that word once …


  1. Would you like to be a reviled and unpopular obscurantist if it meant having worldwide success in the literary world, or are you a true artist who would never dilute the substance of their art?

I would NEVER sell out.  Hmph!  I mean … no matter how much, how much, um, how much could you make again?  I mean – no, no way!  That’s not a way for a human to be remembered … even if it does mean maybe having somewhere to live one day.  Which would be kind of nice really …

Hey – can I use the same pseudonym as question 13?

Seriously though – do we really have any choice about this?  I suppose some may, but I at least find it very hard to change writing styles or to put myself in different places.  The biggest ‘smash hits’ – e.g. Twilight, 50 Shades, Harry Potter, all seem to fill a fairly predictable hole in our culture, something people desperately yearn for yet not something that would scare or challenge them.  Fairly conservative romance, exciting alternate sex, a dose of magic and adventure – all the while being decidedly non-threatening.  Yes, even 50 Shades, mostly.  Even the most popular genre works seem to know very much what hole to fill up or what universal push-point of the modern world to push on, though again without being hugely threatening.  The thing is, I suppose, that to write something that fills such a hole, you have to own that hole yourself.  I’m not sure I do.  Such is the nature of the outsider.  We can’t fake our way into mainstream resonance any more than we can fake our way into being a social butterfly.


  1. More importantly, how often are you involved in an online argument among other genre writers bemoaning the state of the writing community?

I usually just read through the long Facebook threads, trying to trace them backwards to see who has got into trouble this time, then dolefully wander away, hoping it never comes to me.  Maybe it will though.  Not all ding dongs are nice wholesome massacres of bigots or racists, any controversial idea can cause a lot of hot water.  AND YET THAT’S OUR JOB!!  To push at things and question things.  However, personally, I tend to keep the controversial arguments and thoughts to my fiction work.


  1. What are the most common gripes that authors make on social media sites which drive you bonkers?

I am tempted to say I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I might incriminate myself!  But naah.  I suppose it pisses me off when anyone tries to lay down the law on what people should or should not include in stories – even more so if anyone suggests certain topics are off-limits for discussion.  Aside from that … not much really!


  1. How long does it take for you to decide if the story is a work of genius or utter drivel?

Normally I know quite soon whether a story is worth pressing on with – though if the impression is negative, then I am more likely to set it aside for the future rather than dump it.  It is later on though, as the thing nears completion and I am struggling with the seemingly unending polishing stage that the agony of doubt begins.  What have you created here?  Are you sure this isn’t crap?  I mean really?  I mean really really?  I mean – how would you know?  You wouldn’t know, would you.  You think you would, but you wouldn’t. You’d just be happily writing away and you would never know the utter crap tracing itself across your screen, would you?  Don’t deny it – you know it’s true.

This shadowy me can honestly go and swallow rocks and jump in the lake.


  1. Are beta readers a good idea, or are they the equivalent of your Uncle Bertie’s friends from the local library reading group?

I think they are an excellent idea and I love to get betas involved if I possibly can!  Because I am a human being and thus totally and completely and hilariously fallible.  Written works are big things – especially bigger pieces (um, yeah – you know what I mean!).  You can be surprisingly blind to some things while working on them.  Things like words you over-use or use in awkward ways.  Or crazy stupid things, like forgetting to actually introduce a character’s name (because you know it by heart) … or giving her two different hair colours … or just forgetting to explain something vital because it is so deeply lodged in your head.  And above all, how the story presents itself when seen for the first time, which is one thing the author will never ever know.  There is no legal requirement to take on board everything a beta reader tells you, but they can spot all sorts of things that you missed completely!


  1. What is the most difficult form of fiction to write, a short story, a novella or a novel?

Short story, for me.  Of course, novels are big – and holding one in your mind is like trying to hold a whole cow in your mouth.  But I have a much greater fear of the terrible and inescapable progression I tend to get with short works.  Works that slowly grow as I get more and more interested in them – until they are some sixteen times the length of the original word limit.  It is a very familiar sinking feeling.


  1. Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym to kick-start a lengthy career as a writer of erotica?

Oh yes, many times, and I probably will one day – it’s fun and actually very very challenging.  The only sad part about it would be the pseudonym.  I honestly don’t know why one should care in this age of dinosaur porn and 50 Shades mouldering away in literally every charity shop in the country, yet something about the sex industry persists in craving anonymity!  I suppose you are revealing things about yourself that you are not certain the world is worthy of knowing.  No – that’s wrong.  Things you are bloody certain the world is not worthy of knowing!  Not a world where you can discuss eating arse on TV yet a nip-slip causes as much shock and awe as a small war.

As an aside, it seems to me that the 50 Shades phenomenon revealed something about the world: the mainstream is interested in stuff.  And also that 50 Shades itself and the somewhat confused corporate forces behind it spectacularly failed to deliver it.  Frustrated and slightly repressed Mainstream was sitting there flushed with wanting, 50 Shades came along and teased, but maybe couldn’t quite get it up.  Mainstream says “hey that’s ok, could happen to anyone,” yet 50 Shades can see the frustration in her eyes, can feel a door closing in its face …  So – who knows.  Maybe in a post-50-Shades world, we can go places.  Erotica that’s well written?  Even willing to go to challenging and interesting places?  Why not?  And, thinking back to question 7 and outsiders like me, the fun thing about human sexuality is that it is one of the great unifiers of the human race, if we let it.  And that there is absolutely no end to that particular rabbit hole.  Maybe it even goes as far as literature.


  1. What has been the longest writing project you’ve embarked on? Was there any point at which you thought of abandoning the story so you could get absolutely sh**faced?

I am currently completing two novels, one quite large and pretty much finished.  See question 4, read it over maybe six times, slapping yourself in the face in-between each read.  That’s what it feels like.  Yes I have shed tears over them, got drunk over them, swore at them, moaned to friends over them, woken up at night over them …

Yet still I press on.  I rarely abandon things, anyway – I just set them aside until such time as I can make them work.  And if I die before that time, well – can’t help that!


  1. Have you ever lain awake at night and wondered why you write? Have you ever considered if other people lie awake at night also wondering why you write?

The thought that anyone else cares why I write is so strange that I might have to think about it for a bit.  Though hey, if you do, don’t be a stranger.  Pop over.  You can watch.  It must be fascinating.  And then maybe you can tell ME why, because I ain’t got a clue!


  1. Do you conduct research for everything which you write? Have you ever broken into a top secret facility to add authenticity in the name of research, or is Wikipedia your ultimate guide to authenticity?

Well that’s the problem, isn’t it.  I am pretty careful actually, and I value getting things right.  So the fact that I have never broken into a top secret facility is one of the reasons why I have not yet written anything about top secret facilities.  It’s a minor tragedy in my career.  Mind you – I do have a post-apocalyptic novel on the back burner, so how I am going to deal with that one I am not sure yet.  Problem is, I still need at least some readers around to read the damn thing.  I’ll figure it out.

Wikipedia, google earth, street view, youtube, field trips, memories, asking friends embarrassing questions … it’s all basic tools.  And there’s stranger stuff too.  Health encyclopaedias filled with gross images that the reader should be grateful they don’t have to look at.  Other archives with even worse things because I need to get descriptions right.  And online sex communities – hey, I’m a guy, there are certain things I just do not intrinsically know, and I do not want half my readers throwing a giggling fit because of it!

We writers get everywhere!


  1. What piece of research might show up on your internet history and give your family cause to worry about your stability?

Why does a flying fuck not matter?  How to liquefy meat and bone?  Sleeper Shark.  Brazilian Waxing how-to.  Scar from Lightning Strike.  Do Tasers leave visible marks?  How to treat a severe head wound.  Vote Yes or be shot.  Police Riot Gear Diagram.  Nuclear Society of Slovenia.  Hand-Foot Syndrome.  Most Poisonous Caterpillar fatality rate.  List of communist nations.  How to prepare snails for food.  Earth Worm Burger recipe.  Poisoning by stove fumes.  Ustasha.  Do moths fight?  Nuclear Waste Train timetable.  IUD insertion.  Can one person drive a narrowboat?  Wahoo Fish?  What time are vending machines restocked?  Use a trouser press for cooking.  Affinity liquid chromatography.  Max Headroom Incident.  Transgressive art meat hook.

I think writers must be a kind of spectator sport for GCHQ – and seriously, I am dreading the day I need to write about something really contentious, like a bomb going off.  I can’t do that without knowing at least a little about it …


  1. What life experience has been the most advantageous in terms of writing a story?

Ummmm – oh boy, this is a tricky one.  There’s several.  Love troubles and loneliness are always great fuel – nothing like a bit of sexual frustration to fire creativity!  It’s a tricky thing to express and explore, especially when you are in it, yet one always feels the need to try.  Also the housing crisis etc. and the Doom that Came to London all had an effect – a drastically destabilising situation (and no, not just in London) that makes the future seem far from guaranteed.  I have to say though, the biggest thing was probably studying at one of the wildest alternate arts college in the UK.  People sneer about them for not equipping you for dealing with the ‘real world’, and that may be true but rubbing shoulders with crazy performance artists and playing around with truly experimental ideas does have an effect.  I am no avant-garde poet or performance writer – I tend not to write my novels on my body or express them in interpretive dance with Japanese shibari … but something about the aesthetic rubs off and gives you an edge that is a little different to other things.  It’s something I value very highly indeed.


  1. Should authors give advice to aspiring authors, or should they leave them to do things their own way? What was the worst bit of advice you ever heard?

Advice, yes, please do!  Instructions – maaaaaybe not!  Little tips and ideas for checklists or ‘things worth thinking about’ are great.  Laying down the law that thou shalt not use the word ‘suddenly’, thou shouldn’t write in such and such genre or don’t thou dare go above/below Y number of words are decidedly less so.  One should just write, dammit!  Ideally without creeds and bondage.  In the end, only you can really decide what you need to do.


  1. What are some of the most popular misconceptions about writers from the perspective of the public?

Bloody hell – I don’t know what those weirdos think about us!  Maybe that we’re sophisticated successful alpha males who can sweep you off your feet with our remarkable brains?  Or that we are hopeless introvert hermits sitting hunched in dark rooms muttering to ourselves and trying to remember which side of this world is real and which isn’t?  Oh wait – that might actually be true in my case.


  1. What was the worst rejection from a publisher you’ve ever had?

Ummm … ok, this is going to sound weird but I have never really had a nasty rejection.  A) my career has not been that long yet, and B) I work very carefully to hone a small number of pieces for specific purposes – and, um, haven’t actually had that many chucked back at me.  And the ones that were always seemed either a non-entity form rejection or perfectly courteous.  Dunno if I should ever admit that in public though – and, um, if any other writers are asking about me, I just moved to Sierra Leone.


  1. Have you ever thought of launching a secret hate campaign against a publisher who simply misjudged your literary genius?

Hey – I am a publisher myself as well!  Eibonvale Press!  That puts me in the curious position of being on both sides in the Great War.  It also means that leaving aside actual cases of rip-off, I am extremely sympathetic to the troubles of small presses.  It also made me a lot thicker-skinned in terms of those rejections I mentioned, since I have had to deal with those stacks of submissions, I have had to chuck out stories I loved.  I know, you see, that most basic truth – that a rejection doesn’t mean the editor was rolling on the floor laughing or needed treatment for shock.  Only sometimes.


  1. And finally, which would you choose, a commercial contract with stipulations about what you’re allowed to write, or a career in the Small Press with no restrictions on what you are allowed to write?

Tricky one – if it really was either/or then I’d have to choose the small press.  The freedom and the quality seem so much higher, purely because you can stretch out more.  I value writers who slip between genres, who have no allegiance to them, the area Slipstream occupies – and I value being allowed to do that myself, and being appreciated for it.  And I say all that as a reader as well.

Hey – maybe homes are overrated.

Not to say that commercial contracts are automatically the flipside to that, of course – but again, I have to reiterate what I said in question 7.  If someone offered an outsider like me a contract to write a tryptic of ‘young adult’ novels about a teen witch who fights evil undead estate agents in London, I might have to take them aside and have a quiet word, making sure they knew exactly what they were letting themselves in for.  But hey – if they really wanted to shove money at me for something that would probably turn out more like J G Ballard meets the Panty and Stocking cartoons, then I am hardly going to refuse, am I!






Published in: on June 19, 2016 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  



This is one of my most prized books. It’s a hallucinatory horror novel that is extremely strong, vivid and original, filled with a kind of stinking beautiful poetry of rot and perversion – it made a huge impression on me when I first read it. There were only 150 of these printed by Delirium, and for a long time this was the only complete version of the book available – which rather epitomizes my ambivalent relationship with these special limited editions. On the one hand, it is nice to own something so special, but there seems something wrong to me about having a work tied up in such a rarefied circle of readers, especially when the prices start climbing up into the triple digits! You can’t exactly grab people and say “hey, you have to read this!” Fortunately, it’s now available in paperback as well and well worth checking out if you are feeling like such a strange journey through the jungles of Cambodia.

Published in: on April 5, 2016 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Morning Yet?

This is crazy. It’s evening and 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 . . .

Published in: on March 13, 2015 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Duet now available to read online – in Wordland 5 from Exaggerated Press

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 . . .

Published in: on January 25, 2015 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Blood is Not Pink – free to read online

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 . . .

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 5:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Aaah the romance of writing . . .

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 . . .”

Published in: on January 4, 2015 at 6:34 am  Leave a Comment  

New Story Accepted for Publication – Duet.

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.  :-)

Published in: on October 25, 2014 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

An Edifying Experience

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!

Published in: on August 23, 2014 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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TPP and TTIP Horror Stories

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.


[1] WikiLeaks publishes secret draft chapter of Trans-Pacific Partnership –

[2] This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy –

[3] The lies behind this transatlantic trade deal –

[4] – About TTIP –

[5] The Hidden Threat of the TTIP Deal –

[6] TTIP: 9 Risks Clegg And Farage Won’t Tell You About The US-EU Trade Deal –

[7] TPP Leak Confirms the Worst: US Negotiators Still Trying to Trade Away Internet Freedoms –

[8] 3 things you need to know about sharing and collaborating online –

Published in: on July 12, 2014 at 1:29 pm  Comments (1)  

Red Lights

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 . . .

Published in: on April 9, 2014 at 4:39 am  Leave a Comment