The War on Poverty

Apocalypse

Apocalypse

And so we’ve had the British General Election.

And what a shock it’s been.

I guess there will be few readers of my blog who’re surprised that I consider the result to be a total disaster. It’s hard to see a single good thing in the debacle. There has been a total retreat from good sense or even common sense and an advance of the massed forces of evil.

Our membership of the European Union is in doubt. A promised assault on Human Rights. A further attack on civil liberties. Even more surveillance and intimidation. Further consolidation of wealth in those who’ve already done so well in the last few years. An abandonment of our moral and humanitarian obligations to the poorer nations of the world we are so happy to plunder. Yet more climate change denial and foot-dragging in the increasingly necessary need to take radical action to avert environmental disaster.

The reactionary right continue to be on the ascendancy. They’ve captured power in Russia, Eastern Europe, Australia, Israel, Egypt, most of the levers of power in the United States and now in the United Kingdom. No make-do-and-mend coalition of a hodge-podge of centralist politicians as expected: instead a resurgent Tory party that no longer needs to pretend to be anything other than the representatives of the wealthy and privileged.

Unnecessary and counterproductive welfare cuts. Unnecessary and regressive tax cuts. Unnecessary and prohibitively expensive investment in nuclear submarines.

The reactionary right wing has fought several wars in the last few decades and lost almost all of them. It has fought and lost a war on drugs and has instead brought chaos to Mexico, Latin America and the Middle East. It has fought and lost a war on terrorism, and the world is now a much less stable and secure place than before (especially in precisely those places where the most money and the most lives have been squandered).

It is fighting and winning a war against the environment where there is less and less of a buffer zone against total catastrophe. It has fought and won a war against the poor who are now more downtrodden and dispossessed than they’ve been for more than thirty years.

The wealthy are ever more wealthy (and their wealth increasingly stashed away in tax shelters of one kind of another). The poor are being attacked in Britain with a fresh ferocity.

And if the furthest right get the early exit from the European Union that they clamour for where will we be?

Fewer human rights. A flight of capital from the City of London towards the more reliable continental bourses. A brake on British emigration and the free flow of labour and the burden of trying to deport entrenched immigrant labour with nothing to replace it with. And a Scotland (and maybe even a Wales and Northern Ireland) which may choose independence from England simply to remain in the EU.

And for all this, the Tories have been rewarded for their efforts with an absolute majority in the House of Commons. How much worse could it be?

 

Facebook Friend

Ruthie2 - Garv

Facebook Friend

 

So, I received an e-mail from Nicola, the founder and owner of Lush Stories to ask me (and, I’m sure, every other writer who’s contributed a story that one of the site’s moderators has deemed to be a Recommended Read) to submit a story to the Vault: a new feature on the site to offer subscribers something more than what is available to the average visitor to the site.

Although I’ve submitted a fair number of stories to the site I’ve only once achieved a Recommended Read accolade. That was for my science fiction story: Sliding Sideways. To be honest, this doesn’t really surprise me as you can see from a glance at the kind of story that gets the highest recommendation. Although I’m sure no one could say anything disrespectful about, for instance, Blue Night Special  (about Two small town policeman who pick up a big haired, big titted waitress for a ‘yehaa’ good time.) or Faerie Circles (where Three young girls discover the magic of faerie rings), these aren’t really the sort of story I write (and more’s the pity is what I expect quite a few might say).

But I thought I’d take the challenge of writing what I thought might be closer to the type of story that does well on Lush Stories.

And so was born Facebook Friend.

This story is a kind of experiment in writing what might be called a Love Story that is designed for exactly the kind of fallible, rather less-than-perfect person who enjoys reading stories on sites like Lush Stories (and why not?). And I had a lot of fun trying to put myself into the minds of such people: those who use Facebook and whose taste in culture is as vanilla as their interest in sex fiction (and maybe sex as well).  To be honest, I am a lot more sympathetic to such people than I guess are many of those in that category who write such fiction. Little as I understand the appeal of Facebook, Poldark, Heart FM or Celebrity television, I do kind of understand and sympathise with those who use such crutches to lean on in a world that is, in truth, a lot less kind and much more complicated.

Still, I have to report that my experiment in writing a love story to appeal to such a demographic was an abject failure. After the usual rather long time to make a decision about one of my stories that for some reason or other doesn’t quite fit the moderators’ expectations the story was returned as not being a Recommended Read and therefore not suitable for the Vault. Clearly it isn’t of the standard of Into The Night (which has gained a huge amount of praise for its writing style) or Cricket Vaughn And The Don (which is about a very strange kind of mafia boss) in terms of what makes the grade.

I can’t deny that I’m a bit disappointed in the sense that even when I make an effort I still can’t quite write the kind of fiction that the majority of people who read stories on sex fiction sites most enjoy. But then, I think, to be that kind of writer you either have to be a lot more cynical than I am (as in the film As Good As It Gets) or be the kind of person who actually enjoys these kind of stories.

And as I’m neither, I guess it’s probably not surprising that, despite some nice comments and some reassuringly high scores, Facebook Friend wasn’t chosen for the Vault.

And I guess if you want to find out what does make the grade (and this includes Mediaeval sex fantasies by Metilda, Sex in the Sand by Milik Redman and Gothic Sex and Seduction by Frank Lee) the Vault is the place to go.

How High the Moon

How High the Moon

How High the Moon

 

 

As I continue to post to Lush Stories those stories of mine which I think might be suitable, I’m getting reactions from readers who understandably think the stories have only recently been written and aren’t at all aware that most of them were posted in Ruthie’s Club several years ago. And one such, of course, is How High the Moon from which the above illustration was an early draft of what was finally used.

To be honest, it wasn’t one of my favourite illustrations for one of my stories (though by no means the worst) and I think the black-and-white draft is actually closer to my notion of what the illustration should be than the one finally published.

The story How High the Moon is about a jazz pianist and singer who performs with her trio at a club in Manhattan that is either the Village Vanguard (which I’ve visited many times) or one very similar: perhaps also in or around Greenwich Village. In a way, the musician is based on Sarah Vaughan who played the piano as well as sang, though she is better known perhaps for the rather dull stuff she did later in life. At her best on Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown (also known as Lullaby of Birdland) she may well have been as great a jazz singer as Billie Holliday or Ella Fitzgerald. Her version of How High the Moon is probably not her finest moment, but I like the song and it kind of made sense as a title.

Many people think of vocal jazz or even the jazz trio as a kind of lounge music that makes perfect background music for a candle-lit dinner. There is an element of that, even in New York, but the jazz I like is a little bit more gritty, certainly isn’t smooth, and has a range from the free and experimental to the more accessible music that Lynn, my protagonist, is playing, though I imagine something a great deal more challenging than most of Sarah Vaughan’s later songs.

This story is unusual for me as it is the only story I’ve yet written in the present tense, but then I wanted to somehow capture something of the immediacy of a live performance. This is something I tried to do in a very different way in my story Creamfields which is about dancing in the Creamfields dance festival. In that case, the intention was to capture the immediacy and excitement of contemporary dance music. In both stories the real challenge was how to incorporate something to do with sex, and that I think is the weakest aspect of both of them.

I mention this because tak0chan has written a very nice review of my story on Lush Stories, in which he says:

To borrow a musical metaphor, there is a rich contrapuntal texture to this story that makes it deeply satisfying at numerous levels. The thematic interweaving of music, present and past emotions and situations, regrets and hopes etc, is brilliantly done, as is your evocation of the scene in which Lynn and her fellow musicians perform. 

Obviously, I am hugely gratified to receive any praise but more so perhaps when a reader recognises and appreciates what I was trying to achieve in my story.

On tak0chan’s Lush Stories profile, he mentions his wide ranging taste of music, so I guess it was inevitable that he’d better understand my story better than most other readers.

However, I have no plans to write any more jazz stories, though I may yet write some fiction that deals with the world of live music. What’s for sure is that it won’t much resemble  How High the Moon.

Her Husband’s Ex: Sequel

Red and blue

Red and blue

I’ve recently posted my short story Her Husband’s Ex to Lush Stories and interestingly this story has got rather more requests for a sequel than almost all my stories (with the exception of The Golden Knot, which is best described as niche).

However, I sort of think this story is rather too insubstantial to warrant a sequel, and in any case this would go against the story’s original purpose which is to relate the rather odd relationship a second wife or a second long-term partner has with the one who preceded her; and, furthermore, with the very real and sometimes realistic fear that the first wife still takes emotional precedence. The reason I wrote this as a short story is that there wasn’t much more I wanted to say (unless it could somehow be incorporated into the original short story). The only exception I’ve made to this general practice is the aforementioned The Golden Knot, in which both the original and the sequel were meant as a kind of joke on the kind of epic fantasy fiction it satirises.

It is strange though that a story like Her Husband’s Ex which is one of the least adventurous and most naturalistic of my stories has had such an appeal and, as I commented in an earlier post, has somehow attracted an extraordinary amount of bile. It’s something I don’t really have an answer to.

If I were trying to make some kind of commercial success out of writing sex fiction, I guess this would be a seam worth mining: but I guess I’m not really that kind of writer and I sort of think I’ve more or less exhausted what I can do with this story of Caitlin, Ken and Sonya.

I sometimes wonder who my target reader is. There’s a kind of notion, promulgated by all those ‘How to Write a Novel’ books, that says that the successful writer tries to write fiction that the target reader would enjoy. I understand this in an abstract sense and I kind of agree with it, but I don’t really follow this prescription. The nearest to a target reader I have is someone like myself: but a someone who unlike me prefers to read fiction on the internet rather than the huge body of high quality fiction available elsewhere. I sort of imagine someone who understands some, but not necessarily all, the references I make and someone who is in sympathy with at least the moral intent of my stories even if they may disagree with the precise political, socio-economic and religious bias.

I kind of think that many of my readers occupy a different space altogether. It’s not one I wish to designate too precisely, but I don’t think it exactly occupies the same space as I sort of expect.

But does it matter? Different people get different things out of the same source material. When Bruce Springsteen sung “Born in the USA” he was making a kind of plea for a particular kind of understanding of what it means to be American, but many of those who enjoy the song have a totally different understanding which is essentially anathema to its intentions. But it still gives pleasure to many more people than Bruce Springsteen originally intended.

So perhaps, in a similar way, some of my own fiction has somehow spilled over to a quite different demographic to what I intended.

The Coming Apocalypse

End of the World

End of the World

 

Let’s be honest. Those of us who have written apocalyptic fiction, which is inevitably predicated on the end of civilisation and possibly a little more, are not really attempting to predict the future.

In my case, I really do hope that human civilisation doesn’t end in nuclear conflagration after years of unravelling as a result of the pressures of environmental degradation and an ever more unstable, polluted and unequal society as predicted in my novel, No Future. In fact, I would rather prefer it didn’t end at all and continued into the indefinite future untroubled by nuclear war, ecological catastrophe or any other kind of endgame.

However, there is a long tradition of belief in a kind of anticipation of the end of the world. It’s predicted in Revelations, it’s predicated in the Norse myth of Armageddon, and there are countless accounts of a catastrophic and violent end in many sub-sects of established religion, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Salafists (which probably have more in common than in opposition). But it is so very deep in our psyche that the notion of a day of reckoning, judgement day or the apocalypse occurs again and again in cultures that couldn’t possibly have been influenced by one another (like the Mayan death cult and the many references in the ascribed words of Christ) or believe themselves to be diametrically opposed to one another (like New Atheists and Fundamentalist Christians).

The interesting question is whether, given our rather greater understanding of the world through science and open debate, we do have genuine knowledge as to the imminent end of the world. Those like George Monbiot and James Lovelock might assert that we do and it’s not looking good.

My own stated opinions are much closer to these gentlemen (and others like Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky) who have a combative attitude towards the kind of society we live in and a generally pessimistic view of where it will go. But we mustn’t forget that there are many religious fundamentalists and reactionaries (including Anders Breivik, Adolf Hitler and Glenn Beck) who have peculiar views about the end of times which have nothing whatsoever to do with fear of environmental catastrophe, war or overreaching capitalism.

What is the evidence of impending doom?

Well, it’s not at all clear what will happen. Annihilation through nuclear war, despite Putin’s best efforts, no longer seems as likely as it once did. The standard of living across the globe has actually improved: the billion on starvation levels of income are now a smaller proportion of the global population. In fact, while the West continues to decline in relative terms the standard of living in India, China, South America and even in most of Africa has actually continued to rise (if admittedly from a very low base). The conflict between the interests of invested power in any nation state and of the subject population remains in the same kind of impasse as it always has, but, reassuringly, only a minority of the wealthy and powerful are openly intent on crushing the poor as a deliberate policy as opposed to believing it to be unfortunate collateral damage. There is evidence that the general tendency of history is towards a more understanding and caring world as Stephen Pinker and Jared Diamond have argued (to the delight of many on the right and the relief of many on the left).

But environmental crisis is real and accelerating (as a scan of any reputable Science website soon confirms), there is a real risk to our liberties and welfare through the growth of computer technology (as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have demonstrated), the modern practices of capitalism are both dangerously unstable and monstrously unfair (as shown by the recent crises in the world economies and the published works of the most reputable economists) and there are many other real (as opposed to fanciful) threats to the welfare of every one on this planet.

So, where are we?

Personally, although I am inclined towards believing in a kind of apocalyptic millenarianism the truth is that I hope nothing of the sort happens and I also hope (as most Brits constitutionally do) that we will somehow muddle through. Recent historical evidence over the last few centuries seems to suggest we will, but a longer view, taking in the total collapse of countless civilisations in the short period that such a thing has existed, suggests that it might be a much more touch-and-go affair.

But the truth is that my faith in humanity (and perhaps a kind of wilful Panglossian view of the world) makes me rather hope that things will work out for the best.

 

American Sniper

Iraq Violence

Iraq Violence

I know I’m way behind the curve on this, but I feel impelled to comment on American Sniper which I’ve only recently seen and is a film directed by Clint Eastwood. It deals with the experiences of a relatively ordinary American who becomes a hero in the Second Iraq War.

There’s a lot to be said about British and American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the best I’ve read about at least the latter is in this article by James Meek:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n24/james-meek/worse-than-a-defeat

In terms of the way in which the ill-advised engagements in the Middle East have both diminished the belligerents (principally the UK and the US) and how rather than alleviate the very real threat from Muslim extremists these obscenely expensive adventures have made things rather worse, I really have nothing to add.

Though what I was most aware of at the screening was how the movie in a real sense ‘worked’. The audience of extremely ordinary people (rather like the American protagonists) were moved by the film and probably took due note of what the film had to say.

But what makes great art doesn’t necessarily make moral truth.

A recent article about Birth of a Nation in the Guardian illustrates that what makes a great and affecting movie doesn’t necessarily make the world a better place. There were many admirers of Griffith’s epic movie and few who are now feted for their humanity and moral goodness.

So, is this the case with American Sniper? Is it really a propaganda victory for a US-centric view of the world where the good guys who are patriotic and selfless in the name of Truth, Justice and the American Way must triumph against the bad guys with their un-American ways and their faith in Islam?

Despite Clint Eastwood’s support for the people who in America I would characterise as a real force for evil, as promulgated by Fox News, the Koch Empire and the GOP, I’m not sure he really is a modern-day DW Griffith: at least not as far as racism is concerned. However, is he nevertheless still an apologist for American adventurism?

This is difficult to answer. Since I despise the American right-wing and the very great harm it is doing the rest of the world, it would be easy for me to say that the tendency in the movie to focus on good guys vs. bad guys and its faith in the essential goodness of America necessarily makes this movie, at least, something which should be condemned. On the other hand, Clint Eastwood, despite being a card-carrying chair-talking Republican and undeniably a Conservative, is too much of an artist to be so one-dimensional and propagandist to present an un-ambivalent message.

The movie’s focus is not on the politics and causes of war, but rather on how a patriotic response leads to a moral crusade that, whether right or wrong, becomes an us against them conflict which doesn’t reflect well at all on the motives behind it but does also highlight individual heroism and sacrifice. It is possible to see this film not as a recruitment film for American exceptionalism but more a parable of how war creeps up on a man, shapes his life and then, when free from its distraction and excitement, leaves a man deflated, perhaps even defeated, and possibly no longer without purpose.

And where now the Middle East?

Well, instead of two bad guys (Sadam Hussein and the Taliban) we now have many more bad guys of which the Islamic Republic, currently top of the list, didn’t exist and could have existed twelve years ago, After huge costs both in monetary (over a trillion dollars) and human terms, we are now in a worse place than we were in before. A battle of good against bad, played as if in some weird computer game or super-hero blockbuster movie, has not ended at all but continues as a blight on all humanity but especially those who think the world really is as simple and easy to understand as do the Muslim fundamentalists and their absolutely essential partners the American right wing.

Stories OnLine Blogs

Story Writer

Story Writer

The other day I noticed that almost all the blogs I’d written for Stories OnLine had been deleted. This wasn’t a total surprise. The site deletes them after a certain time and as I’d not contributed any blogs there since I started this one on WordPress it was inevitable that they would eventually disappear. However, to make sure that the link to this blog wasn’t lost I added a new blog with the necessary plug and made a few comments about what I thought about the majority of blogs on Stories OnLine.

And the outcome is that I’ve just had a flood of visitors to this blog. This is very gratifying (but bound to be a very temporary phenomenon). I also received a few e-mails from Stories OnLine readers in response to my almost rhetorical question: “So, what should I write about?”

First of all I should state that I have no complaint about the blog facility on Stories OnLine. It’s perfectly good for the purposes for which it’s intended and for many years was the only place where I posted any blogs. The reason I stopped contributing and why I opened this one is that I came to realise that it was the wrong kind of forum for me. And for evidence of that, all you need do is scan the blogs that are invariably featured. Almost all the blogs are pretty much of the nature I mentioned in my own little contribution. They are very narrow in their range and very inward-looking. There is little attempt to entertain the reader who isn’t especially bothered about the travails of the authors, who haven’t noticed an absence of stories from that writer and don’t really care about the progress (or otherwise) of the writer’s fiction. There have been only a few authors who’ve tried to buck the trend, including the late lamented rache and Anna Siciliana.

The advice I was given by the interested readers was essentially that I should write blogs that are exactly like the blogs currently featured. I have no intention of quoting from the e-mails as I guess the writers chose to write to me rather than the whole world, but the general gist is that the kind of blog I should write is no different from all the others (and I guess becomes indistinguishable from them and just as boring).

But let’s be fair. In the absence of any other mechanism, what should the Stories OnLine writer do if they wish to promote their fiction or pass on news about themselves that they consider the world should know. Probably not the Forum on Google Groups which has a quite different focus (in which the minutiae of grammar is expounded on in great length and writers rant about what’s they think is wrong about other writers’ stories).

But all this goes to show that if I want to write blogs that aren’t like all the others on Stories OnLine, unless my intention is to annoy the average sex fiction reader, I’m better off posting my blogs elsewhere.

And that elsewhere is, of course, here.