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:


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.