Writing

Introduction to 50 sonnets for liberals in troubled times

2016 was a shocker. Watching the vile rabble-rousing debates about Brexit was repugnant, the morning of the loss, grief-inducing. At that moment I, like many other optimistically outward-looking friends who understand how co-operation in Europe has given us peace and prosperity for 70 years went into black, horrified grief and shock. Was the country really so stupid as this? So intolerant and unkind? The fire-bombings of immigrant shops and racist attacks on the streets that ensued seemed to answer that question.

And then there was the rise of Donald Trump. After his win we got to hear Nigel Farage crowing, the pair of them getting it on like the far right Anglosphere’s own psychotic Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dummer. At the same time, the rise of other far right extremists across Europe was depressing. Their presence was one of my main reasons for wanting to stay in the EU – because to leave was to launch the whole continent in the direction of the same far right savagery that had torn the continent to pieces only 70 years before.

What surprised me about the rise of the right this time was how little people seemed to have learned from the 1930s – not such distant history. It’s almost an algorithm. You get the very rich making everyone else poorer through malpractice and deception, and the poor will listen to anyone who can name a semi-plausible scapegoat, because they don’t want to face the uncomfortable truth that those rich industrialists and venture capitalists whose success they admire are making their lives worse. When an abuse is so extreme even the right wing Press object to it, such as Phillip Green’s disdainful mistreatment of workers at BHS, or Sports Direct putting people to work in Victorian condition, then this is seen as exceptional, not an indicator of the attitude to the poor of many in business. No. That would smack of socialism. And that’s evil.

So, who to blame? Last time round it was Jews. This time round, it was the EU. As I trawled the deeper recesses of the internet, it also became clear “the EU” was code used by many far right fascists to mean “Jews” once again. Some videos I watched argued the whole EU project had been designed as part of a Jewish conspiracy to eradicate the “white race” – whatever those two words are supposed to point to.

For most people besieged by the lies of the Brexit campaign, their conscious thoughts were a long way from fascism. In the last eight years, they’d become generally poorer, felt they weren’t getting on, were unable to buy a house and had to rent, their wages had stagnated, and the waiting lists at hospitals had lengthened Pinocchio-like as Osborne and Cameron lied that “we’re all in this together”.

The British experience of poverty in the 21st Century is for many a pale shadow of the poverty we had in the 1930s. Not for everyone, though. There are people going to food banks to stop themselves starving, living in slum homes without central heating, the plaster coming off the walls. But most people complaining about the EU weren’t suffering that sort of hardship. Instead, they were aware that they weren’t getting on how they thought they would. There are more billionaires in Britain than ever, but the majority struggled on under the yolk of austerity that Cameron and Osborne cooked up as a pretext to run down the Welfare State and sell it to their friends in private business. If ever you want a demonstration of how poverty is relative, then look at Britain’s squeezed middle. If ever there were an argument for redistribution of wealth from rich to poor to keep social stability (not poor to rich as is happening in the US and UK at the moment), Brexit is it.

Nevertheless, many people sought somebody to blame for their hardship (perceived or real) and that somebody was “Europeans”.

Blame was piled on foreigners by papers like the Daily Mail (are there any papers like it? It’s in a class of misery-making all its own), that putrid organ of vile hatred and lies deemed so unreliable not even Wikipedia will cite its “news”. Aiding and abetting were The Sun and The Times. No surprise these great factories of hatred wanted out. Murdoch’s influence has never been great in Europe. Best to divide the UK from the mainland to bolster his private fiefdom.

In the meantime, the amnesiac people of Britain forgot what a united Europe had achieved post-war. Apart from the peace, it had continuously improved lives, cleaned the environment and heightened people’s chances in general. It had developed problems – largely resulting from the neo-liberalism (that economic tool misused by right-wingers) foisted on Europe by Thatcher and Major in the ’90s. But this was not stated in the Press, only stories of straight bananas, of which there was never one in sight, because that was another tabloid lie.

The British had chosen to forget that European co-operation had brought us peace, and that’s because as a country we’ve never got beyond fetishising the bloody and savage total warfare of World War II. Despite the fact that back then Britain had an Empire of subjects to draw on for our part in the war, while Russia and America also did much of the heavy lifting, still many yearned for Britain’s mythical “finest hour”. That was great Battle of Britain rhetoric, but those words having become an emblem for the whole war, by the 21st Century they were well past their “use by” date.

No matter, the British continued to pour it on their fish and chips, poisoning themselves in the process. Thus, the British continue to live with archetypes of Germans as enemies, despite our supreme monarch (God bless ‘er) being one of those untrustworthy foreign immigrants.

At the same time, there are new threats to Europe. Putin is one, alongside his poodle, Trump. That Putin has ordered 1500 T14 tanks – a weapon that outguns, outmanoeuvres and outclasses anything we have in the West, is telling. If you regard the Crimea as his Sudetenland, then expect to see agitation in the Baltic states and Poland, soon…

The woes go on. Such unhappy thoughts troubled me for months. My outrage at the stupidity of two formerly savvy nations, Britain and the US, in falling for nationalist lies meant I was (and, actually, still am) unable to hold a rational discussion with a Brexiter or a Trump supporter. I’ve said about six words to my neighbours since the disaster of Brexit.

This rage had to go somewhere. Two months ago I started obsessively putting down thoughts in sonnet form. The sonnet is great. With the Shakespearean variant, you’ve got 14 lines to play with, comprising three quatrains (four lines of alternating rhymes) plus a rhyming couplet at the end – and that’s it.

An outlet at last. The unending cycle of rage I felt could be contained. Thinking about the subjects of the sonnets helped me to begin exploring why some people had voted for Trump or Brexit, and get a sense of how it happened.

But let’s be honest, that’s not the reason I wrote these poems. It’s not all nicey, nicey liberal “let’s understand the fascist people that are ruining the world and give them a big forgiving huggy wuggy” stuff. No, these sonnets are a means to channel my anger so it stops devouring me.

I wrote 50 sonnets in about two months. Some days they poured out of me. I’ll be honest, there are some good ones, some excellent, some a bit clunky. Are they “great” literature? Nah. But they have helped me get this horror into some perspective and reaffirmed my core beliefs. Right wingers will hate them, of course. But then, who cares? This is for people who hope for a better world through co-operation, not through owning guns and believing that all our woes are manufactured in China or Syria, or thinking that Christ would have wanted the Samaritan to walk by on the other side.

It’s cleared my head a bit. I hope it does the same for you.

Matt Wingett 31st March, 2017.

Wonder Woman – three themes that made me cry

SPOILER ALERT: This blog discusses plot points and scenes within the movie Wonder Woman.

Okay, so it’s pretty slushy to admit to crying at watching a superhero movie. They never normally get me like that… but Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman did, and I’ve been trying to work out why.

There’s a complex mixture here, but much of it is not to do with the story but the themes it explores.

Theme 1: The awakening to new consciousness of the idealistic individual.

One of the main recurring themes in the movie is what happens when ideals meet reality.

A set piece early in the movie explains the mythical origins of the Amazons to the young Princess Diana of Themyscira. In the myth, mankind is created both good and noble by a benign creator, Zeus – but is corrupted by Ares, the evil god of war.

It is a mythical representation of the human condition echoed by several myth cycles – though not the Greek myths, which have an ambivalent view of the gods and their attitudes toward humanity.

In the Greek myths, the gods are spiteful, jealous, capricious, devious and vengeful.

In fact, the Greek gods are all the things people are because they are the personifications of the different drives of humanity. They are thus archetypes. So, evil doesn’t really fit easily into their pantheon in the way it does in the myth cycle in the movie.

The myth that most closely correlates to the myth told by Hipolyta – the story of a benign creator god whose creations are corrupted by a malevolent lesser god – is something far closer to home: it’s the Judaeo-Christian conception of humanity. Rather than echoing the realities of human psychology, Judaeo-Christianity presents an idealised humanity that adherents are invited to aspire to.

Hence the Amazonian myth depicting man’s fall into crime and war is a version of Adam’s Fall. So far, so exotic and so familiar. But the Amazonian story differs because Zeus is a limited God, and creates the Amazons to bring love to the world, intending through love to tame the evil of corrupted men. (This is a big departure from Christianity, which sees physical love as an evil and Eve not as a saviour, but a transgressor.) That Zeus’s attempt to bring an end to strife through love should fail and that men become the oppressors of the Amazons, who in turn rise up against them, is a novel mythical element, and radical.

The war that ensues among the Gods leaves Zeus, the creator god in mortal peril, threatened by his son, Ares. In his dying act, he grants to Queen Hippolyta her wish for a child – and animates the clay model she has made, thus creating Diana – and grants to the Amazons Themyscira. The Paradise Island is a place where Diana can grow up in safety, away from the malevolent influence of the injured and weakened god Ares, whom unbeknownst to Diana, she has been created to slay.

But what is interesting about this set piece early in the movie is that this story is told in a story-book way, with story-book images. It is not convincing on the screen, because it is a caricature of whatever “really” happened in the Amazonian past. That ambiguity – the story of a child’s myth and the truth behind it – is central to the film.

One of the strands that runs through the story is Diana’s crucial realisation that her world view which is founded on this simplistic conception of the nobility of man and the valour of war is wrong. She realises her moral view which is that all of what she calls evil flows from a single source – Ares – is simplistic, and misunderstands humanity. Like the Christian who grows up to realise that a Devil is not necessary to make men do bad things, she realises mankind is driven by internal desires for power and domination, and also by love and noble acts. Philosophically speaking, it makes the drives called “good” and “evil” immanent within each human being, and does not make humans the toys of supernatural elements.

Though not in the film, once this question is asked, it leads to further questions. Is there evil? Or is there simply the behaviour of individuals seeking to control resources and have dominion one over the other? Does the whole concept of evil itself collapse? It is that equivocal nature of morality as no longer a simple question of good versus evil that Diana struggles with toward the end of the movie. And it really got to me. I admit it!

There is also a beautiful integrity to the story in this regard. Remembering that the Amazons were created to bring enlightenment to man through Love, it is therefore apt that her love of Steve Trevor in the end means that she forms a bridge of understanding of mankind. In the end, she recognises the folly in man, but also sees his nobility.

Her internal story of development, the central part of her Bildungsroman, is her movement from a place of naive belief in a myth to a deeper personal understanding of humanity through her own experiences. Because of that experience, she judges that mankind is worth protecting, even though he is flawed.

This awakening to adult consciousness and the redemptive power of love after grappling with simplistic notions of good and evil are central to the story. It is a pretty universal theme, and a mature one.

Theme 2: A fascinating clash of world views.

Another of the main themes of the story is the clash of world views. Diana comes from an ancient warrior culture, full of myth and low in technology. In it, women are the soul arbiters of their own fate and are used to attaining high office and demonstrating physical prowess. It has magic in it, and Diana herself is a goddess.

The world she enters is the world of men, with all its mundane harshness and cruelty, grime and disdain for women. Several scenes jump out to show the jarring interface between the two worlds, perhaps well symbolised by the arrival of Steve Trevor’s aircraft as it crashes through the surrounding mists and magic of Themiscyra. Suddenly, 20th Century culture and technology arrive in 2nd millennium BC Greek culture.

There are numerous examples of the mismatch between the two, which leads to some glorious comedic moments. Congratulating an ice-cream salesman on the product he sells is a beautiful moment of naivety in Diana. The whole set piece of getting Diana clothes suitable for a 20th Century woman is hilarious. The discussion of whether she and Steve Trevor can “sleep together” on the boat away from Themiscyra is beautifully handled in its understatement and as an elucidation of his warm, morally solid character.

Then this clash of cultures shifts into drama. Diana’s lambasting of generals for hiding in an office rather than fighting alongside their men, her shock at the treatment of soldiers and her realisation that war leaves indelible marks on people’s bodies and minds form part of her development. Next comes the dramatic shift, when she arrives on the battlefield and faces No Man’s Land. “It’s called No Man’s Land because no man can cross it,” Steve Trevor tells her. The understatement here is perfect. And so the moment we’ve been waiting for – of the woman hero in battle begins. That scene is just extraordinary. The figure of a woman on the battlefield is so full of conflicting emotions for me that I tear up thinking about it now. It is perhaps one of the greatest emblems of the mismatch of our culture and hers that it so draws the eye – a woman fighter on the battlefield would have been impossible at the time and we know it, and yet we are beguiled by the thought of it and by the heroism of this wonderful and naive hero.

Theme 3: A woman who enters the world of men for the first time.

One of the things that makes Diana such an appealing character is her fearless curiosity and her mental poise. When she sees Trevor’s airplane crash land in the sea, her instinct is to swim toward it. When she sees a man naked for the first time as Steve Trevor gets out of the pool he is bathing in, she assesses his physiology with unabashed curiosity, never having seen a man before. Then she asks him about his watch, and what it does. The scripting is brilliant: “You let such a little thing control your life?” she asks.  And yes, we all know that clock and cock are being spoken of in the same breath.

Her curiosity about the world of men leads her to experience its indignities with good humour. She tries on the clothing of the 20th Century woman, bringing her own cultural traits to bear. Looking at a silk bodice she says: “This is what passes for armour in your culture?” The way she is assumed to be an intruder in counsels of war because of her sex is handled without preaching, but simply by showing her confusion at why one should be excluded for being female. She does not rant, she does not rail. She simply rises above the question and stays true to her goal, to get to the war.

Later, the incredibly tasteful way that she takes Steve Trevor as her lover, revealing a kind of vulnerability, is also done with exactly the right tasteful approach. And this is no unnecessary romance bolted on to the storyline. The relationship between Trevor and her, their love, is central to her commitment to the world of men and to her defeat of Ares.

These are just a few examples of the themes in this movie. It repays rewatching with treasure after treasure.

There’s no doubt about it, I too have fallen in love with Wonder Woman.

Writing Edward King – the performances, 27th May 2017

Image courtesy of (c) Portsmouth Museum

Some time ago I volunteered to write a short story about local artist Edward King, who for the last 26 years of his life was a patient at St James’s Lunatic Asylum on Locksway Road, Milton.

It was part of a project run by Annie Kirby-Singh that has incorporated workshops, the publication of an Edward King website www.writingedwardking.com containing the contributions by writers and examples of his work.

His story is a fascinating one. Extolled by Van Gogh for his power and virility in his drawing, he was a member of the New English Art Club alongside Sickert, Singer Sergent, Nash and Augustus John. Yet after the death of his wife in 1924 and a prolonged breakdown, he ended the last years of his life at James’s. In his later years, he took to painting again, producing pictures of Milton Locks, and a series of paintings of the city after air raids during the Portsmouth Blitz.

14 writers produced stories inspired by his works, and I was lucky enough to be at one of a series of four performances that took place in the Minghella Studio of the New Theatre Royal on the 27th May 2017.

One of the things that constantly rocks me on my heels is the extraordinary level of writing talent in this relatively small town. The 90 minute show of which I was a part had works by local writers Christine Lawrence, me, Jacqui Pack, Charlotte Comley, Bernie Byers, Zella Compton and William Sutton. By the end of the session, after hearing stories and songs by these extraordinary writers I felt genuinely humbled.

From Christine’s dark tale of madness, through Jacqui’s account of depression, Charlotte’s story of Nora coming to terms with a troubled childhood, Bernie’s analysis of a painting of the laundry, through Zella’s viscerally real account of an air raid to William’s songs, both moving and funny, the session was a complete moment of exploration and discovery.

You may have missed the live session – but the stories are online for you to enjoy at The Writing Edward King website (link above). There is much there to enjoy… so… enjoy!

7 Random Reasons Why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Rocks

So, as a childhood Marvel and DC comics fan, over the last decade or so I’ve taken great delight in the fact that CGI in movies has progressed so far that you don’t actually have to suspend disbelief. I remember seeing the back projection outline when people were thrown off buildings, or the strings when The Invisible Man lifted things up. No wonder they didn’t make that many superhero movies back then. At least not convincing ones.

That it’s all possible to do seamlessly is old news, and the only thing that now holds writers and filmmakers back is their imagination and budget.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 has both in full measure. Here are 7 things picked at random as to why it rocks:

1) Little Groot. Okay, so it’s a merchandiser’s dream, but supercute Groot is joyous to behold, with his big eyes, his innocence and joyful naivety, there is so much potential for the bundle of laughs here. He’s the wide-eyed fool, and he’s hilarious.

2) That opening sequence that subverts the heroic form sets the tone. The show starts with the Guardians protecting some super-duper batteries for a race of gold skinned Sovereign aliens from an interdimensional monster made entirely of teeth, blubber and super-thick skin. But instead of doing the usual thing and focusing on the fight, it focuses on Little Groot’s dance routine. The juxtaposition is hilarious.

3) Drax’s one-liners. Boy oh boy, the writing team have really gone out of their ways to work up the characters for best comic effect. Drax, the alien who doesn’t understand metaphor goes through the show offending, irritating and genuinely making comedy gold. The deadpan delivery adds to the effect. I haven’t been in a cinema for a long time in which the audience is howling with laughter. Drax does it.

4) Rocket, the trickster. Rocket the Raccoon (“I’m not a Raccoon!”) is as super-sneaky, clever and selfish as ever, but now you start to see his “human” side. For a writer, this archetype is a gift. He’s straight out of Carl Jung, and he adds an element of chaos to the whole show. The script, indeed, the whole story arc, starts with one transgression from him – but he’s not all selfishness, as later events show. He intrigues and delights and builds wonderful empathy.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2..Nebula (Karen Gillan)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2017

5) Nebula. Ok, I’m going to make an admission. I got through the entire first Guardians without clocking that the blue-faced semi-robot alien with a psychotic streak was none other than Dr Who’s Amy Pond, aka Karen Gillan. It was only when the name jumped out at me on the credits that I clicked – and even then, I thought “Ah, maybe there’s a different actor with the same name, in the US”. Her American accent is pitch perfect, but more impressively, her angry, downtrodden, rage-filled character has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with Amy Pond. I genuinely wouldn’t have picked these two characters out as the same person. That is a tribute not only to the make-up team, but to Gillan’s skill in acting.

6) The visuals are sumptuous (as the picture above attests). There are so many visual delights in this show, it’s difficult to know where to start. Apart from the extraordinarily lifelike cgi, which means you genuinely think you’re watching interactions with real talking trees and real talking raccoons, the part where the designers let themselves go is fabulous. That is on the planet Ego, in which we are treated to a massive vista of impossible things that are beautiful and straight out of dreams. From wonderful colour-popping bubbles that greet them as they leave the spaceship, through the incredible animated fountain to the sumptuously designed interiors of the palace, everything is designed to a “T”. This show should win awards simply for visualisation.

7) The plot is both taut and hilarious. It’s a fine balancing act to get a genuine sense of comedy in a script balanced against a driving plot. If you watch many tv comedy shows, you’ll see that the plot is paper thin, while the comedy simply comes from the characters rubbing together. This has both. Add in the asides with Stan Lee (which are outside the plot for sure) and the extra elements that feed in to future episodes, and it is a work of brilliance.

So, there it is. Needless to say, I’m going back to watch it again with a friend of mine who writes comic books. Discussions after that should be joyous!

The Snow Witch – Designing the Cover

Following on from my previous blog about using old pictures to illustrate your book, I finally came to designing the cover.

I’ve had various ideas for the cover for a while. A friend of mine is a model and I at first considered adapting a photograph of her, as follows:

Esme Shard, photograph (c) 2014 Steve Chatterton, SJC Photogpraphy www.chattertonphotography.co.uk

I finally came up with this.

However, I wasn’t convinced by this, and felt the image was in some way cluttered. What’s more, with the illustrations inside the book now decided upon, I wanted some drawn artwork.

I went back to the Bible I had been using earlier, but the Witch of Endor was portrayed as an old hag, not the young woman in my story.

So, back to the book collection, which includes a thick, heavy volume from 1894 called “PEN DRAWING AND PEN DRAUGHTSMEN: THEIR WORK AND THEIR METHODS A STUDY OF THE ART TO-DAY WITH TECHNICAL SUGGESTIONS”.

Leafing through the images, I found this:

The figure of the woman, drawn by A Montalti, was perfect, though there was a lot of image around her to lose.

Eventually, I got to this.

Still stark, I thought.

After some experiments with colour, I came to this:

This is the one. Subtle, mysterious and eyecatching. I now have my cover!

The Snow Witch – finding those illustrations

Some of you may know that a little while ago I completed writing a novel called “The Snow Witch”. I’m currently in the throes of laying it out, and have been hoping to get some illustrations to head up each part of the book.

I was at something of a loss. The story is allegorical, quite beautiful (I think, anyway!) and tells the story of a young woman who comes from a mystery tradition separate from Judaeo-Christianity, and yet connected to it.

One of my other jobs is dealing in rare books. About 15 years ago I bought a pair of stunning, extremely heavy 18th Century volumes filled with luscious copperplate engravings. Last night, I decided to dig those books out from my collection. And, well, I think I have what I want.

Here are the images I’ve chosen.

This is for Part 1 – this section includes reminiscences of the central character’s childhood, in which she was trained in in herblore by her mother.

Part 2 includes a section in which a wild wolf runs loose. This image seemed appropriate:

Part 3 comes to the crux of the story, and includes a narrative about the ancient archetype Lilith, who in Jewish mythology was Adam’s first wife before the unfortunate Eve. This seemed perfect:

Finally, we have an Epilogue. The image of the Phoenix from the bible seemed appropriate enough!

Scanning the 250 year 0ld images has been quite an education. Only once you start to manipulate the image and blow it up, do you see the extraordinary detail of the original craftsman, who scratched the image in reverse on to a copper plate with a steel stylus. The physical strength, endurance and patience it took is humbling for a 21st Century man who often ends up cursing Adobe Photoshop.

We sit on the shoulders of giants.

Jessica Alba – how little did I know?

One of the things the series of biographic articles I’ve written for The Best You magazine has done for me is make me see famous people in more depth. The most recent article was about Jessica Alba, the actress who plays the Invisible Woman in the dismal Fantastic Four series of movies, and a stripper in Sin City.

I was expecting to be underwhelmed. But it also turns out that she is the founder and brains behind The Honest Company, essentially an American version of The Body Shop, which in under 5 years has risen to a valuation of $1.7 billion from start-up.
She runs the company ethically, has an emphasis on employing the young, often straight out of college, and is involved in numerous charities involved in promoting and lobbying for safe and ethical household chemicals. In the US, the FDA has banned only around 12 chemicals for use in the home, whereas the EU has banned around 1300.

She herself suffered terrible allergies as a child… and when she fell pregnant realised that one of the “child safe” detergents she was recommended by her mother brought her out in a serious rash. That was when the penny dropped. And so she has thrown herself into her role as founder and CEO of a massive ethical business.

These revelations surprise me and make me reassess the woman I see on the screen. As Sue Storm, she is mediocre, in a mediocre movie. But this other side to her makes me realise the limits of my own judgements of people. How little we know.

So, this brief note is in praise of the real Jessica Alba. Thank you for your work.

That Article 50 Letter In Full

That Article 50 Letter In Full.

Dear Europe, I thought I’d write a quick line
to say it was good fun, thanks for the stay,
the visit was lovely, but we’re off, today
so please – no more garlic, snails and fine wine.
About the war. When I said “thanks” are nice
– and you said “the EU is the thank you” –
how come? Strangers telling us what to do
is wrong… though, yes, the Empire was quite nice.
Brexit means Brexit, a red white and blue
one, let’s salute the flag, coz now we’re free
to climb into bed with Uncle Sam. See:
foreigners can’t shaft us! – Britannia rules!
So goodbye, toodle pip, we’ve seen the light,
who needs Puccini when we’ve got Marmite?

When filming is not all right.

For many people, filming or recording a talk has become the simple way to keep notes, rather than do that laborious and oh-so-hard exercise of lifting up a pen. But it is not all right, and I will tell you why.

Last night I gave a talk as part of Portsmouth’s Bookfest 2017 with crime fiction author and doctor of criminology, Diana Bretherick. The hour long talk had been devised between us to look at two fascinating characters from the Victorian era, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Cesare Lombroso – both scientists, and both of them devout Spiritualists.

The evening started well enough, although I did notice one guy, who had arrived early, and who had been sitting and holding his mobile phone at that perpendicular angle that implies he might be filming. Then, half way through the talk, I realised I felt uncomfortable, I looked across at him and found he had a handheld camera – not just a phone, pointed at me.

I was annoyed. I stopped the talk and addressed him directly:

“Excuse me, would you stop filming, please? You didn’t ask me if it was all right to film me, and I certainly haven’t given you my permission.”

Then I stood and waited.

He relented, and sat and sulked for the rest of the evening. That was fine by me, I immediately found that I was talking freely again.

Was this just me being a bit picky and self-conscious? Well, yes and no.

The fact is that the talk Diana and I were giving was the first run-through. It’s one that we intend to give again in sharpened form. We were doing it for free as part of Bookfest, and I certainly didn’t want our first presentation to be recorded and potentially made available online.

More importantly, that talk was born from hundreds of hours of research on both my and Diana’s part. The experience of finding out about these two fascinating people, of my building a knowledge of local literature (Conan Doyle invented Sherlock Holmes while living in Portsmouth, and also got into Spiritualism while living here) and Diana studying crime and writing about Lombroso were what led to that talk. That has value. Although Diana and I were giving the talk for free that night, I had no idea where that recording might end up. That work is my work, and I certainly have no intention of allowing it out there, with my name attached to it when it is an early incarnation of the talk we will finally give to other venues.

It was rude, it was off-putting, and frankly, cheeky for someone to turn up and simply try to record it without asking.

Writers and public speakers – be aware of this. Your hard work is your property and potentially your livelihood.

I wanted to ask this gentleman afterwards why he thought it was okay to record this talk and what he thought he was going to do with it. But at the end, he left quickly.

We are in an age in which it is very easy to record everything, and so, writers and speakers, I have learned a lesson and in future will be sure to announce that bootlegging is not allowed, and bootleggers will be asked to leave.

And oh, my goodness! Bootleggers?!? Do we all have to factor in considerations that used to be the reserve of rock bands, now, in our multimedia age?!?!

Turn The Tides Gently Part 2 – An Opening

Been working on an opening for Turn The Tides Gently part 2. So, here’s something I wrote months ago. What do you think?

MermaidI will call you “Marine” he says as he looks at the child. About nine years old. An urchin, grubby faced, caked with the mud she is sinking in.

Here, have another.

A sixpence arcs through the air, turning over and over head, tail, head, tail, head… it lands with the tail up supported on the unstable black mud for a few seconds before an arm of black water reaches over the top of it.

Her blackened hands scoop it up with a handful of stinking black silt before the boys can get to it. One of them, Ned, a red haired boy with a hare lip groans – “It ain’t fair. And it ain’t lady-like. Go on, taking our loot!”

She rubs the mud from the coin on her far-from-clean dress and drops it in her pocket as the steady psssh psssh of the engine in the station starts up. A whistle echoing around the port mouth.

Ned comes towards her, aggressive, “I’ll have it. Come on,” he holds his hands out. She eyes him narrowly and freezes, watching him closely. Then as he moves in to take hold of her, she darts sideways under his reach, turns and kicks him square in the back so he sprawls on the flat mud.

The onlookers, tourists delighted by this scene of urchin rivalry, laugh; a delicate woman in silver bodice and flowing skirt looking more troubled than amused. Low morals. Ships, shops and low morals. Thus Portsmouth.

Grace, the girl urchin looks up at her benefactor, a tradesman of some sort, in a bowler hat and a neat moustache, bushy and almost comical, like the Walrus and the Carpenter she saw a picture of in a book. A book. Can you imagine. Someone left it behind on a bench by the sea and she’d found it, and there it was – Alice and all her adventures.

“Thank you, mate – Sir,” she shouts up, grinning white teeth from the black slime.

“There’s more where that come from,” he calls back in a deep, playful bass. “Oh plenty more. You come and see me, girl. Yes.”

She thinks, cocking her head on one side for a few seconds, then –

“Yes. Yes, mate. Wait there.” And she grabs a handhold in the side of the dock wall and climbs up to the crowd, which pushes back as she flops on to the deck, a sprawl of black mud and slime.

Later, after she has walked a while with the stranger amongst the naval outfitters and public houses, past the Gunwharf arch, he looks at her and says:

“I know you. I know your face. I’ve seen your eyes.”

“Where then?” she challenges him, putting her hands on her hips like the women do who banter with sailors and soldiers in the backstreets at night.

“A dream,” he says, his eyes suddenly burning. “In a dream.”

She laughs at that. “We got no room for dreamers here,” she says as if she’s said it all her life, an echo of Tope, the landlady at the public house where she lives. “Drunk more like! In at the Duchess, I bet you were, and drunk!”

“No, I’ve seen you. We’ve met. You come to my workshop. North End. I’ll tell you more.”
He holds up another sixpence. “There’s more of this.”

She smiles and laughs.

“At the back of the farm,” he says. “The workshop.”

“All right then. I’ll be there,” she answers with a grin.