Why do we pay any attention to apparent ‘rules’ for writing?

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Elmore Leanoard on writing rules: illustration by Joe Cardiello 

If there is one feature of humankind that clearly defines our civilisation, it is, perhaps, the written word. All of human imagination can be found within the walls of our libraries – the perfect sanctuaries for books – as written language has emerged as the perfect means of cataloguing our thoughts, our discourse and our histories.

While other species of animals have been shown to communicate with one another, it is our ability to form complex language that sets us apart. This in itself is one of the things that unifies us and brings us together as human beings, regardless of our background or birthright: Everywhere on earth, human languages use the same kinds of grammatical machinery, such as nouns, verbs, auxiliaries and agreement.

Yet despite these defining features of our language, the way in which they are used has never been fully formalised. Of course, there have been prescriptive rules of how to “write well” and “speak properly” for generations; yet how each individual writes and speaks is unique to them.

Despite the obvious idiosyncrasies innately tied to the way one writes and expresses themselves, there has never been a shortage of people seeking advice on writing – nor of people looking to share their tips and “rules”.

Perhaps this is because, as Harvard psycholinguist Steven Pinker wrote in his wonderful modern guide to style, “A crisp sentence, an arresting metaphor, a witty aside, an elegant turn of phrase are among life’s greatest pleasures.”

And it is, of course, a natural human inclination to find ways to improve oneself, particularly in the way we express ourselves. Quite simply, this is because human beings want to be heard and understood by others.

It is the way in which we approach this self-improvement that is interesting, as it proves what many of us no doubt suspected all along: that the rules and advice people give on how to become a better writer or a better communicator are just as unique and idiosyncratic as the writing or speaking styles they seek to improve.

Take the approaches of two great writers as one example here. On the one hand, the late, great, David Foster Wallace advises a deep studying of one’s use of language, practically applying the rules of a faithful usage dictionary to ensure your writing is applied correctly in meticulous detail:

“Get a usage dictionary… you need a usage dictionary, you have to be paying a level of attention to your own writing that very few people are doing… A usage dictionary is [like] a linguistic hard drive… For me the big trio is a big dictionary, a usage dictionary, and a thesaurus.”

On the other hand, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes good writing as something that comes naturally, from deep inside us – and is expressed through our pens (or typewriters, or laptops) in a way that cannot be overthought:

“If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.”

What this all teaches us is that language and writing can be ever truly mastered, because they are not static things bound by real rules; but rather living and ephemeral, ever evolving over the course of time. At any moment in time a style of writing could be dying out, and, simultaneously, another may be born. This is because language is defined not by rules of syntax or grammar; but by the human mind that creates it.

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World-class literature courses you can study for free right now

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“We should learn to treat literature as doctors treat their medicines, something we prescribe in response to a range of ailments and classify according to the problems it might be best suited to addressing,” say the creators of an excellent video explaining what literature is for.

Centuries previously, Galileo observed that books have an uncanny power to transport us, across time and space, into the mind of another person. And suggests that we are drawn to books, and derive such pleasure from reading, because literature is a means of connecting human beings and human ideas across boundaries – and is, in this way, a means of both time travel and telepathy.

For those passionate about reading, and who wish to take the study of literature to new levels (but at their own convenience), we’ve provided below a list of dozens of online literature courses you can take for free, right now, from the world’s leading universities, including Yale, Oxford, Harvard, and Warwick.

You can download these audio & video courses straight to your computer or mp3 player. 

  • This Craft of Verse: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures – Free Online Audio – Jorge Luis Borges, Harvard

 

Literary Constellations: visualising the opening sentences of famous books

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From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Time Machine, data art meets literature through Nick Rougeaux’s Literary Constellations project.

When Kurt Vonnegut proposed for his Ph.D thesis statement that “stories have a shapes which can be drawn on graph paper”, it was rejected as by his university. According to Vonnegut, the reason for this rejection was that “it looked like too much fun”.

The idea that it is possible to visualise the way stories are structured may not be entirely new; yet it is always fascinating to see how Vonnegut’s thesis has progressed.

In a new project, the data artist Nick Rougeaux aims to do just this. In Literary Constellations he posits: “words can be transformed into constellation-like diagrams. The first words of a story—and even every chapter—are unique in that they set the stage for what’s to come.”

The project contains a series of astronomy-inspired diagrams of the opening sentences of beloved books and short stories in the public domain, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Time Machine.

Rougeaux explains:

Constellations were created from words of first sentences of each chapter in classic short stories to draw a path based on word length and part of speech. The directions of lines were based on part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) and length is based on the length of the word. Star sizes are also based on word length. Constellations were hand-arranged in a loose clockwise pattern starting at the top with a faint highlight connecting each in the order chapters appeared in the story representing the cloud of the galaxy usually shown in vintage star charts.”

Given that the first sentence of a story is often seen as the most important – Julian Barnes once noted that an opening sentence of a short story or novel “should contain the entire plot in nuce” – it is fascinating for both aspiring and established writers to explore the patterns contained within the first sentence of famous novels; to better visualise the way these critically important first words set in motion the rest of the story.

Take a look at some of Rougeaux’s excellent posters below. All of these are available for purchase starting at US$27.80 for 24×36

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Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

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In October 1954, Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. And, although he chose not to attend the ceremony (being as he was still recovering from two consecutive plane crashes that had almost killed him), we can still hear him reading lines from his speech, as he recorded it in his own voice at a later date following the ceremony.

You can listen to an excerpt of the speech here, and read the transcript of the complete work below:

“Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.”

Ted Hughes on the ideal place for writing

 

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James Joyce wrote lying on his stomach in bed, with a large blue pencil, clad in a white coat – and composed Finnegans Wake with crayon pieces on cardboard. Conrad Aiken worked at a refectory table in the dining room; Robert Graves wrote in a room furnished only with objects made by hand. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up; D. H. Lawrence under a tree. Nathalie Sarraute chose to write in a neighborhood café, at the same time, and same table, every morning. “It is a neutral place,” she said, “and no one disturbs me – there is no telephone.”

The variety of spaces within which writers choose to practice their art is as infinite as the different styles they write in and plots they pen. Some writers prefer company and background noise, while others need isolation – even seeking out loneliness to better enhance their work. Some need the magical monotony of sameness, and others the inspiration of variety.

But are there any qualities that these ‘creative safe spaces’ have in common, beyond the superficial differences of location or appearance?

Just as certain spaces seem to lend themselves to the art of reading, providing a near perfect sanctuary for doing so, so too, perhaps, do some places seem ideally suited to the act of writing. Or, at least, perhaps there are shared characteristics of places that provide necessary elements conducive to the act of writing and creative expression.

This is the subject of a fascinating hypothesis from Ted Hughes, one of the true giants of 20th century British poetry, which he discusses during an interview with the Paris Review.

Asked whether he has a favourite place to write, Hughes embarks on a wonderfully enlightening and thoughtful off-the-cuff verbal essay on writing spaces, and whether it is possible for writers to write anywhere, or if there are certain elements that are required to make a place suitable to practice one’s chosen art. He says:

“Hotel rooms are good. Railway compartments are good. I’ve had several huts of one sort or another. Ever since I began to write with a purpose I’ve been looking for the ideal place. I think most writers go through it. I’ve known several who liked to treat it as a job—writing in some office well away from home, going there regular hours. Sylvia had a friend, a novelist, who used to leave her grand house and go into downtown Boston to a tiny room with a table and chair where she wrote facing a blank wall. Didn’t Somerset Maugham also write facing a blank wall?

Subtle distraction is the enemy—a big beautiful view, the tide going in and out. Of course, you think it oughtn’t to matter, and sometimes it doesn’t. Several of my favourite pieces in my book Crow I wrote travelling up and down Germany with a woman and small child—I just went on writing wherever we were.”

Musing on the idea that solitude is crucial for writing, Hughes considers whether loneliness is something writers are drawn to, or if this is something writers can con themselves into thinking:

“Goethe couldn’t write a line if there was another person anywhere in the same house, or so he said at some point. I’ve tried to test it on myself, and my feeling is that your sense of being concentrated can deceive you. Writing in what seems to be a happy concentrated way, in a room in your own house with books and everything necessary to your life around you, produces something noticeably different, I think, from writing in some empty silent place far away from all that. Because however we concentrate, we remain aware at some level of everything around us. Fast asleep, we keep track of the time to the second. The person conversing at one end of a long table quite unconsciously uses the same unusual words, within a second or two, as the person conversing with somebody else at the other end—though they’re amazed to learn they’ve done it.”

Intriguingly, Hughes suggests that the content we are writing, and the form and style in which we write, may be intrinsically linked to the location base ourselves when we come to begin writing. Different places provide for different atmospheres, which lend themselves to different feelings and different levels of concentration. He says:

“Different kinds of writing need different kinds of concentration. Goethe, picking up a transmission from the other side of his mind, from beyond his usual mind, needs different tuning than Enoch Powell when he writes a speech. Brain rhythms would show us what’s going on, I expect. But for me successful writing has usually been a case of having found good conditions for real, effortless concentration. When I was living in Boston, in my late twenties, I was so conscious of this that at one point I covered the windows with brown paper to blank out any view and wore earplugs—simply to isolate myself from distraction. That’s how I worked for a year. When I came back to England, I think the best place I found in that first year or two was a tiny cubicle at the top of the stairs that was no bigger than a table really. But it was a wonderful place to write. I mean, I can see now, by what I wrote there, that it was a good place. At the time it just seemed like a convenient place.”

Of course, finding a suitable creative space to write is only part of the struggle. Indeed, the challenges facing writers today mean that, to a very real extent, all books are written against impossible odds. Yet it seems undeniable that certain writers need certain spaces in which to write. So, what spaces do you require? Do you  choose coffee shops and public spaces, or secluded spaces and secrecy? Can you write wherever you feel relaxed, or do you need specific conditions, with everything adjusted just so – following the style of Virginia Woolf, for instance, who spent two and a half hours every morning writing, on a three-and-a-half foot tall desk with an angled top that allowed her to work both up close and from afar?

In short: where do you write, and why do you write there? Share your ideas for the ideal places for writing in the comments below!

Raymond Chandler on what people really want to read

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Throughout his career as a writer (following his stint as an oil company executive), Raymond Chandler almost single-handedly crafted the pulp fiction genre with novels such as The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye and The Lady In The Lake as well as numerous screenplays. His most famous creation, picaresque private detective Philip Marlowe, has been portrayed on screen by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, Robert Mitchum and Elliott Gould.

The author’s career as a pulp writer began in the Thirties, when he realised he could make money from it. He taught himself to write pulp fiction by studying the Perry Mason stories of Erle Stanley Gardner. Chandler’s first professional work, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”, was published in Black Mask magazine in 1933. 

In 1950, Chandler described in a letter to his English publisher, Hamish Hamilton, why he began reading pulp magazines and later wrote for them:

Wandering up and down the Pacific Coast in an automobile I began to read pulp magazines, because they were cheap enough to throw away. This was in the great days of the Black Mask (if I may call them great days) and it struck me that some of the writing was pretty forceful and honest, even though it had its crude aspect. I decided that this might be a good way to try to learn to write fiction and get paid a small amount of money at the same time. I spent five months over an 18,000 word novelette and sold it for $180. After that I never looked back, although I had a good many uneasy periods looking forward.

From the moment he started writing pulp, he planned from the first to smuggle something like literature into the stories he penned.

Most of the magazines publishing this type of fiction at the time hooked their readers with a mixture of sex and violence – “they have juxtaposed the steely automatic and the frilly panty and found that it pays off”, wrote SJ Perelman. But Chandler wanted to do more than titillate: he had designs on his audience’s subconscious. He planned to sneak into his stories a quality which readers “would not shy off from, perhaps not even know was there … but which would somehow distil through their minds and leave an afterglow”.

His reasoning for this was that readers actually wanted to read this type of writing; even if the publishers didn’t think they did. In another letter to his editor, Chandler explained this in his characteristically simple and insightful way:

“A long time ago when I was writing for pulps, I put into a story a line like ‘he got out of the car and walked across the sun drenched sidewalk until the shadow of the awning over the entrance fell across his face like the touch of cool water.’ They took it out when they published the story. Their readers didn’t appreciate this sort of thing: it just held up the action. And I set out to prove them wrong. My theory was they just thought they cared nothing about anything but the action; that really, although they didn’t know it, they cared very little about the action. The things they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description; the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment of his death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the polished surface of a desk, and it kept slipping away from him, so that there was a look of strain on his face and his mouth was half open in a kind of tormented grin, and the last thing in the world he thought about was death. He didn’t even hear death knock on the door. That damn little paper clip kept slipping away from his fingers and he just couldn’t push it to the edge of the desk and catch it as it fell.”

For more thoughts on writing and reading, check out our writing tips for writers, and creatives in profile interview series!

12 of the worst book titles

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We are told not to judge books by their cover. But should we judge them by their titles? Arguably, when the cover of a book has a title like “Images you should not masturbate to”, it is a tough task not to begin to form assumptions and opinions. From “Reusing old graves” to “Games you can play with your pussy”, here are some of our favourite terrible (intentionally or otherwise) book titles that we have come across.

  1. The manly art of knitting, by Dave Fougner

51pOBUSENnL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

Joanofarcanada says, “Much manly. Very knitting. Wow.”

Chickadee says, “not much that I can add to the manly art of knitting – the man on the horse with the knitting needles pretty much says it all”

Cherryl Walker says, “Knit a hammock using shovel handles or pool cues? A saddle blanket for your horse using a piece of garden hose? Therein is your challenge! Very practical and forthright, a most excellent instruction manual.”

  1. Everything I know about women I learned from by tractor, by Roger Welsch

51I9BaVtQPL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

Randy170 says, “Had less tractor anecdotes than I expected.”

TomatoLady says, “If you are looking for another collection of Roger’s wonderful tractor stories, you will be disappointed. BUT, that’s OK.”

 

  1. Images you should not masturbate to, by Graham Johnson

41zam5-DcwL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

AmazonCustomer007 says, “Don’t tell me how to live my life.”

Rachel A Schuetz says, “This is just a collection of semi random photos. I could find a better collection on imgur. Not worth 10 bucks.”

Rodnvaldr says, “The title is completely subjective, so don’t let that stop you! You masturbate to whatever you want to masturbate to! This book did contain many images that I would not ever want to masturbate to, so I gave it 4 stars. I suppose I probably “should not” masturbate to any of these images if I wanted to consider myself a “normie” like Graham Johnson obviously is, sitting in an ivory tower somewhere, only masturbating to the “right kind” of images. No thank you! I’ll masturbate to whatever I want! Which was maybe only 3 or 4 images in this book. What?! you can’t tell me what to do! I’m 21 and I’ll do what I want!”

  1. A passion for donkeys, by Elisabeth D Svendson

worst-book-covers-titles-38What the Amazon reviewers said:

Hunter Greeno says, “For a the true Donkey enthusiast. This is not just surface level appreciation…this is heart and soul appreciation for donkeys. Anything you ever wanted to learn about Donkeys can be found in this book.”

Cindy Eriksen says, “Even more than what I expected to learn about donkeys.”

    5. Does God ever speak through cats? By David Evans

worst-book-covers-titles-56What the Amazon reviewers said:

Woodrow Vankirk says, “Being as i had just self published my own book, “Me, My Cats, and God” I ordered this book. What a great book. While it has parallels to my book this is an entirely different story with a different objective. I breathed a sigh of relief as I did not want anyone thinking I “borrowed” from someone elses work. So, cat or animal lovers see how a pet can influence a person’s outlook, behaviour, and faith. and make them all better and stronger. Read this book.”

Ryan H says, “My neighbor’s cat once looked me dead in the eye and began to telepathically dictate a lost chapter of the Book of Revelations to me. He explained that he was the angel Gabriel (in cat form), and God had chosen me as his prophet. I tried to write it down, but couldn’t figure out how to use a pencil at the time (I’d had a lot of acid earlier that day. Also some Vicodin, opium, and a handful large orange pills).

Obviously, some of my unusual experiences that day could have been related to the drugs, but the cat part was definitely from God.”

       6. Scouts in bondage, by Michael Bell

worst-book-covers-titles-15What the Amazon reviewers said:

SamuelDavidAdams says: “Not the real thing huge waste of money.”

ThreeStars says: “I had hoped for more salacious content of a homosexual nature.”

 

      7. Who cares about old people? By Pam Adams

worst-book-covers-titles-20What the Amazon reviewers said:

KristalinMiami says, “It’s moments like these I pray I have a massive heart attack in my 50’s, so I don’t have to be elderly.”

 

 

      8. The beginner’s guide to sex in the afterlife, by David Staume

worst-book-covers-titles-23What the Amazon reviewers said:

Obi Wan says, “A long long time ago I was sliced in half and my body instantly vaporized. Fortunately, my love making package remained intact in the afterlife. Much to my dismay, I discovered that…things…worked a little different. Have you ever tried making love with a body completely composed of ecto-plasm? I’m afraid the endeavor is quite difficult. Plus, she-ghosts are anything but easy to woo.

This book really changed all of that for me. Ever since then, my nether sex life has been greatly improved. Sex in the afterlife is the shizz. This book comes highly recommended.”

Irina Filatova says, “There is nothing about sex in the afterlife in this book. The name is deceptive. It deals with energies and planes and spiritual matters, and may be interesting for a student of metaphysics, however if you are trying to get an answer to the question “is there sex in the afterlife and if yes – can we get some descriptions?” you will be dissapointed!”

  1. Fancy coffins to make yourself, by Dale Power

worst-book-covers-titles-14What the Amazon reviewers said:

Edison says, “yeah, coffins!”

Gould says: “Everything about the book is unprofessional. If you’re an amateur it will not help and if you’re a craftsman you’ll be appalled.

You could do better with your own imagination. If you need dimensions, call a local Funeral Home, they’ll be glad to help.

Amazon should pull this title from their inventory.”

     10. Games you can play with your pussy, by Ira Alterman

worst-book-covers-titles-7What the Amazon reviewers said:

Johny says, “Gave it to my girlfriend for her birthday and now she won’t come out of the bedroom”

Sramazon says, “I was concerned that the pussy had grown tired of me, but this book has given me so many more tricks to play on pussy.”

  1. Reusing old graves, by Douglas Davies

41qgJOwmdBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

RW Haven says, “I really dug this book.”

Butler says, “I bought this book as several elder members of our family are nearing the age to need a grave. I thought this book would show me how to save money by reusing old graves that people don’t need (long decomposed, etc). Well this book had no advice at all to offer. I feel like I wasted money that I could have spent on purchasing new graves.”

     12. Still stripping after 25 years, by Eleanor Burns

worst-book-covers-titles-16What the Amazon reviewers said:

Deb Phillips says, “All pages are intact and readable.”

A Sullivan says, “This hardbound book is filled with great pictures of many of her best ideas- “simplify the process, be brave, and enjoy your own creativity.” Quilt top piecing becomes a breeze because her directions are explicit, logical and easy to follow even if you are a novice. Warning, if you ever listen to her on t.v. her voice and demeanor may drive you a bit bonkers. None the less, Eleanor is a quilting expert worth her weight in gold. Her methods always make patterns that look difficult, easier for big chickens like me!”

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you have stumbled across a book with a title so bad you think it deserves to be included here, then let us know in the comments below! 

Literature for change: vital reading for the left-wing optimist

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We live in difficult and uncertain times and the world around us seems increasingly full of fear and terror: it is easy to lose hold of hope and grow cynical and weary. But this is the sort of attitude that suits only those who would seek to exploit these feelings to push agendas that nobody wants.

The newly announced general election in the UK is a prime example here. Brexit is not the sole issue facing the country and a general election should not be used as a battleground on which to debate it; least of all because in the debating of it the government will be able to hide the fact it has no clue or plan or strategy. Yet unless we demand and fight for a more positive world and put other issues on the table; we will hear of nothing else over the coming weeks. There will be no talk about the fact that wages for the majority have stagnated or fallen every year the conservatives have been in power; there will be no talk about the fact that we are working longer and harder for no reward, as our physical and mental health and wellbeing deteriorates; there will be no talk of the rising levels of misogyny or hate crime; of the crises in our public services created by privatisation; or of the catastrophic climate breakdown facing our world.

We have the power to change this; to stand up to the politics of hatred and division. Optimism is a strategy for building a better world – if you believe human beings have an instinct for truth and justice and equality; and you believe there are opportunities to change things so we build our society around these pillars – rather than those of fear – then there’s a chance you can contribute to making a better world. “Don’t mourn – organise!”

To help you do just this, we’ve picked out some of our favourite left-wing books. We’ve tried to avoid the obvious tomes of Marx, Lenin and Kropotkin – and instead gone for alternative inspirational, informative, interesting and accessible texts. Check them out!

1. Whoops! Why everyone owes everyone and no-one can pay, by John Lanchester

We have been living with the fallout from the 2008 banking crisis, and will continue to do so for decades to come. Fortunately, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom, as – without any irony – the publishing industry reacted to the near total failure of modern capitalism by successfully pushing out to the market books that tried to explain the crisis and the myriad political consequences of it. Few of these books, however, are as pleasurable to read as John Lanchester’s “Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay.”

The snidest villains and the greediest buffoons in the narrative are the bankers and other financial wizards who began recklessly playing with new, risky, little-understood tools to get richer faster — tools that ostensibly hedge against risk but also dramatically increase it. If you don’t know how derivatives or credit default swaps work, or what securitization is, or why futures are riskier than options, this is a book for you

2. The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein

A painfully well-researched, addictive romp through Friedmanite economic terrorism by one of the best journalists working in English. Read this book and you’ll understand how and why world governments are capitalising on the economic crisis to impose austerity on ordinary people.

3. Capitalist Realism: is there no alternative? By Mark Fisher

The late, great, Mark Fisher identified the paradox of modern capitalism: that the more it fails, the deeper it becomes entrenched. The more people rail against it, the more powerful it appears to become. Yet while Fisher does not identify a single tool or solution to help us achieve the radical social change necessary to displace capitalism, he does however, hint at what any theoretical tool or idea must be able to do:

“If capitalist realism is so seamless, and if current forms of resistance are so hopeless and impotent, where can an effective challenge come from? A moral critique of capitalism, emphasizing the ways in which it leads to suffering, only reinforces capitalist realism. Poverty, famine and war can be presented as an inevitable part of reality, while the hope that these forms of suffering could be eliminated easily painted as naive utopianism. Capitalist realism can only be threatened if it is shown to be in some way inconsistent or untenable; if, that is to say, capitalism’s ostensible ‘realism’ turns out to be nothing of the sort.”

4. The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon

A powerful explanation of the nature of violent uprising and the psychology of oppression.  Almost every page contains quotes that one wants on a poster or revolutionary t-shirt (after all, in the words of Billy Bragg “the revolution is just a t-shirt away”).

5. Vindication of the Rights of Women, by Mary Wollstonecraft

Published in 1792, Wollstonecraft’s tome is an inspiration for three centuries of subsequent human rights thinking. She identifies natural rights as being just that – rights; and not to be denied to any group in society by another.

6. The intelligent woman’s guide to socialism, capitalism, sovietism and fascism, by George Bernard Shaw

Shaw’s 1928 work is a brilliant debunking of the myriad excuses for inequality. He argues that women of all classes must free themselves from economic dependence on men, and points to traditional family structures and familial roles as being at the heart of patriarchy. Capitalism is the villain of the piece (as well it should be), as Shaw argues for a humanity driven by forces of love and compassion, rather than self-interest. Intriguingly, he also posits that men will never be truly free or able to reach their full potential until women are free and released from bondage.

7. Love on the Dole, by Walter Greenwood

An evocative portrayal of life in depression-era Britain, the fact that Greenwood’s Love on the Dole remains in print stands as a testament to a lost industrial culture, and also as a story that speaks its essential truths loudly whenever times get hard.

“I have tried to show what life means to a young man living under the shadow of the dole,” Greenwood reflected, “the tragedy of a lost generation who are denied consummation, in decency, of the natural hopes and desires of youth.” As austerity policies continue to deprive millions of men, women and children in the UK and elsewhere of essential decent living standards  and newspaper columns bulge with warnings of yet another generation laid waste by unemployment, it’s a mission statement that we would do well to take up.

8. The Cultural Roots of British Devolution, by Michael Gardiner

For citizens of the UK and Europe, the very real possibility of a break up of the United Kingdom demands proper study and research. Scottish devolution and independence takes precedence in Gardiner’s tour de force of a book; yet within it we can also pick out the same recurrent features of “British” culture and politics that have created the climate for Brexit and the push for greater powers for Wales and Northern Ireland.  Gardiner makes, for instance, concrete and extraordinary connections between, for example, English rave and a new unBritish, pro-democratic Englishness. Its scope makes it sightly wandery at times; but this is part of its appeal: unlike anything else in the subject you’ve read.

9. The Lonely Londoners, by Sam Selvon

One of the first books to give a voice to marginalised and ‘otherised’ groups in post-war British society, this is not only a novel about race and survival; it is also a novel about the city. Selvon’s descriptions of post-war London are so powerful and evocative that one fancies oneself alive and present on these same streets. He brings to life the grubby, working-class backstreets of the Harrow Road and Notting Hill, and the seemingly unbreachable divide between them and the rich neighbourhoods of Belgravia, Knightsbridge and Hampstead. He shows how London is not one city, but a compendium of many little cities: there is no such thing as one London or, indeed, one Britain.

The message of The Lonely Londoners, then, is even more vital today than in 50s Britain: that, although we live in societies increasingly divided along racial, ideological and religious lines, we must remember what we still have in common – our humanity. As the novel says: “Everybody living to dead, no matter what they doing while they living, in the end everybody dead.

10. The Coming Insurrection, by The Tarnac 9/The Invisible Committee

This short book, written in 2005 by an anonymous French collective known only as The Tarnac 9 (also sometimes known as the Invisible Committee) has become a core text for radicals and revolutionaries across Europe and the Middle East. The slender text is part antimaterialist manifesto and part manual for revolution. The writers expound at length on what they see as a diseased and dehumanizing civilization that cannot be reformed but must, they contend, be torn apart and replaced. To that end the authors direct their readers to sabotage authority, form self-sufficient communes and learn how to “support a conspiracy against commodity society.”

 

This is, of course, not a comprehensive list and we’d ask anyone and everyone reading to respond in the comments with their own essential articles, books and texts for organising and mobilising as a progressive force against the disastrous forces of capitalism.

Now, here’s a video of Charlie Chaplain. Because reasons.

 

New Welsh Writing Awards 2017 longlist dominated by women

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New Welsh Review, in association with Aberystwyth University and AmeriCymru, has announced the longlists for the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017: Aberystwyth University Prize for Memoir and AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella.

Now in its third year, the Awards were set up to champion the best short-form writing in English and has previously run non-fiction categories with the WWF Cymru Prize for Writing on Nature, won by Eluned Gramich in 2015 and the University of South Wales Prize for Travel Writing, won by Mandy Sutter in 2016. The Awards 2017 opened up entries from the US and Canada for the first time in the Novella category.

Both new and established writers based in Wales, England and the US are in the running for the top prize, including a joint memoir by a husband and wife. The longlist is dominated by women with 8 out of 9 women contending for the Memoir Prize and 6 out of 9 women in the running for the Novella Prize.

The memoir list includes true stories of a Canadian hobo; anorexia; a daughter’s American road-trip made to help reconcile her father and grandmother; an all-boys care-home in South Africa whose residents include a baboon; being the daughter of a Rhyl beauty competition judge, and backpacking behind the iron curtain.

Among the novellas, sexual abuse or the threat of it are among the themes; as well as homosexuality in a Welsh monastery; the meanings and mystery of treasures old and new; escaping the shadow of a father figure, and the enduring healing and destructive powers of archetypes and idylls.

Aberystwyth University Prize for Memoir Longlist

Maria Apichella (Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk)                                    The Red Circle

Caroline Greville (Eythorne, Nr. Dover, Kent)                                    Badger Contact

Catherine Haines (Charing, Kent)                                                            My Oxford

Liz Jones (Aberystwyth, Wales)                                                              On Shifting Sands

Sarah Leavesley (Droitwich, Worcestershire)                                  The Myopic of Me

Mary Oliver (Newlyn, Cornwall)                                                             The Case

Amanda and Robert Oosthuizen (Eastleigh, Hampshire)             Boystown S.A.

Lynne Parry-Griffiths (Wrexham)                                                         Painting the Beauty                                                                                                                                      Queens Orange

Adam Somerset (Aberaeron, Wales)                                                     People, Places, Things: A                                                                                                                                Life with the Cold War

 

AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella Longlist

 

Cath Barton (Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales)                    The Plankton Collector

Rebecca Casson (Holywell, Flintshire, Wales)                                   Infirmarian

Barbara de la Cuesta (Seaside Heights, New Jersey, US)                Exiles

Nicola Daly (Chester, Cheshire)                                                            The Night Where                                                                                                                                                      you no Longer Live

Olivia Gwyne (Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland)            The Seal

Atar Hadari (Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire)                                  Burning Poets

Joao Morais (Cardiff, Wales)                                                                     Smugglers’ Tunnel

Veronica Popp (Chicago, US)                                                                    Sick

Mike Tuohy (Jefferson, Georgia, US)                                                     Double Nickel Jackpot

 

Commended

Amanda Oosthuizen (Eastleigh, Hampshire)                                     Carving Strangers

For further information about the award and the longlisted writers, visit www.newwelshwritingawards.com

Faking Lit: A serious podcast about books

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Faking Lit is a new podcast in which five rising comedians (Chin Tee, Daniel Offen, Haran X, Alice Burden and Josh Bellman) get together to discuss the finest works of classic literature, the twist being that none of them have actually read the book.

The podcast has been started primarily as an excuse to eat various pies, which are lovingly produced each week by Alice. Ideas about growing the profiles of five talented young comedians are very much secondary to this objective.

“In essence, we’re five comedians who met at the Edinburgh festival (where most of us took successful shows) and we’re incapable of hanging out without the excuse of some sort of content to produce. We hope that Faking Lit will become a roaring success, not only for the good of our careers, but also our social lives,” Offen explains.

The opening episode features Paulo Coelho’s 1988 novel “The Alchemist”. Talk of the book somehow leads to discussion of which is the best House Robot on “Robot Wars”, the underlying racial themes in the movie “Predator” and that this book isn’t all that forthcoming on how to actually turn base metals into gold. Also, somehow along with all of this, the episode features a fair amount of discussion of classical literature and is occasionally insightful as well as nonsensical.

You can listen to the podcast here below:

The podcast will be released weekly, from now until the end of time.