Movie review: Sink

Sink

There is always a sense of excitement in watching a film debut. We live in an increasingly homogenised culture, in which it seems the only movies released at cinemas are sequels, prequels, reboots or copies of movies that are copies of other successful movies. The commercialism of the movie production industry has minimised the potential of this artistic medium as a tool of change; a tool of artistic expression – where new ideas, new films, new actors, and new directors, are often hidden away or swallowed up by the giant media corporations who only want audiences to think about the next superhero movie.

So, to see a genuinely original movie, produced in spite of the crippling power of the big movie studios, is truly thrilling. And it is therefore a pleasure to have been able to watch – and subsequently review – the world premiere of Sink, which tells the story of Micky Mason, a working class man living in East London who must contend with a multitude of different crises of our modern world.

Ultimately, this is a movie about money and power. As Micky’s long-time friend-turned-successful drug supplier notes drily: “You either have the cash, or you don’t – nobody cares where it comes from.”

We are presented with a world in which the institutions of the state – once intended to support and provide help to those in need – have been co-opted, privatised, and rigged to support those who own the businesses and corporations who benefit from a precarious, non-unionised workforce who can be picked up and dropped without recognition of their basic humanity.

The writer and social activist Thomas Merton characterises as “double-talk, tautology, ambiguous cliche, self-righteous and doctrinaire pomposity and pseudoscientific jargon”. This, the characters of Sink find, is not just an aesthetic problem: it renders dialogue impossible; and rendering dialogue impossible is the desired goal for those who want to exercise absolute power. Micky and his peers are therefore unable to engage with the state in any meaningful way – during his Jobcentre interviews, he shares a knowing joke with the employees about the language he must use to effectively work within the parameters of the system; he is “willing” and eager to go to as many interviews as possible, yet while this may satisfy the forms and bureaucracy, it does nothing to significantly bring him any closer to stable, gainful employment. Likewise, his neighbor Jean is literally unable to find the words to engage with the problems of what may be described as post-Capitalism (precarious work; the crisis and decline of manufacturing and industry, replaced by a financier economy) – repeatedly explaining “I can’t talk about it – it makes me too mad”.

The focus of the film shifts as it progresses – as it paints a view of London that feels often taken from the inside looking out; from the council estates on which much of the film takes place just a stone’s throw from the City’s financial district. We are presented with the crises facing both the old and the young – Micky’s father, Sam, battles with dementia and is removed from his care home following some money-driven ‘restructuring’; meanwhile his son, Jason, fights his own demons alone on an estate in which – so he says himself – drugs are the only thing available for him.

Of course, the fact that there are a multitude of different things going on is precisely the point – no person’s life can be lived in isolation, or from the perspective that one development or action will not have its own impact on the other narrative strands that make up a person’s life. This is not just a story of one man – but of so many men, and so many women, living within a society that has been structured in such a way as to ignore the real actuality of existence – what it means to be alive – and thus creates inevitable existential crises.

What makes this film all the more visceral is the fierce plainness with which it is told. It has passion and directness coupled with a darkly comic streak that exposes the Orwellian nature of this bureaucratic world. There are also moments of genuine tension that leave you with a tight chest and on the edge of your seat – a sure sign of real film-making talent for a movie debut and an exceedingly small budget that should make people sit up and take notice.

Indeed, blessed with exceptional performances from the cast, particularly Martin Herdman as Micky, and Ian Hogg as Sam, with an excellent score from Mallik Gris, along with a fine script and direction from Mark Gillis, Sink gets under the skin of the audience in a way precious few films do these days (Associate Producer Mark Rylance says you will find yourselves “immersed” in it). Crucially, it gives a vibrant voice to protagonists who have otherwise lost their language and their power; and so serving a very necessary level of kitchen sink realism to a world and society that seems increasingly ignorant of reality.

 

 

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For UK writers and artists, the only choice at this election is Labour

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On Thursday 8th June, UK citizens will go to the polling booths for the third time in three years to vote in an election they did not ask for, called by a Government that has systematically eroded public services, damaged the country’s creative and artistic industries, caused the stagnation of wages for all but the top 5% of earners, and ground the national economy to a standstill through an economically illiterate policy of austerity and a complete overreliance on an unsustainable housing bubble to artificially inflate GDP.

Nothing in the Rulebook has made no apology for positing that the greatest support for creatives – be they writers, artists, photographers, comedians, film makers or sculptors – comes from, and has always come from, political parties on the progressive ‘left’. At this critical juncture, this is a message that bears repeating: another five years of conservative rule would be disastrous for the UK’s creatives (be they aspiring writers and artists or established professionals).

The evidence for this is clear. If you compare and contrast the manifestos for the Conservative and Labour parties, on the subject of arts and culture, there is only one party striving to support and protect such a vital industry.

As this guide demonstrates, while Labour promises investment in arts funding, support for students, protection of UK heritage, culture and media institutions, the Conservatives on the other hand offer only further cuts to arts budgets already slashed to breaking point.

Labour vs Conservatives art funding

That the Conservatives should seek to attack the UK’s creative sector is perhaps unsurprising. Such parties rely on suppressing individual thought and creative expression for their existence, as for these parties, the ignorance of the population is the source of their strength. Free thinking, enlightened individuals are much harder to control.

Few examples illustrate how badly the Conservatives seek to suppress the artistic inclinations of the UK population than their cynical attacks on British libraries. In the name of austerity, UK libraries have closed at a dramatic rate, even as the relatively small costs of running these great institutions (and perfect sanctuary’s for human knowledge) goes solely to fund tax breaks for billionaires.

The reason for these attacks is simple: reading is one of the most usefully mischievous, secretly rebellious acts that there is. Libraries are often said to be fusty and staid — it might be true of the buildings, but it’s not true of the books that await teenagers there. Indeed, as Neil Armstrong once said, the knowledge contained within library books “is fundamental to all human achievement and progress”.

The ideas contained within these books – these works of literature available to every man, woman and child, entirely free of charge – thus have the potential to be revolutionary. In this way, library books are dangerous; and perhaps more dangerous are the librarians that dare to give books out to children too poor and uncultured to know not to take them seriously. Libraries make people powerful — people who shouldn’t be powerful — and we are weaker in untold ways without them.

These are just some of the myriad number of contemporary reasons UK creatives should cast their votes against the Conservative Party and in favour of Labour at the 2017 General Election.

Yet, it is also important here to remember the historical actions of the Conservative Party. While their election campaign strategy has focused a great deal on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s role in facilitating the peace process in Northern Ireland, almost no comment has been passed on the Conservative Party’s support for pro-apartheid regimes in South Africa and Angola; or for their unrelenting support of fascist dictators and regimes in South America. They call Jeremy Corbyn a terrorist sympathiser for attempting to broker peace with the IRA; yet they also called Nelson Mandela a terrorist – and called for him to be hanged. In the 20th Century alone, the Conservatives have done nothing but damage the UK, its citizens, and its economy. From Winston Churchill’s disastrous decision to return the country to the Gold Standard, through the laissez-faire policies of Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin, and onto the imposition of neoliberal economics by Margaret Thatcher (which laid the foundations for the global economic crash in 2007), the party has pursued with unrelenting vigour policies that favour only the richest and most powerful, and help strangle the money available for creatives and artists – cultivating a culture in which artistic work is increasingly difficult to pursue; preventing people from less-wealthy backgrounds from becoming artists in their own right, and thereby reducing the number of new and unique voices operating within the creative sphere – leading to the homogenisation of UK culture.

Theresa May’s Conservative party will be no different. The weak and wobbly Prime Minister has put no thought into ways to make the UK a better place for the country’s writers and artists – let alone the ordinary citizen – beyond promising to bring back fox hunting and steadfastly continue the failed policies of the past. Her zeal for attacking our European allies and her penchant for u-turns mean Brexit negotiations with EU leaders will likely turn into a farce of epic proportions. Should the UK leave Europe with no deal, not only will the economy suffer, so too will universities, students, artists and creatives who rely on strong relationships with partners across the continent.

On the other hand, under Jeremy Corbyn the UK Labour Party has become a genuine party of hope and change. Firmly on the right side of history for decades – like his counterpart Bernie Sanders in the US – Corbyn has transformed Labour from a conservative-lite neoliberal party under Tony Blair into an organisation focused intently on making the UK a better place for all citizens. That he and his party have caught the attention and support of so many, particularly young people, despite the almost consistently negative coverage of his performance in a media controlled by 8 tax dodging billionaires speaks of the resonance of his message. As the rapper, artist, Shakespearean producer and intellectual Akala notes: “For the first time in my adult life someone I consider to be fundamentally decent has a chance of being elected.”

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Photo credit: PA

The opportunity to vote for an honest and decent human being, and for a political party that truly seeks to support the many, rather than the few, while championing the arts and creative industries does not come along often in politics. And it is for this reason – more so than the terrible record of the Conservatives – that voters should mark their ballot papers in favour of the Labour Party at this year’s General Election.

Of course this endorsement comes with caveats. The inherent problems with the First Past the Post system means in certain seats, hard decisions must be made to ensure progressive candidates return to Parliament at the expense of Conservative MPs. Voters in Caroline Lucas’s Brighton Pavilion seat, for instance, should cast their ballots for one of the genuine leading lights in British politics and long-standing supporter of the arts. Meanwhile, on the Isle of White, constituents have the opportunity to elect the Green Party’s Vix Lowthon – who has championed calls for investment in the islands creative sector – at the expense of the Conservatives.

These minor intricacies of democracy aside, it is hard not to feel that the 2017 General Election carries with it a sense of importance. For the first time since the 1980s, people have the opportunity to vote for a genuinely progressive mainstream political party that has broken with the broken neoliberal consensus that has led so many of the world economies to ruin, and has also placed the arts and creative industries at the heart of their manifesto – along with policies that will provide the support UK citizens need to be able to pursue their dreams, unhindered by low wages and mountains of debt. The odds are – and always have been – stacked against those on the progressive left; yet there is now real cause for optimism among UK creatives. Writers and artists so often love creating works based on such underdog stories; but now we have the chance to participate in a true example of one ourselves.

On Thursday 8th June, vote with hope; vote for hope. Vote Labour.

What Labour’s manifesto means for UK creatives

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As the date of the UK General Election nears, Nothing in the Rulebook has sifted through the manifestos of the Labour and Conservative parties to decipher exactly what each is offering in terms of support for the arts and creative industries in the UK.

It is important to note that, over the past six years, £42.8 million has been cut from Britain’s Arts Councils by the incumbent Conservative (and Con-Dem coalition) governments. Cuts to local government have also meant library closures and the end of creative arts evening classes. For many people, the increasingly precarious, time-consuming and low-paid nature of work has also restricted access to the arts, and made it ever more difficult for aspiring creatives to pursue their passion.

Under a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government, this seems set to change. The Labour Party’s manifesto promises to provide a £1 billion culture fund and to end cuts to local authority budget funding if it wins the general election on 8th June.

Labour said it would introduce the fund in order to “upgrade our existing cultural and creative infrastructure to be ready for the digital age”.

The fund would also invest in creative clusters across the country, designed to boost economic growth through culture.

It would be administered through Arts Council England over a period of five years, and is described by Labour as “among the biggest arts infrastructure funds ever”.

Labour has also promised to end local authority budget cuts, which have resulted in widespread cuts to the arts nationwide.

Stopping this has been identified by leading cultural bodies as a key area for the sector to lobby the new government.

The manifesto also includes the introduction of a £160 million pupil premium for the arts, which would allow schools to invest in creative projects.

The idea was first mooted by party leader Jeremy Corbyn last year, and comes alongside manifesto promises to “put creativity back at the heart of the curriculum” and review the English Baccalaureate.

Pledges include strengthening the pipeline of creative talent, with measures such as a creative careers advice campaign in schools to demonstrate the range of opportunities available and the skills required “from the tech sector to theatre production”.

The manifesto also mentions fair pay for those working in the arts, claiming: ‘too often the culture of low or no pay means it isn’t an option for those without well-off families to support them.’ Labour will work with trade unions and employers to agree sector-specific advice and guidelines on pay and employment standards, making ‘the sector more accessible to all’.

“We will improve diversity on and off screen, working with the film industry and public service and commercial broadcasters to find rapid solutions to improve diversity,” it added.

Labour’s manifesto also suggests extending the business rates relief scheme for pubs to small venues, in a bid to protect them, as well as implementing the agent of change principle across the country – a measure already pledged for London by mayor Sadiq Khan.

In addition, Labour has also announced it will maintain free entry to museums, claiming Conservative cuts to arts funding and local authorities have created a tough financial climate for museums, with some closing or reducing their services, and others starting to charge entry fees.

The party has also pledged to address the ‘value gap’ between producers of creative content and the digital services that profit from its use. The manifesto states: ‘We will work with all sides to review the way that innovators and artists are rewarded for their work in the digital age.’

A portion of the manifesto also focuses on making music venues more resilient, with Labour aiming to support the music industry’s infrastructure. There will be a review extending the £1,000 pub relief business rates scheme to small music venues, while Labour will introduce an ‘agent of change’ principle in planning law, to ensure that new housing developments can coexist with existing music venues.

The party has also pledged to support and protect one of the UK’s most valued public institutions: the BBC.

That the Labour Party has delivered a manifesto so positively supportive of the arts and creative industries is perhaps no surprise – as the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has continually backed the sector for years, and made it a key part of his leadership campaign in 2015.

What the Conservative Party’s manifesto means for UK creatives

As the date of the UK General Election nears, Nothing in the Rulebook has sifted through the manifestos of the Labour and Conservative parties to decipher exactly what each is offering in terms of support for the arts and creative industries in the UK.

It is important to note that, over the past six years, £42.8 million has been cut from Britain’s Arts Councils by the incumbent Conservative (and Con-Dem coalition) governments. Cuts to local government have also meant library closures and the end of creative arts evening classes. For many people, the increasingly precarious, time-consuming and low-paid nature of work has also restricted access to the arts, and made it ever more difficult for aspiring creatives to pursue their passion.

Under a Theresa May-led Conservative government, the indications are that this seems set to continue.

In the section of the (uncosted) Conservative manifesto, ‘Stronger Communities for a Stronger Economy’, the party pledges somewhat untangible policies of “continuing our strong support for the arts”, without many specific plans or ideas for how the party will actually show said support.

Of what pledges there are to be found, the party promises to maintain free entry to the permanent collections of “major” national museums and galleries, but fails to offer any protection for all museums and galleries – or clarify what locations would be classified as “major”.

The Conservatives also promise to hold a “Great Exhibition of the North” in 2018, to “celebrate amazing achievements in innovation, the arts and engineering”.

In addition, the party plans to support an as-yet un-named UK city in making a bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and, as 2017 marks the 70th Anniversary Year of the Edinburgh Festival, pledges to support the development of the new Edinburgh Concert Hall.

Intriguingly, given David Cameron’s plans in 2015 and 2016 to sell the publicly-owned Channel 4 broadcasting company, Theresa May’s Conservative manifesto promises that Channel 4 will remain publicly owned, and will also be relocated outside of London.

It is perhaps telling that, in an 88-page document, the word ‘Art’ appears just four times. Yet, with funding for the arts consistently slashed under successive Conservative governments, it is perhaps not all that surprising.

You can read about what the Labour Party’s plans for the arts are here.

Ballot Beats – promoting the youth vote through poetry

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As the deadline to register to vote in the 2017 General Election nears, 7 million voters – most of them younger – remain disenfranchised. This continues a long-recognised trend in British elections; in 2015, only 43% of young people aged 18-24 voted in the General Election, compared to an overall turnout of 66 % and a turnout of 78% for those aged over 65.

Nothing in the Rulebook has long championed the power that the arts have to inspire and affect change; so a new project from the brilliant minds behind the Theatre Centre really caught our eye. The group is looking to use the power of poetry to cultivate advocacy and galvanise action from young audiences, moving them towards compassion, conversation and campaigns.

Working with award winning poet Mr Gee, the group ran poetry workshops in different parts of the UK and encouraged young people to create poems about their beliefs, and why voting feels important to them.

Some of these young people can already vote – most of them can’t: they need other young people to be their voices, and to tick their ballot papers. Their words, beliefs and rhymes have been collected and shared in #BallotBeats

A spokesperson for the group said: “At Theatre Centre we believe young people need and deserve representation. We believe that the best way of achieving this representation is through voting. We want to help encourage young people to get their voices heard and to vote. We want their concerns to be placed at the heart of the political agenda and to be visible with our political landscape.”

Nothing in the Rulebook Co-Founder, Professor Wu, praised the importance of the #BallotBeats project: “The Conservative Party called the 2017 election on the assumption that young people will remain apathetic to the democratic process. They are absolutely banking on the youth vote not turning up; because they know if this were to change they would face a nigh impossible task of forming a government to implementing the cruel and Victorian-era policies of their regressive manifesto. Rest assured it is completely within their interests – and the interests of the corporate elite – to keep the status quo as it is, and keep young people bored and disgusted by politics, and prevent them from realising the power that they truly wield. What a great victory it would be if this were to change and those people who will have to live longest with the outcome of this election turned up en masse to the polling booths on 8th June.”

“Poetry has a long-standing tradition of inspiring protest and activism, and Theatre Centre’s #BallotBeats project is exactly the sort of galvanising initiative that is needed to bring a little more hope and optimism to the world at a time where so much around us seems created to inspire fear and cynicism.”

For more details about the work of Theatre Centre and #BallotBeats please contact Emily on emily@theatre-centre.co.uk or call 020 7729 3066. You can also follow them on Twitter (@TCLive) and Facebook.

 

Creatives in Profile: Interview with Andrew McMillan

McMillan photo credit Urszula Soltys

Andrew McMillan. Photography by Urszula Soltys

Few writers have exploded onto the literary scene with quite as much acclaim as Andrew McMillan. The South Yorkshire-born poet’s debut collection, ‘Physical‘, was the first ever poetry collection to win The Guardian First Book Award. The collection also won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize,  a Somerset Maugham Award (2016), an Eric Gregory Award (2016) and a Northern Writers’ award (2014). It was shortlisted the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Costa Poetry Award,  The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2016, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Polari First Book Prize. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2015. He currently lectures in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University and lives in Manchester.

It is a true honour to bring you this detailed interview.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

MCMILLAN

I just bought a house in Manchester with my boyfriend, so for the first time I feel I can say I permanently live somewhere. I was born in Barnsley in 1988 and lived there until I went away to university, and then a couple more times after university as well- I moved to Liverpool when I first started working at LJMU,  and now I’m moving on to MMU in September which I’m really excited about. I like decorative bowls, which I guess is a lifestyle choice, and I got drunk the other week and told Ben we could get a dog, so that’s going to be a new thing as well.

INTERVIEWER

Is creativity and writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

MCMILLAN

It was always writing. From being very young, I used to write little horror stories and then moved on to writing poems; there was a magazine called Young Writer, which I don’t think is around anymore, that would publish work and run competitions and send you a proper contract to sign and things like that so it felt like something special. Then I ran away from it for a long time in my teens, I wanted to be an actor, and then a politician, but really what I liked was standing up in front of people and talking to them, and using words in an eloquent way and so when I started reading 20th Century poetry again at college, and I found Larkin and Gunn, then I started writing poetry again.   I’m passionate about all different art forms, I think all artists always wish they were proficient at something else, but I have no other skills, I can only write (and most days I can barely do that); I’m very interested in fashion, in clothing as another form of communication. If I had the right skills I might have liked to have been a fashion designer.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

MCMILLAN

Too many poets to mention by name, but I’m a writer because first and foremost I’m a reader, I read as much as I can, of contemporary poetry; you can be inspired by what you don’t enjoy too, you can frame yourself in active opposition to a thought or an idea as well as taking inspiration from others’ work in a positive sense.

Jon McGregor, and his novels, are the reason that I write poetry the way that I do.

Tom Spanbauer, another novelist, and in particular The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, changed my life.

It’s a terrible cliche but I’m inspired much more by urban dilapidation than I am by beauty, a wreck rather than a masterpiece (that’ll probably be my epitaph too)

My parents, their lives, their warmth, their support, is a constant inspiration. And I’ve only ever wanted to make them proud.

INTERVIEWER

Your debut poetry collection, ‘Physical’ was released by Jonathan Cape in 2015. Its themes of and focus on masculinity seem particularly appropriate for our society right now – much has been made, for instance, of the ‘crisis of masculinity’. What do you think it means to be a man in the 21st Century?

MCMILLAN

Any discussion of masculinity has to really start from an acknowledgement that men still occupy a very privileged place within society; but for young men, particularly young working class men, things are really bad. It’s no one cause, but a confluence of things, such as a stigma around mental health for young men, an economic earthquake in the latter half of the 20th Century that ripped away traditional manual jobs and didn’t replace them with anything,  so what you have is a generation of young men who feel they shouldn’t talk about their emotions or hurt, who can’t see themselves in the role their fathers or their grandfathers might have had, which was to exchange their strength for money in the workplace, and so they feel they don’t have a place, or they feel they don’t know how to be a man, and so that lack has been replaced by, in some cases, getting bigger and bigger at the gym, or getting a ‘status’ dog- a loss of identity or position is being replaced by caricatures of masculinity because these young disenfranchised lads don’t see how else to assert the fact that they exist.

What has been really interesting, as I’ve grown up, is to see the change in fashion in what men are being told they should look like. So a pressure women have felt since the dawn of time, is now being focussed on men. And its often a male gaze on other men – so you know see heterosexual men posting topless pictures on Instagram, not to try to find sex; but so other heterosexual men will comment on how good they look; they need validation, and they’re not getting it from outside, so they’ve got it from each other, in a competitive way I’m not convinced is entirely healthy. As with everything, its also economic; so the idea of the ‘new man’, which came around in the 1990s, was intrinsically tied to wealth and middle-class status, so for young working class men, they’ve had to create a hyperbolised identity in order to survive.

INTERVIEWER

Looking around at current trends in poetry, what are your thoughts and feelings on the ‘poetry industry’. If we can define it thus. And how would you advise aspiring poets to break out onto the ‘poetry scene’?

MCMILLAN

Poetry is in a really good place now and I look around at my peers and think I’m lucky to be part of a really exciting generation. I think the key thing for anyone to remember is that they only write because they like reading, so keep reading, keep involved, go to invents; BUY as much as you can afford to- if everyone who writes poetry bought poetry we’d all be millionaires. It might seem daunting on the outside, but poetry is a very small, very friendly world and people help each other out, and remember each other too, so showing your face at events or holding the doors open for writers at a literature festival (as I did in Lancaster for three years) is always going to help you out in the community. I would say as well that I think whilst its good to set up your own nights, to read poetry in front of your friends etc, its also important to seek out an audience and criticism from outside people you might already know.

INTERVIEWER

When looking to submit poetry, what are the steps and key aspects to consider before doing so?

MCMILLAN

If its to a poetry magazine/journal- have you read the magazine before, do you know if they take that kind of work, what’s the poetry editor’s name, have you read their guidelines etc- all those basic things that will get you in the good books before an editor even gets to the poems. Also get ready for rejections, you’ll get a lot. Tons of them. Some will say encouraging things, some will just be a little slip of paper saying ‘Thanks but no thanks’. It isn’t a criticism of you as a person, or even that the poem is bad, it just meant it wasn’t the right fit for that editor for that particular magazine. So perseverance too, if you believe in the work, keep at it. Most of the poems in physical got rejected from nearly every magazine you could name, and the book still did alright 😉

INTERVIEWER

In terms of writing poetry, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when writing your initial drafts?

MCMILLAN

Not to end the poem too soon, and not to have any sense of where the poem might end, you have to surprise yourself, if its predictable or too simple a journey for the reader to make, they won’t want to make it again.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?

MCMILLAN

I always like to steal an answer of Thom Gunn’s when I answer this, in response to a fan letter he said something along the lines of:

‘If I had an ideal reader, I think it would be myself, when I was younger, maybe thirteen or fourteen, and to say to them, its OK really’

I think that’s probably true of me; but I also don’t just want a gay audience, or a male audience – I’m really just writing poems about the body, so they’re for everyone.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

MCMILLAN

Any act which seeks to make an interruption to the crushing and terrifying monotony of being alive.

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘poet’ mean to you?

MCMILLAN

Someone who wants to put on some spandex and power slam words into the page

INTERVIEWER

James Joyce argued poetry was “always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality.” In the modern world, ‘actuality’ is increasingly hard to define – we live in a culture of ‘fake news’. Many have argued that poetry has an element of truth to it that reality sometimes does not. What role do you think poetry has in a world of ‘alternative facts’?

MCMILLAN

Again, I’ll quote someone else much more articulate, Rita Ann Higgins ‘To get to the poetic truth, it is not always necessary to tell the what-actually-happened truth, these times I lie.  Poetry has to have a truth in it, it has to be driving towards some universal truth, otherwise there’s no heart in it, but around that, it can make things up. Poetry shows us the real truth in something, and to do that it might often have to make things up.

INTERVIEWER

Since Percy Bysshe Shelley penned the Masque of Anarchy, poetry has been used by writers and artists as a means of revolt against the status quo and to champion causes, giving voices to those who perhaps would not otherwise be heard. What are your thoughts on poetry as protest?

MCMILLAN

Maybe the very act of writing a poem is a protest, its always a peaceful political act in many ways I think, however angry the poem. Poetry shouldn’t just be polemic or rant though, it has to be more nuanced than that I think. But in an age of Trump or ‘strong and stable’ or Twitter or 24hour news, the very act of slowing down, of going to a page with a pen, and saying what can I do with this ancient language that is new, how can I compress and distill, that feels like a protest against something, perhaps.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

MCMILLAN

I’m just finishing up a second collection of poetry which I’m excited about, so hopefully I’ll be able to talk more about that soon.

INTERVIEWER

Aristotle said that poetry was “finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular”. Do you believe in a universal language – or any sense of universal human thought?

MCMILLAN

I don’t think I do, really; I think there are brief moments of connection with another human being, but they’re very often transitory.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

MCMILLAN

I got drunk: We bought dog.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers?

MCMILLAN

  • Read
  • Read everything
  • Read stuff you hate
  • Read stuff you love
  • Read novels
  • Read poetry
  • go to art exhibitions, watch strange films, talk to strangers
  • put yourself out in the world in a way which allows things to happen to you
  • never get drunk and promise to buy your boyfriend a dog

 

You can keep an eye out for updates on Andrew’s projects and upcoming shows through his website, and purchase copies of his debut collection ‘Physical’ online

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.

 

Creatives in profile: interview with Laura Waddell

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Laura Waddell writes reviews of fiction, a book column, articles, and short fiction and poetry. She has been in the Guardian, Independent, Sunday Mail, Gutter, Glasgow Review of Books, 3AM magazine, Review 31, and others, while working extensively in literary and translation publishing before joining HarpterCollins as Publishing Manager of Children’s Reference.

Shortlisted as Emerging Publisher of the Year by the Saltire Society in 2016, she is also quite the social media guru – creating a number of innovative literary initiatives such as #ScotEbookDay and #ETeaParty, which was featured as a book marketing success in the book Blogging for Writers.

It is an honour to bring you this detailed interview.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

WADDELL

I work in publishing, and am a writer, and I live in Glasgow. As for background/lifestyle, where to begin? I grew up in Coatbridge, a post-industrial town outside of Glasgow, and far enough away from it to glamorise living in the city. I studied up to an MLitt in Modernities (essentially modernism and postmodenism), with a focus on William Carlos Williams. I have A LOT of personal projects on the go in my spare time, and write a lot. I’m drawn to writing with observations about the everyday, and to finding the small, subtle, interesting notes in everyday life. As a result I pick up a lot of bits of paper I find on the ground incase anything interesting is written on them. There are some weird shopping lists out there. I find a lot of trash on the street aesthetically pleasing. I like to people watch. I’ve always been better able to connect with writing that focuses on the modern, the grubby, and all that is accessible about cities – I think because classics, or references to flora, weren’t really part of my education. I’m interested in experimentation with form, of making the most with a little, or utilising material in unusual ways. This can often be seen in my poetry newsletter, Lunchtime Poetry.

INTERVIEWER

Is writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

WADDELL

Writing is absolutely my first love. Before I could write, I would dictate stories to adults around me who’d write them down. I found a little red notebook containing some of these, and there was one about an octopus tap dancing on a table. In recent years I’ve written articles (politics, opinion), short fiction, and book review, and built up a portfolio of published pieces (the Independent, Sunday Mail, 3am magazine, Review 31, Glasgow Review of Books, The List, a couple of book contributions coming this year such as Nasty Women (404 Ink), others). I’ve had times in my life when I’ve been utterly consumed by the need to write, and times when I’ve felt too dispirited to pick up a pen – like most writers, and people in other disciplines, I imagine. By extension, I’m very invested in reading and the business of publishing, and finding new ways to find and communicate what’s out there.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

WADDELL

Writer-wise, I love William Carlos Williams as mentioned, for finding joy and meaning in the ways that I like, and Eimear McBride for the transcendent feeling of reading her use of language, connecting with her books in a rare and deep way, because the words in their broken-down fragmentary form go right in whole. I’m inspired by writers who have depicted places and people I’m familiar with and who are also masters of style and story, like James Kelman and Janice Galloway. I think Lara Williams is one of the most talented and exciting young writers around today and can’t wait to follow her work as it progresses. I like bell hooks and Rebecca Solnit. There are a lot of women leaders in business, politics, arts and media I look up to, as well as women who are just beginning their careers and taking on, tenatiously, areas that are still unbalanced playing fields in terms of gender. I’m also very inspired by the energy of friends who are also writers, publishers, or artists from other disciplines such as music, performance and theatre.

INTERVIEWER

Who were your early teachers?

WADDELL

I had a teacher in primary school called Mrs Shields, who taught our small class to always look up when walking around a city, for that’s where surprises and beauty in architecture can be found. I had a history teacher in high school called Mr Jenkins, who encouraged my love of learning and told us fascinating stories. As an only child (until I was 11) I spent a lot of time with adults.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve worked extensively in the literary and publishing industry – what do you think are some of the key challenges facing the industry at this point in time?

WADDELL

It’s not always an easy industry, and nobody joins it to make a fortune, but the upside of that is that it’s often a workforce of people who are very passionate about what they do. I’m glad to hear more talk about diversity in publishing, not only in terms of gender but in race, and I think it’s a problem that stems from the makeup of the publishing workforce itself, which may not always be able to imagine why anyone would find writing interesting when it comes from a background that is not white and middle class or upper class. A lot of stories have never been told, and I want to read them, and I believe there’s an appetite for them. Other than that, when it comes to trade, there are all kinds of issues around discounting – when authors make little money (and this is decreasing), it’s rarely because publishers are rolling in money themselves (although contacts should always be as fair as possible), but because of squeeze at the other end. I hear a lot about the FUTURE and TECH and whilst it’s essential to find new ways of publishing in an era where the media landscape is rapidly changing and digitising, there’s an awful lot of vague noise full of internet-related words that sounds like change for the sake of change instead of looking at better ways to simply publish what people will want to read and make them aware it exists.

INTERVIEWER

What power do you think writing, literature – and art in general – has in supporting and encouraging aspiring artists from marginalised communities?

WADDELL

For me, as a working class kid in an area of poor resources and endangered libraries, what literature I could get my hands on was very special to me. Access to art, both creating and consuming, broadens options in life, as well as empathy and self-expression, and it shouldn’t be the preserve of the rich. Art is about communicating, and what is communicated forms the landscape we live in – what we can expect or demand from our politics, the perspectives we read, the stories that are told and on the record throughout history. Scottish PEN are working on a project now called Many Voices, which sees writers hold writing workshops with groups of people whose stories often aren’t told in their own words – young offenders, refugees, and others. I’m suspicious of any politician who says working class people (or other groups) need only simple things in life. No, I want more. And I’m suspicious of anyone within these groups who says the same thing. Both are ways to control and restrict, to peg people into small, stereotypical boxes. And as a reader, I want writing that is the most innovative and beautiful, I want more of it, and I don’t believe that comes from any one demographic.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any ethical responsibility in your role as a writer?

WADDELL

Not in a way that is separate from the ethical responsibilities I feel as a human being. When I write articles, occasionally I want to highlight a cause or examine a prejudice. When I write fiction, I write whatever comes out, but it will naturally reflect my beliefs, and I am very interested in class and gender. 8. Do you have a specific ‘reader’ in mind when you write? Not particularly. Perhaps myself, a little younger.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us a little bit about how you began your career in the publishing industry?

WADDELL

I was very fortunate to get a paid internship assisting a writer (Sara Sheridan) facilitated by the wonderful Adopt an Intern. I stayed on, and it was a wonderful and generous experience, where I learned a lot about marketing and PR, the media, the needs of a writer and how to work with them. I’m now a Publishing Manager with my own list of titles. Paid internships are important. They make it easier for a wider range of people to enter the industry. As I believe diversification of the industry is an important part of diversifying the books we publish, and that is key for staying relevant and commercially viable in the present day, publishing as an industry should be paying people for the work that they do at this early stage, for their own good.

INTERVIEWER

What advice can you give to aspiring creatives who are interested in pursuing a similar pathway? To anyone who is interested in getting into publishing, I strongly urge you to: A) read as widely as possible. Having an understanding of the terrain is important.

B) Stay aware of industry news, such as the free bookseller.com newsletter digest.

C) Network, network, network. Opportunities arise this way. Twitter is a fantastic way to follow people who work in publishing and see what they’re up to. Go to book launches.

D) Be kind to everyone. I’ve always remembered who was welcoming to me when I was young and shy and feeling out of place at the very beginning of my career. Publishing generally is a supportive and jolly industry, and we’re mostly all in it together for the love of books.

E) Develop hard skills. Nobody is impressed that you’ve used social media – talk about copywriting skills, data analysis, project management. Learn Excel!

F) Look after yourself. Life/work balance is hard when you love what you do, but you need rest and time to let your mind wander.

INTERVIEWER

What, in your opinion, makes a “good” book?

WADDELL

I don’t think there’s one good answer to this. Some books I like are very different from each other. I think a good book is one a reader loves, and readers have very different desires. I review books, and when I review I am looking for some basic requirements – depth, structure, eloquence. But the books I’ve loved the most almost always split between 1 and 5 star reviews on commercial sites.

INTERVIEWER

If you had to draw up an essential reading list everyone should read, which books would make the cut?

WADDELL

I really don’t think I could do that in brief, here, sorry! Here’s just one I found directly instructive – Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. I snuck it into a book cover once.

INTERVIEWER

What are your thoughts on some of the general trends within the writing industry at the moment? Is there anything in particular you see as being potentially future-defining, in terms of where the industry is headed?

WADDELL

I’ve been really thrilled to see the success of 404 Ink, publishers of Nasty Women, an anthology of writing by women that has captured the zeitgeist of women-led protest and initiatives to raise each other up. I’m honoured to be a contributing writer. The crowdfunder was 369% funded and backed by Margaret Atwood. Another example of small indie publishers going out to publish what they really believe in are Own It!. Both these publishers have talked of publishing what they’ve heard other people dismiss, but they’ve known there is a commercial and cultural appetite for, and that often means diversity. As I’ve said above, I think diversification is the key to publishing’s continuing relevance and success.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

WADDELL

I’m currently guest editing an issue of The Drouth magazine and enjoying commissioning writers for it. Other than Nasty Women, I have an essay in another book coming out in 2017 about literary criticism in the digital era, and a piece in the first issue of brand new magazine Marbles, which has a focus on mental health. I’m continuing to write fiction, articles, and review. I want to see more writing from Scotland translated, more international relationships developed between Scottish artists and artists of other countries, and more investment in smart, commercially sustainable publishing – but that’s a very long term goal!

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

WADDELL

Varieties of female moths lack wings.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers?

WADDELL

To young writers, keep going. Try not to lose or flatten your early or original style (I’ve never written as easily as I did when I was a kid), but take criticism on board. Do not be dissuaded by rejections – everyone gets loads. I was rejected by a magazine I later went on to be an assisting editor on. Build a portfolio. Pitch. Put yourself out there. But be respectful and follow guidelines when submitting. Read the worst reviews of writers you adore, and bear them in mind when you read reviews of your own work. Find what’s at your core that you have to express.

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

Reason in an age of terror: vital reading from Albert Camus

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Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

As I write this, I am being told by an incessant stream of news and media outlets that I am living in a city and a world in which an astonishing number of my fellow human beings are trying to kill me.

This is not true.

One cannot see the modern world as it is unless we are able to lift the veil of hyper-sensationalist media coverage, which increasingly fictionalises reality.

The overall average likelihood of dying in any kind of terrorist attack worldwide is 1 in 9,300,000 (9.3 million).

You are 14 times more likely to die in your bathtub than in a terrorist attack, 11 times more likely to die by slipping during a shower, 16 times by lightning, 517 times more likely to be murdered (there is on average one murder every 60 seconds worldwide), 991 times by self-injury, 500 times in a car accident (3,000 people die every day in road accidents worldwide), 450 times by falling, 118 times by accidental drowning, 41 times in natural disasters (earthquake, flood etc.), 25 times by choking on food, 13 times by a dog bite, 4 times by falling off a ladder, 1.8 million times by a heart disease, 1860 times by electrocution, 93 times by bee sting, and 3 times more likely to die by a snake bite or food poisoning. (Source)

There are, of course, acts of terror committed by individuals across the world in which innocent people are killed. 2017 was ushered in with a shooting at a nightclub in Istanbul; and has since seen car bombs kill civilians in Mogadishu and Kabul, a shooting in Belfast, and – this week – a rogue vehicle and knife attack  in London. These events are, undeniably, terrible. Yet they remain incredibly rare. Of 162 terrorist attacks worldwide in January this year, only 14 caused more than ten deaths – and these all took place in countries suffering extreme political unrest, including war-torn Syria. The fact remains that the chances of being caught up in such an attack in any Western country remains almost infinitesimally small.

Yet our 24-hour news culture would have us believe that those around us would sooner seek to attack, injure or kill us than help us; and this helps perpetuate the fear of terrorism. See for example, the extremely emotive and theatrical language used in the Daily Mail’s front page story that claims “Jihadis” can find instructions on how to implement a rogue vehicle terrorist attack using Google in less than two minutes.  Such lack of consideration for either facts or for the language with which outlets report the news reinforces the idea that we live in a manufactured and artificial world, where it is difficult to attain a semblance of actuality or reality – and nigh impossible to separate fact from fiction.

This hysterical response also helps spread the ideas that terrorism requires in order to have any meaningful impact. It distorts reality by not providing the full context of attacks, nor considering the wider-influences of them. We are limited only to the immediate background and ideology of attackers, and perhaps some consideration may be given to their state of mental health. But we are not reminded of the sources of different strains of terrorism: British Imperialism in Ireland; Globalisation; the fall of European empires; war in the pursuit of oil; the deals made shortly after the second world war between leaders of the Western world and neo-conservative leaders in Islamic states to consolidate power in the hands of followers of Wahhabism and other extreme forms of Islam.

Without the benefit of context, our world becomes that much more terrifying.

This is because human beings are, and will continue to be, ultimately rational creatures who look to make decisions based on reasoned logic. We are tool makers and problem solvers; yet our brains can only process the information they are given – and it is this information that is increasingly distorted, so that we are only ever presented with a world that is bleak and terrible and awful; and this in turn leads us to fear those around us, which itself leads to more anger and suffering.

Because we are rational, it is vital we remember we live in a world of contradictions; one that is both beautiful and good, and one that can be ugly and evil.

Few authors have written on this with as much clarity or astute insight as Albert Camus.

Writing in the mid-1940s, a time in so many ways as bleak – if not more so – as our current climate of shootings, catastrophic climate breakdown, unacceptable wealth inequality, and globalised conflict, Camus’ magnificent essay ‘The Almond Trees’, calls on us to remember what it is to be human.

We’ve picked out a few choice extracts below:

“We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know that we live in contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task as [humans] is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks [we] take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.

Let us know our aims then, holding fast to the mind, even if force puts on a thoughtful or a comfortable face in order to seduce us. The first thing is not to despair. Let us not listen too much to those who proclaim that the world is at an end. Civilizations do not die so easily, and even if our world were to collapse, it would not have been the first. It is indeed true that we live in tragic times. But too many people confuse tragedy with despair. “Tragedy,” [D.H.] Lawrence said, “ought to be a great kick at misery.” This is a healthy and immediately applicable thought. There are many things today deserving such a kick.”

How should we deliver such a kick to our propensity to fall into thoughts of misery and tragedy? Camus argues it requires us to cultivate our minds, and recall our propensity for rationality of thought. He explains, “We will not win our happiness with symbols.  We’ll need something more soild.”

Continuing with this train of thought, he adds:

“If we are to save the mind we must ignore its gloomy virtues and celebrate its strength and wonder. Our world is poisoned by its misery, and seems to wallow in it. It has utterly surrendered to that evil which Nietzsche called the spirit of heaviness. Let us not add to this. It is futile to weep over the mind, it is enough to labor for it.

But where are the conquering virtues of the mind? The same Nietzsche listed them as mortal enemies to heaviness of the spirit. For him, they are strength of character, taste, the “world,” classical happiness, severe pride, the cold frugality of the wise. More than ever, these virtues are necessary today, and each of us can choose the one that suits him best. Before the vastness of the undertaking, let no one forget strength of character. I don’t mean the theatrical kind on political platforms, complete with frowns and threatening gestures. But the kind that through the virtue of its purity and its sap, stands up to all the winds that blow in from the sea. Such is the strength of character that in the winter of the world will prepare the fruit.”

As writers, creatives, and free-thinking individuals, it is vital we use our ability to articulate reasoned thought and ideas into responsible arguments and theses. We must not be caught up in the traps of misery and despair so many media outlets create for us. As Camus notes, this requires a great strength of character – even “superhuman” effort – but this doesn’t make it any less necessary or vital today.

Read Camus’ full essay online.