Writing Is Taking Over My Life…

I wouldn’t mind, but there are a few other things I’d like to have some time for. Eating and sleeping, for instance.
OK, it’s not actually that bad, but I think it is getting out of hand. I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the past week writing a (long) short story – the first of many, I hope, as I’d like to start submitting to competitions again. There’s the Bridport, and the Elizabeth Jolley Prizes coming up for instance, both of which are worth winning for the prize money alone. More importantly, they have sufficient prestige to give the winners a way in to the publishing industry. Like most competitions, they’re inundated with entries, which makes it difficult to stand out enough to make the short-list. Still, you’ve got to be in it to win it, as they say.
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No Need to Plant More Trees

chipperfield-woodsIt’s often put forward as a good way to help ameliorate man-made global warming, but we don’t need to plant more trees. Continue reading

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First Sunrise

This New Year’s Day started wet and grey, and it seemed like a bad omen – a sign that 2017 was going to continue in the same vein as 2016. But then the rain cleared. This morning I woke up and watched the sun rise into a clear sky, and I thought; it doesn’t have to be that way, maybe this year will be different – maybe together, we can make it different.

First Sunrise - 2017

First Sunrise – 2017

On a national, and international scale, 2016 was a bad year. It was a year in which a social inadequate, goaded on by idiots, decided to abandon his support network and go out into the world alone and unprepared (that’s the UK – not me!)
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The Inquisition may be History, but The Church is still an Oppressor


A nurse was recently dismissed from the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust for repeated inappropriate behaviour towards patients. Sarah Kuteh claims that she simply offered to pray with patients that she dealt with in the surgical pre-assessment unit. However, the Trust say that they received numerous complaints from patients, who said that she had attempted to push her own religious beliefs on them, even after they’d told her they weren’t interested. The Trust gave her a warning, but her behaviour continued, so they had no choice but to dismiss her. Facing surgery can be very worrying and distressing on its own. But when the people you are reliant on to take care of you turn out to be intent on converting you to their religion, that isn’t going to make things any less stressful.

Now, I don’t like to condemn someone without having seen the facts for myself, but we have the nurse’s own word, set against that of the NHS Trust, and the patients that complained (unless the Trust were lying about the complaints). You would think that for any journalist worthy of the name, the only story to write, based on the evidence available, was ‘Nurse sacked for inappropriate behaviour’. But for a large proportion of the UK’s media, led by The Daily Mail, it was just another opportunity to practice religious sycophancy and continue their narrative of the persecution of Christians in the UK. The Mail ran with the headline ‘Nurse sacked for offering to pray with her patients despite call by equality watchdog to end persecution of Christians‘ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4021094/Nurse-sacked-offering-pray-patients-despite-call-equality-watchdog-end-persecution-Christians.html).
You might be tempted to dismiss this as nothing less than you would expect from a scurrilous rag that wouldn’t know balanced reporting if you beat them around the head with it. Until you look at the name of the ‘journalist’ (I use the term loosely) who wrote the piece. As is common amongst the privileged (he went to Cambridge), Jonathan Petre isn’t content with just one high-profile job. As well as ‘Mail on Sunday Religion Correspondent’, he also happens to be ‘Head of Media’ for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Notice the conflict of interest? So what we have here is not just a newspaper that’s biased in favour of religion. We have a newspaper which appears to have handed over its reporting on religious issues to the Church of England. A newspaper which is allowing itself to be a vehicle for the Church to peddle misinformation and propaganda. According to the Press Gazette, The Mail has a circulation of over 1.5 million, with 15 million on-line hits every day. Imagine the effect their daily drip-feed of disingenuous reporting is having on their readers. Who needs fake news stories when you can manipulate genuine stories to make them suit your own agenda?

The Sarah Kuteh story is just the latest in a long line of one-sided, disingenuous articles by Jonathan Petre (or, to put it more directly, from the Church of England). It looks very much like a concerted campaign to make us think that Christians are disadvantaged (whereas the reality is the exact opposite). And it isn’t just in the media that The Church enjoys an excess of  influence. In parliament, for instance, they have repeatedly used their influence to vote down a string of attempts to grant people the right to assisted dying (a right that, according to polls, has consistently been supported by around 80% of the population).

Sarah Kuteh (that’s ‘Kuteh’, not ‘Cutie’ – being a bully isn’t cute) is taking the NHS Trust to an employment tribunal, with the support of the Christian Legal Centre,who seem to have money to burn when it comes to supporting lost legal causes. They’re part of an organisation called Christian Concern. One look at their website is enough to show you the kind of lengths they will go to support their aims of spreading Christianity throughout society (whether society wants it or not).

We have a terrible imbalance when it comes to religion. On the one side we have large, very wealthy organisations, with great influence (like The Church of England and Christian Concern), who are prepared to use any tactics, however underhand, to push their religion onto society, at the expense of our basic human rights. On the other, in defence of the rights of those of us who aren’t religious (as well as those who are, but don’t want their behaviour to be dictated by religious groups) we have small groups, with limited funds and limited influence. To quote a biblical reference, it’s a ‘David and Goliath’ situation, and I don’t think we take it seriously enough; we’re not being sufficiently forthright in defending ourselves and our rights. The National Secular Society, for instance, aims to separate church and state, and to remove religious privilege. At the same time, it’s sufficiently magnanimous to campaign for the right of individuals to pursue their own religious beliefs, should they wish to. I support this, but bearing mind the weight and aggression of the opposition, I think it’s time we had a more robust contender on the side of Atheism.

We have this idea – an idea we’ve been sold – that we are free to believe in what we choose, and to live our lives accordingly. But we’re not. How can there be freedom of choice, when we’re sold religion as being factual, from the moment we’re born? When we face a daily diet of indoctrination, in childhood and beyond? When the media is so biased, and takes every opportunity to sell us the creation myths? When the people who are supposed to represent us – the Parliamentarians – are disproportionately religious, and abuse their power to pursue their own agendas (or those of their church)? When religions are allowed to lie, to cheat, to misrepresent, but we’re still not free to criticise religion? It’s around five year since the blasphemy law was repealed, but since then the state has found other, existing, legislation to limit our right to criticise religion, and indeed, has passed new laws to do that, under the auspices of restricting our right to ’cause offence’.

And outside of the law, religious groups become ever bolder in what I would call vigilante action. Christian groups for instance, learning from their counterparts in America, are increasingly targeting abortion clinics. Under what circumstances would the state allow protests that are so aggressive, that openly threaten, abuse, bully vulnerable people and health professionals going about their legal business; unless the aggressors happen to be religious?

I think it’s time we stopped showing religion so much respect; time we began to start pushing the Atheist cause. Religions have no qualms about proselytising, so why should we? Aren’t the beliefs of Atheists every bit as heart-felt as those of the religious? So why are we so shy of upsetting people? Church groups justify their often very aggressive, disrespectful tactics, by claiming that they are offering us ‘The Truth’, and therefore the end justifies the means. But don’t we have the Truth (backed up by scientific evidence and solid rationale, rather than by the confused scribblings of superstitious, primitive peoples)?  What we’re facing is little short of  a war on our rights – including the right to choose what we believe –  and we’re woefully unprepared. It’s time we started arming ourselves. It’s time that we began to stand up for ourselves against the religious bullies. The worst atrocities of the church seem far away – far in the past, or in faraway countries, but we can’t afford to be complacent. Look below the surface, and even the C of E is far from the misguided but well-meaning, bumbling uncle we think it is. More like a wicked stepmother. Which is quite appropriate for this time of year, and brings me nicely to my closing statement, which is simply to wish you all –

‘Happy Holidays!’

(You’re welcome to call it Christmas if you want to).

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Books, books, everywhere, and barely a word to read…

I’m in Cadiz, in Andalucia, and there are a few interesting bookshops that have caught my eye. This one is named for the famous composer, Manuel De Falla, who was from Cadiz (and according to the plaque on the wall, was born in the house next door).

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MOBO – Playing on the black notes

The MOBOs (Music of Black Origin awards) have come round again. Another chance to acknowledge the achievements of artists in a number of musical genres. Or, looking at it another way, is it just another chance for an unthinking media to celebrate shameless racism?

What is the MOBOs intended function, and how can it be justified? Is it positive discrimination, designed to give a boost to talented black artists? In which case, are we really to believe that black artists don’t get equal opportunities in popular music? Or is it more about ownership – an attempt to annexe the bulk of popular music for black people, or communities? According to its website, the MOBO organisation…

‘…was established to recognise the outstanding achievements of artists who perform music in genres ranging from Gospel, Jazz, RnB, Soul, Reggae to Hip Hop. Over the past 20 years, MOBO has played an instrumental role in elevating black music and culture to mainstream popular status in the UK.’

Doesn’t sound too sinister, does it? And the genres they mention (with the exception, arguably, of jazz) have all been dominated by black people, and probably originated within black communities. But is it right to say that ownership for those genres, and others, rests with black people? What music influenced the people that were the originators of the genres MOBO mention – ‘black’, European, Middle-Eastern, Jewish, East-European, Indian, Chinese? At what point did certain strands in the long evolution of the music of Homo sapiens become purely ‘black’?  And how can self-appointed representatives of the black community (whatever that is) justify claiming as their own strands of music which in their long evolution have seen contributions from people of various ethnicities? There have been so many successful black artists in popular music, from the early twentieth century  onwards. People from black communities (as well as some people who happened to be black but didn’t see themselves as belonging to a particular community) have been influential in so many popular musical genres. But does that allow black people as a group (which they’re not) to take ownership of a large proportion of popular music? Even if we accept for a moment that music can pertain exclusively to people who are black, white, or some other racial denomination, how can you successfully decide whether a particular piece of music is of ‘black origin’, and what does that actually mean?

You might argue that the fact the MOBO’s include white musicians means that they can’t be racist. In some ways, I think this makes it worse, not better, because it’s a kind of condescension. Being nominated for a MOBO, if you’re not black, must seem like a bit of a back-handed compliment – a bit like being told that your music isn’t your own; that you just re-worked music that had originated with (much more talented) black musicians.

The obvious test to check whether it might be acceptable to limit access or ownership by skin colour (or race, or gender, age, etc.) is to try substituting an opposite, or different group, and see if it still sounds alright. Would the MOWOs be covered on mainstream television, or reported favourably in the newspapers? Perhaps some of the classical awards could be re-branded as ‘Music of White Origin’ – it would be difficult to argue that the description isn’t accurate. Except that it’s the last thing the classical establishment would want, when it’s trying to break out from its exclusivity and increase diversity in classical music. If the MOBO organisation really wants to promote equal opportunities, perhaps it could sign up to help. Which brings us to the most pernicious effect of MOBO, which is not that they’re trying to snatch ownership of large swathes of popular music from the general population, so much as that they promulgate a kind of coercive segregation for black people. They direct black people towards certain types of music, they say ‘this is your music – don’t listen to other types of music; they’re not for you.’ Music is (or should be) for everyone. With its focus on skin colour, MOBO sullies the purity of music.

I don’t suppose the people behind the MOBO’s are at all malicious, or that they’re involved in some sort of racial conspiracy. I suspect it’s more a lazy, unthinking kind of racism – someone having an idea and following it through without thinking what it really means. But does that mean we should let it go? Racist attitudes often start small but, if left unchecked, can grow to frightening proportions. And while most people would see nothing malicious in the MOBOs wrong-headed good intentions, I suspect there are plenty of  people out there who are very happy to accept them as justification for their own, rather more damaging racist attitudes.

What makes it so sad is that music is acknowledged as a universal language, which has been so successful in bringing together people from different backgrounds, places, cultures; people with different ideologies; people of different races or skin colours, allowing them to communicate with one another, to ‘harmonise’, to forget their differences and celebrate their similarities. For me, the MOBOs blast all of that to pieces, and split the musical world apart with a huge, nasty wedge of colour prejudice.

So why does the media not see this? There is still so much racism in our society. And we’re never going to fully eradicate racism until we recognise it in its most ironic form – the assumption that you can’t be guilty of it if you’re not white.

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Editing – Part Two

EditI may have had reservations at the start, but I’m getting seriously into this editing malarkey now. I’m really beginning to appreciate the value of clarifying and simplifying what had become a fairly complex set of inter-weaving stories.

It isn’t always easy to delete sentences, or even whole passages, that you may have worked hard over during the writing stage, but I’m being quite ruthless. This has been made easier by the knowledge that the first draft is still there; saved on my hard drive, and on a backup too. However much I cut up and re-work the current version, the first draft will still be there, pristine, unblemished; preserved for posterity. I still have belief in my first draft. I still believe that, aside from a few minor corrections, if all memory of it could be erased from my mind and I were to then read it, I would appreciate it for what it is; a complete and effective novel. And I believe there are many readers out there who would feel the same way were they to read it. But at the same time, I can see where I’ve made mistakes – explained too much, used language that’s too fussy, put in too much detail (or in some cases, not enough). I can see places where I’ve not been clear about the progression of the story, or the purpose that an event, meeting, description or comment plays in it. So I’m confidently re-working, re-writing, cutting (in some cases, cutting out whole sections), secure in the knowledge that it’s all still there, safe and sound in my saved first draft, in  the unlikely event that I change my mind.

I’m finding ways, I think, of making the book more slick; easier to follow and understand. I’m reinforcing clues as to what’s going on, and how apparently unrelated scenes interconnect. Maybe I’ll end up making it all too obvious for some readers. I hope not. I’m stream-lining, but I don’t want to make it too easy. I believe that an author shouldn’t do all the work themselves – they need to leave something for the reader to do. I think there are two books. The first is what comes out of my head and lands on the page. The second is what comes off the page and, through subjective interpretation, ends up, reformatted, in the head of the reader. Leastways, that’s how I read (when I get the chance to read; when all my free time isn’t taken up with writing). The printed version of the book belongs to the author, but the interpretation of it belongs to the reader, and is unique to each and every reader.

The editing is taking some time, but I’d rather make sure it’s right than risk compromising the final draft by rushing it. I’m going to be too late for this year’s Man Booker, but this time next year… who knows?

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