Saturday, 25 June 2016

Some thoughts on Brexit

Some quick thoughts on Brexit:

Nigel Farage

Too many people think of Nigel Farage as a sort of comedy politician, a one-issue wazzock whose views can safely be ignored. But here's the truth - Nigel Farage is dangerous.

Here's a man whose party, UKIP, only have one seat in Parliament. Farage isn't even an MP! He lost his seat, South Thanet, in the last election. Yet, despite having no real political remit, and no real power in the UK Parliament, somehow this "comedy politician" has managed to bring about an EU Referendum, and even persuade 52% of the turnout to vote "out".

Yes, we know that he fought his campaign on lies - he was rescinding his promise to spend £350million on the NHS before the Leave vote had actually even been delivered - and we need to stay wary of him, and what he stands for. Many voters realising the gravity of voting 'Leave' on Friday morning - realised, only too late, that they had voted based on lies they had been told.

You think Farage is going to apologise? Not in a million years, and we'll be living with the mess he's created for generations.

Yorkshire voted out

It's a fact that fascism & right-wing views always rise in a recession.

We saw it in the 30s, during the great Depression, (it was a major contributing factor to the election of the Nazi party in Germany) and during the 80s. In tough times, people always look for somebody to blame for their troubles.

My adopted hometown, Leeds, voted in, as did the other two cities around it - Harrogate and York. Other places in Yorkshire - Barnsley, Doncaster, Calderdale, Kirklees, Wakefield - voted Out, by quite a considerable margin.

Many of the Northern cities that voted Out are some of the most impoverished places in the country. This government has been creating a North-South divide ever since it was first elected; it talks about a Northern Powerhouse, whilst cutting public services. The North has always relied heavily on the public sector, and we've lost up to 1 in 5 jobs here. There are places up here where whole streets are boarded up, with no jobs, nothing to do, and no prospect of things improving.

Even in Leeds, it's sometimes easy to think the government has forgotten about us. I can't imagine how much worse it could be in some of the smaller, surrounding areas.

When a one-man figurehead like Farage is seeking control & power, they're going to seek it through whatever means necessary. He's not going to go into Bradford or Blackpool or Dewsbury and tell the truth, which is: "Actually, all of you lot are suffering because the Tories have spent the past six years systematically cutting public services", or "Actually, the reason why you can't get a GP appointment is because the Tories have continued to underfund the NHS and increase GPs' workloads, so loads of them are leaving." Farage wants power and the quickest way to get it is to say: "You can't see the doctor because there are too many immigrants," or: "You can't get a job because they're giving them all to the immigrants."

He's played a blinder in playing on people's fears, and in sweeping up all of those voters who feel abandoned and powerless and forgotten.

What to do next?

Sadly, I think it's likely we'll see a rise in nationalism and right-wing action following this vote "out". Not everybody who voted "Out" did it for racist reasons, but too many did, and now they're going to feel vindicated, and more open in their views.

It would be wonderful if this weren't the case, but sadly a few immigrant friends have already shared how unwelcome they feel following Friday's "out" vote, so rather than blithely go "It's going to be fine! It'll all be fine! Fine!" I think I'm going to listen to them, and try to be active and do what I can to help and resist, and I encourage you all to join me.

So, I'll end by sharing parts of this rather wonderful Facebook post by Ewa Jasiewicz:

1) Don't hate on leavers, some voted for reactionary and racist reasons some for good reasons. Reclaiming power and taking control are what most people want in and over their lives, but the obstacles to that or the route to that are highly contested and influenced by 30 years of neoliberal hegemony, underwritten by establishment media.

2) Don't let the Right control the narrative and define reclamation - overcoming dispossession means redefining what should be ours on inclusive deep democracy terms - housing, education, public and health services, transport, energy, control over our own labour

3) join a union - we need control over work and workplaces and right now we're weak and the raid on our rights is coming as is division between workers incl migrant, youth and workfare workers. We need to organise and collectivise at work,

4) get involved in local housing struggles - your local anti housing bill campaign, you local tenants and Residents Association, your community garden. We need to find each other where we live, build relationships there, and resist social cleansing and dispossession of our homes.

5) stand in solidarity with all migrants. There will be intense 'othering' and racialising going on now, on the street and at the top of the political system. Have the arguments with people, challenge racism and prioritize and support black and brown and migrant voices in all political organising as it should be anyway to dismantle white supremacy and structural oppressions

6) get Corbyn and Mcdonnell Labour in to government in 2020. Make it happen. Don't give up on anything grassroots but don't give anything away and up in the parliamentary political sphere to the right and far right.

Currently reading

Owls Do Cry Janet Frame

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Remembering Oluwale: now available!

"Remembering Oluwale is an inspiring reflection on David’s story. It includes extracts from recent books about David Oluwale by Caryl Phillips and Kester Aspden, as well as previously published poems by Ian Duhig, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sai Murray, Zodwa Nyoni, and a performance by The Baggage Handlers. This body of new and earlier writing serves as a clarion call for us to re-make our neighbourhoods as places of inclusion and hospitality."

The anthology I edited, Remembering Oluwale, is out now - available from Valley Press. It contains lots of great writing from Robert Miles, Zodwa Nyoni, Rommi Smith & The Baggage Handlers, Char March, and is available now from Valley Press.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Quick ways to infuriate other writers


I've been sitting on this blogpost for a while now, mainly because I didn't want to seem sourfaced. But then, after a good afternoon sucking on a grapefruit, I finally figured, what the hell, Bradders, just go for it.

Seven years of writing and organizing have brought me into contact with a lot of writers. I'm glad to report that most of them were amazing. I love writers, oddball, twitchy, socially awkward little things that they are. I'm one myself.

But, there is some writer-behaviour that I don't love. Ridiculous, demanding, diva-style behaviour. Writers with massive egos and chippy shoulders. Writers who believe the world owes them a favour, but that they don't have to do anything to earn it.

Over the past few years I've come into contact with some pretty extraordinary behaviour, and a lot of it has left me slack-jawed. It's not cool when writers hurt other writers or their community, so, I've done a little blog post on ways to be a good literary citizen.

If you all pay attention to it, and abide by my suggestions, you will be making the world a better place. Thank you.

1. Be nice! (especially to editors and contest organizers.)

Most of them aren't getting paid (or maybe some of the smarter ones are, I don't know.) Most editors / organizers Do Stuff because they're interested in a project, and because they want to bring great writing into the world. Most of us are doing it in whatever tiny bit of spare time we have. Please, for the love of God, be nice. Not snippy or mean or cross or whatever. Just nice. Say thankyou. Offer to buy us biscuits.

Otherwise we're just going to think, "Huh, what a jackass. I won't work with him/ her again in a hurry."

2. Be careful about asking for favours when you haven't got any goodwill in the bank.

Most writers are happy to do things for other writers. I know this because I do it myself all the time. Luckily, I've had lots of help from lots of cool people over the years, too, and I'm glad of it. I wouldn't have got to where I am today without it. (Thank you, writer-friends!)

One thing that won't endear you to others though, is if you're the kind of person who's always taking. By that, I mean, you ask for things from others without offering something of equal value in return. For example, please don't go to somebody you barely know, and say "Hey, I've written this 10,000 word fantasy/ horror story with flashing unicorns and sparkly vampires, it's TOTAL GENIUS. I'm entering it for a contest on Tuesday so will you read it this week and give me a critique before the deadline?"

Be reasonable in what you ask of others. Giving critique thoughtfully and helpfully can take ages. It's a real skill and it's a big ask of somebody you don't know.

It's not easy meeting good critique partners, I know that. A good way is by going to other places writers hang out. Go to literary social events, join a writers' circle. I met my first ever critique partner on MySpace, which gives you a clue as to how old I am. Seek out your peers - if you're a beginner writer, try to meet other beginner writers.

Be aware that if you're a beginner writer asking a more experienced writer for critique, any critique you might offer in return may not be an equal exchange. If that's the case, what can you offer instead? A book token? A good dinner? Money?

And whatever you do, make sure you help others. If you don't, you'll pretty quickly become known as the person who takes all the time, and nobody will want to help you at all. Word about life's takers generally spreads pretty quickly, and it won't be long before you've exhausted whatever goodwill you had to begin with.

3. Do stuff for others

Doing stuff for other writers is great! There's nothing other writers like better than a writer who helps writers. Some of the most well-liked and well-respected writers I know do things like: run little magazines, or run contests that get writers their first publications. One of the coolest and most well-liked writer-citizens I know, runs a writers' circle in a part of West Yorkshire that didn't have any writers' groups before.Yeah, I know, it's not easy running a writers group / a literary social / running a contest. That's why people will respect you so hard if you do it, and do it well.

You'll get extra bonus points and goodwill if you show kindness and helpfulness to other writers, when there's not much in it for you.

4. Try not to be a dick (pt. 1)

If somebody is doing you a favour, especially somebody who's very busy (you can assume this of most editors or literary organisers), let them do it in their own time. Don't repeatedly hassle them by email or over social media. It's rude and not cool. Just be gracious, wait patiently, and say thank you afterwards.

5. Don't be a deadweight.

If you get involved in working on a literary project of some type, a shared endeavour, whether it be a live lit night or a book or a festival or whatever, do your share. Don't be unreliable by saying you're going to do something, then not doing it. Do your share, do it well, be enthusiastic, turn up on time, and for God's sake smile. If nothing else, it will make your organizer-friends want to do more projects with you in the future. (see: 3, "Do stuff for others".)

6. Please don't be weird and super-creepy on social media (or: Try not to be a dick, pt. 2) 

It can be tempting to approach writers / organisers on social media to ask questions. Fair enough! But, if somebody doesn't get back to you straight away - or if they've answered your question, and you haven't got the answer you wanted - please, don't get all weird. Don't start bombing them with @-replies or a bunch of super-creepy DMs. They are more likely to block you than to pay you attention.

A good rule of thumb is, treat Twitter as you would real life. Don't say things to people on Twitter that you wouldn't say to a person's face. There's nothing you want less than to be marked out as a Person Not To Deal With before a writer / editor / organiser has even met you in real life. Please! Don't be that guy / girl. Just be nice. Not creepy or aggressive or weird. Make yourself seem like the kind of person other people want to be around.

7. Try to be a great writer!

This is last but definitely not least. Work hard on your writing. Read lots of other writers. Buy books from independent presses, because they're the ones that publish the best writers. Go to bookfairs. Practise reading your work out in front of others (7a. Please be courteous and stay within the time limit. It's not a time limit "for others, but not for you". The time limit applies to everybody. This point could also be, "Try not to be a dick, pt. 3".) Don't assume that you're already a genius, because you probably aren't. Keep working, keep writing new stuff, keep trying to learn new techniques and / or styles. Read things that excite you, read things that are popular, read things that make you go "huh, wtf?!" Never stop learning and working and striving and growing.

Currently reading

A Song for Issy Bradley Carys Bray