Thursday, January 25, 2007

3:AM Magazine Redesign

3amblendtop.jpg

It’s been a while in the making, but I’m very pleased to say that STML’s redesign of 3:AM Magazine is now live. Go check it out.

I was asked to redesign the site back in the autumn of last year and it’s taken far longer to do than I’d hoped, but not quite as long as I expected. I hope people are pleased with the result. There is a lot of work to be done to design the literary magazine of the future, and the latest iteration of the 3:AM website is not that, but it’s a start.

I’ll be writing more about this at some point over at booktwo.org. In the meantime, just enjoy the lit.

3amblendbottom.jpg

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas comes but once a year

3:AM Xmas Bash

For this year’s 3:AM Xmas Bash we’ll be joined by Iain Sinclair. He’ll be joined by Nicholas Royle and Stewart Home (making his fourth appearance at our Xmas event).

Come join us before the season gets too much.

Monday December 18, from 7pm
The Wheatsheaf
25 Rathbone Place
London W1T 1JB

Oxford Circus/Tottenham Court Road tubes
Free entry

*

(Yes, sorry, we know. These are busy times. We’ve been reading loads of good stuff. It’s just writing it up. It takes time.)


tags: Events + News | permalink | 1 Comment

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Real News from Beirut

Last week, I wrote to Mazen Kerbaj, an artist and musician living in Beirut, asking if I could reprint the drawings he has been posting to his blog since the start of the current Israel/Lebanon conflict. I wanted to produce a book to raise awareness of the realities of the war for ordinary people, with all profits going to charities that provide humanitarian aid: food, medicine, stuff that people actually need.

He replied that he does not want any charge to be made for his work at this time, or for the foreseeable period of the conflict, after which (and we all hope that’s not long), he will reassess his options. However, he did give permission for his drawings and music to be used for flyers, posters and any other material, providing no alterations are made and the address of his blog is given. So:

http://www.mazenkerblog.blogspot.com/

Please, go and visit his site, read his stories, and post links and his images if you can.

Mazen Kerbaj

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Friday, July 21, 2006

OMFG! Pynchon!!!

Sorry. But little enough of stunning excitement happens around here. Other than, you know, surgery, sexual perversion and concerted attempts to completely annihilate beautiful, millenia-old cultures. So the announcement of a new TP novel in December is reason to celebrate.

True to form, nothing is being given away. Will Pig Bodine ride again? Will there be chapter-long discursions on lightbulbs and mechanical ducks? Will there be ninjas? All signs point to yes. The man himself has released a few hints, which (and this might just be me, but…) could apply to pretty much every one of his books. But hey. We don’t really want novelty. We want ninjas. And weed. Lots of weed.

Spanning the period between the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it’s their lives that pursue them.

Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they’re doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck.

–Thomas Pynchon

*

And in other news, STML favourite Tom McCarthy finally makes Pseud’s Corner


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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Man in hiding Booker Prize

Without a sword, I govern the people with good words.
– from the Ruhnama of Turkmenbashi

What is it in the dictatorial make-up that makes you go: “Monday, work on bunker; Tuesday, invade neighbour; Wednesday, make ill-advised statements about nuclear ambition; Thursday, write novel”? Some recent examples have been Saddam Husseins’s last publication, Be Gone Demons!, sales of which suffered due to bomb damage, despite the author’s previous million-selling form; and Radovan Karadžić’s The Miraculous Chronicle of the Night, written while on the run from the UN’s War Crimes trials yet still nominated for Serbia’s highest literary prize, the Golden Sunflower. Neither, unfortunately, are available from Amazon.

Saddam’s last effort continued much in the vein of his previous books: a refiguring of the history of Iraq as a struggle between the noble Iraqi tribes and their arch-nemesis, the odious yet immortal Jew Ezekiel. Ezekiel delights in meddling with the affairs of Arab states and inciting war between them – although not without the connivance of the lazy and avaricious Arabic élite. When Ezekiel seizes power in Iraq following the disastrous Iran-Iraq war, it falls to Selim, “a pure, virtuous Arab… tall and handsome with a straight nose,” to take up arms in the name of the resistance. Selim routs Ezekiel with the words “Be gone, Demons!”, but his enemy soon returns with US backing in the form of the vogueishly-portrayed Roman Empire. Once again, the enemies of Iraq are put to the sword and Ezekiel and the Roman king retreat, to find that the Arabs have set the twin towers of the Roman capital on fire.

While Saddam clearly saw himself as the war-like yet righteous ruler of his tribe, Karadžić is more of a quiet man. Reports of The Miraculous Chronicle of the Night are mixed: one source claims it details a love affair set in a thinly-disguised Sarajevo, while another has it set in a prison in the run-up to the Bosnian war. The novel apparently reached the publisher through ‘secret channels’ (those incensed by the fact that an accused war criminal is free to write at all should check the Finding Karadžić blog), and all 1,000 copies sold out at the Belgrade book fair in 2004.

Karadžić has previous published a number of books of poetry, which have garnered much politically-motivated praise, and have latterly been cited as evidence by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal of his genocidal intentions. In his fascinating paper, Is Poetry a War Crime?, Jay Surdokowski draws an equivalence between Karadžić’s poetry and his ultra-national radio broadcasts, public addresses and manifestos to suggest that poetry is a legally valid means of adjudicating a man’s mind. Included among the evidence acquired by the ICT is a video of a unique poetry reading: Karadžić and Eduard Limonov, Russian nationalist and eXile columnist, exhanging stanzas atop Mount Trebevic while loosing shells from a field gun into the besieged city of Sarajevo below. It’s not exactly Bookslam.

Karadžić’s poetry is described as inhabiting “a psychic landscape of eerie and illogical violence” and embodying a “paramilitary surrealism.” In particular, a fatal lack of irony is discerned in the poet’s longings for the military life – notably in the poem Goodbye, Assassins: “The gentlefolks’ aortas will gush without me./The last chance to get stained with blood/I let go by.” – enough, at least, to make the ‘warrior-poet’s work admissable in the International Court.

And now it’s the turn of another famous fugitive to make his mark on the written word – although, this time, it is unlikely that the pursuing authorities will need to subpoena the muse in order to make a case. Martyrdom Press (Islamabad, Kabul, London) has issued The Islamic Millennium (ISBN: 0954006356), claiming to be one of the early literary efforts of Osama bin Laden. Unlike the violent struggles of his fellow-travellers in the Axis of Evil book club, bin Laden’s bucolic future fable is more akin to JG Ballard’s Hello America, in which a band of sailors visit an abandoned, desertified USA. A thousand years into the future, the good ship Zluthulb hoves to off the coast of an unknown island. In a wide bay, a gigantic statue stands many times higher than the ship’s masts, and behind it rises a forest of ruins, great iron structures and temples with pointed roofs. Only the wise narrator can explain to his companions that they have chanced upon the once-great city of Nhu-Yok, capital of the ancient Mehrikans, who left so little to posterity that their very existence has almost been forgotten:

“There was nothing to leave. The Mehrikans possessed neither literature, art, nor music of their own. Everything was borrowed. The very clothes they wore were copied with ludicrous precision from the models of other nations. They were a sharp, restless, quick-witted, greedy race, given body and soul to the gathering of riches. Their chiefest passion was to buy and sell. Even women, both of high and low degree, spent much of their time at bargains, crowding and jostling each other in vast marts of trade, for their attire was complicated, and demanded most of their time.”

The narrator admits that much, if not all, of the scientific and technological knowledge which made the Mehrikans great – “The very elements seems to have been their slaves” – was lost along with them, but maintains that their successors have been spared the indignities which were their price: restless activity, ceaseless noise and industry, social conformism, ill-fitting clothes, and educated and unblushing women.

After a number of semi-comedic adventures clearly intended as satire on the strange and hilarious customs of the West, wherein the crew of the Zluthulb are seduced into drinking alcohol by a ghostly party and have an unpleasant encounter with an animal resembling a skunk, the brave sailors defeat the last survivor of the Mehrikan race in close combat, and set sail for home, intending to present the latter’s skull to the museum at Teheran. What the narrative does suggest is a far more optimistic and inevitable approach to the future than either Saddam or Karadžić: the enemies of bin Laden’s people will not run rampant through his lands but will instead be consigned to history by their own arrogance and greed. Of course, such a work may be dismissed as juvenilia, but given others’ literary form while under duress, we may expect more despatches from the Tora-Bora press yet.


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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Prix d’Orange

The shortlist for this years Orange Prize has been announced. Booksellers are apparently hailing the list as “fantastic” (Rodney Troubridge, Waterstone’s), if, in the understatement of the year, “a little predictable” (Jasper Sutcliffe, Foyles).

It’s the usual suspects, with three out of the six already nominated for the Booker, but there’s not much between them except sales – Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black is currently outselling the others by some distance. Given the good example of the Booker, though, that’s no way to pick a winner. STML, of course, has a sure-fire way of determining the eventual champion… The Judging A Book By It’s Cover Dept. presents:

Orange Face-Off 2006

This one’s a cinch. First, take the last three winners of the Orange: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2005), Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004) and Property by Valerie Martin (2003). Take a household appliance from Kevin, a moody-faced lady from the Island, and some old-school typeface from Property, mix in some whitespace and a Daily Mail quote, and – bada bing, bada boom – you’ve got sales-favourite Beyond Black in like Flynn for the prize.

From the Judging A Book By It's Cover Dept.

You heard it here first kids.

[UPDATE 9/6/05: Fucked that one, didn’t we. Bah, pshaw, &c. See here for a better appraisal.]


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Tuesday, March 7, 2006

All the fun of the Fair

And so we finally drag ourselves back to civilisation from the wilds of East London and the waiting room to Hell that is the ExCeL centre (irrelevant capitalisation venue’s own), home to this year’s London Book Fair.

It was the first time the LBF has been held in the East, after many years at the increasingly cramped (but comfortingly distant from Canning Town) Olympia. The DLR had never heard such literate cursing. The final jewel in the joyless crown was the twinning of the august LBF with the world’s largest massage parlour, the Professional Beauty show in the adjacent hall. This led to the amusing sight of the well-heeled mavens and moguls of international publishing scrumming with teenage trainee hairdressers from Catford in the skinny latte queue.

Most notably, there was damn near cock-all in the way of internet access, leaving this reporter the stark choice between no blogging for three days, or entering lengthy reports in a stand-up booth with a wall-mounted keyboard and no command button. Hence the silence.

Such technophobia is a bit weird for somewhere as glassy and steely as ExHell, but it’s par for the course for the book industry. On Sunday (for shame) STML attended a seminar on “Online Book Coverage” hosted by John Vacaro, online manager of Publisher’s Weekly, with a panel consisting on Michael Cader of Publisher’s Lunch, Bethanne Patrick of AOL Books (who has her own blog), and Paul Carr of The Friday Project (ditto). The erudition of the guests was not matched by that of their audience – the panellists were forced to spend most of the session explaining to the room what a blog was, and that, shockingly, the internet could be used to promote books. Publishing Industry, meet the Twenty-First Century; Twenty-First Century… Oh dear. Publishing’s fallen asleep again.

Nevertheless, there was some interest to be had in other areas, and we’ll get onto them as soon as we’ve pissed three days worth of the caffeine out of our system and read a few of the really promising Lithuanian novels we picked up. And the new Taschen catalogue, of course.


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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

God of Fuck to play Dodgson

Manson in WonderlandSome months ago, STML attended a special screening of Asia Argento’s JT Leroy adaptation The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things at the ICA (fully reviewed here). In the Q&A after the movie, having mentioned her strong friendship with the Terminator, which apparently including much hugging and holding hands and was therefore clearly bollocks, Ms Argento was asked to explain why she had cast old whitey himself, Mr Marilyn Manson, in the role of the pot-bellied white trash who anally rapes, under questionably consensual circumstances, the young Jeremiah. “Because that’s who he really is” she replied.

Fans of Lewis Carroll will therefore be delighted to hear that Manson is currently at the Berlin Film Festival, drumming up finance for a self-directed and self-starring take on the much-loved British author, mathematician, logician, Anglican clergyman and photographer, known to his friends as Charles Dodgson. “Phantasmagoria – The Visions Of Lewis Carroll” is described as “arthouse horror” and the self-proclaimed Antichrist intends to release it in installments on his website before a full feature release. In interviews for the website, Manson has promised that the first installment will explore the origin of Tweedledum and Tweedledee from Through the Looking-Glass, played by two twin girls who “get to have real, genuine sex with each other.” Lovely. More promisingly, Manson makes mysterious reference to a visual style and a camera process unused before in cinema, and states that “It’s kind of a return to Hitchcock-style psychological horror about letting your mind do the damage and sometimes what you don’t see is scarier.”

Photograph of Alice Liddell by Charles DodgsonSuch excitements will undoubtedly serve to reawaken the old, and largely discredited, accusations of pedophilia which have surrounded Dodgson since his death. These are largely based on his well-documented friendship with and fondness for photographing young girls, most notably Alice Liddell (widely believed to be the model for the Alice in his books) – over 50% of his surviving archive consists of photographs of young girls, many of them nude. That Dodgson is considered by connoisseurs to be one of the Victorian era’s finest and most important photographers, that his activities were considered far less unusual by the society of the time and the girls’ parents were always present, and that he did in fact carry on a number of relationships with women of his own age but that these details were suppressed after his death by his well-meaning family, was all detailed in Karoline Leach’s 1999 demolition of the ‘Carroll Myth’, In The Shadow of The Dreamchild. Yet the myths persist, and we can but hope that association with the man once known as Brian Warner will only increase Dodgson’s readership rather than serving as a tawdry excuse to rehash old falsehoods.

It should be noted, however, that he was a massive stoner.


tags: Film + Music + News | permalink | 2 Comments

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Down and Out, my arse

From this week’s issue of the newspaper inside my head:

In what was described by an independent spokesweasel as “a really fucking great precedent for the industry”, the international publisher Penguin today announced that they were offering refunds to anyone who had purchased a copy of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, following allegations that the author may have embellished or even lied about the story. Readers who bought the book directly from the publisher will be able to return it for the full purchase price.

Orwell’s graphic account of the hardships of poverty in the inter-war slums of London and Paris has sold millions of copies since its original publication in 1933, but this week the Smoking Enfield 303 website revealed that, far from working “seventeen and a half hours” a day, “almost without a break” in the suspiciously-named ‘Hotel X’, Paris, Orwell was frequently seen gallivanting around London and the Home Counties in an open-topped Gallardi roadster in the company of a number of young women.

To back up its claims, the site highlights an incident in Chapter XVI of Down and Out… in which Orwell claims to be the witness to a murder that took place beneath his hotel window:

I could see the murderers, three of them, flitting away at the end of the street. Some of us went down and found that the man was quite dead, his skull cracked with a piece of lead piping. I remember the colour of his blood, curiously purple, like wine; it was still on the cobbles when I came home that evening, and they said the school-children had come from miles round to see it.

According to the Smoking Enfield, no record for this crime is held in any of the archives of the Paris Gendarmerie or the Police Militaire for the years 1928-30, the years Orwell was resident in Paris, and goes on to suggest that the author might have lifted the incident wholesale from an acquaintance’s lesser-known memoir, Paris Whore Catheter Scene by George Bufy.

Professor Steve Trout, noted academic, told your correspondent that “Close examination of the relevant texts suggests a resemblance between the two, although Paris Whore… was written some years earlier. Not only does it describe a murder in a Paris alleyway, including the tell-tale details of the lead piping and the wine-coloured blood, but it also gives some background details on the author’s colonial childhood in Southeast Asia and his time spent working as a syndicalist pig-breeder in the English shires.”

The late George Orwell, who succumbed to tuberculosis in 1950, defended his work, stating: “I stand by my book, and my life, and I won’t dignify this bullshit with any sort of further response.”

[Sources: 1, 2, and particularly, 3]

[Also, there’s some new Short, Short Fiction in the Magazine.]


tags: Humour + News | permalink | 1 Comment

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Delany@Dartmouth

Samuel DelanyOld hero Samuel Delany (STML posts passim) recently gave a talk to the students of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire USA. Read all about it here.

It sounds fascinating, and if the full text appears anywhere, do let us know. The most interesting person who ever spoke at my university was Gorgeous George – and he was neither.

(Via Bookslut.)


tags: News + Science Fiction | permalink | 2 Comments

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Gottedammerung at the Buchmesse

A suitable time has passed, a suitable distance has elapsed. I can finally talk about it. It started Wednesday 19th October when they threw open the doors of Frankfurt’s immense Messe Halle for the 2005 Frankfurt Book Fair, admitting a world of freakish, champing publishers, editors, agents, scouts, successful, less successful and would-be authors, printers, publicists, students, irredeemably lost tourists and the great, literate unwashed. It began properly when HarperCollins threw a huge, champagne-swilling party (their first since 9/11), and someone on the Transworld stand asked Stephen Hawking if he’d read The Da Vinci Code (and he said (pause) “No”), possibly an even greater indignity than writing a brief history of one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century, selling a million copies, and then being asked to make it even shorter in a tacit acknowledgement that noone actually read it the first time round. It was all downhill from there.

Stephen Hawking at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2005
Frankfurt is a trade fair held in an exhibition hall, so on the one hand you’ve got international book professionals running all over the place (and I do mean all over the place: you cover miles and miles of corridor in your epic journeys around the Fair: think 20 Earl’s Courts bolted together), desperately trying to make deals, sell rights, and steal ideas, while on the other you’ve got 200,000 German day-trippers out for anything they can get: free books (ha!), free catalogues (yes, by the handful), free carrier bags to carry the free catalogues… The buzz among the former group tends to revolve around big deals and new signings, and heavily-trumpeted ‘surprises’ such as this year’s launch of Canongate’s Myths series, a retelling of various myths from history by various high-end authors. Essentially, it’s another brick in the wall of Jamie Byng’s monumental ego (remember the Pocket Canons?) – but if STML owned half of Scotland AND a publishing house, there’d definitely be a few crazy box sets floating around out there (Complete works of Ed McBain anyone? With introductions by Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie?), so we’d better shut up. And yes, the Margaret Atwood and the forthcoming Chinua Achebe do sound pretty good.

The other feeding frenzy going was the circus around Londonstani, the debut novel by Gautam Malkani, a journalist at the Financial Times. A story about Hounslow’s Heathrow diaspora written in the unique patois of West London’s Asian rudeboys, it provoked a bidding war just won by Fourth Estate, so will probably appear some time next year. Initially hopeful this would turn out to be an answer to STML’s prayer for a truly London novel, conversations with a couple of editors who’ve read it seem to suggest it’s more frivolous than that, poking fun at the wannabe Asian gangstas rather than saying anything too meaningful about London today. Even more amusing was the agonising debate among French and Spanish publishers who snapped up translation rights about whether it will be possible to translate ‘aaiiight’ and ‘innit’ into the Romance languages. Verlan, perhaps? The first chapter appears in the new issue of Prospect Magazine, so go take a peek.

Overview of the Frankfurt Book Fair 2005
But of course, the real deal with Frankfurt is the aforementioned parties, a chance to blow the hospitality account at the Frankfurter Hof and the Casablanca. To be fair, there’s not a lot else to do at Frankfurt, and after a few days it’s nothing but caffeine, nicotine (Smoking Allowed Throughout: is there a more glorious phrase?), vodka fumes and papercuts. By the weekend the last few publishers out are taking whatever they can get: Slovenian rights to The Da Vinci Spud: an Irish-American Parody? Gotcha. Massive advances for an unpublished novel by a Northamptonshire badger farmer, provisionally titled Brock And Roll? Done. Hours to go and those massive expenses from Kaiserstrasse’s ‘Neu Man Gay Shop World Of Sex’ have to be justified somehow.

Crowd at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2005
The over-riding impression of Frankfurt was one of frenzy. One abiding memory: A German teenager having an all-out, fists in the air, bawling panic attack on the upper level of Hall 4, beneath a huge, exposed breast advertising Goliath fetish photography, while the crowd swarmed thickly around her, oblivious. Another: I never saw anyone, anywhere, reading a book.

Oh well, four months ‘til London.

[UPDATE 2/5/06: For the last word on Londonstani, see here.]


tags: News + Publishing + Travel | permalink | 2 Comments

Monday, October 17, 2005

60 Years of Peace (but little Quiet)

Housmans Bookshop, Caledonian Road An old friend of STML, Housmans Booksellers on the Caledonian Road (just up the way from the scary pub, opposite the “hemp” bakery) is celebrating its diamond anniversary this month. The ground floor houses a vast array of worthy (and less so) titles, while the basement is a veritable mine of books, with a shaft sunk a good thirty feet under King’s Cross to tap the area’s rich vein of pulp.

I’ll let them tell you all about it:

“On 26th October 1945, Housmans first opened its doors at a shop on Shaftesbury Avenue. It has served the British peace movement ever since. Sixty years on, we are still here while other radical bookshops have come and gone, with 2005 alone seeing the closure of Greenleaf in Bristol and the Index Bookcentre in Brixton.

“Number 5 Caledonian Road has been home not only to Housmans Bookshop since 1959, but also to the editorial offices of Peace News, along with many other campaigning groups: Gay Switchboard, the Campaign Against Arms Trade, and the McLibel campaign, among many others, all started life in the building.

“Housmans and number 5 continues to be the focal point for radical and local community groups to this day. To celebrate our survival we shall be holding a week of events between 21st and 28th October to reflect the diversity of our supporters over the years: from The Battle of the Beanfield, through CND and War Resisters’ International, to the Caribbean diaspora. This week will culminate in an anniversary celebration at the shop on the evening of the 28th at which we will launch the 2006 Housmans Peace Diary, now in its 53rd year.”

You can find out about all the events here.


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Monday, September 19, 2005

Those who begin by burning books…

boner
The picture on the left comes from It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley, a guide to ‘Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health’ for kids, one of the books on the list of WPAAG, a US organisation attempting to remove scores of books from school libraries. This image is pretty standard fare for the collection (more can be seen here), and describing them as “shocking porn” (which WPAAG does) seems a little strong. Regular Litblog followers may have encountered the various battles currently being fought in the US concerning the suitability or otherwise of childrens books (over at Bookslut, Pornlit and Maud). This ongoing debate concerns both sex ed. books for kids, such as the above example, and novels, particularly those aimed at the tricky teenage market. As quickly becomes clear on reading the petition of one protestor seeking to have such books removed from school libraries (and presumably they’d prefer to have the whole lot shredded, pulped and burned too), their wrath is particularly focussed on books which promote “the homosexual agenda”.

jenny_eric The reason I find this all slightly terrifying is because in the UK, the scenario of a hysterical response to a few books leading to real, decade-long oppression is not a hazy liberal fear, it’s recent history. Jenny lives with Eric and Martin was a Danish children’s book about a young (five year old) girl living with her two dads. In 1983, our old friends the Daily Mail discovered a copy in a school library in South London. Despite the relatively tame content of the book (certainly less explicit than most of the books objected to by the protestors mentioned above), the resultant moral panic led directly to the insertion of Clause 28 into the 1987 Local Government Act.

Clause 28, which I shall resist prefacing with “the notorious”, stated that:

A local authority shall not—
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

(Full text here).

While the actual impact of this act has been much debated over the years, what cannot be doubted is that it made the lives of many, many gay men, women and children much, much harder in a period during which they were already struggling for tolerance and social recognition, and not least for adequate medical attention on the growing AIDS crisis. The most pernicious effect, one that is seen time and time again in the anti-gay lobbies, was to link homosexuality and paedophilia through the image of aggressive, predatory homosexual recruitment in schools (if anyone wonders why so many gay people in the UK are so vehemently anti-Tory, this legislation is the prime mover, and it was the current leader of the party, Michael Howard, who as Local Government Minister under Margaret Thatcher, supported and repeatedly defended the bill). Essentially, it scared teachers away from any discussion of homosexuality, leaving their young charges to fight it out among themselves. No prizes for guessing who suffers under that regime.

Whatever your opinion of Tony Blair and the New Labour experiment, one of their constant promises throughout their campaign for election was the repeal of Clause 28. Despite thorough, repeated and often heated resistance from the House of Lords, the religious establishment and various campaign groups, the Clause was repealed in 2003 – after sixteen years of state-sponsored homophobia in schools, and by extension, society.

My point is this: for all Britain’s sneering at the “Wild West” USA, it’s “dumb” president and it’s nutty Christian right, it happened here, and in pretty much exactly the same way: a small group of (largely but not exclusively Christian) people took offence at a number of books (books, people, not movies, not magazines, not video games, books) and persuaded the government of the time to implement legislation that made “the promotion” of homosexuality, which was taken to mean any supportive statement by educators, illegal. The arguments are the same: public money shouldn’t be spent on trying to ‘make kids gay’, a statement both implicitly homophobic and inherently contradictory. Nevertheless, Clause 28 happened, and set the cause of gay equality, which is, I believe, a benchmark for the fairness and tolerance of a society as a whole, back by a decade or more. Look out America.

(Footnote: Wikipedia has a good, well-linked page on the history of Clause 28. Jenny…, meanwhile, never went away: The Guardian interviewed the author, Susanne Bosche, a few years ago, and the book is clearly a collectors item, available from Amazon for £38).


tags: Debate + News | permalink | 12 Comments

Friday, September 16, 2005

So It Goes

Vonnegut
One of STML’s all-time favourite glacier-fighters, the great Kurt Vonnegut, author of such seminal works as Timequake, Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five, has a new book out. Having nearly died in a house fire in 2000, and suffered the loss of his entire personal archive, Von’s humour certainly hasn’t got any less black. Reviews have been mixed, but you can get a fairly good idea of the tone of the book – a collection of pieces written for the alternative journal In These Times – from the hand-lettered inserts between chapters, sampled below and available online here.

STML, for one, hopes that the old master, who will be 83 this November, gets some more fiction out before he himself becomes mustard gas and roses…

Vonnegut_confetti06

(Via Rake).


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Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Line of Buffoons, Homophobes & Fools

Line of Beauty

Recently, the peerless Book Coolie mentioned Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, winner of last year’s Booker, and this excellent review by Andrew Anthony.

I am a great fan of Hollinghurst, from the supreme indulgence, freedom and tragedy of The Swimming Pool Library to the frustration and self-absorption of The Folding Star, and The Line… is definitely his greatest achievement so far, blending high literary prose (including, admittedly, endless descriptions of furniture) with the most fully realised description of gay life I’ve ever read.

For example, everyone’s first kiss stays with them forever, but for gay people this moment has an extra thrill to it. Hollinghurst’s description of the jeering from a passing car as the protagonist recieves his first public kiss, sounding to his ears more like a cheer of approval, describes this moment perfectly (I apologise for not having the exact quote to hand). Certain scenes, such as those at Hampstead’s Men’s Bathing Ponds, locate in fiction real archetypes from gay men’s lives.

The book has it’s faults, of course: Nick is not the most likeable protagonist, nor are many of the characters (a common trait in Hollinghurst) and the language, as already mentioned, is terribly overblown and self-conciously Jamesian – but that is a matter of individual taste. These are minor quibbles when set against the grand sweep of the novel.

Now the BBC has comissioned an adaptation of The Line… for television, and chosen Andrew Davies for the job, lauded adaptor of Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair and the heaving-boson’d Moll Flanders. And then he comes out with a spew of crap.

According to The Times, Davies “balked at the idea of portraying gay sex for his latest screenplay… put off by a combination of personal distaste and a belief that, despite increasingly liberal attitudes to sex, the public still has a limited appetite for watching men in bed together”.

Personal distaste? Is it possible he was not the man for the job?

Davies goes on to add: “The gay sex makes me rather queasy.” Well, fuck you too, Mr Davies.

My mum read The Line of Beauty before I did – in fact it was her copy I borrowed – and at the end she said, “I really enjoyed it, but I don’t think I needed to know that a black man’s anal hair curls inwards.” I understood her point, but I argued it, and in the end I think she agreed with me. In a true representation of gay men’s lives, the inclusion of sex is essential. Because so many straight people deliberately turn away from representations of homosexual sex, while failing to relate this to the utter pervasion of the culture by representations of heterosexual sex, and it’s consequential appropriation of ‘normality’, it is essential that gay writers address this imbalance.

One would have thought this argument had been made clearly some years ago – Queer As Folk, among other programs, contained graphic scenes of homosexual sex (although, it must be pointed out, no more graphic than many, many heterosexual scenes in the same time slot) and the world did not come tumbling down. The argument then, and now, remains the same: sex is a part of these characters’ lives. Omit, censor or efface it and you restrict the essential truth of their existence.

Davies is, however, the man who scripted Sarah Waters’ lesbotastic Tipping the Velvet, not only keeping in the sex, but admitting to a screening panel it “excited” him to write it. Compare with “queasy”. Without getting into a discussion of the age-old conflicting straight attitude to lesbian vs male gay sex, this comment above all shows the inherent bigotry in Davies’ refusal to address gay sex in his adaptation of The Line…. Shame on you, Mr. Davies, and high praise to the BBC for stepping in to reinstate scenes. The latter is a gratifying move, as it cannot be for commercial reasons: the film will undoubtedly turn many off, but it will, I hope, turn a number on: not to gay sex themselves, but to the acceptability of gay lives.

Much homophobia stems directly from a horror of gay sex, of anal sex, of men fucking and sucking one another. ‘Cocksucker’, ‘sodomite’, ‘bugger’, ‘shirtlifter’, ‘batty boy’ and many others are sexual insults reserved for the denigration of homosexuals and those compared to them. But oral sex and penetration are staples of straight sex too, and until gay mens’ sex lives are normalised, our place in society is not fully and equally established.

STML will be away for a week or so, but feel free to discuss this in the comments section, or via email.


tags: Debate + News + Reviews | permalink | 7 Comments

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