Category Archives: Minitrue

Bulletins from the Ministry of Truth

Lily Poole by Jack O’Donnell

How much is too much to spend on a book? As with so much in life, George Orwell has already considered and quantified the answer for you. That said, I imagine the ideal price of a book is different for all of us and, while I love picking up the out-of-copyright classics and browsing through the 99p list on Amazon, for me – for a new-ish book I have a real hankering to read – the sweet spot is around a fiver. Perhaps it is a relic of all those book tokens I used to get for birthdays and Christmases.

So how much would you spend for a book that hasn’t been written or printed yet? Unbound is a concept akin to Kickstarter, for both established and new authors who are seeking funding for new works of fiction or non-fiction. They have already created a bit of a splash with their backing of Paul Kingsnorth’s Man Booker Prize-longlisted The Wake. For the readers, it is about becoming more than a consumer, being a talent-spotter perhaps, or paying it forward. You may even gain the opportunity to name a character…

And for the writers? As Miranda Ward writes in her Unbound-published and utterly brilliant book F**k The Radio, We’ve Got Apple Juice:

This whole idea is fundamentally about sustaining yourself, as a creative type, so that you can create more. Ultimately, it’s always about the creative output, and the act of creating, not about the money, the money is simply what allows that process of creation to occur unfettered.

Of course, to be successful at this you need to – let’s be real, here – milk your contacts list for all its worth. You need benefactors, patrons and preferably rich ones, as every Renaissance artist knew. Or you need your idea to resonate with many, many people, so that they see fit to bung you a tenner. In these straitened times, that’s no mean feat. But if anyone is worthy of a portion of your hard-earned, it’s ABCtales writer Jack O’Donnell.

Jack

His novel-to-be Lily Poole, ‘a ghost story without a ghost’, is currently at 47% with an array of different pledge rewards available. Here is the pitch:

Lily Poole breaks the mould of horror fiction to ask serious and urgent questions about society and psychology, and does it while telling a gripping story about murder and deception, about Scotland and mental health, and about love and family.

There’s also an excerpt from the book available on the pledging page and I am sure it will whet your appetite for more. Which will be forthcoming, if enough of us stick some cash in the hat. Articles on the future of books and publishing are often full of doom and gloom, and who knows where things will eventually end. I wouldn’t want to venture any predictions. Other than to say that Unbound offers an alternative, a chance to discover books from outside mainstream publishing – such as their recent ‘Women in Print’ initiative – and to follow them from idea to realisation. How could any book lover resist?

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The Sound of the City

My desk space in the city is located just off Dale Street. I love walking to work across town in the morning, past the sprinkling of market traders that are left, setting up for the day ahead. I see steaming cups of tea being administered to people who look like they desperately need them. I try to interact with this dying breed of trader. Use them or lose them! I try to buy vegetables from the stalls as often as I can. I could not get a pumpkin at Halloween last year for love nor money. One of the regular stalls I go to complained about how they simply cannot compete with the supermarkets,

Even I had to buy mine from the Asda, lad!

I love this humour that is used as an attitude in this city. The unshakeable wit of Scousers that can be heard everywhere. Recently on a bus a teenage girl was arguing/flirting with one of her male friends, who had taken a picture of her on his phone,

Do you know it’s illegal to keep a picture on ye phone if the other person doesn’t want you to?

She barked. To which he quickly retorted,

Do you know it’s illegal to have them eyebrows?

The acidic comeback is natural to the average Scouser. It’s all part of the sound of the city. It is all about survival. I have noticed in the past few years, a couple of the flower sellers have vanished on my route, withering away into nothing like the flowers they sold. There is still the occasional Eccoooooooooooo of an Echo seller and thankfully the sounds of the buskers if you can manage to ferry your way past the Predator, the Alien, a balloon squeezing Mario (plumbing obviously has been affected by the recession) and the odd Olaf. (Please note it is not recommended to tell a three-year old if the said man in a snowman costume is not present by stating, ‘he must have melted’, as my nephew was traumatised by this for several hours after.)

But one of the most gratifying sounds is the one I often hear, the music from rehearsal rooms on Dale Street. A banging drum set beat as I walk to work early in the morning and guitar solos flooding into the night air as I finish in the evening. This always raises a smile on my face, as you can hear the soul that is going into the practice. It is so much more refreshing a sound than ‘Cashier number three please.’ It is part of the DNA of this city, music, yes respecting the past but also moving progressively forward, to the future bands.

princes buildings

I was appalled at the news that this magnet for musical talent, the Princes Studios could be threatened with closure. We need to close a vital creative hub – that makes great sense! We need new apartments in the city like the world needs Ebola!

As those behind a recent petition to the Council asking to save the building have written:

Princes Studios currently houses over 250 musicians and 50+ bands who make up a large percentage of Liverpool’s illustrious music scene.

If the building closes it will have a huge negative impact on the Liverpool music scene as there is a chronic shortage of flexible and permanent rehearsal space in the city.

I was so proud to show off this City over the holidays to friends who were genuinely shocked by the culture, humour, history and vibe that we have. I do wish I was equally as proud of its elected leaders. The local Council – the alleged custodians of the city – do not seem to realise they do not own this city, the people do!

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Everybody’s looking for something

At a recent re-union with my two close friends, I went through my archive to find photographs from our collective past, remember photographs? Actual hard copies, actual physical images? I had a suitcase-full from the University days in Aberystwyth: theatre projects, pantomime and holidays, all shared histories. At the time we looked so fresh, yet were stacked with insecurities. It was striking how visually we had changed, faces, bodies, the core of the physical.

One of the funniest – yet lamest at the same time – cracker jokes I had this year was about Santa having to discipline his staff, as productivity on toy production was down in his factories. This was due to the Elves taking Elfies. Indeed, if you think about it, 2014 was the year of the selfie.

Nowadays, everybody airbrushes, changes, edits, deletes! We all do it, we all modify our digital life experiences promoting the fun times and the happy memories. We are all self-aware to a degree, but only projecting what we want the world to see. We are all Public Relations agents. Some admittedly are better than others.

It made me extremely happy to see a musician I have admired, Ms. Annie Lennox in a portrait that did not iron out her life lines or laughter marks. An image that did not tone and gloss her face to resemble an alabaster porcelain doll. To be raw, to be unaltered, to be authentic.

annie lennox

It reminded me of an anecdote I heard about Audrey Hepburn, who was appearing on the front of Vogue. One assistant, when showing her copy from the shoot, told her not to worry about the wrinkles as they would airbrush them out of the picture. To which this dignified actress said,

Don’t you dare! Leave them all in. I have earned every single one of them.

The recent picture of the Eurythmic legend was accompanied by a telling quote about our society on the Purple Clover Facebook page,

There’s this youth culture that is really, really powerful and really, really strong, but what it does is it really discards other people once they reach a certain age.

I actually think that people are so powerful and interesting – women especially – when they reach my age. We’ve got so much to say, but popular culture is so reductive that we just talk about whether we’ve got wrinkles, or whether we’ve put weight on, or lost weight, or whether we’ve changed our hair style. I just find that so shallow.

Perhaps we all should be made to read Oscar Wilde’s, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Perhaps we all could do with a reminder of what happens when you try and remain youthful for eternity. Perhaps it’s time to delete that picture in the attic or re-examine the profile image of our digital selves?

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If only freedom of speech meant knowing when to be quiet

Twenty-four hours after the big day, by now hopefully the major disappointment should be fading. I refer, of course, to the possible inability – if in certain parts of the US – to sit in a cinema and watch North Korean assasination romp (words you never thought could belong together) The Interview.

Personally, having caught a bit too much of an earlier Seth Rogan-James Franco offering, This is The End, a thousand years could pass without me needing to witness this comedy pairing again, but realise I probably don’t speak for all. To each their own. But I do wonder about all those manning the freedom of speech barricades this holiday season and their seeming unfamiliarity with this particular xkcd cartoon:

free_speech

It is surely an ultimate act of assholery to depict the assassination of another country’s leader, however much of a despot they may be, and play it for laughs. Especially when you come from a nation with a long history of assassinating leaders who cause you displeasure. That third panel seems to me to have particular resonance in this situation: too often Hollywood, if not America itself, is immune from the consequences of its actions. Payback – like taxes – is for the little people, not the overgrown children at the top of the Tinseltown food chain that few dare say no to. Even when the ‘boss’ does mention that perhaps a scene is going a little too far and needs to be reshot, the cry goes out that this is Art and artistic expression cannot be constrained.

North Korea seems to have been the butt of  jokes for so long now that perhaps the creative team behind this movie didn’t expect to provoke so much ire. From Team America: World Police to Kim Jong-Un Looking at Things, the narrative has been established that this is more of a tin pot dictatorship than a Pol Pot one. Yet the numbers dying there in recent years – although likely to be never finally confirmed – suggest that there’s not much to laugh at north of the Demilitarized Zone. Even Cold War vintage Bond never went as far as to off a real Soviet leader on-screen, instead using rogue generals or shadowy organisations such as SMERSH to add a drop of reality to a gallon of fiction. Satire has its place, but Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Spitting Image’s depiction of the Thatcher era suggest that it is an ineffectual weapon at bringing about regime change.

Speaking of ineffectual weapons, perhaps one’s perception of North Korea shifts when they are near neighbours. I remember taking a train to work and refreshing Twitter to find out what was happening with a missile that had been launched in my general direction. Luckily – or perhaps not for the scientists that had designed it – it splashed down somewhere in the sea off Japan. And had it not, it no doubt would have been intercepted. Still, it is hard not to feel that there is not giving in to threats and then there is not grabbing the tiger by the tail in the first place.

The Vulture story referenced above quotes Amy Pascal of Sony Entertainment Pictures as saying she is not sure,

how to deal with Japanese politics as it relates to Korea so all I can do is make sure that Sony won’t be put in a bad situation.

Japanese relations with both sides of the Korean divide are usually quite fraught, to put it mildly. At any time, it should not be unexpected that a Japanese parent company might ask its foreign subsidiaries to avoid putting the North’s back up. But at a time when delicate negotiations between the two countries are pushing along like the proverbial glacier, when you realise what is at stake, perhaps artistic expression should sit down, preferably in a back seat, and keep its mouth firmly zipped.

If this latest round of talks don’t result in anything, then I don’t think we’ll ever see them again. We’re both in our late 80s, so we have to accept that we might not be around for much longer. She is constantly in my thoughts. When I think of how I have been unable to do anything to help her all these years, I quietly say sorry to her.

Japan is currently seeking information about a number of its citizens – possibly more than 800 people – who were abducted and taken to North Korea in the 70s and 80s. The clock is ticking as more than one family member has died not knowing what happened to their relative. Information provided in the past has since been shown to be false and remains that were said to be those of certain abductees turned out not to belong to the stated person.

And while the arguments may run that threats should never be responded to, that Art cannot be trammelled by mere politics, that ends up giving cold comfort. The name of Sony is so synonymous with Japan that stating that Sony Entertainment Pictures is an independent American company holds little sway. Via torrents and the campaign for the right of Hollywood to do as it pleases, there will be more chance of seeing The Interview this Christmas than there will be of the Arimotos seeing their daughter Keiko.

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Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

Orwell’s pioneering fable – Animal Farm – has been translated into many different formats, including cartoon, radio and theatre. It is a testament of the greatness of the tale that it can be so adaptable. Now a stage version of Orwell’s seminal work by Laurence Wilson comes to Liverpool.

The local writer’s catalogue of work for theatre, television, film and radio includes: Urban Legend, Lost Monsters, Cardboard Guitar Man, Blackberry Trout Face, Tiny Volcanoes, Scouseland and Surf’s Up. His material has been produced by The Liverpool Everyman, Paines Plough, 20 Stories High, Menagerie Theatre, and Dukes Theatre Lancs. Blackberry Trout Face won Best New Play for Young People, the Brian Way Award in 2010. ten minutes hate caught up with the writer to talk about translating Animal Farm from the page to the stage.

10mh: Why did you choose to adapt Animal Farm and what are your thoughts on the book?

The chance to adapt Animal Farm came to me from Tell Tale Theatre Company. They had received funding from the BBC to commission a writer to write them a new play. A first for them and they collectively decided that they wanted to tackle Animal Farm. They contacted me and other writers and asked us to pitch our take on an adaptation.

I first read the book when I was about nine or ten and didn’t realise it was about the Russian Revolution and Communism. I was continually surprised and dismayed at how dark the story kept going. I kept waiting for Snowball to come back and save the day but of course that doesn’t happen and it was a great lesson for me about the reality of life and power, hopes and dreams.

I read the book many more times over the years. I’d wanted to adapt a book for some time and Animal Farm seemed the perfect one for me and so I made sure my pitch was really strong and it worked. I felt that the dark humour that I write was suited to the job and wanted to be as faithful as possible, whilst at the same time injecting a bit of me into it.

The book still stands up today, not just as analogy of the Russian Revolution but as a warning on how power corrupts, about the human condition to mess it all up and how easily we are conned and manipulated as people. The media do a good job of it these days.

10mh: What was your favourite part of the tale to adapt?

The arguments between Snowball and Napoleon were great fun to write but I think the scene where the porkers are executed and then followed by other animals was great. I tried it a few different ways and I think we have something truly gruesome and shocking now.

I also enjoyed writing scenes that are not main features in the book, such as Farmer Jones prepping the other farmers before the Battle of the Cowshed and the pigs getting drunk and how that makes them behave. It was great to bring in scenes to the company that had a flavour of their improvisations.

10mh: Do you think Orwell’s piece speaks to a contemporary audience and if so why?

Like I say, the theme is timeless. It was originally written about the Russian Revolution but it stands up today. Squealer’s character draws comparisons to the media and how the media feeds us a diet of bullshit and twists the truth to suit the establishment. Just like Boxer and the other animals, the working class are still being walked over by the rich and powerful.

The austerity measures being meted out by the coalition are not unlike the rationing, increased hours and loss of leisure and community spirit the pigs inflict upon the working animals on the farm. Benjamin represents so many of us who are intelligent enough to know things are wrong, that we are being used and cheated and yet choose to do little to nothing about it.

10mh: If you had to be a farmyard animal, what would you be?

I’d be a sheep dog, they always look happy and they are not food but they do have their pups taken from them and they may end up tied to a stone and drowned when they are too old to be useful.

10mh: What challenges did you find trying to translate the page into a stage adaptation?

I think other adaptations have gone down the narration route but the company and I didn’t want to have any narration at all, which meant creating lots of dialogue and realising scenes that aren’t in the book or only briefly painted. I read and reread the book over and over and wrote down every significant moment and all the lovely details about mangle-wurzels and the pigs learning to read from a children’s book.

I would have the book open on the area I was adapting and keep going back to it as I went, which worked well for me but meant that I had a first draft that was way overlong at more than 30,000 words. I cut it down by more than half over the next two drafts. Tell Tale also did lots of workshops which  I attended, in which the actors improvised under Emma’s direction, and that gave me lots of ideas about how to approach scenes.

10mh: Describe your writing studio/area you work in and do you have any particular rituals when working?

I write in my little studio space, surrounded by my beloved Doctor Who figures (Classic Period) and I try to get started early in the morning, as that’s when my brain works best. I try to get on a roll and just keep on rolling with it, as long as I can, allowing myself to be free, and adventurous, and dangerous.

My guitar is handy, so that when I get stuck or need a rest I pick it up and play for a few minutes before returning to the script. And I drink ridiculous amounts of coffee. Sometimes I play music in the background to help create a mood. I try to inhabit the characters, to find their voices and I act them out a bit.

10mh: A favourite quote/philosophy/phrase?

‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.’

Those words broke my heart as a child, one who though he was reading a fairy tale with a happy ending. Our whole civilization is based on that philosophy.

Tell Tale Theatre Company present Animal Farm:

Animal Farm FlyerAt Arts Club, Seel Street, Liverpool Tuesday 28th-31st October at 7:30pm. Tickets are available online here.

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They come over here, they buy our handbags

I think it is fair to say that the Daily Mail has an uneasy relationship with foreigners. Not very keen on them remaining in their own countries doing strange things, they are even less fond of the ones that decide to make Britain their home. Warnings about legions of poor migrants from various parts of the world planning to abuse Britain’s hospitality – ‘swamping’ our ‘over-generous’ benefits system and pride-of-the-world NHS in particular – are a staple of the Mail’s journalism.

However, it seems from an article that I read this week that they feel ambivalent even towards those foreigners who arrive in Britain for a very short time, bearing tons of cash that they plan to leave behind in exchange for luxury items. Especially, it seems, when those shoppers are of a particular ethnicity:

image

Caption reads: Oriental customers queue outside Selfridges

The accompanying article features brief interviews with (I imagine) fairly atypical consumers – the diplomat’s wife with £10,000 to spend and a young Thai student with a generous allowance from home – in order to ramp up the outrage. What sensible person could contemplate spending thousands on handbags? Shouldn’t students be starving in attics somewhere rather than shopping on Bond Street? run the subtexts. Yet it is in the caption to the photograph that the framing of the story really becomes clear, with the use of the term ‘Oriental’ to describe a group of people waiting to get into Selfridges department store.

The debate over the use of that word to describe people is neatly summed up in this NYU Livewire article, and while you could expect the Daily Mail to be resolute in ignoring what it will no doubt consider ‘political correctness gone mad’, even a brief glance at the Oxford English Dictionary would have told their reporter that:

it tends to be associated with a rather offensive stereotype of the people and their customs as inscrutable and exotic.

When really, of course, what is on display here is nothing of the sort. Stronger currencies in Asia mean that London is a very attractive shopping destination for a large proportion of those consumers usually so dear to the Mail’s heart: the suburban middle-classes. The people in the Mail’s photograph are behaving no differently than the denizens of Surrey and Hampshire did, when hopping over to New York for a weekend on Fifth Avenue, back in the days a decade or so ago when the pound had similar strength.

Rather than pointing out supposed differences, what the Mail’s story shows is that shopping is an international hobby and the  love of a bargain is universal. A more perceptive article would perhaps have dwelled on the irony of Chinese consumers flying miles to spend thousands on supposedly ‘British’ items their compatriots were paid pennies to stitch together or the emptiness of this acquisitive culture. Even the diplomat’s wife, with her five-figure sum to spend, was enjoying saving hundreds in the sales. Thriftiness (of a sort), a love of Britain’s quaint customs (queuing) and tills ringing across London. I would have thought the right-wingers at the Mail would find something in that to smile about, instead of such mean-spirited carping about this particular group of visitors.

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Justice, though the heavens fall

I was lucky, or unlucky depending on your perspective, to begin my legal training when it was considered Quite The Thing for everyone involved to know a little Latin. Quoting the correct words at the judge at the correct time would demonstrate that you knew your stuff and were one of the gang. Latin maxims and terms were scattered through the language of law degrees like Roman coins in the English countryside.

Thankfully saner counsel prevailed and, by the time I started venturing into courtrooms, Latin had been put to one side in favour of a legal process where the non-lawyers might stand a chance of understanding what the heck was going on. Most of the maxims I had learned gradually slipped out of my head through lack of use. But there is one phrase that stuck, although I doubt I could give you the correct pronunciation. It is this:

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

and it means, ‘let justice be done, though the heavens fall’, neatly summing up that right must prevail and damn the consequences. In a battle between procedural correctness and what is morally right, the latter should always win. Throughout history, commonly during the anti-slavery and civil rights movements in the UK and US, judges have invoked these words to give legitimacy to their actions when doing something the rulebook forbids, but which can be universally accepted as right.

These words apply perfectly to the Hillsborough inquests and the families’ long fight for justice.

The inquests relating to the deaths of the Hillsborough victims (at the time numbering 95 people, as 22-year-old Anthony Bland was still on life-support) were initially delayed while the Taylor Inquiry was ongoing and there was a possibility of criminal proceedings. Once LJ Taylor’s Interim Report was published, the inquests resumed. However, because the Director of Public Prosecutions was still determining whether criminal charges would be brought, certain of the usual inquest procedures were changed.

The Coroner decided to hold a general inquest into the circumstances leading to the disaster, followed by ‘mini-inquests’ dealing with the specific facts relating to particular victims, with a small group being considered in each session. Perhaps most unusually for an incident of this nature, the evidence would not be challenged under cross-examination, instead being presented as fact to the families. The opportunity to ask further questions was denied as the evidence could not be examined further.

An additional controversy was the Coroner’s decision not to hear evidence from after 3:15pm on the day of the disaster, as he reasoned that by that time ‘the real damage was done’ and death was inevitable. Crushing was given as the sole cause of death for all 95 victims. The 3:15pm cut-off time – chosen because the first ambulance arrived in the stadium then – meant that medical personnel did not give evidence at the inquests. A verdict of ‘accidental death’ was returned by the jury.

The families have, understandably, always found that impossible to accept, yet an application for Judicial Review failed and the Stuart-Smith Scrutiny of evidence did not recommend that the inquests be reopened. Anne Williams in particular, the mother of 15-year-old Kevin, faced with inconsistencies in the witness statements of those who last saw her son alive and the expert pathology evidence, has repeatedly sought via applications to the Attorney General to have his inquest reheard and death certificate amended. All applications were denied, citing a lack of new evidence.

Liverpool fans knew that the release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report meant that the journey was only part of the way over. The truth is now finally revealed, but the unravelling and overturning of the many contentious decisions made after the disaster has hardly begun. And a stunning blow was to follow, as Anne Williams – having been so much a part of the fight to expose the Hillsborough cover up – announced she has terminal bowel cancer.

In a recent article for Well Red magazine, I wrote that:

for many of us, the steps that follow [the publication of the Report] will take place in locations where we have little influence, as inquiries and inquests are reopened, criminal investigations and legal processes resume.

Yet perhaps that isn’t completely the case. Anne Williams’ supporters are petitioning the Attorney General to bring forward the date of the reopened inquest into her son’s death because of her illness. At the time of writing, it has over 35,000 signatures – enough for a response from the Attorney General’s Office. So far, that response has not been favourable.

Please, if you are eligible to do so, do not let that response dissuade you from signing the petition. 100,000 signatures are needed to force a debate in the House of Commons, which could be vital in speeding up the process so that Anne may live to see its outcome. Fair and balanced Hillsborough inquests are already 23 years overdue and further delays are inexcusable. While the procedures may say one thing, the right thing to do lies in the opposite direction and so – as it seems unlikely that the heavens will fall – Anne Williams deserves justice. She and the other families have deserved nothing less since April 1989.

If you are able to, please sign the petition today. Confirmation will be sent to you by email, with a link you must click for your name to be added. Thank you for your support.

Photo from the Liverpool Daily Post

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