See you in Dallas!

CONDFWLOGO-300x150-transparentThis is just a brief note to say that I’ll be attending ConDFW in Dallas on 21 February. I left my arrangements too late to take part in any panels, but I gather this a small and friendly con and it’ll be easy to find me if anyone wants to say ‘hi’.

I’ve been visiting Dallas occasionally since relatives moved there a few years ago. The phrase “fish out of water” comes to mind when I’m there, gasping and flopping about in the sizzling Texas heat. Hot weather shouldn’t be a problem in February, though meeting like-minded people in the area may still be a challenge.

But this time I look forward to hanging out with local speculative fiction lovers who might show me a side of Dallas that I’ve been missing. I’ll also be bringing a few copies of Helen’s Story along with me…

Meanwhile, it appears that PS Publishing has run out of the unsigned edition of Helen’s Story, but they’re still available through the Waterstones website (in the UK) and uhm… Amazon, plus a few other specialist distributors and bookshops.

And to round things off, here’s a recent review of Helen’s Story by blogger and writer Caroline Hooton:

“Rosanne Rabinowitz’s novella is an erotic horror that draws on Machen’s original but is a stand-alone story. I haven’t read THE GREAT GOD PAN but was still able to enjoy this book. I really loved Helen’s spiky, unsentimental voice and her relationship with her strange companion while Rabinowitz does a great job of showing Helen’s creative process, giving it a sensuous, erotic charge that’s disturbing in its sexuality.”

Caroline also has a few critical comments. But I’d say thoughtful criticism from reviewers is just as valuable as praise – it makes the positive words shine even more.

A winter’s song – goodbye Pete

The_Weavers_at_Carnegie_Hall“Snow, snow, falling down. Covering up my dirty old town…”

I knew he was knocking on but I was still surprised and saddened by the death of Pete Seeger on Monday, 27 January. I grew up with Pete’s music, especially his recordings with the Weavers - The Weavers at Carnegie Hall had been a childhood favourite.

My Facebook page filled with tributes and postings of his music and I posted plenty of my own. But it was a couple of days later when I remembered his haunting ballad, “Snow”.

Though the lyrics and music are Pete’s own composition, it has an eerie East European folkish feel to it. It’s a worthy companion piece to Ewan MacColl’s “DirtyOldTown”. The hush and melancholy of “Snow” complements the beery good cheer of the Pogues, who popularised the MacColl song. Surely there is room for both in our musical and emotional repertoires…

Pete was 94. Up to the end he was singing at Occupy Wall Street actions and environmental protests. You can read a full obituary here.

Fryer’s delight – and a look at novellas and novels

Happy new year, everybody. And a happy first birthday for this blog. I committed my first posting here on 3 January 2013, which was mainly a tale of WordPress woe.  

As I enter my second year in the blogosphere, I won’t go on about resolutions except for the most relevant one… to blog more. But before I attack my blogging back-log, I’ll start the year on a complimentary note. Matthew Fryer, who gave Helen’s Story an enthusiastic review earlier in 2013, has also highlighted Helen in his best of 2013 roundup:

“Special mention also goes to the lustrous Helen’s Story by Rosanne Rabinowitz. Functioning as an update/sequel for Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan”, it will please anybody who enjoys a thoughtful reworking and fresh point-of-view on a classic.”

So extreme thanks for the recognition and positive words, Matthew!

I was also very interested to see that Matthew counted Helen in the novel rather than novella category. At just under 40,000 words Helen would be considered a novella in most camps, and PS Publishing advertises it as a novella on its website. I’ve always thought of it as a novella myself.

So Matthew’s article has inspired me to think further about these two forms.

When I write a short story, it usually threatens to grow into a novella – I am engaged in a struggle with such an unruly story as I speak. Furthermore many of my stories extend to 10,000 to 12,000 words, or what’s known as a novelette.

I’ve always relished a good novella, and nothing hits the spot more than a collection of these beasts. I’ve also noticed that some novellas read as a longer short story, while others contain the layering you usually find in a novel. I have enjoyed both types of novella, but maybe the latter satisfies and resonates the most.

Much of Alice Munro’s work lies in this category; she is able to convey the timespan and complex story arcs of a novel in about thirty pages. Elizabeth Hand and Nina Allan have also written this kind of novella.

So can we define these forms by word count, or is it the structure and mood that defines the short story, the novella and the novel? Could there be an essence of novella-ness that is neither extended short story or condensed novel, but a fictional form in its own right?

Answers on the back of a postcard, please!

hellforge-best-of-2013-1

Helen’s here in some excellent company

Joel Lane 1963-2013: “There’s always a link between deprivation and fantasy.”

Joel LaneJust a few weeks ago I was exchanging emails with Joel Lane about an anthology he was co-editing, Horror Uncut. I congratulated him on his World Fantasy Award for his collection Where Furnaces Burn, thrilled to see him receiving such well-deserved recognition. I asked after his mother, who had broken her hip, and told him that I had enjoyed meeting her at Fantasycon 2012.

And meanwhile, I was planning to nick the copy of The Witness Are Gone that my friend had received in his freebie bag at the World Fantasy Convention.

Then the postings started to appear on Facebook: Joel died in his sleep on the night of 25 November 2013 at the age of 50. This was a shock, though I was aware he faced some health issues. Two weeks later, I am still stunned. Social media has been awash with grief and an outpouring of memories and love. It helped to be able to share these feelings in such an immediate way, with scattered friends and acquaintances and even people I hadn’t met.

I only started to get to know Joel in the past few years, though I had been reading his fiction well before then. Around 1996 I picked up a book called Last Rites and Resurrections: “Sixteen stories of loss and hope, beauty and terror, drawn from the award-winning magazine The Third Alternative.” Joel had a story there, along with writers like Nicholas Royle, Julie Travis, Neil Williamson and Chris Kenworthy.

Last week I retrieved my copy of Last Rites and Resurrections and revisited his story, “Take Me When You Go”. A nameless narrator recounts a youthful friendship and obsession with boy called Jason, bound by a fascination for flight and magic. The story explores the relationship between the two boys and the passage of time as their lives take very different directions. The protagonist visits the once-charismatic Jason years later, who is now suffering from depression.

Jason had returned to his parents’ home to Walsall, where he feels confined but incapable of going anywhere else. On a walk though a run-down park Jason points out a ‘fibrous mist’ on the horizon… a crowd of starved faces pressing against it, trying to break free. The narrator refuses to acknowledge seeing it, though see it he does. Later, a form of this vision follows him home to Manchester.Last rites and resurrections

This story shows the merging of social realism and strangeness that I enjoyed in Joel’s later work; a mapping of family estrangement, loneliness and longing. It is full of telling details like a ‘green-skinned’ lake in the park, a grey stone Victorian comprehensive school where pupils anticipate beatings from the police or the National Front and worry about survival in the hyper-competitive Thatcherite world. His narrator observes: “There’s always a link between deprivation and fantasy.”

I was hooked. I subscribed to The Third Alternative, the forerunner of Black Static. TTA’s current of “extraordinary fiction” was just what I wanted to read at a time when I was still finding my own voice, bumbling and bumping against the boundaries of fantasy, science fiction and realism. Discovering this kind of fiction was like hearing punk for the first time – it was a revelation, a homecoming. This was what I loved to read and what I wanted to write.

Call it ‘slipstream’, ‘miserableism’ – or ‘horror’ or ‘weird fiction’ as Joel did. (Andrew Hook’s tribute points out that Joel was never keen on the term ‘slipstream’) Others describe it as a spare and starker form of British magical realism. In any case… I loved it in all its downbeat glory. I was also aware that that only two of the sixteen contributors to Last Rites and Resurrections were women, but later I came across Lynda Rucker, Charlee Jacob, Justina Robson and others in the pages of TTA.

This kind of writing was often dark and melancholic, yet suffused with the numinous. It revealed strangeness within the most ordinary settings and events, and found gritty, familiar surfaces and textures within the weird. When a new issue of TTA arrived I turned to any stories by Joel. I appreciated their strong sense of place, their rootedness in Birmingham and the Midands.

I had friendly chats with Joel every so often at cons and launches. But it was when I had him as an editor in Never Again: Weird Fiction Against Racism and Fascism that I began to regard him as a friend and co-conspirator. Never Again was an anthology that Joel co-edited with Allyson Byrd, with proceeds going to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation and Amnesty International. Allyson had mentioned the anthology on Facebook and I contacted her about my story “Survivor’s Guilt”, which had been published in Black Static. Though I rather cheekily invited myself on board, both editors extended a warm welcome.

Through Never Again I met writers who I’ve also come to consider friends – if mostly online – including Mat Joiner, Nina Allan, Alison Littlewood, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Simon Bestwick and of course, Allyson and Joel. Allyson later wrote on a Facebook thread about Never Again: “I’m so happy we all became friends. That book meant so much to us all.”

Never Again brought writers together in a common cause and created lasting associations. But that is only one example of how Joel shared his time and talents with other writers. Mat Joiner and Adrian Middleton describe Joel’s generous support for other writers in Birmingham and his contribution to creative communities in his city. Mat and I both benefited from Joel’s feedback on a collaboration published in Rustblind and Silverbright. His perceptive critique helped us make “The Turning Track” into the story we wanted it to be.

As an editor Joel was both sharp-eyed and sympathetic – I was very impressed that he spotted a misplaced umlaut in “räterepublik” that even my German friend missed. Our collaboration on Never Again highlighted our mutual interest in political activism and social transformation, which became a major theme in our convention conversations. We talked about struggles against cuts and austerity, which were heating up in 2010. We often ended up talking about the tension between political engagement and our need for solitude and time to write. Very often high-faluting discussions of ‘art and revolution’ come down to: should I stay in and work on this story with a deadline or do I go to this action, this meeting, this demo?

At times I’ve wondered if I should have been concentrating more on writing the stories. Or whether I might have published my first book long before 2013 if I hadn’t spent so much time and energy in meetings, writing leaflets and pamphlets or running about (rather slowly) at actions or demonstrations.

My conversations with Joel put these doubts in perspective. He believed that creativity doesn’t flourish in isolation, but is fed by engagement and commitment. He also found ways to merge these two worlds, as exemplified in Never Again and Horror Uncut, the austerity-themed anthology that he was co-editing with Tom Johnstone just before his death.

In her blog Nina Allan relates an appearance on a panel alongside Joel in a discussion about ghost stories: they were “two Aickmanites against the Jamesians”. This provoked a few chuckles as I recalled a conversation where Joel gave me a rundown on divisions in the weird fiction world – along the lines of left-wing party splits. But here I’ll also stress that Joel was non-sectarian in his own outlook, as open and constructive in his politics as in his writing. Though we came from differing political backgrounds – Joel from the Trottish Socialist Party, mine is anarchist/autonomist/libertarian socialist/whatever – the K* word never reared its head!

I last saw Joel in July, at the event that launched Rustblind and Silverbright (which contained a contribution from Joel) and my novella Helen’s Story, along with Nina Allen’s Stardust, Jane by PF Jeffery,  Defeated Dogs by Quentin S Crisp. Joel wasn’t very well at the time. Yet he was keen to enjoy the launch of books that involved so many of his friends. We all appreciated his presence, and now the memory of it is especially poignant.

As always, Joel’s actions reflected his belief that the best writing is fostered by community and cooperation. He will be missed, but he will also be celebrated.

Joel Lane_Furnaces

*As in Kronstadt. More information from Libcom here and here.

****************
Here are more tributes to Joel and reflections on his work. I’ve already linked to some of these in the text, but I thought it would be good to list them as well. This isn’t comprehensive, so if you have a posting you’d like to add then feel free to contact me about it.

Lynda E Rucker

Simon Bestwick

Nina Allan

Mat Joiner

Gary McMahon

Peter Tennant

Andrew Hook

Jon Oliver

Adrian Middleton

Emma Audsley

Tim Lees

Mark Valentine

Stephen Jones

DF Lewis
Des has also collected his reviews and commentary on Joel’s books here

Thomas Ligotti

Quentin S Crisp

Allen Ashley

John Howard

Peter Coleborn

Mike Chinn

Jeremy Lassen

Martin Sketchley

Michael Kelly

Simon Strantzas

Tindal Street Fiction Group

Tony Richards

Socialist Party

Conrad Williams

Nine Arches Press

Workfare for the fae

wfcrosannereading2_CROPPED

Reading from Helen’s Story
Photo: Gary Couzens

I was excited to be going to the first World Fantasy Convention outside of North America since 1997, particularly when I was offered a reading slot and invited to join Jana Oliver, Tessa Farmer, Alison Littlewood and Emma Newman on a panel about fairy lore and literature. This was part of the stream of programming celebrating the work of Arthur Machen on his 150th birthday.

Maybe some of the convention missives sent out beforehand had us worried, especially when we were informed that lost badges incurred a fine of £75 for replacement. But once the con got underway, people were very friendly. A programme of pop-up pirate events, a kind of World Fantasy Fringe, also added some spice to the event.

Along with the usual social buzz of conventions, I enjoyed the opportunity to meet online friends in person for the first time. This included Lynda E Rucker, who I corresponded with on a TTA Press e-list way back in the late 1990s.

Now, I attended a lot of events. These included readings by Lynda and by Jack Dann, panels on style vs content, broads with swords, whether vampires have lost their bite, several connected with the Machen @150 stream of programming, late night ghost stories… 

However, to keep this at a manageable length I’ll focus on the events that I was personally involved with. So,  let’s start with my reading…

Someone had to be doing stuff at the same time as the Terry Pratchett interview. And if that someone ends up being me (among others), I figured that I’ll just have to give it my best shot. Perhaps I was more concerned when I realised that I was scheduled at the same time as a panel on Machen and modern horror. After all, I’d been planning to attend it – had it circled and all!

The reading room was most impressive, featuring a very high-backed Alice-in-Wonderland chair near a table provided with all the reading essentials. I read from Helen’s Story and  “Lambeth North” from Horror Without Victims, a story that I had begun as a take on Machen’s story ‘N’. This was the first time I took a long look at these two tales together, and I was struck by the common themes as well as their differences (well, nothing of a sexual nature takes place in “Lambeth North”).

Both stories exemplify the dialogue – and sometimes argument – I have with classic works that inspire me. As I’ve written previouslyHelen’s Story developed out of years of fascination and frustration with The Great God Pan. 

In his story ‘N’ Machen imagines a gateway, a rending of the veil, in Stoke Newington, while nothing of the sort would be found in the ‘unshaped’ reaches of South London.

wfcrosannereading5_CROPPED

And a visit to north Lambeth
Photo: Gary Couzens

So as I wrote this story, I found
myself rambling down that strangely silent stretch of Lambeth High Street, staring at the frieze and intricate moulding on the old Doulton pottery building, then entering the tiny park that had once been a burial ground for cholera victims. And while I enjoy stories where fellows of a certain age imbibe in pubs and tell peculiar tales to each other, here I imagined several gals quaffing their whisky and having a laugh. 

Given the other events taking place at the time, I was pleased that anyone at all came. And what’s more, the half-dozen or so in my audience included one to two individuals I DID NOT KNOW. At the end, most of us quickly decamped to catch the rest of the Machen and modern horror panel, which ended with short readings from Adam Nevill, Michael Kelly, Thana Niveau, Tim Lebbon, Paul Finch and Ramsey Campbell.

Touched for the very first time…
Now… the fairy panel. As a total panel virgin I was very nervous. With a reading, I just lose myself in the story. But a panel means talking about things. And even myself. And what do I know about fairies anyway? Eeek! But I emailed Jana Oliver, the moderator, to see what points she might raise. (Be gentle, it’s my first time, I entreated…)

Jana kindly sent me the points she wanted to bring up. I discovered that I knew more than I realised about fairies and the fae. In the end, the panel turned out to be a very enjoyable conversation about favourite books and provoked me to think more about their themes.

In the wake of controversy regarding gender parity on panels, I was interested to find that this panel consisted of all women. An artist of the male persuasion had been on the programme, then he couldn’t make it. But we did have another perspective from the visual arts with Tessa Farmer, an artist who also happens to be Mr Machen’s great-grand daughter. She talked about her strange wire and insect fairy sculptures, and described how her creatures are likely to bring down larger and larger mammals… until they get us. And in a rather chilling aside, she added that parasitic wasps have been providing inspiration as to how this will happen.

Jana asked us about our favourite stories about the fae, particularly those that took the theme in a new direction. I first suggested Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand (interviewed by me here), a potent brew mixed with measures of the pre-Raphaelites, the ever-mad Richard Dadd, Swinburne, folk music, punk and the realm of faerie.

I was intrigued by the hints of quantum physics in Hand’s book  – a glimpse of the fae as beings trapped in two places at once, living between universes. This view was made more explicit by Justina Robson in her Quantum Gravity series, where a hadron collider meltdown results in a blurring of borders between the realms.

Then I got onto Clive Barker’s Weaveworld. This is about a magical world called the Fugue that is hidden in a carpet, a place of refuge from persecution for a race called the Seerkind, who have been mythologised as fairies and demons. A young woman called Suzanna inherits this carpet and the secrets that it hides, and she is joined in a struggle to defend the Fugue by a young man who accidentally discovers the nature of the carpet.

What made the far-out fantasy so effective was the realism of Barker’s portrayal of Liverpool in the early 1980s, just after the Toxteth riots of 1981. In Barker’s book a police chief called Hobart is engaged in a crusade to hunt down any remaining rioters. A sworn enemy of the Seerkind, Shadwell the Salesman, engages Hobart in his mission to destroy the Fugue. As far as Hobart is concerned, the world of the Fugue is a perfect hide-out for fugitive rioters.

When I read the book, I was struck by the way the police chief Hobart immediately accepts that this other world lurks behind an old rug. As far as he is concerned, it is only another place to be controlled and subjugated.

At this, Emma Newman commented: “I imagine that’s how the Tories would react if they encountered the fae.”

Indeed. Certainly I could see IDS as Hobart and salesman Shadwell rolled in together. Or perhaps the latter role would be played by John Osborne.

The feckless fae would inevitably be targeted by a new government Daily Mail/DWP hate campaign, complete with ‘documentaries’ on the BBC through to the Daily Mail of the Air, Channel 5.

And oh what a contract! The whole vile roster of poverty profiteers would stick their snouts in the trough – G4S, Avanta, A4e, Igneus… As I write I can hear the grunting and gobbling and snorting as they concoct their new money-making forced-labour schemes.

So there you have it – workfair for the fae!

Brighton bound

With the World Fantasy Convention about to kick-off tomorrow, this is just a short reminder… for myself as much as anyone else.

Friday 1 November I’ll be reading at Hall 8B, 3.00-3.30pm, starting with a selection from my novella Helen’s Story. I’ll also read an extract from “Lambeth North”, a short story in the Horror Without Victims anthology that sheds a different light on a part of London that Arthur Machen once described as ‘shapeless’, ‘unmeaning’ and dismal beyond words’. But here South London holds its own…

On Saturday 2 November at 12.00-1.00pm I’ll join Tessa Farmer, Alison Littlewood, Emma Newman and Jana Oliver on a panel, The Little People: When the Fairies Come Out to Play, which takes place in the Cambridge Room. “Arthur Machen lived in a golden age for stories regarding fairies, but his repulsive Little People are a million miles away from those of Peter Pan. In modern times Tessa Farmer has created her own malevolent fairy creations. The panel looks at how Machen and other authors and artists have used folklore, the landscape, science and literature to create stories of the faerie otherworld.”

Outside of this… I haven’t yet got around to circling the other events I’ll be going to. Might do that on the train. In the meantime, I can say with some confidence that I’ll be frequenting the bar and generally hanging out. Hope to see some of you there!

Now, I’ll also add that just like the Edinburgh Festival, WFC will have a little Fringe it can call its own. This is the Pirate Fringe, featuring improvised events, readings and  ‘bierklatsches’ – informal chat and beer with writery people.

Check out Pop up Pirates here, and keep an eye out for flyers at the convention:
http://pirateprogram.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/what-happens-on-board/

And now, I have to get back to my preparations. What to wear, what to bring, what bits to read, what to say about fairies…

From austerity to fairyland

bethnal green hospital occupation work-in nupe july      1978

Bethnal Green Hospital 1978: The first work-in at a hospital casualty department

In the next few weeks I’ll be taking part in two very different events. At the London Anarchist Bookfair next Saturday – 19 October – I’ll contribute to a meeting that will look back on hospital occupations against closure and discuss their current relevance to defending health services. And at the World Fantasy Convention two weeks afterwards I’m on a panel about… fairies.

From austerity to fairyland: the leap between these two subjects first provoked a few bemused chuckles. Then I looked into these subjects a bit more, and you know… I had to think again.

So, the discussion at the bookfair will ask the question: “Occupying is good for your health?” This meeting is part of a stream of radical history presentations and discussions at the bookfair. The people from Past Tense, who are coordinating these meetings, write:

“We don’t see ‘history’ as a dry ‘subject’; it isn’t separate from our own experiences and the struggles, and situations we are part of now, and the ideas and movements we hope can help build a freer future. Our own stories are also history; but reversing that, history is made up of experiences, battles, events, individuals and mass movements – linked to ours by both resistance to the hierarchical and unequal social relations they faced, and the desires, ideas and dreams of what life could be, and how to get there.” 

In this spirit, we will cast our eye back on campaigns in the 1970s through the 1990s when staff and patients occupied hospitals under threat of closure. I took part in the occupation of the South London Hospital for Women from 1984 to 1985, so I’ll bring reflections on that to the discussion. My friend Myk will share his experiences of occupying at UCH in the 1990s. Currently the NHS is under threat again. How is the situation different now? Are tales of previous occupations relevant? The NHS, vital as it is, has never really been under our control – are occupations a step in that direction? We’re also very keen to hear from others who are currently involved with opposing health service cuts and hospital closures.

The bookfair itself is well worth a visit and you don’t need to be a card-carrying or flag-waving anarchist to find something of interest here. The event takes place at Queen Mary’s University at Mile End and features workshops, stalls, books and music,  talks and films. Two crèches are available and there is also disabled access. Check out the bookfair website for more  information.WFC_small

Which brings us to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, from 31 October to 3 November. Though I’ve been to the UK Fantasycon many times, this will be my first world fantasy event. I’m looking forward to four days of schmoozing, socialising, panels and discussions, drinking, drinking, drinking, curries and curries… and meeting other readers and writers from around the world(ish) who are passionate about fantastical fiction. And I’m also excited to be involved in two programme items.

Tickets are no longer on sale for the convention, but if you happen to be going you might be interested in the following. On Friday 1 November I’ll be at the Reading Café 3-3.30. Given that one stream of programming at WFC will mark Arthur Machen’s 150th birthday, I’ll read from my novella Helen’s Story and from “Lambeth North”, my short story in Horror Without Victims. As you can guess from the title, “Lambeth North” will shed a different light on a part of London that Machen had once described as ‘shapeless’, ‘unmeaning’ and ‘dismal beyond words’. But here South London holds its own.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing circa 1786 by William Blake 1757-1827Then on the Saturday at mid-day I’ll be on a panel, The Little People: When the Fairies Come Out to Play. This discussion looks at how Arthur Machen and other authors and artists have used folklore, the landscape, science and literature to create stories of the faerie otherworld.

So what is the connection between these topics? When musing on this, I had another read of Simon Bestwick’s excellent blog post, The Shrinking Space, which addresses a similar question. Simon describes the fallout from austerity and the ‘shrinking space’ it leaves for enjoying life and exercising the imagination. Simon also looks at the legacy of Arthur Machen, As well as a classic writer of dark fiction, Machen is often read as a father of psychogeography. An impoverished clerk in his younger days, he wandered the streets of Edwardian London to discover worlds of wonder and dread “a stone’s throw from Kings Cross station”.

But in the modern-day ConDemNewLab dystopia there’s little time for wandering, and the otherworldly and unworldly transcendence of Machen’s vision will find little room to thrive. Nowadays, those in employment face continual compulsion to work more and more for much less and give up their live to their work. The clerk of today would be subject to repeated performance reviews, team-building exercises and examinations of their ‘attitude’. Meanwhile, those who are unable to work or refuse to submit to this regime are hounded and starved by the DWP, ATOS and a vile cabal of poverty profiteers such as A4E and G4S.

Machen’s character Lucien Taylor in The Hill of Dreams “craves beauty and peace and seeks to capture them through prose”. But there’s no chance of doing that for those who get forced onto a workfare scheme or – as Universal Credit would have it – get forced to do time in the job centre if their clerk’s salary is too meagre without a top-up for stratospheric 21st century London rents.

Machen became a bit of an old Tory himself and waxed jingoistic over WWI, but Simon’s article nails how the literary legacy of his best work still stands opposed to the ravages of contemporary neoliberalism. I tend to think that ‘authorial intention’ is often distinct from how the core of a story is perceived by those who read it in years to come.

Moving on from Machen’s day, Johnny Void has also pointed out that a mere 15 years of neoliberal  regression could have prevented Harry Potter (among the creations of many writers who put in a few years on the dole) from ever seeing the light of publication. “Under this Government’s plans for single parents, JK Rowling would have been on workfare rather than creating some of the most successful characters in children’s literature in history.”

On one hand, the regime of austerity and intensified work aims to crush any attempt to use the imagination. On the other hand,  the active use of imagination is what gives social movements their power. Fairies might not have had much bearing on our occupation of the South London Women’s Hospital – though we did tell a few ghost stories about the walk along the underground corridor between the main building to the annexe, which happened to pass the morgue.

SL Women's Hospital

This is the balcony where we sang “What shall we do with the cops and bailiffs”, dressed up in nurse uniforms and surgeon’s masks. Good times!

But our campaign showed resilience because we went beyond traditional meetings and petition-writing. We didn’t only defend the health service as it was, but created a centre where women came together to take action, discuss and start to create the kind of health care we wanted. And beyond that – a vision of the kind of world we want to live in.

I still sometimes come across the idea that fantastical fiction is always escapist. It can be – so can anything. It can also be subversive – it is what we make it. In this context, a classic line from the 80s punk band Zounds comes to mind: “I’m not looking for escapism, I just want to escape.”

Is there a difference between escapism and wanting to escape? Answers on the back of a postcard, please!

And with that I’ll sign off with a song…