All That is Solid – plus post-Worldcon musings on aromanticism, horror, politics and hope punk

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I’m excited to announce that my new chapbook All That is Solid is now available for order from Eibonvale Press. It will meet the public for the first time at Fantasycon, along with a host of other chapbooks and a new anthology from Eibonvale.

If the title rings a bell, it’s because the story first appeared in The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray. This anthology sold out very fast so the story has been out of print for a couple of years. Now this tale about art, anxiety and Brexit will be available again and accessible to a wider audience.

The best possible introduction to the story was written last February by Tom Johnstone, author of The Monsters Are Due in Madison Square Garden and the forthcoming collection Last Train to Wellsbourne.

Taking issue with some suggestions otherwise from Ian McEwan, Tom’s blog post asks if we are ready for ‘Brexlit’ and his answer is a resounding yes and suggests that “the best way of treating the subject in fiction is by means of fantastic or science fictional devices”.

He focuses on my tale and his own story Mask of the Silvatici as examples. I would also suggest Ali Smith’s Autumn for its evocative prose and sweeping Dickensian portrayal of a certain time in 2016.

I was struck by the way Tom’s post identified themes in the story that I hadn’t been consciously thinking about when I was writing it – but they are definitely there. For example, this:

The title’s from a line in The Communist Manifesto, “All that is solid melts into air”, referring to the inherent instability and tendency to crisis of capitalism, and the story’s Polish-born protagonist Gosia meditates on the disconnect between the apparent solidity of matter and its state of flux at the sub-atomic level, what quantum physicists would call ‘the uncertainty principle’, which mirrors the social forces turning her life upside down.

It was only after I read the piece I thought: “Uncertainty principle… Fuck yeah, of course!”

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The view from World Con at the Dublin convention centre

In my previous post I wrote about the impending World Con in Dublin. Since then I travelled to Germany with my partner for a wedding; I also visited family and friends in Seattle and I’m still recovering from jetlag. So the experience of Worldcon is receding into the smog of time and you’ve probably read many, many detailed accounts since August. Therefore I’ll limit myself to a few comments..

I liked being in Dublin again and on the whole I enjoyed the con. First, I’ll  speak highly of the Green Room set-up, complete with bars for coffee/snacks  and alcoholic drinks. It’s the first time in my Worldconning experience that I was able to get a freshly brewed cappuccino and in the case of my evening session on Sex Positivity in F/SF, a most excellent G&T. I was on four panels so I ended up in the Green Room on a regular basis. A well-appointed, relaxing Green Room made a big difference in feeling that my participation was valued.

It was also the first time I’ve done a late-evening panel.  I usually stick to three panels per con, but I decided to accept a later invitation to go on the Sex Positivity confab. I thought this was a good decision when subsequent email discussion referred to the feminist ‘sex wars’ of the 1980s-1990s. I therefore had an opportunity to talk about some of the writers who sustained and influenced me at the time – Jewelle Gomez, Cherie Moraga and Dorothy Allison.

The room was packed and the audience lively – it had the atmosphere of a gig – and discussion continued apace. Then during the Q&A someone asked: “How would you write a sex scene where the characters are aromantic?”

That’s ‘aromantic’, not ‘aromatic’ (though it’s true that scents tend to be the most neglected detail in prose). It was an off-the-cuff question but it set a train of thought in motion.

But first, I didn’t have a clue what the term meant. I had to excuse myself and have a google: apparently it refers to people who do not have romantic feelings and don’t fall in love and generally reject the idea. And I had to think: so what’s the big deal? It doesn’t mean you don’t have sex. I finally said: “But I write from that perspective most of the time! And in many cases, the writers we’ve been discussing have been doing that too.”

I suggested that a critique of the romantic ideal of love has been central to feminist thought for centuries, and important to socialist and anarchist analyses too (This 1998 article from the feminist journal Trouble and Strife is only one example). The ideology of romance is seen as a component of the emotional glue of patriarchy; and in our current case, part of the privatised emotional terrain of late capitalism. Rejecting romantic love or feeling distant from it doesn’t rule out enjoying sex and experiencing strong feelings of affection and desire.

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Taking time out from our busy convention schedules

I found the concept of ‘aromantic’ as an identity and sexual orientation somewhat bemusing. It seemed symptomatic of the way certain strands of queer theory (I believe that’s where the label comes from) parcel political critiques and opposition into a series of identities.

Another notable panel that provoked some thought was one on horror and politics. It was a pleasure to meet the other panelists. We talked about our writing and how we approach horror as politically engaged people. We swapped names of favourite writers, and I had a chance to big up the late Joel Lane. We also talked about writers like Victor LaValle who capsize regressive tropes by Lovecraft and others.

I also went to some excellent panels and readings. One that still stands out a month or two later was a panel on ‘hope punk’. I attended with some preconceptions and skepticism because I’m usually on the sarcastic, cynical and pessimistic side of the spectrum. But I was curious and wanted to find out what hope punk means in the first place.

The panelists emphasized that hope punk can be dark and sarcastic as hell but it is also be about resistance and fighting back – that’s where the ‘hope’ part comes in.  In a reference to  Ursula K Le Guin’s classic tale, someone said that hope punk is about the ones who walk away from Omelas – but return with pick axes and hammers.

On that note, I’ll sign off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shock against Racism

sar logoShock Against Racism is a network of horror and weird fiction writers, artists and readers taking a stand against racism and fascism. We aim to raise funds for groups that are combating the rise of nationalism, anti-semitism and white supremacist movements while enjoying fiction that confronts these issues.

The main Shock Against Racism Facebook page is here and you can also read thoughts on the founding of SAR from Simon Bestwick. Two Shock Against Racism events are planned for this year, which will also commemorate writer and activist Joel Lane on the fifth anniversary of his death, 25 November 2013. As Simon writes: “Joel was avowedly political and a committed anti-fascist: I can think of no better way to honour his memory.”

 

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The first event will take place at Write Blend, 124 South Road, Liverpool L22 0ND, 7.30pm on Friday 23 November, and will feature readings by Ramsey Campbell, Priya Sharma, Cate Gardner and Simon Bestwick. Tickets will be £3.00 on the door, and all proceeds will go to Hope Not Hate. The Facebook page for the Liverpool event is here.

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I’m proud to be taking part in the second event in Brighton, where I’ll join Tom Johnstone and VH Leslie in a reading at the Cowley Club, 12 London Road, Brighton BN1 4JA at 7.30pm on Sunday 25 November. Tickets £3.00 on the door, with all proceeds donated to Brighton Antifascists.

I hope to read from “Survivor’s Guilt”, a story that appeared in the 2010 anthology that Joel edited with Allyson Bird: Never Again: Weird Fiction Against Racism and Fascism. It was through this book that I got to know Joel as a friend. He also showed himself to be a sharp editor when he caught a misplaced umlaut in the German word “räterepublik”.

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Speaking of which… “Survivor’s Guilt” also touches on another anniversary that took place this month – the German revolution of 1918. This was an uprising against war, hunger and the monarchy, which led to the overthrow of the Kaiser and the upsurge of workers and soldiers revolutionary councils. There were also councils of writers and artists, who worked and created with the idea that ‘art is bread’. If you’re interested in finding out more about this, check out this article about women in the German revolution, and have a look at this general reading list from the Libcom website.

grande_scarlet1Another possibility will be a reading from “All That is Solid”, a tale of anxiety, art therapy and Brexit that appeared in The Scarlet Soul, an anthology published by Swan River Press that has since sold out. The story starts with a stroll in Covent Garden in the summer of 2016, where young Gosia hears a bunch of lads singing: “Rule Britannia… Britannia rules the waves, first we get the Poles out then we get the gays”.

Tom and Victoria no doubt are hatching plans for their readings. I look forward to them. In the meantime, check out the Facebook page for the Brighton event. And keep an eye on this space for news about a London event in the New Year!

We’ll come from the shadows

“Yesterday I was a writer who was lost for words. I expect to find them again soon…”

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This was my Facebook status on 10 November, prefacing a link to an article in the Independent about spontaneous protests responding to the election of the fascistic Donald Trump – and I’m not one to use this particular F-word lightly. For more details check out the links on An anti-trump masterpost and A final response to why Trump is a fascist.

So I was lost for words on 9 November… and while I’ve managed to scrape together a few of them now, I think it will be a work in progress.

The gloom cast by the US election results deepened when Leonard Cohen’s death became public a couple of days later. I loved Leonard’s music when I was growing up. Now, perhaps I’d be critical about some of his idealised images of women. But a lot of the music still works. One of my favourites is The Partisan, a song that he didn’t write but popularised for a new audience in the late 1960s. And this song needs to be shared now, more than ever.

winter-is-hereLike many I’m full of fear and foreboding, and I’ve indulged in many a post-apocalyptic meme along with some darkly satirical ones.

Meanwhile, I’ve been inspired by the expression of strength, endurance and hope as well as grief in “The Partisan”.

A line in this song – the frontiers are my prison – has haunted me since I first heard it decades ago. It echoes in my mind as we prepare to resist those who aim to impose more borders and frontiers within our societies and throughout the world.

And then there are these lyrics:

“Oh the wind, the wind is blowing
Through the graves the wind is blowing
Freedom soon will come
Then we’ll come from the shadows” 

It’s early days, but we’re already fighting. I read stories about growing opposition to Trump & what he represents – this includes longer term initiatives as well as demonstrations. The American Civil Liberties Union is taking up the mettle, city councils declare their determination to remain cities of refuge to immigrants despite threats to cut off federal funding; universities, legislatures and other bodies are declaring to stand firm. We’ll also see what happens when more US workers find out just what billionaire Trump’s promises to them are made of. Meanwhile, struggles such as Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock continue.

I’ve also been trying to take hope from the high proportion of young people involved in the demonstrations.

Yes, winter is indeed here but perhaps we’ll see a hot and lively spring…