Wolverhampton Lit Fest 2018

I’ve had a (very) short story published on the Black Country Arts Foundry website.  This is a really exciting project and definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in new writing from the Black Country, or new writing, or the Black Country, or … well, if you’re just the kind of cultured person who likes that kind of thing.

On the 28th January, I read out my story as part of the Wolverhampton Original Literature Festival.  This is also worth checking out, although you’ve missed this year’s, so you’ll have to wait until 2019.

It was the first time I’d read a piece of my writing in public (apart from a plea for mitigation to Wolverhampton Magistrates).  I was going to post a short clip here, but it turns out I’ve got to pay for a premium site, so you’ll have to make do with a photo.

If you’re on Twitter, check out my account @JasonDJ, where I’ve posted the clip.

If you want to read the story, click on the link above.

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Publication News

My short story ‘After the Revolution’ has been published in issue 24 of Prole magazine.  You can buy a copy here.

Prole Cover.jpg Image by Joanna Sedgwick

My story ‘Confusion’ will be published in the first issue of Bandit Fiction on 20th December.  You will be able to download a copy here.

Long in the tooth?

I wrote this story 8 years ago.  At the time, I felt a bit old to be writing something about teenagers, but I used to be one, so why not?  I’ve submitted it to a few outlets over the years, with no success – persevere, and all that – but I had another look at it recently and thought about updating it.  The story is told by a narrator who is 19 at the time I wrote the story (2009).  This is obvious from the dates on the obituary,  I thought about changing these dates, so the story is being narrated in 2017, but realised that this would make Arthur’s (and the narrator’s) date of birth 1998: I was 27 in 1998.  I think on balance it’s time to stop submitting this particular story.  Feel free to have a read of it here:

Life Death and Beating a Hasty Retreat

To the Jubilee

This story was published in The Ranfurly Review a few years ago.  I have previously posted a link to the online issue, but it seems the magazine has gone to the great magazine graveyard, where it will be remembered by the editor, contributors and perhaps a few readers.  This makes me sad.

I don’t remember how I had the idea, but there are three things I do remember about writing it:

  • It took me ages to find an anarchy symbol to pasted into the document.
  • The original version finished with the narrator getting home and going to bed.  I had him think back over what had happened so the story would end with the joke it had been building up to.  This feels a bit ungainly, but was the only way I could make it work.
  • I submitted it to another magazine, before The Ranfurly Review.  It was rejected, but the editor sent me an email saying if it had been just her decision, she would have included it.

Anyway, here’s the story: To The Jubilee

I Wasn’t a Teenage Existentialist

I’ve only recently begun thinking about the Cure’s first single.  A bit late, perhaps.  I’m not a fan of the band, but I was vaguely aware of the (not uncontroversial) title.  I only understood the significance last month because I read The Outsider, the novel that apparently inspired Robert Smith.  If you haven’t read the novel, I suggest you go away and do it now, before you read the rest of this blog: it should only take a couple of hours.

Back?  What did you think of the novel?  I only read it because I’d finished At the Existentialist Café a few weeks earlier: like The Cure and Camus, I’ve been aware of Existentialism for a while, but not paid much attention.  All of which probably suggests I’ve been a bit slow off the mark, culturally speaking: Robert Smith released the single when he was 20, and presumably read the novel when he was in his teens; what exactly took me so long?

Existentialism is, perhaps, appealing to teenagers.  It doesn’t really take much account of the tedious business of real life and living with other people.  I might be wrong (I often am), but I don’t think I would have found it very attractive at that age.  I was quite earnest in my late teens and unromantic.  When I was 18, the Berlin Wall was demolished and Nelson Mandela released.  I should have been ecstatic, but I remember being cynical about both: would either bring about any real change?

With hindsight, I think it’s difficult to say that the world is a better place now than it was in 1989, but I think that misses the point.  With more experience under my belt, I try to see good news for what it is: it doesn’t have to be world changing; a bit at a time will do.

As for Existentialism, it’s not something I’m ever going to buy into, but I hope I’m curious enough now to at least find out about these things.

How ‘True to Life’ Must a Drama Be?

The last four Sundays I have watched BBC1’s drama series Undercover with, I confess, some envy.  The subject matter – the lies and lives of an undercover policeman living with one of his targets – is something I have been trying to tackle for a while.  A spec script I wrote for a dark comedy on this subject was rejected by the BBC.  Peter Moffat is a more experienced  writer and his series is considerably more accomplished than the script I wrote.  I swallow a bitter pill.  But not that bitter.

The show has attracted some criticism in today’s Guardian.  One of the things that attracted me to the subject was outrage at the way undercover officers treated legitimate protesters, and more specifically (and more outrageously) the women they formed relationships with. One of these women, writing under the pseudonym ‘Alison’ for understandable reasons, has taken the show and its writer to task for ignoring her real story and broadcasting something that lacks credibility.

It is difficult to disagree with her summary:

“It would be wonderful if the series brought to wider public attention some awareness of the abusive relationships condoned by the police in the name of law and order, and even better if it sparks viewers’ curiosity to find out more about the true stories.”

I think, however, that this misunderstands what drama is for.  The stories of Alison and other women deserve to be brought to wider attention.  This would be a job for a documentary (or this excellent book); a fictitious drama necessarily takes liberties with its source material to make the story more … dramatic.  It really isn’t a good way to bring out the facts.  What we see, rather, is a more universal truth: a story about deceit and duplicity, a story that shows the strain a double life can place on the person living that life, as well as the people they are deceiving.  These themes are not unique to the specific situation; the specific is a way to access the the universal.

I agree with Alison that “the institutional sexism … at the heart of [these] cases” should be highlighted, and I think that dramas like Undercover help this.  But, an over-adherence to the facts would misunderstand the nature of drama, without particularly helping the cause.

What is a Writer?

Two months ago I went to an event organised by Writing West Midlands.  I didn’t get into writing to improve my social life (which isn’t to say that it couldn’t do with an upgrade) but I’m told that networking is useful.  Actually, scratch the note of scepticism: I know that networking us useful; I’m just not that good at it.

Despite various mishaps on my journey to the venue, I arrived in time for the pre-event mingling – something that makes me extremely uncomfortable.  I stood around for a few minutes, nursing a cup of coffee and trying not to make eye-contact with anyone.  By and large this was a success, writers being generally shy/misanthropic.  Unfortunately (not really) it didn’t work with The Poet.

The Poet is someone well known on the Midlands scene – possibly quite well known nationally – who I’ve bumped into occasionally over the last 11 or 12 years.  I know her name (because she is, as I say, well known on the Midlands scene) but she doesn’t know mine, because I’m not.

“So you’re a writer too,” she said, after reminding me where we first met.  “Well, I write,” I replied, well aware that my publication record (see my CV if you must know) is considerably less illustrious.  What is a writer, but someone who writes, I wondered underneath my false modesty.

The first session, perhaps appropriately, was called ‘Becoming a Writer’.  As we waited for the session to start, I overheard a conversation somewhere behind me.  A man was outlining his plans: he said something like “I want to start writing; I thought I’d come to this event first.”  I didn’t turn round and tell him to get on with it, because that would be rude (not to mention out of character).

The first speaker, Leila Rasheed, asked us to think about what we meant by ‘writer’ – pretty obvious question to ask if you want to know how to become one.  I asked myself the question, but couldn’t think of an answer.

What is a writer but someone who writes?  Two months later I think I’m getting close.  I want to be read what I’ve written; I want people to enjoy reading what I’ve written; I want people to look out for what I’ve written.

Will I be satisfied when this happens?  Probably not.