Kitchener isn’t just a kitsch image

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Lord Kitchener, the soldier not the calypso star, is on the new £2 coin to mark the start of five years commemorating the First World War. You’ll recognise the image: a well-moustachioed man pointing out at you with the exhortation “Britain needs YOU”.

I do not want to use coins with Kitchener on, so I’ll be donating any I get to the Royal British Legion which is a charity set up to support the people whose lives were ruined by Kitchener’s call to action. Other people I know plan to give them to the Peace Union.

Why am I complaining about the use of Kitchener?
When war was declared in 1914, Kitchener was made Secretary of State for War and tasked with recruiting a volunteer army. In August and September 1914, 750,000 men volunteered. Eventually, over 8 million people fought for Britain from across the Empire, and over 995,000 of them died, in the First World War. Only 53 English villages, out of over 10,000 parishes, didn’t lose young men. Every village in Wales or Scotland lost at least one person. Over 1,663,000 people were wounded: maimed, gassed, or traumatised so badly the new term “shell shock” was created for them.

The image of Kitchener, now on our coins, first appeared on a magazine cover at the start of September 1914, in the peak of that initial recruitment. Kitchener supported the formation of “pals” units, where all the recruits from a village, factory or social organisation, were kept together. This led to horrors such as the fate of the Accrington Pals. Around 700 men from the Accrington (or neighbouring parishes) went into action act the first day of the Somme. Within half an hour 235 were killed and 350 were wounded.

Kitchener’s recruitment drive, as symbolised by that iconic image, fed over a million people into the killing machines.

Except the coin, when it rattles into your change at the supermarket or at the pub, won’t be in context. It’ll just be an image, divorced of meaning. Unless you read up on him, he’ll just be winner of the best ‘tashe contest. Unless your family’s more info

oral history includes not only the trauma people went through on the front but the consequences when they came home, he’s just a bloke in a hat. So you may not see how utterly inappropriate it is to put that image – the image that beckoned a million men to vile deaths – on a coin to commemorate the dead.

Kitchener isn’t just a kitschy image. The campaign he led was what Wilfred Own called “the old lie”:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Kitchener also continued the use of concentration camps during the Boer War. He led the Battle of Omdurman where 10,000 Sudanese were killed compared to 47 British. He was, at least, a realist in that he predicted a long war in 1914. But he is not someone we should be celebrating.

Why donate to charity?

Initially, I planned to refuse the coins. Then I thought about the practicalities of that. Aside from holding up queues by demanding only £1 coins in my change, what would I do if an automatic till gave me one? I like £2 coins, too, because they are reassuringly chunky. So how could I rid myself of any Kitchener ones I get without spending them?

As a teen, I knew someone who had served in the Falklands. I saw the impact of shell shock on him, and on his family. The Legion was there to support them, as they have been there to support so many others over the decades. So this, then, is my response: to donate every Kitchener coin I get to them so they can provide support for current veterans of current wars.

  • email
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Buzz
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Technorati

Warring States e-book now available with bonus material

Thursday, 5 September 2013

I may have come around to the idea of ebooks, due to getting an iPad. So when Lars Pearson of Mad Norwegian Press floated the idea of republishing my steampunk novel, Warring States, as an e-book, I agreed.

In fact, I agreed so much that I sent him some additional material to go in it. This includes:

  • eight pages of notes on where ideas came from, historical snippets, and some of the pop culture gags
  • a two page explanation of the jade casket and the paradox, which was written during the pitching process
  • a preview originally published in the back of Lance Parkin’s Warlords of Utopia
  • a short story originally published in the Mythmakers fanzine and set after the novel

I’d lost my original file of the last of those, and just had a scan from Philip Pursar-Hallard. The story is set in Phil’s City of the Saved. Lars has typed it back up so it can appear as an extra. It shows its age, as the Sherlock Holmes that appears in it is a TV version from before Sherlock started.

One of the benefits of e-books is that you can have links, so the eight pages of notes are filled with links to more information. So they form a slight insight into the sheer squirrelly way I work, grabbing mountains of information and creating links.

Faction Paradox: Warring States is available from today. I hope you enjoy it.


I understand it’ll appear on iBooks too at some point.

Mad Norwegian are also publishing the latest volumes of the About Time series on Doctor Who today. These are some of the most in-depth works on Doctor Who it is possible to find, and are written by someone I used to go drinking with. Recommended for any Who fan.

  • email
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Buzz
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Technorati

Exe Libris Square

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Exeter Central Library, one of my favourite buildings, is going through a rebuild. As part of that, a scrubby bit of land in front of it is getting renamed as a Square.

Reflected Skies

Given the main public square is named after a bloke from the landed gentry who owned a lot of Exeter, I think this new square should be named after a woman of achievement connected to the city. Ideally one involved in improving literacy or advancing science. Doing that:
a) celebrates libraries as gateways to knowledge
b) celebrates knowledge as something that changes lives
c) highlights to girls and women that learning brings achievement and fame.

So, here are my top three candidates, in no specific order.

  • Rowling Square
    JK Rowling studied at Exeter University, and based Diagon Alley on Gandy Street (right next to the new Square). Whilst I’m not a fan of her writing, she has undoubtedly had an impact on children’s literacy. Her books also celebrate learning and libraries, so it’s a good fit.
     
  • Coade Square
    Eleanor Coade was a designer and industrial businesswoman in the 18th century. She successfully developed the type of artificial stone that is named after her, and successfully ran a business for 50 years. She was born in Exeter and lived here for her first 30 years.
     
  • Carpenter Square
    Mary Carpenter was a 19th century social reformer who campaigned for education, literacy and women’s suffrage and against slavery. She was born in Exeter, before moving to Bristol at about 10. Amongst other things, she founded a ragged school for the education of the poor.

Those are my preferred options. However, if we’re looking for any person of achievement who has connections to libraries and knowledge then there is also:

  • Babbage Square
    Charles Babbage is widely regarded as the father of computing. His work with his difference engine in the 19th century paved the way for Turing, Jobs and Berners-Lee. Given libraries are about access to knowledge, and now act as a means for people to access the internet, a connection to computers makes sense. His connection to Exeter is slight, having gone to a school in Alphington.
     
  • Bodley Square
    Thomas Bodley was an Elizabethan diplomat who founded the Bodleian Library in Oxford. He was born in Exeter.
     

This list came about in part from discussions on twitter, and how often I found myself citing these names as an alternative to Prince George Square.

Does the naming of a public space matter? Yes, undoubtedly. The name tells us what we value as a society. So we should pick a name that is aspirational and about the power of learning to transform lives. A name that shows what learning can achieve.

Have I missed anyone off the list?

  • email
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Buzz
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Technorati

‘Halo Jones’ print exposes more than her body

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Take a step back from the topless ‘Halo Jones’ furore to see the big picture. Bristol Comics Expo 2013 have hung a huge “no girls” sign on their comics clubhouse this year.

‘Halo’ was not the first “Expo eXclusive” print on sale this year. That honour goes to a John Higgins cover, also marketed as for “the discerning adult”. And there’s also the fact there wasn’t a single female on the guest list this morning.

What these things tell you, right there on the very first page of the site, is that women in comics are fictional. They exist to be consumed, objectified. To titilate and provide fan service. Women in comics don’t produce. They don’t create. They aren’t active. We aren’t expected to have a voice, to have opinions. it’s in the language the organisers use, the promotional actions they are taking and the programme decisions they have made. The entire culture of BCExpo2013 is reactionary, sexist and puerile.

Let’s look at some of that language – because someone made decisions about those words. Someone thought “this is the best way to attract the audience we want”.

“Expo eXclusive”

Look! “eXclusive” has got a capital X in it because it’s X-rated! Hammer did this in the 1950s, making a selling point of their X-rating. Hence the film being The Quatemass Xperiment. And “exclusive” also connotes “tasteful gentlemens clubs” etc. So this phrase tells us the organisers know the material is unsuitable for children, and a marketing it on that basis. Bearing in mind this is on the first page you land on, if you google Bristol Comics Expo. And it’s on several pages, so it’s not a typo.

“for the discerning adult”

This is well-established code for people wanting pornography. As a teen, I frequented a couple of seedy bookshops that were fronts for porn shops. One of these was in Soho. The ‘innocent’ fronts happened to sell lots of old Doctor Who books. “Discerning adults” is a phrase designed to suggest tastefulness whilst simultaneously making it clear this is porn. The bookshop owners, by the way, always kept me out of the adult section. It wasn’t visible as soon as you walked in.

“We have a special, very limited run of Halo in all her ‘glory’!”

I’m actually slightly amused by the scare quotes around glory. Like the writer is a bit scared of gurl bits. None the less, it’s code for female body parts.

I don’t have a problem with fan service. I have a stash of Professionals fanfic which would make the writers of the BCExpo2013 site blush. I do have a problem when all the fan service is centered around objectifying female characters though. Combine that with a dearth of female guests and the upfront sniggery tone and I’m not getting prudish. I’m getting angry.

And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

I get angry because my daughter loves comics. I get angry because I like taking her to comic conventions. Yes, we have to do a certain amount of distraction work so she just sees furries as people who like to dress up. And let’s not go into her fear of Darth Vader. I’ve taken her to two BCExpos. Three if you count the year she was a bump being jostled by blokes with backpacks who couldn’t see my Baby on Board badge.

But we’re raising our daughter to be smart. To ask questions and voice opinions. To be creative. And the culture this row has exposed shows the BCExpo2013 doesn’t want girls to be like that.

So we’re out.

Oh, and to just turn the screw that little bit more, the charity the “eXclusive” prints are fundraising for is Marie Curie Cancer Care. That’s right, a charity named after a woman who went into a male world and achieved extraordinary things. A woman who thought, and fought, and had a voice. And a charity that seeks to ensure people are treated as people, with dignity and respect, not just as bodies.

The irony is infuriating.

  • email
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Buzz
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Technorati

Where is the girl pig?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

I tell my girl a handful of fairy stories from memory, embellishing the tale to suit. For example, Red Riding Hood uses her own axe to free Grandma from the Big Bad Wolf’s stomach. Last week, she asked for “the three bad pigs”. After explaining it was the three little pigs. I started the set-up. I described each pig and their houses.

“..and he built his house from concrete and bricks, with a lovely big fireplace-”
“Where is the girl pig?” GJ asked.

I was, I admit, stunned into silence. Then I praised her for her question, and restarted the story with

“…and she built her house from concrete and bricks, with a lovely big fireplace-”

Given in my version, the first two pigs are eaten (“OMPH!”), this meant only the girl pig survived the horrors.

Sometimes, like with Red Riding Hood, it’s easy to gender-switch a story. You might question whether I should, but I see fairy stories as folk stories. They were designed to be spoken from memory, adjusted by the teller to suit circumstances or audiences. The underlying narrative remains the same. I’ve heard versions of the three little pigs in which:

  • all the pigs live
  • the wolf is turned into wolf soup

So my version, where the first two pigs are eaten and the wolf escapes with a burnt tail, is just another variation. There’s also endless plays on it, such as the gorgeous Wolf Won’t Bite by Emily Gravett.

I admit having a pig say “no, by the hairs on my chinny chin chin!” when the pig is female threw up another moment of uncertainty. The rhyme is ingrained in the story and gives a great rhythm to it. Pigs do have hairy chins, even the female ones. But hairy chins are not considered acceptable in female humans. Luckily, Laurie Pink suggested a solution on twitter, for the day my mini-Dworkin asks me why the girl pig has a hairy chin.

@magslhalliday And why not. Kudos to her for being comfortable growing them out. I imagine pigs have less facial hair bias

laurie pink’s solution

@lauriepink or she’s too busy building her modernist concrete and brick house to get the tweezers out…

my response

@magslhalliday Good point. You never saw Frank Lloyd Wright pause for depilating, did you?

January 26, 2013

So there we are, a timebomb of a conversation about women and hair that we’ll be having in a few years time. However I am so stupidly proud that, at 2½ years, my girl is challenging gender bias. From now on, my question to myself when writing, or thinking a story is failing the Bechdel test, will be “where is the girl pig?”

  • email
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Buzz
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Technorati

Holmes and the Indelicate Widow – new fiction

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

I still squeak with delight about this: I’ve written a Sherlock Holmes short story.

Holmes and the Indelicate Widow, will be published in The Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, edited by George Mann and published by Titan Books in February 2013. Other authors in the collection include Paul Magrs, James Lovegrove, Mark Hodder and Kelly Hale.

 

 

 
I’ve always been a fan of Sherlockian fiction. I find it delightful that there is so much of it, and that it is a whole world where people – fans – play with the tropes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Sherlock is the most extreme example, with dizzingly fast nods to the canon that swirl around as fast as Dave Arnold’s eastern-European inspired score. And within the web of references, any genre, style and viewpoint is permitted. I’ve read books of the stuff – there’s some reviews on here.

So when George Mann asked me if I had any ideas for a Sherlock short story the main issue was not just blurting out a dozen pitches in a big excited mess. Instead I pitched three, and Holmes and the Indelicate Widow was the one I was asked to write. Holmes investigates strange goings-on with the Necropolis Railway, bringing both him and Watson face-to-face with the Victorian way of death.

I used to go past the Brookwood Cemetery when I used the Waterloo line into south London. I’d walk past the remaining facade of the Necropolis Railway’s buildings hard by Waterloo station. The idea – that bodies would be transported to their final resting places by train – is so wonderfully Victorian. It combines that period’s ability to apply industrial concepts to human needs, along with the fetishised middle-class ideas about respectability and conspicuous displays of status.

I read several books for research, especially ones around how London dealt – or didn’t deal – with its dead. I suspect I get quick service in a Pizza Express near the British Museum now due to sitting there reading such grim material when staying in London for work. I also read a proper railway history book, of the kind that my father would be proud to see me going through. There were three classes of funeral service available, matching the three classes of railway travel.

For some reason, the Necropolis Railway never flourished, never made the returns it had promised the London and South West Railway it would make and, when its London station was bombed in World World 2, it never ran again. All that is left is the facade on the street and its faded promise of a discrete service.

To find out what Holmes – the rational scientist – and Watson – the emotive doctor – make of the Necropolis, you can buy The Encounters of Sherlock Holmes from all sorts of places.

  • email
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Buzz
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Technorati

Switch to our mobile site

google

google

asus