Monthly Archives: October 2011

News Post # 9

 The last news report of the year from Floppybootopia. The clocks have just gone forward (or is it back?), Sven Goran Erikson and Liam Fox have both been booted out of their sinecures (although to be fair, Sven isn’t a corrupt croney-favouring scumbag, he just lost a game to Millwall), Gadaffi has been ousted, protests against the banks are intensifying and Denmark and Thailand have elected their first women presidents. Out with the old, in with the new, that seems to be the sign of the times. If that is so, an old geezer like myself is in for a rude shock at some point…

 # Starbase Leicester is now 6 years old and has moved from reception class to Big School. They had a party and cake and stuff. At the last minute I had to cancel my attendance, which was annoying. Still, happy birthday, SBLites.

 # Will Ellwood sold a story to Flurb! If you don’t know what Flurb is, I’ll tell you. It’s an online magazine of Speculative fiction run by Rudy Rucker and held in extremely high esteem by the SF world. In the same issue as Will, little known author Bruce Sterling also had a story.

 # The Grassroutes project has been launched! Your esteemed self is the list of authors and is pleased as punch to be there.

 # Saw the production of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls at the new Curve. Nice to see such a great play put on again. Thought the acting was top notch but the staging seemed a bit odd. Particularly as a lot of the action seemed to take place in a dolls house. Still, the production won me over as it did reference a lot of the Soviet ideology that inspired the play (first performed in Moscow, dontcha know…)

 # My extra-curricular activities are boundless. Went to see Leicester play Barnsley in the league with my amigo Miguel and his dad. Met my mate Wayne Exley there before the match for a few pints. Can’t remember much about the game, apart from the fact that I got sun-burnt. In fact I’m probably the only person ever to catch sunburn at Oakwell on consecutive years.

 # Phoenix Writers have been busy. We hosted Bead Roberts as a guest on September the 17th and held an open day on October the 1st. Five new faces joined us for a writing session and as many again have dropped in since. It seems that the whole thing is starting to take off.

 # Still at the Phoenix, a short film festival with over 20 local films packed out the building in September 24th. I attended the event with Maria Smith and Keith Large, who had written and produced two of the films ‘The Ticket Collector’ and ‘Refrigerator’. Both were very well received. A big shout out too to Big Society, a cracking little satire I’ve embedded below:

 # Three days before that (Saturday 20th) I trolled up to Waterstones to a book signing by local fantasy writer Mark Chadburn. A great guy who I knew from Twitter (i.e. we were complete strangers), but we had a great little chat. Also met up there with assorted speculators (Catherine Digman, Jenny Walklate, Damien Walter and the aforementioned Will Ellwood). The highlight of the visit was the GodCake provided by Adele Wearing. Yum. Yuuummm… Oh, yeah, where was I, right, OK, Mark Chadbourn. Bought a copy of his Elizabethan fantasy adventure The Scar-Crow Men. A great read that introduced me to a whole new universe of great books.


# Get Leicester Reading, the festival of all things literary, gets better every year. A highlight this time was the appearance of writers writing in Waterstone’s window. Maria Smith gives the lowdown on Keith Large’s appearance here. Will, Damien. Keith Morley and others also took their turn as window displays.

# Still on Get Leicester Reading, a highlight of the whole thing was the ‘Science vs Science Fiction’ debate between Peter F Hamilton and Professor George Fraser, director of Space Research at Leicester Uni. A great and thought provoking debate and only the 2nd time I’d been in the new library since it moved venues.

# Jim Worrad has returned to England following his sojourn in San Diego on the Clarion workshop. He continues to amaze and astound. He did miss out on the Speculators lock-in with Kasabian at the Dos Hermanos bar last week though, bad luck, Jim.

Kasabian. They stick to session bitters because a tummy upset is just not worth it.

Blimey! What a lot of news there is… Haven’t got time to wish you all a happy Halloween and Bonfire Night and Solstice and Day of The Dead have I? Thought not.


Comic Book Classics # 18

 Sonny Liew

 My first encounter with Sonny Liew’s work came as a result of a four day stopover in Kuala Lumpur. There I spent my time seeing the sights, taking in the atmosphere and dodging the heat. And that’s the overriding memory I have of Malaysia, it’s blood-boilingly hot. The only way I survived the whole thing was skipping from one air-conditioned shopping mall to another. In one of these malls I found a newspapers shop and on one of the shelves I found some comics. Most were your normal hegemonically extruded blandathons: superheroes, manga and the like, but there was other stuff too. Stuff that I bought from the surprised vendor. He looked surprised because the comics I bought were written in Malay and I looked and sounded like the kind of dumbass foreigner who doesn’t speak the local lingo. He was right.


The comics were kids stuff, really. One called Apo? aimed at young teenagers and another called Anna Muslim, supposedly for little girls. Armed with these two examples of local comic book art, I took my first steps into the world of Asian cartoons. As I couldn’t read a word, it was quite a small step too.


I soon forgot about these comics, but something in my back-brain must have kept some residual affinity for Malaysian comic books. A year or so later I first encountered Sonny Liew’s work from the fantastic Liquid City anthologies that showcase the work of Asia’s best cartoonists (which he edits). This godsend of a publication allows us ignorant anglophones to share the talent coming from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, The Philippines and elsewhere. If you haven’t yet, check out the links on the site to Lat, Leong Wan Kok and Gerry Alanghan.


Liew has travelled a convoluted career path that included a time as a philosophy student at Cambridge and spells working for the Marvel/DC evil duopoly. Born and brought up in Malaysia, he now lives in Singapore. His most widely recognised work is the illustrations for a DC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and, wit Tommy Kovac, Wonderland (a riff on Lewis Carrol’s fantasy world). His own original creation, Malenky Robot, is a hit even in France (where it is published as a BD; an outlet that suits the artwork; a rich almost pastel-like colour palate, beautiful illustrations and quirky stories).


My favourite thing about Liew’s work is his ability to adapt his style in new and exciting ways. Even his superheroes are interpreted in a new and idiosyncratic style. The guy has elan, panache and chutzpah in his drawing arm. Long may he prosper.




Si Se Puede

Over one million young people are unemployed in Britain today. An underestimate of the real figures, to be sure, that takes us back to the 1980s and the UK’s first draft of neoliberal hemlock, served up by an iron Lady with a wrecking ball for a heart. We weren’t the first. Other nations in other parts of the world had suffered their own Hayek/Friedman mauling in the 70s, but more about them later.

So, as we go back to the future, this time without a safety net of North Sea Oil, how the hell do we get out of this hole? First, we stop listening to those that did the damage; the deregulators, free market fundamentalists, morons that call the 1% at the top of society ‘wealth creators’. Wealth creators? Most of them inherited their money Most of the FTSE 500 company bosses have LOST share value and shed a shitload of jobs in the past ten years! Ha! Once we tune out of their lies, peddled in mass media almost incessantly, then we can start to think more clearly.


The economic crisis is nasty shit. Working people have seen their wages, health services and education being prized out of their grasp for 30 years. In exchange, they got the sop of easy debt. Well, I’m sure you know what happened next. That’s why we are where we are today. The solution is a simple one; to take our wealth back from the ‘wealth creators’ who have pissed up the world’s resources in an orgy of privatization, tax cuts, stupidity, vanity, self regard and ideological putrescence. Time for it to stop. So what do we do, fellahs? We talk to the experts.

That’s where the rest of the world comes in. And the rest of the world has been busy! The ‘Arab Spring’ has deposed the dictators of Tunisia, Egypt an Libya (almost), is making itself felt in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain and serious disturbances have been going on elsewhere too. Young people in Spain, fed up with 25% youth unemployment took to the streets of Madrid, there’s been civil disobedience in Greece (first target of the global loan sharks), France and other places. This is all very 1968, the time when a whole generation defined themselves through dissent. From the anti Viet-Nam war protesters in the US to the Prague Spring, the people took up against tyranny and faced the guns and tanks armed with face paint and hope. They learned a vital lesson back then, that when you fight power you’ll lose more battles than you win. But when you win, that changes the world.

So let me take you to Chile, where the students have been fighting the imposition of university tuition fees. The students have been protesting this move by a right-wing government for over six months. Their argument is that Chile is a rich country (and it is) it should be able to. Mexico, a much poorer nation manages to do so, so wealthy Chile should tax the rich to pay for education. A charismatic Communist student leader, Camila Vallejo (who the Grauniad helpfully pointed out was ‘young’ and ‘attractive’ – quality journalism that), has galvanized the movement and help draw widespread support for the free higher education campaign.

Let me share this little youtube video. It is sent by Mexican students from UNAM, one of about sixty free universities, to their Chilean counterparts. The first bit of the video is the students displaying the slogan “sí se puede” (Yes We Can) to send a message of support to the Chileans. Then, using black and white footage, they explain the story of the Tlatelolco massacre. Tlatelolco was one battle lost in ’68. The students wanted reform and democracy and went on a series of strikes and occupations. The government, worried that the protests would hamper the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, ended the protest with brutal repression, killing over 500 students in Tlatelolco square. The dictatorship won, they got their perfect games, but the seeds of rebellion had been planted, change could not be stopped.

So let me tip a hat and salute you, the rioters of Athens, the students of Santiago, the people who made the Arab spring, the women drivers in Saudi, the kettled children of London, the occupiers of Wall Street and all the others. Yours is a fine tradition, the best the human race has. If you win or if you lose, at least you tried. One day those ‘wealth creators’ will truly pay their way and we can build better, more equal societies. It feels like the world is laying a foundation stone for that in 2011. Good luck and Buena Suerte to you all.

The Tip Jar

 Writing, bloody hell. Wish I could give you more insight than an Alex Ferguson misquote, but I know people who can. So here’s a few tips to pass on to whomsoever is interested. Hence the title of this post: Tip – because I’ll pass on some tips for my 2 ½ readers, Jar – because you can buy me pint if anything that follows is of use.

1) Bead Roberts (former tutor at Leicester Writing School) released this tip into the wild during her visit to the Phoenix writers. To whit: If you are trying to portray loneliness in a character, you can infer it through gaps and spaces in their discourse. Incomplete sentences, ramblings, sudden digressions all these are the characteristics of a mind suffering from lack of human contact. The lonely can be truculent, overeager, too loud, awkward around people (i.e. Edmund Dantes in The Man in the Iron Mask, Ben Gunn in Treasure Island).

2) Kate Jonez, editor in chief of the new Omnium Gatherum publishing house rejected my novel while being kind enough to ask me to resubmit if I did three things to the text: a) Cut right down on the use of the passive voice b) Made sure each scene had one Point Of View or that if more than one, changes in POV were kept to a minimum. c) Balance dialogue and action. Much better to have characters doing something than talking heads. Scenes should involve characters doing stuff, not just talking. Obviously this is said in the context of the slab of writing I submitted and the specific requirements of Omnium Gatherum, but using those three criteria has really helped.


3) Bead Roberts again. If you are stuck in a scene, or you want to shake things up, set the place on fire. Then sit back and chuckle as your characters try and put the fire out and/or escape. Ha! Instant jeopardy.

4) Find cupboard, look for skeleton. (BBC’s Get Writing interweb site helped out here) To create a character, imagine you are visiting their house. What is the bathroom like? How many books do they own and what are they about? What’s in the fridge? Leave subtle clues about their lives. Try and write this up as a scene with lots of suspense: the PoV of a burglar breaking in or a detective investigating a crime or a guest that suddenly realizes something is wrong…

  Enough for now, I think.

James Dargan

Writer and Raconteur

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