The Brunel Writer Prize 2020

Every year, The Brunel Writer Prize is awarded to the student whose article submission for the Creative Industries module on Brunel University’s Creative Writing Programme is the highest graded. This year’s winner is Perri Wickham. Perri’s article shows how she used the various skills acquired through the Creative Writing course in an exciting industry environment.


HOW MY SHORT FILM ‘LONDON MADE ME’ FEATURED ALONGSIDE RAPMAN’S ‘BLUE STORY’ SCREENING

by Perri Wickham

During an unproductive day of tapping through Instagram stories, I came across the LDN Filmmakers application.  The week-long course was organised by the Mayor of London and Digital Cinema Media to help applicants write, direct, and produce a short film.  I immediately swiped up, excited to put my screenwriting skills to use outside of my Creative Writing degree, to finally get behind the cameras, and to connect with aspiring filmmakers.

The application process was straightforward.  I had to write down my personal information and in 250 words, explain why I wanted to participate.  I felt this was a fantastic opportunity for me to get equipped with new skills as I had never made a film before, and to put my vivid imagination into action.  A week later, I received a notification to say that I was successful.

Industry members from Chocolate Films Production led the training at Genesis Cinema.  During the introductory session, they gave us a brief to base our plot on London.  They told us that each of our films would feature alongside the screening of Rapman’s new movie ‘Blue Story’ at Genesis, which turned the pressure up a notch.  ‘Blue Story’ is an adaptation of Rapman’s 2014 YouTube series of the same name that explores gang rivalries in London. 

I teamed up with six participants, and we were allocated a mentor for support.  We brainstormed ideas about what London meant to us, and how we could capture our message cinematically through the plot as well as visuals.

Initially, there was a miscommunication on our first idea, as everyone had slightly different visions, which was confusing.  Thanks to our mentor, we managed to narrow it down enough to pitch to the other groups and their mentors.  Receiving feedback was essential as it helped us to clarify our concept and make it appropriate for younger viewers, as our film was going to be screened in schools. 

My group and I decided to tell the story of a protagonist, who on her way home, reflects on London’s vibrant culture and how it shaped her into a successful adult, using flashbacks of her past.  It only made sense to add an inspirational spoken word poem to talk the audience through her journey.  Since I am a poet, I volunteered to write and perform the voice over.

After receiving training on how to use film equipment, we solidified our storyboard, then set out to film in Stepney Greene.  The first day turned out to be experimental, and we decided to extend our filming location to Stratford as it had more landmarks that would benefit the visuals.  We spent the next two days knuckling-down, ensuring that we had enough footage to make a high-quality final draft. 

The final day of the course was crucial, as we had to complete a rough draft of our edits and create a shot list for Chocolate Films, who would polish it.  We had a guest visit from Amani Simpson, the creator of his autobiographical short film ‘Amani’, and one of the main actors, Ellis Witter.  It was inspiring to see a director who had no experience, establish connections, and gain enough funding to compose a successful short film with over one million views.

On the 24th November, I attended my first red carpet premiere in Hollywood.  Okay, it was at the Genesis Cinema.  Watching my first short film on the big screen was a powerful experience, as I was able to witness how a project, I made in under a week could transform into a dynamic yet professional piece. 

LDN Filmmakers taught me that if you strongly believe in your vision, it is possible to execute it with the right equipment, no matter the time constraints.  Now that I’ve gained confidence as a filmmaker, I am determined to make my mark in the film industry, and that starts now.

You can find Perri’s short film “London Made Me” on LDN Filmakers.

Perri Wickham is a flourishing Creative Writing Graduate looking to make her mark in the Entertainment Industry.  Hailing from Southeast London, where the trains run slower, Perri currently freelances as a blogger for Fledglink, a journalist/comms assistant for Brits + Pieces, and writes poems as well as scripts in her spare time.  If she goes MIA it means she’s working on a special project.  Her material is very audacious!

We Wrote a Book During a Pandemic

by Chloe Perrin

In May 2020, Britain went indoors and stayed there. Out of this sudden extreme burrowing came a flood of tweets and Insta posts documenting the myriad of activities the country was using to keep itself occupied while the world outside shut down.

Some people learned to knit. Others took up yoga.

We, the Horror, Sci Fi and Fantasy module class of 2020, wrote a book.

(Look! our book is the #1 hot new release on Amazon!)

Robots, Rogues and Revenants is an example of what happens when a group of writers are told to use their imaginations during possibly the most anxiety inducing period of their lives. And when you read the anthology of short stories for yourself, you’ll get to experience first-hand the kind of book a global catastrophe makes.

While it’s nice to have something soft and comforting during a time of such ridiculous uncertainty, some of us decided instead to really lean into the catharsis of creating something even scarier than the situation we were already in. I’m not exaggerating when I say this book contains a deliciously wide variety of nightmares, from the relentless pestering cries of the undead to the best canned meat you’ll find this side of London.

And I’m warning you now. There is gore. Lots and lots of gore.

You won’t be safe from it in the non-horror genres either – even our high fantasy authors decided to splatter a sizeable amount of blood on their pages, mixing magic with deaths so bloody they would make George R.R. Martin squirm.

But don’t worry about it too much. If gut squeezing, bone snapping horror isn’t quite what you’re into at the moment, we can respect that. When locked inside for months on end escapism is the name of the game, which is why entire pantheons of gods live in this book. Feeling terrified by the present day? Go back centuries to a time where deities and fairies mixed with mortals. Or maybe you’re simply missing the present we had only a few months ago, and just one more party will do – no problem. The amazingly cosplay-able rave witches of London have got your back.

And there’s the future, of course, where you’ll be provided with a service that allows you ownership of a late loved one’s memories – and in that vein I should really warn you that one or two stories will definitely have you wiping away a tear. Sadness is a catharsis too, and who doesn’t need a good cry while the outside world upends itself?

There is something wonderfully unique about Robots, Rogues and Revenants, not just in what it is but when. This book is a time capsule of a group’s imaginations during a global pandemic. Real life will always influence the stories we produce, making each story in this anthology probably the strangest insight into the strangest time a lot of us have ever or will ever live through.

Which is exactly why you should pick it up right now and read it.

(All proceeds to NHS combined charities)

Chloe Perrin is a North Walian writer living in West London. Her writing has been featured in previous anthologies such as Hillingdon Literary Festival’s We Are Here and Brunel University’s Letters to my Younger Self, and her one act play The Ghost We Live With was produced by Studio Brunel in 2019. She hopes to continue creating funny, strange, and oddly depressing pieces until someone finally stops her.

Book cover design contest: #Horror #Scifi #Fantasy anthology

Brunel University London’s 2nd year undergrad Creative Writing students are preparing to launch their latest anthology of short flash fiction.

Robots, Rogues & Revenants is a collection of flash fiction in the horror, sci-fi and fantasy genres, and will be published in e-book format later this year.

The competition for the cover design is open to all Brunel University London Undergraduate students. If you win, as well as seeing your design on the book & your name credited in the book, we will send you your own e-book copy, and it’s a great addition to your CV.

The design needs to be:

  • High-resolution, 300 dpi .png/.jpg format OR Photoshop .psd format
  • Dimensions: 2,560 (height) x 1,600 (width) pixels
  • Please keep back-up copies of your working files so they can be easily edited.

Entries must be submitted by:
Monday 13th July 2020
by 5pm

to Mr Frazer Lee via email (frazer.lee@brunel.ac.uk) with the subject header:
‘ROBOTS, ROGUES & REVENANTS’

See the previous genre anthology covers for inspiration:

Good luck & happy designing!

Screen Love

by Benjamin Parameswaran 

Picture 1

Lines across space will find,
New means to spend some time,
If only for some peace of mind,
It uncorks a realm not quite sublime.

Heads of this hydra may bite one another,
Trying to express to others,
That they themselves are lovers.

Growing fonder, watch out for it
A pedestal, on which they now stand,
A looking-glass for the wistful hearted,
Always shatter-proof upon reflection.

These trees grown together need firm earth,
For wires without roots prevent disclosure,
There is no rain or sun inside this house,
Life travelling on with an electric hum.

Hold on, effort is without limits,
This garden is vast and you were born in it.

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When I was a small boy, my mother used to set me writing tasks. Sometimes I wrote about my day, other times I came up with fantasies taken from whatever I could find. She wanted me to read, read, read. But being half-stubborn mule, more concerned with games, I failed at this task. Now at the age of 25, I read at the pace of a snail and have found a love in writing that I once denied myself.

Working in a Supermarket During Lockdown

by Lucy Parish

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I got the text asking me to come back to work almost straight after I had to leave my university accommodation.

My first shift was mere days after Boris Johnson’s lockdown speech (despite his apprehension to use the word lockdown) and I saw small changes quickly ricochet through the store that I’ve worked at now for almost four years.

I noted that the colossal neon green sign now looms menacingly over the line outside, which trails back further than the naked eye can see. Customers rattle their silver trolleys impatiently, keeping two meters away from the person ahead. I sigh.

A week passes, and flimsy PVC screens go up, forming a barrier between me and the customers. Hastily laminated signs appear on the staff room door letting us know face masks are available in the office if we need them. I don’t take one.

Now as I walk through the store, customers freeze when they see me, standing back to let me pass. It’s abnormal and I can’t help feeling as though I have the plague. I saw two people with gas masks on yesterday, actual gas masks. The flashbacks I got to that Doctor Who episode were rather jarring.

Customers can only buy three of one item per household, but I must admit, denying an old man his fourth Twix bar won’t be a high point of my life. Despite this, my hand hovers steadily over the security button each time someone tries to argue about how much they desperately need four two-litre water bottles rather than three.

It’s been two weeks now, and arrows have been stickered on the floor mapping out the safest route through the store. They’re adhered to for the most part. I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve been told to ‘keep safe’ and ‘thank you for what you’re doing’ as it was reaching the seventy thousand mark. I hear rumours about colleagues being coughed on, and xenophobic name-calling, and my mind boggles how the culprits have managed to get so far in life.

I keep seeing discarded gloves on the floor and in trolleys outside the store, and it’s proving very difficult to keep my cool.

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Four weeks have passed now, and we’re nearing the end of April. Easter has come and gone and the majority of the chocolate eggs have been reduced to 50p. The line outside is just as long. I miss hugs and talking in person with my nan.

If one more person asks when we’re getting more flour, I might have to quit.

At five and a half weeks, restrictions on items have lifted. Other things are changing too. It seems more people are paying with cash than ever before, with almost every person managing to make contact with my hand as they pass the money over. Someone actually licked their fingers to gain traction on a twenty-pound note before handing it to me yesterday, I couldn’t hide my disgust. The now scuffed arrows stickered on the floor are promptly ignored and are a laughing point when people arrive at my checkout. I don’t laugh with them.

Seeing the same people every week is slowly getting to me, leading me to the realisation that I’ve taken social interaction for granted my entire life.

During the sixth week, my mum offers to pick me up but I politely decline and walk home in the stifling heat. I pass a shirtless man wearing a face mask.

People are no longer moving out of the way when I get close, unless I tell them to. Occasionally I’m put on self-scan (with the machines that protest that there is nothing in the bagging area, when in fact there is), and it’s almost as if we’re not in lockdown. A man actually touched my shoulder as I was swiping my card to approve his alcohol today. I was rendered speechless.

The eighth week is here, or maybe the ninth, the weeks are starting to blur – or perhaps that happened a while ago. Lockdown is beginning to ease or so it seems. I dream about Prezzo, and TikTok.

I also stop social distancing, admitting a sort of defeat. I dart past people down aisles and sidestep trolleys, embracing this new normal.

No one talks about lockdown at work anymore, it’s just there, lurking.

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Lucy Parish is a first year Creative Writing student at Brunel University London. When she’s not working in a supermarket, she loves to read, write, and cuddle her dog.

An Hour A Day Keeps The Blues At Bay – The Rambles of a Wannabe Traveller

by Becca Arlington

It’s day whateverteenth of lockdown and I’m beginning to wish I had written down each small achievement so I remember this significant period of history in the future, instead of just crossing out all of my painstakingly-well-made plans in frustration.

The most exciting part of each day is probably the hour long walk around my little town; discovering more back roads and wooded areas than I ever thought could fit into the sleepy suburb.

Never have I ever spent so much concentrated time with my parents.

Never have I ever struggled so much to get motivated.

And never have I ever felt guilty for not doing enough home workouts, or even more importantly, not buying a puzzle on Amazon Prime.

My sister got six months of Disney Plus so at least I can binge watch childhood favourites and belt out the classics at the top of my lungs. I might be 25, and I might pitifully still live at home, but there’s always Disney.

I hope the novelty of pub quizzing doesn’t wear off once normality resumes, because I’ve probably done about 1,234 online quizzes with friends at this point. At least my small amount of general knowledge will be increasing daily.

Perhaps I should be going on Zoom dates, that would be quite a story for the grandchildren; “we met in the midst of an apocalypse and could only make eye contact through a screen; it was the Romeo and Juliet of our era don’t you know.”

My dad and I got symptoms. He was so lethargic and feverish for at least two weeks and I had some headaches and no sense of smell or taste, but we are the lucky ones and I am so grateful for that.

I feel I should be doing more to help, but deadlines are coming and creeping faster than normal and my Monkey Music children in my online classes won’t monkey around by themselves. As I attempt to teach them virtually, I hope and pray that the dystopian tales that speak of school children only being taught by screen don’t last longer than lockdown.

I made banana bread the other day, so I am now an official quarantine cliché; but it was very tasty, so I have no regrets. This may be my last ever foray into the world of baking now that flour is scarcely seen on shelves, whilst it’s viewed as an essential product for all of us bandwagon-jumping novices.

I think back to the beginning of last year when I was travelling the world and the possibilities seemed endless. How lucky I was that it was a year prior to pandemic. I give myself wanderlust every day as I attempt to finish my very belated scrapbook and travel blogs. What a difference a year makes. It all feels like a distant memory when so much is now an impossibility. Goodness knows when I can tick off the next country on my ever-growing bucket list. At least the world gets greener as humans stay indoors.

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The daily walks are a reminder that nature continues to flourish, and the sunny weather has brought an abundance of wildlife to the forefront of my senses. The flowers smell stronger, the birds tweet louder and I even saw a rat running across my road just yesterday. I think it was a big ‘FU’ to humans. “Ha, I’m not in isolation b****tches.”

But then the rain began in earnest and the hail indicated that the ten plagues may well be coming for all of mankind. The sun seemed a glimmer of hope during such a bewildering time, but it had been snatched away by the grey clouds of impending doom.

Daily walks have now become replaced with short bursts on the Wii Fit and I am naturally baffled that it told me I haven’t lost any weight. Although I did only just have an Indian takeaway, something to look forward to during the repetitive cycles of eat, sleep, repeat. Its warm and inviting boxes were sprayed within an inch of their life with what remained of our nearly-exhausted supply of Dettol, but the food inside brought back memories of my time in India, and, uh-oh, the wanderlust begins again.

To take my mind away from the unforgiving urge to travel, I FaceTime my niece. She might be a six-month old sausage dog, but she understands how to smash through lockdown unperturbed and constantly grateful that her ‘hoomans’ are always around. I note down her top tips and am then informed by my mum that she has signed me up to sing to my road in a lovely little street party. It’s the small things right now, so I don some rainbow clothing and sing about the rainbows to a socially distancing, but very kind audience.

It’s lockdown and it’s strange. I’m up one day and very far down the next, and the world might never be the same again; but I am not alone, and I am one of the fortunate ones. I am trying to hold on to each small moment and remember that this too shall pass.

 

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Becca Arlington is studying for a Master’s in Creative Writing at Brunel University. She works part-time as a music teacher for young children and is currently blogging about her recent six-month trip around 19 countries. You can find her on Twitter at @beccablogs360.

Funeral Home

by Emmi Goldenberg

New Canaan, Connecticut

6th April, Day 22 of Quarantine:

Cycling along the roads, everything seemed like normal. Gardeners in front lawns blowing leaves in spirals, the odd kid skating up and down the quiet lanes, chipmunks darting from burrow to bush with their tails bolt upright for balance, the occasional rumble of a car passing cautiously at 15mph, the birdsong unbroken as jaybirds perched in every other tree.

Everything seemed like normal until I reached our little town. It was empty. Everything was still. The only sign of movement were the changing traffic lights that flashed green for the non-existent cars, or the crossing man who flashed white for the non-existent pedestrians. Not a single person was here, New Canaan’s town was deserted.

I cycled further up Elm Street and took in the desolate avenue, unable to keep the feelings of sadness at bay. With the spring weather, the town would usually be bustling with people at the early morning farmer’s market, out for their morning coffee, families together for brunch, the annual sidewalk sale. Daffodils, ice creams, and donuts.

As I waited for no reason at a stop sign, I noticed some life; two builders in a pothole. Even they were hiding from society. I mean, I don’t blame them, the whole world was an apocalypse, no one knew what would come of this but at least they could work while they wondered.

The emptiness was peaceful. Despite the abnormality, there was something soothing about being the only one around, almost as if I had entered a world of my own – cliché and comforting. Basking in the newfound bubble, I made my way home, thinking about how everything was still while I was in motion. As I cycled out of town, I passed the Funeral Home, lost in my thoughts I was startled by the figure on the porch. It was the owner. He was stood by his front door dressed in a freshly pressed suit, staring out into the deserted streets. He was working, watching, waiting for the victims of the virus. His aura was beckoning; willing me to fall into his open arms or the casket before him.  I looked away. A sinister chill darted down my spine.

This was day 22 of quarantine for me, it is now 2nd May and day 48. God knows what it’s like out there now.

image001Emmi Goldenberg is a first year English with Creative Writing student. Split between England and America she usually has a very hectic lifestyle, but currently she is sat in the garden watching the world go by. Follow her Instagram @egphotos_ where she is beginning to experiment with the collaboration of photography and storytelling.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/egphotos_/

Portfolio: https://www.clippings.me/emmi

 

It is still Tuesday

by Linnet Macintyre

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It is still Tuesday

***

The light is coming in the window. Unidentified birds sing in the garden and the refrigerator hums. Everything has changed yet everything remains the same.

***

The church steeple points upward but the church doors are locked. The pews are empty and the priest’s robes are hanging in the vestry. His flock are in their homes waiting and waiting for the bells to ring.

***

I live in a city. The only sign of life I can see are in the branches of the trees, where the buds wait to blossom and a slight wind blows cold.

***

I memorise a poem. I feel like a child in a classroom and a person in an old folks home clinging to my short term memory. I also feel dancing around my room repeating, ‘we each took a pear, and ate, and were grateful’ is better than nothing.

***

We are in a period of slowness. The only thing that prevents stopping is a fear of death. Fear is everywhere as is death.

***

I walk past allotments in the morning sun. The daffodils are blooming, some are yellow, some are cream and some are double headed. There are dwarfed by the pale sliver green leaves of artichoke plants. They are new and they are healthy.

***

I take photographs on my walks. When I post them I think it is my way of saying I am here and I am alive.

***

I see the morning sun pierce the copper plate of a shop front. A small streak of burning light.

***

I take a flask of Genmaicha tea.  It tastes of toasted rice and is comforting. I drink it while sitting in the branches of an old tree. As I sit, the steam rises from the flask and I am still.

***

In the windows of a London brick house there is a rainbow. The outer rim is pink, the inner silver and in its centre is a dark arch like a tunnel. I try to focus on the colours not the tunnel.

.***

In this time of lockdown, two engineers have visited. I have endured Brexit discussions, survival tips, shaking of heads and hollow promises. The oven door is still broken.

***

I don’t understand anything about my new life. I crave space and waves and salted air and laughter and dance. I am sitting in a gigantic dial that goes from 0-5. I long for a 6 or 7.

***

Mike Tyson said, ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face’ I leave that here.

***

Kinetic movement tumbles through word space. An orchestra warms up and plays. A new language is formed. The meaning is clear, the words unintelligible.

***

My inside is raw and angry. Boils grow in my throat. I look for them in a pool at low tide. The water is clear, the sea anemones livid.

***

I cross the train tracks, the wooden sleepers seep tar, the metal girders glisten. They lie between my childhood home and the sea. The train comes and goes 3 times a day. The timetable is inside me.

***

Dead bodies are piling up in hospitals and making their way to makeshift morgues. In cemeteries the wind blows through the desolate space and  invisible mourners lay floral wreaths on coffins.

***

I knock on locked shops windows and look at empty playgrounds. I queue quietly yet I yell at joggers and ask for space.

***

It is still Tuesday

 

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Linnet Macintyre is studying for a part-time MA in Creative Writing at Brunel. She got here somewhat circuitously.

Two Viruses, Two Times, Two Cities

by Russell Christie

Temporary

I wanted to walk in a plague city, through the streets of a ghost town. But London was not deserted. On Wednesday, people were still going about their business. Through an office window, I saw a man curl closely around a colleague to manipulate her mouse, to show her how to do something on screen. Another man stood close beside the desk, talking over their heads, the heavy parts of his breath descending on their hair. I thought I was taking risks, venturing in. They carried on regardless. I pressed the key of the pelican crossing with the knuckle of my middle finger, and then rubbed that on my jeans until the friction burned. Not out of fear, but because I enjoy sensible precautions and like to pretend I know what I’m doing. What was I doing? I was walking in a plague city to contrast now and then. My fear then with my fear now.

As a young man, as is typical of young people, I felt I was mortal and destructible, my body in the world was paper thin and life tenuous, always momently sure to come to an end, my sojourn here insecure and brief, liable to be snuffed out at any moment, my flesh so fragile as to be almost absent. This is typical of the young, they believe they are mortal and live surrounded by fear, they panic. My fear of death now has gone. I am calm as I walk through its valleys. As an older person, well established here, I am as invincible as the world around me, unsurpassable, my life indestructible, my body, the ever living mountain. The young are deluded in their mortality.

I wanted to contrast my fear then with my lack of fear now. I wanted to compare this plague city now with the plague of my youth, so I went into town against advice. I wanted to feel nostalgia and victory, knowledge and sadness, to page back through the stack of intervening years. To look at the long corridor of my life between that plague and this.

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I arrived in San Francisco in 1990. Half the city was dead or dying from AIDS. The mortality rate of that disease was 100%. It was harder to catch but, equally, if you confined yourself and took precautions for a decade, you’d be okay. I was a gay man and intravenous drug user, my death was categorically guaranteed. From the repeated heart attacks of my father to endless homophobic calls of derision, I’d lived my whole life with the ever imminent threat of death in one form or another. The mortuary of San Francisco rose to meet me, confirming my advance intimacy with its pre-ordained legacy. I was familiar with streets of imminence and anxiety. The city greeted me like an old friend, a compatriot in anxiety consoling my anxiety with its acceptance, normalising me in multiple ways. It resonated with my self in its plague, every mortal street spoke to me. I had met my own exact absence, death. It was fitting. San Francisco converged upon my multiple exiles, my homelessness was home.

I had just been venturing out of my insecurity in the UK, my interior apartness, the bipole to my external homelessness — just coming out of the shell/fortress I’d hidden in as an escape from homophobia and the precarity of life as it had been largely advertised to me through the ever present threats of demise around me as I grew. Just coming out again, into the world. I was eighteen or nineteen when the undercurrent to the building wave of HIV began. A disease that came to be relished by the UK government and the right wing press. People with AIDS were ‘swirling in a human cesspit of their own making,’ according to the much publicised pronouncement of James Anderton, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester. Some still lick their lips at the prospect of the death of others they despise. Homophobia doubled in the UK and my fear was reinstated, seemed reasonable in the face of all, justified and not just my own condition. Again I returned to the absence of life, withdrawal from the firm ground of the world: death and precarity. The media mobilised HIV to create a balloon of death and isolation for a decade. For a decade, my 100% mortality rate and my contagion, if I was to be who I was, was proclaimed.

Myself and my friends walked in and out of this air for ten years, many dying along the way, until medication was found and anti-virals made headway in the mid to late 1990s. But for more than a decade, little of this struggle was acknowledged or helped. Instead, gay men, with or without HIV, were mostly shunned as vectors of disease. HIV was confirmation of our pariah status. We were shrouded from the day we were born until we met our inevitable destiny. The TV said repeatedly: You will surely die of this disease, unless you stop your interactions: stop this, and this, and this. We will control your behaviour or you will be the death of yourselves and us all. The ‘gay plague’, the ‘Chinese’ virus.

Russ in SF crop

So now I compare. There are globes of difference, but memory and triggers are only natural. All I can be is transparent about memory’s information of now and its origins in the configuration of my life in this planetary history. Two viruses, two times, two cities. Other feelings and perspectives are no more nor less valid, some feel it’s egregious to compare and will not speak of similarities. They must be heard also in the depth of their silence. The coexistence of opposites is available through authenticity and acknowledgment, a two way path in which difference is no contradiction. Openness to provisionality and allowing diverse experiences of the same events, is all. I make no universal statements. Now, walking through London, echoes of the ghost towns of the gay bars of San Francisco flock around me, memories of the deserted End Up on a Sunday afternoon in 1991. From The Mission District to Greek Street and Oxford Circus.

I went into London on the Wednesday before the lockdown became a legal obligation, to hear and taste again my own death and resurrection, to see the phantoms of my memories and the ghosts of my life; its could-have-beens walking and not walking these streets, from Soho to Trafalgar Square. And to feel the weight of myself now, no longer precarious but embedded in the turning of the world. That we are flies in history is our grandeur. But it was not yet as advertised, the streets were not yet deserted. And, major things have changed.

The government did not rally to our aid then, hospitals were not geared up, the resources of the world were not mobilised. Employers discharged us as soon as they knew of our categorisation for contagion and there was no special support. No sympathy was advertised for this demise of our own making, which we deserved at the hands of god and the Bible and the common sense of the press. We were left to walk alone in the hundred percent valley of death. ‘What does GAY stand for?’ My brother wasn’t the only one to tell me this joke: ‘Got Aids Yet?’ We were called names and abused and ostracised in the midst of our pandemic, while we coped with the ever present spectre of death.

After eight years of this atmosphere while growing up, I left England in 1990 to find the gay Mecca and epicentre of my tormenting world.

So I wanted to walk again in a plague city, the streets of a ghost town, to contrast my fear then with my fear now. To see if my acquired immunity to mortality is real, to practice again my familiarity and relaxation when death finally hits the fan. The more imminent death is, the more relaxed I am. As well as flocking contagions, I have had a real gun to the back of my head (a hard steel gun) and know what it is like for me. And exactly because of that, and its contradiction of commonplace presumptions, I would not monopolise the experience or claim that this is how you would feel in the same situation or inhibit others from imagining how it may be for them with peremptory, regulatory phrases like, ‘Young people believe they’re indestructible, don’t they? You feel immortal when you’re young.’ Tell me your reality, not this abstract speculation of other people, the policing of emotion, the peer pressure of emotional regulation. I don’t controvert your reality, you don’t controvert mine. If you say, ‘I feel immortal,’ fair enough, that is you. We exist in a shared world, that is not required to be identical for each one of us. A world in which we recognise each other because it is shared in its difference. Don’t close it down. Its ever available ground is the very vector of our communication. We are the world’s diversity in our seeing of it, its unity is our seeing of each other, an openness.

It feels better for me now, in this plague, when people help each other out and no single social group is blamed for their behaviour, for their merely holding hands – now we are in it more thoroughly together, as we stand apart. This is the contrast between then and now.

I find it hard to generate fear, whatever the percentage mortality. I am tired of my history of fear, but not tired of pushing through the other side to the expansive relaxation that for me arises most in the face of certain death. I would have made a good soldier. But it would be a strange curve, on which everything below 100% was worse. This virus is easier now, when I find all acquaintances saying to me and each other equally, the phrase gay men alone used to exchange with the pertinence and deep, mortal knowing of their time: ‘Stay safe.’

Russell-001Russell is currently studying part time at Brunel for a Masters degree in Screenwriting. Originally from Nottingham, he spent several years in the USA, some of his experiences being documented in his semi-autobiographical novel, The Queer Diary Of Mordred Vienna, published in 2015. After a late start in academia, he hopes to be able to continue into a PhD at Brunel.

Let’s Have a Think About Toothpaste

by Chloe Perrin

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Let’s have a think about toothpaste.

Why toothpaste, you ask? Well, you exhausted every game and TV series in lockdown week one, you’re sick of social media because all your friends keep trying to make you do exercise and you’ve had enough of allowing the news to encase you in a shell of unending dread.

So, what’s left? Toothpaste, that’s what.

I promise you, the ordinary household toothpaste can be your greatest friend during these trying times of fear and isolation.

Still not convinced? Not a problem! Here’s a list of ten incredible things you can do with your very own tube of toothpaste during the lockdown:

  1. A classic – you can clean your teeth with it! Who needs dentists, eh? Besides, it’s not like you’re going to see one of those anytime soon!
  2. Slather your body in it! If it’s good enough to fix your teeth, it might be good enough to fix you.
  3. Wash it all off your body! It really stings and now you can’t stop crying.
  4. Throw your toothpaste at spiders! The spiders won’t like it. But they also won’t stop you.
  5. Talk to the toothpaste. Ask it how long it’s been since you’ve both seen another human being. Keep asking. Don’t be put off by its silence, ask louder! Demand answers from the toothpaste!
  6. Use the toothpaste to create a protective circle around yourself because the spiders have started to revolt.
  7. Become romantically involved with your toothpaste – briefly, and because you’ve forgotten what normal is.
  8. Show the toothpaste pictures of your favourite dim sum places online and pretend you’re not eating there because you’re too tired and not because the government said no.
  9. Dump the toothpaste because it forgot your birthday.
  10. And this is really important – don’t wonder why you’re doing any of this. You have toothpaste, why would you need anything as distracting as healthy introspection? You know deep in your heart that you can’t risk focusing on anything else right now. Even though your skin hurts, even though everything’s sticky and you’re covered in spiders – even though you’re still crying, and you’re scared and lonely and you miss your family, it doesn’t matter.

If you can focus on your toothpaste, everything will turn out fine.

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Chloe Perrin is a second year Creative Writing student from North Wales. She sees a therapist, and so should you.