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.

So You’re in the Middle of a Global Pandemic: An Abridged Guide to Surviving the Boredom of Lockdown

by Kasey Smith

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I find there is nothing greater about living under glorious capitalism than the never ending list of pointless tasks it spawns, which pile up in the back of your mind and fill you with so much anxious stress that you are forced to constantly self-motivate to make sure you don’t slip down a rung on the towering ladder of meritocracy. So, now that we find ourselves in a time without structure, like a tacked-on poem in a portfolio submitted five minutes before a deadline, it is important to seek out things to do. Because God forbid you stopped working, even in the midst of a global crisis.

1. Structure

Keeping a routine to your day is important, so here’s a list of things I like to do to ensure I make the most of this period of isolation: enforce a regular sleep schedule; eat three meals a day and stay hydrated; scream out of my window, ‘next, please’ and ‘would you like a bag?’ so as to not lose the authority in my customer service voice; exercise; meditate to keep the existential dread at bay; rearrange my room and then walk around it as if it isn’t the same room I’ve been in every day for the past… how long has it even been? What day is it? Who am I? Will we ever be let out? I miss Brexit.

2. Creative Output

Hahahaha you have no excuse now! All those novel ideas, poetry concepts, short story inspirations have all been waiting patiently to finally meet the page, and what better time than in a period of impending societal collapse? Think of the witty commentary you can make on the Boris government. Of the flourishing nature outside that reminds us everyday that we were, in fact, the fucking problem. Of how America seems to be eating itself alive. And how, no matter the amount of students that are on campus, the smell of weed still drifts in through my open window to remind me that someone is having a far more relaxed afternoon than I am. So, sit down at your desk (or equivalent) and start writing. After all, great art is born from interesting times, or so they say. Who says, you ask? They. Them, over there.

3. Self Care and Mental Health

I consider myself to be very lucky when it comes to the support network that I have. That’s why, if, like me, you are unfortunate enough to have to deal with a mental health issue, I just want to remind you to take care of yourself. Even if it is just doing one thing a day that makes the burden a little bit lighter. I understand how difficult it can be to force yourself out of bed in the morning after a night of staring at the ceiling, or to force yourself to eat when you feel so nauseous you could vomit, or to reach out to friends or family for help or even to just be sociable. I can’t say I know how you feel exactly, but I’ve been in very similar situations and I’m sorry. At the bottom of this post are some links that you may find useful.

I know I run the risk of sounding very cliché but fuck it, I believe that everyday you prove that negative voice inside your head wrong, it gets quieter. And honestly, that little bastard has done nothing for you so far. So just do your best, even if that means doing something small every so often.

It’s a strange time to be alive, especially when you consider that in ten to fifteen years time a reluctant seventeen year old is going to write a really half-assed history essay on everything happening right now. But, at least this lockdown gives us all a chance to work on the stories we will tell future generations. You want to know what Grandpa did during the great lockdown of 2020? Well, come and sit on my lap and I will tell you about the time I stared at a wall for two whole months and forgot what we called the days of the week.

Mental Health Helplines

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Kasey Smith is a first year creative writing student at Brunel University London, who hopes to go on to write novels, poetry, and plays and maybe have some of them published.

Nest: A Covid-19 Easter Mini-Saga

by Emma Filtness

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Friday

I sit on the green velvet couch in my third floor flat staring out of the closed door to my Juliet balcony, sweltering in the sky-blue heat, and I’ve got no idea why they call it a balcony when it’s just a door that opens onto fresh air mediated by a grey metal railing overlooking the faded tarmac of a car park and the ugly Tetris-piled red brick of the building next door and I think surely Juliet must’ve had better than this as I clutch a navy can of fly and wasp killer, knuckles white, lid off and in a perpetual “position of readiness,” to quote my secondary school PE teacher, Ms Rugg (I wonder what became of her) during enforced netball training thinking they didn’t teach me this, they didn’t prepare me for this, there wasn’t a class on how to deal with wasps building a nest above the door to an invisible balcony during a pandemic and I’ve been googling all morning, clicking on hit after hit of perfect nightmare material – stalker-lens close-ups of antennae and all those legs and stripes and stingers that can be used again and again unlike bees, I wish they were bees, and pictures of round grey nests that look like paper mâché creations from a hell-dimension, and home-remedies offering wisdom like spray surfaces with peppermint oil or a mixture of clove oil and lemongrass and I haven’t even got a spray-bottle let alone the peppermint oil, only lavender and frankincense for my oil burner but there’s no scientific evidence so I panic-order two kinds of wasp killer with Prime with a dose of extremely short-lived vegetarian guilt and after check-out it tells me they won’t be here for another week as apparently they’re not “essential” and the property management team are not answering their phones as it’s not only a pandemic but a fucking bank holiday and no amount of Easter eggs will ever make this okay.

Saturday

I binge-watch Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning in an attempt to distract myself from the hive. I somehow managed to forget just how amazing Sandra Oh’s hair is, and the rest of her, to be honest, and think I finally need to watch Killing Eve soon. I’d be under the duvet ideally, but it’s too hot what with the door and window closed and the evil little shits keep nosing at the window. When I turn off the lights to sleep, I see tiny flitting shadows everywhere, but I know they are not in my room – they are inside my head. I dream of wasps, obviously.

Sunday

My partner bought me a chocolate egg, a posh one from M&S, but I managed to drop it somewhere between the bag-for-life and the kitchen worktop, and it feels like the perfect metaphor for life this Spring. I eat most of my stoved-in egg anyway and feel sick afterwards.

Monday

Brian from Rentokil called. He’s coming over tomorrow. I eat the last of my egg and a whole bag of Colin the Caterpillars. I’m on Season Two already (which is impressive, even for me).

Tuesday

Brian from Rentokil arrived a whole hour early and I could’ve kissed him, social distancing be damned (relax, I didn’t).

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meDr Emma Filtness is a poet and lecturer in Creative Writing at Brunel University London, currently zine-making and binge-watching her way through the apocalypse. Follow her on Twitter @Em_Filtness and find her poetry project exploring nature and the dark feminine @cultofflora on Instagram.

Living in the Age of Coronavirus

by Marie-Teresa Hanna

As I write this from my bedroom, the sun is shining through the window, the birds are singing and I can hear a neighbour exercising to Andra Day’s song, ‘Rise Up’. My next-door neighbours are entertaining their toddler, and she is giggling at their duck noises while the neighbour across is washing dishes in her kitchen. Separated by windows, walls, and doors, we are all aware of each other and although our lives are different, we are collectively trying to get through this pandemic, each with our individual stories, worries and emotions.

As for many of us, this is the first time I have witnessed global fear and collective grief, not only for the uncertainty of the future, but most importantly, for the lives lost within the NHS, communities, family members and friends. With close friends working in pharmacies and Intensive Care Units, a vulnerable and high-risk parent, and elderly family members, I find myself taking precautions that seemed unimaginable before. In between essential bi-weekly hospital visits and once a week shopping trips, I am haunted by the fear in people’s eyes, floored by older members of the community who are unable to get groceries delivered, and the rising mortality rates where human lives are turned into numbers on the news. In contrast, staying safe at home and smelling of pure alcohol and disinfectant wipes is a small compromise.

Although I limit watching the news and social media, the impact of the Coronavirus is constantly on my mind and I have to remind myself that productivity is not the be-all and end-all. Some days I get on with university work, attend Zoom meditation and yoga classes, read, write a few lines of poetry or exercise. Most of the time, I watch Netflix, funny animal videos on YouTube, or end up daydreaming, aware that my mind is processing this current climate and forcing anything would be counterproductive. As I connect remotely with friends and call members of my book club, I hear stories of struggle, change and resilience. Talking to these members brings intergenerational connectedness centred around individuals who tell me their narratives of surviving wars, migration and several losses. Or my father, who recalls stories of waiting in six-hour queues for essentials such as bread and petrol, while growing up in Sudan. In these moments I am reminded that we are hardwired for survival.

In the future, this will be our story to tell. For now, all we can do is connect with each other, give ourselves time to feel, grieve, and remember, because like the sun that sets, we too will rise.

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Marie-Teresa Hanna is a British Egyptian-Sudanese writer, interested in BAME, Middle Eastern and North African women’s fiction. She is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University London. In her spare time, she runs a monthly hospice book club and always enjoys listening to podcasts, and long river walks while contemplating life. If you would like to follow her thoughts and ramblings, find her on Twitter @MarieTeresaHan3.

 

Brunel Creative Writing MA Students Write, Record and Mix an Album in a Week

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By Alex and Simone Ayling-Moores

The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone. Whether it’s our collective isolation and restrictions leaving home comforts, or those fears and concerns for both loved ones, and those we’ll never meet: it is a uniquely uncertain time for almost all of us around the globe.

As both musicians and music teachers (and aspiring writers too!) we had the prospect of losing  a big chunk of our income so, instead of twiddling our thumbs, we decided to try and make something positive from all of this.

Thus the challenge to write, record and mix an album, all in one week, was something we set ourselves… and WE DID IT! Pushing through early mornings and very late evenings, the compositions were crafted and recorded with passion (and a lot of persistence!).

It wasn’t easy. But that’s not to say that it wasn’t fun too!

The album, entitled ‘Escapism’, was started on Monday (March 23rd) and was released Sunday (March 29th). It’s an eclectic album, which presents listeners with a smorgasbord of musicality. From dark harmonies, and electronic distortions, to offbeat lyrics and exotic rhythms, the album blends styles and genres to surprise, entertain and delight.

Like its title suggests, we want it to be a space you can escape into for forty minutes or so, and catch a little novelty and intrigue in moments of dismay and doubt.

‘Escapism’ is available for download through the link below for merely a fiver.

Any download or share really is massively appreciated – if we can make up even an hour’s worth of lost earning from this, it will all have been worth it!

https://alexandsim.bandcamp.com

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The Brunel Writer Prize 2019

The Brunel Writer Prize is awarded to the student(s) who achieves the highest graded 600 word article submission for the Creative Industries module on Brunel University’s Creative Writing programme. This year’s prize is shared between two students: Renée Dacres and Russell Christie. Renée’s article discusses diversity in the publishing industry and a new publishing venture that aims to address diverse representation in children’s books. Russell’s article focuses on autobiographical writing and in particular, perceptions related to working class fiction and autobiography.

Congratulations to Renée and Russell.


THE KNIGHTS OF CONUNDRUM:

Is the publishing industry really changing?

by Renée Dacres

Knights-Of-logo-01-787x175So, you want to be able to sniff a freshly printed book hot off the press? Maybe even a book you’ve had a hand in publishing?

As Creative Writing students, it’s often assumed that many of us have a love of books (but don’t worry, I won’t tell Will Self if you don’t). To that end, it’s also assumed that many of us want to get involved with the publishing industry.

As a Brunelian, you are part of a very diverse community and some of us may be guilty of taking that for granted at times. University is enough of a bubble in its own right, without taking into consideration what and who comprise our environment.

The Equality Act 2010 prompted the start of Brunel’s Student Success Project following their five-year plan for 2015-2020. The scheme looks specifically at why there are gaps in the attainment of 2:1 and first class degrees for BAME students. Whether there is actionable proof of improvements is unknown because of the lack of available data.

The progress of racial diversity within the publishing industry is also questionable. There is certainly a push to encourage more BAME candidates to apply for entry roles, what with initiatives like Hachette’s Fresh Chapters eight-week internship programme or HarperCollins’ BAME Traineeship . If you ask me, it seems likes these schemes amount to noise and not much else. After all, research by The Publishers’ Association from 2018 shows that the percentage of BAME respondents to the Diversity and Inclusion survey fell from 13% to 11.6% compared to 2017. The 1.4% fall suggests that these schemes aren’t doing enough to encourage BAME candidates to apply for roles.

Let’s compare these figures to those of us studying at Brunel.

In 2014, there were 14335 students at Brunel. Of those students studying at Brunel who are UK-domicile (i.e. home students) almost 38.8% of the total student population was classified as BAME, not accounting for those who did not wish to disclose their ethnicity. That is around 5590 students. If the publishing industry was to use the student body at Brunel, they would have to increase the number of BAME employees by 27.2%.

That’s over a quarter of the entire workforce!

However, with the birth of Knights Of, it seems that there is actionable proof that the publishing industry is trying to change. Knights Of is a publishing house dedicated to increasing diverse representation in children’s books.

Their shake-up of the submission process is also worth logging in your writer brain. Authors are free to pitch their novel ideas through a “Live Chat” function with one of the team and if they like your idea enough, they’ll ask you to send over a synopsis. This seems a lot less scary than submitting to an agent or publisher the way we normally would, don’t you think? I think this level of approachability is very important; not only when it comes to encouraging BAME authors to submit their novels, but also when it comes to making job applications. The publishing industry is notoriously aloof, so it seems that a shift in tone is necessary if the PA truly wish to achieve their goals of improving ethnic diversity.

The Publishers’ Association suggests that 15% of employees should be Black, Asian and minority ethnic. This is despite the fact that the 2011 census data suggests that 24% of the population in England and Wales would be considered BAME.

Alternatively, the publishing industry should be aiming for a workforce which is representative of the country’s demographics. Hence, they should aim for closer to Brunel’s representative 38.8% BAME demographic. After all, even if that target is not met, it’s still a significant improvement on current conditions.

Maybe if more of us felt like we were represented by the books being published and the people who publish them, we wouldn’t be so worried about offending Professor Self? Because we’d all love books.

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Renée Dacres is a writer of stories, screenplays and personal essays hailing from the grey area that is the Essex/ London fringe. Which one is it? Nobody knows. She has hopes of writing a novel in the future, with interests in both publishing and television development. If you have penchant for ramblings, you can find plenty on her blog.

 

 

 


FACTION FICTIONS

by Russell Christie

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Unfortunately, the Spread-the-Word, life-writing competition email didn’t tell me why my submission had not made the longlist for this year’s prize, just that it hadn’t. Leaving me to my own speculations as to why my story had not made the cut. Was my life-writing too fictionalised for their category? Memoir may be the new novel, but is novel the new memoir? What is the relationship between autobiography and fiction and how does the autobiographical fiction I had submitted differ from what is categorised as life-writing? And: is memoir what it used to be?

An event at Brunel – an examination of autobiografiction in light of The Burnett Archive of working class autobiographies – offered to further stoke my grief-fuelled speculations, or ameliorate them with free wine!

Working class investment in writing autobiographically based fictions has historically been modulated by conscious political positioning of the texts by the genre’s major exponents, apparently. Autobiography fictionalized enables distance and circumspection in using the material of a life. It is a different mode of exposition from the promised authentic intimacies of memoir: it takes place in a fiction form. Significant scenes are often transposed onto other incarnations and protagonists in a distancing that mediates against easy nostalgia. Stripped of the requirement for a psychological accounting of self, this fictionalising ‘shows’ the basic facts. The distinction between fiction and memory in this context is one of genre markers based on style and perspective rather than documentary truth. Fiction is showing, memoir is telling, life-writing is telling by showing.

I reflected that the frequent designation of working class fiction as inherently autobiographical, characterizes working class people as inescapably marked by their situation in a way that middle class writers supposedly transcend. Working class fiction gets categorised as autobiographical because it is suffused with a coal dust which does not appear in the milieu of a middle class oblivious to its own saturated marking with clean crockery and Evelyn Waugh conversations. The middle class, of course, are equally marked by the biographical limitations of the bourgeois imagination. Aren’t they, Alan Hollinghurst?

Denying autobiographical pertinence to your writing – even to speculative fiction – is to pretend that the imagination is undetermined and un-situated: a standard bourgeois conceit and ideological ploy. Fiction no more exists than freedom. Everything I write displays my historic circumstances. I cannot help but express the autobiographical configurations of my life, channelling the people who have influenced me, the travel I have been privileged to, the language that gives birth to this tongue and no other. How would I write outside of this? There is no universal writing, or even any universal to know, apart from this binding we are all subject to: this thrown-ness into our own narrow and total worlds, which we then only transcend through sharing as a limitation, as a specific embodiment, as ourselves.

And where is the proof that would differentiate fact from fiction? Even if you video your whole life, what would you be evidencing in the editing: psychological structure, political reality, one story among others? It’s a naïve understanding of truth that easily marks fiction from documentary. As in the contemporary shift from nostalgically reflective, purple prosaic memoir to the stripped back, New Journalist, first person prose of life-writing, it is the form that distinguishes genres rather than the events these forms are built around.

It is the tenor, the intimacy, the pose, the hands-up, the hidden-ness, the sentences, the perspective that distinguishes fiction from life-writing and memoir. These are genre markers. Fiction has a fiction form, irrespective of its factuality. Self assertion, ownership and marketing is part of the form of contemporary autobiografiction. And what you remember, told as fiction, is not memoir. Except perhaps for Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time And The River and, ahem, my submission to the life-writing prize. Is there more wine?

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Russell Christie is a novelist and procrastinator who’s lived in several countries, often undercover and in various states of legitimacy. He enjoys throwing in curve balls from left field, especially dialectical materialism (still!) and Buddhist ontology. He came to Brunel (like everywhere) to escape the forces of the state but ended up quite liking it (like everywhere). His first novel, The Queer Diary of Mordred Vienna was published in 2015.

Guest blogger Lucy Hunt, Winner of the Brunel English writing prize 2018-19

Congratulations to Theatre and English undergraduate Lucy Hunt who is the overall Winner in this year’s English writing prize at Brunel University London.

Read on for Lucy’s guest blog:

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image copyright Dominion Theatre / Bat Out Of Hell The Musical

I would do anything to watch Bat Out of Hell again (and I would do that!)

by Lucy Hunt

EnglishBlogPicture2It is safe to say I was a ‘bat out of hell’ when tickets went on sale for Jim Steinman’s award-winning musical at the Dominion Theatre earlier this year. If the large, fiery motorbike towering over the entrance isn’t enough of a hint, this musical is loud, excessive, and it’s batshit crazy!

Since its opening, Bat Out of Hell has received divided opinion due to its lack of conformity to a typical musical – instead, it seems more like a fairy-tale being held hostage by a rock concert. It centres on Strat, the forever eighteen-year-old leader of a group of mutants called “The Lost” whose DNA froze during a chemical war, causing them to stay young for ever. Raven, who later becomes Strat’s love interest, is locked away in her room by her father Falco, the ruler of the dystopian land of Obsidian. If Peter Pan and Rapunzel didn’t just pop into your head, you will probably be amongst the confused half of critics who don’t understand the unusual yet captivating style this musical takes on.

The jarred storyline is matched by the equally jarred yet extraordinary cinematography that director Jay Scheib brings to the musical. Throughout certain scenes of the show, cameramen are on stage and the actors perform to the camera rather than the audience. As the video is projected across the backdrop, so much is going on in all parts of the stage. It is this futuristic style that makes this musical so different but refreshing for the theatre industry. It brings the advantages of the cinema into the theatre, exploiting the strengths of both movie-making and theatre to create an explosive masterpiece.

EnglishBlogPicture3It would be wrong to write a musical review without picking up on the vocals, especially in BOOH. It is no secret Meatloaf’s songs are hard to sing, especially when having to jump around and act at the same time. But the cast of Bat Out of Hell deliver no faults. No matter the opinion on the musical, every critic has praised the talents of the entire cast. Andrew Polec deserves particular praise as he tackles eight belting tunes, such as “I would do anything for love”, each night and leaves the audience roaring with applause. But Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton, who play Raven’s parents, steal the show with an electric duet of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. These songs that are known to be individually ludicrous and comical, surprisingly appear to come together and make sense.

As a jukebox musical would do, BOOH will attract people who may never have been to the theatre, or people who have never heard of Meatloaf’s songs. Either way, this musical provides a fun, jolted experience that makes you so unsure, but at the same time love what you’re watching. It has something for everyone – from comedic moments, to epic ballads; from a Romeo and Juliet vibe, to songs that make you want to get up and sing at the top of your lungs (but it is theatre etiquette not to!).

English Winner
Lucy Hunt
is a Brunel Theatre and English student, from Northampton, who spends most of her money on musicals and Disneyland trips. Her biggest achievement is being away from her cat this long whilst at University, and aspires to do anything in life that permits her to break into song and dance in the middle of the street.

Guest blogger Tyri Donovan, runner-up in the English writing prize 2018-19

Congratulations to English with Creative Writing undergraduate Tyri Donovan who was a runner-up in this year’s English writing prize at Brunel University London.

Click here to read Tyri’s blog entry!
(opens in PDF)

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Tyri Donovan
refers himself as a diligent, open minded person of mixed ethnicity – British, Jamaican, Egyptian. Family, Friends, Music and Athletics drives his creativity and passion towards Art, whilst global interactions of langauge engage and educate him within international cultures. Tyri views culture with integrity, respect and sensitivity, as he continues to learn and grow through the interest of people’s own culture experiences.