Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

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Amorous mad-women

The phrase was coined by Paul, in the 3rd form, in 1981.  They were girls who would approach you and start to talk about emotional or sexual subjects, with the express purpose of making you embarrassed.  Sometimes they would hunt in packs.  They were terrifying.

The worst at my school was a girl called Christina Saul.  She was of Polish origin.  Paul and I used to refer to her as ‘the amorous mad-woman with the biblical surname’.

She was last heard of living in Spain, in a lesbian relationship.

I can’t speak for Paul.  Nobody apart from Paul can speak for Paul.  But I now converse on a daily basis with a right load of weirdoes, and it all seems to go remarkably well.

I have learnt that the embarrassment of the teenage era had two components.  The obvious one was that it was about something tense, smutty, or inappropriate.  But that was not all.

The rest was about the fact that what was being said was obviously not genuinely directed to the purported recipient.  Their basic tactic was to walk up to you, and say, “I really love you,” which might have seemed great, except for the fact that it obviously wasn’t true.

And you need to keep saying, “Thirteen.  Thirteen. Thirteen.”  There is a great deal of difference between a boy of thirteen years of age, and a boy of sixteen.

It was regular, if not systematic, emotional abuse.  Paul and I lived through it.

And now, I like to camp it up with the best of them, not because I am sublimating abuse, but because that is what I like to do.  I have learnt a lot of vocabulary since then, and a lot of manners.  My wife, Valerie, also does camp supremely well.


Howard Wilkinson turned me into a feminist.

I was conceived, born, and grew up in Leeds.

After I left university, in Liverpool, I began to identify with Leeds United Football Club.  This was in the late 1980s.  The club had then, by no means, left behind its legacy of hooliganism.

I cannot deny that there was a certain cachet to being associated with the most hated and despised club in World Football.  Unlike certain other clubs I could mention, we didn’t even bother to chant, “No-one likes us / We don’t care”.   To do so might have sounded like doing our haters’ work for them, which we didn’t want to do, because we hated them as much as they hated us.  It was just that our hatred, unlike, say, Rangers v Celtic, was a more equitable form of hatred.  Apart from Sunday League teams, there is only one team in Leeds, and so, if you support Leeds United, you hate every other team in the world, equally.

Be that as it may.

In 1993, I was living in Glasgow, and became very perturbed about the fact that the Football Association fined Leeds United and Manchester United for withdrawing their respective teams from a youth competition, on the grounds that it would over-tax young players they were expecting to break into their senior teams.  They regarded the youth competitions as a means of bringing young players on, not running them into the ground.  The actions taken by Leeds United and Manchester United seemed completely reasonable to me.

I wrote to Howard Wilkinson, the then manager of Leeds United.  I wrote to Alex Ferguson, the then manager of Manchester United.  I wrote to the Football Association.

I got no response from the Football Association.

I got a printed letter from Manchester United, which acknowledged the point I had written about, and had a US-presidential-style pro forma signature from Alex Ferguson.

I got a hand-typed letter from Leeds United, with a hand-written signature in blue biro from Howard Wilkinson.

He acknowledged my letter to the Football Association (which I had enclosed).  He said he agreed with all the points I had raised about youth football, and players potentially being required to play too many games.

The last line of his letter was, ‘Thank you for your support.’

The thing was that I hadn’t given him any support, other than emotional support.  I hadn’t intervened.  I hadn’t managed to change the situation.  But he still thanked me for my support, and this is from a chap who has never been known for being emotional.

Even though the letter was about men’s football (and don’t get me started on the patriarchially-suppressed history of women’s football, because we would be here for the next two centuries) the words, ‘Thank you for your support’, in that letter struck me at the time as feminine.  They also struck me as strong.  And when you have feminine and strong, you have feminism.

I continue to reflect on this.  If, as a man, I had to sum up my idea of what feminism has to say about the male-dominated world in one sentence, it would probably be, ‘It doesn’t have to be like this.’  That may sound trite, but I doubt I would have got this far without that letter from Howard Wilkinson, and, it is worth noting, I only got those words from him because I wrote to him in the first place.   There are few things in the world which are as important as clear, timely, and honest communication.

Announcement: Wakefield Litfest 2018

There will be no official Wakefield Litfest 2018.

There might be an unofficial writing, spoken word, and varied arts festival in Wakefield, in 2018.

If you are interested in contributing, then join our Facebook group, or post a comment on this article:


At the moment, we have no funding.  All we have is our city, its people, its performers, its venues: our own faculties.

Something is definitely going to happen, whether we get external funding, or not.

We Are Wakefield.  Refugees Are Welcome.  We Are Not Giving Up.

Review: Tom Allen, Theatre Royal, Wakefield 3 February 2018

The theatre was packed.  The moment Tom Allen arrived on stage, I could only hear Lord Peter Wimsey’s voice in my head, talking about Mr Willis from Murder Must Advertise.  “And he wears, I deeply regret to say, a double breasted waistcoat. That is the most sinister thing about him.”

That is by no means the most sinister thing about Tom Allen.

The support act was provided by George Lewis.

When Tom Allen came back, he did a stint of interacting with the audience, in an ironic way.  He asked people what they were called, what they did for a living, another question about what they did which was calculated to confuse them, and then said something mildly disparaging.  This is a formula that works very well, and Tom Allen does it to a tee.  He asked somebody, as a follow-up question, ‘What is your favourite council tax band?’

He identified Terry, and then James, who happened to be sitting next to Terry, and they turned out to be married, to each other, and had been together for 22 years.

When he gets going, Tom Allen’s delivery is fast, supremely skilful, and it pauses in unexpected places, but for reasons that become clear. Tom Allen generates comedic tension not just from what he is saying, but from the way he is saying it, as well.  When you get the two things together, you know you are listening to a real stand-up comedian.

Tom Allen does what stand-up comedians have to do, which is make a believable world which is about them, make everything important about them.  Tom Allen’s world is a place that has problems, but which many of the audience, including me, would have liked to inhabit.

This is rather a short review, because I was too busy listening to Tom Allen’s act to make many notes, and, when I did make notes, it was too dark in the Theatre Royal for me to write clearly.


iamhyperlexic: New Year’s Resolution

2017 was a bad year, with more people on zero hours contracts, and other exploitative working arrangements; people in full time work who are reliant on food banks; the continuing creeping privatisation of the NHS, and other scandals.

What I want you to do in 2018 is complain, in writing.

If you are middle class, then dust off that degree certificate, and put it to some use.  Articulate.  Decide what it is that you don’t like, identify whose responsibility you think it is, and write to them, on expensive paper.

Keep writing to them, until they give up.

If you are working class, then you don’t need to dust anything off, because any letter you write will come with a complementary thunderbolt.  You have the capacity to scare the hell out of the ruling elite, at your fingertips.

The complainer’s handbook is Whitaker’s Almanack.  You can find it in your local library (if it’s still open, of course.)  You can buy it from Waterstones, but it costs £90.  It contains, among other things, the address of every government department, every local council, and every other organisation that might be considered to be an emanation of the state.

If you are living with a disability and need more access or support, complain.  If you are being discriminated against, complain.  If you are on low pay, or unemployed, complain.  If your housing needs are not being met, complain.  If you are worried about environmental issues, complain.   If your transport needs are not being met, complain. If your health needs are not being met, complain. If you can’t get access to education, complain. If you work in the arts and can’t get funding, complain.  If there is a humanitarian crisis that you think requires our effort, complain.  If there are other people in your community who are experiencing injustice and who can’t advocate on their own behalf, complain.

Complain, complain, complain.  In writing.

In the era of paper-based offices, desks would usually have two trays on them, “In” and “Out”.  Let’s make 2018 the year of the tray labelled, “Oh, Bloody Hell.”


Stand down Margaret

Jason Holloway is the prompt for this post.  He lives in the United States.

I am a paid-up Labour Party socialist, of a kind that one seldom meets, even nowadays.  I believe in the National Health Service, nationalisation, redistributive taxation, and all the old-fashioned virtues.  I believe in pursuing tax avoiders to the furthest extremes of longitude.

Jason Holloway is a hard-line (anti-Trump) American Republican.  The only subjects we can discuss rationally are food, and music.

The Beat aka The English Beat is my favourite band.  ‘I Just Can’t Stop It’ is my favourite album.  ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’ is my favourite track.

When Jason came to England, he landed in Birmingham, where The Beat comes from.  I gather he likes the city, as I do.  We got on much better face-to-face than we had done, on-line.  Since then, I think we have reached an accommodation, based on food, music, and sport.

I am going to take Jason Holloway to a professional rugby league match, if it is the last thing I ever do.  It might be in Canada.  I don’t care.

In the meantime: Stand Down Margaret.  I see no joy.  I see only sorrow.  I see no chance of your bright, new tomorrow.



I grew up in North Leeds, and my parents were lawyers.  That might sound like privilege, and, of course, with regard to food, clothing, education, housing, it was.  But morally and philosophically, it was hell.

Jesus cannot save the atheist/non-conformist children of North Leeds.  They are on their own.

My parents believed in two fundamental things. They believed that the justice system was capable of working, as long as every individual within it on the states’s side showed the required degree of integrity. (What about The Guildford Four and The Birmingham Six? Never mind.)  They also believed in engagement.  They believed that every incidence of wrong-doing should be reported by everybody, everywhere, forever, without exception.

A working justice system has many ingredients.  But engagement is the most fundamental of these ingredients.

Somebody has to say, ‘I have suffered a wrong.’

That is the main reason why I hate Savile.  He used his status to set up a power structure that would have absolutely appalled my parents.

The only rational, sane, just reaction to ‘I have suffered a wrong,’ is, ‘What wrong have you suffered?’

Not, ‘Well, you see, he raises a lot of money for this unit.  If he comes round, it may be a good idea to pretend to be asleep.’


The most valuable commodity in the world is justice.   Would I rather starve than have justice?  If I don’t have enough food, then I don’t have justice.

Let’s start with reporting of the violent and exploitative wrong-doing of privileged men, and then we’ll go on from there.

Who knows where that might take us.

Stepping into Rickaro Books on Bookshop Day, 2017

The wife of my high school English teacher is a long time friend of the proprietor of my local, independent bookshop.

Christina James, crime novelist

Rickaro Books 2 Rickaro Books, Horbury

Yesterday was UK Bookshop Day, the annual event which celebrates the huge contribution made to civilised life by all British bookshops, especially independents.  It also marks the beginning of the current year’s ‘Books Are My Bag’ [BAMB] initiative for the run-up to Christmas and beyond.

The whole BAMB drive was conceived of and masterminded by the UK Booksellers Association, which now administers it.  Authors and readers alike are very fortunate to have, working on our behalf, this imaginative, dedicated, hard-working and amazingly small team of people led by Tim Godfrey, its long-term CEO.  I was lucky enough to attend, on 11th September, the BA’s annual conference and there to get a sneak preview of some of this year’s BAMB marketing material, which includes beautiful mugs and book bags designed by Orla Kiely.

I always visit at least one bookshop on Bookshop Day.  Yesterday I headed for…

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Welcome To The Mad: Wakefield Litfest, 2:45-3:30pm 1 October 2017


My wife, Valerie Anderson Gaskill, and I will be performing as the double act, Valliam.  The title of the show is Welcome To The Mad.

The venue is Cluntergate Community Centre, in Horbury.  We are appearing as part of an all-day event, called Wakefield Rising.

Tickets are £6 (£3 concessions) for the whole day, or £1 (£0.50 concessions) per event.

The line-up of this year’s Wakefield Litfest is dazzling.  It includes Linton Kwesi Johnson, Kate Fox, John Hegley, Geneviève Walsh, Matt Abbott, Gudrun’s Sisters, and many others. It starts on Saturday 23 September 2017.

Review: Matt Abbott: Two Little Ducks rehearsal, The Red Shed, Wakefield, 9 July 2017

I am going to try to write this without giving any direct information away about the content of Matt’s performance.  If you want to know what is in it, including why it is called Two Little Ducks, you will have to go and see it.


The blurb on the Edinburgh Festival website is fairly accurate, except for two things.

First, Matt Abbott is not what I would call a “new voice”.  He is an established voice (established, but not establishment).  He may not be a regular on BBC Radio 3 or 4, but he does appear quite often on other mainstream channels.  I know quite a few performance poets, but I can’t think of anyone who does more paid gigs than Matt Abbott does.  The audience at The Red Shed was about 40 people, which is close to capacity.

Second, do not let the blurb’s references to politics put you off.  Many of the pieces make reference to people or circumstances which are affected by lack of money, or displacement, or homelessness, or other injustices.  But Matt’s work is observational, or humanitarian, rather than explicitly political.  It is nothing resembling a manifesto, and it is resplendently free of any vestige of preaching.  It is also mixed with just the right amount of humour.

It is getting the mix just right which characterises this performance.  It is not a single narrative.  Rather, it has three main threads (I won’t tell you what they are) which are distinct, but related, and are coherently woven together.  There is a parallel between the way the pieces are arranged, and the format that A Firm Of Poets, of which Matt is a founder member, uses: instead of a succession of single pieces from four or five different performers, this solo performer delivers a succession of pieces on different themes.  The recurrence and development of the themes is expertly handled, like a poetic symphony.

As a rehearsal, this was excellent.  It was not the fully-worked-up performance, but it was very close to it.  I could feel adrenalin starting to flow once Matt got into it, and the audience had started to respond.  This will only intensify once the Edinburgh programme begins.  No two of the performances will be quite the same.  Don’t just go and see it: go and see it more than once.

There is also a mystery ingredient.  Much of the material in Two Little Ducks is new, but there is one particular piece which, unless you were at The Red Shed on Sunday 9 July 2017, I guarantee you have never heard.  It appears nearly at the end of the performance. It is a piece containing a deeply personal revelation.  It makes the whole performance more intense, and draws the themes together.  Even if you know Matt Abbott personally, I am certain that the nature of the revelation is something you would never be able to guess.

My wife, Valerie Anderson Gaskill, and I, will be doing a joint performance at Cluntergate Community Centre in Horbury, Wakefield, on 1 October 2017, as part of Wakefield Litfest.   That performance will have a bit more pizzazz, and a better balance because of hearing this performance.

After he had finished, one of Matt Abbott’s new fans asked if I was his father.