iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

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Review: Black Teeth And A Brilliant Smile, Freedom Studios, Cluntergate Centre, 16/06/2019

The venue was packed.  There were 7 rows of seating, with 18 on each row, and there were a few people seated on tables, at the back. 

There was no stage.  The set was as the same level as the seating.  The set consisted of a pub bar, with pumps on it for drinks such as Castlemaine XXXX.  There was pub furniture in front of the bar.  This, like just about every other element of the production, was re-used for more than one purpose.  Not only did all the re-uses work, they enhanced the production. 

The main driver of the narrative is Andrea Dunbar, played by Emily Spowage.  She plays the character of Andrea, and acts as narrator, and plays Andrea playing the character of the London producer.  This part includes the most direct confrontation with the self-destructive elements of Andrea Dunbar’s character. 

Whatever it is that passes for lager in this production, Emily Spowage has to drink at least 5 halves of it, some of them in quick succession.

‘Young Andrea’ is played by Lucy Hird.  But ‘Young Andrea’ is not one character, in the same way that Andrea is not just one character.  Both characters age during the narrative.  This is very expertly handled, in the way the characters are costumed and made up, in the script, and in the acting. 

Laura Lindsay, Claire-Marie Seddon, and Balvinder Sopal, all play more than one part, in the sense that they play different people, as well as people at different stages in their lives.  Their parts are difficult, for different reasons.  They have to portray characters of different social classes, and different speech registers, with hardly any time to enact the change.  It all works.    

The set is re-used, in a way that I can’t describe without giving away the story, but it works. 

And so, I got to walk 10 minutes from my house to a drama venue (the Cluntergate Centre in Horbury), pay £5 to get in, and sit 5 feet six inches from the dramatic action.  The dramatic action was a story which was both new and, in some ways, familiar.  I do not come from a working class background in the Buttershaw Estate in Bradford, but I am a writer who has come to writing via an unconventional route. 

I was captivated by the play.  If it were on at the same venue, tomorrow, for the same price, I would definitely go and see it, again.  But, as regards family planning, or providing a role model for aspiring, working class writers, it is completely useless.  This is not motivational propaganda: this is a depiction of a tortured genius.  You can come from the Buttershaw Estate, and still be a tortured genius, for all the good that will do you. 

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Review: Glory by Red Ladder Theatre at Cluntergate Community Centre 22 March 2019

The set is a wrestling ring, some litter, and some lockers.  The play deals with the subject of wrestling.  It is not about wrestling. 

This masterpiece, which I’m guessing may have been produced on a limited budget, has, in my opinion, two very minor technical defects.  The first is that some of the monologues were backed by electronic samples that sounded like wind blowing.  These were in keeping with the tone of the monologues, but the monologues could have stood for themselves, and didn’t need the backing track.  The second is that one of the actors plays two parts.  The two parts he plays are dramatically at odds.  It is obvious how this works, but it would have been neater if a fifth actor could have been employed.  This is a message to Arts Council England as much as to Red Ladder.    

Apart from that nit-picking, this is the tightest dramatic script I have ever witnessed.  The drama includes anger, hate, frenzy, regret, despair, triumph, and many things, besides.  Every line depicts character, ramps up dramatic tension,  or resolves it.  I mean, every line.  One of the ways I measure live performance is by how many times I check the time while it is going on.  The time check score for ‘Glory’ is zero.

An even more extreme nit-picker might say that the plot line about the financial difficulties of the owner might have been recapitulated.  I am not saying that. 

The play makes you think there are three characters, but then a fourth turns up, and not as an afterthought. 

There are several fight scenes, but the play is not about fighting.  The fight scenes are masterfully handled, and, I cannot deny, homo-erotic. 

The character of Jim Glory occasionally resorts to meta-drama, and speaks directly to the audience.  This is also well handled and adds to the engagement.  The explicit comparison in the dialogue of Shakespeare’s “Wooden O” with a wrestling ring underpins the parallel between this piece and Elizabethan drama.  It is a play that intends to give the audience back themselves.  It is a play that intends to make the audience want to be better people, without any trace of preaching.  Was this play intended to educate, or to entertain?  We will never know, because it did both. 

If you are very short of time, then see this production before all others, because not a single second of it is wasted. 

I have deliberately not listed the characters, or the actors, or given you my opinion of their performances.  You will have to go and see it, and decide all that, for yourself. 

Review: Attrib. by Eley Williams

ISBN 978-1-9103121-6-2

@Influxpress

There is never going to be a good time to say this, and so it might as well be now.

Attrib. by Eley Williams is the most original short fiction collection by a British writer I have ever read. 

The recurring theme in Attrib. is narrators who have to filter their view of reality through some kind of cognitive thing.  For this reason, if no other, I felt immediately empathetic to the narrators in the stories. 

There are 17 stories.  I have finished reading 13 of them.  The reason I am writing this review, now, is in case I get run over by a bus, or something.  I am mostly full of regard for buses, and suchlike, but you never know.  Anyway, I want you to know about it, before something bad might happen.  Call it an insurance policy, if you like.  You don’t have to call it, that.  I am just saying.

I want it to be understood that there is nothing wrong with the 14th story, which is the one I am reading, now.  As to the fact that I have not finished it yet: I don’t want you to go getting any ideas.  I read the collection while I am on my way to work, or my way home from work.  On the way to work, I have to look up when the bus does that turn round the bit just after The Redoubt, because if I don’t look up, then, I might miss my stop, even though it is a while before my stop.  I read ‘This Sporting Life’ like that and it seemed to work.  I am finishing Attrib. quite quickly, when you think about it.  Sometimes I have to read it on the train to Leeds when everybody in the aisle is standing up and I have to send a message of complaint to the train company but I want to keep reading. 

I am not going to tell you what happens in any of the stories, because then you might just read what I had put and not read the stories. 

Some of the stories are strange, and that is a big deal coming from me.  But most of them are both strange, and satisfying. 

If you only like boring stories, told by boring people, don’t buy this book. 

If you like stories which make you want to know what happens next, then buy this book. 

If you like stories told from the point of view of a white man in a Pringle sweater, don’t buy this book. If you like stories told from a new point of view, then buy this book.

I borrowed it from the library, because I am poor. But I commend it to you, Those Who Command The Riches Of The Earth.

Review: ‘An Otley Run’ by Joe Williams

  • Paperback: 76 pages
  • Publisher: Half Moon Books (9 Nov. 2018)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0995764293

This book is in an experimental format which works. It is not a collection of poetry: it is a verse novella. It is a story, told from more than one point of view. It has, for better or worse, a beginning, a middle, and an end. The inciting incident, I would suggest, is the premise of the book, itself. What makes this different from everyday life? The fact that people go out in togas and cowgirl costumes to drink at 14 pubs. Is that really an inciting incident? Does that represent a departure from everyday life? The reader has to decide.

I am a person who was conceived and born in Leeds, who grew up and went to school in Leeds, talking about a book by a man who is from the North East, but set in Leeds, about a cultural phenomenon in Leeds that I have heard of, but never experienced. The main reason I never experienced it is that, although I have a degree from the University of Leeds, it is a postgraduate degree. I did my undergraduate course in Liverpool, where, it should be noted, I never did the Smithdown Ten, because, in those days, I did not drink alcohol.

One of the things Joe Williams achieves is to describe an Otley Run from the point of view of a character who is not a student. The whole event may or may not have become a cliché. The way Joe Williams examines it is certainly against cliché.

All this goes to the heart of the work: Joe Williams is an outsider, observing an insider event, but with the insight of someone who is only just an outsider. Part of the point of this work is how we decide what is worth doing, which informs who we are.

The insight and clarity of the social observations is something that could never be outdone, and could only be equalled with difficulty.

If you want to know what happens, you are going to have to buy the book.

This is the kind of poetry that I argued with Kirsten Luckins about. I would describe it as “urban”. She said, “Does that mean it is rap?” I said, “No.” She said, “Give me an example of a poet who is ‘urban’ who is not a rapper.” I said, “Brian Patten.” You don’t have to come from Leeds, or have been to university in Leeds, to understand this verse novella. It isn’t fundamentally about Leeds, though Leeds certainly comes into it. It is fundamentally about our desperation to be appreciated and loved, about how we decide to spend our time, and whether what we do has any meaning or purpose.

This is, certainly for a work of this length, a very rare thing. It is narrated in recognisable voices, and written by a poet who has undoubtedly found his own voice, and hence the ways to adapt his own voice. It has a narrative arc. The social and historical facts are well observed. The underlying point to the story is built up out of minute details, not foisted on the reader.

I have never read anything like it.

Review: Strix #5

Strix is a magazine that features poetry and short fiction, published in Leeds, West Yorkshire. 

Issue #5 is the first one I have read.  I was surprised to hear that I get a free subscription to the magazine by virtue of gaining a place in the Northern Short Story Writing Academy 2019. 

This issue contains the work of 40 writers, approximately 19 of whom are female (going on the names, only).  The print version is in an unusual format.  The pages are the same height as A4.  When I spoke to Ian Harker, one of the editors, he told me that it was A4 folded in half, but it is wider than that.  It is still narrow enough to fit in the inside pocket of my coat, and so I have carried it around West Yorkshire for several days, to and from work, to and from pubs, on buses and trains, gradually getting to know it.  The pages are stapled, and placed inside a loose, brown paper cover.  The cover art is stylised, monochrome lino cuts. All good.   

The problem I have with nearly all literary magazines is that I don’t understand them, and they don’t understand me.  I understand most of issue #5 of Strix, and, more importantly, it understands me. 

Two of the contributors, I know personally.  A third is Wes Lee, who lives in New Zealand.  Since 2012, Wes Lee and I have been entering competitions run by the Grist venture, run by the University of Huddersfield.  In the short fiction competition in 2012, Wes Lee came first, and I came second.  I don’t mind coming second.  Except for the fact that Wes Lee’s story doesn’t have a recognisable narrative arc.  Be that as it may.  We were both published from the chapbook competition in 2014.  Wes Lee’s chapbook is called ‘Cowboy Genes and Other Stories’.  Mine is called ‘Escape Kit’, of which I have copies to sell. 

As to the content of Strix #5, I have not read every page, yet, but I have read most of it, and it is very good, indeed. 

The contribution from my friend, Joe Williams, I have heard him perform, live.  And so I cannot comment on it, except to say that it reads almost as well off the page as he performs it. 

Matthew Hedley Stoppard is someone that I have performed alongside.  I am still trying to make him out.  He is either a complete charlatan who is preying upon the working class, and the underclass, or he is a poet who is writing about people in marginal situations.  I have not made up my mind, but I incline towards the latter. 

What follows relates to writers I do not know, personally.

Arji Manuelpillai has two poems which articulate what it is like to be South Asian in the UK.  They are called Curry night at Brewers Fayre and Watching the game.  These pieces are succinct and hard-hitting. 

Rebecca Sandeman has a piece of short fiction called ‘Semiplume’.  That opaque title sits atop just about the most remarkable piece of writing of this short length that I have ever read.  I would describe it as an anti-fairy tale, but don’t let that put you off.  A piece of short prose which takes off with its own exuberance and never lets you know where it is going. I can generally tell when a classic story is being re-told (because I do it myself).  I know – only after having read it – what the story is, in this case, but I am not going to divulge it.  You will have to read the magazine, and decide for yourself. 

Review by Mike Harris of Something I Need To Tell You

I am indebted to Mike Harris for the following review, which he posted on Facebook.  He has spelt my name incorrectly, but that doesn’t matter.

On this occasion

I applied for a job on Monday.  I had to check a box that said I was eligible to work in the United Kingdom.

I applied for two jobs on Tuesday.  I had to check a box that said I had experience of working with the General Data Protection Regulation, and provide a scanned copy of my driving licence.

I applied for three jobs on Wednesday.  I had to check a box that said neither I nor any member of my family was currently employed by the Civil Service, provide a scanned copy of my passport, and compose a 5-minute presentation on the life-cycle of fleas.

I applied for four jobs on Thursday.  I had to check a box that said I had experience of managing annual budgets over fifty thousand pounds in value, provide scanned copies of all my examination certificates, compose a 10-minute presentation on the South Sea Bubble, and give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Birkenhead, 5 days a week.

I applied for five jobs on Friday.  I had to check a box which said that I had no unspent criminal convictions, outstanding county court judgements, and was willing to undergo a full-disclosure search for my criminal record, provide scanned copies of my parents’ birth certificates, compose a 15-minute presentation on the life of Andy Warhol, give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Folkestone, six days a week, and undergo a full medical.

I applied for six jobs on Saturday.  I had to check a box which said that I had never lied, stolen, nor made anyone cry, provide a scanned copy of everything I was thinking at that moment, compose a 20-minute presentation that would make every member of the audience enjoy every presentation they would ever experience again, as long as they lived, give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Murmansk, seven days a week, undergo interrogation under conditions of complete sensory deprivation, and agree to go back in time and attempt to assassinate Hitler.

I slept in on Sunday, read a book, watched a film.

On Monday, I received a lecture at the Job Centre on the importance of undertaking job-seeking activities every day.

They terminated my claim.

Five dice into a teaspoon

I am an expert in metrology.  It was something that featured largely in my PhD.  Maybe this was a reaction against the stupidity of my parents, who should have known better.

When I was about ten or eleven, a discussion arose about the conversion factor between millilitres and cubic centimetres.  Even at that age, I had read several books on the subject.

‘1 millilitre equals 1 cubic centimetre,’ I stated.

To cut a long, repetitive, rambling story short, I will say that my mother had used a plastic spoon, graduated in millilitres, and had measured the capacity of the teaspoons in our cutlery drawer, and found that they were all 5 millilitres.  This, at least, was not in dispute.

I attempted to explain to my parents that “millilitre” meant “one thousandth of a litre”, and a litre was equivalent to a “cubic decimetre”, i.e. a litre was a cube 10cm × 10cm × 10cm.  Hence, 1 millilitre was a cube 1cm × 1cm × 1cm: a cubic centimetre.  That was when the trouble started.

My father presented the disintegrating element.  He protested that a 1cm × 1cm × 1cm cube was a “dice”.  You could not fit five dice into a teaspoon.  My mother agreed.

I said, and please bear in mind that I was ten or eleven at the time, that that was true as far as it went, but the assertion was irrelevant.  If you insist on an equivalence between “dice” and teaspoons, what you should do is to make five containers, 1cm × 1cm × 1cm, but open at the top, fill them with water from a pipette, and then transfer the water into a teaspoon.  You would then find that five 1cm × 1cm × 1cm cubes are equivalent to a teaspoonful.

The argument raged on.  I cannot deny that I became somewhat riled.

My father said he would check in various reference books (as if two authoritative reference books might say something different about this vexed and ambiguous question).

While he was faffing about, I exclaimed that I didn’t care what he looked up, 1 cc equalled 1 ml.  As soon as I had uttered the words, I knew I had made a mistake.  Not metrologically, but morally.

There then followed a joint lecture about keeping an open mind which went on for several years.

This was useful in one respect, because it demonstrated to me, with absolute clarity, that my parents were stupid.   They weren’t “having an off day”: they were STUPID.  They were both educated people, which proves that educated people can be stupid.  It has made me wonder about the extent of my own stupidity.  I do not claim to be able to avoid stupidity, but I do hope to know where it lies.  The First Battle of the Somme was caused by educated people who, while taking great pains, were being stupid.

 

Dear Mr Fascist

Dear Mr Hypothetical Fascist:

Why do you feel so vulnerable?  I get globalisation, and the constant changes in the job market, and I have to put up with all that, but it doesn’t make me hate other people.

I don’t hate gay people.  The fact that gay men exist doesn’t mean that they want to bugger you, personally.  You are probably nowhere near their league.  And, as for gay women – you might as well be building a base on one of the moons of an as-yet-to-be-discovered exo-planet.

Polish sausage in supermarkets, with the legend in Polish – this sausage is on sale AS WELL AS, not INSTEAD OF other sausage.

I have been to four universities, and I am unemployed.  But I am not trying to blame other people.  I listen to reggae and ska musik.  I cook South Asian food.  I converse using French and German quotations.  This cultural diversity has not yet secured me another job, but it has still done me a lot of good.

The concepts of Britishness/Englishness/Masculinity/Employment are all being challenged.  What else would you expect?  I would start by saying that you do not have to be British to be British.  You think that sounds like sophistry or gibberish?  The person I have in mind in Mayala Yousufzai.  She was born in Pakistan, but she is British.  And not just because she was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Birmingham.  “Shot in the head for campaigning for female education?  Kept going?  British.”

So if you want to demonstrate how British you are, you are going to have to do something more constructive than merely being bright pink and wearing a silly, St George T-shirt.

Book launch: Something I Need To Tell You, Leeds Library, 11 July 2018

The launch of my debut short fiction collection, ‘Something I Need To Tell You’, will be at the Leeds Library (not the Central Library – the one on Commercial Street) from 7-10pm on Wednesday 11 July 2018.

There will be a small number of short readings.  Short, I said.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1882445795149897/

Refreshments, including beer and wine, will be available.

You can pre-order the book:  http://www.stairwellbooks.co.uk/product/something-i-need-to-tell-you/

The Leeds Library happens to be celebrating its 250th anniversary, this year.