I’m very pleased that my piece Borderline was shortlisted for the Jupiter Artland Inspired to Write Competition. You can read about the competition and download a copy of all winning and shortlisted pieces on the Jupiter Artland site.
Borderline was inspired by Laura Ford’s Weeping Girls and Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone House. Being a creature who loves dolls, mannequins, robots and anything lurking in the uncanny valley, I immediately fell in love with Laura Ford’s Weeping Girls. What Jupiter Artland does so well is situate the art in the landscape in such a way that it feels strange but not out of place – the art and the landscape feed into each other. As you walk down the path a weeping girl comes into sight just beyond the swaying leaves of the trees and there’s a real sense of unease and mystery.
When I heard about Inspired to Write I knew I would write about the weeping girls and I imagined them emerging from the ground. You come upon Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone House just before the weeping girls and it made sense to me that the girls would emerge from this equally mysterious and creepy place before venturing down the path and hiding amongst the trees.
Borderline was inspired by the stunning art at Jupiter Artland but sadly it was also inspired by our appalling treatment of refugees. It’s with a keen sense of history that I write this, shortly after Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January. As a nation we tend to put on rose-tinted glasses when we look back on WWII, conveniently forgetting our deplorable treatment of Jewish and other refugees.
“People feel that the country should maintain asylum for genuine asylum seekers, but they’re always in the past, never today.”
– Tony Kushner, professor of history, University of Southampton
When I wrote Borderline, I was disgusted by the attitude of ‘our’ government and national press. My purpose in writing the last line – “You are nothing” – was to put the reader in the place of the refugee who is so vilified by our government, by our press, by the ignorant people who say “We have to help our own first” (whatever ‘our own’ means). As I was writing it I thought of the line in The Holy Bible’s Of Walking Abortion – “Who’s responsible? You fucking are.” While some might say The Holy Bible collapses under the weight of nihilism and misanthropy I’ve always found it a strangely invigorating album and I hope that Borderline will have a similar effect – I want to make you uncomfortable, but inspired to act. It’s a dark take on the current global situation, but I hope that darkness will be transmuted into empathy.
While I was disgusted by the attitude of ‘our’ government and national press I was also heartened by the reaction of my friends, acquaintances and various organisations (who either continued the amazing work they’d been doing for years, or were born out of a need to do something about the current situation). I also appreciated seeing many people combatting ignorant and racist attitudes. We are responsible and we must hold our government to account. We are responsible and we mustn’t turn our back on those in need.
The problem is taking that weight of responsibility and not being crushed by it. Whilst acknowledging the darkness that’s in us, whilst doing what we can to help, we need to remember our joy – our “desperate joy”, as a friend perfectly described the post-Holy Bible song Everything Must Go. And sometimes everything must go for us to survive. If you care so much it hurts, you have to transform that hurt into art, into action. If you care so much it hurts, the world needs you – create, love, live, donate, act. Do what you can, but only what you can. Don’t let life crush you. We are responsible and we will act. We are responsible and we will hold our leaders to account.
If you’re able to donate, these are some charities doing good work with refugees:
Re-Act Refugee Action Scotland fundraise and collect vital donations to transport to the refugee camps throughout crisis areas of Europe. There’s a drop-off point for donations if you live in Edinburgh, a crowdfunding site for donations, and an option to donate via paypal.
My novel Goblin is about the WWII pet massacre in London, but it’s sadly relevant today. I always think about how war affects animals too. It doesn’t mean I care any less for humans, but people can get really indignant and caught up in a human/animal hierarchy debate. Animals don’t suddenly become expendable when there’s a crisis – we’re responsible for them, as we’re responsible for the human refugees. This is a piece about the current situation and the people doing what they can to help animals in need.
I’m not sure if they’re doing any work in Syria, but World Animal Protection are worth supporting (there’s a donate button at the top right – you just need to select a country).
“I regard animals and humans in the same light. All of them suffer pain, and all of them deserve compassion.”
– Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, who looks after 150 street cats in Syria.
I Will Rot Without You, the latest piece of Bizarro fiction by Danger Slater, follows hapless lovelorn narrator Ernie who is beset by an army of cockroaches who seem to have it in for him. The reanimated corpse of one particular roach he names ‘Cross’ bullies him into eating a piece of the strange mould that is growing in Ernie’s bathroom. The mould makes him sick and his skin turns a strange green before body parts start to fall off. As Ernie deals with this disintegration there are various odd encounters with his antagonistic landlord, a neighbour who keeps the long-dead corpse of his wife in his apartment, and another neighbour – Dee – who has boyfriend trouble.
Slater throws a whole host of body horror scenarios at the reader so that the pages are dripping with body fluids, mould and torn muscle, rattling with shattered bone, and scuttling with determined psychopathic cockroaches. One of my favourite lines is “she slurps up my tongue pus like it were melted milkshake,” which is followed by a ridiculous and amusingly gruesome sex scene which would have worked better if the word ‘pump’ had been excised instead of (or as well as) a particular appendage.
As much as I was enjoying this bizarre and gruesome read, there were a few typos and missed words that pulled me out of the narrative. The use of ‘go’ and ‘goes’ instead of ‘say/s’ also distracted me – it could have been demonstrating character, but it was used so erratically that it jarred. The constant use of similes were starting to drive me a bit mad too (I now twitch when I read/hear the word ‘like’) – that is, until the author/protagonist comes to the rescue just in time and takes the piss out of his simile love: “…and those are her lips that sit like red velvet cake, and her freckles like constellations scattered across her cheeks, and her ears like…um…ear-shaped…ears?…” which made me chuckle and forgive such simile vomiting (I even started to wonder if it was a symptom of mould digestion – body and language horror?).
While I Will Rot is funny and absurd, there are serious underlying themes around body anxieties, relationships, obsession, and whether you can ‘own’ another person. I Will Rot is one big metaphor about how relationships can become mutually destructive, and how it can be difficult to move on – in this case it literally eats away at Ernie, and Dee’s boyfriend is so obsessive and controlling that he tries to own her by sewing parts of his body onto her. However, as Ernie’s ex, Gretchen, says: “you can’t force yourself into another person.”
I Will Rot Without You is a fun, over-the-top, body horror delight with some laugh out loud moments and I look forward to reading more perverse morsels from Danger Slater’s twisted mind.
I Will Rot Without You is released on 8th February 2016.
Ali Miller’s stunning piece of psychogeography, ‘What If The City Fails To Work’, electrified me, inspired me, and reminded me of the joy of writing and reading, which I’m sad to say doesn’t happen often with anthologies. Miller’s writing made me stand to attention with those long sentences, comma after comma, followed by the short and sharp: “It’s fiction, I tell myself. It is, and yet.” I was swept up by the orchestration of words, the delicious rhythm – now this is writing.
Miller’s piece is timely as Edinburgh faces numerous inappropriate building developments and the use of our streets as event space, pushing the residents out of sight. Who is this city for? Is it a living, breathing city? Is it a museum of tartan for tourists?
“It’s what we trade in, this lie of nationhood, of unity, of a better past, but it brings in the tourists, and develops the city economically. That’s the buzz word now, economic development, how the worth of proposed schemes is judged, it’s a market driven economy, just as well we have something to sell. The city works, puts its past to work… The city cracks. The city works for some, but not for all, where does the tipping point sit, who calibrates the scales? …The city does not work for me. For me, this city does not work.”
Miller reminds us of our place in the city in a time of increasing alienation – capitalism erases us; Miller reinstates us. “We need to know as a city, which is little more than a collection of its citizens – how to nourish ourselves again… I did not know how to feed myself. I stopped knowing because the complexity was too much to handle. And now the city does not know how to feed itself.” To carry with us this idea of the city and its people as a Möbius strip feeding one into the other – this is the personal, this is the political. But is it enough? “What price comfort? What price modernity? And who pays when? …I never have to touch food again to live, I realise… We’re all fucking worth it, until we know the price of everything, but the cost of nothing… I want I want I want, more more more.”
Millar castigates herself for being the watcher and recorder, but words are powerful, storytelling is powerful, and we all do it – our lives are a narrative we tell ourselves and others. Our government and corporations tell us what our narratives should be; it’s not the role of watcher and recorder that is passive, but our acceptance of these imposed narratives. We need our writers – not as untouchable demigods, but as workers who can remind us there are alternatives to the dominant narratives of ‘capitalism’ and ‘economic development’. While Miller is tempted down the path of cynicism, she turns away; as she acknowledges it’s a cliché to end such a piece on hope, what other route is there? Miller not only leaves us with hope, she raises a challenge – “It’s daring to imagine a city that works, that can feed itself and its visitors, that trades not only on an imagined past, but a vibrant present” – and as citizens and storytellers we must all take heed.
I’ve submitted my short story The Company Report (which I read at Story Shop during the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2012) to the Inkitt ‘laughable’ competition. It has lashings of dark humour, satirising office life and the beauty industry.
I would appreciate your vote if you enjoy it. You can vote for The Company Report by clicking on the heart at the bottom of the page on my story, which will help get my story into the top 10% so it can reach the eyes of the judges. Feel free to write a review too – I’d love to hear your opinion. Many thanks, creatures!
Greetings, creatures! I’m very pleased to tell you that my story Touch was longlisted for the Bath Short Story Award. I’m very pleased to have made it that far. Many congratulations to fellow longlistees, the shortlistees, and winner Safia Moore.