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.