Monday, 4 March 2013

Past, present and future by Cally Phillips


In the fast paced world of cyberspace jokes, fashion and interest seems to change at breakneck speed, so perhaps it’s ridiculous of me to suggest that we all cast our minds back to ten years ago yesterday.  But that’s what I’ve just done in my latest ebook from advocacy publisher Guerrilla Midgie Press  ‘We Couldn’t Stop the war…’

Because on 03/03/03 a Worldwide Act of Theatrical Dissent took place. And I was part of it.  You may have been involved too (or you may have completely missed it. Life’s like that isn’t it!?)  It was called the Lysistrata Project and the aim was to raise awareness of the impending war against Iraq.  It hadn’t happened yet but it was, we were beginning to realise by that date, ‘inevitable’ So we did what little we could. Spoke out about it. In our communities and spreading out round the world. Did it stop the war? Of course not.  But ten years on I note that the Royal Court Theatre are about to do what we did 10 years ago in Dumfries. Which is get a bunch of writers together and present some dramatic work reflecting on the war. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I suppose. I bet their budget and their reach and response will be bigger and better than we ever got. I bet they get more revenue than we earned for our charity event. But we were there first and we did what little we could. We said This is not in my name.  And if you want to take a trip into the past then please download the ebook.  It’s potentially interesting as pieces of dramatic writing but also has some small value as capturing a moment in social history. It’s the sort of thing that prior to the ebook era would just get lost in the mists of time. Put it on your ereader and you give it a chance of a new life!

Available in ebook and paperback formats
One good thing about the present is that we now have ways of getting this sort of protest/advocacy writing out there to a wider audience. We can’t stop wars and maybe we can’t change minds but we can bear witness.  This is what I strive to do through advocacy publishing.

My current advocacy ‘cause’ is the Top Ten FairTrade Flash Fiction Festival which is being held online during FairTrade Fortnight.  I’ve heard Fairtrade described as ‘a marketing ploy’ being rebutted as ‘political’ and dismissed as ‘the green welly brigade.’  I dispute that it’s just something which nice middle class ‘developed world’ people are using as this year’s fashion statement.  They may be true for some but that’s not why I care about it. I advocate for it because I believe it’s a just cause. It’s fair. At the most simple level (which is usually the one I operate at).  I’ll admit, I have no more kudos or credentials with the FairTrade ‘establishment’ than I have with mainstream publishing  and for sure if I got in with the in crowd more people would hear my voice, but it’s the words that are important not my voice. I bear witness because it’s all I can do. I put it out there and hope that others will pick up the baton. I’ve no right to hope that, but I feel it’s my responsibility to do it. Why?

John Lennon’s Imagine is a powerful song for me in this respect.  ‘You may say I’m a dreamer…’

Fiction is based on counterfactuals (what if’s) and I’ve long had a ‘fictional’ thought (not yet developed it into fiction.)  I think: What if it’s just a quirk of fate or luck that I was born who I was and not someone in the developing world destined for exploitation? I get pretty antsy when I feel that my rights are being abused (as I’m sure do you) so it seems hypocritical to simply dismiss people who might, if the dice had fallen another way, be me and I be them. 

Imagine if we all woke up one morning and had a life change. Imagine if I was suddenly growing cotton, or bananas or eking out a living in the coffee plantations. Would I want the person who’d got my life to give a damn about my living and working conditions? Yes I would. And I’m guessing you would too. We spend so much of our time banging on about ‘our’ rights but I’m not sure we think that much about the people whose rights we exploit in order to have these rights.  Hard fact but true. Many of our ‘rights’ come at the expense of the ‘rights’ of others. And with rights comes responsibilities.

I have this fictional thought that the world would be a better place if people were twinned at birth. Like they do with towns. What would the world be like if each of us in the developed world twinned with someone in the developing world. If we were responsible for each other on a personal level. How differently would you act then?  Well, I don’t have a named ‘twin’ but I feel a responsibility to the ‘unknown’ twin and I try to live my life on a daily basis appreciating that I’m the privileged twin and I have a responsibility to make the most of every moment of my life and to do whatever I can to make the life of my less privileged twin that little bit better. Because I could be them, and they could be me.  And it’s in that spirit that I set up the online festival. Just my way of trying to raise an issue and offer people a chance to ‘have their say’ to ‘engage’ and do so in a creative way.  I know to take the rough with the smooth and as I write this, it is falling on pretty stoney ground.  It seems people are more interested in the retirement of the Pope or horsemeat in their burgers (or to be honest about jokes on these topics.) Even Richard III in the car park is old hat now. So why should anyone bother to put themselves out for FairTrade eh?  Let alone look back and reflect on the ‘war on terrorism.’ This is the world we live in. Real and virtual.

We are all happy to take the advantages of this global wired world, but what about our responsibilities? To each other, to past, present and future.  I’ve often been accused of being too ‘serious.’ I no longer apologise for that. My twin’s life doesn’t allow for a lot of trivia after all. Their condition is pretty ‘serious’.  And what we do in the present will affect the future.  WARNING. I’m about to say something unfashionable. Not for the first time. Perhaps if we used social media in a more serious and responsible way we’d get more out of it?  It’s a tool. And we are the users. Cyberspace is a big, big place.  You can talk but you can’t guarantee anyone’s listening. Any more than you can guarantee sales of your publications.  Nor does any of us have any right to expect an ‘audience’ however much effort we put in.  Certainly we have less right to that (in my opinion) than a banana worker has to earn a fair and living wage for a very hard day’s work.  It’s easy to be selfish. And self obsessed. But at least we are free to use the internet and to publish.  Millions still aren’t. So is it not up to each and every one of us to find a way to make what we say count? Perhaps if we think more about our responsibilities and less about our rights we’ll use our skills in a more fruitful way? Just a thought.  

The way we engage with the present will inform how the future pans out but essentially it’s an uncertain commodity. In one sense we’re all equal in the lottery of the future. For me the immediate future sees three plays to format and publish by next month. And then once more organising the 2nd Edinburgh ebook Festival for August. An event to which you are all invited.  It will be serious, it will also be funny, but if I’m doing my job right it won’t be trivial. It will offer a chance for writers and readers to ‘meet’ and to ‘engage’ and open channels of communication for everyone with a smartphone or computer. Our ‘twins’ won’t get a chance to come to this festival, but you can – it’s a privilege we have. So it might be worth some of your precious time. It might be worth flagging up as a ‘priority.’  Your ‘twin’ can’t be there, but you could stand in for them because I’m betting they’d love to have the opportunity to virtually be in Edinburgh talking about reading and writing this summer instead of knocking their pan out for below poverty wages and wondering why none of us care if they are treated fairly or even bombed to oblivion.

If you want to find out more about Guerrilla Midgie Publishing click HERE 
Or more about my other work HERE

To buy We Couldn't stop the war   Amazon Kindle, or Kobo (epub) 

 To buy Fair Trade Fiction (Vol 1) Amazon Kindle or Kobo (epub) or paperback 


10 comments:

JO said...

My opposition to the Iraq war could have cost me my job - I was working in the NHS, and put notices on public noticeboards about the big demonstration in London. They were taken down, I put them up again - and though I didn't advertise it was me most people know. And then the consultants must have had some sort of meeting, and the notices stayed, and most of my colleagues joined me on the march.

We didn't change anything? We showed that, together, we can make a huge fuss. It's a beginning. I hope Cameron couldn't take us into Iran by telling lies as easily as Blair took us into Iraq.

Dan Holloway said...

How strange that "political" is used as an insult *(the way peole have started talking about "human rights" as though they were a bad thing). I think we forget that however small we are, as writers we have a voice that's heard more widely than that of many, so whilst it's true that every human being has a duty to speak up, as writers we have doubly a duty to do so.
On the subject of Fairtrade and smartphones, a poet friend of mine, Emma Ako (do google her), is doing wonderful things campaigning about the use of conflict minerals from the Congo in smartphones - one of the hidden sides of the digital revolution (rather, not hidden at all, just one of the other things our society chooses to wholesale ignore like other forms of consumer-led exploitation). If I may, I'm going to include a poem in my comments because it's about many of these issues, and especially on your incredibly important point of the essentiality of advocacy - we hear all the time that evil wins when good people say nothing and somehow we accept that as an adequate statement when the truth is that if we say nothing we lose our right to be called good.
Keep up the fight.

Murder does not begin with piles of glasses,
Gases, gates and railway tracks
Or the clack clack clack of a million boots in tune
Or the phosphorous perfume of the jagged ack ack ack
The weapons stash
Or lives mown down, the slash of knives, the twisted iron fence
Or gashes carved in innocence.
Murder begins with not wanting to cause offence,
Politely keeping up pretence,
Ignoring what they say for dulce and decorum’s sake,
Murder begins with the proffered hand you shake,
The gift you take,
The offering to heal the rift because the coffin’s beckoning
And the clink of coins in coffers
Making conscience-cleansing reckonings.
Murder begins with parental pacifist cajoling,
With smiles kept because the camera’s rolling,
The old man’s ignorance unmentioned for another year.
Murder begins with the lie that it was different then.
Murder begins with the lie that those who do nothing we can still call good.
Murder begins with the lie that anger’s worse than apathy and indifference,
That one voice cannot make a difference,
Murder begins with the lie that it’s a social crime to be pedantic,
That hatred’s just semantics,
That a joke is just a joke
And words are less than sticks and stones,
That peace is worth the price you pay
That nothing’s worth the fight today
And you should only speak if you’ve got something nice to say
Think twice today
The mercury is high today
The sun is bright today
There’s no clouds in the sky today
So bite your tongue before you give advice today
Just because there might one day
Be someone, perhaps, someone not yet born, in a war torn land you couldn’t point to on a map lying watching her dreams go out one by one like the stars disappearing behind the mortar smoke at night one day
Because you made this one small oversight today.
Murder begins with the neighbour who sees my curtains pulled and mutters scrounger.
Murder begins with words you file away as fact
And ends with acts you laid down years before as laziness and tact.
Murder begins with you, listening to this poem, as the first line blurs
And ends with piles of glasses,
Gases, gates, and railway tracks
And tomorrows you laugh off today because they’re simply too absurd.

Jan Needle said...

Off to Auschwitz tomorrow, lest we forget. (What strange birthday presents one's sons can choose...) I bought Cally's book yesterday to read on my Kindle while in Poland.

And a fine poem, Dan.

Lee said...

No matter what your political views are, speaking out is undoubtedly a good thing. However, fiction written with an overt political agenda is often awfully weak in the fiction department. Despite its popularity, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother is a good example. When does fiction become propaganda?

But counterexamples exist - I'm thinking of some of the best African writers - so maybe it's a question of skill, emotional range, (ugh, that dread word) depth.

Dennis Hamley said...

Great poem Dan. And as I sit here at my comfortable desk, signing petitions on disability allowance, bedroom tax, mansion tax, every Amnesty appeal, repeating over and over in my mind 'the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity', knowing righteous anger burns within me, I feel the awful fog of powerlessness descending. But Jo, you're action was superb and that's how we should all react to wrong. Yesterday's Observer article about Katherine Gun at GCHQ and what happened to her after she discovered the US plot to spy on the UN in the run-up to the Iraq War was sadly instructive. Had the findings been revealed it could have made a difference: Blair was more scared of the peace march then he let on. I never used to believe in conspiracy theory. But now..?

Dan Holloway said...

Lee, I agree - fiction that sets out to have a message can be utterly dreadful - I think te key is to put the story and characters first and forget the message, truting that the story you tell will do all the work you need it to. The finest example I know isn't a book but Kieslowski's film A Short Film About Killing, which follows the story of a young hoodlum who murders a taxi driver from the crime to the gallows understatedly and humanely and was according to some sources in large part responsible for the repeal of the death penalty in Poland

Kathleen Jones said...

Really with you on this one Cally - having just (literally) returned from a close encounter with the third world in all its horrific reality.
And the Iraq war - with thousands of others I did a sit-in for amnesty, wrote letters, signed petitions - all useless. Bush and Blair should be tried for war crimes.

julia jones said...

I'll take your idea of the invisible twin along with me.

Lee said...

Dan, thanks for the tip about the Kieslowski film, which I'll try to get hold of.

Dan Holloway said...

I'm thoroughly enjoying Let the Great World Spin by the way.