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Friday, 26 October 2007
Wroclaw, pronounced something like 'Rozzlafft' is Poland's fourth largest city on the south west side, close to the Czech border. After leaving home at 1am on Thursday, I arrived there at around 6pm. At 7pm I stood in a dark theatre on the other side of Rynek and read a short story. The whole audience was squinting at me. Half way through the story I realised it was because they were reading the Polish translation on a large screen behind me. How do you translate 'Fear and poo and death, bach,' into Polish, I wonder? When I finished, moderate applause and a cheque for 280 Euros. Unfortunately, Poland still deals in Zloty's so I used a beer token to buy a pint of Heineken. I hadn't eaten for a day, hadn't slept for two, and it totally wiped me out. I went to bed having learned three Polish words - 'Alkohole' - Booze, 'Woda' - Water and, 'Wodka' - Vodka, of course.
Next day I woke at 4pm and went for a walk along Kielbasnicza, the main shopping bar and restaurant area. I'd made the mistake of wearing heels, and the ground was cobbled, so I was tiptoeing precariously and looking down, when I heard somebody crooning Oscar Hammerstein's 'Some Enchanted Evening.' I recognised the voice. In June I'd been sitting in Waterstones in Abergavenny signing copies of 'Dial M for Merthyr,' when the manager started cursing the street entertainer outside. 'He can't even sing,' he said. I looked up. It was him, the busker, standing in front of a bank, covered in dirt, bellowing into the hail, in Wroclaw. Go figure.
Posted at 14:49 |
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Monday, 1 October 2007
I don't usually watch much television. It rots your brain, doesn't it? I've got one though. A 42" flat screen HD ready effort which dominates the living room. (My husband tricked me into buying it with my Dylan Thomas prize winnings by unplugging the speakers on our seventeen year old Sony and telling me the sound was knackered. Bad news: I only use TV to play Rock Guitar Hero II and listen to the Kerrang channel from the bathroom.) Anyway, during an unusually long bout of flu, two weeks and still counting, I've been watching quite a lot. And I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't impressed.
I watched 'It's A Free World,' Ken Loach's first film for television in six years; a drama about the exploitation of EU immigrant workers. Ken Loach, if you didn't already know it, is one of the best things in the film world; motivated by politics, class and otherwise, who makes deeply humanistic works devoid of propaganda; unassuming and unpretentious, didactic and conscientious - everything that as a writer I aspire to. Here he decided to give voice to a gang master. No, not a misogynistic middle aged fat cat but an entrepreneurial single mother with a retired shop steward dad. How wonderful to witness such a startling slice of social realism at a time when seemingly three quarters of the population are engrossed in Pop Idol (or whatever it's called) and TV audiences need cliché and stereotype in order to save them having to think.
The other thing I saw was the adaptation of Alexander Masters' best-selling book 'Stuart - A Life Backwards.' I'd never read the book so I didn't really know what to expect. It turned out to be an admirably delicate piece of television with a vastly generous performance by Tom Hardy as protagonist Stuart Shorter. He was a homeless man who tried to behead his next door neighbour and held his wife and son hostage with a knife before trying to set fire to his house whilst still inside it. He was also sexually abused at the age of nine by his older brother, sexually abused by a care worker at the children's home he begged to go into and was suffering from a literally crippling form of muscular dystrophy. As somebody remarked on the myspace bulletin board immediately afterwards, 'selfish and judgemental people should be forced to watch it.' Homelessness is a subject close to my heart because I've spent some time sleeping on cardboard in the doorways of various cities. Next month I'm going to be the guest speaker at the annual general meeting of The Wallich, a homeless charity whose aim is to help and support the most vulnerable of homeless people; people whom other agencies are unwilling or unable to help. There are many reasons why people become homeless and usually they're complicated and not easily solved. Rarely they're because the person in question is inherently lazy, and yet I still hear very stupid people telling Big Issue sellers to 'get a job.'
Homelessness is a social problem that many people choose to edit out of their consciousness. Stuart is the kind of person many people like to edit out of their consciousness and with it, books about people like him. So the image of the writer running into a bookshop and replacing copies of Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code,' with 'Stuart - A Life Backwards,' is a suitable one which played out towards the end of the programme. (I do this with my own books every time I go into a bookshop, most writer's do. Once, a sales assistant in Llantrisant Borders caught me throwing copies of 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,' into a cavity behind a bookcase. By the way, will everyone stop asking me if I read Harry Potter? Do I look like someone who gives a shit about magicians who go to boarding school?) Most of the criticism I received for 'Fresh Apples,' and the title story in particular, was from people who didn't want to believe that Matt, the sixteen year old protagonist, would consider having sex with a thirteen year old girl with cerebral palsy in order to appease his more sexually experienced peers, or that he'd use the word 'fuck.' One person, a former schoolteacher from Hertfordshire, told me that I was typecasting the teenagers of the Rhondda by putting expletives into their mouths. God help whoever his students were.
The Rhondda Valley is an economical wasteland, rendered ugly by the arrival of industry and left crushed by its untimely departure. I'm not as interested in the coal mines or the politics surrounding them, as I am in the people who are affected by those things. My work is about the trial, tribulations and survival instincts of the ordinary working class people who still live there. As someone who was born and brought up in the area it is unnatural for me to patronise or typecast my characters. I know that when the chips are down, life isn't really as simple as good and evil. People will do their very best to survive in all kinds of difficult situations and my job is to help readers understand their journeys and their locale, rather than demean characters, or area, for the sake of a good story. And when you look at life that closely, fairies and happy endings are few and far between. But I don't believe it's a negative thing to examine the darker side of life. What's far more negative is to pretend things like homelessness and rape and people who say 'fuck' do not really exist. I am absolutely delighted that a group of television executives decided to show 'Stuart - A Life Backwards,' at 9pm on a Sunday night, even if he did throw himself under a train in the end. The box isn't fundamentally evil after all, it seems.
Shame then about 'The Secret Diary of A Call Girl' in which Billie Piper plays posh working girl Belle De Jour. Whilst trying to explain the reason for her career choice, she says 'I know you won't believe me, but I enjoy the sex.' Dead right I don't believe you. I mean, I enjoy sex. Most people enjoy sex. But most people wouldn't if they were doing it with a stranger solely for the sake of funding a crack addiction or paying the flipping rent. If Billie Piper was playing a street hooker who gave blow-jobs to put new track marks in her arm, audiences would be outraged, but she doesn't, does she? She calls her madam her 'agent,' talks with a nice accent, and enjoys the sex, which seems to mean it's alright. She's got a lovely wardrobe too. I can hear the cash registers at Agent Provocateur ringing as I type. Maybe some sixteen year old in Hertfordshire is asking her mummy if she'd be able to study prostitution at Oxbridge, or maybe it's another kind of sixteen year old who's thinking the sale of her body might actually be acceptable now, the kind who can't afford to go to University, the kind who's mother is nowhere to be found. www.thewallich.com
Posted at 17:53 |
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