George & Angelina

According to The Epilogue (“what epilogue???”), today is the day which James Sirius Potter starts Hogwarts.

The ensuing fit of nostalgia led my pal Alex to post this absolute terrorgem of a tweet:

WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS. Why. WHY. WHY WOULD YOU PURPOSEFULLY HURT PEOPLE IN THIS WAY. I only met this man for the first time three days ago, and now I wish he’d never been born.

Anyway: it got me thinking about one of the more horrible parts of post-Harry Potter Harry Potter. Listen closely: it’s really very horrible.

George married Angelina.

I feel like Jo just slipped this one in there and not many people noticed it happening. Because yeah, it all makes perfect sense: Angelina was in the same year as Fred and George, they were all on the Quidditch team together, they all hung out together, so far so fine. Here’s the thing though: Angelina was Fred’s girlfriend. Not George’s. Fred’s.

I think about Life After Fred for George and Angelina quite a lot; probably more than is healthy for a 28 year old adult who has a grown-up job and does grown-up things like, you know, keeping pasta in glass jars instead of in packets, and actually bothering to hoover the carpets at least once a fortnight, and ok, I haven’t worked out how to change a hoover bag yet, but we are GETTING there, is the point.

I think about how they must have grown closer in the aftermath of Fred’s death, coming together to talk about him and to share stories about him; sitting up late at night, the two people that loved him the most.

I think about how hurtful and bewildering it must have been for Angelina to look at George, who tbh was always the slightly less vivacious of the twins, and have to see him looking back at her wearing the face of the man that she loved.

I think about how one night, drunk and reminiscing, they must have ended up kissing, and that there must have been solace in that but also hurt and confusion and shame.

I think about the guilt that George must have felt, knowing that he was stealing his brother’s girl; about about the constant paranoia he must have felt that perhaps she was only with him because he looked exactly like (but wasn’t) Fred.

I think about their wedding day, and about the gaping hole next to George where his best man should have been. I feel like they would have left a space for him. I feel like they would have set aside a chair at the top table. I feel like the best man’s speech would have been a minute’s silence – and then there would have been an awful lot of drinking, and a lot of fun, because Fred would never have wanted George’s wedding any other way.

I think about Angelina waking up next to George every day, seeing him lying beside her in the bed, his ginger hair splayed across the pillow: a shit copy of the man she loved and lost.

I think about her old and grey, her fingers fumbling through the moving photograph albums of their life together – ginger kids, Weasley weddings, fun and friendship – and imagining that the grinning face next to hers had been Fred’s. I think about George watching her from his seat by the fire, eyes wrinkled from years of laughter, knowing that that was what she was thinking, and wishing that it could have been true – not only for her, but for himself.

And I think about both of them being sad, but being happy; and knowing that this was really the only way they could have lived their lives, under the circumstances.

So yeah – I think a lot about George and Angelina.

On Terry Pratchett, and the art of comedy

I haven’t written anything about Terry Pratchett following his death; partly because everyone has already said everything there is to be said, but mostly because I haven’t really been writing at all of late (I’ve mostly been tramping around forests and foreshores instead, in some kind of effort to become more au fait with the outside world – that thing, you know, the one that isn’t the internet).

JonathanJones
Yeah like we’re going to pay attention to your thoughts about “art” in THAT shirt.

But oh, that Jonathon Jones article in the Guardian has irked me. It has IRKED me. Even then, I’m loath to write about something that is a) so obviously shoddy clickbait on the part of the Guardian, and b) so clearly written by a dead-inside subhuman plod of a man with the same taste in “high literature” as an angsty teenage boy.

(No offence meant to teenage boys. Some of my best friends used to be teenage boys. Luckily, they grew out of it.)

So I won’t write about him, really. I’ll write about Terry, who deserves more words than I can ever give him; and about comedy, which I suppose his books were, in that they made me laugh.

The main trust of JJ’s argument seems to echo from that weird but oft-held belief that comedy – or at least comedic writing – is a lower form of art (or perhaps not even art at all). For me (and I am 100% objective on this, as all matters, and am therefore correct), this couldn’t be further from the truth. The thing I love about comedy – and I do, I really do – is that it has the potential to contain and combine so any other emotional and intellectual impulses. Some of the best comedy I’ve seen and read has made me cry – and not with laughter. There’s something about the sudden incorporation of A Truth – be that one about pain, or loss, or grief, of anger, or becoming, or being – into a framework ostensibly designed for light-hearted frivolry, which makes it feel all the more powerful and all the more true.

This, for me, was the absolute genius of Terry; that ability to speak profound Truths about the world we live in, and do it in a way that was wise, and eloquent, and moving, whilst at the same time making you weep with laughter and joy. And no, of course that’s not what you’d immediately see when picking up and flicking through one of his books, scoffing at his lengthy footnoted asides (which to me made it feel like he was there with me, a benevolent guide, muttering away at my shoulder) and weird SUDDEN CAPITALISATION OF A CERTAIN CHARACTER’S DIALOGUE.

But to flick through is to miss the point, much as walking in on the middle of a stand-up set and catching one or two one-liners doesn’t tell you anything about the overall arc of the show or what it was trying to tell you. For Terry, comedy was usually his medium, but rarely his message.

Anyway – basically what I’m saying is Jonathon Jones is a total dick GO SIT ON A STICK MATE.

GNU Terry Pratchett, always & forever. He aten’t dead.

Nagging Kills: Let’s Stop it

This piece was originally posted over at The Independent

Poor, beleaguered men.  Wherever they go they are surrounded by swarms of nagging women, sucking at their very lifeblood like a cloud of banshee mosquitos.  And now it’s become even worse: what was seen as simply an irritating affliction is now apparently a fatal one.  “You really can be nagged to death!” squeals the Mail, whilethe Telegraph warns that “nagging could cost the lives of hundreds of men”.

It’s the result of a report released this week by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health on stressful social relations and mortality, the conclusion of which is that “stressful social relations are associated with increased mortality risk among middle-aged men and women.” This risk is higher amongst men, and particularly men “outside the labour force”.

None of this is particularly shocking news: we all know that social relationships can cause stress, and we know that stress leads to potentially fatal issues such as cardiovascular disease. We also already know that men are more susceptible to these diseases: about one in five men die of coronary heart disease, compared to one in eight women.

But it’s hardly surprising that the headlines have opted for the rather more sensationalised conclusion that women are nagging men to death.

‘Nag’ is part of a long linguistic tradition of invalidating women, in the same vein as ‘ball and chain’ and the dreaded ‘missus’. These words hold the idea of woman whose constant scolding forbids the henpecked husband from staying out for another pint lest he ‘get into trouble’. They can be whipped out as a handy excuse to allow a man to avoid the notion that he might – imagine it! – actually enjoy spending time with his partner.

Mary Beard’s brilliant lecture on the silencing of women throughout history “Oh Do Shut Up Dear!” covers this cultural phenomenon in detail. “Do those words matter? Of course they do – because they underpin an idiom that acts to remove the authority, the force, even the humour from what women have to say. It’s an idiom that effectively repositions women back into the domestic sphere… it trivialises their words.”

Linguistic traits such as this aren’t limited to the domestic space, but bleed over into every area of public and professional life. When women speak, they’re often described as ‘strident’, ‘shrill’ or ‘whining’, especially if they dare to do so within traditionally masculine spaces, such as politics.

Consider David Cameron’s patronising suggestion that MP Angela Eagle “Calm down, dear”.  These words are designed to undermine and invalidate women’s voices, painting our concerns as trivial, irrational and overbearing.

There are a lot of interesting things which we could talk about as a result of these research findings. We could talk about the relationship between stress and masculinity, and the damaging societal expectation that men bottle up rather than express feelings. We could talk about the pressure of trying to live up to the traditional male role as provider, sole breadwinner and head of the household, compounded by dealing with the evolution and cultural shift away from these roles.

The study’s finding that unemployed men are most at risk of going to an early grave – those “outside the labour force” – is certainly one that’s worth exploring, especially given the current heightened levels of ‘nagging’ from the government, as dole-seekers are forced to sign-on on a daily basis, complete mandatory work-placements and generally jump through more hoops than Crufts’ most put-upon poodle.

But rather than explore issues around the construction of gender roles and expectations, and the negative effects which these might be having on all of us, we fall back time and time again onto old and familiar narratives, reinforcing them as we do so.

Women nag, men don’t talk about their feelings, and eventually we’ll all drive each other into an early grave. Until death do us part.

in which i accidentally interact with a human being

I had an odd encounter last night. I was walking down Tottenham Court Road way, not particularly heading anywhere and not particularly doing anything, when a man stopped me in the middle of the street. Naturally I assumed I was about to be either propositioned or mugged; he was an enormous hulk of a man, and I was a woman alone. I stopped anyway for some reason (Greetings, Herr Thanatos, & welcome) and he shook my hand. “It’s ok”, he explained, noting my obvious anxiety, “I’m a writer.”

Naturally I quirked an eyebrow and said “Aren’t we all?”

– at which he laughed, and protested: “No, I’m being serious.”

He said he was writing a book about how modern society and technology are making us alienated, and how we miss the fleeting connections that make us human. “Just twenty years ago, people stopping and talking in the street like this used to happen all the time. Now you never see it.” I pulled on my Digital Native dungarees and explained that it wasn’t necessarily the case that technology was causing disconnection; it was only that the connection had migrated elsewhere. “That doesn’t cheapen it,” I said, “It only changes it.”

What if you were speaking to someone and you couldn’t see their face, he said; they had a hood pulled down over it. Wouldn’t that make you uncomfortable?

“That’s very dependent on the context,” I said, “Who they are, and why they’re hiding their face.”

They’re telling you a really harrowing story, he said. Something awful that happened to them at some point. Rape, or torture – something like that.

“I think I’d be more interested in the story,” I said, “I like to think that I would”. He was worried that you don’t know who anyone really is online – there could be anyone sitting behind the other end of the keyboard. I questioned the idea of ever knowing who anyone really is; what is it that necessarily makes the meatsack standing in front of me more “real” than an online avatar? Aren’t they both just a form of representation? There could be anyone sitting inside of that face.

“You’re being purposefully contrary,” he said, “You don’t really think that.”

Maybe I am, I said, and maybe I don’t. But I do definitely think we place too much emphasis on the facial and the corporeal. Isn’t it the stories and the ideas that matter more? Doesn’t the internet give us direct access to other people’s stories without having to go through all the palaver of a skin-interface?

“What ARE you?” he said, looking faintly aghast.

“I suppose I’m a writer”, I said.

And then I fucked off to the pub.

Writeidea Literary Fringe, Tower Hamlets

AND (I know) I’m curating the fringe of a Writeidea literary festival in Tower Hamlets this coming weekend. Blurb below:

______________________________________________

For the very first time this year, we’ll be presenting a fringe as part of the festival – focusing on non-traditional forms of writing, alternative narratives and creativity in all shapes and sizes.

The fringe will run across both days of the festival, from 2-6pm, and feature a wide variety of sessions – think of it as a sort of cultural smorgasbord of delights for you to sample!

Nat Guest

The Writeidea Festival Fringe is curated by Nat Guest.

Nat Guest is a writer and blogger, and the founder and organiser of Hackney’s ‘BBC Question Time Tweet-a-Long’ (featured in The Guardian, Total Politics and The Londonist). She has written for The Sunday Times, The Independent, the New Statesman and Skeptic Magazine, amongst others.

Saturday

2pm. Performance: Grace Petrie

In 2010, singer-songwriter Grace Petrie’s music began to take a new, political direction. She picked up a guitar and wrote what has become one of the most celebrated anti-establishment anthems of recent times, ‘Farewell to Welfare’. When folk legend (and Grace’s personal hero) Billy Bragg heard her music and invited her to play at Glastonbury on the Leftfield stage, she went down a storm and, in Bragg’s own words, “stole the f@!#ing show, sister!”

Alongside UK tours with Emmy the Great and Josie Long, Grace has had a string of festival appearances including End of the Road, Greenbelt and, of course, a triumphant return to Glastonbury. National airplay on BBC 6 Music from Josie Long, Tom Robinson and Steve Lamacq as well as interviews in The Guardian and Diva magazine have cemented Grace’s name in the public consciousness.

3pm. Discussion Panel: How Our Words Shape the Future

With the rise of the citizen journalist, where everyone with an internet connection can easily become a publisher, more and more people are using the power of blogging and social media to hold power to account. But is the pen really mightier than the sword? And can writing have an impact on our political future – or even on our political now?

Join Liberal Conspiracy founder and political blogger Sunny Hundal, green activist Adam Ramsay, author of ‘Counterpower: Making Change Happen’ Tim Gee. This panel will be chaired by Dawn Foster of The Guardian’s Comment is Free.

4pm – 6pm. Workshop: Writing Poetry, with Hannah Chutzpah

Come along and join us for a session of poetry-writing. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or expert, all are welcome – all you need to get started is a pencil and your brain!

Hannah Chutzpah is a copywriter and editor by day, and a blogger and performance poet by night. She studied English Literature with Creative Writing at UEA and has been published in magazines, chapbooks, on various blogs and in The Guardian and The Independent. She runs the ‘Whippersnapper Press’ (www.whippersnapperpress.com) for short, sharp, funny creative writing. Hannah has been described as “fine” by three therapists, “of good character” by a high court judge, and as “a rotten brat” by her mother.

Sunday

2pm. Discussion Panel: The Future of Comics

Comics are one of our oldest ways of storytelling – just think of Egyptian hieroglyphics, or the pictures that cavemen daubed onto the walls of their homes. They’re also one of our most varied, imaginative and innovative types of narrative. So how are comics changing? What impact is digital having upon them, and are webcomics paving the way forward? And is the success of Joss Whedon’s recent reimagining of Marvel for the silver screen making superhero comics popular again?

Joining us to discuss are Marvel writer Kieron Gillen, New Statesman resident comic writer Tom Humberstone, and author of graphic novel ‘Britten & Brulightly’ Hannah Berry. This panel will be chaired by Alex Hern, tech reporter at The Guardian

3.30pm. Rehearsed Comedy: Wil Hodgson

Retro culture geek, stand-up comedian and general subculture enthusiast Wil Hodgson takes us through his recollections of growing up as a comic book nerd – and wherever else his twisted mind might drag us.

‘The most charismatic of storytellers’ (Scotsman). ‘Genius’ (Russell Howard). ‘A creature of rigorously maintained authenticity … he remains one of the most original and consistently funny performers in the UK’ (Guardian).

4.30pm. Getting Better Acquainted: Helen Zaltzman

Join Dave Pickering in conversation with Sony Award winning podcaster Helen Zaltzman. They’ll be talking about her experience of writing for BBC Radio and TV, changing the UK’s most popular entertainment podcast, ‘Answer Me This!’(answermethispodcast.com) into a book, and making the ‘Sound Women’ podcast, which focuses on and advocates for women in radio.

This is a live recording of Radio Production Award nominated podcast ‘Getting Better Acquainted’ (www.gettingbetteracquainted.co.uk), in which Dave Pickering captures intimate conversations with people he knows about their lives. Daveis a Sony Award nominated writer, musician, performer, producer and podcaster. He co-produced and wrote for the CBeebies Radio series ‘Ministry of Stories’, hosts the Hackney branch of true storytelling night ‘Spark London’ and is the creator of the variety night ‘Stand Up Tragedy’.

A Cinematic Smörgåsbord

I also wrote some words for the Independent which they DID want, on gender bias in films and the move from Swedish cinemas to introduce a Bechdel-inspired rating system. YOU CAN READ THOSE WORDS HERE.

The problem seems to stem from an industry belief that, whilst both men and women will happily watch a film with a male protagonist, men – for whatever reason – are seen as incapable of engaging with stories that focus on the experience of a woman. Despite the fact that they can happily suspend disbelief in order to accept any amount of reality-bending plot-lines (spaceships, time travel, talking animals, anyone ever falling in love with Adam Sandler), apparently relating to a female protagonist as an actual human being is just, y’know, pushing things a bit.