EDITORIAL - Ken Clay
ESSEX BOY – Ivan de Nemethy
THATCHERDOM – Alexis Lykiard
WHITMAN THE BOHEMIAN – Jim Burns
FORK IN THE ROAD – Tom Kilcourse
INLAND BEACH HUT (9) – David Birtwistle
LUKEWARM AMOK – Tanner
JUMBLED NUNS – Francesca Barker
FADING - Andrew Lee-Hart
BOWLING WITH SAUSAGE KEVIN – Mark Ward
ADDY ONKONKAY – Keith Howden
AN INADEQUATE MAN – Luke Brown
THE INTELLECTUAL LIFE OF THE BRITISH WORKING CLASSES - Alan Dent
THE GOSPELS OF ST BELGRANO – Keith Howden
DOWN THERE ON A VISIT (2) –John Lee
THREE GO TO NORMANDY (3) – Ron Horsefield
A TSUNAMI OF SHITE
Two months ago in the Guardian Tim Lott wondered about the decline of the oik novelist. The Loneliness of the Working Class Writer – Guardian 7th Feb 2015
A number of factors are possible to isolate: the slow death of library culture; the fading of books themselves as a dominant cultural form as the internet and long-form TV drama take over; the end of grammar schools, perhaps – all the successful working-class novelists I can think of, including myself, escaped from their culturally impoverished circumstances through grammars (along with playwrights like Harold Pinter, Steven Berkoff, Dennis Potter and Alan Bennett).
Fiction writing, after all, is a “high” literary form (probably the same reason there aren’t many working-class classical musicians). It requires eloquence and education. Neither are particularly prioritised, and may even be stigmatic, in working-class culture (I was often sneered at for having “swallowed a dictionary”). To embark upon a novel requires the belief that its achievement is within the realm of imaginative possibility. Most people from a modern sink estate would find it as hard to envisage pitching for a publishing contract as they would to contemplate applying to be a high court judge…
Perhaps, like theatre in the 50s, we have once again become too wedded to politeness (now in the guise of political sensitivity and inner thought policing) and too wary of passion, honesty and, sometimes, vulgarity. The working-class voice now makes the middle-class reader nervous – partly because of guilt, and partly because, as Ken Loach observed, “any working-class person who speak intelligently is absolutely abhorrent to critics.”
Perhaps there is only one way now for working-class writers to make it: to stop being working-class and, even more importantly, to stop having the bad manners to write about it. Then, if you are able to pass yourself off with the right accent, regurgitate the dictionary you swallowed and keep your horny hands confined within borrowed velvet gloves, then you’re in with a (very remote) chance.
Well, up to a point Tim, but maybe this change is driven by technology as much as class war. There’s been an earthquake out there in the ocean of lit and what we are experiencing is a tsunami of shite. Joe Public doesn’t have to “pitch for a publishing contract” anymore, he can ISBN his collected shopping lists, publish one copy on demand and install it on Amazon along with about 3 million other pieces of crap for less than a fiver. And this is not to mention blogs, tweets, facebook trivia, and ebooks. Never has so much been written by so many and read by so few. You can ignore it or embrace it but it’s not going away.
What the aspirant oik writer needs now is respected editorial and critical endorsement. Nobody can read all that stuff – it’s almost a lottery. Your masterpiece has to be on the crest rather than bumping along the bottom amongst the whelks and the barnacles. Enter the small mag, your lifebuoy, preferably one of an oik persuasion, with, if possible, a website. Now you’re in a network of like minds. Yes, it’s difficult to imagine such an entity but there must be one out there.
In the bad old days we were at the mercy of a middle class, philistine publishers (largely anti-oik as Tim observes) concerned mainly with making money. They rejected Beckett’s first novel forty times, forced Proust to pay for his greatest work to see the light and nearly killed Nabokov’s finest novel until it was rescued by a Paris pornographer. Well not anymore – now you’re free-riding on the great tsunami of shite, unnoticed, but ready to hit the beach perhaps long after you’re dead.
But hang on a minute – unnoticed? I don’t think so. The internet might look like a random chaos so multifarious and diverse that no-one will find your stuff in a million years. You think it will just moulder and rot like a long dead deserted granny in a Glasgow high rise. But no. It’s not oblivion you’re in – not even the antechamber to oblivion. There’s someone who knows exactly where everything is and will tell anyone who asks - Mr Google. Here’s a couple of alarming for instances. In the editorial to Oik 23 I mentioned Ron Horsefield’s conversation with the distinguished historian John Hardman. A couple of weeks ago the distinguished historian himself rang me up asking for that issue. I doubt he’d come across that Oik in the Brazenose college library (his old alma mater) – he’d just googled his name and up it popped. More alarmingly the publisher Austin Macauley (Austin as in Allegro rather than Austen as in Jane) had also come across a disparaging mention on the Oik website. They said if I didn’t take it down immediately they’d sue my arse. Oblivion? – if only.
It begins to dawn. Someone once rubbished Tim Berners Lee’s contention that every email sent from UK is monitored by the spooks at GCHQ. How could they be? – you’d need thousands of readers. But as Sir Tim patiently pointed out those emails aren’t being read by humans, they’re read by computers – and he should know – he invented the internet. And that’s why, if you email a mate that you’re thinking of beheading the prime minister before joining ISIS you won’t just have a cop knocking on your door you’ll also have ads from Screwfix suggesting a range of sharp knives and axes, details from Rynair of cheap flights to Turkey and a message from Booking.com about hotels in downtown Raqqa. That’s the new reality – get used to it.
A nation of retailers, entrepreneurs, consultants consumed by greed... Her grocer's mind might have dreamed up, during earlier years, the inexorable chainstore massacre of High Street shops, the cheerful small communities gone from our sadly passive, fraught, divided land. Corrupt politicals and fearful jobsworths rallied round her flag, enjoyed those smugly halcyon days. Meanwhile bank mismanagers & city fraudsters, arms dealers & rogue traders, privatising patriots, righteous warmongers, religionists & hedgefund hucksters, union-bashers & strike-breakers, pious mercenaries, asset-strippers — these solicited the wicked lady's blessing: for hers was good oldfashioned moviemaking, grandiose speeches oozing condescension. An austere Matron doled out bitter medicine, with the most unctuous homilies. There surely was Methodism in her madness, proof of purest lack of style alongside dourest resolution. Bluntness was all, plain speaking to trump modesty; she sermonised in slogans, slick, no-nonsense clichés, served up a nauseous, olid and authoritarian brew. That threatening charm was rarely needed with which to woo or to subdue the media; affected tones helped her purvey the stalest tripe to feed the poor and huddled masses she despised. Underachievers, lame ducks, scroungers: they could go hang... A capital, if not final solution, punishment made to fit the time of nastiness, of Tory triumph. (Culling undesirables?) Such the former golden age trumpeted when, under a brave new Leader and a brazen witch's spell, even arch-sceptics would stay servile, behave well, for dread of debt or ruin in her scornful business Hell. Her callous ghost still thrills the rightwing Resurrection Men. Let's live in hope we never see her like again.
Otto Dix - Wounded Veteran 1922