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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category


Is there one? Oh yes.

I am seizing on the fact that he is there, in our faces and our media, and will be there for the next four years. On the campaign trail, it was evident to me that personal popularity ranks very high with him, and he gets irritated very easily if people get under his oh-so-thin skin.

As a writer of riper years, I’ve been saddened for a long time by the lack of engagement of the arts worlds in the UK and Ireland with urgent, world-wide issues – climate change, the emergence and prevalence of harmful, hurtful, violent opinions, the damage done to our cultural lives, our humanity, by a succession of neoliberal governments, and, further back, the damage done to the NHS by its creeping privatisation under Labour, the destruction wrought on the fabric of British society by Margaret Thatcher, and the austerity choices made by increasingly right-wing governments in London and Dublin.

There have been some brave attempts which stand out because of their rarity – Ken Loach, whose writer Paul Laverty distilled his research for ‘I, Daniel Blake,’ into a screenplay so plausible it has the credible punch of a documentary, but whose uncompromising truths remain compartmentalised by the mainstream media as the ravings of a ‘lefty luvvie’. And at the National Theatre in London, this year I saw a verbatim theatre piece called ‘Another World’ about the radicalisation of young men in Britain.

In Ireland, ‘Hinterland’ by Sebastian Barry looked at party political corruption and the exigencies of political reality.

But who has written a play about Irish Water? About the mounting numbers who emigrate, as they did in the eighties? Who has written a play to tell our children honestly what the world is becoming?

The dancer and choreographer Catherine Young is the only creator I know of in Ireland who has recently given us a response to the political chaos our rulers helped to create. Her compelling dance piece, ‘Welcoming the Stranger’, was inspired by the stories of migrants and refugees from Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Africa – all whom have made Kerry their home. At The Everyman in Cork, Artistic Director Julie Kelleher has sought out women’s voices, from Carmel Winters ‘Witness’ to ‘Sisters of the Rising’.

Ireland’s great national theatres have been focused this year on the past glories of 1916, rather than looking at the present, or ahead to the chaos we are creating for future generations.

Writers! Musicians! Artists! Choreographers! We have a once in a lifetime chance to let our talents rip in the service of humanity. With wit, imagination, humour, words, gestures and music we can provide a robust alternative to the carping voices of bigotry, hatred, narrow-mindedness and paranoia. If the spectacle of Trump cannot inspire us to great satire, nothing will. If, out of the dystopia his world view will create we can weave a counter-narrative for our children and grandchildren, if we can restore dignity to our citizens who are disabled, old or poor, if we can keep our spirits buoyant and our eyes fixed on a goal which is not about wealth or power, but about a living planet fit for humans and all other species to enjoy, then our art will truly be serving the people.

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I’ve seen this used as an explanation by the right wing media for the anger that is currently  being expressed, both inside and outside parliament. Wealthy people know in their hearts that the poor want everything the rich have got, and they will never be satisfied until the rich have been stripped of all their assets and beggars get to ride upon horses. To paraphrase  Alan Duncan, a Tory backbencher, anyone who isn’t a millionaire has only themselves to blame. We could all be rich, if we really tried.

I’m writing this to try and explain to the wealthy people currently running our country  why their beliefs are wrong, why their actions have aroused such anger, and why our anger is light years removed from envy.

I was born in 1947, along with the NHS. My early life was peppered nights of pain from ear abcesses, horrendous earaches,  frequent visits to our GP, Doctor Shanahan, and visits from district nurses who gave me penicillin injections. I was four when I had my first experience of hospital, to have my tonsils and adenoids removed. [ I don’t know if that hospital still exists as I can’t remember the name of it. Searching for it, I found this website. Look at what we have lost -and this is only in London. Lost hospitals in London. Somehow, we could afford to run all these, at a time of post-war hardship. The reason, I hazard, is because those in charge of our finances were able to think in terms of fairness, and of values other than money]. The children’s ward was full, so I was alone in an empty adult ward. In those days, parents could only come at visiting hours, and when my mother arrived with books for me to read [from the library], I could not tell her what an ordeal I was going through. Enemas. Examinations. Baths – one day I was given three, because I was too frightened to tell the nurses I’d already had one. The NHS was primitive then, but all the medicines and treatment I had, until I got big and healthy, would have been an impossible expense for our family. We lived in a rented basement flat off the Portobello Road, in a crumbling Victorian house with holes in the floors and mice and mould everywhere. That house is worth millions today.   I showed promise at school. I passed the 11+ with the 90% marks required for me to have an interview for Godolphin and Latymer, in those days a state maintained girls’ grammar school for high achievers. It is now a private school. Many of the girls went to university and went on to careers. I was lucky; there were full student grants in those days. I was the first child in my family to get a degree.

During this time I was forging out my own values. What would be my guiding principles through life? How would I see success? What would make me happy? The fact that I chose to work in the arts is an indicator that wealth was never a factor. I never, ever expected to be rich, and I didn’t see that as a goal. I am not good with figures – like George Osborne, I only managed ‘O’ level maths – and buying and selling did not appeal to me as a way of life. Acquiring money was of no interest to me – and I was ambitious, and I have succeeded in making a living in the arts – writing plays for children, working on community drama projects, travelling the North East to bring theatre to people who had never seen it –  all my working life. If I failed to achieve my childhood ambition of fame, my more mature self is heartily relieved to have escaped the merciless spotlight that is our media.

So what  would I like to pass on to my children?

A love of the countryside. Nature has always been inspirational to me. To be able to walk all day along footpaths, across hills and mountains, unspoilt since the Romans were here, to enjoy the public national parks and lands that were all that remained after the illegal Enclosures took much of our common land away. To know that this would be here for ever, for my children and their children, gave me that all-important thing, the thing Cameron is at pains to stress he wishes to give all of us – security. Now the Land registry has been privatised, our public lands are up for grabs. For the sake of profit, our ancient rights to walk and be inspired by the rare beauties of our country will be taken away from us. It’s perfectly legal – it’s an Act of Parliament. But is it fair?

Fairness is something that all parents try to teach their children. Sharing with siblings if you have more than they do. Not ganging up on others, not bullying, or lying to help yourself do better. A sense of what George Orwell called decency. To behave in such a way that your conscience does not torment you at night. I can’t answer for the current cabinet, but I wonder if their expensive schools taught them rigorously enough about fairness and decency?  If not, here is a fact for them: the present capitalist system is a triangle. At the top, a tiny number of the very rich, in the larger middle section, the middle classes, and the poor, the most numerous, at the bottom. Unfairness is built into the system, because it is only by keeping most people down below them that the rich can thrive. So to attack people for being part of that necessary structure is deeply unfair. It is bullying.

No one wants to be ill or disabled. I happen to be both, and I bless the NHS and its doctors and nurses every day of my life. They saved my life on a Saturday, by the way, when I had bilateral pulmonary embolisms and didn’t realise until I turned blue and passed out. That’s how close I was. So when Jeremy Hunt says that we don’t have a seven day service, he is not being honest. Honesty would be another quality I cherish. I have brought my children up to be considerate and kind, but also honest.  I passionately wish that our rich policiticans, who clearly were raised with so many material advantages, had been taught the importance of these three qualities. Because in the policies they have chosen to carry out, there has been an absence of these vital things.

I would like to bequeath to my kids and to all children everywhere,  hope in the future. A world that is cleaner and more peaceful. And to be able to say to them before I die that I did everything in my power to stop the powerful elites fracking, burning, despoiling, selling to the highest bidder, and by degrees killing the planet, is little consolation. To the rich I say, you cannot make money from a dead planet. Your children and grandchildren will not suffer the results of your policies as soon as we will. Their inherited wealth will keep them cushioned from reality until the very last tree has been felled. But this sick planet is what you are colluding in handing down to your children?

I’m not a Christian, or a believer in any religion. The way I conduct my life is by principles that, if I were to abandon them, would make me feel deeply uncomfortable. So it makes me angry when the only value that is considered worth discussing in Parliament, composed of nominal Christians, is monetary. Staying in the EU – it’s better for business. Fracking – great business opportunity. Selling our hospitals to the highest bidder – nothing wrong with profiting from illness. Refusing sanctuary to refugees desperately fleeing war? Never mind Christian compassion, brotherly love or even a remembrance of how Syria took in refugees and was known as a safe haven, until civil war, and war by proxy, turned the country into a dangerous, chaotic waste land – we can’t afford to have any of them here. Nuclear power stations – wait a minute. The new and long delayed station at Hinkley Point is uneconomic. It will cost us, the powerless, more and more as we pay the price for Osborne’s wrong decisions. A dose of honesty would be welcome here.

What has been lost, utterly lost, by today’s neoliberals, is any sense of sharing. Equality. Social justice. Those with the most helping those with the least – yes, even the undeserving, because, like Orwell, I don’t believe that people are automatically workshy. I hate to be dependent on others. I still work; I still write, even though my official retirement age was nine years ago. I don’t make money; I write because I love doing it. I have the most basic state pension, paid for by my own NI contributions. It isn’t much, because self-employed people don’t make much. But I don’t care, as long as I can live by my core values.

So David Cameron, George Osborne, Alan Duncan, Boris Johnson, and all who follow you-can you open your eyes to values other than than money? I don’t meant collecting art, or having a box at the opera, or taking holidays in Cornwall to enjoy the surfing. The values you seem to lack are the values that built the finest welfare state in the world. Visionary, revolutionary plans, inspired by ideals of fairness, bitterly opposed, of course, by the Tories then – and you have profited from it all. You’ve made billions for the exchequer by  selling off things that belonged to all of us. Not just this government, but the past four, have forgotten that what matters most is not money. You know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. How can we get you to understand?

 

Frances Kay is the author of ‘Micka’, published by Picador, 2010 and ‘Dollywagglers’ published by Tenebris books, 2014. Her play ‘Feast of Bones’ will be performed at the ASSITEJ conference in Birmingham this July.

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We live in poor times. There is poverty of vision and imagination from our rulers, poverty of spirit in responding to those who have been traumatised and terrified by war, and the numbing despair of financial poverty that makes every day an effort.

When I was asked to choose one of my plays for a rehearsed reading at the Everyman Theatre, Cork, the one called BURNING DREAMS struck me as uneasily apposite.

Dublin, 1941. Tenements. Hunger. Sickness. An idealistic young doctor wants to help everyone. Who is the ‘most deserving’ – a refugee girl, a tenement dweller, or an angry Trades Unionist. But how can he possibly choose, when there is not enough to go round?

What is most tragic is that the pitiful crumbs they were fighting over in 1941 are still all that is on offer to the poorest and most deprived in our society right now, seventy years later.

 

 

The play will be staged on 22nd March in the snug bar at the Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork. It starts at 8pm. Tickets €9.

It would be wonderful to see you there.

 

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‘Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!’

To all of you with a drop of creative blood in their veins, writers, performers, community artists, actors, dancers, directors, singers, film-makers, visual artists – all of you who will be alive on December 10th to witness the dawn of a new democracy and to seize the day in a bloodless, peaceful revolution – I speak to you.
For years we have kept calm and carried on. We have paid our bills and their taxes, not to help us and our children, but to prop up a rotten system and keep our oppressors in the lavish lifestyles they think they are entitled to, as our elected representatives.
That gallant man who founded the Irish Labour Party, James Connolly, if he were alive today, where would he be now? At self-congratulatory banquets in Leinster House? Accepting another bonus, another pension? Driving past our placards in his official car (paid for with our money, of course), with panicky Gardai protecting him against the sight of us and our children being shoved aside as we ask only to be heard, to be treated with respect?
I don’t think so. I believe he would be with us, out on the streets, calling for justice – not in the narrow legal sense which our political masters decree is the only sense, but for the social, natural and humane justice we desperately seek, in a world that has lost its values. In an Ireland where law-abiding citizens have been forced to break a law that should never have been passed in the first place, (and passed with no proper debate), to charge us for our water, which their law now says is a marketable commodity, but which we know to be a right, without which we cannot live, is a crime.
James Connolly, the man who asked the question ‘Who owns the land?’ will be marching in solidarity and in spirit on December 10th, beside the Irish people for whose rights he fought and died.
What a shameful mockery of his vision today’s Labour Party has become, (a party I have always voted for, until now). A party many can no longer recognise as of the people or in any way for the people; a party who has in its shameful ranks a Senator, Lorraine Higgins, who describes this revolt by long-suffering, peaceful citizens as a ‘lawless utopia’. Her illiteracy, political and etymological, and the wilful ignorance she displays by that statement would be enough to make me despair, if people with her lack of vision and compassion were all we had to rely on.
I wish with a heart and a half that I could be in Dublin on 10th December. I am seriously ill, and physically unable to be there to sing our song of angry women and men, who will not be slaves again, together with the hundreds of thousands who are saying ‘Enough is enough’.
As a worker in the arts who has dedicated her life to giving a voice to those who are not listened to, may I urge all my professional colleagues, anyone who feels themself to be an artist of all and any kind to be there, to be part of the best theatre you will ever see in your lifetime?
Wear costume. Wear nothing!
Dance, sing and act your hearts out – make this revolution an artistic act of terrible beauty; make it yours. Don’t be audience, be actors.
Be there to witness the old betrayers of our trust faced with the inescapable truth; that they no longer represent anyone except themselves; that they serve only the interests of bankers, business and corporate greed.
Please be there, for me.

Frances Kay is a playwright and novelist who lived and worked in Ireland from 1990-2012. A serious health condition has resulted in her having to leave a country she dearly loves, but her pen and her passion are always at the disposal of the people, especially the children, of Ireland.
Her great-grandfather, Henry Kingston Kay, was Irish, and she is proud to know that Irish blood flows in her veins.

© Frances Kay 2014.

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The UK Government is consulting you and other citizens on its plan to make fracking under your house a right for private companies. to which you can no longer object. This process continues until August 15th.

I would urge any of you who are UK residents to write in response to a sad mindset that cannot conceive of any values other than material and financial, one that is willing to use an act of parliament to abolish our natural rights over our land and homes. It is as pernicious, as greedy and as unjust as the Enclosure laws.

Here’s the link: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/underground-drilling-access

And here is the substance of my reply –  hope it inspires you to write with wit and sincerity.

3 What is your organisation?

I am an individual who works at home.

4 Should the Government legislate to provide underground access to gas, oil and geothermal developers below 300 meters?

No

Please elaborate on your answer above. :

No financial compensation or promise of material reward can influence me to change my mind; this is an unwanted invasion of my privacy and my right to enjoy my property and to bequeath it unspoiled to the next generation. Not everything has a market price. My peace of mind, my domestic security and serenity, my ability to enjoy my house and my land in the knowledge that nothing except acts of God or natural subsidence will change the place I have chosen to make my home, far outweighs any money you or anyone can offer me to forget the blessings I am being asked to relinquish. This is a deeply unpleasant attack on the rights of homeowners and any government should be ashamed even to contemplate it. Our feelings about our homes are more important than the business plans of any private company wanting to make profits. Wherever there is a profit motive, the safety and happiness of human beings is always placed second. I do not and will never agree to this ordering of priorities.

5 If you do not believe the Government should legislate for underground access, do you have a preferred alternative solution?

Yes

Please elaborate on your answer above. :

I would like us to look not at unlocking more sources of finite energy but at becoming more careful and thoughtful about our energy use. Fines and penalties for over-consumption of natural resources, a sense of public responsibility for the future of this land and our planet, could bring about the kind of change in consciousness that citizens had during WW2. It is you, the government, which must give the lead to a different way of using our resources. Shale oil and gas must be left in the ground. It is directly opposed to the Kyoto protocols on climate change. Until you take this seriously, you cannot expect your voters to re elect you.

6 Should a payment and notification for access be administered through the voluntary scheme proposed by industry?

No

Please elaborate on your answer above. :

I do not accept this premise. You are prisoners of outdated thinking. Money has nothing to do with the things I care about. Until you understand that, you are still living in the Victorian expansionist world. That world is doomed and unsustainable.

 

Have fun!

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This article was first published last month in the online literary magazine THE VIEW FROM HERE.

If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, then why do we read it? So that it shall make us happy? Good God, we should also be happy if we had no books….. A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen within us.’  [Kafka, aged 20]

I identify with Kafka’s passionate viewpoint, and, as a writer, it has set me an almost impossible task. My new novel is a dystopia – it flowed from my pen with refreshing cataracts of anger and bitter humour against the brutal, chaotic, society I created; dystopia is a perfect metaphor, and a safe one, behind whose barriers we can snipe at what we know and hate.

Dystopia is also a seductive literary form for writers and readers; one of my favourites is YevgenyZamyatin’s tragic 1921 novel ‘We’ . Zamyatin, writing in a post-revolutionary Soviet state, began his work after the failed uprising of 1905, but even four years after the revolution, his political masters took an obsessive interest in novels dealing with dysfunctional fictional societies, and Zamyatin was forced to flee to exile in France, where he died in poverty. ‘We’ is an undeservedly neglected work these days – he was said to have influenced Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Ayn Rand’s ‘Anthem’, amongst others – where individuals are  ‘numbers’ and live in glass apartments where their every action can be observed, except for the allocated nights of sexual activity, when curtains may be drawn. The gradual evolution of the  character D503, the narrator, a mathematician, begins with logical, conforming beliefs:  ‘One thing has always seemed to me most improbable: how could a government, even a primitive government, permit people to live without anything like our Tables—without compulsory walks, without precise regulation of the time to eat, for instance? They would get up and go to bed whenever they liked. ‘ and finally to a state of terrified rebellion, caused in part by political anger, but more by his frantic lust for the mysterious Number I-330: ‘I am like a motor set in motion at a speed of too many revolutions per second; the bearings have become too hot, and in one more minute the molten metal will begin to drip and everything will go to the devil. Cold water! Quick! Some logic!..  L=f (D), love is the function of death. ‘

Utopian literature is a different species from dystopia; the plot plods along and the main characters are often ciphers with bland personalities,  like the dinner guests in More’s  ‘Utopia’.  As  H.G.Wells says, There must always be a certain effect of hardness and thinness about Utopian speculations… That which is the blood and warmth and reality of life is largely absent; there are no individualities, but only generalised people. In almost every Utopia–except, perhaps , Morris’s “News from Nowhere”–one sees handsome but characterless buildings, symmetrical and perfect cultivations, and a multitude of people, healthy, happy, beautifully dressed, but without any personal distinction whatever.’

The utopian writer’s passion is generally not so much for story as for social or political theory; the structure of a utopian society must be laboriously exposited, and the most usual device to ensure the presence of a stranger who needs to be educated, is to have the protagonist accidentally fall into or stumble across Shangri La, or Erewhon — thus the society described is not one we can live in – it is a tale told at a safe remove by returned visitors.

Referring to the study of literature, Kierkegaard wrote that ‘there are two ways. One is to suffer; the other is to become a professor of the fact that another suffers’. The same, I believe applies to writers. If we do not write our utopias and dystopias with passion (the Latin word whose very root means ‘suffering’ ) we set ourselves apart from, or even above, our fellow human beings who share the real dystopia in which we live.

And this is my dilemma as I begin the sequel to ‘Dollywagglers’; to create a credible, unexpected, struggling society with some utopian elements, that is not devoid of emotion or predictably liberal, and in which minimal exposition takes third place, after story and character.  I am reading books on energy and economics, and studying real utopian communities, none of which I had to do before I wrote ‘Dollywagglers’.

We actually live in dystopias, we experience their inhuman regimes with their protagonists, we identify with Catniss or Winston as they take the first step away from safety towards risk, exposing themselves to the danger of being seen as individuals with subversive tendencies. Visitors, even if profoundly affected by their encounter with utopia, return to the security of their homeland, unless, like the brainless young Bertie Woosterish  hero of ‘A Crystal Age’ he becomes so enamoured of that society he forgets his past as he attempts to dress like the citizens, to learn their culture, and to commit himself to a loving relationship with one of its mysterious residents.           Of all the utopias I have read, ‘A Crystal Age’ by W.H.Hudson stands out as unique. . I wonder if J.G.Ballard was influenced by this book when he wrote ‘The Crystal World’, where a bizarre phenomenon occurs in the jungle of South America – plants, trees and animals are becoming crystallised. The metaphor  is of slow and inexorable death, but purity and perfection are part of the equation too. A  similar perfection is worshipped in Hudson’s book, along with that figure of sacred reverence, The Mother.

Marx wrote ‘I believe there is no compulsion for the writer to put into the reader’s hands the future historical resolution of the social conflicts he is depicting.’;  which I interpret as the freedom, when creating a society with utopian strands, not to cross every t or dot every i. And as to the social evolution of my flawed utopia, as long as the story is absorbing and the characters engaging,  its future development can safely be left to the reader’s imagination.

Utopian stories give us emotionally cool theoretical or metaphorical frameworks; but to make them vivid, to breathe life into those long dead conceits, we must become the passionate bridge to link their ideas to our present situation; beyond the general or universal, we need to create immediate and specific connections with our lineage of utopian literature, while shocking the reader with insights into undercurrents and dissatisfactions of the’ now’ we live in. As Kierkegaard says, ‘It is not worthwhile remembering that past which cannot become a present.’

 

Agree or disagree? Please let me know what you think.

‘Dollywagglers’  was published by Tenebris books on April 28th.

 

 

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dear patient readers, yesterday I posted with breathless excitement about my new book. 250 words later and there is no mention of title, publisher or where to get it. This says it all about my weak spot – marketing.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dollywagglers-Frances-Kay/dp/1909845515/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0V386HV1M8TSQAEV2RX4     [not even sure if this will work]Image

And here’s the cover. It’s a dystopian story with black comedy and an unusual main character who is not a mere cipher observing the devastation caused by a flu pandemic in England. I hope, but realistically don’t expect, that it will be best seller.

My pragmatic brother asked me ‘Why don’t you write books that everyone wants to read?’ and this is a question that I can’t duck away from – it’s sensible and logical. But it lacks the vital heart element that is a quintessential part of writing, as I see it.

I write stuff that I like to read. Stuff that comes to me in daydreaming trances, ideas and characters that light the flame of passion. If I am a minority of one, perhaps eventually I will devise a formulaic work that will hit the commercial spot. But I can’t sit down with that cold intention. And I’m not at all sure I could do it.

How about you, reader? Are you passionate about certain genres and hate others? And if you are a writer? Do you have a fanbase? Or do you write purely to please yourself?

I’m heading to my launch this evening. I’ll report back on how it went. Thanks for visiting.

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