WORD Christchurch: Disunited Kingdom?

WORD Christchurch: Disunited Kingdom?

Before this session about Brexit started, a strange and annoying man in a purple top hat came and started talking to me. As the session began, he started shouting “boo!” and telling me what to type. The woman next to me told him to go away (kia ora Charlotte!). He slunk off, muttering something about free speech (his not mine).
David Slack did a good job of chairing this popular session: British Muslim author Ed Husain and Scottish crime writer Denise Mina, both lively participants with a lot to say. They weren’t the only ones – boy did we, the audience, have reckons. Sometimes when question time comes round the chair has to coax the first question out of us. But here as soon as the lights went up so did at least a dozen impatient hands.

Husain, a former Islamic radicalist who has also worked as an advisor for Tony Blair, told us he was optimistic about the post-Brexit world, reminding us about the positive effects of Henry VIII’s break with Europe to create the Church of England. He spoke reverently of British democracy with a fervour that bordered on the un-English, pointing out repeatedly that it was more important to honour the democratic process than to remain in the EU.

As well as being NZ-born Pākehā I am also British – specifically, I am English. I remember when I learned about Brexit. It was very upsetting – I put my cup of tea down so suddenly it probably almost spilled. Good heavens, I may have stated aloud. What the gosh-darned heck do you fellows think you’re up to. I turn my back for five minutes and you leave the EU! And after the London 2012 Olympics went so well. Someone hold my crumpet.

Like, I suspect, most of the audience, I took Brexit personally. If you’ve been following the Brexit news at all, the ground covered by Husain and Mina was pretty familiar. But I was struck by Mina’s characterisation of Brexit as a ‘big baggy bundle of grievances’; lots of personal annoyances and affronts wound up by scaremongers and misinformation into a spasm of protest that was against a lot of things without being for much in particular. ‘People were looking for some sort of social rupture to make them feel alive.’

Mina also made the interesting point that the UK still needs migrant workers in the care sector, and since they can’t come from Europe as easily they’ll instead be coming from Africa. Because care work is so intimate, it will hopefully lead to more people of different ethnicities becoming friendly. Mina sees this as a potential challenge to the racism that has become more open and violent since Brexit: ‘I’m quite excited by that’. She also pointed out that, since the EU is essentially neoliberal, leaving will mean that Britain can have more control over its labour models, amongst other things.

I had to duck out a few minutes early to dash to the FAFSWAG Vogue workshop, but my spies tell me that the purple-hatted chap returned to angrily disrupt the end of question time. He was irritating and rude, but it was an apt reminder that, in this crazy thing we call a democracy, his vote counts just as much as mine. Voilá: Brexit.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Denise Mina is a  Crime Writer who won the 2017 McIlvanney Crime Novel of the Year for Long Drop

Ed Husain is the writer of The Islamists and The House of Islam  

‘Sniff the book’ – some field notes from the analogue appreciation society #writersandreadersnz

Blogging about Writers & Readers: Are we the last real book readers? 
Monday 12 March 12.30pm, Downstage Theatre

Well, shame on me for thinking the audience might be a little scant for a debate about whether ‘we are the last generation of real readers.’ Quite the opposite. The Downstage theatre was packed with ‘real readers,’ perhaps drawn by the credibility of the panellists as much as the topic.

Fergus Barrowman, Tilly Lloyd and Denise Mina were there to represent the holy trinity of the publisher, bookseller and (last but not least) author.

Kathryn Ryan, the lively and amusing chair of this session, began by listing a few of her favourite things about the physical book, including texture, tactility and of course odour! Kathryn appealed to the ‘book sniffers’ among the audience, saying the first thing she does is ‘sniff the book.’  I don’t know if a nod to ‘Smell the Glove’ from Spinal Tap was intentional here, but I’d love to see a mockumentary on bookselling in these troubled times as ‘a mighty wind’ blows through our sector…

Tilly Lloyd was first to speak, acknowledging the familiar faces in the audience from the ‘analogue appreciation society.’  Tilly went over the highlights from Unity’s own list (compiled over a few chardonnays) on the stellar qualities of the book: surveillance free, shareable, memory evoking, bendable, rippable and Lydia Wevers term ‘heft’ all featured. She concluded that we don’t look at bookshelves with disinterest, before addressing that gnarly word ‘real’ and the arrogance of the analogue assumption. What makes a real reader anyway?

Tilly’s answer was the definitive answer of the panel. ‘No, we are NOT the last generation of real readers.’ The book will make it back to the future. No-one knows exactly what it will look like. Tilly mentioned hardbacks the equivalent of ‘Crown Lynn with words.’   Comparisons to Vinyl were inevitable. Denise Mina – the author – might have been the most positive speaker of all three, saying the form will be transformed; although certainly none of the panellists were pessimists by any stretch of the imagination.

Tilly envisaged a ‘disharmonious’ but mutually inclusive future for the e-book and the p-book. Tilly herself refuses to demote the book to being called the p-book. (A qualm I noticed Fergus did not share).  Tilly had some great quotes about the ‘distributor’ of our times.

This from Amazon: ’Physical books won’t completely go away, just as horses haven’t completely gone away.’ (I have searched the internet for this quote and can’t find it. Grrr.)

And this on Amazon: ‘A heartbreaking work of Staggering Greed.’ There was much laughter from the audience at this point.  I hope they are all shopping locally. If they weren’t before the talk, they probably are now.

At one point Denise rallied the crowd: ‘Amazon really is the devil and we need to stand up to them.’

Summing up our current set of anxieties Tilly said, ‘booksellers fear the death of the street, publishers fear obsolescence and authors fear working for free.’

The matter of money was well tackled by Denise Mina who spoke last, bringing us all back down to reality – most authors aren’t making a living from their work anyway. Professional writers in the UK make an average of about 6,000 pounds a year. Only 5 authors in Scotland make over 100,000 pounds a year. (I will mention that a UK bookseller probably struggles to make between 15,000 – 18,000 pounds a year working full time.)

Denise said ‘no one would be stupid enough to do this for the money.’ She was referring to authors, but I think that statement covers bookselling too. Continue reading