REFLECTIONS/DARK DAYS AHEAD

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Parts of dotwav were hard to write.

Because parts of the novel required me to confront some uncomfortable political truths about the UK. Foremost of those truths was the insidious rise of the far right, and the accompanying nebulous, unjustified fear of immigration that we are bombarded with here on a daily basis from scare headlines in unconscionable, trouble making newspapers, and in sound bites from old-enough-to-know-better right wing talking heads.

I wrote dotwav a couple of years ago. Already the feeling of a nation getting ready to pull up the drawbridge of its imaginary castle was becoming impossible to ignore. I envisaged that things were only going to get worse. That our hearts were growing colder and our vision was getting myopic. So I extrapolated from what I saw and I built the artifice of dotwav on the bedrock of the growing unease I was feeling, the lurch towards isolationism that I was seeing.

What I didn’t see was that we would actually vote to leave the European Union.

Because that was just madness, right? The readers’ suspensions of disbelief surely wouldn’t stretch that far, right? A country couldn’t pull out of the great project of Europe in a fit of isolationist, inward-looking, temper, right?

Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

People often say that truth is stranger than fiction. I always shake my head at that. But then I have read some very strange fiction. The English and Welsh vote to leave Europe (and my admiration goes out to Scotland and Northern Ireland for resisting the pull) is not stranger than fiction.

It is just sadder.

Because it’s real people this will affect. Not fictional characters. This won’t be resolved in the last chapter. There is no deus ex machina that can save us. We bought into the politics of fear, and we must now face the very real consequences of that purchase.

I truly believe that this was an ideological debate (forget the red herrings about immigration and lack of housing, about social security ‘scroungers’ and a stretched health service – those were the products of UK government policies, not the natural by-products of a European superstate) and the two competing ideologies were simple. One looks at the world through fearful eyes, seeing ‘foreigners’ as a threat to our green and pleasant lands; that prefers to look inward at our island nation and imagine it magnified by our ‘show of defiance’ in the face of European integration. The other ideology is that we are all in this together. Regardless of colour, creed, social standing. It is outward-looking; trying to solve humanity’s problems by pulling people together, not by pushing them apart.

Personally I am ashamed of my country’s decision to leave the EU. I think that it’s our children, and their children, and their children that will suffer because of it. The great majority of young voters saw through the hyperbolic,  fearful rhetoric and put their crosses in the box marked ‘REMAIN’.  We let them down, yesterday. We let them down badly.

We have basically turned our backs on the European Union because it wasn’t perfect. Well, newsflash: nothing’s perfect. Sometimes ‘good’ is good enough. Sometimes ‘faulty’ will get us through. It’s far better to mend unique things that are malfunctioning; and it seems criminal to just throw them away. Well, we just threw away Europe. We stepped out of a post-war dream, and from where I stand it looks like we just sleep-walked ourselves into the middle of a nightmare.

The economic repercussions have already begun, but it’s not the Pound that I fear for, it’s that we chose the door marked ‘fear’ and slammed the door marked ‘together’. We didn’t care what it would do to the European Community, we just slammed the door, locked it, and then tossed a hand grenade over our shoulder as we walked away.

I feel lost and angry and afraid and ashamed of my country’s decision. I feel like the politics of fear have sabotaged our move towards a brighter future. I feel like there should be thunder clouds gathering overhead rather than this hot (European) weather we are experiencing. I feel like we traded our hopes, dreams and aspirations for dust.

I feel tired.

So very tired.

 

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VAGUE/RAMBLINGS: JAWS

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Back when I was 10 my dad was reading the Sunday paper over breakfast. It was the News of the World (long before it shrunk down from a broadsheet with delusions of grandeur to a tabloid size more fitting its trivial populist ravings, and even longer before it got itself wrapped up in the scandal of phone hacking and other reprehensible activities) and it was a huge paper to a kid like me.

We were staying at Uncle Roy and Auntie Clare’s house — not a familial aunt and uncle, btw, but rather friends of my parents that somehow gained uncle/aunt status for a brief time, I think they may even have owned a house we rented for a while  — and suddenly my dad looked up and held up a page from the paper.

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That’s probably not the exact ad, but it’s close enough to sub in for the purposes of this dramatic reconstruction of a pivotal moment in my life. Just picture it to scale – a full page in a broadsheet.

It looked massive to me.

‘We’re going to see this, boys.’ Dad said, my older brother was there too.

On retrospect it was the best thing my dad ever said to me.

There was silence as I took in the image. It was a sublime moment in the truest sense of the word: made up, as it was, of equal parts awe, terror and excitement. Of course I didn’t know the word ‘sublime’ at that point in my life, but looking back it’s the only word that really fits.

Now, a person would have had to have been living underneath a rock to remain untouched by Jawsmania. I mean in terms of cultural penetration of a Hollywood product, Jaws had no precedents.  It was everywhere, it seemed. And I’d read enough about it to know that it was going to be as scary as hell. I’d wanted to see it, even though a part of me shrivelled in terror at the sheer thought of it.

Well, long story short, we took a trip out and saw Jaws.

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It changed me forever. It was the perfect film at the perfect time. Watching Jaws did a lot of things.

It scared me, sure, but it did a heck of a lot more than that,

It concretised my already-dawning love of the macabre, of the weird, of the horrific. It made me fall in love with monsters – because that’s what Bruce the shark looked like to me: a monster – and it’s a love that abides to this very day.

It also filled a bit of me in; provided  cogs and gears that had been missing in my brain before I saw it, like my brain hadn’t been functioning quite right up until that moment. I know that may sound a little weird, or pretentious, but I’ll try to explain.  I was a quiet, brooding kid, who had imaginary friends. When the imaginary friends went, it was like my imagination didn’t have  a focussed place to go. Jaws helped me put my first, tiny, footprint onto the path that I would follow for the rest of my life.

To dream out loud, to dream big and in colour.

At this point I have to confess that I feel sorry for Mrs Small, my english teacher at the time, who had to suffer through so many Jaws knock-off stories (including the truly awful ‘Fin of Death’ which took up a couple of exercise books), but by way of apology to her I can say this: shark stories were the way I learned to craft stories. Through emulation, then, as I got more confident, innovation.

Write, repeat.

Hone the essential, discard the padding.

My shark stories got better. I could feel them getting better.

Just like the streamlined fish in Jaws, a story must swim without fat, without anything to slow its progress through water.

Jaws let the writer inside me out.

Sure, the inputs that fuel my stories may have changed over time. Sure I discovered sf and horror fiction. Sure, the ticking time bomb of my breathless first encounter with the works of H P Lovecraft was still awaiting me in my near future. But Jaws was the moment that things fell into place for me.

I still watch it.

Lots.

Ask my wife.

But what could have precipitated this rambling reminiscence? It’s not a bad question. The answer is pretty simple.

I got my first copy of the novel ‘Jaws’ when I was 11. It was the UK Pan paperback, with a cover that has some similarity to the poster that launched a thousand summer blockbusters.

Jaws UK

It’s a great cover, better by far than the original US 1st edition that I now also own.

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(Is that a picture of a shark done by someone who’d never seen so much as a PICTURE of a shark?)

I’ve seen re-release covers and anniversary covers, but I always thought that the original paperback cover was the perfect wrapping for Peter Benchley’s book.

Until I saw this the other day.

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Now that is the perfect Jaws cover.