How Brexit is riding on the coat-tails of Trump, and what this means for the arts in the UK

BREXIT EU scrabble

Since my post in June following the UK referendum on Britain leaving the European Union, the world seems to have only gotten crazier. A wave of popularism may be leading to major political changes in Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, and the world has most notably has changed with the bizzare election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. The wave had already washed over (or arguably partially originated in) Britain in 2016, with 52% of the British public voting for the United Kingdom to leave the EU.

The reasons for the support for Brexit were clear: ignorance and hatred. I won’t go into some of the absurd myths that lead to the backing of rats like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Anti-immigrant sentiment and general xenophobia were evidenced in the weeks following the vote. The general distrust of foreigners and deliberate fear-mongering over international terrorism groups like the so-called IS were echoed horribly in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which led to his inaugoration last month. As this national attitude becomes more normalised, several European countries are following suit and often-extreme right-wing attitudes are becoming validated.

On the back of this validation comes UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s strong push for a ‘hard Brexit’ – a clean break that will mean the end of the single market and the customs union for Britain. There have been numerous instances of President Trump specifically supporing Brexit as ‘a great thing’ and praising the UK, and a distinct lack of outrage from our Prime Minister regarding the recent anti-Muslim executive order and other disgusting behaviour from President Trump. Now that the snake is eating its own tail, we can look forward to a cycle that, at best, may only be slowed by the leftist outcry. In any case, Parliament seems dead set on Brexit and any hope following the ruling on Article 50 has been dashed. We can, apparently, expect more pandering towards President Trump.

So what does this mean for the arts in the UK and Europe? Sadly, not much has changed since I wrote about it 8 months ago. There have been some updates from Creative Europe in October and November of last year, but nothing since the Parliamentary ruling. The Culture, Media and Sports committee has launched an enquiry into the impacts of Brexit, the results of which are summarised here. The gist from Creative Europe is that there are no immediate changes to funding options – until the UK leaves the EU, which is anticipated to be finalised at the end of 2018. The European Commission assures us that there is no negative bias against applicants from the UK, but of course it would say that. I’m inclined to believe them.

To be more specific, we are seeing a boom of political art and publications that are direct reactions to what is happening in Britain and around the world, plus jumps in sales of dystopian fiction like A Handmaid’s Tale, It Can’t Happen Here, 1984, Brave New World, and my favourite Fahrenheit 451, along with non-fiction books detailing with totalitarianism and fascism, according to Literary Hub and other sources (plus, conversely, a new interest in Trump’s The Art of the Deal). Whereas one editorial of the Guardian says that Brexit and an apparent backlash against modern art are linked, and could therefore spell the end of pretention on modern art, another by Mark Brown is hopeful of a fresh injection of arts funding following Brexit, provided there is enough support from the government. It’s no secret that hardship can be the source of great art. As always, time will tell.

—db

 

Happy Holidays 2016!

This is a special STP Editing thank you to all my clients and new friends this year.

It’s been a pleasure to work with every one of my clients over the last twelve months and I’m very grateful to each and every one of you!

Wishing you all a great holiday season and a happy new year 2017!

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Yours warmly,

David Brookes, STP Editing

New paperback releases!

I’m thrilled to announce that my novels ‘The Gun of Our Maker’ and ‘Cycles of Udaipur’ are now available as actual, physical, smell-the-pages paperback editions!

David Brookes author

Don’t have an e-reader? Now you don’t need one to experience the literary wonders you see before you. Already have the e-book versions? Get a hard copy too and then your friends will be impressed by the taste of your bookcase!

Order your paperback of ‘The Gun of Our Maker’ by clicking here.

Order your paperback of ‘Cycles of Udaipur’ by clicking here.

You can see my original e-book release posts here (‘GOOM‘) and here (‘COU‘).

As always, if you read either version of the novels then please leave a review so that other readers can see what you thought of them. Sales are massively affected by positive reviews and, since I have no marketing clout, I rely on reviews almost exclusively to keep these novels from slipping into oblivion.

Thanks to everyone who’s given me their support over the years!

—db

Paperback for more

News!

To date my novels Cycles of Udaipur and The Gun of Our Maker have only been available for e-readers like Kindle.

Coming this Sunday, you’ll now be able to order them as actual paperbacks made of actual paper, thanks to Amazon!

If you already have the e-books, feel free to get a lovely tangible version too for your bookcase. They look real pretty.

—db

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Back to the Future: Writing Honest Science Fiction

Back to the Future hoverboard

If you own a TV or have access to the internet, you’ve probably already heard that today is “Future Day” – the day that Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to from 1985 in “Back to the Future: Part II”. The film depicted a future wildly different from today’s reality – hoverboards instead of skateboards, flying cars (and white vans), and peculiar fashions that never quite made it.

As the world celebrates this fun adventure trilogy of films, which are some of my childhood favourites, there’s plenty of opportunity to see how the fictional future of BttF2 stacks up against real-life 2015.

Of course, the films were never meant to accurately predict what 2015 would look like. I’m sure the writers and production crew had plenty of serious discussions about the practical likelihood of certain aspects, but the overriding factor would be originality and humour (and the odd call-back to the previous film, such as the skateboard sequence). No-one can blame BttF for being inaccurate, so let’s just enjoy the spectacle.

It does beggar the question, however, of how to accurately predict the future when writing science fiction. No-one can predict the future, but we can make pretty good guesses. The age-old question of whether science is influenced by science fiction (such as the constant efforts to create hover technology from “Back to the Future”, lightsabers from “Star Wars” and teleportation machines from “Star Trek”) is probably quite pertinent. Sadly, as writers, we can hardly create a future filled with lightsabers simply because that’s a possibility – it would be unoriginal, not to mention fodder for Disney’s legal team (in case you forgot, Disney own “Star Wars” now. Ack.)

I wrote my first novel when I was thirteen. It was a wholly unoriginal science fiction story heavily influenced by “The X-Files”, “The Terminator” and “Back to the Future”. In “Fourth Millennium”, which will hopefully never be leaked onto the internet, my protagonist was a desperate hovercraft racer who undertakes an illegal cyberization procedure to give him faster reflexes. During his next race he is unwittingly blasted a thousand years into the future, where he must prevent a shady cyborg and government organisations from destroying the world with insectoid alien clones.

Yeah, tell me about it.

Needless to say, I soon realised that I should never attempt to publish “Fourth Millennium” or its tedious sequels. They may have been fun for me to write, but aside from the originality aspect, they could hardly be considered accurate depictions of the future. Who can guess what the year 3,000 will look like, if the human race is even still here?

I’m reminded of a piece of literature a lecturer of mine mentioned once. I wish I could remember the name of the story or the writer. In it, a future several hundred years from now is depicted. Modern sci-fi writers have ridiculed the story because the only noticeable difference between the time period in which it was written and the supposed future was that people sat in chairs that floated. Several hundred years of scientific development. Woe betide any writer who makes the same mistake.

Scientific advancement is zipping along at light-speed, so the likes of “Back to the Future” can be forgiven. In just 75 years we have seen the invention of television, colour television, flat screen television, 3D television … smart phones barely larger than credit cards that include sophisticated cameras, calculators, calendars, address books and video games … Gaming that has progressed from Pong to Donkey Kong to Sonic the Hedgehog to Ocarina of Time to The Last of Us (see also my earlier article on the development of the Final Fantasy video game series) … cinema technology that has developed from “Mabel’s Strange Predicament” to “Casablanca” to “Back to the Future” to “Avatar” (Cineworld Sheffield is currently constructing our first “4D” cinema screen) … All within the span of a single lifetime.

My first serious science fiction novel, “Faith in Chrome”, was set 80 years into the future. I decided to be inventive but fairly realistic. I decided that the world would feature sophisticated artificial intelligence programs, but that they were tightly restricted. There would be convenient personal tools in the form of microscopic nanomachines, but that they were expensive and not commercially available. There would be hovering vehicles, but that regular roads, shipping lanes and air travel were generally preferred. Video games are fully immersive online hallucinary experiences. Many processes were mechanised, such as sentry guard duty. Why not? There would be no space travel or alien encounters, not since NASA had its hands tied under Obama and for as long as the Drake equation is our best “evidence” of otherworldly life (although there have been exciting developments on Mars this year, and I’m not talking about Matt Damon’s latest film).

So how can science fiction be more honest, practical and – ultimately – accurate?

Assuming that this is your goal, rather than the wild and brilliant fun-scapes of Iain M. Bank’s Culture books for example, then we can simply extrapolate. My earlier paragraph about TVs, phones and video games should give you a starting point. See where we have been, what we have now, and ask “what next”? Ask yourself if your ideas are practical. Will these inventions be too expensive to make commercially, and therefore cost-prohibitive for most of the world? Were they derived from military technology, as most of our best tech today is? Are they too impractical or unsafe to use (why use expensive, power-hungry laser rifles when lead bullets are cheap and just as deadly?)…? Who would fund their development and why?

As you ponder what your future will look like, enjoy this message from Doc Brown himself, which is as poignant as it is corny:

—db

Remembering ‘Lost’: A writer’s perspective

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I was late to remember that today is “Lost Day”, a very special date in the calendar of all hardcore fans of ABC’s hit drama Lost.  This article from USA Today sums up the relevance of today’s date (4/8/15), so give it a read if you never watched the long-running mystery-fest and don’t know why “the numbers” make today so cool.

I recently had the pleasure of re-watching the six seasons of Lost (for the third or fourth time).  Being already familiar with its myriad twists and turns, and having the luxury of watching out for early clues to important events in the final season, I could really have fun and marvel at the sheer brilliance of its writing team.

Lost was infamous for taking about three years to set up achingly potent mysteries and holding off for another three years before answering them (I stopped just short of making notes to make sure there were no loose ends), and even though some fans insist that there are unanswered questions, the ones that remain are so minor that I have difficulty believing that the writers ever set them up deliberately – they clearly didn’t have any major importance to the canon of the show.  Debate in the comments section, people.

Lost has been complete for several years now and it’s still one of the best examples of a long-running narrative to date.  It was short enough to not lose too much of its focus (I’m looking at you, Season 3) and long enough to provide not only an intimidatingly strong ensemble cast of characters, but an all-encompassing mythos that covered everything from everyday coincidences to the quintessential battle of good versus evil on a cosmological scale.

I could write a whole book on Lost‘s glorious successes and irritating flaws, but I’ll restrict myself to these few paragraphs.  I’d like to present some of the things that Lost did so well through the eyes of a writer, to further glorify an awesome show that you should all go and watch again right now.

1. Taking an idea and running with it – all the way
Lost did this so, so well.  We know that the writing team had a full overview of the concept from day one (despite clearly padding out the middle of the show with a few extras). Forearmed with a few years’ worth of key plot points those guys clearly had the room and talent to get the most mileage out of every drop of potential.

Every character on that show was fully realized and strongly defined.  Even the ‘bland’ characters (i.e. those who weren’t fugitives, murderers or psychics) were memorable.  Everybody remembers the high school science teacher with a Napoleon complex, and the single father who would do anything for his boy.

Every storyline was explored to its full potential.  In retrospect, the whole idea of black versus white, good versus evil etc. seems to have been embedded in the show from the very first episode (and indeed it was – see pic) but it was very late in the day that all these threads are pulled together into the complex tapestry of the show’s final three seasons.  The past, present and future are laid bare, as are the two sides of an aeons-long conflict viewers knew nothing about until late in the game.

Locke Lost

Take for example the concept of “the numbers”, to which several whole episodes are devoted, and which expands from one character’s delusion that his winning lottery ticket numbers were cursed, to all of the following:

  • A mysterious signal that has been sent out from the island via radio for 17 years (branching further into sub-plots about historical visitors to the island, warped personal family dramas and crushing insight into one of the show’s main “villains”)
  • A buried, hermetically-sealed “hatch” which functions as a valve for the island’s unique explosive electromagnetic properties (branching further into narratives relating to fate, some deep psychology, and time travel, which itself becomes a lynchpin of the show’s later seasons)
  • A form of insanity that spreads like a disease from the island’s inhabitants 30+ years ago, to unlucky passing aircraft, and to sanitariums that housed at least two of the show’s pivotal characters.
  • A major theme of fate and individual purpose, in the form of numbered “candidates” to replace the timeless protector/s of the island

Way to explore every possibility, guys.

The time travel aspect of Season 4 onwards is much bemoaned by some fans, and that season became a threshold for those who would persevere and those who decided they had better things to do with their time (ironically). But love it or hate it, it’s a perfect example of a basic concept introduced in the first or second season and expounded upon until it becomes a narrative device for linking several storylines and characters in one of the neatest twists ever.

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2. At last: balanced dialogue
One of the reasons I can’t stand being in the room when there’s a soap opera on is the dialogue.  Dialogue in soaps is just fucking awful, and it’s one of the reasons that I can’t take any soap fan seriously.  Exposition is so clumsily handled that  literally roll my eyes during every scene I have the misfortune to watch.  The rest is casual in the extreme, designed to amuse simpletons with paper-thin, clown-like characters who say funny things in unrealistic ways before side-stepping for the next block of tedious exposition.  When it comes to actually being serious, the writers are incapable of making their characters speak like human beings.

A specific example is Two and Half Men, which thankfully concluded a couple of months ago with the biggest train-wreck of a finale the likes of which I have never seen, nor probably (read hopefully) will ever see again.  Formulaic and laced with predictable non-jokes from beginning to end, the writers never managed bother themselves with actual characterisation, believing that it’s enough to simply bluntly state the same character trait over and over again for tired (canned) laughs.  Comedies such as the late Friends and Frasier trod a fine balance between the farcical and the dramatic without a word ever sounding out of place (although some credit must go to the talent of the actors).  Other shows, like the phenomenal Breaking Bad, elevated dialogue to the point that it was almost Shakespearean, again without the audience ever sitting back and going “No-one would ever say it like that”, even though they would have been correct.

Lost deserves a similar accolade.  Just watch any of the episodes (perhaps bar the Pilot, which was always going to be a hard sell) with your “dialogue ears” on and you’ll be amazed at how everything from exposition to quips, banter to confrontation or romantic exchanges are perfectly tuned.  There were a few exceptions – Dominic Monaghan often couldn’t wrap his mouth around Charlie’s acerbic dialogue, and Fionnula Flanagan (in one of TV’s most grated performances) either had shockingly written lines or simply wasn’t a match for their high-faluting nature) – but I don’t believe I’ll often see the likes of Lost‘s dialogue in terms of practical brevity, dramatic charge and sheer entertainment value.

3. Giving the finger
The Lost writers had no qualms about stretching their concept to the maximum.  They clearly knew that there was enough talent on board (and enough of a fan base) to go as far in any direction as they wished.  Fancy a bit of time travel?  Why not.  How about gods and monsters?  Let’s do it!  Despite teasing fans with the possibility of a thoroughly modern scientific explanation for everything that takes place on that island, when the writers wanted to go mystical, or even full-blown Saturday morning cartoon, they didn’t hesitate, despite what Hollywood snobs were no doubt thinking.  If we are afraid of putting off some of our audience, we will only ever play it tame – and nobody gets excited about tame.

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4. True equality
I shouldn’t have to point out how righteous ABC was in deliberately choosing a true international cast for its multitudinous characters.  The good news is that the show pulled it off without making much of a fuss about it, even though years later I came across some amazed-sounding early reviews, primarily from the States, where they should be embarrassed and ashamed for even noticing.

Over the course of its six year run, Lost featured characters/actors from America (including African Americans), Australia, England, Scotland, France, Russia, Iraq (a character was Iraqi, the actor of Indian descent), Africa, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Italy, Korea, Canada, New Zealand, and China – and that’s just off the top of my head.  Actually it was amazing that this didn’t reek of a set up, but the concept allowed it to work naturally and it was beautiful.

This wasn’t all surface, either.  One of the show’s gimmicks (and I’m not besotted enough to be blind to Lost‘s many gimmicks) was flashbacks to flesh out the character’s (often secret) lives pre-castaway, and it was clear that the writers and producers worked hard to understand how these cultures sculpted (not defined) their characters.

Why is this worthy of mention?  Because too many films, books and TV series are crammed with white American or British characters, many conspicuously so, and real life just isn’t like that – at least, not where I come from.  But then, Sheffield, England is a very cosmopolitan city.  And no, tossing in an fundamentally white character disguised as a token black or Chinese guy doesn’t count.

There’s a lot that writers can take away from Lost, and just because it’s over doesn’t mean it should be forgotten.  Rewatch, if only for Sawyer’s nicknames.

—db

Gong Xi Fa Cai – Happy Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year 2010, Manchester, England

Chinese New Year 2010, Manchester, England

As countries across Asia kick off celebrations for the new lunar year, I want to extend my heartfelt best wishes to all the people I’ve met across Asia the last three years.

Since I visited China in late 2012, then Hong Kong and Vietnam, where I celebrated Christmas and New Year, I met a lot of great people who are too numerous to name here.  The same goes for those I encountered when revisiting China last year.

I’d like to wish a very happy New Year to everyone out there, and hope the next twelve months are prosperous and happy ones!

Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Kung Hay Fai Choy!

It’s very strange to think that, had things been only a little bit different, I could now be spending my fourth month in Xi’an as an ex-patriot. I’d like to thank everybody I met during my time in Xi’an and wish you all the best!  You were a great support and source of much happiness at that stressful time.

Sheffield, where I was born and raised, also has a large Chinese community of its own, especially students who came from across China and Hong Kong to study in one of our two universities.  Hopefully the city will be celebrating too, and I’m looking forward to heading out and taking part.  If you see my chomping dumplings off Fargate, say hi!

As part of my own celebrations, I recently released a rather popular collection of short stories set in China, “Love is an Eye That Doesn’t See“, which also includes a narrative article “Chasing the Dragon” in honour of the holiday.  Check it out!

Happy New Year!

Now where’s my red envelope??

—db

Celebrating Chinese New Year 2015

I have a bit of an uneven personal history with China.

I grew up with a love for Asian culture, which matured into solid appreciation for Chinese and Hong Kong cinema in particular, as well as literary fiction from the likes of Ha Jin (“Waiting”) and Jung Chang (“Wild Swans”).

In 2012 is visited China and Hong Kong as part of a tour of South East Asia, and spent several weeks traveling East from Chengdu to Shanghai, seeing such popular highlights as the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall.  It was amazing, and cemented my love for certain aspects of Chinese culture, history and art.

The attraction was so strong that I moved to China last year to work as a TEFL teacher in the ancient city of Xi’an.  As readers of this blog will know, that didn’t pan out.  Recent sudden success with my editing and ghostwriting business, but mainly aspects of my British personal life that I can’t bear to be without, has put the TEFL life on the back-burner for the time being.  I’m sure that I will visit China again in the future, however.

It’s with great joy that I wish all my past and present friends in China a grand Happy New Year, with much prosperity and joy in the year to come!

To celebrate, I’m releasing a special collection of China-related short stories for ebook readers, which will be available within the next few hours from Amazon (here) and Smashwords (here).


Love is an Eye coverIn celebration of Chinese New Year 2015, these short stories by David Brookes are released as a collection for the first time. Set in China, three fables of a romantic and philosophical nature show us the inner worlds of three troubled individuals struggling with love, loss and memory.

Also includes a narrative article, “Chasing the Dragon”, in celebration of Chinese New Year.


Please take the chance with 99p (or 99c) for this special little collection and let me know what you think.

Thanks again for your continued love and support!

—db

A Happy Hobbity Holiday

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Lord Sauron sent to me:

Twelve wargs a-warring

Eleven spiders spinning

Ten trolls a-turning

Nine Nazgul flying

Eight goblins gambolling

Seven dwarf-lords lording

Six wizards wand’ring

FIIIIIVE AAAAARMIIIIES…!

Four brave hobbits

Three elven kings

Two trilogies

And One Ring of power to ruuule over thee-ee!


 

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Happy hobbity-holidays, everyone!

—db