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Updates on Marie Marshall’s ‘From My Cold, Undead Hand’

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The passage is from the story-within-a-story, a translation of a rediscovered, nineteenth-century manuscript said to be the writings of a female vampire-hunter. You will find it embedded in Marie Marshall’s futuristic teen-vampire novel From My Cold, Undead Hand, which now has its own feature page at FMCUH cover 200P’kaboo publishers. Just click the book cover to be taken there. There are extras – text and an audio file from the diary of one of the characters – for a limited number of purchasers. For those of you who would like a paperback version in advance of any domestic print launch, you can get it at Amazon – same goes for a Kindle version.

The author, along with cover illustrator Millie Ho, are offering a couple of wallpapers using the cover artwork. They are available here.

We at the agency are getting very excited about the publication of this teen-vampire novel! As with all titles from P’kaboo Publishers in South Africa, the publisher is keen to find ‘partner’ publishing houses in the UK, the USA, and worldwide who would like to make this novel available to a wider readership. Please contact this agency for further details.

 

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Michael Fry & Angus Konstamm: using the past to glimpse the future

Michael Fry & Angus Konstamm: using the past to glimpse the future
Edinburgh International Book Festival
Royal Bank of Scotland Garden Theatre
20th August 2014
Previously published at The Mumble, 21st August 2014

Image #edbookfest

Image #edbookfest

Confronting a nation’s history involves confronting its national myths. If the country is our own, that can move us right out of our comfort zone. As we in Scotland get closer to the referendum on independence, the issue of our history seems to take on more importance, and we are reminded of George Orwell’s words, from 1984, ‘He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.’ Looking at the past, for the purposes of this debate, were historian-authors Michael Fry and Angus Konstam. Their chairman Joseph Farrell described them as ‘heavyweights’, and although Angus Konstam suggested that if the conversation flagged the two of them might entertain us with a bout of sumo, the chairman was clearly referring to their intellects.

Edinburgh Michael FryTo Michael Fry, control of the past, as in the publication of books on Scottish history, has been left too long in academic hands, and has been a one-sided account of social and economic history replete with statistics. His bias was towards culture, society, and politics, in the search for what has kept Scotland Scotland; he has found that when a historian undertakes research he finds things which relate, albeit perhaps as echoes, to today, and that what we recognise are not the products of sudden upheaval but have deep roots.

In his book A New Race of Men – the title being a phrase taken from observations made in 1845 by the Rev. George Cruden, one of the few kirk ministers to have taken part in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland in both 1794 and 1845 – Fry presents a picture of a nineteenth-century largely at peace, with a conservative constitution (if I can use such a word) that supported that of England, union with the rest of the United Kingdom long since a ‘done deal’. Scottish capitalism was in the hands of men who had served their time as apprentices and shared social roots with the men who worked for them, giving rise to a sense of egalitarianism. In movements such as public health, it was recognised that contagion did not stop at the edge of working-class areas, and that therefore health belonged to all, not simply to the bourgeoisie.

Ideas like this didn’t fail to draw dissent from the floor. A questioner from North East England challenged the assumption that the nineteenth-century Scottish working class was any less exploited than the working class in his own area – and indeed the supposed difference that Michael Fry had suggested between the Scottish and English concepts of class did seem to sit rather awkwardly with a previous statement to the effect that the North East of England, for example, shared much of Scotland’s perceived remoteness from London and Westminster. Another questioner challenged the idea of the ‘done deal’ with its roots going back to the eighteenth century, citing the verse in ‘God Save the King’ about ‘rebellious Scots’; unfortunately her point merely perpetuated the canard that the verse is insulting to the Scots as a whole, when it is actually specifically directed at the Jacobites. Fry made this point in reply, however – that in the ‘age of revolution’, between 1789 and 1848, while the death toll in political causes in other countries was high, there was a total of twenty-three in Scotland. “I counted them’” he said.

Edinburgh Angus KonstamAngus Konstam, although principally a maritime historian, has been fascinated by Robert Bruce since reading a ‘Ladybird’ book about him. In his book Bannockburn, according to the event pre-publicity, Konstam ‘debunks some myths about the legend of Robert the Bruce’. He describes the modern popularity of Bruce as ‘a national talisman… wrapped up in romantic guff’. The definition of Bruce’s wars as ‘Wars of Scottish Independence’ was a later one, as are those of a nationalist or a class war, both of which would have been lost on Bruce himself. The thirteenth- and fourteenth-century conflicts were fought to ‘solve purely medieval problems’, and in them even Bruce himself changed sides more than once. Nevertheless, by the time of Bannockburn there was an unprecedented and unfamiliar wave of specifically Scottish patriotism that must have lent something to the subsequent sense of Scottish identity.

For all that, the presentation did leave me wondering what myths were going to be debunked. It is more than forty years since Nigel Tranter’s Bruce Trilogy was published, moving into popular fiction what historical study had long made known – Bruce’s career as a serial turncoat, and his murder of a rival. I listened to the account of Clifford’s unsuccessful charge against the Scottish infantry, and muttered to myself that surely the knowledge that horses will pull up before a solid mass of footsoldiers was known as far back as the Greek phalanx. However, we were brought back to popular myth when Konstam reminded us of the legend of Bruce and the spider – “It’s in the Ladybird book, so it must be true,” he said with a smile – for which there is no evidence beyond its existence in popular folklore.

Edinburgh Fry coverOf the two books foregrounded, it strikes me that Michael Fry’s is probably the more controversial. However both authors were kept busy signing copies of their books after the event. I have to say I was left wanting more time for public discussion with the two authors – to drill down into some apparent contradictions in what Michael Fry said, to challenge Angus Konstam further about whether the myths about Bruce were actually as powerful as he assumed. Joe Farrell did make the point that the pair seemed to have been drawn together simply because they were historians. This was the first time I had attended an event at the Book Festival when I wondered if either of the authors on stage was thinking to himself “If I were Germaine Greer or George R R Martin I would have this stage to myself. Obviously I’m considered second division!” I am happy to give the Edinburgh International Book festival the benefit of the doubt on this issue, because it does what it must to pack so much into its schedule, and by-and-large gets it just right.


Publication date for ‘From My Cold, Undead Hand’ announced!

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Yes, P’kaboo Publishers have announced the date on which Marie Marshall’s long-awaited teen-vampire novel From My Cold, Undead Hand will be available from them in e-book form. Other forms will become available later, but for those readers with the facility to read the ePub format, buying direct is the way to go. You can pre-order, and as a bonus the first twenty-five purchasers will receive extras, including audio material!

The story itself is fast paced and gripping. The protagonist is Chevonne Kusnetsov, a teenager from New York City a generation or so into the future. The ecology is in crisis, electricity is scarcer and mainly generated by wind turbines mounted on top of buildings. Meanwhile, vampires stalk the dimly-lit streets after dark. But their very existence is denied by the government and the media. Expose!, a shadowy organisation formed to blow the vampires’ cover wherever it can, is routinely denounced for conspiracy-theory, anti-semitism, and downright insanity. The Resistance, a secret guerrilla army of vampire-hunters, organised in a cell-structure, is denounced as a ‘terrorist’ organisation. Chevonne has been recruited to the Resistance by her history teacher, and she’s tough – straight from the school kick-boxing club, she can use her fists and feet, but also a sword, a stake, and a laser-gun. What is the vampires’ ultimate plan? How does it involve the government? How does it affect Chevonne and her friends Di and E.J.?

The title, From My Cold, Undead Hand, is adapted from a famous slogan popularised by the National Rifle Association in the USA in defence of the right of American citizens to own and carry firearms. One of the features of the novel is that vampires, who in traditional fiction arm themselves with nothing but their teeth, exercise this constitutional right. Well, so do the vampire-hunters! By the end of the book there is a twist to this ‘right’. I asked Marie if her novel was deliberately politicised or partisan on this issue.

No, indeed not, but it did occur to me to introduce gun-carrying vampires and to have elements of the plot which developed the consequences of guns in this kind of conflict or adventure. Of course I have my own views about the issue, but there are two points I’d like to make. Firstly, I’m not American, and it’s America’s call. And secondly, no author worthy of the name lets her own views affect the way a plot is developing. The story goes how the story goes and that’s that. Anyhow it’s not ‘about’ guns. If it has a theme it’s about how young people tend to be marginalised.

That theme turns the dramatic crisis of the novel into a cliffhanger, leaving readers wanting more. Thankfully a sequel is half-written already, and there is even the possibility of a threequel. So who should read it?

It’s pitched at ‘young adult’ level, but it’s not ‘written down’. I think it will be snapped up not only by teenage readers but by adults who are into vampire fiction – and there are many, many of them ‘out there’. I just hope people out there will enjoy the ride as much as my ‘beta readers’ did.

From the point of view of this agency, it is encouraging that P’kaboo have shown faith in Marie once more, and are publishing her third novel on the 15th of September. Keep a watch for updates here, and by following @ColdUndeadHand on Twitter. Don’t forget that you can pre-order your copy!


Major-Minor: Languages and Nations

Major-Minor: Languages and Nations
Edinburgh International Book Festival
Scottish Power Foundation Studio
16th August 2014
Previously published at The Mumble 17th August 2014

“In this age of globalisation, the English language has become increasingly dominant online and on the page. As an author writing in a different national or minority language how does this dominance affect your ability to tell your story and find an audience? Gaelic writer Martin MacIntyre and Arno Camenisch, who writes in Rhaeto-Romanic and German, join acclaimed translator Daniel Hahn to discuss.” (blurb on the Festival web site)

It’s difficult to know how to review a discussion. One angle from which to look at it might be the structure and the way it was chaired. Considering that it was to last forty-five minutes with fifteen minutes for questions and answers at the end, and to include readings by two authors, on that account it was spot on, tight, and well presented. Much credit goes to the chairman, David Codling. Of course a lot also depends on the qualities of the members of the panel, so let me introduce them.

Arno Camenisch reading from his novel 'Alp'. © Nick Barley

Arno Camenisch reading from his novel ‘Alp’.
© Nick Barley

Arno Camenisch looks like a diminutive version of Simon Baker, right down to the disarming smile. He has stage presence, whether reading in his native Rhaeto-Romanic – a ‘minority language’ from southern Switzerland – or talking about his work. Despite, or maybe because of, his occasionally having to appeal to fellow panel-members for help with a word or phrase in English, he displayed a dry wit and an unconventional way of looking at things. “My choice of language depends on the weather,” he says. “If it is raining I write in Rhaeto-Romanic. If it is windy or sunny, German… I grew up in a polyphonous village. There were many languages… But television was king. We believed more in TV than god.”

To Arno ‘the sound is the soul of the text’. Martin MacIntyre agreed, speaking of ‘music’ as being the key, and praising the sound of Arno’s reading. Martin was born in Glasgow to parents originally from South Uist, and learned Gaelic from them. His spoken Gaelic is precise and clear, and when he read from a recent novel we could hear that he was not simply bilingual but effectively trilingual, and the Gaelic was interrupted by both English and Glaswegian. Frankly, that was the first time I had ever heard a passage of Gaelic with the word ‘woggle’ in the middle of it! “What excites me about Gaelic is that everyone who reads it can also read English,” he said. “There’s a tension between the two.”

Arno Camenisch and Martin MacIntyre © Paul Thompson

Arno Camenisch and Martin MacIntyre
© Paul Thompson

Both writers translate from their ‘minority’ language into a neighbouring ‘majority’ language – from Rhaeto-Romanic to German, and from Gaelic to English. Daniel Hahn, national programme director of the British Centre for Literary Translation, said “Translation is never about the language, it is about languages. The relationship between languages… We use the big languages as a bridge for translation of minority languages. This is not an unproblematic relationship.” He highlighted this problematic characteristic by the example of a translation from Welsh to English of the words of an old man who spoke only Welsh and knew no English at all. During the question-and-answer session I had the opportunity to ask him to clarify this. I made the point that if I was reading, say, I Claudius, I suspended disbelief and simply accepted that I was reading the words of a native speaker of Latin who was writing to me in Greek; so how was a translation from Welsh to English any more problematical?

Daniel Hahn © Paul Thompson

Daniel Hahn
© Paul Thompson

Daniel agreed, up to a point. “There’s a kind of sleight of hand going on when you read a translation,” he said. “We collude in that. We pretend we are reading it in the original language.” But then he made the very valid point that the relationship between Welsh and English, particularly in the context of the novel in question, is highly political, involving the identity of people where ‘to speak one is not to speak the other’. Martin MacIntyre reinforced this when he mentioned New Zealand writer Glen Colquhoun, who said that the problem was not that speakers of a majority language couldn’t ‘see’ the speakers of the minority language, but rather that they ‘couldn’t see themselves’. There is so much creativity in translation, not simply in how best to render a text literally, but how to find equivalent, analogous, or even vaguely similar concepts in two different cultures. “With modern Gaelic vocabulary, you are restricted in usage. It forces you to hone your prose in a different way,” said Martin MacIntyre. Such expressions sent us away from the event with much to think about.

 


Protest! The Rhetoric of Resistance

Protest! The Rhetoric of Resistance
Edinburgh International Book Festival
Scottish Power Foundation Studio
16th August 2014
Review first posted at The Mumble, 17th August 2014

“Spoken Word performance can be a tool of dissent, it can give a voice to the dispossessed – and it’s not all ranting these days. Join Phill Jupitus as Porky the Poet, Elvis McGonagall, Hollie McNish and Hannah Silva as their deft rhetoric confronts, parodies and overturns issues of political, domestic and social injustice. Fun performance, clever words, serious intent.” (blurb on the Festival web site)

Sometimes it’s a pity to have to review a one-off event and to publish that review in retrospect. How better it would be to be able to tell your friends “Go and see this!” I’m in that position as I write. I wish ‘Protest!’ was mid-run and you could all queue for returned tickets at the Box Office. As it was, the theatre was full for this one-off ‘shard’ (as Master of Ceremonies Luke Wright called it) of the Festival’s ‘Babble On’ series, and you couldn’t have got a return for love nor money.

Phil Jupitus  © Luke Wright

Phil Jupitus
© Luke Wright

We were launched into the stream of comic dissent by Phil Jupitus who, in the 1980s, quit a civil service job to become a poet, and who got gigs supporting bands “because I was cheaper than a support band”. Instantly there was a post-punk feel to the proceedings. To me this was a little odd, as though poetic dissent had started when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, as though John Cooper Clarke, Gil Scott-Heron, and Allen Ginsberg had been forgotten; or further back – the polemic verse of left-wing poets of the 1930s, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s political diatribes, Chaucer’s and Juvenal’s satire. Irony was never far away from Phil’s performance; praising the subversive nature of comics like The Beano and The Dandy, he led us in applause for D C Thomson, a newspaper publisher who (correct me if I am wrong) stubbornly maintained an anti-trades-union policy. Phil’s paean to The Beano had the kind of robust rhyme-and-metre scheme that lends a hobnail boot to humorous poetry. The audience couldn’t help laughing, in fact they couldn’t stop. Especially funny was his series of ten-line poems built up from the titles of Fringe shows (although I sincerely hope he decides to give ‘Sex with animals’ a miss this year!)

Phil provided what he and Luke referred to as the ‘glue’ between the other poets. Next up was Elvis McGonagall, and although this will irritate him no end, the comparison with John Cooper Clarke is inevitable. Substitute a Dundee accent for a Salford one, and you have the same facility for using rhyme, rhythm, and refrains. It’s tight, precise, and rapid-fire, with the likes of Margaret Thatcher (yes, she can provoke even from the other side of the veil) and Nigel Farage in his sights. There was a wonderful recitation of clichéd phrases in David Cameron’s voice, and, evoking Sir Harry Lauder, an address to Scottish voters who had not yet made up their mind about independence – ‘Stop your Swithering, Jock’!

Hannah Silva © Luke Wright

Hannah Silva
© Luke Wright

There was an instantly obvious dichotomy between the male performers’ work and the females’. The latter’s humour was gentler, the seriousness ramped up. Hannah Silva instantly grabbed our attention by speaking a series of broken semi-syllables into her microphone. Operating a recording loop by foot-switch and varying the same vocal sounds in pitch and stress, she built up multi-tracked layers in what can only be described as music, and suddenly over the top of that filled in all the missing semi-syllables to repeat and repeat Ed Milliband’s response to public sector strikes. Intricate, well thought-out, and damnably clever. I can say the same about her other pieces, one of which almost worked like a cumulative folk or children’s song where extra elements are added on at the end of each verse. Except there was nothing folksy, nothing juvenile in her gender politics, her direct expression about prostitution and the female underclass. What is difficult for me to describe is how this use of technology coupled with fragmentary speech built up atmosphere, evoked such a strong emotional response in me. Her repetition of the fact that forty percent of all soldiers fitted with a prosthesis return to war was particularly evocative in the hundredth year since the start of the Great War.

Hollie McNish got her points across by words alone. She sustained her technical power right through each long poem without flagging. Again it was sexual politics that were foregrounded. She was able to address serious issues in a vernacular setting – the facility with which she and her elderly grandmother can converse about earthy subjects which are an embarrassment to the mother/daughter generation between them. Hollie presented us with a wonderful poem about what turns her on, starting with bricks, going through a whole lot of other things including the laughter when a fart interrupts foreplay, before returning to bricks. Probably her best poem of the session was the one she wrote when breast-feeding her baby in a toilet, whilst being confronted by a poster of a young woman in a bikini tacked to the back of the door.

I spoke to Hollie after the performance, and put it to her that although it was possible to be more outspoken, more vitriolic, more insulting in an overtly comic work of art – a poem or a cartoon, say – the very fact that it is comic tends to draw its venom, to make an audience take it less seriously. By contrast, someone who enthralls an audience the way that she and Hannah Silva do and puts across a serious point, albeit with distinct threads of humour, has a greater effect and is not so easily dismissed. Hollie was happy and relieved to hear my opinion, as she had feared that the laughter her male colleagues got was a sign of greater impact. Not so, I kid you not.