Neil Gaiman is more than true

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“Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novels are more than true; not because they tell us that Neil Gaiman exists, but because they tell us who he is.” ~Anonymous #quote

Neil Gaiman’s novels are autobiographical; that’s my theory and I’m damned well sticking to it. Maybe the ones written for children are not exactly autobiographical in an absolutely literal sense. Since Coraline is the only one of those that I have read so far, I can’t generalise. But I have read Coraline, and it is a novella that is certainly enjoyed by children of all ages, including coffin dodgers like me.

Mr Gaiman is an adult. But he is an adult with an inner child composed of his memories of what it’s like to be a child. Hidden beneath his adult form, that child is every bit as real as the emotions stirred up whenever he experiences past events. That child nourishes his imagination today as it will do for the rest of his life. Coraline may be the least autobiographical of Gaiman’s stories. That would be due to the gender of the protagonist; to the best of my knowledge, he’s never actually ever been a little girl.

Nevertheless, Coraline is narrated by an adult male, one whose voice in the audiobook sounds uncannily like the master storyteller himself. He sets himself the task of warning children – his and everyone else’s – about what lies in store for them, lurking behind those shadows. This warning about the big bad world they will soon be encounter is thrilling, as all good stories should be. The novella prioritises those dangers that are, on first sight, prettified. They are covered in chocolate. For the more rebellious young adults, the adventure comes with free drugs, and anything else you might think you want to try; all doled out by the most charming con artists, drug dealers and slave traders you could ever hope to meet.

The protagonist of Coraline is hardly an incarnation of Neil Gaiman. But the autobiographical element persists due to the narrator’s relationship with children. He is – or was – helping his child and other children prepare for adulthood, and the dangerous rites of passage our children have to go through, with peer pressure demanding we cut the apron strings or be ostracised as too uncool to live.

Neil Gaiman has invested part of his heart and soul in the project that is Coraline. Every adult should thank him for helping all of our children; our grandchildren too, and those children not yet born. Cheers, mate.

Nobody Owens, Tristram Thorn, Shadow and more

The books that Gaiman writes for adults – whether qualified as young adult or not – has a protagonist who is, at least in part, Neil Gaiman. He is telling us about himself. That is why he can make us laugh so loud and so often. It is how he manages to make us cry or despair, get angry, regret the pain we have caused others. We feel these emotions because we make similar mistakes as the protagonists in Neil Gaiman’s novels. We also lash out without thinking, especially those we love most: parents, siblings, soulmates who we betrayed.

Neil Gaiman addresses his own relationships with others in these works of fantasy and the supernatural; I’m totally convinced about this. Deeply hidden beneath layers of symbolism and metaphor; very, very, very heavily disguised – naturally: he doesn’t want to get himself sued now, does he? Nor does he want to piss off friends and family any more than is absolutely necessary.

Changing people’s names, bolstered by the introduction of fantastical and supernatural elements makes it impossible to prove anything in a court of law, or at a family reunion caused by birth, death, marriage or whatever.

If Neil insists loved ones, or passing acquaintances are jumping to conclusions, it’s very likely that not everyone will take him at his word: he is a teller of tall tales after all. But if you feel you’ve ever been misportrayed in a Neil Gaiman novel even though no one other than yourself is aware of the message that you think he is trying to pass on to you, here is my free advice: why the **** should you care?

If you do get angry about such things, maybe you might try retaliation by writing your own version of fantastically unrealistic events. Perhaps have Neil Gaiman selling his soul to Satan, or burying a decaying portrait of himself away in his attic, alongside the bones of several dead little children, puppies and kittens. Then, if he feels suitably horrified at the prospect of someone thinking you might actually be serious, he could take you to court for implying he is that kind of a monster. Good luck with that.

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Daily Diary [Part II]

I am writing an email for a Renfrewshire Council housing officer: Sheonna Docherty. I promised her that when she left on what seemed to be good terms last week… I warned her I don’t do brevity, and it would be a very detailed and in depths piece of writing. She raised no objections to that. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how long it has to be. No deadine was suggested by either of us; I am 100% positive on that. I said I’d send a copy to my MP – Mhairi Black. But the absence of a deadline, and the refusal of Sheonna or her hostile colleague (the bad cop to her good cop) to accept what I was telling them about their employers means the scale of what has to be included in my ’email’ is… intimidating. If I was to include everything that I want included, it would take months, if not years. Sheonna wouldn’t think we’d agreed to that. The only way to deal with this problem is by sending the agreed ’email’ in bits and pieces. I’ll deal with some things and send it off, and try to work on what I left out for lack of time, while waiting for a response to the initial ’email’. In the meantime, I will supplement the material emailed to Sheonna by reblogging material both Renfrewshire Council workers said they knew nothing about. Reblogging this piece is part of that process.. And I expect my MP to read this blog too, and not allow those vetting telephone calls from her constituents keeping her in the dark forever and a day. #VettedByMI5?

WORKERS UNITED

Where do I begin? Yesterday’s contribution was effectively a commitment to blog on a daily basis. And not just to blog erratically, on random subjects, but to stay focused on what’s important. I have too many threads to get the facts across in a single, relatively short blog post? Fine. I know what to do. I’ll break it down into chunks, getting some of the jigsaw pieces down in the right place before taking a rest. Incrementally I’ll get the job done. At any rate that’s my hope.

Rereading yesterday’s introduction I was struck by a rambling presentation. This could be a problem. I really should try to cut to the chase, cut out the padding, get down to business, and other equally pointless soundbites. I might cut out that last sentence when I find time to do a redraft.

I do not have a fixed plan as…

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Ode to Phil Burton-Cartledge [Part I]:

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PHIL HAMITON TWITTER PIC TRISTRAM HUNT RESEARCHER

Full of butt and cartilage bone.
Phil the fool is all alone.
A very public Bernstein fan.
Once upon a rhyme did scan.

John Chamberlain’s Three Stooges dude.
Loves to spy. He thinks it’s good.
Lord Mandelson and Tristram too.
Revisionists. One Nation Blue.
I bet he loves tribute
Haiku.

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Brave review [spoiler alert]:

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BRAVE MERIDA

I have only just gotten round to checking out Pixar’s Brave. Watched it a few times and I love it. Hard to rank it alongside other Pixar films as they are pretty much all classics. I knew it had won the Oscar but that didn’t prove anything in my book. Went to check out Rotten Tomatoes rating to get confirmation they love it too. And they don’t. Not exactly. 78%? Expected it to do a lot better than that. Their so-called ‘top critics’ gave it a mere 67%. I found that odd. Is it possible that my standards are slipping?

Many film fans couldn’t give a damn what other people think, especially professional critics: all that matters is what they think. I understand that point of view, but I am nevertheless interested in when and why my taste differs from the so-called experts. I gave some thought to what it…

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The Curious Insidiousness of the ‘autistic spectrum’.

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This blog post is my review of a review of my review of the award-winning novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, which is a book that I haven’t actually read. Confused yet?… Excellent.

Let me clear a few things up. Firstly, when I say I haven’t read that book, what I mean is I haven’t finished it yet. I am severely dyslexic and I’m clutching at that straw as my excuse. I don’t think it’s a particularly bad excuse. Not if you could appreciate how difficult fiction reading is for people like me. I’ll plough on with the book, and when I reach the last page, I may write another review. A better one. Anyway,…

I won’t name the critic who dismissed my defense of that book. Partly that is because I don’t want anyone to be intimidated into pretending they like something…

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Jenny Colgan and political correctness

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When I logged on to twitter today, I unexpectedly saw Jenny Colgan trending. My guess is she’d won a prize or had been nominated for one. I was surprised to see she was being attacked as some kind of racist and had quit twitter as a result. I want to say a few words about this review and the response to it on Twitter.

Firstly, if I believed she was a racist or Islamophobe, I’d join the chorus of criticism. But I’ve seen no evidence. Those abusing her enough to drive her off Twitter have made a mistake. Some will have jumped on a bandwagon before thinking it through. Others will stick to their guns, unable or unwilling to admit they could possibly have made a mistake. I’m not prejudging who belongs to which camp. Let’s debate what happened here.

I had to read the review that caused all the problems, but before reading it I had already assumed those who drove her off twitter must have overreacted. I tweeted my comments even before reading it. Having now read it, I don’t see what the problem was.

There seems to be an assumption that if a white person criticises a black one, then we need to see this in terms of race. So white women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault must all be making it up? This is a daft way to approach such issues. The race and religious intolerance allegations don’t stand up.

I didn’t recognise the name of the black woman. I may be one of the few people who didn’t recognise her face either. I don’t watch that show. But I do know this woman did win the hearts of the fans of the show, and there is, apparently, a lot of them. However, if you actually read what Jenny wrote, she loved this novelist too, at least for what she did in The Great British Bake Off. Here’s what she wrote: “she is amazing.” “Hussain is just so brimful of talent; of happiness and grace and skill.” “[Hussain] ended up being universally loved.”

Jenny admits Hussain is ‘universally loved’. Is that the sort of thing a racist would say? On the contrary, are these not the words of someone who has herself been smitten by her, in a platonic sense? Jenny has proved her criticism of Hussain had no reactionary elements to it. She described herself as a fan, and anyone reading the review can see that to be true.

Was Jenny’s criticism of this novel legitimate? Having not read the novel, I have no way of knowing. I’ve no idea how much help she got in editing it, but we know it’s not all her own work, with a well-established co-author getting credit, and possibly a huge pay-cheque thanks to attaching Hussein’s name to it. For all I know, this novel may be almost 100% ghostwritten. On the other hand, it’s possible that Jenny has simply failed to recognise that in addition to being a great cook, Hussain is also a writer of fiction who doesn’t need help drafting her work; and if it’s not to Jenny’s taste, maybe others have different tastes. Jenny is entitled to her view on the literary merits regardless of what anyone else thinks. We all have to make up our own minds. Reviews don’t just tell us about the work being reviewed, but at least as much about the merits of who is doing the reviewing. When we find our attitudes to a work reviewed differs in significant part from that of the reviewer, we might still value that reviewer or, alternatively, we may decide they are no help in deciding what we may like to read in the future. Differences here are not worthy of abusing anyone to the point of making them withdraw from Twitter.

I hope Jenny will rejoin Twitter immediately if she’s not already realised she shouldn’t have quit. If she hates the abuse she’s suffering, then block individuals, and unfollow others. Protect your tweets if you want to have a debate with those who value you and want to debate rationally. In time, hopefully,  those who did jump on a bandwagon without thinking will concede they overreacted, and we can let bygones be bygones. At that point, lifting the Protected status from a twitter account can be done safely.

Another point:  when individuals on twitter suffer from unwarranted abuse, closing down your account won’t help. It will give those who abused you a sense of victory, and they’ll turn to someone else. Refusing to close your twitter account isn’t just in your own interest; it will help others who would simply be the next victim of overenthusiastic political correctness extremists.

Also, closing a twitter account is likely to escalate the abuse, adding fuel to the flames. You won’t be there to defend yourself, and those who feel empathy for you will not be sure how best to help you prove your critics wrong. I am reminded of Paul Dirac’s decision to reject his Nobel Prize for Physics as he wanted to avoid publicity. He was persuaded not to do this on the grounds that this would lead to much more publicity. Jenny Colgan’s quitting Twitter increased the abuse she was getting, increasing the time necessary to put the record straight. The sooner she is back the better – for everyone’s sake.

My final point is this: Jenny assumed Nadiya Hussain was benefiting from an out-of-control celebrity culture dishing out attention to an individual for work she didn’t actually do, like paying someone to write your essay to get your hands on qualifications you don’t actually earn, or maybe get your parents to do your coursework for you. If she actually wrote the novel herself, the fact she is a ‘celebrity’ is hardly Nadiya’s fault. But I do understand where Jenny is coming from. And the point she’s making is a perfectly valid one.

Artists all across the board are struggling in this age of everything being free on the internet. Losing income to those who are suspected – legitimately or otherwise – of having simply taken advantage of name recognition in an unrelated aspect of culture is irritating, to say the least.

When Bob Dylan received his Nobel Prize for Literature last year, most people I respect were glad about this. I don’t mind going on the record to say I think this was a mistake. Literature is distinct from song lyrics. I love Dylan’s lyrics. But they are integral to the music and vice versa. Poetry and Songs are as distinct as Physics and Chemistry. To hand this prize to a singer-songwriter is to rob others of a prize they may have earned, poets and novelists may now die before they get their just reward, meaning they’ll never get it since it’s not doled out posthumously.

Jenny Colgan’s attitude to celebrities taking up bookshelves needed for professional novelists such as herself may be based on assumptions that she can’t back up. Nevertheless, that is still no reason to drive her off of twitter. I hope everyone can accept that. And we can welcome her back as soon as possible.

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Dateline London’s Gavin Esler is typical the BBC’s Islamophobic monsters

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DATELINE LONDON

“Charlie Hebdo killers murdered innocent people with the intention of dying themselves so God could reward them? Sounds like a plan.”

It is a plan of someone who has lost their mind. This is not a sane plan. This is the very definition of insanity.

Almost no commentary on BBC, SKY, Channel4 News or ITV has contributed to a genuine debate. It has been distraction, and a deliberate detraction at that, by those who want Britain’s general election in May to be limited to craven apologists of MI5, Special Branch, the CIA, FBI, Mossad, NSA, GCHQ.

Ed Miliband, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage are the Four Buttocks of the Apocalypse. They offer us nothing. And their champions at BBC, SKY, Channel4 News and ITV are the Four Megaphones of the Four Buttocks of the Apocalypse. And the pathetic coverage of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity is the latest sign of…

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