The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Not the Master Race

A few days ago I forwarded a promotional tweet about
Matthew Collins'
newly revised and reissued memoir Hate: My Life in the British Far Right.

Thanks to the wonders of online marketing, on Friday a free copy of the book landed on my doormat. I finished reading it on Saturday. That's the kind of book it is: hard to put down, very funny, and eye-opening. I've always hated the fash, you understand, but I've sometimes had a dark suspicion that they were a sort of Black Mass satanic inversion of the far left. Happily, I couldn't have been more sadly mistaken. If you've never fully appreciated the significance of German porn ('videos of Animal Farm, and I don't mean the film of George Orwell's book') in the cash-flow and sex-life of British fascism, this book will set you right.

Collins joined the remnants of the National Front as a teenager in the 1980s, at which time the Nazis were in a sorry state, shattered and reduced to a shadow of their late-70s glory by Tories unfairly stealing their votes and Socialists unfairly beating them on the streets. When Collins became sickened and disillusioned he changed sides, became a mole for the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, and helped to wreck the Front from within.

How the squabbling shower of losers, tossers, creeps, thugs, and drunks that make up the British fascist milieu repaired the damage and rebuilt is outside the main story of this book, but not outside its concern, and the lessons Collins draws are challenging. And his deadpan comic timing is flawless:
The C18 crew [the BNP's defence squad] consisted of all the well-known Nazi football hooligans from London, dressed to the nines in expensive gear, snorting drugs off the tables and drinking bottled beers. This was madness. I followed Nicky into the toilet where he was using his Switch card to cut up some more coke.
A cracking read and highly recommended.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Black Train

The annual Semana Negra in Gijón, Asturias is a literary festival like no other. For one thing, it has a crowded and raucous funfair attached, complete with Ferris wheel, scary or sedate rides, and air thick with the smells of hot sugar and – this being Spain – abundant, freshly grilled meat. For another, its focus is on genres that some might not regard as literary as all: mainly crime fiction, or 'black novels' as they're called in Spain, with an added peppery dash of comics, westerns, horror, fantasy and science fiction. And finally, it's directly and proudly political.

Just how proudly and directly, I found out a couple of weeks ago when we rode from Madrid to Gijón on el Tren Negro - the Black Train. Hired to transport dozens of writers and journalists to the festival, the Black Train is part of Semana Negra's quarter–century of tradition. It has to defer to the time-tabled trains, so progress is full of unscheduled stops and starts. Our one scheduled stop was in Mieres, a coal-mining town in the mountains of Asturias, where we were due to be greeted by the mayor and a delegation of striking miners and taken on procession through the town for a late-afternoon two-hour lunch.

Thousands of miners in the mountains of northern Spain are on strike, against a projected slashing of the subsidies that keep the pits going. The strike is bitter and militant. Passing through one nearly deserted town and village after another, you can see why. It's also popular.

At La Robla in León, the province just south of Asturias, we found ourselves held up for an hour. Journalists piled out on the platform, mobiles to their ears. León miners had blocked the track up ahead, quite unaware that their comrades in the next province – and in a different union – were waiting for us.

This misunderstanding sorted, we arrived late at Mieres, where Paco Ignacio Taibo II, legendary crime writer and festival director, led a group of writers in solidarity T-shirts out to a tumultuous welcome from the mayor and a dozen likewise T-shirted miners. Songs were sung, to the accompaniment of a bagpiper and a drummer in Asturian costume, who then led writers, mayor and miners through the quiet town. After the mayor had rallied us to a brief sit-down in the main street, we arrived at a courtyard of laden tables. We might have done the lunch justice in two hours. We had twenty minutes and made the most of them. Then it was back on the train and down from the hills to the coast, and Gijón, where a brass band at the station played the Internationale as we climbed on the bus.

Apart from that - well, like I said, it was a literary festival like no other!

Many thanks to Ian Watson, Cristina Macía, Javi, and the whole magnificent team.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The revolution will be audible

What with one thing and another I'd clean forgotten to mention that all thirteen of my novels are now available on Kindle, and that the first four of these (the Fall Revolution quartet) are also available as unabridged, professionally read audio downloads, at Amazon and at Audible - as is my novella, The Highhway Men.

Naturally, I'd be very interested in hearing (so to speak) what hearers think of the audiobooks. I suspect I'd find them hard to listen to myself, because at some level I already have the voices of the characters - and indeed the narrative voice, which is not necessarily my own even in third-person narration - in my head.

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