Raymond Soltysek's Blog

New Writing Scotland 32: ‘Songs of Other Places’

Posted in fiction, Poetry, Publications by raymondsoltysek on July 14, 2014
cover

‘Songs of Other Places'; order by clicking the cover.

New Writing Scotland 32: ‘Songs of Other Places’ is now available to order from the Association for Scottish Literary Studies. Editors Zoe Strachan and Gerry Cambridge have gone for a slimmed down volume this year, and the quality is extremely high, with great writers like Christopher Whyte, Helen Sedgewick, Graham Fulton and Ron Butlin.   Here’s an extract from my contribution,  the title story  ‘Songs of Other Places';

‘She kneads the pie dough, working through the flour, egg slipping between her fingers, strong fingers she has, and she knows how to knead dough cause her momma showed her how. Saturday afternoons, she’d park Alice up on a big kitchen stool and they’d be side by side, her momma baking big pies, apple and blueberry and pumpkin, and Alice made little pies with the same fillings that she’d feed to her dolls. Momma would sing Buddy Holly songs, sometimes whip her off that stool for a dance, whirling her around the kitchen, Every day, it’s a getting’ closer, Goin’ faster than a roller coaster, and she’d lift Alice high and they’d bump noses at the Love like yours bit.

‘During foaling, Roger Hernandez stayed in the hayloft above the barn, put up some walls with bits of lumber and bales of hay, ran a line from the generator so he could have a little hotplate and an old Dansette cassette player. Momma loaned him some Buddy Holly tapes, and he used to play mariachi bands, and Alice would sneak in and hide underneath the hayloft and listen to those horns. Then he got inta some other stuff, foreign like, first kinda Frenchy or European, then strange instruments she’d never heard before, and women’s voices that seemed to fit together in ways that didn’t sound quite like it shoulda. She asked him once, “Roger Hernandez, where does that music you listen to come from?” but all he said was, “Little Alice, they come from other places, far, far away.” They have camels there, he said, as well as horses, and the grasslands go on forever, even bigger and wider than the Prairies.   “They don’t sing right,” she told him, and he said she was right, but it wasn’t really singing. “Ululating,” he said it was, and Alice reckoned the word sounded like the singing.’

£9.95 well spent, I say.

 

 

‘Songs of Other Places’ – New Writing Scotland 32

Posted in Publications, Writing by raymondsoltysek on May 12, 2014

Very, very pleased to be included in New Writing Scotland for the third year running – and even more pleased that my story has been chosen as the title for the whole collection.  Many thanks to Zoë Strachan and, one of my favourite poets, Gerry Cambridge for choosing me.

‘Songs of Other Places’ is one of a number of American-set stories I’ve written over the last couple of years, and is a companion piece to ‘Spree Killer‘, which was included in NWS 30.  Both are set in a Texas that is slowly but inexorably dying from the effects of economic devastation and human indifference.

In the latest story, Alice is a thirtysomething wife of a cop, mother of two sons, who is being marginalised in her own life.  She dreams of happier times on the ranch with her mother, and falling in crush with the farm hand, Roger Hernandez.  I’m really proud of it; it’s one of the most beautiful and empathetic stories I think I’ve ever written.  It’s never easy writing as a woman, but I’m hoping I’ve pretty much got it spot on.

The collection will be published in the summer.  I had been saving  ‘Songs of Other Places’ as the title of a new collection – I’m trying to have enough written by late next year for a new book on the shelves – but I’m proud it’ll be used for what is a Scottish literary institution.

 

 

‘Bad News for Refugees’, CCA, 11/10/13

Posted in Immigration, Politics, Publications, Social justice by raymondsoltysek on October 13, 2013

Bad News for Refugees

Bad News for Refugees

Went to a launch event for ‘Bad News for Refugees’, a book co-authored by my Glasgow Writing Group pal Emma Briant.  A wee bundle of genius, Emma is a media researcher by trade, and her work with the venerable Glasgow Media Group has produced a fascinating examination of the demonization of refugees by the media.  The evidence for the prosecution of the media as a bunch of heartless bastards is overwhelming: for example, there is a callous disregard for any sort of accuracy in reporting, with the terms ‘asylum seekers’ routinely replacing the term ‘refugees’, and that then being conflated with ‘immigrants’, ‘illegal immigrants’ and, eventually, the reduction to the contemptuous ‘illegals’.  The effects of this kind of thinly veiled attack on human dignity is vividly described by  co-author Pauline Donald, who gives a voice to those who have come here simply in order to escape extra-judicial imprisonment, social and economic discrimination, torture and worse.  Portrayed as penniless scroungers, most come here for no other reason than they fear for their lives; 75% of the refugees in the Glasgow area have degrees, so why would they desert their middle-class lifestyles to come here to be abused by the Daily Fucking Mail?

The manipulation of refugee stories is glaringly obvious, with concentration on the few barking mad apples like Abu Qatada to deflect attention from the voices of the thousands of ordinary, law abiding refugees hounded by law enforcement agencies and press alike; when was the last time you heard the first-hand story of an Eritrean like those poor souls who died off the coast of Lampedusa last week (or the week before or the week before or… yesterday)?  GMG leader Greg Philo talks eloquently of the culture of the newsroom, ending his talk with the words of one reporter ringing in our ears, talking of being sent out to ‘monster an asylum seeker’.

This of course came on the day after Theresa May proudly trumpeted the latest in a long line of racist policies this government has enacted to whip up hatred and fear of our immigrant population.  The Today programme did all it could to conspire with the bastards of Westminster by devoting three separate sections in a report on the proposed legislation.  First, they interviewed a waiting room of Kent NHS patients, asking them what they thought of immigrants coming here taking our medicines. The response was vile, with narking, harping voice after narking, harping voice viciously bemoaning what they think they lose to immigrants.  Of course, figures clearly show that immigrants (‘legal’ or ‘illegal’) are less likely to access NHS services than ‘indigenous’ people, but that’s not the point, is it?  Neither is it the point that they are much, much more likely to be treated by an immigrant in the NHS than be gazumped by one in the waiting lists.  But Today gave a voice to the ill-informed and, of course, failed to ask an immigrant what they thought about being targeted as ‘NHS tourists’.  It was little more than a UKIP party political broadcast.

The second section consisted of an interview with a London GP who rightly took issue with the whole ‘problem’, simply and effectively stating that… there wasn’t one.  No-one’s appointment is delayed by immigrants in her practice.  But was it a coincidence that her name was Paquita de Zulueta?  A doctor here for 30 years, you can nevertheless just hear the cogs of listeners grinding, putting two and two together to make a conspiracy: Paquita de Zulueta?  Defending immigrants?  Well, of course she would. It’s a tactic often used against me when I attack racists on HuffPost:  ‘Soltysek?  Well, of course you’d stick up for immigrants, woudn’t you?  Let’s face it, you are one…’

And finally came La May herself.  Her words quite clearly show the purpose of her party’s vicious legislation: ‘many people feel this is unfair’, ‘hard working people see people who haven’t paid coming in…’, ‘most people…’.  This is a blatant appeal to the UKIP and EDL minded voter, nothing more.  And when challenged on the fact that so called ‘health tourism’ accounts for 0.01% of NHS costs, she blustered and deflected and dodged and, laughably, resorted to an appeal to ‘principle’.  Out of her mouth, the word is sullied.  But the difficult time she was rightly given by interviewer Mishail Husain (there’s those cogs again…) came at the end of what sounded like a carefully stage managed stitch up job.

It’s depressing, regardless of how inherently fair and good people might be.  And I sit listening to the three authors and wonder where this came from.  My father was Silesian Deutsche Volk, conscripted into the Wehrmacht.  After fighting on the Eastern Front, where he was wounded and decorated, he was captured by the Allies in the Western Front.  Here as a POW, at the end of the war he found himself a refugee seeking asylum, unable to return to Poland because of the Soviet occupation.  He would have been a prime target for the Daily Mail – can you imagine the headlines? – and yet, there was a general acceptance of him.  It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t anything like what refugees have to face now.  Here was someone who’d actively fought against this country and yet who had no problems finding work or accessing social services.   It’s ironic that he was accepted here as a refugee from Communism, but those Eastern Europeans who overthrew Communism now find themselves vilified when they come here.  The hypocrisy is astounding.

So where did it go wrong?  I was politicised in the 1970s and early 80s (when I actually took a couple of Greg Philo’s media  modules) and so for me the answer lies in the neoliberal revolution that Thatcher began, combined with the emasculation of the mass labour movement.  But of course, that’s too simplistic; mass labour movements have often been at the forefront of anti-immigration protests, especially in the early 1960s.  So I don’t know, and neither do I know how we can counter that insidious and vicious propaganda campaign against the poor generally and immigrants in particular. 

What’s clear, though, is that projects like this are essential in the fight.  There are bad books, good books and great books.  Then there are important books.  My pal Emma has helped produce one of those.

Upcoming publications

Posted in Education, Publications, Writing by raymondsoltysek on August 4, 2013
black middens

Black Middens, New Writing Scotland 31

I’ve had a very quiet blog recently because of pressures on my time (some very welcome, some not so) and because WordPress seems to be difficult to get into these days (I must check out my firewall settings, apparently, though why they have unilaterally decided to go wonky I haven’t a scooby).

July saw two very different major Scottish publications in which I’ve been included.  First of all, “Lizard Isle”, a gentle fantasy story, has been included in Black Middens, New writing Scotland 31.  It’s a major collection – over 300 pages of the best Scottish writing around – and I’m delighted to be included.

Just coming out from the printers too is the 4th edition of the seminal academic volume Scottish Education, edited by Tom Bryce, Walter Humes, Donald Gillies and Aileen Kennedy.  Mine is a small contribution – one chapter out of a whopping one hundred and eleven – on “Ethos and behaviour in secondary schools”.  I enjoyed writing it, and it’s a privilege to have been asked.

Unfortunately, neither will open the gateways to fame and fortune, but that’s never really the point, is it?

New Writing Scotland 31

Posted in Publications by raymondsoltysek on March 31, 2013

Was absolutely delighted to get word that the Association for Scottish Literary Studies has accepted a short story from me for inclusion in New Writing Scotland for the second year running.

Last year, “Spree Killer” was written very quickly, seeming to come to me ready-made.  I liked it a lot, and felt I got the voice pretty much nailed, though at the time I didn’t know if a Texan malcontent was quite right for the anthology.  This year’s story,  “Lizard Isle”, is very much the antithesis to that: a gentle, upbeat , light-touch fantasy, it has a central character very different from my usual angsty misanthropes.  It’s also very different in its origins and gestation, having been kicking about for years, and has been through revision after revision until I eventually lost patience with it and thought I’d try it somewhere.  Glad I did; obviously, I got something right about it, and my thanks go again to Zoe Strachan and Carl McDougall for picking it up.

When I was much younger and in the flush of my early “success”, New Writing Scotland seemed so difficult to break in to for me; I think I tried four years in a row without a sniff at getting in.  Now that I’ve managed twice in two years, I’ll take it as a sign that my writing is maturing with age, and I’m finally getting back on track.

“A Little Touch of Cliff in the Evening”; New Writing Scotland 30 Glasgow launch, 7/9/12

Posted in Publications, Reading review by raymondsoltysek on September 7, 2012

Waterstones’ in Argyle Street hosted the Glasgow lauch of NWS 30, and a lovely evening it was too.  Zoe Strachan compéred like a professional, and readings were by Alison Irvine, Ross McGregor, Maggie Mallon, Derek McLuckie, Lorna Callery and yours truly.  All the readers were great, and the line up was interesting and eclectic.  I particularly liked Alison Irvine’s “Nightcalls” which started the evening; she has a beautiful voice and the rhythms of her story are beguiling.  Lovely stuff.

Of course, Derek McLuckie blew the place away.  “Park Bum” is classic Derek, witty and sexy and delivered with a verve that leaves you breathless.  He really does perform his work fantastically well, and in amongst the speed and the self loathing and the sex there are moments of quiet loveliness, like “Sometimes yi see a kingfisher flash, like a stray streak of rainbow…”.  It’s a real pleasure to see him and chat again after so many years.

In retrospect, I’m not that happy with my reading:  I found myself more nervous than usual at the beginning – I had to give my hand a little silent row for shaking – perhaps because I was last to read and was given a very generous introduction by Zoe that set up huge expectations, and then three pages in I got that dreaded sudden attack of dry mouth and I’d put my water bottle behind me (“Just stop and take a drink, you fool, take a drink!”).  However, I got to the end, approximate Texan accent and all.  Opinions on the accent were divided between “You got that spot on”, “That was a good stab at it” and “You should have read it as yourself”.  I’m very conscious of pace and rhythm in a reading, and I feel that without the accent, the rhythms and inflections that were necessary just wouldn’t come across; still, at least the story itself seems to have gone down well.

So lovely too to see my heroic pal Jenny Allan.  Jenny retired early a couple of years back and is now off to Ethiopia to do VSO work with teachers.  She’s one of the most admirable women I know, and I’ll miss her.  Bon voyage and hurry back, Jenny; you’re a star.

“A Little Touch of Cliff in the Evening” Glasgow launch, 7/9/12

Posted in Publications by raymondsoltysek on September 2, 2012

Just a quick announcement!

I’ll be reading a short extract from “Spree Killer” at the Glasgow launch of “A Little Touch of Cliff in the Evening” on Friday 7th September at 7pm in Waterstone’s, Argyle Street, Glasgow.  It will be hosted by one (or both) of the editors, the terrific Zoe Strachan and Carl Macdougall.  Should be good!

“The Beauty that Brendan Sees”: “Chelsea Station”, Issue 3.

Posted in Publications by raymondsoltysek on August 6, 2012

Link to Chelsea Station

“Chelsea Station”, the New York literary magazine for gay writing, is out now.  At over 110 pages of writing, it’s a bumper edition of fiction, memoir, travel writing and poetry.  It’s available either as print or as downloadable pdf here.

It includes my story, “The Beauty that Brendan Sees”, which tells of the friendship between Brendan and Larry over twenty years.  I don’t usually pass comment on my own work, but it feels to me one of the best short stories I’ve ever written: certainly, it’s one of the gentlest, and is as near as I’ve ever got to being uplifting.

Here’s an extract to give a flavour:

He met Larry at Elazio’s cigar emporium off Madison Avenue in the days when he was young and searching for props to make him seem older, more distinguished, more masculine. He’d been fussing over some cheap cigars when he felt the big man loom up behind him, put a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, Elazio,” a booming voice said to the little wizened man behind the counter who resembled a nut-brown tobacco leaf, “looks like the young gentleman’s a beginner. Show him the good ones so he gets a real taste.” He winked at Brendan and shooed Elazio away to bring out some of the contrabands he’d got by a roundabout route through Canada from his wife’s cousin’s neighbour’s business in Havana. “No point not having the best, son,” he said, “and this place has the best, if you know how to look for it. Hell, the only thing this shop don’t have is a sweaty set of mulatto girl’s thighs. Not that I’d have much use else for them.” He smacked his lips in the lascivious way that Brendan soon discovered made everyone say, “Oh, Laurence!”

He rolls the cigar as he lights it, puff, puff, puff. It relaxes him and he realises he is looking forward to the end game. In the background, Amalia Rodriguez sings; he and Larry saw her once, long before that time she came to New York to kill herself and couldn’t do it. They watched her wring herself empty, and Larry said anyone that miserable had to be a dyke, but he was joking and he’d enjoyed it because he was content to wait with Brendan amongst a small knot of common people outside the stage door to get her autograph. She is singing a happy tune, light; Brendan doesn’t understand Portuguese, but he knows for sure it is about orange groves and beaches with little fishing boats dragged up on to the sand. Hearts are broken in fado, and hearts are mended; this is one of the mending songs.

“Hey, Brendan, you ever realise smoking cigars gave Cuba its name?” Larry once asked him.

“What do you mean?”

“Say coo.”

“What?”

“Go on. Say coo.”

“Coo.”

“Feel it? The shape your mouth makes?”

“Like a kiss.”

“Na, man. More like a suck. Now say baa.”

“Baa.”

“Just like exhaling. Coo-baa. Coo-baa. You say it every time you take a draw of you cigar.”

“Kind of oral, these Cubans.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Ain’t I the lucky one?”

At about a fiver for the digital issue, it’s well worth it.  With material from all over the world included, it’s another fine outlet for writers.  Take a look.

“Spree Killer”: “A Little Touch of Cliff in the Evening”; New Writing Scotland 30

Posted in Publications by raymondsoltysek on August 1, 2012
Link to ASLS

NWS30

New Writing Scotland 30 is out now, and very interesting it looks too.  You can buy it  here: NWS30.

My story, “Spree Killer” tells of one day in the life of Duane, an underemployed, divorced, impoverished Texan with a chip on his shoulder and a semi-automatic rifle, and of his efforts to buy the meat for his friend’s barbecue.

Here’s an extract to give you a flavour:

“He drains the beer bottle, kicks open the back door, tosses the empty at the dumspter at the back of the duplex. It misses, bounces high in the air off the back wall, comes down hard on the metal edge, shatters, spraying glass everywhere. The old guy upstairs, not so bad, but he walks his poodle out back in the evening, he’ll moan like crazy bout the glass. Duane takes a broom, crosses the dusty yard where nothin’s ever grown and brushes the glass under the dumpster. If the poodle gets under there, it’s its own fault, he reckons, though its okay, belonged to the wife afore she died. Not a good dog, not a huntin dog, but it keeps quiet and shits in its own corner of the yard.

The guy’s an old vet, not even from Vietnam or Korea but from the German war, which was like fuckin way back, was the first in to one of those concentration camps, piles of dead hebes and walkin skeletons. Duane woulda liked to’ve seen that, the piles of hebes and those Germans with their hands behind their heads and shittin their pants, and Duane woulda taken his machine gun, big Browning 50 calibre, and spread those motherfuckers’ guts all over the place. The old guy gets misty when he talks bout it though, says it was the worst time ever, but Duane’s brother was in the first Gulf war and he came back wrecked, shakes and sickness specially in winter, just couldn’t keep the food in his belly, heavin all the time until he blew his brains out in a doss house in Denver with a Saturday night special he bought offa some nigger crack dealer, so Duane reckons the old guy couldn’ta had it that bad. Yeah, Duane woulda liked to’ve seen that, seen what the old guy’d saw.

He’d better go get the meat, though fuck knows it could go off by the afternoon in this heat. He’ll swing by Barney’s first, grab a coupla beers, see who’s around, get some ice to pack the meat. He racks up the Woodsmaster in the cab, clears out the burger wrappers on the floor so Jonelle won’t make that screwed up face she makes, climbs in. It’s a rust heap, this fuckin thing, and it burns through rubber fast, but the engine’s good, big 5 litre V8 with that Nip transmission, solid.

The solenoid’s been playing up, almost shot, so it just clicks dead and he has to spark it with a screwdriver, but then it just ticks over sweet. Jonelle says he should get rid of it, it’s too thirsty and he only uses the bed but once or twice a year when he’s gone deer huntin, but he’s not goin for some European compact like hers cos he’s a man and she’s a schoolteacher, and he says he might stretch to a station wagon but he can’t afford it right now. “You can’t afford not to,” she says, “that thing’s just gonna eat money,” but she wants to go shoppin with him for a new car, she’d co-sign the loan, she says, but he don’t want that, don’t want saddled with obligations to her and her weirdo kid yet.

Down the road he’s trailin dust, fast past that fence hopper’s place, the one that drives the el Camino like some pimp, the one picked a fight with Duane down at Barney’s and Duane kicked his ass and almost popped his eye, took the guy’s switchbade off him and damn near dug it right out of its socket till Barney stopped him and they threw the wetback’s ass off the lot and told him not to come back. The guy don’t look Duane’s road now. He hacks hard, spits at the guy’s yard, drives on. The guy has a car in the yard, rust and dents, parts for the Camino.”

I had a lot of fun getting inside Duane’s head: hope you enjoy it enough to buy the book and support the ASLS.

“A Little Touch of Cliff in the Evening”; New Writing Scotland 30

Posted in Publications by raymondsoltysek on July 3, 2012
Link to ASLS

NWS30

The list of contributors for New Writing Scotland 30 has been announced, and a very long and very interesting list it is too.  At 336 pages, it must be the biggest NWS yet; the editors, Carl McDougall and Zoë Strachan, claim it’s the best.

It’s certainly conducive to big-headedness when you’re published in the same volume as fantastic household names like Alasdair Gray, David Greig, Ron Butlin and Agnes Ownes, and it’s also nice to be in the same book as some writing chums old and new, like Derek McLuckie, David Manderson, Jane Alexander and Jonathan Falla.

You can read more about the book and pre-order it here: NWS30.  I’m looking forward to the lauch: I’ve been practising “Spree Killer” in my Weegee/Texan accent in case I’m asked to read!

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