Raymond Soltysek's Blog

Ken Loach, “Route Irish”, GFT, 23/2/11

Posted in film review by raymondsoltysek on February 28, 2011
Route Irish
Route Irish

Nice to be in the presence of greatness: Ken Loach introduces his new film, “Route Irish”.

It’s a political thriller of the type Britain is particularly good at – though Loach doesn’t see it as a thriller and didn’t make it as one, he claims – and trawls the fertile sea of the Iraq war for its tale of private contractor conspiracy.  Perhaps unusually for a film made in the West, it presents all the human tragedy of the conflict that has been inflicted on the Iraqis, showing them as humans rather than, as producer Rebecca O’Brien  says, “props”.   It’s typically Loach (and writer Paul Laverty): scorchingly political, brilliantly humane – and occasionally rather clunky.

The discussion afterwards is hugely interesting but perhaps not exactly unexpected: the anger he feels at the injustice of the war; the problems he had getting it made; the difficulties he has finding distributors so that people can actually see it; the horrors he discovered while doing the research; the conflict he feels trading with the devil of Sky Movies.  One thing strikes me:  while Loach is almost unique, the subjects he tackles aren’t.  There have been many recent enormously successful films about political conspiracies that are similarly anti-war or anti-establishment or anti-corporation: think of “The Constant Gardener”, or “Syriana”, or “The International”.  Why are they so commercially successful, attracting funding and distribution?  Perhaps it’s because they don’t quite bang on about the message, but dress it up in a medium that the audience recognises and responds to.  For Loach, the medium is entirely subservient to the message, which is why he doesn’t want to admit he’s made a thriller.  Market it as just that – a tight, exciting, action-packed thinking man’s thriller (all of which it is) – and perhaps the cash will come flooding in, and the message will do it’s own work.

However, Loach, for all his loveliness and humanity, isn’t naive, and I’m sure he’s thought about that and already rejected it: so I’ll just bow to his genius.

Asking Difficult Questions: “From Glasgow to Saturn” Reading Party, 24/2/11

Posted in Art, fiction, Reading review by raymondsoltysek on February 25, 2011
Glasgow to Saturn Reading Party

Glasgow to Saturn Reading Party

An excellent line up at the Glasgow to Saturn party, despite the absence of Alan Bissett, an outstanding writer and performer.  Duncan Muir, Kirsty Logan and  Anneliese Mackintosh are all graduates of the Creative Writing programme at Glasgow University, and all have very distinctive, confident voices.  JoAnne McKay is a scream: fantastic, witty, sexy poetry delivered in a dizzying variety of characters – although she confesses to being unable to do a Glasgow accent.

For my own reading, this was the first time I’d rewritten a third person story as a first-person performance piece, and I’m pleased with how it went.  Faced with the microphone, my head tends to go completely blank for a second, but then the adrenalin kicks in, and I got through it making minimal reference to my cue cards.  A new technique discovered!

I had a really interesting conversation with a guest after the reading who, quite rightly, asked serious questions about the purpose of a story that reveals sexual abuse in such graphic detail; is it justifiable to portray such scenes for entertainment?  The guest was a psychiatrist who sees people every day suffering from the kinds of events I described: there is a huge ethical question, then, about how my fiction relates to the horror of their fact.

I can’t begin to answer those questions in any kind of satisfactory way: I just do what I do.  Perhaps I have a wider sense of what “entertainment” is: for me, it includes challenge, the capacity to make someone feel angry or uncomfortable or, basically, to make them think.  I don’t do it for shock value – well, not only for shock value – but if such things are to be spoken of, then they should be spoken of in ways that convey the reality of it.   Ugliness shouldn’t be sanitised, it shouldn’t be buffed up and given a 15 rating; it should be out there, in all its squirm-inducing glory, for all to see if they want to see it.

As I say, it’s what I do, it’s where I go in my head when I write.  There is often confusion between me and the characters I write about.   I remember after one reading many years ago, a member of the audience said to me, “You’re either a really good writer or a complete and total bastard”: I was young and  not a little hurt that I’d made someone think that about me, but I wish I’d had the presence of mind to pull her leg a bit and say, “Actually, I’m both.”   It’s not easy, psychologically, emotionally or socially, to go down those dark alleyways – but I can’t turn away at the entrance to them because what might be down there could offend others.

Of course, we’re talking about matters of taste, and many find much of what I write and how I write and perform it distasteful.  I’ll defend to my last breath their right to feel that way.  But thank goodness taste is such a moveable feast, because it makes the world so much more interesting a place.  My thanks to the elderly lady who tugged my sleeve at the end of the reading and described my writing as “astonishing” and “brave”: I can’t think of two words I’d rather have used to describe my work.

Thanks again to Alan, Nick and Sheila, and to Louise Welsh for hosting the evening.

“The Big Society” = “The Big Con”

Posted in Politics, Social justice, Society by raymondsoltysek on February 17, 2011

November 2011:  I’ve had the opportunity to review my blog posts recently, and have to confess to being rather embarrassed by the way I describe Conservative MP John Glen.  The words I use are inappropriate and, while I feel that his comments  were ill-advised and I can never agree with his politics, I’m taking this opportunity to publish an apology to him for that language.

All the talk of the Big Society is wrapped up in warm fuzziness, platitudes abounding.  The fact that no-one can actually define it is because it is indefinable: it’s more of a feeling than a reality, and it’s a feeling that exists only in the platitudinous fantasies of conservatives (with a small ‘c’) who hanker after Sundays of Church and roast beef dinners.

The reality is that the Big Society is merely a Con (with a big ‘C’) designed to ensure that the needy poor in our society are looked after by their own ilk, or by those who are terrified of becoming them.  Responsibility is moved down the food chain, from the wealthy who should – but usually don’t – pay their fair share of taxes, to the lower classes who “volunteer” because they are motivated by a genuine civic responsibility or by a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God fear.

Two incredible faux pas by Conservative politicians clearly indicate the duplicity of Cameron’s approach.  The first is Francis Maude, the great touter of volunteering, who found himself dumbstruck when asked by Eddie Mair what volunteering he did.

Link to Frances Maude interviewed on the BBC

Link to Frances Maude interviewed on the BBC

“A really unfair question cold”, he says: this is a man who knew he was coming on a radio show to be interviewed about volunteering, and he hadn’t prepared for the obvious question.  The subtext is clear: everyone should volunteer – unless they are millionaires who have so many better things to do, like make more money.  In other words, The Big Society will be run by The Little People.

Probably the most slimy character to come out of the woodwork on this issue is John Glen, Con MP for leafy Salisbury.  Channel 4 did a section on the working poor, those whose wages have been depressed for years;  two income families in the thrall of building societies because of Thatcherite social engineering that demolished the whole concept of  social housing and sold it off to the banks; families who now find their overtime cut or their second wage in the bin.  Real people.  WORKING poor.  People who now, scandalously, have to ask for handouts from charitable food banks.

Glen’s response to the plight of some of his constituents?  Well, anyone who is working and cannot afford food is living  a “chaotic” lifestyle, spending their money on luxuries, presumably like drink and drugs and fags.  Or rent and electricity.

John Glen interviewed on Channel 4 news

Link to John Glen interviewed on Channel 4 news

This rips the mask off of the Con trick: those who need the Big Society are undeserving and feckless, and unworthy of the attentions of the powerful.  Let gullible “volunteers” pick up the slack, let them look after their own.  It’s beneath Glen to find out about the problems of the poor, let alone actually do something about it.  He is, in my opinion, the smuggest of smug bastards, and he’s heartless to boot.

We see revolution sweeping the Middle East, and yet in this country we have, for years, accepted the pillage of our resources by the rich, fallen over ourselves to allow them to fatten themselves at our expense.  If only we had the courage to take to the streets and tell Cameron and Maude and Glen – and Thatcher and Blair and Brown before them – that we want a society where no-one is in need, and no-one elected to power has the right to abnegate the duty that implies.  Now, the great idea of our “coalition government” – involving Liberals, for fuck’s sake – is that if we want a humane society, a society in which people are looked after and treated fairly and paid enough for their labour to feed themselves, we need to do it ourselves, and to let government get on with the really tough job of ensuring the rich become richer.

That’s something worth fighting against.

Joan as Police Woman, Oran Mor, 11/2/11

Posted in Gig review by raymondsoltysek on February 3, 2011
Joan as Police Woman link

Joan Wasser

An electric set as opposed to the acoustic session I last saw, Joan as Police Woman genuinely seems to enjoy playing Oran Mor, and the venue enjoys it right back at her.

“The Deep Field” is the new album she’s showcasing, and it’s typically edgy and raucous, and manages to be very danceable but very left field at the same time.  It’s a trick she does exceptionally well, especially in  “The Magic”, which is sensuous and erudite and hipswaying all at once, while “Run For Love” is wild and beautifully distorted.  She also does a cracking, full-throated version of “Save Me” from her first album.  But she changes pace at the flick of a switch: “Flash” – which she previewed last time – is here restrained, like having a  sexual itch while being strapped up in a straitjacket, and she is at her most wistful on “Forever and a Year”.

There are a couple of less successful numbers – “Eternal Flame” is a remarkably complex melody and doesn’t quite hit the mark – and early in the set the sound balance is all wrong, drowning that fantastic voice of hers.  She also encores with two ballads, leaving the feeling that the evening could have ended with a real high point: there are cries for “Christobel” and, while I’m sure she’s fed up playing it, it would have sent the audience out on twinkle toes.  However, she’s more than worth seeing again and again, especially if she continues to flirt with the audience while dressed in slash-backed leather jumpsuits and kitten heels.

Mmmm… kitten heels….

“From Glasgow to Saturn” Reading Party, Museum of Anatomy, Glasgow, 24/2/11

Posted in fiction, Reading review by raymondsoltysek on February 3, 2011

Erich Leiper watercolour

Am looking forward to reading at the first “From Glasgow to Saturn” reading party at the Museum of Anatomy on February 24th.  A suitably grotesque setting, I’ll be performing a version of one of the most misanthropic stories I’ve ever written, “Gathering of the Clan”.

It popped out of my head in Bulgaria during the summer, and surprised me because I’ve being saying for ages that I don’t write “like that” any more.  It has a lot in common with the stories in “Occasional Demons” and is miles away from the writing I’m doing for my new novel.

It’ll be good to be reading publicly again (first time in about 5 years), and to be sharing the stage with some excellent writers, including Alan Bissett.

Thanks to Alan, Nick and Sheila for inviting me to participate.