Writers Saving Us from Ourselves
ALICE AND DESK JOB
All Alone in the Night...
The World of Alice
Reverse racism remains with us to this day. It has been a part of the Australian landscape for well over twenty years and has now renewed strength.
Assumptions are made. The innocence of the migrant. The guilt of the person born in Australia. Nonsense and half truths used against those who prefer the truth.
Can someone born overseas be a good guy? Yes. Can someone born overseas be a bad guy. Yes. It is also true that someone born in Australia can be a good guy or a bad guy. This sounds simple enough but throw political correctness into the mix and it's not that simple at all.
There's no taking people as they come or agreeing that if people need to be judged it should be done in equal fashion. In other words everyone gets the same fair go. This is not how political correctness works though its advocate would claim this is so.
This is where the Alice stories, George Orwell and Jonathan Swift come in. They remind us that there were the same sort of strange goings on in people's minds in the not so distant past. Political correctness simply advances the whole damned thing.
Lewis Caroll had much in common with Jonathan Swift, the writer of Gulliver's Travels.
For a start neither man thought he was going to make his fortune as a writer. They did, however, want to have their say in how their world was run and wanted to do it subtly through their writing. They wanted to reveal the craziness around them.
The Alice books were born out of one man's desire to entertain the young and give the adults something to think about. In particular he wanted to entertain a young girl.
He also threw into his books bits and pieces of what was happening in the real world that might entertain the parents of the young. He didn't, however, do this in a dull, straight forward way. There is, in fact, very little that is dull and straight forward in the Alice books.
For well over a hundred years novelists have taught the reading public new ways of looking at reality. Also, for well over a hundred years, there have been wars connected with drugs such as opium.
During the 19th Century, Great Britain made numerous attempts to tame Afghanistan and basically failed.
Russia in the 20th Century attempted to bring Afghanistan to heel and failed. Despite the warnings of the past, the USA with her allies is attempting today to make military sense out of Afghanistan.
In 1865 a number of historic events occurred that are worthy of note. The American Civil War came to its conclusion with the north the victors. President Lincoln was assassinated while watching a play at Ford Theater, Washington.
Lincoln's assassin plus conspirators were brought to justice. It still remains unclear if the woman who ran the establishment where the conspirators met was in on the conspiracy and thus deserved to hang. She may have been innocent.
Oh, and during this time Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll first saw print.
Here it perhaps should be noted that the British people in the 19th Century were attempting to expand their empire via the use of opium. It perhaps should also be noted that well before 1865 the devastating affects of opium were well known.
In 1821 Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English-Opium Eater was first published. Here the image of the dragon may have been first connected with opium in the minds of the Western World through this book.
For well over a hundred years rabbits with watches and mad hatters have appeared in everything from day to day conversations to literature to film.
There was even an original Star Trek television episode that had a girl in it much like the legendary Alice and a white rabbit with a fob watch. The rabbit, of course, was late as rabbits with fob watches tend to be. Walt Disney was also taken with the charm of the Alice books.
Way back in the 19th Century, a mathematician decided to write fiction. What's more, he chose to write it with a little girl in mind. He wanted to entertain her. He also wanted to put in, here and there, the absurdities of what was then modern life.
Could such a book be successful? How can a book for children with bits and pieces of political silliness and complex scene changes actually work? Was he really writing for children or for adults? Can you actually do both?
The concept of surrealism wasn't in vogue when Charles Dodgeson, better known as Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland. Even so, we can appreciate this book as quite an adventure into surrealism with more than a touch of wondrous weirdness.
Absurdism abounds and it is in a very British form.
Through the Looking-Glass came later and it was just as absurd and surreal.
In both works Dodgeson got to poke fun at his own society and to reveal some of its short comings. Sometimes a society needs someone to poke fun at it if it has any hope, any chance of improving.
Social comment in the novel is, in fact, one of our overall most precious freedoms. Without it who knows what our society might become.
It should be noted here that the Nazis burned books and for a good reason. If there was a German Lewis Carroll running around Berlin in the 1930s his books, no doubt, would have gone up in flames. You can't have the government being properly criticized in a dictatorship. It is essential, however, in a healthy democracy.
Two years ago I wondered if it was possible for me to do something similar with the society I am living in. I had been wanting to write about such craziness as reverse sexism and reverse racism in Australian society but didn't have a handle on how I could possibly do so.
Then, as an adult, I read the Alice books and was shown the way. Thus I owe much to Dodgeson. Among other things, there was also his sense of humor to consider. I would never try to duplicate that but I figured I could come up with something of my own which I hope works just as well.
There are similarities between Dodgeson's Britain and my late 20th Century Australia. For a start there is the British empire connection. There is also the various forms of Christianity that defined 19th Century Britain and still, to some extent, defines present day Australia.
The Australian belief in the fair go came from a number of sources including the harshness of early colonial life before federation. It also has something to do with the Christian belief that we should treat others the way we wish to be treated. Unfortunately, out of the best of intentions, to give everyone a fair go, came political correctness. It appears to do the reverse.
Dodgeson understood how words could be fashioned and manipulated for great effect. Even the sounds of nonsense words can move a reader. His playful experiments in this line are in the Alice books.
It was George Orwell in the 20th Century, however, who realized that any government or government agency out to mess with words, written and otherwise, could also twist ideas, ideals and beliefs to best suit themselves. How, for example, can you protest against injustice when the words you would most probably use have been banned? How can you point out a wrong when you are considered to most likely be the wrong-maker?
Yes, way back in the 19th Century. a mathematician turned fiction writer did get some people thinking about how words touch us and also how stories can sometimes do more than just entertain. Mind you, there's everything right and nothing particularly wrong with a story that just entertains.
THE FIGHT AGAINST INJUSTICE
The Logic of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered for his creation of the greatest fictional detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes. He was also an historic novelist with his two books set in the middle ages, The White Company and Sir Nigel, topping the list of excellence in this field. He also wrote science fiction.
He was an advocate for British justice and, when called upon to do so, he used his writings to right injustices. He wrote articles for the papers and magazines showing where the legal system had gone wrong and generally called upon the people and the government to act in a just manner. Sometimes his agitations met with success.
Doyle was profoundly affected by The Great War but, according to his autobiography, he had an interest in spiritualism which stretched back to the early years of his medical practice. Certainly the death of his son during the war, however, would have strengthened his desire to be able to make contact with the other side of death.
Unfortunately, Doyle was perhaps too much of the old school to appreciate all that had gone wrong with the British army during World War One and had not lived long enough to have been in any way involved in even the build up to World War Two.
It can be said that, in writing about the Germans before, during and after the Great War, he was not always hostile. He maintained that there were good Germans as well as rotters. In other words, his sense of fair play did not let him down.
So what was there I could possibly learn from Doyle that could be made use of in Desk Job? Well, there was the logic of his famous detective together with Doyle's own outrage toward injustice and the notion that fair play should win out in the end. Since I am from British stock even though I was born in Australia, these sorts of things have counted and do continue to count for something in my life and in my own writing.
Haunting the Present
For many years I have been a fan of the writings of Franz Kafka. He isn't the easiest of writers to get to know but, once you do get to know him on some level, his work can haunt you.
Kafka was writing in the early part of the 20th Century but managed to capture a lot of the insanity that arises in government and also in the individual that is still around today in such stories as Metamorphosis, The Trial, The Castle, In the Penal Colony, The Judgment and A Hunger Artist.
Born in Prague as a German writing and speaking Jew, Kafka had quite a mixed heritage and thus a mixed life. He didn't live long enough to see the holocaust but it is the sort of thing predicted in his writing. What Kafka mostly objected to in government, local and otherwise, was the one suit of clothes fits all attitude. The individual can get lost in the mix and there's tragedy in this.
Generally, in Kafka's work, there is cruelty but it has been standardized and, when acted upon, it is usually done in the name of the people or the state. The person being cruel has his or her orders that come naturally from a higher power within the machinery of government and so their consciences are clearer than they should be. Kafka understood the term 'just obeying orders' long before the Nazis came to power in Germany.
And, yes, Kafka's writing was not at all popular among the Nazis. It has also been somewhat unpopular with the Communists. It took a while for the USA to warm to it and the same can be said for Great Britain and Australia. Kafka doesn't always make it easy for you to like him. I think I was in some kind of rebel phase when I picked up The Trail and became a fan.
Years ago I wrote a short story I named The Restaurant. It was my salute to Franz Kafka. It ended up in a University of Technology, Sydney anthology.
Certainly my latest novel, Desk Job, has some Kafka elements. There are workers who do get lost in the mix of office and state politics and thus policies. There is also the impression of the one suit of clothes fitting all ideology simply not working in the office I have constructed. Has this ideology worked anywhere? Probably not but various government officials. politicians and bosses keep trying to make it work even going into our 21st Century. If nothing else, it looks good on paper. This irony didn't escape Kafka and, consequently, it doesn't escape yours truly.
CONTINUAL WAR AND NO REAL IDEA ABOUT HISTORY
1984 AS GEORGE ORWELL ENVISIONED IT
In 1948 an Englishman by the name of George Orwell completed a novel and it might have been published that year only the publisher wanted to make sure it didn't have any obvious Communist leanings. Thus 1984 first saw the light of day in 1949.
Orwell may have had Communist leanings in his youth but the things Stalin had done to his own people in Russia in the 1930s tended to knock that out of his system. He wrote about his disappointment in Communism in his novella Animal Farm. Here the animals that had taken over the farm looked toward a brighter future without the presence of the man who owned the place.
There was going to be equality. Unfortunately, there had to be a leader, an organizer. When this leader was benevolent there was indeed some equality. When the leader put in charge was greedy there developed certain ways of making certain animals more equal than others. In many ways Animal Farm was the prelude to the greater work, 1984, though it does stand quite well on its own.
Both Animal Farm and 1984 are about corruption. In 1984 there is Big Brother who apparently sees that things run smoothly in society and that everyone is as happy as they can possibly be under prevailing circumstance. The prevailing circumstance is perpetual war with perpetual shortages of things such as razor blades for shaving. Big Brother is a clever construct meant to make the citizen feel warm and secure. He is, in other works, a clever con.
Very few governments are kicked out of office during war time so a continuous war does suit the power hungry in government. What's more, if the government can control what is known about the past and also the language spoken by the people then the government's hold over the people can be complete.
In 1984 there is a peasantry that are much like sheep and there is the administrators who generally do not question what they do unless it involves doing their work in a more satisfactory way. Love has been banished. Hate for the other is much more useful. Sex even among married couples is seen as base and despicable. Better to put men in uniform and send them out to fight for the government.
In 1984 a man and a woman find out some of the truths behind the lies of the society they belong to. Unfortunately, they are captured and made to become once more happy cogs in the great machine. Torture is involved in the process.
Unfortunately, the message of 1984 has been made light of and even scrambled by irrelevant television shows such as BIG BROTHER. Thus, by the idiocy of others, Orwell's literary voice may have been tampered with but I hope not completely damaged. Right now, in the name of Orwell and his 1984 we should be asking who controls the media and whether much of the truth is actually getting out there to the people.
To me, 1984 was George Orwell's warning against such a thing as Political Correctness. If the language remains free then freedom of the individual is possible. If the language is compromised by notions such as political correctness then freedom in any form cannot be guaranteed at all. What's more, you may not even know for sure when it has gone. Certainly, in this respect, Orwell has been an influence in my book, Desk Job.
The concept of Political Correctness was to make life easier and better for a lot of people. The fact that it has swapped old victims for new ones over the last few decades, however, points to the fact that even the best of intentions can go amiss and we do need people willing to stand up against the wrongs they see in society and push for something to be done about them. In my novel Desk Job this standing up and being counted is difficult because to do so might cost you your job and/or even your life.
PRESENT DAY WRITERS
LYN McCONCHIE, BARBARA CUSTER AND PAT BERTRAM
Present day writers are often the hardest to pin down because their complete story has yet to be entirely enacted let alone told. We have what they have done and we may know what they are doing but we can only speculate about their future accomplishments.
Be this as it may, Lyn, Barbara, and Pat have all contributed to my past and present understanding of the art of writing and how a writer can best explore his or her world.
Lyn McConchie is a well known and respected New Zealand writer with many a book of fiction under her belt. Her Western, South of Rio Chama, stands out strongly in my mind with its touches of good slapstick humor and sense of justice.
In her non-fiction work, Where There's Smoke: The Fire that Changed the Law, which she wrote with Linette Horne as co-author, Lyn examines four fires from 1967 - 1971 that occurred in Wellington and how the law had to be changed because of them. Several lives had been lost in one of the fires and thus fire regulations had to be improved upon to make as sure as possible this did not happen again. Even so, the victims of at least one of the fires still call out for justice hence one of the major reasons why the book was written. www.lynmcconchie.com
I have been Lyn's friend for some years now and treasure her advice and support when it comes to writing. If nothing else, she can be quite witty when describing the animals on her farm and the strange things they sometimes get up to. In this respect, Lyn's Farming Daze and Field Daze are well worth checking out. Her interest in cats can best be seen in her book Tiger Daze.
And, yes, there are cats and cat people romping through my novel, Desk Job. Maybe the fact that my niece, Aila Perala, now has a cat also has something to do with this.
Lyn, in collaboration with Sharman Horwood, recently wrote Queen of Iron Years. It is a gender bender time travel novel likely to be controversial.
I have known Barbara Custer, an American, for almost as long as Lyn. Certainly, we have explored the world of the vampire together over the years. Of late we have been looking into Egyptian mythology.
Barbara is a publisher and editor. She helped me edit and get out my first two dark fantasy novels, Disco Evil and Ghost Dance. She has helped me edit and get out my latest effort, Desk Job. Between novels she has accepted my short stories for publication in her dark fantasy magazine, Night to Dawn. Incidentally, the novels she publishes also go under the Night to Dawn banner.
Apart from being a great editor and publisher, Barbara is also an accomplished writer. Her novel Twilight Healer combines fanciful vampire lure with her expert knowledge of hospital work. The same can be said about her book of short stories, City of Brotherly Death, which has just come out. You can tell by these stories that she also knows a lot about the heart beat of her favorite city, Philadelphia. I would like to think that my knowledge of Sydney also comes across in my Desk Job.
Barbara Custer, in both Twilight Healer and City of Brotherly Death, fights for better health care in the USA.
Pat Bertram is an American I've only known for a short time but, even so, I have learned a few things from. She is an author. Her books include Grief: The Great Yearning, Light Bringer, and Daughter am I. Right now I am working with her and a fistful of writers on a Steam Punk book which promises to be a lot of fun. Steam power was the big mover and shaker in the 19th Century. What would, indeed, the world be like if it continued to be just as important going into our time?
There are possibilities there well worth exploring. Grief: The Great Yearning is about Pat coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. For those who have lost a loved one this book might be of some help. In her other books Pat combines an interest in history with intrigue. Personally, I like books that touch upon history.
A Journey for the Writer and the Reader
Taking on Desk Job
For well over a decade, I wanted to write about what I knew concerning the pitfalls of working in an office in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite get a handle on how best to go about doing it. A lot of office work, even today, is dull and repetitive.
What makes the time behind a desk bearable or unbearable are the people you end up working with. All up, I was mostly lucky when it came to who I was teamed up with in the various offices I worked in during this period. Even so, I knew people who were not so fortunate.
I knew men who suffered discrimination because, according to official government and private company guidelines, they were not the type to ever be discriminated against. I also knew women who did it tough because, according to official government and private company guidelines, they were not the type to actually do it tough. Does this sound strange? Well, it was and this sort of thing may still be going on in some government and private offices.
I knew of creatures in various offices who got paid for just turning up and who managed to pass on what they should have been doing to others who, for whatever reason, had less power. There were those who enjoyed what they did and were miffed when social politics got in their way.
Despite government and private company promises, not everyone was equal. Some people were more bullet proof than others. They could do no wrong. This was all due to political correctness.
My first clues as to how to put Desk Job together came in the reading of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. This British fellow, for well over a decade, had managed to say some rather critical things about his society and the west in general through his own weird brand of humor. What he had been doing, however, wasn't quite along the lines of what I wanted to do but his novels did get me thinking along better, more productive lines.
I revisited Kafka and Orwell. Yes, they, too, had managed to have their say about the shortcomings of government and private company views and policy. But I felt I needed the humor as well as the darkness to be there in order to make what I wanted to write work to my satisfaction.
Then I picked up a Penguin classic paperback that had both Alice books by Lewis Carroll. I wondered what it would be like to check out this writer as an adult and it was, indeed, different. Through Carroll I found the key I had been looking for. If he could write about little 19th Century Alice in Wonderland then I could write about my psychic detective Sarah Hollingsworth in Office-land. If Alice could go on a bizarre adventure then so could Sarah.
At last I had an idea I was comfortable in expanding upon.I could fill my Office-land with all sorts of bizarre animals from mules that do the hard work to hawks that supervise to butterflies that flit around and just look pretty. Oh, and in order to represent those who are vengeful sticklers to office guidelines and protocol, I developed the praying mantis with her rather grubby male sidekick, the dung beetle.
Once I had Office-land the writing came quick and easy. An office worker has been murdered and there is no real question as to who was responsible. Why the murder took place and what were the underlining factors, however, becomes the crux of the book. This is where Sarah Hollingsworth, as an investigator, comes in. The why she discovers reveals much of just how dysfunctional this particular fictional office has become.
Lyn McConchie and Barbara Custer helped out in the editing. Barbara got a great cover artist in the person of Teresa Tunaley who has an international reputation as a fine artist. Desk Job will soon be available through Night to Dawn as both a paperback and an e-book.
More by this Author
Australian Propaganda from convict origins, to outlaws, to World War One, to populate or perish. Racism, Reverse Racism, sexism, loose lips sink ships, Muslims, Christians, bikinis, The Simpsons, USA
The 20th Century, Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Cold War, H. G. Wells, A Woman of Mars, The Hulk, Ian Fleming, Tarzan, A Clockwork Orange, Agatha Christie, Biggles.
Standing tall and one person making a difference has long been part of the American identity. In propaganda terms it has been useful. Can one person really make a difference? John Wayne and Vietnam.
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