Gaz Facts #1 – Cheese is actually made of nightmares.

nightmarecheese2

It’s a little known fact* that the myth ‘cheese gives you nightmares’ is actually a mistranslation of the very origins of cheese itself: cheese is made of nightmares! Or rather, the concept of cheese originated from a nightmare.

Think about it. At some point in the ancient past, in the ‘pre-cheese’ dark ages, someone, somewhere, must have looked at a quantity of rotting milk and thought to themselves ‘hmm, those lumpy bits look nice’.

Who else but an individual plagued by nightmarish visions and motivations would have succumb to such an urge? I imagine a primitive dairy farmer, tossing in his straw bed, beads of sweat running down his furrowed brow as images of naked, toasted bread, danced behind his tired eyes, mocking him and shrieking for a delicious topping of some sort.

But where would he find such a thing? It literally didn’t yet exist. Perhaps he experimented with other mouldy produce before hitting on the all important milk-factor. How different our favourite snack would be now if that farmer had instead reached into a vat of rotting fish carcasses. But no! Thankfully he was prompted by the nocturnal whisperings of demonic muses to try and eat a mass of congealing cow’s lactic fluid.

And thank God he did! It’s delicious.

 

*This is not a fact. From a whole two minutes researching this on the internet, no one really knows how cheese was discovered, but was likely cured naturally from bacteria on cows teats and has been dated back over 7500 in Europe from remnants of rudimentary cheese straining equipment.

New Release! The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting

It is finally here…

As you can see in the lovely sidebar to your right (or by scrolling down if you are on a tablet or phone) – my new book ‘The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting’ is now available to buy in hard back and eBook format! Please click on the link below or the picture of the cover to find out more!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Garry-Abbott/e/B00FOY38ME

I thought I would take this opportunity to update my rarely updated blog with a little timeline of how this came to be…

The funny thing about writing and releasing a book, is just how much time it takes.

First of all you need an idea. Luckily I have lots of them rattling around and keeping me up at night, but that means you then have to figure out which idea is the one to work on.

I spent the first six months after the release of my last book (The Dimension Scales and Other Stories), working on an idea that was not the right one… I got 30,000 words into a draft before calling it a day on a manuscript that wasn’t going anywhere, fast… The last line I wrote before giving up was:

“Okay, so that might just do it. For now. At least until I know what’s happening.”

Just to be clear, that was me speaking, not a character…

I had made the error of setting off without a map. Even my short stories have a map before I start writing – usually a bullet point list of plot points and chapter arcs. And this time I was writing a novel, a whole 80,000 words+ of unified story! I needed a map, and was back to needing an idea.

I turned to a short story I had release on this very blog to start me off… a nice little premise about space travel through virtual reality being announced by NASA around 150 years in the future, combining citizen science with immersion entertainment to explore the Universe. They called it ‘The Great Connection’. This same story exists now as the Prologue to the novel.

So, that was a nice backdrop, but not a story in itself. Luckily, I had some other ideas, also based on projecting fledgling technologies into the future (which is the bread and butter of many a speculative/science fiction author). Namely about three-parent families, and how, if this was to become an established norm, it would affect the family units of the future.

Add to this my general worries about the rampant rise of consumerism and social division, a little bit of alien world building, and I had my scene set, my characters taking form, and a story map starting to emerge.

From here comes the drafting. The best bit. Usually writing a chapter or major section in one sitting. I couldn’t estimate how long this took specifically, but with other commitments, I know the drafting was at least 6-9 months in real-time. This included a major re-write where ‘Part 2’ of the novel (Lingua Franca) really took shape.

As any writer will know, however, the first draft is just the start. From here there is extensive editing, correcting, tweaking… Probably another 3 months of that before I was able to send it off to get copy-edited (I use a professional copy-editor. As this blog may evidence, sometimes my punctuation can be a little errant!)

And so, I am left with an edited, final manuscript. So what to do with it? Self publish? Send it to agents and publishers? I opted for both. My long term strategy, is anyone is interested, is as follows:

  1. Write book (with all the steps above, including full edit)
  2. Send to agents and publishers…
  3. Wait a bit…
  4. If no-one’s biting, self publish.
  5. Repeat… potentially forever.

I quite like this formula. You have to be exceptionally lucky to get your manuscript land with the right person at the right time to get representation and a deal. In the meantime, I want to know what people think, what people like (or not) and keep developing. Without feedback, how can I make my next book better?

I approached maybe 50 agents and a handful of publishers. Most didn’t respond. A few said thanks, but no thanks. That’s the way of it. People sent me lots of nice stories about famous authors who were rejected hundreds of times before getting their break. I get it. I’ve always known. That’s not why I do it, but it would be nice, one day, when the time is right.

So, I’m now on step 4, as you can see! There are a lot of sub-steps in those simple words ‘self-publish’ – and even having it released is not the end. Now there is marketing, worry, reviews, and pride too.

But I am also well into Step 1 of the next book. The manuscript for my next novel is at around 40,000 words, and, I’m glad to say, it has a very good map. It won’t be a follow up to this book (I’m going to see how it goes before deciding whether there will be a series of ‘Great Connection’ books. I hope so… I’ve designed it so there can be)… but I can, and will reveal, that the next book is called ‘Transported’. It is a comedy sci-fi (think Douglas Adams / Terry Pratchett in tone, if not in voice) and is also a kind-of sequel to the the titular story in ‘The Dimension Scales’. All being well, I hope this will arrive mid 2017, but we’re having a baby before that date, so we will see!

That’s my potted history of ‘The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting’. I hope you take the chance to have a little look and, ideally, buy and read it.

Thanks, dear readers.

Garry Abbott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McDonald’s in Leek? Discuss…

leek

It’s a funny thing, given the upcoming election and the myriad reasons to get angry at the way things are during a time of potential change, the one thing that has really angered me this week, enough to write a blog about it, is the self satisfied Facebook announcement from a certain Conservative town councillor that the beautiful, market town of Leek, with it’s progressive drive for localism and independence, is going to get a McDonalds.

I’m not going to name the person, but as the comment was posted on a public forum, here is the wording (truncated):

“Well the news as (sic) broken! McDonalds have just publicly confirmed they are coming to Leek. This is something that the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council have been working on for over 12 months now and it’s just another success story for this Conservative led Council…”

Whoopsy-freaking-doo. The picturesque, historic town is going to get a garish red and yellow cheap meat house to provide that much awaited backdrop of discarded packaging, low paid jobs and totally unbalanced competition for the local trades. Add to that a smattering of mal nutrition, obesity, and hmmm, this is a tasty burger!

Interestingly, however, the following article does make it sound like the junk food lovin’ Tory might have jumped the gun a little, as it sounds like the clown faced spokesperson for the golden arches of liver damage is not so sure yet:

““We are looking at several potential opportunities in the area but currently have no confirmed plans.” – Source: http://staffslive.co.uk/2015/03/mcdonalds-confirms-interest-new-leek-restaurant/

That said, who truly knows what has been agreed and confirmed behind doors with the Tory-led council, certainly not the local electorate from the sound of it.

So why so angry? I don’t live in Leek anymore, even though I visit almost every week, and I have on occasion (to my shame), eaten a McDonald’s. That said, I can count on one hand the number I’ve had over the last five years, and it has usually been down to some catastrophic error of time and food management.

Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? Lazy food. Lazy, cheap food laced with enough salt and sugar to trick you into thinking something good is happening at the time of consumption, when you know (usually within an hour) that something good really, really wasn’t happening.

But anyway, we can put the well known nutritional problems aside, along with the well known environmental problems, and the well known low skills and wages problem, and the well known affects on localism and look at this objectively… er…

Actually, yeah, those are the reasons I don’t like it. I now live in Stoke on Trent, and I have at last three McDonald’s within fifteen minutes of my house. I know what they look like, they’re everywhere, that is until I take a nice drive into the Staffordshire Moorlands. The buildings thin out, the fields and tree’s stretch out, and there, on a hillside as I approach, I see the Leek skyline and I know that there is something different, something unique, something I won’t find anywhere else waiting for me at the end of the road.

I’m not against every chain-store, for the record, I think the introduction of Waitrose into a building that was already being used as  a supermarket and the Premier Inn were good ideas. Tourism makes sense, and Waitrose has a profile that makes the area more desirable and encourages footfall. But when was the last time you visited a town because it had a McDonald’s? Rather than just passing one on the motorway or some grey business park and conceding that it is probably the only viable option save for eating your own hands?

So they’re not coming to town to bring more people in, to get them spending in the local shops. They’re going to do the opposite. The more bland and multi-chain commercialised the town gets, the less people are going to visit it, and the less independent businesses are going to remain open, and one will feed into the other in a downward spiral until the gateway to the peak district is rotting in obscurity under golden arches.

I know from experience that there will be people rejoicing this announcement. I can’t do anything about that. There are people who would be happy if the Library was ripped out and replaced with a car park, but that’s why those of us who are bothered about these things need to keep on being bothered. This is a town that now has a food-bank, and Tory councillors are spending twelve months ‘negotiating’ with one of the richest brands in the world to allow them to come in and take business away from local people. Maybe that time could have been better spent elsewhere? Rate reliefs (or cessation) on empty shop units to encourage new local businesses perhaps?

This represent more than just a tacky food store in an unsuitable location, it represent the whole ethos of the Conservative party, and any other mainstream party who put the greedy world of global capitalism on a pedestal and placates us with false promises of ‘trickle down’ economics while cutting our society back to the bone and beyond.

So anyway, discuss, debate. Someone’s got to, because we can’t be leaving it to these clowns (literally, in this case).

Blog Update and Rethink

Hello people who read this (I hope).

This is just a very short(ish) message to say that after the last six weeks of ‘Newsjack’ updates (a BBC Radio 4 Extra comedy show that I submit material for), I am now going to spend a little time deciding what is the best way  to continue this blog.

Having a run of six weeks with a set topic made my life a lot easier! I’ve posted over a hundred entries on this site from philosophy to comedy, spanning the last 18 months or so.

Some week’s it is easy, and some weeks I find myself scrabbling around for something to say.

This is one of those weeks, as you might be able to tell.

So, apart from Admin Cat, which I will continue to post every week (as long as I can still find new ideas for him… there have been nearly 60 cartoons already!) I am going to try and decide if there is a direction I want to take this page in that will make it a little more consistent for me to deal with and my audience (are you there?) to understand.

I will still post blogs if something specific occurs to me, but am going to relax the ‘new posts weekly’ (apart from Admin Cat) until I decide what’s the crack…

In the meantime I am currently happily writing my second book, and I hope to find a fun and interesting way to tell you more about that soon.

So thanks for sticking with me so far, and if you have any ideas or suggestions or feedback, please tell me either here, directly, or by email at gazamatazabbott@yahoo.co.uk.

Thanks everyone.

Scotland, Bombs and Book Sales – Speed Blog.

stopwatch

I’ve got too little time and too many possible topics to write about this week, so I’m going to attempt a speed blog. From the start of the next sentence, I will attempt to cover the title subjects in 30 minutes writing time (which will be a lot shorter reading time). As I finish this paragraph, my computer clock reads 10.35am. You will just have to believe me… and my time starts… now!

Scotland

So they said ‘No’ then, and what happened? Almost immediately the hastily compiled promises that swayed the debate started to unwind and become compounded with much wider, and much more complicated matters, of regional and national devolution. The leaders of the ‘No’ campaign claimed an ‘emphatic’ victory. Emphatic? I think just scraping 56% of the voting population is far from emphatic, which is described by Google as ‘expressing something forcibly and clearly’. I think a better adjective to use would have been ‘adequate’ preceded by ‘just about’.

That said, they did win, and for those of us who were up for a bit of constitutional mayhem (shake em all up, I say), we can at least hope that if the millionaire white English boys go back on their promises, we will get our shake up, but in a much less organised and civil way.

I’m running out of time for this section (10.41am), so I will finish by saying that I actually like some of the ideas about devolved powers to regions and nations within the UK. As I said, anything that just goddamn changes things around here has to be welcome as a start. But no one can promise anything about how things are going to work, because no one, as I am aware, has the power to look into the future. So if we start getting asked questions about constitutional reform, just remember, no one really knows, no one will really ever know. If we don’t go for it at some point, we will never find out, and things will stay the same, suiting the few at the cost of the many. They will try and scare us, threaten us and bully us into keeping things the same. Sod them. Time’s up. Next!

Bombs.

Two nights ago America started bombing Syria. Not just any old bit of Syria, specifically the bits with ISIL/IS/ISA/whoever the hell it is they are meant to be fighting in it. Of course, that’s how bombs work, they are discriminate, with excellent targeting that in no way kill innocent people.

It’s hard to speak up against this latest round of violence because of the stark and shocking news stories of hostages and beheadings that have been drip fed out of the region over the last few weeks. It is all equally as saddening to me. The violence on both sides sickens and disappoints me. Already we have an American General warning that this will be a ‘long and sustained’ conflict. That is the headline story on our public news channel. Why would they want us to know that? Why would they want their enemy to know that they think it is going to be a hard and complicated campaign. It hardly strikes fear into an adversary to tell them that you don’t think you are up to the task of a decisive victory. For some reason, there must always be a campaign of western intervention in the Middle East. As one ends, another starts.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a genuine crisis going on in Syria, but it is so intrinsically linked with what Western leaders have done in the past, is throwing more violence at it really going to help? Earlier this year, ‘peace prize’ Obama announced he was arming the ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels in the fight against Assad. There was much mirth about the definition of ‘moderate’ rebel fighters. Some ridiculous amount of US dollars and military support was pumped into the region. Within weeks this name-changing group had emerged and apparently ran a line through Iraq and Syria with superior force and the ability to take, control, and sell oil for millions of dollars a day on the international market (who exactly is buying it from them?). I wonder if the two things are connected?

Time’s nearly up for this section. Needless to say, I am sceptical about the whole campaign, and soon we will be joining in (Cameron is recalling parliament this Friday). Great. More life and public money wasted. They can’t help themselves. Not for a moment do I believe their primary objectives are for humanitarian reasons. Not for a blink of an eye.

Right! 10.54am, leaving me 11 minutes to write the next bit and check it over!

Book Sales.

As I’m sure readers will know, I published my book ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’ earlier this year (April 22nd to be precise). It has been an equally exciting and harrowing experience. I realise now that the internet, while being the great connector, is also like a massive public shopping centre full of closed doors. Anyone can have a premises, but getting people to look into it and see what you’ve got on offer is a lot easier said than done.

The book has received good reviews, but moderate sales. It is extremely hard to get it noticed and circulated in a market that is swamped with titles. This isn’t deterring me though, but it does mean I have to try various strategies and spend nearly as much time marketing as I did writing the thing in the first place. Add to that the fact that I am trying to get my next book written, and occasionally I end up having little breakdowns. (nothing serious, just artistic fear and loathing).

So! The latest round of attempts is to reduce the price again and see what happens. Some authors give their books away for free to get noticed and build an audience – I’m not quite there yet, but is now available for a mere $0.99 or 77p.

The advert for the book is on the top right of this screen – it takes you to the Amazon page, but the book is available on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Nook and Kobo. If you haven’t had a look, please do. And if you think it looks a bit interesting, why not buy it and find out? Or failing that, share it with a few people and see what they think. This whole ‘going viral’ thing isn’t a natural phenomenon. People will spend lots and lots of time and money in some cases, to get noticed. I would like to think that this can happen by mutual support alone, without the need for spamming and expensive advertising.

If anyone has any networks or channels that can help me get this ‘out there’ please let me know or just feel free to do so. I have quite a strong Twitter following and am happy to mutually exchange links and shout-out’s to those who have a creative endeavour of their own (within reason – no explicit or gratuitous material. You would be surprised how much of that is being peddled).

End.

And that’s it! The clock says 11.03am, so I will sign off with two minutes spare and do the fastest editing ever. I hope you’ve enjoyed my speed blog and I apologise if it is a little rougher around the edges than usual!

Goodbye.

 

Blog-i-day? Blog holiday?

After almost 90 weeks of continuous blogging (a word that stubbornly refuses to be recognised by the spell-checker despite it being entailed almost completely by the notion of technology) and nearly 40 weeks of continuous ADMIN CAT cartoons, I am having a week off. That week is this week. So, when I say ‘off’ I mean, this is it for this week.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a cartoon that isn’t Admin Cat. Click on it to see full size if the text is a bit small. I’ll be back next week!

plant heads talking test 1 copy

A Discourse on Empathy

If there is one thing I have learned in the past two years of studying philosophy, it is that the meanings we take words to have are often contestable with even the slightest of scrutiny. I was recently invited to take part in a discourse about ‘empathy, compassion and understanding’ and this learning held true once again.

When I say ‘contestable’, I mean in a specific sense. Broadly, we can look at definitions of these words and  come to a mutual, universal consensus, and that is what we basically do in everyday language and communication (otherwise we wouldn’t get through a sentence!). But when asked to consider these terms, we soon realise how nuanced, and sometimes divergent individual interpretations can be. Empathy, for example, can be defined in the following terms:

                “The ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings, experience, etc.” (“empathy, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 26 March 2014.)

This seems a good place to start, however, what the OED description lacks is any subjective account of what the word means. It tells us nothing of ‘how’ we empathise (nor is it intended to), but by striving to objectively define the term, it does offer us some initial insight.

 

There is a more commonly used, metaphorical description that I’m sure you’ve all heard before: ‘Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’.

We often find the use of metaphors in language to describe abstract concepts, perhaps because they tend to offer us a richer, novel, yet accessible way to explore an idea in terms we are more familiar with.  Just the simple idea of ‘walking’ the life of another conjures up sights, sounds, interactions and experiences – the imagination, consideration and appreciation of what it might be like to be somebody else.

But notice that in both the dictionary and folk definition of this term, no ‘normative’ description if offered, i.e. it makes no qualitative assessment of the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of the act of empathising: its positive or negative virtues.

In considering this, I am led to thinking that empathy is in its nature a passive, innate ability within us. In my recent discussion I found myself saying  something along the lines of: “empathy just happens to me – I don’t choose it – but it does moderate how I then act”.

As a writer I often try (and actively seek out) the opportunity to empathise with characters and real world ‘like’ examples who I don’t agree with, or have little in common with. This is to help me try and understand their motivations, intentions and world view. Notice how the word ‘understand’ begins to creep in at this point. Of course, we can never fully understand anyone else’s states of mind, but empathy is the best tool we’ve got, and it is also necessarily intertwined with the imagination.

From this, I would propose, that judgement follows, and as a result, emotional states such as ‘compassion’ can be evoked. So although this blog, and my recent discussion, is titled ‘empathy, compassion and understanding’, maybe the order needs to be jigged around a little, (and a few words added):

 

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There may be a case to be made that ‘understanding’ and ‘judgement’ are one and the same thing, however, that needn’t affect the above, given their central positions in this chain of reasoning. The inclusion of ‘experience and imagination’ at the start of this chain is just an acknowledgement that without the sensibilities to experience and the ability of the imagination to ‘re-represent’ ideas in our minds, we could get no further anyway.

* I used ‘anger’ as another example in the ‘emotional state’ parenthesis to try and demonstrate that ‘empathy’ alone is no guarantee of positive outcomes, but I don’t think that this conclusion is in itself a negative one, or in any way lessens the importance of empathy.

Initial Conclusions

Perhaps the more we try and understand others, on an emotional and factual basis, the better judgement’s we will make, and the more apt our emotional responses may be. It seems obvious that empathy stands at the forefront of this process, but it needn’t be one way. If we imagine the above chain as a snake eating its own tail, rather than a straight line with finite ends, then we can ‘feedback’ our own resultant emotional states into our empathy, and come to new and more complex conclusions. (Think of a psychiatrist asking ‘how does that make you feel?’ and then that answer informing a new round of thinking which may shed light on deeper, more subtle emotional states once this is considered; a kind of ‘self-empathy’, if you like).

Similarly, it seems this process works in degree’s of fidelity: it’s quality is dependent on how much information we actively seek out about the subject (the preconditions). It seems obvious that the less know I about someone, the less I am able to empathise, but that will not prevent me from empathising to some degree. So, if we want to empathise better, we need to seek out and experience as much as possible about the subject, or our resultant emotional states may be misjudged, underdeveloped or erroneous. (I would argue that this is the cause of much hatred and misunderstanding in the world – not a lack of empathy, but an underdeveloped and ill-informed empathy – a twisted or broken empathy, if you like).

Maybe, therefore, a project to understand, measure, and even look (in some cases) to repair empathy, would need to consider the range of experiences and information available (and readily accessible) needed for people to build a greater knowledge, and as a result, experience a better quality of empathy and a more apt emotional connection with others in the world.

Authors plea!

Please feel free to dispute, elaborate and comment on this initial exploration of empathy as I have set it out here. I enjoy the use of philosophical methods to explore concepts, but I also get frustrated with some approaches that purport to ‘know’ the answer. The value of an exercise such as this (I believe) is to throw up new considerations, tease out assumptions, and lead to continued discourse about the topic in the hope of shaping ‘real world’ activities and inform considered thinking and outcomes. For example, maybe ‘empathy’ is the process I’ve set out above, not just part of it – or maybe it’s nothing like this at all! There is still a lot to be discussed and explored here – this is barely a scratch on the tip of a massive iceberg (there goes those metaphors again!).

Thank you for reading.

Garry Abbott

 

Web:                     www.garryabbott.co.uk

Blog:                      www.garryabbott.com

Email:                    info@garryabbott.co.uk

Twitter:                  @Garry_Abbott

Mystic Gaz – Ten predictions for 2014

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What better way to start the new year than with some predictions eh? Predictions are much easier than resolutions: there is no implied permanency of action or intent. One can just make a prediction, write it down, walk away and forget about it until a given time (if indeed, a time is specified), and then (if it turns out true) bask in a smug all-knowing glow, or (if it is false) marvel at the randomness and unpredictability of the chaotic world we live in.

I suppose the best way to make predictions is to abandon any personal notions of optimism or pessimism, and instead just follow the trajectory of events to a logical progression. But the world rarely works like that does it? Last year, I would have had no inkling that within days of the new year, the words ‘Horse Meat’ would come to dominate our screens, papers and radios – because there was no precedent. Similarly in 2012, unless I had been a keen follower of Russian fem-punk outfits I would have never been able to predict that I would get the childish joy of hearing BBC newsreaders saying the words “Pussy Riot” over and over again (which, I maintain to this day they take great pleasure from – next time you hear a report on ‘Pussy Riot’, listen to the aplomb and clarity by which the presenter pronounces the name).

I guess that last paragraph was to excuse myself for wild inaccuracies or glaring omissions should the following predictions be reviewed this time next year. I will now set out ten predictions, covering various aspects of our world, mostly based on the news headings you find on the BBC news website (which as we all know are the ancient categories of all life entrusted to the guardians of knowledge by the great sun God Ra himself).

To get us in the mood, the first five predictions are ‘quick fire’ and not at all serious:

  1. George Osborne will pull such an evil face in a photograph that anyone who looks at it will be immediately turned into a Tory. (Note – replace George Osborne with ‘Iain Duncan Smith’ or ‘Michael Gove’ if you wish.)
  2. Nick Clegg will call someone a bigot on camera and no one will care. This will cause Clegg to go on a rampage, running around the streets of Sheffield naked, pointing at people and shouting all manner of abuse. Still, no one will care.
  3. The hysteria over the ‘influx’ of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants will continue regardless of any actual facts or evidence. One newspaper will coin the term ‘Bromanian’ to further homogenise two whole nations of people into one nasty baddy who is coming over here to steal the jobs we don’t have from the people who don’t want them.
  4. Google and Amazon will join forces and declare themselves the ‘winners’.
  5. In a bid to outdo herself, a naked Miley Cyrus will inject heroin into her eyeballs live on stage while licking a rod of weapons grade plutonium.

Now onto the serious (or at least semi considered) predictions. As when playing Trivial Pursuit, let’s get the difficult category out of the way first:

 

Prediction 6: Sport – England won’t win the World Cup.

Ok, ok, so I’ve gone for a bit of a freebie here when it comes to sport. I’m  not really a ‘sport’ man (I’m definitely not a sportsman) but I do like a bit of football here and there, and I do enjoy the international tournaments (and not, I must say, because of England, though I do watch them for the few matches they play before being inevitably and anti-climatically eliminated).

Let’s face it, looking at the likes of Spain and hosts Brazil (who I guess in a little sub-prediction, will face each other in the final if that’s possible, or at the latest possible knock-out stage, the winner of that match going on to win the competition) – England aren’t going to win. I’m not going to give you detailed or technical reasons as to why (because I can’t), but I will tease that it might have something to do with Wayne Rooney’s hair graft causing a major upset in the Amazonian city of Manaus.

Other sport will happen too. I can guarantee that.

 

Prediction 7: Business – Sometime in late Autumn, America will look over the ‘fiscal cliff’.

Well, it’s almost tradition now isn’t it? I think it’s generally around October time that the American government propose and vote on the ‘debt ceiling’ and come to loggerheads about it. This year it got so bad that the White House gift shop had to close for a week or two, so as you can see, this is serious stuff. Similarly, back home, we will see the budget announcement in March as always, where slight variations of percentages will be announced, poured over and dissected by the press and the opposition (who will of course, offer up their own slightly different variations of the same percentages to appease our perceived desire for democratic choice).

It will be much of the same I reckon. The BOE ‘base rate’ will remain unchanged at 0.5% – but it will be increasingly hinted at that this might rise as the economy ‘recovers’ and unemployment ‘falls’. It is so very hard to talk about business and politics in this world without the use of inverted commas to represent the fact that nearly everything they talk about is ‘bullshit’. In fact, I predict that inverted commas are going to be so popular in 2014 that they will be privatised by the ‘government’.

 

Prediction 8: Politics – Early General Election.

This is a biggie. I’ve said it before somewhere last year, but in a nutshell, these things will happen:

  1. Some issue will arise that divides the coalition on how to respond. At a guess, I reckon something to do with tax breaks or welfare proposed by the Tories.
  2. All of a sudden, the Liberal Democrat membership will be up in arms about supporting this new policy – even though they’ve happily propped up the Conservatives for the last three years.
  3. This will provoke a leadership challenge within the Lib Dems as Nick Clegg fails to convince his party that supporting the new tax/benefit measures is a good idea (he will stake his career on it – well, I suppose it’s best not to gamble with anything valuable).
  4. A new leader will arise who has a track record of being an outspoken critic of the Tories, even though they too have spent the last three years propping them up (my money’s on Vince Cable).
  5. This division will split the party, make the coalition untenable, and force a general election in which the Lib Dems will have the opportunity to rebrand themselves away from the Clegg/Tory era, and have at least a slim chance of not committing self-political genocide.

This may happen in early 2015, with the signs of it in late 2014. My reasoning for this is I just can’t believe that the Liberal Democrat membership, financial backers and ‘old guard’ are going to let Clegg take them into an election next year as one half of an unpopular coalition having broken so many promises. They must know what is coming to them in 2015 if they do: obliteration. Unfortunately, out of the two parties in power, we weren’t surprised when the Tories started acting like Tories because that’s what they are. The Lib Dems, however, have actually let people down. If you vote Tory and believe in their philosophy, you are getting what you asked for (more’s the pity for you). If you voted Liberal Democrat, you are not.

But fear not! If they simply follow the above plan, they can direct all the scorn and mistrust into Nick Clegg, boot him out and pretend to be a changed party. It’s either that or have Clegg, possibly one of the most unpopular politicians in history, try and convince us that we should trust him and that ‘he really means it this time’ when it comes to his pledges and abilities to temper the top down policies of the Tories. Nah. It will be a managed move. At the very least, Clegg will not be taking the Lib Dems into the next election, whether this happens in 2014 or 2015.

Oh and Labour will just watch it all unfold and get some column inches making jeering comments about the whole debacle while failing to realise that no one likes them either.

 

Prediction 9: Welfare – Something will happen to the Nationwide Building Society

Now remember these are predictions okay?! I don’t want to do a ‘Robert Peston’ and potentially cause the thing I’m providing discourse on (not that that’s very likely unless unbeknownst to me this blog is read by leading influential investors and hedge fund managers). But, they are the only sector of the financial industry left not to have been embroiled in some major scandal, and given the fake-inflation of house prices due to the dubious government loan policies – maybe they are next? After all, they are the UKs biggest Building Society and the general ‘go to’ company for mortgage and housing data. The second largest used to be Britannia, but they got merged into the nation’s only cooperative, and look what happened there… So, even though I have no cause, reason or evidence to suggest this, there may be an outside chance it will happen so I’m saying it anyway.

Prediction 10: Scotland referendum – Bye, bye Scotland.

It’s a damning indictment of Westminster that this referendum is even happening. It is happening for a reason. I can only imagine what it would mean to me if I was ‘attached’ to this government with an option of leaving it all together in these times. Maybe I am in the minority and the waffle about security, monetary union and EU membership will be enough to convince people that they aren’t good enough to ‘go it alone’, but I hope not: because change is a good thing. Not this fake, incremental creep of percentages this way or that, but real, tangible change is a rare opportunity and I hope that they grasp the thistle with both hands and show us all that there is more to life than the whims and needs of the City of London and demonstrate (in time, and no doubt with some difficulty) that alternatives do exist.

And there we go, my predictions for the new year. I’m sure I could have made a list of hundreds but I have neither the time, patience or attention span to do so. I will refer back to this list should anything happen, and I will review this in early 2015 when I make next year’s predictions (presuming of course that by that time I’m not an international best-selling author who has teams of people to write his blog and manage his social networks on his behalf – did I mention I’m releasing a book shortly called ‘The Dimension Scales’ featuring 14 short stories based around themes of malevolent and secret authorities, metamorphosis, survival and projections of contemporary fears into near-future realities?).

Have a great new year everyone.

Garry

Yeah, it’s my end of year thing for 2013 OK?

I know, I know – ‘end of year review’ e-mails, blogs and updates can get a little tiresome. But why? Maybe it’s because they intuitively conjure up lots of words that have the word ‘self’ as a prefix – congratulatory, obsessed, centred. It’s a curious thing that we shy away from sharing our own successes and challenges – maybe it’s cultural – but for whatever reason, I’m not going to let it stop me, this having been a landmark year for me personally and professionally. So you have been warned, this is an end-of-year review and will as a result be tediously reflective and upbeat. So there.

Obviously, it isn’t actually the end of the year yet, but very nearly, and near enough for me to want to clear the decks and not have to worry about doing blogs and such like over the next couple of weeks. So, unless I am struck by an uncontrollable wave of inspiration, I will make this the last blog of 2013, and try to have a ‘holiday’ until the new year.

A new start, long awaited.

In February this year I ended a decade of working in the wrong job. I say ‘the wrong job’ because it was, for me, the wrong job. I worked in a bank (formally a building society) as a ‘thingy’. A ‘thingy’, is a technical term for someone who isn’t able to answer the question “what do you actually do?” with any degree of clarity or precision. It’s not particularly good for your soul that situation, and the world is full of ‘thingies’. I was a kind-of technical specialist, I was a kind-of legal (compliance) specialist, I was a kind-of trainer, a kind-of auditor, a kind-of quality controller, a kind-of project worker, a kind-of data-entry clerk. One day I could be in meetings, discussing requirements for a multi-million pound computer system, all the while thinking “I’m not getting paid enough for this” and the next I could be endlessly tapping numbers into a spreadsheet, thinking “I’m getting paid too much for this”. There were many things I wasn’t quite, and many more things I’m quite sure I shouldn’t have been, but still it took ten years to break away thanks in no small part to the rut/routine that a (fairly) decent wage and a none taxing job can collude to create when you are busy figuring out who you are and what you want to be.

So that was the end of that. I left by my own accord, having hung on for a few years with the possibility of redundancy that never materialised, and unable to ‘get on’ with our new pay-masters: The Co-op, and their shambolic management (an assessment that I feel very much vindicated for, given the events of this year).

When I left, I had a few things lined up, which really helped me to get straight on with my new life as a self-employed writer & musician (you see – that’s much easier to define, isn’t it?) I had been running my creative activities alongside my old job for several years anyway, but I always suspected that I would need to let go of the comfort (and boredom) of the office job if I were to really ever fully embrace my aspirations. So far, I have found that to be true, and long may it continue.

 

Unearthed

The first ‘big’ job, which lasted throughout the year (at intervals), was the ‘Unearthed’ project. This was being drafted in as a supporting artist to help develop and produce community engagement with a new memorial sculpture in my home town of Stoke-on-Trent (specifically in the town of Hanley – if you are confused by that, it’s because we have this whole weird, six towns into one thing going on over here – look it up). As part of this project I got to do several awesome things. I got to write, narrate and score an animation that was then shown at several public locations and continues to be available as an online resource. I got to write my first choral piece (set to the words of my own poem) that was then rehearsed and performed by students of a local sixth form college at a memorial ceremony with city dignitaries in attendance. And I got to work with the real words of the people we engaged with the project to produce an oral sound-piece, used to accompany an original composition and dance routine at the unveiling ceremony of the sculpture. This project took me to places I hadn’t expected, connection with history and communities though art, a sense of integrity and responsibility with story-telling and representation of real world events that I had never considered or encountered before. It was a great experience and I can’t thank Nicola Winstanley and Sarah Nadin enough for involving me in their excellent project – I am a ‘Dashyline’ fan! (Visit the project website, here: http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk/)

The Audio Mill

There was also a continuation (and I fancy a building momentum) of my composition and production work alongside my good friend and collaborator Kieran Williams as part of ‘The Audio Mill’.  This year we have produced several pieces for fashion houses River Island and Mr Porter for use in their viral campaigns. From a professional development point of view, working to brief to compose and produce original music in a variety of styles really helps you to hone your technical and creative abilities. So far (as I know) they have been very happy with all the work we’ve completed for them, and the videos our music accompanies are popular and well received. Obviously, the world of fashion houses feels miles away from me in my small office in Longton, laying down rhythms, bass lines, guitar licks and melodies, but thanks to Kieran’s ever fruitful move to London, the chance to showcase our abilities to a larger audience through an established outlet, is a welcome one, and I look forward to more work like this in the new year. Examples here: http://www.theaudiomill.co.uk/

Newsjack

My first BBC broadcast credits happened this year, in the form of several one-liner jokes and a sketch used as part of Radio 4 Extra’s topical comedy show ‘Newsjack’. There have been two series this year, the first airing while I still worked at the bank. However, I managed to get two one-liners into the first series anyway, and given the extra time and emphasis of self-employment, was able to up that score to 5 one liners and a sketch in the latest series! This is very satisfying work when it happens and takes time and practice to get right – the business of joking seems to be a serious one. This is an aspect of my work that I want to take forwards into 2014 one way or the other. I will, of course, continue to submit to Newsjack when it comes back, but one eye must be kept on ‘where next?’ – building on the successes and reaching for more regular and guaranteed work. I’d be happy if I could find a way to get some one-liners onto other radio 4 programmes (shows like the ‘Now show’ and ‘News quiz’ often have writers that have started through ‘Newsjack’ – it’s just finding the link in or being a persistent bugger I suppose). I have also tickled some light interest with a sit-com script this year – falling short of the mark but getting good feedback and encouragement from an industry insider. If the right idea comes along, I will be writing and pitching new series next year, as well as looking to contribute to more programmes. Watch this space. (well not this space, this space won’t tell you anything new – I’ll be more specific about what space to watch when we come to it).

 

Poetry

Poetry is something I do rarely, and am quite self-conscious about, but that might change following the publication of one of my (very few) poems written this year in a collection. The poem ‘I’m alright Jack’ was chosen out of 600 odd entries to form part of a collection of 50 poems by the publisher mardibooks called ‘The Dance is New’. It is a genuinely good collection, and naturally, I would urge you all to buy a million copies each from here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Dance-New-Michelle-Calvert-ebook/dp/B00FL887N8 (I promise you I am one of the authors! For reasons of Amazon weirdness, my name is not listed at the top of the page, but I am linked at the bottom – I am in there basically).

                This is another area I intend to return to and perhaps ‘force’ a little more poetry out and onto the world (that’s not a bad thing – so much writing takes effort to get down on the page, just waiting for inspiration is not at all conducive to career development).

The Dimension Scales

Did I mention that I gone written a book? No? Well I have. It has been in development all year (and most of last year), a collection of short stories that will be released in 2014. This has been my favourite part of this year’s work. I finished my creative writing studies a few years ago, and this feels like the first piece of work that really puts all my learning together into one collection. I’m sure you’ve heard me go on about this before, and as of yet, there is nothing new to show you, but soon, very soon. I’m hoping that I will learn a lot of lessons from the release of this collection next year, and that a new work will be hot on its heels when I’ve had chance to digest the experience.

Education

I was thrilled and a little shocked to have achieved a distinction in two Open University modules this year: Philosophy and Arts History. Both form part of a BA degree I am working towards. Currently I am studying the last two modules (a higher level philosophy course and social science), and these will complete in 2014, at which point, I will get my degree. I started this education journey with nothing but the desire to learn more about creative writing (the first two modules that I completed three years ago now) – and was overcome by the education bug. I have since chosen subjects that I hope have informed me and my work in a positive way. History, social science and mostly, philosophy, are all helping me to get a deeper understanding of the world and myself. I would recommend to anyone who feels they might have ‘missed out’ somewhat during teenage years to revisit education if they can, or have the inclination. Learning is fun when you’ve chosen to do it and the subjects interest you. I don’t know if I will continue after the degree (I might leave it a year before deciding whether to do a Masters), but I hope to take the subjects I’ve chosen forwards into my work and life at every opportunity. They are already paying dividends.

Gravity Dave

My band ‘Gravity Dave’ have had a solid year as we’ve welcomed a new drummer to our number, written some great tunes, and gigged fairly regularly throughout the year. We have basically written and rehearsed/performed an album’s worth of material this year, and I think 2014 is the year to take this to the next step with quality recordings and more and more gigs. The main thing is that we all still find it really fun, creative and rewarding, so we’re not going to stop, and the music’s gonna keep flowing. I need a band, it is part of who I am and what I do, and I feel privileged to be part of this one with such great musicians. We’ve had a bit of a lull just in the last month or two due to problems with rehearsal space and health, but we will be back next year, and I promise, it will be bigger than ever. www.facebook.com/gravitydave

 

Anything else?

Well, this blog for one thing. When I started this, I didn’t know quite what it was meant to be, and I still don’t. All I know is that I enjoy it, and so do other people it seems. It’s quite a mixed bag as I’m sure you can tell. But it feels very important to me to keep on at it. It’s a bit like a digital sketch pad, a place to vent and experiment, reflect and celebrate. I hope those of you who follow this blog are generally entertained by it, at least enough to keep coming back. I have had some brilliant feedback from people directly, and I want to thank everyone who comes here and reads this. It’s kind of spooky that more people read this than I am aware of (according to the stats), but anonymity is the readers prerogative, and I appreciate your time spent reading my words greatly.

Another unexpected but fun development has been the rise of ‘ADMIN CAT!’ – a silly cartoon I produce to keep myself and some passing social network types entertained for a few seconds each week. This has potentially led onto some exciting developments for 2014…

 

And a happy new year!

I’m sure that as soon as I’ve finished writing this I will remember a whole bunch of other things. I have supported some great people and endeavours this year in a number of other ways not listed here. I occasionally still ‘do the spreadsheet thing’ for small businesses, and special mention has to go here to Misco Chocolates (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk) who are a constant inspiration to me in their attitude to life and work, both as business people and friends (as are all my friends, I must say).

You may notice a lack here of any personal details about the rest of my life! That is for two reasons: this blog isn’t really about that, and it hasn’t changed much (in a good way!). I live happily with my partner and my cats, and I love them all very much (even when they do bring in dead mice – the cats that is, not my partner).

So, all that is left is to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year! Please feel free to drop links to your end of year reviews or any  other work into the comment boxes – it is the least I can do to read yours if you have stuck with this! I do write really long blogs, but I don’t care, this isn’t Twitter. Thanks, as always, for reading. Here is a picture of me in a hat as a Christmas treat:

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Garry Abbott.

Unearthed 2013 – My thoughts on a wonderful project.

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After over a year of design, development, public engagement, challenging fabrication and installation, we were finally treated last Saturday (26/10/2013) to the unveiling of the new ‘Unearthed’ sculpture in Hanley, Stoke on Trent, and as I’m sure you can see by the picture above, it was worth the wait. A big congratulations is in order I think for the conception and realisation of this amazing sculpture by Nicola Winstanley and Sarah Nadin of Dashyline (http://dashyline.wix.com/dashyline). 

Without going into all the detail here, the sculpture is a memorial to commemorate the link between the Czech village of Lidice and the miners of North Staffordshire. Most of the population of Lidice were shot dead and the village itself totally destroyed by the Nazi’s in 1942 in retaliation (based on inaccurate intelligence) for an assassination attempt on a high ranking Nazi official. As a result, the MP for Hanley, Sir Barnett Stross, vowed that we would rebuild the village in defiance of this atrocity. The miners of North Staffordshire gave up a day’s pay per week until the end of the war and raised the equivalent of 1 million pounds in today’s money. This was used to rebuild the village and give the few survivors somewhere to live and reclaim. Full details of this story can be found on the Unearthed website here: http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk/.

As part of the sculpture commission, I have been involved in a series of public engagement activities, designed to spread the story and generate pledges to remember the event. Each pledge, captured through the website, is represented on the miners ‘tags’ that clad the whole work, with the initials and day of birth of those who participated – over 3000 people.

Thanks to this project I’ve had the opportunity to write, narrate and score an animated retelling of the tragedy, compose my first choral work for a memorial service, and work with the words of the people who pledged, to produce a spoken word accompaniment to the unveiling ceremony. It has in short, been an eclectic, challenging and artistically rewarding undertaking that I shall never forget.

It has also made me think a lot about the nature of art, history and culture, and how this is perceived and received by various public and constitutional communities. There has unsurprisingly been a few dissenting voices, opposed to the allocation of public money on an artwork, but overwhelmingly there has been support and a depth of understanding with those who have passively and actively engaged with the meaning and vision behind this work.

It strikes me with this project how it almost totally diminishes the notion of pretention due to its visceral link with a real and tragic event that no one can dismiss as being unimportant or worthy of remembrance, even if they may disagree with the specifics of how to do this. I cannot agree with those who feel that no memorial was warranted, that no money should have been spent on this project. If a subject such as this does not deserve an allocation – what does? For an area that suffers from low aspiration and increasingly negative national identity, if we don’t take pride in our past achievements and find contemporary and interesting ways to demonstrate what we are capable of, how are to break that cycle? This project involved hundreds of local artists, fabricators, suppliers and supporting trades. Alongside the worthy story, it is a calling card for the industries of a modern Stoke on Trent that should not wallow in the economic depression that so many towns are suffering and should instead lift its head high and say “think differently about us – look what we can do”. On a purely practical argument, the money that was spent on this project was circular for the area. There were no expensive consultants or unrelated artists flown in from distant counties or countries to reap easy rewards – the funds supported local industries, paying wages, supporting families and raising profiles so that future investors may look more closely at what we have to offer. When you are down, you talk yourself up, you show what you can do. Not the opposite, that leads to a dark and narrow path indeed.

So I am proud of this project, of my involvement in it, and of all the people who support and welcome it. Many times during my work on this I became overwhelmed with the responsibility of the story, the fact that real people suffered and died. I felt for the first time I think, what it means to be connected to our shared history. The people of Lidice stopped being words in a text book, actors in a documentary, and became tears in my eyes, a pain of loss from somewhere inside, greater than I can describe here.

That is why I feel pretention does not come into any aspect of this work, because we could not un-tell or invent what had happened, and each of us knew that while we had a job to do, it would never be more important than the story itself. All we could do is try to tell it in a way we felt appropriate, respectful and engaging, and I think that the Unearthed project has achieved this for our part. I say ‘for our part’ because I am aware of others who long before this sculpture was commissioned, and I imagine for a long time to come, are already dedicated to the spreading of this story.

However, the story ‘belongs’ to no-one but those who experienced it. The way we remember it belongs to us all, and we should be grateful for each and every person who learns of this though any means.

On a final note, if you are reading this and are not aware of the project or the history, please do visit the website (linked again below) and take a look around. Not only will you see films about the various engagement projects and a more detailed history, you can see the links to other ambassadors for this story and use that as reference to delve deeper into the many other individuals, groups and projects that are keeping the story alive. Thank you for reading.

http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk/