The Rachel Revolution

Rachel Revolution

‘I heard a theory saying Brexit was the answer to Rachel’s death. The British people hate foreigners because they killed her.’

‘I thought the British answer was to bomb countries in the Middle East.’

‘Of course, the biggest conspiracy theory is the British government killed her.’

The death of the Prime Minister’s wife shocked the world. People mourned and an illegal war was waged in her name. Three years on – the immigration crisis; terrorism; Brexit; fake news; corruption and scandal in high places threaten to tear the world apart. The image of Rachel Briars is held up as a beacon of hope. The Vatican is making her a saint. NGOs and charities are turning her into an humanitarian icon. Others see her as an object of desire – like the Russian oligarch who wants to possess her and her ‘widowed’ husband who wants her back. Rachel just wants to stay dead.

As the third anniversary of her death approaches – the legacy of Rachel Briars is still a potent force. Visions of her appear in Lesbos, performing miracles amidst the refugee crisis and she is seen in Nigeria taking on Boko Haram. Divine visions, body doubles or proof her death was faked? In the age of media manipulation and alternative facts – who knows what to believe? Soon the battle is on between powerful organisations and individuals who want to either hunt her down or keep her hidden.

The Rachel Revolution is the explosive follow up to The Rachel Redemption. It brings back a cast of vivid characters from the first book – ready to take on the zeitgeist and unfinished business.

Rebecca (Rachel’s lookalike) and Mark (her bodyguard) are helping with the refugee crisis in Lesbos after Mark suffers a personal tragedy while fighting as a mercenary in Nigeria. Father Francesco Lombardi has returned to Rome and is working with the Vatican and gangster/political agitator Marcello Destro to manage the local immigration issue. They are assisted by Alessandro – Francesco’s young protege – who is ravaged with guilt at becoming a killer. In the UK – Hugh Rawksley is making a bid to take over from George Briars as PM after the Brexit fiasco – but is he being directed from Moscow? George’s aid – Alex Glaister – has his own problems, facing sexual harassment and viewing porn at work charges. The emissaries of Grigori Rublev are also chasing him to provide a suitable Rachel lookalike as a trophy plaything for the Russian oligarch. As the hunt for Rachel continues, Mark returns to Nigeria to track her down. At the centre is young investigative journalist – Tina Neri – who is desperate to extract the truth from an international web of lies – however dangerous it might prove to be for her.

Bold, topical, action packed – like a bang-up-to-date feminist James Bond – it’s the ultimate fake-news conspiracy thriller.

**Now available in print form**

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Trump and the UK Creatives

Trump balloon

Honestly – no sooner does one frenzied, unifying, festival-type. UK summer event end and another starts. Okay, the achievement of England‘s plucky little World Cup heroes wasn’t something that could be (openly) celebrated with great fervour in all corners of the British Isles. But just as the Gareth Southgate paper masks and waistcoats are swept up and (hopefully) put in the recycling – a giant orange spectre will appear on these shores and do what Gareth and the lads could never, ever hope to do (and no jokes about reaching the final… ) – unite the four nations of the United Kingdom. From Stornoway to Southend, from Orkney to Oldham, from Lisburn to Llandudno – we stand together in resisting the orange menace. Childish, ineffectual, unstately? Well enough about Donald Trump

There are other things that unify and typify the UK though. Britain is a wonderfully creative place and Brits have a great sense of humour which can sometimes seem a bit baffling to others. The giant, baby-Trump balloon floating above London – for example. Okay, it’s decidedly not subtle and could possibly reinforce the image of the smug liberal elites having a good old snigger/snicker at a (possibly) democratically elected politician. It’s a good laugh at the time but ultimately meaningless… perhaps. But the great thing about British humour is we have plenty of different types to choose from. We’ve always done satire very well – from Alexander Pope and William Hogarth to Peter Cook and Chris Morris. And we can do subtle – which brings me to my own modest contribution to the anti-Trump creative industry.

As a Scottish woman, I was inspired to write a tale imagining how the decisions taken by another Scottish woman – over eighty years ago – could have such a seismic impact on our life today.  Letter from America is a Twilight Zone type fantasy which has elements of Back to the Future, Terminator and Brigadoon. Hopefully people will find it humorous but also a little poignant. The whole idea of people having to leave a land they love for whatever reason – to make money, chase a dream or perhaps because their own land isn’t fit to live in anymore. So it is anti – Trump but it’s also a valentine to immigrants, the LGBT community, all those who stand up to bullies – in the past and in the future… and of course the beautiful Western Isles.

And in honour of Mr Trump’s UK visit – for the next four days you can download Letter from America for free!

Enjoy!

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Thanks Nanny – what a state!

Harry LauderI have to say I was a little disconcerted the other night when I saw Glenn Campbell on Reporting Scotland holding aloft an Aldi two litre bottle of cider (the brand name is Taurus for all of you who want to grab a pre prohibition bargain). It wasn’t so much that he was outing my not-so-guilty and not-so-secret pleasure for a Saturday night in front of Strictly. No, the real shocker was the news the price would be hiked from a very reasonable £2 to a frankly quite ridiculous £5. Do I have a drink problem? Well, I do now – thanks to the Scottish Government getting the go-ahead to impose minimum pricing on alcohol.

‘But it will save lives and help the NHS‘ chorused Nicola Sturgeon and her chatterati pals who I can just imagine in Bute House toasting their success, no doubt with a nice little drop of malt or a glass of claret or some other reassuringly expensive drink which will remain unaffected by the ruling. Like a bunch of Marie Antoinettes without the intelligence or the dress sense. ‘Let them eat cake’ indeed – which brings me to my next point…

Obesity and Type II Diabetes make up the huge disgusting elephant in the Scottish NHS waiting room. But will the SG introduce a fat tax in order to address the problem? Probably not. Will they even re-direct resources to help promote a healthy lifestyle in poorer areas of Scotland? Well, if they haven’t done it by now…  And do you know what the most scandalous/ironic aspect of this whole debacle is? Most people think it’s a tax. It’s not – the extra money will go to the producer/retailer and will not go to making some magic dust to sprinkle over the ugly gaping wound of alcoholism.

Yes, that’s right. I’m not a heartless bitch whose only concern is getting my cheap cider. I care about alcoholism, all kinds of addiction – whether it be junk food or crack cocaine –  and the poverty trap which nurtures the hopelessness that sparks the desire for these things in the first place. In another life I was an alcohol counsellor and I know that people don’t become (and remain) alcoholics merely because there are cheap deals available. Alcoholics are addicts, and addicts will get their fix – whatever the price.

You can probably tell – as a responsible drinker with not a huge disposable income – I’m not best pleased. But apart from it being a hypocritical and ineffectual sticking-plaster for the ills of a very sick (in the most literal sense) nation it kind of screws up the whole idea of a free market economy.

So well done, nanny state for making both Adam Smith and Harry Lauder spin in their graves! Slainte!! *

* If you want a translation I believe you can tweet Alex Salmond but there may be a delay of a day or so…

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Who’s ‘the Man’?

ZuckerbergDo you remember a few years ago everyone was talking about ‘the Man’?  I was never very sure if it should be spelt with a capital ‘M’ but given that ‘the Man’ was meant to represent big business, conglomerates, multi-nationals, governments, secret societies… the whole shebang – I guess it deserved it. Ironically – possibly.

Now, more importantly – do you remember who was talking about ‘the Man’? Perhaps those idealist young pups of Silicon Valley? Or how about those creative types working in Hollywood (two cultural references spring to mind: Jack Black railing against ‘the Man’ in School of Rock; and Flight of the Conchords‘ philosophical discourse: ‘Who’s the Man? Am I a man? Well, technically I am… ‘) ?

Quite easy – and satisfying – I suppose, to take the moral high-ground when you’re starting out or else portraying a fictional underdog. The Man = Evil. We’ve seen it on social media, we’ve seen it in the movies. But what if ‘the Man’ controlled all of that – wouldn’t it be scary? Wouldn’t it – like- totally destroy our utopian dreams of us all communicating and working together without big business getting its clammy Weinstein-like hands all over us? This is the point where I would add a series of CMAO emojis… but that’s a bit corporate, isn’t it?

 

 

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Integration and isolation – cultural problems and practical solutions

Sajid

I heard the news that the UK government’s Integrated Communities Strategy is to invest £50m in schemes to improve community relations over the next two years. Part of that money going towards funding English language learning. Hmmm… thank you Mr Hammond – so generous! But piffling amount of funding aside – is lack of integration a problem you can throw money at and expect to get real change in return? Or is it a deeper problem which can never get fixed?

The Communities Secretary – Sajid Javid – says that ”Successive governments have refused to deal with the integration challenges we face head on, preferring to let people muddle along and live isolated and separated lives,”

When he says ‘people’ in general, he’s referring to women in particular (Mr Javid tells the story of how he acted as a young interpreter for his Pakistani mother before she became confident enough, in English, to speak for herself). Party politics aside – and ignoring the potential for rekindling the fuse under the cultural sensitivity time bomb – I think his words are apt.

I confess, much of my time is spent muddling along, leading an isolated and separate life (an increasingly common online occupational hazard, I suppose). However I’m lucky enough to have my ‘other life’, teaching English as a Second or Other Language which provides me with more than enough social interaction. I teach ESOL professionally, one-to-one. I also have ‘another, other life’ – as a volunteer ESOL teacher in the community. It’s working in the latter capacity that gives me the right to put in my tuppence-worth.

In my drop-in class there are a variety of nationalities but the gender is predominately female. Certain nationalities, who share a common language, will sit together – for practical purposes. When I’ve taught one-to-one in the community, it’s always been in the student’s home and the students have all been women. Again, this comes down to practicalities. If one person has to stay at home and look after the kids – it’s going to be the person who doesn’t have a paid job; and – let’s not shy away from a cultural issue – the person who is traditionally expected to stay at home. Also, in my experience, kids are absolutely useless – for so many reasons – at helping their mums with their English. Practical reasons again – they’re not teachers and besides, they’ve got enough pressures with just being kids.

Learning the language is important but being ‘isolated and muddling through’ is relative and isn’t just confined to particular ethnic communities. Many – particularly older – white, working-class women would love to be part of a supportive community (as in the cosy nostalgia presented as reality of Eastenders, Coronation Street and the like). Their practical issues: perhaps alone living in a high-rise flat; no family and scant social services. And before I’m accused of being sexist – men can find themselves in this depressing and damaging kind of situation as well.

What’s the answer? Well, integration is a good thing – right? People sharing thoughts, ideas, experiences, language, food; discovering they’ve got lots in common with people they didn’t think they’d have anything in common with; moving out of their comfort zone… Okay – the last bit might be a problem. People don’t generally like the idea of moving out of a familiar and safe place – but when they do, they wonder why they didn’t do it years before.

We’re all hamstrung by practicalities which get twisted and turned into cultural divides. If we fix the practicalities, then maybe we can smash the divides. It will take money (probably more than £50m) but cheaper – and more importantly – it’ll include everyone taking a big step outside their own comfort zones.

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Spite Your Face

rachel_maclean_cover

When I first glimpsed the poster for Rachel Maclean’s Spite Your Face I thought it said Spit In Your Face. With that stuck in my head – along with the striking image of a blue and gold plaster saint or madonna figure apparently in the throes of ecstasy and crying blood – I was expecting something along the lines of a revenge porn video nasty like I Spit On Your Grave or maybe some classic Dario Argento. An Italian connection being appropriate what with the aforementioned saint/madonna; The Adventures of Pinocchio billed as a major influence and Spite Your Face being Scotland’s entry in last year’s Venice Biennale. Pre-visit research also told me that Brexit, Trump, capitalism and patriarchy would be referenced. So far, still not so sure what to expect. An unholy mess or a spiritual revelation?

The installation of Spite Your Face in the Talbot Rice Gallery is cleverly done. The refined neoclassical surrounds of Gallery 2 as perfectly incongruous a setting as the deconsecrated Chiesa di Santa Caterina in Venice where SYF was premiered. The entrance to the gallery is cloaked with a heavy gold curtain which you have to push aside to enter. Once inside there are three plush benches upholstered in the same gold fabric. The screen is tall and narrow and with the size of the room gives the impression of an intimate IMAX experience or perhaps the animated centrepiece of a church triptych. We later see it’s the perfect device for contrasting the heavenly perspective with the earthly.  The film is on a 37 minute long loop with (according to the info) no discernible start or finish – however I did discern a start to the story (presenting a pre-temptation Pic)  which neatly coincided with me first taking my seat on one of the plush benches.

So, what’s the story? Simply put – it’s the Pinocchio fable with elements of a video nasty and subtle political references. The hero/anti-hero is called Pic and, like the original boy with the nose that grows, he’s a silly little sod who gets led astray. In this version however he’s tempted off the straight and narrow with credit cards, sex and drugs. He becomes a celebrity and gets his own celebrity fragrance with the twin names ‘truth’ and ‘untruth’ which can miraculously heal wounds and cover up the stink of failure.

The tale may be simple but the execution and presentation are far from that. The imagery is painstakingly crafted whether it’s evoking high Renaissance devotional or Baroque opulence or garish computer game pixels. The colour palette is overwhelmingly and dazzlingly blue and gold and at times almost makes your eyes ache. It’s a clever choice – the blue a painterly reference to the precious pigment lapis lazuli. The gold – a timeless symbol of wealth with some scenes having the hazy look of being shot in Trump’s golden elevator. The characters when they’re rich and successful have perfect golden skin but when they’re down on their luck they turn a jaundiced Simpsons or emoji like yellow.

I did use the word subtle before but be warned (and there is a warning) some scenes are decidedly unsubtle. For example when the saint/madonna/fairy fellates Pic’s nose (yes, I’m sure the name is a deliberate joke) and in turn gets mouth raped. Later she gets her revenge in a confessional box and the scene is loaded with jet black humour. The humour in the film ranges from the cruel (see above) to the playful (acknowledging the inevitable porno aspect of the Pinocchio story) to effective visual joke (a credit card gets swiped into Pic’s arm leaving self-harm/drug-track type gashes or possibly stigmata). At its core though it has incredible wit and insight with themes and roles resisting the predictable. A boy-centred fable is chosen instead of a girl-centred one. The Virgin Mary mashes up with Mary Magdalene and The Fairy with Turquoise Hair (aka Blue Fairy) to become an avenging angel. The boy Pic bleeds like a virgin during his first time. And subtle… ? I think so. There’s political allegory aplenty but it’s up to you if you want to draw any comparisons with recent global events. What gives Spite Your Face a timeless quality however is that under the humour and the horror there’s a heartfelt message which says greed isn’t good; and if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Most crucially though – is there a heaven above or is it just a big commercial con? And if we don’t buy into that (religion or capitalism) are we destined to languish in the spiritual and economic gutter?

There will always be those who will argue against the video as art form. Rachel Maclean lobs a bomb into that argument and blows it wide open. She’s a gifted painter and her talent infuses every frame of Spite Your Face. Hilarious, disturbing, thought provoking and visually stunning. A must-see – if you can take it!

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Morrissey, Scandal, Backlashes and Bandwagons

Womans Aid

It’s all so inevitable, isn’t it? A big scandal breaks, there’s a backlash, a lot of people jump on the bandwagon, a witch-hunt ensues, it all gets confused and in the end nothing much changes. I’m talking about the whole exploitation and molestation of women subject matter brought to you now in glorious technicolor and with full Hollywood treatment. I was going to say it’s big news because it’s been made sexy. Which is quite ironic as it’s all to do with sex. Well – sort of. It’s that kind of seedy sex where one party has the greater interest and power. Okay that’s the scandal part. And typical of when most big scandals break ordinary people who’ve suffered under the prevailing regime over the years take a few minutes out from their ordinary lives to say ‘thanks for noticing, now what are you going to do about it?’

Okay, change and action is pretty difficult. Much easier to have a backlash, bandwagon and witch-hunt. And as this is going to be staged by the creative industry headed by Hollywood it’s going to have a fair bit of stardust sprinkled on it. Unfortunately though wherever there’s the old razzle dazzle there’s going to be fantasy and dodgy testimony.

I have to be careful here as anyone who dares suggest that every single allegation isn’t 100% true is going to get shouted down and pilloried. I present my first witness in the form of Morrissey. Okay he can be a silly old sod whose desire to deliver a controversial sound bite is an almost pathological compulsion but he’s hardly ever 100% wrong. This time he’s firing out a few home truths about the world of the stage, film, music and performing arts in general. It’s a strange parallel universe where everyday rules don’t apply. So much of it is based on creating a dream, a fantasy, an ideal of beauty where pretty young girls and boys are presented to us as latter day gods and goddesses. And it doesn’t matter if the screen persona is based on an Oscar-worthy ugly-make-over, the ‘real’ impossibly beautiful alter egos will be there on the red carpet* making mere mortals swoon and instilling a feeling of desperate aspiration in the starry-eyed. Desperate being the key word here. On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams thousands apply but only a lucky, talented few get chosen. Lucky? Talented? Really? It’s such an old adage which probably existed in the days of ancient Greek theatre. ‘How on earth did he/she get the role? Must be sleeping with the producer… ‘ Being accused of which – with or without any foundation – probably being the main reason for the silence of so many actors (or ‘actresses’, if you prefer) for such a long time.

Just because it’s a truth universally acknowledged does it have to be that way? Of course not. But we women have been up against it (figuratively and literally) for millennia now. We’ve all been convinced that our worth lies predominately in being pretty and beautiful. The vast majority of painters and sculptors were male so the myth was perpetuated and that carried on to the days when pictures started moving with an even smaller proportion of women being in the creative driving seat.

Therein lies the circular problem – women are these beautiful creatures who are inspirational muses so they can’t be expected to create works of art. So then generation upon generation of young girls have a limited number of role models. The only inspiration and aspiration is to look young and pretty. And so it continues…

Funnily enough Hollywood hasn’t always been like that. Strong women like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford** Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich ruled the screen in the 1930/40s. Of course they were beautiful and their place was strictly in front of the camera but they were so much more than simpering ingenue/sex bomb/old crone. This had much to do with macho men with too much testosterone being engaged elsewhere (war, for example) and the influence of the immigrant European male – possibly gay but at any rate more open to the idea of a strong woman – calling the artistic shots. Ironically, as time progressed attitudes didn’t. I’m old enough to remember the films of the 70/80s with their depressing parade of hot young starlets whose basic requirements were to ‘get them off’ and ‘get them out’ and when an ‘interesting’ female character was a crazed psycopath. Flash forward and with kick-ass heroines and more complex characterisations the hegemony part is perhaps better but to find out the behind-the-scenes scenes don’t follow the same script is a real kick in the un-veneered teeth of all us ‘ordinary’ women.

So am I glad to have my Hollywood sisters leading the revolt against sexism and unfurling the flag of feminism? Hmm – they certainly generate a lot more hashtag action than the sexually exploited girls of Rotherham (and many other UK cities) ever could. Just as long as the interest and momentum becomes a sea change for the many and not the few and doesn’t go the way of so many other social media trends. Anyone remember #bringbackourgirls ? Or here’s a thought – maybe we should stop looking through the skewed prism of Hollywood and the world of celebrity when we’re looking for role models and advice on how to live our lives. We always suspected it was built on  beautiful lies and now we have the very ugly truth.

So what are my words of advice? Don’t get dragged down into the mire with witch-hunts, knee jerk reactions and desperate attempts to get attention by adopting a label or a hashtag. If you’ve suffered abuse get in touch with the authorities or an agency which can help. If you’re one of the many who’ve experienced low level ‘bothering’  – yes, it is bad and it is annoying but don’t waste precious resources and media coverage by confusing it with serious assault and abuse. Instead – campaign in the real world and help the socially and economically disadvantaged (women and men!) deal with sexual exploitation. And if you’re anywhere near the bottom of the socio-economic ladder – be prepared to struggle and fight for what those higher up take for granted. Forget about Hollywood (and the theatre and the music world) for a while – they’ll tell us loudly enough when they’ve sorted themselves out.

* Little-black-dress-chic to show solidarity with ‘ordinary women’ leaves me less than convinced. Personally, I’m waiting for the day when boiler suits and balaclavas (a la Pussy Riot) make an appearance on the red carpet!

 

Working to end sexual violence:

http://www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk/

https://www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/

https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Sexualhealth/Pages/Sexualassault.aspx

 

And for more on the female image, goddesses and consensual love check out Bettany Hughes‘ excellent Venus Uncovered on the BBC iplayer and her accompanying Guardian article.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09g0k3j/sign/venus-uncovered-ancient-goddess-of-love

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/15/reclaim-venus-consensual-love-sexual-power-relations

**Also, it might still be available on the BBC iplayer (or elsewhere) – Feud: Bette and Joan. Great performances but incredibly depressing – and not only because of the hammered-home message that it was a complete scandal that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were thrown on the scrapheap merely because they had the temerity to get older. No – it was the misery porn wallowing, the numerous ‘alternative facts ‘and the continual portrayal of these two marvellous women as victims that left me feeling a little queasy. Far better to watch films from their heyday which offer pretty serviceable blueprints for being a strong woman.

 

 

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