Gluttony Anthology

I have a story, “Dinner Plans”, in this anthology!

Arthur Batten moans about his day to his flatmate, consensually stalks him via a phone app and learns to cook golden teardrops for him before realising he might be interested in him.

You can buy it from your preferred vendor here.

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Fiction: Haunted

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My story “Too Frequent a Place” is out in Mugwump Press’s erotica anthology, “Haunted”.

“I underwent, as all boys do, great changes in my person as I became a man. And yet I am not certain that any other man alive changed in quite the manner I did. I expect I cannot be alone in what I am and that it would be a species of vanity to suppose so, but the fact remains that I have never met another individual with my—well, we may call them either abilities or requirements, according to the view we take of them. There again, it is not something about which one may easily enquire. “Pardon me, do you require the intimate energies of another in order to sustain yourself? Can and do you visit the dreams of others to attain such sustenance?” Such essays are neither precisely suited to the forming of new acquaintances nor likely to endear oneself to one’s accustomed friends.

aka ‘gay Victorian accidental incubus’. A little funny and a little sad. The paperback will be available from Amazon imminently, but you can order the ebook several places:

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Fiction: Bacchae

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(London Bridge Borough High St (Stop Y) by Karl Pallinger, with Google data claim)

Bethan rested her hand on the gritty surface of the wall, and Angharad winced. It almost hurt to watch Bethan lay the lush plump heart of her palm on it. The processes involved in constructing the poured-concrete building had required no element of direct human touch, and it seemed as though the wall had never been intended for it.

“Bethan! Bethan, come away, I’m dying for a piss!”

Bethan just stood there, not sober but steady in her stilettos, with one hand flat against the wall—like she was standing in front of a bloody door and didn’t know how to knock.

Read full story here, at Big Echo.

 

Review: Captivate Theatre’s Oliver!

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“Oliver, never before has a boy—“ no, sorry. I have come to review Captivate Theatre’s Edinburgh Fringe production of Oliver! at the Rose Theatre, not to launch into the big titular number. Hard to resist it, though.

Oliver! does such a good job of adapting Oliver Twist that it begins to seem strange that so many ‘period drama’ adaptations are joyless, homogenous, National Trust-branded awkward nonentities. Oliver!’s formula is, after all, rather simple. The musical understands that the titular character doesn’t need to be particularly compelling or the centre of attention. This is a parish boy’s progress, not a Hero’s Journey. Oliver is the youthful plot impetus rather than the psychological agent his successors David and Pip will be. Oliver! relishes the novel’s dialogue and lifts it where possible. It gets the book’s jokes and tells them well, it makes a meal of Dickens’ big, theatrical characters, and it’s more interested in the themes and mechanical tensions of the story than in re-enacting every element of the plot with slavish fidelity.

Read full article here at the Dickens Society blog.

Review: Dickens for Dinner

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Shakespeare for Breakfast is a venerable Edinburgh Fringe Festival institution that has been selling out its house for twenty-six seasons and is still going strong. Every year they offer a quality Shakespeare parody, free coffee and a croissant. They don’t need their gimmick, but by God they stick to it. I never regret going, and a Fringe trip would feel incomplete without it.

This year, the team that performs the morning show also gives you the lunchtime Dickens for Dinner. The title introduces something of a controversy, as in the south of England, where many if not most Fringe visitors hail from, the mid-day meal is known as lunch. Calling it dinner, and the evening meal supper or even tea rather than dinner, are far more common in north England and Scotland. These distinctions have class connotations as well as regional ones.

“So it’s not really for dinner, is it?” said my vexed girlfriend, who is very from the Home Counties, of the matinee performance.

“A Northerner will come and eat you if you keep saying that,” I begged.

“But it’s NOT ‘dinner’!” she pressed on, heedless. I’ll miss her.

Read full piece here.

Student Support: A Tale of Two Libraries

(Three, really, but they were in two countries.)

There’s been a lot of conversation on social media recently about whether the increasing administration costs of UK higher education are correlated to student support, and, if so, whether such support is necessary. I am firmly of the belief that pastoral care is vital (and not necessarily as novel a part of the higher education process as some suppose—Oxbridge has had high levels of para-academic support for centuries, official and un, simply shaped differently to reflect the changing times and demographics of its attendees), but without disparaging the many committed, talented people serving as university support staff, I am not necessarily convinced that UK students are seeing the benefits of supposedly abundant user-focused infrastructure.

I have attended three UK post-graduate institutions: two University of London, and two Russell Group and one 1994 Group: I say this just to observe that you could expect comparatively high levels of infrastructure and funding, and commensurate attention to student needs, at these institutions. I have had incredibly frustrating experiences with all three. At one point this situation was so bad that a university apologized and returned me a year’s worth of tuition. Really. I will at some point write in depth about the events (and about the frankly immoral way Goldsmiths chose to treat its ESL Cultural Studies graduate students), but I wanted to draw your attention, in this support debate, to an administrative interaction which serves as something of a synecdoche for the larger dynamic.

I asked, at two libraries I was associated with, after a given resource, and got what I felt to be disappointing and unhelpful responses. A friend at a similarly ranked (again, only interesting regarding access to resources) American university kindly agreed to ask her library the same question. She received an amazingly useful response.

I want to talk for a moment about the details and affective resonances of these interactions.

UK Russell Group University

Query:

Hello,

I’m a PhD student, and I’ve got a few questions about this resource:

http://nlx.com/collections/43

I can’t really tell exactly WHAT this is. I’m hoping it’s not a concordance or a data set for digital humanities research, but rather an ebook or online version of what are otherwise 12 very expensive volumes.

Does THE UNIVERSITY have institutional permission to use this? If so, do you know whether it *is* an ebook? If we don’t, but it is what I need, how might I go about getting permission?

Thanks so much,

Response:

Dear Ms Horakova

Thank you for your email. We do not subscribe to this resource online, so we do not have access to this material electronically.

However, please note that we do have print copies of this material, which can be seen on the catalogue here:   THE UNIVERSITY CATALOGUE

We hope that this is useful. However, if you have any further enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact us.

With compliments

Analysis:

I could probably have been less ‘professional’ and more entreating in my request. The fact is at this point I go into any interaction with university infrastructure cringing and growling like a dog that expects to get hit again.

My short email contained three questions.

  1.     Does THE UNIVERSITY have institutional permission to use this?
  2.     If so, do you know whether it *is* an ebook?
  3.     If we don’t, but it is what I need (i.e. 2), how might I go about getting permission?

Question 3 contains an implied offer to do the work myself. In order to get any further, however, I need help. I am not a trained information scientist with access to and familiarity with research databases; he is. He only answered Question 1. I am a distance-learning student, a fact which I have spent over a year trying to appropriately register on my records at this university with no success. The records he speaks of are, unfortunately, in another country within the UK/about 7 hours away by two expensive trains. Given that there are 12 volumes, this is not a quick research trip. Even if I lived next door, I might well require digital copies for the specific research I am engaged in, due to disability issues, etc. etc. 

Given that he did not address questions 2 or 3, even with ‘I don’t know’, seeming not to see them, I can proceed no further in chasing up the resource myself.

His tone is very cold. Overall, this letter leaves me feeling like I am a time-wasting idiot rather than a colleague and ‘client’ researcher attempting to do her work, accessing his expertise in his right capacity.

UNIVERSITY CONSORTIUM LIBRARY:

Query:

Hello,

I’m a [university with access privileges] PhD student, and I’ve got a few questions about this resource:

http://nlx.com/collections/43

I can’t really tell exactly WHAT this is. I’m hoping it’s not a concordance or a data set for digital humanities research, but rather an ebook or online version of what are otherwise 12 very expensive volumes.

Does the University CONSORTIUM network have institutional permission to use this? If so, do you know whether it *is* an ebook? If we don’t, but it is what I need, how might I go about getting permission?

Thanks so much,

Response:

Hello Erin,

THE CONSORTIUM LIBRARY does not subscribe to Past Masters, so we are unable to help you access this resource.

Kind regards,

Analysis:

Only question 1 is addressed. This response is so lacking it makes the first letter’s provision of a catalogue record look abundantly generous. There is literally no way I can proceed with this information. Again, I feel unsupported, alone and like I am not even a basically respected part of this person’s workplace and academic community.

I am very aware that we are all pressed for time in this business, underpaid, etc. But I do feel this response is cool and rude as well as unprofessional. Seriously, how hard is it for people with humanities graduate degrees to read a short email, take in the number of questions, and address some answer to the questions in the email?

***

US IVY:

Query:

Hello!

I have found the following online resource, which UNIVERSITY seems to have institutional access to: http://nlx.com/collections/43

I would like to download Dickens’ complete letters for my work, but am not sure how to do this. I have researched marc files a little but have not found a way to make these files work for me as readable text. Can you tell if the intention of this resource is to make these files available to read, or are they ONLY machine readable? Any help in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks very much!

Response:

Hi XXXXX,

I’m afraid we don’t have online access to the Clarendon Press set of Dickens’s letters through Past Masters, though I’ll contact the sales rep and find out how much that would cost.  In the meantime, the three volumes of Dickens’s letters published in the 1880s (seeUNIVERSITY LIBRARY CATALOGUE) have been digitized and are freely available from Project Gutenberg, which — as I’ve been told by David Mimno and others who do DH projects at UNIVERSITY– provides relatively clean text.  (I’m not sure how DH-friendly the Past Masters text would be, or even if the vendor would make it available for text mining.)  The pages below provide several downloading options for the text of each volume:

Volume I. 1833-1856:  http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=25852

Volume II. 1857-1870:  http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=25853

Volume III. Additional Letters, 1837-1870: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=25854

These volumes are also available in various editions from HathiTrust (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Search/Home?lookfor=%22Letters%20of%20Charles%20Dickens%22&searchtype=title&ft=ft&setft=true ) , both in pdf and in plain text formats, but the text format does not appear to be downloadable.  The texts available at the Internet Archive might not be the cleanest OCR, but might also suffice depending on your needs.

I’ll let you know about the Past Masters database.  My funds are just about tapped out as we approach the end of the fiscal year (June 30), but if there’s any way I can afford the Clarendon letters when my funds are replenished I’ll certainly try to do so.  Having full-text access to the letters would be a nice complement to the texts of the fiction, etc. available in Literature Online.

Hope your summer is off to a good start.

All best,

Later unprompted follow-up:

Letter 1:

Hello,

XXXX University Library now has access to The Letters of Charles Dickens: 1820-1870 via the Intelex Past Masters database record UNIVERSITY CATALOGUE

Please let me know if you have any questions.  

Kind Regards,

Letter 2:

Hi XXXX,

Just to clarify, from the catalog record at UNIVERSITY CATALOGUE, click on the “Intelex site” link in the Availability box, then click on the “Dickens: Letters (I-XII)” link when you see the alphabetical author list.  We should have a separate record for the Dickens letters in the catalog at some point, but setting it up this way initially was the fastest option.

Thanks for letting me know about this.  I’m glad we could get access.

All best,

Analysis:

Now, I will grant that my friend summarized our discussion (via a designated online form, such as the libraries I was dealing with did not offer) in a peppier way than I did, and that this might have elicited a better response. I expect her happier attitude, however, is in part a result of better overall dealings with her university’s support staff. She’s not cagey because she doesn’t feel a need to be.

I find it amazing how much better the multiple people emailing her back treated her and her question. Not only was her query addressed in full, these responders went above and beyond, entering into her research question, helping her access alternative resources, offering reasons for his decisions, following up, obtaining the resource, and providing her with information about its use. Wow! You can really see that she is being treated like a valued colleague whose work and needs are valid!

Overall:

Now I’m not saying all UK admin staff need to meet this absolutely gold standard. These responses contain more pep than the UK makes in a year, and it’s hard to find the time to deal with student-staff questions in this in-depth manner, I’m sure. But a little civility couldn’t hurt, guys.

I grind my teeth through a thousand fakey UK ‘thank you for your email’s, which are of course immediately followed by terse response that makes me feel unvalued as a colleague and even as a person, and totally fail to provide me with the resources I need to do my work. My interactions with university bureaucracy make me feel unsatisfied as a paying ‘consumer’ of the education product, much less as the colleague these supposed colleagues are not treating me as. If these emails were a meal I’d bought, I’d send them back, and I have never done that to a waitress in my life.

Being a grad student is isolating and difficult, and if 60% percent of a graduate cohort experience mental health issues, is it any wonder? I know my own have been severely exacerbated by my demeaning, unhelpful and unfriendly interactions with this system. It’s not this email I’m upset about, it’s the whole tower built of them, and the greater aggressions they can amount to (recall the year’s refunded tuition).

I think in part UK academia has a vast existential horror of being ‘American-like’ in its working, which they somehow conflate with ‘mechanistic’ understandings of efficiency, probably because they can’t institutionally praxis Benjamin for shit and because they displace their unprocessed imperial guilt onto America so hard it’s not true. This Americaphobia perhaps contributes to the UK’s failure to broadly implement university writing centres (not a little workshop from time to time, not a writer in residence, a motherfucking brick and mortar but digitally-capable writing centre), for example, which I consider essential to actually creating an inclusive environment for students from different backgrounds who may well not enter university with the homogenous communications skillset you can expect of whatever Eton whelped out, unable to think much but capable of saying nothing very prettily, and in Latin if required.

For all the chat about the necessity of UK university support structures and cultures—well, where are those, then? Can we expect some soon?

 

The Fifth Element (review)

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The Fifth Element (1997) is well-made. I don’t think you can deny that, and this sense of craft is one of my favourite things about it. Sure it has a somewhat hand-wavy space opera plot, featuring a giant ball of evil: why not? (Really I don’t think Fifth Element hangs together worse than Ghostbusters, which fanboys acclaim as a classic without qualification.) It’s not the story that does it for me so much as how it’s told. Element does tons of great, casual characterisation work. Its representation game is fairly strong. The script employs dozens of easy, unsmug, rhythmic lays-and-pick-ups, which are just satisfying to watch. A contest is advertised on television, and later someone wins it. There’s a garbage strike and a resultant big pile of refuse, which is discussed and then used in an escape. The protagonist’s bed wraps up in plastic after each use: someone inevitably gets trapped in there.

The film feels like it came from a team that was very aware of other media, and drawing from an eclectic multi-national and multi-media range of sources. The theme and aesthetic invoke Star Gate‘s (1994) cosmic Egyptology. The police uniforms and the particular intersection of sprawling public disorder and over-powerful (if itself disorderly) state authority pull from Judge Dredd comics. Blade Runner is also in the room. Bits of the cityscape (I’m thinking of a particular bridge we see in the back of the frame during the taxi sequence) and vehicle design are derived from the epic Franco-Belgian Les Cites Obscures comics. The design of the Floston Paradise cruise ship reflects not only this, but also the rash of Titanic films coming out around 1997. Æon Flux infuses its costuming, as does June Hudson’s iconic work for British sci-fi television and the not-unconnected project(s) of Alexander McQueen.

Fifth Element‘s determination to include labour in its plot and visuals also feels akin to what British scifi television was doing in the 80s and 90s in Blakes 7Red Dwarf and Doctor Who. The garbage strike, the taxi minutiae, the smoked-up spaceship parasite disposal team, and even Ruby Rob’s professional hustle make labour manifest in this world in a way that’s rare in contemporary filmic SF. But it’s a film as dedicated to the epic as the quotidian: the huge space-ships are pure Star Destroyer, and some of the costuming is from Star Wars‘ visual universe as well (the Star Wars prequels, which we must remember employed many excellent designers even if the overall project was a mess from conception to completion, return the favour by visually quoting Fifth Element‘s Brooklyn, among other elements, for their Coruscant). I really welcome both the space opera scope and the commitment to working-class detail. Too many SF films lack ambition in either category, preferring to occupy a vague and unsatisfying Everyman middle-ground: SF of the bourgeoisie.