Much, if not all, of my fiction addresses serious issues, mostly of the personal, rather than the political variety (overtly, anyway). Mental illness, grief, disconnection/isolation from other humans and our ultimate transformation at death are themes I’ve been exploring/experiencing for many years, but Yes, No, Goodbye – one of my current works in progress – is probably the most personal I’ve ever written and is based on events that occurred this summer. The story begins with the protagonist being woken in the night by a dreadful, bloodcurdling scream that appears to have a supernatural origin. This is something I experienced a few months ago, the most frightening incident of this kind since my childhood. This is a story that may well never be read by anyone, for reading it is not its main purpose. So why write about it here? Because another reason I would be reluctant to have it read is the question of how much responsibility a writer should take as to the effect a story has on others. Not as in the general population, as it’s impossible to make something – something worth reading – inoffensive to everyone. But the backstory behind Yes, No, Goodbye is a tragic recent event that people I know are still grieving over (as am I). At the very least it’s too soon, I think, to send this story out into the world as it may well hurt people who don’t deserve to be hurt. I don’t think there should be any hard and fast rules regarding this – censorship can be very dubious and while I’m all for discussing with an artist why they’ve written or created a particular thing, I’m also aware that even the vague possibility that someone, somewhere, may be offended by something has led to an stifling degree of caution in some quarters. This brings up the question of content warnings on books, much in the same manner as films. Personally, I would hope that the ‘blurb’ on a book’s cover would give enough of an idea as to the content so as to make specific references unnecessary. The reader should be credited with enough intelligence to decide whether a story or novel will involve a subject too distressing for them. I’ve been in this situation myself, with novels and film/tv that I found offensive or that reopened old wounds. And I stopped reading/watching it. Saying that, a story of mine that was very heavy – the subject matter being self-harm and suicide – was given the title Trigger, because it was just perfect, and I did want to give a hint of the contents. That was my choice and my decision. It appeared in a journal of Thomas Ligotti inspired fiction (Vasterian), so dark subject matter was appropriate, but I noticed the story was only briefly referred to in all the reviews the journal received. Not a criticism – I have no divine right to have my work reviewed – but likely a reflection of such uncomfortable subjects. However, the most important reaction came from a US war veteran, who got in touch to say he found the story ‘reassuring’. Perhaps he felt heard by it? It was certainly a very positive, touching message. Meanwhile, Yes, No, Goodbye is coming close to completion. And its purpose? Hopefully some healing of my own.
While DUV remains in hibernation, some of those associated with us have been very busy. Comic strip supremo Rachael House currently has an exhibition, Let The Right Ones In, at The Exchange gallery in Penzance. I became friends with Rachael in the London Queercore scene in the mid-1990s, so the exhibition is something I’m very excited about, especially as Rachael made an appearance at the opening. Seeing friends face to face in such a remote location as West Cornwall is a rare thing at any time, and the travel restrictions over the last eighteen months or so has made even this almost impossible, so being able to have a meal and a catch-up with Rachael and partner Jo, who I hadn’t seen for twenty years, was a big occasion. Rachael’s exhibition is running alongside Seen, an exhibition curated by young LGBTQ people. The exhibition holds a small library which includes a copy of Dykes Ink.
Rebel Dykes, the documentary about lesbian punk squatters in mid-1980s London, is finally showing around the country to great acclaim. It’s won several awards and a standing ovation at its Manchester screening. The film was shown in nearby Newlyn, at the beautiful Filmhouse, and it was worth the wait; as an important social document, but also as a hugely informative, fun and moving story about the thrill and danger of being out of the closet under a homophobic government. The screening here in West Cornwall, along with the exhibitions, are indications that things are beginning to change here – it wasn’t so long ago that the local BBC radio station had a broadcaster who made frequent homophobic remarks (and only stopped after I made a complaint about him to Ofcom).