Peter forced to see a shrink

Boy, Girl, Whatever! is the third in the Boy & Girl series. It returns to Peter as he nears the age when maintaining gender ambiguity entails serious choices. Kate’s destiny seems more easy-going as she leads the successful Lost Girls choir. But circumstances are going to force both their hands.

Boy, Girl, Whatever! is the third in the Boy & Girl series. It returns to Peter as he nears the age when maintaining gender ambiguity entails serious choices. Kate’s destiny seems more easy-going as she leads the successful Lost Girls choir. But circumstances are going to force both their hands.

The novel is currently being written. I have just passed the eighty-thousand-word mark or about two thirds of the final book. Below is a brief extract relating the discussion between Peter, who has been forced to attend a girls’ boarding school run by the church, and the psychiatrist whom the headmistress has obliged him to see.

Extract: Peter at the shrink’s

The man let out a weary sigh, as if Peter were the last of a long line of difficult cases he’d been lumbered with that day. “If you unbuttoned that,” he pointed at Peter’s duffle-coat, “your problem would be visible for all to see.”

“Is what I’m wearing a problem for you or for me?” Peter asked.

The man shook his head as if Peter were beyond hope.

“Answer my question,” Peter insisted. “Where does the problem lie? With me? With you? With the headmistress? With the church? With society at large?”

“Clearly the problem lies with you,” he said, peering over his spectacles at Peter. “You are the one pretending to be a girl.”

At last the reason for their encounter was out in the open. Relieved, Peter burst out laughing, causing the man to jerk back in alarm. “I have no problem being dressed as I am,” Peter said unbuttoning his coat to reveal his girl’s uniform. “In fact, I feel much better like that. The only problem I have is with people like you,”  he pointed a finger at the man whose face was a picture of disgust, “or the headmistress, people who try to force me to dress the way they think I should. What is wrong with you all that you are prepared to resort to violence to impose your will? Why do you feel threatened by my clothes? Maybe you should analyse your own feelings of insecurity about gender before questioning mine.”

The Boy & Girl series

Boy & Girl – Imagine Peter’s delight when he finds himself in the head of a girl, he who secretly dresses as a girl. Yet, despite his wild hopes, that girl is not him. She’s Kaitlin, the daughter of a mage in a beleaguered world. Peter has his own problems when a new girl at school threatens to reveal his girly ways. Becoming friends, Kate and Peter confront their problems together.

In Search of Lost Girls – In search of Kate, his lost soul-mate, Peter is beset by individuals hell-bent on stopping him dressing as a girl and besmirching the name of all those who befriend him. Meanwhile Kate has been dumped into a girls’ orphanage where, despite constant abuse and mistreatment, she emerges as a decisive figure in the rescue of her fellow orphans.

Girl, Boy, Whatever! – Peter is confronted with an existential choice. Retain his androgynous ambiguity thanks to hormones with all the risks that entails or say goodbye to his girlish self. A forced return to England seems to have made his choice for him. Meanwhile Kate, at the head of a growing group of girls, has to stave off repeated attacks designed to keep young girls in their ‘rightful’ place. (Yet to be published)

Jean-Luc Godard remade

Version française plus bas.

Don’t let an assistant enthusiastically tell everybody how you work, especially if you are a well-known artist like Jean-Luc Godard, who has a reputation for forging new and difficult paths. It might unwittingly give an impression you don’t want given.

A revealing chat about a great man

Yesterday evening, having seen a screening of Godard’s Livre d’image organised by the ABC Cultural Centre at the Temple Allemand in a rainy Chaux-de-Fonds, I attended a conference organised by the Club 44 at which Jean-Luc Godard was to discuss his work with long-time assistant, Fabrice Aragno. Not unexpectedly, Godard was unable to attend leaving the floor free for Aragno to take us through Godard’s creative process in making his latest work. This relaxed, illustrated chat gave us a glimpse into the world of Godard that initially seduced. “So that’s why and how he did it!” It made many of the aesthetic choices comprehensible and as such was reassuring, especially for someone, like myself that had been inspired by Godard’s previous work but was perplexed if not disappointed by this latest collage.

The advantage of constraints

In a creative process, the unforeseen and the unintended can open up new avenues that can prove fruitful. What’s more, initial constraints like limits fixed by the scenario, by the process or even the equipment used, can force the creator to excel and discover new paths and move artistic expression forward. But in terms of creativity, limits are only productive if they lead to an artist breaking new ground rather than being hobbled by them.

From handicap to scratch videos

Severely limited by the technology he had available, Godard had to resort to hit and miss methods that resembled editing procedures from the early days of video art before technology made outcomes more predictable and intentions easier to comply with. Those pioneer times came to be known for their ‘scratch’ videos. The question that emerges concerning the Livre d’image is whether the resulting collage of texts read by the author and short sequences from films with abrupt changes, over-saturated images and blank holes is the work of a genius or not. Are we being subjected to a remake of the Emperor’s new clothes, or is this brilliant and moving as the woman sitting next to me at the screening insisted?

Downward money slope

Seen over a longer period, is it not possible this decline in the technological means available is due to a dilemma in money management? To finance his next film Godard sells off all the rights to his previous film, trading hypothetic on-going income for an immediately available lump sum. He also auctions his filming and editing equipment. This approach might drum up immediate funds but, given the nature of his work – the experimental approach of which limits popular appeal and consequently income – resources, including technical material, are likely to follow a longterm downward curve. Of course, poverty of means may be an artistic choice, but, given the complexity and necessary precision of Godard’s discourse, the inevitable stutters and splutters of the editing end up taking centre stage and get in the way of the work and its message. My hypothesis is that, beyond a certain point, a valiant and defiant artistic discourse cannot conceal the fact that insufficient means have a detrimental effect on the artistic quality no mater how much of a genius the artist is.

The Emperor is not without clothes but he suffers from neglect

This film raised a personal question. Could I be sure of my assessment and had I the courage to call out the Emperor in front of his court of admirers? Or would my fear of discovering I was the one without a fig leaf to my name cower me into silence? On careful reflection, however, the problem lies elsewhere. Here is a man who has devoted his life to breaking boundaries in cinema and video. His work has often been challenging but he has produced some most striking and beautiful creations. Yet he has been condemned to a slow decline as witnessed by the shrinking means he has at his disposition. I can imagine him shaking his head in denial. Some will blame him for his situation. Whereas, for all his apparent rough nature, I suspect he is victim of a larger neglect of art and artistic creation in our society. It is sad, if not enraging, to see someone of his stature obliged to jam his fingers on the play and record buttons to edit the films he desperately needs to make. Where are the Pierre Bingellis or the Jean-Pierre Beauvialas of this world to provide the necessary technical support? In other art forms funds exist to offer residencies to artist whose value is widely recognised but who otherwise could not make their art. Is it not time to recognise Jean-Luc Godard’s contribution and offer him, at least, the modern technical means necessary to continue making his films?

Jean-Luc Godard, un remake

Ne laissez pas un assistant raconter à tout le monde votre façon de travailler, surtout si vous êtes un artiste connu comme Jean-Luc Godard, qui a la réputation de forger des chemins nouveaux et difficiles. Cela peut donner involontairement une impression que vous ne voulez pas donner.

Un discours révélateur sur un grand homme

Hier soir, après avoir assisté à la projection du Livre d’image de Godard organisée par le Centre culturel ABC au Temple Allemand dans une Chaux-de-Fonds pluvieuse, j’ai assisté à une conférence organisée par le Club 44 au cours de laquelle Jean-Luc Godard devait discuter son travail avec son assistant de longue date, Fabrice Aragno. Comme on pouvait s’y attendre, Godard n’a pas pu assister à la conférence, laissant la parole libre à Aragno pour nous guider à travers le processus créatif de Godard dans la réalisation de son dernier ouvrage. Cette discussion illustrée et détendue nous a donné un aperçu du monde de Godard qui a tout d’abord séduit. “C’est donc pour ça qu’il l’a fait!” Cela a rendu compréhensible une grande partie des choix esthétiques et était donc rassurant, en particulier pour quelqu’un, comme moi, inspiré par le travail précédent de Godard mais troublé sinon déçu par ce dernier collage.

L’avantage des contraintes

Dans un processus créatif, l’imprévu peut ouvrir de nouvelles voies qui peuvent s’avérer fructueuses. De plus, les contraintes initiales, telles que les limites fixées par le scénario, le processus ou même l’équipement utilisé, peuvent obliger le créateur à exceller, à découvrir de nouvelles voies et à faire avancer l’expression artistique. Mais en termes de créativité, les limites ne sont productives que si elles conduisent l’artiste à innover plutôt qu’à entraver son travail.

De l’handicap à des vidéos ‘raturées’

Gravement limité par la technologie dont il disposait, Godard dut recourir à des méthodes aléatoires ressemblant aux procédures de montage des débuts de l’art vidéo, avant que la technologie ne rende les résultats plus prévisibles et les intentions plus faciles à respecter. Ces temps pionniers ont fini par être connus pour leurs vidéos ‘raturées’. La question qui se pose à propos du Livre d’image est de savoir si le collage résultant de textes lus par l’auteur et de courtes séquences de films aux changements brusques, aux images sursaturées et aux trous noirs est l’œuvre d’un génie ou non. Sommes-nous en train de refaire Les nouveaux vêtements du roi ou est-ce brillant et émouvant selon les dires de la femme assise à côté de moi lors de la projection?

Une pente descendante

Vu sur une période plus longue, n’est-il pas possible que ce déclin des moyens technologiques disponibles soit dû à un dilemme dans la gestion de l’argent? Pour financer son prochain film, Godard vend tous les droits du film précédent, en échangeant un revenu hypothétique à long terme contre une somme forfaitaire immédiatement disponible. Il met également aux enchères son matériel de tournage et de montage. Cette approche peut générer des fonds immédiats mais, étant donné la nature de son travail – l’approche expérimentale limitant l’attrait au public et, par conséquent, le revenu – les ressources, y compris le matériel technique, suivront probablement une courbe descendante à long terme. Bien sûr, la pauvreté des moyens peut être un choix artistique, mais compte tenu de la complexité et de la précision nécessaire du discours de Godard, les inévitables bégaiements du montage finissent par prendre le devant de la scène et entravent l’oeuvre et son message. Mon hypothèse est qu’au-delà d’un certain point, un discours artistique aussi vaillant et provocant soit-il ne peut dissimuler le fait que des moyens insuffisants ont un effet néfaste sur la qualité artistique, peu importe le génie de l’artiste.

Le roi n’est pas sans vêtements, mais il souffre de néglecte

Ce film a soulevé une question personnelle. Pourrais-je être sûr de mon évaluation et aurais-je le courage de mettre en cause le Roi devant sa cour d’admirateurs? Ou est-ce que ma peur de découvrir que je suis celui qui n’a pas de feuille de vigne allait me faire taire? Après mûre réflexion, le problème est ailleurs. Voici un homme qui a consacré sa vie à repousser les frontières du cinéma et de la vidéo. Son travail a souvent été difficile, mais il a réalisé des créations les plus frappantes et les plus belles. Pourtant, il a été condamné à un lent déclin, comme en témoigne la diminution des moyens dont il dispose. Je peux l’imaginer en train de secouer la tête en signe de déni. Certains vont le blâmer pour sa situation. Alors que, malgré son air inabordable, je le soupçonne d’être victime d’une négligence plus large de l’art et de la création artistique dans notre société. Il est triste, sinon enrageant, de voir quelqu’un de sa stature obligé de presser simultanément les boutons ‘play’ et ‘enregistrer’ pour éditer les films qu’il a désespérément besoin de faire. Où sont les Pierre Bingellis ou les Jean-Pierre Beauvialas de ce monde pour fournir le support technique nécessaire? Dans d’autres formes d’art, des fonds existent pour offrir des résidences à des artistes dont la valeur est largement reconnue mais qui, autrement, ne pourraient pas créer leur art. N’est-il pas temps de reconnaître la contribution de Jean-Luc Godard et de lui offrir, au moins, les moyens techniques modernes nécessaires pour continuer à faire ses films?

On the wings of fantasy

(Traduction française plus bas)

I chose to use the above photo as the new header for my Author’s Notes blog because it fills me with an immense joy but also a great sadness. It is a photo I snapped during the 2019 Fête des Vignerons in Vevey. Julie, the young girl who threads her way through the many musical tableaux that make up the festivities, is initiated into flying by a fairy godmother. At least, that is how I interpret what I saw. A benevolent young woman who takes a girl under her wing and encourages her to launch into the air, into an imaginary world where everything is possible and in so doing become a magical fairy herself. I relish the sheer joy of flying as the girl soars over a make-believe world, her dress fluttering about her like the plumage of a beautiful bird. As I watch, it is as if my soul soars with her. In that youthful flight lies my joy. But that joy goes hand in hand with a heart-felt yearning tinged with sadness, for deep down I long to be young again, to soar high above the world, to experience the impossible, to be her. 

Sur les ailes de la fantasie

J’ai choisi d’utiliser la photo ci-dessus comme nouvel en-tête du blog Notes d’un auteur car elle me remplit d’une joie immense mais aussi d’une grande tristesse. C’est une photo que j’ai prise lors de la Fête des Vignerons 2019 à Vevey. Julie, la jeune fille qui se fraye un chemin à travers les nombreux tableaux musicaux qui composent les festivités, est initiée au vol par une fée marraine. Au moins, c’est comme cela que j’interprète ce que j’ai vu. Une jeune femme bienveillante qui prend une fille sous son aile et l’encourage à se lancer dans les airs, dans un monde imaginaire où tout est possible et ainsi devenir une fée magique elle-même. Je savoure la joie de voler alors que la fille survole un monde imaginaire, sa robe flottant autour d’elle comme le plumage d’un bel oiseau. Pendant que je regarde, c’est comme si mon âme s’envolait avec elle. Ma joie réside dans ce vol de jeunesse. Mais cette joie va de pair avec un désir ardent empreint de nostalgie, teint de tristesse, car au fond de moi, je désire être jeune à nouveau, planer au-dessus du monde, faire l’expérience de l’impossible, être elle.

Out of chaos, a new gender paradigm?

I am currently half way through writing a new novel in the Boy & Girl Saga entitled Girl, Boy or Whatever. The following article inspired by Chaos Theory takes a different look at gender and healing as part of the reflection behind the new book.

From waking to sleep

Let’s begin with sleeping and waking. It is relatively easy to wake a sleeping person. Moving the other way is less easy. How do you fall asleep? If you are wide awake, sleep seems almost unattainable. If you are tired or drowsy, sleep is much easier to reach. In fact it calls to you and the closer you get the more irresistible it becomes. Till finally you have to fight not to drift off. It is almost as if sleep were like a magnet. So you have two very different but related states, both anchored in tangible bodily reactions, which draw you all the more strongly the closer you get. If you get too close, you are pulled in and held captive by that state until something happens to jolt you out of it. Looking at the phenomenon in more abstract terms, you are continually in a delicate state of equilibrium (whether awake or asleep) that could swing to the other state but doesn’t immediately do so because the current state exerts an attraction holding you in place. However that attraction rapidly diminishes the further you move away.

Multiple forms of gender?

Now here’s the major question. Given the licence that fiction allows, what if gender as laid out in the blueprint of each cell and expressed in the form of our bodies and the perceptions we have of ourselves were a similar phenomenon? What if the current binary gender set-up were only one of many possible forms? What if, given the right conditions, we could switch from one gender form to another, without the aid of drugs or the surgeon’s scalpel? Admittedly it would seem that the attraction of the rigid binary form we are familiar with is particularly strong, giving the impression it is the (only) natural state of affairs.  However, in an increasing number of cases the human body has adopted more flexible forms. This variation is all the more pronounced if we consider only people’s perceptions of their gender rather than their physical attributes.

Mind over matter

Why does our current dominant form of binary gender seem ineluctable? It is tempting to reply, because it is inscribed in the blueprint of our cells and consequently in the physical form we take. But if we examine the question more closely, this argument hinges on the primacy we grant to matter over mind. What if mind could shape matter? What if our perception of gender, seen as a far more fluid way of being, could have an influence on the blueprint itself and bring about changes in our bodies to align them to the way we perceive ourselves?

Switching forms of gender

In my series of novels Boy & Girl, the whole system of healing developed by the young protagonists is founded on the premise that mind can influence matter, that a healer can intervene to encourage the body to return to a healthy equilibrium by favouring the natural harmony and balance reflected in the cell’s blueprint rather than intervening from the outside, as modern medicine does, with drugs, rays and a scalpel. In other words, healing is achieved by strengthening the attraction of a natural healthy state as expressed in that underlying blueprint. Having ventured so far, the inevitable next step is to ask if mind can shift the body from one blueprint to another, from one relatively stable state of gender to a different one? Although such a move also relies on the primacy of mind over mater, doing so is not at all identical to the young people’s healing method. It requires changing the blueprint rather than strengthening it. Being able to do so would solve Peter’s dilemma of how to hold on to the apparent androgyny of prepubescence without suffering the long-term undesirable effects of blocking puberty or needing a surgical intervention. It could potentially do much more. It could enable his body to align with that wished-for, in-between state by being both boy and girl.

Gender as a social phenomenon

By concentrating on the cell’s blueprint and implicitly the primacy of matter over mind, we fail to take into consideration a major factor. Gender is very much a social phenomenon. The binary gender system we are familiar with is firmly anchored not just in a biological reality, but also in a web of social interactions and shared perceptions. If Peter were to manage to shift to a different gender configuration by changing the form of his body, growing breasts for example while retaining his penis, he would find himself at odds with the dominant social perception of gender as a rigid binary division. He would likely be the target of violent rejection if not outright attempts at eliminating him as an aberration. Attempts to modify the underlying blueprint for gender and its impact on the body would have to go hand-in-hand with efforts to transform the social perception of gender. The novels are set in 1960 when ideas of sex and gender were even more rigid than today. Nowadays, considerable advances have been made in a number of countries towards a more fluid vision of gender.

Pandora’s box?

Whatever the outcome of Peter’s fictional endeavours, a major ethical and practical preoccupation remains. His strivings are centred on the transformation of gender by intervening on the body’s blueprint. But there is nothing to stop those discoveries being used to modify other bodily features, opening the way to eugenics. That spectre alone and society’s likely abhorrence might well put an end to experiments like those of Peter and like-minded people, if ever they became known. Of course, aware that these different ‘sets’ of instructions dictating the form of life in a human body are the result of a delicate equilibrium, it is possible that many of the nightmares that fans of eugenics might dream up would not be stable and their corresponding life-forms unviable. Such a reliance on a higher force, embedded as it were in a ‘code’ of life that rules out aberrations, although appealing, is probably over-naive.

The Boy & Girl series

Boy & Girl – Imagine Peter’s delight when he finds himself in the head of a girl, he who secretly dresses as a girl. Yet, despite his wild hopes, that girl is not him. She’s Kaitlin, the daughter of a mage in a beleaguered world. Peter has his own problems when a new girl at school threatens to reveal his girly ways. Becoming friends, Kate and Peter confront their problems together.

In Search of Lost Girls – In search of Kate, his lost soul-mate, Peter is beset by individuals hell-bent on stopping him dressing as a girl and besmirching the name of all those who befriend him. Meanwhile Kate has been dumped into a girls’ orphanage where, despite constant abuse and mistreatment, she emerges as a decisive figure in the rescue of her fellow orphans.

Girl, Boy, Whatever! – Peter is confronted with an existential choice. Retain his androgynous ambiguity thanks to hormones with all the risks that entails or say goodbye to his girlish self. A forced return to England seems to have made his choice for him. Meanwhile Kate, at the head of a growing group of girls, has to stave off repeated attacks designed to keep young girls in their ‘rightful’ place. (Yet to be published)

Still life – what an odd expression

Still Life

Still life, what an odd expression. Life is constant movement. We cannot escape it, even if we sometimes long for peace and quiet when the agitation becomes too much. Stillness, the absence of movement, comes only when life is no more, when our heart ceases to beat.

Symbolically this dried-up bouquet, its desiccated flowers falling to the floor as the water that maintains a semblance of life evaporates, really is a ‘still life’, an incarnation of death in life. Even the colours are washed out and fading fast. What more appropriate place than (the hotel) Eden, the paradise outside life with its once untapped potential waiting to be released now in the last throes of decay, to house such a paradoxical work of art.

Despite knowing there can be no life without death, we cling to life in our fear of death. The final moment when we pass from one to the other is a line our current consciousness cannot cross. For all our imaginings, both reassuring and terrifying, the other side must remain unknown till we traverse that frontier. Maybe that if why this still life, for all its beauty, is so terrifying.

The inseparable pair

woman-man

“When I look at a girl, all the girl’s in the choir, for example, what strikes me is that being a girl comes natural to them. They don’t have to think about it. It’s what they are. If I were a girl like them there would be nothing special in dressing or acting as one. But for me there is something special about being a boy who dresses as a girl. I’m attracted to girls, I identify as a girl, I feel like a girl, especially when I’m dressed as one, but I am not prepared to go the whole road and become a girl. In a strange way, that ambivalence is an important part of who I am.” – Peter talking to Kate in the first chapter of Girl, Boy, Whatever!

As I embark on a third book in the Boy & Girl series, Girl, Boy, Whatever! I cannot help but revisit the way the ineluctable pair boy-girl or male-female necessarily orients all questions of gender, even for those who refuse the division. I hesitated a long time about writing a follow-up to In Search of Lost Girls. Why? Because the older Peter gets, the greater the pressure on him to chose between girl or boy when in fact he would prefer to put off that choice for ever. Unlike his namesake, Peter Pan, he has no NeverNever Land to fly away to, outside time, where he can remain eternally young, basking in the gender ambiguity that pre-adolescence affords. He has bought some time by living with the Lost Girls in Lucern and by the use of experimental hormones, like magical fairy dust that spares him from becoming a man. But that borrowed time cannot last. Especially as other forces conspire to oblige him to return to England, to cease using hormones and to conform to the male body he was born with. In 1960, when the story takes place, people were even less tolerant than today. A boy became a man. That was that. A boy who dressed as a girl was not only an ‘aberration’, but a threat to the unchallenged certitude of every man about his gender.

A brief detour via China

The left hand is cupped, palm upwards. At a casual glance it appears empty, neglected, insignificant even, yet, rather like the silence that whispers all secrets, it is full to the brim, pregnant with energy. The right hand is raised, in motion, slicing through the air, powerful, dynamic, determined, the fruit of intention. It attracts attention. It makes a statement that forces admiration. Yet, paradoxically, in that assertion it is spent and in need of replenishment. In Chinese lore, the former is yin, the latter yang. Female and male. Neither can exist separately. Without the overflowing energy of stillness, the arrow of movement cannot fly. Returning to the Western world, the vision is different. Male and female lead no such inseparable coexistence. On the contrary, they are distinct if not antagonistic.

The words we use

Female and male. The two permeate our way of seeing the world. They underlie our language, our thoughts, our being. In Western thinking, we see them as separate, distinct. She or he. Certain religions make a doctrine of what they see as the god-given distinction between the two. They even go so far as to use brute force or torture to ‘rectify’ any confusion or ambiguity.

Language gives us only ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘it’. However, the word ‘it’ conjures up not so much the ‘in between’ or ‘indeterminate’, an alternate, multiple gender, rather the inanimate, the neutral, the neuter, the genderless. Various recent linguistic constructs seek to propose alternatives, but they lack the adhesion and ease of use of the existing personal pronouns. Like water, language invariably flows in beds born out of long use and as such work against change and transformation. In addition, the paths followed often depend on the language spoken.

The other side of the Channel

In French, every object, every noun is either masculine or feminine. A dress is feminine, ‘sa robe’, whether it is worn by a boy or a girl. The gender of the object masks the gender of the wearer. In English, the word dress is associated with the gender of the wearer, ‘his dress’ or ‘her dress’. However, the word ‘dress’, despite the absence of an article to flag the gender, is associated with girls and women. This is also the case in French, although the gender ascribed to words is often arbitrary.

Contrary to what one crossdresser said, many clothes have gender. It is the inherent feminine nature, culturally speaking, of certain clothes that makes them attractive to the crossdresser. ‘His dress’, as Peter calls it in Boy & Girl when he dons his sister’s clothes, immediately signifies a transgression which if translated into French would require a circumlocution to express. To what extent do these differences in language colour our attitude and understanding of gender? More generally, how does the deep-seated division perceived between what it means to be a man or a woman influence our perception of the world? Does it not engender an either-or, black-white logic that carves a hard and fast line through a world that, in reality, is a multitude of shades of grey or rather a rainbow of brilliant colours? Much of the confusion lies in mistakenly thinking that gender is synonymous with sex as defined by genitalia.

A binary strike

I can’t help feeling uneasy about the idea of a women’s strike, like the one that took place recently in Switzerland. Not that I question the need for political action to redress the balance between women and men. There is an absurdity if not a violence in the feeling of superiority that many men bask in and the advantages they take for granted. Yet all those for whom the clear-cut division between male and female is problematic must necessarily feel uncomfortable with a women’s movement that gets its identity from that very division. One of the participants at the demonstration had put on his best dress, high heels and makeup to support the cause. What better way to show your solidarity than by dressing to celebrate your womanhood? Yet, in reality, her presence was frowned upon by a number of women present, or at best ignored as an unfortunate embarrassment. Why? Because that ambiguity is seen to challenge the clear-cut division between man and woman on which the movement is founded. When you are trying to make a point, as the women’s strike was seeking to do, clear-cut arguments and easily identified divisions are more readily communicated and defended. Nuance and ambiguity are necessarily weaknesses in a polarised political landscape. The would-be woman completely misjudged the situation. What she saw as an occasion to proclaim her attachment to femininity, was in fact a political movement opposing men and women in a struggle for domination which had no time and place for expressions of gender ambiguity.

The Boy & Girl series

Boy & Girl – Imagine Peter’s delight when he finds himself in the head of a girl, he who secretly dresses as a girl. Yet, despite his wild hopes, that girl is not him. She’s Kaitlin, the daughter of a mage in a beleaguered world. Peter has his own problems when a new girl at school threatens to reveal his girly ways. Becoming friends, Kate and Peter confront their problems together.

In Search of Lost Girls – In search of Kate, his lost soul-mate, Peter is beset by individuals hell-bent on stopping him dressing as a girl and besmirching the name of all those who befriend him. Meanwhile Kate has been dumped into a girls’ orphanage where, despite constant abuse and mistreatment, she emerges as a decisive figure in the rescue of her fellow orphans.

Girl, Boy, Whatever! – Peter is confronted with an existential choice. Retain his androgynous ambiguity thanks to hormones with all the risks that entails or say goodbye to his girlish self. A forced return to England seems to have made his choice for him. Meanwhile Kate, at the head of a growing group of girls, has to stave off repeated attacks designed to keep young girls in their ‘rightful’ place. (Yet to be published)

Out and about: an author’s tale

“…you can’t sit around and wait for someone to discover you…” Olafur Arnalds, composer.

As an independent novelist, one of the major dilemmas – rather like the young Arnalds seeking to get his compositions played having not followed the traditional channels for a would-be composer – was that her novels only made sense if they were (widely) read. An ‘unfortunate’ corollary of which was that she couldn’t just bask in the pleasure of writing, but had to step out and get people to read them.

There were so many novels out there, some brilliant, others less so, begging to be read. She didn’t want to join the hoards clamouring to sell their wares. Not that she thought her novels were unworthy, on the contrary, but mercilessly plugging them would not only belittle her, she reckoned, it would devalue the books she had worked so hard to write and publish.

She had tried several times to court an agent and go down the traditional publishing route, but she’d had no success. So few authors were chosen and the curt replies, if ever she got them, were demoralising. She didn’t want to be discouraged from writing. It was her biggest joy in life. She told herself she’d be better off without an agent. She didn’t want to have to shoe-horn her work into pre-defined formats or toe the line to anticipated market trends. What’s more, she was impatient. Going through an agent and a publisher would mean delaying the release of her books for several years.

She maintained an eager online presence, as all aspiring authors were encouraged to do, and she was proud of what she’d achieved, but it rarely sold any of her books. In reality, she came to realise that platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter were stacked against her. They were only interested in locking users in while garnering as much saleable information about them as possible. Understandably, when every other post was a disguised promotional message, people’s engagement was rarely more than superficial as they shied away from all attempts to sell.

She sighed. The whole prospect was so gloomy. Whichever way she turned, the path was blocked. Suddenly she gasped, slapping the flat of her hand against her forehead with a resounding clack. She’d taken her experience of publishing at face value. What if she were telling herself a story? ‘Just’ a story. The thought had her feeling giddy. If it were a story, that would mean she could rewrite it…

Chimera: out now!

Chimera, a novel by Alan McCluskey. 412 pages, published May 2019.

Imagine you awake to find yourself sharing the body of a twelve-year-old boy. It’s bad enough that you are a girl, but, what’s more, he is autistic, cut off from the world, unable to coordinate many of the simplest movements, let alone express himself. Not that he is inarticulate. He’s a real poet, a wordsmith in his head. He showers you with colourful abuse in an attempt to drive you out. Luckily, you do not suffer the same handicaps. Instead, you are plagued by vivid dreams of the fall of Atlantis and a painful sense of failure, as if it was your fault you couldn’t save that world.

As you ward off the boy’s attacks, you are forced to survive in a world ruled by giant pharmaceutical companies where all natural food has been banished, replaced by government-approved pills. The sinister food police scour the land in search of those growing food and summarily execute them. And they are after you. Not that you have planted crops, but there’s a rumour that you might be a long-awaited saviour come to set the world right…

Find out more about Chimera, get sample chapters or buy a copy here.

What if? The telling of stories

Life is made up of stories. The ones we are told. The ones we tell ourselves. The ones that tell themselves. But above all, the ones we live. They are the building blocks with which we make sense of ourselves and the world. They govern our waking day. They people our dreams. They range from highly personal to overarchingly collective. As light as wisps of mist, they creep up on us, curling around our thoughts, surprising us, alarming us, delighting us. Or as stubborn as a brick wall, they stop us in our tracks, astounded, infuriated or at a loss about what to do next. Try to imagine a world without stories. That in itself would be a story. And what a story! Or would it? How on earth do you tell a story of a world without stories?

Modern media are feeding us stories, trying subtly, or less so, to affect the way we see the world, the way we act and above all, what we buy or what we vote. The star newscasters. The television hosts. The help-yourself streaming sites. The friendly web platforms where our friends congregate. The familiar podcasts. The drooling advertisers. The fervant opinion makers. The political pundits. The technical advocates. The all-knowing experts. A glorious cacophony echoed in the chatter of our neighbours. our colleagues and even the passing strangers. As the credits scroll up at the end of the series and we hesitate about what to watch next, doubt creeps in. A rogue story in the making. What if? What if this plethora of stories told for our benefit by others were a barrage to the emergence of our own stories. Like a constant noise that drowns out our troublesome thoughts but also stops us piecing together our own tale.

And when we do get to develop our own stories, what is to stop us sliding off the rails? Cut off from the so-called real world. Told only for ourselves, stories can be pretty paltry if not downright dangerous. Stories scaffolded in isolation are a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Pushing your story out there for all to hear is risky too. Intolerance and judgement abound. And what if your story really isn’t well told? We might all be, by nature, storytellers, but stories, like language, have structures, codes, internal organisation. Most of the time we are unaware we are telling stories. We take it for granted. It’s self-evident. Like thinking. Who would need to learn to think? In reality, few people are good at telling stories. Just listen to two kids on the bus describing a conversation they had.

So where does that leave us? Aware that stories are omnipresent and make sense of the world. Knowing that the many, many stories we are told seek to influence us. Realising that the battery of stories constantly flung at us tends to cut us off from our own stories. Our stories only become meaningful when we risk telling them to others. To tell stories well requires critical thought and practice but also the ability to listen for the essential in the stories of others.

Girls can and will save the world

Girls can and will save the world. Such was the conviction that inspired Chimera, a tale unfolding against the real-life backdrop of anxiety about the disastrous impact of increasingly unhealthy industrial food and the rampant abuse of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, antidepressants and painkillers. The scene set, giving form to Chimera took unexpectedly long. I embarked on the book in February 2014 only to decide, a third of the way through, to retrace my steps and begin again. A tough decision when you have already written over forty-thousand words. In my approach to novel writing, being convinced of the story is key. It is the force that motivates me to continue telling it. 

I enlisted the clear-sighted advice of Emjay Holmes about the initial chapters and I am very grateful for her input. A few chapters were read and discussed in critiquing sessions in the Geneva Writers Group. Thanks go to those members who attended and particularly to Susan Tiberghien for chairing the sessions. I finally finished the first version a year and a half later, in September 2015. 

Editing the draft was halted by health problems. Heartfelt thanks for their care and attention go to the staff at the Inselspital and Pourtales Hospital as well as Dr Nathalie Calame, our family doctor. Ill-health, however short-lived, brings with it a feeling of vulnerability. It heightened the urgency to make my stories available to readers.

Back on my feet, I set aside the draft of Chimera and prepared In Search of Lost Girls for publication. The writing of five other novels (World o’Tales, Forget Me Not, Stories People Tell, People of the Forest and Local Voices) filled the interim before I finally picked up Chimera again, in March 2019, delighted at what I (re)discovered. Preparation for its publication is now complete and the novel should be available in the coming month.

For more information about Chimera including sample chapters click here.