Who would’ve thought there could ever be a more wonderful rendition of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” than this one?
Well, Boy George has knocked it out of the park. The music video for his lush, soulful cover –a meditation on “young love in bleak Britain” starring London clubbing diva Angel Rose and alt-model Cesare Polini– is wistfully gorgeous as well.
Sharp, exuberant, funny, passionate, and radically progressive, Laurie Penny (aka Penny Red) has a lot to say, and she isn’t afraid to say it… no matter what. In early 2011, at the age of twenty-three, this English writer skyrocketed into the press with her on-the-ground, heart-in-mouth coverage of the UK student protests. Later that same year, her shrewd reportage of the NYC-based Occupy protests garnered her an even larger readership around the blogosphere, on Twitter, and via various mainstream media outlets.
Since then, Penny’s been a columnist for The New Statesman and has written several articles for The Guardian and The Evening Standard. Her first two books, Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism, and Penny Red: Notes from the New Age of Dissent, were both published in 2011 by Zero Press. Currently, she and our good chum Molly Crabapple are collaborating on an ebook project called Discordia for Random House. Penny’s also spearheading a super secret video series that will “aim to challenge contemporary debate culture” by implementing a time-honored salon format. More information on that coming soon.
I’ve been keen to interview Laurie Penny for ages. Earlier this weekend, we finally got around to talking, and talking… AND TALKING, via Gchat (she at her mum’s house in the woods somewhere in England, me at my folks’ place in the chaparral somewhere in California). In fact, we didn’t shut up for several hours. What follows is the lion’s share of that conversation, minus our occasional indecipherable segues into bat country. (Well, most of them, anyway.)
Good readers, let it be known that this transcript is quite long, so we’ve broken it up into sub-headed sections in the hopes of keeping your eyeballs from bleeding. Laurie, thanks again! Always happy to put a kettle on for you here at Coilhouse. Can’t wait to see what you and your “savage red pen of justice” get up to next!
Mer: You’re not afraid to lead with deeply personal experiences. It’s fair to say that your approach often triggers some very polarizing reactions, both positive/appreciative, and negative/dismissive. I’ve been wanting to ask you for a long time: how do you balance your openness and vulnerability with the inevitable need for thick skin and tough armor. How do you stay balanced? What’s your “safe space”, figuratively speaking?
Laurie: Well, I do get a lot of attacks – people tell me I get more and more frightening trolling even than the usual barrage of hate and intimidation and slut-shaming that any woman raising her voice above a whisper on the internet has come to expect. It’s hard, sometimes. I’ve had very dark moments with it, and I don’t know how I would have coped without my friends. I’ve always been a sensitive person. I’ve had to develop a thicker skin, but at the same time I don’t want a tough hide. I think that’s a dangerous thing for a writer, particularly now. You can get to the stage where all criticism, even the legitimate, useful kind, just bounces off you, and you ossify into a little cocoon of your own prejudices. I’ve been very close to kicking it all in several times, particularly last spring, when I had some personal threats against my family on top of the rest of it, and I was also burned out from overwork. I started wondering if the toll it was all taking was worth it, the stress and exhaustion and panic attacks. When I get very low, which happens sometimes, I often think that I’d give up and shut up like these scumbags want if I didn’t hate the idea of letting them win. But spite alone is no way to work or write if you believe in doing your own small bit to change the world.
Mer: No, it’s not.
Laurie: Part of all this is particular to the British press, too. The culture of political debate in this country is toxic right now. Has been for years. And geographically as well as figuratively, it’s a very small island. Also, it’s just that some people really hate it when young women talk about things that aren’t shoes. Not that shoes aren’t important, too! In their own way.
“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. “
Over at Lifehacker, Thorin Klosowski has written a clear and edifying overview about First Amendment rights in the US as they apply (or sometimes don’t apply) to taking pictures in a public place:
Nearly every modern phone has a camera attached to it and subsequently more and more people are taking photos in public places than ever before. The shot might be as simple as snapping a picture of a parade or as tricky as recording video of a riot. Regardless of the reasons, the rules for photographing in public places are the same.
For the most part, your right to take photographs and video in public places in the United States is protected under the First Amendment under free speech. This includes snapping pictures of your favorite monument when you’re on vacation or taking part in a little citizen journalism. It’s not as cut and dried as you may think and it’s good to know your rights and the caveats that come with them.
He links to this handy, free downloadable flyer explaining your rights when stopped or confronted for photography. Both are definitely worth checking out.
Good morning. Pretend for a moment that this is not, in fact, the Spring of 2012, but rather the Spring of 1982, now thirty years past. We’re in England. New Romance is budding. Rocky Horror is a’rockin’. The likes of Gary Numan, Spandau Ballet, and Klaus Nomi rule subterranean radio.
Under the banner of SHOCK, two young London lads with very excellent bone structure and pop ‘n’ lock skillz named Tim Dry (who would one day become Tik from the robotic mime duo Tik & Tok) and Richard James Burgess (who would go on to produce all manner of sophisti-pop) have joined forces with two young London lasses with very large hair and dovelike coos called Carole Caplin (who shall one day become far better known as the tormented fitness and fashion consultant to Tony and Cherie Blair) and Barbie Wilde (who is soon to be immortalized in celluloid as the creepyhot female Cenobite from Hellraiser II).
O frabjous day! (Callooh! Callay!) It is March 20th, 2012– the official US release date of UK-based author Nick Harkaway‘s second novel, Angelmaker.
Comrades, if you appreciate joyful and highly original storytelling, you need to pick up this book. Immediately. Trust me when I tell you that Angelmaker is easily one of the most endearing works of fiction that will be published this year… or next, for that matter.
Better yet, trust William Gibson: “You are in for a treat, sort of like Dickens meets Mervyn Peake in a modern Mother London. The very best sort of odd.” Or Tim Martin: “this is as far as it could be from the wearied tropes that dominate so much of fantasy and SF.” Or Glen Weldon: “A big, gleefully absurd, huggable bear of a novel.” Or Charles Yu: “Nick Harkaway’s novel is like a fractal: when examined at any scale, it reveals itself to be complex, fine-structured and ornately beautiful. And just like a fractal, all of this complexity and beauty derives from a powerful and elegant underlying idea.”
(Yes. YES! THIS. What they said. All of it, plus tax, and with great interest.)
Who among you has read Harkaway’s debut novel, The Gone-Away World? Those who have know what a big-hearted and ferociously intelligent storyteller he is– how he crafts narratives that defy categorization (and sometimes gravity), shunting his intricate, multi-pronged prose along at breakneck speeds. TGAW is a sprawling, surprisingly poignant hero’s epic that unfurls like a Lichtenberg figure against an unlikely backdrop of pirates, mimes, ninjas, horrific super-weapons and devastating post-apocalypse. It’s equal parts meticulous, silly, sincere, impassioned, hilarious.
The yarn of Angelmaker is made of similarly electric stuff, only spun even more finely, and woven so intricately that many passages play out like a kind of multi-layered literary sleight-of-hand: How did he do that? Within his wordplay, Harkaway ensconces acts of commensurately deft swordplay, espionage, gangbuster hijinks, and even higher fantasy. Intricate family bonds are explored and philosophical quagmires grappled with. There are trains, planes, automobiles, and submersibles. Sex! Monks! Murder! Mechanical bees! We are introduced to tragic elephants and a heroic pug. Harkaway dares us not to fall in hopelessly in love with each and every character and object and exotic locale he braids into the microcirculatory tapestry. (Bear in mind, there are thousands of distinct and lavishly described elements.)
At the golden hammering heart of the story we find Joe Spork, a lonely/adorable identity-crisis-having horologist, and Edie Banister, a ninety-year-old former superspy whose badassery transcends time and easy pigeonholing. Together –with the help of their magnificent friends/lovers/family, and thwarted by an assortment of deliciously loathsome villains– Joe and Edie must rescue the world from an antiquated doomsday device unlike anything anyone ever imagined… save for the tormented genius Frenchwoman who haplessly invented it.
It all sounds utterly absurd, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Ravishingly so.
Now. That being said, I’m delighted to present the following Coilhouse interview with Nick Harkaway, author of Angelmaker and The Gone-Away World. Huge thanks to Qais Fulton for supplying several of these questions, and downright humongous thanks to Mister Harkaway for taking the time to answer them all so thoughtfully.
Nick Harkaway. Photo by Rory Lindsay.
COILHOUSE: You were a professional screenwriter before becoming a novelist. Both The Gone Away World and Angelmaker –while infinitely more complex, dense, and multi-layered than the medium of film could ever allow for– have decidedly cinematic qualities: panoramic descriptions of places and scenes, well-paced bursts of action, crackling dialogue. Do you often find yourself pushing or pulling against that previous construct, or have you compartmentalized the two mediums? What (if any) are some of the most important tools you’ve brought with you from your screenwriting career? NICK HARKAWAY: Mostly for me the sense of the story leads the writing, so I know where I’m going and I come up with how to say it as I go. (I don’t mean that character doesn’t drive, rather than I have an overarching sense of what character and plot will do in combination, and I then have to write a line through that using the right scenes and the right language to express it. There’s a constant battle to find words and events which properly capture the concept in my head. And sometimes it turns out that the concept has conveniently ignored some logical realities and I have to bridge a gap…)
But screenwriting is a terrific base to work from. There are two gifts it gives which are obvious: if you’ve written a movie script, you know that you can finish a story. (I swear, more people get hung up on sheer terror of the long form than anything else.) And you know about concision. Every good writer I know has at one time or another worked in a field which required them to be able to express a lot in a short space, with minimal linguistic flourish. Whether that’s journalism, the civil service, the law, or something else, it’s a great discipline. I, obviously, have sort of abandoned that kind of sparse writing, at least for the moment, but that doesn’t mean I don’t benefit from it.
What pushed you to write your first novel? Was there a specific catalyst?
Yes. I was heartily sick of pitch meetings. I couldn’t stand taking another great story to someone who was fried on Starbucks’ coffee and not really paying attention and have them object to everything which was interesting about it and then complain that what was left wasn’t original enough. Or some variation on that theme. The final straw was a musketeer-ish story I wanted to write which was about a women who had, in her youth, dressed as a kind of D’Artagnan figure. She’s in middle age, her kid gets kidnapped, and she has to go back to being an adventurer – but she’s no longer a waif. She’s a farmer. She’s strong, heavy, and very obviously female. So she puts on a fake beard and decides essentially to be Porthos instead. There was all kinds of fun stuff in that story – just talking about it I want to get it out of the drawer again. Anyway, my panel of (female) execs sit through this, and at the end they say “well, it’s kinda hard to place stories with a middle-aged female lead”. And that is their entire critique apart from a nice extra kiss-off about transvestitism being hard to sell, too. And I just thought “screw this”.
This is “Pony”, a motion-sensitive kinetic sculpture by Tim Lewis. Unsettling and beautiful:
“Tim Lewis combines mechanical devices and sculpture to investigate, test and experiment with his own doubts and perception of the world.” (via)
Lewis, recently interviewed about his work by Dazed Digital, makes a compelling statement about the power inherent in tangibility:
I think that when you first approach a piece of art, and you imagine it and draw it, there’s a sense that it will always remain somewhat in your imagination. Its only when you take the 2D object and re-work it into the physical 3D world that it becomes somewhat more real. It no longer just exists in your eyes and mind, but instead has to react with the floors and walls around it in the physical world. For me, kinetic art highlights the importance of bringing both inventions and imagination into a physical existence.
Lewis’ work is regularly exhibited and promoted by the folks who run the Kinetica Museum and related events in Spitalfields, London. Their annual Kinetica Art Fair is coming up in February. As it has for the past several years, the Fair will bring together “galleries, art organisations and curatorial groups from around the world who focus on universal concepts and evolutionary processes though the convergence of kinetic, electronic, robotic, sound, light, time-based and multi-disciplinary new media art, science and technology.”
Are any of our UK readers going? Please do report back! It sounds amazing.
Katy Beveridge is the mastermind behind this surprising and gorgeous animation piece “that explores whether it’s possible to film animation in realtime.” Beveridge did a ton of research on “proto animation” (which basically means super early, basic, rudimentary animation) in modern design, and cross-referenced work by other contemporary designers using similar techniques.
“I have interviewed animators such as Jim le Fevre and in my research referenced other people using this technique such as David Wilson and Tim Wheatley who did this before me. I developed this project based on what is being done in animation right now as well as a lot of primary research into the history of animation techniques.”
Her friend Stefan Neidermeyer created the piece’s perfect soundtrack by remixing random bike noies recorded during filming.
For a limited time, Beveridge is offering heavy, glossy paper stock laser cuts of the bicycle wheel paper cuts for sale in her Etsy shop. She also co-runs the informative Londoncentric graphics/art/design blog, Freda & Franck.
Good morning, good morning, good moooorrrrrrniiiing! Have some warm (creeping) fuzzies:
Yes! It’s ye olde “Donkey Rhubarb” video! One of musician Richard D. James’, director David Slade’s, and Canary Wharf’s finest moments.
James called these charming creatures his “Rhubears”, and toted them along to several live Aphex Twin shows in the mid nineties. Via wiki: “James has also admitted to having his friends dress up as them to terrorise line-ups outside of clubs.”