Event Report: Launch of “Beacons; short stories for our not so distant future” #Manchester #climate

Attention Conservation Notice: Fifty five people gathered on Thursday 7th March for the launch of “Beacons, a book of short stories for our not so distant future”. You can read MCFly’s interview with the editor or, a longer one on the Manchester Literature Festival blog. What follows is a “blow-by-blow” account of what was said, some reflections and a complete list of the works the audience recommended.

Beacons - final fianl flierCathy Bolton of Manchester Literature Festival (7th to 20th October 2013, since you ask) opened the gathering, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Cambridge St. She explained that the event was co-sponsored by Manchester Writing Centre at MMU and Steady State Manchester (1) and then handed over to the editor of the collection, Gregory Norminton,

Gregory admitted that after working on the thing for 6 years he was on the edge of tongue-tied. In his speech he said that fiction writers have problems with engaging with ecological crisis. There is a risk of piety, sombre apocalyptic talk. “Nothing is more tedious than proclaiming yourself as a prophet in your own time.”
He said there’s a dislocation – our old stories are not serving us well. When he started the project in 2007 there were not many people outside of science fiction writing on the subject. Now, with science telling us dark things, if we choose to listen, we are entering the realm of the outlandish. He recommended the collection as containing stories that are “bracing, wonderful and thrilling”.

He then handed over to Clare Dudman, who, when asked to contribute, had wanted a story with hope in it. One of her inspirations had been a photo she took in Greenland while researching a book on Alfred Wegener (“Mr Continental Drift”), who had taken a photo of the same (much bigger back then) glacier 70 years previously.

After her reading, the second author, Rodge Glass spoke. He mentioned that in the course of his research he had spoken with a Green Member of the Scottish Parliament. Rodge had asked him what made it difficult to get things done, and the MSP had emphasised the importance of having sympathy with people’s reasons (for not doing what they ‘should’).

In his reading of a portion of his short story, one of his characters tells another “your problem is not qualifications, it’s distractions.” How true

In the guided discussion after this reading, Clare Dudman, who has a scientific background, expressed that “what is happening is so scary [she] felt obliged to write about it.”

In his reading, just before a break, Gregory Norminton cheerfully admitted to “pilfering” Italo Calvino‘s “Invisible Cities”

After a break for mingling and drinking (and BUYING THE BOOK), the chairs were moved into a large circle(ish) and there was a general facilitated discussion, based on the books that people had cited as important (see below for a full list!).

Some items that weren’t mentioned in the list

Sadako and the 100 Paper Cranes (post-Hiroshima)
When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs
There was a useful comment that the pre-1968 world lacked many basic freedoms (contraception for unmarried women, for example) that we now take for granted.
The Inheritors by William Golding (Neanderthals versus Cro-Magnons)
The English language version of the song 99 Luft Balloons –

A book called Egalia’s Daughters [which sounds similar to Ursula LeGuin’s brilliant “The Left Hand of Darkness”]
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson – [the book that “launched” environmentalism]
Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Verdict: It was a welcome – and very largely successful – experiment in moving away from the “experts at the front and rows and rows of passive people” model that is the default setting for public events in Manchester. The fact that this was announced at the outset perhaps contributed to how few people left at the break – folks knew they wouldn’t be bored if they stayed, perhaps?

It could, however, have been improved even further by having people get “warmed up” for participation in a big group through talking for a few minutes in groups of three or four or five. People might then have been more willing to throw out ideas into the large group. In addition, the slips of paper which circulated could have created further prompts by asking people to talk about plays, poems, films and songs that have also been important to “how people view the world/inspire them to change”. Then we’d have had an even bigger database to be playing with. But what should not be lost sight of is that rather than take the easy route, the organisers had the diligence to expect more of themselves and offer the audience something new. More please!

Marc Hudson

(additional editing by Claire Woolley)

(1) Disclaimer – MCFly co-editors Marc Hudson and Arwa Aburawa are members of the Steady State Manchester collective

Desert island books
The Great Work by Thomas Berry gave me the feeling of being part of creation, and the right to be hopeful

Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism – a modern philosophy. Question everything, take nothing for granted, we construct and give meaning to our lives through the decisions we make, for which we must take responsibility

Gaia by James Lovelock made me consider humans and animals and the rest all together

The Farewell Glacier by Nick Drake. This collection of poems inspired by a trip to the Arctic was the first time that I realized how important other means of communicating (than science and non-fiction) could be for engaging with climate change at an emotional level

1984 by George Orwell showed me the power of society over the individual and the importance of resistance

Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power by Alistair McIntosh and The Spiral Staircase, by Karen Armstrong changed my attitude to religion

Unbowed by Wangari Maathai changed my understanding of the importance of trees and local growing

Staying Alive with Eddie McGee (post-apocalypse survival guide, but aimed at children. Made me scared of everything, but I can now snare rabbits with an unravelled jumper.

Brixton Beach by Roma Teame reinforced my belief in non-violent conflict, made me think a lot about arts as healing (and her other books) made me want to understand and read more about conflict in Sri Lanka

A Shorter Commentary on the Book of Romans by Karl Barth brought on the relief of realising my finiteness. “He is the hidden abyss but it is also that hidden heart at the beginning and end of all our journeying”

Self comes to mind by Antonio Damasio, it changed my perception and understanding of consciousness and how the structure of the brain generates it

Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach. The change was optimism/alternative vision of the future. Not just environmentally-based but political and social sustainability

Seven Habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey

Green Islam

Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness Paul Foley and Michael Symonds Roberts

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy Valuing coming together – slowly

Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin – goodbye God, hello humanity

The Drowned World by JG Ballard, – the change was more jumpers, less heating

Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappe I was quite young and hadn’t thought much about finite natural resources and how Americans’ ordinary preferences and habits (eating) affected the rest of the world. I stopped eating beef (and harangued a lot of my friends) and read more on the subject

Wilfred Owen‘s War Poems strengthened my anti-war feelings

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak made me think about the value of art and the role of artists – does a doctor make a more valuable contribution to society than a poet? How do you balance your own individual needs with the obligation to serve/be of use to wider society?

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller enabled me to discard my conventional acceptance of the establishment and belief in the goodness of empire, the great game, and ware as the “ultimate diplomacy…”

Canopus in Argos Series by Doris Lessing. Showed me how people cope with enormous change, by telling the truth, talking to one another, making relationships in spite of the hazards. The potential for loss was also highlighted

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood and The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall are both very astute and prophetic. Some things are already happening (e.g. gated communities), but time will tell how prophetic and astute or not. Women self-organising in the Lake District. Both examples of literature as prophecy…or not. Do we avert the apocalypse or be prepared to deal with it when it comes? Both include questions of feminism and self-sufficiency

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman seeing the world from the perspective of a young Ghanaian immigrant who has to navigate a terrain of poverty and gangs

The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. I was 23, just setting out. The book recast my world view

The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart. The change was to understand where I came from and where I might be going

Austerliz, Rings of Saturn et al, WG Sebald The change was to have a bit more confidence in the extended sentence which drifts with precision towards revelation. I suspect Sebald’s work has allowed me to believe that my major film project, discarded after a dozen years, could come alive on the page.

Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World by Shelia Rowbotham’s World Orders, Old and New by Noam Chomsky and The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon – I became political

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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