2018 – The Year When Everything Changes

For a while there, I was thinking of changing the name of this blog to The View From The Bunker.  On a personal and professional level, 2017 was all-round great, if not one of the best for a while.  But…you know…out there in the world…

Now, stuffed full of turkey and mince pies and brimming with martini and champagne, I feel a bit more optimistic.  Still, whichever way you look at it, this year is going to be another one where Big Things Happen.  No point trying to ignore it.

Everything is connected.  Outside/inside.

On that theme, I plan to be writing a lot more here.  For a while, I’ve wanted to pass on what I’ve learned about the writing world.  How to go about making a living from novels and TV and film and journalism, say.  Because when momentous events are occurring out there, it’s also a good time to shake up your own life.  If you’ve ever wanted to walk away from the mundane world of 9-to-5, to carve out the existence you’ve always dreamed for yourself, now’s the time.

One thing the current Age of Upheaval has taught us is that time is running fast, life is short, and there’s no point counting on the status quo to see you through.  The people who win big are those who take calculated risks.  There won’t be a better time to reimagine who you are and what you do.

I’ll be talking about all that here.  Maybe you’ll pick up something that might help you.

My own work-front is looking pretty crammed.  I have three TV series in various stages of development with major broadcasters, and a movie script underway.  Can’t say any more about any of those right now.

There’s a new book out from my pseudonym, James Wilde, in July:

The paperback edition of Pendragon is out in March:

And various foreign editions all hit the shelves across the globe.  For a while, I’ve kept the “Mark Chadbourn” name just for screenwriting, but this year I’ll be publishing something under that moniker which will appeal to Age of Misrule fans.

And in the summer, I’m being inflicted on the poor students and conference visitors at the University of Oxford, talking about fantasy, Tolkien, writing and more.

Hold on tight. 2018 is going to be epic in all the right ways, if you decide to make it so.

The Grenfell Tower Blaze And The End Of Politics As We Know It

Everything has changed.  That’s how it feels in London right now, not a million miles away from the tower block catastrophe that has horrified the world.  I’ve never experienced such rage against politicians, from all parties.

This disaster should never have happened.

In an age of tragedies, what happened at Grenfell Tower has hit home in a visceral way.  The death count continues to rise – it could reach 150 – but the shock lies in the way those people died.  Grenfell resonates as a symbol of the malaise that grips the 21st century world.  Where money counts more than human beings.  Where the people we elevate to guide and protect us are incompetent, venal, or simply not up to the job, however well-intentioned.  Where it’s possible to make decisions without caring about the consequences.  This is the age of the shrug and move on.

No longer.  Prime Minister Theresa May – who seems to have a problem with empathy – was led away from a crowd of angry residents by her bodyguards. But so was London Mayor Sadiq Khan from the rival Labour Party.  And new Labour MP for Grenfell’s Kensington constituency, Emma Dent Coad , was attacked by residents for trying to blame the Conservatives when it emerged that as a councillor she sat on the committee which scrutinised the inferior work on the tower block that led to the fire.

You can hear it on the tube, in the pubs, everywhere you go.  People have had enough.  After the Brexit referendum, the Scottish referendum, years of austerity, and multiple elections, there’s a growing feeling that politicians are part of the problem not the solution.  Disrupting lives for ideological reasons, throwing the country into chaos for no obvious reward, dividing communities and families and friends, and leaving a trail of misery in their wake. Hobbyists who love the cut and thrust of the grand game while everyone else pays the price.  All parties, all politicians.  No one escapes the judgment.

Something has to change.  And if this mood continues on the streets of Britain, it will change, and fast.

 

The Swords Of Albion Redux

When you write a series of fantasies about swashbuckling Elizabethan spies, you don’t expect them to take on a contemporary relevance.  But here we are.

Elizabeth is on the throne.  A technology boom is underway.  We have a flowering of the arts and a rapidly growing capital city.

There’s talk of buccaneering trade deals.

And now…war with Spain?

It’s the sixteenth century all over again.

As yet no supernatural enemies besieging Britain, and I’m still looking for our Christopher Marlowe, who appears in book two.  See for yourself how little has changed in four hundred and fifty years.  You can sample the books here:

The Sword of Albion

The Scar-Crow Men

The Devil’s Looking Glass

The ‘Elite’ Should Speak Out

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The debate rolls on.  Is the problem with Donald Trump that he’s a pretty terrible person, or is the problem not about Donald Trump at all – that there’s actually something rotten at the heart of America that he’s bringing out of the shadows?

Most of the attacks throughout this long election campaign have been directed at the candidate and not at the source of the unpleasant views to which he gives a face, the very root of his support.  Critics steer clear of making a fundamental challenge for a variety of reasons, but a big part is guilt, middle-class guilt (if you’re in the UK), the guilt of those who are doing okay in the world.

They’ve been branded the ‘elite’ and told they don’t have a right to speak out because they’re not poor and they’ve not been dealt a tough hand in the game of life so they don’t understand the hard choices that shape this ‘authentic voice’ of the downtrodden. And because the privileged – the university-educated, doing okay – tend to care about these things, and honestly feel a little guilty at their privilege, they go along with this argument.

Yet the attack is not directed at an ‘elite’ which is simply rich – in fact, it’s often people who are very well off who are using ‘elite’ as a pejorative.  No, ‘elite’ in this context means better educated, and the sub-text is: don’t come here with your facts, statistics and evidence – they might stop me voicing my deeply-held prejudices.

But there’s a warning here from the UK.

The attack on the educated was a fundamental part of the Brexit campaign by the Leave team who didn’t want facts getting in the way of their, shall we say, ’emotional’ appeals.  But in light of their victory, that worldview has now become mainstream and it’s being used to unleash a great deal of nastiness – racism, violent attacks, suppression of facts and those who speak out in opposition to their agenda.

Racist attacks on citizens have soared since Brexit, hundreds reported all over the country, mostly in white working class communities.  The Hard Right is now fighting hard to deny this as a myth, one started by those who wanted to stay in the EU, much like some of those shadowy people behind Trump claim many of the factual attacks on the candidate and his views are also myths.  “Mostly debunked.”

Trump has unleashed the same wave of unpleasantness in America, coming from a similar source, and it’s not going to go away when he does.

You can’t change things by example.  America elects a black president and racism increases.  Elect a female president and the problems women face are likely to be exacerbated too.  Because the unpleasantness that lies behind this is emotional and deeply-felt.

Some things are open to debate, and some things are just wrong.  Tolerance should only go so far.  Ignorance is not an excuse, and challenges need to be made.  If they don’t, oft-repeated views stop being beyond the pale.  They just become normal.

William Poundstone, the author of Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy To Look Up, ran many surveys and interviewed a huge number of people.  One dilemma he posed was: would you throw your pet off a cliff for a $1 million?

About 7% of people said yes.  But the percentage was double that amount among the poorly educated.  Poundstone said, in an article in The Observer, that his findings showed, “the less informed are either greedier or less kind to animals.”  But it didn’t end there.  Those who didn’t know the name of their elected representative were more likely to say it was okay for businesses to post fake online reviews under fake names.  Those who can’t answer easy questions about dinosaurs have a poor grounding in science and can’t form good opinions about, say, vaccinations, even with Google to help them.

Poundstone says, “Knowledge is not wisdom, but it’s a pre-requisite for wisdom.”

If people aren’t told that they’re wrong, if they’re not pushed back at every turn, those unpleasant ideas take root and flourish.  The danger for the ‘elite’ is that by allowing themselves to be silenced, they will allow a worldview that they long thought defeated to become mainstream.

Being educated is not wrong, it’s a boon to society, and with it comes a responsibility that it needs to be used, in public, against the accusations of ‘talking down’, to create a society we can all be proud of.

The Third World War Is Beginning In The Background

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Away from the clown show that is Trump’s presidential bid, the ludicrousness of post-Brexit debate and the self-immolation of the Labour Party, an important event slipped by.

It wasn’t flashy – that’s the key for traction in modern media – but the US’ public accusation that Russia was trying to interfere in the coming election was unprecedented.  In years past, the intelligence services would never have openly flagged up Russian involvement in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee servers to sow chaos and try to get a win for Trump, an ‘admirer’ of Putin.  That they now feel forced to do so shows how much things have escalated.

The key to understanding Russia under Putin is not to see it as a country in the democratic tradition with which we’re all familiar.  Imagine it more as that part of New Jersey ruled over by Tony Soprano and the mob.  Thanks to Wikileaks, we know the US has long considered Russia a Mafia state, where the rule of law does not apply to people at the top.  If you fail, or offend, or break the code, you’re more likely to get rubbed out Soprano-style than sacked.

This is the calculation Vladimir Putin continually has to make.  He can’t be seen to fail.  Nor can he be seen to back down.  Both paths will result in defenestration with extreme prejudice.  His invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine was designed to draw attention away from major economic failings.  It only made things worse.  Western sanctions hobbled the economy further.  But he can’t pull out his backing for the Ukraine resistance to put things right.  That would be failure.

The only way forward is something bigger, to distract attention from the economy *and* Ukraine.  And so: Syria.  Russia jumping with both feet into the barrel of dynamite that is the Syrian civil war was supposed to be a mark of prestige.  They can still ‘get things done’, unlike the US.  They’re not a failing power that can’t make anything the world needs – they have a sphere of influence.  They talk, very loudly, people listen.

Russia came in on the side of the beleaguered President Assad, a long time ally, and took a stance in direct opposition to the West’s strategic aims.  By saying one thing and doing another, it has disrupted the plans of the US and its allies.  It’s behind the bombing of aid convoys, most western intelligence services believe, and now it’s about to move in a battery of S300 air defence missiles, which could cause carnage when the skies are thick with US planes.

There is no plan, only the illusion of a plan for the consumption of his domestic critics.  Look over here!  No, look over there!  Ukraine!  Syria!  The US elections!  Misdirection as a strategy is not sustainable.  The only way Putin can maintain his position – and perhaps even his life – is escalation, each newer, bigger outrage wiping out memories of the last failure.

But like the noise made by a mouthy drunk in a bar, there’s a point where everyone decides they’re not going to sit back and take it any more.  NATO has to step up or lose the potency it needs to keep Russia contained.  What will trigger a confrontation?  A Russian attack on Estonia and the Baltic States?  A ‘skirmish’ on the Polish border?

US-Russia relations are worse than at any time since the Cold War, and some analysts believe that this is absolutely the start of Cold War mk II.  But that concept of a frozen conflict only works if both sides make rational, strategic calculations. If it’s personal, if one of the players only wants to keep his job/head on his neck, than no other outcome matters, even if it’s destruction on a grand scale.

Now: who do you want in the White House?

Me On AppleNews

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If you have an IOS device, you can now get updates from this site on AppleNews – all beautifully formatted with gleaming images. None of that old-fashioned going to a website stuff or creaking RSS.

Go into AppleNews on your phone or tablet, search for my name, click the + sign to add my channel and you’ll get everything I write seconds after it appears here.

The only thing that could be better is if I hand-delivered it to your door.

Look For Me On Apple News

I’ve been approved as a publisher on Apple News, the new news-aggregating app that will soon be launching on all Apple devices.  It’ll bring together material from major mainstream sources – the New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Vice – and material from independents and bloggers.  The latter sets it apart from what Flipboard does, which is a great news aggregator that I’ve used for a while.

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At the very basic level, you’ll be able to follow updates on this site.  But I’ll be doing other things too.

Before I became a full-time writer – books and screen – I used to be a journalist.  You could find my work in The Guardian, The (London) Times, The Telegraph and some of the leading magazines, in the UK and in the US.  Once you’ve worked in that sphere, you never lose the addiction to things happening out in the real world.  And now that they’re happening faster than ever, reportage has never been more exciting.  I plan to be writing a lot more comment and reporting on things that interest me.  If you like the books, if you like the TV and film stuff, you’ll probably like this.

I already publish occasionally on Medium, which is a great platform and brings in lots of readers.

Most people these days don’t go to one source.  The future isn’t the BBC or The Guardian or the Washington Post, because one source can’t be comprehensive in the 21C.  It’s Apple News or Facebook News or Snapchat, which bring together the news that you want.  A personalised service.  I’m interested in being a part of that.

Some people have complained about the terms and conditions.  Not a deal breaker for me, but we’ll see how this pans out in the long run.  More soon.