Some memoirs take you places you never thought you’d go: like Marshall, Minnesota, where all there is to do is go to Walmart— unless you are Alice, her husband and her young son, who have arrived from England to pick up their surrogate baby. Once she’s born, that is.
This is no misery memoir; instead, novelist and playwright Alice Jolly explores the memoir form as a way of processing what is happening to her and those around her, exploring the strange, alien worlds of stillbirth, IVF and applications for adoption, to ask who defines what constitutes a ‘real’ woman in society today. (Answer—as it has been for centuries— largely men). Her account is heart-rending, but also full of humour and observation. It won the 2016 Pen Ackerley Prize.
All we need is you.
I am haunted by babies, dead, unborn and unclaimed. They live in a dark winter forest of silver birch trees, where the tree trunks, branchless, glisten in the moonlight…
ON the 8th of November, Friction talks are proud to host playwright and novelist Alice Jolly talking about her prize-winning memoir Dead Babies and Seaside Towns.
Jolly takes the literary memoir into new territory with her searing account of the experience of stillbirth and her journey through alternative methods of making a family, finding solace in the decaying charm of the British seaside. Dead Babies and Seaside Towns was crowd-funded through publisher Unbound and went on to win the 2016 Pen Ackerley Award, previously claimed by Alan Bennet and Jenny Diski. You can read the Guardian review of the book here.
The next Friction Talks event will be presented in association with Film Oxford, a regional hub for film and digital media, and Poppadom Pictures, East Oxford’s own neighbourhood cinema & curry club, at Film Oxford’s premises on Catherine Street on 25 May.
Kae Bahar is a Kurdish writer, actor and filmmaker who moved to London in 1993. As well as making his own films he has produced documentaries for the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Al Jazeera International, as well as performing as an actor on stage and screen.
In 2015 Kae published his first novel, Letters from A Kurd, a compelling and harrowing story about a young Kurdish boy named Marywan, who grows up oppressed by both Saddam’s murderous regime and the religious and conservative society in which he lives. Marywan’s situation is further complicated by his own fluid sexual identity and troubled family relationships. Escape into the magical world of film and his dreams of joining his hero Clint Eastwood in America are his only refuge from a brutal reality.
Kae will be talking about his novel, the first to be published by a Kurd writing in English, and also screening the short film I Am Sami, shot in Kurdistan in 2014. I Am Sami has been selected for 100 festivals around the world and won 42 awards, including 25 ‘Best Film’ and ‘Audience Choice’ awards and two for ‘Best Director’. As well making other short films, Kae has spent five months this year co-producing and co-directing The Kurdish Dream, a documentary for Al Jazeera about ISIL/Daesh and the struggle for Kurdish independence. He will begin shooting his first feature, Blindfold Shoes, in Kurdistan in Spring 2017.
Film Oxford is at 54 Catherine St, Oxford, OX4 3AH. The talk will begin at 7.00pm on 25 May. Doors open at 6.30pm. The event is free.
To see a trailer of I Am Sami, click here http://tinyurl.com/jc83lak
Friction Talks Podcast 02:
Swedish author Lina Wolff discusses her book Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs with James Attlee and Shoshana Kessler.
Listen to a podcast of the talk below, or download by pressing the arrow.
Lina Wolff in conversation with James Attlee and Shoshana Kessler, 19 April 2016: A Real Time Report
At a run-down brothel in Spain, the prostitutes are collecting stray dogs. Each is named after a famous male writer: Dante, Chaucer, Bret Easton Ellis. This is the unique world portrayed in Lina Wolff’s debut novel Brett Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs.
Translated by Frank Perry from the original Swedish and published by And Other Stories, the novel has already gathered critical acclaim, winning The English Pen Award and the VI Magazine Literature Award. It should be no surprise then that the conversation at Quarter Horse ranges from the discussion of the writer’s voice and intentions to the process of translation itself.
Lina begins by addressing the issue of being described by critics as a feminist writer. With refreshing honesty and clarity, she refutes the idea that this is an unwelcome label, instead asserting that she is “comfortable and honoured” to be considered as such. This then leads to a discussion of the relationship between character, culture and place.
Lina talks about her time living in Spain, and how she tried to reconcile her outsider identity within a society where the male and female roles are so delineated and how this subsequently influenced her writing. The direct dialogue she found characterised Spanish culture enabled her to explore male and female identity in a way that would be impossible in a more fluid society.
However, Lina does not give the female voice unfettered authority within the novel. Instead, using a Swedish expression, she describes her protagonist, the teenage Araceli, as “not the sharpest knife in the box.” She explains how this allowed her to write “gossip” rather than “truth” and it is clear that this was a source of great delight for her.
This leads to a discussion of how Arceli’s voice changed in the process of being translated. As Lina put it, she “grew up” through the translation process simply because the register of English language is subtly different from Swedish.
As the discussion continues it is obvious that form is just as important to Lina as content. She talks about how the challenge for her as a writer was to find the correct narrative point of view, and how, after much trial and error, she found the solution in a “solar system” construction, where the main character was the sun, drawing the other narrating characters into her orbit like circling planets, each with a different perspective.
The opening question from the floor is a challenging one: how did Lina feel about Sarah Perry’s review in The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/22/bret-easton-ellis-and-the-other-dogs-lina-wolff-review-novel which, amongst much praise, raised the issue of the moral and ethical rights of the author? Is it appropriate to be writing about sex work from a position of privilege? Lina’s reply was honest and direct: “As a writer you have to allow yourself ruthless freedom to create.”
I couldn’t help thinking, as the mixed audience – all ages, gender, all walks of Oxford life – chatted after the event, queuing for books to be signed before heading off to the pub together, that this was sound advice for life, as well as writing. Ruthless freedom allows us to experience the unexpected: whether in a fictional brothel or a packed coffee shop on the Cowley Road on a Tuesday evening.
Elizabeth Garner is the author of two novels, The Ingenious Edgar Jones and Nightdancing, a scriptwriter and editor for independent publisher Unbound.
Wolff’s writing has been compared to Roberto Bolano in its portrayal of the humour and bleakness that envelops everyday life. Her masterful exploration of modernity and identity, as well as the depth and strength of her female characters, sets her firmly amongst the most important European writers of today.
She will be discussing her work with author James Attlee and Shoshana Kessler, co-founder of Iris magazine. The event will take place at 7pm on 19 April at Quarter Horse (76 Cowley Road).
It could be satire. The setting: an independent artisan coffee house (‘third wave’, if you will), open late and packed full of people all waiting to listen to a talk on the importance of pretension.
And yet, this is precisely the form of pejorative assumption that Dan Fox’s new book seeks to reassess and explore.
Fox has written an extended, 176 page essay on the subject, Pretentiousness: Why It Matters, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. He’s at Quarter Horse coffee house on Cowley Road in Oxford as part of the Friction Talks 2016 season, in conversation with author James Attlee (Isolarion, Nocturne, Station to Station).
Pretentiousness, etymologically related to pretending, is more than just fakery. As Fox references in an earlier article, the original term for an actor is a ‘hypokrite’. Both linguistically and in action, pretension is a form of play. And as a comment piece in The Guardian stated plainly in 2014, ‘Everyone is totally just winging it, all of the time’. Art has utilised these aspects of human nature throughout history, so why is there this fear to admit we all pretend? A mistrust of malleability, perhaps, is simply a fear of trying.
The ideal of authenticity as something antithetical to pretension is a self-ascribed misrepresentation. Sincerity is an ‘I’ game, and pretentiousness, a ‘you’. As Fox argues, no one believes himself or herself to fall foul of legitimacy.
Mid-conversation, Attlee asks Fox why art receives the weight of this negativity, as opposed to the sciences. Why, he questions, do scientists not receive this critical furore; when they make bold claims about their plans to change the face of their field? Why is the accusation of pretension so inherently bound up with the arts?
(I think of Kanye, and his many self-comparisons to the likes of Beethoven, Picasso, Jesus.)
Fox answers that the sciences tend to bring with them a sense of justification through labour and graft, and this seems to ring true. So much of the classic attacks surrounding contemporary art and writing circle around the diatribe ‘I could have done that’. And the matter at hand with art, that is, our imagination, our emotions – these are universal, as opposed to the specialization of science. Anyone can pick up a pencil and draw. And so, the concept of a long intensive examination, somehow protects you from the sting of pretension. But it is a false sting. Fox uses a wonderful phrase, taken from Brian Eno’s A Year of Swollen Appendices, that pretension ‘is a way to be otherwise’. And to be otherwise shouldn’t be negative.
Questions are opened up to the floor. Fox is questioned on the impact of religion, gender, academia, and their relation to pretentiousness. Pretension – like other vaguities of culture – has an encompassing reach, impacting all facets of societal enquiry.
I want to know whether he believes the term is salvageable. Can we, like Eno hoped, save pretension? Or do we need a new vocabulary? I ask Fox later at the pub. He pauses, and shakes his head. I don’t think it’s salvageable, he says, it’s been too torn apart, too saturated with disparagement. But the complexity of meanings surrounding the word suggests we need to find a new term, and start from there.
Listen to a podcast of the talk below, or download by pressing the arrow.
We are very pleased to announce the first Friction Talks event of 2016 and to introduce our first speaker Dan Fox, discussing his new book Pretentiousness: Why It Matters.
Author, musician, and co-Editor of frieze – the leading magazine in contemporary art and culture – Fox is an innovative and provocative writer. Based in New York, he has previously held a lectureship at the Ruskin School of Art and is a co-founder of the label Junior Aspirin Records.
Pretentiousness: Why It Matters explores the history of the word and the way we relate to the concept in our culture. What does it mean to be pretentious? And why are we so frightened of it? Fox argues that pretentiousness has always been a vital mechanism for the arts, from fashion and pop through to the most obscure fringes of the avant-grade. He also plots his own route from Wheatley, where he grew up ‘dreaming big in a small town’, to Manhattan, as well as the way his ‘pretentious ambition’ of going to art school in Oxford changed his life forever.
Friction Talks is proud to host an evening with Dan Fox at 7.00pm on February 18th at Quarter Horse Coffee, 76 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JB, when he will be in conversation with author James Attlee.
Pre-book on Eventbrite:
CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS
The event will be free, but there is limited space so please arrive early to avoid disappointment. Doors open at 6.30pm