26 Fruits

Fiction is the true alternative

I cannot imagine that anyone reading this blog is a supporter of Donald Trump. The new president glories in the absence of books in his life, revels in his lack of reading. That might be the scariest fact about him, and it’s not an alternative fact. The adapted version of the classic Penguin 1984 cover speaks to me about the times we are currently enduring.

I’ve blogged here before that art and creativity have to be the best counters to dark forces like Trump. I’m just reading Colson Whitehead’s brilliant novel The Underground Railroad set in slavery-era America. It’s impossible to read that novel then support Trump. Fiction really is the most powerful antidote to Trumpism because it nurtures our empathy for other human beings.

Last week I was proofreading my novel Spanish Crossings that will be published in April. The story involves the 1930s rise of fascism, the Spanish civil war and the child refugees from that war. When I began writing it I had not anticipated that it would have such an uncanny relevance to our current times. If I had anticipated that, I might have recoiled in horror and become more polemical. I’m glad I didn’t because the novel – any novel – has first to be a human story not a political treatise.

Proofreading has given me this strange experience. I finished writing the novel nearly a year ago and since then I’ve been concentrating on other work (including another novel). So I came to the proofreading task with fresh eyes and open mind, and I read the book as if it had been written by someone else. It’s a very weird feeling. When I came to the ending I had tears in my eyes. Am I allowed to cry at my own book? I remembered Jamie Jauncey’s favourite quotation from Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Here I had been both writer and reader.

If you want to pre-order the book you can do so here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spanish-Crossings-John-Simmons/dp/191133168X/ref I’m pleased to say early readers of proof versions have been very enthusiastic.

So 2017, for me, promises to be a creative year, my own antidote to Donald Trump and all his works. It is appropriate in a way that I will be running the first American Dark Angels course in New Bedford, Massachusetts in October. I’ll be doing that with my good American friend Richard Pelletier and you can read about it here http://www.dark-angels.org.uk/american-foundation-course/ The location has literary links to Herman Melville and Louisa May Alcott, fiction writers who linger in the minds of millions who have read them over the past centuries.

Out of the blue, and so appropriately, I was sent the image shown below by Anita Klein, who collaborated with me a few years ago on The angel of the stories. She calls this new linocut ‘Angel protecting an acorn’. It seemed to me the perfect image for our Dark Angels venture.


4 Responses

  1. Therese says:

    Fiction first, fiction first, fiction first – love it!

  2. Jules James says:

    Lovely John. Reading your words calms me, and makes me momentarily forget the storm brewing in the world outside my cosy home. Which is itself a dangerous thing. On both accounts.
    Massachusetts sounds LUSH. A dreamy world away from a full-time working mum;) But I will be there with you in absolute spirit – whispering in those little waters out front of Apponagansett Bay;)
    Hugs
    jx

  3. Tom Scott says:

    Looking forward to the book John. I find it’s a good sign if something you’ve written moves you when you read it back – though it doesn’t help with the proofreading!

    Ursula Le Guin wrote a brilliant letter a few days ago about the difference between fiction and “alternative facts”:

    A recent letter in The Oregonian compares a politician’s claim to tell “alternative facts” to the inventions of science fiction. The comparison won’t work. We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real – all invented, imagined — and we call it fiction because it isn’t fact. We may call some of it “alternative history” or “an alternate universe,” but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are “alternative facts.”

    Facts aren’t all that easy to come by. Honest scientists and journalists, among others, spend a lot of time trying to make sure of them. The test of a fact is that it simply is so – it has no “alternative.” The sun rises in the east. To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction, to claim that it does so as fact (or “alternative fact”) is a lie.

    A lie is a non-fact deliberately told as fact. Lies are told in order to reassure oneself, or to fool, or scare, or manipulate others. Santa Claus is a fiction. He’s harmless. Lies are seldom completely harmless, and often very dangerous. In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible.

    Ursula K. Le Guin, Northwest Portland

  4. steve hill says:

    We are looking forward to the new book. Our pre order has been placed. Steve and Sarah

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