After Seasonturn : The Author as Underminer

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Catharsis. That’s the reason a lot of people write, and some days it does seem like I’m writing to rid myself of whatever is trapped inside my head. I’ve had a pretty good life; no one could deny that, at least in the context of being brought up a part of industrial civilisation, but I’m deeply worried. Again.

Some time in July 2015, there was a break in the weather for a day. This was the third time we had travelled to the Western Isles of Scotland in three years – the two previous years had been idyllic in terms of weather, location, being together as a family and taking the chance to connect with what I consider my “spiritual home” if there is such a thing. The most recent time was different, mainly because the weather was dreadful, but we did our best to keep spirits up, and did have a good laugh in the face of adversity; and when the sun came out, it seemed like this really was the best life could be. The photograph doesn’t show that there were two of us sitting above the beach – the feet aren’t mine – but no image could capture the sense of that moment, that deep connection between two people and the place they are.

Weather and, now it becomes clearer, climate is playing on my thoughts again. Storm after storm is hitting Britain: the UK Met Office have given them names so we take the warnings more seriously, and so far communities are just about coping where they have been worst hit. This is not normal, though, and I’m sure the Met Office are more than aware of the added significance in giving Atlantic storms tropical nomenclature. We are going to have to get used to a climate that has begun to change rapidly. The words of Guy McPherson ring in my head: “We’re fucked” is the gist, but more than this is a sense that we’re possibly over as a species, and definitely as a culture. It seems that civilisation has thrown everything it can at the ecosystem, and still shows no signs of stopping, despite the ragged mess that lies in front of the weapons of death.

I try not to worry, so I write. In that process comes an element of calm, putting what I can into the novels that are otherwise feeding out from somewhere deep inside my head, so the fears are threaded into a background tapestry, not so vividly that the reader will be scared, but clear enough that perhaps some readers will take from them the same theme I have tried to pursue for many years: we meddle with things at our peril, and need to realise what really matters to us.

It’s probably too late. Despite this, we have to do what we feel is necessary, even if it’s something as simple as just living the best way that you possibly can. Undermining is the act of weakening the Culture of Maximum harm by reconnecting people with what really matters. My writing will, ultimately, make little or no difference to whatever outcomes have been set in place already, but I do it because I can, and maybe it will help create a few connections, even if it’s just because that’s the right thing to do…

 

The Conorol Trilogy

I think it’s a truism that writers have many lives – one of them is lived in the world that everyone else occupies, others are lived in whatever world that person is constructing around them as part of the writing process (at least that’s the case if the writer really means what they say). For me, there are a few other worlds: it would be a terrible social faux pas to suddenly introduce undermining the industrial system in a conversation about what changes to make in village hall bookings, so I don’t. As far as most people are concerned, Keith is a person who does lots around the village – he’s not an enemy of industrial civilization (although some people do know).

And now, with Time’s Up! and Underminers established as reference texts for whoever wishes to use them, I embark on yet another life, separate from the community stalwart, the Underminer and the family man who likes to grow vegetables. As you can read, should you follow the link, I have committed to writing a trilogy of novels, known under the collective title The Conorol Trilogy. One novel has already been completed, and as I work on the second and search for a literary agent, I feel the split between this world and that of the jobbing author of young adult fiction is necessary. Underminers will continue here, but if you fancy seeing the progress in my other life, then do pop over…

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Guest Essays – At Last A Page

Buried in the pages of Underminers are the words of many others, all of whom I respect and consider to be Underminers in their own special way.

From the very beginning, the book was meant to be a collaborative effort – something that somehow got lost when it went to print and which I have been remiss in not highlighting on the pages of this website. Now it changes; these wonderful people gave permission for their words to be re-printed and edited, and some even wrote especially for the book.

You can read more by going to the special page devoted to these essays, complete with anchor links directly to their words. Click HERE for the page, or follow the link at the top.

Looking for an Agent

MSS picture

Here’s a picture of a pile of A4 paper, printed in double-space, double-sided, 11 point text. An agent wouldn’t like that, but it’s okay because the manuscript in the photo is just so a few people can read through it and tell me what they think of my first novel. I have a different version for potential agents, in 12 point text, because they prefer it.

I actually finished writing the first draft of “Almost Gone” (probably not the final title, there is another book of that name) on 27th February. I felt slightly whoozy after typing “THE END”, excited and a little lost. What do I do know? Ultimately, the answer is to get it published and go out on lots of book signings, get asked questions and give the kind of answers that make more people want to buy the book. The publisher might want a follow-up too. That’s not impossible.

For all this pipe dreaming, there is a serious point. If I have to make money, I would rather do it doing something I love than something I am merely good at. The bit of money, or barter, I make is currently through fixing computers. I hate computers, they have various functions but they are inhuman and disconnect people, so I feel like a hypocrite, although I do spend a bit of time chatting to people, like a good doctor, and listening to their stories – people seem to feel the need to tell me things, and that’s fine.

The question is, am I as good at writing as I am at fixing computers? The answer will probably – with a bit of chance thrown in – determine whether (a) I can find an agent willing to represent me, (b) whether a publisher will want to invest in my work, and (c) whether people will want to buy it. And, yes, I will do everything in my power to make it free online.

So I am doing a lot more writing – in the form of introductory letters, plot synopses and personal statements; sending these off to agents on spec, and then waiting. If anyone can help make this process any quicker and more rewarding. i.e. if you know a good agent (or are a good agent) who is willing to represent me, then I would love to hear from you, via this link.

Thank you for reading, you can have a short extract for your trouble…


I’m sweating. It’s just the hill and the pools of warm sunlight. A sheen of moisture on my arms and beads of sweat in my eyes force me to stop and consider things. Flies settle on my eyelids, emerging from the damp ground in the dip where I decide not to rest. The sound of running water further up declares a spring, and fresh drink.

As I lie, with my fingertips playing in the rivulets, my lips cool again, I wonder how I’m going to find what I’m searching for…and drift away on an amber blanket of beech litter. Merod sits atop a pile of leaves, calling my name in a song that evokes the wind and the birth of spring in luminous green. As she sings her legs are gently swallowed by the leaves which seem to crawl upwards, caressing her waist, her sides, her shoulders until only her smiling face remains, opening into a black chasm and howling the moan of ripping roots…and the slow, deep rumble of the earth wakes me, gasping.

My face is running with perspiration and the rumble goes on, vibrating through the ground and my gut. So much louder than before. I stumble upright, shaking on weak legs, turning to try and locate the Sound’s source, but it defies direction. All I know is I’m closer.

A natural clearing lies ahead, caused by a pair of huge beeches recently fallen and taking smaller kin with them. In the midday sun a cacophony of birdsong plays on the air, partners in the making, eggs to be laid and hatchlings to be born. The reason for the falling is clear – shallow roots into a rocky ground that have been loosened by torrents of rain. What remains is a pool, yet to be colonised and maybe ephemeral.

I stand at the edge of the pool, with the sun right above. I briefly catch my reflection and turn away. This isn’t me, surely. Calming myself, I take in the second look and see a mass of tangled hair full of sticky pine needles and dead bugs, a face dirty with boy-grime, and a yawning red hole, unpeeled and leaking. The edges of the wound have taken on a rosy tinge and specks of black and brown occupy the space between.

I’ve been an idiot.

We know about germs; we’d be dead soon enough if we didn’t. As a small boy I could pee just about wherever I liked, but if it was anything else then there were special places, away from the water supply, away from the crops. Soap is a precious thing, but that’s one time we always use it. But even then you never know when someone will break out or fever, or worse – well, we do know, sort of, and I am staring at one of those times out of the pool and back at my own stupid face.

10k and Running

Or rather walking. After setting myself a modest target of 2000 words a week, to allow for all the other stuff I find myself doing, it’s with some satisfaction that I find the Novel with No Name has passed the 10,000 word mark. It was a real struggle to go beyond the short story, and I’ve found myself in quite a few sticky situations along the way – both literal and narrative.

As it happens, the story is has turned into a bit of a quest, and I’m quite relieved to find the main protagonist no longer alone. But that’s all I’m giving away – it could be a good meeting, or a bad one. They may stay together or be parted in some way; and there may be more, or not. That’s the joy of writing without a plot; I don’t know what’s coming next.

At some point I may post a teaser here, that’s if I get enough encouragement :)

A Fictional Start

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A few months ago I was asked to write something creative for a new web project and decided I would try a little bit of fiction. This wasn’t entirely new, I had dabbled with poetry and, well before writing Time’s Up! wrote something called A Last Toast to the Old World, which ended up being the Epilogue to that book.

The very short story I ended up writing was called Wound, which had two meanings – one related to harm, the other to the concept of time. You can read it here if you really want to, but I know it’s not terribly good. Two reasons I know: first, it didn’t make me cry. Not long after writing A Last Toast… I read it out at a meeting, I think it was a Dark Mountain event, and the first time I ever met Paul Kingsnorth. At the last paragraph I started to choke up, and almost couldn’t read the final words.

This isn’t ego, I must add. Writing fiction is something I do very little of because, although I think I can, it takes a huge emotional investment. Those tears are in reliving the moment of writing – the unfolding of lives in a deeply meaningful way, at least to me. If I don’t feel an emotional tug when reading things back then I know it’s not working.

The second reason I knew the short story wasn’t very good is because a dear friend of mine told me so. I trust her judgement implicitly. It moved me a little, but it was immature; not the complete package by any means.

So, when I decided to embark on longer writing in order to try and express ideas in a slightly different form than my previous work,  it was with a fair amount of trepidation. I had, and still have, an idea for a semi-autobiographical novel – that stays in the bag for now. There was also another idea, about a world that is now, but a culture that is not; about potential loss and the need to prevent it; about still having time, something we have so little of now.

That was to be the short story, as practice for the novel. I wrote it. I showed it to a few people and they liked it. They wanted to know how it carried on.

You won’t get to see that story, at least not for a while.

But you know how ideas take on a life of their own? That short story, which is complete in its own way, is now becoming a novel. I don’t know whether it will work in the longer form, but I’m 5000 words in and getting the hang of it, and rather excited as to what will happen to my main protagonist…

Translations

I have gone through life with the sad knowledge that I will always be a monoglot. Languages, aside from my native tongue, do not come easy to me – I am trying my best to embrace Scots dialect, and have a sprinkling of French, but years of experiencing everyone around me absorb different languages with apparent ease (my younger child is a non-deaf user of British Sign Language, my wife can get by handily in German and French, and my brother-in-law is many-tongued) haven’t made my lack of proficiency any easier to bear. Then again, how many people in indigenous cultures would have chosen to speak a language alien to their common tongue? Moreso, language has, until very recently, been a means of protection against cultural dilution across the world, so I can claim some sort of moral position speaking only the language of my native land.

But at the moment, only speaking English doesn’t always help get messages across where they need to be heard. Therefore, I am hugely grateful to the Spanish correspondent who contacted me just two days ago, and has since delivered a perfect translation of the Introduction to Underminers. This is now on the relevant page, and is also going to be used to subtitle the Underminers video (as well as the English subtitles I’m going to add) as soon as I get the chance.

Anyone who fancies a similar challenge, in whatever language is welcome to contact me. I can’t pay you anything, but I can credit you and, of course, you will be doing a very important piece of work in defence of humanity and the wider natural environment.

All Hail Jan Lundberg

Regrets, I’ve had a few. One of which is not being able to find a place for a cracking essay by Jan Lundberg in the final version of Underminers. Back in mid 2011 while planning who I would like to write guest essays for the book, it was clear that Jan – sometime muse and sparring partner at Culture Change – was an obvious author who would make a valuable contribution.

The essay that he so generously provided was thought-provoking, challenging and interesting, and I was sure at least some of it would slip nicely into the latter quarter of the book. As these things so often go, the course of writing didn’t match my original intentions. Jan’s intervention was to come in a weighty Conclusion, tentatively entitled What Does Success Look Like? alongside contributions from other prescient individuals.

In the end, having come to a satisfying conclusion of itself in the final chapter, I didn’t feel any need for the final-final chapter. Instead, perhaps egotistically, perhaps because it was a piece always waiting for the right moment, I ended up using a small piece of (perhaps) fiction called A Last Toast to the Old World which somehow still makes me well-up – maybe because it is just my own emotions in words. Whatever the reasons, the end essentially created itself and it didn’t feel right to fight that.

But, for no other reason than it is a really good essay, I take great pleasure in reprinting Jan’s writing below. Thanks mate, and see you on a boat sometime…


The World After Industrial Civilization Goes

Usher in the “new” economics of local self-sufficiency and community cooperation

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man*
– Imagine, John Lennon

I like to think that critics of civilization are above all compassionate, nonviolent and realistic. So perhaps we can keep in mind that wishing for quick change to save the planet and throw off the shackles of capitalism and authoritarianism has to be weighed with today’s vast dependence on industry. Yes, the economy will collapse and end most greenhouse gas emissions. But this is not to say everything will be just fine as soon as manufacturing and oil-powered transport stop. There will be severe repercussions to “lifelines” of energy, food and materials being cut or terminated.

As industrial civilization is built on exploiting nonrenewable “resources” (many of which should never have been tapped), and human population and consumption of manufactured materials are near peak, the unsustainability of unlimited industrialism should be obvious.

Whether the unsustainability is obvious or not, collapse can be sudden and rapid, as the house-of-cards economy built on cheap, ample petroleum can have the rug pulled out from under it by any break in the chain. Then the infrastructure fails once and for all, beginning the final rusting of the machinery of civilization on all levels.

One can say today, while we still enjoy vast quantities of food shipped great distances, “That’s fine, the Earth needs a break.” But population die-off has two versions: simple starvation that can be overcome after petrocollapse, or species extinction due to weakening of the gene pool and assaults from nuclear events, disease, and climate destabilization.

If we have simple starvation, and can survive the other assaults, then we can paint a picture of the world after industrial civilization that has a viable human presence. I am optimistic about it. A new culture borrowing heavily on traditional ways of various indigenous cultures, with some helpful influences from recent visionaries, will emerge from the rubble of petrocivilization. The breakdown of the previous global corporate culture and lack of cheap, fast travel will assure a larger world of innumerable autonomous bioregional nations and tribes.

Individually the end of industrial civilization and massive government means being free from jobs, i.e., working for others for their purposes to earn money to buy essentials that nature actually provides freely. This is unthinkable by many today, but they tend to distrust the masses’ thinking for themselves and managing with self-rule and voluntary cooperation.

Along with rejecting the obvious failures and mistakes of the previous era of growth and “progress,” the new culture will have to find harmony with nature. This cannot be done with the hierarchal, patriarchal, religious empire-building mindset that ravaged the planet starting with perhaps Sumer. Therefore the new culture will feature equality, justice, mutual aid, and will refrain from building surpluses for grandiose schemes of expansion or greed.

As to nuts & bolts, or the lack of them, I wrote in January of 2007 in Culture Change Letter #150, “one can visualize local crafts-people soon making due with scrap materials and some renewable resources. The individual’s possessions will not be so voluminous and overbearing when the change comes. There will no longer be a great number of things used daily, because new stuff won’t be available and cheaply shipped to everyone the way it once was. So, re-using finally becomes the rule of the day.”

However, maximizing bicycles and bike-trailers may be a transition phenomenon that lasts only a century at best. This may not be so terrible: as we become less material oriented we become more spiritual. It can be argued that nature and spirit are really one. If a “primitive” and simple life for all sounds objectionable, tough shit. The question is “what is really ahead?”, not what we feel we are entitled to as modern homo “sapiens.” As part of the swing of the pendulum, spirituality identified with the Earth will return strongly, as people revere life in part by deploring the past era’s trashing of the living world.

As certain regions will be damaged for centuries by past practices and the distortions of climate change, they cannot provide every essential food or material for sustaining the lives or happiness of the tribe or nation, if isolated. So trade will be perhaps essential. Without cheap oil, and in the absence of renewable fuels such as biofuels that still depend on mechanical systems involving high entropy, the low-tech, efficient mode of sailing will return to the fore. Already it is making itself attractive in a cost sense as the corporate global economy continues to pollute the atmosphere with disastrous bunker fuel and routine oil spills out of view of the news media and public consciousness.

People in temperate and arctic climes can live without coffee, chocolate, and other delicacies now shipped thousands of miles to addicts and bon vivants. But people prefer not to be deprived: if something can be done, it will be done. Additionally, a favorable environment here for producing olives, for example, can result in a reasonable surplus to trade for some grain from over there. Specialization is a questionable reliance, but sharing and assisting other communities will be carried out between peoples who, since the Great Collapse, will be evolving their bioregions into very diverse, unique cultures. The loss of languages and cultures will be remedied over time. Sailing will keep up the right level of communication, knowledge, and mutual aid, for the new reduced population size.

That’s if we can survive the undoing of civilization and its toxic and radioactive consequences.

*Lest any feminists be offended by the quaintness of the last line, it is worth recalling that Lennon was soon to unleash “Woman is the Nigger of the World.”

The Moneyless Manifesto For Free (Of Course)

Two and a bit years ago I was delighted to be invited to the very first Uncivilisation festival so that I could talk about Undermining the Tools of Disconnection and piss off George Monbiot (actually that wasn’t the intention but it happened). During the event which was in turns inspiring, frustrating and highly entertaining, I bumped into a small crowd of people surrounding an animated man called Mark Boyle. I was transfixed. His stories of living, as far as possible, without money and, by implication, outside of industrial civilization, fired so many ideas in my head that Underminers was bound to happen from that moment on.

It’s slightly incongruous that Mark’s first book, The Moneyless Man isn’t referenced here, but sometimes things just don’t fit in the text precisely. That said, it was a bit of an omission not to mention the wonderful Just For The Love Of It skill, stuff and landsharing website – so I shall put things right here.

www.justfortheloveofit.org

And there’s a link on the right too.

It was lovely to receive a note from Mark after announcing the completion of Underminers and a personal invitation to invade his home and eat all his food (ok, not quite that). He also mentioned that his new book, The Moneyless Manifesto, was being published online for free with the blessing of his publishers. Cue, gratuitous quotation from Underminers:

What about things that we consider to be more ethereal, such as ideas? This is already a wildly exciting proposition, that the online version of this book is part of, as is everything I write: simply, it’s given away to the benefit of all who can benefit from it. When I took Time’s Up! to my publisher, apart from being delighted to have it accepted for publication I also insisted that the intellectual property remained mine to share as I wished. The publisher had the rights over the sold-as-printed version, but otherwise the words were mine to distribute as I saw fit, to the extent that this was written into the contract. To quote:

“The Author hereby grants the Publishers the exclusive licence of printing and publishing the said Work during the period of copyright in volume and serial form in all languages throughout the world and also the exclusive licence to assign or licence such rights to others subject to the conditions following, on the understanding that the Author may post the text online under Copyleft terms.”

As far as I know this clause is unique in publishing circles. It shouldn’t be. Ideas are for sharing, as any good scientist (as opposed to one that is in hock to corporate interests) will tell you. Copyleft is a great, and to most people, amusing word, which in itself can spark off all sorts of discussions. It does what it says on the tin: you can’t keep something to yourself, you have to allow others to copy it. The terms I attach to my work are in the form of a Creative Commons licence, which allows anyone to copy, edit and re-distribute the work, so long as it is appropriately credited, not passed off as someone else’s work and, most important, no one makes any money out of it.

Which happens to the same license that The Moneyless Manifesto uses. Go and read it now.

Thanks Mark.

Mind The Gaps

Finally the proof-reading has been done and it’s time to post the whole book prominently on the front page (or at least a link to it). For a while there has been a version known as 1.01 which I rushed out the moment I had finished the last chapter, this being part of my strategy to avoid any potential censorship or enforced removal. Since then, for a couple of months I have been carefully re-reading the text, adding and taking away a few bits here and there (see last post) and generally making it more readable.

Now that is done the text on the website is a bit wrong, so for the next few days I’ll be removing the PDFs of the individual chapters, and correcting the online text – you will see the version numbers update on each chapter page if you look carefully. After that…well, wait and see…

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