100%!!!! Thank you!!
…and have 207 beautiful, brave, clearly remarkably intelligent and compassionate supporters. I want to thank you with all my heart!
This is happening today because the UK government has to date ignored all questions, recommendations and reports about the grave and systematic abuse of the rights of disabled people put forward by the United Nations and other bodies. Their apparent refusal to acknowledge our human rights is frightening – more so when we see swastikas being waved openly in America and fascism rising across Europe. As disabled people, we cannot help but feel under attack. We are reminded of the Nazi’s destruction of their own deaf and disabled community, T4 Aktion Plans.
I have talked before about my use of plot and humour in crafting the novel but, and in view of all this grimness, I want to tell you another key secret behind CULL’s construction. Initially for authenticity and then also for characters and motivation, I extensively researched the T4 Aktion Plans perpetrated by the Nazis. From forced sterilization programmes, Hitler moved to killing of disabled children in 1939 (5000 suffocated, tortured, starved, poisoned and gassed by 1940) before moving on to disabled adults. An aggressive propaganda programme made it possible hardening society to the ‘useless eaters’, the ‘parasites;, or , as Ian Duncan Smith would call us in 2010, the ‘economically unviable.’
CULL is my second novel, a literary fiction set in ‘another England’ where austerity has set the country’s teeth on edge. Hate crime is on the rise and the government has just passed The Protect and Care Bill as a cost- cutting method demanding the elderly and vulnerable, no longer able to afford care, are housed in huge residential centres for their ‘own good’.
Alex, a hard-bitten journalist, has fallen on hard times and is struggling to find enough work to pay her bills and keep her off the street. She is visually impaired and lives with her wonderful and compassionate canine companion, her guide dog Chris.
Whilst looking for potential stories, Alex and Chris stumble upon two things; one, the possibility that the newly opened Grassybanks Residential Home may be a front for state sponsored euthanasia of the disabled and vulnerable. Two, that their new found friends at the Ladies Defective Agency (LDA) may be undercover activists.
However, Alex and Chris’s snooping puts them directly in the line of danger. Who can they trust and what can they do to make things right?
CULL is an important novel, engaging readers from the very opening of the Dog’s Prologue to the final chapter. Its dark charm makes it more than just a thrilling read. CULL is a polished mirror reflecting back to us a cold truth about discrimination, about what happens when we let things slide and where that might just lead. This is a ground breaking, original novel with a bold new perspective and a razor-sharp take on what it feels to be a disabled person in the 21st Century; how insecure, fraught and disturbing life can be.
Research has shown the incredible benefits of the arts on health; both mental and physical. In the last couple of months alone I have come across new research providing greater scientific evidence of the powerful effects of expressive arts. I heard, for instance, at the Culture, Health and Well Being Conference in Bristol this week, that changes occurring in the human genome, ‘turned on’ following severe trauma and resulting PTSD, are seen to be resolved ‘turned off’- through a holistic approach to healing that includes poetry and other forms of expressive writing. There has been measurement of cortisol changes in saliva to evidence stress reduction, heart rates and breathing have been monitored alongside ability to focus, levels of energy and more, much more, and all point to further evidence of how effective the creative arts can be as a tool for healing.
The idea for the Creative Writing Laboratory came from my experience of writing a novel about things that scared me and made me angry – and how the writing of it released me from feeling helpless and stuck. That novel was CULL (more about that in next blog.)
My idea was to create a safe space for people to explore a multitude of creative writing techniques and find ones that they could employ that would also increase their feelings of well-being, of hopefulness and curiosity. In my Creative Writing Laboratory, everyone is a researcher, a lab technician, exploring their own process.
The snap election is nearly upon us. Some of you may even have your postal vote ready but if you are thinking about voting for the Conservative Party and call yourself a dog lover, I suggest you read this and reconsider your vote.
Guide Dogs and other assistance dogs are trained to work alongside disabled people and people with chronic conditions like diabetes and epilepsy etc. Yes?
Well, are you aware of what is happening to disabled and vulnerable people under the current government? It’s bad. In fact it is VERY bad. Don’t take my word. Instead have a look at the UN report published last November which found evidence of “grave or systematic violations of rights of people with disabilities.”
The UN report warned that cuts and changes to disability support under the Conservative-led government had “hindered disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community”.
Disabled people were also routinely portrayed as being “dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy or putting a burden on taxpayers”, the report found.
Other policies such as the bedroom tax and benefit sanctions had also disproportionately affected the disabled, while work schemes had “no visible impact” in helping disabled people find work and were sometimes counterproductive.
Should you choose to disregard that, as the government tried to, then there is the even more detailed and upsetting report from the Equality and Human Rights commission
The report, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement. Despite significant progress in the laws protecting disabled people’s rights, they are still not being treated as equal citizens and continue to be denied the opportunities and outcomes non-disabled people take for granted.
Yup, Grace is still with me at the moment. The re-homing process is longer and more complex than I had originally thought. There were many wonderful people wanting to take her on and yet there are so many issues when it comes to re-homing an older guide dog that, in the end, we decided to hand all things over to the re-homing team. This means I can just pretend it isn’t happening for a wee bit longer.
Grace meantime has happily settled deep into her retirement and…well… gone ‘dog’. In the old days of just a couple of months ago, I would wake up, feed us, get my sh** together, harness up Grace and head out the flat and up the hill. Boom! There, wherever ‘there’ happened to be that day,-and back again. Work? Done. Supermarket? Done. Gym? Done. I had NO flippin’ idea just how much I had taken Grace for granted. Have you ANY idea how hard it is, for any dog, to walk sniff-less and in straight lines whilst hefting a talking monkey? Perhaps our equivalent would be being always prepped for a full triathlon whenever and where ever we got a text from our boss. What now? But I am in the pub…awww..maaaan. Okay. As it’s YOU.
Now, Retired Grace is making all that painfully clear. She has seven and half yeas of sniffing to catch up on. If we can get 20 metres in 20 minutes it is a result. She won’t get out of the car if she can’t see green fields and grass to run in and, should I convince her, with promises of fishy teats the size of a pillow, to come into town with me at all, she is liable to lock legs, pause and lick up any dropped ice cream, chips, bread crumbs in the street, looking up at me with Clint Eastwood glintiness and a grin on her chops that says,
‘Payback is, quite literally in this case, a bitch’.
Damn, I LOVE this dog!
I actually heard some Tory apologist on the radio this morning saying that their response to the financial cuts to care and services was not to put more money in. Oh no. Money was Not Needed. They would, however, ‘ensure there are more resources than any other party.’ What? Do you mean Tories would fund resources from the teary dreams of babies and the light from the eye of a unicorn? Seems Trump-Speak is contagious.
Back in 2012 I came across an excellent piece of research by Kay Garthwrite called Fear of the Brown Envelope. Only a few months before, I had nearly been evicted due to an administrative error by the DWP and was cringing every time the post came. I had gone to look after my Dad for a few weeks as he was very ill with multiple myeloma. He was in Zambia. I had sent my dates and passport details before I had left the country and when I returned but the DWP had ‘lost’ them.
You are still abroad and taking money off the state. You are sanctioned! the Brown Envelope screamed.
My eyes are finding it hard to adjust to the dark shadows of the wide dance studio space interspersed with occasional dazzling pools of sunlight. I am, however, prepped and perky and I am wearing ‘gear’ for the unknown, i.e. doubled sports bra/ tank top combo (experience has shown it to be almost as effective and certainly less painful to remove than duct-tape), track suit bottoms and huge cotton knickers. (All ladeez understand why we don’t do anything thong or nylon when unsure about potential sweat levels.)
I am already nervous-sweaty. I can feel my underarms slickening. Please don’t make that farting noise when we do pirouettes, I beg them. This is my first dance workshop since those Jesus Christ Superstar try outs in Zambia over 20 years ago. My armpits were younger then…
… for the first screening of the award winning film, ‘I Daniel Blake’ at the Pound Arts Centre, Corsham last Thursday. We had planned a full day of events around the Arts and Social Change, part of our joint SenseAbility themed programme. It had been months in the planning but finally the day had arrived!
Hey TanviLove, I should be blogging about ‘re-tyre-ing’ but I don’t really smell that concept.
Me: Okay, what do you want to talk about?
Can I explain the Leaving instead, as we Guide Dogs go through and past and through it a few times a life-long.
Me: That sounds great. Go ahead and I’ll type.
Should we eat something first?
Me: You just had breakfast.
Did I? But I am faint with hunger.
Me: Hmmmm, look here is a treat. Now come on. The Leaving…?
Grace has retired. Yes. It is officially the end of an era. As of last Thursday my wonderful buddy and fellow academic, my guide in the dark, my morning singing, fox poo rolling, clever, funny, huge hearted, rambunctious, co-traveller in this bonkers journey, has been retired. She has been at my side for seven and a half years, guiding me past the death of my Dad, across the county and through my MA and PhD. She has helped me make friends, taught me so much about courage and dog-ness and inspired my writing. This, for both of us, is going to be a pretty tumultuous change.