As the UK and Commonwealth steels itself for the forthcoming rememberance of the greatest waste of human life in their histories of warfare, it is fitting to display some choice images taken during my recent tour of the Somme front line.
(The stylish logo at the New Zealanders’ monument at Longueval)
Picardy is a rolling chalk landscape of industrial arable agriculture criss-crossed with tracks that frequently follow the line of allied trenches or light railway beds. Cycling or walking these with a tome like Peter Hart’s The Somme in hand enables visitors to achieve a deep insight into the insanity of this crucial phase of the so-called Great War.
(The fields of Picardy before the Thiepval Monunment to the Missing bearing 17,192 names)
It is a sobering experience to be stood in this beautiful landscape with birdsong ringing in your ears overlooking a valley where, in the space of no more than a few hundred metres, thousands of young men were slaughtered in a matter of minutes and left to rot into the mud.
(The remains of trenches at the Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel)
While their lords and masters planned one insane offensive after another in the comfort of a chateau fifty miles from the front line (General Haig never left GHQ to visit his troops), ill-equipped, inexperienced but eager volunteers readied themselves to go ‘over the top’ with just one thought in their minds; that death will come suddenly and painlessly.
(Primary School Poppy at Sunken Lane, Beaumont Hamel)
The CWGC cemeteries are lovingly tended and intensely moving islands of calm, but to ride through a working landscape that continues to reveal 100 year old ordinance brings home just how toxic Picardy continues to be. Had World War One been a Napoleonic war, it would have been an ideal battleground.
(Ordinance recently ploughed up in No Man’s Land, Hawthorne Ridge)
But the Battle of the Somme was a modern industrial conflict, with planes and tanks and heavy artillery and, worst of all, water-cooled machine guns that scythed through rows of over-laden canon fodder walking forwards, frequently up to their knees in human bonemeal.
(Headstone for a Chinese labourer, Albert)
And to think our enlightened government had the goddamn nerve to try and privatise or scrap or hive off to G4S the Commonwealth War Graves Commission!!
Bradford’s Literature Festival surely must be the most ethnically diverse book festival in the UK, and it is a real honour to be invited onto a panel so rich in minority representation. In fact, I will be the minority, which will be nice for a change. So on 21st May I arrive back in the UK after a week touring the Somme battlefield on me push-bike, then it’s a long shower and quick kip before heading north to join in a discussion about Comics and Conflict on 22nd. What timing!
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WANTED: UK-based comics illustrator to work on (hopefully) Arts Council sponsored graphic narrative written by Brick (Depresso, To End All Wars, Leonardo’s Bicycle). Style of artwork needed – similar to Loisel’s (Peter Pan) for caricatured buildings and environment but more realistic characters, closer to style of Tardi (It Was the War of the Trenches). Story set in medieval period. Script written to allow plenty of room for illustrator’s own creativity to shine. Send two sample pages of previous comics work to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject ‘Mad Day’. Particularly interested in how set piece conversations are handled.
If you are in London on 6th or 7th February and have an interest in mental health and the arts, hurry along to the SouthBank Centre’s huge and encompassing Changing Minds Festival. Brick will be there on a panel that includes performer Celia Knapp and theatre maker Cheryl Martin on the Saturday from 2:00 to 3:00pm discussing the role that sadness and deep depression can play in inspiring art.
If he’s around, maybe Beethoven would like to chip in!
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It’s very rare that I enter into a competition, but this invitation to submit something to Kronborg Castle, né Elsinore, in Denmark was simply too tempting in the year we remember the 400th anniversary of Bill Shakespeare’s death. Read the full adaptation of my opening scene from the Scottish play here.
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Nice to start the New Year with a good review of an end-of-last-year publication featuring my Simone the Stylite short story. I couldn’t possibly comment on Brick being singled out in such ludicrously glowing terms or my being vain enough to, for once, splash it abroad, but you can’t beat starting back with a positively overflowing glass.
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As a grand finale to the build up for Friday’s announcement about Nottingham’s UNESCO City of Literature bid, representatives of These Seven and other Nottingham writers took to the tracks to travel the city’s tram network, giving public readings and, more importantly, giving away books. Naturally many thought it was a scam and brushed aside the offer of free literature, but several hundred copies were gratefully accepted by the travelling public and in the Old Market Square.
While they read and dispensed, I sat on board trying to sketch a crude record of the event while the tram gently lurched through the city, finishing the image off in Beeston’s White Lion, where we came to rest, read aloud and troughed.
Can’t speak for my literary chums, but I had fun.
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