Mark Cantrell, Author

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BLOG: Nero Scribbling

Posted by Mark Cantrell on February 24, 2014 at 3:30 PM

 Notes on the walls of ruin

THERE are times, I must admit, when I feel like some kind of cut-price prole Nero, twiddling a pen while Rome burns. By that, I mean here I am, worrying about writing more books and developing my literary offering while the world is going to pot.


Right now, as I ponder these words, Syria is a humanitarian hell; Kiev is burning and Ukraine is said to be teetering on the brink of civil war; Russia is failing to hide a savage homophobia behind the Sochi winter Olympics; and Venezuela is erupting.


As for the plight of the Palestinian people, well some things just go to show how man's inhumanity to man is a perennial spectator sport for those of us not caught in ground zero.


Have I missed anything out? No doubt I have; it's a shitstorm of misery out there.


Closer to home, meanwhile, for all that it is a twisted endorsement of my novel Citizen Zero's contemporary relevance, welfare reform and the Tory blitzkrieg posing as a government is pouring its own hellfire and damnation on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.


Actually, all these welfare cuts and that 'poverty porn' parading itself across our media screens whipping up hate, make it abundantly clear that the unemployed, the young, the sick, the disabled – all those vulnerable groups out there feeling the full force of Government contempt – are in no way regarded as members of society.


They are the enemies within; a threat to the sanctity of the Realm.


And we fools, those of us who as yet maintain a tenuous hold on society, who might be under the illusion of citizenship, suck it up and ask for more.


We cheerlead the deliberate exclusion of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people; we dance to the beat of angry diatribes aimed at the voiceless and the helpless, as if blissfully unaware that tomorrow we might be thrown into the ranks of the despised and dispossessed.


Social security has been warped into a wicked welfare gulag; the closest thing we have to a Stasi state of forbidding surveillance and repression, as it tightens its grip a little more each day.


Homelessness rises, food bank use soars, the social safety net is hacked to the point that it's all but gone, and we useful idiots clap as our fellow former citizens are marched into cruel penury and destitution.


The NHS is broken up ready for a firesale to the politicians' rich mates, sending us hurtling towards the day when we'll be denied healthcare wholesale because we won't be able to afford the fees.


Britain struggles to house itself, as rents and sale prices race towards the heavens, but we're told not to worry about bubbles, as property developers reach for the sky with luxury developments, and oligarchic investors laugh all the way to their tax havens.


Meanwhile, social housing, the kind that people can actually afford, is driven towards extinction. The poor and vulnerable who dwell within the last remaining stock are driven out by policies designed to cast them out of hearth and home – and society too.


Mass unemployment is a spectre stalking communities the length and breadth of the land; don't be fooled by stats claiming otherwise. An employment desert makes for arid hopes, as an entire generation is at risk of a fruitless future.


And 'our' Government of neo-liberal Tories and their LibDem enablers offer only stern lectures on austerity and sacrifice, as they take the axe to a nation they claim to show allegiance.


Truth is, Britain is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis, one instigated by political choice and ideological fervour, by a Government that has no electoral mandate whatsoever, as the poor are punished for the sins of the wealthy.


Never forget, David Cameron holds the office of Prime Minister because of a backroom deal with Nick Clegg, not because he won an election. Nobody, no party, won the 2010 general election – but nobody has lost as much, or as badly, as the British electorate.


So, here I sit. In the midst of all this mayhem, worrying about the next novel, the next short story, the latest blog, and how it all feeds into the progression of my literary life.


Sometimes, I have to admit, as I contemplate the grim news erupting all around me, it leaves me wondering at the triviality of my dreams, the pettiness of my ambitions, when the lives of strangers are being turned upside down, even discarded, because of the ambitions of the powerful.


Set against all the upheavals and anguish crashing through communities and societies, at home or abroad, what's one more novel or story by an author you've almost certainly never heard of?


What price a literary aspiration, when all around me human life is being stamped into the dirt? What's one singular future when millions more are being obliterated?


Compared to all of those people struggling with the grinding cruelty of modern Britain, I'm in a privileged position.


For now, at least, I can afford to worry about my future as a novelist, rather than stressing about keeping a roof over my head, or worrying about where my next meal is going to come from.


I don't live in fear that today some JobCentre functionary behind on their sanctions target will finally stop my benefits on a whim and leave me starving and stranded.


By the same measure, I'm not facing the cruel regime policed by ATOS (or its eventual successor) designed to routinely find the disabled and the sick – even those at death's door – as somehow miraculously fit to work.


No, I've got it easy. I'm a Nero, scribbling trivialities on the walls of ruination, pondering bread and circuses, while all around me Rome burns.


So, what do you think, my fellow scribes, am I being too harsh on myself? Am I alone in this soul-searching extravagance, or do you, too, sometimes hear the same questions bellow up from the depths of conscience?


But whatever we decide for an answer, when the world is larger than the theatre of our dreams, the show will go on regardless of our individual angst. When all is said and done, isn't that what the writing life is ultimately all about – wrestling with the painful conundrums of existence, if not to provide an answer, then at least to provoke some thought?


 Mark Cantrell,


22 February 2014

 Copyright © February 2014. All Rights Reserved.


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