Peter Caton’s Chad photos

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Some of Peter Caton’s photograph from our trip to Chad are here on the Guardian Online.

Pete’s shot of many of the people of the the village meeting under a good tree is typical of his excellent work. For the people he captures here, there is plenty to discuss: an appalling drought, extreme hunger that threatens the children. The fact that several crazy guys in a charity team had arrived and were busy flying a drone, taking photos, interviewing people and generally disrupting normal life was also quite a talking point.

Watching Peter Caton at work was fascinating. He is a man of perpetual motion, and always working.

I was very interested in how he would lean right into the faces of people he was taking, all the while smiling and engaging with his subjects. Asking him about this, he said that leaning in was actually less disconcerting for the person he was photographing that being aloof and pulling away. I’d never thought of it like that.

This publication happened at an interesting time for me, as only recently have I been able to start writing properly about what was for me an experience unlike any other I’d had. I find that there is a filtration process going on. That whatever experience I have it takes months (in this case about nine months) before I could write about it freely in the way I wanted. At last I’ve been gripped by a the sudden urge to write about Chad, and am already five poems into a sequence. Of course I hope I don’t block myself by mentioning it here…

I’m off now on holiday for a couple of weeks. Time to unwind, and of course write more poetry. To finish, here is a shot I took of Pete with a screen-lit face at night in the compound after another sweltering day. The large locust crawling in his hair just evaded photographic capture.

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Posted in Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd., Photography, Poetry, Travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Interpreter’s House, a home from home

IMG_3029Since meeting Martin Malone, editor of The Interpreter’s House, last year at a reading we were giving in Lewes, and hearing him read excellently (and pyrotechnically as his folder of poems accidentally caught alight) I have finally got my act together to become a subscriber.  In fact I tend to share my limited subscriptions budget around among various titles, so I’ve only just received my first issue. And I’m happy to report that it’s a thoroughly well-edited magazine. I’m still dipping in, and rereading.

The issue featured prize winners from the 2016 Open House Poetry Competition. The winner, Little Things, by Jeremy Wikeley seems to be an object lesson in how to write a winner. Concise, deceptively simple about the space grief takes up in your heart. ‘Little things, like big distances, make all/the difference. In Japan, they’ve made a/skyscraper graveyard.’

It was great to see the Telltale Press posse being heavily represented, poems from Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton and Siegfried Baber. To my surprise, I found it also contained an encouraging short review of my pamplet The Nightwork by Neil Young.

Every line insists on attention in Peter Kenny’s The Nightwork (Telltale Press), and yet there’s a lightness of touch to the writing that rendered its craft seamless. An undercurrent of anxiety – and the dangers lurking in our apparent normalities — combine with wit and a fluidity of language to tug the reader along from first to final lines. This is a poet at ease with his talents. Everyday observations juggle with snapshots from mythology and history, but nothing jars. The opener, ‘A Sparrow at 30,000ft’, holds out a wry foretaste of what’s to come, with the speaker internalising reassurances that are sure to prompt an amused nod of recognition among readers: “Cattle class, in clear air turbulence / this shuddering is perfectly normal”.

Robin’s The Great Vowel Shift, was reviewed too. He found a ‘camera-panning quality to some of some of these observations’ and he particularly liked Robin’s ‘Fermata’, with its ‘intimations of menace and unresolved sorrows’ and concluded ‘These are impressive collections from Telltale’.

So good job I subscribed then!

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Facebook ads to force you off the fence

It’s nice to imagine that people are going to ponder your marketing message, but sadly real life isn’t like that. Here are two Facebook executions of campaigns I’ve worked on with 11 London. Both are in what I call decision territory, which is particularly useful when there’s little time to engage and you want to encapsulate a dilemma. It forces the target audience to get off the fence and make a decision.

Working with 11 London and Tearfund I arrived at the phrase ‘Give Like Jesus’ and the questioning format that prompts the target audience to ask herself  Would Jesus leave her hungry? She’ll supply her own answer. The beautiful photograph was taken by Peter Caton on our trip to Chad last year.

Similar thinking went into this execution for World Animal Protection UK. I suggested interrogative headlines such as ‘Kill or cure?’,  ‘Act now. Or ignore?’ ‘Vaccinate. Or exterminate?’ to emphasise the urgency of the choice animal lovers have make about this cruelty.

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Off the bench

Forgot to mention here that I was a last minute substitute for a poorly Siegfried Baber on a recent Telltale and Friends night at Telltale’s old stomping ground of the Poetry Cafe. A quick reshuffle meant that Robin Houghton introduced the event instead of me. Uncharacteristically I was not really in the mood for doing a reading, but having done so I was very pleased I did.

John McCullough read from his new book Spacecraft which is wonderful, and I will write something about it on this site soon. Sarah Barnsley read some extraordinary new and playful poems. Jess Mookherjee, the newest Telltale recruit and gave us a preview of her new pamphlet Swell, due out this Autumn. It’s lovely work, sensitive and direct.

All participants had to hare off afterwards due to the unspeakable Southern Trains debacle. Jess headed off to Tunbridge Wells, while Sara, John, Robin and I got the train to Brighton. Unusually for poets after the meeting, stone cold sober but the journey home passed in a flash with such good company.

Below left to right, Sarah Barnsley, John McCullough, Jess Mookherjee and me. Photo taken by Robin.

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Robin has long held an ambition to film Telltale performances, but for all kinds of reasons this has not worked particularly well.  During the evening Robin took a film of me reading Postcard from Ithaca. Seeing this film below has already had one positive outcome. I have started a frowny new diet.

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Occupying Love by Marilyn Chapman

Marilyn Chapman‘s new story Occupying Love is a popular novel set on Guernsey during the occupation. It blurs the barrier between romantic and historical fiction and begins with the bombing raid by the Luftwaffe on St Peter Port and becomes a pacy (and not saccharine) romance about a young woman called Lydia Le Page who, having returned to Guernsey just before the German invasion of the island in 1940, commences star-crossed relationships with two men against a backdrop of the Nazi occupation.

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I can’t resist comparing Occupying Love with  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer (completed by Annie Barrows) which was set in wartime London and in Guernsey. I felt decidedly curmudgeonly about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society because it demonstrated little or no knowledge of the island of Guernsey, its people, ways of speaking and so on. Of course a popular novel doesn’t have to groan under the weight of its research to be enjoyable, but a convincing dash of local colour can only add interest to the work.

It greatly benefits this book that Marilyn Chapman was actually born in Guernsey and Occupying Love demonstrates her thorough knowledge of the island, and its years of occupation. Although she has done lots of research, it was enriched by having heard lots about the occupation from her own grandparents.

Probably more important to the reader, however, is that Occupying Love has pace and an involving plot as well as an intriguing backdrop. So read Occupying Love if you like romantic fiction with a gritty undercurrent, read it too as historical fiction or if you are interested in the Channel Islands. This is a labour of love, and it shows.

Posted in Guernsey, Guernsey Literature, Novels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The referendum viewed as marketing

The campaigns run by both sides in the recent referendum were failures. Here’s why.

Remain – a classic negative campaign that backfired

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Remain vote’s tagline was Britain Stronger In Europe. At first glance this seems fair enough. But look again and you’ll see how extraordinarily passive it is. With no verb there is nothing to be done. Instead there is the hanging comparator of ‘stronger’. Stronger than what? It’s a dead end that constrained their campaign right from the start. In the photo above you can see how this line becomes something more positive. But by this point the grey anaesthetic of remain had done its job.

The next textbook error was that the campaign bombarded us with features not benefits. The opinions of leaders like President Obama or the IMF’s Christine Legarde, Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney – as well as a slew of home grown experts were wheeled out to suggest that leaving the EU would be a historic error. Many of them quantified exactly how bad it would get. But where were the benefits? Where were the positive reasons to stay? There were no carrots, only sticks, in the Leave campaign.

It became branded as Project Fear by its opponents (a phrase which had been recently used in the Scottish referendum). This jibe could have been overturned at a stroke, if the Remain camp had responded by varying its tactics. But the campaign failed to do so. It also allowed Michael Gove to dismiss the ‘experts’. Like hardened smokers being told cigarettes are bad for you, once you scare people beyond a certain point, they tune out.  This relentless negativity gave no positive outlet for those who felt disaffected. Basic psychology, and 101 marketing. The call to action was… do nothing.

On the eve of the vote, we heard sound bites from Jean-Claude Junckers. “Out is out…” David Cameron got “the maximum he could receive, and we gave the maximum we could give so there will be no kind of renegotiation.” Listening to this dispiritedly at home, I imagined the gleeful whoops from the Leave camp. As these vaguely menacing sound bites were everything they could have wished for.

So those who put their cross in the Remain box had been given no positive reason to vote by their side’s referendum campaign. There were great stories out there, but they were all presented as scare stories. Rather than an opportunity to positively redefine the UK’s role in Europe, the remain vote was a dreary exercise in maintaining the status quo, which wasn’t going to wash with a nation struggling, often miserably, in persistent austerity.

Leave – the fabulous panacea

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Time and time again the Leave campaign hammered home the message “Let’s take back control”. Those who work in marketing think of this as a bog-standard off-the-shelf benefit that fits almost any product. You can take control of your finances with a mortgage tracker account, take control of parasites with flea powder, and so on ad infinitum.

The beauty of Let’s take back control is that, like the Nike tagline Just do it, you can attach a million aspirations to the phrase.  It has a verb in it. It is performing an action, it is the active ‘doing something’ choice. Let’s take back control appeals to those who feel disaffected or profoundly unhappy with the status quo. Context is everything however in marketing. A narrow reading of this phrase suggests we’ll take back control from Europe, who were apparently running our country. I don’t know about you, but I am barely able to walk down the road without being ordered what to do by a faceless Eurocrat. No, wait. Other than being able to be travel and be welcomed throughout the EU, the bureaucrats have left me alone.

So an open-ended active messaging was a huge advantage for the leave camp. They deployed figures sparingly, and often vaguely. Somehow we would have improved fishing quotas (ignoring that the EU’s policy on the north sea, for example, which has brought back several food species from the brink of extinction). Their claim that they would spend £350 million a week to the National Health Service was hotly disputed (and later reneged on the morning after the vote was won). But on the whole they cleverly steered clear of a feature-led, figure driven approach to campaigning. They focused on the benefits. This mainly relied on the deployment of abstract nouns. We would gain Sovereignty, Freedom, Control, Independence and so on. It sounded great. This optimistic mood music allied to the undoubted charisma of Boris Johnson, meant the campaign became a magnet to all kinds of aspirations.

But underneath it all was the messaging about immigration, of taking control of our borders, and limiting the numbers of immigrants. There are many people in the UK who are uneasy about migration, and here I think of older people living in areas whose entire language and culture has changed about them, and there needs to be a conversation about this. But the campaign went straight to blaming the foreigner for the ills that beset our nation. For me personally, racism is something I have actively campaigned against in my life so this strain of the campaign was anathema to me.

The racism was exemplified by the poster below, launched by Nigel Farage. It is the nadir of political marketing in my lifetime. Its forebears were a monstrous hybrid of Nazi propaganda, and the old Conservative  Labour isn’t working Saatchi & Saatchi poster for the 1979 election campaign.

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So where now?

Unsurprisingly the positive, open ended campaign attracted more votes. After all, who wouldn’t want to take control? The problem now, however, is that people who voted to leave did so for a vast array of reasons. In the aftermath of the campaign it seems few of them were related to the EU.

The leave campaign’s castle of clouds is melting away. Election promises about money to the NHS, limiting immigration and so on have all evaporated. Of the three most prominent leave campaigners, Gove, Johnson and Farage, only Gove remains, his hands bloodied after backstabbing Johnson. Because the marketing promise of the election was so vast and ill defined, it is inevitable that there will be ‘buyer’s remorse’.

The Remain camp too. David Cameron has resigned. While the Labour party, largely ineffectual in communicating their Remain support, is left in disarray.

We who live in the UK needed better from our political class. Possibly the most marketing savvy country in the world fell foul of terrible campaigns, of fear and empty promises. The media too were either partisan or failed to unpick the arguments.

There is a crisis in the UK, that affects the stability of other countries in Europe and beyond. It manifests itself as a political and economic crisis. But at its heart is also a crisis in the way we communicate with each other. There has to be a better way than this.

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The Remembering Cliffs in The Island Review

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Always nice to see a poem I wrote years ago, crop up again. Of all poems I have written  this is a firm favourites, and comes straight from the heart. I wrote it in my late 20s and it has been collected in A Guernsey Double. The photo is me a couple of years ago on a Guernsey cliff path.

See the Remembering Cliffs in The Island Review.

 

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