In Conversation with Adetokumboh M’Cormack and Raphael Corkhill: Africa, the Power of Storytelling and The German King

Trailer The German King

Adetokumboh M’Cormack (writer/director/actor/producer) and Raphael Corkhill (actor/producer) talk about their lives, the journey to becoming storytellers, role film has to play in changing the narrative of Africa and their upcoming feature film The German King which tells the true, untold story of the Cameroonian king and freedom fighter, Rudolf Duala Manga Bell, who led an uprising on the eve of World War I against Kaiser Wilhelm II’s oppressive colonial rule.

AM: I remember my first play at the age of 3 at the kindergarten back home in Sierra Leone. I was wearing a mask, fell off the stage and couldn’t wait to get back on! But those early experiences were when I fell in love with telling stories, which stayed with me growing up in Nigeria and Kenya before I moved to the US to train professionally as an actor at SUNY Purchase. Now, I love telling stories that show “us” – specifically Africans – in a different light from the negative and stereotypical images we typically see: terrorists, scammers, drug dealers and child soldiers. We are dignified, proud, smart, so many of us are regal, we have a rich history. But the experiences that I have seen on film do not reflect my own experience, and so I really felt the need to tell a different narrative.

RC: I didn’t start acting until after university so you have a headstart there! I did other kinds of performance: I grew up in London and South Wales and was a chorister in the Queen’s personal choir, the Chapel Royal, I played the ‘cello in various orchestras before becoming a professional DJ, which is how I made money while at college at Princeton. But storytelling, specifically through acting, has been a constant presence in my life. Remind me – how did you first learn about King Rudolf?

AM: It was probably just after the fiftieth time I had an audition to play a terrorist. Growing up I saw these amazing stories like Braveheart or Gladiator – all these really amazing heroes… who were white! It seemed that time and again we were being told that our African heroes did not exist of course they existed – we just hadn’t had an opportunity to tell their stories. So I started researching African heroes and thousands of stories came up. I just gravitated to King Rudolf. 

RC: When you first told me about his story it was like you were uncovering layer upon layer of history and heroism. The fact that King Rudolf not only knew Kaiser Wilhelm II personally, but they’d grown up together as young men and been close friends; the fact that their sons also later grew up together in Germany as friends; the fact that King Rudolf’s identity and loyalties are pretty divided as a result of his early experiences all were evidence of this.

AM: You have this Cameroonian prince who grew up in Germany with Wilhelm and was pretty much brainwashed into becoming German – he spoke German, dressed in a German way and felt German to his core. Then he came back to Cameroon to become king after his father passed and started seeing what tyrannical German rule was doing to his people. Subjugated, enslaved, killed. Not just in Cameroon but also in what is now called Namibia – the near extermination of the Nama and Herero peoples. 

We are especially keen to partner with investors who seek who understand the power of underrepresented perspectives to shape and strengthen group identity, cultural richness and social cohesion the world over.

Adetokumboh M’Cormack

RC: The way their relationship is shown in the film also reveals a different side to Kaiser Wilhelm. He was very much the cruel, irrational dictator he is generally presented as. But the story also shows the nuance of his character: the deep love he has for his family, the duty he feels towards Germany. Even the warped sense of betrayal he feels after King Rudolf’s uprising. Ironically, those same factors motivate Rudolf, the main difference of course being that Rudolf’s eyes are wide open, whereas Wilhelm is blinded by his own insecurities. The narrative Wilhelm created for himself was crystal clear in the script and the film asks us to consider our own narratives and prejudices, which can sometimes be buried quite deep.

AM: The more I read about King Rudolf’s life, the more I realized we were so similar. I had a bit of an identity crisis when I came to America and I remember for the first time being called the N-word. I remember turning around being like “who are they talking to?” To realize that I was that N-word that these people were talking about – in their eyes that was how they saw me. It was a really interesting thing to see that as much as I thought of myself in a certain way, at the end of the day, those who hated me because of my skin color or those who didn’t understand me because of my skin color saw me in a completely different light than I saw myself. 

RC: In the same way that an individual can experience a real split between their self-image and the way the rest of the world sees them, so entire regions can experience the same disconnect between the way they see themselves and the way they are characterised throughout the world. The German King seeks to undo that completely. In fact we go through that process with Rudolf as we see him wrestle with his loyalties before coming to the realisation that he must do everything possible, whatever the cost to himself, to fight for justice, and sacrifice his own freedom and wellbeing for that of Cameroon. 

AM: Building on the buzz from our short film, which has now qualified Academy Award consideration, we’re definitely going to dive deeper into the relationship and complexities of the friendship between King Rudolf and Kaiser Wilhelm in the feature-length film. And we’re also going to see some of the other people who were instrumental in bringing about change. The Africans who fought in WWI, and also ones also on the forefront of bringing about the end of German colonial rule within Africa. We start shortly after the Scramble for Africa so you get to understand why the colonial powers were in Africa in the first place.

RC: The script is ready, the budget and schedule are set, and we’re chomping at the bit to start shooting. Of course, to do justice to the story and King Rudolf’s legacy, the film requires financing and we are currently seeking investment. In addition to the drama and intrigue of this epic moment in history, the film will have powerful battle sequences that portray the violent nature of German colonialism and the Cameroonian uprising. We are especially keen to partner with investors who seek to retell the narrative of Africa, who wish to give a platform to minority viewpoints, and who understand the power of underrepresented perspectives to shape and strengthen group identity, cultural richness and social cohesion the world over.


Adetokumboh M’Cormack was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone and began his career as an actor at the age of twelve. With a background in Fine Arts from Purchase College Acting Conservatory in New York, His credits include leading roles in movies like Columbia Pictures’ blockbuster Battle Los Angeles, Blood Diamond alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, and Captain America: Winter Soldier. He has also starred in hit TV shows like Lost, 24 and NCIS and currently voices the character ‘Isaac’ on the Netflix animated tv series Castlevania. Wanting to tell more stories about people underrepresented in mainstream media, M’Cormack also writes, produces and directs. His works include the award winning short film Irish Goodbye and October 96.

Born in the UK, Raphael grew up in London and South Wales. He went to United States to attend Princeton University where he studied history with a focus on colonialism in West Africa after which, winning a full scholarship, he went on to attend drama school at the University of Southern California. Followng this he established himself as a video game voice actor during which time he worked with Adetokumboh. In 2014 Raphael moved to New York to focus on film, television and theatre, playing the role of ‘Hamlet’ in the groundbreaking play United States of Banana by the eminent Puerto Rican writer Giannina Braschi. Raphael’s onscreen work includes The Blacklist (NBC), Happy! (SyFy), The Hunt (Amazon) and, most recently, an acclaimed performance in The Goldfinch (Warner Bros.) alongside Angel Elgort and Nicole Kidman.




The Best Stories from Non-Fiction Casino-Themed Books

Works like Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The
Gambler
, and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas feature
stories that transcend the casino genre, exploring themes that could easily
appeal to those with little interest in poker or roulette. However, those with
a keener interest in the mechanics of the casino industry may be better served
by the non-fiction genre.

These books can often read more like gripping novels, as the real stories of
those in the casino business can be as wild as any work of fiction. With that
in mind, here are three essential books for anyone looking to learn more
about the intricacies of the casino industry.

David G. Schwartz:
Roll the Bones

For a broad but compelling overview of the history of gambling, Schwartz’s Roll
the Bones
is the ideal starting point. Betting wasn’t invented in Las
Vegas, while modern table games haven’t always looked the way they do today.
Those games are the result of thousands of years of development, with different
cultures placing their own spin on the world of gambling. Schwartz’s epic
journey through history
takes us from the prehistoric rolling of
knucklebones right up to the rise of Las Vegas as a modern tourist destination.

Source: Pixabay

Schwartz not only takes us through time, but he also takes us across
continents; the book explores everything from twelfth-century China, where
playing cards were invented, to the role of the British Empire in spreading
gambling across the world. The ambition of Schwartz’s work makes it a must-read
for anyone fascinated by the history of gambling.

Warren Nelson:
Always Bet on the Butcher

Always Bet on the Butcher is a distinctive piece of oral history
that takes us through Warren Nelson’s experience of the American gambling
industry from the 1930s to the 1980s. Nelson gives his unique perspective on
the development of the casinos in the US, beginning against the backdrop of the
Great Depression and ending with Nelson as a key figure in Las
Vegas. Nelson tells true tales that are as memorable as any work of
fiction.

One story from the 1940s explains how one casino operator used live mice in
a roulette table, with a mouse scurrying about the wheel until it chose a hole
to settle into – the number above that hole would be the winner. That variation
didn’t catch on; an online collection
of roulette casino games
may include 3D titles or a version with a Superman
theme, but it is a mouse-free zone. As a renowned innovator himself, it is the
work of the likes of Nelson that paved the way for so many modern variations of
online casino games.

Source: Pixabay

Nelson Johnson:
Boardwalk Empire

Many casino books written by American authors inevitably end up with a
strong focus on Las Vegas. Nelson Johnson’s Boardwalk Empire bucks the
trend, instead delivering a remarkable insight into the life of casinos in
Atlantic City. Despite being a New York Times bestseller, many people still may
know Johnson’s work best from its HBO TV adaptation, with Steve Buscemi in the lead role and Martin
Scorsese as executive producer.

However, Johnson’s book remains the definitive true retelling of life in
Prohibition-era New Jersey. For example, Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson, inspired
by the real political kingpin Enoch L. Johnson. Johnson’s book explores the
life of his namesake in comprehensive and fascinating detail, with the rise of
Atlantic City casinos often considered to be a tale that is stranger than
fiction.

While these three books are true in their content, they use source material
that may not be widely known. If you’re looking for a deeper insight into how
the casino industry became the cultural giant that it is today, then this trio
of books is a great place to start.




How to Identify an Addiction and Get Over It

Picture Credits: Dirk Wohlrabe

Addiction: While this nine letter word may sound very harmless, it has the power to suck the happiness out of everyone dealing with it and everyone surrounded by the person going through it. What’s your addiction? It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a heavy drinking problem or gambling addiction, the first part of overcoming the problem is identifying it. Most people who develop addiction don’t confront it and realise the gravity of the situation only when things start getting out of hand. 

However, the good news is that you have recognised that you have a problem and are ready to tackle it. Although quitting an addiction is a very complicated process, it is doable. If you are facing these two symptoms, it is about time, you do something about your addiction, before you hit rock bottom.

Tolerance

It is one of the key symptoms of addiction. Tolerance is a psychological process that makes you less sensitive to a drug or behaviour. When you are taking an addictive substance for the first time, you might feel a bit overwhelmed or a certain unpleasantness. But as you continue taking the substance and keep repeating the behaviour, you become less sensitive to it, and you need to increase the amount of dosage to get the same effect. Drugs affect specific parts of your brain to develop a physical tolerance, whereas behaviours such as gambling have psychological effects of excitement that get you hooked. 

Withdrawal

Tolerance and withdrawal go hand in hand. When you develop more tolerance to a substance or a behaviour, you need to keep repeating it. As you become addicted to it, you may experience shaking, feeling sick, stomach problems and/or depression. A person at this stage is helpless and is driven to take the addictive substance or repeat the behaviour. This can be a very difficult situation for an addict, and if you are going through with it, it is best if you do it under medical supervision in a rehab centre. By signing up at www.help4addiction.co.uk, you will be able to get the help you need. 

After you have acknowledged these symptoms and decided that you have to do something about your condition, here are three things you must do to in order to get on the right track.

Write a Journal

After interviewing several addicts, researchers found that each of them said that writing a journal helped them a lot. You should start out by writing about the harmful effects of your addiction, making a list of the changes you want in your life, and why you want to quit. It might not feel very good at the start, but gradually you will become used to it and seeing your commitments in writing will be good for you. 

Make a Schedule 

Another thing you should do is chalk out a plan. You can set a date to motivate you to quit. You can also get professional help and join support programs. These therapy sessions help you understand that you are not alone and that other people are going through similar stuff. Meanwhile, you should also identify what triggers you to engage in addictive behaviour and gradually take up new habits to overcome them. 

Handling Withdrawal

The hardest part about quitting is withdrawal. You can reach the finish line by staying motivated, going through with the set schedule and filling your time with family and friends to stay busy. Everyone slips from time to time. Don’t be ashamed of yourself if you have slipped up in between. Just remember why you wanted to overcome your addiction.




Virtual Reality and the Future of Art

Every generation brings about shifts in how we view and create art. This is a simple and natural part of artistic evolution, and it may even seem so self-evident as to appear a truism. When looking at changes brought about by new virtual reality technology, however, this raises some important questions as to how we engage any visual artistic medium.

What new opportunities does this technology open for creation and appreciation? How does it relate to other strong VR experiences like gaming, and where might we draw the line between basic engagement and authentic experience?

Before taking a more detailed look, its first necessary to understand the current state of being of virtual reality artistic experiences. VR has come a long way, that much is true, but it also has considerable distance left to travel before it becomes a deeply valuable part of artistic culture. This is owed to the fidelity we require when experiencing and creating art compared to many other industries like gaming, which also benefit from VR.

Gaming, as an example, works perfectly well with traditional methods of access. Placing and understanding the types of roulette bets and odds can be done flawlessly in traditional formats, while this industry, like so many others, sees only minor potential in VR engagement. VR Art, on the other hand, could be transformative on an entirely different level.

VR allows artists to create within an entirely simulated world. Expression within this virtual world can take the form of traditional moving or still creations, or through the generation of complex complete environments. Artists working with this aether can give form to abstractions only imaginable within real physical space.

With VR, patrons of the art will be able to take an active exploratory part in their appreciation, with no risk of danger or damage to themselves or the projects. Imagine a 3D Escher, made traversable in all of its impossibilities. This is just a small portion of the potential which VR holds.

In terms of experiencing traditional art, this technology could also work to considerably lower the barriers to access. As much as many of us would love to experience the Louvre in person, visiting is no simple feat. We have to factor in the cost, the time requirements, and the realities of travelling with illness. All of this, just to brave massive crowds.

VR could allow the full virtualisation of this museum, with a level of visual quality on par with the real thing. While some early versions of this idea exist already, limitations on scanning and viewing headsets are yet to reach a truly perfect representation of this space.

So, what does this mean about how we think of artistic appreciation? Can the scanning of real art with a level of quality far beyond what the human eye can see come close to replicating the experience of the real thing? Will gatekeeping ‘authentic’ experiences hamper the value we put on this form of engagement?

As a form of access and creation of art, virtual reality is still in its infancy. As the tools and tech for both the active and passive parts of the equation improve, however, expect this avenue to only grow more popular. But will it be welcome or shunned by the greater community? That much, at least, remains to be seen.




How to Find the Best Free Things on the Web

Picture Credits: fancycrave1

Once created to be the driving force of human advancement as a method of sharing information across the globe, most people primarily use the internet for entertainment these days. Be it scrolling through social media, reading top-ten articles, or accessing content, the internet has become the go-to place for fun and enjoyment. With it being so easy to share things across the internet, many websites have evolved to offer three primary entertainment mediums for free, with those being literature, gaming, and listening to music.

There is an ocean of content out there across each of these three mediums, with so many opportunities to read, play, or listen to high-quality content for free, if you know where to look. Here, we’ll be looking at some of the more popular websites at which you can find the best free things on the web.

Finding great literature for free

Tapped-In gives the low-down on Project Gutenberg and how you can use it to read eBooks for free.

There’s nothing quite like finding an enticing book and losing yourself in the characters and the story. While the internet is teeming with informative websites that all but relay the information within non-fiction tomes, top-quality fiction can be hard to come by. Many people will go onto blogs to tell short stories or recount tales but to find a truly interesting and entertaining bit of fictional literature online, you need to dig a little deeper.

Luckily for anyone reading this article, you’re just a couple of clicks away from delving into some superb fictional writings. At Litro, our Fiction section is filled with editor’s pick stories, all of which we deem to be of great quality and very entertaining. The FlashFriday section features shorter tales for those of you who just want a quick read, while the TuesdayTales and SundayStories tend to be longer for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the work of the author.

Another great website for literature is Project Gutenberg. Focussing on older works for which the copyright has expired in the United States of America, the website is loaded with free eBooks that have been proofread and digitised by volunteers. There aren’t any fees, and you don’t even need to register, meaning that Project Gutenberg is a truly free-to-use eBook service, but small donations are appreciated.

Finding great games for free

Ninja Kiwi’s 2011 Bloons Tower Defence 5 is still one of the most popular flash games online.

As much as buyable PC game discs often provided a higher quality gaming experience (with a triple-A price tag), online browser games used to be just as entertaining and enjoyable. Easy to access with simple controls but quirky gameplay mechanics, online browser games were the go-to way of having some quick fun for many people.

Now PC gaming is dominated by game storefronts from which innovative new paid games can be purchased, but there are still remnants of top-class gaming for free online through the traditional method. One of the best online browser gaming websites is Kongregate. It gives you access to fan-favourite games like the arena combat sensation Swords and Souls as well as the ragdoll sandbox game Mutilate-a-Doll 2. For those returning to the form of free gaming, Kongregate also boasts a library of classic series like Bloons Tower Defence and Learn to Fly, with Bloons TD 5, Learn to Fly 2 and Learn to Fly 3 still sit among the top-rated games.

Those who are looking to engage in some online browser gaming but prefer even more traditional games to these video game-type titles can turn to bingo online. The classic live game has seen a resurgence online, bringing in a new audience primarily due to the offering of free bingo. The free bingo online games don’t require a deposit to play and offer bonus cash as rewards to newcomers, meaning that the free play can turn into real winnings – although there are playthrough requirements that are worth bearing in mind. To further open the door to free gaming, bingo online also offers five more free bingo rooms to those who do wish to make a deposit.

Finding great music for free

For most people, listening to great music means that you need to find a platform that offers tracks from some of the world’s most popular artists. It’s also nice to hear a unique remix or cover now and then, but for the most part, people want to hear music from bands and singers that they know and follow. So, when looking for the best places to get great music for free, you have to turn to the big-name, mainstream offerings.

Spotify is recognised as the biggest music streaming platform available, boasting over 40 million songs and a free account service. With Spotify Free, you can listen to the majority of the music library – except any new releases for up to two weeks – can use it across computers, phones, and PlayStations, and allows for mobile streaming. The sacrifice to having the free account rather than the paid Spotify Premium account is that there will be advertising breaks between songs and you don’t get access to new releases straight away or offline listening – which really helps if you have smaller data plans.

One of Spotify’s closest contenders is SoundCloud. Making its name as the home of up-and-coming acts, DJ remixes, and covers, SoundCloud needed to step into the subscription pool to make some money off of its listeners after signing with major labels Universal Music, Sony Music, and Warner Music. The platform currently boasts over 150 million tracks its community of creators and professional musicians and is free to use. In a comparison between the free service and the premium SoundCloud Go, it was found that the adverts on the free version aren’t as aggressive as those on Spotify or YouTube, with the overall premium experience being very similar to the free version.

Many would automatically rate Spotify above SoundCloud, but due to the ocean of unique tracks, the inclusion of many big-name artists, and less aggressive advertising set-up, it’s difficult to argue that SoundCloud isn’t the better free service. Of course, both platforms offer a multitude of songs for free, so it really comes down to your own personal preference, but if you like discovering something a little new or different, SoundCloud may be the way to go.

As you can see, there are many great ways for you to enjoy high-quality literature, gaming, and music completely free of charge.




The Growing Influence of Video Games on Our Culture

Picture Credits: Chanzj

The video gaming sector has seen significant changes in the last decade or so. Statistics relating to the industry traditionally centred around who was playing video games. In the present day, however, the reach of video games is such that now the questions are more likely to concern which games, on which devices and with whom? With total video game sales exceeding $43.4 billion in 2018, it follows that video games have an undeniable effect on our culture. But just what is behind the driving influence of the industry and what can we expect to see in the future?

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Fornite’s Foray into the Mainstream

Those who follow the video gaming scene will already be well aware of the drawing power of Fortnite. The game has become a staple for streaming sites such as Twitch and popular figures on the site such as Ninja (real name Tyler Blevins) have helped briefly bring the game into the public eye. However, the recent Fortnite World Cup garnered worldwide coverage due to the event’s massive prize purse and competency of its young competitors. The tournament was eventually won by Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, who scooped $3 million dollars in the solos portion of the competition and also gained worldwide fame and notoriety. The fact that the name, “Bugha” was trending on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the event is proof that Fornite and video gaming in general has taken its place in mainstream popular culture.

The Increasing Influence of Online Gambling

The latest statistics suggest that the online casino industry will be worth $94 billion by the year 2024, which will represent a 104% increase since 2017. Those unfamiliar with the online casino sector often hold the mistaken belief that platforms offer only traditional games such as blackjack and roulette. However, the industry has branched out and diversified in the last decade or so, offering video games which are every bit as playable and immersive as those on next generation consoles; one only has to play king jackpot games on Paddy Power and other such titles to see this first hand. With the advertising exposure of sports betting platforms also growing by the day, online gambling is undoubtedly a huge part of our every day lives.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Record labels are the latest to tap into the inherent power of the video gaming industry. Back in June, Sony Music launched the record label, Lost Rings, which is essentially a label “about gaming culture, for gaming culture, created by gamers”. With independent EDM label Monstercat also looking to get in on the act, the amalgamation of music and video game streaming will surely further propel video games into the public eye. With gamers such as Bugha already being lauded as celebrities, the continuous rise of eSports could well blur the lines between the movie, music and gaming industries and it won’t be long before professional gamers are regarded in the same standing as Hollywood actors and best-selling musicians. Or so we hope.




7 Books that will Change Your Life

Picture Credits: deejaymarlon

The power of self-help and self-development books should never be underestimated, from inspiring career success to helping people to deal with grief, finding and reading the right books can transform your life. Here we discuss some of our favourite self-help books that aim to conjure life-changing results from within.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Expert psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, guides readers through the concept of ‘flow’ where deeper levels of creativity and enjoyment are made possible by controlling the state of consciousness. Described by some as the ‘Handbook on Happiness’, this book delves into psychology to enable readers to learn how to be happier and how to remain in control of their personal ‘flow’. 

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Covey’s book has been flying off the shelves since 1989 and provides a valuable insight into the habits of the most effective kinds of people; such as being proactive and seeking continual improvement. This is perfect for anyone who wants to increase productivity and concentrate on the important tasks that promise results. Covey’s 7 habits model is often used by life coaches and other professionals as personal and professional research material to equally help guide themselves and their clients.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle

If you are the kind of person that is interested in spirituality, enjoy taking part in regular psychic readings and are keen to explore the realms of the spiritual world – or you want to know what all the fuss is about regarding mindfulness, this book will have you gripped. Even the great Oprah Winfrey advocates this book as staple material on the field of enlightenment. 

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

One of the most well-known books on success, Carnegie offers insight and wisdom into ways of working that aim to help propel a person to career success by knowing how to influence people. There is even a Dale Carnegie training company operating across the UK if you want to learn even more.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

For anyone that feels their fear is getting in the way of achieving their dreams and potential, The Alchemist is a book that will take them through the journey of overcoming them and staying focused on what they want to achieve. If you’re looking for inspiration and motivation in a dark time, or you just want to push yourself and your personal potential further – Coelho’s book is a great read.

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan​​​​​​​

This award-winning book has been successful across the globe, helping people to cut through distractions, be more productive and spend more time doing the things they enjoy like spending time with family and practising self-care. This book is all about focusing on the more important priorities that seem small at the time but will lead to achieving ‘bigger picture’ goals.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

There is an abundance of productivity-inspired books out there but this one really hits home and provides the reader with easy changes they can make in their lives to drive big results. From desk organisation to mastering workflow, after reading Allen’s book you will feel compelled to put actions into place and to get things done with a natural efficiency.

If you are looking to get more from your life and reach your highest potential, then you should definitely put aside some important time to indulge in some of these inspiring books.




The Rise of the Digital Author: Literary Success Within the Virtual Domain

Many of us have nurtured the notion of becoming a successful writer. In the past, such a vision was nearly impossible to achieve due to the sheer logistics. From editing fees and publication rights to altogether traditional concerns such as typesetting and graphical design, such processes could cost well into the thousands of pounds. However, the rise of the Internet has enabled many talented individuals to create literary masterpieces without becoming mired within financial concerns. It is nonetheless a fact that gaining the appropriate amount of exposure is the ultimate key to success. Unfortunately, simply posting one’s work on independent blogs within niche markets might not be sufficient. This is why a growing number of budding writers are choosing to partner with respected enterprise ecommerce software platforms. How can these two seemingly disparate industries work in conjunction and what benefits will they be able to provide the average author?

The Principle Behind E-Commerce

One of the traits which many writers possess is that they are wary about becoming involved within the marketing community. In other words, they place artistic creation before physical sales. While this is indeed a noble trait, the term “starving artist” often comes to mind. It is important to realise that exposure is the ultimate key to success. This is when e-commerce applications will prove themselves to be extremely useful.

E-commerce software bundles are essentially digital platforms which enable a website to gain a greater online audience. While often used by retail businesses and similar trades, the fact of the matter is that writers can just as easily introduce the public to their works via such methods. A greater number of website visitors will naturally equate to a higher turnover in regards to the number of copies sold, so it only makes sense that such software should be embraced as opposed to shunned.

More than One Channel Alone

It is just as critical to mention that the most well-known digital authors are already aware that they must introduce themselves across multiple different platforms. We are not only referring to a static website in this sense. Social media circles, blog posts and online forums are other excellent ways to meet like-minded individuals and to become familiar with the online literary community. This concept is known as multi-channel marketing in more technical terms. However, the principle is nonetheless the same. A greater amount of exposure will help to boost sales alongside the reputation of the author in question.

To be absolutely clear, the physical publication of books is still a viable option and this traditional reading material is not going away any time soon. The key takeaway point is that the emergence of the digital age has opened up an entirely new realm of possibilities for up-and-coming authors. It only makes sense to take advantage of such a medium in order to maximise your chances of enjoying a successful career. From full-length novels to short stories and poetry, the digital age promises to offer a plethora of unique opportunities.




And now he is Mad

Picture Credits: Oleksy Ohurtsov

Mr Cole stands in his black suit beside the street waiting for 12 o’clock taxis. His right hand holds firmly the grip of his umbrella that covers him and his black hat from the hot sun. In his left hand is his briefcase containing papers of land agreements. His shadow stands narrowly alongside with the exact posture of him.

He is looking at a lady dancing at the
other side of the street with her flimsy gown blowing up that her underwear is
barely shown. Mr Cole, for a while, looks away from her and stiffens his gaze
to the ground with his eyes getting swollen by the scorched asphalt. He again
looks up to blink his eyes and sees the lady standing motionless and her gown
blowing up still.

He crosses to the other side of the street and walks up to the lady to tell her her dress is revealing her invaluable secrets. As he taps the lady’s shoulder, she turns back. Mr Cole throws his briefcase up letting the papers fling up into the air. His umbrella gets scattered on the street and his hat follows him for two inches before it drops off his head. He runs back, holding his chest, patting. He looks up again and starts babbling “no no no no… “.

The lady isn’t a lady. The lady is Mr
Cole’s neighbour living adjacent to his apartment. His name is James, he is a man
and he is now mad.




Litro call for collaborators

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Litro call for collaborators: immersive storytelling about rough sleepers’ and migrants experiences.

Litro are the innovative storytelling platform in print & online based at Somerset House. We are now developing a new site-specific content and delivery platform for immersive experiences in public spaces and are seeking partners to collaborate on this platform’s further development and deployment. In particular we are looking for potential partners interested in making a joint application to The Innovate UK Smart Grant for the autumn round of funding in October 2019. The potential project focuses on conveying the experience of rough sleepers and migrants on the streets of London by capturing their stories in audio, video, print and VR. Working with partners like St Pancras International station and Shelter, the stories will then be shared with the public in specially designed listening booths.

The Project Platform Outline:

1) The subject – 10 subjects (rough sleepers and migrants) will be followed for a period of a month – to capture each subjects story on audio, video and print.

2) The deployment environment – Working with partners such as St Pancras International station – audiences will be able to listen to the stories – in specially designed listening booths, for health and safety (mental and emotional support) we plan to team up with organisations such as Shelter – whose staff will be on hand for decompression and exit of audiences.

3) The content – For longevity of the project – stories will published in print and made available online – future plans would be to enable interactive VR storytelling – i.e.: audiences could for instance experience a rough sleepers at night or a migrants journey to the UK etc.

4) The content delivery booths – The demo for the booths should be easily transportable as we would plan to tour the project around major cities of the UK with potential to look at global cities such as NYC, San Francisco, where Litro currently operates.

Snapshot of the potential collaborator we are seeking:

We are interested in speaking with companies in the Gateway cluster with a range of capabilities in immersive content production, experience in production of immersive experiences for public audiences, experience in implementing public facing immersive experiences, and capabilities in designing and producing the external content ‘Delivery Booths’.

We believe this project has great potential to help in developing engaging immersive story telling experiences & make the next generation of storytelling even better, and hope you will join us in this new endeavour.

Please contact [email protected] to express interest.




Litro Desire issue


Cover design Noa Gravesky

Table of Contents

Summer 2019

The Editor’s Letter
Eric Akoto

Guest Editor’s Introductory Note
Ira Silverberg

Nadia Owusu “A Good Mask
Chika Onyenezi – “Complicated Blues
Lawrence Schimel – “Fresh Sheets and Five other short stories
Frederick McKindra – “Unmastered Desires
Ingrid Norton – “Into the Pleroma
Laila Halaby – “Court
Leah Dworkin – “The Little Mermaid
Hannah Seidlitz – “Homebound”




Court

D’Ora wakes up smooth.

Enjoy these few seconds, girl.

Three… two…one …bam!

She gets out of bed and whispers good mornings to Marta’s dog. The dog is preparing to die on a pile of old towels in the corner. D’Ora doesn’t want to disturb her. The dog’s breathing is shallow.

Don’t hurt, little girl. Either die or get better. If I had some oxy I’d cut it up and give it to you.

Probably not a good idea right now since she has court today. She carries this dull thud with her into the kitchen where Marta is watching the news. From the looks of things on CNN, no one else is doing too well either.

D’Ora needs a minute to orient herself as she goes to the always-full coffee pot. She had forgotten about the election. Didn’t vote. Isn’t sure if she’s registered. “My vote doesn’t matter,” she had told Marta.

“Every vote matters. You’re a fool if you believe otherwise.”

How can a person as smart as Marta believe that?

Marta is talking to the television. D’Ora doesn’t say anything anymore, but it’s beyond her why Marta bothers using up all that energy to get mad at something that doesn’t have anything to do with her.

“All those people sobbing like this is their first disappointment. White people. Privileged people. Plenty of brown people sobbing too. Their pain makes sense though. They thought they had something. They – we – have a lot more to lose.”

A young man is being interviewed. D’Ora imagines her son might look like that one day. He is smiling sad and looking away from the camera like he is following a memory. “Seeing the election results feels like watching the girl you love walking off with Charles Manson.”

Marta nods and smiles. “He gets it.

D’Ora has no idea who Charles Manson is.

Two old white ladies are standing arm in arm. One wears a smooth white jacket and matching ugly pants that again remind D’Ora of her appointment in court. The other lady has a t-shirt that says Nasty Woman. They must be in their seventies and look the kind of healthy and cared for that having money and husbands can give you. “We have been waiting for this day,” matching lady says. “This was supposed to be our day.” Her voice cracks. “I still can’t believe this is happening.”

“Believe it,” Marta says.

D’Ora wants to say that the t-shirt seems strange for a woman that age.

Marta looks exhausted. “I’ve been up all night. This is unbelievable. I’d bet money lots of those protesters didn’t even vote.” She turns back to the television and yells, “This is yours. You asked for this moment. And now you’ve got it on a gold-plated platter.”

“It’s going to get ugly,” D’Ora says using words she heard someone say a couple of days ago. None of it seems to have anything to do with her.

“It already is ugly.”

D’Ora doesn’t like to watch the news but she doesn’t want Marta to think that she is stupid. She sits down at the table and drinks her coffee swirled up with CNN and Marta’s talking back and pretends she’s interested, tries to keep up.

“Following the election results there is outrage everywhere. There have even been reports of rioting in Portland.”

“Rioting in Portland sounds like the name of a band,” Marta says and nudges D’Ora with her elbow.

D’Ora with her coffee tries to focus and listen and care, but in a quick minute her mind goes to Phil. It’s been doing that a lot lately. Maybe because of court. Not Phil with a bullet in his face, but Phil who found her on a mall bench all those years ago and poured sweetness onto her. Phil who said that looking at her was like looking at strawberries that had been picked too early: they were still beautiful and plump, but they were bitter for not being allowed to ripen. He had just enough sugar to sprinkle on them to make them come into their own natural sweetness. That was Phil. He talked to her with charm like she mattered. Brought out her true self. She trusted him. Trusted him with everything.

He didn’t ruin her – which is what Marta had said – because her cousin had already done that. Marta doesn’t know about her cousin. They don’t talk about the long-ago things like family. Phil had made it go on a lot longer – had pimped her out for years – but had also loved her, unlike her cousin and his friends. Phil had acted tough but was soft inside. She saw through him, saw his shaky moments when he’d walk around the apartment touching things – furniture, clothing, himself – as though he were reassuring himself that he existed. Made her want to protect him. Turned out he was full-on crazy. Brain-tumor crazy. They didn’t find that out until after the bullet.

Just after Phil had died and she was trying to get off the streets, she had been talking to the mandated psychologist about that first day in the mall and the strawberries. She knew she was supposed to say horrible things about Phil, but he was dead and everyone knew the bad, so she talked about the other things.

The psychologist had interrupted her. Phil Martin? We are talking about Phil Martin?

D’Ora had nodded.

The same Phil Martin who beat a thirteen-old girl to death because she had skimmed money after he pimped her out? The same Phil Martin who sold you repeatedly to other men when you were a teenager, who kept you like that for years, and who injected you with drugs when you were pregnant because he knew that way the baby would be removed from your custody and he could still profit from you? That Phil Martin?

Meth. He injected me with meth. Yes, he wanted all my attention. He was a child himself. People show different sides of themselves to different people. He started out different with me. You can say it was part of his plan, but he really loved me.

She’d been thinking this a lot lately. That she had been loved. And it was love that had destroyed her.

No, you are not destroyed. You are at the front door of a new day.

Feeling love had opened the cap on the destruction that lived within her.

The psychologist had opened her eyes larger. Was that surprise? The psychologist relaxed her face again and watched her, waiting. She was trying to hold onto her emotions, struggling against laughter or screaming or some other loud and inappropriate response.

This is why D’Ora hated the psychologists and social workers and case managers she was forever having to interact with: their job is to help and guide, but they cannot handle the truth and details of real life. Of her real life. And their own shit always shows through.

Still, she accepted whatever kindness they could offer.

This psychologist was easy to talk to, didn’t seem to judge too much.

D’Ora had said that in their session. The psychologist asked her if she often felt like she was being judged.

“A lot, yeah,” D’Ora had said. “Always.”

“How do you judge yourself?”

She answered before she could think. “I am shit. But I am also beautiful.”

The psychologist had smiled at her. “If we’ve been judged too much we tend to take on those judgments as fact. Internalize those words we’ve heard over and over. Very important to be able to trust the words in our heads. If we’ve been given too many lies or ugly ones all we trust is that we are those things, the stuff that says we are bad or ugly or stupid or whatever it is Those stories often dictate how we react and we tend to make poor choices. When we respect and love ourselves, the outcome is better. When we can tell ourselves we are good or strong or kind, we learn to believe it.”

At the time D’Ora had nodded, but hadn’t been able to take it all in.

“You have suffered because of your past and everything now comes through that filter. And you deal with us and we want to help, but we also know all of your everything details so sometimes we remind you of that more than is necessary. You need people who aren’t just looking at your surface and aren’t just looking at your past, people who know you, D’Ora the person. That is when you will find someone you can trust.”

That conversation was years ago but D’Ora remembers it often. Makes more sense of it with distance.

Marta is that kind of person. She doesn’t judge. Doesn’t look at her past and only see that. Doesn’t look at her today and only see that. Marta is good people.

You spend so much time trying to find yourself that you hold on for dear life so no one waltzes in and takes you away, hides you under his cloak.

*

After coffee and more than enough news D’Ora goes back to her room and talks aloud to the walls, to the windows, to the dying dog in the corner.

Wow, you’ve gotten a lot worse, girl. Your bones stick out so much. You’re barely breathing.

No good court shoes. No good court anything. That black dress. Too short. If I put a jacket over it, it will look professional. I will look like I can handle this situation. Clothes everywhere. I was organized once, used to be able to find anything clean and pressed. Those days are gone for now. People want to hate on a person for not keeping her house neat, well that’s on them. I know I can, because I could; I just can’t right now.

“What are you doing?” Marta asks from the doorway. D’Ora likes to pretend they’re related, especially when Marta comes with her to court. Marta would make a good mom. Courts don’t know that and took her two kids away years ago. That was when she was using and selling and living with a biker gang. No place for kids in that story. Then she found God. Now she works two jobs and opens her tiny apartment to people in need. For right now it is just her and D’Ora.

“How do you not put your clothes away? You are like a teenage boy.”

“I put them away, but then I go to find things in a hurry and chaos happens.”

They both giggle.

Chaos happens is something they say sometimes. Neither can remember who started saying it first.

Marta offered to loan her clothes, but everything she has is big and nothing will fit.

“I’m going to wear this to court.” D’Ora holds up the black dress.

“Girl, you must be crazy. You are going to court, not hooking.”

“I’ll put a jacket over it.”

“Let’s see the jacket.”

D’Ora picks through piles of clothes. I need to do laundry. She holds up a red silky jacket.

Marta makes a face.

D’Ora drops it back on the floor. “I know I have something professional in here.”

“Why don’t you fold the things you aren’t wearing? Or hang them up? Why do you just make the chaos grow?”

“I don’t have time for that. I have to get ready for court.”

“Court’s not until after one.”

“I need to get ready.”

“Blue. Blue would be good. I’ll be back.” Marta walks away. She does this when she gets frustrated. She thinks she’s subtle and no one notices, but D’Ora’s got her figured out. Walking away with whatever thoughts or memories she made come up by keeping her room messy. She should clean it. After court she will clean her room.

D’Ora stands up and looks around. It’s not like there’s so much stuff either but all what she has is a pile of mess. She spots blue and smiles out loud, drops out of her sweat pants and tank top and puts on the black dress. Without a jacket it is a bit much. The jacket though. It’s blue. Got some bling. Some shine. It’s a patriotic blue and the judge will like that. The best part is she has shoes to match. Doesn’t take much digging to find them. Hasn’t worn them in a while, but as she wriggles her feet in they feel good. I look good. Confident. Professional.

She walks out into the other room. Marta is cleaning the kitchen sink. Cleaning is something else she does when she is frustrated.

“I’m ready.”

Marta turns around. Because of the shoes they are almost eye-to-eye. Marta looks her up and down. She is thinking something, but her words don’t quite make it out.

*

D’Ora takes the shoes off and kneels in front of the dog. Smells are coming out of her everywhere. There’s sick in there, but there’s also something different. Medicine maybe. Her head is lifted and her breath is fast and strained.

D’Ora rocks gently back and forth, sucking on her finger and humming to the dog.

When she was on the streets after Phil kicked her out the first time she met a man who sucked on his finger too. She didn’t see it right away, but when he got to know her better he was himself. He was some kind of social worker, though when she first saw him she had thought he was a john with his pasty skin and look of wanting dripping off his face. This guy he was nice to her, helped her get in programs and tried to get her off the street.

That was his surface man. Underneath he was bad news, a hippopotamus sitting there in plain sight looking all still and innocent until it decides it’s hungry and then it’s all over in a blink.

One time she was in his office and strung out so she couldn’t sit still and she was wandering around and looking at his pictures and the flyers he had on the wall and she glanced at him from across the room and there he was with his fat pasty finger in his mouth, sucking on it like it was a tiny dick. She had laughed out loud because of the unexpectedness of it. He smiled that big friendly hippopotamus smile at her and asked her what she was laughing at. “You have issues. Mouth issues. You suck on your finger. You do it when you are scared? Worried?” Without missing a beat he told her he did it when he was turned on but couldn’t do anything about it. He smiled at her in an awful way that said he had power over her.

Twice he tried to fuck her. He didn’t expect her to come at him with a knife when he tried the first time, which turned him on as much as it scared him, gave him one more story to tell.

The second time he had tried to get her into his minivan, but she had been high and when she realized what he was about a quiet fury overtook her and it took three men to pull her off of him. She would have gouged out his eyeballs if she could have. After that he stopped paying any attention to her.

Rocking in front of Marta’s dying dog she wonders why all of this comes back to her now that her life is trying to be so different.

The dog’s ribs stick out with every breath and her hips poke upwards. The dog hasn’t been able to stand on its back legs for a few days. Marta and D’Ora take turns carrying it places. Inside. Outside. To get water. To eat. To pee. Sometimes they forget. Sometimes the dog wakes up soaked in pee because she can’t lift herself.

“If I ever get to that point please put a bullet in my head,” Marta says the same thing everyday. She doesn’t want the dog to suffer.

The heave rises up without announcing itself, starts just below her ribcage and moves like a giant stone beneath her heart. D’Ora forces herself to breathe, lies down on the floor next to the tiny dog with her face right close even though the smells coming out of the dog are terrible. Death smells.

D’Ora closes her eyes.

They taught her in one of her classes how to shut everything out. Focus on the breath. It was bullshit. But it also wasn’t. She forces the nasty smells coming off of the dog into her own lungs, jams all that burn into every cell of her body.

This is what I deserve.

I deserve shit.

I am shit.

D’Ora falls asleep for a bit. The stink is deep up inside her. Yes, this is who I am and exactly what I deserve. She dreams of being on a boat with a gutted whale. She pulls at the blubber and surrounds herself in it like a dress. It is both disgusting and comforting.

I am the queen of gross.

Girl, you beautiful.

Girl, you ratchet.

There is no end to the voices, but the blubber helps her to hide. Under the blubber she is safe.

*

When she wakes up, the little dog has gotten worse. She isn’t dead yet, but she isn’t breathing right and she is hurting.

D’Ora touches the dog’s head with her fingertips. There is a concave spot just below the dog’s ear, big enough to accommodate a large man’s thumb

After Phil was dead and when she still had her second daughter and was still using, she had a boyfriend. They had found a tiny Chihuahua the day they met. She kept it and cared for it. Late one night the boyfriend accidentally stepped on it. Her baby was asleep and the dog was screeching like it was a broken person, its whole body facing in wrong and impossible directions. The boyfriend was tired and didn’t want to deal with the dog so D’Ora scooped its yelping self into a blanket so she wouldn’t have to look at the impossible angles and ran to the 24-hour vet two blocks away. She wanted them to put it to sleep because she knew there was no fix for that much crooked. The vet people had come to her and removed her squealing pile of dog from her hands and taken her to the back. D’Ora sat down in a chair, pleased with herself for doing the right thing, the normal thing, until the woman came back and told her they had the dog under oxygen and were trying to assess whether they could save her.

No, she is too broken. You can’t save a dog that broken.

Our vet is doing an exam right now.

$479 later the dog was dead and D’Ora was in shock. Here she thought she’d done the right thing by the dog that they had found, that had never been to a vet, that ate whatever scraps were available, and she had to pay $479 to have it die in sheets. It was an insurmountable bill to be handed on top of death and D’Ora bartered a quarter gram and used as soon as she left. She went home to find her boyfriend gone and her daughter alone in her crib shrieking. Police pulled up just as she ran in because her daughter had been crying a while, perhaps the whole time D’Ora had been at the vet. Police questioned her and she told them about the dog dying and taking it to the vet and they could go and talk to the vet if they didn’t believe her.

“Why didn’t you take your daughter?”

“Because my boyfriend was here. I was going to an animal hospital and that’s no place for a baby.”

“Makes sense,” the officer said. “Did you know that he was going to leave?”

“What kind of question is that? Of course I didn’t know. I told him I was taking the dog and to stay with the baby and he said he was tired which was why he didn’t take the dog.”

“Do you know where he is now?”

“No idea. Maybe in hell.”

“Ma’am, are you okay?”

“I am fine. I just took a dying dog to the vet and they charged me $479 and it died. I just wanted them to put it to sleep and they charged me $479. Where is a person supposed to get that kind of money? I just wanted it not to hurt.” She couldn’t stop talking.

The officer was sweet. Young and innocent looking. “Right?” he had said. “They charge a lot and they know you aren’t going to argue because you are there with your dying animal, but for right now let’s focus on your daughter.”

“Exactly,” she had said, relieved that everything was going to be all right.

But it wasn’t and it never would be. Child Protective Services had been called and they felt the need to drug test her daughter and she tested positive for marijuana and cocaine.

“I don’t use either of those substances,” she had said.

“But you are her mother and you are in a house where those substances are being used.”

Looking back she has almost no memory of what happened afterwards. It involved a lot of yelling and throwing things and cursing at the nice young police officer who was not so innocent after all and had suspected that she was high and was trying to draw the conversation out in an effort to clarify.

Clarification occurred. She was arrested. She lost her daughter. One year and two days later her rights to a child were severed for a second time because she couldn’t get clean and if she was honest with herself she still wasn’t ready to be a mother.

And now here she is. Another dying dog and another child in DCS custody because of her drug use. This time, though, things are different. For the last 18 months she had supervised visitation with the baby, classes, and appointments. Mostly she has been doing good. A few bumps, which was why it is 18 months and not less.

Things are different now.

Phil had ruined everything, but Phil is dead now.

This time she is not stupid enough to take the dog to the vet. This time she will make the dog as comfortable as she can and when it is finally dead she will wrap it in towels and then a trash bag, maybe two, and she will throw it in a dumpster in the next alley. That is one way she can help Marta out, thank her for all she’s done.

*

1:20 is a strange time for a court appointment. It’s always been on the hour or half hour before. She double-checks the paper 1:20. She checks the paperwork by the door again though she has done this already half a dozen times. Sign-in sheet from the anger management classes and substance abuse classes. Signature card from counseling. Hours logged from the job-training program. Enrollment certificate in GED study program.

She has done everything they’ve asked of her. A short ripple of pride washes through her.

The television is still on because the television is always on. One of Marta’s friends spliced into a neighbor’s cable so they are binge-watching while they can. The volume is low and there is a beautiful breakfast in an impossibly clean white and wood kitchen. There is a family sitting at a round table and they are all eating pancakes and smiling.

Who are these people?

I want to give this to my son.

Even as the thought wanders through, she knows that a pretty life of blueberry pancakes and breakfast in a big airy kitchen is never going to be for her. Not ever. Something inside is rigged wrong.

Not a fucking chance.

Hard when you are out of the motherhood loop to just step back in. Hard to give all of yourself over if you got used to soothing your own pains.

Marta walks in the front door. They are only smoking outside now in anticipation of her son’s return.

“I can’t go with you to court today; I just got called in to work. They threatened to fire me if I don’t go and I can’t afford that right now, even if they are wrong for calling me in on my day off. You going to be okay?”

D’Ora’s stomach heaves. “I’ll be fine.”

They both know this is a lie.

“I called your lawyer and she is going to meet you there. I called your case manager and she can’t be there. They tried to find someone else, but I guess things are really short-staffed.”

“Marta, don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” She puts her hands on her belly to push the ache deep inside. “I’m an adult and I can make it to court. Didn’t you see? I have all my papers by the door. I have all my court clothes ready. I am on this.”

She knows Marta doesn’t believe her. She doesn’t believe her.

“You’ve got this. This is for your son. You’ve done everything they’ve asked you to do, jumped through every damn hoop, so you go into court proud and own that.”

“What about the dog?”

“What about her?”

“Want me to take her to the vet?”

“If we were smart we would have taken her to one of those all night clinics, rung the doorbell, and then ran. They would have given her an injection and we wouldn’t have to pay the $60. As things stand we’re going to have to let her go. I’m too much of a wimp to bash her head in, but that would be the kind thing to do.”

Twenty minutes and two big hugs later Marta leaves and D’Ora is alone with the almost dead dog. D’Ora sits with her for a minute but can’t bear to see her pain. She goes into Marta’s stash and lights up the half blunt that is in the box.

They won’t drop me today, she tells herself.

She sits on the floor in front of dog and lights up.

Still more than three hours until she has to leave for court. All she has to do is take a shower and get dressed. This pot is legal because Marta has a medical card.

D’Ora holds the smoke in her lungs as long as she can, then leans her face into the dog and exhales slowly. The dog is already struggling with her breath and D’Ora worries she’s going to get a coughing fit. At first the dog looks like she’s going to throw up and D’Ora pulls back. The little dog’s head bobs gently as though she’s following some imperceptible song somewhere but then her body seems to relax. D’Ora takes another hit, holds it, and again gently exhales in the dog’s face. This time the dog doesn’t struggle or try to turn away just looks her in the eye and nods.

*

D’Ora grabs one of the canvas bags that Marta’s hoarded from all the social service fairs she goes to and shoves in her paperwork and spiky blue shoes. She’s going to have to run for the bus and so she wears her little black sneakers that she got from a rich white lady’s yard sale for $2. They are black suede and sleek and beautiful and a size too big but it doesn’t matter. The laces are long and even though she’s in a hurry she takes her time to tie them up proper. She learned the hard way.

Wallet. Keys. Phone. Needs – shoes, jacket, papers. Boobs.

One of her case managers a couple of years ago taught her techniques for remembering what she needed. When you stand in front of a door about to leave, she had said, go through your list: wallet keys phone needs boobs. Boobs was a reminder to adjust her boobs and feel good about herself before she walked into the world. Needs was the catch-all for anything different. D’Ora is amazed at the number of times going through this list has saved her from trouble. Like now. No phone. She runs back into her room for the phone.

The dog has moved off the pile of towels and is stretched out. They look at each other.

D’Ora wants to lie down on the floor with the dog. Instead she whispers a prayer and grabs her phone.

Out the door.

1:02 and she is two bus rides and thirty-five minutes away from the courthouse if she’s lucky and doesn’t miss the first bus.

Court is always late.

So are the buses.

As soon as she closes the door behind her she sprints. Her bag tucked under her arm still going through her checklist wallet keys phone needs boobs. Papers. She has her shoes and she has her papers. She runs. Down two blocks and looks down the street to see if she sees the bus in either direction. Clear. Two people waiting at the bus stop. Good sign.

D’Ora won’t let herself think about where this day could take her. She’s all about the now. Right here. This moment.

In one of her mandated counseling sessions she had a class on how to deal with stress. The teacher had asked them what they thought would help.

“Get rid of the courts,” someone had said.

The teacher had been a big lady with a soft voice. She sat there in front of all these paroled women and talked about not stressing about everything, not thinking about every single problem and just to focus on the Now.

There had been an ornery woman in the class and she had laughed huge. “Lady, what do you think got us here in the first place? Right now I need a fix. Right now I want to slice my man up because he done me wrong. The Now is not the problem – most of us got that. It’s the planning that sinks us.”

D’Ora saw the teacher’s lip quiver and felt bad for her.

“Really?” the social work lady had said. “That’s great if you’ve got the Now, but I am going to challenge you anyway because I don’t think you’ve got it as much as you think you do.”

The other lady had leaned back in her chair. “Bring it on.”

The social work lady had started off by asking them all to breathe. Breathe into your bellies. Watch the breath. Be with the breath.

There were snorts and giggles, but most everyone tried.

The rest of class had been filled with breathing and closing eyes and imagining things.

At the end of the hour the lady had asked them how they felt. D’Ora felt like she wanted to take a nap, but she didn’t talk in situations like this so she kept that to herself. The teacher was looking at the ornery lady.

“I’m not going to lie; I do feel good. A little bit calmer. So maybe what you are talking about is being in the Now with your own damn self instead of losing that to someone else?”

The social worker lady’s face glowed.

“Exactly. You’ve got this.”

*

By the time D’Ora has run the three blocks from the bus stop to the courthouse she is sweaty and breathing hard. She’s carrying her blue jacket and is down to her tiny party dress and yard sale sneakers. Everything else is in the canvas bag that she has checked and rechecked countless times since she left the house.

There are four security guards just inside the door. Thankfully there is only one man in front of her as she puts her bag down to go through the x-ray machine.

“Please remove your phone.”

She sticks her hand in the bag and gropes around until her fingers find it. She hands it to the guard and walks through the metal detector.

“Don’t forget your items, Ma’am.” It takes her a minute to realize that he is talking to her. She grabs the phone from his hand and her bag from the belt. The nervousness is pounding inside her and her mind clouds over.

She stands in front of the marquis looking for her name or her son’s name but she doesn’t see anything and feels the panic fuel waves of nausea inside of her. She sticks her finger in her mouth forcing herself to calm.

Judges’ names and times are listed on a whiteboard in front of the marquis.

What was the judge’s name? Something to do with eyes.

The whiteboard could be written in math. Nothing makes sense. Her mind tries to hook on the numbers and letters and what they mean.

“Can I help you?” asks the security guard who told her to get her stuff.

D’Ora’s finger works its way out of her mouth.

“My son’s case. I can’t find it.” Panic rises up wide in her voice.

“Do you know the judge’s name?”

“I can’t remember. Something to do with eyes.”

The man smiles. “Fishburn.”

“Yes! Why did I think eyes?”

“Fisheye. You’re not the first person to make that connection. Judge Fishburn is out today so you’ve got Judge Matthews who is doubling up.” He points the whiteboard where it says Matthews (sitting in for Fishburn).

“I’m late. My dog died. I was late for the bus.” She looks up at the clock on the wall. 2:05.

“What time is your hearing?”

“1:20.”

“You may be lucky – probably are since they’re doubled up – they may be running late. 4D. Elevators are right there.”

She knows the elevators well.

Her thank you is on the move to the stairs. She squeezes the canvas bag tight under her arm and sprints up.

*

3:49. A fix right now would fix it all. Someone in jail had said that and while corny, it is a line that comes to her at the worst times.

Click click click of shoes on tile reminds her of her court shoes. Sit down and pull out hope in spiky blue shoes; she’s already wearing hope in an American blue jacket.

Too bad she didn’t have a matching white suit like the lady on TV this morning.

“We’re not allowed choice,” Phil had told her right around the time she started to realize things were not right with him.

“Everything is choice,” she had said.

“Nothing is choice. We are doomed and destined to succeed or fail. Nothing more, nothing less.”

The twist in her gut comes back and she gets up to go to the bathroom. It takes several steps to reacquaint herself with her shoes. Halfway down the hall she remembers the canvas bag and goes back for it in small click click steps.

In the bathroom she sits down on the toilet and collapses the full weight of her tiny self, feeling more alone than she can bear. The thought of the dying dog comes to mind and a sob escapes her. Not the beginning of crying, more the release of pain.

The doors on the toilet stalls are shiny, black, and heavy. They are the doors of a classier place and she wonders why they’ve bothered to put money into courthouse bathrooms.

For the lawyers, Marta would say.

She wishes Marta were here. The last time Marta came with her and asked more questions than D’Ora could keep track of. Your attorney is working for you and you need to make sure you are asking all the right questions. D’Ora went along but she had no idea what to ask or what to do. The worst part about coming to court was that she felt stupid and defenseless, like a little child.

She puts her hand up against the smooth black door, lets its cool and strong soak into her.

Marta had asked the lawyer how long the charge for random drug tests would be in place. She had asked what visitation would be like between then and now – supervised or not. Question after question. Each time D’Ora had thought, oh yeah, I would like to know that, but it never would have occurred to her to ask in the first place.

D’Ora steps out of the stall and looks at her tall self in the mirror. The jacket matches the shoes perfectly. You look professional. She tucks the canvas bag under her arm and heads out of the bathroom.

People fill the halls in seated clumps. She feels their eyes on her.

They are wondering whose lawyer I am. I even have the bag for it.

“Daddy, why is she wearing those shoes?”

“Ssssh. There is no room for judgment in the Lord’s eyes.”

D’Ora looks down as she walks toward an empty bench.

You are shit. You cannot keep a child safe. You cannot even keep a dog alive.

Words swirl around her like a noose, pull tighter and tighter.

You have no business here.

D’Ora looks around her. Almost everyone is there with someone. Most of the benches are filled. People stand together and talk. She is an island. Her lawyer had come out just after she had arrived and checked in with the bailiff. She said the judge had already called her, but because of so many people, he would see her at the end. It would be a wait, but she was good. The lawyer had tried to be nice, but she heard the judgment. She knew she didn’t believe her about the dog dying.

D’Ora is done waiting. She doesn’t care that she is sitting in front of a courtroom. She opens her canvas bag and pulls out her tiny black sneakers. Takes off her beautiful blue shoes and places them inside the bag alongside her folders and phone and wallet. She slips her feet inside the sneakers, even though it means pulling up her leg and resting her foot on the bench in a short dress. She doesn’t care.

She takes off her jacket and shoves it in the bag so that it is fat and uncomfortable to carry. She puts it down on the bench next to her.

The young boy who noticed her shoes sits across the hall from her staring and she resists the urge to flash him. She smiles instead. He looks away.

You are just a ho.

You have nothing to offer.

Walk away, baby. Walk away. With your silly bag and your click click heels. Walk away. Worthless mama. Worthless ho. Walk away.

Two well-dressed young men walk by. The one with the tight-fitting pants makes a gesture with his arms. “A lot of justice happening in here today,” he says.

D’Ora gets up. She needs to get away from the voices before she starts yelling at them. Why do they want her to suffer? She starts walking, feeling the eyes on her. Just past the bathroom and she remembers the bag. Shit. She turns around and feels the stares. Puts her finger in her mouth. Gets back to the canvas bag, untouched in those few seconds. She peers in to makes sure everything is still there. Jacket shoes paper boobs wallet phone go. She gets up a second time and turns to leave.

“D’Ora.”

Her name is in a woman’s mouth.

“D’Ora, It’s time. The judge will see you now.”




Interview with Samuel Dodson: Crowdfunding, Philosophy and Dogs

Picture Credits: Mark Bowsher

Samuel Dodson: Crowdfunding, Philosophy and Dogs

Tell us about your project in
one line. 

All philosophers stole
their ideas from their dogs. Our book reveals this long-forgotten truth.

Will we
laugh? Will we cry? Will we contemplate?

Hopefully
you’ll laugh! It’s a satirical, illustrated book – perfect for gifts and coffee
tables – but you could say it’s contemplative, too. After all, it answers some
pretty important questions, like, “is there even such a thing as a ‘good’
dog?”; “are tennis balls always real?” and “is a bark truly worse than a bite?”

What
triggered your idea? 

Well,
firstly I love dogs (who doesn’t?!), and I’ve always thought there’s so much
they could teach us about the world. There’s something incredible about the
unconditional love that dogs show us that is part of the reason, I think, that
any house that has a good dog inside instantly feels like home.

But
on top of this, I’ve always been fascinated by ideas – by politics, philosophy,
history, literature – and all the myriad ways human beings have conversations
with one another; how we express ourselves and make sense of our world and
realities. But human beings are both supremely intelligent and prone to acts of
supreme ignorance. Surely, dogs are the more intelligent animals; because they
love, listen, and forgive. We merely don’t understand the genius that goes
behind the eating of rotten apples.

The
inspiration for the book hit as clichéd as a lightning bolt. I was walking
through a park here in London, where I saw a Labrador staring at the trunk of a
tree. There was nothing there that you or I could see; but this dog was
transfixed. Was the dog was contemplating the very existence of that tree? Suddenly
I had a vision of an illustration with this dog and his tree, captioned with
the words; ‘to tree or not to tree, that is the question’. Within 5-10 minutes,
that idea had ballooned (like a Labrador who may or may not have just eaten a
whole, unguarded bag of food) into an entire collection of images and quotes
from philosophical canine masterminds. I went home and immediately put a short
pitch down on paper, sent it to my sister (who is the most incredible
illustrator), and she somehow deciphered my notes and turned them into these
beautiful drawings.

From then on, it just grew and grew as we added more ‘fur’lisophical stories and illustrations together, re-writing the history of philosophy as it should be understood: with our four-legged friends as the masters.

Tell us about your publisher Unbound? How does it all work? Did you approach traditional publishers first? 

I first heard about
Unbound from a friend who runs his own indie printing press. He recommended
them to me as one of those rare publishing companies who take chances on new
ideas and new authors. The reason they’re able to do this is that the authors
need to raise some of the funds for their books first, through crowdfunding to
minimize the risk.

This means asking potential
readers to ‘pledge’ to support the book in order to help it get made. You could
think of it like asking people to pre-order, just really, really early. In
return, they get exclusive access to rewards and other merch.With our book, for
example, you can get original, unique art prints and even personalised
portraits (paw-traits?) of your dog.

Importantly, everyone
who pledges gets their name in the book, which means they’re forever and always
a part of the project – so if & when it makes it to bookstores, people can
say their name is on the bookshelves of Waterstones, Foyles and even the
British Library.

Crowdfunding has been
a pretty disruptive force in the publishing sector in recent years, even
though, as an idea, it goes back centuries (Samuel Pepys crowdfunded his
dictionary, for instance). Part of that is because traditional publishers are
less and less willing to publish books they deem to be a financial risk.
There’s a reason we see more and more prequels and sequels and reboots and celebrity
memoirs, and fewer books by new authors. The fact that Unbound are challenging
this model is probably why they’ve been so successful so far – picking up
awards left right and center. When I saw what they were doing, I went straight
to Unbound and pitched them my idea. They’re a selective publisher, which means
their editing team decides whether your work is of a high enough standard for
them to offer you a contract. It took about 4 months after the initial pitch
and half a dozen meetings with their team before we signed contracts and
launched the project.

Are you
feeling confident? How have you tried to win people over? 

Nothing
cures vanity quicker than crowdfunding, as they say. It forces you to confront
social norms of being British – being very self-deprecating and modest, and
actually shout about this amazing creative project you’ve created. We’ve poured
the proverbial blood, sweat and tears into this project already and currently a
third of the way towards our target, which can feel pretty daunting. But at the
same time, nothing reaffirms your confidence in the goodness and altruism of
other humans than when you see a new pledge come in.

It takes a leap of
faith for people to pledge to buy something that they won’t receive for perhaps
a couple of years (publishing being such a long process as it is, and you’re
asking people to buy a product before it’s been made). So we’re offering lots
of things alongside the book that people will hopefully really love. Pledging
for the book allows any dog owners or lovers to buy personalized portraits of
their four legged friends by Rosie, the book’s illustrator and my sister, and
also an all-round incredible artist.. People can also pledge to come on a
(philosophical) dog walk with me (and, perhaps most importantly, my dog, Reg)
in scenic locations around London (where I live) and Bath (where I’m
from). 

But I guess the main
thing on offer here for people who are considering supporting the book – or
some of the other amazing books that Unbound are currently featuring – is the
opportunity to be part of something genuinely unique and original. If and when
Philosophers’ Dogs is published, it won’t just be ‘my’ book, or my sister’s
book; but our book. It’s a collective
endeavor that helps bring people together at a time where so many things in our
world seem to try and want to drive us apart.

I know
that not many authors wrap up in the initial 90-day period, how much longer
before you complete your crowdfunding? What has been your most successful
tactic so far? 

We’re a third of the
way towards our target (which is around £15,000 – it takes a lot of money to
publish a book properly!). Some books on Unbound publish within a day or two –
others take a year or more. I hope we can reach our target as soon as possible,
so that people who have pledged already can get their books quickly! But, as
Aristotle’s dog once said, “one must wait for the treat for as long as it
takes; and in the waiting, one may find there was a treat hidden all along”

In practical terms –
friends and family have been the most amazing people. Not only in terms of their
generosity but also in their willingness to go out and spread the word to
people they know. There’s also the social media side of things – and you can
follow me, and Philosophers’ Dogs on
Twitter, where I spend a lot of the day tweeting inspirational philosophical
quotes that have been corrected so that they represent the real canine
masterminds behind them.

When social media
marketing doesn’t work out, I can always resort to voodoo rituals where my
partner and I read out names of potential supporters while dancing with all the
free dogs in London in front of giant bonfires… 

Have you
found there is an Unbound community or do you feel you’re on your own?

Unbound have been
really supportive and their editors and marketing team are always up for
brainstorming ideas for getting new pledges. But on a day-by-day basis, it is
down to you – and so balancing this on top of a day job and life admin and all
else besides, can be tough. I wouldn’t recommend buying your first home during crowdfunding!
There shouldn’t be any illusion there, it’s hard work. But there’s also an
incredible community of Unbound authors (both those who have already published
their books and those who are on their own crowdfunding journeys), and they are
just the absolute best bunch of creative folk out there. They make sure you’re
not alone.

The
illustrations accompanying your text make this an original and compelling work
– do you see your book going places? 

It is such an honour
for me to be working with my incredibly talented sister, Rosie, whose
illustrations for the book are absolutely stunning. She is one of the most
talented artists I know and she deserves so much recognition for her work. I’m
constantly in awe of her ability to take notes and ideas I have – often
half-formed ones at that – and turn them into such beautiful drawings and
illustrations.

Obviously I’m biased
here – but I do think the illustrations add something to this book that you
can’t find elsewhere, and will hopefully make readers want to return to its
pages again and again to discover new details, and hidden jokes. I can’t wait
to start working with Ro on some of the other creative projects she and I have
discussed. There’s the small matter of literary cats, for starters…

Having
crowdfunded my own short story collection with Unbound I am often asked, Would
you do it again? Would you? 

Ask me again if we
reach 100%!

Tips for
wannabe crowdfunders? Myths to dispel?

  1. It is hard, hard work. Leave your ego outside before walking
    through that crowdfunding door.
  2. Your friends and family are everything.
  3. Other writers are not your competition. Learn from each other,
    support one another. Compete with the system; not each other.
  4. There is no better feeling than discovering someone new has
    pledged for your book. Enjoy it!
  5. The whole thing can feel terrifying, but, as Plato’s dog once
    said: “Courage is knowing that you do not need to fear vacuum cleaners.”

Thanks so much and good luck with smashing your
target Samuel ! 




4 Foundational Books That Set The Tone For Popular Tropes

One of the most wonderful things you realize the longer you stay attached to literature is how connected it all is. That’s not to say that connections can be forged between any two books, nor is it to point out somewhat forced links such as that between Twilight and Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet. Rather, it’s to note how the more you read, the more you can come to recognize that some outstanding stories are pleasant derivative of others, and that some recurring tropes can be traced back to spectacular, foundational works.

In keeping with these ideas, I did a bit of thinking and came up with a few particular interesting foundation novels (as I’m calling them) that set the stage for books, and in some cases even films, for years to come. 

1. The Odyssey by Homer

In a way it seems too easy to begin a list like this with The Odyssey. Dating back to the 8th century and covering semi-mythical history as ancient as the fall of Troy and its aftermath, it could hardly have survived until now without becoming a foundational piece of literature for other projects. Furthermore, when you consider the specific subject matter of The Odyssey – a long journey home for a hero, a family left behind, and strange characters and obstacles along the way – you could think as broadly as to consider it a setup for any and all hero’s journeys and adventure tales to follow. 

Even when you look at things more specifically though, there are a number of works directly inspired by The Odyssey. They include iconic books like William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, whimsical fantasies like Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish (better known to many through its film adaptation), and perhaps most notably, James Joyce’s acclaimed Ulysses. In fact, even the next book on my list is said by some to be derivative of Homer’s epic poem…. 

2. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes 

Despite having been written in the early-17th century, Don Quixote remains one of the most famous works of western literature today. Equal parts commentary on chivalry, original buddy comedy, portrait of a fool, and literary crafting masterpiece, it has a lot to offer the modern reader. It makes perfect sense, then, that Don Quixote has also proven hugely influential among other writers over the years, and has inspired some truly legendary works. 

The most notable books that are often referenced in connection to this novel are perhaps Mark Twain’s Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy Of Dunces, and The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky – the next author on this list! 

3. The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky 

Gambling is actually an interesting theme to look back on in literature and film alike, simply because it’s changed so much over the years. Once upon a time “gambling” meant holding a betting slip at a horse track or playing pool alongside a young Paul Newman in a smoky room; then it became a night out in a tailored suit in Vegas; next, it was for shady back rooms (think of the film Rounders), and then for glitzy modern casinos (21). And now, it seems writers and film producers alike can’t figure out what more to do with it all. Trusted and verified gaming sites from Ireland and the UK have grown so sophisticated as to dominate the modern world of gambling, but may have sapped it of valuable story potential at the same time. 

We may, therefore, be at the end of this century-ish-long running theme. But looking back, it’s fair to say gambling narratives as we know them may have begun with Dostoevsky’s own The Gambler. As with all of the great Russian’s work it’s more about class and society than anything else, but this novel was also an archetypal look at the struggles of a chronic gambler – something we’ve seen played out through each of the different casino settings just listed. 

4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 

It’s no secret that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has held enormous influence over more than a century of popular fiction. It’s led to various reimagined narratives and unofficial sequels, several film adaptations, and is even believed to be responsible for some more direct contemporary works – such as The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. But I have a bigger theory here, which is that Frankenstein is also responsible for much of what we’ve seen in comic books and modern superhero films. 

The story has been depicted in comic form several times over, but even beyond these interpretations, the main idea of the novel is at the core of so many superhero tales: Captain America’s super serum, Tony Stark’s ability to transform himself into a hero through brainpower, the Incredible Hulk’s uncontrollable morphing into an actual big green monster…. There’s an argument to be made that without Mary Shelly’s creativity we wouldn’t have all of these popular modern characters.




Guacamole

Guacamole


The avocado fleshed party favourite sat there in a bowl, looking somewhat perplexed. Maybe it was because of the way all those greedy fingers had arranged its expression, or the leftover specs of tortilla chips that penetrated the surface of its skin.
Many people had come over to the bowl during the afternoon, chatting various kinds of nonsense while plunging their chips or bread into the guacamole, just before they waltzed over to the beer fridge to get their fix of party juice. That’s when the guacamole was forgotten – just used and abused like some washed up old prostitute.

It would have been completely alone, except for one woman; a pale and jittery thirty something who kept a keen eye on its hulk-like flesh, while asking party goes to give their honest opinion on the guacamole. The feedback was exemplary, and every time she got a testimonial about her culinary efforts, a look of glee lit up her face, but it was always followed by one of unmistakable anguish.

“Damn him,” she muttered as the guacamole’s ears pricked up, “he hasn’t even tried it. He’s eaten everything else except you guac, the only thing I brought to the party.”
She nearly folded like a cheap deck chair in the wind, but as tears bulged beneath her eyelids, she found a certain kind strength.

Before it had time to blink, the guacamole was picked up by her shaking hand, couriered across the lounge at a crazy pace, and just before its soft flesh splattered across a man’s face and it met its demise, it heard the words “WHY WON’T YOU MARRY ME!?”




ALISON MOORE LOVES SHERWOOD ANDERSONS ADVENTURE

Today we kick off a new series on Litro Lab, where we invite a writer to choose a short story they love and talk to us about why they love it. Our first guest author is Alison Moore: www.alison-moore.com/, whose debut novel The Lighthouse: www.saltpublishing.com/shop/proddeta…9781907773174—which I recently reviewed: www.litro.co.uk/?p=24979 for Litro—has been longlisted: www.themanbookerprize.com/news/2012-lo…st-announced for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. Alison’s pick is “Adventure: www.bartleby.com/156/12.html” by Sherwood Anderson, from his 1919 story cycle Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small Town Life: www.bartleby.com/156/, read by actor Greg Page: www.gregpage.co.uk/. Enjoy, and please leave comments and suggestions so we can improve as we go along.




The Litro Futures Development Programme

What support do you need as a writer? What helps writers create ideas? Do you know where to go for funding support? Are you a writer from a low-income background? What help do you need to keep you motivated to keep writing? What are the main barriers that you face as a writer? Is your mental health affecting your writing skills? Is there a writer you feel having as a mentor will change your life? Litro is collaborating with Spread the Word, London South Bank University and several other writing organisations & publishers to research these and other questions to form a bold and exciting new literary development programme for talented writers from low-income backgrounds and writers from BAME communities in a project entitled ‘The Litro Futures Development Programme’.

To better inform the direction of the project to be launched in the Spring & Summer of 2019, we would like you to take part in this brief survey, please answer as honestly as possible.

To date there has been a lot of research into the processes, a lot of promising internships, entry level programmes rolled out by publishers and others but we feel, the simple question “What do you need?” has not been asked of the people these projects are aimed at. This survey which will form the core base of the ‘The Litro Futures Development Programme’ will not only ask you that very question, but will also proceed to provide you with the tools you need to break into the publishing industry by putting your answers into practice. We believe the findings from this research will be of significant interest to not only you as a writer but to the publishing industry as a whole, to us as a literary platform and agency and to the wider creative economy. The findings will be available to us and it is planned that they will be shared via the press, academic journals. We also plan to then present our findings at as many industry conferences as we can achieve over the course of 2019.

So if you are a writer, have an interest in the publishing industry, you can take part in this short six minute survey. The Programme and its Masterclasses will be rolled out in the spring of 2019.

If you have questions about the research or the process please contact Litro – [email protected]
Thank you very much for your assistance with this – and we hope that you will be interested in the findings, and keep an eye out for the launch of the programme in 2019.




A Look at Illiteracy with Eyes Wide Open

Around 250 million children around the world are at risk of being illiterate, while approximately 750 million teens and adults can neither read nor write. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) points out how this can cause illiterate, low-literate, and low-skilled children and adults to be excluded from their own communities.

It is appalling that around one billion people are struggling with illiteracy. The developed world is obsessed with smart cities, yet we can’t even ensure a smart global population. This increasingly tech-dependent, digitised, and fast-changing planet seems to have an insatiable thirst for development, yet we’re leaving millions of people in the dust. And it’s not just about reading and writing. Literacy is how the 7.2 billion people of the world interpret, develop, create, identify, and acquire knowledge. Beyond its traditional definition, literacy encompasses all the skills related to counting, understanding, critical thinking, and communication. If one billion or more than 10% of the global population can’t be considered literate – and therefore unable to fully participate in modern society at large – then where is all this global development headed? Can the developed world still be considered truly developed if we’re excluding millions of people on our way to amassing resources and perfecting our industries?

Illiteracy is Everywhere

Before you conclude that illiteracy is just a problem for the world’s poorest countries, that’s not exactly the case. The first world is not exempt from the global literacy crisis. In fact, The Independent reveals that out of the 23 nations that comprise the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is made up of some of the planet’s richest nations, the UK ranks 23rd in teenage literacy. Despite this fact, school library services continue to face disproportionate cuts in the UK, which the Library and Information Association reports is why we’ve lost an estimated 30% of our school librarian workforce.

Meanwhile, in the US, approximately 32 million adults can’t read. And perhaps even more alarming is how the OECD found that 50% of American adults – although mostly literate – are unable to read books written at an eighth-grade level. Keep in mind that these examples of the global illiteracy crisis are in the English-speaking first world, and not in third world countries which obviously have way larger problems with illiteracy. While budget constraints are arguably to blame for illiteracy in the world’s most developed nations, this in no way compares to the obstacles to literacy brought by poverty and war.

International Efforts Against Illiteracy

The alarming rates of illiteracy across the globe have not been entirely unheard. Plenty of well-organised charities have shown their deep commitment in the collective effort to educate the world’s most unfortunate children and adults. In short, if you’re concerned about global illiteracy – and would like to volunteer your time to combat it – there’s no shortage of organisations that can put your valuable efforts and resources to good use. Most charities hold easy to participate events that are in aid of improving living and educational standards across the world. Non-profit organisation Save the Children are running their Christmas Jumper Day campaign to help support child education in some of the poorest communities worldwide. The event makes use of the popular English tradition of Christmas jumpers while asking for a modest donation of £2 per person. The profits will go directly to the welfare and education of high-risk children stuck in war-torn areas across the globe.

The good news is that reading is considered a top priority by some charities. Bustle points to Book Aid International, a global UK-based charity that’s responsible for the now popular charity event called World Book Day. Every year, Book Aid International provides a million brand new books to more than 3,000 libraries across the world, most of which are in Africa. They also have a small but significant literacy project brewing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. And of course, no list of large-scale literacy-focused charities would be incomplete without talking about the World Literacy Foundation. As one of the biggest charity organisations on the planet, World Literacy Foundation is currently focused on a project aimed at eliminating illiteracy across 25 different countries.

In short, although global illiteracy remains a problem, much of the planet’s collective resources and efforts are already moving towards its elimination. In fact, historically speaking, Our World in Data reveals that global literacy rates have been soaring since the middle of the 1800s. Compared to 1870 when only approximately 18% of the global population was literate, the current global literacy rate of around 85% is for sure a massive step in the right direction. But while these numbers seem actually hopeful, the fact remains that in this day and age, there are still a billion children and adults who are still illiterate.

Illiteracy shouldn’t be a problem that’s reserved for charity. Literacy directly affects livelihood, socio-economic standing, and political power. Your literacy determines your place in the world. If the world at large is serious about creating equal opportunities for everyone, one of the keys to doing just that is through abolishing illiteracy by petitioning those in power to do more.




Museums That Are Using Future Technology to Enhance the Past

Pic Credits: Jacob Vanderheyden, Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago

Museums have always been at the forefront of technology, and have used the latest developments to look to the past. Modern exhibits have the power to take you back in time, just like how the Design Museum turned 2017 into 1917 through the Imagine Moscow exhibit. However, in the day and age of the Internet where young people are used to rich, complex multimedia experiences and you can get almost everything you need online, have museums and art galleries become irrelevant? Curators are now in a race to find a way to make museums more compelling and engaging. The American Alliance of Museums recognises that smart technology is the key—from how it can help improve visitor experience to how it can serve as a powerful tool for managing and mining archives.

Here are some museums that already use the latest tech for their exhibits:

The Science Museum

If you feel a great love for everything science, from the latest advances in modern technology to the social and ethical impact of these developments, you need to come and see Tomorrow’s World at The Science Museum. You can retrace the 400-kilometre journey back to Earth from the ISS with Tim Peake, European Space Agency’s first British astronaut, through the museum’s impressive VR technology.

Tate Britain

In 2014, Tate Britain let the public inside the museum after dark—not physically, but through four camera-equipped robots that could be controlled wherever you are in the world. The Guardian reports that only a few lucky people were chosen and given the chance to control the robots, navigating around the Tate Britain building, going from one collection to another while the rest of the world watched on the After Dark web app.

Tate continues to celebrate the union of art and tech by consistently featuring artists who have used machines within their work, whether it’s electronic technology, light and graphics, or robots and sounds.

The National Gallery

At The National Gallery, you don’t need a guide to help you appreciate the beautiful exhibits onsite. Just download the Smartify app, hold your smartphone up towards a painting and you will be able to see detailed information about the artwork. You can also save the paintings you have scanned and share them with others who have signed up to the platform.

The Victoria and Albert Museum

If you want to see for yourself what the world would look like a few years from now, you can stop by The Victoria and Albert Museum. Their recent exhibits showcase 100 projects that are currently shaping the future. The exhibit called The Future Starts Here includes a range of things, from smart appliances to satellites as well as artificial intelligence and the current Internet culture. They also ask pertinent questions like how design can stop climate change and whether or not trees could start transmitting the Internet.

You don’t even need to go to a museum to learn about important people and events in UK history. Just download the EHC app, go to the heritage sites across the country and through augmented reality, you will be transported back in time to significant moments in UK history.

Smart tech has truly gone a long way when it comes to improving user experience. Not only in the field of business, health, science, transportation, and entertainment, but in ordinary homes, too. A connected home allows you to control vital home functions and perform simple tasks that can make your home safer and more energy efficient at just a touch of a button. Screwfix features an array of smart home devices that show the different ways the technology can be integrated into a living space. It can range from smart bulbs, speakers, and plugs, to smart heating controls, security cameras, and alarms. Where once this technology was on display in science museums, now it has become the domestic reality that was once promised to consumers.

We live in a world that was once only found within the pages of science fiction. Yet, as the world moves forward, more wonders are becoming available to help us understand the past. The good news is that museums and galleries will continue to keep up.




Florian Zeller’s- The Height of the Storm

The play begins with a grown daughter, Anne, a resigned and dutiful Amanda Drew asking questions to her old man. About breakfast, about the storm that raged the night before. He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t even look at her. He is absorbed by the window, by something outside the window. Jonathan Pryce barely moves for the first couple of minutes but his face is caught in the sunlight coming through the window and his eyes sparkle. We know we are in for a treat. It all happens in the kitchen of a French country house. Anthony Ward’s set is so real you believe the shadows cast by the slanting day light through the windows. A box of Le Chat detergent is on the table. The walls are faded, the ceilings high, the stereo boxed in between books is from a different era. The kind of house that is a thrill to arrive in but gradually becomes claustrophobic in a dusty kind of way. Time doesn’t move here the way it does elsewhere. Fifty years of marriage populates this space and Ward has managed to create a set to reflect that old song of Jacques Brel, “La Chanson des Vieux Amants.” In this case, the ‘Vieux Amants’ are Jonathan Pryce as Andre, a writer who is losing his capacities and Eileen Atkins as his wry and devoted wife Madeleine.

Florian Zeller is probably the most popular living French playwright today. In the UK, he won an Olivier award for his play The Father, translated, just like Height of the Storm, by Christopher Hampton. Zeller didn’t set out to be a playwright. He was enjoying a great success as a novelist when Francoise Sagan suggested he replace her to write a libretto for an opera. Zeller accepted because he thought it would bring him closer to the world of music. Instead, he fell in love with theatre.

“The Height of the Storm” is a brave and unapologetically intelligent play about what it means to be in a couple for fifty years and what happens when one half dies and leaves the other half behind. Perhaps it is an obsolete question for today’s society. Zeller contrasts the lives of Andre and Madeleine with that of their daughters: Anne is getting separated and Elise (Anna Madeley) changes partners so often her father confuses her current real estate agent boyfriend with her former car wash owning one. Pryce infuses an old man who is redundant by any measure, who is likely headed to a nursing home, with a life force that keeps us riveted. Eileen Atkins has the difficult role of mixing everyday chores, she is always active when on stage, peeling mushrooms, rinsing dishes…while remaining profoundly still, frozen like in a snap shot from the past. Atkins indeed makes Madeleine behave like a memory, steady, strong, predictable…until she isn’t. There is plenty of mystery in “The Height of the Storm” as reality bends to the storm raging in this family’s heart.

At Wyndham’s theatre, London, until 1 December.