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80 pieces for 80 years


Writers at Liberty

Writers, as the poet Jo Shapcott has said, are what might be called Libertys
natural constituency. Writers have to be at liberty, since both expression
and the issues of the freedom of that expression, are at the core of writing

Today these liberties are under increased threat, both locally and globally,
not just for writers, but for everybody. And not just in pressurised times, but
all of the time, Liberty, an organisation thats never been politically partisan,
simply protects human rights and civil liberties.

As writers, we celebrate and endorse the past 80 years and the vital presence
now and in the future of an organisation which has, since its start, been
formed, informed and understood by writers at liberty, for liberty.
Simon Prosser and Ali Smith

Simon Prosser is Publisher of Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books and the literary
magazine Five Dials. He is co-founder and co-director of the Port Eliot Festival,
and Vice-Chair of the Civil Liberties Trust.

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge. She is the author
of There but for the, Free Love, Like, Hotel World, Other Stories and Other
Stories, The Whole Story and Other Stories, The Accidental, Girl Meets Boy and
The First Person and Other Stories.

Writers at Liberty
Writers at Liberty is a group of over 130 writers who support Libertys
campaigning work. To mark our 80th anniversary, 79 of our writers wrote a
piece on the topic of Liberty. You can read their thoughts here in this booklet.

Our 80th piece is written by Simon Tonkin, winner of our Be the 80th Writer
Thank you to all our writers for their ongoing support.

December 2014


Writers at Liberty

Freedom taken, given and snatched back, by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

The Masters Revenge, by Anthony Anaxagorou
Liber, by Lisa Appignanesi

Untitled piece, by Chloe Aridjis

Untitled piece, by Tash Aw

Untitled piece, by Julian Barnes

Extract from Maggie & Me, by Damian Barr

From A to X, by John Berger

On Lies, Liberation and Liberty, by Bidisha

10 Untitled piece, by Malorie Blackman

11 Freedom, by Rosie Boycott

12 To Liberty, by Margaret Busby

13 Liberty In Some of the Nineties, by Georgia Byng

14 Shami at Liberty, by Shami Chakrabarti
15 Liberty, by Ian Cobain

16 Excerpt from The Hare With Amber Eyes, by Edmund De Waal

17 I, Robot, by Cory Doctorow

18 Our Nelson, by Anne Donovan

19 Girls are coming out of the Woods, by Tishani Doshi

20 Untitled piece, by Stella Duffy

21 Everything I know about liberty I learned in the British public

school system, by Ian Dunt

22 Ransom Tape, by Joe Dunthorne

23 Nothing to Hide, Everything to Lose, by Fernanda Eberstadt

24 Public Disturbance, by Lauren Elkin

25 The Hidden Face of Slavery, by Bernardine Evaristo


26 Do you mind if we tape this?, by Michel Faber

Writers at Liberty

27 Liberty from hate, by Judith Flanders

54 Liberty, from Sugar Hall, a novel, by Tiffany Murray

29 Liberty, by Esther Freud

56 Untitled piece, by Patrick Ness

28 Untitled piece, by Hadley Freeman

30 Meat, by Janice Galloway

31 Neighbour, by Niven Govinden

32 Monolith (2001), by Lavinia Greenlaw

33 Untitled piece, by Niall Griffiths
34 Untitled piece, by Peter Hobbs

35 Get Anti-Social, by Tom Hodgkinson

36 Liberty, by Rachel Holmes

37 This Is How, by M.J. Hyland

38 Liberty, by Sadie Jones

39 Stop and Search, by Jackie Kay

40 The All-Seeing Eye, by Hari Kunzru

41 Liberty, by Olivia Laing

42 Mister X Versus Hospital Y, by Nikita Lalwani

43 Two Liberties, by Darian Leader
44 Liberty, by Kathy Lette

45 What does Liberty mean to me?, by Deborah Levy

46 Three haiku on Wordsworths Liberty, by Richard Mabey

47 Solo, A Cappella, by Alison MacLeod

48 The Sad Tale of Little Libby, by Sabrina Mahfouz

49 The Liberty Bodice, by Lise Mayer

50 On Wilds, and Woods: Writing Liberty, by Sophie Mayer

51 Stop and Search, by Hollie McNish

52 As we come towards the centenary of the beginning of World War

One, by Michael Morpurgo

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53 Prism and Secrets, by Blake Morrison

55 The Arrival of Enigma, by Daljit Nagra

57 When I was at College, by Lawrence Norfolk

58 Liberty, by Richard Norton-Taylor
59 Liberty, by Ben Okri

60 Liberty, by Maggie OFarrell

61 Project Champion, by Catherine OFlynn

62 Liberty, Shyama Perera

63 Untitled piece, by Hannah Pool

64 Homeward Bound, by Ross Raisin

65 Willem Sandberg design and liberty, by Alice Rawsthorn

66 Three Stories for Liberty, by James Robertson
67 Liberty, by Hannah Rothschild

68 Liberty, Day One, by Kamila Shamsie

69 2004, by Owen Sheers

70 Uncle Rakesh Sings the Blues, by Nikesh Shukla

71 Untitled piece, by Hardeep Singh Kohli
72 The Human Claim, by Ali Smith

73 Untitled piece, by Edward Snowden

74 Untitled piece, by Ahdaf Soueif

75 Liberty is a Woman, by Barbara Taylor

76 He Checked, by Craig Taylor
77 Liberty, by Kate Tempest
78 Liberty, by Erica Wagner

79 Liberty a few words, by Marina Warner

80 Calais Plage, by Simon Tonkin

Winner of Libertys Be the 80th Writer Competition

Writers at Liberty

Freedom taken, given and snatched back

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

I was born in Kampala, Uganda, then ruled by the British. It was during the
zenith of the gold spun empire, lit by the sun which was never going to set.
And since most Britons dont know what that was like, let me tell you: it
was rule without consent; there was no democracy, no accountability; we
were, de facto, racially segregated though no signs or laws ever affirmed
this; tax collection was well administered and strict and revenue spend
was based on the racial hierarchy; we were banned from speaking our
home languages in school; the law courts mostly tried black felons and
though justice was fair, presiding judges were all white; petty rules were
imposed and we were not free to criticise any of the above. My first brush
with this finely managed autocracy was when I was only about nine, I
think. I was at the Odeon cinema one Saturday morning to see a Charlie
Chaplin film. All the kids had settled into seats were eating sweets and
making a din. The lights went down and screen lit up and God Save the
Queen was played. Suddenly quiet as dormice, the children stood and
sang as if their hearts would burst with love for a crowned woman
thousands of miles away. I didnt stand up, already a rebel, anti-monarchist
and embryonic democrat. They threw me out. I only found out in my
twenties that Mr Chaplin himself had radically left wing views for which he
was ostracised. Respect, sir.

Independence came in the early sixties and Ugandans were elated. They
danced as the Union flag was lowered and Ugandan flag raised. Within
months, we seemed to be losing our fragile rights. Idi Amin was the
general, Milton Obote the first elected president. Between them they
started a reign of terror. People disappeared, mutilated bodies were found
on the streets. Two were thrown into the stairwell of where we lived, above
the marketplace. I saw one of them, a young man being feasted on by flies
and stray dogs. From feeling wary and stepped on by the Brits, we had
moved on to real, inchoate fear. I went to university and within months Idi
Amin and his army deposed Obote. The coup was managed by the UK, US
and Israel. More killings, widespread torture. No one was safe. My uni
friends were taken away and never seen again for saying things in
seminars or during debates, or speaking their thoughts in a college bar.

Writers at Liberty
In 1972 I arrived into Britain, the place, we had been taught, which had the
mother of parliaments, free speech, gender equality and rule of law. It took
me time to get used to these entitlements. Soon after arrival I watched
journalists on TV being critical and disrespectful of Ted Heath and I started
shaking, feared the hacks would be taken away and hacked to death or
buried forever in a prison. I was in my twenties when I first voted, felt part of
a free and rule bound society. This is why it all means so very much to me.
Since 9/11, the ground has shaken beneath our feet; those rights we
thought were ours forever are now conditional and easily snatched by our
governments; justice is under pressure to give into propaganda and the
will of the executive. Protest is a crime, prisoners are held in secret on
charges not disclosed, not even to lawyers. We are spied on relentlessly,
phones are bugged, spies encouraged within families and places of
worship. Torture aka rendition has been unofficially facilitated by our
state which colludes ( as do other EU nations) with Americas vengeful and
nebulous war on terror. Together they have been responsible breaking
international law and destabilising the world. Terrorism and fanatical
Wahabi Islam are bringing out the worst in the west. And I feel again that
old terror in my tired bones, the feeling that life now is entirely dependent
on the whims and power of those in charge. The little people suffer and
fear for themselves and liberty. Just as they did back in Uganda forty years
ago, when I fled from there to here.
Liberties which I found then have been taken away. Idi Amin must be
having a laugh.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a journalist who has written for The Guardian,

Observer, The New York Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, The Evening
Standard, The Mail and other newspapers and is now a regular columnist on
The Independent and Londons Evening Standard. She is also a radio and
television broadcaster and author of several books. She is a Vice President of
the United Nations Association UK, the President of the Institute of Family
Therapy and has also agreed to be a special ambassador for the Samaritans.
In 2005, she was voted the 10th most influential black/Asian woman in the
country in a poll and in another she was among the most powerful Asian
media professionals in the UK.

Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty

The Masters Revenge

By Anthony Anaxagorou

There will be revenge

but it will be different from yours
it wont involve blood or murder
or deception
it wont turn sophisticated people to rubble
then call them underdeveloped, primitive and backwards
it wont need military budgets,
fear, prejudice or gender oppression
it will be simple, uncomfortable
and absolute
it will present itself calmly
there will be no screams
there will be no protests
just this:

You are the owner of all energy

needed to destroy or create worlds
within you lies the peace of Akhenaton
the vision of Imhotep
we can go further
the first messiah
you are the writer of knowledge
the keeper of truth
its looking at you through the stones
in the history of the mountains
and the DNA of the earth
youre there
this wicked narrative is new
its evil and unwell
1000 years ago you were teaching them
they were lost, barbaric, never knowing
the evolution of language
the influence you had
you still have, you must have

because youre far from dead

to the speakers, the knowers,
the ones who tell you to open pages
and find yourself there
reinvent the past
pay the oppressor little mind
little mind fear genius
because it knows your story
it knows about the Old Kingdom
and the middle periods
from Moorish Spain to Muslim medicine
it knows about African mathematicians
and the stone calendar circles of Nabta Playa
it knows, thats why it denies
thats why it tells you to kill yourself
death has many faces
if something is made ill
why swallow it?
Dont accept it, renounce it and go back
to before the chattel
the division and genocide
before the White Jesus
before the Crusades
and the foreign religions that came with priests
and swords
discover the hidden world
because history is self-serving
self-fulfilling look in the prisons
look in the armies,
look in the places filled with the broken
the destitute, the trampled on
the us but not them
look and see
what happens when you
become apathetic
when revenge is just for radicals
when you believe the story

Writers at Liberty
they tell you
when your only weapon is a gun,
when your only hope is a fantasy,
when your knowledge is obsolete,
when your woman is a bitch,
when your brother is a threat,
and your oppressor is your master,
your standard, your ideal
dont ask for mercy
it wont be given
lock it off, leave it there,
its dead its done
the damage consecrated the sickness
it doesnt work
so start again
with just this:

When they ask you for a beginning teach them

about the Grimaldi
about Menes and The First Dynasty
when they ask you about women
speak to them of Isis, Hatshepsut and Cleopatra
when they ask you about European languages
refer them to Coptic and Western Semitic
tongues, explain how 50% of the Greek lexicon
is comprised of a Non-Indo European language
give examples
when they ridicule you for saying init
claiming the word as being
Jamaican Patois let them know that its
a contraction of isnt it, which is a contraction
of is it not, which is English and not Patois is it not?
When they ask you about war and peace
inform them that the word war comes from the
Old English wyrre meaning to bring into confusion
mention the Golden Age of Egypt,
communicate the fact that civilizations
which have experienced the greatest periods of peace
have been matriarchal - say that twice.

Writers at Liberty
Include the fact that 70% of Native Americans
did not ever wage war with each other, refer them to
Conquest: Sexual violence and American Indian genocide
by Andrea Smith
keep close to mind the Haitian revolution,
Toussaint Louverture and Dessaline
if they interject calling you Afrocentric or a conspiracy theorist
reply with these names
Volny, Gerald Massy, Martin Bernal, Bouavl and Brophy
discuss human nature, how we remain
products of our environment, how we mirror what we see,
how certain genes are activated or deactivated
in our childhood
determining who we become later,
explain what you mean by White Supremacy
as a political tool to divide and undermine those
who dont fit the aesthetic
discuss Thomas Spence and
the making of the English working class
look at denigrate families in the US and Anthony Stokes
speak of Palestine with courage
declare that before the 15th May 1948 Zionists had already
expelled 250,000 Palestinians
emphasize that people are not born bad
that before capitalism and feudalism communalism
was how we lived
not primitive but equal.
Do not negate your woman. There is more to feminism
than her physical appearance, you may wish to talk about
Simone De Beauvoir, Bell Hooks and Angela Davis
then poetry, the spoken word that predates the written word
oral tradition, art and storytelling.

Speak until the sun has risen and set a thousand times
wear the crown that doesnt need a stolen jewel to shine,
assure them that you are made from love
that you speak from love because that is from where
you were born


Writers at Liberty
play them a song, read them a haiku
teach them how to dance
many will laugh at you
many will brand you insane
yet when has madness ever really mattered here?
Some will listen, some will stay
and you will grow into friends,
into solidarity, into the forever
we dream about
so treasure your woman
treasure your man
because were all we have
peace is the masters revenge

so stand in the present, draw for the future

and shoot with all the ammunition of the past.


Writers at Liberty

By Lisa Appignanesi
At my ordinary Canadian comprehensive, we started Latin at the age
of thirteen. I loved it. I think I was fascinated by how everyday words
developed a deep history and a stream of associations. The Latin primer
metamorphosed into one of those old movie calendar scrolls: before my
eyes, words seemed to roll back in time. On the way they bumped and
jostled and danced into one another.

My childhood had been filled with an immigrants overdose of

tongues. At home languages collided and merged in multi-lingual
sentences. Now, even at school, English rocked and rolled and migrated
into French and romance to become that great seedbed - Latin. I would
turn to the derivatives page and stare: this was no list of stocks and shares,
but roots and tree and branches: bene, bien, benefit, benediction, benign;
ferox, feroce, fierce, ferocious, feral; frater, frere, fraternal, fraternity,
fratricide; filia, fille, filial, affiliate; homo, homme, human, humane,
I was reminded of all this the other day when I stared at the word
LIBERTY. Liberty contains a book inside it: liber, livre. Indeed, it holds a
whole library of freedoms, liberations and acts of generous liberality.

Anthony Anaxagorou is a poet, writer and educator. He has published 8

collections of poetry and a spoken-word EP that was released in 2013. He is
currently working on a collection of short-stories that will be published by
Jacaranda Books in the autumn of 2014.

Books and freedom always seemed intimately linked to me. Books

flew me away from my parents dire war-time stories and immigrant
worries. Propped on elbows on floor or bed, I would time-and-mind travel
propelled by anothers imagination into distant places and other lives.
Words would take me off into a dark wood where dangers lurked, or into
sky and desert with a charming little prince. A little later, they could launch
me into the mind of a murderer like Raskolnikov or soothe with lingering
poetic rhythms. You never quite knew what might come next on this
journey into the unknown.
But just like at home, the characters in books rarely agreed with each
other. They argued, shouted, misunderstood and misinterpreted. Their
inner lives provided clues about how others thought and helped to
structure my own muddle. People could rue their own actions, behave


Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty
against their own will, see ghosts, go mad, and still live to tell the tale.
Sometimes the characters suffered persecution and didnt get through, yet
their trajectories brought the unknown closer and traced pictures of justice.

The world of the book the liber - was a lot more varied, generous,
freer in spirit, than my little suburb in a wintry church-dominated province.
Books helped to teach me what a good life might be. They were liberal in
their provision. That liberality wasnt always returned: an authors very
ability to write wrongs and unwanted truths also got books into trouble.
As I grew into my teens, D.H. Lawrence arrived in expurgated form.
The word needed explanation though no one explained to me what had
been purged from the pages of Lady Chatterley. My parents had thought
all reading a good. But others it seemed thought it dangerous: they were
keen to forbid and control minds and the description of vagrant desires.

Around the time that I read George Orwells 1984, the ramifications of
a more brutal kind of state and its acts of censorship also became clear. In
the Soviet Union Orwells thought police roamed. Here writers could be
imprisoned for their work, as could those who circulated banned, selfpublished Samizdat. The great poet Joseph Brodsky was charged with
social parasitism; Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky underwent a show trial
charged under Article 70 - which criminalized so-called anti-Soviet
agitation and propaganda and were arrested. And on it went. States for
all their military power were frightened of words, the power of language to
portray injustice, the ability of the book to speak truths. They were
frightened of open, thinking, liberal minds.

H.G. Wells, E.M. Forster - its no surprise to me that there is an overlap

in the people who helped create the National Council for Civil Liberties and
those who championed PEN, the writers association that campaigns for
the freedom to write and the freedom to read. In 1938, both organizations
battled against censorship in the press and they have been allies ever
since. They grew stronger in the wake of the atrocities of World War 2,
which made the need for spelled-out human rights so evident. In 1989,
when Liberty took on its new name, it was Harold Pinter, a stalwart of PEN,
who launched the proceedings at the Institute of Contemporary Arts
(where coincidentally, I then worked).


During my time as Deputy, then President of English PEN, Liberty

stood beside us in our battle to curtail the effect of legislation which would
have made offending religion a crime. Religions have traditionally been as
worried about the power of any book that isnt holy as repressive states.
They are easily offended. (Theyre often particularly opposed to women,
those childbearing vessels of purity, reading and writing). Theyre not
usually fans of humour, irony or laughter, either, which like language is
one of the defining marks of our humanity.

In the past decades Liberty has gone from strength to strength and its
work has become more important than ever in our globalized world. It has
helped to bring the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, in
effect a written version of what the UK has long held dear whatever the
splutterings that are so often heard. It has battled against racism,
championed legal aid, and helped those victims of war who have sought
sanctuary in the UK. It has battled against the increase in state
surveillance and the rights of those who have exposed it. It has
championed those basic tenets which uphold human dignity in a tough
and often unjust world.

1934, the year of economic gloom in which Liberty was born, saw the
publication of Evelyn Waughs A Handful of Dust, that scathing satire of
upper-class English life. In the same year came George Orwells Burmese
Days, his depiction of imperial bigotry and corruption; Scott Fitzgeralds
Tender is the Night, the story of a difficult marriage between a psychiatrist
and his fragile patient; and Graham Greenes early Its a Battlefield. One
could say that in the interstices of all these books, there is an idea of
justice. Liberty came into being to make sure that idea had reality in the

Lisa Appignanesi is the author of Losing the Dead, Mad, Bad and Sad, Trials
of Passion and ten novels, including Paris Requiem. She was President of
English PEN and is Chair of the Freud Museum London.


Writers at Liberty

Untitled piece
By Chloe Aridjis

Untitled piece

Writers at Liberty

By Tash Aw

Cages come in all shapes and sizes. Some are portable, others fixed in
place. Some are invisible, others obstruct every view. Some are mental,
others of an undeniable steel. In literature, restriction or confinement
often leads to storytelling, to a character who writes or speaks her way out
a situation. In real life, liberty cant always be attained through the words
of one person alone, but through the voice of many we can try to subvert
and circumvent the thousands of walls that still exist.

This is a photo of my grandfather, who moved from southern China to

Malaysia not long after the First World War, when he was still a boy. For
him, liberty meant the right to live in a dry, secure home, the freedom to
search for and find work, no matter how menial, the ability to start a
family. For me, merely two generations later, liberty is a very different
concept, but for many new immigrants in Malaysia and elsewhere, not
much has changed since my grandfathers day.

Chloe Aridjis is a London-based Mexican writer. Her first novel, Book of Clouds,
won the French Prix du Premier Roman Etranger and her second novel,
Asunder, came out in 2013. She has a DPhil from Oxford in nineteenth-century
French poetry and magic shows.

Tash Aw was born in Taipei to Malaysian parents. He grew up in Kuala Lumpur

before moving to Britain to attend university. He is the author of three critically
acclaimed novels, The Harmony Silk Factory (2005), Map of the Invisible
World (2009) and Five Star Billionaire (2013), which have won the Whitbread
First Novel Award, a regional Commonwealth Writers Prize and twice been
longlisted for the MAN Booker prize; they have also been translated into 23
languages. His short fiction has won an O. Henry Prize and been published in A
Public Space and the landmark Granta 100, amongst others.


Writers at Liberty

Untitled piece

From A to X

Idealists like to claim that freedom is indivisible. Pragmatists know that it is

not: on the contrary, it is easily divisible into thousands of parts, each of
which has to be fought for, defended, and fought for again.

Mi Guapo,

By Julian Barnes

Those who wish to deprive us of freedoms rarely do so at one go, and are
skilled at assuring us that loss of freedom is really something else,
something necessary and advantageous, like greater safety.
As soon as a politician tells you that decent, law-abiding citizens have
nothing to fear from a particular measure, you can be certain that
someone, somewhere, is losing a small or larger part of his or her
freedom. So we need a constant, committed, cogent defence of our
freedoms: in other words, liberty needs Liberty.
Happy - and hardworking - birthday to you.

Writers at Liberty

By John Berger
Went to see your mother. All things considered, shes not bad. When you
go through the front door you still have the feeling of kissing her straight
on the mouth.

The kitchen spotless, shutters closed in the bedroom to keep it cool. She
asked me to read out loud a letter she had from your brother in Covas.
When I was young, she said, it wasnt so serious that I couldnt read or
write, because people discussed everything that mattered, but today so
much happens in silence, and you need to be able to read in order to know
what people are deciding.

I read the letter out loud to her. Apparently hes making friends and money
in Covas. If he wasnt, he would probably have said the same thing. After a
certain age men often treat their mothers as if they were small children
and they are wrong. Mother, literate and illiterate, can take everything.
We drank green tea and talked about you.
Has he lost much weight?

I havent seen him, mother.

Hes all right. I would know if he wasnt, she says.

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester, England in 1946, and is the author of
several books of stories, essays, a translation of Alphonse Daudets In the Land
of Pain, and numerous novels. His recent publications include The Sense of an
Ending, winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Through the Window: Seventeen
Essays (and One Short Story), and Levels of Life.


She goes into the bedroom. I can hear her breathing heavily. When she
comes back into the kitchen she is holding something wrapped in a tissue
paper, the colour of cyclamen. She hands it to me to unwrap. I do so
slowly. Its a ring with a blue lazurite stone. Lazurites belong to the silicate
group. If you like, mi guapo, I can tell you their formula! (Na,Ca) (AlSiO)

Do the precious stones of old women sparkle more than the jewels of
other women? Perhaps. The jewels they wore when young retain the glow
they themselves once had. Like the glow we see in certain flowers,
immediately after the sun has gone down.


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In the kitchen, you mothers deep blue lazurite glows in the palm of my

On Lies, Liberation and Liberty

Writers at Liberty

You keep it for me, I said.

By Bidisha

They deferred our right to get married, I remind her.

Renaissance Florence was an excellent place for collecting documents.

Mainly because they didnt trust each other.

Xavier would like me to give it to you today, she announces.

Picking up the ring, she slips it over the fourth finger of my left hand. I
make a gesture as if stroking a dogs head.

And your mother holds her breath, remembering in the immense stillness
of her body how she made the same gesture with the same ring on her
hand fifty years ago.

To tell the truth? Words tortured until they give themselves up to their polar
opposites: Democracy, Freedom, Progress, when returned to their cells, are
incoherent. And then there are other words, Imperialism, Capitalism, Slavery,
which are refused entry, are turned back at every frontier point, and their
confiscated papers given to imposters such as Globalisation, Free Market,
Natural Order.

Solution: the evening language of the poor. With this some truths can be told
and held.

John Berger is a storyteller, essayist, novelist, screenwriter, dramatist and critic,

whose body of work embodies his concern for, in Geoff Dyers words, the
enduring mystery of great art and the lived experience of the oppressed.


I am writing this essay while watching a documentary on Machiavelli. A

historians walking us through the Florentine state archives, showing the
presenter a Medicis Most Wanted list and pointing out that the individuals
on it need not have done anything in particular to have attracted
suspicion. The presenter visits the police station where Machiavelli was
tortured despite there being no evidence of him being involved in the
conspiracy he was accused of.

How wonderful that five hundred years on we live in such different times.
These days it would be unthinkable that suspicious and secretive
governments might follow, seize and physically brutalise innocent civilians
based on little more than mere suspicion. What a relief that we now enjoy
enlightened and mutually trustful societies in which authorities have
integrity; leaders are honest and accountable; judges provide justice with
moral consistency and without cultural bias; the heads of the media,
police, politics and big business are not all friends with each other; public
bodies are representative of the populace they serve; institutions of power
have been washed clean of vested interests; and, as humble but proud
citizens, we can truly say that what we see is what we get. How comforting
to know that the written and spoken word are enjoined in the furtherance
of freedom, truth, justice and progressive harmony instead of being
deployed in subterfuge, falsified to justify abuse, misappropriated to bend
meaning, exaggerated to support a warlike and crusading atmosphere,
worked up to derail arguments or simply logged and aggregated to create
a secret archive that can be trawled for incriminating details and useful
trivia at any time without our knowledge or consent.
Oh. Aha. I see. And I hear the distant, mocking laughter of Machiavelli as
he swigs spectral wine and schmoozes his fellow deceased in the afterlife.
To be fair if not approving, the exercise of power and the methods of that
exercise have been employed by those at all points on the political scale


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for centuries. The Vatican, the Elizabethan court, trafficking rings, the CIA,
drugs cartels, the US Senate, the Roman senate, Interpol, Hollywood
studios, the music industry and the mafia all behave in exactly the same
way. Their actions are justified by research, which is gained by informationgathering, which includes surveillance, spycraft, infiltration, entrapment,
the truth obtained by deceitful means. Those who have power, whether it
is legitimate or not, elected or not, formal or not, have always justified
their deceitfulness by pointing to the ends, the consequences. Look, they
say, we have prevented attacks you never knew about; we have stopped
individuals before they committed crimes; we can pre-empt the future
because of what we know. They argue that when it comes to the subtlety
of government, equivocal definitions of what is right or wrong break down.
They argue that it is nave to talk about what is good and what is bad,
which are academic concepts that would disintegrate when the strong light
of reality hits them.

They would laugh in my face if I tried to assert that certain actions are
simply wrong. Perhaps I should couch the argument in language that
wrongdoers would understand: some actions result in no tangible gain, no
increase in meaningful intelligence, no advance in strategic position and
no overall improvement to justify massive costs in terms of logistics,
economics, international standing and public trust. Torture is wrong and
does not yield reliable or useful information. Detention without
justification, without giving detainees a reason, without charge, without
trial, without legal representation, without set duration, is wrong and
creates trauma, instability and resentment. Following someone and
keeping a record of everything they do, say, write or read is wrong and
creates paranoia, alienation and hatred of government.

It is not naive to fight for human rights and civil liberties, it is imperative.
Otherwise the future will be one of absolute and mutual mistrust in all
directions, between and amongst citizens, countries and world
communities. It is obscene that anyone who is a grassroots activist or a
cultural advocate in defence of human rights should be monitored, as
many of us are, as though we are perpetrators, abusers or lawbreakers. It
is contemptible that petty laws should be invented in order to deter us,
vilify us or criminalise us. When accused of flouting human rights, powerful
organisations behave in a way that demonstrates that they do indeed
routinely and systematically flout the human rights of others while


Writers at Liberty
aggressively defending their own interests. Having authority does not
mean that you can do anything you want, then close ranks when caught.

The authorities will say that lifes complicated and that we should simply
go about our daily business being watched and followed and not bother
our little heads about it. If we havent done anything wrong, like Google
something, go on holiday, go on a march or demonstration, speak at a
panel event, sign a petition or have a chat with someone, we wont have
anything to worry about.

Everyone knows that governing is complex and involves subtle negotiation

between multiple parties with widely differing views. But when it comes to
the fundamentals, some principles are inviolable. I would even go one
further and say that there is no difference between the rights and freedoms
I expect personally and within personal relationships and those I expect
politically and within a public, cultural, legal and social context. They are one
and the same. Every human being has the right to live free of physical
violation, mental torture, domination, abuse, stalking, surveillance and
control. Every human being has the right to live free of fear, acting from
their own will and physical and mental self-determination, not because they
have been threatened, coerced or blackmailed. Every human beings sense
of dignity is intimately connected with their sense of privacy and their
positive assumption of freedom of thought, freedom of movement, freedom
of association and freedom of expression. These are not political values,
subject to change according to who is in power. They are human values.
It is tempting to be blas and say that the ruled have always been spied on
by rulers, that it was ever thus and will always be thus. But it is not true
that the present is exactly like the past only with different clothes, or that
history is cyclical, or that you cant stop Them and shouldnt try to stand up
to Them because They always get Their way in the end.

We have arrived at a unique time culturally and technologically. The

authorities combination of deceit, control, watchfulness, duplicity and
cruelty, masked with outward civility and outright lies, is now played out on
a global scale, abetted by ever more efficient means of gathering, storing
and sorting information. Many international governments covert political
alliances and commercial deals for information sharing, the transportation
and torture of suspected individuals, the sale of armaments, the levying of


Writers at Liberty
wars and exploitation of natural resources and emerging markets run
counter to their publicly stated interests, values and allegiances.

This goes far beyond language, although I like a good political euphemism
as much as anyone. Rendition means torture and extraordinary rendition
means a lot of torture. Waterboarding which sounds like a delightful lowimpact sport that one might enjoy on Brightons seafront is a euphemism
for drowning someone. A resistance safe-zone is a rebel stronghold. A
defence of privacy for privacys sake can be an admission of guilt inviting
further investigation. The axis of evil is a mythical land where the US
sacrificed soldiers for oil. Security means control. Arming in self-defence is
incitement to attack. A demonstration can be disorder, resistance can be
rebellion, organising resistance means planning insurgency. Companies
axing thousands of jobs say they are rationalising, harmonising or
recalibrating. Swingeing cuts which put families below the poverty line are
rebranded as thrifty, vintage-chic austerity measures. In the Big Society
you do everything as before only for free and without state assistance. A
terrorist can be anything from a civil disrupter to a threat to national
security and being accused of being one, even without a shred of proof,
can justify any mistreatment whatsoever.
As the world becomes smaller, it is becoming more divided. Just when
communication becomes more convenient, it is polluted by wariness and
suspicion. Just when we have an opportunity to globalise in thought and
intention as well as business, we take up a defensive stance and cling to
divisive rhetoric, ignorant stereotypes and mistrustful attitudes.

What I seek is not just liberty but liberation. Liberation from a mindset of
mistrust and demonisation, the vilification of otherness and the
paternalistic condoning of all surveillance, detention and physical abuse
on the grounds of security. Liberation from the fear that someone is
always following us or watching us. Liberation from our entrenchment in a
cruel, self-justifying system of control which can be brought down on us at
any moment, for any reason. And liberation from the aggressive,
combative, violating machismo which argues disingenuously that violence
is sometimes okay.
The only weapons ordinary citizens have against these trends are our
actions and our words, although journalists are in a trickier position than


Writers at Liberty
ever. We are either violating the human rights of celebrities and relatives
of murder victims or campaigning for truth and justice or accidentally
leaving state secrets on the bus and being hauled up in front of political
investigations committees or ethics boards or national security tribunals or
international courts, depending on how our actions are interpreted and by
whom. We are either peddling damaging lies or damaging truths. We are
influential and dangerous, mistrusted because our behaviour is risky and
independent. When we try to whistleblow we are accused of jeopardising
structures that we could never possibly understand. When we try to
investigate those structures and hit upon sensitive material we are
scapegoated publicly as troublemakers.
Either way, the ferocity of the reaction to journalists endeavours indicates
something about the impact of the word. UK and US governments are just
as frightened of journalists as governments in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia
and Mexico are. They fear the word because its powerful. Indeed they use
that wordpower themselves, negatively, to stir up tactically useful
prejudices, plant slanderous lies, maintain myths which work in their
favour and gloss their own violence. Those of us on the other side use our
position to create space for a truth denied, a suffering voiced, a protest
lodged, a testimony revealed, a campaign launched. This is why I am a part
of Writers at Liberty.

BIDISHA is a writer, critic and broadcaster specialising in global affairs, human

rights, social justice and gender. Having worked for the Gates Foundation
covering international development and global health, she also does outreach
work in prisons and detention centres. Her last book, Beyond the Wall, was a
reportage from the West Bank. Her next, Asylum and Exile: Hidden Voices of
London, is based on her outreach work with asylum seekers and refugees.


Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty

Untitled piece


There are certain human rights which will remain inalienable only with
constant vigilance and a perpetual challenge to those who would seek to
curtail, suspend or extinguish them. Liberty has to be more than a mere
concept or a philosophy. I believe that with all my heart. Thats why I
joined the Liberty Organisation.

In the autumn in 1982, I delivered the manuscript of A Nice Girl Like me to

my publishers, Chatto and Windus. It wasprecocious autobiography, as I
was only thirty one, but I justified it to myself because I wanted to write
about drinking. My drinking had dominated my life in increasingly
traumatic ways since I was about 25. I had ticked off all the excuses on
mylist until only one remained:actually losing a job because of
drink.Butin the summer of 1980, that one fell apart too and I checked into
a rehab clinic and started thejourney towards sobriety.Discovering that I
could live without the bottle had thrilled and exhilaratedme and I wanted
to pass some of that onto other women who were, just like I had, staring at
the alcohol swilling in the glass and picking it up, despite knowing that it
represented everything you had come to hate.

By Malorie Blackman

By Rosie Boycott

I was pleased with the manuscript, but even so, I was terrified and not just
about the verdict of my editor. That, at that moment, seemed like the least
of my problems. What I was worried about was what the world would
think when they read my shabby and demeaning saga of my battles with
the bottle. Would anyone actually want to talk to me again, after I had
confessed to such misdemeanours as falling down stairs, losing a whole
day to black out, to passing out on an aeroplane? I doubted it.

Malorie Blackman has written over fifty books and is acknowledged as one of
todays most imaginative and convincing writers for young readers. She has
been awarded numerous prizes for her work, including the Red House
Childrens Book Award and the Fantastic Fiction Award. Malorie has also been
shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. In 2005 she was honoured with the Eleanor
Farjeon Award in recognition of her contribution to childrens books, and in
2008 she received an OBE for her services to childrens literature. She has been
described by The Times as a national treasure. Malorie Blackman is the
Childrens Laureate 201315.


While I drank I lived my life in a prison, the prison of addiction. If I was on a

bender, there would be moments when I had to have another drink. The
physical withdrawals were so intense that I was prepared to call up cab
companies in the middle of the night and ask them to deliver strong beer
to my door wrapped in a brown paper bags (quite where they got it, Ive
never known, but get it they did). Id sneaked downstairs in my fathers
house to raid his drinks cabinet. Id concealed small bottles of alcohol in
my hand bag which Id swig in the loo, before blasting my mouth with
breath freshener in an attempt to disguise the smell. I had forfeited days
to hangovers and nights to searching for a supply. Even though I knew I
was living a life of madness (if one of its definitions is the willingness to do
to the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result) I
carried on. For a long time, I seemed to have no choice, even though to the


Writers at Liberty
outsider, it appeared to be a madness of my own making. But addiction,
and alcohol, are cunning and powerful enemies of the soul and the spirit
and of the body. I could no more have got dressed and gone to work on
mornings when my life was forfeited to a hangover than I could have flown
to the moon.
When I eventually put down the bottle, initially in the hideous misery of
withdrawal, the relief that washed over me was vast. As the weeks went by
and my soberness started to settle in, replacing the craziness with a
comforting knowledge that no, today, I didnt need to pick up a drink, my
world began to expand. When I was drinking it shrank to a pin head, a tiny
space where my options were limited and defined by my access to booze.
Sober, the world and all its possibilities opened up like the big skies of

But here I was, two and a half years later, shivering with anxiety on the
pavement of a Bloomsbury Square, wondering what on earth I had done.
Telling all these stories to total strangers. Id never get a job, I thought, Ill
probably lose all my friends. But, as I was to discover, I did myself a huge
favour that day. By coming clean about what had happened to me, Id
freed myself from secrets. There was nothing anyone could dig up about
my past that wasnt already there, in print. When you drink or take drugs
you live by secrets and lies. Minimising, denying, prevaricating. As much
as the physical damage, the lies damage your soul. Putting down the bottle
and the telling the truth was the greatest freedom of all.

Rosie Boycott co-founded Spare Rib and Virago, edited Esquire, the
Independent on Sunday, the Independent and The Daily Express. She is
currently the food advisor to the Mayor of London.

To Liberty

Writers at Liberty

By Margaret Busby
For your birthday
I wanted to dance and sing
intoLerance snarled, Keep still!
Injustice demanded, Stop the music!
Bigotry taunted, Be afraid!
prejudicE yelled, You dont belong!lllllllll
oppRession roared, Thats forbidden!
discriminaTion hissed, Silence!llllllllllllllllllllllll
tyrannY decreed, No touching allowed!

Then it was cold,

airless and solitary,
dark walls crowding round and low,
until constant friends took my hand, our song soared up towards the sun,
unbound steps spinning us to sanctuary
at least to dream

Margaret Busby, OBE, born in Ghana and educated in Britain, is a writer,

editor, critic, broadcaster and consultant. Co-founder and former editorial
director of the London-based publishing house Allison & Busby Ltd, she also
compiled the pioneering anthologyDaughters of Africa (1992), has contributed
to many publications (notably The Guardian and The Independent), and has
written award-winning drama for BBC radio and for the stage. She has served
as a judge for several literary prizes (including the Independent Foreign Fiction
Prize, the Caine Prize for African Writing, the Bocas Prize for Caribbean
Literature, the Orange Prize, the SI Leeds Literary Award and the
Commonwealth Book Prize) and has been associated with various international
cultural initiatives in the fields of literature, art, music and theatre. She is
currently chair of the board of Wasafirimagazine.


Writers at Liberty

Liberty In Some of the Nineties

By Georgia Byng

When I was seven, I wrote my first book. It was rude. I was desperate to
write it.

At the time there was a rude rhyme flying around the school playground.
Everybody loved it. I thought it was excellent. It conjured up a fantastically
funny image. It was inspiring. I simply had to write it down. I wanted the
thrill of seeing my pen write the poems rude words and then I wanted to
write the rhyme into a longer rude poem. So that is what I did. I wrote nine
more verses and made a little book. I laminated the book actually it
wasnt properly laminated, it was just stuck on see-through plastic,
coloured in with pink felt tip. It was called In Some Of The Nineties and on
its back I wrote A Ladder Book.
I wrote it because I had the urge to write it. And it taught me that I never
had to ask any ones permission before I wrote something.
There were lots of things I did have to ask permission for in those days.

Even though it was the seventies when children biked everywhere, if I was
going over three miles I had to get permission. I was supposed to mention
it if I was planning to hitch hike which we used to do even at age eight,
the most memorable trip being one in a disabled mans car where the
driver only had one arm. I had to beg to watch late TV. I had to get the nod
to go round to a friends house to play. And I had to plead for ice cream.
But I didnt have to get permission to write.
I could take a piece of paper and write whatever the fuck I wanted Even
now, rude words on the page appeal to me. The way that one can write
anything, absolutely anything is really, really exciting to me.

When I was seven it was amazing to realise this writing freedom. I could
imagine anything and write it down, write rude things about horrible
teachers or the bullies at school. I was in control. I could show the finished
result to anyone I wanted.
I had daydream fantasies that were a bit outrageous like the one where
at school I got a magic power and all the teachers in assembly lost their


Writers at Liberty
clothes. I could write this down and make the idea of them naked and
embarrassed even more real and concrete. They might pick on me, but I
could humiliate them in my writing. It felt good.
But it wasnt just by writing that I was free to express myself.

My parents were open minded, and fairly unshockable, so I could make

what I wanted.

Once, I made my father a wonderful book for his birthday. I found a big
pile of The Sun newspaper in a garage. I carefully tore out every page
three (for non-British people reading this, page three always had and still
has a daily picture of a woman with her top off) and I bound the whole lot
together and called the book The Book Of Boobs. My dad loved his
birthday present. My parents always encouraged creativity.

I was lucky. Some children arent encouraged or even allowed to express

themselves. Some children wouldnt dare write something rude, or
something that shows adults in a bad light, as they will get into big trouble
for it. Oh dear. This is a bad start.

These kids are denied the pleasure and the feeling of empowerment that
is got from saying exactly what you want. They are not allowed a voice.
They dont realize that they have a right to be heard and tolerated.

When I talk to children in schools I often read them In some of the Nineties,
and they always love it. I explain to them that they have the freedom, at
home, to write whatever they want. That beyond-the-world is their oyster,
that they can play God and make up whatever they like, their only limit being
their imagination. They can experiment with ideas, write down how they see
the world and how they think it should be. They can criticize, ridicule, praise,
adore, describe, amuse, invent - say whatever they like.
Our children must know this liberty. For once tasted it isnt forgotten. We
must have an army of people who know deep down in themselves what
freedom of expression is.

I am a childrens writer. My view is often through the eyes of a child. I also

see the child in adults that I meet. I am very aware that the future is in the
hands of our children, and I love the thought that we have the power to
produce children who are better people than any people ever before.

Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty
So lets take care to let our children write their rude poems. They will learn
about freedom of expression and tolerance and they in turn will pass the
good ways on to their children too.
And the world will become even more wonderful.

Here is what I wrote, as well as the genius original verse that I heard on the
playground, which is in bold.


In Ninety Sixty One,

I had a little son
I knew he was bad,
But he was all I had
In Ninety Sixty One.

In Ninety Sixty Two

The Queen went to the loo
She bumped her bum
And said, Oh Mum!
In Ninety Sixty Two

In Ninety Sixty Three

The Queen went to the wee
She did her wee
Out came a flea
In Ninety Sixty Three

In Ninety Sixty Four

I locked the Queens big door
She laid on the floor
I opened the door
In Ninety Sixty Four


In Ninety Sixty Five

I saw the Queens big hive
I saw the bees
They stung her knees
In Ninety Sixty Five


Writers at Liberty
In Ninety Sixty Six
The Queen pulled down her nicks
She licked her bum
And said Yum yum
In Ninety Sixty Six
I wrote the next bit today.

In Ninety Sixty Seven

The Queen experienced heaven
She wasnt a queen
But a woman orgasming.
In Ninety Sixty Seven

In Ninety Sixty Eight,

She was late for a royal date
She sat in bed, and held her head
In Ninety Sixty Eight.
In Ninety Sixty Nine
The Queen felt it was time
She let down her hair
Threw her crown in the air
In Ninety Sixty Nine.

In Ninety Sixty Ten

The Queen picked up her pen
She started to write
It felt groovy and right
In Ninety Sixty Ten

Georgia Byng grew up beside The River Itchen, in Hampshire. She writes
childrens books. Her first published book was a comic strip, The Sock
Monsters. She went on to write the Molly Moon series about a child hypnotist.
Recently she co-wrote and co-produced the movie, Molly Moon And The
Incredible Book of Hypnotism. Now, she is writing the screenplay for Molly
Moon Stops the World. She lives in London with her husband, Marc Quinn, and
their two sons, and she has a twenty three year old daughter too.


Shami on Liberty

Writers at Liberty

By Shami Chakrabarti
Writers have always been at Liberty. Since our very beginnings, as the
National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) in 1934, they have played a
significant role in our struggle to protect civil liberties and promote human
rights in Britain.

H. G Wells, Vera Brittain, E.M Forster, A. A Milne, George Orwell and Aldous
Huxley are just a few of the authors who supported us in the early years
and its probably not surprising that those with sufficient empathy and
imagination to write, feel a special affinity with human rights values and
A few years ago, a new generation of 42 writers wrote for Liberty and
against 42-day pre-charge detention in the culmination of our long and
hard Charge or Release campaign. That ended with a huge defeat for the
last Government in the House of Lords.
Now we celebrate 80 years of the fight that is never done and as part of
this remembrance many of our author members answered the question
What does Liberty mean to you?. The pieces we received are imaginative
and varied; sometimes uplifting and sometimes more despairing but all
powerful and moving nonetheless.

Orwells observation on the power of language to make lies sound truthful

and murder respectable is something which Liberty has witnessed
throughout its history. However the trend was especially prevalent during
the twelve years since fiendishly skillful speech writers on both sides of the
Atlantic went to war with an abstract noun. For we more readily tolerate
abomination in a war, that would never pass in peacetime and a War on
Terror is one without limits of time or decency.
A permanent emergency or new normal so easily becomes a nightmare
without end. And our leaders lost sight of the moral and legal framework
of rights and freedoms, paid for with the blood of previous generations
who knew all about war. They also seemed to forget that we hold these
precious liberties on trust for generations yet to come. So Extraordinary
rendition wasnt sweet singing but a chilling euphemism for kidnap and


Writers at Liberty
torture, and water boarding never a seaside sport but interrogation by
drowning in freedoms name.

Governments have twisted words to cover up cruelty and obscure outrage,

and the abuse of people so often begins with that of language. But equally,
literature can sometimes change minds and behaviour for the better more
convincingly than the most forceful of political polemic or even legislation.
Human beings are story-telling creatures after all.
This is a pivotal moment in Libertys history- a time of blanket surveillance
and State-sponsored xenophobia. The powerful seek to divide and rule
and so understandably undermine the universal human rights and rule of
law values that bind humanity together.
This collection of prose and poetry compels, persuades and ultimately
triumphs in reflecting the restless spirit of Liberty. We take considerable
comfort and courage from the good guys having pens too.


Writers at Liberty

By Ian Cobain
Eight-fifteen on a wintry Monday morning, and the small wooden door in
the prison gatehouse swings open. A dozen young men step out, one-byone. Two are clutching tool bags and one is holding a pair of rolled-up
overalls. The others have their hands thrust deep into their pockets.

A dozen men being released on temporary licence; out on rotl, as prison

jargon has it. Some must be back at the prison gates eight hours from
now. A lucky few will be at liberty for almost 11 hours. Some have work
placements, others have families to go to. One or two know that the
Kestrel Super is waiting at the shop on the corner, one pound twenty nine
a can.

One of these men is Gary. He woke hours ago, dressed, and had his
breakfast: a 250ml carton of milk and a small packet of cornflakes, handed
out with dinner the night before. Hes picked up his mobile phone from a
locker in the gatehouse, and hes eager to be on his way.

Gary walks two hundred yards from the prison gate to the bus stop, and
waits. Hes in his mid 30s and is coming to the end of a three-year
sentence. Its his sixth time behind bars, or behind the door, as he puts it.
Half Garys adult life has been spent in prison. Theres been thefts, the odd
robbery, plenty of burglaries. Whatever it took to buy a couple of rocks of
crack cocaine.

The bus arrives. Gary goes upstairs and sits at the back, looking out of the
window. Every week someone else gets cleared to go out on rotl, he says.
Theres a period of initial excitement. People say Im going to sleep with
so many women, or they talk about the great food theyre going to eat.
Some guys just want to be with their families. But a lot of people dont find
rotl easy. They start doing drugs or drinking and things, straight away.
Shami Chakrabarti has been Director of Liberty since 2003. Her first book On
Liberty was published by Penguin in autumn 2014.


The night before my first time out on rotl I didnt sleep. I stayed awake all
night. I must have smoked a whole half ounce of tobacco. And then I didnt
enjoy the day at all. The time went so quickly: I didnt do most of the things
Id been looking forward to doing. I didnt make contact with my family. I


Writers at Liberty
didnt even eat. Nothing. I didnt seem to have had time: the time just went.
I wont say I was overwhelmed, but I felt very uneasy, all day.
Today Gary is going to be working for an organisation that is based a short
distance from the prison. Hell be in an office, a place where a handful of
the other staff know what it is to spend time behind the door. He will work
there for five days a week; each day he will have lunch at KFC or
McDonalds, the only places that will accept the lunch vouchers that his
temporary employer will provide. He is banned from licensed premises.
And he must be back at the prison gatehouse by 7pm each evening: not a
moment later. If Im even ten minutes late I could get adjudicated. Id have
to go before the governor, and I could lose my rotl, lose privileges. If
theres anything at all thats going to delay me, I have to telephone the
prison to explain.

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when Im out on release or on home leave. Im very aware of how my
behaviour has affected my mum and my family, whove had to put up with
the shame of what Ive done.

The hardest part of freedom is trying to talk to my family about this. Its
like the elephant in the room. They dont talk about what Im doing to
* Gary not his real name is due for permanent release in 2014.

Eventually, Gary will gain more permanent freedom. How permanent, is

difficult to say.

It will be a relief to be out, of course. Its a traumatic place, locked up with

people you dont know and dont trust, living on your wits all day. But it
will also be a struggle. Finding work, a place to live, staying away from old
neighbourhoods and old friends, it will all be difficult. Sometimes, it seems
prison is easier. I have seen people coming back in after two or three
days, and Ive thought: This has to be about more than just the drugs, or
being useless as a criminal. I think, subconsciously, they wanted to go back
to jail.
And there is one characteristic of liberty that is particularly painful for
Gary: the shame is so much more acute when he is not behind the door.
Not that crime and punishment is anything new for the males in Garys
family: My father went to jail, my uncle went to jail, my brothers in jail. My
older cousins went to jail. And now my younger cousins are going to jail.
But he does feel shame and he does feel guilt. Ive always had a
And while his first victims are the people he has robbed or burgled, he
knows that his family are victims too. My secondary victims, he calls them.

I struggle with my guilt and my shame. Its always there, but I feel it far
more keenly when Im around people who are effected by my behaviour,


Ian Cobain is a Guardian journalist and author of Cruel Britannia.


Writers at Liberty

Extract from Maggie & Me

By Damian Barr

This is a wee extract from my memoir Maggie & Meits the moment my
Mum discovers her boyfriend has been beating my sister and me. She
finds me in bed just before Christmas, asleep on a pillow covered in blood.
She sees his bloody handprint and instantly knows everything.
Immediately, she takes me, my wee sister and our baby brother away. I
remember feeling terrified but also free. I knew I wouldnt have to be
afraid any more.
Were leavin, says my Mum.

Its midnight. A million mirrored shards of Logan litter the bedroom floor,
all of them staring at us. I hold my wee sister Teenie back in the doorway any further and shell slash her feet. Baby Billy is bawling in his cot. Get
yer coats and shoes, says my Mum calmly, her back to us. She steps over
Logan to get to her baby, red and silver slivers sliding and cracking under
her feet. He lies very still on the floor where he fell. Its snowing outside.
Were leavin.

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Excerpt from The Hare With Amber Eyes,

Chatto & Windus, 2010, p348
By Edmund De Waal

The problem is that I am in the wrong century to burn things. I am the

wrong generation to let it go. I think of a library carefully sorted into
boxes. I think of all those careful burnings by others, the systematic
erasing of stories, the separations between people and their possessions,
and then of people from their families and families from their
neighbourhoods. And then from their country.

I think of someone checking a list to make sure that these people were still
alive and resident in Vienna, before stamping Sara or Israel in red over
the record of their birth. I think, of course, of all the listings of families in
the manifests, for deportations.
If others can be so careful over things that are so important, then I must
be careful over these objects and their stories. I must get it right, go back
and check it again, walk it again.

Damian Barr is a writer, columnist, playwright and salonnire. He has cowritten two plays for BBC Radio Four and his first book was published by
Hodder. Get It Together made the quarterlife crisis the must-have modern
malaise. He has been shortlisted for a British Press Award and written for The
Times, Telegraph, Financial Times, Guardian, Independent, Evening Standard,
Esquire, Harpers, Arena, GQ and Granta.

He made headlines as the worlds first reader in residence travelling the world
reading stories aloud to hotel guests in his PJs. He is creator and host of the
hugely successful Shoreditch House Literary Salon whose guests include Diana
Athill, David Nicholls, John Waters, Helen Fielding, Geoff Dyer and James Frey.
He also runs Reading Weekend. At home in Brighton Damian grooms his fancy
chickens and tirelessly mixes cocktails in his quest for the perfect martini.


Edmund de Waal OBE is an award winning ceramic artist and writer.


Writers at Liberty

I, Robot

By Cory Doctorow
Introduction to I, Robot

I was suckled on the Asimov Robots books, taken down off my fathers
bookshelf and enjoyed again and again. I read dozens of Asimov novels,
and my writing career began in earnest when I started to sell stories to
Asimovs Science Fiction Magazine, which I had read for so long as Id had
the pocket money to buy it on the stands.
When Wired Magazine asked me to interview the director of the film I,
Robot, I went back and re-read that old canon. I was struck immediately
by one of the thin places in Asimovs world-building: how could you
have a society where only one company was allowed to make only one
kind of robot?

Exploring this theme turned out to be a hoot. I worked in some of Orwells

most recognizable furniture from 1984, and set the action in my childhood
home in suburban Toronto, 55 Picola Court. The main characters daughter
is named for my god-daughter, Ada Trouble Norton. I had a blast working
in the vernacular of the old-time futurism of Asimov and Heinlein, calling
toothpaste dentifrice and sneaking in references to the search engine.
My I, Robot is an allegory about digital rights management technology,
of course. This is the stuff that nominally stops us from infringing
copyright (yeah, right, hows that working out for you, Mr Entertainment
Exec?) and turns our computers into something that controls us, rather
than enabling us.

This story was written at a writers workshop on Toronto Island, at the

Gibraltar Point center, and was immeasurably improved by my friend Pat
York, herself a talented writer who died later that year in a car wreck. Not a
day goes by that I dont miss Pat. This story definitely owes its strength to
Pat, and its a tribute to her that it won the 2005 Locus Award and was a
finalist for the Hugo and British Science Fiction Award in the same year.


Writers at Liberty
I, Robot

(Originally published on The Infinite Matrix, April 2005)

Arturo Icaza de Arana-Goldberg, Police Detective Third Grade, United

North American Trading Sphere, Third District, Fourth Prefecture, Second
Division (Parkdale) had had many adventures in his distinguished career,
running crooks to ground with an unbeatable combination of instinct and
unstinting devotion to duty. Hed been decorated on three separate
occasions by his commander and by the Regional Manager for Social
Harmony, and his mother kept a small shrine dedicated to his press
clippings and commendations that occupied most of the cramped sittingroom of her flat off Steeles Avenue.
No amount of policemans devotion and skill availed him when it came to
making his twelve-year-old get ready for school, though.
Haul ass, young ladyout of bed, on your feet, shit-shower-shave, or I
swear to God, I will beat you purple and shove you out the door jaybird
naked. Capeesh?
The mound beneath the covers groaned and hissed. You are a terrible
father, it said. And I never loved you. The voice was indistinct and
muffled by the pillow.
Boo hoo, Arturo said, examining his nails. Youll regret that when Im
dead of cancer.
The moundwhose name was Ada Trouble Icaza de Arana-Goldberg
threw her covers off and sat bolt upright. Youre dying of cancer? is it
testicle cancer? Ada clapped her hands and squealed. Can I have your
Ten minutes, your rottenness, he said, and then his breath caught
momentarily in his breast as he saw, fleetingly, his ex-wifes morning
expression, not seen these past twelve years, come to life in his daughters
face. Pouty, pretty, sleepy and guile-less, and it made him realize that his
daughter was becoming a woman, growing away from him. She was, and
he was not ready for that. He shook it off, patted his razor-burn and
turned on his heel. He knew from experience that once roused, the
munchkin would be scrounging the kitchen for whatever was handy before
dashing out the door, and if he hurried, hed have eggs and sausage on the
table before she made her brief appearance. Otherwise hed have to pry
the sugar-cereal out of her handsand she fought dirty.


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In his car, he prodded at his phone. He had her wiretapped, of course. He
was a copevery phone and every computer was an open book to him, so
that this involved nothing more than dialing a number on his special
coppers phone, entering her number and a PIN, and then listening as his
daughter had truck with a criminal enterprise.
Welcome to ExcuseClub! There are 43 members on the network this
morning. You have five excuses to your credit. Press one to redeem an
excuse She toned one. Press one if you need an adultTone. Press
one if you need a woman; press two if you need a man Tone. Press one
if your excuse should be delivered by your doctor; press two for your
spiritual representative; press three for your case-worker; press four for
your psycho-health specialist; press five for your son; press six for your
father Tone. You have selected to have your excuse delivered by your
father. Press one if this excuse is intended for your case-worker; press two
for your psycho-health specialist; press three for your principal Tone.
Please dictate your excuse at the sound of the beep. When you have
finished, press the pound key.
This is Detective Arturo Icaza de Arana-Goldberg. My daughter was sick in
the night and Ive let her sleep in. Shell be in for lunchtime. Tone.
Press one to hear your message; press two to have your message
dispatched to a network-member. Tone.
Thank you.
The pen-trace data scrolled up Arturos phonenumber called, originating
number, call-time. This was the third time hed caught his daughter at this
game, and each time, the pen-trace data had been useless, a dead-end
lead that terminated with a phone-forwarding service tapped into one of
the dodgy offshore switches that the blessed blasted UNATS brass had
recently acquired on the cheap to handle the surge of mobile telephone
calls. Why couldnt they just stick to UNATS Robotics equipment, like the
good old days? Those Oceanic switches had more back-doors than a
speakeasy, trade agreements be damned. They were attractive nuisances,
invitations to criminal activity.
Arturo fumed and drummed his fingers on the steering-wheel. Each time
hed caught Ada at this, shed used the extra time to crawl back into bed
for a leisurely morning, but who knew if today was the day she took her
liberty and went downtown with it, to some parental nightmare of a drugden? Some place where the old pervert chickenhawks hung out, the kind


Writers at Liberty
of men he arrested in burlesque house raids, men who masturbated into
their hats under their tables and then put them back onto their shining
pates, dripping cold, diseased serum onto their scalps. He clenched his
hands on the steering wheel and cursed.
In an ideal world, hed simply follow her. He was good at tailing, and his
unmarked car with its tinted windows was a UNATS Robotics standard
compact #2, indistinguishable from the tens of thousands of others just
like it on the streets of Toronto. Ada would never know that the curbcrawler tailing her was her sucker of a father, making sure that she turned
up to get her brains sharpened instead of turning into some stunadz
doper with her underage butt hanging out of a little skirt on Jarvis Street.
In the real world, Arturo had thirty minutes to make a forty minute
downtown and crosstown commute if he was going to get to the station
house on-time for the quarterly all-hands Social Harmony briefing. Which
meant that he needed to be in two places at once, which meant that he
had to usethe robot.
Swallowing bile, he speed-dialed a number on his phone.
This is R Peed Robbert, McNicoll and Don Mills bus-shelter.
Thats nice. This is Detective Icaza de Arana-Goldberg, three blocks east of
you on Picola. Proceed to my location at once, priority urgent, no sirens.
Acknowledged. It is my pleasure to do you a service, Detective.
Shut up, he said, and hung up the phone. The R PeedRobot, Police
Departmentrobots were the worst, programmed to be friendly to a fault,
even as they surveilled and snitched out every person who walked past
their eternally vigilant, ever-remembering electrical eyes and brains.
The R Peeds could outrun a police car on open ground or highway. Hed
barely had time to untwist his clenched hands from the steering wheel
when R Peed Robbert was at his window, politely rapping on the smoked
glass. He didnt want to roll down the window. Didnt want to smell the dry,
machine-oil smell of a robot. He phoned it instead.
You are now tasked to me, Detectives override, acknowledge.
The metal man bowed, its symmetrical, simplified features pleasant and
guileless. It clicked its heels together with an audible snick as those
marvelous, spring-loaded, nuclear-powered gams whined through their
parody of obedience. Acknowledged, Detective. It is my pleasure to do
Shut up. You will discreetly surveil 55 Picola Crescent until such time as
Ada Trouble Icaza de Arana-Goldberg, Social Harmony serial number
0MDY2-T3937 leaves the premises. Then you will maintain discreet


Writers at Liberty
surveillance. If she deviates more than 10 percent from the optimum route
between here and Don Mills Collegiate Institute, you will notify me.
Acknowledged, Detective. It is my
He hung up and told the UNATS Robotics mechanism running his car to get
him down to the station house as fast as it could, angry with himself and
with Adawhose middle name was Trouble, after allfor making him deal
with a robot before hed had his morning meditation and destim session.
The name had been his ex-wifes idea, something shed insisted on long
enough to make sure that it got onto the kids birth certificate before
defecting to Eurasia with their lifes savings, leaving him with a new baby
and the deep suspicion of his co-workers who wondered if he wouldnt go
and join her.

This story is part of Cory Doctorows 2007 short story collection Overclocked:
Stories of the Future Present, published by Thunders Mouth, a division of
Avalon Books. This story in full and the other stories in the volume are
available at

Our Nelson

Writers at Liberty

By Anne Donovan
The tar stuck tae the soles of wur shoes it was that hot. The march went on for
miles, couldnae see the endy it.
Yer da was behind me. His daft pal kept makin stupit jokes, but he was
dead quiet.
Too busy lookin at that red hair of yours. Doon tae her waist so it was.
Glintin in the sun.
Ahve heard it a million times, story of how they met. Ah smile,
tune oot.

Nelson was like an uncle or a cousin who lived far away, wanny the family.
Any time his name was mentioned, the TV was turnt up; Mammy cut
photies and articles oot the paper, kept them in a folder. The stories were
endless - how theyd went on the marches tae free him, rummled through
oranges and grapefruits in the shops tae make sure they didnae come fae
South Africa. Ma folks knew the words of Nkosi Sikelel i Afrika better than
Auld Lang Syne.
And their best story was the day he came.

It was chuckin it. Kinda rain you think is gonnae wear itsel oot, cannae last. But
it did.
We were there dead early, got right tae the front, just at the barriers.
Drookit, so we were. You couldnae put up an umbrella it was that
Waited two hours for him.
Would of waited forever.
He was that close, just yards away.
Mind the singin?
And when he started dancin? Magic.
Second best day of my life, son. Apart frae havin you.
Thanks, Ma.

Theres a photie of them on that day, framed on the unit in the livin room,
pride of place among the family weddings, christenings and first
communions. Efter hed left the square they wandered aboot, in a dwam,
my da said, nae clue where they were gaun; a journalist asked them for


Writers at Liberty
their thoughts and a photographer snapped them for the paper.
Ah tellt him, says ma da. We were the first city tae make him a free
man, when he was still in thon jail. Hauf the time they act like a bunch
a eejits in the council, but we should be proud of Glasgow for daein
that. They never printed it but. Never even put wur names in.
Ma smiles. Still, they published the photie.
They look that young, haudin haunds in the rain, hair plastered tae
their heids, their eyes shinin. It had just started tae dry up and the
grey streets glistered.
Like a monsoon it was.
But efter the rain, the rainbow nation.
Ma and Da got engaged that day.
Ah was too feart tae ask her afore, says ma da. Scared of gettin tied
doon, ah guess. But somehow, efter that day, ah knew it was the right
thing for us. He gied me the courage.
Theres a lot of talk like this, aboot the things that matter, since ma
das been sick. Its like hes tryin tae cram it all in.
They werenae sure at first but they operated on him a month ago
and noo theres nae doubt. Mas tryin tae get him hospice care but
they have tae get his lung drained afore he can leave the ward.
Shes there every visitin; her works been great, gied her the time.
Ahm there too, except when ahve got a class at the uni.
The day efter Nelsons passing, Mas brought the papers, and Da flicks
through the pictures, gets me tae read oot some of the articles, smiles at
the quotes.
Theres a bit aboot Glasgow, how they named a street efter him.
That caused a right stushie, says ma mammy.
Theyre havin a gatherin for him there at five oclock the night.
Ma and Da look at each other.
Its four noo, son, he says, his voice a hoarse whisper. You could
make it easy. Pay wur respects.
Ah want tae stay here wi you.
Last few days theyve been flexible wi the visitin; Ma and me stay
on till they come round wi the meals, grab a bite in the cafe then
back to the ward.
A cough racks his thin body; Ma gies him tissues, strokes his back.
When he recovers, he squeezes ma haund. Dae it fur me, son.


Writers at Liberty
Its a bitter night, cauld dampness seepin through yer bones. Theyve set up
a kinda tent thing and are playin African music as the crowd gathers. Some
folk are wavin scarves and dancin but maist are sombre. Then a guy talks
aboot Nelson, and all he done - the same stories ahve heard fae ma folks.
Hes a good guy, the speaker, fought against apartheid since the sixties.
Viva Mandela!
Viva! we shout.
Its even caulder noo. The crowd has thickened, were closer
thegether, a mixed ragbag of ages and colours; folk smart fae
offices or trauchled wi Christmas parcels. Theres shuffln aboot on
the wee stage and somebody else is talkin. Then another. Too
much talkin. Ah thought wed be silent, light candles, remember
him. Ahm gettin twitchy noo. Ah turn, start tryin tae fight ma way
back through the huddle of folk when ma phone goes, as ah knew
it would and the text is frae ma mammy, as ah knew it would be.

Ah staund at the bus stop, think on all the times the three of us had been
thegether. Why was ah at this haund-knitted gatherin insteidy wi my da? I
should of just stayed in the hospital, ah should of been there.
Ah get on the bus, climb up the stair and sit in the front seat lookin
out at the dreich night. The rain had smeared the windaes and they
gleamed in the streetlights. Ah minded the picture of my folks on
that second best day of their lives.
Dae it fur me, son.

Anne Donovan is the author of the short story collection, Hieroglyphics and
Other Stories and the novels Being Emily, Buddha Da, all published by
Canongate. Her new novel, Gone With The Leaves, will be published by
Canongate in April 2014.


Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty

Girls are coming out of the Woods

By Tishani Doshi

Girls are coming out of the woods,

wrapped in cloaks and hoods,
carrying iron bars and candles
and a multitude of scars, collected
on acres of premature grass and city
buses, in temples and bars. Girls
are coming out of the woods
with panties tied around their lips,
making such a noise, its impossible
to hear. Is the world speaking too?
Is it really asking, What does it mean
to give someone a proper resting? Girls are
coming out of the woods, lifting
their broken legs high, leaking secrets
from unfastened thighs, all the lies
whispered by strangers and swimming
coaches, and uncles, especially uncles,
who said spreading would be light
and easy, who put bullets in their chests
and fed their pretty faces to fire,
who sucked the mud clean
off their ribs, and decorated
their coffins with brier. Girls are coming
out of the woods, clearing the ground
to scatter their stories. Even those girls
found naked in ditches and wells,
those forgotten in neglected attics,
and buried in river beds like sediments
from a different century. Theyve crawled
their way out from behind curtains
of childhood, the silver-pink weight
of their bodies pushing against water,
against the sad, feathered tarnish

of remembrance. Girls are coming out

of the woods the way birds arrive
at morning windows pecking
and humming, until all you can hear
is the smash of their miniscule hearts
against glass, the bright desperation
of sound bashing, disappearing.
Girls are coming out of the woods.
Theyre coming. Theyre coming.

Tishani Doshi is an award-winning writer and dancer of Welsh-Gujarati

descent. She is the author of four books of poetry and fiction. Since 2001 she
has worked as the lead dancer with the Chandralekha troupe in Madras.
Currently she divides her time between Tamil Nadu and elsewhere.


Writers at Liberty

Untitled piece
By Stella Duffy

Liberty is human rights, with a small h and a small r, running alongside the
It is thought that changes as much as the law that enforces.
It is kindness that understands as well as the system that insists.
It is gentle understanding and legal frameworks to hold that
understanding to account.
It is softly spoken and a hand, held, in the night.
It is a strong light into the darkest corner.
It is speaking out when silence is easier.
It is politically broad and also acutely aware of specifics.
It is carrot and stick.
It reminds me that I did nothing to be born here, and now. That I am
privileged with the great gift of freedom, and it is my duty to use that gift
Liberty is human, and it is right.

Writers at Liberty

Everything I know about liberty I learned

in the British public school system
By Ian Dunt

There is a small preparatory school in Winchester called Pilgrims, which

takes pupils from ages eight to 13. Nowadays it may well be a beacon of
enlightened learning, but back then it was staffed by a collection of bullies
and depressives. It was a factory for the public school product: adults
suffering from a weird mixture of entitlement and self-loathing.

The first day was scary. The children seemed like giants and the teaching
staff were relentlessly sour-faced. The school mandated that pupils had to
enter and leave wearing black shoes, but spend the day wearing brown
shoes. Or perhaps it was the other way round. I cant remember. The school
was full of seemingly arbitrary rules like that and the exact details fade.
I spent the first day avoiding the attentions of the teachers, who did not
seem to have my best interests at heart. Or rather, they seemed to think
they did, which made them all the more dangerous. But while leaving I
made a dreadful mistake. I still had my brown shoes on.

I had almost made it to the front gate by the time a teacher noticed. With
just a few feet left before freedom, I heard an authoritative shout behind
me. You there, it said.

I turned. When you are young, you know you are in trouble before you can
be sure its true. Its like a sixth sense. Or perhaps it just happens so
regularly that you begin to presume. In front of me stood a middle aged
woman who bore a look of absolute seriousness. For her, my failure to
follow the rule about the shoes was very grave, a significant mater which
could only be addressed by a public dressing down and 500 lines, which I
wrote clutching four pens in my hand.

Stella Duffy has written thirteen novels, over fifty short stories and ten plays.
She is also a theatre director and is currently leading the Fun Palaces, a project
of UK-wide public engagement with arts and sciences to celebrate the
centenary of Joan Littlewood, 4th & 5th October 2014.


Pilgrims was full of moments like this: strange rules, roughly enforced. A
demand that we finish our peas during lunch led one teacher to force a pupil
to drink his own sick. A rule against yawning in assembly led to several people
being very publically demeaned in front of the entire school. Any failure in the
complex dress code led to outbursts of rage by the teaching staff.


Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty

At the time, the violent enforcement of the rules confirmed that I was in an
inhospitable, alien territory, populated by angry old people who wanted to
make life more miserable that it needed to be.
Later I thought it was proof that their rules were fundamentally
meaningless. They were intended not to improve children, but to turn
them into adults who would naturally follow any order, no matter how
wrongheaded or pointless.
But now it holds a different meaning to me altogether.

It taught me that people in power are not be to be trusted. If you set up a

system of rules and leave people to enforce it without proper scrutiny of
their actions, they will start to behave in an unacceptable manner. People
rarely recognise the appropriate limits and execution of their power.
Give them an inch and theyll take a mile.

Its sometimes said that liberals are a naive lot, that they are too trusting in
the fundamental decency of the human spirit - that hard-minded realists
are needed to temper their sentimentality with tough love and discipline.

The opposite is the case. Liberals understand better than most the jagged
edges of the human spirit. They understand how man behaves when he is
given power over another man with little or no oversight of how he enforces
it. They know that the only way to prevent the powerful turning into bullies is
to constantly inspect their behavior. They know what liberty depends on.

Throughout last year, David Cameron was talking about porn. The prime
minister has a problem with women voters; namely, that they do not like
him. Childrens access to porn was high on womens voters list of
concerns, so Cameron toured the breakfast TV studios talking about how
he was taking action.
People who knew things about the internet warned that it could not be
done, but the prime minister would not be stopped. He managed to get
internet service providers to sign up to an opt-out filtering arrangement


whereby new broadband contracts would come with an automatic filtering

program unless the customer specifically objected.
The people who knew things about the internet were right. They often are
about the internet. Because the software systematically fails to assess the
context of the use of naughty words, websites containing content about
child abuse - like Childline, Refuge and the Samaritans - were blocked.

Even the website of Clare Perry, the Tory MP who campaigned for the optout, was blocked. The words she had used to defend the blocking software
activated its functions against her. Its like a very tedious Greek myth.
But beneath the comedy of errors, something very interesting emerged.
BTs filtering software wasnt just blocking inadvertently naughty words, it
was dividing the internet into valid and invalid areas under a censorship
programe which would not have looked out of place next to Mary
BT was blocking sites where the main purpose is to provide information
on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian
lifestyle, contraceptive, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

As a rule of thumb, I prefer to assume cock-up rather than conspiracy.

British politics usually has more of the former than the latter. But this was
not cock-up. It was conspiracy.

Under the cover of the porn opt-out, someone, either at BT or more likely
at their unnamed third party supplier, had tried to sneak in a censorship
program which divided the internet into acceptable and unacceptable
parts. Gay people, as is so often the case, fell into the wrong side of that
Someone had been given just a small bit of power a role formulating
internet filtering software and was subject to insufficient oversight. And
this was how they behaved.
Give them an inch and theyll take a mile.

Its no use relying on the people in power. The powerful are as likely to
restrict their power as water is to dry itself.


Writers at Liberty
They are not evil. They do not turn into shadowy agents of control. They
just see things from a different perspective.

Ministers see problems and act to fix them. They want to improve the
publics health, control the inflow and outflow of migrants and secure the
borders against terrorist attack.

Often they are foolish and self-obsessed. Often they are ignorant. But they
are rarely malevolent. They are just incapable of seeing how they
themselves are as much of a threat to public freedom as the things they
want to tackle. They are a man with a counterfeit coin; both sides showing
the same image.
If anyone still believes the powerful can control the powerful, the role of
the Liberal Democrats in government will have been enough to convince
them otherwise.

All but seven of them voted for a bill which ushered secret courts into British
law. They closed the door on a cornerstone of British justice and they did it
to prevent the embarrassment of ministers and security agencies.
They were even worse when an opportunity arose to challenge the
immigration bill. Along with the mean-spirited logical fallacies of all recent
immigration policies, the legislation had a variety of civil liberties

The bill reduced the protections against bad decision-making by the Home
Office, extended the circumstances in which force could be used when
exercising immigration powers, eroded appeals against immigration
decisions, introduced healthcare charges for migrants and gave the Home
Office a role deciding whether people could be married at all.
But most perniciously of all, it turned estate agents, property owners,
religious figures, driving license agencies and GPs into de-facto UK Border
Agency officers. It was ID cards by the back door.
It passed by 303 votes to 18. Just three Liberal Democrat MPs voted
against it.
Liberty depends on controlling the powerful. And the powerful are
uniquely misplaced to do it.


Writers at Liberty

The powerful will act under the radar, when you are not looking.

It happens undercover. There is a debate about state powers and privacy in

the press, of course. But while that debate takes place, private companies
and the state act, changing the situation on the ground to their favour.
Across the pond, the ACLU recently released a cache of documents
showing how police were collecting license plate scanner information
allowing them to track the physical location of millions of Americans. Local
law enforcement authorities are systemically using cell phone location
data to track where people are once theyre out their cars. Recent reports
suggest the FBI has the power to switch on your laptops webcam without
activating the warning light.
For years we argued about the snoopers charter. How pointless it all was.
While we were naively debating one system, the authorities had crossed
every legal and moral benchmark imaginable and brought a far more
wide-reaching surveillance network into play.
The Edward Snowden files showed the routine collection of domestic and
international calling records, the tracking of millions of mobile devices
worldwide, the collection of sensitive online metadata, the interference in
private data links owned by tech companies and the piggybacking by the
state on commercial tracking systems.
We had always imagined such a thing might exist. In response, they lied
and lied and lied. It wasnt cock up. It was conspiracy.

GCHQ boasted to the Americans that they planned to exploit any phone,
anywhere, anytime. They won valuable contracts using lax British
surveillance laws as a selling point. We are less constrained by NSAs
concerns about compliance, they said proudly.

While working on the Guardian story, a man called David Miranda boyfriend of investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald - was stopped in
Heathrow. He had been travelling from Berlin to Brazil. He was detained
for nine hours and had his laptop and other items seized under schedule
seven of the Terrorism Act 2000.


Writers at Liberty
The Act was always grotesque in its scope. Only the most childlike of
intellects would not have envisioned its eventual misuse. But whatever
else it was intended to do, it was never meant to allow the authorities to
intrude into the work of journalists under the pretext of terrorism.
Give them an inch and theyll take a mile.

Give a man a rule to enforce and it will change him. It can be any sort of
rule, big or small. It can about the colour of shoes, or the type of things a
child can see on the internet, or the definition of terrorism. But it will
change him.

Power is like the ring in Lord of the Rings. It makes people go grey around
the edges and hardens the heart. It causes us to clench the fist rather than
open the hand. We start to imagine that the end justifies the means. We
become overwhelmed with the urge to expand our power.
People in power cant be trusted. Its not because they are bad. Its simply
because they are in power.

Ransom Tape

Writers at Liberty

By Joe Dunthorne
A boom or some fruit keeps bobbing into frame.
Our children are dressed in their last-seen clothes,
tracksuits the colour of aubergines. They kneel
in a clearing of sawgrass that puts them anywhere
from the equator to the Tropic of Capricorn.
It feels wrong to mention but the slow zoom
reassures us; we can negotiate with professionals.
In the press, we pretend that marines will slide down
ratlines, laser dots will bindi the kidnappers heads.
We never let on that we pay, that everyone does,
handing a holdall to young men in Wendys, Caracas,
while our kids, tied at the wrists, wait politely
in the accessible restroom; it opens from both sides.

Thats why we have checks and balances: open courts, parliamentary

scrutiny, a free press, lobby groups, protest movements and, most of all,
the vote. We have these things because the powerful should always be
afraid. The moment they are not afraid, freedom is imperiled.
Liberty means making the powerful afraid.
Liberty is standing up for yourself.

Ian Dunt is editor of He specialises in issues around immigration,

civil liberties, democracy, free speech and social justice and appears regularly
on the BBC, Sky and Al-Jazeera as well as a variety of radio stations.


Joe Dunthorne was born and brought up in Swansea. His debut novel,
Submarine, was adapted for film by Richard Ayoade and his second,
Wild Abandon, won the Encore Award. His poetry pamphlet was
published by Faber and Faber.


Writers at Liberty

Nothing to Hide, Everything to Lose

By Fernanda Eberstadt

Last August, a surreal kind of summer reading list was spirited out of
Guantanamo Bay: the list of books that the British prisoner Shaker Aamer
had been denied by the US military authorities. Prime among them,
Solzhenitsyns Gulag Archipelago.

Writers at Liberty
Poitras, Alan Rusbridgerthese are some of the names we know, but there
are many more, people who risk prison, deportation, police harassment
because they dont want to live in a world where citizens have no secrets,
and the government has too many.
I have nothing to hide. Maybe, but you have everything to lose.

For children of the Cold War, this news was pretty chilling. It was
Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet Unions most famous political prisoner, who
awakened Western readers to the fine monstrosities of a state in which total
paranoia went hand in hand with total control. We, west of the Iron Curtain,
werent like Them; we lived in democracies where people were free to
assemble, travel, publish, and otherwise make nuisances of themselves.
What does it tell us about the state of liberty when twenty-first-century
America fears that The Gulag Archipelago might be read as an allegory of
its own injustices? What does it tell us when Britain becomes a kind of
metadata-mining Bangalore, to which the US government outsources its
mass surveillance operations because British laws are thought to be more
forgiving of such abuses, its press more servile, its people indifferent?
Its time to look at our own freedoms, post-9/11.

Britain and America are not, of course, totalitarian regimes. People risk
death not to flee Dover, but to get there. And yet our civil liberties are
being nibbled away, just as mercilessly as the division between public and
corporate interests. Entrepreneurial capitalisms most daring creations
Google, Facebook, Microsofthave been ju-jitsued into spy engines. Who
are the terrorists from whom our governments are protecting us?
Climate change activists. Ladies who dont want Heathrows third runway
ploughing through their dahlias. Students protesting higher university
fees. Stephen Lawrences mother. And just in case you thought electronic
prying had superseded the hot sweaty human touch, take a look at Mark
Kennedy, dreadlocked, tattooed, body-pierced, the agent provocateur who
gave embedded a new meaning.
Luckily, the open society, too, has its zealots and its moles. Chelsea
Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Laura


Fernanda Eberstadt is an American novelist living in London.

Her most recent novel is RAT.


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Public Disturbance
By Lauren Elkin

Space is a doubt. I have constantly to mark it, to designate it. Its never mine,
never given to me, I have to conquer it.
Georges Perec, Species of Spaces

The city is not open. Space is not neutral. The space we occupy here, in the city, we citydwellers - is constantly remade and unmade,
constructed and wondered at. Cities are made up of invisible boundaries,
intangible customs gates that demarcate who goes where: certain
neighbourhoods, bars and restaurants, parks, all manner of apparently
public spaces are reserved for different kinds of people. We become so
accustomed to this that we hardly notice the values underlying these
divisions. They may be invisible, but they determine how we circulate
within the city.
They exist in between buildings. On either sides of walls. Around
fences and railings, down steps and past stoplights and road signs and

They take shape in underground railways and overground trolleys,

skating over and through the earth, tracked to the ground, harnessed to
power cables. They live in the negative space of alleyways and dead ends
and side streets and courtyards.
They take up space. Spaces within spaces, species of spaces,
spaces with the force of social convention as concretely embedded as a
stop sign:
Private park. Dont go in unless you have a key. Definitely dont
jump the fence. Trespassing.

Public park. Dont go into the park at night. Parks closed after dusk.

Open park. Populated by homeless people who would be very

surprised if you sat down beside them on their bench beds. Unless you are
a homeless person too. In which case youd be sitting on your own bench


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City plaza. Place. Piazza. Platz. How you use it depends on who you
are, as the ethnographer Nadja Monnet found when she undertook a
study of the Plaa de Catalunya in Barcelona. Although the plaa is one of
the most famous sights in the city, the locals avoid it, preferring to meet in
the nearby bars. Monnet spoke with a (female) tourist who felt uneasy
sitting in the plaa an uneasiness Monnet herself shared. Its really not a
good place to meet up with anyone. You dont know where to put yourself.
If you wait in the middle, you feel stupid. You feel exposed. Monnet quickly
realised that fewer women than men used the space, although there were
peaks in female attendance at the times when school let out or at the end
of the work day. Women alone rarely sit on the benches, and when they
do, they dont stay long.
Sometimes this is an issue of use and sometimes one of safety.
Rebecca Solnit explains the way people helpfully try to reconcile her
gender with the dangers of walking at night in her neighbourhood in San

I was advised to stay indoors at night, to wear baggy clothes, to

cover or cut my hair, to try to look like a man, to move someplace
more expensive, to take taxis, to buy a car, to move in groups, to
get a man to escort me all modern versions of Greek walls and
Assyrian veils.

Its been 40 years since the womens liberation movement was

launched in the UK, but since then, weve gained surprisingly little liberty of
movement. Women still cant walk in the city the way a man can. Across
cultures, in the cities Ive lived in - New York, Paris, London, Tokyo - a
woman alone on the street occasions all kinds of commentary, some
complimentary, some not. Mainly its harmless; for some women (and I
wont excuse myself from this category) it can be flattering. But it belongs
to a system which genders women differently from men, and it is an effect
of a basic public inequality that in other manifestations can be much less
inoffensive. In 2012 a Belgian film student called Sophie Peeters made
international news when she took a camera with her out on the street and
captured men propositioning her, discussing her amongst themselves,
hassling her, and then berating and insulting her when she ignored them.
A recent commercial made by an Indian group called Whistling Wood
International meant to draw attention to casual objectification showed


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four men leering at pretty young women, only to have the womans body
reflect back to them their own images in a quartet of neat rebuffs: a pair of
sunglasses, a mirrored handbag, a sun visor, a shiny locket.
Also in 2012, a survey of 1,047 Londoners commissioned by End
Violence Against Women revealed that 43% of women between the ages of
18 and 34 had been sexually harassed on the street. The founding director
of the UK Anti Street Harassment Campaign told The Guardian that Local
councils and the police need to convey a strong message that this
behaviour will not be tolerated by perpetrators. A good example was the
Flirt/Harass: Real Men Know the Difference poster campaign by Lambeth
council in partnership with the Metropolitan police, which conveyed a notolerance message.
Urban planning conspires against women, a 2008 Cambridge
University study found. Noted Viv Groskop in The Guardian: the vast
majority of town planners are ignoring the gender equality planning
regulations that were brought in last year. This is significant, because if
public spaces were designed with women in mind, they would look entirely
different, with much more lighting, better-situated car parks and more
areas where residential and office spaces are mixed, making it far easier to
juggle work and childcare. From bus shelters to insufficient toilet space to
public transport, the built environment is a mans world.

No one experiences the city in a gender-neutral way. But its women

who stand out from their surroundings, like the naked woman in Manets
Djeuner sur lherbe, her unclothed skin blinding in its singularity. Men are
visual creatures, its true; their fantasies take place right there in front of
you, in their minds eye or on the canvas. Think of that scene in Eric
Rohmers film Love in the Afternoon (1972), in which Frdric imagines that
every woman he approaches on the street suddenly finds him irresistible,
abandoning all their plans, their friends, their boyfriends, to drape
themselves over him. He looks; they appear, to paraphrase John Berger.

So what can we do to rewrite the script? What are some ways that
women can take possession of the city on their own terms? What do we
want our experience of the city to be? We have to shake things up
somehow. And because I spend all my time on/in/amongst books, Im
going to suggest we start with those.

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The French avant-garde group Oulipo [Ouvroir de littrature
potentielle, or Workshop of Potential Literature] disrupts our conventional
ideas about creativity by applying constraints to their writing, which, as the
youngest Oulipian Daniel Levin Becker has explained, results in novels
without certain vowels,
love stories without gender, poems without words, books that
never end, books that do nothing but end, books that would
technically take longer to read than most geological eras have
lasted, books that share the exercise of mourning, books that aim
to keep the reader from reading them, books that exist for no
particular reason other than to amuse and perplex, books that
may not actually exist at all.

Georges Perec, greatest of the Oulipians, was asked by an architect friend

in the early 1970s to consider the relationship between public and private
spaces, and he responded with the essay collection Species of Spaces. (Did
he see the Rohmer film? What did Perec make of it?) From the city to the
study to the bed, Perec forces us to think about the way we use the spaces
we live in. He writes of wanting to chart a route across Paris from one side
to the other taking only streets beginning with the letter C, or would have
us organise our cities around function:
Instead of living in just one place, and trying in vain to gather
yourself together there, why not have five or six rooms dotted
about Paris? Id go and sleep in Denfert, Id write in the Place
Voltaire, Id listen to music in the Place de Clichy () etc. Is that any
more foolish () than putting all the furniture shops in the
Faubourg Saint-Antoine, all the glassware shops in the rue de
Paradis, all the tailors in the Rue du Sentier.

Perec critiques our tendency to accept things around us as they are, to

notice only the extraordinary happenings in the world, and to ignore the
infraordinary. Interrogate the habitual, he urges; Question your teaspoons. What is there under your wallpaper? Species of Spaces is as
interested in wallpaper as it is in boulevards, and this movement from
inside to outside and back again is really crucial - the one is meaningless
without the other.

Building on Perecs ideas, his fellow Oulipian Anne Garrta more

recently suggests a cogent approach for women to take possession of the


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city on their own terms. What Garrta has to offer has to do with the way
we think about literature and language: for Garrta, as for Perec, the
personal library is a microcosm for social conventions and arrangements.
Perecs essay Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging Ones Books
confronts the problem of a library as twofold: a problem of space first of
all, then a problem of order. Perec distinguishes between stable
classifications and provisional ones: Stable classifications are those which,
in principle, you continue to respect; provisional classifications are those
supposed to last only a few days, the time it takes for a book to discover,
or rediscover, its definitive place. This may be a book recently acquired and
not yet read, () or else a book whose reading has been interrupted and
that you do not want to classify before taking it up again and finishing it,
etc. As the rules he establishes prove insufficient (there is always a book
that slips the net) they must be modified, expanded, and adjusted, until
they can be applied to an entire library.
Perec understands the space of the page as an extension of the
space of the city; space begins with words on a page, he says. A journal, he
writes in Species of Spaces, is a unit of measuring space; its the surface
area a farm labourer can work in a day. And we organise these words in
much the same way we organise the city: according to certain agreed-upon
rules of grammar and syntax. Library and city are coextensive.

But where Perec attempted to organise his books logically, just as

he tried to reorganise the city space by spaces, in her essay On
Bookselves Anne Garrta protests that books (and spaces) are not as
easily codifiable as Perec imagines. The books are everywhere, multiplying,
threatening to overwhelm and consume humanity. The personal nature of
the library is at odds with the official systems of categorisation, public
rules of classification and their impersonal categories (alphabetical order,
genres, etc) [which] have the force of law To resist them requires a
superhuman effort. Garrtas essay insists on and lays out a personal
basis of organising ones books, suggesting the following principles, though
the reader should feel free to invent her own:


Principle #1
-books in which one remembers having encountered at least once
the word book
-books that left no memory of having contained the word book

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Principle #6
-books in which one encounters whales;
-books in which not even the shadow of a whale is to be found;
-books from which have disappeared, inexplicably, the whales one
imagined there
Principle #10
-books given to you by someone you love, loved, have loved;
-books you talked about with someone you loved;
-books you wish you had talked about with someone you loved;

And so on. If two different people possessed the same library with exactly
the same books in it, using Garrtas system the books would be organised
in completely different ways. Garrtas system represents a correction of
the empiricist, totalising, systems-making of Enlightenment thought, a
throwing-off of inherited means of making sense of the world, and of the
knowledge it contains. It is anti-hierarchical, imperfect, mobile, intertextual,
whimsical, and endlessly re-classifiable; above all, it is subjective. It suggests
we systematise emotionally, arguing for another kind of logic, another kind
of rationalism. Where Perec can only see tangible things, classifying them
according to form and shape, Garrta sees the shape of things that arent
there. There are, of course, the most difficult things to legislate.

I like this idea of reclassification as a feminist technique, even if the

logic underlying this kind of classification will be inscrutable to others: for
who else could find the book they were looking for in a library organised
this way? We are inevitably caught, Garrta notes, between ways of
finding things in the world and ways of finding things in our minds,
between functionality and memorability, use and value. Then again it
might not be too difficult to find a book in one of these libraries, as long as
its owner were there to guide you. Ive never met a reader whod turn
down the chance to hold forth on the way shed organised her books.

Space is a feminist issue. Only in becoming aware of the invisible

boundaries of the city can we depart from them. Garrtas essay ties
together these different species of spaces, the interior and the exterior, the
home and the city, the mind and the world: I find myself roaming around in
my mind, a virtual space comprised of mental maps and imaginary


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locations. The continuity between the interior and the exterior seems to
me important to maintain to reclaim our right to occupy - I choose that
word deliberately - to occupy the city unhampered and unharrassed. The
spaces of the mind are as real as the spaces of the city, and the minds
subjective modes of classification are as powerful as objective
administrative modes. A female flnerie - a flneuserie - would be similarly
disruptive. Its goal would not only be to change the way we move through
space, but to intervene in the organisation of space itself. We claim our
right to disturb the peace, to observe (or not observe), to occupy (or not
occupy), and to organise (or disorganise) space on our own terms.

The Hidden Face of Slavery

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By Bernardine Evaristo
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Date of Birth

Assibit Mani


Without pay

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The desert, Niger, Africa


I was born into slavery and taken away from my mother before I could
remember her. My seven children were taken away from me before they
could remember me. We have been slaves here for hundreds of years. My
job is to look after my masters cattle and children, to cook, clean for them,
and to give myself to him and his two brothers.
Lauren Elkin is a novelist, academic, and literary critic. Her first novel, Une
Anne Venise (Editions Hlose dOrmesson) was awarded the Prix des
Lecteurs at the Rue des Livres literary festival, and will be published in
paperback this June. She is co-author, with Scott Esposito, of The End of
Oulipo? (Zer0 Books). A frequent contributor to the Times Literary Supplement,
The Daily Beast, The White Review, and other publications, she is currently
writing a book about women and cities, entitled Flneuse and is forthcoming
from Chatto & Windus in 2015.

Status Update

Today one of our men was castrated because he tried run away


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Leonardo Fernandes
27 May 1979

A ranch deep in the north-eastern

Bahia, Brazil
Wife back home
Three back home
Until I was 10
Without pay
Ranch owner

Working to pay off my debt

My wife, my children

When we arrived at the farm they put us in shacks built for 10 people but
sleeping 30, and made us wait many weeks before they said, Okay, now
you can work - for 15 hours a day. We had to buy our own work tools from
the ranchers shop and our own food and drink, at three times the normal
price. There are no other shops for nearly a 100 miles so we have no
choice. Our debt comes out of our salary, with added interest, which
means we never get paid. If we refuse to work, we are beaten. Two men
who tried to leave were shot dead.
Status Update

Today when I complained my boss told me, We do not have beans for workers,
but we do have bullets to kill.


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Date of Birth

Anandi Gopal
13 January 2004

Current Location
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Salem, Tamil Nadu, India

My village
My daddy gave me away
Yes, me


Cleaning the looms

17 hours a day
Going back to my village


Member of
About Me

Without pay
Factory owner

A man paid my parents to buy me. When I arrived he took me to a factory

where he put a metal stick in fire and pressed it onto my arm. When I
screamed, he told me that now if I escape they can easily hunt me down.
Then I was put to work on the looms. I cough a lot because of the dust and
my headache does not go away because it is always so noisy. At first I was
chained to a loom so I could not run away. I used to cry but they burned
my legs with cigarettes.
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I want to go home


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1 October 1995

Harrow, London, England

Up to 15 men a day for the
past 18 months
Three abortions

Without pay
One word, three syllables: MA-FI-A
Returning home

Soap, mouthwash, scalding hot baths

How Could this Happen to Me? by

Simple Plan
Carrier pigeon? Telepathy?

I was promised work as an au pair in London but instead I was taken to a

house, locked into a room and raped. Then they gave me drugs and made
work me as a prostitute. They say I have to pay off the cost of my travel
and living expenses. There are bars at the windows and guards at the
doors. I have been here nearly seven months.

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I have trained my soul to levitate above my body


About Us

Oh, way back when

Europe and America, Asia and the

Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean,
Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and
the Middle East
Yours and Mine

Yes. No. A little

In many languages

We are forced to work against our will

on threat of violence or death. We are
paid nothing or little and we cannot
The Abolition of 21st Century Slavery
Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth,
Frederick Douglass, William
Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln
We Shall Overcome

Article 4, the Human Rights Act

Protection against slavery and forced
labour: you should not be treated like
a slave and subjected to forced labour.

Some of us are born into slavery because we come from the slave class.
Some of us are sold and tricked into slavery by our parents and guardians


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or kidnapped by slave traders. Some of us are forced into bonded labour
through debt that can never be repaid, sometimes for generations. Some of
us are forced into marriage against our will. Some of us are forced to work
without pay by the state and the military. Some of us are trafficked into
sexual slavery. Some of us are child soldiers. Around half of us are children.

Bernardine Evaristos seven books of fiction and verse fiction explore aspects of
the African diaspora: past, present, lived, travelled, imagined. Two of her novels
have been adapted into BBC R4 plays since 2012. She has received several
awards and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the Royal Society of
Arts, and she was made an MBE in 2009.

Do you mind if we tape this?

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By Michel Faber

This Friday night, like every other Friday night, Jimmy, Colin,
Michelle and Pet meet each other at the usual street corner. They like this
corner because it has a bus shelter with windows that havent been broken
yet. This is a big plus when you need to get out of the cold wind to light a
cigarette or give your goose-pimpled cleavage a chance to warm up.
Jimmy, Colin, Michelle and Pet are all eighteen years old, except
Colin who is sixteen, Michelle who is seventeen and Pet who is fourteen.
Already this evening they have broken a number of small laws, all to do
with alcohol and tobacco; they are hoping that before the night is out,
theyll get the chance to break a few more. Perhaps this is why (as Michelle
is the first to notice) a police surveillance camera has been installed on a
pole near the bus shelter.
Fuck me, its a CCTV, she says, squinting through a haze of her
own cigarette smoke.
Do you want to know what Michelle looks like? The image on the
digital footage isnt very clear; in fact, its so degraded that she could be
anybody. But then, Michelle could be anybody. She looks like an underage
prostitute, even though shes never been paid for anything in her life yet.
That wasnt there last week, says Jimmy, frowning hard and
authoritative. He is wearing a white shirt and black tie under a leather
airmans jacket, and grey trousers rather than jeans, as if he has a job to go
to. In the digital image, his mousy brown hair is green. Most of his acne is
invisible, lost among the random sprinkling of red pixels.
Just goes to show how fuckin stupid the police are, sneers Pet
nonchalantly, to demonstrate that she is cynical beyond her years.
Nobody speeds in this fuckin graveyard of a town.
Jimmy snorts. Its not for cars, Pet, he points out. Its for us.
Thats a high-tech one up there, the latest model, like, says Colin.
They can turn around, up and down, do close-ups, look in peoples
windows the lot. Hes a skinny lad, wearing a nondescript sweater and
jeans from the local department store, hidden beneath a voluminous
parka (not a fuckin anorak, O.K.?)
Its pointed straight at us, complains Michelle, folding her arms
across her breasts, as if to deny the police access to what she hopes to
show off to more deserving contenders later.


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Invasion of privacy, that is, says Colin.
Its fuckin Big Brother watchin us, says Jimmy.
Pet blinks at the mention of something she understands. Dont
they tape that in, like, a big house?
Not the fuckin TV show, Pet: the book. He squares his shoulders,
narrows his eyes, gazes into the enigmatic mists of his own adulthood. Big
Brother, by Orwell, Joseph Orwell. Its all about how the government is
spying on everyone, like twenty-four hours a day, and if you step out of line,
these, like, terminators come and sort you out. Its a fuckin classic book.
Oh, says Pet, humbled. The only books she reads are picture
specials of pop groups with tanned sweaty bodies.
This is turning into a fuckin police state, Jimmy says. Those
bastards are sitting in their fuckin control centre, watching every move we
make. Were like prisoners before we even fuckin do anything to get sent to
gaol for! Fuckin wonderful, eh? Smile, youre on fuckin Youve Been Framed!
And he gives the camera the finger. The camera does nothing back.
After a moment, Pet says, What I want to know is Is it just a
machine recording, or is there, you know somebody? Somebody there.
They stare at the camera. It looks grey and dead and old, as if its
been on this street corner forever, and they just never noticed it before.

At the police station, a bored and weary officer called Frank cannot
believe his luck. He has been sitting alone in the surveillance room for hours,
switching from one street corner to another, one debris-littered shopfront to
another, one huddle of teenaged sluts and anoraks to another, when
suddenly the screen lights up with something worth watching.
A beautiful young woman has come right up close to the camera,
and is dancing in slow-motion underneath it. Shes in her twenties or early
thirties, dressed as if for a night out to a restaurant or a posh party, and
although shes tipsy, shes not so drunk she cant move with grace.
Officer Frank fumbles for the toggle and turns the camera on its
faraway swivel, filling the screen with the woman. She notices this, halts in
mid-dance, and appears delighted: an audience! Her eyes half-shut in
exaggerated sensuality, she leans forward, squeezes her breasts between
her downstretched arms, her hands clasped between her thighs, her long
black hair falling away from her luminous face and throat. Shes mocking
him, he knows that. Most probably theres a pal standing out of camera
range, or several, laughing and egging her on. But God, shes beautiful. Her


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lips pout to blow him a dozen red kisses, rapid-fire, a parody of overflowing
affection such as a mother might shower on a child.
For a moment her head jerks down in helpless laughter, then she
resumes her dance, swinging in one of her hands a banana that someones
just handed to her. She winks over her shoulder at the camera as it follows
her, back and forth across the lamplit footpath. Then she stops, looks
straight up at the lens while it focuses, and lifts the banana lazily to her
breast. She strokes its dark-tipped head momentarily against her cleavage,
seems about to push it inside her dress, but doubles over with laughter
again. She makes pushing-away motions towards her companions, as if to
say, Shut up, youre putting me off.
Officer Frank wonders if he should switch to another channel now:
hes not supposed to watch any one scene for longer than a certain time,
in case a crime is occurring somewhere else. The thing is, this scene hes
watching now may turn into a crime soon, if hes lucky: indecent exposure,
gross lewdness in a public place.
Meanwhile, Jimmy, Colin, Michelle and Pet are dying of boredom.
Nobody has driven past offering to take them to a party or a gig. Nobody
has walked up to them and offered to sell them drugs. Nobody has tried to
pick a fight with them, or even started a fight nearby that they could watch.
In fact, nobody has come by at all.
Mum and Dad are fuckin mad if they think Im gonna stay in this
fuckin place just because of fuckin school, spits Pet. She is going to be a
fashion model in a big city down south as soon as she finally has her
growth spurt.
Ive got an idea, says Colin. If youse are up for it.
Anything, Col, says Michelle. Shes so bored shes even
considering going home.
Lets find out if anyones watching us for real. Lets see if the cops
are on the case. Jimmy and me pretend to have an argument with youse
girls, OK? Like, a real, bad argument. It gets nasty, gets rough, then we
pretend to attack you. One of you falls down on the ground and pretends
to be dead. The others try to wake you up, but you dont wake up, see?
Then its like, fucking panic. We drag the corpse away out of the range of
the camera. Then we hide behind the public toilets and wait. See if the
cops are really watching. See if they send a car.
What if they search the whole area?
Yeah, what if they find us?


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Colin shrugs. What could they fucking do? Were all alive and
friendly then, arent we? No corpses here. They mustve been seeing
things, mustnt they? And he sniggers at the punning irony of it.
What if they put the film on Youtube? says Pet. Her parents spend
all their spare time watching clips of dogs falling off furniture, humungous
pimples being squeezed, TV presenters accidentally swearing, fat people
miming to Abba songs and stuff like that. She wouldnt want to pop up there.
They destroy the footage, says Colin. Its the law. They can only
keep it for, like, 24 hours. Or 24 days, I forget which. But then they wipe it.
Pet nods, unconvinced. Still, the four of them agree in principle to
try out the plan. As Colin puts it, they need to find out once and for all. Its
the principle, right? So lets put on that fight, OK? OK. But Jimmy is too shy
to lay a convincing hand on the girls, and Pet is scared there may be some
sort of law against being attacked while underage, and shell get arrested
and be in trouble at school.
So, Colin and Michelle start waving their arms at each other,
pretending to yell insults, and Michelle swings her handbag at Colin,
whacking him on the ear.
Ya fuckin cow: that fuckin urt ! he shouts, shoving her to the
ground and clasping his hands around her neck.
Officer Franks eyes are bulging. The woman has peeled the
banana, exposing its white shaft, and is licking it up and down. Her tongue
is pointy when it flicks clear of the tip, flat and moist when it begins the
next lick near her clenched fist; her eyes are slits. Finally she lets her lips
fall open and slides the banana into her mouth. Officer Frank cannot
believe how much of it goes in. Despite the poor image resolution, he
fancies he can see even the tiny twitches of her lips as she sucks and,
when she slowly slides the banana out again, the sheen of her saliva
twinkling in the lamplight. She opens her eyes wide as if seeking
permission, then starts again.
Time passes.

The street corner where Jimmy, Colin, Michelle and Pet were
standing is still deserted. The four of them have been hiding behind the
public toilets for ages. Its freezing. If Michelle had really been lying on the
footpath all this time, she wouldve been stiff as a corpse by now. Nothing
resembling a police car has cruised by. For a while, the girls played the game
of getting excited at the approach of every vehicle, whispering Its them! Its
them! Fuck! But the game has wound down like a cheap battery toy.


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Michelle steps out of the shadows, back under the light of the
streetlamp, back under the eye of the surveillance camera. She buffs a
spot of mud off the seat of her jeans, wetting her fingers sulkily. Colin
borrows Michelles compact mirror and tries to examine his swollen ear,
swivelling his head and the pink-rimmed looking glass to catch the right
light. Jimmy keeps watch for the police car which might still come, with him
the first to spot it. But time is getting on and Pet is fidgeting, straining not
to open her mouth and blurt out the news that shes going home.
Just goes to show ya, eh? sneers Colin bitterly. Nobody fuckin cares.
Meanwhile, behind the closed doors of a heavily curtained
bedroom not far away, a father rapes his nine-year-old daughter for the
hundredth time, unobserved.
Freeze frame.

No, not on the father raping his daughter, because no police

camera is installed there. Our choice of channels is limited. The
exhibitionistic woman has had her fun and gone home. Freeze frame on
the four young people at the bus shelter. They can be immobilised,
enlarged, identified with computerized labels. Any one of these pixellated
youngsters may commit a crime any minute now.
But must we wait?
Fast forward ten years, and lets see how it all ends.

Officer Frank is retired from the police force. Hes a nice guy with a
big paunch and thick glasses. Scarcely a week goes by when he doesnt
think wistfully of the night he was at the surveillance monitors and a
strange, beautiful woman put on a show for him.
That woman is now a divorced mother of three, living in a cosy
suburb where neighbours keep a look out for you, or at least say they do.
Her views on sex have changed since she did her dance with the banana.
Theres nothing funny about pornography anymore and she feels strongly
that theres too much sex on TV. In fact, she feels it so strongly that she
wishes one of those opinion poll people would knock on her door and ask
her opinion about it. She wonders how people such as herself, ordinary
youngish people who feel theres too much sex on TV, ever get to let
anyone important know how they feel.
Jimmy is running a removals service; fridges over a certain size are
out, and pianos obviously, but he can handle most things with his trusty


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trolley and a bit of ingenuity. Hes married to a woman who cant have kids.
Theyre thinking of adopting, but the paperwork is so daunting theyre
wondering if it might be easier to get one illegally from some
underprivileged country overseas. Jimmys read somewhere that you can
arrange these things over the internet, but he hasnt figured out how yet.
And in any case, he and his wife are deep enough in debt as it is.
Colin is working as a shop assistant in a menswear store. Hes
pretty sure hes gay, which only five people in his life know so far. Recently
he shaved his head, hoping to give the right people the right signal, but
hes noticed no difference yet. In the shop where he works, surveillance
cameras are not needed. All the clothes have metal tags that start to
scream if theyre taken out the door.
Michelle is a tour guide in Greece. Its a good job with good pay,
she says. You wouldnt recognise her in the photographs. Shes happy.
Pet has been dead for seven years already, killed by a bus while drunk.
And the girl who was raped by her father? She is nineteen now,
and considered a danger to herself and others. Having spent ten years
hiding a secret that nobody wanted to know, she finally worked up the
courage to beg for help. She is in psychiatric care, meeting her doctor
every fortnight, on Friday mornings. She is not making progress. She has
an attitude problem. She is exhausting the patience of health
On this particular Friday morning, she finds that an additional
piece of machinery has been installed in the room where the questions are
asked. The kind of therapy being offered here is under review. Experts
must determine how it can be fine-tuned to achieve more success in
troublesome cases like this one. The girl is not a paying patient, but still
her doctor feels he should ask her permission.
Do you mind if we tape this?

Liberty from hate

Writers at Liberty

By Judith Flanders

On 16 August 2013, two Canadians were passing through Egypt on their

way to Gaza, where Dr Tarek Loubani, a specialist in emergency medicine,
was to volunteer at a clinic, as he had before, while John Greyson, a
filmmaker, documented his work.

The riots in Cairo meant that the Rafah crossing was closed. With a curfew
in place, the two men approached the police to ask how best to get back to
their hotel. For this courtesy they were in, their own words, arrested,
searched, caged, questioned, interrogatedslapped, beaten, ridiculed, hotboxed, refused phone calls, stripped, shaved bald, accused of being
foreign mercenaries.

It was seven weeks and a sixteen-day hunger-strike before they were

released, and that would probably not have happened had they not had
the great good fortune to be Canadian, and to have a group of friends and
family who were aware of the importance of keeping the media spotlight
on their continuing detention without charge. Ultimately 100,000 people
wrote, demonstrated, filmed, protested and ensured that the Canadian
government was made aware that active intervention was imperative.
It was only this campaign, and the subsequent release of the men, that
made their story different from hundreds of others on the day, thousands
of others that week in that city alone. It is not, therefore, that which I wish
to comment on.
The two men returned to Canada and just over four weeks later my
mother received the following email:
Dear Kappy

Michel Fabers books include The Crimson Petal And The White, Under The
Skin, The Fire Gospel and (soon!) The Book Of Strange New Things.


First, my apologies for this tardy response. I wanted to write

sooner, but both Tarek and I are still drowning under a mountain
of email and good wishes indeed, weve been in grave danger of
being hugged to death by well wishers ever since we got back! Its
pretty incredible and wonderful.


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Second, thank you so much for your efforts to help secure our
release. Its extraordinary for us to learn of all the avenues that
were pursued by you and so many others indeed, not just the
avenues but the side streets and highways and bike paths!
somehow all these accumulated and cross-pollinated and added
up together to this very happy and deeply appreciated result.

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We must all fight for liberty of the person. Without that we have nothing.
But to have liberty from hate, the liberty that gratitude brings, in a world
filled with horror, is a privilege and a blessing.

I feel so lucky to be close friends with Elle collaborators,

colleagues, co-conspirators really, what she and everyone
mobilized for us was extraordinary at so many different levels
and now I feel so lucky that youre her mom.

On behalf of Tarek and I, thank you so much. A million besos. Im in

the process of making an artists book of my prison drawings Ill
get your address from elle and send it along, as a token of our
If you happen to be in town on Nov 9th, please do come by the
Gladstone and we can kiss you in person. Or... perhaps we can all
meet for lunch sometime, when youre next in town.
with love and gratitude, John

My sister, the Elle of the email, is indeed a friend of Johns, and was deeply
involved in the campaign to free him and Tarek. The contribution of my
mother, who works in palliative care, was to involve McGill Universitys
medical school and administration. Their participation no doubt helped,
just as many drops of water each help to wear away a stone. Who can say
what precise intervention changes a situation? That unknown is why we
must all answer the call of liberty, all participate.
John Greysons response, however, represents another kind of liberty, a
liberty from hate. Look at the words he uses: incredible, wonderful,
happy, appreciated. And, most resonantly, lucky and gratitude. John
Greyson, after two months in an Egyptian jail for no reason that anyone
could ever work out, two months in which he and his friend were
searched, caged, questioned, interrogatedslapped, beaten, ridiculed,
hot-boxed, refused phone calls, stripped, shaved bald, accused of being
foreign mercenaries, feels lucky. Feels gratitude.

Judith Flanders is a social historian who has written widely on Victorian Britain.
The Victorian House (2003) was shortlisted for the British Book Awards History
Book of the Year. She also writes on the arts, and her first crime novel, Writers
Block, will be published in 2014. She lives in London.


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Untitled piece


When I was nine years old and still living in New York, my mother decided
to fill the long summer holiday by taking me and little sister around our
hometown which we took so much for granted, pretending we were
visitors. She endured the hoardes of tourists, and New Yorks sticky
summer temperatures, to entertain us as she took us up and down the
island, from Columbia University, to the Empire State Building, to Battery
Park. (I dont remember us ever leaving Manhattan that summer or,
indeed, ever during my childhood. Some things were just too much even
for my parents.) But the excursion I remember most is when we went to
the Statue of Liberty. Living uptown, Id never even seen the Statue of
Liberty when we boarded the ferry and, to be honest, I wasnt all that
impressed. The boat ride made me seasick (pretty much everything made
me motion sick back then) and the rickety climb inside the green statue, on
a winding staircase that felt tiny even to me back then, while Spanish
tourists kept kicking me from behind in their excitement, still haunts my
nightmares. But when we finally reached the top, it was wonderful. My
mother picked us up so we could see through the windows of the statues
crown and we saw for the first time how our city looked, sparkling in the
August sun, enormous, varied, magical. Liberty.

When my mother was young she used to wear a Liberty Bodice. It was tight
and itchy and was to be worn whatever the weather, whatever her
complaints. She was at a convent, and the idea was that somehow the
Liberty Bodice would keep her safe, and chaste. The Emancipation Bodice
some called it, a reminder it had been designed to liberate women from the
heavily boned and firmly laced corsets that had once been in fashion. But
my mother didnt want to be safe, or chaste. It was the tail end of the
1950s, and she wanted to escape. As soon as she could she left her
convent, left Ireland, left her family. Not long after she met my father in a
club in Soho and by the time she was twenty she had two children, a name
shed changed herself, and her grandmothers wedding ring, to ward off
hostility. But one afternoon as she waited at a bus stop with her toddler
and a new baby in a pram, she was spotted by an acquaintance of her
parents. Within a week she had a letter. Youve made your bed and now
you must lie on it. But at least they didnt send anyone from the church to
take away her babies, or lock her away with the Magdalena Sisters, as shed
feared. And she was free, to make her bed, to lie on it, or if she chose - to
take her Liberty Bodice, or her bra for that matter, and throw it on the fire.

By Hadley Freeman

Hadley Freeman was born in New York and is a staff writer at The Guardian
newspaper. Her second book, Be Awesome, was published by 4th Estate in
May 2013. She lives in London.


By Esther Freud

Esther Freud trained as an actress before writing her first novel Hideous Kinky,
published in 1991. Hideous Kinky was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys
Prize and was made into a film starring Kate Winslet. She has since written six
other novels, including The Sea House and Love Falls. She also writes stories,
articles and travel pieces for newspapers and magazines, and teaches creative
writing, in her own local group and at the Faber Academy. Her most recent
book, Lucky Break, was published in April 2011. She lives in London with her
husband and three children.


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when no one asks awkward questions we turn into

Theres a reason why they called you rather than someone else; to do with
taking your bins in promptly after the dustmen have been, and keeping
the front of the house well-maintained; how you often clear litter from
that part of the road, and are the first to say Hello to whoever passes. You
are not one of the others who holds parties. You do not scream blue
murder at a partner at three in the morning. More importantly, you
understand that they are relatively new, and have no one to ask.

By Janice Galloway

The carcass hung in the shop till the edges congested and turned brown in
the air.

People came and went. They bought wafers of beef, pale veal, ham from the
slicer, joints, fillets, mutton chops. They took tomatoes and brown eggs, tins
of fruit cocktail, cherries, handfuls of green parsley, bones. But nobody
mentioned the meat. It dropped overhead from a claw hook, flayed and split
down the spinal column: familiar enough in its way. It was cheap. But they
asked for shin and oxtail, potted head, trotters. The meat refused to sell. Folk
seemed embarrassed even to be seen looking in its direction. Some made
tentative enquiries about a plate of sausages, coiled to the left of its shadow
while the yellowing hulk hung restless, twisting on its spike. These were never
adequately followed through. The sausages sat on, pink and greasy, never
shrinking by so much as a link. He moved them to another part of the shop
where they sold within the hour. Something about the meat was infecting.

By the tenth day, the fat on its surface had turned leathery, like the rind of an
old cheese. Flies landed in the curve of the neck and he did not brush them
away. The deep-set ball of bone in the shoulder-blade turned pale blue. The
ribs were sticky and the smell had begun to seep unmistakably under the door
when he was alone in the evening relaxing with the tv. So he fetched a stool
and reached out to the lard hook, seized the meat, and with one accurate snip
of the embroidery scissors, cut it down. It languished on the sawdust floor till
nightfall when he threw it into the back close parallel to the street. As he closed
the shutter, he heard the scuffling of small animals and strays.
In the morning all that remained were the hair and a strip of tartan ribbon.
These he salvaged and sealed in a plain wooden box beneath the marital
bed. A wee minding.
Janice Galloway is a grateful product of good state schooling and library
provision. Her books include the award-winning Trick is to keep Breathing,
Foreign Parts, Clara, This is not about me and All Made Up.


By Niven Govinden

This is not a road for chit-chat, only for muttered greeting, and an
appraisal of the clothes that they wear, the job they might have. Only after
the call do you realise that your appearance and mannerisms have been
filed by others in the same way; courteous, always outdoors, unafraid of
hard graft; and that your name, painted on your mailbox, has been noted
too, enabling them to look up your number and ring you so late at night.

You are clean, therefore you must be a good cleaner. Your garden is
immaculate, so you must understand how to bring order to chaos. There is
no other answer you can think of, why you are here, mopping piss from the
floor after the neighbours boy has hung himself. They are not looking to
you for comfort. They have the policewoman for that, who holds them hard
to her chest as if they were newborns. The boy has been taken away, as has
his belt and shoes, but the chair still lies on the floor at the foot of the bed,
above a beam studded with a single brass hook. Later you will marvel at the
wonder of engineering, how metal of such small dimensions can take the
weight of a child. For now, you run hot water and concentrate on the job.

You go to the cupboard under the sink and find the cleaning materials you
need; the mop and bucket propped behind the kitchen door. Your turn
your head as the mother rushes in and vomits in the sink, paying no mind
to the splattered tea cups you have rinsed under the tap. Upstairs, you
study the saffron puddle staining the laminate flooring and realise that this
is what is left of death. It is in the quiet of your work as you shut your ears
to the screaming coming from below. That the End is a series of
aftershocks that come long after the big finish. You clean the mess and
mop the floor twice over, so that chemical pine temporarily masks the
scent of the boy. You change the bed clothes, putting what was found into


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the laundry basket. You dust his shelves, the skirting, and the top of the
wardrobe. You straighten the things on his desk, after which, you sit for a
long time, thinking of when you saw him being chased home from school,
and wondering whether you should have said something.

Monolith (2001)

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By Lavinia Greenlaw

It was the fact of what happened.

It stood before us like a locked dimension.

We gathered numbers, rehearsed names,

stored a million images.
Still the door would not open.
There was no door.
It stood before us.

Neither beginning nor ending,

it was the new blank, immoveable.

Lavinia Greenlaw was born in London, where she has lived for most of her life.
Her poetry includes The Casual Perfect and Minsk. She has also published
novels and two works of non-fiction: The Importance of Music to Girls
and Questions of Travel: William Morris in Iceland. Her book of poetry,
A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde, was published by Faber in March 2014.
Niven Govinden is the author of novels We Are The New Romatics, Graffiti My
Soul, and Black Bread White Beer.


Her interest in image-making and the problems of perception, both central to

Troilus and Criseyde, led to her studying seventeenth-century Dutch art at the
Courtauld Institute and becoming the first artist-in-residence at the Science Museum.


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Untitled piece

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Remember this: that Winston Smith used a pen and paper. He knew the
blinking cursor was a prying eye.
Remember that the complete destruction of your privacy is less important
than safeguarding you from the miniscule threat to your continued
as long as, of course, you dont cross the road,
dont drink, dont smoke,
stay away from fatty foods and never, under any circumstances,
use recreational drugs. You are a simple machine
to earn and pay taxes and die,
leaving no ripples and causing no fuss. You are an atom in the
Aspiration Nation. Always remember that, as you remember
that Winston
used a pen and paper.

There are no rights in nature. Rights are products of societies, designed to

protect and promote valued aspects of our humanity. They are among the
finest and most useful political ideas we have: they enshrine our most
basic liberties, and provide us with a language for thinking about justice
and a means of relating those liberties to the operation of law. But
language can be twisted and distorted, and our rights have always been
vulnerable to political expediency, to ideology or cynicism, and to our own
complacency. The protection of our liberties requires, as much as ever, our
optimism, and it requires absolutely our attention.

By Niall Griffiths

Niall Griffiths is an English author of novels and short stories, set

predominantly in Wales. His best known works include his first two novels Grits
and Sheepshagger, and his 2003 publication Stump which won the Wales
Book of the Year award.


By Peter Hobbs

Peter Hobbs is the author of the novels The Short Day Dying and In The
Orchard, The Swallows, and of a collection of short stories, I Could Ride All
Day in My Cool Blue Train. Hes presently a writer-in-residence for the literacy
charity First Story.


Writers at Liberty

Get Anti-Social

By Tom Hodgkinson

THERE HAVE BEEN various expressions of surprise lately that big

Internet companies have colluded with government to hand over data they
have collected.
This didnt surprise me one iota. In fact, as I reported in a piece on
Facebook in 2007, the big tech companies and big government have
always enjoyed a cosy relationship. One wants to collect data on
consumers, and the other on citizens. And those two aims tend to coincide
rather neatly.

Companies like Google and Facebook are a spys dream come true.
No longer do the spies have to do any spying. Instead, the commercial
world has invented a system whereby millions of individuals happily
volunteer the most intimate details of their private life, as well as their
consumer preferences, to a computer. These details are stored somewhere
in the desert on the biggest computers ever made. There appears to be no
coercion involved. The users of Facebook and Google wrongly think that
they are being hip and up-to-date. Worse, they even believe the rhetoric of
the mill owners who promote their business using words like freedom and
sharing. They dont realise that theyve simply fallen for the biggest adsales-combined-with-data-collection-scam in history.
The people who fund the big tech companies, the venture
capitalists, are pretty friendly with the spies. An example is the CIAs
venture capital wing, In-Q-Tel. This odd creation was launched in 1999,
according to its website, to bridge the gap between the technology needs
of the U. S. Intelligence community and emerging commercial innovation.
It invests in technology start-ups. So there it is for all to see. In-Q-Tels first
chairman was former video game creator Gilman Louie, who is closely
connected via the National Venture Capital Association with Jim Breyer (net
worth 1.5 billion and now on the board of Newscorp), the affable venture
capitalist at Accel Partners, a major investor in Facebook.
The heads of such companies gather together at Davos each year
with heads of state. Its the same in the UK where our government is


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forever trying to prove that its really hip by talking about ridiculous
nonsense like Facebook democracy. The big tech companies bully - or
should I say lobby - government weaklings who will be angling for a big
job when they quit politics. Companies like Google are in and out of
Downing Street all day long. Establishment figures move to tech
companies for the money. Googles latest spin doctor is former Newsnight
editor Peter Barron. And a senior PR at Google, Rachel Whetstone, is
godmother to David Camerons eldest child, and is married to Tory advisor
Steve Hilton. I learn from a fascinating piece by Adam Curtis
( )
that Whetstones mother, Linda Whetstone, is a free market fanatic and
former chairwoman of the International Policy Network, while her
grandfather Sir Antony Fisher invented the first ever think tank, The
Institute for Economic Affairs, Thatchers favourite. It was financed by the
fortune Fisher had made bringing the factory farmed chicken system to
Britain. Cool family.

Now of course spying is nothing new. In the 18th century, servants

were paid by the Home Office to snoop on rabble-rousers like John Wilkes.
The blundering Home Office even sent agents to the west country in the
late 18th century to spy on the harmless poets Coleridge and Wordsworth,
who had been seen wandering round the countryside making notes. Spy
Nozy, as Coleridge later christened the hapless bureaucrat, assumed that
they were making plans to bring arms down from Bristol. What is new is
that its gone electronic.

I would hazard a guess that todays spies think they are rather
lucky: today their aims accord closely with the aims of commercial
ventures, which is to collect as much information as possible about citizens
and consumers, while making extraordinary heaps of money. The fact that
Facebook et al are doing this through legal means must save them a lot of
bother and money.
I am constantly amazed by how people who should know better
have been seduced by Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest. Vanity is the
spur. In literature, only Jonathan Franzen has taken a stand against these
appalling and completely useless companies. In addition, most websites
spy on you. Just install a programme called Ghostery on your computer
and go to the Guardians website. Youll find at least thirteen trackers.


Writers at Liberty
These are programmes that record your activities on the website and send
that information back to the Guardian, who use it to sell ads. The spybots
have names like Optimizely, Outbrain and Audience Science.
To avoid being spied on, you could adopt a few strategies. Return
to letter-writing and use the services of Royal Mail. In the old days, letters
were opened by spies, but they probably dont bother these days. Keep
mobile phone use to a minimum and only conduct the blandest
conversations on it. Meet your friends in pubs and drink pints of beer
together instead of posting status updates on Facebook. Avoid Amazon
and Ebay and instead use the services of small independent companies
who do less spying. Never, ever Tweet. It is undignified, for one thing.

Both business and government want to know all about you. Resist.
Go underground. Join the Anti-Social Network.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of the Idler and author of How to be Idle, How to be
Free, The Idle Parent and Brave Old World.


Extract from This is How

Writers at Liberty

By M.J. Hyland

We go through an entrance at the side of the cop station, then at the end
of a long corridor through a door with frosted glass that says Custody
We go to the counter.
Just stand here, says Davies.
The only window is high on the wall, a useless, murky porthole and
the walls are covered top to bottom with posters for the missing and
Whats happening now? I say.
Youll be put in a holding cell.
And then?
Youll be interviewed. Youll make a statement.
And then?
You might be charged.
Do I get a solicitor?
Youre entitled to one.
And what about a phone call?
Well get to that.
The desk sergeant comes through a door holding a black mug with
steam coming off.
Davies stands close to me and Im cautioned and put under arrest,
the same as before.
Patrick James Oxtoby, you are being held in custody on suspicion
of murder and anything you say
And then it happens again. The same heat all over my chest as
though Im standing in front of a fire. I lean my elbows on the desk, put my
head in my cuffed hands, close my eyes.
You going to be sick? says Davies.
I shake my head.
The desk sergeant takes a noisy slurp from his mug of tea, says,
Give me your date of birth, address, and your fathers name.
I already gave you that, I say.
Give it again.
I tell him


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And your mothers maiden name?
Ive gone into Welkins bedroom and Ive hit him on the head. It was
dark out, but getting light. He was on his side, facing away from me. I hit
him on the right temple, not very hard. I hit him all right, but there was no
blood. But maybe there was blood, and thats why the wrench was put in
the sink.
Your mothers maiden name?
Wait a minute, Im not sure. Maybe Welkin wasnt facing away. If he
was facing me, I mustve hit him on the left temple. If there was blood, it
came after. I dont know how long it all took. I dont know what the order
was. I drank some water and I think I slept.
We can make that phone call now, says Davies.
I give him my mums number but, when I see it written on the
page, I cant do it. I cant face it.
Ive changed my mind, I say.
I give him the name of the caf, and the desk sergeant looks it up.
Can I have the cuffs taken off?
Davies dials the number, hands me the phone.
She takes a long time to answer.
Georgia, I say. Its me, Patrick.
Hello there.
Listen, Ive gone and done something a bit stupid.
Whats wrong?
I hit a man in the boarding house last night and now hes dead. Ive
been arrested. Im at the police station.
I dont understand.
I havent much time, I say. I just wanted to tell you Ive been
You killed somebody?
No, I say. I didnt kill him. I didnt mean to kill him, but hes dead. I
only hit him once.
Was it an accident?
Its hard to explain, I say. I just wanted to say Im sorry I wont be
able to see you for a while.
I dont understand.
I just wanted to tell you.


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Do you have somebody to bail you out?

Is that why you called? Do you need somebody to come and get

No, thats okay.

Are you sure?
Have you spoken to your mum?
Ive got an idea.
If I give you the number, could you call her for me?
She waits, thinking. Im not sure.
They wont give me another phone call.
Okay, Ill call your mum for you. If thats what you want.
I give her the number. Will you tell my mum Im really sorry.
Another pause.
Itd be better if you said that.
All right, I say.
Youll be okay, she says. Dont worry. Itll all get worked out.
If I say much more, Ill be sure to choke up and Im glad Davies has
stepped forward to signal that my times up.
Ive got to go, I say.
Okay. Goodbye, Patrick.
I shouldve used her name like shed used mine. It was nice to hear
it said.

Davies takes me back to the custody office and the desk sergeants got the
inkpad ready for my fingerprints. When Ive pressed my fingers onto the
print sheet, rolled them back and forth, the desk sergeant steps out from
behind the desk and puts the cuffs back on.
Theres a chair in the corner and I mean to go to it and sit, but I
dont make it. Theres no warning when it happens and it happens fast and
doubles me over. The sick that is coming out of me is liquid, a bitter water,
and theres lots of it.
Get a bucket, says Davies.
The desk sergeant comes out with a bucket, says, Put your head
over this.
I go to the chair and sit and put my head over the bucket.


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The desk sergeant gives me some water in a paper triangle and the
paper goes soft in my hand.
Davies takes me back out to the corridor, holds me by the elbow.
Well set up an interview room as soon as we can, he says.
What about some more water?
In a minute, he says.
There are two empty cells, one a bit bigger than the other. In the smaller
one theres a sluice in the middle of the floor and the rubber mattress sits
on a low bench.
I wont go in.
Youre in the big cell, says Davies. Weve got a drunk n disorderly
coming in. I dont want you sharing with him.
I dont go in.
Pop yourself on the bed, he says. Might as well take a rest.
I only hit him once, I say, and there was no blood.
Best to wait for your brief, he says. Get in and hop on the bed.
But this is no bed. Its only a blue rubber mat about two inches
thick and it sits on a bench thats bolted to the wall. Over the bench theres
a window, six bars in, six out, and theres a crack in the glass letting the
cold air in. In the corner of the cell, theres a squat three-legged wooden
stool and a toilet.
Give me your belt, says Davies.
I take my belt off, give it to him.
Now get in, he says.
I dont belong in here, I say.
Get in.
I go in, get on the bench, sit with my back against the brick wall.
Davies takes the stool into the middle of the cell.
Are you staying?
Its a routine for an officer to stay with murder suspects.
Im not a murderer.
Its routine.
Can I have these cuffs off?
Not yet.
The rubber mat looks like a P.E. mat, but its not soft and it stinks of
rotten meat.


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I hang my legs over the side.
You can smoke if you want, he says.
I dont smoke.
Theres a packet in my pocket, in case you change your mind.
Davies flips through the pages of his pocket book and then looks
over at me as though hes sure Im about to do something interesting.
I get up, pull the bucket nearer the bench, put my hands to my
throat and breathe deep to stop myself being sick.
You going to spew again?
I say nothing.
He sits with me for an hour, maybe more.

The desk sergeant comes to the cell door, speaks through the open hatch.
The briefs gonna get here as soon as he can.
Okay, says Davies.
The desk sergeant leaves.
Ill get you something to eat in a minute, says Davies.
Im not hungry.
Ill see if I can get you something.
Davies leaves the cell, slides the bolt across, locks me in.
I want him back.
So long as hes here, Im not a prisoner, not yet jailed.
I go to the cell door, try to slide the hatch open.
Itll not budge. Theres no hope of opening it.
I go back to the bench and stand on it, look out of the window.
Theres a wall about four feet away and overhead theres a wire grille with
cigarette packets stuffed into the holes.
When they let me out, Im going for a long walk and I wont look at
the ground in front of me. Ill pay more attention.
Almost half an hour later, Davies comes back with a sandwich on a
paper plate.
I smile when I see him
I want to talk and I want him to stay. So long as he doesnt go away,
theres still hope I might gert out of here before dark.
Here, he says. Try to eat.
I peel the bread back and look at the thick butter and slice of
You dont want it?


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No, but thanks.

Give it here.
Davies eats the sandwich.
What happens now?
We wait for your brief.
I want him to know.
I want him to know there was no blood.
I only hit him once, I say. It wasnt hard and I didnt mean to kill

Youd better save it, he says. Youre being held for murder. You
should probably keep your trap shut for now.
It shouldnt take only a second to end a life.
Im not a murderer, I say.
Thats not for me to decide.
I wrap my arm round my knees.
Are you cold?
Ill see if I can get a blanket.
He goes out for the blanket, locks me in.
He comes back.
Sorry, we dont have any spare blankets. Ill get you one later.
I take a tissue out of my pocket.
He looks away, waits a bit, looks back. Okay? he says.
He takes off his jacket and hands it over.
I put the jacket over my shoulders.
Ill need it back, he says. Soon as I can get you a blanket.
I look down at the concrete floor and wipe my eyes and it probably
looks to Davies like Ive got a case of remorse. But I dont know about that,
or guilt either. All I know is, I didnt mean to kill him.
Its three of four oclock when the desk sergeant comes. Hes got my
solicitor. Davies leaves the cell.
My solicitors about fifty and hes got curly black hair.
Weve got about ten minutes, he says.
I think I need help, I say.
Thats what Im here for.
He sits next to me on the bench and opens a red notebook.


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My names Keith Pearl. Ive been appointed by the court. Ill be
taking you through your statement and Ill sit with you when we go into the
interview room. But you might not see me again.
A jackhammer starts up outside.
Thats bad timing, he says.
Yeah, I say. It was dead quiet before.
Youll have to speak up nice and clearly.
He tells me that Ian Gordon Welkin was found decreased in the
room next to mine and that I woke the landlady by knocking on her door
and informed her that Id hit him too hard and that I subsequently went
for a walk but didnt resist arrest when I was found by the police about a
half-hour later.
I didnt hit him hard enough to kill him. I say. And I didnt mean to
kill him.
What did you intend then?
I dont know.
He moves his red notebook form one hand to the other. But were
you angry?
I pull Davies jacket tighter round my neck for some warmth.
Why did you hit him?
I didnt mean to kill him.
He crosses his legs. All right, youd better tell me what happened.
Tell me about all the important details leading up to the event. Your
actions, state of mind, who said what to whom.
What I tell you doesnt get told to the police right?
Yes. What you tell me is privileged and you only tell me what you
want me to know. Is that clear? I need to know the story as you want it told
in your statement.
I could lie if I wanted?
He crosses his legs again. I didnt say that. And I wouldnt advise
that. Im not advising that
I tell him the story, that Welkin got very drunk, that I went in to
wake him and, when he wouldnt wake, I hit him on the temple.
I cant remember now if it was his right or left temple but I know
for sure there was no blood.
Didnt the victim steal something of yours?


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Who told you that?
He opens his notebook. The landlady, Mrs Bowman, made a
statement to the police.
He took my clock but then he gave it back. I didnt want to get
revenge or anything like that. If thats what you mean.
I wont mention the ball peen hammer.
What was the cause of death? I say.
We dont have the coroners report yet, he says, thatll take a few
Is that all you can tell me?
The jackhammer fires up, and he raises his voice, moves his face in
close to mine and I can feel the heat of his breath.
The preliminary report suggests that the cause of death was
internal haemorrhaging caused by blunt impact. It appears that the time of
death was about 4 a.m. Thats all I can say at this stage.
The jackhammer stops.
I didnt hit him very hard, I say.
He makes a note, then puts his notebook in his jacket pocket.
Thats what you keep saying, he says. But I need a clearer picture
of what you actually intended. I need to know your state of mind.
I wanted to wake him up.
Can you be a little more specific?
I held the wrench in my right hand and struck a blow. I know that.
Welkin slept, deep and drunk, and maybe I wanted to get at him while he
couldnt move or talk or strike back.
I went to my room and he was still sleeping. I dont think I slept. I
think I went straight down to Bridget.
I didnt want him dead.
Im not sure if I remember, I say.
All right. So, you hit him with a wrench, which youd taken from
your toolkit? When did you get the wrench?
I dont know.
Did you get it an hour before? Two hours before? Try to
I told you. I cant remember.
He crosses and uncrosses his legs. Okay. Did you have the wrench
when you went into his room?
I think I went back out to get it, but Im not sure.

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He makes another note.
Why did he die if I only hit him once? I say.
Some heads burst open like grapes, he says.
He smiles, shows me his big white teeth, straight and neat like
white bricks.
I look at him but as soon as we make eye-contact, he looks away.
Do you want to tell this story in your formal statement, or do you
want to exercise your right to silence? Perhaps wait until your memory
begins to serve you a little better?
He looks at his watch.
Can I do that?
Silence, I say I think Ill be silent.
Then were agreed.
He gets up, goes to the cell door bangs on the hatch, two times
with the side of one first, twice with the other, and not too hard. Hes done
this plenty of times before and hell not risk hurting his hands.
He leaves.

M.J Hyland is an ex-lawyer and the author of three multi-award-winning novels:

How the Light Gets In (2004), Carry Me Down (2006) & This is How (2009).
Carry Me Down was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (2006) & won both
the Hawthornden Prize & The Encore Prize (2007). M.J Hyland is also a lecturer
in Creative Writing in The Centre for New Writing at The University of
Manchester and runs regular Fiction Masterclasses in The Guardian
Masterclass Programme, and she has twice been shortlisted for the BBC Short
Story Prize (2011 & 2012).


Writers at Liberty


Stop and Search

Liberty is not of the air but of the earth. It is part of our base structure.
Love and liberty are at the origin. They are not notions; luxuries,
afterthoughts. There was never a person born in whom the possibility of
love and the notion of freedom was not present. Their opposites, also, are
in our blood and bone. Love. Liberty. Hatred. Imprisonment. These are our
elements. These - and thought; reason and our worlds history. We have
these tools to work with.

Stop! Search your heart.

Ask yourself what is your real motivation.
If the source for your suspicion
Is the colour of a man or womans skin, then
Stop and search again.

By Sadie Jones

Sadie Jones is a novelist and screenwriter who was born and brought up in
London. Having written all her life, her first novel, The Outcast, was published
in February 2008. It was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, won the Costa First
Novel prize and was a Richard and Judy Summer Read bestseller. Her other
novels include Small Wars, The Uninvited Guests and her most recent,
Fallout, which will be published in May 2014. Sadie is married to the architect,
Tim Boyd, and they live in West London with their two children.


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By Jackie Kay

Try and look deep within.

Count the lies youve been fed
Before you count to ten.
And before you get the batons out
Stop and search again.

Jackie Kays most recent books are Reality, Reality and Red Dust Road (winner
of the Scottish Book Award.) She is currently working on her novel BYSTANDER.


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The All-Seeing Eye


Liberty is the physical freedom to move around, to grow and develop. It

also takes interior form as a space of silence and darkness in which ideas
can grow unobserved. Under huge technological and economic pressure,
we are in the process of turning ourselves inside out. Why keep something
to yourself when you can share? Why keep something to yourself unless
you have something to hide? We are becoming more visible to each other,
whether we like it or not, and so we take steps to make our newly-public
interiority conform to social norms to appear healthy, legal, sane,
unthreatening on the inside. Our thoughts and preoccupations leave traces,
which always threaten to take on the character of evidence. Why were you
looking at that? Why did you linger on that page, underline that sentence?

Ive been trying to write this piece for weeks now, and I cant. The subject liberty - defeats me. Its too enormous, too abstract. I read about a woman
enslaved and raped, her passport confiscated. I read a long, detailed
blogpost by James Bridle about the failed extradition of Isa Muaza. I read
about forcible restraint and the death of Jimmy Mubenga. I read the words
tortured, shackled, sodomised repeatedly. After a while, I go outside and dig
my garden, pulling out roots of white deadnettle, Lamium album. I sweep
up yellow cherry leaves, refill my pond. Ive been away a long time. The
garden is neglected. Back inside, I hang out washing, speak to my mother,
eat beans on toast, Google at least a hundred different things. Let no one
be humiliated. Its not hard, is it?

By Hari Kunzru

Future historians will find it hard to explain how meekly we accepted the
end of privacy. We have surrendered without much of a fight. We now live
in a world where every communication can be overheard. It doesnt matter
if anyone is actually listening. The suspicion is there, hovering over the
keyboard, humming in the background of the call. Never more will it leave
us, this self-consciousness, a technological substitute for the all-seeing eye
of God. Perhaps our brief historical flirtation with autonomy was too scary.
It was too hard to take responsibility for ourselves, too troubling to feel
that no one was judging us and in our loneliness we were unobserved.
Better now that daddy is back again. He can tell us how we ought to be.
No doubt we will adapt. We will make a culture of hints and nuances. We
will learn to speak indirectly, to read different kinds of silence. That was
how things worked under the old twentieth-century totalitarianisms. Its
how it works in some parts of the world today. Our new panoptical
totalitarianism will teach us these tricks. In future you will have to guess
what I think by what I dont say. I will dream up towers and knock them
down, I will try to follow my desires, to imagine without caution, but Im far
from sure I will succeed. This is not how I want to live, but it is how I expect
to live, unless we can find a definition of liberty that we actually want to
uphold, something we are prepared to fight for.
Hari Kunzru is the author of Gods Without Men and three other novels. He
lives in New York City.


By Olivia Laing

Let no one be afraid, let no one be sent where theyll be hurt. Let people
who need shelter come here, to the United Kingdom. Ive never read the
Human Rights Act before. I read it now. You have the right to protest, to
freedom of thought, to marriage, to education, to a fair trial. You have the
right to a private life. I sit in bed, eating beans, free to dream in whichever
direction I choose. Where is Muaza now? Back in the medical unit at the
carefully named Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, which has
a capacity of 661 single men and is the largest of its kind in Europe. I look
at a photograph of it online. The buildings are in the background. The
photographers attention has apparently been caught by the car park, and
particularly by a deep border of perennials. I zoom in. Its planted with
Rosmarinus officinalis. Rosemary for remembrance, to repel witches.
Theres a green security fence in the distance. The sky is blue, small cumuli
like cotton wool balls, like sheep. I dont want my country to put people in
search of asylum in places like this. I dont want my government to
authorise vans to travel around London emblazoned with the words GO
HOME. I want everyone to be safe wherever they go, however many
borders theyve journeyed through.
I suppose Isa Muaza, who the newspapers are also calling Ifa Muaza, is
dying somewhere behind those cream and russet bricks. The Immigration
Removal Centre is run by the GEO Group, which manages 96 correctional


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facilities around the world, with a total capacity of approximately 73,000
people. The Harmondsworth website lists its facilities, which include a
library, a cinema, a five-a-side football pitch and an indoor sports hall. We
operate, the website states, on behalf of the UKs Home Office, holding
people being detained under immigration powers pending their departure
from the country. People, that is, who would rather starve themselves to
death than be sent back to their home country.

Outside, the sky is a very pale, powdery grey. My back aches. I need to get
up and go to the Co-op, buy cheese, grapes, bread. Tomorrow a friend is
coming for lunch. I have things to write, money in the bank. Everyone I love
is safe right now. The general build up, the UK Borders Authority website
says of Harmondsworth, consists of cases currently fitting the current
detention criteria. For example, fast track cases and special operations
cases. It elaborates on the facilities, describing observation rooms and
isolation rooms, adding in quick brackets that these are for any case
which may need isolation due to mental health disorders. The language
has the same manicured blankness as the buildings, the same bland
imperviousness. It blocks off argument, conceals misery and injustice,
terror and physical distress.

Seven people have died at Harmondsworth since it was reopened in 2001,

though it isnt always easy to discover the circumstance or cause. Two
hung themselves, somewhere between the library and the cinema, the
five-a-side football pitch. Their names were Bereket Yohannes and Sergey
Barnuyck. Bereket was a 26-year-old Eritrean, Sergey a 31-year-old
Ukrainian. Both their deaths were followed by riots, and these riots were
followed in turn by the transfer of detainees to other detention centres. A
few days later, one of these transferred prisoners, a Vietnamese asylum
seeker called Tung Wang, also hung himself. I think again of the
photograph of rosemary, growing in profusion outside the security fence.
Rosemary for remembrance, the quote goes. Pray, love, remember. Or rather:
pray, love, remember, fight.

Olivia Laing is the author of To the River and The Trip to Echo Spring, and is
currently working on a cultural history of urban loneliness.


Mister X Versus Hospital Y

Writers at Liberty

By Nikita Lalwani

I am with him in his workspace, a narrow box of a room, as he talks. The

room is clean, fresh and comforting; controlled, yet welcoming. As there are
very few objects in the room, I wonder if these defining characteristics are
coming from Toku himself. He is seated at his desk in the corner, a doctor
in his early forties, of northeast Indian origin, with very clear skin the colour
of light pine, high cheek-boned, hair arranged with a tidy side parting,
silver-framed spectacles. His face, which has a certain do not disturb
quality at rest, creases confusingly with the very opposite quality when he
smiles. People call me Toku, he says, when I refer to him as Dr Tokugha.
There is a knock behind me. I get up quickly to allow the door to
openmy chair, by his desk, takes up most of the free space in the room.
Toku engages warmly with the patient who entersa slight, quiet man in
his thirties with patchy white bristle on his cheeks, dressed in a dark work
shirt and slacks that roll up to reveal bare feet. They speak in Tamil, but I
can sense that they are talking about medicine and treatment. The phrases
three times a day and after food only form part of the conversation. As
the patient leaves, Toku gets up to follow him out.
Be comfortable, he says, noting my nervous, slightly tense
posture. Be my guest.
He flashes a modest smile of impressive teeth before exiting. I look
around the room for more clues. To my right, a makeshift bed has been
formed from a sheet and pillow laid on top of a chest of drawers. On the
wall is a poster for a twenty second general conference of some kind,
entitled Enduring Beyond. The image is of a warrior ready for battle.
Above that, a few trophies in a glass cage. To their left, a picture of a park
in eighties film coloursheightened greens and flushed fuchsia blooms.
God Bless You is inscribed on a wooden plaque on the top shelf, below a
rusty air cooler, set into the wall, which touches the ceiling. A Bugs Bunny
peg near the door, for a coat. A sink, with Dettol handwash at the back. His
name written in faded gold on a thin length of wood by the computer.
What am I looking for? I am confused by my desire to document
these objects. Why do I imagine that I can find something intimate in
them? Maybe it is because Toku seems so contained that it is difficult to
imagine that our meeting is going to reveal anything that has not already


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been written down somewhere, by someone else. I think of the newspaper
cuttings that I have seen, in which his story was appropriated and printed
without his consent. I think of the case study I have received from the
Lawyers Collective in Delhi, in which the ramifications of his battle for
justice are meticulously detailed.
How can I help you? he asks when he returns.
I decide to be as straightforward as possible. It is the only way to
avoid the fudge of possible meanings.
How did you discover that you were HIV positive? What was it like,
the discovery?
The words come out of my mouth, and I feel their inadequacy.
They are too vulgar, hanging in the air without context, like underwear on
a washing line. We look at each other. We both know that Tokus story is
out of the ordinary. That he has suffered key abuses of the kinds of human
rights that many of us take for granted, most notably the loss of privacy. I
am, of course, part of the fallout from those abuses. I know his public
story. That is why I am here, trying to understand his private space.
First of all, I need to tell you something, says Toku.
I nod.
I have a very painful tooth. I have had three root canal operations.
I am disheartened. So I may not be in the mood to talk. I may feel, how to
put it withdrawn.
I nod again. Of course. It is understandable, I mumble. The root
canal is a very tender and exposing operation, isnt it?
But this is how it was
And then, just like that, Toku begins at the beginning, and tells me
exactly what it was like.

In 1995 I used to work in a Nagaland hospital as an eye consultant. It was

the biggest hospital in the state. My father was the village headman, I had
finished my studies and was an eligible bachelor. Everyone has to settle
down, and it was time. Im forty two now, then I was thirty. A few
suggestions were made to me, and I had a couple of ideas myself. Then I
proposed to a girl.
So, would you say it was arranged? I ask. Not really, he replies. He
met her three or four times, and decided to propose. He liked her. His


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family was also keen for the match. His brother-in-law, his cousins
husband, especially encouraged ithe was a government minister, just
like the girls uncle. They set a date for the wedding to take place just
weeks after the engagement.
I made a trip with my fiance and her mother to get the wedding
dress stitched. They wanted to go to Hong Kong or Bangkok. The marriage
was the big talk of the town, you see. In the end, we decided on Kolkata. We
commissioned the dressboth being Christian, it was a long white dress
with a veiland two weeks later I went back to pick it up along with the
invitation cards. I got it in a closed boxthe tailor said it was very important
that I did not see the dress before the wedding, I remember that.
Did you look at the dress? I ask. No, he replies, smiling.
He knew not to do that.
I flew back to Nagaland, and descended from the plane. Normally,
if I returned from a trip, quite a few family members would come to pick
me up from the airportcome along for the ride, help with the luggage.
This time it was just my sister. As I approached her, I could see she was
very sad.
Toku lists the fears that entered his head. They are the same
worries that haunt us all when away from loved ones: mostly touching
upon the vacuum of unexpected deaths. His mother? His fiance? A car
accident? But his sister would not reveal anything on the journey home.
I arrived at the house to see all of my family assembled there,
maybe twenty people. My brother stood up in the centre of the room and
said, Your wedding has been called off because you have AIDS.
He smiles again, and pauses for me to laugh out loud, should I feel
like it. The drama of the scene is both chilling and faintly absurd.
That is how I found out.
Six months prior to this, Toku had travelled with his brother-in-law,
the minister, to Chennai to help him organise an operation. His brother-inlaws uncle was ill and needed to get to a large hospital, for the treatment
of his abdomen. Toku discovered that the patient needed major surgery,
and a blood transfusion. They needed a donor urgently, and so he
volunteered to give his own blood.
I didnt know whether it would be the right blood type, but I said
Look, I will give my own blood. I dont know whether they used it, but I


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stayed for the whole thing and went into the operation theatre with him. I
was very pleased that the surgery was successful. The minister left and I
stayed back to help with the aftercareremove the sutures of the patient,
keep an eye on him.
Toku has become more agitated. He speaks quickly now, leaning
forward in his chair.
The doctors there ran tests on my blood and found that I was HIV
positive. But they disclosed my HIV status to the minister, my brother-inlaw, instead of to me. And then, he chose not to disclose it to me until six
months later. After encouraging me to get engaged and helping me decide
on marriage, he waited till the day I returned with the wedding dress and
gathered everyone I knew, to make the announcement.
When he went back to the hospital to confirm the rumours, Toku
says he was treated with disdain by the doctor who tested him. He was
told that he would die soon, that there was no cure, and was asked to
leave the room after a few brief questions about his sexual behaviour. He
tried to find someone in the hospital who could tell him how the
information had been leaked, but no one would give him an appointment,
or listen. Finding himself on the other side of the doctorpatient divide,
and with a disease that aroused disgust and moral judgement in his wider
circle, Toku lost his voice overnight.
I had many thoughts on my mind. I will die soon. How will I face
my father? What about the shame? Of course, I withdrew from the
wedding myself. After checking the results with another test, I told my
fiance that we had to call it off. She cried. I was in shock. Everyone knew.
But it should have been my decision. I would not have searched for a girl
and proposed if I had known. Why did the hospital tell the minister, and
not me? This was a breach of confidence. And that it was my brother-inlaw. I donated my own blood for his uncleI gave my own blood for him.
I ask if he knows the reason behind the betrayal. He shakes his
head. Even now, 12 years later, Toku says he is not going to dig it up. He
has his suspicions. It could have had to do with his brother-in-laws career,
rivalry with his fiances family, who knows? But his brother-in-laws
betrayal is irrelevant compared to the actions of the hospital which
disclosed his secret.


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With AIDS, there was such a stigma then. People didnt understand
the issues. He was a big minister, but I had just become someone with
AIDS. Who was going to listen to me? They all knew my status in Nagaland.
I nod. Sitting in his office, and listening to him, it is difficult to
imagine Toku commanding anything other than respectful attention. But it
is a reminder of what we are doing here together, a small paper cut of
sharp feeling when it comes to thinking about how we name and identify
each other with regard to this particular illness. He is talking about
something that happened a decade ago, but of course I have asked him to
tell me his story because he is HIV positive.
Whenever he uses the word status to refer to the result of the
blood test, it feels so collapsible as a word. In effect, because of how he
has told the story, I have an idea of his status in society before he found
out that his blood was marked in this way. He has used the same short cut
signs and signifiers most of us usehis vocation, age, location, familial
background, the impending union with another person and their family.
After the revelation of the blood test, in this narrative of his life, just as in
the hospital where he supervised an operation, those indicators become
irrelevanthe becomes a man whose whole status is HIV positive, and
nothing else. Even now, as he talks, he seems aware of this fact. He is a
little louder, more insistent than before, as though the danger of being
dismissed is never gone once the labels come out of the bag.
Then it begins. I cant sleep, nothing. They all know my status in
Nagaland. And there is such a stigma, so much shame; I know I have to
leave there. I dont have my job any more. People are criticising me. Then I
start thinking I want to disappear. I think it is very difficult to disappear. I
start to question myselfhow to disappear.
He closes his eyes and frowns almost indiscernibly.
I think, is it a dream? I pinch myself.
He opens his eyes and presents the impossible nature of the
question to me, throwing his hands into the air with sudden vehemence.
How to disappear? How is it possible to disappear? I think maybe
Ill go to the jungle, live there, or go to another state and live quietly. But if
people know I am a doctor, they will wonder why I am so quiet, with no


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ties. They will find out, and I will have to leave again. I thought maybe I
would go to Nepal; help people who have no hospitals. But then I would
need a visa, medical testsit becomes difficult. Where to hide?
There is an impasse between us. It is as though he genuinely wants
an answer to the question, and I am with him, trying to imagine how I
would act if thrust so suddenly into such a fugitive skin. Having been
silenced internally, I would of course, like him, want to erase my outer,
visible selfit would be a matter of survival.
He registers my stasis and laughs, urging me to join him.
It is not so easy to disappear, you know? he says.
I concur. My chest feels tight. No, it is not so easy to disappear.
Anand Grover, the lawyer who sent me to meet Toku, has likened
human rights to the green leaves on a tree:

If a fire is lit in the forest, which of the trees will catch fire and perish?
Obviously, the one without the green leaves. The one with the
green leaves, with the rights, will survive. Those without rights
are therefore most vulnerable.

(1) A Tryst with Dominic, Lawyers Collective, March 1 2001,

Grover, who met Toku in 1996, has been at the centre of the battle
for human rights for people affected by HIV, for the past two decades. A
charismatic and provocative man, known for being fearlessly outspoken on
issues of personal freedom, Grover is one of the directors of the Lawyers
Collective, a group of legal professionals and activists, who donate their
time together in the form of legal aid and lobbying for legal reform. Much
of the work of their HIV/AIDS unit centres on marginalised groupswomen
who are evicted from their family home, or separated from their children
when discovered to be HIV positive, drug users, sex workers, and the large
number of positive people who are impoverishedhaving very little money
and, therefore, very little access to treatment, information, or the courts.
After confirming his HIV status, Toku stayed in Chennai without
knowing how or what he would do to survive. He met with an old college
friend, who expected him to be on his honeymoon.
He wanted to know where my wife was, says Toku, with a laugh. I
said, Oh I am in big trouble.. My marriage is cancelled because I am HIV

positive. He was shocked when I told him, and very supportive. He said he
knew of just one place that gave help to positive people, and we searched
for that place for two days. No one seemed to know where it was.
The place turned out to be the YR Gaitonde Centre for AIDS
Research and Education, the hospital in Chennai where we are now sitting,
host to over 11,000 patients a year with HIV and AIDS related issues. The
director of the place, Dr Suniti Solomon, would become his future boss.
She changed my life, he says. She said she would respect me as a
doctor, not just see me as an AIDS patient. And incredibly, she said she
would hire me.
Dr Solomon, who documented the first AIDS case in India, in 1986,
has since pioneered major breakthroughs in AIDS research and education.
In 1996, when she heard that Anand Grover was in town, conducting a
workshop on HIV and human rights, she sent Toku to attend. Grover
remembers meeting Toku at the end of the workshop.
He was very sincere and well mannered, he says. His story evoked
empathy on my part. He wanted to take legal action, which surprised meI
was apprehensive as the issue raised was an untested area of law in India.
Inspired by Tokus story, Grover took his case to the National
Consumer Redressal Forum (NCRF), which deals with cases of consumer
protection, in an attempt to sue the hospital that had leaked Tokus HIV
results. But the NCRF was not interested in the confidentiality issues
around testing for HIV.
Their attitude was that if you are positive, the whole world should
know about it, says Grover. After a lot of hostility towards HIV positive
people, the Forum decided that it was not the appropriate forum to decide
the issue.
Unwilling to settle for this, Grover took the case to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Toku began to write, and campaign on the newly
emerging issues around AIDS. After a trip to the XI International AIDS
Conference in Vancouver, he got involved in the creation of a network for
people living with HIV in India. INP+ was founded in 1997 by Toku and 11
other HIV positive people, and now has over 100,000 members, with a
network in almost every state in India. Back in those early days of dialogue
and awareness, he went to a workshop near Pune to take part in discussions.


Writers at Liberty
It was in the jungle, he says. It felt like it was far from anywhere,
an isolated place. The place was full of HIV positive people and
representatives from NGOs. So imagine this Early in the morning, first
thing, on the first day, I meet a woman.
He laughs.
I meet her, and immediately tell my whole life story to her. Just
standing there. It was 7:30am.
I look up at him from my notepad. Is he saying what I think he is
saying? He laughs again. The sound is relaxed. But careful. It feels like it
contains something valuable.
The whole thing. I dont know who she is. Whether she is positive
or negative. But I just meet her, and straightaway I tell her my life story.

He shrugs his shoulders. He seems pleased that this is inexplicable,

and I am moved by the simple warmth and thrill that her introduction into
the story seems to bring. It is so unexpected. Did anything happen? I ask.
Why do you think you told her everything? He acknowledges my questions
with a grin, and brushes them away.
Wait! After three or four days we have become close friends. She is
back in Goa then, where she is from. We like each other, but marriage is
not in my mind, for many reasons. Then we begin to write to each other.
We start to meet often, but we do not know if we are making the right
decision. We understand the feeling, but we cant tell each other that this is
in our minds. Then gradually, we talk. First, there is this: I am living with
HIV. I can give her no children. She herself is negative. People will think
that she is mad, marrying an HIV positive person. I was worried. How could
I expect her to cope with these things?
She was very supportive. She said we could have an adopted child.
Life is in the hands of God, she said. What is short or long? It is the sweet
memories that matter. You can have a hundred years of bad times. Or
some good ones.
Why was she at the workshop? I ask.
She was a psychologist with an organisation for positive people.
But still, I was worried. We thought that we would seek different opinions
from different NGOs. We may be biased, we thought, and they can help.
They were all supportive. They said, As long as your own mind is clear, you


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should proceed. Still, it is very difficult to know what is right. So we
decided to break off, and give ourselves time to think.
This was at the end of 1996. The plan was to have six months with
no phone contact. If we could forget each other, then fine. If not, then
well, lets see, we thought.
He smiles, eyes mischievous.
After almost four months, I phoned her. I couldnt help it. I was
supposed to go to Bangkok for a work trip. My supervisor told me to take a
team. I thought to myself, maybe she can come.
I call her and tell her that. But she says We are not supposed to
talk about this for six months, and then she puts the phone down. Tak!
Like that, she bangs it down!
He shakes his head.
Oh no, I thought. Oh dear. Then I waited. And after six months, I
called her on the appointed day, and she said she still felt the same. We
met, and well on October 10, 1998, we got married.
I am visibly relieved. But he moves on quickly.
We began living here in Chennai, and a few months later another
bombshell comesfrom the Supreme Court case. You know about that, yes?
Yes. This is the part that I do know about. When the case was
finally heard at the Supreme Court, it was entitled Mr X versus Hospital Y.
Grovers argument was that the hospital had not honoured basic
confidentiality rights, and that leaking Tokus status to the wider
community, instead of giving him the information, had resulted in the
destruction of the fabric of his lifesocial exclusion, humiliation by friends
and family, the loss of his post at the Nagaland eye hospital, the
dissolution of his reputation, and life as he knew it.
In spite of the fact that the hospital had not informed Toku of his
condition, and even though he called the proposed wedding off himself,
the court ruled against him, decreeing that the hospitals release of the
information to the minister without his consent had saved the life of
Tokus proposed fiance.
The case had an unfortunate and far-reaching side effect. The
judge decided to include, as part of his verdict, comments that suspended
the right for HIV positive people to marry. The court sought to protect the


Writers at Liberty
rights of potential marriage partners who could contract the
communicable venereal disease, unawares. But instead of pinning this to
informed consent between parties, the idea that a positive person should
declare their status to a prospective marriage partner, thereby allowing
them to make the decision and take necessary precautions should they
still want to go ahead, the Supreme Court deemed that marriage itself was
not appropriate for someone with HIV.
For the first time in judicial history, anywhere in the world, a court
had taken away the right of an individual to marry. Newspapers raged with
debate under headlines such as Right to marry not absolute! Grover was
furious. He called for a national campaign against the judgement,
expressing the need for public protest. At a meeting organised to rouse
support, he argued that a blanket ban on marriage took no account of the
fact that many positive people commonly got married with full, free and
informed consent of their partner, who might or might not be HIV positive.
His speech was reported in The Indian Express:
The restriction on the marriages of HIV infected persons can have
serious repercussions. The isolation of such persons will drive the
epidemic underground, as doctors and hospitals will not maintain
confidentiality with regard to their HIV status. (2)

(2) Lawyer Calls for Protest on SC ruling in HIV Marriage Case,

The Indian Express, September 4 1999,

The right to marry and found a family is a fundamental human

right, and recognised internationallyunder Article 23 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 16 of the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights. It is part of the right to life, which is recognised
under the Indian Constitution, Article 21.
I sit in Tokus office, and hear about the throttling legal details of
his battle so soon after the simplicity of his love story, and think about how
heartening, almost fantastical, it is that the right to marry has ended up as
part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Aside from the obvious
links between marriage and stability, or procreation, there is something
hungry and romantic about the assumption that this aspect of human


Writers at Liberty
companionship is recognised as a basic need, along with the right to
liberty and freedom of person.
Tokus case, however, had inadvertently curtailed these rights for
positive people in India. The news of the ruling spread quickly through the
HIV community worldwide. This decision must have horrified him, I say.
Especially as his case was, of course, about privacy, and not marriage. And
he had just got married himself, after so much soul searching. Although
the status of his marriage was not officially affected by the ruling, as it had
already taken place, the judgement must have shaken Toku and his wife.
He frowns, looking down as though he is thinking of a way to
encapsulate the magnitude of the feeling it brings up.
But of course! I was very upset. For so long we were afraid to get
married, and a month after we had done it, this happens. People were
reluctant to accept us. How can you marry a negative woman? they asked.
Then, in a perverse and peculiar twist, the case produced exactly
the same breach of confidentiality that had led to its existence, and Tokus
personal details were leaked to national and local media. When the story
hit the press it was no longer Mr X versus Hospital Y.
They published my name and address in every single paper! says
Toku. They told me that my identity and name would be suppressed. I did
not file a case for marriageit was for confidentiality, and then they
themselves abused those rights. All the newspapers published my name.
From Nagaland to Chennai, to Delhi. All of them. It was there even in the
local papers. Even on the radio.
He clenches his fist, and strains against the words, which come
My new mother-in-law went to Delhi to take a flight to visit her
grandchildren in Australia. She was staying with her relatives. It was a
Sunday, and she saw the papers. Every supplement carried my name. She
was so shocked. She called her daughter and asked, Did you know he was
HIV positive? My wife said yes, she knew. Her mother said to her, You
people do what you want. Her relatives said my wife should take me to
court. Then her mother stopped talking to us.
There is a sombre quality to his voice.
For those two weeks we cried in the night, and in the day. Then,
the relief. My wifes mother called back. She said they would support us,


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and asked us to come and see them. I went back to Goa for Christmas, to
their family home. I felt very uneasy going there. But they didnt treat me
differently. They said they would be there with us. In fact, my mother-inlaw became the ambassador between us and the rest of the family.
Over the next few years, the Lawyers Collective worked consistently
to battle the new ruling, filing several petitions for the judgement to be
reconsidered. After four long years, they succeeded in getting it dismissed,
restoring the right for HIV positive people to marry in 2002.
And what about Toku? I ask. What happened to him at the end of
all this? How has it left him? He says Grover took him back to Nagaland
recently, after more than ten years away. Grover said, It is time for
Nagaland to welcome its son, which she had abandoned, back home with
open arms. Toku went back to the hospital where he used to work, and
gave a talk on coping with HIV. The hall was packed. Everyone had turned
up to see, in effect, how he himself was coping.
All of the doctors from nearby came, he says. They came to see
how I looked. You could see them standing, watching and thinking, How is
it possible that he is HIV positive? How can he talk like that? They didnt
listen to me, just stared! Then gradually, they came to their senses and
started to listen. They thought I would be incapacitated, living in a dingy
place. They didnt imagine that I would seem so normal. Or empowered.
And indeed, I think, this is the first thing that strikes you about
Toku: his spotless skin and demeanour, the infallible quality of seeming to
be in very good health. Like his root canal operations, any sense of
physical weakness is hidden something you have to be told about,
rather than glean for yourself. I wonder if it was always this way, or if it has
gradually become part of his armour for living.
One or two of my old friends came up to talk to me after wards,
he says. They said if I had not become HIV positive I could not have
achieved what I have managed. They admired what I was doing.
And what about his family? I ask.
Oh, we have two sonswe adopted one when he was three years
old, now he is eight, and then also adopted his brother last year, who is
now nine. In fact, I have to go and pick them up from school soon!
He looks at his watch, and smiles.
It is an abrupt end, but one that feels fitting for a conversation that began
in a similar fashion. I make some comments of gratitude as I get up, an


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attempt to try and provide some kind of wrapping after such an emotional
ride. I try to convey my thanks for his patience and lucidity, in spite of the
pain from his teeth.
He gestures to me to wait.
I want to show you one thing before you go. We walk up to the top
floor of the hospital, and I see 50 faces photographed in hero and maiden
poses, on park benches, and in studios. They are typical portraits for
potential suitors, adhering to the grammar of this particular genrethe
gaze of the subject unsmiling and intent on the lens, each expression
inviting an array of possible interpretations by the viewer. The photos are
attached, by a staple or paper clip, to a personal handwritten statement
including their Biodata and Needs.
Toku has begun matchmaking for his patients. All of the people in
the folder are HIV positive. He tells me that when first diagnosed, patients
are often reluctant to give him their details for these marriage files. They
may be young widows who are worried about what people will say, or fear
that they will not be alive for much longer. He tells them to return after
three or four years, that it is now possible to live a long life, and that
companionship is important. And indeed, many of them come back.
I speak to Annie, who makes the matches and organises the
meetings. She tells me that the most recent marriage boasts the safe
conception of a baby, free from the virus, as a result of the recent
developments in treatment.
The people in these pictures are often poor, and many come from
exactly the kind of vulnerable groups that Grover talks about as being
most susceptible to rights abuses, those without a canopy of protection:
The trees without the leaves are like the vulnerable groups in our
society: women, children, sex workers, injecting drug users, men
having sex with men, prisoners, etc. They are already stigmatised
and marginalised by society. They are often poor and illiterate.
Either they do not have rights, or, even if they have them they are
not able to exercise them. (3)

(3) A Tryst with Dominic, Lawyers Collective, March 1 2001,

But even more of the people in the folders, like Toku, do not
technically fit into this list. If forced to articulate their status, I would


probably have to just put them into the generic category of middle
class men.
I wonder what the story has been for each person, as I leaf through
this bundle of social strata, united by blood: teachers and plantation
workers, engineers and market traders. I even start to wonder if the small
business owner on page 7 would go well with the young mother on page
15, in spite of the fact that he is looking for a Pentecostal Christian, and
she is nothing of the sort. She is photographed in a kitchen next to a stove,
and has a half smile that suggests a curt sense of mischief, a lack of
pretension. She has written that caste is not important to her, in the
section entitled Needs. I catch myself before getting fully immersed. It is
time to go. Toku has to pick up his sons, after all.
I take the lift, alone. It has a large folding door, a heavy accordion
of metal that is quite difficult to open. Inside, it is dark and noisy on the
journey down; pipes rattle and wheeze as the machinery gets going. Lights
are going off around me as I find my way to the front of the building, and
people leave for the day. I think about how Toku is trying to actively restore
this right to marriage as part of his own patients right to lifeby
attempting to reignite that part of the human psyche that maybe we all
share. The part that believes that we own the right to love in that particular
way, and be loved in return.
This is the opening essay for the following anthology by Random House:

Nikita Lalwani is a novelist born in Rajasthan and raised in Cardiff. Her work has
been translated into sixteen languages. Her first book, Gifted, was longlisted for
the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award. Lalwanis
second book, The Village was published in 2012 and is modelled on a real-life
prison village in northern India. Lalwani has contributed to The Guardian, The
New Statesman and The Observer in the UK and also written for AIDS Sutra, an
anthology exploring the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS in India. In 2013 she
was a book judge for the Orwell Prize for political writing.


Writers at Liberty

Two Liberties

By Darian Leader

It is always dangerous to act in the name of a concept without questioning

both its meaning and its function, and liberty is no exception. The history
of ideas shows that notions of liberty have varied over time and place, and
todays ideology of autonomy, efficiency and self-realisation has inflected
the concept in a way that clashes with many of its previous senses. What
was once often described as a property of human subjectivity has now
become, in much of Western popular discourse, less a parameter of action
than an imperative entirely compatible with the commodification of
human life that characterises late capitalism.
As Michel Foucault predicted, the twentieth century would see a
movement from governing people despite their freedom to governing
people through their freedom. Today, liberty becomes increasingly
equated with freedom of choice, which means in most cases a choice of
services and products in the marketplace. Even electoral choice is now
merely a part of a larger continuum of voting practices, from reality shows
to talent contests. Failure and breakdown are ascribed to problems of
individual choice rather than to the socio-economic structures that frame
them. If giving people choice can be seen as the ultimate act of liberating,
in many cases the question of political choice is constructed on the
consumer model rather than vice-versa.

At the same time, the conflict that traditionally characterised the concept
of self is replaced with new and conflict-free vector: we are not divided
between contradictory impulses but strive instead for the one-dimensional
goals of wealth, success and happiness. Life becomes a project of selfrealisation, and this introduces what we could call the paradox of the new
imperative to be free. Popular culture can give us plenty of examples here.
In Disneys Brave, a Scottish queen pressures her daughter Princess
Merida to marry against her will to cement the relations between clans. In
retaliation, Merida manages to have her mother turned into a bear, and
much of the film concerns her efforts to change her back.
And now the central scene of the film, when Merida must confront both
angry clans and persuade them to rethink their views on forced betrothal.


Writers at Liberty
It polarises two opposed discourses: that of tradition and law and that of
human freedom and subjectivity. But what happens in this scene? Of
course, the discourse of freedom wins the day. She convinces the
assembled clans with great eloquence that each person must be free to
make their own decisions, cannot be slave to the will of others, of unjust
laws, especially in the field of love. And yet, as the daughter voices this
speech, it is her mother who, in the shadows at the back of the hall, is
silently indicating to her exactly what to say. The ultimate act of defiant
freedom is essentially an act of ventriloquism.

It is in this most intimate moment of freedom that she is really most

enslaved to the Other. Being free is an imperative here, and we see the
same paradox in the most recent version of the Superman franchise Man
of Steel. The infant Superman, we learn is born on a planet where every
single being has their life mapped out for them: their social role, their
function, their future. Supermans parents resist this monstrous
regimenting of subjectivity, and we hear his father deliver a great speech
on why his son is different: he was born not to be like the others, not to
have his life mapped out for him, to be the one exceptionin fact, all the
properties of someone who, precisely, has their life mapped out for them.
The zenith of liberty here is to have ones life entirely determined by
someone else.

This paradox of freedom can be expressed succinctly, as it has been by

contemporary philosophers: we are compelled to be free by the very
agencies that render this freedom impossible. Many people today are told
that they have a voice, yet this voice is there to be recorded, registered,
listened to but not heard. Perhaps more than ever before, we witness a
split between listening and hearing. As Slavoj Zizek observed, aggrieved
people are encouraged to complain so that their complaints become ever
more fine-tuned and specific: the exact problem can then be identified and
treated. This may involve benefits, but ultimately it is a depoliticisation, in
that the grievance, in becoming more and more concrete, loses any value
as a metaphor of political antagonism. We see this in the fact that many of
the main British charities today unlike Liberty have simply become
instruments of government policy.
And this brings us to another question. Can we speak of freedom in the
case of the little boy who beats his drum one last time when told to stop


Writers at Liberty
drumming? His act is certainly one of resistance, of self-determination, yet
it is dependent on the prior injunction. His freedom is relative, yet isnt this
the most authentic kind? Not the freedom demanded by popular ideology,
as we see in Brave and Man of Steel, which simply masks an alienation,
but that of pure negation, a rejection of the interpellation that we receive
from those around us, from the social order, from our parents, from our
peers. Just as the forms of this interpellation will change over time and in
different cultures - from an emphasis on moral duties to todays
imperatives of autonomy, rational choice and self-determination so the
forms of refusal will also change from medieval acedia to the nineteenth
century theatre of hysteria to todays so-called depressive illnesses.
Once we distinguish the self construed as the locus of social imperatives
and ideals and the subject defined as the point of refusal of
interpellation we have two different notions of liberty, one a commodity
which perpetuates a fiction and one an act or set of acts which collapses
fiction. And doesnt this mean that, as philosophers perhaps recognised
many centuries ago and writers still do, the latter notion of liberty will
always be closer to death than to life?

Darian Leader is a psychoanalyst working in London and a founder member of

the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research. He is President of The College
of Psychoanalysts-UK and Visiting Professor at the School of Human and Life
Sciences, Roehampton University. He is the author of several books including:
Introducing Lacan; Why do women write more letters than they post?; Freuds
Footnotes; Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us From Seeing; Why do
people get ill? (with David Corfield) Penguin, 2007 and The New Black:
Mourning, Melancholia and Depression, Hamish Hamilton, 2008 and What is
Madness? in 2011. His most recent book, Strictly Bipolar is published by
Hamish Hamilton, 2013.



Writers at Liberty

By Kathy Lette

Freedom. It sounds like Im about to market you a new brand of tampon thats how much weve come to take it for granted. But just like tampon,
freedom comes with strings attached namely, constant vigilance over
erosion of our civil liberties. Not only do we have to fight to protect our
hard won rights, but theres a lot more to fight forlike no Snoopers
Charter, military justice for grieving families, fair extradition laws and equal
pay for women Forget the misogynistic media-hyped angst over the
thigh gap. What about the pay gap? British women are still only getting
75 pence in the pound, and also suffering concussion from hitting our
heads on the glass ceiling. Plus were expected to clean it whilst up there
In other words, any woman who calls herself a post feminist has kept her
wonder bra and burnt her brains. LIBERTY straps on its bullet proof bra
and take to the barricades on our behalf to champion the liberties of the
people in the fight that is never done as EM Forster so aptly said. Oh,
and while we are talking about tampons, an end to VAT on indispensable
feminine hygiene products would be quite welcome too. Shami, can we
please agitate for that too?

Kathy Lette has written 13 bestselling novels, including Puberty Blues, which
was made into a major film and a TV mini-series, Mad Cows (the film starred
Joanna Lumley) How to Kill Your Husband (recently staged by the Victorian
Opera) and To Love, Honour and Betray (soon to be a BBC series). Her latest,
The Boy Who Fell To Earth is a romantic comedy about a single mother bringing
up a child with autism. Her novels have been published in seventeen languages.


Writers at Liberty

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What does Liberty mean to me?

Three haiku on Wordsworths Liberty

Liberty means never having to look into the eyes of a human being who
has no rights. You will never forget how that makes you feel. I am thinking
about my childhood in apartheid South Africa. Here are some of the
questions I asked myself when I was seven years old; If a white adult sets
his dogs on a black child or hits the childs father with sticks and whips, is
he a safe person to sit next to on a bus or to say hello to over the fence? Is
he mad or is he normal?

Addressed to a friend; the gold and silver fishes having

been removed to a pool, in the pleasure-ground of Rydal Mount.

By Deborah Levy

If the neighbours and police and judges and teachers say, Of course his
behaviour is normal, its fine by us , was life worth living? And what about
the people who did not think it was normal- were there enough of them in
the world?

I still believe that when we turn our back on human rights, we numb the
knowing parts of our minds and make a space for something terrible to
happen to someone else. We are connected to each others cruelty and to
each others kindness. Nelson Mandela knew this, and if we are inspired by
the courage of his forgiving message, we should never forget that he was
once a man with no human rights.

Deborah Levy writes fiction, plays and poetry. Her work has been staged by the
Royal Shakespeare Company, and she is the author of highly praised novels,
including Beautiful Mutants, Swallowing Geography and Billy and Girl. Her
collection of short stories Black Vodka was shortlisted for the 2013 Frank
OConnor Short Story Award. Her latest novel Swimming Home was serialised
on Radio 4 as a Book at Bedtime and was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker
Prize. Penguin Books will publish her highly praised essay this February Things
I Dont Want to Know, a response to Orwells Why I Write, as well as reissues of
Deborahs work Early Levy.


By Richard Mabey

A robin, a cage.
Blake rages. Dreams the shutters
Of the dark city open.

Gold fish, a crystal vase.

Words* worth opposing. Frees his mute friends
Into the wild water.
Mosquitos, a cell.
Mangakis, in solitary, bares his arm
For common bread.
[* ed: word break deliberate]

Richard Mabeys Nature Cure (2005) was shortlisted for the Whitbread,
Ondaatje and Ackerley awards. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature


Writers at Liberty

Solo, A Cappella
By Alison MacLeod

Everywhere in Tottenham that evening, you could smell summer: mown

grass from the football ground, the stink of hot tarmac, rubbish from the
baking bins, and the whiff off the WD-40 cans our yutes was huffing on the
estates. But up at the Pond, man, the air smelled good: all watery green
and sweet with long grass. The dragonflies were zupping, and high above
them, the bats were zig-zagging in and out of the bat-boxes, knowing
nothing in the world could touch them. Me and Valentine, we just sat
there, listenin to the males singing for mates whistlin and wantin as
the sun fell out of the sky.
Valentine said they was pipistrelles. Shed been on a bat walk
with her class along ditches that used to be river. I said, pipistrelles, lah
dee dah, and pulled her close, so close I could smell the bubble-gum taste
of her lip-gloss and the warmth of her skin.
She said one kind there at the Pond was rare, a soprano pipistrelle,
which was different than the common pipistrelle. I said, well if bats was
human, shed be the soprano and Id be the common, and she said that if
Id stop mouthin even for a minute she might be able to hear the pips
what bats bounce off everything. So I went quiet and she went still, and
then her face lit up and she nodded like an old African wise woman, and I
said, I cant hear nothing, and she said thats because mostly only teenaged girls can hear those pips.
Special feelers, she said, wiggling the ear lobe I longed to kiss.
But maybe thats where she was wrong, cos later on, she didnt feel
no trouble coming. Or maybe she did, but she did what she did anyway.
In April, I was eighteen and she was still fifteen when I sidled into
her booth at the McDonalds on the High Road, nervous as hell behind my
smile. She was with her friend Cherelle, but neither told me to bounce.
Valentine only corrected me, saying her name was Valenteen, because it
was French, and not Valentine. Just the fact that she wanted me to know
how to say her name made me high with hope. It didnt matter none that
she hardly looked up from her McNuggets. So I was mannerly to Cherelle,
but I talked and whistled and wanted for Valentine. My thoughts zupped
all over my head as I looked at her eyes down-turned and fluted and
the bright heart of her face.

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Her family were Congolese, which meant she sounded French and
African both when she spoke English. Maybe thats why she didnt open
her mouth much, except when she had to, like at Community Choir
practice on Tuesday nights. Mostly it was white, old people in the choir but
she said she didnt mind, and I knew she didnt mind because of that voice
on her. Pure like summer rain. Once she sang for me up at the Pond
from a religious song called Gloria and I wanted to be like Simon Cowell
when hes amazed, actually amazed, and he says, You nailed that, but
none of that seemed good enough for that voice of hers rising high and
sweet over the Pond, and making even the bats go still. She said shed
been practising for months and was going to sing solo, a cappella. Her
piece was called the Domine Deus which meant, she said, Lord God.
Lord God! I shouted up to the sky when she finished, and we both
She was opposite like that: shy but with a big voice when she was
brave enough to use it. Mostly, it was good I could talk for two. I think she
liked my talking. Course, my training was the best. By best I mean the
jungle that is the shop floor of H&M where I work three days a week or
maybe never again, if the damned CCTV was eye-balling me as I ducked
out of Superdrug on Saturday night.
My familys from Ghana, and my father and two older brothers say
they still feel Ghanaian. I dont, or I dont any more, but I keep that to
myself, out of respect. Respect because my father started life in a dirtbaked village, but by the time he was thirty, he was bodyguard and driver
for a big-wig politician in Accra. Life never stays still though. When things
started to go wrong for the Big-Wig, most of his men were seized and
stuffed into barrels that had been shot through till they looked like sieves.
Then they was put to sea.
My father got to London. To Tottenham. Dont know how. He
drove buses by day and he worked at Pizza Hut by night until, eight years
later, he could bring us over: my mother, my brothers and me. He still
drives the buses, and when I see gangs of boys as young as twelve start
flickin the knives and vexin and callin him old man, tears stab at my eyes.
Once I strode up to the front of the bus to take on the little evils, but my
father just said through the glass, John, Dont be an idiot, and he nodded at
me hard to sit down. What he meant was, Isnt one tragedy in the family
enough for you?
My mother lasted almost two years after her stroke. She was fortyfive, which is far too young, everyone says in England, but old enough to


Writers at Liberty
die in Ghana. Her smile was like a toothpaste ad on wide-screen plasma.
It filled a room.
I told Valentine all this, one night at the Pond. But she never
gabbed about her fam. I only know theyd been on the Farm two years
thats the Broadwater Farm Estate to you and the people at the Council. I
got the vibe they was illegal; that Valentine worried that if she said the
wrong thing to the wrong person, theyd be sent back to the Congo in a
puff of smoke.
Maybe she was right. Maybe they was. Or maybe her family
decided fast to move on, out of Tottenham, after Saturday night.
All I know is, shes nowhere, and now, Im not the only one
wondering. Cos theres a video, supposedly of a sixteen-year-old African
girl, posted on YouTube on Saturday night where you cant see hardly
anything, but man, it went viral. There was an old woman eye-witness and
a man watching from a church where hed run for cover. And there are
reporters trying to find this girl. And community folk scratching their
heads. And the police hoping to hell she was never real.
But Valentine was real and warm in my arms that night as the sun
set and the smog turned orange over Tottenham. I found a stone in the
grass that was pinkish and sort of in the shape of a heart, so I gave it to
her, like it was a gift from the Pond and me both, and she turned it over
and over in her hands while the bats whooshed above us. Then I smiled,
waggling my eyebrows. I was well switched, but she said, Nuh-uh, not
without a condom, and I thought of my mother. She was laughing again
through that stroke-slumped smile of hers and passing me my first box of
Durex and slurring, Dont you dare forget.
Valentine never said but I knew. I knew it would be her first time.
Which meant it had to be the Pond.
We had a plan. I said Id get myself to Superdrug. She said shed
go home, chat with her parents, then slip out her window; it was the only
advantage to a ground-floor apartment on The Farm. Valentine was good
at popping the grille.
We said wed meet at nine at the usual place, the old covered well
on the High Road. Sometimes wed just stand there and try to imagine
what Tottenham must have been like when it was a village, and what The
Farm must have been like when it was a farm, with cottages and cows at
the Pond, but we never could.
Most of the rest you know already. You saw it on your IPod Touch or
in HD on your plasma. Maybe you watched it on YouTube on your day off.

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There must have been a thousand yutes and by the time I got
there, looking for Valentine, they was already chanting loud: Whose
streets? Our streets! Then the Feds pushed up at the barricades near
McDonalds. Up close, they say you could see the fear on their faces.
There werent enough of them, not at first, and they was afraid like we
usually is. Sometimes you wouldnt change places for the world.
But soon enough the snatch-squads rolled up with their riot gear
and their horses and their Alsatians ready to chew the legs off anything
standin still. So out came the ballies, the bottles, the bats, bars and bricks.
Out came the fireworks, the hammers and petrol cans. The barricades
were set on fire. Blue lights flashed. The helicopters overhead sounded
like damnation. Boss cars Mercs and Beemers got wrecked. Petrol
tanks went off like Christmas crackers.
Dead the fires! Dead the fires! I pinged that off as night fell, but
two police cars was already shells, and by eleven, the double-decker on my
fathers route was flamin high into the night, with its automated lady
saying: This bus is under attack. Please dial 999. This bus is under
attack Until she couldnt take the heat no longer.
Then Aldi got torched and CarpetRight too, with all those people
burned out of their flats, and harassed on their way out, which was
twisted. Completely twisted. I dont know no one who thinks any different.
The night was like a dream. For once, the yutes were bigger than
the police. They were fightin like soldiers at those barricades, givin it large
and serious. They were the ones doin the stoppin and searchin. They
had the Feds under manners. On lock. On smash. Running away. Gangs
from all over London put down their beef that night to come together.
They had ransack of the place and it was all being broadcast live, in realtime, on Blackberry. Lets eat together, they said. Eat means get. Lets
get stuff together. People was part of something. For once, they wasnt
Me, I just kept walkin the High Road, looking for Valentine. At the
barricades, the front half was holding the Feds back so the back half could
rip. Man, they had trollies and suitcases and wheelie bins. For a long,
stupid while, I tried shouting that the looting wasnt helping nothin, but I
might as well have been singing The Wheels on the Bus.
I saw kids as young as ten. I saw one take a golf club to the Tmobile window. I saw an old geezer carrying ten boxes of trainers. I saw
people dishing out lottery tickets and cigarettes like they was sweets.


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Here comes the Revolution! one Paki guy was shouting. Hundreds was
walking round with the Nike, the Air Forces, the G-Star Jeans, the plasmas,
the IPhone-4s, the IPads and the stereos. They was trying on clothes in the
front gardens of strangers. I saw women walking away with nappies, soap
powder and bags of rice. I watched a skinny guy steal protein drinks from
a health food place, while across the street, an old posh lady was waving a
bottle of Lambrusco.
I saw old and young, African and Caribbean, White and Asian
working together to push up steel shutters. It was harmony for those
guys. It was euphoria, sweet and true.
I never saw Valentine. I told myself she must have heard what was
going down before she left the apartment. I didnt check my phone
because she didnt have a phone. Her parents couldnt afford even a payas-you-go.
There was a fog of smoke all night. People were making jokes, like
about not burning down McDonalds cos they might need a burger later;
cos all this Ninja stuff could put a hunger on. Me, I thought, who will care
about anyone rippin one box of Durex? I was still longing for Valentine,
and the window at Superdrug was all smashed in. If Saturday was totalled,
there was still Sunday at the Pond in the twilight in the long grass. There
was still most of August. I sauntered in.
Girls were in there before me, taking shampoo, false eye lashes
and pocketfuls of lip-gloss. Its funny what people will take, given the
chance. Hope comes cheaper than you think. My eyes met theirs and we
all laughed like we was old friends.
The riot that night werent wrong and it werent right either. Its
just what happens when a man from The Farm is shot dead and no one
knows why, and the Feds close ranks and wont talk till they are made to
talk, and people have been there before literally, at the door of that
station waiting and asking for answers that arent in the leaflets theyre
being told to read.
Sometimes, you just want to breathe. Sometimes you want to
know nothing. You want to be pure and clean, like Valentines voice singing
that Lord God song up at the Pond. That night I saw a Fed dragged off
into a back alley by maybe six yutes, each with a torn-off plank. I saw nails
glinting in the streetlight.
It took the Feds till midnight to grab back just 200 metres of the
High Road, and by four, the riot had moved to the Station. Ive been in


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there myself and knuckled and all that, and when everyone was putting in
their windows, I personally didnt feel no inclination to stop nobody.
There, as the night started to thin towards day, I checked my
Blackberry and found the threads about the girl. One said she was ten
years old. Another said she was pregnant. But most everyone else agreed:
it was a sixteen-year-old African girl what turned the protest into a riot.
Later I pieced some of it together. While she was up at the Pond with me
that Saturday, her parents was doin the march from The Farm to the
Station which was totally brave if they was illegal. Valentines mum and
little sister was up at the front with maybe fifty other women. The women
was leading, with their children, their buggies and their sad banners. It
was a way of saying to the Feds, this is a peaceful protest. Behind them
was their men, and behind them, was the yutes of the Farm.
Five hours passed and the Chief Superintendent never appeared.
Cherelle told me that Valentine walked from the Farm to the High
Road to find out what was taking her parents so long. Her little sister
would have been hot and hungry, and her mother, tired on her feet.
At half eight, the women said they couldnt wait no more. The
children had to be put to bed. Their men followed, defeat in the line of
their shoulders. Only the yutes stayed, humming like a nest of wasps.
Then out came the first of the Feds. Which is when the girl
appeared, or so they say. They say she walked up to one and, in a clear
voice, much bigger than she was, told them that people needed answers.
He told her to get home if she knew what was good for her. They say she
threw a leaflet at them. A few others came, looked down and laughed. Or
they did until she backed up, reached into her pocket and threw a stone.
It bounced off a bullet-proof.
Lord God.
Fifteen of them was on her. They licked at her legs with their
truncheons. One raised his fist. She was bleeding bad and people started
screaming into the night. Which is when word was pinged off on
Blackberry, and London came to Tottenham.

For days after, I went to the Farm, first in the heat, then in the rain, trying
to figure out even which high-rise was hers. But people dont want to talk
after a night like that, not even to a black guy from the manor. By the time
I found Cherelle and got the address, Valentine and her family was gone.


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Fact is, I dont know whats true and whats story. But I know about
Valentine up at the Pond, and the bats whistlin and wantin, and the
warmth of her skin, and her voice so pure it made a stillness of everything.
Sixteen-year-old African girl. Solo, a cappella.

Alison MacLeod is a novelist, short story writer and essayist. Her fourth and
most recent book, Unexploded (Hamish Hamilton), was long-listed for The
2013 Man-Booker Prize and selected as one of The Observers Novels of the
Year. She is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester.
For more info about her work, go to


The Sad Tale of Little Libby

Writers at Liberty

By Sabrina Mahfouz

Once upon a time there was a child called Libby who found the whole
girl/boy he/she her/him thing a bit tiring and so decided to answer
only to Libby, asking to be referred to in writing and in speech by
name only, no pronouns. At first, this was difficult. But as with most
difficult things in life, it soon became easy enough.
Now, its true that Libby did not quite start a trend yet it was certainly
this freedom from labels which enabled such a wonderful wardrobe of
words to emerge and stick to Libbys skin and flow from throat and
hang from hair.
Libby was never scared, never even scared of being scared.
When neighbours, parents, other kids and their pets peered through
the bedroom window where this curiously strange child resided
soon enough there was a NO SNOOPING banner covering the glass
windows. Though they still tried to peep, inside Libby remained
unseen and would learn the lines from the books of those whod died
trying to make lives more dignified and fair.
During all this reading, the child found it increasingly strange how
humans seemed to learn devastatingly tragic lessons, work together in
order that such a lesson need never be learnt again and then a short
time later ensure all their work is undone because theyve come to the
conclusion that they can excuse themselves from the cycle of an
unchallenged history. It was terribly confusing.

Libby wrote and wrote and wrote, not wanting people to forget so
easily, wanting everyone to see the endless possibilities for equality
and liberty.
Meanwhile, Libbys parents became disturbed by their childs abilities.
They felt inferior, irresponsible, guilty for having brought such a
dangerous mind to the world. A mind that tried to change all the things
theyd unquestioningly settled for their entire lives. So backpacked with
shame they shut the door irrevocably on their only offspring.
And this brings us to the probably expected - but entirely avoidable
sad ending of this story.
The neighbours, the teachers, the sellers, the makers, the kids, the

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pets, the whole entire town in fact being too scared to pick apart the
heart of their suspicion and see if it contained any real, beating thing
surrounded Libbys house, broke in and built bars around the room in
which the child sat, crunching crisps and reading.
They fed Libby, they gave water, sometimes fizzy drinks too if they
were in a good mood and even ordered obscure book titles for
birthdays and celebrations. They made sure a visit was given at least
once a day.
Libby never complained, unnerved them daily by smiling and saying
thank you. They shivered at her resilience. Until one day of course,
Libby escaped.
The town only knew of this childs brave attempt for freedom when a
truck driver came running down the road, face splattered with tears,
screaming that he had just flattened a kid.
By Sabrina MahfouzThe town held a memorial and the same hands that
had built the bars
built a statue of Libby, so that everyone could remember and learn
from the brave example of never giving in to small-mindedness; to
oppression; to unfair treatment in the face of undeserved suspicion.
They all nodded and said, Libby was the very best child we ever
knew. We cant believe shes gone.

Sabrina Mahfouz writes plays, poems, stories. She is currently the recipient of a
Sky Academy Arts Scholarship for poetry; an Associate Artist at the Bush
Theatre; Poet in Residence at Cape Farewell - a climate change and arts
organisation supported by the Science Museum and a Global Shaper with the
World Economic Forum. Her first collection of plays and poems, The Clean
Collection, was published by Bloomsbury imprint Methuen in Spring 2014. @SabrinaMahfouz


The Liberty Bodice

Writers at Liberty

By Lise Mayer

When I was seven I went on my own to stay with my

grandmother. In the mornings I would watch with
fascination as she arose from her bed resembling
some creature from a blasted heath and gradually
transformed herself into an elegant, well groomed
lady. She wore an array of bewildering
undergarments, one of which she called her
Liberty Bodice, and it made me snigger because it
was a thick, eecy, shapeless garment with cloth
straps and lots of little rubber buttons with which
you fastened on other types of underwear like stockings and knickers. At
the time this unappealing and restrictive garment seemed to me the
absolute opposite of everything that the word Liberty implied.

But Time moves forwards, not backwards. My

grandmothers mother and all the women of her
generation wore baleen (whale boned) corsets
which were laced tightly to give them tiny wasp
waists. Only very poor or slovenly Victorian ladies
would venture out in public without a corset, even
when pregnant, or they would risk being social
outcasts. Women would even carry smelling salts to
revive themselves when they fainted as a result of
having their guts squeezed into a very small space
and heavy skirts and petticoats hung from their
waists. In the 19th Century the belief that corsetry
and morality went hand in hand was so entrenched that even Pit Brow
Lasses, the female miners, who worked dangerous shifts on open coal
faces, were only allowed to wear trousers if they still wore their
cumbersome, heavy skirts on top of them, hitched up round their waists.


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The Victorian Dress Reform movement
and the Rational Dress movements both
started in the 19th century and argued
that women should be able to wear more
practical and sensible clothes, especially
for sporting activities like cycling. A
divided skirt, which was gathered round
the ankles to give greater ease of
movement whilst still protecting
modesty, was invented in 1851 by an
activist in the American Temperance
movement called Elizabeth Smith Miller
and was soon adopted and popularised
by one Amelia Bloomer, whose name
then and forever became associated with
voluminous underpants.
Amelia, who suffered great ridicule from both
men and women for her chosen garb, gave up
wearing The Bloomer Garment in 1859 . In the
end the reformers had their greatest successes
in the world of underclothes, since the wearer
could still appear in public without incurring
social opprobrium. The Liberty Bodice and its
American cousin The Emancipation Waist, which
were invented at the end of the 19th century and
manufactured into the second half of the 20th,
replaced the boned ribs of the Victorian corset
with cloth strapping and the body compressing
laces with buttons, and did indeed provide much
greater freedom of movement for the women
and young girls who wore them.


These days we wear what we like. Baggy track suits, light breathable fabrics,
stretchy jeans. Women can choose to wear garments that are comfortable,
practical and suitable for whatever activity they are engaged in. Underwear
is optional and can be as skimpy as we choose. We congratulate ourselves
on how far we have come from our great grandmothers. We pity women in
countries where they have to cover their bodies.
But for us its the bodies underneath the underwear which have now
become our corsets. As hemlines rose and necklines fell, the exposed
parts of the body were expected to be both svelte and hairless. With the
comfortable lycra leotards of the 1980s came Body Con and a huge
increase in eating disorders. Women were now expected to look both slim
and athletic, with muscles tightened and toned like the exoskeleton of a
large arthropod . Fat became a blemish, to be dieted and exercised away
or in extreme cases, sucked out in surgical procedures. If our gures dont
conform to what is considered socially desirable we are, if not morally
suspect, at least lazy and undisciplined. Psychologists have even coined
the term normative discontent, meaning that for a woman to be
dissatised with her body shape is now the statistical norm. And in 2014
its not just the tiny waist of the Victorian era that is considered desirable,
but a physique which only exists in an airbrushed, retouched photograph
of a 22 year old underwear model.
Maybe we should bring back
the Liberty bodice.

Born in Chicago, comedy writer Lise Mayer moved to England from the USA at
the age of 9. She co- wrote and created ground-breaking sitcom The Young
Ones and has gone on to write TV shows, stand -up, books and screenplay.


Writers at Liberty

On Wilds, and Woods: Writing Liberty

By Sophie Mayer

Word association: Liberty? :: Library.

In the library, I read:


lber free < the same Indo-European base as ancient Greek .

Eleuthero- used in botanical compounds: eleutheropetalous,

eleutherophyllous and eleutherosepalous having the petals, leaves,
sepals distinct.

libr- , liber book, believed to be a use of liber, the inner bark of exogens
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Liberty. Library. Tree.


The Romans believed that bark, peeled in strips, was the first writing
material. Its a strange twist of history that we now have books made of
wood pulp, which retain the arboreal vocabulary of leaves in their

In the Ancient Near East, the phrase by tree and stone meant the old
ways. Carolina Lpez-Ruiz traces the phrase through the Baal Cycle,
Homer and Hesiod, Jeremiah and Thomas, Plato, and the Quran. She
unpacks its compressed meaning, replanting the clich it had become by
the time of the Gospels in fertile soil:
1. primeval elements connected to the origin of mankind (hence
also fertility);

2. transmission of restricted, divinely inspired knowledge, and, as a

derivation of this:
3. speech in crucial (revelatory?) circumstances

(When the Gods Were Born)


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Before there were books, there were trees.

Once upon a time trees were temples of the deities The different
kinds of tree are kept perpetually dedicated to their own divinities,
for instance the bay to Apollo.

(Pliny the Elder, Natural History XII)

Trees were sanctuary: many temples to the Olympian pantheon had
groves of trees around them, and archaeologists agree with Pliny that once
the trees themselves were the temples.
No wonder Daphne fled into the trees.

Impatient of a yoke, the name of bride

She shuns, and hates the joys, she never tryd.
On wilds, and woods, she fixes her desire

(Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated by John Dryden)

The myth of Daphnes flight from the god Apollo is one of the best-known
Greek myths but there are no literary sources for it before Ovids
Apollo chases, intent on rape: Daphne flees. At the last possible moment,
her father Peneus, a river god, hears her cries and turns her into a tree:
the laurel, which took her name. Hearing Peneus mourn, Apollo repents,
and swears the laurel will remain sacred to him forever. Thus, the use of
laurel to make wreaths, giving us the term laureate.
In Hebrew, Daphna is a girls name meaning laurel, but also victory.

Victory is why Ovid is telling the story. Apollo has just founded the Pythian
Games, where singers and musicians competed to sing his praises. They
marked Apollos victory over the Pythia, a serpent created by Earth after
the Flood.
The Pythian Games took place at Delphi, Apollos major shrine, known as
the navel of the world.


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Theres another story about Daphne and Delphi. Pausanias says that

in earliest times the oracular seat belonged to Ge, who appointed as

prophetess Daphnis, one of the Nymphai of Parnassus.
(Description of Greece 10.5.5, trans. Jones).

Diodorus says that Daphne became the priestess at Delphi by another
means: the daughter of the seer Tiresias, she was taken prisoner with her
sister Manto when the Epigoni sacked Thebes, after the events related in
Sophocles Theban plays. Manto means seer, and Apollodorus says she is
the mother, by Apollo, of the seer Mopsus.

In some versions, there is only one daughter; in some (mirroring Oedipus

and his two daughters) two. Manto the seer; Daphne the laurel. One to
bring the leaves; one to read them.
A snake, a tree, a woman, a male god: its uncannily familiar, although the
elements are rearranged as in a dream.

Across the ancient Near East, archaeologists find clay figures of women
holding snakes, and evidence that even in classical Greece female seers
burned leaves to give themselves visions. The snake, the tree, the woman:
the old ways.

Apollo and the Olympian gods sweep across Greece, displacing G (or
Gaia). Trees and women lose their power, or are forced to subjugate it to
the new pantheon.

Bay laurel (laurus nobilis) is native to the Mediterranean Basin and the
Black Sea. In the Miocene, laurel forests fringed the entire Mediterranean:
the sacred stands of laurels around shrines such as Delphi are remnants
from before the Ice Age.
Laurel is as old as stone; it was there before the Flood.



There are two sisters, taken captive in a war. They have lived through
terrible events at Thebes. They know there is no safety, only precarity. Each
chooses what she understands (understanding the risks) as freedom.

Manto, fathered by Tiresias the seer of Thebes, works with the new regime;
tries to change it from within, to preserve the old ways. Daphne, mothered
by Tiresias the outlaw, takes to the trees.
On wilds, and woods, she fixes her desire.

Ovid was banished to Tomis, in the wilds, and woods, of Dacia on the shore
of the Black Sea (in modern Romania), in 8 CE, the same year the
Metamorphoses was finished. Ovid wrote that the reason for his exile was
carmen et error, a poem and a mistake.

Metamorphoses celebrates, through a narrative of the world from its

creation, the Pythagorean belief in mutability. Its a subversive manifesto
with a simple slogan:
Everything changes.

Thats not something an emperor, or an empire, wants to hear.

Like Augustus, Apollo was a patron of the arts only insofar as they praised
him. The laurel wreath is a reward for preserving the status quo.

But its also a reminder of Daphne inside the tree of the one who got
away, who refused the god and his yoke. Friedrich Nietzsche, drawing on
the poet Friedrich Hlderlin, praised the Dionysiac impulse in art chaotic,
ecstatic over Apollonian individuality and rationality.
What if theres a way between?

Theres a third story about Daphne, told by Pausanias. Apollo wasnt the
first to desire Daphne. Leukippos, a prince of Pisa, disguised himself as a
woman and asked to join her band of hunters; she accepted him. But
Apollo was jealous, and inspired Daphne and her band to want to bathe.


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When Leukippos deception was revealed, Daphnes hunters tore him to

Its clearly a version of the myth of Artemis and Actaeon; Pausanius says
that Daphne was dedicated to Artemis, and in his account its Artemis who
turns her sacred virgin into a tree. Could Daphne, the laurel, be an aspect
of Artemis, goddess of wooded high places? And could the Artemisian be
the alternative we need?

A girl becomes a tree just like that but what is a tree? Its a green pause, a
way out of the conundrum of serving the state or being destroyed. A way
of speaking with the world not apart from it.
At the end of her too-short career, the Cuban-American artist Ana
Mendieta started working with amate, bark paper, widely used by
indigenous Americans throughout their long history. It was the source of a
new aesthetic freedom.
In her earlier work, the Silhuetas series, Mendieta disappears into the
earth, leaving only the outline of her body. Instead, she was instead
drawing the outline of leaves, finding the tree in the paper. These
amategrams often had names in Taino, the indigenous language of Cuba,
such as Itiba Cuhababa, Old Mother Blood.

When I think about liberty, I think not about leaving, but what is left what
is set free by surviving. I think about the survival of Mendieta in her work,
of the tree in the paper, of the girl in the tree.
The choice she made in extremis is ours as writers: speak for and with the
status quo, or protest and risk transgression. Risk the elision of your
history, from priestess of G to prisoner of war to pinup girl to plant
I sit in the library with stacks of dead tree, trying to understand the
courage of her choice.


Writers at Liberty
Its 23rd December, 2013. Maria Alyokhina and Nadezdha Tolokonnikova,
members of artist-activists Pussy Riot, have both been released from
prison, where they should never have been, under a general Russian
amnesty for political prisoners. Having been on hunger strike in protest
against prison conditions, both women say they wished to serve out their
sentences and continue organising on the inside.
The god forces you into the cage of branches, but in there you can say,
with Nadya,

We are freer than all those who sit opposite us on the side of the
prosecutor, because we can say what we please and we do.

(Testimony in the trial of Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina

Samutsevich for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, 8
August 2012. Translated by Sasha Dugdale)

Like the Greenpeace activists released under the same amnesty, Pussy Riot
have protested on environmental issues, trying to prevent deforestation in the
Krasnodar region. For them, the rights of women, LGBTQ people and trees go
together: they are vulnerable to power because it knows they are free.
Lber (freedom) and liber (bark) have nothing in common, etymologically,
but in the story of Daphne and of Ovid, whose Daphne is the one most of
us know theres a haunting connection.
In among the repetitions and inversions of Daphnes multiple history, her
story asks whether the mantic voice, the sacred voice of tree and stone,
will submit itself to the Sun God, light of rationality and patriarchy. If liberty
demands otherwise, it offers the possibility of taking root as taking a
stand, of growing an inner bark that will carry words, of growing leaves
that will always remind the praise singers that its possible to say no.

Sophie Mayer co-edited the prizewinning activist poetry anthologies Catechism:

Poems for Pussy Riot, Binders Full of Women and Fit to Work: Poets against
Atos. Her most recent collection is songs of the sistership(knives, forks and
spoons, co-authored with Sarah Crewe). She is currently working on a nonfiction book, Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema(IB Tauris) and a new
poetry collection, O.(Arc).


Writers at Liberty

Stop and Search

By Hollie McNish

If it were me, you wouldnt do that

Just cos its him that he went through that.
Stop him. Search him. And again.
In front of passers by and friends
On Oxford street, in Cambridge, Birmingham, Newcastle, Cornwall, Bath
If it were me, youd walk straight past
If it were me, Id be alright.
Because I dont look like the type to carry knives or commit crimes.
I mean, Im middle class richer / older and Im light
So know in Britain we give some the right
To carry ammunition
And in Britain we give some the right
To stop and search on pure suspicion
To stop people on the streets and search their bags and clothing on a
A hunch where
Asian and Asian British people get stopped 17 times as much
And Black or Black British people twice as much again
And still those in charge defend it
That these stops should carry on
When over 91% of the stops they made were wrong
Still they cannot see a problem
If youre innocent its fine they say.
Well search you then you move along
A short waste of your time they say
A big waste of time I think if 91% are wrong
A waste of my taxes just to move someone along
And a humiliating time to be one of those stopped and searched
Given dirty looks by passers by

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Not allowed to question why
Still you stay stop and search is fine
Even if those stopped are hurt
It shows us public were protected
It shows police are on the search
It shows more bobbies on the block
It shows our cops are on the pace
Its just a shame that what we see is based so much more on race
Or the look of someones face
Or any of the other false impressions we might make
Of what a criminal would be
A teenager I teach has now been stopped 3 times one single day.
Shes never set a foot wrong but she says that she might start today.
Cos thats obviously the type of kid she is in the UK.
A label she cant scrape away, she says its written on her face
Written on her tracksuit hems or the earrings that she wears
She says she feels the people stare at her
As police stop and search
She says it makes her wanna punch the lights out of them all
She says it makes her want to start a fight
Still you say stop and search is fine, all right
It shows the public that theyre safe
No mention of the feelings of the ones you stop and say:
Excuse me, will you show me whats in your bag please
Let me check your coat
Dont talk back
Dont get aggressive
I am allowed to search you
You look suspicious
No mention of the attitude
Of those facing these intrusions
No matter of the way these stops
Continue our confusion between
Someone who is guilty and someone the police misjudged


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Of someone they feel a hunch for and someone who is right
Someone whos committed crime and someone whos not white
Or someones who looks like the type who might have something on
Cos out of over 1 million stops made
91% were wrong then
91% were shamed
91% were watched by people walking past false claims again
91% were angered
91% felt judged
91% lost more faith in police and government
91% were watched by public seeing darker skin or tracksuit hoods
91% were seen as guilty by those walking past with frowning looks
91% were scared, or hurt, or scarred or raged and
91% do not just get on with their day.
And over 90% of those arrested, had no charges later made.
My friend has the right face for that
Stopped and searched again
Stopped and searched again
Stopped and searched again
And handcuffed with the first complaint
Four stripes up his wrist
And a footprint on his face
And a new pent up anger for the government and state
Scars from metal handcuffs that remind him every day
He wasnt charged of course
Just stopped and searched
Arrested now 2 times
He mustve looked the type
Taken 10 days off his job just
For court to be reset
He mustve looked the type
Worried he could lose his job
Despite the false arrest
He mustve looked the type


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Paid trains fees, London transport
Felt his skin tone shine
He mustve looked the type
Whos stopped and searched
Then released without a charge for not committing crime.
Still the bosses say its fine.
Makes us public feel more safe
Until were the ones stopped and search
For our style or our face
Or our social class or race.
Still its good the bosses say
It makes the streets feel safe
As we see certain people stopped and search
Another time, another place
Creating scenes for passers by
Where we cant tell whos side were on
And assume the one being stopped
Mustve done something wrong
Must be making crime
And so prejudices rise
Still the bosses say its fine.
Perhaps thats because most bosses here
Are middle class and white.
And have never been stopped or searched
Falsely in their life

Hollie McNish is a published UK poet and spoken word artist, based between
London and Cambridge. She has released two poetry albums, Touch and
Push. She was UK Slam poetry champion in 2009, coming third in the World
Finals in Paris. Performances at venues such as Glastonbury festival, the Royal
Albert Hall, Ronnie Scotts Jazz Bar, Londons Southbank Centre and Cambridge
University have seen her perform to a large cross section of people from all
walks of life.


Writers at Liberty

As we come towards the centenary

of the beginning of World War One
By Michael Morpurgo

As we come towards the centenary of the beginning of World War One, we

will be reflecting no doubt on the reasons that dreadful conflagration was
ever allowed to happen, of the consequences for us now of that war, how
that war changed our world. We will ponder the lives of those who fought,
and those who died, and ask ourselves why they went. Was it patriotism,
was it because others went and you felt you had to go, was it for
adventure, was it to fight tyranny, was it for freedom, their freedom, the
freedom of those they loved, of those who came after them. Was it for
many of these? Was it for us? And if so, was it worth it? Are we worth it? Do
we value the freedom they left us, or simply take it for granted? Was it
fought for freedom at all, or was all that simply a political smokescreen to
cover what was essentially struggle between the great European Powers.
Historians will argue, we will debate.
But whatever was the truth behind it all, whatever was the motivation of
those who went, we do know that there were those, and they were many,
and on all sides, who died selflessly to ensure the freedom and survival of
others. Amongst them was Nurse Edith Cavell, nurse to soldiers of both
sides, who was executed in Brussels in 1915, for her part in assisting in the
escape of 200 allied soldiers. She did what she did for the liberty of others.
She said on the night before her execution, Patriotism is not enough. I
must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone. When we remember
the millions who died in World War One over these next four years, let it
be with her words in mind.

Michael Morpurgo is an English author, poet, playwright and librettist who is

known best for childrens novels.



Writers at Liberty

By Blake Morrison

This poem is a surveillance device.

It is checking your emails, intercepting your calls,
reading your thoughts before you have them.
When that secret youd not tell to a soul
bobbed past us like a Coke can in the river,
we hoiked it out and stowed it in our files.
All citizens need protecting from themselves.
Weve made copies of your intimate photos.
We know the websites you go to for your kicks.
Remember those words you wrote in your cups?
That you thought youd erased? We found them
in the ether, awaiting transfer to a dropbox:
The empty bird feeders sway in the wind.
Theres light through the mesh where the nuts were stored
And the seeds for the goldfinch have all flown.


Writers at Liberty


By Blake Morrison

This poem has been detained on suspicion

Of possessing secrets sensitive information
Illicitly come by, such as the gap between first and last
Drafts. Adverbs have been seized that could assist
The enemy, and commas taken away for further
Analysis. Meanwhile the poem is being interrogated over
Its use of enjambment, recently banned under anti-terrorist
Law: There are lines no poet should cross.
We want to know what youre hiding between
Them. Enough of your subtexts. Its time you came clean.
Whove you been drawing on? Why no trochees? Whats your
View of Auden? The light bulb is dazzling, the mirror
Two-way, and phoning for a lawyer out of the question.
Any minute the poem will make a full confession.

Blake Morrison is a poet and novelist, best known for his memoirs And When
Did You Last See Your Father? and Things my Mother Never Told me. His latest
book is a pamphlet called This Poem....


From, Sugar Hall, a novel

Writers at Liberty

By Tiffany Murray

Sugar Hall
Sunday, Easter Holidays, 1955, in Grandfather Sugars House
Chapter 1

When Dieter Sugar backed out of the long shed that edged the Halls red
gardens; when this boy ran through the graveyard with its tiny headstones
to make a stumbling shortcut across the grass meadow where frilled
daffodils bobbed like sprung Jack-in-the-boxes; when he sprinted past the
black water of the ancient swimming pool onto the yellow gravel that
made a sound like crunched sugar between teeth (and Sugar was his
name after all); when Dieter bounded up those grey steps, into the ancient
house that he could never think of as his; when he shot through that
cathedral-sized hall that smelled of marzipan; when he sprinted past the
carved oak staircase and into the long room someone had named the
Reception, gliding to a stop on the polished floor, Dieter Sugar knew he
was afraid.
He was petrified.
What is it, Dee? his mother asked. She was unwrapping white
tissue paper from small objects he had forgotten were theirs.
Dieters words jumbled as he tried to tell his mother and sister
what hed seen. It was hard. There was a boy; there was a small boy and
the boy appeared out of thin air in one of the sheds in the red gardens,
and he, Dieter Sugar, was sure this boy was something different, he was
almost certain this boy wasnt like any other boy hed seen before.
For a start the boy wore something bright round his neck: it was a
silver collar. There was writing on the metal but it had glinted in the sun
and Dieter couldnt make it out.
His older sister, Saskia, interrupted, Dont you have anything better
to do than make things up? She shook those things she called her
heavenly-hips (Dieter had once heard Saskia say her hips were more
heavenly than a Knickerbockerglory).
Im not making it up. He just popped into the air, from nothing,
and he stared at me and didnt say a thing, and he looked so ill, and I felt


Writers at Liberty
dreadfully funny all over. There is a strange boy out there.
Dieter pointed to the bay window and the wild red gardens. He
squinted; it was all too bright in the countryside and he didnt like it. He
didnt like this house: he hated that it was home now. London was his
place to be. South of the river: Churchill Gardens.
He just appeared, and he did wear a silver collar around his neckDieters voice tailed off.
Saskia snorted, Dont be silly, Dee. Boys dont wear collars. Vicars
do and dogs do. She glared at him and Dieter felt his fear settle, a
burrowing toad. The points of the toads wet, sharp feet, its warty sides, all
dug deep into Dieters belly; his breath went and he collapsed into his
grandfathers lime green armchair.
Dust puffed.
This room was called The Reception Room and it was green. Green
silk wallpaper patterned with gigantic open-winged butterflies and hairy
moths, peeled just below the line of the ceiling: at times Dieter heard these
insects flutter. Green velvet curtains held greener mould in their swags,
and there, by the great gape of a fireplace like a black mouth and such a
long way away- was an even greener something Saskia called a chaise
longue (Dieter was learning so many new words in this strange house, it
was exhausting). As for the armchair he sat in, it was as lime green as the
Mekons face, and how Dieter hated the Mekon: Dan Dares deadly
adversary from outer space; evil, alien and so very, very well- green.
Dee, you must listen to your sister.
His head tilted at the sound of his mothers voice: its tone had
altered so much since theyd come at Sugar Hall. Of course it had the same
part-English, mostly-German sound but now it was full of something both
sticky and stuck, and Dieter didnt like it. Ma sounded like she was talking
through a mouthful of condensed milk.
You have to believe me, he pleaded, kicking his legs out, A boy was
out there, and he did wear a collar. It was silver and it shone in the
sunlightSo you do mean like a dog? Saskia snorted again as she
hopscotched on the parquet floor; the countryside had brought out the
child in fifteen-year-old Saskia Sugar.
I dont know, Sas, Ive never seen a dog in a silver collar. That got
her, he thought. And it was real silver, Ma, because it shone like your
special necklace- Dieter stopped. That silver necklace was sitting in the

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window of Kinseys Pawn Shop, on Lupus Road, SW1. That was such a long
thought away. It made him think of walking with their suitcases from
Number 52C, Shelley House, Churchill Gardens to the bus stop in the pink
morning light because Ma couldnt afford a taxicab. It made him think of
bouncing on the creaking springs of his carriage seat at Paddington Station
as the train mushroomed smoke into the thicker smog, shuuuu-tu-shuuuutu, and the pistons pumped and the whistle shrieked like a woman falling
from a bridge. It made him think of Mas egg sandwiches that smelled like
farts, and Ma turning and turning her wedding ring on her finger as the
carriage rattled all the way to this horrid place.
Then he remembered something else about the strange boy: he
had worn no clothes; the boy was naked. Dieter couldnt quite tell his
mother this, so he said, Ma, listen, when I saw him he didnt have a shirt
on, can you believe it?
Dont be ridiculous, its cold out there, Saskia sneered.
Its true!Please, Dee, his mother interrupted, be good, a good boy. Please
dont make these stories.
He watched her reach up and unwrap more forgotten things from
the tea crate. Dieter didnt know why it was taking his Ma so long to
unpack; perhaps it was because things disappeared, things moved, in this
Like their shoes: like the figures in the paintings on the walls, like
the ornaments on the mantelpieces; like the billiard table, from one day to
the next these things just disappeared.
And Mas laugh: that had disappeared too.
His Ma, his beautiful Ma was so scruffy now. She wore pair of Pas
old trousers with a belt and a dreadful green overcoat that swallowed her
up. Dieter was used to her wearing pretty dresses patterned with
bluebirds that flew up the short sleeves and flocked at the little belt at the
waist dresses made him want to sing, Therell be bluebirds ovah, the white
cliffs of Dov-ah!
Not long ago Ma had been so glamorous.
Glamour was a word Dieter loved because he had read it in a thickas-a-brick magazine called Vogue Ma kept between her mattress and
bedsprings at 52C Shelley House, Churchill Gardens, SW1. Glamour was a
word Dieter loved because when you said it the words made your face
smile at first -gla- and then they made you blow a kiss on the mour.


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Dieter liked the thought of that. He liked it so much he once
practiced the word in the bathroom mirror wearing Mas siren red lipstick.
It was London that had made Ma glamorous. Ma told them before
the long ago war she arrived in London with nothing but the clothes she
stood up in, and it was London that made her someone else. Back at
Churchill Gardens Dieter had run from school longing to hug her, he
wanted to smell the diesel fumes, the newspaper-scent that the city, his
city had given her. Dieter wanted to smell this as the thud-thud-thud of her
quick little heart, beat through the satin and frill layers of her pretty slips
and dresses. Even Mas name was glamorous: she was Lilia.
Now her heart slowed to a dull thud and she smelled like the black
damp that lurked behind the green silk wallpaper in this room: she
smelled of the spores and the dust that danced busy as the flies in this
ancient house; like the foxed pages of the ugly books that lined the
bookshelves in the red library, like the silverfish, the earwigs; the living
ones and husky-dead.
Dieter looked across the long room at his newly-drab mother and
his puppy-fat sister and the toad of fear burped inside him. He closed his
eyes. He didnt want to think about sadness today, about How It Was
Before They Came to Sugar Hall, because How It Was Before made his
muscles tense and his lungs shrink, and the thing that hung between his
legs move back to where it had come from (and Dieter wasnt exactly sure
where that was, he had tried to see in a mirror once, but for now he just
knew it was inside).
He let his head drop back against the lime green upholstery of his
grandfathers chair and Dieter tried to picture his friends back home. He
thought of his best friend Cynthia Nurse, he thought of Levi Bloom, of Bill
and Tommy Foley, he thought of the twins, Deuteronomy and Comfort
Jones and how they ran through the Wasteland crying weeeeeeehoooooooo! at the roofless buildings with their brick steps that led to
doors that led to rooms that werent there anymore all because of the
war, a war he didnt know or remember. (It was Mr. Hutchins, his old Form
Teacher, who had told the class they had a different war now and this war
was about bombs called atom and hydrogen; Mr. Hutchins said that if this
new war happened thered be no bombsites because theyd just be
nothing left).


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How awful to have nowhere to play, Dieter thought. How awful it is
to have no one to play with.
If he truly concentrated Dieter could hear Bill and Tommy make
spacemen ray-gun noises; he could hear Cynthia and Precious Palmer
flicking their skipping rope, singing, The wicked fairy cast a spell, cast a spell,
cast a spell. The wicked fairy cast a spell, long, long ago!
If Dieter was with them, hed be kicking about in the dust by the
river until the sun set over Battersea Power Station and their different
mothers different cries and the smells of their different cooking were
carried out on the dry wind, all the way from their beloved council flats, the
brand-spanking-new Churchill Gardens.
A furry bluebottle hit against one of the tall windows in the long,
green Reception room and Dieter opened his eyes. If he crushed the fly he
knew its guts would be yellow, just as he knew that being back home, in
London, would make everything right.
A boy was out there, he murmured to no one in particular, he did
wear a silver collar and youll see, Im going to make him my friend.

Tiffanys novels Diamond Star Haloand Happy Accidents were shortlisted for
the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. She grew up in haunted houses in
Scotland, Wales and Herefordshire. Sugar Hall is her third novel.


Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty

The Arrival of Enigma

Untitled piece

Last night I dreamt were country neighbours

in an afternoon of heat do I hear his voice?
Ive put my hand on writing these days so I down
my pen creeping aslant their arbour
then out I jump! Theyre evermore in straight whites
and much the suavest pair I will come upon.

Liberty is the freedom to say, I dont know and to keep on searching.

By Daljit Nagra

By Patrick Ness

Still under 30 theyre home from spells in Africa and China

and as one were manoeuvring back and forth
from the taxi each trunk
thence the hall is established by a leather tower.
Theyre beaming to learn me again
when he suns a kiss on my cheek
I smell that classic warm-bread breath
for they hug me again, they hug me again.

Daljit Nagra is a British-born award winning poet whose three collections have
been published by Faber & Faber.


Patrick Ness is the author of seven novels and a short story collection. He has
won theCarnegie Medaltwice, theGuardian Childrens Fiction Prizeand
theCosta Childrens Book Award. In 2012, his bestselling novelA Monster
Callsbecame the first ever to win both theKate GreenawayandCarnegie
Medals.His books are published in over twenty languages. Born in America, he
lives in London.


Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty

When I was at College


When I was at college, sometime in the previous century, I attended a

series of lectures on Common Moral Themes. The lectures were delivered
first thing on Monday morning in a large hall to undergraduates from all
departments and ranged from the abstruse (Can a reasoned defence of
religion ever not be paradoxical?) to the obvious (Murder: right or
wrong?). The style was dry but the phrase that stuck in my mind was
uncharacteristically colloquial. Your freedom to swing your arms, the
lecturer told the huddled mass oneMonday morning, ends at the next
guys nose.
If he was trying to illustrate the relationship between freedomfrom (getting a bloody nose) and freedom-to (swinging your arms), he
succeeded. Those two freedoms need each other. My freedom from, for
instance, being blown up on a bus in central London needs to be gauged
against my freedom to, for instance, google holiday destinations in
Afghanistan without being placed under surveillance by the security
services. Or locked up without trial. Or tortured.
It is abundantly clear that, in the UK at present, our government is
according one of these freedoms vastly more weight than the other. Our
rights to privacy, to protest, to free movement and association are being
exacted from us as the price of our supposed security. Freedom-from is
being used as a pretext to erode freedom-to.
Liberty is the balance of these two freedoms. Governments
typically pay lip-service to liberty while loading only one side of the scale.
But we need both. That balance must be defended: on the page, on the
streets, even in the lecture hall. Half a freedom is no liberty at all.

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to

conscience, above all liberties,
John Milton in his speech, Areopagitica, to Parliament in 1644.

By Lawrence Norfolk

Lawrence Norfolk is the author of four historical novels which have been
translated into twenty-four languages. Lawrence Norfolks latest novel is
John Saturnalls Feast


By Richard Norton-Taylor

More than a hundred years later French Republicans adopted as their

motto, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity Liberty first.

Unfortunately, far too many parliamentarians, on both sides of the

Channel, now pay little more than lip service to Liberty, the concept of
Liberty, in all its forms and contexts.

Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty, as many have said. Liberty needs to
be protected by a constant struggle.

The Italian philosopher, Benedetto Croce, put it this way in his History as the
Story of Liberty, published in 1938, when totalitarianism was flourishing: If
anyone needs persuading that liberty cannot exist differently from the way it
has lived and always will live in history, a perilous and fighting life, let him for
a moment consider a world of liberty without obstacles, without menaces
and without oppressions of any kind; immediately he will look away from this
picture with horror as something worse than death, an infinite boredom.
Having said this, what is then the anguish that men feel for liberty that
has been lost, the invocation, the lost hopes, the words of love and anger
which come from the hearts of men in certain moments and in certain
ages of history?
The anguish, the struggle, continues. There is no danger of boredom...
There certainly shouldnt be.

Richard Norton-Taylor was born on 6 June 1944. Educated at Kings School,

Canterbury, Hertford College, Oxford, and the College of Europe, Bruges, he joined
the Guardian in 1973 as the newspapers first European correspondent based in
Brussels. He returned to Britain in 1975 when he campaigned against official
secrecy and investigating decision-making in Whitehall, including the activities of
the security and intelligence services. He was the Guardians security and defence
editor, 1998-2011. Member of the Advisory Council of the Royal United Services
Institute and the Policy Council of Liberty, the National Council for Civil Liberties,
he was awarded Libertys Human Rights Campaign of the Year Award in 2010 .


Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty


Project Champion

Liberty: it conjures up not words but an image of a woman in profile, her

eyes focused, her expression grave.

Irfan was run over by a van outside the shop. Hes turning round shouting
You want some? at Pervaiz, about to bounce his cone off Pervaizs head,
then boom, the rattly van knocks him and the chips right out the way. It
didnt kill him but he had broken arms or legs or ribs that kind of thing. A
bit mashed up.

By Maggie OFarrell

Delacroix painted Liberty as a dark-haired warrior with bare feet,

uncovered breasts, arched brows, a bayonet in one hand and holding aloft
a revolutionary flag in her muscled arm. But her face is turned away, the
sky behind her is piled with storm clouds; she is looking back at her
exhausted comrades and beneath her feet are piled corpses.
If the painting, La Libert guidant le peuple, teaches us anything it is that
liberty as both concept and personification is complex, slippery and
hard to attain. Before it is reached, blood will be shed, battles will be
braved, storm clouds must gather.

She wears a distinctive conical hat on top of her beautiful head: the
Phrygian cap, associated since Roman times with emancipation and
freedom. French revolutionaries adopted the cap and turned it into their
bonnet rouge; nineteenth-century English radicals often wore them to
demonstrate support for revolutionary causes. To wear one in France was,
for a long time, a punishable offence.

Perhaps paintings and images are easier to fall back on when reflecting on
liberty; words can be harder to take, more difficult to comprehend. I dont
know how to begin to process collocations such as tortured and
imprisoned without trial or gang-raped by militia or died in a detention
centre. Yet these words are there, every day, in news reports, on the
internet. They must be read, they must be understood and remembered
and retold. But how do I explain such things to my children, when I can
barely grasp such horrors myself? How do I break it to them that we live in
a world where such atrocities are possible?
Such things must always be acknowledged and fought. Delacroixs Liberty
did not give up. She fought to the end, until she stood with her flag and
her cap, exhausted but triumphant. We too must fight the unacceptable
and the unjust, in small and large ways, until such time where we may all
live without fear, in a state of liberty.
Maggie OFarrell was born in Northern Ireland. She is the author of six novels
and has won the Costa Novel Award. She lives in Edinburgh.


By Catherine OFlynn

They put signs up. Speed kills. Theyre not good signs. They look like a little
kid did them. I could have done them better. Id have done them on the
computer, so they looked professional. I said that to Mr OBrien and he
said I know you could, but nobody asked us Mo, did they? He did an
assembly about road safety. Be safe, be seen he said.

Because the signs look stupid nobody pays any attention. The cars come
down here at 90 mile an hour. At least. Too fast to see the drawings of little
stick men stuck to the lampposts.

The only person who really complains is Scotch. He sits on the wall outside
Mace and he shouts at the cars as they go by. He waves his fist or his
bottle. Scotch has the biggest ears of any human being. Theyre bigger
than my hand. I know he drinks alcohol all day long, but I think the
problem actually is his ears. Theyre like Sky dishes on the side of his head.
Hes probably picking up sounds from all over, streets away,
Wolverhampton even. Hes not talking to himself, hes replying. I wouldnt
be surprised anyway.

So, I dont know why. Its months since Irfan got hit by the van and even
longer since the Polish kid was killed on the corner but a few weeks ago
they put the posts up everywhere. And now theyve put the cameras on
top. Atif said its just robbery. They just do it to tax the drivers for going too
fast. I didnt say anything, but I think they should pay. I said to Mr OBrien
that it was good the cameras were there. Be safe, be seen. But he just said
Well see, Mo. Well see.

Late afternoon and you cant understand anything Scotch has to say. He
just sounds like a swearing bear, growling and effing. He
goesshaggafraggashaggafragga at everything. Waving his bottle as the


Writers at Liberty
cars go by. Thats what people think hes like. Pisshead. In the mornings
hes different. He sits quiet and still, apart from the shaking. He sometimes
has bits of bogroll stuck to his face where he has cut himself shaving. He
shaves. Hes not a tramp. He lives somewhere. I dont know where his
family is.
Another thing. Hes not Scotch. Hes Irish.

A lot of people are angry about the cameras. They dont like being
watched. But as long as theyre not driving at 90 mile an hour what have
they got to be scared of? I heard dad talking about them. I said But what
about Irfan? And he said Who? And I said You know Irfan-hit-by-thevan. Dad said. Theyre not speed cameras. Theyre watching us. This
community. Me. You. They think youre suspect. I looked at him and
laughed Dad, I dont even drive.

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And then the one goes: Paddy bastard and Id have given him a clout in
his teeth. Johnny Begley was pulling me away. In the Crossways even.
I dont think hes talking to me. Its his ears. Picking up chitchat from
Springfield Road. I walk away and he starts talking louder.
Sure what difference does a bit of cloth make? They still see you. The eyes
burn through. Thats what mammy used to say anyway.

Im crossing between parked cars and the taxis going too fast. He stops
like a milimetre from my legs and hes out and shouting. Words and words
and words. I point up at the cameras.
Careful man. Theyre watching you. They got your number.
And suddenly hes not angry. He just laughs and laughs.

I whisper things as I pass Scotch on the way to school. Testing his ears. He
never answers directly but I know he hears me because whenever he sees
me on the way home, he stops shouting and gives me a salute. Like were

There was a meeting on Sunday night. A policewoman saying sorry for the
cameras. They were nothing to do with Irfan. They were to catch terrorists.
People were angry. Jazs brother stood up and said. I got a beard, I say my
prayers. If I carry a backpack does that make me a bomber? The truth is he
doesnt carry a backpack, he never has. The cameras were watching us, not
the cars. Watching my mom and dad, my brother and sisters. Watching me
coming in and out of the house, getting teabags from Mace. Boring telly.
Im watching hi-viz man up a ladder put a bag over one of the cameras.
Hes done the rest in the street already.
Is it Lent already?
Scotch is sitting in his usual spot. He shouts out to the man up the ladder.
Have you no purple? It should be purple.
Hes somewhere in the middle. Not the quiet shaking stuff in the morning
and not the angry bear shouting of the afternoon. He turns to me.
They had men you know. I saw them up at the Rotunda, shapes at the
windows, watching us on St Patricks Day. He takes a drink from a can.
There were coppers in the Crossways even.
What Crossways?


Catherine OFlynn is the author of three novels. Her debut, What Was Lost, won
the Costa First Novel Awardin 2007. Her short stories and articles have
featured in Granta, The Independent, The Observer and on Radio 3 and 4. She
lives in Birmingham with her husband and two daughters.


Writers at Liberty


Writers at Liberty

By Ben Okri

Those Wings with which

We soar beyond
The mesh of time;
Light that blazes
Through the darkened
Domain of power;
That Impulse to tear down
Shackles of the soul
Put there to make us
Bend to fear and control;
Prometheuss first cry
And his enduring gift;
Meaning of myth
When it is decoded
As fire and light;
Prima materia that changes
Black earth of suffering
Into the red dragon
Of bold overcoming;
Last flame of a defeated
People, first rekindler
Of their resurrection;
Yellow path up
To the crowned mountain,
Where destiny, mind-forged,
Becomes the green ladder
To the lanterned heavens.
Secret song of flowers,
And beautys torch.
My fathers injunction,
And my mothers revelation.

(Copyright: Ben Okri, 2014; all rights reserved)


Ben Okri has published nine novels, including The Famished Road trilogy
and Starbook as well as several books of poems, essays and short stories. He
won the Booker Prize for fiction in 1991. His work has been translated into
twenty six languages. He was Fellow Commoner of creative arts at Trinity
College, Cambridge. He has been a journalist, broadcaster, poetry editor, and a
board member of the National Theatre, London. He has written plays and a film
script. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he has been awarded the OBE
as well as numerous international prizes, including the Premio Grinzane Cavour,
the Commonwealth Writers prize for Africa, the Paris Review Aga Khan prize for
fiction, and the Premio Chianti Ruffino Antico Fattore. He is a vice-president of
the English Centre for International PEN, and was presented with the Crystal
Award by the World Economic Forum. He is a recipient of numerous honorary
doctorates. He was born in Nigeria, where he witnessed the civil war, and lives in
London. His latest collection of poems, Wild, is published by Random House.


Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty


Untitled piece

Albert watched the van make its way slowly down the High Road. It
stopped outside Londis, where hed just picked up a sandwich for his
lunch. The sign on the side of the van read: In the UK Illegally? Go Home
or Face Arrest. Text HOME to 78070.

Meltem Avcil was 13 years old, living in Doncaster, when they came for her
and her mother: I can remember everything - it was 6.30 in the morning,
there was a loud knock on the door, the kind of knock that makes you
jump, full of power. The immigration officers decided not only to take away
our lives but also to scare us, says Meltem, now 20, studying Engineering
at Kingston University.

By Shyama Perera

His visa had expired, but work as a builder was still available, and he was
making enough to send a little to his mother on the other side of Europe.
Albert knew he should have either returned or renewed, but where is the
time if you start work at eight and finish after four?

Now, it seemed, the authorities had tracked him down. There was a big
stamp on the side of the sign. It said: 106 arrests last week in your area.
He was due back on site in ten minutes, but if the alternative to going
home was arrest, clearly he must go home. Now.

Texting excuses to a fellow workmate, he headed back to 148 Rucklidge

Road, to the house he shared with seven others. The communal kitchen
was empty and the toilet was free, but instead of enjoying the silence he
felt anxious; out of sorts.

Well, thought Albert, Ive come home as instructed. What do I do now?

Lesson: It is precisely because the UK is home, that people take risks to live

Shyama Perera is a writer and broadcaster. She has written three novels, copresented The Six OClock Show on LWT and Eastern Eye on Channel Four. She
spent five years at a Home News reporter for The Guardian.


By Hannah Pool

It was summer, so life was great, I was just a normal child, having fun with
my friends, until the 27th August 2007. Its still with me today, they came in
and from that moment we had no rights, whatever we did, or said, our
lives were in their hands, says Meltem.

Meltem and her mother had come to the UK 7 years previously fleeing
intense persecution in Turkey: We are Turkish Kurds, we were forced to
leave Turkey because my family were in constant danger, some really
horrible things happened to us, says Meltem who, along with her
mother was taken to a local police station, and then, in a caged van to
Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre.

After 7 years of waiting, tentatively creating a life, working towards a

future, playing by the rules, Meltem and her mother were treated like
criminals. They had a flight booked for us to Turkey. That was how
they decided to let us know our case had been declined, says
Meltem, who has started an online campaign, to end the detention
of women who come to this country seeking safety from persecution

Due to social, political and economic factors - put simply, its harder for
women to flee - fewer women than men claim asylum, and yet studies
show women are less likely to be believed: A third of the 18,000 people
who claimed asylum in 2010 were women, yet 74% of these women were
turned down, says Refused, a recent report by campaigning organisation
Women for Refugee Women, which explores the experiences of over 70
women who sought asylum in the UK.


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The report highlights why women flee and what happens to them when
they do: 66% of women have experienced gender related persecution, 48%
have experienced rape, 52% have experienced violence from soldiers and
49% have experienced arrest or imprisonment, with others fleeing forced
marriage, forced prostitution and female genital mutilation.

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For more information of Meltems campaign please go to:

Depression (97%), destitution (67%) and suicidal thoughts (63%) are some
of the most common effects of asylum refusal.

You can tell a lot about a society by how it treats its most vulnerable
members. What does it say about us that we criminalise women who come
to the UK fleeing political persecution, rape, torture and imprisonment?
Make no mistake removal centres like Yarls Wood are prisons. What else
do you call a place no one is allowed to leave and where newcomers arrive
in a caged van?

Everyone in there is living in fear. They have already gone through things
like rape and torture, and now they are locked up, even though theyve
done nothing wrong. Many of them were living in the community, they
werent absconding, so why cant their claims be assessed while they live in
the community, instead of in prison? says Meltem, who, along with her
mother was granted asylum and released, after three long months in Yarls
Wood, and with the help of immigration campaigner John O and Women
for Refugee Women.

After I got out I tried to forget about it. I was ashamed of having been in
Yarls Wood. But I couldnt, there are some things you should not forget, I
need to bring change I cant sit back and relax just because Im no longer in
that situation, says Meltem, of her campaign, which is also calling on
Home Secretary Theresa May to properly investigate allegations of abuse
against staff at Yarls Wood and to ensure that no male staff are employed
in roles where they come into contact with women.
I saw what detention did to strong women like my mother. I believe
women are strong and can bring about change. These women are just like
me and you, they have the same desires and dream, they deserve the
same chances, says Meltem. Freedom from persecution and fear is the
most basic of human rights. Is an asylum process that treats those who
come here seeking safety with dignity and humanity too much to ask?


Hannah Pool is an Eritrean born journalist, author and curator. My Fathers

Daughter by Hannah Pool is out now @hannahpool


Writers at Liberty

Homeward Bound
By Ross Raisin

Her sister is still trying on perfumes in the duty-free shop. From the empty
row where the girl sits, she can see her progressing through the stands,
the same performance for each scent: she pulls up the sleeve of the new
kurti to squirt her wrist, breathes in the smell, then cleans it off with a face
wipe from one of the packs that she has collected from the cheerful vacant
pair handing out promotional samples by the Sunglass Hut.
The girl looks up at one of the muted television screens. Subtitles
roll across the bottom of a breakfast programme, but she does not read
them. Her father wanted to get here this early. He is sitting with her mother
over by the window that looks out on the ramp, reading his magazine, and
he will remain in this position, she knows, for the next two hours.
Her sister is speaking to one of the sales assistants. She is showing
something to the woman that at first appears to be one of the perfume
bottles, until it becomes evident that it is in fact the new kurti. In the bright
shop lighting the embroidery twitches like a restless aquarium fish. Her
sister has been going on about this trip for the whole of spring term.
Going home is what she has been calling it to her friends. Even though
she was not born there. She is going to watch only Lollywood movies, she
says, all the way to Lahore. The girl does not know what she will do herself
on the flight. Sleep, perhaps. Avoid Lollywood movies. Try not to think
about the cousins wedding.
The wedding begins in a couple of days, in the gardens of some
grand hotel. Four days of celebrations. Four hundred guests. A rumoured
elephant. Her sister has been asked to hold the scarf above the cousins
head at the Mehndi. She has been practising her posture in her bedroom,
with their mother, in the new dresses that their father bought for them at
Emerald Silks Boutique.
The girl has tried on her own Mehndi dress once, alone, in her
room. Fishtail. Maroon. She will sweat in it, she is certain. The forecast
on the internet says thirty-four degrees. When they came into the
departure lounge and her sister and her parents went to occupy
themselves, she had gone back to the face wipe pair to get a couple of
packs, and quickly stashed them in the bottom of her bag. Thirty-four

Writers at Liberty
degrees is nothing, according to her sister. She has been there in the heat
of summer. The monsoons. When she was little she and the cousin once
got lost during a dust storm and almost fell into a river.
Her sister has gone into a coffee shop. The girl thinks for a
moment about going to join her, but decides against it and instead gets up
and walks over to the window.
She watches the baggage handlers at work under the belly of the
nearest plane, pointing, calling, laughing. Further out on the tarmac, she
recognises by the airline logo the plane that will be their own. A dark blue
van is moving slowly towards it. It arcs round to the back of the plane and
stops beside the rear staircase. A woman and two men in blue uniforms
get out and then, from the far side of the van, a figure in a dark hijab
becomes visible. From the unspeaking, attentive way in which the three
guards begin to escort her to the steps the girl takes her to be somebody
important, or the wife of somebody important. But then it appears that
she may be boarding early as she is unwell because the female guard
darts to take her arm, one of the men the other arm, and they support her
onto the steps. Gingerly, they move up them, one by one. The third guard
follows behind, watchful. They are about halfway up when the woman in
the hijab stops. She looks downwards at the tarmac for a few seconds,
then wheels around, catching the female guard by surprise and
unbalancing her. There is a struggle. The third guard moves forward but
the other two have her securely, grasping high up her arms, under her
armpits, and they haul her upwards, step by step.
At the top, the woman turns her head towards the terminal. Her
face is partly discernible through the hijab. She looks, even at this
distance, younger than the girl had thought. She seems to be shouting,
but there is no sound, only the departure lounges low hum of people and
instrumental music.

Ross Raisin is the author of two novels:Gods Own Country and Waterline. In
2013 he was named one of Grantas Best of Young British Novelists, and is
presently at work on a new novel, set in the world of lower league English football.


Writers at Liberty

Willem Sandberg design and liberty

By Alice Rawsthorn

Sitting in a vitrine at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam is a series of

rather raggedy pamphlets. Known as the Experimenta Typographica, they
are made from scraps of wallpaper, tissue, cardboard and wrapping paper
with quotations from Proudhon, Goethe or Stendhal on some pages, and
hand-drawn letters or collages of paper, imagery and text on others.

Makeshift though they are, the pamphlets are beautiful to look at, being as
deftly composed and rich in meaning as anything else in the museum.
Even so, their beauty is enhanced by the story of how and why they were
made by the designer and curator Willem Sandberg, when he was living in
perilous circumstances in the Dutch countryside during World War II while
on the run from the Gestapo, and fighting for his liberty.
At a time when human rights and freedoms are under attack by forces old
and new, Sandbergs Experimenta Typographica serve as a heartening
example of how a courageous and resourceful individual can assert his or
her values in the face of acute danger. Not that this was the only time that
Willem Sandberg had deployed his design prowess in defence of liberty.

Sandberg was a radical from an early age. Born into a wealthy family in the
Dutch city of Amersfoort in 1897, he was conscripted into the army as a
trainee officer only to be transferred to the coast guard after refusing to
sign an oath of allegiance to the monarchy. He then studied art in
Amsterdam, but left after less than a year to travel around Europe,
spending time with avant garde groups in France, Austria and Germany, as
well as serving a printing apprenticeship in Switzerland where he became
fascinated by typography.
Back in Amsterdam, Sandberg opened a graphic design studio. Among his
first commissions was one from the Stedelijk in 1928. Soon he became so
useful to the museum, advising on the content of exhibitions as well as
designing catalogues and posters, that in 1937 he was appointed as a
curator, starting with an ambitious survey of abstract art.

Sandbergs charmed life among the Amsterdam intelligentsia ended

abruptly with the outbreak of World War II and the German invasion of the


Writers at Liberty
Netherlands. As the Stedelijk collection was filled with progressive works
that the Nazis would have classified as degenerate art and impounded,
Sandberg and his colleagues removed them from the museum to be
hidden in another building, which they took in turns to guard.

Soon he became involved in other aspects of the resistance movement,

making the most of his role at the Stedelijk to meet secretly with members
of anti-Nazi groups in Germany on museum visits there. He also used his
practical skills in design and printing and his knowledge of typography to
forge identity papers for fellow dissidents and others living in fear of Nazi
persecution. So convincing were Sandbergs forgeries that they helped
hundreds of people to avoid arrest. But there was one foolproof way for
the authorities to prove that papers were fake, by checking them against
the official records in the Amsterdam Central Civil Registry Office. In 1943,
Sandberg and four co-conspirators devised a plot to burn it down thereby
destroying its contents, only to be betrayed and forced into hiding.

One by one, his co-conspirators were tracked down by the Gestapo, and
sentenced to death. Sandberg survived by changing his name and
appearance to live quietly in Gennep, a small town in the eastern
Netherlands, for the last fifteen months of the war as Henri Willem van
der Bosch. Barely subsisting and haunted by the knowledge that many of
his friends were dead, he lived in terror of being captured and was
desperately worried about his wife, who was in prison, and the fate of their
son in a concentration camp.

Having relied on his design prowess to help so many people safeguard

their liberty as a member of the Amsterdam resistance, Sandberg turned
to it again to give him the hope he needed to survive life as a fugitive.
Between December 1943 and April 1945, he designed and made the
Experimenta Typographica as nineteen different pamphlets exploring
themes such as love, death, education, architecture and typography. Each
one was roughly six inches by eight inches in size, and consisted of
between twenty and sixty pages of drawings, collages, typography and
texts written either by Sandberg or his favourite writers, including Freud,
Heine Marx and Le Corbusier. He made several copies of each pamphlet,
using whatever materials he could find, from bits of paper found on the
street, to swatches of wallpaper and pages torn from magazines.
Sandberg had asked Frans Duwaer, one of his closest friends and a coconspirator in the Civil Registry Office attack, to print the Experimenta


Writers at Liberty
Typographica, but he was arrested by the Gestapo and killed. Instead, the
pamphlets were printed first by the Vijponders, or five pound press, a
publishing house named after the Nazi ban on publications using more
than five pounds of paper, and later by an art gallery in Cologne.
Together they paint an eloquent, engaging and deeply moving picture of
Sandbergs inner world. Celebrating the things that impassioned and
intrigued him in a form that could be shared with other people gave
Sandberg the courage to withstand so desperate a plight, when he had
only the feeblest hope of regaining his liberty, by reminding him that life
could also be loving, nurturing, exhilarating and optimistic.

Compiling the Experimenta Typographica also enabled him to define the

qualities he would instil in the Stedelijk when he became its director after
the war, after being reunited with his wife and son. During his directorship
from 1945 to 1962, Sandberg established the museum as one of the most
dynamic cultural institutions of the post-war era by championing the avant
garde, reviving the reputations of unfairly neglected artists and
experimenting with ingenious ways of enthusing the public about modern
and contemporary art.
As if that was not enough, he also undertook an unofficial and unpaid role
as the Stedelijks in-house graphic designer. Working late into the night
after the museum had closed to the public, Sandberg designed hundreds
of posters and exhibition catalogues, as well as the visitors tickets, often
using the design and typographic techniques he had pioneered and
refined in the Experimenta Typographica.
By doing so, he ensured that every time anyone visited the museum, or
encountered any visual manifestation of it, from a catalogue in a friends
home to a poster in a library, they were reminded of the generosity,
courage, resourcefulness and optimism he had embedded into the
Stedelijk, the same values that had sustained Sandberg himself in his
wartime quest for liberty.

Alice Rawsthorn is an international authority on design, whose columns for the

International New York Times are syndicated worldwide. Her latest book, the
critically acclaimed Hello World: Where Design Meets Life, explores designs
influence on our lives: past, present and future. Alice is a trustee of the
Whitechapel Gallery and Michael Clark Company, and chair of trustees at
Chisenhale Gallery.


Three stories for Liberty

Writers at Liberty

By James Robertson

I was in my office at the back of the house and had just finished doing my
emails when the doorbell rang. It was half-past three in the afternoon, the
usual time for children returning home from school to ring the bell and
run away, so I ignored it. Then it rang again.
A man with a moustache and a clipboard was at the door.
We have reason to believe you have disclosed information to a third
party which may compromise the security of the country and the safety of
your fellow citizens, the man said.
Eh? I replied.
You may have done this unwittingly in which case a warning will be
issued but no further action taken against you. If you have deliberately
disclosed the information we reserve the right to prosecute.
Wait, I said. Go back a couple of sentences. Who, in the first place, are
We are PROBE, he said. We are one of the worlds leading security
support and maintenance providers and we have been appointed by the
government to support and maintain the security of the country.
PROBE? I said. Is that an acronym?
I am not at liberty to disclose that information unless you are an
accredited and approved stakeholder, the man said.
I am a citizen, I said. Does that count?
He consulted a sheet of paper on his clipboard. May I see your
passport? he asked.
What is this? I said. I am at home minding my own business and you
turn up and ask me for identification. Why would I show you, a total
stranger, my passport?
He showed me a PROBE identity badge on which was his photograph
and a name that might also have been his.
Now show me your passport, he said.
No, I said. In fact I refuse to prolong this ludicrous, not to say sinister,
exchange. Goodbye.
Suspect refused to co-operate, he said, making a mark on his paper.


Writers at Liberty
Id had enough. I shut the door firmly in his face.
When I returned to my office I discovered that the window had been
forced open; also that my computer hard-drive had been wiped.
I suppose I was asking for it.

The doorbell rang. A man with a moustache and a clipboard was standing
on the step.
Good afternoon, he said. I represent CHECK, one of the worlds leading
security support and maintenance providers. We have been appointed by
the government to support and maintain the security of the country, and
today we are in your locality carrying out some research intended to help
improve the delivery of our products. Would you mind answering a few
Shoot, I said.
Our policy is always to ask the questions first, he said, turning a
sheet on his clipboard. Are you ready?
Fire away, I said.
He gave me a look. With regard to intelligence gathering, he said,
including monitoring of emails, telephone calls and other modes of
communication, we are interested in responses to the proposition If you
have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear. Would you say, in
general terms, that you have done nothing wrong?
Do you mean legally or morally?
Lets not split hairs, he said. What about the following? Ever dropped
litter? Smoked marijuana? Arson? Theft? Exceeded the speed limit?
Manslaughter? Read or watched pornography? Rape, murder, high
treason, blasphemy? Done any of those?
What line of questioning is that? I said. Theyre completely arbitrary
categories. And what do you mean by blasphemy anyway? Im not even
He ticked a box on his sheet.
Some of them arent even criminal offences, I continued. Watching
porn for example.
One thing leads to another, he said. No smoke without fire, in our
experience. He ticked another couple of boxes.
What did you do just then? I asked.


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We call it profiling, he said. Its a technical term. Now, on a scale of one
to five, if one is strongly disagree and five is strongly agree, would you say
that you have nothing to fear?
Absolutely not! I said. I mean, I strongly disagree, especially on the
evidence of how you are conducting this survey.
Ill put you down as a one, he said. Dont worry, its just numbers at
this stage. You have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Thats reassuring, I said, intending sarcasm.
You can rely on us, he said.

One day, remembering with fondness a holiday spent in the Highlands, I

opened the folder on my computer which contained the photographs of
that happy week. I was scrolling through them when I came across three
blank spaces where three images ought to have been. I checked the
numerical sequence and there was no mistaking that those photographs
were missing. I could recall from their position in the sequence the scenes
they depicted, and I knew I had not deleted them. When I accessed my
remote data archive, I found them gone from it as well.
I contacted my internet provider for an explanation. The
automated reply I received by email was completely irrelevant. I finally
made telephone contact with somebody at the company, whose answers
were confused, possibly even evasive. She said she would get someone to
call me back.
Ten minutes later the phone rang.
Hi, said a mans voice. My name is Bob. How can I help you?
You tell me, Bob, I said.
I represent SCOPE, Bob said, one of the worlds leading security
support and maintenance providers. I understand you have a data erosion
A what?
Data which you recorded and stored with your internet provider has
Not eroded, I said. Photographs have been erased. What does this have
to do with you, Bob, whoever you are?
Your issue has been reported to SCOPE as the eroded data may, could,
will or did present a potential breach of national security, Bob said.


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How could that possibly be? I demanded. These were just holiday snaps.
I am reviewing the data now, Bob said. A few seconds later he spoke
again. The GPS location, date and time references confirm that a security
breach occurred when the data was recorded. You are denied further
A beach, a mountain and a wee white cottage, I said. Which one of
those is a threat to national security?
I am not at liberty to disclose further information unless you are an
accredited and approved stakeholder, Bob said. Goodbye.
The line went dead. I realised I had been mistaken. Bob was not a man,
but an automated message. And my data had indeed eroded.

James Robertson is a poet and novelist. His novels include The Testament of
Gideon Mack, And the Land Lay Still and The Professor of Truth. In his latest
project, 365, he is posting a 365-word story every day of 2014 at



Writers at Liberty

By Hannah Rothschild
The word Liberty has many important, evocative connotations but, first and
foremost, it reminds me of a female relation whose promising, privileged life
was marred by mental illness and the botched attempts to cure her. My
Great Aunt, Liberty Rothschild, was born in 1909 into a rarefied world of
privilege and wealth. She lived with her two sisters, brother, parents and
extended family in the Family compound at Tring in Hertfordshire. Her sister,
Nica, who later became known as the Jazz Baroness, described their
childhood wearily: I was moved from one great country house to another
in the germless community of reserved Pullman coaches, while being
guarded day and night by a regiment of nurses, governesses, tutors,
footmen, valets, chauffeurs and grooms. The childrens lives were
regimented to suit other peoples timetables. No expense was spared but
neither was any allowance made for individual needs or personal
idiosyncrasies. Another sister, Miriam, later known as the Queen of the
Fleas, compared it to being trapped in a jewel-encrusted cage. Freedom
didnt exist, she said. For the Rothschild daughters, youth was simply a
holding pattern for marriage and motherhood. Many married cousins had
simply moved from one compound to another.

Of the four children, Liberty was the most artistically talented. A brilliant
pianist, she was, aged twelve, offered a solo concert at Wigmore Hall. As a
teenager, her painting won a gold medal at the Royal Academy Summer
Show. Physically delicate, and so sensitive emotionally, the smallest event
plunged Liberty into a morass of despair. The sight of a bird with a broken
wing, a lame horse or change to routine affected her deeply. There was,
however, no question of bending societys rules or adapting the conventions
of the time. Liberty was presented at court and, while other young
debutantes danced, she sobbed alone in the corner. Then the young Jewess
was sent on a grand tour with her younger sister and a governess to
Germany in 1931, where they were met by a rising tide of anti-Semitism. On
her return, Liberty was dispatched alone to New York to stiffen up and take
painting classes. Her behaviour became increasingly erratic and
unpredictable. Finally, in 1934, she was sent home after eating the floral
display during a grand Park Avenue dinner.

Writers at Liberty
From then on, Liberty was passed between different doctors, from psychiatric
wards to nursing homes. The Family never disowned or abandoned her; they
threw huge quantities of time and money at the problem, which was later
identified as a form of schizophrenia. There are unsubstantiated rumours
that in the 1950s she was given the latest treatment, a lobotomy, as well as
electric shock treatment and other experimental cures. As her medical
records were burned on her death in 1986, I have never been able to prove
or discount these theories. Her story haunts me: I often wonder if discoveries
in science could have helped my great aunt. Had she been born a few
decades later, then she might have had a shot at normality. As it was, she
remained incapacitated by psychological fragility for her whole life. There was,
however, a happy-ish ending. Miriam, who never stopped trying to find a cure
for schizophrenia, brought Liberty to live with her at her house in Ashton.
Liberty had a full-time carer but roamed freely. Sometimes she would appear
during lunch and sit for a while or play the piano. At least towards the end of
her life, Liberty was finally set free.

Liberty, Day One

Writers at Liberty

By Kamila Shamsie

Immediately after they overthrew the government, the people gathered

outside the Tower. Within, filed and cross-referenced, were recordings of all
the telephone calls made and received in the nation over the last twentythree years.

Many were there to hear the voices of the dead. The ones in suits were after
proof of insider trading and industrial espionage. Their confidence
contrasted with those uncertain if long-ago entreaties of love had ever really
been spoken to them, or merely imagined. Some worked for gossip columns,
others were respected journalists. The gossip columnists had more
expensive pens. One of the men was searching for his voice he had lost it
halfway through a phone call to his hairstylist. A woman was hoping to find
her grandmothers recipe for pickled bananas, the only cure for a lisp. A
surprising number of the deaf turned up, as did freshly-shaved hermits from
the mountain-tops. Thousands wanted to hear those final heartbreaking
calls from the sailors stranded on the melting ice floe. There were thieves
and speculators, too, of course. And seven inmates from the psychiatric
hospital who swore raspy-voiced angels had phoned them in their youth.
Who should enter the tower first? Arguments broke out. Then, physical fights.

Hannah Rothschild is a writer, a filmmaker and a company director. She also

serves on boards of various philanthropic trusts and museums.Her biography,
the The Baroness was published by Virago in May 2012, in the USA by Knopf in
2013 and will be published in other territories in 2013/2014.
Her features and interviews appear in W, Vanity Fair, The Telegraph, The Times,
The New York Times, The Spectator, British and American Vogue. Her award
winning documentaries have been shown on the BBC, HBO and at film festivals
including Telluride, the London Film Festival and Sheffield. Working Title and
Ridley Scott optioned her original screenplays.
A non-executive director of several companies, Hannah is the co-founder of the
Artist on Film trust and a trustee of the National Gallery, the Tate
andWaddesdon Manor.


A woman dressed entirely in black said, Seconds before he died, my fianc

called me to say, You know youre beautiful. Or perhaps he said, You know,
youre beautiful.

Twenty-three years of tyranny had taught everyone there the price exacted
when words separate from meaning. The crowds parted in silence as though
they were two clauses of a sentence and the woman was a comma dividing
them, turning their nature from accusatory to devoted.
Really, she was there to destroy an incriminating recording. Theres very little
that twenty-three years of tyranny wont teach you.
Kamila Shamsie is the author of five novels, including Burnt Shadows which
was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and has been translated into
over 20 languages. She has also written a work of non-fiction, Offence: The
Muslim Case. A trustee of Free Word and English Pen, she grew up in Karachi
and now lives in London.


Writers at Liberty


By Owen Sheers

Janet Leigh, actress, 1927-2004

I met her once, two years before she died.

LA in January on the Universal lots
and just the other side of those planes and towers
which had, already, made an after of everything.

Age had whittled her like a bird,

the years paring her at elbow, collar bone and cheek
so when she handed her coat to the driver
he draped half of her over his shoulder.
A cruel splice perhaps, for the photographer
to have taken her there. The motel unchanged
and the shower inside still the same
where, in fifty cuts and a single still
her white-toothed scream, a knife
stabbing a melon, the shadow of mother,
had all made, via the studios campaign,
her name.

As she posed for the shots and I took my notes

a tour bus approached, the guides voice amplified
through its windows And here on your right the Bates motel
made famous in Oh my god! Its Janet Leigh!
Their turning heads made her a starlet once more
so as the bus down slowed she switched on a smile
and released a red carpet wave, returned by twenty-four
palms against glass, like convicts at visiting hour.
But as it drove on and she turned back to us
whatever had lit her didnt last, her smile dropped
and her eyes downcast, as if she knew, already,
that more than just a bus had passed.


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But none of us knew.

And even now were learning how much.
Look, here in the same magazine
where just last week I read of her death - this.

Another still; a young woman again

her lips spread in a smile not a scream
and her thumbs up as she leans into frame
to place her face beside the prone detainees.

No lights, body doubles or make up.

No studio or Hitchcock composing the scene.
Just the flash of a camera in this place of ravens
illuminating a young woman in fatigues,

a girl in a windowless corridor,

unknowing, like an actress in the seconds of a take,
that this is the moment that will make her famous forever,
the new starlet face of American horror.

Photographs of the abuses and torture committed by the U.S. Army at Abu
Ghraib prison first came to light in 2004.

Owen Sheers has written two collections of poetry,The Blue BookandSkirrid

Hill(Somerset Maugham Award). His non-fiction includesThe Dust
Diaries(Welsh Book of the Year 2005) andCalon; A Journey to the Heart of
Welsh Rugby.His novelResistancehas been translated into ten languages and
was made into a film in 2011. His plays includeThe PassionandThe Two
Worlds of Charlie F.(Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award).
Owen wrote and presented BBC FoursA Poets Guide to Britain.His verse
dramaPink Mistwas commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and was published by
Faber in June 2013.He has been a NYPL Cullman Fellow, Writer in Residence for
the Wordsworth Trust and Artist in Residence for the Welsh Rugby Union.


Writers at Liberty

Uncle Rakesh Sings the Blues

By Nikesh Shukla

What do black people use as toothbrush? Uncle Rakesh asks Raju,

giggling. Raju searches through his database of known racist jokes. It
contains 0 results.
Either Uncle Rakesh is about to tell a new racist joke hes cribbed
from the murkier edges of the internet or hes started making his own up.
Either way, Raju shakes his head and walks to the back of the shop where
an issue of Esquire magazine is opened at a revealing interview with Daisy
Lowe. Raju is not reading the words in the interview. He is imagining
nipples on the ends of an airbrush job.
You do not want to hear the punchline? Uncle Rakesh bellows after
him. Political correctness gone mad. I told his papa to not send him to
university, send him to work with me. Much as Uncle Rakesh is whispering,
its a stage whisper and Raju can hear every word.
Raju tries his hardest to minimise conversation with his Uncle
Rakesh, knowing that they are landlocked together till September when he
can escape back to Manchester and the freedom that comes with being as
far away as possible from people like Uncle Rakesh. Raju muses to his
girlfriend - incidentally black but thats not why hes upset at the constant
anti-black-people jokes - that its crazy he has to leave London to go to
Manchester for a more Metropolitan life. Here in their newsagent in
Kingsbury, the heart of the Gujarati community where cassava chips,
mango juice and Kingfisher supplement aisles of spices, specially imported
rices and tasty exotic fruits teeming with insects, its like being stuck in an
alternate reality where Indians hold the dominant power in the suburbs,
owning everything, looking down on everyone.
Raju is sick of telling his uncle not to tell these jokes around him.
Raju is sick of the rebuttals about political correctness. Raju is sick of the
challenges to prove Uncle Rakesh wrong in his opinions about black
people. Raju has never heard his mum or dad say anything as overtly racist
but he has been in a room where Uncle Rakesh has moaned about the
stupidity of his African neighbours and theyve nodded along, their silence
tantamount to complicity.
He winces whenever Gladys and Patience, two Kenyan ladies who
live across the road, come in for their weekly cassava, scotch bonnets and

Writers at Liberty
mango juice and Uncle Rakesh calls them both darling and sweetie and
smiles sweetly as he takes their money. He never handles the money
directly. The money is placed on the counter and then the change is placed
on the counter. Raju watches this transaction and wonders what Uncle
Rakesh thinks will happen if he brushes black skin (maybe his arm will
shrivel and he will decrease in intelligence) and what Gladys and Patience
think of the pantomime. Maybe where theyre from, Kenya, where Indians
are prevalent, theres a precedent, an unwritten code of superior conduct
they acquiesce to, and have transmigrated over to this corner of North
West Londons suburbs.
Some kids walk into the shop, fitting all the key performance
indicators of Uncle Rakeshs and the Daily Mails biggest fears. They are all
of a feral underclass type - tall, various hues of black, wearing oversized tshirts proclaiming allegiances to everything from Nike to Arsenal via
Eminem. They talk loudly, swapping stories about girls theyre interested in
with slang like bruv or cuz or yagetme. Raju can hear the world through
their mouths easily but Uncle Rakesh is anxious and follows them to the
drinks cabinets as they discuss what each one is having and who is paying
what, displaying disregard for the shortest member of the group and for
the brand Pepsi. Uncle Rakesh pretends he is checking the cashew nuts
but theyre so freshly stocked he falters and drops the packets on the floor.
The boys turn and laugh at him, they know his game, theyre used to the
hovering of his sort, his type, his lot scared, suspicious and officious.
Raju watches all this at the back of the shop. He has moved on
from Esquire and Daisy Lowes pert bottom and on to lifestyle tips for
women suffering from piles in a womans glossy, the only unread thing on
the shelf.
Yo, gimme a pound for this Lucozade!
Lucozade! Blaaad, get somefink cheaper Gatorades half the
Your mums half the price.
What? That dont even make sense.
Yeah, it does. It means your mums so bad at being a prostitute,
shes doing a half price sale.
You gonna give me this pound or what?
Allow that, blud. Lets get a Lilt six pack.
Lilts rank man.
Youre rank.


Writers at Liberty
Always the same joke. Youre the same joke. Come, man. Be an
Raju smiles. They all eventually settle on their original choices. The
Gatorade-pusher relents and hands over a pound.
The teenagers head to the counter, hand their money to one guy,
the tallest and loudest, and he holds the coins out to Uncle Rakesh to
receive. Uncle Rakesh looks at them and looks at the counter. They dont
know the ritual. Come on. Its obvious. Put the money on the counter. Put
it down. There. Thats what its there for.
Uncle Rakeshs arms are uselessly by his side, unable to gesture or
do anything to propel this transaction towards its inevitable conclusion.
The tallest, loudest member of the group doesnt take too kindly to
Rajus mute uncles refusal to handle his coins.
What? My money aint good enough here?
Sir, Uncle Rakesh addresses anyone he is afraid of as sir. Sir,
please the counter.
Oh right, so my moneys fine but my palms aint?
Sir I dont want any trouble.
My moneys is good as anyone elses. Take my money, let me buy
the drinks and well leave okay?
This is a considerably calm comment on the conflagration from the
kid, considering his cohorts are cooing cunt in the background, shouting
and arguing and hectoring Uncle Rakesh. The din grows. Raju is rooted to
the spot. He doesnt know what to do, how to calm the situation, how it will
end. Hes stuck, halfway up the left hand aisle, the one nearest the door.
The din rises, the boys start to scream and swear and get angry and get
upset and get riled and get ignored and get the same kicking down every
adult gives a teenager when faced with their opinion they are ignored
and they dont like it and its only soft drinks and theyve done nothing
wrong except banter loudly and now theyre staring in the face of a man
with hate and fear in his pupils and the sensible thing is to walk away and
the tallest and the loudest starts to place his drink back on the counter but
his friends are upset, one of them drops his can on the floor, piercing a
side spraying sickly sugary drink over the floor level display of crisps and
another of the group follows, except this causes specks to fly on to the
rowdiest ones trainers and the aggression gets internalised, misdirected
against each other and Uncle Rakesh is confused, he doesnt understand
the language, wont empathise with the boys, hates them, wants them out,


Writers at Liberty
but wants their money, just on the counter, they are at an impasse and
Uncle Rakesh can see customers hover in the doorway and turn away from
the noise and he is losing money, good money, money from good honest
Indians and he loses it, he fills himself up with the bile behind every racist
joke he has ever been taught, every fear he has had about black people,
every jealous thought he has had about other ethnic communities, every
confusion of hierarchy of age versus lack of understanding with teenagers
and he throws his hands up in the air and shouts
The air is pregnant with possibility. There is the briefest of chills,
the most passable of calms before the boys react. They could go in a
variety of directions. Shouting, hitting or leaving in indignation. Rajus uncle
has to stand behind the words he has chosen and his hands are on his
hips in defiance but his brow is sodden with worry. He realises what he has
done. Raju creeps up towards Uncle Rakesh because, even though the
stupid twat deserves whatever is about to happen, hes still Rajus uncle.
The can hits him square on the forehead. It smacks against the
middle of his forehead, making a dull patting sound, like someones
bumped a radiator with their hip, the dull pat careening the top half of his
body back - snap. Whiplash lurches him back then forward as he strains to
steady himself. The blood rushes, the blood gushes, the blood flows freely
down through his thick eyebrows, caking each hair together into a noodle
soup, in the crater of his eye, along his nose, to his lips where he licks away
the shock. It is silent. Raju runs towards him as he places his hands on the
counter to steady himself. The kids, between smirks, thats how we dos and
grimaced nods, turn and leave the shop in a laden silence. Theyve made
their point. Theyve left their change on the counter. Theyve taken their
drinks. Theyve not waited for change. This is not how the papers expect
these stand-offs to go. There should be more violence, more hitting, hoods
up, more stuff taken, a possible looting. Uncle Rakeshs fear turns to relief
turns to righteousness. The can of fizzy drink has patted off his head,
clipped the side of the counter and is now violently convulsing on the floor,
between the toes of Uncle Rakeshs sandaled feet.
BUNNIES] he shouts. Raju runs up to him, grabs his arm, kicks away the
can of fizzing drink and shushes him. WHY? he shouts in Rajus face. WHY


Writers at Liberty
Uncle, Raju says in a calm quiet voice, quiet so he has to
concentrate to hear him, which will calm him down. You called them black
bastards. They were angry.
Are you saying I deserve this? he demands, pointing to his
forehead. Raju tears open a pack of 50p tissues and presses the wad
gently against the cut, which is thin and spindly, rather than deep and
damaging. You will put 50p in the till later, Uncle Rakesh says blankly.
What is wrong with toilet paper? You are a waste. You like to waste.
He takes the wad from Raju and stares at the door, which Raju
crosses the shop to close. Uncle Rakesh calls out after him and says Raju
can look after the shop and clean up the mess while he goes upstairs and
gets himself a plaster. Raju shakes his head in frustration.
The afternoon passes quietly and without Uncle Rakesh. This is the
longest he has had off from the shop for months. Raju is slumped on the
counter, watching the world avoid the shop while he picks apart what just
happened. Uncle Rakesh probably deserved that, he thinks, but then he
feels like the can-throwing was not justified by the black bastards
comment. Fair enough if hed dropped the N-bomb. Raju is torn. Maybe
gleeful. Maybe happy. Maybe the comeuppance he has been hoping all
these years to be the one responsible for has arrived.
Raju closes up the shop as usual, sweeps half-heartedly to hip hop
on the radio and feels his sides tingle, his fingers throb. He looks at the
rows of cans that line the open refrigerator, seeing the boys stood there in
shadow from earlier. He feels the compulsion to pick the cans up and
throw them around, at the windows, at the counter, at the door at the
bottles of wine, at the crisps, at the floor, at any given surface that is within
his trajectory. His fingers lurch towards the cans, his eyes wont move away
from them, his mind is fizzing with bubbles, the bubbles of anxiety and
need. Upstairs he knows Uncle Rakesh is waiting for him, waiting to project
all his anger on to him.
He decides to teach Uncle Rakesh a lesson he wont forget. This is
the wake-up call he needs to integrate into his surroundings and new
community. Raju takes the bins out the back and creeps through an alley
to the side of the shop, where they keep boxes of uncollected old
newspaper supplements, to the front of the shop. He stands outside the
shop looking up at the flat above, knowing that Uncle Rakesh is stretched
out on the sofa by the front window, probably watching the street. Raju is
standing too close to the front of the shop to be seen. The street is empty,

Writers at Liberty
commuter-less, the traffic taken to the busy high street of pubs and
restaurants two streets away. Raju takes his smart phone out of his pocket
and plays a raucous Odd Future track; its music spilling with nausea and
anxiety and vicarious violent wish fulfilment, played at that tinny volume
that only phone speakers can muster. Raju picks up a fistful of gravel and
pebbles from the detritus that separates his uncles newsagent from a row
of houses and he throws the handful up towards the front window. They
glean and clatter off the surface of the window and Raju can sense the
curtains ruffling in confusion and panic and he presses himself against the
door of the shop, knowing he cant be seen. The music still does its muffled
best to create a soundscape of nausea and aggression. The slight summer
breeze carries the noise upwards. The window upstairs rustles with eyes.
Raju knows theyre there.
Faintly, he hears a sound, Raju? His uncle is calling for him. He
creeps through the side alley again, breathing out against the stench of
ablutions, snapping his phone off and slipping in the backdoor. He flushes
the toilet, next to the back door, for effect, locks the backdoor under cover
of a refilling tank and replies YES positively. He smiles to himself, proud of
his larks, proud of the fear he has probably caused in his uncle, the panic
striking his heart.
Raju takes his shoes off and creeps up the stairs, deciding to burst
in and surprise his uncle, he stifles a laugh, which induces a flashback of
the trajectory of the can as it struck Uncle Rakesh on the head. He
remembers his mouth, spitting bile and saliva, mincing and frying around
the bulbous words black and bastards. Raju holds the handle that leads
into the flat above the shop, he pulls the door tight against the frame to
forego the inevitable squeak, he gets some spring in his toes, and in a fluid
movement, pushes the door handle down, the door open and his body
propelled through it.
What? Raju shouts, as if hes stormed up the stairs worried.
The brown monolith flings itself towards him, striking him in the
chest and bashing him against the door, but he grabs the handle to stay
upright and as the door swings on its hinges, he misses the top step of the
stairs and stumbles back, down, deeper and down, bashing knees, elbows,
the back of his head, all in an effort to protect his knees, elbows and the
back of his head, and he manages to stop himself flying down the entire
staircase, halfway down, his arms and legs useless, tangled and folded, his
head a fug of knocks and rocks. He looks up at the top of the stairs. Uncle


Writers at Liberty
Rakesh has picked up his aunties rolling pin, girth-heavy, a heavy
cylindrical fist off the floor and brandishes it, peering around the door for
protection, checking its him.
Raju? he asks, scared.
Uncle, Raju croaks, dictating his need for help.
Raju, they were outside. They were coming back to finish the job.
Did you hear them? he asks, whispering, conspiratorially. I phoned the
police. They laughed at me.
Uncle, Im hurt, I cant stand up, Raju replies. His legs are
throbbing with pins and needles, the bones bruised from bashes. His
elbows are scuffed and he can feel the summer breeze wipe itself across
the gashes on exposed pieces of his skin.
Stay there, Raju, Uncle Rakesh says. Just stay there. It will be fine.
Raju looks up at his uncle and sees him for what he is, a scared old
man trapped in a home, in a prison of his own creation. Raju remembers his
dad telling him about how Uncle Rakesh used to be in a blues band with a
guy at college, a guy called Bevington who played the guitar and sang whilst
Uncle Rakesh played the harmonica and clapped. He had been everyones
friend whilst Rajus dad had been the butt of everyones, Uncle Rakeshincluded, jokes. But he is trapped and there is nowhere for him to go. He is
either upstairs or he is downstairs. Raju inspects his left elbow, which
absorbed most of the fall and feels around the circumference of the biggest
cut. It hurts. He can feel it hurt and is glad something is telling him what to
do, something is playing with his synapses. Raju pulls himself up, looks up at
Uncle Rakesh, limps down the rest of the stairs, and stopping past a can of
Lilt, which he picks up and presses to his forehead. Uncle Rakesh calls out
after him, weaker, wimpier, more distant. Raju switches the lights off, opens
the backdoor, heads down the side alley to the street where he turns his
head left and right, presses on to both his feet to test out how bad his knees
are. Theyre bad but theyll survive. Raju heads home.

Untitled piece

Writers at Liberty

By Hardeep Singh Kohli


A simple letter placed at the end of a twelve syllable text message. Ordinarily
an innocuous occurrence, particularly if the sender was Daljit, Daphne or

But this was no sign off, far from innocuous. This was an occurrence. There
was no Daljit, no Daphne, no Dominic. This was a text from a son. To his
father. My son. His dad; d.

It hadnt been easy for either of us in the wake of the split, the subsequent
divorce. I had been his hero, his friend, his dad. And his hero, his friend, his
dad, d had let him down.

Anger, outrage, hurt, pain, disbelief filled the vacuum once owned only by
love. A teenage boy propelled prematurely into manhood, now lost in a life
he once knew so well.

Silence suffocated. I mistook his helplessness for hate, his disappointment

for disdain. No calls, no emails, no messages. Nothing. Fulsome feast had
fallen into fully fledge famine.

Then? Anger abated. Outrage ousted. Hurt healed. Pain pacified. Disbelief
dispelled. Seven summers soothed. Time tempered the torment. A new
normal initiated. Future unfurled.

Nikesh Shukla is the author of Meatspace, Coconut Unlimited, The Time

Machine and co-author of Generation Vexed with Kieran Yates. He hosts The
Subaltern podcast and has been artist in residence at South Bank Centre.


That single letter liberated me. That single letter signalled such significance.
That single letter made a grown man cry. A grown man and a father. This
father. Dad.

Hardeep Singh Kohli is a writer and comedian from Glasgow.


Writers at Liberty

The human claim

By Ali Smith

I had been planning to write this story about the ashes of DH Lawrence. I
hadnt known what had happened to him after he was dead. Now that I
did at least, if what the biography Id been reading claimed was true I
couldnt get it out of my head. On the train home that night, even though
it was a couple of months since Id finished reading it, Id got my notebook
out of my bag and made some notes about it and about some other things
too that the biography said had happened to him.
For instance, hed be walking past a theatre or picturehouse in London
in the First World War and the crowd would jeer at his beard, which
marked him out, made him a visible slacker, a refuser, not enlisted, maybe
even a conscientious objector. Then, the cottage hed taken for some of
the war years had been raided by the Home Office or the military
authorities whod confiscated not just some letters in German (his wife
Frieda was related to the German military) but also a copy of a Hebridean
song, because they thought it was secret code, and some drawings
Lawrence had made of the stems of plants which, the biographer said,
theyd decided were secret maps.
Id thought Id known quite a lot about Lawrences actual life. Ive been
reading him since I was sixteen, when I chose a copy of St Mawr for a
school prize mostly because I knew it would discomfit the Provost and his
wife who annually gave out the prizes. Lawrence was still reasonably
notorious in Inverness in the 1970s. (It makes me laugh even now that the
prize sticker inside my paperback says Im being awarded for Oral
French.) Now I was six years older than hed been when he died. Id felt
for him all through reading this fine and thoughtful biography. Sitting on
the train weeks later I was still preoccupied with him, his little red beard
jutting in fury at all the patriotic cliches. All these weeks later it still made
me laugh with real satisfaction that the authorities had been stupid
enough to think Gaelic was some kind of code.
Above all, though, it was the story of what may have happened to his
body five years after his death that I couldnt stop thinking about. I was
still amazed by it now, cycling my bike home from the station

Writers at Liberty
But then I got home and opened my mail and I stopped thinking about
anything because there was a Barclaycard statement waiting for me which
claimed Id spent a fortune.
I only very rarely use that credit card, or any of my credit cards. Im
quite good credit-wise, honest. In fact, that card had actually been a
hundred pounds in credit for months, which is why Id recently used it to
buy some shirts for Christmas in a clothes shop in London called Folk.
I looked at the total again. 1,597.67. Had I really spent that much
money on four shirts?
I turned the statement over.
Previous balance from last statement 100.37. 11 Dec Folk,
London 531.00. 21 Dec Lufthansa Koeln 1,167.04 1,840.70 U.S.
Dollar, USA, Exch Rate 0.6340 Incl Non Sterling Trans Fee of 33.88 03 Jan
New Balance 1,597.67.

I hadnt bought anything from Lufthansa ever.
I phoned the Barclaycard number at the top of my statement.
Hi there!
An automaton instructed me that I could answer its questions either
by pressing the buttons on my phone or by speaking into the gaps it would
leave for me. It had been recorded by someone with a north-of-England
voice, friendly, like a not too abrasive stand-up comedian. I gave this
matey automaton my card number and it offered me some options. When
none of these involved speaking to someone about a fraudulent claim and
I didnt answer quickly enough either with button pushing or by saying
something, the automaton asked me to tell it out loud what I wanted.
Id like to speak to someone, I said.
Im sorry, I didnt quite catch that, the automaton said. Try again.
Id like to speak to someone, I said again.
Im sorry, I didnt quite catch that, the northern automaton said. Try
again. Try saying something like : Pay my bill.
Speak to someone, I said.
Im sorry, I didnt quite catch that, the automaton said.
I stayed silent.
Im sorry, I didnt quite catch that, the automaton said. Hold on. Ill just
put you through to a member of our team wholl be able to help you. Just
so you know, all our calls are recorded for training and legal purposes.


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I listened to the musak for a bit.
Hello, youre speaking to indecipherable, how can I help you, a real
person said to me down the phone from somewhere that had the sound
of very far away.
He asked me some security questions, to check it was really me.
Theres a transaction on here, I said, that I didnt make and I didnt
Dont worry, Ms Smith, he said. Thank you, Ms Smith. I can see that,
Ms Smith. Yes, Ms Smith, thank you.
He put me through to some more musak. Some minutes later a
woman answered. She also had the slight delay round her voice which
signalled that although she was here in my ear, I was maybe on the phone
to somebody on a totally different planet. She asked me the same security
questions. Then she told me that this card had been presented for use
yesterday for a transaction costing two pounds
Two pounds! I said and this is what went through my head as I said it:
Id never use a credit card for something so small.
It was as if I needed proof that I hadnt used my credit card even
though I knew full well that I hadnt. Meanwhile the woman was still
card was then withdrawn just before the transaction went through,
she said.
It wasnt me, I said. Id just like to make that really clear.
She told me Barclaycard would be in touch with me, that Id hear from
them over the next three weeks and that I was to be sure to reply within
the requested time frame or they would consider the matter resolved and
charge my card accordingly.
For a transaction that I didnt make? I said.
Be sure to reply within the requested timeframe, Ms Smith, she said.
And look its in dollars, I said. I havent been to the States since 2002.
I want it noted right now that I made no such transaction and that my card
has been defrauded. I want this sum of money, for a ticket I never bought
and a transaction I never carried out, wiped off my account. And I want
you to stop this card this instant.
Yes, I can do that, Ms Smith, the woman said. There. Just a
moment. Now. The card is now stopped. Please now destroy this card,
Ms Smith. Barclaycard will send you a new card within the next five days
or so.

Writers at Liberty
I dont want a new card, I said. Someonell probably just get its details
and defraud it too. And how did Lufthansa get my details? Why did
Lufthansa believe that this was me buying a ticket when it wasnt?
It will now go forward for further investigation so that we can ascertain
the facts of this situation, thank you, Ms Smith, the woman said.
It wasnt me, I said again.
I sounded petulant. I sounded like a child.
Thank you for being in touch with Barclaycard, Ms Smith, she
said. Have a lovely evening.
I pressed the hang-up button on my phone and found I was in my
front room.
What I mean is, even though Id been there the whole time, Id actually
just spent the last half hour somewhere which made my own front room
irrelevant, even to me.
I stood by the fireplace and it was as if I had been filled with live ants. I
went antsily around the house from room to room for about half an hour.
Then finally I stopped, stood by the dark window, sat down on the edge of
the couch. I told myself there was nothing to do about it but laugh it off. It
happens all the time. People are always getting scammed. Thats life.
I picked up a book, but I couldnt concentrate to read.
I began to wonder instead who the person was, the person whod
pretended, somewhere else in the world, to be me. What did he or she
look like? Was he or she part of a group of people who did this kind of
thing? Or was it a single individual somewhere in a room by him- or
herself? Somewhere in the world this person knew enough about the
numbers on a card in my wallet in the dark of my pocket to fool a
respectable airline company into selling an expensive ticket.
I looked at the statement again. It didnt say anything about where the
ticket was from or to. Dec 21. Maybe this other me had been going home
for Christmas. Did she have a family? Did the family know this other me
wasnt me, was a fraudster? Were they maybe a family of fraudsters? I
could see them all round a long table set for Christmas; I stood, ghost at
their feast, and watched them hugging each other, their arms round their
shoulders as Hogmanay gave way to New Year. How could she be me? I
hadnt sat in Departures with a print-out ticket paid for by me. I hadnt
walked down the tunnel that led to the door of the aeroplane, or climbed
the steps out in the cold of the winter airport air.
Oh Christ. Passport.


Writers at Liberty
I ran upstairs. I pulled open the cupboard door. But my passport was
safe there on the underwear shelf.
I put it back. I closed the door. I laughed. Oh well. I came downstairs
and put the kettle on, thought about making something to eat. But it was
after nine oclock and if I ate now Id not sleep.
So I sat on the kitchen stool until the kettle boiled and I thought about
how once, years ago, I had been really well pickpocketed in an Italian
seaside resort by a mere child. The child, a dark-haired girl with a
miniature accordion slung on her shoulder, had been walking up and
down outside the restaurant we decided to eat at, playing the opening riff
of Volare. I mustvelooked an easy touch; she had approached me and
asked for money and when Id said no she had talked to me briefly and
shyly while thieving from me with such fine sleight of hand that when Id
put my hand in my pocket half an hour later for the roll of cash I was
carrying so I could pay the bill, my pocket was empty. Shed done it with
such artistry that I almost didnt regret what shed taken. On the contrary,
Id felt strangely blessed. It was as if Id been specially chosen.
How was this different? It felt different. It felt like it had been nothing
to do with me. Thered been no real exchange. More, it somehow made
me the suspect. No amount of speaking down a phone to someone in a
call centre could restore my innocence.
I got my Barclaycard out of my wallet and folded it in two. I folded it
back on itself the other way. I did this several times very fast until the fold
gave off heat. When I could no longer put the tip of my finger on it
because it was so hot, I ripped the card in two, one half valid from, the
other expires end.
Five days later a new card with a new number and my name on it
arrived from Barclaycard.
Ten days after that, a form arrived. It asked me to tick a box which
confirmed whether I agreed or disagreed that I had made the transaction
in question with Lufthansa.
I ticked the box which disagreed. I wrote underneath in capitals: I
LUFTHANSA, WITH THIS OR ANY OTHER CARD and I signed the form with
my name.
Two weeks after that, a letter arrived from Barclaycard which said
theyd credited my Barclaycard with the amount involved while they made
further enquiries.


Writers at Liberty
Meanwhile, heres the story of what maybe happened to the remains of
DH Lawrence.
After he died in 1930 at the age of forty-four, his wife Frieda married
her lover, Angelo Ravagli, and they moved to New Mexico. In 1935 she
sent her husband back to Vence in France where Lawrence had died and
was buried, with the instruction that he have Lawrences body exhumed
and cremated so that she could put his ashes in a beautiful vase.
Ravagli took the vase to Vence. He came back to New Mexico with the
vase full of ashes. Frieda sealed the ashes up in a resplendent memorial
shrine inside a block of concrete, in case of thieves. When she died in
1956, she was buried next to this shrine. Theres a photograph of the
shrine on Wikipedia. It has a risen phoenix carved in stone or concrete
above it and the letters DHL surrounded by bright painted sunflowers and
foliage on the front.
But in the biography Id been reading, which is by John Worthen,
Worthen says that after Frieda died, Ravagli announced: I threw away the
DH cinders. Hed had him exhumed and burnt as instructed, he claimed,
but then hed dumped the ashes maybe in Marseilles, Worthen thinks,
maybe at the harbour, into the sea. When he got back to New York, Ravagli
filled the vase with the ashes of God knows what or who. He gave it to
Frieda who buried it with honours and died believing shed be being buried
next to what was left of Lawrence.
Wikipedia, too, seems to suggest that the ashes in that shrine are
actually Lawrences.
Who knows? Maybe they are.
But whether they are or they arent, imagine the husband, faithful and
lying, seething, triumphant, steady in deception for twenty whole years till
she dies. Imagine his foul understandable need, his satisfaction, changing
DH Lawrence to DH cinders.
Imagine the ashes of Lawrence shaken into the air, dissolving in the
Fish, oh Fish, / So little matters!
Thats from the poem called Fish. In another poem he calls the
mosquito hes huntingMonsieur, then Winged Victory. Am I not
mosquito enough to out-mosquito you? In another he declares that for
his part he prefers his heart to be broken, cracked open like a
pomegranate spilling its red seeds. In one of his most famous, he watches
a snake drink at a waterhole then throws a log at it to show it whos


Writers at Liberty
boss. The moment he does this he understands his own pettiness; he
knows hes cheated himself.
Sexual intercourse began in 1963 because of him. Literary merit went
to court and won because of him. Class in the English novel radically
shifted because of him. His mother, poor, ruined by work, dirt and
poverty, would light up, given a tuppenny bunch of spring flowers; at least
thats what Frieda says in an article she wrote in 1955 for the New
Statesman, where shes responding to a newly published 1950s biography
of Lawrence which, according to her, is full of laughable untruths and
There is nothing to save, now all is lost, / but a tiny core of stillness in
the heart / like the eye of a violet. Thats from a poem called Nothing to
Save. High in the sky a star seemed to be walking. It was an aeroplane
with a light. Its buzz rattled above. Not a space, not a speck of this
country that wasnt humanized, occupied by the human claim. Not even
the sky. Thats from St Mawr, a novel about how human beings will never
be able to be fully natural or free while they give in to civilizations
pressures and expectations, also about how women and stallions will
never understand each other, especially when the woman is handicapped
by being clever.
His clever friend Katherine Mansfield suggested to him that he call the
cottage he was living in The Phallus. Her letters and notebooks are full of
her anger and frustration at him. At the same time she typically writes this
kind of thing in her letters to friends. He is the only writer living whom I
really profoundly care for. It seems to me whatever he writes, no matter
how much one may disagree is important. And after all even what one
objects to is a sign of life in him. And: what makes Lawrence a real writer
is his passion. Without passion one writes in the air or on the sands of the
He himself wrote this in a letter in 1927 to Gertie Cooper, a friend and
neighbour from his home in the north of England who was about to start
treatment for tuberculosis, from which he also suffered and which killed
him in the end. While we live we must be game. And when we come to
die, well die game too. Theres a fury, a burning energy associated with
TB suffering. Some see it as one of the driving forces of Lawrences
temperament and his writing. The same could be said for a writer like
Mansfield, who also died far too young of the same condition, a condition
completely cureable so few years later.

Writers at Liberty
Meanwhile, a little less than a hundred years later, I was sitting at my
desk on the one hand pondering hopeless fury and in the other literally
holding my latest letter from Barclaycard.
According to Barclaycard, Lufthansa claimed that I had reserved a
ticket with them and that they had issued me this ticket, as yet unused, on
21 December last year. So, did I agree with the merchant (Lufthansa) that I
had bought this ticket? If I didnt, I was to write back and tell Barclaycard,
and I was to do it within ten days of the date at the top of this letter.
The letter had taken eight days to arrive. I had two days left to reply
and one of them was a Sunday.
Phish, oh phish. So little matters!
Was there even any connection here, between the life, death and
dissemination of Lawrence and me battling a fraudulent claim on a credit
card statement? All I knew was, it cheered me up to think of Lawrence,
whose individualism meant hed fight anyone with both hands tied behind
his back and whose magnetic pull always towards some kind of sympathy
meant hed grant a mosquito formal address in French and even compare
it to an ancient work of art in the Louvre before he swatted it.
Imagine Lawrence in the virtual world. The very thought of him railing
at an internet porn site, yelling at the net and all its computer games for
not being nearly gamey enough, meant I forgot for a moment the letter in
my hand from Barclaycard.
But back to Google Earth. I googled the address for the Lufthansa
Office in London. I was thinking I could maybe go in, in person, and
explain to them personally that it hadnt been me whod bought or
reserved any ticket with them, used or unused, on 21 December or
ever. Google told me that the London office is in Bath Road, at the
postcode UB7 0DQ. I looked it up on Google Maps. Its near Heathrow;
Google Streetview indicates its a huge warehouse or hangar at the back of
the airport, off the kinds of street that are practically motorway, the kinds
almost nobody walks along.
The photos on Google Streetview had been taken in the early summer;
the trees were leafy and the may was in bloom on the low dual
carriageway bushes outside the Holiday Inn. At one point you could see
right inside peoples cars. Google Streetview had protected privacy by
pixellating the numberplates of the cars. But at one point two cars were
level at a junction and a man was in one, a woman in the other, and a lone
pedestrian was waiting behind them at a bus stop. It was good to see


Writers at Liberty
some people coinciding, even unknowingly, just going somewhere one day,
caught by a surveillance car and immortalised online (well, until Google
Streetview updates itself). Seeing them made me wonder briefly what was
happening in their lives on the day this picture was taken. I wondered
what had happened to them since. I hoped theyd been okay in the
recession. I hoped theyd arrived safely wherever they were going.
Then I wondered if any of them was going to Lufthansa to complain
about being charged for a ticket he or she hadnt bought.
Of course in the end I wasnt going to go there and explain
anything. Of course it would make no difference. Of course it was
impossible anyway to see anything of Lufthansas London Office on Google
Streetview since it was on a bit of the map to which the little virtual person
couldnt be dragged.
So instead I skimmed along Bath Road, for a bit, first one way, then the
other, until at one point the address label at the top of the photograph
told me that though I was still on Bath Road I was no longer in West
Drayton and that I was now in Harmondsworth.
Harmondsworth. Something inside me chimed a kind of harmony. It
took me a moment, then I remembered why: Harmondsworth is the place
all the old Penguin paperbacks declare their place of issue. It was where
the original Penguin copies of, for instance, Lady Chatterleys Lover, which
caused all the excitement and led to the obscenity trial, will have issued
from in 1960, the place where the thousands of copies sold after the trial
will have been issued too. And all the other Penguin Lawrences. I looked
across at where L was on my shelves. Almost all my Lawrence books were
Penguin books. Pretty much all the Lawrence Id ever read had come, one
way or another, from this very place I happened to be looking at.
I stood up, pushed back my chair. I got my old copy of St Mawr / The
Virgin and the Gypsy off the shelf. Oral French. I turned the page.
It was a ridiculous, glorious connection, and one that somehow made
me bigger and truer than any false claim being made against me. It also
made me laugh. I laughed out loud. I did a little dance round the room.
When Id stopped, I closed the book and put it back in its place on the
shelf. I stood at my desk for a moment. I reread the letter. I girded my
loins. I sat down to reply.
Dear Barclaycard,
This is just to thank you and Lufthansa for the reminder that nothing in life

Writers at Liberty
is ever secure. Thank you also for allowing me to find out how easy it is to be
made to seem like a liar when you arent one.
Thank you, too, for introducing me to a whole new kind of anxiety, a
burning and impotent fury which I truly believe has helped me understand, just
for a moment, a sliver of what it must have felt like for a couple of writers I like
very much from the first half of the twentieth century to have suffered from
consumption. The experience has certainly brought a new layering of meaning
to the word consumer for me.
Yours faithfully,
A. Smith.
PS. If Lufthansa ever tell you where that ticket I didnt buy was for, just out
of natural curiosity, Id love to know.
It felt good when I wrote it.
When I read it half an hour later I knew it was too anal, like an awful
comedy letter someone would send in to a consumer rights programme
on Radio 4.
I deleted it.
I wrote the kind of letter I was supposed to write, in which I simply
denied knowledge of the transaction which Lufthansa claimed Id made. I
sealed the envelope and I put it on the hall table for recorded delivery
Then I went to bed, put the light out, slept.
Meanwhile, in my sleep the freed-up mes went wild.
They spraypainted the doors and windows of the banks, urinated
daintily on the little mirror-cameras on the cash machines. They emptied
the machines, threw the money on to the pavements. They stole the
fattened horses out of the abattoir fields and galloped them down the high
streets of all the small towns. They ignored traffic lights. They waved to
surveillance. They broke into all the call centres. They sneaked up and
down the liftshafts, slipped into the systems. They randomly wiped
peoples debts for fun. They replaced the automaton messages with
birdsong. They whispered dissent, comfort, hilarity, love, sparkling fresh
unscripted human responses into the ears of the people working for a
pittance answering phones for businesses whose CEOs earned thousands
of times more per hour than their workforce. They flew inside aircraft
fuselages and caused turbulence on every flight taken by everyone who
ever ripped anyone else off. They replaced every music track on every
fraudsters phone, iPad or iPod with Sheena Easton singing Modern


Writers at Liberty
Girl. They marauded into porn shoots and made the girls and women
laugh. They were tough and delicate. They were winged like the seeds of
sycamores. There were hundreds of them. Soon there would be
thousands. They spread like mushrooms. They spread like spores. There
would be no stopping them.
Meanwhile, that snake that Lawrence threw the log at disappeared long
long ago into its hole unhurt, went freely about its ways, left the poem
behind it.
Meanwhile, right now, the ashes of DH Lawrence could be anywhere.

Untitled piece

Writers at Liberty

By Ahdaf Soueif

Three years into our bitterly contested Egyptian revolution I understand

better than ever that nothing is possible without liberty.

I also understand how liberty cannot be divided. The Egyptian football ultras
have a rousing anthem that we sing on our protests; a few lines in English:
They said trouble ran in our blood
and howd we dare demand our rights
Oh dumb regime
what I want:
Liberty! Liberty!

Ahdaf Soueif is the author of the bestselling The Map of Love (shortlisted for
the Booker Prize in 1999 and translated into 28 languages), as well as the wellloved In the Eye of the Sun and the collection of short stories, I Think of You.
Ms Soueif is also a political and cultural commentator. A collection of her
essays, Mezzaterra: Fragments from the Common Ground, was published in
2004, as was her translation (from Arabic into English) of Mourid Barghoutis I
Saw Ramallah. She writes regularly for the Guardian in the UK and has a
weekly column (in Arabic) in al-Shorouk in Egypt.

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge. She is the
author of There but for the, Free Love, Like, Hotel World, Other Stories and
Other Stories, The Whole Story and Other Stories, The Accidental, Girl Meets
Boy and The First Person and Other Stories.

Her account of Egyptian events, Cairo: my City, our Revolution, was published
by Bloomsbury in January 2012. An updated edition, Cairo: a City
Transformed, came out in 2014 published by Knopf in NY and Bloomsbury in
London. Ms Soueif holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Lancaster
and is a recipient of several honorary doctorates from UK universities. She has
also received the Metropolis Bleu and the Constantin Cavafy Awards (2012),
was the first recipient of the Mahmoud Darwish Award (2010) and shortlisted
for a Liberty Human Rights Award in 2013. Ms Soueif was recently named by
the Guardian as one of the 100 people with most influence on the English
reading public, and by Arabian Business as one of the 100 most powerful
women in the Arab world today.


Writers at Liberty

Liberty is a Woman
By Barbara Taylor

Liberty is a woman. From the Roman goddess Libertas, to Delacroixs barebreasted Marianne astride the barricades of revolutionary Paris, to the
Statue of Liberty in New York harbour - throughout western history Liberty
has been depicted as female. Marina Warner, in her excellent Monuments
and Maidens, attributes this to Womans cultural Otherness, her ancient
associations with outsiderdom, with carnality, instinct and passion. 1
(Popular media images of the punk-rock freedom-fighters Pussy Riot
exemplify these associations.) As the more animalistic, the wilder sex - the
sex which must be ruled rather than ruling - Woman embodies a primal
lust for liberty. The ironies are obvious: No visitor, looking up at the
colossus of the Statue of Liberty, imagines her appearance as a sign that
womenenjo[y] privileged access to freedom. 2 As an allegory of Liberty,
Woman symbolises a passion for freedom inherent to all human beings,
while at the same time exposing the limits of liberty as an abstract ideal.
What does liberty mean for women in a male-dominated world?
The first woman to pose this question in a systematic way was the late
18th century revolutionary feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A
Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Writing at the height of the
French Revolution, when male political reformers on both sides of the
Channel were proving reluctant to include women in their libertarian
programmes, Wollstonecraft demanded to know how liberty could be the
prerogative of one sex only:
When men contend for their freedom, and to be allowed to judge
for themselves respecting their own happiness, be [it] not
inconsistent and unjust to subjugate women, even though you
firmly believe that you are acting in the manner best calculated to
promote their happiness? Who made man the exclusive judge, if
woman partake with him of the gift of reason? 3

1 Marina Warner, Monuments and Maidens (1985), 292.

2 Warner, Monuments, 17.

3 Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792; The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, 1989, vol 5), 67.


Writers at Liberty
For both sexes, the attainment of happiness - by which Wollstonecraft
meant not pleasure or self-gratification but something closer to the
neoclassical ethical ideal of eudaimonia, meaning human flourishing or
self-realisation - requires liberty. But what kind of liberty? The Georgian
elite loved to boast about English liberty while keeping an iron grip on a
corrupt political system. Liberty was for the propertied classes only; for the
poor there were vicious game laws, naval press warrants, wealth
generated off the backs of dispossessed rural labourers and African slaves.
Any criticism of such evils was met with cries of sedition and levelling.
Like other leftwing radicals of her day, Wollstonecraft had no truck with
this version of liberty: Security of property! she wrote in her 1790 political
tract, A Vindication of the Rights of Men: Behold, in a few words, the
definition of English liberty! And to this selfish principle every nobler one is
sacrificed. 4 Defending the French Revolution against its ideological
opponents (notably Edmund Burke), Wollstonecraft argued that
inequalities of wealth and rank were incompatible with liberty and the
sacred rights of man. Two years later, in A Vindication of the Rights of
Woman, she extended the argument: There must be more equality
established in society[and] this virtuous equality will not rest firmly even
when founded on a rock, if one half of mankind be chained to its bottom. 5
So long as women remained subordinate to men, convenient slaves
rather than equal citizens, true liberty would be impossible. Equality is the
soul of liberty, Wollstonecrafts acolyte Frances Wright wrote in 1829.
[T]here is, in fact, no liberty without it. 6
This equalitarian liberty Wollstonecraft also represented as a woman,
but not as a fierce bare-breasted Marianne but as a godly mother of virtue,
progenitor of a better world. [A] new spirit has gone forth, to organise the
body-politic, she wrote exultantly in her history of the French Revolution,
and it will be impossible for the dark hand of despotism again to obscure its
radianceThe image of God implanted in our nature is now more rapidly
expanding; and, as it opens, liberty with maternal wing seems to be soaring
to regions far above vulgar annoyance, promising to shelter all mankind. 7
4 Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790; The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, 1989, vol 5), 14.
5 Wollstonecraft, Rights of Woman, 211.
6 France Wright, Course of Popular Lectures (1829), 54.
7 Mary Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral Viewof the French Revolution (1795; The Works of Mary

Wollstonecraft, 1989), 22.


Writers at Liberty
The maternal image was typical of Wollstonecraft, who was always
happy to employ feminine stereotypes when it suited her purpose. Today it
seems sentimental and archaic, with echoes of that Tory bugbear the
nanny state. Yet it reminds us that - like life itself - liberty has its conditions
of possibility. Many people now regard liberty and equality as incompatible
political goals. Policies designed to promote greater economic and social
equality, including female equality, are said to infringe our liberties. The
structural inequalities that shape womens lives, that limit their public roles
and make them, as a group, poorer than men, more vulnerable to
austerity economics and welfare cutbacks, are shrugged aside.
Yet without equality, Lady Liberty is no icon of freedom but a prisoner of
gender from which it will probably take another wave of feminist activism,
another generation of Wollstonecrafts daughters, to finally release her.

He Checked

Writers at Liberty

By Craig Taylor

You missed a call, she said when he returned to the table. She motioned
to the phone next to his glass.

Dont put phones on the table during a meal. Theyd agreed to this early in
their relationship, and theyd mostly stuck to the rule, and sometimes they
even played The Phone Game. The only rule in the game stipulated the
first person to consult a phone during a restaurant dinner paid for the
entire meal. It was difficult to break the rule at a dinner of three or more
because there was usually a witness at the table. There was rarely a
moment when everyone else left for the toileten masse.
It was easier when they ate together. On the nights they played, he would
eventually descend a flight of stairs, or turn a corner, or walk down a
hallway to the toilet, and then she could check her phone and replace it in
her purse.
He is a fast pisser, she once thought.He is a fast restaurant pisser, she
corrected herself.Hes not this way at home.

Shed been able to check her email once before he returned. Tonight they
werent playing the game.
I didnt miss a call, he said to her after checking his phone.
Your phone lit up.
I didnt miss a call.
Your phone was doing something.
There are no missed calls.

Barbara Taylor is a Canadian-born Londoner whose books include Eve and the
New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the 19th Century (1983); Mary
Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (2003); On Kindness (with Adam
Phillips) (2009) and The Last Asylum (2014). She teaches history and English at
Queen Mary University of London


He kept looking at his phone. He checked his email. The messages

appeared slowly, first the sender, then the text, one after the next. The
Kindle Daily Deal.
You should put it away, she said.

The Kindle Daily Deal was a romance about London nannies.


Writers at Liberty

You missed a call again, she said when he came back to the table after
paying the bill.

It was an older restaurant with older waitstaff, so he was forced to go to

the till to use the machine. It was an old machine. The numbers on the
glowing key pads were worn,
Im going to have to guess my PIN, hed said to the waiter and smiled.

No, but you should get a new machine at some point, hed said when the
receipt curled and the transaction finally went through. Back at the table
there were After Eight mints arranged on a saucer. He held up his phone
I didnt miss a call, he replied.
It lit up.
Maybe it just briefly lost the network.
It lit up with numbers on the screen.
How many numbers?
I dont know, she said. I dont look at whats on your screen.

He checked recent calls. He checked all calls and email. When he looked
away from the phone he noticed she had her coat on.
I sort of, she said, nibble.
Just a sec, he said.
Nibble After Eights. So I have minty fingers.

He checked missed calls, all calls, recent calls again. Just one sec, he said.
Im listening.


Writers at Liberty

It was trying to beSyriana at the beginning, she said on the Tube home.
They should just let the guy blow stuff up, he replied. Its like: let the guy
be the kind of movie star hes supposed to be.
We didnt come here for nuance, she said.
Were not there for a lesson, she said.
In geo-politics, he replied.
They should have got Mark Wahlberg, she said. Mark Wahlberg explains
But the woman was good.
She was ok.
She had those arms, he said.
The woman in ZeroDarkThirty had those arms as well, she said. CIA
women must do a lot of pushups.
But her performance he said.
They rode in silence for a while.

No, the performance was good, she finally replied.

You cant hate a womans performance because of her arms.
They reached their penultimate stop.

I still, she said, dont get the whole bleeding out thing. The missile
The missile hit the car, he explained.
But why not the person?
Because they were tracking the phone. The phone was in the car.
Oh, she said.
So the guy got hit nearby.
With, she said.
With a piece of the car. And he bled out.
And thats a phrase now? she asked. I feel like they should have explained
that at the end.
Mark Wahlberg Explains he said.
Mark Wahl-berge, she said.


Writers at Liberty

Who is calling you, she asked. At this hour, seriously.

He propped himself up on the pillow. The screen had gone dark. The
buzzing had stopped.

Theyd agreed early on to not put their phones on the bedside table, and
that worked most of the time.
He picked his phone off the bedside table.
No one, he said, is calling.
If thats an ex.
No one. Literally.
Its just inappropriate, so.

He checked his recent calls, his missed calls, all calls.

Maybe its some sort of push alert, he said.

He checked Facebook. He checked his email.

I dropped it the other day, he said. It could be He checked his list of

push alerts. That. No its. Its He checked Skype. Not, he said.

She pulled a pillow over her face. The screen seemed to project even more
light in the dark of the bedroom.
Check voicemail, she said, muffled.

He checked his email. He checked his voicemail.

You have no new messages, the voice told him.

Craig Taylor is the author of three books, including Londoners: The Days and
Night of London Now. He is the editor of Five Dials magazine.



Writers at Liberty

By Kate Tempest
So free, we walk the streets with purpose.
We can be our jeans today.
We choose ourselves in what we purchase.
We live for our dreams and pray
alone in heaving tube trains,
summon images of times that meant
something more than ebb and roar.
We work. we eat. We pay our rent.
With freedom punishing our hearts
For every love we tore apart.
And freedom forcing us to try
To live a bit before we die.

Be beautiful. You have the option.

Strong and clever and successful.
Be the type of you that knows
The type of things you do, and wrestle
Silently with all your freedom.
Worry in your bed at night.
Nothing seems to have much meaning.
you dont feel youre living right.
Democracy. The shining orb.
If only those poor others knew
How right it feels when you absorb
The lies until theyre almost true.

Freedom! Liberty! Such blazing

And important words.
We carve them into statues,
Even our poor birds
dont dare to shit on things so grand.
We, brave and honourable, we understand


Writers at Liberty
that here, on green and pleasant land,
Libertys become the brand.

But who has freedom here? Is freedom

When you cannot breathe for stress,
Bills to pay while children slay
Each other in the streets? You dress
your freedom how you like,
mine is ugly and upset.
It knows the game is up.
It watches telly.
Places bets.
Eat its dinner.
Drink its beer.
Smoke its cigarettes.
Rips itself to pieces
Falls asleep and dreams of when well get
rich enough to leave it all behind us.

Writers at Liberty
that we are fucked,
and all our liberty is useless.

Because whats my freedom without yours?

And far away on distant shores

The cost of all our freedom
Is abhorrent and it roars
Inside the throat of all we live for All our riches and our leisure.
Libertys a lie
Until were in it all together.

Once I met
a woman who was free enough
to weep without regret.

the bus was full of people,

they shuffled in their seats
she was dirtier
than you are meant to be.

And as she beats

her fists against her temples,
screams a language I cant speak,
the passengers pretend that nothings happened.
Sitting meek
While she is flattened by a grief
that all of us are scared to see,
because that grief in us too,
but we think it shouldnt be.
We keep our panic safe in public.
She was sick and tired and toothless.
She seemed to scream

Kate Tempest grew up in South-East London, where she still lives. She started
out as a rapper, toured the spoken word circuit for a number of years, and now
works as a poet and playwright too.Her work includesBalance, her first
album with her band Sound of Rum;Everything Speaks in its Own Way, her
firstcollection of poems;GlassHouse, a forum theatre play for Cardboard
Citizens; and the playsWasted andHopelessly Devotedfor new writing
theatre company Paines Plough. Her epic poemBrand New Ancientswon both
the Ted Hughes Prize for innovation in poetry and a Herald Angel Award. It is
published by Picador and is touring nationwide until March 2013. Kates new
album came out in 2014 as did her second poetry collection. Her debut novel
will be published by Bloomsbury in 2015.


Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty


By Erica Wagner
A fifteen-minute walk from my house. Perhaps a bit less, if Im in a hurry:
a cut through the narrow streets of the old East End, towards the ordered
border of the City. These days the neighbourhood is fashionable, the
warehouses turned into swanky flats and their ground floors sporting
artisanal coffee and denim jeans at 200 a throw. But look up at the
street names, and see them argue with Mammon: Clere Street,
Tabernacle, Worship. And then hop across the City Road and enter an
older, an altered world.

of the last century but one; he could be anywhere. In you, in me. Singing of
liberty. A fifteen-minute walk from my house. I go there often. If you
cannot go on your feet, you may find the place in your heart.
Erica Wagner

Bunhill, Bonehill. Once this place was a plague pit; it is said that so
many cartloads of bones were dumped here that a windmill might have
been built atop them. And still, behind their iron fences, the graves are
hugger-mugger, crowded up close together, as if the dead would need to
huddle for warmth. Or at least, for refuge for this is the Dissenters
place. This is unhallowed ground, where those who chose to argue with
what the State, and the Church, allowed, found themselves at the very
end of their days.
It seems a tranquil enough spot. Indeed, as the Citys own guide
has it in the blandly anodyne language of the tourist trade everywhere, it
is a popular lunchtime spot for office workers wishing to escape the
hustle and bustle of the surrounding City. So it is. Planes and oaks, limes
and ash shade the graves and the benches; the wren and the robin sing
here, and in the spring crocuses spring up everywhere like hope.

And so they should. For this is a place of hope. Look at the names
carved on the stones. Here is John Bunyan, that great pilgrim; here is
Daniel Defoe; here is Susannah Wesley, mother of Charles and John, whose
chapel is just across the road. And here too is William Blake, that great
lover of liberty, that burning heart who had the nerve to seek Jerusalem in
his own backyard. There are always flowers by his grave, and sometimes
coins laid as offerings on top of the stone although no one knows where
his bones truly lie. They were scattered somewhere, back towards the end


Erica Wagner was born in New York and lives in London; in 2014 she is Eccles
British Library Writer in Residence.She has judged many literary prizes and is
judging the Man Booker Prize this year. Her short stories are frequently
anthologised and she is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4 and a regular
reviewer for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Economist and the
New Statesman, and she is the author of three books, Gravity (short stories,
Granta); Ariels Gift,a book about Ted HughessBirthday Letters,(Faber and
Faber/ W. W. Norton) andSeizure (a novel,Faber and Faber/ W. W. Norton).
She is at work on a new book,The Chief Engineer, A Biography of Washington
Roebling, the Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge,which will be published in
the US and the UK by Bloomsbury.


Writers at Liberty

Liberty a few words

By Marina Warner
Dec 29 1213

The dictator is on the rampage and his people are crying out in despair at
the horrors hes inflicting on them. Although the words were first written
with a reed pen made on a clay tablet three thousand years ago, the
wrongs they suffer are all too recognisable.

In this case his victims have recourse to laments in the form of prayers to
the gods, and the sky goddess has pity on them. Her remedy is to create a
different kind of human being a wild man with a nature that gives him
deep sympathy with fellow creatures. This newcomer, Enkidu, brings
passions and understanding of a different order into the world in which
the dictator rules. When he and the dictator meet each other, there is a
shift in the balance of power; the responses of the new being profoundly
change the tyrants sense of his own omnipotence.

The Epic of Gilgamesh expresses a dream of liberation. It does so within a

strong sense of human limits: the dictator must taste the bitterness of
death, learn its irreversibility; only then can he unlearn his former ways
and come closer to understanding love of others, from which follows their
right to freedom.
Its an old poem, and its both more hopeful and more fatalistic than
current political philosophy rejects on principle. The society it summons
across the millennia is feudal, more feudal than some feudal states today,
and it would be anachronistic to think the wild man could alter that.
Besides, prayers are not enough to make liberty happen.

But the pattern of words called prayer is a form of speech, and it can act
antithetically to hate speech. It can communicate what is desired for good.
It can articulate ideals. I remember the ecological activist and poet Susan
Griffin saying years ago, in relation to the movement to allow women to
choose to have babies or not, that we must not let the enemies of liberty
snatch for themselves the language of life while we, the lovers of freedom,


Writers at Liberty
find ourselves always in opposition, speaking against, forced into negation,
into the language of death. It is hard to do. Invective, diatribe,
denunciation and prosecution roll off the tongue so much more easily. Its
much easier to complain about lack of liberty than to communicate what
liberty is; its harder to enjoy it to the full when its there than to rail against
its loss. One form of freedom is not having to fight about holding on to it because it is so securely planted and accepted. But that state is ideal,
always on the far horizon.

The dictator is on the rampage and everyone who can leave is leaving.
Some of them in disguise as boys because his hit men are seizing and
attacking girls, bringing some of them to the palace to be raped and
murdered. The scene is all too recognisable, though his crimes were being
told in India and Persia and Syria and Turkey and other countries in Central
Asia and the Middle East since the ninth century at least. In this old story a
young woman devises a plan: she will volunteer to marry the despot and
then tell him stories which will gradually unfold the possibilities of another
way of justice, magnanimity, and tolerance not liberty as we understand
it today but something at least larger than his narrow and vicious reign
has hitherto understood. Shahrazads poetic fables of the night gradually
lift the darkness from the tyrants mind.
The stories are entertainments, and cunning. They conceals lessons in
liberty: when the genie Shahkr is freed from the barnacled copper flask in
which he has been imprisoned for a thousand years, he flows out in a
towering rage, determined to avenge himself on the world that has
punished him so ruthlessly. The fisherman who has unscrewed the flask
and set the genie free finds himself in danger of his life. But he manages to
trick the raging Shahkr back inside by a simple ruse (its a very old trick, but
we know it best from Disneys film Aladdin), by asking him how someone
so colossal could fit into such a small bottle. So Shahkr shows him.
This part shows us speech as storytelling, the clever sleight of hand of
ancient fables. Once more captive, the genie begs and begs to be set free,
but the fisherman fears that once let out, hell want to kill him all over
again. So the fisherman tells the genie more stories about the torments
and slavery suffered by others, the injustice and the cruelty inflicted on
others. He remembers


Writers at Liberty

Writers at Liberty

a crocodile which
a prince who
a dictator who

in its many ancient forms fable, fairy tale, parable, riddles acts
powerfully to create the common ground where laws guaranteeing liberty
can grow (gay rights is a case in point). So for me, Liberty is an open
cultural space, always at risk of shrinking from a variety of stealthy as well
as obvious dangers (for example, the current pressure on public
institutions to find corporate sponsors; the horrible new legalistic
acceptance of forms of torture). Poetry can be strong enough to help,
wrote Seamus Heaney. I think he had imagination strong enough to help.
Ive always trusted literature and art - to be strong enough, in the sense
of curious, open, exploratory. Can words make something happen? They
have to try. But above all, in difficult times, they also act crucially to prevent
some things, too. When the protests, the outcry, the arguments appear to
fail, they have still turned and changed the common ground and lots
worse might have happened to choke it.

And Shahkr listens well from inside his prison cell to these stories of
enslavement, injustice and violence. He pleads again for his liberty; this
time, the fisherman takes a gamble and trusts him. He sets the genie free.

Shahkr comes out glorying in the light of day as it were Mandela leaving
Robbins Island and he tells the fisherman to come along, as he strides off
to a kingdom where
Jews, Zoroastrians, Muslims and Christians co-habit in mutual endeavour
this kingdom of the Black Isles is under threat: its people subjugated.
Shahrazad embarks on a long winding story, which eventually ends with
the kingdoms survival, the restoration of liberty to the inhabitants, the
fishermans freedom from want, and other liberties gained by others in
the numerous dramatis personae but not all liberties and for everyone.
Not yet.

As E M Forsters original statement of the Council for Civil Liberties

declared, 80 years ago, after the death of its founder Ronald Kidd,

he championed the liberties of the people in the fight that is never done

But if you dont go on fighting for it the modicum of liberty dwindles.

Liberty is a bit like live yoghurt it grows as if by magic and sweetens its
medium if its given the right medium to grow in, and granted the right
conditions and it sleeps when deprived of them. The right conditions are
many and complicated, but liberty definitely grows in culture and
flourishes through stories and words. The laws that guarantee our liberty
have to take root in that culture, otherwise theyll be broken or ignored
or, worse, reversed. This doesnt mean that writers or storytellers set out
to instruct god forbid that belief in literatures powers lead to a Stalinist
writers union style sermons and falsehoods but it does mean that fiction


Marina Warner is a writer of fiction and cultural history and teaches literature
and creative writing.


Writers at Liberty

Calais Plage

By Simon Tonkin
the turbid ebb and flow of human misery
Dover Beach Matthew Arnold

The sea is right for washing clothes today.

The channel is flat, the sun bright,
Glancing off the white cliffs, near and far away.
26 miles I could walk that in one day.
Where little children play along the shoreline
Half-naked couples openly embrace.
A game of volleyball gets underway,
Attaque and Contre they call; a thoughtless
Orgy of white flesh on parade. I live
In a jungle behind the beach. I sleep
Under a plastic sheet. Sometimes we fight
Among ourselves - Afghans, Iraqis,
Sudanese sometimes our differences
Become too great, though not for Scabies or T.B.

Writers at Liberty
You English come here for your bargain booze;
You make a day of purchasing your drug.
You think you are the measure of all things,
As if the whole world envies you your blood.
Our countrys only good enough for you
To bomb in freedoms name, not for us to come
And live among you in your land of dreams.
But one night soon, squeezed between your smuggled
Crates of Whisky, I will get to Ingerlund.

No dogs allowed to walk

The white sands after May except the wild
Alsatians of the CRS. Sometimes
Ive slept in those gun emplacements
The Germans left when trying
To keep the British and their friends at bay.

Even the seagulls are patient here

But they can chase the ferries if they want.
We watch the fishermen collecting worms,
We touch the Bleriot monument for luck.
I erase the name beneath my fingerprints
With a dinner plate that Ive made blister hot,
For Ive a wife and children in Sangin,
I cannot take the risk of being caught.

Simon is from Bristol. He is a self-employed artist who specialises in house portraits,

especially those belonging to famous writers. He began writing poetry in his youth.
Simon is the winner of Libertys Be the 80th Writer competition.
His piece completes our Writers at Liberty 80th anniversary project.


Writers at Liberty

About Liberty
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