Knowsley’s Broken Democracy, Part 1: Knowledge Is Power

knowsley_council_democracyThe first in a series of opinion pieces by the editor

(Too long didn’t read? The gist: Knowsley Council provides information that no one can understand, and without information,you are powerless.)

A great philosopher – no one’s quite sure who, but Sir Francis Bacon seems to be the main candidate – once said that ‘knowledge is power.’ If you want to play a meaningful role in the world around you and make a difference but are denied information, you are left powerless. Those in the know hold the cards.

As a journalist who quite often has to navigate the murky maze that is knowsley.gov.uk, I can say with confidence that Knowsley Council’s website is a disaster for local democracy. This, in an age when the world wide web is people’s first port of call to find facts and public information. Whether by design or not, the Knowsley Council website does little to help people access information and lots to hinder it.

Knowsley’s Local Plan: A Communications Nightmare

Our case in point is the recent consultation on the Local Plan, which Knowsley Council voted through unanimously in the face of huge public opposition. The controversy stemmed from the fact it … [Read the full article on Prescot Online]

Review: The Haunting of Hill House

An Invitation to Terror: The Haunting of Hill House Reviewed
Liverpool Playhouse, 7 December 2015-16 January 2016

Chipo-Chung-Emily-Bevan-in-The-Haunting-of-Hill-House-at-Liverpool-Playhouse-©-Gary-Calton-sliderWhile you might leave behind one or two of the wordier scenes and the occasionally convoluted machinations of the plot, the warped, surreal benightedness of The Haunting Of Hill House – a new commission for the stage from Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse — will almost certainly follow you out of the theatre.

Originally published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s classic novel on which the play is based tells of four characters gathering at a New England mansion at the behest of a paranormal researcher to observe alleged ghostly activity. It was memorably made into a film — The Haunting — in 1963, directed by Robert Wise — whose eclectic resumé also included The Curse of the Cat People, The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story and The Sound of Music — and again in 1999, in a version by Jan de Bont (featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Liam Neeson) best consigned to the vaults. Now it is on stage for the first time ever, in an adaptation co-produced by Hammer; the company most famous for the Gothic horror films it produced from the ‘50s through to the ‘70s.

Emily Bevan (The Casual Vacancy, In the Flesh) plays Eleanor – Nell — a New England woman tormented by the memory of her late mother. She is the first true star of this adaptation, taking an even more central role than did Julie Harris in the brilliantly executed film version. We experience almost everything through her, being moved at times to amusement at her foibles; sympathy with, perhaps pity at, her neuroses; and unearthly dread as she finds herself increasingly terrorised by Hill House, a place that both tortures her and fulfils her dreams. Like her, Hill House does not appear to have escaped its … [Read the full review at The Double Negative]

Undercover Doctor: Cure Me, I’m Gay

gaycureIn Tuesday night’s Channel 4 documentary ‘Cure Me, I’m Gay,’ telly doc Christian Jessen explored the world of ex-gay therapy. Viewers in the UK can catch up on 4oD here.

I’ve researched and written about the ex-gay movement for the best part of a decade, so in response to this latest programme, I wanted to collate a few relevant links to some of my articles.

First, a couple of thoughts on the show. The flaws usually present in mainstream TV documentaries these days are all there, so I won’t go into detail with those. Suffice it to say, it was bitty, broad and overall gave a mere surface glance at the subject. Such seems par the course for docs these days.

It didn’t reveal a great deal of new stuff. The usual suspects appeared – David Pickup, Richard Cohen, Mike Davidson. John Smid, the former director of Tennessee-based ex-gay programme Love In Action,  gave a rundown of the crazy techniques he used to employ to turn his gay clients straight.

Bizarrely, several media reported in advance that Smid was presently advocating these methods, where in fact it’s well-known that he renounced the practices several years ago and admitted he was still as gay as he ever had been.

What the Jessen documentary did very well was to delineate quite clearly the different methods. Reports of this sort often conflate the varied approaches into one supposed whole, but this made an earnest attempt to show that there were many theories and treatments out there, such as the addiction model (12-step style), reparative therapy (distant father, overbearing mother), deliverance and exorcism.

So, on to the articles. First, Mike Davidson of Northern Ireland-based Core Issues Trust, an organization that effectively brings NARTH’s reparative therapy approach to the UK. All these date to April 2012:

Ex-gays, anti-gays launch London bus ad campaign
‘Traditional Christian teaching’: Exposing an ex-gay myth
Core Issues director Mike Davidson removed from professional association
Core Issues’ Mike Davidson on being ex-gay

David Pickup is an odd character. One of the main ways he keeps himself straight is to solicit the company of muscular men to admire. To attract them, he posts his stats to bodybuilding message boards, and boasts of his great shape and how he looks ten years younger than his age. I kid you not:

Jayson Graves, David Pickup and the Exodus connection (May 2008)
Pickup contradicts himself to support reorientation therapy (August 2008)
UK: Dubious ex-gay therapists Pickup, Pilkington headline ex-gay conference (June 2011)

As for John Smid, he found himself in a helluva lot of controversy when a teenager called Zach Stark was forced into a residential programme at his ministry. He has since apologized:

Former ex-gay leader Smid can no longer condemn gays (October 2010)

Finally, a few of my pieces on the ex-gay/conversion therapy movement not directly related to those who appeared on the programme. These relate to Frontline, a large evangelical-charismatic church in the Wavertree district of Liverpool, who for about a decade have run a ministry based on a dangerously outlandish American ministry called LIFE:

LIFE: Behind Liverpool Frontline Church’s extreme ex-gay connections (November 2011)
Liverpool Frontline Church’s ex-gay-ministry: Backstory (July 2011)
How Liverpool’s Frontline Church struggles with homosexuality (The Guardian‘s Comment is free, July 2011)

In another Guardian piece, I respond to an article from The Times (UK) by Patrick Muirhead:

‘Ex-gays’ side with prejudice (The Guardian‘s Comment is free, January 2010)

Finally, one of my earliest articles on the subject, which I wrote for Third Way magazine in 2006:

Out and Cowed (PDF)

Enjoy!

Interview with Jonathan Harvey, Author of Beautiful Thing

jamie_ste_beautiful_thingI interviewed writer Jonathan Harvey (Gimme Gimme Gimme, Coronation Street) about the 20th anniversary production of his play Beautiful Thing. I saw the dress rehearsal for the London run at the Arts Theatre, Leicester Square, and I’m deliriously excited to see it again this evening at the Liverpool Playhouse.

I’m perched on the toilet, paperback in hand. I don’t have an audience – as far as I’m aware – but if I did, they would see the widest smile ever break across my face. I’ve just reached the end of Jonathan Harvey’s 1993 play Beautiful Thing, the Liverpool-born writer’s sweet tale of teenage love in inner-city London.

Channel 4 filmed it in 1996, with a screenplay by Harvey, and a quick Google search reveals that the stage show has hardly been out of production in recent years. Indeed, any time of the year, there’s a Jamie and a Ste discovering each other somewhere on the planet.

In Beautiful Thing, it’s 1993, and sixteen-year-old Jamie Gangel lives with his feisty mother, Sandra, on the Thamesmead council estate. Classmate and next-door neighbour Ste flees his …

Read the rest at The Double Negative.

(I’ve also been added to the Little Black Book, the The Double Negative’s directory of contributing freelance writers and creatives.)

Charles Moore on ‘Relatively Less Important’ Areas of the UK

Today, on the day of Lady Thatcher’s funeral, former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore spoke to Radio 5 Live’s Nicky Campbell. His comments about “relatively less important” parts of the country caused some controversy.

Here’s a video of the entire interview, followed by a transcript of the relevant portion (4:44 onwards), for context:

There are certainly parts of the country that are more anti-her than others, but I think they tend to be the parts – and this extends my point about where the left might go – they tend to be parts that have become relatively less important. It doesn’t mean their feelings are not to be respected, but it does mean that if you think of how you’re trying to lead a political party in the twenty-first century, you have to find the places that are rising, where opportunity is spreading, and be able to speak to those people rather than simply speak to those who live in areas that are declining, where populations are falling. I think that’s important. You need to think about those left behind, but you shouldn’t merely be the party of those left behind, because if you are, you, too, will be left behind.

Room for One More?

Sod the Walt Disney Company and its Haunted Mansion, with its big budget and shiny new CGI technology. Give me the old-fashioned British ghost train experience, where not knowing whether the rattling, rusty screws will hold your carriage together till the end of the ride is just as frightening as the badly painted ghouls and goblins leaping out at you.

As a child who never passed up the opportunity for a cheap scare, I always made my way directly to the ghost train on entering the fair, whether it was the theme park or the travelling fairground. Roller coasters were not enough. This eighties Liverpool lad preferred the musty smells, dark turns and gaudy thrills of a ride through hell in a carriage for two.

You stepped on board and braced yourself for the jolt as the car, after a bit of a push from the ride-owner, set off along the track and bumped its way through the double doors and into the darkness. The crescendo and …

[Read Room for One More? Boarding the British Ghost Train at Bedlam]

How to Become a Professional Writer

fountain penA step-by-step guide to the basics of becoming a published writer

(Republished from 2010)

Do you write, even if just for your own pleasure? Congratulations: You are already a writer. But perhaps you are thinking about taking it a step further, sharing your work with others, getting published and establishing yourself as a professional writer. This short guide will take you through the essential steps towards fulfilling your writing goals.

Step One: Write

It sounds obvious, but always dreaming and never accomplishing is easily done. The editor and best-selling novelist Sol Stein said that a writer is “someone who cannot not write.” Write regularly, setting aside even 15 minutes or half an hour a day, for example. You may want to carry a notebook with you, so you can jot down notes and scribble out bits of writing at any time, as events grab your attention, or new ideas seize your imagination. Keep a private journal, or set up a blog, where you can post short articles as frequently as you like for others to read online and comment on. Continue reading “How to Become a Professional Writer”

The Play, by David L Rattigan (Montreal, Oct 26)

I’m rather delighted to see my name alongside those of Stephen King, Clive Barker and Alexander Pushkin on this poster for a Halloween event. Montreal playwright and director Michael Mitchell invited me to write a short script for this reading of Macabre and Supernatural plays, taking place at McGill University on October 26. Although I’ve been experimenting writing plays since I was eight (read the sorry saga of how Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera overshadowed my own adaptation here), this is the first time I’ve had something performed as an adult.

My short horror play — titled simply The Play — concerns a husband’s nocturnal habits and his wife’s novel proposal to rescue their troubled marriage.

Bedlam: A Journal of Horror & the Macabre

Robert JE Simpson and I have established a successful creative partnership as editors of Diabolique magazine, which we regrettably left in July. We are, however, pleased to announce a new horror publication: Bedlam is a journal of horror and the macabre, and its first issue will be out in digital and print format in January, 2013.

In the meantime, visit the Bedlam website to find out more. And if you are a writer or creative with a passion for exploring life and culture’s darker realms, click here for our submissions guidelines.

Diabolique Magazine

Joint statement from Robert J.E. Simpson and David L Rattigan,
former editors of Diabolique magazine

Tuesday, 31 July 2012, UK

Following our sudden resignations on 24 July as editors of Diabolique magazine, we would like publicly to disassociate ourselves from Horror Unlimited, and specifically the partnership of Greg Petaloudis and Dima Ballin, publishers of Diabolique. We had no knowledge of their past business dealings, and if we had, we would not have become professionally involved with them.

We resigned with great regret, due to ongoing concerns over business practices, professional conduct, and tone and content of both internal and external communications; concerns which were regularly dismissed as quibbling over minutiae. Shortly after resigning, our fears regarding the integrity of the publishers were confirmed when we uncovered extensive evidence of Greg and Dima’s shared business history, which included a string of fake book and documentary projects, through which rare images and valuable stills were procured from horror fans and collectors under false pretences. These activities are now known to have been running concurrently with the founding of the Horror Unlimited website and Diabolique magazine.

This had been kept from us, although it had the ability to severely affect our reputations as professional writers, editors and creatives, not to mention the reputation of our contributors.

Future

We are proud of the intelligent, entertaining, high-quality magazine we produced for 11 issues. We are thankful for the efforts of our many skilled contributors, generous with their work, time and support, who as we did, invested themselves in the Diabolique vision with little or no financial remuneration.

While this is the end of our association with Diabolique, we intend to continue our professional relationship and will be refocusing our attentions on a new project.

Signed,

Robert J.E. Simpson (former editor, Diabolique)
David L Rattigan (former assistant editor, Diabolique)

Contact:

Robert J.E. Simpson   |   email: robert@avalardpublishing.com   |   skype: robertjesimpson
mobile: +44 (0) 7906103702   |   www.facebook.com/robertjesimpson

David L Rattigan   |   email: davidlrattigan@gmail.com   |   skype: davlrt
mobile: +44 (0) 7835090752   |   www.facebook.com/davidlrattigan