Imagination Is The Best (Now, Go Read A Novel)

Imagination is defined as “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses”. Or, as Ursula Le Guin put, “imagination acknowledges reality, starts from it, and returns to it to enrich it” (Making Up Stories, 2013). An idea, a hypothesis, a lyric, a harmony, a story, a poem, a thesis, a recipe, it’s as if imagination is vital to almost everything we do. Which is why, as I mentioned earlier, the new Cats movie and the current state of politics are symptomatic of a dearth of imagination. Yet, the New Stories of our times, while brilliantly critical of business-as-usual, can still end up sounding a bit old-fashioned, a little unimaginative if you will. So, I think most of us could do with stretching our imaginations a little (or a lot) and we can start with reading a novel.

Because novels come in all shapes and sizes, and many, many genres, and all these genres have a thing or two to teach us. Say, you’re one of those Silicone Valley tech-guru types offering a vision of an all-singing, all-dancing, wizz-bang future, then you’re flying in the space of science-fiction, looking to an imagined future to help inform the present. Or maybe you like harking back to the glory days of yore when England was England or even further back to a time before the Romans invaded and wiped out our pagan heritage, then you’re riding through the realm of fantasy, looking back through history and giving it your own spin. Or maybe you don’t truck with fiction and prefer to focus on the “facts”. Then let me refer you to realism, as equally fictitious as the other genres, but working just as hard to engage the imagination of the reader with concepts a little more familiar than space ships and trolls. Other popular genres for modern storytellers include dystopia – the world’s going to sh*t; uptopia – the world will be great again if we do it this way; whodunnit – who’s to blame for all this; and romance – how to fall back in love with yourself in ten easy steps. I’d say a book like Homo Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, shelved in non-fiction, manages to engage all these genres yet despite professing to have a written A Brief History of Humankind he barely mentions a single novel, no poetry either.

Ideas need the imagination because it’s the faculty that allows us to engage with them. As Ursula Le Guin put it, “Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling.” So if you want to get stylish in your telling you’re going to have to do better than a bullet point list and would do well by exercising that imagination of yours. And if you want an imaginative workout, you could start by reading a novel.

Fantasy, City, Angel, Giant, Mystical, Atmosphere

Does The Quest For Queer Happiness Have A Destination?

Only two days now until the premiere of The Quest, a play I’ve written that parts mythic, part modern and follows the stories of Zemuel and Fred, both yearning to find home in an oft hostile world. It’s being put on as part of the Arcola Theatre’s Creative Disruption festival, which celebrates its many community theatre groups, including the Queer Collective, of which I am a part. Since January an ace group of queers have been tirelessly bringing the script to life with movement, voice, body and even sticks. The result is already beautiful and I can’t wait to see it on stage. You can too, get your tickets here!

Inspired originally by Matthew Todd’s great book, Straight Jacket, which outlines a number of problems the gay, male community is suffering from and how to face them. Whilst I was reading it I went off for an adventurous week in a rewilding Welsh valley. It was all very Legend of Zelda and whilst the people there with me were fabulous there was not much space for queerness. So the Queer Warrior character came to life to challenge this as well as the repetitive plot of the Zelda games – a young dude going off to rescue a Princess from a big monster, yawn. I wanted to be able to imagine an inherently queer fantastical world, one in which all LGBT+ folks can experience wholesome rites of passage as they step deeper into their identities. However, while I think it’s very important to be able to imagine these things I also know that I don’t live in such a world. All the problems outlined in Straight Jacket continue to exist, which is why The Quest is also set in London where shit happens and the characters have to deal with it.

So does the quest for queer happiness have a destination? I think so. But I don’t think it’s necessarily a place. I think it’s a state of mind and being that is hugely dependent on the places in which one finds oneself. For me it’s about cultivating self-love, pride and resilience in the face of self-loathing, shame and prejudice. It’s tough and all over the world LGBT+ folk are being persecuted simply for wanting to be themselves. Queertopia remains a distant dream but I still think it’s worth imagining these brilliant places where queer folk are happy and well nurtured whilst recognising the challenges we face in getting there. I do hope you’ll join us on The Quest.

Fantastic Activists & Where To Find Them

I’m a writer. There’s nothing I find more satisfying than weaving a narrative together with the aim of taking an audience on a well-plotted adventure. I like sharing these skills in workshops and inspiring people’s creativity. In essence, I like using my imagination and encouraging others to do so as well. The fifteen activists recently convicted of “intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome” are also asking us to use our imagination. As their peaceful act of protest has been twisted, by the Crown Prosecution Service, into a would-be act of terror, so the Stanstead 15 call on us to imagine a world without deportation flights, detention centres and borders.

End Deportations is a campaign working to stop the Home Office’s “racist, violent [and] calculatedly cruel” practice of “rounding people up by their perceived nationality, detaining them, and using violent force to transport them to another country in secrecy.” Mass deportations are inhumane and immoral, and that was one of the reasons why the Stanstead 15 put their lives on the line to stop a deportation flight. The phrase “illegal immigrant” is often used by the press to incite all sorts of stereotypes and fears, especially during a time when rising nationalism is used to justify oppression and violence. But the world we are being asked to imagine is one where no human is illegal. A world where everyone is welcome everywhere. A world without borders.

It’s a big ask for our imagination – to picture a world so different to our own. One where nation states don’t go head to head in endless resource and military wars but where peoples of all countries can work together to ensure we all thrive within the ecosystems of earth. Whether we can imagine such a world depends on our imagination. Because it’s highly likely that our mind, like the world, is a heavily bordered realm full of beliefs and prejudices we might never have thought to question. We might hold certain views about groups of people, aka stereotypes, and we might hold certain limiting beliefs of ourselves. A bordered imagination can only yield bordered imaginings. In their act of defiance in the face of an inhumane system of deportation the Stanstead 15 are showing us a different world, one where all are welcome. In turn, we can learn from their actions and apply these lessons to our own lives. We can begin the work of removing the borders of our minds, so our imaginative energy can be given what so many of us crave: freedom.

End Deportations