New novel on 1981 British Handsworth riots


This reggae music video says about itself:

Steel PulseHandsworth Revolution

Steel Pulse – Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland 1979, “Montreux Casino

David Hinds – Vocals, Guitar
Basil Glendon Gabbidon – Guitar
Ronald, Ronnie “Stepper” McQueen – Bass Guitar
Selwyn D.”Bumbo” Brown – Keyboards, Vocals
Alphonso “Phonso” Martin – Percussion, Vocals
Steve Nisbett, Stevie “Grizzly” Nesbitt – Drums

By Farhana Shaikh in Britain:

‘I’m interested in exploring how the personal becomes political’

Saturday 15th October 2016

SHARON DUGGAL tells Farhana Shaikh what impelled her to write her first novel, set during the 1981 Handsworth riots

The Handsworth Times is your first novel. How did you go about writing it?

I’d like to say I have a routine and a set process for writing but it would be a big fib.

I am quite unorganised and a bit sporadic as a writer but I do always carry a notebook, jot down ideas as they arise and revisit them later. I have taught myself to write quickly through necessity and I can bang out a shoddy first draft at speed.

This is because I know my time is short due to other commitments, so I have to get whatever is in my head down on paper before it is too late. From there I revise and redraft a lot and I suppose that has organically become my process.

You’ve set your novel in Handsworth in Birmingham but your story has at its heart a Punjabi family. What personal experiences did you draw on?

I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s in a British-Asian family in Handsworth, surrounded by the joint values of traditional Indian culture, family loyalty and an emphasis on hard work as a way of progressing through life and becoming upwardly socially mobile.

However, I was also surrounded by people of diverse cultural backgrounds living in reduced circumstances, struggling to make ends meet, and it soon became apparent that actually, for the working-class communities that I was in the midst of, opportunities for social mobility and aspiration were severely restricted whatever we did.

Having said that, Handsworth was also an extremely lively and exciting place to grow up with the street, doubling as a playground, central to community life.

I come from a big family with lots of siblings and cousins so there was a rich pool of material to draw on for ideas and characters. Like most extended families, stories about legacy and family history get passed down and become fragmented over time but some things, even though you don’t quite know whether they actually happened or not, do stick in the mind and resurface when writing.

The novel’s set in 1981 and, while it’s fiction, it feels as though we’re very much grounded in reality.

How much research did you do about the period and were you surprised by what you uncovered?

The novel started as part of a research degree so I was well placed to do research as part of the process but, rather than heavy academic research, I found what I had to do was a lot of googling to check things like TV listings and pop charts from the time. I do remember certain things about the period but it was a long time ago so I did have to do my homework, especially on the cultural and news references.

What made you want to write about the riots of 1981?

Birmingham in general is under-represented in mainstream literary output. Not enough stories about the city get published and I don’t know why.

But it is hugely interesting, both for its industrial past and how that has shaped its present, including its demography. It must be among the most multicultural places in the world yet, for some reason, publishers are not choosing stories based there.

This, coupled with the political landscape of the 1980s, of which the riots were a consequence, continues to be of interest, not least because our politicians and governments don’t seem to have learnt anything from what happened then.

Unfortunately, as ordinary people get squeezed tighter with welfare cuts, archaic education policies and lack of investment in communities and as racism and xenophobia rise, stoked as political tools by certain politicians and by their media mouthpieces — or vice versa? — manifestations of social unrest like rioting have and could so easily happen again at any point.

We see the struggle within the household juxtaposed against the one happening in the community. What were you interested in exploring by setting the story firmly within the space of domesticity?

I suppose I was interested in exploring how the personal becomes political, especially for the younger female characters, and how the domestic world and the social external world are inextricably linked.

The world beyond the house very much influences how characters develop and this, in turn, begins to transform how they exist alongside each other in the domestic sphere. They each go on a journey of some kind that helps equip them for the challenges of the world beyond the domestic sphere or, in the case of the father Mukesh, a journey that actually contributes to his demise.

I also wanted to convey something of the claustrophobia of living in a large family in a small house and how this can mirror the claustrophobia of living a seemingly fish-bowl like existence in a community like Handsworth.

Plenty of writers have written about the immigration experience but British stories set outside of London still seem few and far between. What were your hopes for the story you wanted to tell?

Like most people, I get frustrated by the stereotypes that continue to get churned out in books, sitcoms, film etc. It seems that there is an acceptable face of multiculturalism that mainstream publishers and other cultural gatekeepers want to perpetuate for some reason — I suspect it is because it is what they perceive as marketable.

The novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a great talk a few years ago where she warned against the danger of a single story as it leads to misunderstanding and stereotypes which are almost always untrue. I couldn’t agree with her more.

We have a long way to go to change the lack of diversity in literary output despite some really good recent interventions.

The saddest thing is that this is at the expense of some very talented writers that don’t fit the mould and at the expense of the reading public who, I am sure, are thirsty for different kinds of stories and voices.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about writing about the past?

Bring the past alive as part of the research by exploring personal accounts, diaries, social histories, film archives and oral testimony.

Luckily, with more recent history, we have a lot more access to this kind of primary source material online, including digital archives housed on library and community sites.

I found old photographs, music videos and news footage particularly helpful to informing some of the more descriptive passages of the book. Visual stimuli really are useful.

The Handsworth Times by Sharon Duggal is published by Bluemoose Books, price £8.99. A longer version of this interview was first published in The Asian Writer, theasianwriter.co.uk.

Dipper in England, video


This 13 October 2016 video shows a dipper in the Peak District in England.

Badger killing in England, stop it


This video from England says about itself:

4 August 2014

Wild badgers filmed in south Lincolnshire woodland.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Pro-badger activists slam cull extension

Wednesday 24th August 2016

ANIMAL rights campaigners condemned reports yesterday that ministers are planning to extend the badger cull.

Killing badgers does not effectively eradicate bovine tuberculosis, animal rights protesters argue.

“It’s more expensive to cull. It’s more inhumane to cull. It doesn’t sort out the problem even if you do it properly,” said RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles.

Badger Trust chairman Peter Martin said: “The badger is being used as a scapegoat for failures in the modern intensive livestock industry.”

Instead of culling, a vaccine for cattle should be a priority, said Paul Wilkinson of The Wildlife Trust, pointing to evidence that the disease is mainly spread through cow-to-cow contact.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) refused to confirm or deny reports that culling would be extended to south Devon, north Devon, north Cornwall, west Dorset and south Hertfordshire despite Devon farmer Tony Francis telling the BBC he’d signed up to one of the new cull zones.

Badger, hedgehog feeding together


This video from England is called Badger Bert and Mr Big The Hedgehog Feeding Together Early Hours 8/8/2016.

Shows once again how disgusting the Rupert Murdoch media are: they advocate killing badgers. Supposedly because badgers kill hedgehogs (which only happens very rarely).

Young birds fledging in England, videos


This video from England says about itself:

24 June 2016

This video is about Green woodpeckers fledging (Picus viridis).

This video from England says about itself:

20 June 2016

This video is about Blue tits fledging.

This video from England says about itself:

1 June 2016

This video is about a nest of Great tits fledging.

Black Lives matter in England


This video says about itself:

RAW: Black Lives Matter protest blocks motorway to Heathrow Airport, UK

5 August 2016

Police arrested several protesters after dozens of ‘Black Lives Matter‘ activists blocked the motorway route into London’s Heathrow Airport on Friday, by laying down in the middle of the motorway road.

By Lamiat Sabin in Britain:

Black Lives Matter more than traffic

Saturday 6th August 2016

A slower trip to work is nothing – try 24 years of being denied real justice

BLACK rights activists shut down transport routes across England yesterday in protest against institutional racism and deaths in police custody that haven’t led to a single officer conviction since 1969.

Traffic was brought to a standstill by Black Lives Matter UK (BLMUK) activists who locked arms in a human chain and lay on busy motorways and tramlines in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham.

A BLMUK spokesperson said: “We shut down major transport hubs because the conventional avenues to justice have been shut down to us.

“Friends and families of those killed in custody have been failed by police, the judiciary, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the legislature. We stand with them.

“A few hours’ wait in traffic is nothing compared to the 24 years Leon Patterson’s family have spent fighting for justice [after the 31-year-old died in 1992 in police custody in Manchester].

“Leon was killed in police custody. He had 32 wounds to his body, including part of his nose cut off. There has been no accountability.

“A pathologist admitted in court to fabricating evidence about Leon’s cause of death. Yet no-one has been charged.

“To be stuck in traffic is an irritation. To be denied justice for decades is a crisis.”

The campaign group timed demos for the fifth anniversary of the 2011 death of Mark Duggan — who an inquest jury decided was “lawfully killed” by a police marksman.

The shooting in Tottenham, north London, sparked riots that summer that lasted at least six days in major towns and cities in England including Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester.

Protesters caused disruption near Heathrow Airport on an M4 slip road by locking themselves together and lying in the road under a banner that read: “This is a crisis.”

Four people were arrested and remain in custody, Scotland Yard said. Six others, who were locked together, were arrested and police are in the process of releasing them.

The tram system in Nottingham had to close because four people locked together lay on the city centre tracks. Roads in Manchester and Birmingham were also shut down.

Footage showed police officers pulling demonstrators away from the middle of the road near Birmingham Airport. West Midlands Police said four women and one man were arrested.

Police said they put up screens around the protesters so that motorists would not be distracted.

Activists targeted airports because “many people are either being killed at our borders or being sent back to certain death,” according to BLMUK campaigner Adam Elliott Cooper, 29.

A BLMUK activist said in a Facebook video that there have been “1,562 deaths in police custody in my lifetime” — with no officer convictions.

Another campaigner said black people are “up to 37 times more likely” to be stopped and searched and face “far more severe” sentencing than white people for the same offences.

Because of this, it is “vital” that the BLMUK movement is supported in Britain, said Unite Against Fascism and Stand Up to Racism spokesman Weyman Bennett.

He added: “Institutional racism is ignored and when people raise, it it is attacked. It’s also vital we understand that racism is still a definite part and a fundamental flaw in our divided society.

“The aim is not to disrupt people’s holidays — we want to raise the voice of people whose justice is denied.”