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Austerity Horror

Twisted Tales of Austerity: Friday 24th October 2014 @ Waterstones Deansgate

In Coalition Britain an extreme neoliberal consensus is forming around permanent austerity, worsening living standards, and privatization of the few public assets that have thus far evaded liberalization. With the three largest UK political parties all backing further cuts in 2015, a bleak future stretches before us. The late Joel Lane and Tom Johnstone’s Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease (Gray Friar Press) is an anthology that explores the dark depths into which twenty-first century disaster capitalism is dragging us. Twisted Tales, Manchester Metropolitan University and Waterstones Deansgate are teaming up to run Twisted Tales of Austerity as part of the Gothic Manchester Festival later this month, an event featuring readings from authors who contributed to Horror Uncut, followed by a panel discussion about austerity horror and a chance for the audience to participate in the debate. Here is Twisted Tales’s David McWilliam in conversation with Johnstone about the politics of Horror Uncut.

DM: In 2014, we find the financial crisis still being used as the pretext for massive welfare cuts in order to pay for lowering the taxes of oligarchs and multinational corporations. How important do you consider stories to be when selling the austerity narrative?
TJ: First of all, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that in recent years the word ‘narrative’ has taken on a specifically ideological meaning, as in your use there: the ‘austerity narrative’, suggesting that the proponents of a particular world-view want to tell a story, and make that fiction into reality. However, it would be foolish to suggest that fiction can change things by itself. On the other hand, popular resistance often draws on popular narratives, as a source of both inspiration and imagery. As an example, take the use of the mask from the graphic novel and film V for Vendetta by the Occupy and Anonymous movements, though the Situationist-inclined among us might be tempted to see a cynical marketing ploy in this, the Spectacle recuperating and commodifying dissent. Sometimes, though, those facing particularly repressive regimes use it as a kind of code to communicate ideas that people can’t express openly. Recently, there were reports of protestors against Burmese military rule using the three-fingered salute of the rebels in The Hunger Games. As we don’t live under military rule and can express things a little more openly, I like to think of Horror Uncut as more of a two-fingered salute to the powers that be! In general, there is a history of fiction and drama acting as a means of challenging authority and discussing suppressed or subversive ideas. Those in power also know the potency of popular narrative and get rattled when it’s used against them: take the Tory outrage at Hilary Mantel’s story ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’. George Osborne’s paraphrasing of Trainspotting’s ‘Choose Life’ sequence at the Tory Party conference shows what can happen when they fail to subvert fiction for their own ends…


DM: Horror has been labelled by some as a conservative genre that punishes transgression. How do you see Horror Uncut as challenging that perception?
TJ: As a committed socialist, my late co-editor and author of the story ‘A Cry for Help’, Joel Lane, could hardly be accused of conservatism. Indeed, his work on the anti-fascist anthology Never Again (also Gray Friar Press) was his way of challenging the very perception of horror fiction that you describe. However, he wouldn’t have felt the need to do this, if there weren’t a strong current in horror suggesting that those who step out of line suffer hideous fates. I don’t know if it’s that simple though. Take Frankenstein, usually seen as putting across the moral that ‘there are some things that Man was not supposed to know or meddle with’, but written by the daughter of a radical and a feminist, married to the poet who called on the workers to ‘Rise like Lions after slumber, … Ye are many ― they are few’. You could see Victor Frankenstein’s creation as a metaphor for the newly emergent industrial proletariat, ‘created’ by the expropriation of the landed peasantry. Certainly, the narrative punishes Frankenstein for his transgression, but if this seems conservative, the narrative is radical in showing us the world through the eyes of the dispossessed monster. Frankenstein the character also represented the Enlightenment ideals that Mary Shelley and the Romantic poets she mixed with rejected, ideals that informed the birth of European capitalism.


Stephen King has noted that a key, though not always acknowledged, theme of horror is ‘economic unease’, and this is certainly true of many of the stories in Horror Uncut, such as ‘The Ballad of Boomtown’ by Priya Sharma. The narrator of this story suffers for her transgression, while her ill-starred affair with a property developer mirrors the collapse of the Irish property market. Other stories suggest the opposite of the ‘punishment of transgression’ paradigm, as playing by the rules won’t save the protagonists from the cruelty of austerity measures, and their narratives also challenge the demonization of migrants and benefit claimants in much of the media. David Turnbull’s ‘The Privilege Card’ shows what happens once we start going along with the Coalition’s austerity ‘narrative’ and blindly following orders. Rosanne Rabinowitz’s tale, on the other hand, shows someone transgressing by fighting back against the cops when he gets caught up in a riot, suggesting that (Shock! Horror!) he might even get away with it…


DM: Do you see the publication of Horror Uncut as a form of political activism, an intervention in the debate about what sort of a society we want to live in, or a meditation on the current trajectory of UK politics?
TJ: Well, hopefully all three, with reservations. I’m suspicious of the term ‘activism’, which implies to me a false separation between politics and everyday life. I’d certainly love it if people started reading out some of these horror stories at rallies and picket-lines though! I doubt that’s going to happen, but it would be kind of fun. These stories aren’t sermons. What drew me to Joel’s stories was that he was able to put politics in them in a very clear way, without being preachy, as you’ll see from his story in the book. Some of the other writers in the book don’t see themselves as political, and I hope that it will be read by people who don’t either, but will recognize something of their daily reality in the stories.


DM: With references to radical politics in the collection, does Horror Uncut suggest that the anger generated by austerity measures is leading to a politicization of the dispossessed and a growing appetite to challenge the neoliberal consensus?
TJ: It varies according to the story. Some, such as Rosanne’s story, ‘Pieces of Ourselves’, which was inspired by the student unrest in 2010, seem to be suggesting this. In others, such as Alison Littlewood’s ‘The Ghost at the Feast’, the supernatural acts as a metaphor for the way in which politicians seem to ignore popular protest. This has been the story of the past few years, when mass struggles by students, public sector workers and others have gradually faded into the background, wilfully marginalized by the media (although there is a small resurgence in public sector strikes at the moment over the miserable pay offer, despite the union soft cops’ efforts to dampen the flames of discontent). In general, I’d say Horror Uncut suggests a more negative picture, I’m afraid (but then it is after all a horror anthology!). Many of the acts of resistance shown are desperate, isolated, individual ones. There’s definitely more emphasis on the suffering of the vulnerable than in the politicization of the dispossessed. If there’s an appetite to challenge the ruling consensus, it’s that of the editors, possibly the writers and, hopefully, the readers, who may wish to translate their horror at what they read into some kind of collective action.


Twisted Tales of Austerity will run from 12-2pm on Friday 24th October 2014 at Waterstones Deansgate. Tickets are on sale in store and via the dedicated Eventbrite page.


October 22nd, 2014 - 13:34pm

The BAFTSS Conference comes to MMU

16-18th April 2015

Next April will see the 3rd BAFTSS (British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies) Annual Conference come to MMU. Andrew Moor, vice-chair of BAFTSS and member of MMU’s Department of English says, “The BAFTSS Conference has quickly proved itself to be an important and hugely enjoyable fixture in the ‘conference season’ and I’m delighted that we are able to host it at MMU”. The title of the conference is “Genre, Gender and the Politics of the Everyday: Performing Tensions On and Off Screen” and proposals for papers are invited in any relevant area of global TV, Film and Screen Studies. Professor Christine Geraghty has been announced as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2015. Christine’s work has been in Television Studies and British Cinema Studies – she is now Emeritus Professor and Honorary Professional Research Fellow, University of Glasgow. In addition, the conference will see BAFTSS present a Memorial Award honouring the work of Professor Stuart Hall.

With these awards in mind, BAFTSS have relseased a call for papers and/or panels on all areas of television, film and screen studies. Where not proposing a full paper, PG students are welcome to submit proposals for poster presentations. Proposals for papers, panels and poster presentations should focus on one or more of the following:
  • Quality and value
  • Aesthetics and style
  • Genre
  • Gender
  • Performance
  • Media specificity and convergence
  • Audience studies
  • Patterns of production, distribution and reception
  • Screen Practice
  • Rhythms and representations of the ordinary and the everyday
  • Race
  • Sexuality
Full details are yet to be announced but the conference will host Christine Geraghty’s ‘Desert Island’ screening event and a screening of John Akomfrah’s documentary The Stuart Hall Project (2013), two keynote talks (one by the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, one by a television practitioner), a Memorial Award, the BAFTSS Awards Ceremony, a Postgraduate/Early Career development session, conference dinner and publishers’ stands.

Proposals for individual papers (with or without a panel proposal) should be 250 words long, plus a brief biography (100 words) including affiliation details. Proposals for poster presentations should be 150 words, plus a brief biography. Proposals for panels should be submitted to the conference committee (at Friday, 31 October 2014. Proposals for individual papers and poster presentations should be submitted to the conference committee (at by Monday, 10 November 2014. Please state in the title of your email if you are proposing a paper, a panel or a poster presentation. You must be a member of BAFTSS to present your research at the conference. To join, please go to (£20 salaried, £10 unsalaried). Free places will be awarded to a very limited number of volunteer PG helpers and notice of these will be made available after papers have been reviewed. All proposers will be notified by 1 February 2015.

October 17th, 2014 - 14:41pm

Inspired by Belle Vue

Friday 30th October 2014

Spend an evening at Chetham’s Library with artists, illustrators, and authors who are: Inspired by Belle Vue.

Livi Michael and Anna Mainwaring from the Manchester Writing School at MMU will be reading their stories ‘For one day only’ and ‘Maharajah: the elephant who walked to Manchester’.

Autographed copies of the short-story anthologies ‘Timelines’ and ‘Crimelines’ in which Livi and Anna’s stories can be found will be available for purchase. The original illustrations for these stories by Bethany Thompson and Nabihah Shireen will be on show. Wine, juice and snacks will be served.


Friday 30th October 2014. 6.30-8.00pm. FREE. Book your place online now


‘Timelines’ is available from Amazon and also direct here


October 15th, 2014 - 14:06pm

Voice Box – Open Mic Night

Upstairs at Dulcimer, 7.30pm, Thursday 16th October 2014

As part of an ongoing collaboration between the Manchester Writing School’s MA Creative Writing students and the MMU English Society you are cordially invited to the first session of Voice Box. A chance for you to socialise with fellow course members old and new, from undergraduates to alumni, in a convivial atmosphere. Bring along work-poetry, spoken word, prose-that you’d like to air to a supportive audience. Or if you’d just like to come along be entertained, enlightened even moved: feel free as it is free!

Dulcimer, 567 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 0AE. Readings from 8, but sign up from 7.30.




October 15th, 2014 - 11:13am

The Skinny speak to a member of the MMU Animals Panel

After speaking to both Kim Stallwood and Wahida Khandker, Jamie Faulkner (food writer for The Skinny) also had a few questions for Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes. Xavier is a Lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University. He will be presenting “The Slaughterhouse Novel” as part of the MMU Animals Panel on Monday 20th October. For more information on the event visit here.

What made you want to explore the subject of slaughterhouses and their representation in literature? I notice you’ve written on the subjects of Gothic horror, horror films, surgical horror and haematophilia – I imagine the slaughterhouse fits in well with all that?

The slaughterhouse paper I will be presenting in October is a condensed version of a longer chapter in my book Body Gothic. When I was first researching and reviewing material for inclusion in this project, I noticed there was a significant amount of novels set in modern slaughterhouses. I also noticed there was a tendency to put the human subject in the position of the animal, rather than simply describing the terrible working conditions of the meat packing industry or the cruelty visited upon animals. It all came together quite naturally after that.

I am very interested in transgressive fiction and film, especially the use of the body as a taboo site in which fears of all kinds are projected. Investigating the slaughterhouse novel gave me some scope to analyse the very (anti-)transcendental anxieties behind the idea of turning individuals (with an identity) into disposable consumables. Apart from exploring the ethics of slaughter, some of these novels seem concerned with the progressive secularisation of the West and the entrenchment of the body as the last bastion of empiric truth.


Have you ever been to a slaughterhouse? And are you someone who is particularly interested in vegetarianism/animal rights?

I have never been to a slaughterhouse. Quite frankly, I don’t think I could stomach it. Watching Franju’s Blood of the Beasts gave me nightmares for days.

Whilst I wouldn’t say that I am not interested in animal rights, it is not an area that I actively research. My work is more invested in the complex relation between the representation and consumption of images of mutilation and death. Cruelty to animals is inevitably a part of that. For example, it seems to be ok to show images of an animal dying on screen so long as it served a utilitarian end (i.e. it was then eaten), but not if it was purely for recreational purposes (I am thinking of Cannibal Holocaust and Pink Flamingos in particular). Why do we make these decisions and how are they driven by the way we think about animals in a way that de-individualises them?

Apart from Under The Skin and The Jungle, which other works will you be referencing?

Quite possibly: Joseph D’Lacey’s Meat, Matthew Stokoe’s Cows, Conrad William’s The Scalding Rooms and a few related films (Killer of Sheep, Slaughterhouse, Blood of the Beasts, etc.).


October 10th, 2014 - 14:57pm

Privileging the Unseen

A one-day symposium on the writing of Hilary Mantel

Tuesday 9th June 2015

International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester, UK


The wholeambience in which I was brought up was one in which the unseen is privileged

(Mantel 2005)


Hilary Mantel was until recently ‘curiously invisible’ (Vaux 1994) but since winning the Booker Prize in 2009 for her historical novel Wolf Hall, then making literary history by winning for a second time in 2012 with her sequel Bring Up the Bodies, she has finally achieved popular recognition and acclaim. However, the tension in her work between visibility and invisibility persists, and her corpus remains neglected within the academy. This symposium aims to redress this silence whilst also exploring it as a potential consequence of how her writing privileges the unseen – ‘It makes me feel unstable’ said James Runcie in his BBC interview Hilary Mantel: A Culture Show Special (2011).

The papers will consider any aspect of Mantel’s fiction and memoir, including Gothicism, the medical humanities and autobiography. This symposium marks an attempt, in the words of Mantel, to gain some ‘purchase’ (Runcie 2011) on Mantel’s writing and what privileging the unseen might actually mean.


Keynote Speaker: Dr Wolfgang Funk, Leibniz Universität Hannover

‘Spectres of Mantel: Haunted Epistemologies and the Nostalgia for the Irrational’


Abstracts of 300 words are invited on all aspects of Mantel’s writing, including but by no means limited to:

  • Narrative/form/short stories.
  • Body/bodiliness.
  • Illness/endometriosis.
  • Adaptations/plays.
  • Mental health/’madness’.
  • Medicine/medical humanities.
  • Gothic/Gothicism.
  • History/histories and the historical novel.
  • Sequels/Booker Prizes/literary celebrity.
  • Ghosts/haunting/the spectral text.
  • Ellipsis/gaps/ambiguity.

The proceedings of the symposium will be included in a book proposal for a collection of essays, to be edited by the symposium organisers, and presented to Bloomsbury for their Contemporary Critical Perspectives series.


The symposium will be followed by an evening reading by Hilary Mantel herself.


Dr Eileen Pollard and Dr Ginette Carpenter

Manchester Metropolitan University


Please submit a 300-word abstract as a Word document to by Monday 12th January 2015.





October 7th, 2014 - 14:55pm

An Evening with Hilary Mantel


Tuesday 9th June 2015, Manchester Metropolitan University


Geoffrey Manton Building, 5pm

The IHSSR are delighted to announce that Hilary Mantel, one of Britain’s most accomplished and acclaimed writers, will be visiting the Institute next year to deliver an evening reading to academics, students and members of the general public.

Mantel is the author of fourteen books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black and the memoir Giving Up the

Ghost. Both her non-fictional and fictional writing, on modern representations of royalty and the assassination of Margaret Thatcher, have generated extraordinary media storms and widespread popular debate of her work. Her two most recent novels, Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, have both been awarded the Man Booker Prize – an unprecedented literary achievement.

The IHSSR greatly looks forward to welcoming one of the most high-profile authors writing in English today, and hopes that many staff and students will be able to join us for this exciting event.

Further details will follow.


September 27th, 2014 - 11:17am

Humanities in Public Festival 2014-15

Inaugural Lecture: Professor Andrew Biswell


We are just five days away from the first event of this year’s Humanities in Public Festival. There will be a wine reception and welcome to the new Humanities in Public programme from 5.00pm in Geoffrey Manton Atrium before Professor Andrew Biswell’s inaugural lecture, “In Time of War: W.H. Auden Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets”.

Andrew Biswell is Professor of Modern Literature at MMU and Director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. He has written critical introductions to several novels by Anthony Burgess and edited the fiftieth anniversary edition of A Clockwork Orange. Professor Biswell’s book, The Real Life of Anthony Burgess, was awarded the Portico Prize. His research into W.H. Auden, which forms part of a larger book project, was supported by a Christopher Isherwood Foundation Fellowship at the Huntington Library in California.

All of the information for Andrew Biswell’s inaugural lecture can be found here.

September 24th, 2014 - 14:24pm

The Manchester Writing School

Poetry Inquisition: Jeffrey Wainwright in conversation with Martin Kratz


Join us on National Poetry Day for the first in a new series of FREE author events: special guest Jeffrey Wainwright in conversation with Martin Kratz at the Burgess Foundation.

At this event, Jeffrey Wainwright will be reading and discussing his poem ‘An Empty Street’, shortlisted in the ‘Best Single Poem’ category of the Forward Prize. The event is effectively a staging of the ‘poetry inquisition’ as called for by the chair of judges, Jeremy Paxman, in controversial remarks earlier this year. In light of these remarks, the conversation will give particular attention to the relation between poetry and the public, and invites thoughts and questions about the poem from the audience.

Jeffrey Wainwright has published five poetry collections with Carcanet, the most recent of which is The Reasoner (2012). He has numerous publications on the subject of poetry and translations to his name. Jeffrey retired from his post as Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2008. As a student himself, he was influenced by the many poets at the School of English, Leeds University, including Jon Glover, Geoffrey Hill, Jon Silkin and Ken Smith. ‘An Empty Street’ was inspired by Ottone Rosai’s painting Via San Leonardo. The full text of the poem, first published in PN Review 215, can be found here.

Martin Kratz is an Associate Lecturer in Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. His poem ‘The Man Who Walked Through Walls’ was highly commended for this year’s Forward Prize. He is co-editor of Mount London (Penned in the Margins).

Drinks will be available to purchase from the bar, and there’ll be a special Blackwell’s bookstall, with signing after the event.

Date: Thursday 2nd October 2014

Time: 7.00pm

Entry: Free. Contact to reserve seats.

Venue: The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Chorlton Mill, Cambridge Street, Manchester, M1 5BY

Coming soon: Kathleen Jamie (6th November), Maggie Gee (4th December), Adam Thirlwell (16th February).

Visit our websites and follow us on Twitter for news:

The Manchester Writing School at MMU: @mcrwritingschl

The International Anthony Burgess Foundation: @misterenderby

Supported by the MMU Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research and MacDonald Hotels and Resorts


September 23rd, 2014 - 16:00pm

Dr Rachel Dickinson on BBC Radio Scotland

Dr Rachel Dickinson (Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, MMU Cheshire) will be interviewed live on BBC Radio Scotland’s The Culture Show on Tuesday 8th July at 2 p.m.

A major exhibition of John Ruskin’s art opens this week at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery The Culture Show is dedicating 30 minutes to this on Tuesday.  They have asked Scottish dance critic Kelly Apter to view the exhibition as a non-specialist and have asked Rachel Dickinson to be the Ruskin expert in a live conversation with host Janice Forsyth

July 4th, 2014 - 15:39pm