With Friends Like These
Although various factors are responsible for where you ultimately reside in the social pecking order, it isn’t hard to establish which is the most important. You can invoke intersectionality and play identity politics till the cows come home, but as far as I’m concerned, the overwhelming determiner of destiny is social class. As Anton says in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, “I dont have some way to put it. That’s the way it is.” If you’re middle class, you rank higher in the great chain of being than someone who is working class. It really is that simple.
Of late, there’s been a lot of virtuous hand wringing by members of the middle class who happen to work in the publishing industry. They have only just noticed a lack of representation in their profession by members of the working class and have taken it upon themselves to make various pronouncements and expressed their intention to remedy the situation. They – working class writers – are therefore flavour of the month, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that this virtue signalling is anything other than a cynical marketing exercise by various PR departments.
Let me draw on my own experiences. In over five years of writing and self-publishing, I’ve had no support whatsoever from the middle class literary establishment. But why would they support me? I’m not part of their clique. New Writing North – forget them. They only look after their favourites, dispensing largesse to their minions like some corrupt medieval potentate. As for the Arts Council, don’t make me laugh. Then there are those individuals and groups who have latterly attached themselves to our cause. You’d think they’d be sincere advocates for working-class writers – right? – but that’s not necessarily the case. Here’s one salutary example for you to ponder.
There’s a recently founded literary periodical called Northern Gravy. They publish new work on a regular basis and announce when their submission window is open on Twitter. So, in September, I sent them some of my poetry and prose in separate emails. Within minutes, two acknowledgment emails landed in my inbox to show they’d received my material. But once the deadline had passed, and they had announced the long list, my prose work didn’t receive any response at all, whereas the poetry did – a rejection. Moreover, it turned out that I wasn’t the only person to have been left in limbo. There was at least one other Twitter user in the same boat as me, vainly waiting for a reply. When I contacted Northern Gravy, they claimed they hadn’t received the prose work, even after I provided a screenshot of their acknowledgement email. In response to this egregious behaviour, I called them out on their gaslighting. Moments later, they blocked me. So much for solidarity, eh? What sort of message does that send to working-class writers? It’s bad enough knowing these blockheads are incompetent, but even more galling to learn they are in receipt of funding from Arts Council England. Well done. You played a blinder.
We working-class writers are therefore pariahs, despite being in the majority. Fortunately, there’s a supportive and active fraternity of us on Twitter. Here we conspire and share our stories of discrimination. We are like Resistance fighters in occupied France. Invisible, but always on the move, marching towards our next objective. Our Sten guns don’t fire bullets; instead, they disgorge beautifully honed sentences. Above all, we oppose the tyrannical regime that oppresses us. And we will have our voices heard.