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Inspiration and Respiration – The Beginning Of Kingdom

kingdom - bodybag-2


I believe in ghosts. I know its not a popular viewpoint among more rational members of society, but forgive me, I am a product of my upbringing. Like most fishing families in Hull, mine were steeped in superstition and held a casual credulity for the supernatural. Added to this, a friend of my mother’s was a medium and she would talk to unseen spirits whilst she was getting her hair done in our back kitchen. So I grew up with the idea that there was an unseen world happening alongside ours. It never seemed all that unusual or far-fetched to me. I’ve always thought that if you could imagine something then that made it real enough. I suppose, like most people, I try to have an open mind on most things.

   I’ve never seen a ghost, although I have sometimes caught strange shapes and movements in the corner of my eye or heard odd noises where there should be none. All very normal, I suppose. The mind can play tricks, especially if you leave it wide open to suggestion. But it remains a subject that fascinates me. So I suppose it was inevitable that at some point I would try my hand at a ghost story.

   The idea for “Kingdom” was borne out of illness. For most of my adult life I had not been able to breathe properly on a night, especially during the winter months. The slightest bout of the sniffles would result in a mushy head, a bed full of dampened tissues and hours of broken sleep. Sudafed would provide some brief respite, but too much of that stuff can wire you up tighter than a tour of duty in Vietnam, so I tried to keep the medicine to a minimum. Damp November nights would have me tossing and turning and trumpeting like a wounded bull elephant. No fun whatsoever.

   I struggled for years with this nonsense until fatigue finally forced me to the doctors. My GP is a pragmatic fellow with a rash of bad art adorning his walls; horrific portraits of mangled faces, all hard angles and garish colours. He tells me they’re hung there to dissuade persistent malingerers. And they are truly horrible. Even the hardiest of hypochondriacs would have their stomach turned by this gallery of broken-faced ghouls. It is for this reason, among others, that I try and keep my visits there to a minimum.

   But desperation drove me to his door, where he told me that I had a deviated septum. It was so deviated that I only had one functioning nostril. This was why a simple seasonal cold would reduce me to a spluttering, gasping heap. I was firing on one single barrel. So I was sent to the hospital where they put me to sleep and smashed and then re-set my septum.

   Upon waking from the operation I found myself in that strange, woozy, half-awake state of existence peculiar to the after-effects of a general anaesthetic. From where I was laid I could see a sign swimming in and out of focus: NOW WASH YOUR HANDS. My brain struggled to compute this. Wash my hands? Why did I need to wash my hands? And why NOW?

   I got off the trolley and took a few tentative steps towards the wall where the notice was displayed and caught sight of myself in the reflection of a window. The sickly grey pallor, the flowing white robes. I felt like I was floating.

   I stood staring at myself, dumbfounded, for what seemed like an age, not knowing what to think or do, until a passing nurse took me by the arm and guided me back to my repose. I fell back to sleep and dreamt of ghosts and long white corridors.

   After the post-op rest and recuperation I found that I could inhale and exhale freely through both nostrils. This was a revelation to me. All of my life I had become accustomed to impaired breathing and now, as I walked home from the pub one icy dark night, I found I could pull the world in and out, in and out, clean fresh air flooding in and out. Unbelievable! Glorious! I imagined it must have been fairly similar for a short-sighted person, putting on glasses for the very first time, being able to see tiles on rooftops and distant landmarks. After years of nocturnal gasping and snuffling, I could finally breath properly. I loved this newfound sensation. I was ecstatic, drunk on fresh air.

   The book got properly into gear after another medical occasion, this time a visit to the dentist. The dentist I use is near a street of derelict houses. I parked my car up near these steel-shuttered boxes and mused on the likelihood of homeless people setting up camp there. It was the depths of winter, January or early February, remorseless biting cold. I thought about a person setting a fire in a room, and all the problems associated with that. Then I thought about a man not lighting a fire, and dying in the cold in such a place, like in the story by Jack London. I started writing a story about a man waking up in a derelict house. At this stage I didn’t know who he was or why he was there.

   A few days later, the words “My name is Alistair Kingdom and I was born a ghost” arrived in my head. Of course, a ghost is an irresistible narrator, because he is potentially a witness to everything. A ghost can drift in and out of the action unchallenged and nothing is hidden or censored. I started writing the story anew.

   I’d recently written a thing about a blind girl, written it in the second person with a heavy reliance on smell and listening and the sense of touch. When I started writing from the viewpoint of Alistair Kingdom, I decided to stick to visuals. If this guy was a ghost, then he couldn’t interfere or interact. There was to be no sensory perception in the narrative, save for sight. This ended up as part one of the five parts of the book.

   Around three or four weeks into messing about with this, I drifted onto Facebook and found a video of a band called Wilco doing a song called “Handshake Drugs” live on the Letterman Show. I’d never heard of this band before, but I loved the song. I looked up the album. It was called “A Ghost Is Born”.

   I took that as a signal and got down to the proper graft of writing. A year and a half later the book was finished and now it’s a real thing existing in the real world. It’s an odd book, but I think it’s a good one. I hope you like it.

Niall Griffiths – A Literary Star





Photo © Deb Jones  

Ever since his first novel lit up the literary skies at the turn of the millennium, Niall Griffiths has been my favourite British writer by a country mile. At the time I read Grits I was living in a shared house very much like the one depicted in the book – a disparate community of bright minded waifs and strays brought together by disparate circumstance and a shared passion for hedonism under difficult circumstances. Like Colm and Liam and Mairead and Maggie, ours was a life scorched bright by a relentless succession of ecstatic highs and rendered dark by the resultant grubby comedowns. The characters in Grits and the turbo-charged prose that painted their inner and outer worlds in such vivid colours captivated me to such an extent that I fancied for one brief moment that Griffiths may have been peering through our window and taking notes.

The other works followed and I lapped them all up like a thirsty man kneeling at an oasis. To my mind, nobody else was documenting life in modern Britain with such an intense and unsparing eye for the telling detail. So much of the stuff offered up in the guise of new and vital modern writing was falling from my hands with a barely suppressed yawn. This, though, this was proper gear, the real deal. By turns harrowing, heart breaking, holy and hilarious, these books were like lanterns of truth in an otherwise murky landscape and they made my brain fizz with delight.

So it is with an enormous sense of pride and privilege that we present for the first time the collected and selected published poetry of Niall Griffiths. Red Roar documents a life lived raw, a mind that illuminates the dankest corners of existence and a voice that never ceases to ring anything but clear and bright and true. We have presented the poems more or less as they arrived, a continuous stream of verse scrolling across the pages, one long song of the heart written on the run, dipping in and out of a life lived hard and well if not always wisely.

As someone once remarked, Niall Griffiths is an actual literary star. To that I would add that he’s also one of the brightest and most beautiful of souls currently lighting up the pages of this gorgeous fucked up world with awe and rage and wonder.

Long may he burn.



Prince In Baltimore – celeste doaks reports

prince baltimore


Prince’s Rally 4 Peace Another Step Closer to One Baltimore

 A multi-racial, multi-generational crowd donning grey sweatshirts, tank tops and even scarves greeted me as I entered the Royal Farms Arena this Sunday. And I have to admit I was doubtful (after purchasing my scalped ticket-shhh) as I made my way to the upper tier, that this venue would fill. However, to assume that Prince’s Rally 4 Peace would be poorly attended on Mother’s Day was a sad mistake on my part. As the floor began to fill up with energetic fans, I knew this day would always be fondly remembered in the hearts of Baltimorians. Just behind the satin purple curtain, Prince was waiting. He came to Baltimore attempting to do what all the marches and protests aspire to—unite a city struggling for justice.

 Before I begin let me note that this was not the only event this weekend that was symbolic of Baltimore’s slow recovery. The Maryland Film Festival took place primarily in the neighborhood of Station North and received national attention. Writers and filmmakers such as John Waters, Ta-nehisi Coates, and Taylor Branch attended and it attracted a turnout well-over 20,000. And at $375 for an all-access pass, it provided a much-needed economic stimulus for the city. The festival showed both films of general entertainment value, as well as films that tackled challenging issues such as race and sexual orientation.

 Despite the concert starting almost an hour late, Prince entered the stage cool, calm and collected in a matching gray, flowy pantsuit. This was apropos considering he instructed the audience to wear grey in honor of slain Freddie Gray. He and his band 3rdeyegirl, jumpstarted the concert with many vibrant classics that got the crowd riled up and up on their feet. And of course the crowd knew all the words to songs such as “Take Me With You,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “Let’s Go Crazy”. However, the first major highlight of the show occurred when Prince projected a “Breaking News” icon on the screen behind him and debuted the first live version of “Baltimore.” Erin Allen Kane performed a fantastic solo on the new track and Prince brought out Democratic State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, dressed in a sparkly black dress. She and her husband shared a brief moment on stage next to the purple one before returning to their special on-stage seats. While she received some negative push back from social media, her appearance seemed to please the already-roaring crowd.

Prince is no stranger to using his celebrity platform to draw attention to injustice. One of the first times he did this was in the early- to mid-90’s when he started appearing with “slave” written on his face. This was his way of showing his disapproval of his Warner Brothers album contract. But more recently as a presenter at this year’s 57th annual Grammy awards ceremony Prince was lauded for saying, “Like books and black lives, albums still matter.” So when he spoke to the audience and said “to those who have lost loved ones, we are your servants tonight,” it was no surprise.

 Of course, a Prince without some heavy sexual overtones is basically a sin. A second major highlight of the night was when Prince did an outstanding rendition of a Muddy Water’s original, “Electric Man.” Lines like “when I plug into your socket, I can make you awful hot” made the ladies swoon, and their men shake their heads in surrender. The blues track was an attractive addition to Prince’s repertoire. And the steamy set had to include the classic “Little Red Corvette.”

 The concert was chock full of surprises. One major surprise was when Doug E Fresh appeared on stage with Prince to perform “Kiss.” The Rapper/MC hyped the crowd up and became temporary side-kick to Prince. A bit later Prince brought out Judith Hill, another well-known female vocalist. Ms. Hill possesses a powerhouse of a voice that I can only compare to Prince’s old vocal companion Rosie Gaines. Hill has a gospelly feel that can melt even the most stoic patron.

Of course there are things that everyone expects at Prince concerts—his iconic symbol microphone stand, wardrobe changes, guitar playing femme fatales and infamous dance moves. Despite the fact Prince was wearing sneakers (and not his usual 3-4 inch heels) as he jumped around like a youthful teen, he hasn’t lost any verve as he’s gotten older. Even his vocal range is still intact as he transitions between tenor to falsetto with ease. With only two wardrobe changes, both of them having caricatures of the man himself on the front and back, the Purple One still managed to be fashion forward.

The fake ending was when Prince sang Purple Rain and disappeared off the stage. The audience stomped and cheered until the he returned and said, “ya’ll gone have to buy me a house out here. A brother could get used to this.” He returned for the “real ending,” his finale, to sing three more songs, including the groovy tune “Dance Electric.” This track was produced by Prince and André Cymone. In a final gesture of solidarity, Prince urged the crowd to chant “Baltimore” in the final moments of the concert.

 I must mention that during one musical interlude Prince began to speak to the crowd like a preacher does his congregation. He said, “The youth is our answer.” No more than with his Grammy statement, I wasn’t taken aback by this suggestion. He also advocated for economic viability. He said, “One day I want to return and stay in a hotel owned by YOU. One day I want to be driven to the airport in a car service owned and operated by YOU.” Prince was urging young people to take the forefront both in protesting for justice, but also in changing the economic inequality that exists in Baltimore. In a city where too much of the population is plagued by unemployment, homelessness, and racial unrest this was a needed call-to-action. If you needed concrete evidence, you didn’t have to look far. “Stop Murder by the Police” signs, which were being handed out before the concert began, littered the ground right outside.

As I left the arena I happened to look up and see the American flag hanging from the top dome. How appropriate to see the symbol of American freedom flying above a stadium full of hard-working, hopeful people. And while many grass roots organizers and government officials have spoken, few have used the universal language of music to send an inspirational message to America. And in my heart I am hopeful that tonight’s concert will be another step towards gaining the national attention needed to rescue this American city. Financial stability and civic responsibility come both from within and externally. One day I know the city I teach in will really be able to lay claim to those iconic benches located all over the city which boast Baltimore as “the greatest city on earth.”

 Celeste Doaks is a lifetime Prince fan, poet and journalist who teaches at Morgan State University. You can tweet her at @thedoaksgirl



Wrecking Ball @ London Book Fair


Wrecking Ball Press launches its fantastic new website to coincide with our first visit to The London Book Fair. We will be at Olympia on Tuesday 14th 15th and 16th April and you can find us at stand 3A70a. This is a great opportunity for Wrecking Ball to showcase our range of books past and future. We look forward to seeing you there.