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Amis to Boy A

Jonathan Schofield blushes during the superb start for the Centre for New Writing…and looks forward to forthcoming events

Written by . Published on January 30th 2008.

Amis to Boy A

Manchester’s literary scene is being boosted by the Centre for New Writing, the fiction-and poetry-writing hub based at The University of Manchester. In the three months following its launch last September, it’s brought premier league writers including Will Self, John Banville, Ed Husein, Michele Roberts, Galway Kinnell and Rose Tremain to sell-out events in the city (the last two with Manchester Literature Festival), as well as attracting the erstwhile bad boy of English letters, Martin Amis, to be its first Professor of Creative Writing.

That’s when I didn’t do what I should have done. I didn’t applaud. I didn’t have the guts to show my public approval of what was said in any way at all. Nor did anybody else. What cowards we’ve become?

One amazing event was the December debate on Literature and Terrorism with Ed Husein, Martin Amis and Maureen Freely. This prefigured the endless coverage which has followed Amis’ new book about his reaction to September 11, The Second Plane. It also took place in the middle of the row between Amis and Manchester University professor, Terry Eagleton, about Amis’s alleged ‘racism’.

This silly spat didn’t give any less weight to Amis’s introduction to the debate. He asked the audience whether it felt morally superior to the Taliban. In Manchester this was a rhetorical question, he knew the answer. In a similar debate in London, a couple of days earlier, the question had demanded an answer: only about a third of the British audience had raised an affirmative arm. This had shocked him. Why did so few feel morally superior? The Taliban deny everything we in the West have fought and died to earn: freedom, religious tolerance, equality of aspiration for men and women. He rattled off a catalogue of Taliban atrocities to emphasize the poles apart positions.

The event ended up making me ashamed. Because in a packed house in the Whitworth Hall at the University of Manchester, those with an axe to grind - you could spot them a mile off - applauded when points were made from the floor condemning the West in general terms rather than over specific policy, say, in Iraq. This self-hate of certain Westerners about their own civilization was puzzling but predictable. It was pathetic too, an indulgence of dislike: like pampered teenagers rebelling against easy-going parents.

So why was I ashamed? Because unlike those strange people I didn’t do something when Ed Husein spoke. He’s the author of the superb Islamist, a book about how he became radicalised before he realised what an idiot he’d become and turned his back on the horror of the Islamist mindset. He spoke passionately about how we should cherish and protect our systems of governance.

"Liberalism," Husein said, "took two world wars to defend and three hundred years to achieve. And that's not something that should be looked upon lightly or thrown away without much thought." It was then that I didn’t do what I should have done. I didn’t applaud. I didn’t have the guts to show my public approval of what he’d said in any way at all. Nor did anybody else. How dangerous is that? What cowards we’ve become?

Of course, not all Centre for New Writing events might be so stirring. Nor will they make people feel ashamed too much, but they should always be thought-provoking.

The highlight of the new season will be Hanif Kureishi, author of the award-winning Buddha of Suburbia, who visits to give the first public readings from his new novel Something to Tell You on March 6. But the preceding event, on February 11, promises interest of a different kind. Fiction-writers Jonathan Trigell and Clare Wigfall are both returning heroes of sorts, having completed MAs in Creative Writing at Manchester before finding early success from new bases overseas.

You might have seen the Channel 4 film of Trigell's first novel, Boy A, on TV before Christmas, and if you didn’t you missed a treat. Tapping into the controversies surrounding the rehabilitation of former child offenders, the novel too is sensitive, empathetic and moving - a view presumably shared by those who awarded Trigell the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for best Commonwealth work by an author under 35.

Wigfall's debut collection of short stories, The Loudest Sound and Nothing, was published last summer to strong national reviews. With a dark and sometimes disturbing edge, the stories move backwards and forwards through time and between countries, and are linked by a sense of loss and yearning.

Literature Live with Jonathan Trigell and Clare Wigfall, Monday 11 February, 6.30pm (Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester)£3 (£2 for concessions and University of Manchester students and staff)For more information please click here

For tickets please click here.


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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

JinkiesJanuary 30th 2008.

Not sure I agree with what he said about our systems of governance - the current parties are simply appalling, I still vote but I don't really see the point. The main parties are completely out of touch with the country they serve, and the smaller parties just don't have any chance of getting into power and affecting change. Our world approval is spiralling down, it's pathetic, we're pathetic. Too much of America has bled into UK life and I for one await the revolution. By the way, wasn't it our government that helped put the Taliban in power in the first place?

MattJanuary 30th 2008.

You should have applauded.

Michael KayJanuary 30th 2008.

You didn't applaud because that is our way surely. A rational society doesn't need to rabble rouse in quite the same way as those who want to destroy or use the liberties given them to blow-up those liberties.

Spelling JohnJanuary 30th 2008.

Wow! I can't even spell "exaggerated" properly...

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2008.

"He asked the audience whether it felt morally superior to the Taliban."An old trick used by every political philosophy lecturer on every green undergrad class ever. And it is a trick based on an equivocation, shame Amis can't do better.

Wavering JohnJanuary 30th 2008.

Michael Kay has a point: the excited, vociferous and often exagerrated antics that accompany many demonstrations supporting a movement which is at odds with how WE would do things is, to my mind, similar to football supporters, in which some are fanatical, some are marginal and others join in just join in so that they don't appear to be, at best stand-off-ish, or at worst, a non-believer. Cripes! I hope I haven't offended anyone.

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