The Gilead Game

In my restless Brexit-induced waking hours I’ve come up with a fun new game for a rainy day. Or an endless, sleepless night. It can be played in a group. Or on your own during those endless, sleepless nights.

All you need is a dice, some imagination, and a basic grasp of Margaret Atwood’s nightmare, dystopian vision of our future (or an appreciation that Brexit, Boris Johnson and Steve Bannon amount to much the same thing).

Are you ready?

It’s called The Gilead Game. (I’ve chosen Atwood’s fictional setting, but feel free to come up with any similar theonomy/ethnostate…simply base it on your own country, but with added far-right, hysteria. These days, it’s easier to picture than ever).

Let’s play!

First you make a list, 1-6, of your favourite Handmaid’s Tale parts.

You might, for example, have chosen the following:

1: Handmaid. 2: Commander. 3: Martha. 4: Eye. 5: Aunt. 6: Gender Traitor.

Then you roll the dice and imagine how your life would be in the Gilead of your making. Simple.

Actually, you don’t even need a dice. You could just place yourself in one of the categories. For example, my husband and I would both have to pick “Gender Traitor”. Our lives in Gilead would then involve a period of running from the authorities; hiding out in cold, dark places; before being rounded up and publicly executed. Such fun!

By the way, if you’re a writer, thinker, journalist, liberal, socialist, feminist, etc…you might as well just choose “Gender Traitor” too. The end result is the same.

An alternative, but no less fun, game occurred to me the other night. During dinner at my in-laws, my niece (15) picked up on one of my regular rants. She interrupted me and asked what I’d meant by “the rapid rise of the far right”. I thought for a moment, then did what any self-respecting uncle would do: explain exactly what the far right is, and the danger it poses. This then led to a discussion on Brexit. All conversations end this way these days.

We talked about the possible (likely?) food shortages and that we might all have to rely on local food sources to survive. In Scotland, we decided, this would result in a diet based solely on rhubarb and turnips (or swedes or rutabaga, if you must). This, assuming Scots are willing to go into the fields and collect the food themselves. Remember folks, there’ll be no migrant labour this time next year!

And thus my other diverting game was devised. I’m calling it, quite simply, “Live or Die?”. In this game you split into two teams to come up with as many tasty, nutritious meals as you can made solely from these two ingredients. Give your teams names why don’t you? Turnip Tops and Rhubarb Fools, perhaps?

I can promise you that this game is easily as much fun as my Gilead game. Although the end result is basically the same, because if a diet based on mashed turnip and boiled rhubarb isn’t a dystopian nightmare, then I don’t know what is.

Sweet dreams everyone. (Not that there’ll me any sugar to sweeten that rhubarb, mind).

Advertisements

The Beast From the East…and other stories

I’ve been thinking about the weather. Ok, so I’ve been procrastinating by thinking about the weather (we won’t talk about the plot outline I’m supposed to be putting together…I’ll blame the snow…it has caused a lot of trouble this past week).

More specifically, I’ve been thinking about The Beast From The East.

1520366684753386819178218257834.jpg

Very beastly weather Image: itv.com

My initial reaction when the media comes up with a name for a “weather event” is to recoil in anger and horror. “Why is this necessary?” I want to shout. Actually, I do shout; it’s just that no-one can hear me, apart from my husband, but he’s probably shouting too, so that’s both of us shouting at the radio/TV. Why do they have to give weather events a name? Why give them a character? It’s Disney-fying the weather. It’s as if they don’t trust regular people to understand the concept of a weather front moving in from the Arctic. When I see “Beast from the East” pasted on the front pages of the right-wing press, it all feels a bit Brexit. There’s no excuse for it in the more moderate media.

Plus, there’s the underlying suggestion that anything from the east is, you know, beastly….a big, hairy, snarling, drooling bear, swiping at poor, defenceless Brits, shivering in our tumbledown thatched cottages, trying to boil our kettles on fires that won’t stay alight.

Of course, this naming of the weather isn’t a new phenomenon: they began naming storms a few years ago – badly, in my opinion. I mean, storms shouldn’t be called Amy or Barbara or Clive. They should be called Adolf or Barbarossa or Clytemnestra. If they have to be called something at all…which they don’t.  I’m surprised they didn’t just go for it and call this one “Vladimir”. It’s what everyone was thinking.

As I was fuming over the naming of what is just some weather, I wondered how long it would take for someone to use The Beast from the East as the basis for a novel. There’s probably a writer scribbling away already, setting a story in or near or under…or inside…(now there’s an idea) a snowdrift.

And THEN I got to thinking how often weather events crop up in literature. I don’t mean when the weather gets a mention in a story; a novel which never refers to the climate or the rain or the heat or clouds would feel a bit empty. Weather details are the sort of details which add depth and realism without the reader realising they’re there. They’re the sort of details which, if absent from the writing, would leave the reader feeling short-changed, without them necessarily working out why.

No, I mean big weather events; or significant weather events; weather events which change the course of a story. Or maybe they ARE the story; without them, there is no story.

I suppose the biggest weather event to feature in a story would be the flood to end all floods. Every kid in the West, and a lot in the East (not THAT East…the Orient East) grow up with the story of Noah and his ark and the animals going in two by two – including those terrifying bears from the East, no doubt.

Noah's ark...actually, it's Playmobil's ark...but you get the idea

Where’s the beasts from the east?

This is a great story idea – yes, I said “story idea”…what do you expect? I’m a lefty, atheist, gay, children’s writer – disaster flood threatens life on earth, leaving one man to save said life by building monumental vessel to ride out the storm. I wish I’d thought of that.

Another major climatological event which acts as a catalyst for an entire series of books is that cyclone in Kansas. Without it, Dorothy would never have made it to Oz. 15203561487141665449114246597058.jpg

Without it, her house would never have crushed the Wicked Witch of the East (why is always the East? See what they’re doing? It’s a conspiracy), and our Dorothy would never have skipped her way along the yellow brick road in those Ruby…actually, they were silver in the books… slippers.

152035627169410676897931937624198.jpg

If you’re going to be crushed by a farmhouse in a tornado, you might as well be wearing a GREAT pair of shoes.

A quick browse through the children’s books on my own shelves turns up several stories which rely on the weather for the main event:

Where would Raymond Briggs’ Snowman be without the, er, snow? Nowhere.152035541937717070412601273304913.jpg

Without an eternal winter being cast over Narnia by the White Witch, there would be no battle to be fought in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.152036598641720189739021905078738.jpg

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is totally about a weather event. An unusual one, I give you, but it’s based on a meteorological happening.15203643471284916558219293652.jpg

Then there’s the wonderful Last Wild trilogy from Piers Torday. This dystopian future is set in the disastrous aftermath of catastrophic climate change. 15203563119011316076789228213252.jpg

In the strange and inventive Heap House – book one in the Iremonger series by Edward Carey – a storm rages outside on the heaps of trash and curios, almost drowning the young hero Clod Iremonger. 15203564286376998940341270004858.jpg

And in Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, our hero and his insect friends discover the weather is actually controlled by the Cloud-Men, who then nearly destroy the peach by producing a hail storm. 15203643845261527510696953651610.jpg

In my own writing, I’ve included a storm – which is definitely not being given a name – through which I send my protagonist and friends. It isn’t essential to the plot, but it adds drama and tension and excitement; it’s a hurdle they have to get over…or never make it to the main event.

The Beast from the East produced stories of its own last week: folk stuck in trains, in cars, in snowdrifts. Babies delivered by the side of the road. Flights cancelled; weddings cancelled; school cancelled (yay…more time for sledging!). Lives were changed forever; lives were lost forever. People everywhere were forced to stop and stay still and do not much at all. Who knows…in that time, stories will have been thought up, written down and maybe told to children warming up by the fire after the snowball fight of the century. I hope so.

Look on your shelves – I bet you’ve got some favourite books which are about the weather, or which feature the weather, or which only exist because of the weather. I’d love to hear about them.

And now, a new idea just occurred to me. It’s about a storm…what shall I call it? How about…The Pest from the West?

Turning chaos into order…or pin-board procrastination.

I reached peak pin-board yesterday.

I ran out of cork to pin to ages ago; instead, I’ve been layering ideas. Thought upon thought. Plot upon plot. Names upon names. I’d begun sticking post-its to each other; sellotaping scraps of paper to more scraps of paper. So many ideas – some good, most bad – that the weight of them threatened to bring the pin-board crashing down.

IMG_20170516_183936

I know there’s a best selling concept under there…somewhere…

It had never been a big enough board, and of course I’d always intended replacing it with something more suited to the creation of fabulous stories. And yet….

You know how it is: I just never got round to it. But then came yesterday.

Yesterday, I blithely began another attempt to plough on with a first draft (it’s taking so long, my very patient boy protagonist will be sporting a hipster beard before he finally, if ever, wins the day). A few minutes into the writing session I was in need of a name; not a new name, but one I’d given to a character some months ago. I’d scribbled it on a post-it and…er…posted-it on the board. Somewhere. Carefully, almost forensically, I began lifting edges of post-its and scraps of paper, peering hopefully under layer upon layer, month upon month of hastily scrawled moments of inspiration. A kind of foolscap archaeology; leafing through the recent past of my writing. Eventually, I found the name I was looking for. I also found other names. Character names; street names; house names. And plot ideas. And spanners to throw in the works. And motivations. And…loads of really good stuff which I’d forgotten about, and not written in to my draft, because…I COULDN’T SEE THEM RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME WHERE I NEED THEM TO BE!

I made it to the end of that chapter and then downed tools. Time for action. To order my thoughts I needed to bring order to the chaos in front of me. A quick click here, a double-click there, and a double-quick delivery later, my new, super-sized, super-smart, and super-empty pin-board arrives.

Down comes the old. I peel away the layers; slowly revealing months, no years, of thoughts and memories. It’s like stripping wallpaper in a listed house. Who knows what marvels lie beneath that 70s flock? I find: postcards from exhibitions I’d forgotten I’d been to; a list of potential character names; a picture of me jumping for, what appears to be actual joy on my fortieth birthday; my delegate card from my first SCBWI conference.

IMG_20170516_153653556

Where there once was chaos…

And so to my new pin-board. Is this how great artists feel when presented with a blank canvas? Did Picasso have a moment of hesitation as he contemplated a new masterpiece? Possibly. I know did. How to order my post-its? Where to place my protagonist’s family tree and the town plan? Do I place my ideas horizontally, vertically, or inspirationally in a circle? Should I clear my board of anything that isn’t related to my work-in-progress?

IMG_20170516_165844837

Order from chaos. At last.

After some deliberation and, ok, yes, some deliberate procrastination (we all do it; don’t pretend you’ve never fallen prey… organising your books, again… nipping down for one last coffee before really, actually, starting work… sorting the washing… grouting the tiles…) I’ve done it! I finally have a well-ordered, easy-on-the-eye (and brain), useful pin-board. Ideas found with a single glance. Place names located with a flick of an eye. Plot twists remembered in seconds, not hours; remembered at all, in fact.

Yes, my pin-board upgrade might have taken all afternoon to complete, and who knows what I might have written in those hours? But the potential for better-structured, chaos-free writing hours tomorrow, was worth the hours lost today.

If your pin-board has become a post-it graveyard and you can’t see the cork for a tree’s worth of paper, it might be time to remove, refresh and re-pin your ideas. I’m hoping it will kick-start my writing and re-gear my first draft; time to move my story into the fast lane with the help of ordered thoughts and easy-to-see ideas.

Until I reach peak pin-board again. And then I’m in trouble: I’ve run out of walls.

Lurgy Diaries, Volume One…

…or, what I’ve achieved in the last 48 hours, when all I should have been doing was manuscript edits, but have been too ill to manage.

Being a conscript sucks. I never asked to be here. I didn’t sign any joining-up papers. I never enlisted myself with my friends and marched off into the sunset through cheering crowds of nationalistic fervour.

And yet I find myself cowering under the iron-fist rule of Major Lurgy. And let me tell you: I’m doing exactly what he says. When Major Lurgy says “stay in bed”, I stay in bed. When Major Lurgy says “drink your body weight in water”, I drink it; all the way to the bathroom and back. When Major Lurgy says “wear as many clothes as you can regardless of the sweat levels”, I obey. And when Major Lurgy dictates that all I can swallow down my razor-lined throat is custard, then custard shall be my nourishment.(Did someone say ten-a-day? Hush now. My head is sore. And anyway, haven’t you heard of the custard apple? Thought not).

And so, finding myself unable to do a final read-through of my manuscript edits due to Major Lurgy’s insistence on only concentrating on things which need little, or no, concentration, I have had to look elsewhere to make use of the time I’d put by for the important stuff.

In between enforced naps (Major Lurgy has a way of making you comply when he says “get some sleep”), I have managed to enjoy – I think I enjoyed them; it’s hard to tell when you’re drugged up to the eyeballs –  the following cultural highlights:

  1. The Lego Movie.

How has this passed me by until now? It’s a hoot. And when you’re on an emotional and physical low, it’s amazing how much meaning can be found. President Business is Trump, right? I mean, he says he’s going to build walls…those folk at Lego Movie HQ either saw something coming, or it’s a conspiracy of some sort.

And The Lego Movie has given us one of the greatest film characters of all time…wp-1488364123240.jpeg

I give you Unikitty. After two days on the Beecham’s powders, I’m ready to leap into her Cloud Cuckoo Land, rainbow realness and party on down to her bubblegum sound.

Everyone should be prescribed a dose of Unikitty when they’re ill. The health benefits are, as yet, unfounded; but who cares? Look at her. Unikitty is great!

2. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

You know when you think you’ve read something, because you really ought to have read it by now, but in fact, you’re not sure if you have? That feeling.

I must have read Alice, because, you know, I write for children. And I know the story. I know the verses. I know the characters. But I don’t think I’ve ever read it through a Major Lurgy hazing. And it’s not the same story when you’re as high as, well, the caterpillar, on cold and flu medication. wp-1488364297584.jpeg

Ok, so I’m not smoking my paracetamol. Although who knows? They might be more effective inhaled through a Hooka.

It might not have been the closest reading of Alice, but I needed it on day one with the Major.

3. Fargo

Fargo has long been in my top five movies, and last night’s viewing changes nothing. I love the blackness of the humour, and the whiteness of the landscape. I love Frances McDormand’s character Marge Gunderson. I love the left-field whackiness of the Coen Brothers. But last night, the thing I loved most of all about Fargo, was the bowl of jelly* Marge selects from the all-you-can-eat buffet. wp-1488364885185.jpeg

How my virus-ravaged throat longed to feel that cool jelly wobble its way down.

Just as some nights, only a gin martini will do; other nights, it’s jelly.

There you have it. My lurgy-induced, cultural diary, volume one. I’m hoping there won’t be a volume two, as I’ve a ton of things to get done before going back to work. But the way Major Lurgy is looking at me from under the brim of his beret, I think he’s not finished with me yet.

I think I’d better investigate how to get hold of some jelly, without actually leaving the house.

And now, before I drag myself back to a dark place, padded with cushions, I’ll leave you with the Awesome Song, from the Lego Movie. Ironic, really, because being with Major Lurgy is anything but awesome.

 

* jelly, for my stateside readers, is JELL-O. Your jelly, is our jam.

 

The Blame Game 2016. A poem.

2016

image: radionz.co.nz

I couldn’t sleep last night. The turmoil that has been 2016 spun angry vortexes in my head through the wee hours. After a couple of hours of fitful sleep, I realised I had to write myself out of this funk. I don’t write poems very often. But I can’t tell you how much better I feel for writing this one.

Goodbye, 2016.

Onwards, friends. Onwards.

The Blame Game 2016

I’m not sleeping very well.

 

I blame 2016 and the horror that’s been this year of seismical change.

The world seems transformed, full of hate, fear and scorn; ugly, divided and strange.

 

I blame Brexit for severing the links with my bretheren with whom I have always felt tied.

They said we’d be better sans cette euro-type fetter. They made up the numbers. They lied.

 

I blame May and her minions for duplicit opinions that pretend to put everyone first.

They’re sly politicians, these social morticians; all blue-bloods with vampirical thirst.

 

I blame bold post-truth liars and climate deniers for peddling deliberate falsities.

And internet trolls, who with twitter-hate moles, dig holes in our fragile democracies.

 

I blame Daily Mail leaders, and yes, every last reader, for their role in our country’s demise.

But with a media in thrall to the governments all, it really is no great surprise.

 

I blame terrorist cells and the western cartels whose policies allow them to flourish.

Blatant state-building and oil-dollar wielding are the fuel with which ISIS is nourished.

 

I blame armaments bosses who won’t countenance losses; it’s their bombs that maim and do kill.

Wars keep on going, and refugees flowing. It’s a lack of political will.

 

I blame Jeremy Corbyn for not sticking his oar in, precisely when it was needed.

With progressive position and clear, honest vision, a call to arms might well have been heeded.

 

Yes, I blame Donald Trump, and all of his gumph, for pretending to speak for a nation.

Can the people be saved from this populist wave? A tsunami that threatens annihilation.

 

I blame me for allowing these thoughts to keep flowering and grow in the soil of my mind.

But it’s easy to feel that it’s a bloody rum deal, to be fighting these woes, don’t you find?

 

And yet

 

The world keeps on spinning, politicians keep winning on platforms that seek to divide.

Our task is quite clear, march forwards, my dear. Heads held up high, and with pride.

 

The blame game is easy, but it can’t ever please me and it won’t ever sustain through next year.

I’ll put pen to paper, and hopefully, later, produce stories of hope, not of fear.

 

Writers. Keep writing! Our words should be fighting for a future where everyone thrives.

It’s never too late. Write! Draw! Create! Let our voices be heard. Be alive!

 

©Justin Nevil Davies 2016

Conference Call!

I think it’s time for a positive blog post – my last was pessimistic in the extreme. And, after all, I have something upbeat to write about.

This weekend, I attended the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Winchester. This year’s theme: Cracking Characters.

img_20161119_094019631_hdr.jpg

This was significant for two reasons: first, I was returning the county where I grew up; second, this was my initiation into the world of SCBWI conferences. Here’s the good news (I said this post would be upbeat)…I’ll be going again next year.

For anyone with even the faintest sense of fairness and equality, the past months have been a shock. Along with so many others, I’ve found it hard not to allow myself to be dragged down into the morass of gloom and hopelessness left behind like a dark, sticky slug’s trail by the year’s events. I think I’d stopped trying to get unstuck.

And then came Winchester.

From the moment conference started I felt a resurgent sense of purpose. The opening remarks set the tone for me; referencing the doom that is 2016, we were reminded that as writers, we have a role to play in forcing light into the dark. He Who Must Not Be Named need not succeed…we can all defeat the menace, one scribble at a time. And with that, I felt the weight of our collective annus horriblis lift ever so slightly.

And it continued to rise throughout the weekend. David Almond couldn’t help but inspire with his instinctive joy and enthusiasm for writing for children. And if learning that he can make sense of the apparent chaos of his notebook – turning it into award-winning, vital stories – doesn’t fill you with optimism, nothing will!

Volunteering on the merchandise stall at lunchtime was always going to give me a boost, in the way that volunteering does. As the wickedly loveable muppet puppets of Avenue Q sing…”when you help others, you can’t help helping yourself”.

(Please enjoy this musical interlude)

Plus, I got to resurrect my link-selling skills from my short-lived retail days at Body Shop…turning, “Would you like some conditioner to go with your hemp shampoo?” into “Why not buy a soft, cotton tote bag to wrap your SCBWI mug in?”. I particularly excelled when a fellow delegate asked if I had a pen he could use to fill in his raffle tickets. “Certainly,” I replied, “how about these lovely SCBWI pens? Just £1.50 each”.

Then came the moment which gave me the biggest lift of all. The ‘Hook’. I’d entered this “pitch your book to a panel of agents” event for the same reason I’d offered to volunteer and for the same reason I’d decided to go to conference at all: Why Not? I realised that I’d have nothing to lose…in fact, in this event, win or lose, the finalists’ pitches would all be heard by the agents and any one else in the audience. Yes, I was nervous (very); yes, I doubted myself (more than once); and yes, it was hard work preparing for (hours spent going over the pitch and recording myself).

It paid off and I won the event. My prize: a meeting with the agent of my choice from the panel. I chose Thérèse Coen, from Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency.

fb_img_1479578383330.jpg

Therese Coen and a very happy contestant.

She now gets to read my whole manuscript before we meet. This is such a huge opportunity, I can’t thank the organisers enough. And I couldn’t be more pleased with myself that I went for it. The sense of camaraderie between the five of us during, and after, the event, only added to the growing lightness of heart.

img_20161119_203042564.jpg

The five ‘Hook’ finalists, some in cunning disguise.

Why did I put myself through this? Because, at the end of the day, I often put my heroes in a position where they have to choose whether to go for something, even if it’s terrifying, in order to advance or survive or save someone. Some role model I’d be to my characters if I didn’t do the same myself.

I suffered a slight dip on Sunday morning…well…people would keep buying me drinks the night before…but surged back after Sarah Davies (of The Greenhouse Literary Agency) delivered her keynote. Despite hearing how many millions (ok, thousands) of submissions she receives every year, I still came away feeling optimistic about my own writing and chances. Concept and craft are her focal points in a good manuscript…and give every writer something to aim for. Create a great concept, then write it well. It sounds simple, and I know it isn’t, because otherwise I’d be delivering a lecture to writers rather than sitting in the audience hanging off every word…but I’m determined to get both right.

Finally, the good folk at SCBWI British Isles weren’t going to let us get away without some good old-fashioned, blood, sweat and ink-stained fingers. Cliff McNish offered the chance to get our heroes shining and our villains sweating with a double dose of expertise. These were great sessions to end the conference and I was thrilled to have a light bulb moment when I realised I should turn one of my characters from parent to villain.

The sense of community I found at the conference was one of the most important aspects. I’d already had a sense of this from my home network in Scotland, and they helped make sure I made the best of my time at conference.

fb_img_1479666115190.jpg

SCBWI South East Scotland delegates. Plus photo-bomber.

And the wider community of SCBWI wrapped me in an even bigger embrace.

However, it’s the feeling of empowerment with which I left Winchester that most surprised me. To know that I haven’t been wasting my time with writing and that it can be appreciated…that’s empowering. To have learnt new skills and made important plot and character decisions…that’s empowering. To know that I’m part of a huge community of supportive and talented writers and illustrators…that’s empowering. And to know that my writing, all of our writing, might let some of the light back in…that really is empowering.

Over to you Leonard…

 

 

 

Capitalism:1; Creativity:0

Buildings tell stories.

At least, the people inside them have stories to tell, or stories to be told.

I was considering this in New York last week. If there was ever a city whose buildings can spin a yarn, it’s this one. Think, The Hotel Chelsea, with its cast list of famous and creative residents; The Empire State whose viewing level has played host to countless stories of love and loss – not to mention an infamous skirmish with an oversized gorilla; massive department stores – Barneys, Bloomindales, Bergdorf Goodman – where staff sell hopes and dreams and too-tight jeans to harried and hurried customers; the ghosts of the Twin Towers with their thousands – too many thousands – of tales of loss and mourning and grief; glamorous apartments house even more glamerous ageing widows…think Iris Apfel; nondescript buildings in the East Village whisper the secrets of beatnik poets.

For me, it is the apartment buildings that have the most to say, simply because they contain the most people. I love to stand and look up; look skywards and gaze at the hundreds of windows, behind which who-knows-what is happening. Someone laughing here on the phone…they’ve just been told some gossip, but shhh!…it’s a secret. Someone there in tears…they’ve been dumped by text. Up top there’s a couple taking the morning off…loudly. In the lift, a man wonders if he can still pay the rent now that he’s been made redundant. At the entrance, an elderly woman with a small dog on a leash whispers in the doorman’s ear and presses a twenty into his hand: for his daughter’s education, you understand. How else can he send her to college?

Every storey tells a story.

Cycling in Central Park, the tops of hundreds of apartment buildings loom over trees. Just because these Upper East and West side addresses house mostly the wealthy and privileged, doesn’t mean they can’t tell their own stories. Even the rich have secrets: they laugh and cry; they love and hate; they live and die.

But there is a building in Manhattan which will buck the trend. It’s freshly glazed windows won’t blink to reveal. It’s heavy doors poised to shut like sealed lips. It is a building with few tales to tell because despite its size, it is mostly void of humanity and will most likely stay that way.

432 Park Avenue is a new breed of building.

432-park-avenue

image:dberke.com

Conceived solely for a new class: the Ultra High Net Worth class (UHNW). These are folk with assets of at least $30 million. We’re not talking the 1%…we’re talking smaller percentages. This is a building which reflects the rise of the global super-rich. Even its architect, Rafael Viñoly, has said that “there are only two markets, ultra luxury and subsidised housing”. And this place is ultra.

432_view_01

image:432ParkAvenue

Ultra-high. Ultra-expensive ($95 million for the pent house anyone?). Ultra-inaccessible.

Ultra-empty.

And here’s where a building’s ability to tell stories has been stifled, silenced, starved of material.  For this is a building which will never be fully occupied. It’s a building designed to be less than half occupied. Some reports suggest it will never be more than a quarter occupied. 432 Park Avenue is where the UHNW club come to park their cash. If they come at all. It’s mostly just where they park their cash. Too much wealth Sir? Don’t like the look of that domestic tax bill Madam? Why not allow your money the luxury of a multi-million dollar residence? There it can bask in the summer sun or revel in the winter snow. Allow it the space to breathe, to flex and to grow (in value).

This is a building destined to remain silent. Silent of laughs. Silent of tears. Silent of the stuff of life. And whilst The Chelsea and those run-down East Village apartments no longer resound to the creative beats of writers’ and artists’ drums (the creative class of New York having long ago been forced into an economic retreat), at least their history can testify to something human. Something emotional. Something we can all relate to.

432 Park Avenue isn’t alone in being built for the ultra-wealthy. New York is going to be littered with sky-high, tax-free bolt-holes for lonely dollars. And Europe’s not immune to this spreading canker: In London, The Tower, St George’s Wharf is 432 Park Avenue’s Special Relationship cousin, destined to house the currencies of the world’s super-elite.

These buildings are not conceived to nurture lives, loves and lines of poetry. They have only one story to tell; and it’s an ugly one. An empty, heart-sapping tale of selfishness, greed, and complicity in both.

It’s a story no-one wants to read. It’s a story I wish I didn’t have to tell.