Kate Bornstein Documentary Review: What Body Should I Wear Today?

By Bethany Davies

As part of York’s LGBT History Month in February an array of events took place around the city. On the evening of 13th February, York St John hosted a free film screening of Kate Bornstein: A Queer and Pleasant Danger. On entry to Fountains Lecture Theatre, Dr Adam Stock and Dr Kimberley Campanello welcomed everyone to free refreshments. With a glass of red, a few friends and myself took our seats and waited to sit and learn about a woman called Kate Bornstein.

Image 1And, well, I came out of it with 103 questions.

My head was spinning off its axis and I couldn’t quite pin down what emotion it was that I was feeling. The friends that came to the screening with me felt the same and as we sat and discussed our thoughts, we pondered on whether it was the documentary that confused us or the wine we were slowly sipping away at.


On entrance to the screening we had been handed feedback questionnaires to fill in. The opening question on the sheet gave four options for gender. You could tick: 1. Male      2. Female    3. Non-Binary     4. Not Listed as Above
What does it mean to be non-binary? Can you be something that isn’t male or female? That’s two questions.

Then as the film proceeded, terms came flying at me from all directions: gender queer; gender fluid; ambisexual; asexual; demi sexual and sapiosexual. What do these mean? Which one am I? Am I supposed to know these meanings? There’s another three questions – I’ve at least another 98 more I could list.

Kate Bornstein was a woman I’d never met before. Sorry, not a woman, not a man, but someone who identifies as “a tranny”. Not transsexual or transgender, but a tranny. Kate Bornstein has reasons for this controversial decision; “there’s a big battle going on between trannies who want to call themselves tranny and there’s trannies who don’t want to call themselves a tranny. I’m a tranny who does want to call herself a tranny. I use the word tranny a lot in my memoir. I’m just saying.” I searched, and the word “tranny” is said 17 times in the documentary. It’s a term that I had previously associated with being quite offensive.

Kate Bornstein was once a young male Jew, and became a Scientologist in her twenties. Years later, she is now a “tranny” – and still Jewish. She has tattoos and piercings. She always wears a bandanna around her head. It looks pretty good. A crucifix always hangs around her neck. She’s crude. Her identity is playful. She is a performer. An avid tweeter. She has lung cancer. And she is transgender and lesbian.

Those are the things I now know. Oh, and she has a golden penis mounted in her lounge as an ornament.

This documentary showed me a lifestyle in the LGBT+ community that I believe sits at a unique position in the spectrum. Tony Ortega writes in the The Village Voice that, “Bornstein has managed to both anger and delight most camps in the LGBTQ universe.” Well, I’m not surprised. If I was to sit and boil a brew with this woman, I’m not sure how long I’d last. Without having met her, just by sitting and watching her through a screen for an hour and a half, (note: with wine), I can tell that her opinions lie always on the tip of her lips. And most of the time I bet they end up sliding off. Now, this is to be envied. Opinions are too often suppressed, leading to lack of communication and misunderstanding. However, as I sat and watched, I empathize that some people in the LGBT+ community must find her vocalization difficult to handle. She has a fire most people don’t see in the day-to-day. She is strong-minded. Bold. Like Marmite.

The documentary shows Bornstein travelling to support groups and LGBTQ gatherings, showing her equally at home discussing gender and sexuality in the context of university seminar rooms or in sex shops. You get the feeling no topic of conversation is ever off-limits, no matter what the venue. Looking into Bornstein’s world is an eye-opening experience.


My main emotion leaving this documentary was pure confusion. I couldn’t pin-point exactly how the documentary had made me feel. But, the truth is, that Kate Borstein is just a spoonful of Marmite that I’ve never tried before. Her controversial opinions and bold outright statements highlighted just how little I knew about her community and the community of many others.

If you are like me, and you haven’t had the chance to know someone in this community or learn about it through school, the head of the YSJ LGBT+ society, Shannon Clay, provided me with some links that I’ll share below. Acquaint yourself with the knowledge. As Claire Fagin once said, “Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference.”


Useful Sites:
LGBT History Month: http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/

The Equality Act of 2010 that protects LGBT in the workplace: http://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/discrimination?gclid=CjwKEAiAlZDFBRCKncm67qihiHwSJABtoNIgZuJDbjiqSa0NwCTQ2rNNctUOIzGufpG3uCDjx9DcghoC1mrw_wcB

Yorkshire Mesmac: http://www.mesmac.co.uk/









M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘SPLIT’ – representations of Dissociative Identity Disorder in media and fiction.

Can D.I.D work as a narrative Device?

Having recently forced myself to watch SPLIT, the new horror/thriller movie directed by the renowned M. Night Shyamalan, I found myself inspired to analyse media representations of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Commonly referred to as D.I.D, the disorder has been reclassified – you may better recognise the outdated term ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’, or M.P.D.



D.I.D has been a much-loved trope of thriller films – a twist in the tale, a kick in the teeth.  These narratives are surprisingly common. D.I.D is frequently represented – which may sound pretty good, but these representations are often heavily caricatured.

D.I.D seems to be a pretty neat trick for writers. Can’t think of any characters? Split your protagonist, or antagonist as it may be, into parts! D.I.D does provide an interesting basis for fiction. The disorder is represented by the media as implying a lack of self-control, time gaps, and violence. See (SPOILER, but you should’ve watched it by now, so I’m not sorry) Fight Club for one of the most popularised D.I.D narratives.

But does a good plot-twist warrant the exploitation of a mental illness? The tradition in literature goes back as far as Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, written in 1886. It is with a guilty pleasure that I call this one of my favourite books. The mystery and unknowable endows narratives such as Psycho and Filth – notably, not the most appealing film titles.

One of my favourite D.I.D (at the time, M.P.D) narratives is John Carpenter’s The Ward. It is a horror film. Surprise surprise. But the premise of D.I.D is genuinely quite clever, playing on the tropes of horror fiction to pull the rug out from under an audience – a slasher in which (SPOILER) each victim is an alter ego, being ‘killed off’ by a psychotherapist during treatment.

‘SPLIT’ didn’t do too bad a job. Of course, M. Night Shyamalan has argued that the character was simply created to see what would happen if D.I.D was taken a step further – a probe, if you will, to ask: what if one personality has OCD? What if one needs to take insulin shots, but the others don’t? What if one can climb walls and likes to eat little girls?

We are given a moment of sorrowful respite in ‘SPLIT’, when Shyamalan, thank God, gives us the chance to sympathise with Kevin, the host of all 24 personalities. He asks, ‘What happened? I was on a bus. Is it still 2014?’ looking down on the utter carnage that his illness, named ‘The Horde’ in need of a supervillain-esque name for the next Unbreakable film, has created.

It is important to note that D.I.D is heavily stigmatised. Having been attacked by a D.I.D sufferer during my youth, I’ve always found the disorder intriguing. Did they know what they were doing? Did they even manage to remember? Can I even place blame? These questions alone show why the illness is so heavily relied upon in thriller films. But it is important to remember it is an illness. It exists in the real world, it is stigmatised, and as Kevin states ‘no one believes we exist’.

If you have studied M.P.D cases of psychology’s past, you may be aware of Eve Black/Eve White. A film was made of this historical case, called ‘The Three Faces of Eve’. It is a very melodramatic film. The real “Eve” has a domestic housewife personality, party girl personality, and ‘Jane’ – the balance struck between them. Her personalities enrage her husband to the point of physical abuse regularly, whilst also reflecting Freud’s thesis of the ‘Ego’, ‘Superego’ and the ‘Id’ quite handily for an A Level Psychology class.

This maltreatment of D.I.D suffers isn’t uncommon. Understanding of the illness is pretty limited, besides the knowledge that it is usually caused by a traumatic event – which fractures the mind into different personalities, adapted to deal with different levels of stress. There is usually a ‘gatekeeper’ figure, too. This figure chooses which personality gets to be in the light, that is, present itself in the moment.

It is worth noting that there are more positive representations. For instance, the comedy show ‘The United States of Tara’ sets the disorder in a new light, following Tara through her struggle with the disorder.  The disorder is often played off as comedic. Even in ‘SPLIT’ a horror/thriller/supernatural flick, Kevin’s personalities are played off for laughs.

‘Hedwig’, a nine-year-old personality, provides quips mostly based on his love of Kanye West – providing a strange scene in which the imprisoned teen Casey screams, in desperation for more time to find an escape, the words ‘PLEASE LET ME LISTEN TO YOUR KANYE WEST ALBUMS’ with more devotion than fans who stuck with him following his allegiance with Trump.

The disorder is often turned into an interesting narrative device. But I find it problematic that whilst ‘SPLIT’ treads so carefully not to offend, providing correct facts and information, it also argues that alters can transform into flesh-eating beings – flesh-eating beings which only eat the souls of those who have never suffered in their lives. Which is odd, because being made to suffer by being slowly chewed alive for having not suffered is in itself a contradiction.

It is about time that D.I.D gained some representation that wasn’t a horror film. Documentaries need to be made, and real voices need to be heard. Whilst I’m sure McAvoy has got a great acting reel now, having played 23 people in one film, is it worth it?

‘SPLIT’ was an enjoyable film. It was tense and engaging. But it could’ve done with the comedic undertones of ‘The Voices’, a Ryan Reynolds take on schizophrenia in which his dogs and cats speak to him. Or perhaps, the tragic bitterness of ‘Filth’s slow reveal of disintegrated self. By adding in exposition from a clearly well-qualified therapist, and then painting a D.I.D sufferer as a mass murderer, ‘SPLIT’ only serves to normalise the vision of D.I.D sufferers as villainous.





REVIEW – The Unsilent Library: Adventures in New Who

An exciting batch of ten essays published by the Science Fiction Foundation explore how a 50-year-old show can be a contemporary hit.

Doctor Who is a hugely popular program that unlike the TARDIS is as big on the outside as it is on the inside. With over 50 years of cultural significance, thirteen canonical iterations of its titular character, along with a great many more iconic companions, gadgets and monsters, the show has barreled along through time and space spurred on by its own evolution. Unfortunately, the show disappeared from the airwaves in 1989, before finally being resurrected on 26 March 2005. This was the day “Rose” would be transmitted on BBC One, the first full episode of Doctor Who in over 15 years and one which would launch the program into unprecedented success with audiences both old and new.

Head writer and executive producer Russell T. Davies brought the program back with renewed contemporary relevance in social, political, linguistic and technological terms. With the show regenerating right alongside the real world, a batch of essays from 2010 titled The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the new Doctor Who mindfully explores the updated aspects of the 2005 revival in intricate detail. Edited by Simon Bradshaw, Graham Sleight, and Tony Keen, the collection of essays unpacks how to construct a timeless universe that is never wholly apart from planet Earth.

Image result for The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the new Doctor Who

The first chapter to note is Graham Sleight’s ‘The Big Picture Show: Russell T. Davies’s writing for Doctor Who’, which analyses the base point of the programs 2005 resurrection. Sleight breaks down Davies’ writing of the series to four key elements: depth, pace, scale and Davies’ aptitude for science fiction. According to Sleight, all four of these elements function together immediately in 2005’s ‘Rose’ for a defining mislead: a shot of the vastness of space, only for the view to be turned to Earth and then centred on the Tylers’ morose council flat. Using this as a jumping off point, Sleight digs for the real world within the fictional world, delivering nuanced analysis that somehow explains the frequently impossible universe of new Who. Every fiction is pin pointed to something real. There is also a stellar comparison between the writing of Davies and current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat, a comparison that could cause a whole new Time War between fans of the program.

Skipping ahead, the brilliant third chapter in the collection comes from Una McCormack, titled ‘He’s Not the Messiah: undermining political and religious authority in New Doctor Who‘. McCormack’s central thesis is that, “Russell T. Davies […] demonstrates deep skepticism towards Utopian projects aimed at human perfectibility, whether eternal life […] or citizenship of the (purportedly) rationally governed state”. The pitch is a solid foundation to a thought-provoking essay, exploring the natural limitations of the human race and its constructs. After all, The Doctor is often found fighting administration and bids for immortality, such as in 2007’s ‘Gridlock’ and  ‘The Lazarus Experiment’. The list of episodes goes on and on: the Doctor appears and discovers an ideology or construct that opposes his values, and then swiftly dismantles it. It is a recurring motif of Doctor Who that is applicable to today’s society, what with the orange Who-like monster now leading America. McCormack also applies a Foucauldian reading to Davies’ Doctor Who, charting an analytical course that is fascinating to read and adds a whole new dimension to the program. Consequently, Chapter 3 offers some really vivid ideas to explore that live and breathe on their own and adamantly apply to today’s world.

Catherine Coker’s chapter 6 titled ‘Does The Doctor Dance? Heterosexuality, Omnisexuality, and Spontaneous Generation in the Whoniverse’ is a vital addition to the collection. Coker contends that 2005’s ‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ are together, the first real doses of omnisexuality within the Whoniverse. Coker contends that from here “Davies presents a true sexual spectrum through its characters both major and minor”, a thesis that puts Doctor Who in a unique position. The essay does well to highlight this significant fact, in that science fiction usually handles sexuality as a brief obstacle instead of an ever-present norm, an “awkward ‘issue of the week'” as opposed to a normality of society. As Coker brilliantly notes in this chapter, Whovians have a lot to be proud of in their show, by the fact that Davies rejects this model and “instead chooses to address the group as part of the regular viewership of the show by allowing the LGBT population in his universe to exist and thrive”. Following this important set up are considerations of John Barrowman’s Captain Jack being an ‘Omnisexual Superhero’ as well as an intricate exploration of The Doctor’s lack of sexuality. The Doctor and Rose shippers have a lot of good material to gauge on here…


Image result for creative doctor who posters

Ultimately, the TARDIS is always connected to earth, and you won’t watch Doctor Who the same way again after reading this collection explaining why. The full contents of the riveting collection, as well as how to purchase, are listed below:

The SF Foundation is now offering The Unsilent Library at the discount rate of £1 (plus p&p). Purchasers should contact sjbradshaw@mac.com to order.

Reviewing Arrival: Space Squids and Paradoxes

By Zoe Buckton


After managing to swipe the last tickets to see ‘Arrival’ with the Imaginary Worlds module, I was stoked to see some sci-fi that wasn’t a reboot (and for free, too!). Having only seen 30-second trailers for the film, I’d assumed it would follow your average ‘defeat the evil aliens!’ storyline. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that ‘Arrival’ focused on communication and language, rather than big guns and all-out war.

The film opens with a voiceover by the protagonist, Dr Louise Bank’s (Amy Adams), in which she considers where her daughter’s story really begins. Usually I’m a bit adverse to voiceovers. But by the end of Arrival, it is clear that these are the glue that holds the cyclical narrative together. Louise’s stream of consciousness is the key to understanding a complex narrative, revolving around bootstrap paradoxes and communication barriers.

Louise’s character is certainly well developed. She is such a talented linguist that she is asked by the military to visit a spacecraft, or ‘shell’, within two days of its sudden appearance. Two days, it’s worth noting, in which she continues to attend university to give lectures to empty classrooms. Of course, she’d be damned if giant squids from space disrupted her teaching schedule.


It is a shame that Louise is the only female main character – in fact, one of the only female characters present. This causes the film to fail the Bechdel test, a flaw that is also shared by director Villeneuve’s 2015 film, Sicario. Indeed, one of the funniest moments in the film comes when Louise interrupts a trigger-happy soldier with the quip, ‘why do I have to talk to him?’

Ian Donnelly, on the other hand, proves that slapping some glasses on Jeremy Renner is enough to constitute a scientist. Whilst his friendship (and inevitable romantic arc) with Louise is great fun to watch, watching a physicist refuse to do any actual physics is rather concerning. Especially when his primary response to intense gravitational distortion is a mere stumble, without a sign of fascination.

The film shares many elements with the psychological horror ‘The Babadook’, increasingly dependent on dreams, sleep deprivation and hallucination to create a sense of unreliability. These elements are ultimately manifestations of Louise’s mindset adapting to the Heptapod language. A language which is complex, palindromic and resembles tea-rings so much it’s a shame the humans couldn’t introduce them to coasters.

The scenes of communication between the Heptapods, affectionately nicknamed Abbot and Costello, are arguably the best moments of the film. ‘Arrival’ spends majority of its run-time attempting to establish discussion with aliens behind misted glass, pushing back military action all the while. This feels particularly prevalent in our society, which is reluctant to embrace discussion with minorities and refugees, fogging up these issues with misleading media representations and fear of the unknown.

It is hard to deny that the film is gorgeous. Louise’s house is like the Cullen’s, all glass and view. The soundtrack, finely composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, mixes dread and child-like wonder through acapella acoustics and daunting basslines. The twelve spaceships hovering above the Earth’s surface resemble Airwick’s attempts to make air fresheners in keeping with minimalist decor. Or, if you prefer, very large eggs. There is barely any Michael Bay style explosion flaunting. Yet, where scenes depict changes in gravitational force, and the Heptapods themselves, the film shows a subtle ability to create intriguing visuals with little displays of incongruity.

‘Arrival’ was an intriguing film. I’ve avoided spoiling the ending in this review, because I really believe it’s worth watching for yourself. Although the film did leave me with a lot more questions than answers (which you can see here [spoilers]), perhaps this is the point. After all, isn’t it better to leave the cinema with big, existential questions than none at all?

Stranger Things: Do We Need The 80s?

Please Ferris, don’t have another day off. 

By Oliver Driver


Check the cinema listings and you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re back in the 80’s. Star Wars, Star Trek and Ghost-Busters are all on the big screen and Flash Gordon isn’t far behind. In this context, Netflix Original series Stranger Things looks right at home. In reality, the Duffer Brother’s mini-series is as alien as E.T. Far from the tepid waters of safe-bet remakes and cash-grab sequels, it’s a retreat into the warm bosom of rose-tinted past.


Stranger Things logo


Stranger Things doesn’t jump on the table and rub its 80s credentials in your face. We don’t even see the predictable Rubik’s Cube cameo.  It may as well not be the 80s at all, simply ‘a long, long time ago in a galaxy not far away’. What matters is that it’s not now: it’s pre-digital. Like the crackle of a record, there’s comfort to be found in the fuzzy black screen that precedes those synth opening titles. The fiber-optic streaming feels like VHS, and it feels great.

From then on, Stranger Things is laced with nods to its influences. Beginning in the stars, you’re left expecting an Imperial Cruiser to steam through the first shot, leaving a palpable feeling that you’ve seen it all before – and it’s probably because you have. Far from shying away from its predecessors, we spend our time shamelessly cycling away from the “bad men” in radioactive suits, hiding aliens in closets and walks along train tracks (a-la-Stand-By-Me.)

“There are no short cuts and no cheap shots. The roster of characters gradually reveal complexity and depth in dialogue”

Cynically, it seems like the recipe for success: cheap pop-culture shots and familiar plot lines. But that’s in a world where success is measured at the box office and Ice Age 3 comes out on top. And this is exactly the world from which Stranger Things seeks to escape: one where consumerism is omnipresent and mobile phones tether us to our stresses, like landlines to the wall. There are no short cuts and no cheap shots. The roster of characters gradually reveal complexity and depth in dialogue, rather than wandering around explaining the plot and shouting “I love Dr Pepper” (See Real Steel and 90210). Nothing is written with target audiences and marketing in mind.

Rubik's Cube: a predictable 80s pop cultural reference


The Duffer Brothers don’t take us to L.A landmarks, but idyllic Indiana suburbs – where garden gnomes go missing and the worst thing to happen was “an owl attacked Eleanor Gillespie because it thought her hair was a nest”. For the charming, carefree (if a little too familiar) gang, it’s home to Dungeons and Dragons, pillow forts and bike rides.

It’s here where the series flourishes, not in the well-rendered monsters, but the formation and interplay of unlikely, yet tender, relationships. For me, the greatest jump came at the fate of misfit Jonathan’s camera, not the faceless ‘Demigorgon’. It’s a world that feels so much simpler than today, but only because they’ve made it so. A time to which we owe so many of today’s horrors, of conflict and greed, the 80s deserves little fetishism. Much like Abraham’s Super 8, Stranger Things is a love letter to a nerdy childhood that just happened to be in the 80s.

The best art comes from love. If you loved the 80s, write that. But we don’t need nostalgia, just because it sells. If we write what sells, those reboots will keep coming. Roll on Ben Hur.

Melly Still – From YSJ to the RSC

By George Alexander Moss

In a riveting discussion mediated by York St. John Senior Lecturer in Drama David Richmond, famed artist Melly Still discussed topics from her time at York St John, to her directorial efforts in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, currently playing at the Barbican Theatre, London.

Melly Still is a director, choreographer and designer. She has been nominated for four Olivier awards and six Tony awards, including best director for both. In a career going from strength to strength, Still has developed productions with The National Theatre, Blind Wall Festival Opera and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Her work has been recognized on an international scale, influencing theatrical circles in Europe, America, and Asia. Needless to say, Still ranks among York St John’s top alumna.

Still’s rationale for choosing to study at York St John University in the 1980s was that, “at the time, it was the only place in the UK that I could find that did theatre, fine art and dance – all three.” Retrospectively, this education route seems like an exhausting shocker. After all, it is not uncommon to find single honours undergraduates in the library engaging in various activities; working, reading, sleeping, crying. It would certainly be remarkable if Still aced three subjects at once, but as is true for many undergraduates, it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Still highlighted many obstacles that came her way during her time at University. She openly admitted that, “I think I displayed lack of confidence by just not giving a damn at the time”, which for the theatrical arts obviously will not fly. In a subject that relies so heavily upon inspiration and creativity, a stunted student will find it difficult to reap the rewards of study and practice. Coupled with a lack of confidence is untapped potential, and that is something Still evidently had much of. Eventually this potential was unleashed, and Still “started to click with some of the work we were doing […] I really loved it at after that, second, third and fourth years. I don’t think I missed anything. Plus I was making work and putting on shows at every opportunity that wasn’t part of the curricular [activities].” It is often said that University is a time to broaden ones prospects, to participate in as much as possible whilst also, creating our own opportunities. Between the endless hours of Netflix and noise, a sense of maturity is eventually unearthed in the first year, and propels each and every student into the productive years that follow. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves at 3am whilst devouring another episode of Luke Cage.

Nevertheless, Still began harnessing her talent through the three headed beast of a course. She described it as “really fascinating work – I remember a lot of the tutors. There was this kind of, strangely enough at the time, everything was very, very compartmentalized. At the time, theatre practice was theatre practice, art was art, and there was never a between, they would never meet ever. There was a lack of cooperation between departments at the time. Which seemed nuts to a lot of the students.” Of course, this has been clearly rectified now, with York St John University breathing as a whole by sharing trips, societies and a great many lectures. However, where the artist is confined it could only ever lead to rebellion. Still reflects that it: “Seemed mad we weren’t being able to do mad things on rooftops, and things like that. It was quite conservative, but it helped, because it meant we could sort of push against it. It’s quite easy to shock people here, which some how I found quite incentivising at the time.” Creativity is at its most vibrant when demolishing boundaries and offering new perspectives on a great many things, changing thoughts and feelings for the better. Of course, clambering onto somebody’s roof is also a stellar method of inciting change: hopefully we can expect someone to be on the roof of The White House one day soon.

Still’s continuing hard work eventually led her to where she is today, directing rarely performed Shakespearean juggernaut Cymbeline. Whilst she contemplates that “the tutors encouraged us to be quite experimental at the time”, she later stated that her artistic nuance came: “very late in my career, finding my voice. But I certainly felt I really want to work in a narratively driven, choreographic work”. In the case of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Cymbeline, that voice is on a speaker phone. The play’s pitch is hauntingly that “Britain is in crisis. Alienated, insular and on the brink of disaster. Can it be saved?” Reflecting a vast array of contemporary catastrophes (looking at you brexit), the play has arrived at a time in Earth’s history that is more poignant than ever. This is the crux of what Still is trying to communicate, stating that Cymbeline is “completely about isolationism. England was still struggling with its identity, do we become part of a bigger statehood? Lets reach out to our neighbours. They’re not my words, they’re Shakespeare’s. You can’t help but reach out to those parallels.” It is disheartening to consider whether Britain has come a long enough way in 400 years. Now of course, it is not merely England struggling with a contested identity; America, Germany and a great many other places are facing this question too. It is on this that makes Cymbeline truly vital and Shakespeare a timeless writer.

Ultimately, whether shaking things up at York St John or on a global stage, it is unquestionable that Melly Still makes our world immeasurably bigger.


Review: Margaret Atwood at York Theatre Royal, 11 October

By Fiona Stewart

MA in Contemporary Literature student

I was delighted to see Margaret Atwood in conversation with Dr Liesl King at the York Theatre Royal. When asked about preparation for her novel Hag-Seed (2016), Atwood spoke about her research on Shakespeare and The Tempest, and how she enjoyed watching DVDs of the performance, in particular, Julie Taymore’s film with Helen Mirren as Prospera. Hag-Seed is an inventive re-telling of The Tempest which revisits the theme of revenge. The Prospero figure is the character Felix Phillips who is usurped by his cunning assistant, Tony. Whilst contemplating his revenge, Felix decides to teach drama in a local prison where he directs the inmates through Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Richard III and Macbeth. Felix later decides to stage The Tempest which will draw Tony to meet his match.

King and Atwood

Atwood spoke about the high value she places on the teaching of literature and drama in prisons, and from her research she was inspired by inmates’ enthusiasm for acting. One inmate, on release from prison, had been so enthralled by the experience of acting that he trained to teach Shakespeare in prisons. When asked about the many genres in which she writes, Atwood said that while she was at college in Canada, nobody said that you could not write in a particular way, and as a result, she has enjoyed a long career of writing novels, plays, poetry and critical essays.


A member of the audience asked why Canada has so many great women authors and Atwood responded by highlighting acclaimed author Gwethalyn Graham, who wrote Earth and High Heaven (1944), while also acknowledging renowned Canadian male authors. She additionally discussed the importance of indigenous figures as role models for women across Canadian culture.


Finally, Atwood spoke about our planet and acknowledged British nature writers, in particular, Richard Mabey. She emphasised that 40-60% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the oceans which are now heavily polluted by industrial practices across the globe. A reduction in oxygen will impair all forms of life on earth. I thank Atwood for her contribution to the environmental debate and her relentless hard work in alerting people to our endangered earth.

Graham Rawle – Unconventional Appearences

By George Alexander Moss

Excitement once again swept through York St John University, as famed author, artist, designer and illustrator Graham Rawle stopped by to deliver an enthralling lecture.

Rawle opened up the talk by confessing that his “background is as an illustrator and designer” and that he “doesn’t have a literary background.” This does not at all infringe on his capability as a writer, however. He has developed regular series for major broadsheets: The Observer, The Times and The Sunday Telegraph Magazine. For The Guardian he concocted the famed ‘Lost Consonants’, collections of panel artistry that depict comedic outcomes when a sentence loses a crucial consonant. Beyond this, Rawle has written several well received novels, such as The Card, Lying Doggo, The Wonder Book of Fun and the core text of his talk: Woman’s World. In addition to all of this, he is a tutor for the University of Brighton’s MA in Arts and Design by Independent Project, and seems to be admirably living several lives simultaneously.

Lost Consonants by Graham Rawle 96 dog baking.jpg
Grahamrawle - collage artwork
 Previously published in The Guardian, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Rawle’s talk focused first on story structure. He explained that a story can be found anywhere so long as it accords with specific sets of rules, giving varied examples such as, “comedians, how they construct a joke, how they can construct a whole act around a joke or series of jokes. I might be looking at exhibition design, and how you navigate a crowd through a space. How to make that feel like a journey, feel like a story. Or the beginning and middle and end of a magic act […]

For Rawle, behind every solid story is strong structure. His claim is that all of these examples, “have a strong three act structure to them […] This patterned three act structure is detectable in lots of areas”.  The basic sequence of the Three Act Structure (exposition, climax, and resolution) determines “How people orchestrate things like a firework display […] It’s the sequence in the way you put these things that deliver the most effective show you can”.


“I write fiction, but the books I write have a visual element to them that hopes to carry an additional narrative layer”


Rawle suggested that he approached storytelling as someone with a design background, explaining that designers study the fundamentals of something, respecting existing approaches, and then afterward craft something new. This mindset can be seen in his 2005 novel Woman’s World, in which Rawle to put his own spin on the literary. Spelling out his aims in writing such novels he stated, “I write fiction, but the books I write have a visual element to them that hopes to carry an additional narrative layer”. In keeping with the theme of ‘stories to be found everywhere’, Rawle crafted the critically acclaimed Woman’s World (2005), as a bombastic collage novel. Constructed solely by reassembling text snippets from 1960’s women magazines, the novel has been appropriately described by The Times as, “a work of genius […] the most wildly original novel produced in this country in the past decade”.

The unconventional collage construction of Woman’s World complements the journey of its protagonist, cross-dressing man Norma Fontaine. The women’s magazines of the 1960’s translated the ‘woman’s world’ to him, informing Norma how he can best become a woman. Using the collage, Rawle aimed to convey a sense of desperation: “The desperation was about becoming this ‘ideal woman’ […] the idea of a cross-dressing man in 1962, trying to be a woman, to learn how to be a woman, with only his mother who he can’t ask and not being able to go out anywhere, you look back at the magazines through that viewpoint, and it tells you everything you need to do”. The magazines offered a unique window into gender performance, and Woman’s World achieves part of that effect not just through narrative, but through the collage. Powerful and moving, it is a text that transcends time.

The innovation doesn’t stop in his books either. Rawle is taking Woman’s World to film, and stated that “I’m going to collage the whole film, exactly as I collaged the book. So replacing the story with fan clips to try and retell the story of Norma Fontaine.” Of course, the danger with adapting a collage is the danger of not being able to recapture the magic the collage effect had. No matter how well the story itself is adapted, part of the magic comes through the specific mode of imagery. Nonetheless, at the prospect of a film, movie stars came sniffing, such as Tom Hardy and James Franco. Though the two are no longer involved, one thing is clear: that Woman’s World is as adaptable as any of Graham Rawle’s many talents.

The unconventional appearance of Woman’s World, whether on page or screen, is a step toward true originality. To piece together a story through another’s words, to read what the characters themselves could have read, or to even hold a book similar to what the character could have owned, is an enchanting feeling. Ultimately, Graham Rawle pondered that, “the design of a book has been around for such a long time […] It is really interesting that nobody said to Mary Shelley then ‘what do you think a books going to look like in 200 years?’ It’s unlikely she would have said, ‘I expect it will look exactly the same’. It’s really odd!”

In retrospect, we should have asked Mr. Rawle the very same thing.


A Question of Conscience: York Big City Read 2016 Lecture

By Nicoletta Peddis



Dr Alexandra Medcalfe, “Archives and Memory: Conscientious Objection in York during World War One”. York Explore Library, 18 October 2016

This year’s York Big City Read is Pat Barker’s best seller Regeneration. 2016 is an important year in terms of the centenary of the First World War and Regeneration has been chosen as a book that explores the impact of war on ordinary people’s lives.

On Tuesday 18 October, Dr. Alexandra Medcalfe from the Borthwick Institute gave a fascinating lecture at York Explore Library. Dr Alexandra Medcalfe specializes in history of York during the 19th century with a focus on history of mental health. On Tuesday, her lecture used a variety of yellowed archival sources to guide the audience through a discussion of conscientious objection during WWI.

The documents examined showed how in York, a military city with a strong religious identity and a politically active community, a wide debate on conscientious objection was raised as soon as war was declared against Germany. Many of the documents examined related to the figure of Arnold Rowntree, who as a Quaker and Liberal MP for the city championed the cause of the city’s conscientious objectors, young men who refused to take up arms. Dr Medcalfe also introduced newspapers articles and letters to newspapers to demonstrate how the issue of conscientious objection aroused strong and contrasting feelings across the city. One newspaper article from the Yorkshire Herald refers to a Quaker meeting as a hotbed of ‘shirkers and slackers’.

Conscientious objectorsPicture: a CO rally during WWI



The criticism on newspaper also targeted Mr Rowntree accusing him of not representing his constituency and of being anti-patriotic. As with many other objectors, Arnold Rowntree simply believed that fighting was wrong. He suggested ideas that could provide opportunities for unarmed service because although they did not want to fight, many were willing to do something to show their support. So the Government set up the Non-Combatant Corps to accommodate those whose consciences forbade them from bearing arms, and Arnold was instrumental in forming the Friends Ambulance Unit, a volunteer group to ferry casualties from the front line.


FA Unit Western FrontPicture: a Friends Ambulance Unit in action on the Western Front.

The lecture was interesting, and especially lively in discussing contemporary feelings about conscientious objection. For the young men who objected during World War One the experience was difficult and traumatic and, while today conscientious objection is often viewed with more understanding and sympathy, public opinion remains divided. Recruitment techniques and nationalist narratives like those adopted in 1914 are still at use today.

York Big City Read events will take place during all October and November and a full list of upcoming events can be found here: https://www.exploreyork.org.uk/introducing-the-big-city-read-programme/. For anyone who is interested in finding out more about conscientious objection in York, on 5 December Clements Hall History Group will host a workshop exploring the impact of WWI conscription at Priory Street Centre in York. More information is available on their website: www.clementshallhistorygroup.wordpress.com.