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Quick update: I haven’t given up, I’m just busy.

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Very busy. By the end of this month I will have submitted work to seven literary magazines, publications, short story competitions, etc, etc. Each with a different piece of work entered. And there’s more to come in October and the rest of 2016. Some stories have been kicking around for a while. Some already existing pieces have been rehashed and reworked into more coherent wholes. Others are completely brand new. Some of it I think is pretty good, some still needs more work, and some of it won’t go anywhere, but I have a bit more choice and perspective over what has worked and what hasn’t.

(I’ve had some good news already but I can’t say more that that right now)

It’s been intense (and a real strain at times) but I am slowly building a small body of work – whereas previously I just had a few nice prompts on a blog. I’ve loved working on the prompts and updating the blog in general; the occasional complimentary comment from readers and the photographers I’ve been inspired by are fucking great to see, and I really appreciate them. But at the same time, they won’t get me anywhere. Where am I trying to get to? I don’t know. But I do like writing stories and if I want to take things more seriously I need to push myself.

So I apologise for the lack of content, now and possibly in the next few months, to the few who do regularly visit my blog, and to myself, because I do enjoy writing here. But I’m doing it for the right reasons.

Also I’m 26 today (fuck!)

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Between 1980 and 1991, the comic anthology magazine Raw serially published a piece of work titled Maus. Soon after it was released in its entirety as a graphic novel, and in 1992, Maus by Art Spiegelman (the joint editor of Raw at the time) became the first graphic novel to receive the Pulitzer Prize. Spiegelman was born not long after the end of Second World War, in 1948, to his Polish Jewish parents Vladek and Anja, survivors of the Second World War and the Holocaust, the genocide of over six million Jews by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The family emigrated to the US in 1951, where Spiegelman grew up with a keen interest in comics, eventually becoming a cartoonist. His mother committed suicide in his teenage years and his relationship with his father was strained, to put it mildly.

Maus will go down as one of the most important graphic novels of all time. With its delicate subject matter it manages to inject raw emotion, sensitivity, love and humour into one of the most horrific and despicable events in the history of mankind. Spiegelman depicts the Jews as mice, and the Nazis as cats, and the cartoon-ism the animals give the story highlights the unreal situation millions of Jews found themselves in. For the most part the book covers two narratives; the first, scenes in New York focusing on the relationship between Spiegelman and his estranged father Vladek, and the second, Vladek’s tales and recollections from Poland during the war, including attempts to evade and hide from the Nazis, their inevitable capture and subsequent incarceration in Auschwitz, and finally their eventual escape.

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The art style of Maus is simple and high contrast, with little more than black and white being used in the panels. This can give a feeling of heaviness, of weight. Sometimes, when the dialogue is squeezed into frames, things get a little claustrophobic. Other frames have no text at all, leaving the images to do the talking. Both are done with purpose and for maximum emotional effect.

While Maus makes some references to the ‘bigger picture’ of events in Poland, Germany and the rest of Europe, for the most part it is a tale of Vladek and his own experience and survival. Running in parallel to this are scenes with Spiegelman and his now elderly father Vladek, as he shares his memories for Spiegelman to record in an attempt to write Maus. We also meet characters like Vladek’s second wife Mala (Vladek’s wife during the War, and Art’s mother, committed suicide in 1968) and Spiegelman’s wife Françoise. These scenes are incredibly deeply moving and personal when intersected with Vladek’s recollections of the treatment of the Jews. Spiegelman’s relationship with his father is complex, with Vladek is often painted in a negative light: his reluctance to part with his money, his racist views and a constant and unfair comparison of Mala to his deceased wife Anja. His miserly and stubborn traits, while being key to his survival in the camps, are what annoy Art decades later. But overall there is love and respect between the two, even if their father-son relationship is not an orthodox one (but when one has been through what Vladek went through, how can there be?)

There are also touching moments where an older Spiegelman, working on the later Maus comics presumably after his fathers death, is weighed down by guilt after the success of the first issues. A poignant frame shows a depressed Spiegelman working away on top of a pile of dead Jews. How can his problems possibly compare to what Vladek had to endure? It was around this time that I had to put the book down for a few days. It should go without saying, but Maus isn’t an easy read.

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In the final few pages Spiegelman includes a polaroid of Vladek. It genuinely affected me – not just the jarring contrast between illustration and photograph, but the reminder that this was a real man, not a cartoon mouse, that faced and survived these unbelievable ordeals.

Maus is a difficult piece of work to define. Part biography, part memoir, part historical non-fiction. In truth it doesn’t require such labels. In bridging the gap between history, art and story-telling, Maus is one of the most important pieces of literature of the last century. It remains vital that such atrocities are never repeated, and while the inherent violence of the world continues, hate should never be allowed to prosper as it did during one of the darkest periods of human history.

Posts have been running a little dry recently as I’ve been away; Sark Folk Festival last weekend, and the weekend prior to that, Glastonbury. My recovery has been slow and difficult, and while there was much fun to be had, I just don’t feel human anymore.

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Glastonbury 2016 was a lot tougher than previous years (I blame the mud)

But the reason for this post is not an opportunity to complain about the “Great British Summer”. A couple of months ago I entered a small writing contest, hosted by author Curtis Bausse, who challenged writers to submit a short piece based on the following passage from his book The Cats);

A long time ago, when life was tolerable, almost good, he had two cats that kept him company. How old was he? Seven? Eight? Before his father began to question the worth of his existence. Back then, presumably, he was cute, almost as cute as the tabbies. He never knew what happened to them but they disappeared, both of them, all of a sudden, and he was left only with an inconsolable sadness.

More information on the contest can be found on Curtis’s site here. I chose a rather dark take on the passage, detailing a rainy night in a diner for the central character as he returns to the hometown that brought him so much pain, for the funeral of his estranged father. (Note, I haven’t actually read the book of which the extract is taken from.)

I did not win, but a group of us – around 20 – impressed Curtis, and guest judge Atthys Gage, enough to suggest bringing our selected stories together to create an anthology.

The title is to be decided (it will be cat themed due to the subject matter), and several rounds of proof-reading are currently underway, but I don’t think the finished anthology is too far off. There will be no profit gained for each participant (anything earned from the project will be going to charity), but that was never the point. It’s been flattering to be selected and involved, and so beneficial to be working and learning from like-minded people. It’s a small-scale project but I hope to learn a lot from the experience.

Once more is known, perhaps a release date and title, I will post another update, and of course will announce when it is done and available to purchase. Like I said, it’s not a huge deal but this will be the first time a piece of my work has been ‘published’ in anything other than this blog, so personally, I’m really excited going forwards.

“Boy, have we got a vacation for you!”

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James Brolin (left) plays Blane, a frequent visitor of West World who brings his recently divorced friend Martin, played by Richard Benjamin, for the first time to let off some steam. Apprehensive at first, Martin soon starts to enjoy himself.

Before creating a theme park full of dinosaurs which turned on its visitors (Jurassic Park, 1990 – and the subsequent Spielberg adaption in 1993), Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, released in 1973. A similar situation in some ways – the attractions of an amusement park end up killing the visitors. Delos is a state-of-the-art, hyper realistic amusement park for adults, with three themed ‘worlds’ to explore, depending on the visitors preference: Roman World, Medieval World and the titular West World – a Western themed area where for $1000 a day, visitors can live in an authentic experience of the lawless, thrilling cowboy lifestyle of the West.

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Androids populate West World to give a highly authentic experience – they can be killed in brawls and showdowns but are programmed to always ‘lose’ to the guests, ensuring no visitors are ever in danger of harm.

The three ‘worlds’ in Delos are populated by androids who with the latest technology are modelled to look and behave like their human counterparts from the selected era. So in Westworld, there are sheriffs, bartenders, prostitutes and outlaws. These androids are scheduled to behave in a certain way each day, serving guests, cheating at poker, starting bar fights and engaging in quick draw pistol showdowns, to create a fully interactive world for the visitors. The androids are programmed to never harm guests – they will always lose gunfights and when shot they bleed and do not get back up, dragged away by park workers to be repaired and returned to service for the next day. While Blane has visited West World several times, it is Martin’s first visit and at first he doesn’t seem won over despite the astounding technology. But after shooting an android (Yul Brynner’s ominous Gunslinger) over a disagreement over a spilt drink, and later visiting a brothel where the pair sleep with two attractive androids, Martin is enamoured by the feeling of being a real cowboy.

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Every night the damaged androids are fixed and analysed, before being wheeled back out for the next day of wild west activities.

Predictably, things go wrong. An android rattlesnake bites Blane, a seductive android rejects a visitor’s sexual advances. The Delos scientists speculate that a ‘virus’ is spreading through the androids, causing the malfunctions. Initially laughed off (how can a virus spread through machines?), the problem escalates rapidly when a knight, programmed to lose a sword fight in Medieval World, kills its visitor opponent. The technicians watch on monitors in shock, unable to shut down the androids as they begin to rampage on reserve power. In West World, the Gunslinger again provokes a now hungover Blane and Martin to a showdown in the street. Blane, assuming the Gunslinger’s safety procedures are still operational, is killed in the draw and a shocked Martin flees in terror as the android pursues him with unstoppable intensity and its heightened senses.

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Yul Brynner is excellent as the terrifying Gunsligner, a deadly and relentless android who chases Martin through West World when its programming fails.

As a film Westworld is a good, if not great, sci-fi thriller. What grabbed my attention is the ideas and concepts that are raised. Man tries to harness science, technology and artificial intelligence, fails. How aware are the androids of their ‘job’? Do the androids feel used? Do they have any understanding of their (lack of) sentience? Is there any moral implication of destroying an anthropomorphised machine, when it looks and acts exactly like a real man, only to fix and reconstruct it in order for it to be shot and killed all over again? The film barely scratches the surface of some of these questions, which is a shame as it’s a concept that really interests me.

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You might ask why I have suddenly taken an interest in a film, not exactly well known, released back in 1973? Westworld is being adapted into a television miniseries for HBO, created by Jonathan Nolan and starring Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, James Marsden and Thandie Newton. Described as “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin”, I’m hoping the extended format of a miniseries will allow some of the questions I raised above to be explored in more detail. With a talented cast and excellent directors behind the scenes (including JJ Abrams) I’m intrigued to see how such a concept is realised and investigated, over forty years after the original film was released.

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Sun sets on the west coast of Guernsey 09/05/2016

71 years ago, on the 9th May, 1945,  the Channel Islands were in celebration after their occupation and subsequent freedom from Nazi Germany: the only part of the British Isles that was ever occupied by the Nazi regime. So Liberation Day for us islanders is a pretty big deal.

I took this yesterday after several beers. By no means a photographer, but I was pretty pleased with this snap.

Updates (and general progress on everything) has slowed this month. But for good reason – I just returned from a two week holiday (a week in Miami South Beach, followed by another week in Cancun, which coincided with Spring Break). Too many burgers, nachos, cocktails, tequila shots, late nights, sunburn… It was a welcome break from work and the typical winter weather we see here in the UK, but I’m absolutely knackered now and in dire need of detoxification.

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Me (the goon) with some Mayan architecture (the pyramid). You can check out my instagram (add @nickjparr) which contains a few more photos from the trip.

There is a potentially exciting joint project in the works, but I’ll hold back on sharing that until more has been confirmed. But the usual updates should start flowing again soon.

Cheers!