About James

James is the Literature Editor of LeftLion magazine. He is also an academic and a writer who has been published in various magazines and books. This means he spends most of his time in front of a computer screen writing about life instead of living it. Therefore, do not trust a word he says.

#LeftLionIs15 15 years, 100 covers…

Leftlion celebrates its 100th issue this month after 15 years of rattling on about Nottingham. The magazine began life in black and white and was originally published bi/monthly. It went monthly a few years ago, and more recently it’s shrunk a little in size. The weight loss is down to being funded entirely through advertising and a necessity to help break even. The Guardian recently went on a diet, so we’re not alone in slimming down to the tabloid format. LeftLion is increasingly expanding into digital as it adapts to the needs of new audiences, so it’s quite an achievement to still be publishing a print version given the brutal economics of print media. Each month, 10,000+ copies are distributed to 350+ venues across the city, and I’ve helped deliver them as well as writing the copy inside. I’ll be picking up a copy and adding it to my collection of memorable magazines and papers (Kurt Cobain’s suicide – NME, Barack Obama’s inauguration – Guardian, last day at Raleigh – Evening Post) that will one day shift a few coins on ebay or, more likely, offer kindling for the fire.

I was the literature editor for 13 years and thoroughly enjoyed my time working under Jared Wilson, Al Needham, and Ali Emm. All of them had their own distinct ideas and vision about LeftLion’s role in pimping out Notts. The current editor, Bridie Squires, is barely in her twenties, and so the magazine will invariably take on a more youthful view of culture. And rightly so. Nottingham has changed dramatically over the years. Milton’s (pub) no longer takes pride of place in the Viccy, the xylophone man has been replaced by the iphone man – yoots rapping over the top of recorded tracks for money, and the fountains in Market Square have been slabbed over to make way for a giant sandpit in summer and an ice rink in winter. The ice rink got the Nottingham stamp of approval when someone carved ‘cunt’ into the ice so that it displayed on the live feed hosted on the council website. It totally captured the Notts attitude: Lairy, Sweary, Quite Contrary. This act of vandalism brought me almost as much pleasure as the lad that queued up for two hours so that he could punch Peter Andre at a book signing. Or Lord Biro, a professional mitherer, who stood in a local election promising to make the burqa compulsory for Kerry Katona because he was sick of seeing her face everywhere.

It was very difficult to step down from Leftlion but it was the right time. I’ve done my bit for Notts and now it’s time to do a bit for mesen. At present, this includes: working on a BBC4 Radio programme called The Tongue and Talk of the People (due to be broadcast in May); Dawn of the Unread II: Whatever People Say I Am (sometime in 2018); and DH Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage (2019). The latter two projects both involve digital storytelling and are created with my partner in crime, Paul Fillingham (Think Amigo). Check out our Lawrence instagram account to see how we’re building an archive of byte-sized chunks of info about Nottingham’s favourite potty mouth, or say hello on Twitter. There were other reasons why it was the right time to step down in terms of the artistic direction of the magazine, but I’ll save them for another blog. The sun has just come out and I want to get in the garden and chop some logs. It’s where I do most of my thinking, and like DH Lawrence, I find it therapeutic:  ‘You have no idea how soothing to it is to the nerves’ he explained to Dorothy Brett. ‘When I am in a temper, I like to run out into these quiet woods and chop down a tree; it quiets the nerves. Even chopping wood helps; you’ve no idea, Brett, how much it helps. That’s why I like doing it.’

To celebrate reaching 100, LeftLion are publishing a book of their front covers. I’ve been involved with a few of these, such as Scab City, the Sillitoe Issue, Nottingham: Then and Now, and a spoof version of William Booth’s In Darkest England. You can support their kickstarter campaign #LeftLionIs15 here:

DH Lawrence: Herd Mentality

For the past couple of years I’ve been retracing DH Lawrence’s footsteps across the globe in preparation for a Lawrence inspired ‘memory theatre’ project with Paul Fillingham, due to be published in 2019. The following article was originally published on our Lawrence bloging site and then tweaked for an article published in the January 2018 issue of Leftlion, a UNESCO City of Literature special. The artwork is by one of my favourite artists, Eva Brudenell. 

On September 11th the world changed forever. DH Lawrence was born. To celebrate that special day in 1885 I’ve arranged to go for a stomp across his childhood home of Eastwood with other members of the DH Lawrence Society. Eastwood was a booming coalmining community at the turn of the 20th century, but Lawrence wasn’t a fan. In his early novels and plays he bemoans the destruction of the natural landscape. Although Emile Zola had written about coalminers in Germinal (1885) and Vincent Van Gogh slouched off to Belgium to live among the miners he painted, Lawrence was the first writer to portray them from the inside. He didn’t hold back. Eastwood has never forgiven him. Neither has the literati.

His books were consistently banned and he faced censorship throughout his career. Consequently, he turned his back on England in 1919, cursing “the sniveling, dribbling, dithering palsied pulse-less lot that make up England today. They’ve got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery it’s a marvel they can breed”. He set off with his German wife Frieda, who he nicknamed the Queen Bee, travelling the globe in search of Rananim – a community of like-minded people. But there was no-one like Lawrence, so he just kept on moving. He lived in Sicily for a bit, but was irritated by the locals who were “so terribly physically over one another” like “melted butter over parsnips”. “Beastly Milano” was no better, “with its imitation hedgehog of a cathedral”. So he set off East for Mexico, stopping off in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where he got bad guts and took it out on the Buddha “Oh I wish he would stand up!” Lawrence was a proper mard arse, raging at everything. It’s why I love him so much.

By the time I arrive at my destination I’m 15 minutes late. Nobody is around. Given that the average age of membership at the DH Lawrence Society is 70 I naively presume I can catch them up and so leg it across the field. But they’re nowhere to be seen. I start shouting which attracts the attention of a herd of cows in an adjacent field. They start to chunter over, perhaps thinking I’m the farmer rather than a disorganised reader wanting to recite bits of Sons and Lovers at relevant locations on a 6 mile circular walk. Then one of them kicks out a leg like he’s dancing. They start to pick up pace. Some run into each other. They’re not bulls are they? Then they pick up pace, charging. There must be sixty on them. I peg it towards a hedgerow in the middle of the field and within seconds I’m circled by angry cows. I shout at them to piss off. They take it in turns mooing and staring, like they want a fight. I begin to walk away calmly, but they follow, less calmly. Then one at the back panics and starts to run, setting off the others. I make it to a nearby tree and clamber up, waving my copy of Sons of Lovers at them, telling them to f*ck off. They’re having none of it. They want me dead. I can see it in their “wicked eyes.” Lawrence could name every flower, plant and tree. I haven’t got a clue what tree I’ve scrambled up. I just know it’s prickly and my hands are bleeding.

As I stare at the cows and the cows stare back I think of Birkin in Women in Love when he tells Ursula he wants their connection to be founded on something beyond love, “where there is no speech, and no terms of agreement.” This was definitely a moment of no speech and no terms of agreement. Just a lot of stamping and mooing. “This is the wrong book” I scream, waving my copy of Sons and Lovers. FFS! This isn’t Women in Love.

In Women in Love Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen end up singing and dancing naked in front of a herd of Highland cattle. It’s one of many incidents that have wrongly led Lawrence to be classified as a dotteh author. Nothing could be further from the truth. He believed that in privileging the intellect, we’ve lost touch with our more intuitive and instinctive senses, what he described as blood consciousness. He was more pagan than pervert.

I spot a man in wellies in a garden on the edge of the field. He has to be the farmer. He looks like a farmer. I scream at him from up my tree. Eventually he looks up; too casual for my liking, but at least I have his attention. “You ok?” he shouts. “Of course I’m not f*cking ok. These cows want me dead.” “Do you want some help?” “Of course I want some f*cking help.” He climbs over his fence and plods over, clapping his hands at the cows who immediately disperse. “Just got to clap at ‘em,” he informs.

He asks if I’d like to be escorted out of the field and I say yes, of course I want to be escorted out of the field. I consider giving him my copy of Sons and Lovers but decide against it as I’ve highlighted my favourite quotes. I tell him that it’s DHL’s birthday today. He nods. I don’t elaborate further. Once over the fence I give him a clap. He walks off. Not just cows, then.

When I get back to my car I smoke three cigarettes on the bounce and then speed out of Eastwood as fast as I can. I’m in such a rage that I pull over to call my GF. She’s more of a hornet than a Queen Bee, and delighted by my misfortune. I am always scalding the GF for her poor time management so she revels in my misfortune. She’ll store this day forever. Never forget it. September 11th will forever be cowgate. Rather than DHL’S birthday. Or the date when two planes flew into two towers.

As I head home I clock the blue and yellow hell that is Ikea. Lawrence wasn’t a man for flat-packed philosophies but he did love his DIY. Aldous Huxley said Lawrence “could cook, he could sew, he could darn a stocking and milk a cow, he was an efficient woodcutter and a good hand at embroidery, fires always burned when he had laid them and a floor after he had scrubbed it was thoroughly clean.” If the GF ever dumps me, I’m using that quote for my Tinder profile.

Although I missed the walk I’ve unwittingly celebrated elements of Lawrence’s personality on his birthday. He hated the herd mentality, despising any group that attempted to force its will upon him. He hated the dehumanising effects of industrialisation and how this slowly removed man from nature – the cows were a curt reminder that nature still has some fight left in it. Lawrence couldn’t get out of Eastwood fast enough and this led him to live a nomadic life across the globe, often in abject poverty. “I find I can be anywhere at home, except home,” he lamented.

Later that evening the radio reports there’s been an increase in tuberculosis in cows. To stop this spreading 33,500 badgers will be culled in autumn. Lawrence died of tuberculosis. He was my age, 44. Perhaps the cows were trying to tell me something. Instead of running I should have listened.

You can follow the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre blog at www.thedigitalpilgrimage.wordpress.com on Twitter  or on instagram