‘The Medusa Files’ Book Launch
Foyles Bookstore, Sunday 5th June 2016
Firstly I want to talk a bit about NK a strange land indeed and as I say on my website, probably the most xenophobic country on this planet.
The ruling dynasty are the KIM family, they are exponents of the cult of personality & have taken communism to its most extreme form, so much so that life there resembles Orwell’s dystopian vision in his novel 1984, to an uncanny degree.
Indeed that rare situation has arisen, where the reality of day to day life, the form of government and its various edits are virtually indistinguishable from such a prescient work of fiction.
In both my novels I make reference to this, but I further expand on that theme in The Medusa Files, drawing parallels with Frank Kafka, and another work written in 1924 by the Russian author Zamyatin, in his futuristic novel WE, in which people live behind sealed walls, are under constant surveillance by the all-powerful state and live with the omnipresent fear of who might expose them, merely for questioning some particular order or injunction. Parallels of this type of society are found in other great dystopian works, such as Audley Huxley’s Brave New World or the brilliant science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, in his seminal novel, Fahrenheit 451. Although I must add immediately and qualify that with, I do not consider myself to be anywhere near to the literary heights they achieved, or the adulation that these phenomenal novelists rightly received.
One of the base principles of the North Korean ideology is the belief in Ju-che, this is one of the prime guiding themes that developed from an early form of Stalinism and morphed into this already mentioned cult worship, and yet this idea of Ju-che which is described as “Self-reliance” creates an immediate paradox. How can one have so called self-reliance, an almost capitalistic description, in a society that is plainly the reverse? It is in fact a fallacy, self-reliance is a tool the State uses in hard times, bought about, I might add, by its own belligerent and bellicose attitude, causing sanctions to be foisted upon its government, as happened many times in the early nineties, that obviously affects the most vulnerable first. So the state tells them adopt Ju-che, when in reality they need the support of their government: but at the very time they need help, at the very time families are starving, at the very moment they need the help of the ruling family, they discard you; and that is the brutal truth of self-reliance NK style.
There are many many stories that graphically illustrate this and I was thinking of one that I wished to share with you, it appeared in the press some time ago and it basically goes like this: Choco pies are small savoury cakes made in South Korea and became popular in North Korea, the only reason they discovered this delicacy is that there is an area close to the demilitarised zone called Kaesong, this was set up between the two governments in an attempt to foster good relations between the two ideologically opposed governments and would hopefully thaw relations between the two countries. But as is typical of the North, corrupt soldiers soon began to steal and even stockpile these Choco pies as they were so popular and a black market for them quickly began to flourish. In South Korea they cost the equivalent of about .17 pence, by the time the Kaesong area had been closed, due to NK claiming that the South had committed some slight against it, the black market price in the North for these Choco pies had risen to over £3.00. Some enterprising souls in the South, for genuine altruistic reasons, began to send supplies of the pies over using small hot air balloons; these would as you guessed where intercepted by the military and duly confiscated, where upon in true capitalist style, they would re-sell them to whoever could afford the highly inflated price. In fact I correct myself there, it’s not capitalism, its shear unadulterated brazen theft, with reminisces of Animal Farm thrown in for good measure.
The only English parallel I could think of drawing here was with Hogarth. He was a social critic of 18th century London, in fact the Hogarth roundabout not far here in Chiswick bears his name as his original house is close by. Hogarth used his paintings to draw attention to the social deprivations of the time, and one of his most famous drawings is called Gin Alley. It makes many allegories, but its abiding theme is that the very people that can least afford to pay extortionate prices and are forced to beg borrow or steal and then get caught in a cycle of drink and depression, are the very people that are being forced to pay the highest prices by rapacious degenerates, that, as in the case of the NK military, should be the very people that uphold civil values. They are in fact social blackmailers and profiteers, to whom the concept of genuine communism is completely lost on. Basically the analogy I am drawing is that the people of NK are intoxicated by the cult that the Kim’s have created and as with the Gin Craze, it is thoroughly detrimental to their wellbeing. To conflate the two may see a dichotomy, but their use of lies and propaganda is so well orchestrated, so carefully crafted, and with the entire apparatus of the media under State control, that to the people of NK any possibility of it being a lie would be considered preposterous, and so the cycle continues, the narcotic of falsehoods are pumped out endlessly, and so they are trapped.
There is even a village on the northern side DMZ near Panmunjom, now better known as the Joint Security Area. This has fine looking homes and even signs inviting citizens from the South to cross over for a supposed “better life.” In the sixty odd years of its existence, so far, there have been no “reverse defections” as they are amusingly termed.
The mere existence of this regime is an affront to human dignity, it is one of the most repugnant and corrupt forms of government I think we have ever seen. We all know the list: Pol Pot, Papa Doc and the Nazis to name a few, but remember these guys have nuclear weapons; it’s a very sobering thought.
How utterly amazing it is that a society such as this can exist in our era of smart phones, global communications and the global village we now live in (a phrase actually coined in the 1960’s) and yet it does, and continues to do so. Whether it is going to survive, is an entirely different question.
So this brings me to my books and the characters within them:
Ti-woo was a part; a small integral cog of the military elite, but to her credit she never agreed with the behaviour of, not only her fellow officers, but in the end, she robustly questioned the entire governmental structure.
Those of you who have read the Medusa Conspiracy will know that moment when she really starts to look deep into her own soul. She is discussing with a fellow officer various aspects of morality and how people are being arrested for misdemeanours and trivial matters. She says to a fellow officer and I quote:
“Chan, do you know what Nuremburg established?” To which he shakes his head, she continues:
“Nuremberg was a pivotal moment in human history, those trials established for the first time, that a person is responsible for their own actions, from that moment forward, they can no longer rely on the premise they were merely acting under orders.” There are a few moments of silence and then deep in thought she continues:
“It’s a choice Chan; it’s a choice that we have to make, between our duty as officers, and our duty to humanity itself.” The conversation ends, but those words she articulated resonate with her and she begins to doubt, the seed is sown.
I don’t want to go into the rest of the novel, its subsequent events and the eventual denouement, but it is a pivotal moment for her. However I just need to mention that the Medusa Conspiracy has been re-branded in this second issue. This re-branded version has a slightly altered front cover and I have affected some small changes within the narrative, so as to synchronise it with the sequel. Those of you who have read the original will realise the small changes and hopefully will not be upset by these subtle alterations, as I truly believe those changes have enhanced it.
Moving on to The Medusa Files:
My personal style of writing is to take fact and fiction and, as closely as I can, intertwine them to leave you asking, what is truth and what is improvisation. By using the basic tool of blurred lines and I hope, genuine realism, it presents a true picture of the characters’ lives and how they deal with the various situations they encounter. I’m afraid I don’t go in for outlandish action sequences or implausible feats of derring-do, I just try my best to present a realistic sequence of events that make an honest, believable, and plausible story.
My basic premise is keep it real, I accept stories (made into films) like the Terminator and Superman, they are either advanced cyborgs or gifted with powers unknown to normal mortals. But real people, no matter how well trained don’t have superhuman powers, they are fallible, they make mistakes, they can die.
In the opening preface I take the reader back to 1968 and have played with an actual event, another short scene then transports the reader forward in time to 2004. The following opening chapter now begins in that time frame.
Ti-woo has been taken by force and under duress returned to NK, she is resigned to her own death but is characteristically defiant.
I find myself in some difficulty here because I obviously don’t want to explain the plot, suffice to say life for Ti-woo now becomes very difficult and her trial for high treason awaits her, like the sword of Damocles.
Therefore I will expand on the inner conflict that the new characters I introduce are faced with. These same women, loyal, devoted to the State & yet, once that small trigger of doubt stirs in them, once those uncomfortable questions are asked, then the drip-feed of doubt becomes a torrent, & soon they are no longer under the spell, a door has opened and they can see what is on the other side. There is a moment is The Medusa Files when a character called Chi-lu, who has long fostered doubts about many aspects of her life, and yet despite it being behind her, glances her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Moments later her lover discovers her in an agitated state, her demeanour indicating she is deeply troubled. He immediately questions her, asking she reveal the source of her distress. This is the dialogue that follows:
“I told you, leave me alone.” She says with her voice faltering and tears running down her face. He picks up a discarded towel and places it around her shoulders, as he tries to dry her tears she pushes him away.
“I told you!” Leave me.” She says abruptly
“Not until you…” She cuts him mid-sentence
“No Ri-san you don’t understand, you don’t realise what has been done to us, how we were turned into the people we are, and what we have become. It’s inside us, deep inside us, just laughing and burning with hatred.”
“Why are you suddenly thinking about all this?” He asks.
“I always think about it, it just comes over me.”
“It’s ok, I can get you help, maybe counselling, I know people at the department who specialise in these matters, they can help you.” She ignores his reassurances and continues:
“You know when I looked in that bathroom mirror this morning, when I looked at myself…” She lets the question hang momentarily then continues:
“Imagine you look in the mirror and you don’t even see your own reflection, but your own soul!”
He responds: “It’s just your imagination, with the right help it will pass.” But she continues to ignore him; then replies:
“You know when I look at this vision of my soul, when I see it there is nothing, no contorted or twisted inners, just blackness.”
So I hope that gives you a flavour of the self-doubt, the inner turmoil engendered by the challenges they come to face, as they question, at times, all they are and what the North Korean State is really about, as gradually all the lies and false promises are stripped bare and exposed for its false reality and paucity of truth.
Could it happen? Could someone with that level of indoctrination summon the willpower and turn against all they have believed in? Well do pose that question, but there is a famous quote (not in the preface of either book, I will let you guys discover and discern their particular relevance for yourselves), No, it’s a quote by Mahatma Gandhi who once said: “Strength is not measured by physical capacity, but by the indomitable spirit.”
I have a few more things to touch on, but as far as the books are concerned, I just wanted to close on this section by saying: They are not esoteric novels, nor aimed at an erudite audience or so called cultured people, but I am asking questions, some quite fundamental, however in the end I must leave it to you guys and girls, the readers. It’s really quite simple: What would you do under the same circumstances.
As the Chinese say, don’t judge me until you have walked a mile in my shoes.
Through the emotion of the writing process I found it sparked my conscience to consider the people of NK and the various wonderful organisations that have grown and flourished over the years, helping those people who find the courage to escape. I came across an organisation that works tirelessly, in not just highlighting the awful plight of the NK people, but has in its Chairwoman a Dr Suzanne Scholte. She is a well know US Congresswoman, and someone who has real guts and vigour. With her shrill and constant criticism of the NK leadership and its continued and blatant human rights abuses, via the medium of the North Korean Freedom Coalition, she really has achieved much.
So when I had finally completed the Medusa Files I wrote to Dr Scholte to seek her permission to insert a dedication to the NK people, and that dedication has also been translated into Hangul at the preface of the book, and just to let you know a percentage of the profits of my books are now going directly The North Korean Freedom Coalition, and I have also personally donated a sum to them. I did this because of the way I was touched in the writing process.
Dr Scholte wrote back to me after a few days and granted me permission to use their name and she was most grateful for my poignant words. And just to mention, they have a great maxim: Acta non-verba: from the Latin: Deeds not words! A maxim after my own heart!
Many people ask me “Do you write it all out first, or do you plan it first etc…” No I say it’s just like Catlin Moran, a successful author and a columnist for the Sunday Times once said, you do literally make it up as you go along. Seriously, I just get an idea in my head and start writing, your pen or keyboard will take you on that journey, and truthfully you really have no idea where that is. Others ask me: “Where is your favourite place to write? Would you not like a home with a view over the river or sea, or some other beautiful vista?” Yes I’m sure that would be nice, but it just doesn’t always work, I think it was Terry Pratchett that wrote in his shed, but I might have that wrong, but you get my point, it’s what suits you, what suits the individual. So if any of you want to have a go this is my tip; don’t think, don’t plan, just do it. Acta Non Verba!!
The actual writing process from an amateur like me, right up to the JK Rowling’s of this world is actually no different. At its most basic level, its being able to express your deepest inner thoughts from the heart to the paper; as Cervantes so eloquently phrased it: The pen is the window to the soul; that is so, so true. When any writer expresses their inner thoughts they enter another world, they become a person in that imaginary world, just like the actor becomes another person, taking on a different persona; it’s exactly the same. I have been emotionally affected when I write simply because I am living it, to me it’s completely real as standing in this room now, and anybody who cannot reach the deepest parts of their soul will have no emotion in their writing. Put simply, if the writer does not believe it, totally believe it, the reader certainly won’t. Basically you have to want it, feel it, and live it! It’s exactly the same as the actor, exactly the same as the artist, the painter or the singer.
Yes the singer, which brings me neatly to a point I just touched on and will, I hope, bring some real emotion into this book launch:
A moment ago I described Chi-lu and her inner conflict, the years of indoctrination, her inner battle between duty to the state and duty to humanity, as Ti-woo had previously expressed. That conflict threatens to engulf her when she is distracted by a song. They say that music sooths the savage beast and Chi-lu having never heard this style of music, feels for the first time that a veil has been lifted; she hears the words and the music and becomes enveloped in a cathartic experience. It begins to change her life.
So, for a special treat for you all today, this lovely lady here is going to perform a most beautiful and evocative aria that mesmerises Chi-Lu.