Beyond the Wings, July 2021

It probably won’t be available online for another month, but my latest English album – under my sleazy The Kev persona – is sounding amazing. Songs like ‘Cheap Hotel’ and ‘Satire’ are being recorded in a proper studio, with an excellent drummer and a world-class bass player.

Others, like ‘Cancel Me’, ‘Someone Somewhere’, and ‘Hope It Might Be So’, I have simply re-recorded at home.   

Output

Early this month I finished a new English song, inspired by recent romantic (mis)adventures.

And another classical guitar video.

And I continued with the miscellaneous covers. There is an endgame to this seemingly random assortment of songs. It can only be revealed if and when my album launch happens.

I also had another review posted by the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing.

Activities

This month I completed another draft of my novel, working title ‘Fallen Souls’. The latest rewrite was about fleshing out the character of the antagonist and giving him a backstory. Working on it is always emotionally and creatively draining, but writing scenes set during his school days was particularly triggering, dredging up countless teenage memories.

In-person gatherings are very much the norm again. I have continued to play new original songs at open mics and am again holding the thriving Socially Awkward Singsong at Manchester’s Castle Hotel.  

At The Lion’s Den open mic

Wider World

It is not an original observation that social media is a giant toilet that everybody is free to use and nobody is responsible for cleaning. Jonathan Frantzen criticised Twitter for being unconducive to seriousness or proper expression.

This month has been particularly depressing on social media. Andrew Lawrence, a comedian I admired a lot, posted a tweet about the England football team which seemed unambiguously racist, and I find impossible to defend.

Journalist Flora Gill tweeted about introducing a sort of gateway, entry-level pornography for people under eighteen. She apologised for the poor wording, but even so, what a stupid post.

Despite this, when someone is publicly shamed for a social media post, it is healthy to remember that the same thing could happen to anyone. And it is therefore unwise to take too much glee in piling on, as you could be next.

Online mobs, just like offline mobs, are dangerous, no matter how right they are.

Beyond the Wings, June 2021

Those long winter months, when restrictions were at their tightest, and Covid deaths were at their highest, I spent a lot of time designing syllabuses for both English teaching and Chinese. All this solitary work has started to pay off both professionally and creatively.

Activities

My tutoring business grew significantly in June, with new clients for Chinese and English. I remain available for tuition in those subjects, as well as the guitar, creative writing, and essay writing.

I also wrote some more for the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing. On top of this, my book ‘The Naked Wedding’ got its first mainstream media coverage.

Output

After only making one classical guitar video in the first five months of 2021, I made three this month, ‘Canon in D’ by Johann Pachelbel, ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ by Johann Sebastian Bach, and ‘The Flower Duet’ by Leo Delibes:

I also finished a new Chinese song, titled 《害羞》(Shy).

The next English album, new working title ‘Cancel Me’, is being recorded and should be available on all platforms by the end of August.

Wider World

The Chinese Communist Party this month celebrated its centenary. I was in China, working for one of its propaganda rags when it turned ninety. I still don’t know exactly what to think of the experience.

On the one hand it was just another place to work, meet professional people, and learn vital skills. On the other, I was in the employment of the organisation that had sent the tanks rolling in on June 4th, 1989, and since then has begun what has credibly been described as a genocide. I more or less see the job the same way now as I did then, like this, if you replace the word ‘English’ with ‘Communist Party’ and ‘colonised’ with ‘employed’:

It would be disingenuous to claim that China’s economic miracle has happened in spite of, and not directly because of, the leadership of the Communist Party. But the economy faces all kinds of problems. The Party’s reputation and credibility rest on its success, and the pressure to keep delivering is immense.

Beyond the Wings, May 2021

The final preparations have been made, and in June, I will finally record my new English album. Also, with businesses finally reopening, I should finally get the chance to debut some of my new material for a live audience. My tutoring has also involved some in-person lessons for the first time in well over a year. Here are some other things I’ve done in May.

Output

Since I don’t live in China anymore and am not a member of the society, writing new Chinese songs in proving a challenge. I nonetheless finished this one, whose lyrics I scribbled in a notepad during a meeting in 2014.

Near the start of the month, I also wrote an English love song:

Activities

I have completed another redraft of my novel, working title ‘Fallen Souls’. It is much improved, but a lot needs to be done with the character of the antagonist and co-narrator. This month I read ‘The Wasp Factory’ by Iain Banks, which will really help construct the character’s childhood and backstory. I have also just started revisiting ‘G’ by John Berger, in which the protagonist, like my antagonist, is the illegitimate child of a successful man.

The Naked Wedding’ and other stories has had more reviews. A date will be set in June for its first featuring in a mainstream publication.

I have also written some reviews, including one of the second book to be published by Manchester’s own Orton Publishing. For the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, I have read a new translation of ‘Stories of the Sahara’ by San Mao and my review will appear in June.

Wider World

New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has announced that she is in therapy. This has met with predictable scorn from her many political opponents.

Her announcement is both brave and timely. Mental health is getting more talked about in the mainstream, but still not enough. Even in the world’s most advanced societies, there is still considerable taboo around it.

The ‘self-help’ industry is a massive one, and so much unhelpful ‘advice’ is flying around. Much of this falls under the category of toxic positivity. As Carl Jung said, we shouldn’t flee from negative emotions, but experience our suffering to the fullest. Now is not a time to repress painful feelings.

Diversity in Publishing

My MBA thesis, finished in 2019, was inspired by a dispute between author Lionel Shriver and Penguin Random House UK about diversity. I submitted it almost two years ago, so my views have evolved, but this is the first time I have shared it online.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/n0xzr1q5yhucs3v/Kevin%20McGeary%20MBA%20Thesis.pdf?dl=0

It begins:

Mass media, including publishing, now rival the state and religion in their ability to introduce new ideas and shape public opinion. This power can be used for good or ill.

Publishing is the business of telling stories. In his seminal essay, “Story”, screenwriting lecturer Robert McKee cited story as the world’s most trusted medium, writing:

“Traditionally humankind has sought the answer to Aristotle’s question (how should a human being lead their life) from the four wisdoms – philosophy, science, religion, art – taking insight from each to bolt together a liveable meaning. But today who reads Hegel or Kant without an exam to pass? Science, once the great explicator, garbles life with complexity and perplexity. Who can listen without cynicism to economists, sociologists, politicians? Religion, for many, has become an empty ritual that masks hypocrisy. As our faith in traditional ideologies diminishes, we turn to the source we still believe in: the art of story.

The world now consumes films, novels, theatre and television in such quantities and with such ravenous hunger that the story arts have become humanity’s prime source of inspiration, as it seeks to order chaos and gain insight into life.”

McKee’s assertion is backed up by the history of the past century.

In 1915 “The Birth of a Nation”, one of the most influential films ever made, stigmatised interracial mating and glorified the Ku Klux Klan. This preceded the most successful period in the organization’s history. The director’s follow-up, “Intolerance”, tried to address some of the criticisms, but by then, the damage had already been done.

Among media, publishing can have a particularly strong impact on the way people think. Studies have shown that daily news is relatively ineffective in changing people’s views or guiding decisions. By contrast, published books have been known to inspire major social changes. The World Economic Forum has cited Robert Tressell’s “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” as an ‘integral part of the drive for social reform at the start of the last century’.

Beyond the Wings, April 2021

Post-Covid life has ostensibly begun here in England. I have been able to finally schedule my album launch for November 30th this year, but I will hold the same event in different venues on several occasions.

Activities

I continue to run the Mandarin Club in Manchester and have published another review with the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing.

On Wednesday May 5th,  I will give an online introduction to Chinese characters. This comes at a time when my tutoring business has been dwindling. English tutoring is going fine, but I am down to just two pupils for Mandarin, and no regular pupils for the guitar or creative writing. I am setting about rectifying this.

Since lockdowns may be ending, I have finished for now with the weekly miscellaneous covers, with one recent highlight being ‘Unchained Melody’.

Output

I have finished writing my next English album, working title ‘Problematic Is My Middle Name’. New songs include an attempt at a modern pop song

And a mournful one about so-called ‘cancel culture’.

Wider World

There’s a lot I don’t understand about the universe. I had long assumed that for anybody to have a glittering career, or rise to the top of an organisation, they must be brilliant. However, the past year has shown that so many people who run the world are deeply mediocre.

Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron has become embroiled in a scandal. His memoir is said to lack ‘a single arresting thought or amusing anecdote’. Former director of public prosecutions and current leader of the Labour Party Kier Starmer has also shown himself to be – like a lot of the most outwardly impressive people – somewhat disappointing.

The same review of the David Cameron memoir makes this observation of much of the ruling class:

Behind presentation there is no substance: just more presentation, so that public relations is the queen of the sciences and opinion polls must be consulted as Roman soothsayers consulted chicken entrails.”

So many people are schooled to mistake status-consciousness with ambition, affectation with sophistication, and accolade with competence. For this reason, so much of my recent work is studiedly anti-pride, grandeur, and self-esteem.