Sometimes, and not often enough these days, a book comes out that rises head and shoulders above the rest. I read a lot of books. I enjoy a lot of books. I review a fair amount of books and I always like to find positives in what I read and review. For me, reading is a fundamental act of communication. Anyway, however many ‘good’ books I read, still, once in a while I am absolutely blown away from the first page and Mark Frankland’s ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ is the first time this has happened to me since Stuart Ayris’ ‘Tollesbury Time Forever’ back in 2012. So, for that, thank you Mark.
I can’t remember if the first Frankland book I read was ‘One Man’s Meat’ or ‘The Cull.’ They are both cracking reads but well out of my comfort zone and usual reading material. It was 2002 anyway, and I’d just taken on the job of Writer in Residence for Dumfries and Galloway. I was tasked with meeting and supporting local writers. At the time Mark was running The Artists Café in what is now the FirstBase Foodbank building (a sign of the times?). I set out to meet him with some trepidation. Mark has since become a friend, not just that, a man I respect deeply and he shares an annoying characteristic with the other author I mentioned, Stuart Ayris – they are the two living writers who, when I read their work, make we want to give up writing and at the same time give me the belief that there is a point to writing after all.
It’s a decade or more since I first tried (and failed) to get funding for Mark as a writer and I still believe he is one of the best (I don’t say that lightly) writers in Scotland today. Our lives have taken different paths but continue to intersect. He now combines being an author with running a charity. I’ve had to give up my playwright combined disability facilitator role and now live a much more secluded and ‘virtual’ life blogging, publishing and generally trying to keep out of trouble and keep alive. Mark and I may share a fundamental anti-establishment stance on life but he is much, much braver than I am in the way he presents this both through his daily life and his writing. The tag line for ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ is ‘when people have nothing to lose… they just lose it’ and it gives me a wry smile because I think it applies to Mark as well as to the novel.
But this is all so much travelogue on the way to a review – which I shall write for McRenegades in September – when I’ve read the book again and considered it in more detail – it’s a clever and deep commentary on contemporary Scotland as well as being a damned good read.
For now, my encouragement is that you buy the book – Mark gives the reasons why below and that you then explore more of the work of Mark Frankland. He may be an adopted Scot but he’s everything a McRenegade should be. When turned down (time and again) by the establishment and the cultural elite, he’s just gone on and done it himself. His commitment isn’t to his own authorial status, it’s to writing the kind of stories that OF COURSE wouldn’t get acclaim from the establishment. He shows the grim and dirty side of real life – the kind of life most people who consider themselves cultural enough to be ‘readers’ don’t want to know exists. And in the process he’s taken his books and his stories and his ideas to places most of us would never dare to go. He writes of drugs, not so much of the sex and rock and roll, because the reality is there’s not much time for sex or rock and roll when you’re trying to score your next fix at the bottom of the heap. It’s not a ‘lifestyle’ choice so much as a spiral of despair that Mark writes about. He never glamorises, he’s never a tourist in his stories, they are hard hitting, well researched and dangerous – in every sense of the word.
So do yourself a favour and download a copy of ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ and spend a couple of hours in the company of a man who I am proud to think of as a friend, a man who challenges me to ‘up my game’ simply by the level at which he plays it! As a social conscience he’s a damned fine writer. The only moral high ground I can take from him is that I don’t smoke – but he even turns that to best advantage – he never sets himself above the characters in his story or the real people who enter his foodbank/charity. And in ‘The Great Foodbank Siege,’ for the first time, he sets himself in the centre of the action and the skill of the narrative ‘voice’ he adopts and the style with which he constructs and delivers the narrative is just, forgive me, fucking amazing! From one beat up, fifty something naebody to another - Respect, Mark.
Oh and if you want to ‘explore’ the reality of Dumfries and Foodbanks a little further, you might like to know that there was a bit of a stooshie recently when the Trussell Trust set up a foodbank in Dumfries. What might seem like a great idea actually turns out to be a sort of vicarious ‘privatisation’ of foodbanks, or at least a sort of ill-considered? or simply devilish way to undermine the work that small charities like Mark’s do. It backfired a bit. David Mundell made himself look an idiot, annoyed a lot of people and left the scene with tail between his legs (just as you’d expect from the last Viceroy of Scotland eh?) There’s a lot more to charity than meets the eyes folks. It’s all tied up with things like benefits sanctions, charities as businesses and the Tory austerity policy. The Great Foodbank Siege is a response to this from Mark, and it’s a response which shows restraint and dignity even while he’s on the ropes. For that he deserves even greater credit than even the skill shown in writing the book. But as he says at the beginning ‘when people have nothing to lose… they just lose it.’ Right enough Mark, but if I may say so, you’ve ‘lost it’ with a hell of a lot of style!
So. Give Amazon £1. Give FirstBase £2 and spend some time finding out more about FoodBanks – fact and fiction. And spread the word… http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B013K7VJBI/
and Marks own blog is well worth regular visiting http://www.marksimonfrankland.blogspot.co.uk/
or friend him on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/markglenmill/
He tweets too, but I don't get Twitter so you'll have to find him yourself!
Here's his explanation of 'The Great Foodbank Siege' In his own words:
MARK FRANKLAND, THE AUTHOR OF ‘THE GREAT FOODBANK SIEGE’, MANAGES A FOOD BANK IN SCOTLAND.
He started out with some facts and turned them into fiction.
In March this year, David Mundell, the only Tory MP in Scotland, appeared in the Holyrood Parliament to defend his Government’s Welfare Reform Policies. He was asked to comment on some statistics Mark had produced in a blog. At which point he said that anything Mark said ‘should be taken with a pinch of salt’. Why? Because ‘Frankland was a very prominent ‘Yes’ supporter’. His comments caused a minor media storm. Mark invited Mundell to visit the First Base Agency Foodbank for an afternoon to help serve some food parcels and to hear about the problems people were facing. He never received a reply. On May 7th, the Conservatives won an outright majority and David Mundell became the Secretary of State for Scotland. All fact.
In ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’, it is not David Mundell who is the Secretary of State for Scotland in the summer of 2015. It is James Shillingford-Moore. And Shillingford-Moore accepts the invitation to come to spend an afternoon at First Base.
But it doesn’t work out well. Two disillusioned veterans armed with semi-automatic weapons take control of the building and the Great Foodbank Siege gets under way.
It doesn’t take very long for things to get completely out of hand. Huge tensions develop between the Governments in Edinburgh and London. As the crisis deepens, the ties holding together the United Kingdom are stretched to braking point…
Frankland says ‘People tell me it is a quick and easy read. Entertaining. Some will like it, others will hate it. It is certainly irreverent. Thankfully free speech is still allowed!. Hopefully you will buy a copy and make your own mind up. It is important to bear in mind what the book is for. I am a man who wears two hats. I am a thriller writer and a Foodbank Manager. Right now the Foodbank Manager’s hat is weighing heavy. Every day twenty hungry people come to us for emergency food. 5000 in the last year. 30,000 since we started the project. Never once have we had to turn anyone away. It’s a responsibility we all really feel. Right now we have a £15,000 funding hole for this year. Unless we raise the cash, the lights will go out in January.
For this reason I have joined my two hats together and written ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’. Every book sold gets us £2 closer to filling the £15,000 hole. We need to sell 7500 books
That is what ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ is for.
I really hope you will help us out.’
BUY THE BOOK!!!! http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B013K7VJBI/