Mark Frankland self-describes his work as ‘pulp-fiction thrillers’ and who am I to argue with authorial intention. They are, in my opinion, very good examples of the genre. But they are also something more. And in the case of ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ very much more. Mark writes about the darker side of reality and while he may call it fiction, it’s worth bearing in mind that his stories contain a more than comfortable amount of fact.
While obviously the idea of two ex-squaddies armed to the teeth taking the Secretary of State for Scotland hostage in a charity food bank is fantastic (?) we may think ourselves lucky that for the moment it is just fiction. Fiction, I repeat, with a large dose of fact served on the side. The fact is the knife edge that Scotland (and Britain) currently sits on regarding the consequences of the post-Thatcher, encroaching neo-liberal ‘project’ of rampant individualism in the form of out of control (sorry, should I say ‘caring’) capitalism. It’s a world, we might not like to reflect, where those who become entrepreneurs can be immensely successful; whether they are selling lingerie, cheap goods through pound shops, or drugs. Drugs is perhaps the most profitable entry level career since investment banking.
Sadly, we live in a country where the ‘little’ people who live on benefits or minimum wage, the broken, the dispossessed or those who fully appreciate the hole most of us are in, get nowhere and have little if any hope. And the rich get richer. And it doesn’t seem to matter how they do it. Every man for himself. Get people hooked on debt or on drugs, it doesn’t matter as long as you turn a profit.
Desperate times. As Mark states on the cover ‘When people have nothing to lose – they lose it.’ And this is what happens in ‘The Great Foodbank Siege.’ So much for the plot and the themes – but what about the style? For me, Mark serves up a whole deal of style with his substance. And in this case style doesn’t mask the substance, it enhances it. Unusual in his stories, which are generally offered in a firmly third person stance, Mark places himself as a character in the centre of his own fiction.
Now he’s really got me interested. From the very beginning of the story, the way it is set up becomes as much both a part of the action and the quality of the writing. Of course as a device writers as diverse as Dennis Potter and S.R.Crockett have used the narrator as character/editor/commentator within their stories and it’s a conceit I am well accustomed to and dearly love. It offers so much depth. And more than that, it allows the reader to really hear the voice of the author – even though concealed. This is certainly the case in ‘The Great Foodbank Siege.’ Despite hiding behind a fiction and a character the real voice of Mark Frankland sings forth in all it’s rough-hewn, smoke-filled depth. I’ve known Mark for over fifteen years and the voice in ‘The Great Foodbank Siege’ rings absolutely true. This is the man I know, complete with all his passion, anger and it has to be said, quiet, self-reflexive dignity in difficult situations. Mark writes heroes who are what we might even call sub-ordinary – not just unremarkable people, people who have been trampled, given up hope, flawed and desperate – and here he is, his own hero in a fiction of his own creating, which bears uncanny resemblance to the reality of his life. I’m know Mark would never consider himself a hero either in life or in fiction and perhaps it’s that very reticence that ensures he is one in both respects.
There was not, and never will be (I hope) a siege in the First Base Foodbank. I don’t expect David Mundell will ever visit – but he came close - and the ‘siege’ visited on First Base is one perpetrated by capitalism in general and the powerful combination of government policy and the bastardisation of charities into the world of the corporate. ‘Big’ charity is becoming indistinguishable from ‘big’ business. And that’s the place at which we are all being held at the point of a gun.
In conclusion then, what there is to recommend ‘The Great Food Bank Siege’ is nothing – apart from a cracking story, achingly well told in a voice that reaches out to be heard, an uncomfortable insight into our current social and political system and a crie de coeur for social justice. For those people you wish didn’t exist. Guess what – they wish that too. They’d all like to be upgraded to ‘ordinary’. A few may even dream of more than that. But these are people for whom dreams are too expensive. If charity begins at home then we need to appreciate that our local community is our home and we need to start doing something about it. All of us.
And if there’s just a tiny piece of ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’ in the narrative, it simply serves to show that revenge can be a dignified and creative activity. Mark Frankland has nothing to lose, because he is not cap in hand to anyone. But we all have something to lose if the likes of First Base goes to the wall. If we lose visionary, hard-working people with a social conscience then we will all be immeasurably weakened. I can only applaud Mark for his bravery on a day by day level and in the writing of this book, which works on so many levels and is ‘out there’ not just as a warning of what may come to pass, but as an attempt to keep the lights on at First Base. Buy this book and all that is not taken by Amazon will go to keep First Base running. Would John Grisham or John Le Carre or Frederick Forsyth match that sort of pledge? Now there’s a novel fictional idea!
Buy this ebook. You'll be giving Amazon £1, FirstBase £2 and doing a small bit for 'social justice' And after you've bought it... read it and/or spread the word about it… http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B013K7VJBI/