Acquired for Development By - A Hackney Anthology is a collection of short stories and poetry set in the London borough of Hackney, written by authors who live, or have lived in the borough.
The idea for this book came to us early in 2011. It is hard to pinpoint what exactly prompted the decision to undertake over a year of hard work and headaches, and making our first forays into the complicated world of publishing.
Perhaps it's best by explaining the title of our book. Alexander Baron's much lauded sixties Hackney novel, The Lowlife, contains the following sentence:
"And on the wall I saw that epitaph to all our yesterday's - 'Acquired for Development By - '"
It was striking to read something written half a century ago, by a writer from Hackney, that seemed entirely relevant and applicable to the current situation we found ourselves in. Development - or more fittingly for modern times re-development - is something that no resident of Hackney, nor all of London for that matter, will be unfamiliar with.
It struck us that a pattern was repeating itself, with an official storyline being given to people that was not matching lived experience. The looming Olympics, the luxury flats erupting from Dalston Lane, the facelift of Gillett Square from car-park to culture park - whatever a person's opinion of these things, positive or negative, it struck us that any counter-narrative was being pushed out of the picture. People's memories of things that were physically there, that actually happened, were being bulldozed, tarmacked over, forgotten about.
Not only had physical space been acquired for development, but history, culture and memory also.
The irony of Hackney's current re-branding and corporatisation is that it has such a strong history as a site for radicalism and dissent. William Godwin and Mary Wollenstonecraft lived and wrote here. The Angry Brigade had base in Stoke Newington, Astrid Proll worked at the Matchbox factory. The borough has a long history of squatting, from the Broadway Market Squatters Group in the 1970s through to the most recent high profile evictions of the Four Aces and the Bank of Ideas. Independent publishing has also been a prominent part of Hackney life - the Hackney Heckler, The Centerprise publishing project, the Hackney Gutter Press to name a few.
Even though it has changed so much in recent times, this culture has not left the borough completely.
Hackney's reputation in some parts of media as a borough of vapid trendy young things, or cool as ice 'creatives' working at the world's best ad agencies omits the dissenting nature of many its current residents. So many of us here are fighting the corporatisation of the borough in someway or another. Protests are plentiful, independent businesses battle daily with increasing numbers of chain stores, the official Olympic murals are defaced and devalued the night after they are put up. A lot of people have moved to our borough to escape the trappings of corporate London and many are intent on keeping the borough clean of them.
But the fight can only go on so long.
If we lose the fight we can at least record what happened. We can at least create work that people can find in the future. Stories and allegories that show them what some people saw during that time. Fictional worlds that shed light on the real, poetry that evokes emotions tied to a certain, critical point in time.
What has been a source of great inspiration and support has been connecting with other residents in Hackney who recognise the need to create a narrative that is our own and record what is happening now rather than uncovering what has already happened. There are some brilliant bookshops in the borough (eight independents and many more second hands), each one supporting local writers and stocking many books about the Hackney and London in general. Local independent radio stations like NTS and London Fields Radio are supporting Hackney's micro-cultures. Spaces in Hackney are opening up for us to do events and readings - willing to engage in a debate about the issues we are exploring. Films like Emma-Louise Williams' Under the Cranes and artists such as Laura Oldfield Ford are exploring these same themes in a visual medium.
In a borough as diverse as Hackney, you will never capture the area in its entirety, and this was never our intention. What the books is, is our version of our neighbourhood. What made it so special to create, was that we found we weren't the only people striving to mark what is going on here, and we certainly aren't the only ones interested in it.
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