“What Hennigan is doing here matters” – Ghost Signs by Stu Hennigan

IMG_2022-6-20-104815Blue Moose Books have come storming out of the gate with their first foray into nonfiction with Stu Hennigan’s Ghost Signs. What we have here is a book about the travails of a former librarian and literary community engagement sort who volunteered to deliver food parcels to those hardest hit by the pandemic when it all went pear-shaped back in April 2020.

Against a backdrop of increasing food bank usage (Hennigan notes 20,514 benefitted from foodbanks in 2014 – this had “skyrocketed to 33,645” by 2019), Hennigan takes us on a journey across Leeds, and our eyes are gradually opened to the ways in which a huge number of people live – time and again we see gardens full of old couches and abandoned white goods (the council used to take these things away for free, now you have to pay and so things rot where they stand), streets that stink of weed, doors and windows kicked in, people cowering afraid to answer the door, tears at the sight of food (children exclaiming at the sight of food as if it isn’t something that happens every day) and, seething close to the surface, the threat of violence (Hennigan finds himself in the middle of scrapes a handful of times that leave him rattled for days after).

The effect of all of this detail is two-fold – you can’t help but count your blessings (this terrible Government – the worst Government of my lifetime by some way – have impacted everyone to a greater or lesser extent, but howsoever you’re struggling at the moment, I’d hazard a guess that you’re not struggling as much as the people in Ghost Signs are struggling) and you can’t help but be angry.

Hennigan writes:

“Delivering the food parcels has given me an enhanced sense of perspective; life is hard for us, as it is for everyone at the moment, but my wife and I are both still employed, we’ve got food in the cupboards and a roof over our heads. We don’t have much money, but we have just about enough. Whatever problems we have are small fry compared to those of the people whom the pandemic has left out of work, whose businesses have been destroyed, who are unable to keep up rent or mortgage payments, who are now unable to support their families.”

You have to have the hardest of hearts not to read

“It’s a five minute drive back to Leeds Building Services and I’m crying all the way. The idea of children in this country starving seems absurd, and yet I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

without finding the tears welling up in your own eyes. What Hennigan is doing here matters.

“I keep telling myself that this is just a job and that I need to leave what I’m seeing at work, but the sights and sounds of the estates and the hardships of the lives of some of the people I’m meeting continue to haunt me, and the fact that I’m going home writing about it every night feels important but isn’t helping me to compartmentalise.”

Ghost Signs is important for another reason. We live at a time when the Government behave like the Monty Python argument sketch. They can do something or say something, on television, in the broad light of day, so that we all see it, and then not a day later deny it, and have all of their media deny it too. Ghost Signs is a response to the truth twisters and the shape shifters. This is what happened. The lives of the people in this book fall in the shadow cast by Boris and his awful Death Eaters. Hennigan makes them matter. They count. Ghost Signs feels like an important document. They can control 80% of the media. They can determine what is or isn’t news. They can have stories pulled from The Times. But, for now at least, we have publishers like Blue Moose, and writers like Hennigan, willing to make a stand.

Any Cop?: Come the end of the year I fully expect to see this book gracing a great many end of year best of lists.

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