On writing ‘A Dog Called Orgreave’ | Craig Austin

Any mention of the 84/85 miners’ is unavoidably evocative of a time and a place that did not deal in shades of grey. I may only have been a child at the time but that didn’t mean that I was unaware of the inky ‘NUM’ inscriptions that increasingly peppered the school-bags of the older kids on the bus into town; three fat initials that jostled for attention with equally fervent homages to The Smiths and The Bunnymen; a khaki collegiate collage of faith and unquestioning devotion. For adults and teenagers alike it was a period that sought to define which side you were on, one that compelled you to pick a team and to jettison any notion of nuance.

It’s maybe the reason that I sought to litter the passages of ‘A Dog Called Orgreave’ with understated references to a narrator whose unquestionably black heart was not always so diseased. In this, I was surely influenced by my recent re-watching of Peter Flannery’s superlative Our Friends In the North, a master study in ultimately flawed characters and one which features a furious revisiting of the dispute itself. The reference to Paul Weller was an especially pointed one given his well-documented political activism having not always been reflected in the less progressive elements of his core audience. I also tossed in a smattering of jokes for good measure, not that the miners’ strike is known for its attendant gag-count.

horse-in-snow-2It was a joke that provided the inspiration for the story in the first place though. One that initially emanated from a boozy conversation between me and our friend, the writer Rhian E. Jones, who had initially asked if anyone knew the name of the pampered bug-eyed Chihuahua that had seemingly taken up permanent residency in the late-night arts establishment in which our group of friends had found ourselves. The venue itself will remain anonymous on the grounds that I adore both it, and its wonderful owner, and I don’t want to get black-balled on account of a short story whose lifespan will not outlast my patronage of its (loosely based) real-life setting. Art may ultimately save the world, but if it any way threatens my enjoyment of London nightlife then frankly you can count me out.

The story was written over the course of a couple of weeks and whenever I got some time to myself on a series of short-haul flights between London and Edinburgh; as a consequence its flow and direction was almost solely fuelled by packets of (far too salty) crisps and miniature bottles of Johnnie Walker. Somehow this resulted in a story about the miners’ strike that doesn’t involve a single miner but does feature a misanthropic miniature dog, a shameless appropriation of a lyric by The Teardrop Explodes, and an accidental underlying theme in which I have no faith whatsoever – karma.

Frankly, I blame the crisps, because it’s never the booze’s fault. Everyone knows that.

Craig Austin is a London- based writer and arts critic, and is an Associate Editor at Wales Arts Arts Review. He cites his primary influences as the 84/85 Miners’ Strike and Roxy Music. His latest short story uses the former as a key theme.

See Craig read ‘A Dog Called Orgreave’ at our Dublin event this Thursday, 7pm at the Workman’s Club. Admission Free.

Copyright © Craig Austin, 2016.