Charlotte Cooper performs at #BodySpectacular this Friday

On Friday night Charlotte Cooper, author of the HammerOn smash hit Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement, will dance at the Wellcome Gallery as part of their Friday night #BodySpectacular programme.

On her Obesity Timebomb blog Charlotte explains the background to the performance:

“My friend E puts on events and curates things, as is the modern way. Earlier this year she asked if I would like to talk about my book at something she was involved with at the Wellcome Collection in London. For those not in the know, the Wellcome Collection is one of the world’s most august museums on medical history. They are very hot on art as a means of understanding medicine and bodies that have been medicalised. Like fat people.

I said yes, I was thrilled to have been asked, and also daunted […]

The way in which fat is framed throughout the institution and its sister organisations is very retrograde based on my experiences of rubbing up against it as a visitor and researcher. The public face of the institution’s attitude to fat people is located in a display in their Medicine Now exhibit called Obesity. This consists of a sculpture, weight loss technology, diet books, audio recordings of anti-obesity proponents and a token fat woman, and objects implying that people have become less active and over-reliant on labour-saving devices. As a depiction of Obesity Epidemic rhetoric and medicalised obesity discourse, it is pitch perfect. I experience it as a hate zone.


So I proposed a dance that I would dance with Kay Hyatt in the Obesity gallery. We’ve been working on a piece that would be suitable, called ‘But is it Healthy?’ The people at the Wellcome Collection said yes”.

Read the full blog post here.

Charlotte and Kay will be dancing to a sound track composed of home made beats and voices of fat activists Diane Denne, Judy Freespirit, Aldebaran and Judith Stein recorded by Karen Stimson in 1980.

For those unable to get a ticket for the event you can listen to the sound track here:

But Is It Healthy Beats by Charlotte Cooper, featuring Diane Denne, Judy Freespirit, Aldebaran and Judith Stein recorded by Karen Stimson in 1980.

Charlotte has also made a new zine, The Blob, which is available to download from Obesity Timebomb.

We wish Charlotte the best of luck for her performance on Friday, knowing that she will be amazing, as always.

Power to the beefer and Kay!!!

HammerOn Press Summer Sale!

It’s summer sale time at HammerOn!

You can get 20% off all our titles plus free shipping.

All you need to do is input coupon ‘summer2016’ at the checkout.

This offer is valid until 31 July 2016.

Not familiar with all the books HammerOn have published? Check out the list below.

Life is War: Surviving Dictatorship in Communist Albania by Shannon Woodcock

Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement by Charlotte Cooper

Prejudice and Pride: LGBT Activist Stories from Manchester and Beyond by LGBT Youth North West, edited by Cliodhna Devlin

Are the Kids All Right? The Representation of LGBTQ Characters in Children’s and Young Adult Literature by B.J. Epstein

The Para-Academic Handbook: A Toolkit for Making-Learning-Creating-Acting edited by Alex Wardrop and Deborah Withers

The Exciting Life of Being a Woman by Feminist Webs

Sistershow Revisited: Feminism in Bristol 1973-1975 collected by Deborah Withers

Adventures in Kate Bush & Theory by Deborah Withers

Happy reading!

Reviews of HammerOn titles

HammerOn titles are getting a fair bit of attention in academic journals and specialist press, and rightly so.

In a review of Charlotte Cooper’s Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement, published in medical journal The Lancet, Tania Glyde writes:

‘In this public [obesity] discourse the voices of people who would be identified as obese are rarely heard. Enter Charlotte Cooper, researcher, performer, and therapist who has devoted most of her adult life to fat activism. Her book is a personal account of the fat activist movement. Cooper defines fat activism as “cultural work”. She critiques ideas about body positivity and a “monolithic ideal of trite self love”, and calls out careerist researchers for “reproducing fat people as fascinating but passive specimens”’.

fat-activism-dada-festGlyde concludes that Cooper ‘guides the reader into a fertile place of growth a million miles from timebombs and epidemics, and gives a human face to a large segment of the population who are too often dehumanised.’

Read the full review here.

In another review, which appeared in Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society, Elliot Director offered their appraisal of Charlotte’s book:

‘The interviews that Cooper has conducted make this text absolutely outstanding—and moreover, given the passing of some members of the fat activist movement she discusses since she interviewed them for the text, they make this crucial to any scholarship on the movement’s early history. Activists’ testimonials (both from interviews and archives) highlight key points in the history of the movement, such as the founding of the National Association to Aid Fat Americans (later renamed the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, or NAAFA), the splintering off of the radical fat feminist group the Fat Underground, and the spread of fat feminism in the United Kingdom with the London Fat Women’s Group in the mid-1980s—give previously unseen insights into a movement that she reveals to be more diverse, fractured, and vibrant than has been demonstrated in previous scholarship.’

Director reflects that the ‘central take-away from Cooper’s text…is [to] challenge…activists not only to find our own voices, but to use them in a way that does not silence others. Although this text at times stumbles, in the end it stands tall as a testament to the survival of a movement even in the face of widespread, sometimes vicious attempts to eradicate it. Charlotte Cooper’s Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement may not be the final volume on fat history, but it is, without doubt, an essential one, and should be required reading for all generations of fat activists, both in the academy and beyond it.’

Read the full review here.

Shannon Woodcock’s Life is War: Surviving Dictatorship in Communist Albania has also been received well in Albania and Kosovo.

During her promotion of the book in Albania, The Tirana Times reported how ‘Shannon’s characters, her interviewees, join her in a book promotion in Tirana in a hot day. After the ceremonies they start to thank her about the opportunity to talk. It is interesting how people who have suffered have always an urge to talk and the rest an inclination to be scared of listening. We sit in the promotion all together: people who have lost their family members to the regime, people who have been forced to relocate or change their lives, people who are good at telling stories and younger people who are trying to comprehend. Just sitting together seems to help all of us.’

There is also a detailed interview with Shannon, conducted by Hana Marku, on Prishtina Insight.

Marku writes: ‘Life is War achieves the opposite of what the regime intended: keeping its violence hidden and its narrative unquestioned. The lives presented to the reader in the book were subjected to a system that aimed to not only destroy them but any trace of their memory as well…Woodcock’s intention with Life is War besides the documentation of pain and violence, is the stubborn beauty each of these lives contained.’

We’ll post more reviews and media coverage when we have them.

If you want to review a HammerOn title, or run an interview with our authors, do get in touch.

Life is War – London launch Photos

TheWienerLibrary_LifeIsWar-1What a brilliant couple of days we had in London this week celebrating the launch of Shannon Woodcock’s awesome Life is War: Surviving Dictatorship in Communist Albania.

Thanks to Eva Megias we have a beautiful set of images from Wednesday’s event at the Wiener Library, where the audience was treated to a captivating lecture.

Massive thanks again to the Wiener Library  and Housmans for being excellent and supportive hosts.TheWienerLibrary_LifeIsWar-6

Shannon will speak at two more events before heading back to Australia early next week.

On Sunday at E Per7shme, Tirana, 4-5pm, she will present material from the work.

On Monday 6 June Shannon will be talking at Hydra Books, Bristol, from 7-9pm.

Copies of Life is War will be on sale at both events, so if you haven’t got your mits on a copy, you can do it then.

All welcome!


Life is War – Events This Week!

This week the city of London will be treated to the presence of Dr Shannon Woodcock, life historian supremo and author of the awe-inspiring Life is War: Surviving Dictatorship in Communist Albania.

post-card of Tirana, illustratedTuesday night we hit Housmans Book shop for an informal reading, followed by a Q & A.

The reading starts at 7pm, and entry is £3, which is redeemable against any purchase in-store.

Wednesday we take over the Wiener Library from 6.30-8pm.

Shannon will give a talk, and answer questions. There will be nibbles and non-alcoholic refreshments available too!! Free entry!

Paperback copies of the book will be on sale at all events. Shannon might sign your copy if you ask her nicely.

Following the London adventures, Shannon heads over to Albania for a launch on Sunday 29 May 2016.

This will take place from 4-5pm at E Per7shme, Rruga Jul Varibo Tirana.

Shannon will then come to Bristol on 6 June for a reading and author  Q & A at Hydra Bookshop, which starts at 7pm.

Join us!!!!


Furgons – Life is War blog

For our next Life is War blog post, take a ride with Shannon in a furgon!


orange-furgon-albania“Oh çuni!” the driver waved to me from behind the wheel of the minivan, eager to fill the seats and hit the road before night fell. Çuni, pronounced choo-nee, literally means “boy,” and is used to address young men in Albania. Reading me as such, the driver directed me into the seats at the back of the van. It was a relatively new furgon; it even had seatbelts, though no one would use them.

“Where are you from?” the guy sitting beside me asked. He was about my age.

“From Australia”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m a historian. I’m writing about the period of communism in Albania.”

This was a common exchange, and his response was familiar.

“I can tell you about that time,” he said, turning towards me to maintain eye contact. I shook my head, meaning “tell me more,” and he began.

Raised in the area of Lezhe, amongst other families with “bad biographies,” meaning those untrusted by the Party, he had been ostracized at school, as had his father, and his father’s father. This was because his grandfather had fought with the nationalists during WWII and not with the communist partisans, so he had been sent into exile from his home town in the 1950s. Hoxha’s communist regime maintained “the class war” through generations, so teachers and society treated children as somehow embodying a threat to “the people.”

Suddenly the music was too loud to hear each other.

“Hey, turn it down a bit!” my neighbour called to the driver.

“What, you getting romantic about back there huh?” the driver called back, his eyes on the narrow road ahead, winding along the top of the mountain range.

“She is from Australia and we are talking about Albania” my neighbour retorted, stressing the feminine pronoun.

“SHE?” The driver turned to look at me, the women sitting between us shrieked in terror. The driver turned back to glance at the road.

“The çuni?”

He turned again. The van swerved, the women screamed, the driver turned forward again, and the women berated him. He adjusted the rear vision mirror to meet my eyes there.

“Oh çuni! Why didn’t you say you were a girl?”

“Why would I do that?” I called back

“But why do you look like a çuni?”

The women now all twisted round and tried to look me up and down.

“Just because!” I laughed, shrugging.

“Do you have a husband?”

“No! If I had a man, would I be travelling and working for myself? No! Better to live as a man than to be married to one.”

“And you’re from Australia huh?” the driver continued, the music turned off now.


“How much does meat cost there?”

“I don’t know. I’m vegetarian. I don’t eat meat.”

Again the driver turned around. “WHAT?” he shouted above the screams of the women.

“He doesn’t eat meat? He doesn’t eat meat! How much are tomatoes? How about bread? What does a driver earn there?”

And so it continued, a discussion comparing prices, wages and state infrastructure in Australia and Albania.

My gender was not scandalous in these everyday interactions as an Australian in Albania, and my explanations were easily understood. Sometimes the whole furgon joined in to discuss how gender worked in their families.

After a while, the driver fell silent, and the young man beside me spoke for the rest of the trip about what life had been like for his family under communism. We shook hands when we arrived in Tirana, and I wrote up my notes from our conversation that night.

In public conversations such as these, many people shared stories of hard work, family life, and political persecution in the communist period, and they shared them with me as my queer self. I personally and professionally choose to be open about my gendered and embodied life experiences, and people were unfailingly polite and considerate in interactions, over many years. With working class people of all genders, ages and personal experiences, I believe that this openness on my part created a trusting and safe environment for reflection on embodied reactions to the events of the past. When someone wanted to speak to me about the communist past, or when their life experiences were something I wanted to know more about, then we met to specifically conduct a recorded interview. I met often with some people, and just a few times with others. All participants were given the information about my research, which was approved by the ethics committee of La Trobe University in Melbourne, and then gave me permission to use the information in my historical work about everyday life under communism.

Film of the 50 km journey between Tirana and Elbasan speeded up into 5 minutes.

Tirana – Life is War

In the latest blog post written to celebrate the publication of her new book, Life is War: Surviving Dictatorship in Communist Albania, Shannon Woodcock discusses how Albania’s capital city, Tirana, has changed in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Be sure to check out details of Life is War events taking place late May/ early June in London, Tirana and Bristol.


In the first ten minutes on the ground in Albania I learnt that the mountain looming over Tirana had a name; Mt Dajti. A sense of dread assailed me. If Romanians and Austrians had loved to walk me and my seaside grown legs all over alpine ranges as anonymous land orms, what hiking horror awaited me in this place where mountains were known as individuals?

post-card of Tirana, illustrated

‘How often do you climb up Mt Dajti?’ I asked Blendi, who had been sent to collect the Australian from the airport.

‘Walk up there? What for? You can take the cable car up and drink a coffee there if you want.’

Ecstatic with that response, I know Mt Dajti only from the city below.

Tirana, which has changed so fast since the 1990s, was little more than a small town when it was named the capital in 1919.

Even though it grew exponentially as the centre of the socialist regime between World War Two and 1991, population movement and location was entirely controlled by the Party. In post-socialist times, the state no longer controlled population movement or dictated where people could live. Unregulated private cars, building and capitalist trade were allowed for the first time and flourished. People from all over Albania moved to Tirana, and the lack of state regulation and infrastructure continues today, negatively affecting those with least economic and social power the most, especially Romani Albanian communities.

Children play between the towers until new blocks are built. Over and over, families with children and grandparents spill into the dusty spaces between concrete walls, competing with parked cars for the space to kick a ball. People, vegetable stalls, packs of dogs and sometimes horses and donkeys, share makeshift sidewalk space at the edge of the street. As no government has organised waste disposal yet, people carefully pile their rubbish throughout the city. Sometimes the garbage is set aflame, and sometimes it smoulders; plastic melts to lumps. The standard is to affect nonchalance when walking the roads, as if looking tough will convince drivers not to hit you.

After the stormDajti looms, she brings and holds the weather. Her gaze orients the chaotic city, you can see her from anywhere. The sun rises over her shoulder, clouds follow, snow falls, or she basks in the sun. Follow the line of her sight west, and you are facing the Ionian Sea, with Italy across the water. On a hot summer day the light is white, the sky a faded blue, the same light you know from the Greek islands to Albania’s south. All the mountains that have her back are shifting shadows. Sometimes a winding road or a curl of smoke makes you feel you could find your way there, then the sun moves on and it seems the land undulates, waving away the possibility of encroachment.

In winter, electrical storms circle over Tirana. Trapped between the sea and the mountains, pacing a tight circle, the rumbles and stomps of thunder are broken by sharp cracks of lightning. Sometimes the storms arrive suddenly in the afternoon and go all night. They head off over the mountains in the end, or work themselves into exhaustion and dissipate by the next morning. The aftermath requires full attention. Roads are washed away. People, dogs and car all have to negotiate a new geography of lakes and small rivers, pooling and rushing where they must, regardless of the concrete humans put in their way.

Now on Dajti

Every city in Albania, and each road between cities, has its mountains. They are part of everyone’s everyday stories. Vlach shepherds like Thoma walked the sheep from the southern mountains of Delvina to Mt Tomorr of Berat each spring, sleeping in the shelters called stans, huddled against the hills to protect them from the weather. When Majko was a teacher in the north-eastern mountains, he skied with the students to the top of the mountain in winter, while their parents waited for them to travel safely downhill and home through the forest, worried about the wolves that grew hungrier before the spring. People walked up steep mountain roads to visit their family members in political prisons, weighting their pockets with rocks against the wind. And now, people remember these moments as they travel freely between cities in minivans, the furgons.

Life is War – Published Today!

Life is War: Surviving Dictatorship in Communist Albania by Shannon Woodcock is published today.

life-is-war-published-today copy

HammerOn are immensely prlife-is-war-published-today copyoud to be publishing this book!

Life is War is a powerful collection of oral histories, written with integrity and honour that delves deep into the everyday lived experience of Albania’s communist regime, recounted through the memories of people who survived ‘that time.’

As Blendi Kajsiu writes in his recommendation, the book impressively blends scholarly and literary worlds: ‘rigorously academic in its investigation, at the same time it reads like a novel that you cannot put down.’

You can buy a paperback copy of the book for £15 + free shipping through the HammerOn site.

An EPUB version of the book, priced £10, will be available to download from the site within the next two weeks.

A Hardback version, for academic libraries, is available priced £64.99 / ISBN 978-1-910849-04-0.

You can pick up a copy of Life is War, and other HammerOn titles, from the HammerOn table at the Bristol Anarchist Book Fair on 30 April and the London Radical Book Fair 7 May.

We are also holding author Q & A events in London, Tirana and Bristol late May/ early June.

Full details are on the HammerOn events page.

Some funny things about failure

In her latest blog post, Shannon reflects on oral history methodologies, and what she learnt from failing to be funny.

Life is War: Surviving Dictatorship in Communist Albania is published next Monday, 25 April. You can pre-order your copy here.

I wanted to be funny. Danjela and I were in her Mum’s sewing room one afternoon and I thought of a joke that I reckoned would go down well with the women. I knew that the 1980s had been tough in Albania as well as in Romania, and I knew plenty of jokes from the communist period in Romania because people had still told them in the pubs in Bucharest in the 1990s. I had learnt about communism in Romania primarily through jokes.

“Danjela, could you get someone else to mind your place in a queue for food here in Albania?” I asked.

“Um, no, usually someone from the family stood in each relevant queue. Perhaps you could get a friend to stand in your place for a while…”

“Ok. Well, I have a joke from Romania, can you translate it for your Mum? You just need to know that in Romania you could leave a glass bottle in a queue to mark your place if you went to do something else for a while, ok?”

Danjela agreed, explained the bottle – as – place – marker, and I began.

“One day a man was standing in a long queue for eggs. It wasn’t moving. After some time he got angry. ‘That’s it!’ he exploded, ‘I’m going to kill Enver Hoxha!’ He put a bottle in the queue and marched off.

About an hour later he came back and took his place again.

‘And? Did you do it?’ asked the woman behind him.

‘Not yet, but I put a bottle in that queue as well!’”

I laugh to tell that joke even now! And Mrs Shkalla, when she laughed it was excellent. Her smile would turn into unstinted and full lunged laughter, filling up the whole space with pure enjoyment. I was ready for it.

It didn’t happen.

Mrs Shkalla had listened intently, then after the punch line she looked unimpressed, said something under her breath, and turned back to her work.

“That wasn’t funny,” Danjela offered.

“Maybe you didn’t get it!” I persisted. “He went to kill the dictator! Imagine!”

“No. That could never have happened. No one could kill Enver Hoxha.”

I felt a burning sense of shame when I thought about it in the days after the event. Why wasn’t it funny? Didn’t they hate Enver Hoxha? What had she said that I didn’t understand? I imagined it was a variation of “Stupid idiot foreigners,” projecting my own embarrassment at speaking when I knew so little. So I did what we humans do with most humiliating experiences, I tried to forget about it.

The joke that wasn’t funny lived in a corner of my mind that gradually filled up with relevant hints as to what had gone wrong. Danjela, Sonila and I travelled to see the notorious prison of Spaç with a man who had lost decades of his life there as a political prisoner under communism. “I told a joke about Mao, and I ended up there for 16 years, ” he explained, his words forever associated in my mind with the tyres of our minivan skidding to the sheer mountain edge of the gravel road. In a separate conversation with my hairdresser in Tirana, I asked her if women had complained about the government in hairdressers and shopping queues in the 1980s. She replied that women had also worked spied for the sigurimi, and that they had queued along with everybody else. No one dared complain in public.

From legal and institutional facts such as these, I eventually wrote an article exploring why that joke wasn’t funny, and people have contacted me over the years since to tell me what jokes they told and did not tell. Life is War returns to the questions of joke telling and laughter, with the people I write about using jokes now to capture and convey the absurdities and tragedies of life under dictatorship.

The bigger lesson from my (many) joke-telling failures, is that failures are signposts for spaces where you can learn something. Sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge, a cultural or methodological misstep, or an affective investment in or reaction to a situation; often it is all three things.

When I began to conduct oral history interviews in 2010, I watched my own reactions to conversations as they were happening, and I made notes about my own feelings as I replayed the recordings. If there were so many nuances in my everyday exchanges with people, then the original experiences that people were telling me about would have been the same, more intense in the emotionally charged situations of fear and persecution. I decided to record and communicate the relentless waves of emotions and tension that pervaded conversations about the past. This is what makes oral history so exciting, the layers of human experience, of emotion and memory, are brought into a dynamic and shared experience in the present, which we then hear and carry through our own embodied responses.

Life is War blog posts: Mrs Shkalla’s Education

In the lead up to the publication of Life is War: Surviving Dictatorship in Communist Albania the author, Shannon Woodcock, has written a number of blog posts to introduce readers to the histories, contexts and methods that shaped the book.

Written in the same vivid and observant style that runs throughout Life is War, the first post reflects on the formative moments in Shannon’s Albanian education, courtesy of Mrs Shkalla.

You can pre-order Life is War here. Please note: all international (i.e., outside the UK) orders need to select ‘paypal’ as the payment option.


3D-cover-Life-is-WarIt was Mrs Shkalla in Elbasan who did the hard yards for my Albanian education.  Each week of the university semesters of 2003-2004, I travelled from Tirana to Elbasan to teach. On the nights between my teaching days I stayed at the home of my colleague, Danjela, in the two bedroom apartment she shared with her mother and brother. Walking home from A. Xhuvani University together, we’d stroll through the fifteenth century fortress district, run into friends, and stop for a coffee. Further down the main street, a broken brick step led to a small pathway, past the local bakery, to a dusty courtyard of kids playing ball and Danjela’s apartment block. I loved the clean concrete stairwells of the buildings, cool in summer and freezing in winter, winding past the doors of family homes. I loved arriving at Mrs Shkalla’s home, dropping my bag, swapping my shoes for slippers, hanging up my coat, and settling in for the long conversations and home cooked meals I remember to this day.

Mrs Shkalla worked as a seamstress from home. Danjela and I would carefully move material cut out for a suit or a dress, and then sit on the long couch and chat as Mrs Shkalla sewed on her machine in the centre of the room.  I’d recount what was happening in Tirana, mostly stories of my confusion about the complicated invisible networks that organised all levels of Albanian life and work, and Danjela would translate for her mother. Mrs Shkalla’s reactions were clear without words, and she thus thwarted her own plans to build my vocabulary by teaching me fluent non-verbal Albanian.  A clear sideways shake of the head for agreement – an English “no” means “yes” in Albania – and a sharp nod of the head for no. Beyond this there was a vast range of subtle head angles, clicking noises, and eyebrow twitches to indicate concern, alarm or uncertainty requiring further information. Women came to visit for pleasure and to drop off and collect garments. Their polyphonic conversations moved from serious whispers to raucous laughter, covering relationships, everyday problems and memories, all fuelled by cups of Turkish coffee and bowls of the seasonal fruits. 

When the women spoke amongst themselves, everything moved faster. Movements of hands and eyes communicated commiseration, understanding and fears, the words articulated reassurance and advice. In my own conversations with them, as with my students, I felt painfully aware that even direct translation could not cross the gap between us.

I didn’t speak the embodied experience of complex cultural and historical knowledge that they did, and they didn’t speak mine. And yet we spoke.

In that first year, we often sought ways to speak about the gap, discussing issues to find out what we understood about each other. Reading history books wasn’t helpful– they were primarily about political events, which meant a small group of men who dominated society from above. “The people” appeared in these books as an unspecific mass, hazy, whose reactions were rendered homogenous and inevitable in the retrospect of the authors. Women were rarely mentioned. In real life, I learnt the perimeters of the world for everyday people in Albania from Mrs Shkalla; the labour market, gender and relationships in cultural context, and understanding how to access services in a world where power was connections and no one normal made much money.

Mrs Shkalla and her peers were born into the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. They had done annual military service and had “volunteered” their own labour to build apartment blocks and harvest the crops. They had queued from 4am for milk, children and ration cards in hand, through the long hungry years of Albania’s international isolation in the world after 1978. They survived the shock of the regime confessing they’d run the proletariat paradise to ruin, and then worked to feed their families. The former communists became the new capitalists.  Now these women, just middle aged themselves, were vital in the community as translators between generations; across ideologies and rapidly changing cultural norms. 

When the television was on in the background, only the soap operas garnered close attention. Mrs Shkalla observed men talking politics on TV the way one might watch an unknown street dog wander into a children’s playground; her interest extended only so far as calculating what kind of damage he could do. Sometimes I would catch her looking up from her sewing, her eyes refocusing on some man in a suit talking about himself on the screen, and I wanted to know what she heard there beyond the words and the posturing. I wanted to understand how hard working people lived through “politics” on the ground. Mrs Shkalla, of course, had already shown me the answers, beyond language, in her family home.