Sorika

Horse Latitudes | Chris Wilson
£15.00

Horse Latitudes
128 Pages (16 colour plates)
12 cm × 18 cm
Softcover
Edition of 1000
Edited by Gareth McConnell
Designed by Helios Capdevila

ISBN: 978-0-9575573-0-7

London artist Chris Wilson tells his almost unbelievable life story in his first book Horse Latitudes. Accompanying the text are sixteen colour plates of his paintings – both are delivered with an intensity that is simultaneously shocking and thought provoking. Wilson’s story takes us from his idyllic childhood in 1960s Africa to the streets of San Francisco, where he had grown into a young man on the rampage through a world of addiction, incarceration and violence. Deported to the UK in 1998, a number of years follow with the author lying broken and spiritually defeated in an Earls Court hostel until finally, and unexpectedly, he manages to drag himself to a new life of art and societal contribution.

As much a narrative of attempted elevation and escapism through degradation and crime, as it is a glimpse of the poisoned beauty of the brutal underbelly of America, Horse Latitudes is also an opportune reminder of the futility of drug prohibition, the accompanying cost to society and the dehumanizing ferocity of the prison industrial complex.

A survivor of the American streets and penitentiaries, a recipient and in turn participant of British social care, the author is well positioned to tell a story that although confessional in nature, has timely political resonance. In the tradition of The Beats and as testament to lived experience on the wrong side of the tracks, the true-life stories are raw and at times almost inconceivable in their brutality, but are in turn redeemed with a poetic intelligence and insight that bows deeply to human sorrow and resilience.

Since becoming drug and crime-free, Wilson has trained as a project worker with the long-term homeless and studied Fine Art at the Chelsea College of Art & Design, London, where on graduation he received a First with Distinction.

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An excerpt from Horse Latitudes

‘By Barstow we could tell that we were in a convoy, another grey goose pulled up on the left and the drivers honked at each other and the inmates pounded their shackled hands on the windows to say hello but it was just black glass and bars. When we crossed the state line into Nevada we were empty heads bouncing on top of stinking bodies and I thought about the goat in the holding cell back at Quentin how he’d been on this ride for four months all because he was an asshole and even the cops didn’t like him and I remembered stories of convicts doing a year lost in transportation and how the Feds had 51 states to chain you up and drive you around if they so desired, they could even fly you to Alaska or Hawaii locked up in the idiot box with the shackles cutting into your hips and your wrists and your ankles and you couldn’t even have a smoke cause they were always there watching you through their mirrored shades with a shotgun on their lap and a toothpick in their mouth just like the movies. By the time we hit Arizona I said it out loud looking straight at the gunner, “it’s all just like the movies” and I felt just a little bit better’.

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Chris Wilson, Horse Latitudes
A Review by Richard English

Horse Latitudes portrays Chris Wilson’s descent into drug use, criminality, prostitution and prison. For the most part, the narratorial setting is the Mission district in San Francisco with flashbacks to Los Angeles, Dar Es Salaam and other places pertinent to his past. Chris’s narcotic Odyssey is hard hitting, brain splitting and bowel moving. At least those are some of the effects that it had on me. He depicts a wasteland of heroin horror through a combination of drugalogue and gobsmacking anecdotes about murder, prostitution, the extreme characters that inhabit the Mission, and his experiences of incarceration that extend from county jail to the San Quentin psychiatric isolation ward.

Is it a book? Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Horse Latitudes is a graphic memoir of 118 pages and a postscript, which mixes text with 4 sections of 4 coloured plates of Chris’s paintings, and contains references to various photographs.

Why the title?

Chris was impressed by Jean Rhys’s, Wild Sargasso Sea, in which the term ‘horse latitudes’ with a nautical connotation, appears. By this term, Chris means “a place where you are voluntarily abandoned”. There is a pun on the word ‘horse’, which refers to heroin in junkie argot.

Photographs and Paintings

On pages 15, 16, 34, 38, 114, reference is made to photographs such as that on p.15 with the title, “Night, a cheap motel room, the United States”. An outline of the composition follows: “A young Filipino drug dealer preparing to go to work in front of a full length mirror, he is combing his hair straight back, around his bare chest is a shoulder holster and a pistol … “. Feverishly, I flipped through the tome looking for this snap and couldn’t find it. Perplexed I thumbed through the plates to see if it was there. Mucho disappointment.

It was a trick, and I fell for it. According to Chris, the photos are “re-creations, in memory, of scenes that I wished I could have photographed at the time of their happening”. Chris assumes the right to artistic ownership of physically non-existent records of his past. And why not? They are “emotional templates” that help to interrogate his life in retrospect.

Chris is an artist, who, in recovery, has trained and distinguished himself at Chelsea College, London. His book contains plates of 16 of his paintings, for example, St Genet. This portrait shows the tattooed torso of an imagined Jean Genet with his face white as a ghost’s, a tear running from his right eye. The theme is sanctification through suffering, more generally, dignity through indignity. In Chris’s case, drug use and citizenship of the underworld lead to his messianic penance. Other paintings are entitled Midnight Rambler, Pop Gun Robbery, PCP and so on. Chris is a talented fellow. His artwork knocks your teeth out, but he mops up your blood with a tender wipe, just like his writing.

The Tenderloin and the Mission

The Tenderloin and the Mission are neighbouring districts in San Francisco where Chris spent most of the 1980’s. While the Mission has undergone regeneration and is now noted for its plethora of ethnic restaurants to which tourists flock, the Tenderloin has remained intractable. As an habitué, Chris writes: “… in the Tenderloin you can smell the HIV and despair in the piss that fills the street, old drunk Indians with cirrhotic livers bump into various stages of surgically-altered transvestites out catching tricks on the corners and skeleton speed couples zigzag their way to the liquor store trying to stay out of the sun” (p.63).

What fascinated and fascinates Chris about these districts is that they offer an alternative or ‘other’ community. They provide “somewhere to land for those who have fallen through the cracks of ordinary society”. They service an underworld where neighbouring blocks specialize in the trading of heroin, crack, syringes, and prostitutes, the daily diet of its denizens.

Genet’s Influence

Chris’s hero is Jean Genet, the gay criminal who wrote about the low life in such a way as to hagiographise the characters involved. Chris shares this attribute, which raises Horse Latitudes above the drunkalogues, drugalogues, and prisonalogues that typify addiction writing. Genet’s influence on Chris takes the form of the glorification via realism of the low life. Not by pathos, although sympathy is created, but by the spectacle of human suffering through the lens of compassion.

As Genet says: “Few are the moments when I escape from horror, few the moments when I do not have a vision, or some horrifying perception of human beings and events.”[2] There is plenty of horror in Chris’s text. The scenes that it inhabits range from when Chris turns his first trick as a rent boy in the car park of a MacDonalds and receives 2 cheeseburgers and $20, through grisly descriptions of street life in the Mission and the Tenderloin, to a graphic fixing scene in a hostel for the homeless.

Chris first identifies with Genet while in county jail in San Francisco, and views him as “a beautiful, fellow spirit”. They are both unapologetic and embrace the underworld with no regrets. They scorn conformity, but achieve happiness within their own arcane worldviews. Chris regards Genet as inspirational to his writing, as the latter possesses “a beautiful, feminine heart”.

The Nietzsche of Narcotics

To my mind, Chris is the Nietzsche of narcotics, someone espousing a shocking and counter-intuitive thesis to generally accepted norms. He is an iconoclastic negativist and contradicts much of the canon of drug memoir. He eschews petit bourgeois morality or “pettiness” as he calls it, using crime and punishment (echoes of Dostoevsky here) as a tool of learning. Chris writes, “I want to tell you how heroin saved my life, how my ability for self destruction has made of me a superior being apart and above the common run of man … I am … hovering near the ceiling like a spirit at the demise of the body in which it formerly dwelt, free to bask in the unfolding separation of eternity” (p.13).

In a way, Chris ascribes a version of Nietzsche’s transvaluation to the moral agency of the addict who returns from the life of junk to the ordinary world. Such an (anti-) hero is twice born, the recipient of enlightenment.

Instead of prison being an evil, it is a good, a locus of overcoming that transforms Chris into an Ubermensch. The result is a post-apocalyptic and human, far too human, being. Whereas the typical addict memoir describes in sensationalist detail the violence of sociopathic guards, rapes in the shower, and blades in the gut, Chris writes that prison gives him a chance to detoxify both physically and spiritually. He achieves bodily recovery as well as acquiring a sense of his own presence. A new reality creeps in. “I realized I’d got qualities I wasn’t aware of before”. “Now I knew how to provide for myself.”

Redemption

Horse Latitudes adumbrates with compassion the process by which an individual, who is taken away from the ordinary world, but not destroyed by this removal, can acquire the gift of seeing the ordinary world from a special and lucid perspective on his return. The result is a leap from the wasteland to the desire for, and achievement of, grace and integrity.

[1] Quotes from Chris qua himself, as opposed to his role as an author, were obtained during an interview with him on 18th December 2013.

[2] p.3 JP Sartre, Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr 2012, (Minnesota Press, USA; first published 1952)

Richard English is the recipient of awards from Arts Council England (Literature) and the British Academy. His publications include Sunrise with Sea Monsters (Canonbury, 2012), Coping Successfully with Hepatitis C (Constable-Robinson, 2000), Living with Hepatitis C (Robinson, 1997), several short stories, and numerous rock reviews for Rocks Backpages. He is currently engaged in research into Addiction and the Heroin Novel at Brunel University, where he teaches

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PRAISE FOR HORSE LATITUDES

Horse Latitudes has you reeling with every word, holding your breath as you hold onto the mane of the beast that is Chris Wilson’s prose. Artist, Poet, Addict, we move with our narrator through the streets of San Francisco, down Highway 5 with brief stops in the lost leper cities of the Dustbowl to LA and back, into and out of prisons until we arrive in London. Punctuated by reproductions of Wilson’s paintings, in which tattooed ghost figures emerge Saint-like from the bleeding ground of the image, this novel of destruction and re-finding, of the search for aliveness that is within us all, is a rare piece of genuine writing (Genet, Duras, Bataille come to mind). Reading these words at the breathless pace they seemed to have been poured out in, feels like being struck by lightning whilst riding the warm, dry desert winds after which the novel is titled.

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If this is what it takes to create art then I am glad I chose a quiet life in the garden. Chris Wilson takes no prisoners in his unique, fearless and poetic dismemberment of his own extraordinary life. Yes, drugs are involved but this book isn’t some predictable ex junkie indulgence. His stories are gripping, and he writes very, very well. How the hell he remembered it all is another matter. Prisons, sex, crime, passion and bad behaviour on an epic scale all go into this hadron collider of a book. Out the other sides emerges a fascinating real life story which is a rollercoaster read. And all through this little gem of a book are colour plates of Chris Wilson’s paintings. The narrative feeds the art and that’s the cocktail that makes it work for me.

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Chris Wilson’s debut novelette is his personal journey and is a drug fuelled ride to the edge. It contains paintings of Wilson’s specially reproduced, which them alone are incredible. Horse Latitudes is like a modern take of ‘Naked Lunch’ & ‘Pimp’ all rolled into one. This book is a real excursion to hell and Wilson writes about an era I know only too well, the 70?s, 80?s and 90?s. It is the attention to detail which gives this book such power. When Wilson writes “You cannot trust a memory, it lies, but you can trust your scars” I knew then that this book was going to be an important read. it is Wilson’s dispatches from his own savage journey that reads like a report from the netherworld and this is all the better for it. We all need to be reminded of the dark fringes of society, this always has to be written with passion and conviction and Chris Wilson has both. It is the courage and certainty which shines through this book which makes it a momentous study. A journey through the bowels of iniquity to arrive at the light of ‘redemption’ told with no shadow of doubt. I would recommend this book to anyone whom has a interest in the darker aspects of the human condition.

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I am blown away by this book it got me excited, sad and euphoric all the way through. The verbal in it for me was really fast and intense I could really relate to the characters colourful past one hundred per cent having had similar experiences. Reading about his thoughts on an in depth level really felt like I was reading about my own life, and to have been there and come out the other side. While reading it there was parts of me that wanted to go back and do a bit more chemical research on the human body, Pink Floyd comfortably numb comes to mind. Loved the honesty in it anyways bloody great book blew what’s left of my mind, great great great read would recommend to any one. It is an excellently written book, the wording draws you in to the commentator’s real life experiences.

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Chris’ book is one of the most captivating reads I have come across in a long time. His complete honesty is inspiring though at times very crude (it is not for the faint hearted) . I can’t recommend this book enough.

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A friend had just finished this book and after strongly recommending it, he reluctantly had to lend me it. I found it a bit heavy on the tube, I’d a bad hangover. I picked it up a few days later and couldn’t put it down, my afternoon had gone, and I was getting late for plans made that evening. I’d previously tried Fear and Loathing, but gave up half way through, one bad trip after another, as boring as listening as your partner’s bad dreams. This shocking inner portrait grabs you and takes you on a journey self destruction over decades. Where things that you and I would think major life changing events, and spend the time and excess ink detailing this, Chris (I initially wrote the author, but after reading this candid account, I feel I don’t know many people better) crams into a few paragraphs, in a fast paced writing style that is still descriptive enough to make you squirm in your seat, before you head from a slight collision into another head on car crash. My best to the author, I’m now both a fan of his book and will be looking further into his art work, a genius that has torn free from his drug laced cocoon. Inspirational.

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I love Chris as a painter.. I have immense respect and love for his work. So it was with this initial respect that I bought his book “horse latitudes” it did not disappoint me.. As with his paintings it evoked a strong reaction.. It took me inside, to inhabit a hectic and at times vividly dark experience.. He has the gift of making us the voyeur …watching scenes few will ever experience.. I felt as if I was inside these rooms.. Tasting it in my mouth the acridness. The mark of a true artist I have not lost the images from his book… They are seared in my mind. Papillon is a favourite book of mine.. Chris’s recounted experiences reminded me of this book.. I dived inside it, as I did with Henri Charriere’s autobiography. I highly recommend “horse latitudes” and can’t wait for more….

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Read it and re-read it and then cast it aside only to return again, to flip open, at random pages and start all over again. It takes very little time to get under your skin and yet is remarkably persistent in memory. Perfect this is not, certainly not in any academic sense, and there are sections of the prose that you want to wrench the words from the page and re-arrange them in some more manageable order. It also has passages and memories of events laid bare in a brutal yet beautiful poetry of words that are effortlessly haunting. The plates of the paintings, while impressive,dont have enough size to really assert their own power, which is a shame as in the flesh they are magnificent. Overall a very impressive debut novel that really is worth getting to know. Looking forward to the next book.

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Powerful book and compulsive read impossible to put down. I found Chris Wilson’s writing beautiful and poetic yet unsentimental, a very tricky balance to achieve. His paintings are also incredibly powerful and a great addition to the prose. It was one of those books that I was really sad to finish as I could have read a lot more. Horse Latitudes was truly moving and well worth reading!

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A brilliant read. Brutally honest, I defy anyone not too read this in one sitting. One mans account of a life that you wouldnt wish on your own worst enemy. He is lucky to have come through this alive. Not only is the writing brilliant, he is also a fantatic artist and a true tortured soul. I highly recommend Chris Wilsons HORSE LATITUDES we have a GENIUS in our midst, and this is his first book, I for one cannot wait to read more. I’ve read it three times allready and it just gets better my only criticism is wasnt long enough. Beg borrow or steal to get this book or better still buy it .

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This book grabbed me from page 1 and in all the cliche ways I couldn’t stop reading it until I was satiated. Wilsons book and survival through living those pages had me totally immersed in his world of desperation and redemption. This is a book to be read by everyone who feels they’ve got it hard as it puts into perspective what hard really is. Never self piteous or glorified its an extra ordinary tale of one mans life. We all have a book in us they say but this one is a peach and slams straight into jack blacks autobiography as if they were travelling companions! Do yourself a favour and read this book.

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When Bruce Willis jumped off a bridge onto the ship passing underneath you didn’t think for a moment that a person in the real world would stand a chance of surviving. This first book from Chris tells of many equally improbable tales of survival in a series of hostile environments. I felt that at many moments the only plausable conclusion could be death. Was it luck or some intervention by a god wishing to make public his divine powers that enabled Chris to survive heroin and the American prison system. There is at least one stunning feature film wrapped up in this brutally honest autobiographical tale, I only wish that a good enough director picks up on the massive cinematic potential within thase pages. I look forward to Chris’s next book.

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Read it and re-read it and then cast it aside only to return again, to flip open, at random pages and start all over again. It takes very little time to get under your skin and yet is remarkably persistent in memory. Perfect this is not, certainly not in any academic sense, and there are sections of the prose that you want to wrench the words from the page and re-arrange them in some more manageable order. It also has passages and memories of events laid bare in a brutal yet beautiful poetry of words that are effortlessly haunting. The plates of the paintings, while impressive,dont have enough size to really assert their own power, which is a shame as in the flesh they are magnificent. Overall a very impressive debut novel that really is worth getting to know. Looking forward to the next book.

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I loved this book. The intensity of the tales and the visual and colourful description of Chris Wilson’s world make this one a MUST READ. And Sorika publisher is a certain guarantee for quality books. Don’t wait, get it now.

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These story of Wilson’s life is clearly written but hard to read; it’s filled with brutal, painful details which will almost certainly make you uncomfortable. But it’s not all dark: after four decades of a hard life, Wilson made a choice: he finally got clean, gave up crime & drugs, found a different kind of life. And he found art, found writing and does both well, in his own, very original style. Horse Latitudes is a fascinating look at a life, one which eventually took a hard right and travelled a different road. The book is filled with glossy, full-color plates of Wilson’s artwork. The figures in his paintings are poignant, filled with pain and loss and hope. This is a small gem of a book, and its story – and images – are likely to stick with you a long time.

Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book for candid feedback and possible review.

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Chris Wilson’s life story is creatively written and gallops along at great speed. I read it in an evening and again the following evening, unable to put it down. It is a tale that brings many shocks, the worst of all being the inhuman treatment of people incarcerated by the penal system in the USA. The friends he meets along the way are described brilliantly and not judged; many feature in his disturbingly stunning paintings which appear between the pages of written words. As a first book this is truly a first rate effort.

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Finished Chris’s book this morning. it was good, really good in fact. it took me a fortnight to finish to but only 2 sitting to read. In honesty I struggled with it at first it was raw, brutal and a bit stuccato for me and I put it down but when I came back to it but when I picked it up again I couldn’t put it down again it was gripping and open like reading a friends old diary finding about the darkness you only ever wondered about. It’s always good reading a story of redemption although I have a feeling he didn’t want it to just be about falling and getting up again.

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Well written and very entertaining and just as the back cover states – definitely not for the faint hearted. It briefly covers Chris through his childhood and adolescent years, his descent into a world of drugs, crime and some of America’s toughest prisons including a spell in the maximum security psychiatric wing of San Quentin and finally his deportation back to the UK and the beginning of a new life. This book is a roller-coaster ride of a read and once started is almost impossible to put down. It was like turning the pages of a Jim Morrison novel at times, written like poetry. It makes my life story look like giro junkies walk in the ocean.

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I am blown away by this book it got me excited, sad and euphoric all the way through. The verbal in it for me was really fast and intense I could really relate to the characters colourful past one hundred per cent having had similar experiences. Reading about his thoughts on an in depth level really felt like I was reading about my own life, and to have been there and come out the other side. While reading it there was parts of me that wanted to go back and do a bit more chemical research on the human body, Pink Floyd comfortably numb comes to mind. Loved the honesty in it anyways bloody great book blew what’s left of my mind, great great great read would recommend to any one. It is an excellently written book, the wording draws you in to the commentator’s real life experiences.

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I read this book in a matter of hours…couldn’t really do otherwise! Wilson’s tales are taking your soul and mind, aim for your guts and squeeze your heart. All at once, crime, drugs, sex, sufferance, joy, hope and despair come enriched by the author’s delightful writing skills. A must-read!

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