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Showing posts from August, 2008

Away...

I go away tomorrow, for eight days. I'm not going particularly far or exotic - up to a cottage in the Ribble Valley (far enough from London I suppose). It's a combined research and writing trip, although I will be joined by sister and two dogs so just how much research and writing I get done will be another matter. I have told myself that I need to come back with a completed first draft with its current half-scaffolded structure sorted out. As a few people know the book is based on part of my Mum's life; she spent seven years of her life during the sixties (she was seventeen) up in the Ribble Valley, in what was then Europe's largest mental institution, although it was bought a few years ago by a property developer and turned into his house as well as being the training home to a football team and a hotel. The area, with what some may consider its bleak unforgiving landscape, is a rich launch pad for the imagination as Tolkein has associations with the place, then…

Felicia's Journey, William Trevor

Following on from reading another Trevor novel, Reading Turgenev, not so long back and posted on here (scroll back) I yesterday bought Felicia's Journey. I had assumed, from the cover, that it was not only the literal journey of Felicia from Ireland to England, but that of a journey throughout an entire life too. But whilst it focuses solely on a particular period in this seventeen year old's life, growing up in a house of men and one great grandmother, a relic, we are reminded, from the more heroic and revolutionary days in Ireland's history, it also nods to the situation as it was in 1993/4, when the book came out.




Felicia is trapped and on the day her brother is married she meets Johnny Lysaght, a young man from the same town but who has moved to England, visiting back home only because his mother is ill. It also seems that he has joined the British Army, something which he cannot admit to and so instead he says he works at a lawn mower parts factory in the Midlands. Ov…

Wanted: A Charles or Charlotte Dickens for the 21st Century

Theodore Dalrymple has wrote a damning article in City Journal, a Manhattan urban affairs journal published by the Manhattan Institute. It is a response to a recent UNICEF report which claims that Britain is the worst country in the Western world in which to be a child. In his article Dalrymple uses the well publicised case of mother of nine Fiona MacKeown whose children were by five different fathers and who took eight of them to live in Goa with her new boyfriend. But her fifteen year old daughter, Scarlett, would be left in Goa alone with a man ten years her senior and would later be found dead, washed up on a beach after being raped and drowned. It is a tragic case, not least because she should have been at school, getting an education. Yet Dalrymple's article is taken up with his astonishment at the media's reaction to MacKeown's conduct as a mother and singles out The Guardian as being particularly guilty of failing to condemn MacKeown, preferring instead not on…

Reading...

I have just begun To Siberia, by the wonderful Per Petterson. Hopefully my expectations won't leave me disappointed. His three books currently out in the UK - Out Stealing Horses and In the Wake - were presented in a neat little row in my local Daunts bookshop and whilst I find it annoying that many authors have the same type of cover follow them through their career - I longed to see more of them in this case, wishing they'd hurry up and get Anne Born to translate the others and the short stories sometime soon, as it feels as though it's a bit of a drip-feeding exercise/ploy.

Get some Thinspiration...

My hugely talented friend, Matthew Burton, has directed Thinspiration, a brilliant short film, written by Ruth McCance, as part of Channel Four's Coming Up series. It has been rescheduled and will now be on Channel Four next Wednesday 27th August at 11.40 p.m. Stay up and watch or record it - well worth it.


In praise of melancholy...

This article, by Eric G. Wilson, a professor of English at Wake Forest University, is adapted from his book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.





The title says it all - although it doesn't seem to be against happiness, just manufactured happiness. You know the type of person - we all know one or two, those who have a need to always be 'happy, happy, happy' or at least in that 'positive-thinking-zone' and will get slightly manic if their mood drops a milimetre beyond what they're comfortable with, as though it's a moral personal failing.



Wilson claims the Americans are particularly fond of this mindset - although the few Americans I know have been anything but, as happy as I am to sit around in melancholy showers. Perhaps they've just become infected with the English Malady? Wilson's argument embraces the dark and the light and every other shade in between - in stark contrast to the emotionally…

The Deposition of Father McGreevy

I'm not sure how I can write this review in a way that conveys the extent to which this novel has had an impact on me. But I shall try.

Published in 1999 by Arcadia Books The Deposition of Father McGreevy, by the then 72-year old Irish born Brian O'Doherty who was also an arts professor and author of several previous books, was shortlisted for the 2000 Booker prize. His inclusion on the list surprisingly resulted in critics asking 'Brian who?' which goes to show how we now take for granted the fact that recent years Booker nominees include at least a couple of unknowns.

The Deposition of Father McGreevy is about magazine editor William Maginn - an Irishman living in post-war London - who is told in his local pub of a small Kerry mountain village that had suffered more misfortune than you could shake a stick at. Maginn is intrigued enough to want to find out more about the story and so goes over to Ireland to discover more. Yet loose lips there are not and yet Maginn per…

Enid Blyton - top of the class

Back to the Daily Telegraph again today for news of another 'nation's favourite authors' list. This list has brought up a few surprises, however, in that the top three are children's writers. Enid Blyton came first, followed by Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling. I was also rather surprised to see Catherine Cookson at 12 as, since her death, she seems to be hardly mentioned in bookish circles - but perhaps that's because bookish circles are predominantly middle-class and Cookson had a particular appeal to those like herself and her heroines - working-class girls who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. It is clear that this is not a list voted for by newspaper critics and fellow writers, but by The Public in a survey commissioned to mark the 2008 Costa Book Awards. Dan Brown at 19 certainly speaks volumes about mass-market publishing, but I doubt he will be a remembered name in fifty years time. And it's sad that Thomas Hardy is at 42.

Nostalgia for simpler t…

Dictionary addiction...

Today's Sunday Telegraph's Literary Life column features Ammon Shea's new book, Reading The OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages which is as the title suggests - Shea read 20 volumes of the OED in one year. Why? It's either a genuine love of language or a nifty gimmick around which a book could be written and marketed. I'll not be cynical and say it's more of the former, than the latter, as Shea already owns 1000 dictionaries - commited, then.

The love of language, of wanting to learn and understand as many words as possible, has become, in the latter half of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, something liable to attract scorn. And yet it is admirable. One need only take a good look at best-seller lists to see formula fiction which doesn't revel in language at all - only as many plot twists and turns as each page can take in as simple language as possible. Which is a handy way of including Andrew O'Hagan's swipe not only at the type of…

Ronnie Drew RIP

Ronnie Drew, founder of The Dubliners (once known as the Ronnie Drew Group), died today after a struggle with cancer. Ronnie has left a huge legacy. He inspired musicians from many different quarters and had the love and respect of U2, Sinead O'Connor, The Corrs, The Pogues, Christy Moore and many more. My Dad would listen to him - especially the old rebel songs - on a Saturday night in the Irish pubs in Manchester, as well as listening to him on the Irish radio stations on a Sunday morning. Ronnie's music evokes so much - not least because the music is a poignant reminder of the loss of my Dad - but also of the oral history I grew up with. And of course he wasn't just a singer and musician, he was also a poet, and much of his music referred to Celtic myth and legend. I loved The Dubliner's Whiskey in the Jar as well as Phil Lynott's Thin Lizzy version. There's also The Dubliner's and The Pogues version here. He will be missed. Much of his music and…

Dystopic trends that shouldn't be ignored...

Today's news by the BBC that DNA of blameless children is being stored is quite disturbing. Perhaps they also (conveniently for a society that doesn't want to hold itself responsible) have ODD! The way in which this country demonises working-class children is nothing short of shameful and makes me feel as though we have regressed back to the Victorian times - social mobility is apparently back there anyway. It got me thinking about one of my favourite subjects - dystopias. I do believe there would be some dystopic elements to any society, even in what for many would be Utopia. But the dystopic elements of Britain today are overwhelmingly in force. Perhaps this is why there is also an irrefutable dystopic trend in contemporary literature. Apart from my own, A Clockwork Apple which highlights the two-tier education system in this country which has only got worse under New Labour, there is also Sarah Hall's The Carhullan Army, no doubt inspired by Atwood's The Hand…

I want to read...

I'm still only halfway through Marilyn Robinson's so-called 'modern classic' Housekeeping. I like the way in which it evokes the dusty old town of Fingerbone but it can also feel like a bit of a trudge at times, as though Robinson has sent us to Fingerbone for eternity too. And she lingers far too long on aspects of the girls lives, which I find draining at times. It's as though time has stood still. However, I shall post a review once I'm done. Today I discovered that Per Petterson's To Siberia (Graywolf Press) is out. I shall be ordering a copy. There's also an excerpt from the New York Review of Books here. I love the way in which Petterson deals with grief and loss with stark landscapes to match. He reached excellence in Out Stealing Horses. However, his second (to be published in the UK, he has written five novels), In the Wake, whilst being more than an adequate read didn't come anywhere close to the poignancy of OSH. I'm hoping To Siberi…

Needing to attach disorder to everything disorder

As a result of not being able to truly connect with what I'm supposed to be currently working on I've been trying to focus on research instead. I just came across this, which I find shocking. I'm not sure if this medicalisation of everything is as a result of universities putting their staff under undue pressure to get ratings up, the researchers need to have a 'theory' attributed to them, or just plain weirdness. I mean, oppositional defiant disorder?? It's like something out of Orwell's 1984! Whatever happened to just letting kids have a few tantrums? Or at least just asking them what's wrong? A symptom of this 'disorder' is the refusal to comply with adult requests! What about when the adults are idiots? ODD by acronym, odd by nature.

Manchester Lit Festival

The programme for this year's Manchester Literature Festival is ready here. I shall be reading from A Clockwork Apple on Monday 20th October, details of which can be found here. It should also be pointed out that, whilst my personal blurb states that I'm going to be studying for a PhD at Manchester this year, that has now changed. I could go into a rant at the politics of the almost non-existent postgraduate funding which does zilch for social justice objectives. I could, and will, go into a rant at why Manchester University decided they wouldn't submit my AHRC application, and couldn't offer any help with the fees, despite the fact I grew up on their doorstep and spent many years as a child hanging around its buildings, knowing only too well even then that getting in there would be impossible. How right was I? No doubt they will stick to those students who have yet to have anything at all published and who no doubt were able to get a first class degree because they we…

Reading....

The past few weeks I've have failed to get through reading anything, book wise - it all seems a bit too trivial to be honest. I still don't feel as though I'm grieving though. Just waiting for it to dawn on me, emotionally, that my Mum has gone and will never be coming back. I will never hear her voice and her strange distinctive sayings, or her laugh again. Yet I'm not sleeping at night and I'm way more anxious than ever.
On top of all that I've been given some money in order to crack on with this book about my Mum, aptly titled 'Joan's Book'.
Tip: never tell a dying person that you're going to give them a voice in the printed form.
It's not that I regret telling my Mum I'm going to write this book for her - for me too - but I now also feel a weight of expectation that comes with it. I mean, she probably wouldn't give two shits whether I wrote it or not. But I do. Aye, and there's the rub. So I have no idea how those few wr…

Publishers set e-book prices

Publishers have, it seems, decided upon prices for e-books - to be read on Kindles and other electronic readers. OK, listen carefully, there's no paper involved, so that means no printing, no costly warehouse distribution, no labour involved in cutting down the trees in the first place, no pulping on the remainders - you get the picture, so what on earth can justify e-books being priced at the SAME PRICE as traditional books? The Bookseller report that it is because publishers do not want to start at a weak position, figuring they're going to have to reduce anyway. Like most people I am concerned about all the tree-felling that goes into our book consumption but what are we trading this in for? A consumption pattern that involves the usual market and peer pressure of having to own the latest model of reader each time we're told the last bit of kit is obsolete, just like mobile phones, computers etc etc. And then there's the electricity useage that goes into keeping…

Two Macaroni Penguins

A former colleague and all-round good guy, Simon Briault, and his girlfriend Noelle, are soon about to travel through China, Russia and Asia on TRAIN and I'm envious - they have decided to keep a blog of their travels, wittily called Two Macaroni Penguins. I'll be keeping tabs - a sort of poor substitute for not being able to leave London desk!
Salman Rushdie is up in arms, against Ron Evans, one of his state funded former police protection officers. Evans wrote a memoir about his time protecting Rushdie, whom he described as mean, arrogant and scruffy. So what's the problem? It seems Rushdie has a large enough problem with it to warrant libellious proceedings. One doesn't want to mention the little issue of Satanic Verses but...

Reading

I finally picked up Madame Bovary today. It's been on my shelf for a good few years but it's only because I'm writing a non-fiction piece on Richard Yates that it reminded me to read it. Yates loved Flaubert and the influence of Madam Bovary can be read in both Revolutionary Road (April Wheeler) and in the Grimes sisters of The Easter Parade.