Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Manchester House pays homage to City's Radical Past

Ok, so. Just a fairly quick post. The Pulitzer Prizes were announced this week. Donna Tartt won for fiction with Goldfinch. Annie Baker won for Drama with The Flick. Vijay Seshadri won for Poetry with 3 Sections published by the uber-brilliant Graywolf Press. Talking of theatre I am hoping to have a finished play text of my own by the time the Easter break is done with. Mind you, I'm also off to the Old Vic on Friday to see Old Desert Cities, which has earned considerable acclaim in the US. I have expectations, it's fair to say. The Telegraph has published a strange list of the top 20 British and Irish novels. Most of them can't be argued with - but I have to ask, where the heck are the Brontes? To not include even one is (at the risk of sounding chattering class bourgeois) outrageous. Good to see Banville's The Sea though. And finally, a bit of telly - well, downloaded from iPad. Restaurant Wars focuses on two restaurants opening in my native Manchester. Simon Rogan opens New French at that old bastion of middlingdom The Midland Hotel, which, it's got to be said - can't be first choice of venue for hip happening gourmands with cash to splash. Aiden Byrne, on the other hand, who's opening at Manchester House, seems bang on the money. His menu is exciting and pays full homage to Manchester's very radical and working class heritage - including its strong Irish links and its part in acid (aceeeed!) house! Aidan showed he knew Mancunians when he said 'Mancunians won't be told what to do or what to eat.' He also said he wouldn't be telling them what to wear either. Anyone who knows Manchester knows first of all that you can tell a Mancunian but you can't tell 'em much. Rogan however, basically said 'we'll tell Mancunians what they should be eating.' And then doesn't even produce a menu! Needless to say, Aiden is much more likeable. Rogan is a bit of a tool, and shaming one of his kitchen staff on TV is not on. Manchester House with Aiden Byrne's very exciting menu are on my list for my next visit. And I hope it becomes THE place to eat. Onwards!
Sunday, 6 April 2014

Process(ing)

First, the writing. It's a process, not an event.

It's typical that, on my last day before plunging myself back into the day job, I could now do with a good week working on my play. It was only yesterday and today that I garnered the momentum, first through a natural development in the story, and the second, because the script had a read through from four actors in Richmond. Having my words read out was both very helpful, and at times, particularly towards the end with one particular 'monologue', rather cringey. It's all good though and there seemed to be no doubt that the material was timely and relevant.

Another reason why I didn't get much done it during the week was because my uncle in the west of Ireland died. Suddenly I have no uncles left on either side. My Mum's four brothers all died within the last decade or so; all way short of the old three score and ten. My Dad had six brothers. Kieran was the last remaining. So it's true. Women do live longer, in this case at least. All of my aunts are alive; the four on my Dad's side, including the oldest, now deep into her eighties, and the two on my Mum's side. I was not close to any of these aunts and uncles - most lived far away. It is a rite of passage, to bury the previous generation. And it brings mortality right up close and, for myself, a sense of needing to do things; to live vitally. But given the rightful pessimism of our climate scientists, and many others, it makes striving for 'things' absurd. This weekend's FT featured Lunch with 94-year-old philosopher Mary Midgeley. And hers was another voice that prophesied imminent catastrophe. I can't help but think that many of these warning of the collapse of civilisation, are all in the winter of their lives - save for The Guardian's George Monbiot. And some of their cries of doom are the same cries that the aged have made for millenia. It is true that we cannot hope to consume at the rate that we have been doing. It is obscene. Catastrophe? Certainly global consumption of the earth's resources need serious attention, including tackling the continuing growth in population, which creates more strain for the future. Perhaps creativity and the need to express are the things that will become even more important? That's more of a rhetorical question, actually. So many of my friends are engaged creatively; ceramics, acting, dancing, gymnastics, photography, writing, painting. Life affirming. Sharing their processes in different ways. We cannot go on shopping, piling up stuff we neither really desire or want. Or need. I wrote a piece for Guardian / CiF last week, which looked at the pressures to keep buying and changing cosmetics as they go through their late capitalist 'product life cycle', initiated by a tweet and comments by Emma Watson, the young actress.

A good friend and fellow Kingston alumni (we did our PhD at the same time too), Heidi James, has a new book soon out, called Wounding. I read an early version of it, but I am looking forward to reading this version, published by the brilliant Bluemoose.

Tracks of the week: Paloma Faith - Can't rely on you. Kendrick Lamar - Swimming Pools (Drank). Agnes Obel - Chord Left. Clean Bandit - Sea Shanty.

Reading/To read: FT Weekend / Roseberg as white Jewish guardian of 'pure' hip-hop in the New Yorker. Wounding by Heidi James.


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Location:Mortlake

Thursday, 3 April 2014

I Found My Horn

Yesterday evening I went to see the second west end run at Trafalgar Studios of 'I Found my Horn', which was adapted by a book written by journalist Jasper Rees.

It's a slightly high brow feel good play about a newly divorced Dad of one and his mid life crisis who feels a sudden urge to perform the French horn solo that he so catastrophically failed when he was still at school - 31 years ago.

It was co-written for the stage, and performed by Jonathan Guy Lewis. It was directed by Harry Burton, he of Working with Pinter, and who has not long returned from Copenhagen, where he directed stage play Carnage. As a film Carnage was directed by Roman Polanski and started Jodie
Foster and Kate Winslet. Disclosure: Harry is a friend - one who is never less than creatively generous and just a really good, hard working man who is dedicated to drama.

Jonathan Guy Lewis played about seven different roles - from the Chezch voiced French horn itself, to his teenage sullen son and a good few fellow French horn players whose regional or non- accents were delivered perfectly by Lewis. It was about halfway through the 125 minute performance that I felt carried along with his need - conveyed so realistically - to perform a French
Horn solo. Never did I think I would ever know so much about a musical instrument! In the first half there seemed to be too many puns and jokes that I'm guessing were music / horn related, but which a good portion of the intimate audience knowingly laughed along to.

At the end I was amazed at Lewis's endurance and the intensity with which he had to perform.

*
I'm still working on a play that I began writing last year. But I'm pleased to say that the first draft is having its first reading at a drama workshop in Richmond this Sunday by actress Selina Giles, who will read the main role, and three others. It's exciting that it will suddenly have some life - even though I already anticipate cringing at my own words, and crossing lots out as it's read.

*


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Location:East Sheen

Friday, 14 March 2014

Voices

So a longer gap between this and the last post. I could list many cliches here like how there aren't enough hours in the day, or that I'm not reading enough for pleasure to warrant posting on literature. Maybe this post is as a result of it being a heavy week on the work front - as well as seeing the loss from public life of Bob Crow and Tony Benn. The latter had a true indefatigable spirit - and undoubtedly inspired this generation of speakers out and speakers up. Marilyn Butler also died - literary critic whose work resisted too much of the opaque of many of her peers.
Talking of voices (!) I did watch The
Network - a documentary on ToLo, Afghanistan's independent media network; TV and radio. And the power of the media for good as an agent of social progression in a country that has undergone immense trauma is undeniable. Remarkable documentary. And the timings of when the Taliban were in power and then not slightly weirded me out. Any nation - it seemed to say - that either can't see other cultures to measure oneself by, or to have one's own culture reflected back - is a severe handicap. It enables voices - as well as a collective voice.

It always seems strange when I use 2000 as a year to benchmark. I opened my current hotmail email account in 2000. I registered on the Guardian's website in 2005. What was more strange is that I registered on FT.com in 2000! Fourteen years! They should give me a free digital premium subscription for that, I'd say.

I watched The Weir last weekend. As a play it worked well. And it still draws the crowds since it burst onto the scene in 1998. Ardal O'Hanlon was brilliant. But here was, at the end, something missing.

Off to see 'I Found my Horn' next month, which is directed (in its second run) by a friend - Harry Burton.

The Viking exhibition at the British Museum looks unmissable, too.




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Location:London

Monday, 13 January 2014

Sinead Morrissey wins TS Eliot for Parallax

I know; its been ages. It's not you - it's me. Really. Can we stay friends? Look, the fact that I've even taken notice of the TS Eliot Prize, announced this evening, means that there's still a flame.

Yep.

So Dr Sinead Morrissey, creative writing lecturer at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, and Belfast Poet Laureate, receives garlands galore. And £15,000. Not bad. The first book I bought this year was the Forward 2014; and I have yet to read one that's had me by the throat - I've not read them all; barely had time to read my weekly New Yorker let alone anything else. But a sign that I'm reconnecting is that I recently wrote a poem - first in months - a year, even.

I recently heard an acquaintance - a man who's no stranger to high-powered roles - declare that he had accepted a new role. But that he felt only flat. He'd been able to take a year off before then, during which time he had engaged the poet within, and he was now feeling flat because he knew the new role would distinguish the poetry. Maybe it won't - the thing is, unless you're into metaphysical poetry, or feel the need to be consciously intertextual - then, like grass, it will try and find a way through the cracks in the concrete facade of corporate life. Allowing the emotional connection and the breath deep enough to bring us to the bottom of the well that grounds us, is often enough.

I am very fortunate that I see my Welsh wizard weekly; a strong old bear of a man who is also one of the few male feminists I know, despite also providing emotional coaching to boxers! I dedicated my intro to Miss Nobody to him. Talking about Miss Nobody, I have decided to do more given that the national books sections didn't cover the republication (except the trusty old TLS and the sincere engagement of Michael Caines). I'm writing a longer piece for Review31, and will post link here when it's ready.

More soon.


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Location:Mortlake

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Running Home and Mary & Ula

So, instead of them living in the dark (well, Dropbox and my hallway cupboard), I've decided to upload two works to the Amazon Kindle platform. Mary & Ula - A Tale of Two Women is here and Running Home here.

Mary & Ula was the creative element of my PhD a couple of years ago. It is a split narrative tale of the rhyming lives of Ula Tulla - who has retuned to present day Manchester as her Dad is seriously ill, and Mary Burns in Victorian Manchester, whom Ula is attempting to write about whilst there. Despite being over 150 years apart, they share particular issues - as well as geographic places. Mary Burns was the long term partner of Friedrich Engels and they lived together in Ardwick, Moss Side, Hulme, and on Hyde Road. Very little is known about Mary, hence the reason why Ula struggles somewhat to write about her. Instead we get fragments.

Running Home is a poetry collection that I wrote a few years ago. It deals with sadness, humour, darkness, grief - and particular ghosts of a troubled family.

If you buy either or both free to let me know what you think.

I'm also on twitter @belindawebb

More again soon. I'm writing. And working.


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Location:Mortlake

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The numbers tell the stories

This year I'm making an effort not to enter into a frenzy of panic-induced conspicuous consumption - each year it gets worse - how much plastic do kids need? How many gift sets can be sold? How many utterly useless gadgets? So I decided instead to be much more thoughtful and for gifts not to be about money. So for the adult siblings I decided on researching and presenting our family tree. It's my thing - rooting around the family closets - and so this made sense. I started with my Mum's Dad: Thomas Henry Sanders (14-02-1896 - Feb 1954). A veteran of World War 1 he signed up in 1914, aged 18, and stayed until 1920 without ever rising above the rank of Private. He left with a limp courtesy of shrapnel. The fact that he survived at all is astonishing. When he entered the army he was already married, having wed at sixteen to a woman called Margaret Hargrave.

My Mum knew about this first marriage - yet she had always referred to her as 'Jean Cosgrove'. What she didn't know - and perhaps her Mother hadn't either - was that Thomas Henry married again - in 1932 - to a Jane Glennen, a jeweller's daughter.

By the time Thomas Henry met my grandmother, Mary Fitzgerald, he was forty-seven - and she was twenty-nine. It was, perhaps, an age at which a single woman from rural Ireland (Cork) had given up on having children and getting married. Although another thing that has been steadily dispelled during my genealogical travails is that women always had children young and the men were always older. Not true at all. But in 1944, in the last year of WW2, Mary was working as a barmaid at the Dog & Partridge pub at the Stretford end of MUFC. It was here she met the cellar man, Thomas, who also worked as a joiner. He who had been through war before may have reassured the younger woman who had not, as air raid sirens went off on long evenings. My Mum's birth certificate states her as Joan S Fitzgerald. The 's' presumably standing for Sanders. She believed her parents had married not long after her birth. Another myth. In fact they hadn't married until January 1954 when Mary Fitzgerald was pregnant with their seventh child. In February, days after his 58th birthday, he sent his oldest, my Mum, to the shop. When she returned he was dead. One week later his seventh child was born.

My Mum said her Dad came from Devon and distinctly remembers his ... She asked me what it was. I said it was a 'burr'. 'That, a Devon burr', she said.
When I started looking I searched for his name and birth year for Devon but nothing arose. Then his name was listed as being born in the district of Stockport. Some burr, I thought. She described him as a strict man - a Protestant, possibly Methodist, with a - and here she'd pat her crown. 'Pate', I'd say. 'Yeah, a bald pate,' she'd add. It turns out that whilst he hadn't been born in Devon, his roots there went back through North Devon for centuries. But whilst Thomas had listed 'John Sanders - joiner' as his father on his marriage certificate - it turns out that John was his uncle. John's sister, Mary Ann, a glove-maker who had learnt her trade in her home town of Torrington, also the glove making capital of the 19th century, had followed her brother and his new wife from Devon to Hyde, in Cheshire. And perhaps falling for the first man she met, got pregnant, whilst Thomas's father scarpered. So he has only a line for a father. It's questionable whether Thomas knew that John wasn't his father but his uncle. His mother doesn't seem to have stayed around either and I can find no record of her in censuses. Thomas was brought up by his uncle John, alongside his cousin, Herbert Henry, although it remains to be seen why both Thomas and Herbert both had Henry as their middle names. Herbert Henry ended up in a regional newspaper in 1933, for blowing himself up during an attempt at making a firework, leaving behind four sons.

It's astonishing what my Mum remembered of her dad, given that he wouldn't have had the Devonian burr, but was something she had long associated with him.

What's also surprising is that, whilst only a couple of years younger than her Mum when she had her first - my brother Sean - (27) - but that like her Mum she would also have four boys and three girls within the same time period. And not get married until they were all born. And my dad, like her own, had their birthday on 14th February. My Dad's actual birthday was 10th but he was called Valentine and he was baptised on that day and we knew no different for years. My dad's side has its own irregularities. Not only those coincidences - but my youngest brothers, twins, were born on 23rd February, but my dad registered their birth as 24th because he wanted them - like him even though it wasn't really - to have a 4 in their dob. That's only remarkable when you realise that Mary and Thomas's seventh child - my aunt Georgina who was born a week after her Dad died - was also born on 23rd February - but it was registered as 24th.

Anyway - back to North Devon. I've reached back to late 1500s so far and have names such as Smale and Mithall, and Liverton, Gliddon and Burd and Lake. And towns and villages such as Great Torrington, Woolfardisworthy (Woolsery) and Dolton. And I have a story yet to be revealed as to why five of my forefathers - all Gliddons - all died on 24 July 1757 in Trier, Germany.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Herd, Land of our Fathers, and my own

Another long gap between my last post and this - work has been utterly manic. Does one need to use utterly alongside manic? I feel I need to emphasise just how manic! And it's Sunday afternoon, with rain lashing onto the skylights of this coffee shop in Mortlake. And I'm trying to focus more on the play I began in the summer. It's had enough time for its first rough draft to become a little more defamiliar - enough for me to try and tackle second draft. So I began reading it through, thinking, what am I missing here? And the most basic and most important question had not been asked - how do / does my main character(s) change or transform through the conflicts? So I've begun to answer that, which should open it up enough to develop. 

I've also been deep into family tree research. Ireland really has some amazing records - one benefit of the churches - including petty sessions records, featuring raps on knuckles for having unleashed and dangerous dogs, and unlicensed. And trespassing cattle. And between the cold figures of birth, marriage, and death dates, tragedy reveals itself over and over again. My great grandfather Edward Webb (1837-1902) was married three or four times. His first son, Alfred (1886-1957), my grandfather, lost his Mum Margaret nee Higgins (1863-1887) at just a year old or thereabouts. And then when I look up James Higgins, my great great grandfather, a Farmer from Cashel in Mayo - father to Margaret - in the years following his daughter's death, he seems to go on a dog licensing spree! Why all the dogs? My Dad's Mum seems to have been constantly pregnant! Aunts and Uncles who didn't make it to late childhood include Edward, Catherine, Kathleen... I have told my siblings that they'll be getting a family tree for Christmas - I cannot bear the prospect of yet another mid-December weekend rushing round for pointless presents. It needs to be personal this year, I've decided. 

This past week I went to see Land of our Fathers, a Theatre 503 production at the Latimer in Battersea. The setting in this tiny theatre was first class; the black mine and six South Wales miners, stuck underground. It had earned five and four stars from critics. I'd have given it a three. I felt it was a tad long and intense - don't get me wrong I love intense - and it was great to hear the South Welsh accent (isn't it but...) as well as some of the Welsh language - but because it's only in one tiny setting it felt like I too was trapped in the mine. That was the aim, yes, but the seats and legroom left a lot to be desired. 
Also went to the Bush Theatre to watch Herd, actor Rory Kinnear's debut play as a writer. The acting was superb, but quite in that middle-class sitcom type of way. In the first ten minutes me and Arabella (friend) kept looking at each other pulling faves whenever the audience laughed knowingly at inane observations made by the characters. But then it becomes clear this covers a whole raft of hurt on the part of the stage family. It's about an invisible twenty-one year old son who has had to spend the past several years in a care home - but his Mum - whose acting was frantic - has never given up control - especially not from her ex-husband, who suddenly turns up having been off the radar for five years. It's very sad, funny in parts, and by and large well written, particularly the parts of the grandparents; the grandmother is scathing! I like Rory Kinnear; his Hamlet at the National Theatre was nothing short of astonishing - as was his Iago in Othello - and this writerly debut demonstrates his versatility. Not sure what to book next. Arnold Wesker's Roots at the Donmar is sold out and am not sure if want to queue for day tickets - the same for Lesley Manville in Ghosts. There's also Routes at the Royal Court, and Billy the Girl at Soho Theatre. What is absolutely clear is that London theatre seems to never have been in ruder health. And so there has to be a space for my play. When I finish it. 
Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Voice

It's just been a tough two weeks. As with my personal writing as with my day job, often getting people to see, understand, and acknowledge one's own experience and and reality of situation is incredibly difficult. I'd have loved to have sought solace in the literary lately though, instead of the literally. But I've not had time even to have a proper dinner in the evenings; not that I'm complaining - I like crumpets. Just not every evening. I'm also incredibly disappointed and more than a tad angry that despite several emails, the books sections of the nationals have ignored the centenary republication of Miss Nobody, which is rather fucking apt given the title and that she has been ignored for so long thus far! One expects more from The Guardian though - as ever, one can't help but come to see it as yet another Oxbridge dominated media outlet and spouter of their own brand of hegemony. One can't find a home anywhere these days. 

Those who heard Ed Miliband's speech may have focussed on what, for me, was a fantastic identifier: story. He shared the stories of a few ordinary citizens. A scaffolder, an ambulance controller, a single mum. In doing so he shared their voice with us. These voices are what we don't hear enough of - and certainly not directly, although it does explain the popularity of talk radio with their phone- ins. Although our public discourse is still dominated by men. I love men, really I do, but they are only half the story - and that's all they should ever be.
Sunday, 8 September 2013

Ethel Carnie Centenary

Elinor Taylor has written a very informative summary of yesterday's Ethel Carnie's Centenary Celebration, which you can read at the Rebel Pen Club, here: 

http://rebelpenclub.blogspot.com/2013/09/ethel-carnie-centenary.html


Monday, 5 August 2013

Miss Nobody - Title Page


Miss Nobody - Acknowledgements

Miss Nobody - Ethel Carnie


In the meantime

My theatre glut continues apace - friend and I went to Kennington's White Bear Theatre Club for the first time last week. It's a 'space' at the back of a large old-fashioned Irish pub; you know the sort - framed collections of Irish county arms: Armagh to Wicklow. I always look up Mayo, then Cork. It was never the sort of pub I'd have drunk in. I didn't do pubs. My Da preferred the smaller Irish pubs, with portraits of Collins et al on the wall / yet not knowing those of Joyce, Beckett, Yeats. I felt a bit apprehensive in this pub - like I had to be on my guard. Ironic. My friend comes from the landed gentry and she declared in her perfectly posh voice 'I feel so at home in these places!' And put down her motorbike helmet. She grew up in Hammersmith, when it was really Irish. I needed a pen - and chances upon one of those small bookie pens, that my Da always had a few of in each jacket pocket. I pocketed this one. Anyway, the play, Can't Stand Up For Falling Down, which has won awards, had a bit of a hammy start. A trio of three young women began to tell us their story - passing the narrative baton to each other without a missed beat. I thought 'oh god - we're gonna be told this story, like it's JackaNory; but then it changed and we were shown the story. Not shown as in set - the words were the real set - and the common denominator of their woes was one man. As the play progressed so too the power of the growing unity and empowerment of each woman. I left feeling that it was quite remarkable. I'm also currently in the habit of gauging each space for my own play in progress. It couldn't be done there, that I know. 
Tomorrow we're going to watch Lee Hall's Pitmen Painters, which I've been meaning to see for ages. We've also got Ibsen's The Doll's House in the diary, which will be a sell out. And Kinnear's debut at the Bush, which will attract a lot of attention. Onwards! I'll upload the cover and acknowledgements page of Miss Nobody separately. 
Sunday, 28 July 2013

Just because

A random tweet from a twit! 

The play; Austen; Mouthpieces.

Ok, so I stuck with the play. But it took on a different situation; I now have a rough first draft - and it will come in, once formatted, to about 40-pages. Needless to say, it will be one act with no intermission. And those 40 pages don't account for cutting. And I still don't quite know what I'm saying - I only have a tenuous grasp of what it is. May seem odd to those who don't write - or those who have to know exactly before they write - that one can spend so much time just writing something they don't know the message of. But, as many a writer will say, puke up over the typewriter in the morning, clean up in the afternoon. Or, I write and rewrite to know what I'm saying. This writing process for me is different every time. It requires an awful lot of tenacity - it's digging. I probably won't get to look at it now for a couple of weeks. I'm in Manchester next weekend to see family, so that'll be out. Onwards, and all that. 

One of my friends offered me some very kind and generous words of encouragement. A good few years ago she had one of her plays read out at the Royal Court. She could invite two people and I was one of them. And I felt hugely privileged to hear it. And I loved it. One can but dream of the Royal Court! It's there I saw the somewhat exhausting 'Product', a 60-minute monologue by Mark Ravenhill, who also performed it. 

I'm off to the White Bear in Kennington next week to see a play about four women who come together to talk about some man. I'm being curt. I'm sure it'll be good. I'd be very happy to get a play on at a theatre pub. 

So, I wrote a piece for Guardian CiF last week suggesting other feminists to grace the tenner other than Jane bloody Austen! The last sentence asked 'who would you choose'? As per normal most people wrote about how they disagreed with my choices but then didn't offer their own. The Jane Austen fans were out in force as one would expect, declaring to anybody who didn't like Jane Austen, or who, in their eyes underrated her, obviously haven't read her works. The thing that these Jane Austen fans don't and won't understand is that many people have read her and actually are not all that enamoured with what she wrote. To say that she somehow represents women or even women's experiences in the 19th century is utter nonsense. Again, Jane Austen like many other female writers, represents only the middle class woman. The one sat in the drawing room watching everyone. Yes, it is true that Jane Austen's works are widely known throughout the world, mainly through adaptations as costume dramas and films, but that is no reason for her to be put on our banknotes over and above those women who made a huge and significant difference. Or who represented women in a different way. Mary Wollstonecraft. Marie Stopes. One of the Brontes. 

September sees the much awaited second novel by Paul Harding, Enon. Harding wrote the Pulitzer-winning debut novel Tinkers, which I adored. I know I've mentioned it on here before, but Paul Harding persisted for good few years in trying to find a publisher for Tinkers. This is despite the fact that Tinkers was the well-written product of an MFA. And theb it wins the bloody Pulitzer! in your face, publishing industry! I also read in the New Yorker last week about how Lionel Shriver's most successful novel, We need to talk about Kevin, was turned down by 30 publishers. And this from a woman who'd already had six or seven novels published previously. It really is a hard game, publishing. It reinforces my belief that for those writers who stay writing, it is akin to a neurosis. 

Given that I don't watch much television, the last time I was in Wales, staying at my sisters, I watched an episode of We pay your benefits. The programme matched up working people with people who had been on benefits for quite a while. The programme featured Margaret and Nick, who were on the apprentice as Alan Sugar's trusted advisors. I thought the programme was quite balanced. It followed the pairings around, with the people who were in work questioning those on benefits, what they spent their benefits on, what sort of food they could buy with the money they got. It was interesting, I felt, that the people who were claiming, except for the media studies graduate, were all overweight. I don't suppose that it's very politically correct to say that. But it was my observation. I questioned this particularly when one of the obese women whose husband was unemployed, had to go to a food bank to get some food to feed themselves. I felt for the young man, the media studies graduate, because he was genuinely confused that he should be expected to work in a dead-end low-paid job when he had this degree. It was surely an indictment of what one can expect when almost half the population attend university. Perhaps we really do need to start looking at university and higher education as an end in itself, not just as a factory producing workers for the economy. What really got my back up though, is that today, in the New Statesman, I read an article by Laurie Penny. She must've wrote it last week, but she basically claims that the BBC is somehow colluding with the anti-welfare Tories. I must say I disagreed with her view. I was also annoyed by how she claimed that Nick and Margaret had no idea of what the claimants were going through because they are privileged professionals. That was not the case, as far as I was concerned. I believe that Nick Hewer is an ardent Labour supporter, and signed up to the old Labour, in which work is considered essential to one's well-being and life purpose. He also seemed to me quite sympathetic to the plight, if you can call it that, of the welfare claimants lives. Yet Laurie Penny presented them as being somehow representative of Iain Duncan Smith's need to crush those on benefits. I am getting really quite bored and yes irritated, by young public school educated writers, holding themselves up as champions of the oppressed, the  minorities and the working class. Instead of having these young writers build up their careers and journalistic brands on the plights of the issues faced by these groups in society, why are we not, instead, hearing from the people direct? Direct experience is key. And hearing about peoples direct experiences conveys a deeper truth that cannot be so readily challenged. What we have instead, is a profession - journalism - that is packed to the rafters with the public school educated privileged class, who somehow see themselves as the next George Orwell. They are not, for the most part, the next George Orwell. They are residing in the online equivalent of Grub Street. I do not want my articles mediated in this way. Please, can we have some more authentic voices? Caitlin Moran, who writes that for The Times, is one such voice. She makes no bones of where she came from, and because of that she writes with a truth that cannot be denied. People like Laurie Penny, in fact, make these issues that they write of somehow laughable. Like the zealot, they cannot conceive of all the shades of grey in between the black and white, I'm sorry to say that, in many ways their version of being on the left is only the opposite of those on the far right. And I'm bored of it. I think I wrote on here previously, that is the last time I thought about this issue, was when Radio Four invited a group of people on to discuss social mobility. It was obscenely ironic that the people they had invited on to talk about social mobility were people who have not had any problems in becoming socially mobile. So what we get instead is posturing and theory and straplines and  soundbites, and secondhand anecdotes about what it's like to be on minimum wage, or the dole. I really do hope that it becomes a bigger issue, this problem of privileged middle class journalists putting themselves up and building their careers as the mouthpieces of the people who should really be telling us directly. And to have the channels to do so. 

So this is my longest post in quite a while. But that's all for now. Hopefully the next time I post I will be able to say a little bit more about my play, although I can say that it is about voice, and the importance of it, and the importance also of not putting people in pigeonholes. 


Friday, 19 July 2013

Time to give up?

I've had to say adios to a play I've spent all week working on. And, actually, a good while before then making notes about, and thinking about what form it could take. There's a bit of hope that by letting go of it, it will somehow return to me fully formed, leaving me to just play amanuensis! But somehow each day has felt like a slog; yes, writing is a slog. But add to the mix this enervating climate everyone seems to have wished for all year, but is now moaning about, and the pressure of feeling that IT HAS TO BE DONE this week because I'm back at work on Monday, then it pretty much becomes a dead end. There are plenty of people who have written whilst holding a day job - pretty much all writers, actually; Terry Pratchett wouldn't give his job up as a Press Officer until he had seven novels published, so precarious is a writer's life and income. Juggling the day job and then trying to get into the creative mindset of 'another world' in the evening is something I haven't yet been able to do. I took heart when I listened to a Radio Eireann playwright podcast, who repeated something I'd heard previously - that once you've got the outline, one could knock out a play in ten to fourteen days. It's possible. I dunno. I've reluctantly parked it. I hate letting go of anything. You have to be a bit, no, a lot, of a neurotic and an obsessive to write, I feel. Most writers I know are that way. Maybe everyone is that way, but that writers - constantly feeling they need to get it down in writing - are just more expressive of it? Who the fuck knows. I just know that this play aint for now. And yet it's so timely! It's of the now. It is. But it's about racism. It's not as if it's some wishy-washy story that has plenty of wiggle room; it doesn't. Ho hum. Onwards.

The week before last a friend and I watched the recording of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, filmed at the Globe. I had wanted to see it whilst it played in the West End, but hadn't got a ticket once I got round to it. Stephen Fry wasn't the main attraction, but Mark Rylance. He is so incredibly subtle - not at all hammy. I so desperately wanted to see him in Jerusalem. Anyway, it was compelling and hilarious. An all male cast, it remained true to the original production. Actors in Elizabethan times were all males. And particularly in his comedies, it helps the audience realise that cross-dressing males would have been a huge source of the comedy; to have had women instead, would have totally missed the point. Although I feel it's different with the tragedies.

I also went and heard a discussion on immigration at RIBA. Facilitated by Andrew Neill, and organised by the Spectator, the panel comprised Ken Livingstone, Mehdi Hasan, Trevor Philips, and Peter Hitchens. I actually felt a bit sorry for Hitchens; I felt that Andrew Neil was bullying him to try and get a few laughs. Hitchens comes across as bullied, added to which is the shadow of his eminently more loveable and more brilliant brother. I say that barely knowing the man, which is probably wrong. But that's the impression I get. The debate was a welcome event, I felt; the consensus was that there needs to be far more public discussions on immigration; on the levels of immigration that we've experienced over the past ten years especially. I've lived here since 1996, and I've definitely noticed it. My play touched, or attempted to touch on it.

Race was the 'thing' in Othello. I was fortunate to get a ticket to see it performed at the National, with Rory Kinnear. (I can never get over who his Dad was!) He was great as Hamlet, and no less as the Machiavellian Iago. The Iago figure was a pronounced trope of the Elizabethan era, I think. Censorship laws. Criticism of Elizabeth's reign had to be coded, as was the cause of Catholicism, banned by her father. Courtly conversations, too, had to be 'side spoken', like a shady scouser. I always get that image whenever someone is being 'snide' and having to covertly speak; of a Scouser selling knock-off gear in a pub. I doubt the Elizabethan court would have been much different.

Adrian Lester was suitably stately as Othello. It wasn't set in its original context, but that of the present; war in Afghanistan. Military meetings and kick-abouts in the base yard.

The person who stood out for me was Emilia, played by Lydnsey Marshal. An actor friend this week told me she's a fellow Mancunian. She has some solid form across formats - much more than Olivia Vinall, who played Desdemona. In fact, Vinall has done very little acting, so perhaps it's much more impressive that she played Desdemona at the National.

Next up will be at the White Bear in Kennington, another new venue for me and me mate. We're hoping for another 'Blavatsky Tower at the Barons Court Theatre' experience!

Maybe by my next post, I'll be able to say I've resumed my play, that it somehow worked out! Or not. Do I learn something different each and every time I write? Yep. I've learnt that it's all about process, not event. And each process is different. This week's felt like I was constantly in a maze, trying to jump up to get an overview, then once I thought I had stamped in my mind, I'd be lost again, and so I'd slump down and think 'fuck it', here I am - in a fucking maze. And feeling enervated at the same time because of the heat.

A writer friend this evening said 'stick with it', because he knows that's what I would say. The thing is, I taught creative writing, including 'writers on writing', and 'experiments in form' for three years, and do you know what? It makes it NO EASIER! Sure, one knows without doubt that it requires persistence, but apart from that... maybe it should also be about knowing when to let it go - even if I have to tell myself it's only temporary. And yet I can't not be working on something.

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Location:Mortlake

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A new age...

This coming Sunday I shall be forty. In some parts of the world it is old; spent. People in the UK can think it 'used' to be old here. But I'm not so sure. My grandmother had her seventh child at 40; a few weeks before her husband died. I have not experienced the need for a child. I think it's because I was the oldest girl in a family of seven kids! 'Mummy's little helper'. It was a role I was sometimes ok with. But also one that I often deeply resented. Being an older sibling in a large family can mean missing out on your own childhood; it also meant, for me, that I had never harboured any illusions or romance about the desperately hard work bringing up a child involves. And then there's the fact that I spent my thirties indulging myself in education and juggling work to help pay for it of course. And dealing with my own parents' premature deaths. My Mum would sometimes say 'wait till you have your own kids!' And then in the next breath 'there's more to life than having kids!' My Da never said anything. He never once dictated to us what our lives should be or contain. Having left Ireland at sixteen to fend for himself, his reasoning was that once one reaches a certain age, your life is your own. The only value he instilled in us was to never be lazy or a 'layabout'. He valued work above all else, just for the sake of it; he certainly didn't benefit financially from it. 

My twenties were, for the most part, a mess; a chaos of low self-esteem and a crippling self-doubt. Wanting answers - and looking to people to provide them. It was in my thirties that I fully realised that no one person has 'the answers'. I learnt to trust myself more. I had to try and overcome the fear of being strong, which I still often grapple with, although it's not something that most would guess. Learning to see oneself means I can now see more - identify with - more in others. But it's never 'done'. Life is a work-in-progress and always will be. Pain and regrets have never disappeared, but have faded, almost in proportion to the time spent learning new things, being in new situations, meeting new people; being in the world. I've learnt that it's not so bad to be angry, although I don't enter rage as much as I used to. My thirties were an awakening on so many levels. Not sudden and at once, but gradually. Growing into oneself. I read more than I did during any other decade. In my thirties I earned a BA, an MA, and a PhD. I had my first book published. I wrote a lot on a range of issues. I reviewed books. I revelled in becoming an auntie. I realised that the stronger I became the fewer men there seemed to be. Men have their fears too, of course, but whilst I can be perceptive and empathic, I can't do what used to turn me inside out during my twenties and try and be what they wanted or thought I should be. I became an atheist in my thirties through a long and weird and winding process. I also took up cycling, which I always feel good about. I also realise that I'm neither fully anything; left nor right. Although I have values.

So what do I hope for my forties? 

To have greater periods of time being grounded would be nice. Balance can often be the thing we glimpse as we swing from one extreme to the other. But these periods have grown. To continue writing, because the voice I found in my thirties needs more space. And because I have many stories to tell. About where I'm from; who my parents were; just because. To achieve more. I have always been achievement focussed. And I like it. To learn more; to question more. To listen more. To jut be. 

Forty is cool. Besides, what's the alternative?
Saturday, 6 July 2013

That was the week that was

To Soho Theatre on Tuesday evening to see Address Unknown, a short epistolary play about two old friends and their relationship when one leaves US for his native Germany, whilst the Jewish Max remains. Beautiful set design, comprised two offices. As soon as I realised they'd just be reading letters to and from each other I frowned and sighed. But it maintained a compelling pace, with a few well-placed peaks. What I found striking were some of the parallels with today; of 1930s Germany and its austerity and collective shame and guilt from the First World War. The UK has never, it seems, been more aware of its colonialist past and the consequences of it. Even David Cameron has apologised for some things. But in eras of austerity, one often finds growths of extremes - on both sides of the political spectrum. And so from this mood Hilter, the failed and thwarted artist, came to power, offering the people a sense of pride and purpose. And a scapegoat. Towards the end it felt a bit like the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but this play was adapted from a much earlier text. I recommend it. The only gripe - yet again - is allowing people into theatres, even theatres as laid back as Soho, after the play has begun!

Last night I returned to Soho. First we stopped off for an early bite at the Groucho. I hadn't been there in a good fifteen years. I was twenty-five then. Sigh. I went for the twice-baked goat's cheese soufflé, which was heavenly. My friend had the sea bass with fennel. For pud, I went for the poached peach, which I was a bit disappointed with. For some reason I had expected it warm, like my own delicious (better!) baked peach! Friend had the incredibly indulgent Eton Mess, which I helped her with! We returned up the road to Soho Theatre to see David Baddiel try out new material on the nature of 'fame'. I met him and his partner, Morwenna Banks, at a party years ago. Not that he'd ever remember. Although he recalled to us many a party anecdote featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was very funny. I loved that he talked a bit about Peter Gabriel, who I've always loved. It was an intimate, sometimes vulnerable set from Baddiel. It was more of a funny essay on the nature of fame; that tricky thing that to which so many people aspire. And prominently features Twitter, which was a very good touch. And then it ends with a clip of his daughter, singing. Beautiful voice. 

Tomorrow I'm off to the Tricycle cinema to watch the film of Twelfth Night, which starred  Mark Rylance, and Fry as Malvolio. Preceded - or followed by - a Q&A. 

Only a week to go until Othello at the National. 
Friday, 21 June 2013

Plays. Plays. Plays.

I thought I'd at least mentioned, in a previous post, one of the plays I'd recently watched. But it seems not. Recent theatre evenings include Amen Corner at The National, Marie-Ann Jean Baptiste's first UK appearance since Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies. It was an uplifting performance all round - from Marie-Ann as the Pastor of a run-down church, to the live band who I had not even realised were playing just behind the main set, to the gospel choir parts of the play. It is, ultimately, the argument between spirit and religious conformity. Originally written by James Baldwin. 

I was also astonished by Blavatsky's Tower, which was performed at the lovely intimacy of Baron's Court Theatre in Kensington. Astonished isn't the word. I admit that most theatres I've ever been to have been the major players: Donmar, National, Old Vic, et al, but rarely had I been fringe or 'off-fringe'. Blavatsky's Tower had me riveted in the scarily cohesive performances of the Blavatsky family, holed up atop the Tower of the title, designed by Blavatsky Snr. 

I then went to the Tricycle for the first time, which is a bit shocking when one considers that I lived in north London for more than a decade. I saw Bracken Moor, my first 'spooky' play. Joanne Woodward gave a standout performance. The play centred on the death of an only child, a son, at Bracken Moor. 

This week I got to see Disgraced at the Bush Theatre. Disgraced won the Pulitzer for Drama last year in America. And it's not hard to see why. Writer Ayad Akhtar has written a concise, sharp, unflinching play about an American 'secular Muslim', who had changed his name to fit in. The naïveté of his white American wife, Emily (Kirsty Bushell) is tormenting, and his subsequent downfall is on her ideals, which she later admits were naive. It was so incredibly infuriating. So too the outraged responses of the liberal elite representations in the play, in the other form of a Jewish art dealer Isaac (Nigel Whitmey), when protagonist Amir admits to feeling just a little proud that Muslims were responsible for 9/11. Abe, a name that automatically brings up Abe Lincoln, is Amir's nephew, who has also changed his name and who later embraces his Muslim heritage to the point of being arrested by the FBI whilst drinking coffee in Starbucks. It's a truly astonishing play - and I related to different aspects of the feelings explored; of feeling one's repressed ancestry in one's bones. It's had brilliant write ups too. I'm sure it will have to move on from the Bush Theatre - as perfect as that theatre and its environs are - to the West End. As we all filed out of the theatre and onto the bustle of Uxbridge Road, no one could have failed to notice the sharp divisions between many passersby, young male Muslims in their traditional dress, and us - the white liberal cultural elite, despite my saying to myself, but I knew how Amir felt! I got it! It needs to be required watching, I feel. 


Sunday, 19 May 2013

Carnie and others

I know. It's been a while since my last post. The cause is the writer's usual; the day job. But also it's the weekends I've spent writing the introduction to this September's re-issue of Miss Nobody, by Ethel Carnie. It's exciting that it will be published on the centenary of the original publication. I was in the British Library's Newspaper Library in Colindale last Saturday, reading through back issues of The Woman Worker and the paper she and her husband, Alfred, edited - The Clear Light. Below is a section of 'adverts' from one issue, which struck me in their verve and immediacy. And to think it was written in c1908! 

Anyway, I think I've finished the intro, which I sent across yesterday to Carnie champion and series editor Dr Nicola Wilson, of Reading University. Nicola also wrote the introduction to This Slavery, the re-issue of another of Ethel's novels. What I would be keen to see published is a collection of Ethel's journalism. Roger Smalley is set to have published a biography of her, which he wrote in 2006 for his PhD, and which I mined for the section of Ethel in my own PhD thesis. It's all astonishingly overdue. 

In other news, I've yet to finish mapping out the 'Book of Joan', the oft-started, oft-abandoned book on my Mum. I have lost count of those to whom, having related snippets of its draft contents, have said 'you must write it'! And yes, I must. I sometimes question whether it's residing too much in the past, but given that I am able to even consider writing it at all means I'm very much in the future from where I was, if that makes sense? To be 'in the past' would, for me, signify a paralysis of intention. And there's always the old adage of to know where you're going you need to know where you're from. And my Mum's book will serve many important feminist and class-based considerations that are still hugely relevant. 

I have also been thinking about turning my PhD novel, part 1, which is the contemporary element, into an e-book. Nothing to lose, etc. And it would mean that it isn't just confined to my bound phd, which I see every time I open my cupboard, where it now languishes.

What have I been reading? To be honest I have struggled to read the TLS every week, and the LRB has fallen by the wayside. I will renew my LRB sub. I let my London Library membership lapse. One needs to be able to visit regularly to get the most from it. I have been keeping up with the New Yorker though. I like it, natch. New story every week, and some good reports. As well as the cartoons. 
On my 'must buy' list are novels of
James Salter, as well as The Mussel Feast, by Birgit Vanderbeke. 

A couple of weeks ago I caught the George Bellows exhibition at the Royal Academy, which was very good. He was part of the 'Ash Can School'. Greater realism etc. He died in his early 40s from peritonitis. I read yesterday that Sherwood Anderson, whose work I have never read, also died from it; although much older, and because he swallowed a toothpick! 

The Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain next month will make the headlines; cue articles on his seeming penchant for young girls. 

More anon.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Call for papers - Miss Nobody Centenary

This one-day conference marks the 100-year anniversary of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s first novel, Miss Nobody, published in September 1913. Widely believed to be one of the first novels published by a British woman of working-class background, Miss Nobody marks a rare and important intervention in the history of working-class women’s writing and publication.

To mark this event Dr Nicola Wilson at the University of Reading is seeking papers or short presentations on any aspect of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s life and work. Also welcomed are papers looking at Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s literary and political contributions in relation to other working-class women writers and political movements of the period.

Please send abstracts (max 250 words), contact details and brief biographical details to Dr Nicola Wilson, University of Reading at n.l.wilson@reading.ac.uk by Friday 28th June 2013.
Saturday, 23 February 2013

Miss Nobody

A little while ago I was delighted to be asked by leading Carnie expert, Nicola Wilson, to write the introduction to a reissue of Ethel Carnie's Miss Nobody (1913). I now have the text to Methuen's original publication. It would seem that the British Library have lost its only copy. The importance of Ethel Carnie to English literature cannot be underestimated; she was this country's first working-class female novelist. Her achievements throughout her life are extraordinary, given the unlevelled playing field for women and more so for working-class women, which remains the case in literature.

Nicola initially made contact in response to a piece I wrote on Carnie for the Guardian's books blog, in response to a piece championing the 'overlooked' Sylvia Townsend Warner, by acclaimed novelist Sarah Waters. I argued that, far from being 'overlooked', Townsend Warner, like many of her middle-class writing peers of the time, had enjoyed incessant championing - particularly by the Virago publishing house.

I am not sure what reception Miss Nobody will receive upon its reissue, expected to be September this year, but I - along with others - will undoubtedly be active in drawing attention to the novel - and to Carnie.

I came across Carnie almost by accident when researching the critical element of my PhD. I became particularly interested in her use of the romance motif, and how working-class women in her era could ill afford it. She also pointed to the feminism of the working-classes - the cry to have the freedom to have some fun, which was sadly lacking in the lives of women up until the Education Act, who would have begun work from the age of seven onwards and barely have stopped until they dropped dead, exhausted. And, more importantly, the freedom to be able to stay at home and spend time with their children instead of having to rush back to work. And yet this is not the feminism or history that we are left with. Most know only that the middle class suffragettes fought for 'equality' for women; equality to vote; equality to work. Working-class women had 'enjoyed' the 'luxury' of work for centuries. And they had much political agency within working-class movements, such as the Chartists.

And yet, in our twenty-first century, it is the issue of women (and men) being unable to afford to give up work to spend time with children, that has become an increasingly urgent issue.
Friday, 1 February 2013

Toibin

The last time I took a week off work I immediately came down with a nasty little cold. I've been off work this week. Yes, I also came down with a nasty little cold. This time it has been worsened by also moving home. The morning after my first night in new place I felt like I had been pummelled to within an inch of my life - and yet wasn't sure what was cold and what was the result of lugging too many boxes up and down stairs. There has been some reading though. I borrowed The Empty Family, a collection of short stories by Colm Toibin, from Kew Library. I know I mentioned it in the last post, but I have to say again how bizarre I find living in a borough whose libraries all seem intact.

I like Toibin; Brooklyn was a master class in concision creating depth of feeling. I couldn't get into his earlier work though, like The Heather Burning. But The Empty Family is back to the longing; portrayals of those who have lost love - before that sounds incredibly dated - Toibin manages to both evoke a long Sunday before shops were open - and our contemporary era. In one story, powerful telescopes can easily focus in on a wave curling on the distant sea - in another, an ageing film set designer is perplexed and nonplussed at the same time, at the rebellious reaction her order-barking receives in present day Ireland; she, a product of more obedient times.
The prose is so finely crafted that it makes me appreciate just how difficult writing, really good writing, is. Which is probably one of the reasons I've not yet cracked on with my own work-in-progress.

I have finally finished the first draft of a book review though, which is something. I think I just always need firm deadlines - although they are not needed when my natural enthusiasm is awake and the writing is more pleasure than pain!

But I do have a cold. And I have moved home this week. And that's enough to be getting on with. And if you're looking for a good tea shop in Barnes, go to Orange Pekoe. I only had a cup of fresh ginger and honey in there today, but their tea menu is extensive; black, green and white.
Saturday, 26 January 2013

Butchering the Big Fat Irish Butcher

It took me a long time to venture into my small local butchers in Kew. I had the idea that it would be all organic and out of the price range of most normal pocket-books. Like the organic store facing it, where a tin of organic beans can be yours for twice the amount of a tin from the Tesco Express, just a few doors down from the butcher. But, like many supermarkets, the butcher does a brisk(et) trade in the rotisserie chicken at a fiver a pop. The shop is so small that the small rotisserie, a narrow silver cabinet, is perched outside by the door, so that the juicy aroma reaches those commuters who emerge from Kew Gardens station, calling them to abandon their own oven for another day. Why make life more difficult, the waft seems to convey. It was this that finally called me in. And I was comforted, if a little disappointed, to observe the dearth of the organic fancy massaged-cow range in favour of all things butchery normal. Save for the shelf full of homemade liquid stocks at a few quid a jar. Or the few trays of medleys of meat on sticks in the main display cabinet. The rest were pies, waiting to be shoved in the oven and passed off as homemade; a mere technicality. But as I walked home this afternoon, library book of Tobin's short stories 'The Empty Family' borrowed from Kew Library (no closure in this affluent enclave I see, despite the main Richmond Library just a 15-minute walk up the road one direction, and East Sheen Library in the other direction), and collected my cooked chicken for two days worth of weekend eating (roast chicken salad and maybe a risotto), I felt a pang for the Irish butchers of my youth.
They are still there; the big Irish butchers, whose counters groan with ham shanks (hocks, these days), legs of lamb on hooks overhead, big bowls of whitened tripe in brine ready to be baked in milk and onions, mint-marinated lamb cutlets, dishes of mince, plates of plump bloody lamb, calves, and pigs liver, adjoining the piss-tanged kidneys that Joyce's Bloom would have been proud to fry, joints of pink pork - and the stock in trade - capons and chickens. I always recall the two or three seats by the door, where the older Irish and Caribbean men and women would rest whilst waiting for the queue to go down. Or a small child, chewing something sweet whilst mindlessly kicking their legs against the chair legs, staring at the sawdust on the otherwise immaculate floor. Me, perhaps, before I was old enough to do these butcheries on my own (9,10). I remember once my Da returning home on a Saturday, to where we lived in Hulme, armed with a cow's brain. My Mum opened the front door and threw the thing out, unwrapped, onto the communal veranda, telling him she wasn't cooking that bloody thing - tripe was bad enough. He'd have brought it back in and boiled it up and at least partook of it. He was ofally ambitious, my Da. He'd grown up with an old Irish abattoir butcher for a father. Just like his fatger before him - Edward Webb, born 1841 in Mayo - occupation: Victualler. Cousins, from whom the late Irish football player, Ted Webb, who died tragically young, still have their branch of the Butchery business 'Webbs' of Ballyhaunis, Mayo. Had I ever got the opportunity to persuade him to London, he'd have been in heaven at St. John's in Clerkenwell; although he'd have balked at the prices of its renowned offal dishes.
These Irish butchers would also have shelves of dried goods, showing off Kimberley biscuits, Gypsy creams, Nash's Red Lemonade. My Da would - a few times a year - bake his own Irish soda bread - which we ate cobs of, warm with Irish butter melting and melted in. Heavenly.

Next to the Irish butcher would always be the greengrocers. Rows of collies framed with their dark green leaves, like sunflowers; my Mum loved cauliflower; she would say it aloud whilst she or myself would break up the florets ready for the pan, stealing a few to munch on raw 'I love cauliflower, me,' she'd say, just in case anyone disbelieved her munching away. I too took a liking for raw collie. Why it was then boiled for too long is anyone's guess. There'd also be the darkest green savoys, a deeply pungent earthy counterpart to a boiled salty sheet of bacon ribs, or chunks of ham shank, both comforted - and the tastebuds neutered briefly - by the humble spud, often bought by the 55lb sackload, which my Da would carry on one shoulder from the greengrocers on a Saturday, before heading off in his good suit to the bookies, and then his second home of a small Irish pub, whose walls were adorned with portraits of Michael Collins - and the jukebox would ring out the rebellious lyrics against Maggie Thatcher. Oh, the days.
Saturday, 12 January 2013

American Justice at Arts Theatre London

I made it to the opening night of Richard Vergette's tautly written 90-minute play, American Justice last week. It moved to Covent Garden's hip Arts Theatre following a well-received run in Manchester (with a different cast). Seated in the front row we, friend and I, could see the whites of the actors eyes and every minute facial expression, which added to the tension. The talented and versatile David Schaal was, for my money, the anchor of the play. Playing the part of the Republican anti-a-rab Obama prison warden, he guards the young Fenton, played with conviction (pardon the pun) by Ryan Gage. Fenton, illiterate and full of rage, is serving life for the murder of Democrat Congressman Daniels's daughter. Gage excels at facial expression: rage, fear, mistrust deeply etched.

Daniels, it seems, was swept into power because of his highly-publicised forgiveness of his daughter's apparent killer. Yet it's not enough for Daniels. He also takes it upon himself to educate Fenton, whilst having ideology clashes with the warden, (the only book he needs if the Good Book / electric chair etc). But is the forgiveness all it appears?

Daniels, played by Peter Tate, had the weakest accent of the trio; it kept slipping, which was unfortunate, and yet he did have the lion's share of the lines.

I learnt that Schaal's character, the warden, hasn't existed in previous runs, and whilst it is now easy to remark upon how that seems impossible having not seen the play without his character, I truly cannot imagine the play working as well without Schaal. The warden brings the vital anti-Democrat confrontations needed to keep this Obama-era play energised.
I found it telling (but of what I'm not yet certain) that the two plays I have seen this week (Julius Cesar at the Donmar) had both utilised on-stage screens to act as CCTV monitors in their respective prison settings.

What also made American Justice at the Arts Theatre most refreshing was the young audience.

American Justice is only on until February, so get booking.
Sunday, 6 January 2013

Julius Cesar - Donmar Warehouse

Phyllida Law's all-female production of Shakespeare's Julius Cesar made a big impression. From the opening scene, full of potent power as Cesar (Frances Barber) emerges, and followed by her coterie of acolytes. These women, dressed in the garb of the contemporary prisoner - grey joggers and black Reebok Classics - filed onto the stage with the lopsided simian swagger of the street. I made the mistake - or perhaps not - of reading a few reviews beforehand, a few main ones being lukewarm, which readied me with lower expectations. One national declared the all-female cast couldn't compete with the (innate) power of the male performers for whom Shakespeare would have had to write. To which I can now say 'utter bollocks'.

Julius Cesar: power, ambition.

These are not - essentially at least, if not culturally - the exclusive domains of men. This production ripped down the veil of reverence that the overwhelmingly male dominated crews, canons and cultured crowds have held over Shakespeare through the years. A dusty patriarchal inheritance from the Victorian era.

But Shakespeare was not about reverence.

He wrote his plays to be performed for pennies in front of pits of bun throwing drunks. And when he wasn't doing that he was writing beyond the Elizabethan censors - not for them.

This production stops about half way through, openly revealing itself as meta-Shakespeare - a bit like when Charlotte Bronte stops Jane Eyre's story to address the reader. It is, then, a performance also about performing Shakespeare. And in many ways. Intertextuality is rife. Just like Shakespeare. It veers off the young main drag towards the mash-up. And succeeds. It goes from the blades to the machine guns to the pistols. And from techno to something sounding like heavy metal to a lone harmonica behind an imaginary camp fire. Shakespeare, Law seems to be saying, can be anywhere. And everywhere. Most of all, in a women's prison, where who makes Queen B is a matter of life and death; honour, even.
The only thing that struck me as perhaps taking it one step up the radical ladder would be to have feminised the language. She for he. Cesar as woman; Brutus, all. I feel it would have rendered that step closer to what most women know to be the power within themselves. I don't mean the power as realised - but the power that is aspired to in the vengeance we cook up as surely and as detailed as any war-time strategist man is capable of.
The performances were brilliant. Frances Barber owned her status and prisoner attire. But Ishia Benson as Casca stood out, a Yorkshire accent bringing the dialogue a greater degree of vitality than one would expect.

Monday, 31 December 2012

The last of 2012

I won't be doing my annual round-up because I just haven't been as culturally connected this year; the joys of being too busy with the day job. And I'm not sure if I even did one last year. My previous post did, however, name a few 2012 faves. Today I spent a few hours sorting through hundreds of books - paperbacks mainly - ready to be recycled. For years I've been unable to part with any books unless they were great and I wanted to pass on the odd one of them to friends and family. But today I figured, just keep some of the ones I've not yet read and a good few shelves of those I really want to keep. And the result so far is seven garden-sacks worth of books waiting to leave me. And I've still to go through another six or seven shelves worth. Having to cull books forced me to focus on the space that they take up. No bad thing, to have books around. But it seems something of a vanity to have hundreds of them, getting dusty, and never read or even referred to. They were just sat sitting there. I suppose it is also a sign of the times. I have a fair few now on my iPad. And then there's the library. Those that are still open. I suppose not wanting to part with the lion's share of the books was also about not wanting to let go of the studious life I led for over eight years, and which commenced properly on New Year's Day 2003. The day I became a non-smoker.

The books, you see, replaced the fags!

And a useless 'relationship' that was never going to go anywhere.

I say giving up the cigarettes had one real effect - it pumped more oxygen to my brain. It made me think more constructively. This led to saying goodbye to the aimless years-long fling. And this led to the first degree. Then the second. And then the PhD. As if I didn't have enough on my plate holding down either a full-time, or two part-time, jobs at the same time. I didn't stop. And whilst I'm still very busy, it's different. And I still have a book I'm writing. But it isn't all consuming. And yet this worries me a bit because writers are wedded to their works whilst writing them! And it's a book about my Mum that needs to draw on real feeling! I'm hoping to set back to work on it in 2013 though. Although I don't mind if I don't get it finished next year. Easy does it, but do it. And have some FUN!
Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Towards the end...

And yet there is no end. Only towards the end of a man-made calendar year. My favourite band of the year was Alt-J. And so it was gratifying to then see them nominated - and then winning - the Mercury Prize for Music. I told myself that I had picked the winner! Or that my trend-setting taste in music was perfectly aligned with the music industry 'experts'. My favourite app of the year has to be FlipBook; it opened up a new world of brilliant design, art, and technology that I probably would otherwise have missed out on. Favourite book? I started so many and failed to finish them. I struggled to connect with literature this year. I did, however, enjoy William Boyd's Waiting for Sunrise. And I was blown away by King Crow, back in the summer. Theatre wise I love The Last of the Hausmanns, starring Julie Walters. And was sore to have missed out on Rylance in Jerusalem. Film wise, I was moved by Nostalgia for the Light, which I blogged about. And really liked Skyfall. And I adored The Master. I am now also a fan of the New Yorker cartoons, although not reading the magazine as intently as the first few months of my sub. And I haven't been using the London Library enough to warrant renewing my membership. So it's onwards, still psyching myself up to resume my work in progress. It will need more emotional commitment. Just waiting for my reserves to kick in.
Sunday, 9 December 2012

Scribbler fatigue

I'm tired of writing. Jaded, even. How to move forward to a new and reenergised state? I'm writing the Mum book again and I have the opening scene. I also have lots and lots of fragments, from my last rough draft, as well as from previous attempts at mapping my life with her. But it's bloody hard. It's a slog, writing, in a way that it just wasn't when I began to write more seriously, over ten years ago. Perhaps it is meant to be this much of a slog. I think one has to feel compelled to it, for sure. Every phrase I pen, every sentence, is filtered through a cliche, alliteration and everything else meter. The thing with alliteration is that I like it. I'm digressing.

The usual round up of recommended books are doing the rounds. My favourite book of the year would be King Crow, I think. If that was this year. You see, my finger is nowhere near the pulse. I shall shuffle away, in the hope I have something more interesting to say on books and writing before the year is out.
Sunday, 18 November 2012

Up the Elephant

Tramping the streets of south east London for the past two weekends has given me more, vital, intelligence about London - my adopted home city of the past seventeen years. Myself and a friend have been looking at what could be potentially possible - at a push - as a property purchase. I apologise for the p alliteration - perhaps I should add that most of it so far has seemed like one big piss-take as we have trawled through the poverty of pockets of south-east inner London. If London are the trousers, then these are not even the pockets, which are deep and baggy, but that which we find at the far corners: the old tissues and detritus.

What could be had for £250,000 - a quarter of a million pounds - in this capital of ours? Try a council flat in an eyesore of a block on a monster of an estate just minutes walk from the Elephant. And not just a monster of an estate, but an area that holds totalitarian type block after block after block of utter depression. All off the Walworth Road: Bethwin Road, Tiverton Street, up beyond the East Street market. These blocks. Like nothing I had ever clapped eyes on. And this is someone who grew up a stone's throw from the delights of Manchester's Hulme Bull-Ring and Crescents; they were dwarfed in comparison; made to look, in the confines of my own memory, almost genteel. The only phrase that is lodged in my mind as I play back the sights is 'what fresh hell is this?' And there had been people in these who had bought under the right to buy, and were now selling their little flats, for anything upto 250k. An estate agent, Hugo, with floppy hair and a weak stomach for smelly flats, told us that, with a couple of the worst and uninhabited blocks soon to be demolished, the area's private homes would increase in value. And it was remarkable how, the value of a flat could suddenly, from one street - still overlooked by one of these high-rise, wide-widthed - shoot up thirty grand. Another told us, in an area just minutes away on public transport and posh in comparison though still only 'on the up' that the markers of the area being thus were the decreasing fried chicken shops in favour of the deli. In one of these areas, nice and perfectly liveable though feeling a little cut off despite being in zone 2, which in south London is akin to zone 4 or 5 in west or north of the river, thanks to the lack of the tube (a blatant discrimination if ever there was one), we found a deli. Run by what appeared to be a gay couple, this little middling-class hipster-foodie haven felt like a parody. It was as if the area's 'up and coming' could breathe a sigh of relief as they congregated in communal comfort and consolation to survey the labels of micro-brewery ales and organic wines; partaking of the free wifi as they sipped on their skinny lattes and nibbled on home-made Scotch eggs, surrounded by displays of local honey. I noticed that the labels of said honey didn't advertise the demographic of the honey bees; perhaps local meant derived from hives that were hidden atop the Elephant & Castle shopping centre itself, just as the overly-monied had the hives atop Fortnum & Mason. Or even some industrious council tenant had them buzzing away on the roof of a Bethwin Road block? That little analogy could easily apply to the megalithic and monstrous towers, off the main drag, but from which comes our city's hidden workers; the stokers - worker drones - of those parts of our lives we'd rather not face. The cleaners, the chicken shop workers for those late night stops in dodgy neighbourhoods for cheap fried food that will, when we come to, shame our drug and drink addled minds far more than not knowing the name of the person you'd woken up to. It is true that many of the inhabitants of these estates are not native in that they were not born here. Yet it has to be sheer desperation that has people - families - having to take these places. The right to buy in such conditions, however prosperous it has made those few tenants who bought feel, is not just a piss-take and parody of late capitalism, but another blatant mugging of those who also work hard, and who may have originated from similar beginnings, now priced out of a bloated hideous market and desperate to get a foot on that increasingly wonky ladder. And yet who would feel only that life has pushed them beyond backwards.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Blindfold / James Bond

I'm reading The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt. I read her great novel, 'What I Loved' in July 2008, whilst staying for a week in the Ribble Valley in the aftermath of my Mum's death. The Blindfold is nowhere near as long but just as intelligently written and structured. I'm not far from the end and it reminds me of an edgier Bell Jar, by Plath. Mental illness of the main woman, a literature student, is the story - or is it the Jungian 'creative illness' in which she seeks, through male cross-dressing to exemplify Freud's theories of male envy?

I went to see the latest James Bond - SkyFall - last week and I loved it. It was nowhere near as sexist as its predecessors, thanks to director Sam Mendes, and of course the writer, whose name escapes me, but who co-wrote Scorcese's Hugo. I also detected much anti-imperialist subtext - or was it a reconciliation with an imperialist past? One line goes something like. 'we don't fight countries any more - it's individuals we need to watch' - hinting at the leftist internationalism and multi-culturalism that was a main trope of Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony. Can these two great collective cultural events - the Games and the new James Bond - serve to more firmly turn the tide of collective consciousness than a few twitter campaigns? Or did these two events merely respond to it?

Both events were London, though. And this weekend I am playing tour guide to my niece and nephew's first visit to their capital. The cousins - Keenan 8, and Kya, 7 - whose fathers are my younger brothers (twins) - will have their three aunties, myself and my two sisters, for the whole day. We shall be doing the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, a boat up the Thames (the best way to experience London) to Greenwich and the planetarium, then back downriver to Tate Modern to see some Jackson Pollock, who my nephew likes. Kya likes most art, it would seem, standing or sitting and looking up at huge pictures, shifting her head at different angles as though listening for the secret language. I realise that, as an auntie, I write a script with them, one which helps to determine their own, and that they will choose to have with the children in their lives when they're adults. More anon.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Bits n drabs

So, it's been a little while. The day job can be all consuming. That doesn't mean that I'm not writing though - I felt satisfied with what I managed to get done over the weekend. And despite my time being seriously limited, I'm actually writing more slowly on the work-in-progress. I watched a documentary the other night on Edna O'Brien. She said that she thinks a book will take her two years to write - but it's more like four! And that made me feel less anxious about my current pace.

I am also reading in bits and drabs; fits n starts. There was a great story in the last issue of the New Yorker: The Simplica Girl Diaries by George Saunders.

The current issue of the LRB features yet another poem by August Kleinzahler. I don't like his work. And every time I see his name I sigh. Sorry, August, your work is just lost on me and it elicits no emotional response.

I can't say there are any books around that I feel I must be reading either. I've never been one for Hilary Mantel, although I sense I would like her as a person, so won't be rushing out to buy her Booker winning 'Bring up the Bodies'. I only managed to get a third of the way through Wolf Hall.

And Rowling's The Casual Vacancy doesn't sound like my thing, although the themes are appealing; the reviews and what have been extracted reveal a prose style that wouldn't push my buttons. I never read Harry Potter. I don't do the crossover thing, although I have toyed with the idea of reading Blyton's Malory Towers series, which I loved growing up. But maybe that's where they need to stay.
Onwards!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Blogacy - for my nephews and niece(s)

I have sometimes wondered what will remain of me in the memories of my nephews and niece (and another on the way, courtesy of my sister). The aunt who lived in London who sent us books, and every time she visited, or we visited her, took us to a museum or a gallery - and always banged on about learning. And politics. That one.

I have sometimes felt it would be nice to write a little book for them, charting their family tree from the Webb side (and the maternal side of course). But then I realised, they may have this blog; this will be my blogacy!

To them, I bequeath my web words.

Regarding books. Read Orwell.

Start with Animal Farm then move onto Down and out in Paris and London.

Or not.

Try Jack London's The Star Rover, especially if you ever find yourself in prison.

If you need identification for how you feel, or if you're going through a hard time, faced with homelessness, destitution, despair, divorce, death or just plain old alcoholism - pick up a good novel - if you don't find reassuring identification, you'll find escape. How do you know if a book is good? Read it. In time you'll be drawn to themes. As long as you don't develop a taste for novels where everything ends happily ever after - they're bullshit and are responsible for creating much misery. Aim for the diverse and the interesting and the subtle and the ones that are not formulaic. Or not.

There'll be times when you can barely open a book let alone read. Try a few lines of poetry that can help you conjure up an image. I picked up Bernard O'Donohugh's selected poetry yesterday whilst on the tube and meditated on the one feeling, the image of 'In Ireland, the rain's eavesdropping on the silence'. Develop a feeling for the poignant. It will provide you with reassurance that you are human. And humane. And sometimes that one poignant image, which doesn't have to come from a book, but could come from the most mundane aspect of daily life, will have you welling up.
Cry. The tears will save you. They are good.

Although if you find yourself crying all the time, and for no reason, seek help. And take regular walks. And remember to eat good food. By good I mean wholesome. If you want to eat a bowl of porridge with a big dollop of honey on for dinner then go ahead; the only rules are the ones you choose to accept. Or tolerate. Food shouldn't be one.

And then read some comedy. A bit of Spike Milligan.





Location:Kew

And Henson

I've been trying to ward off a cold. I knew it was inevitable when people in the office began sneezing one after the other. I bought First Defence, but I still got it. And I've been supping echinacea, for what good it does. I ended up leaving work a little early today, feeling somewhat dazed and a bit faint. Unable to face the bus from Ealing Common I ended up walking the three or so miles home, telling myself that it was doing me good. I had a quick peek in at Gunnersbury Park, an expanse of unspoilt autumnal greenery with dashes of brown to mark the strewn conkers. A solitary jogger doggedly dragged his curving frame around a never ending lap. I must venture in for a cycle.

I'm in a fallow reading period after my little glut of The Lighthouse, The Twin and Nightwoods. I've not yet returned to Canada; unable to face yet more of the same. It needs a hefty cull of the old verbiage. Opened beside me is the Granta Book of the Irish Short Story. I also opened the member's magazine posted from the London Library, an institution I'm not making enough use of lately. It includes a feature by Nick Drake on being one of a
group of creative and scientific types who sailed out to the Arctic to see the results of climate change. This iced territory has had a hold of the imagination of writers for many centuries. Some of my favourite novels are based here. There, rather. I was surprised to learn of Matthew Henson, a valid contender for the first explorer to reach the North Pole. How does one define explorer given that the Eskimos staked claims long before - or that's it - anyone else hasn't felt the need to stake claims. Henson, a black American who died in his eighties in 1955, had been part of Peary's expedition. The feature mentions Henson's walk-on part in Doctorow's brilliant Ragtime. And yet it hadn't registered with me. Maybe I should do a bit of re-reading.



Location:Kew

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Getting the muse when we can

Every week is busy when you're working full-time in a demanding role. So it was perhaps no surprise when I woke up later than my average weekend lie in yesterday morning, missing the first week of a writers group that I had meant to go to. It didn't stop me from spending the rest of the day from writing on my work-in-progress though; the muse was there, after a hiatus. And so too this morning. So all in all a fair bit done.
I had coffee with the editor of a trade title last week, for work, and we ended up chatting about how we keep the creative flame alive outside of work - which is the test for the vast majority of writers, artists et al. We take our muse where we can - as long as it's on the weekend! I feel quite drained now though, which tells me I've done enough on the WIP to warrant a rest until next weekend.

I'm currently reading Richard Ford's Canada. It's a good read. But there's a lot of it; a hefty cull it could have used! I've learnt though, that my own writing could do with a slower pace; not too slow though; Ford repeats certain feelings and thoughts which I feel are unnecessary.
This wasn't the case in Alison Moore's Booker short listed title: The Lighthouse. A bit of an odd ending, but she manages to get the pace just right - and in doing so the novel could be seen as verging on the novella. But f that's how the story fits, then that's how it fits.
The London Review of Books current issue has a new poem by Hinglish poet Daljit Nagra, and this week's TLS one by Glyn Maxwell.
Till next weekend, then.


Location:Kew

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Regrouping

A few weeks ago I decided to let my work-in-progress hang for a while, which would give me time to settle into a new job, and allow me the distance to see the half-cut first draft anew. I still haven't looked at it, but in a couple of weeks I shall be joining a new, small and nearby writing group. This group is different from your regular writing group in that it is led by an experienced published writer and teacher. I know I've taught creative writing to others myself and even have a phd in writing, but one needs considered feedback and I'm hoping I'll find it there. And it's small enough for the focus. A regular couple of hours on a Saturday should also serve to more clearly demarcate the working week from the weekend and help me become more precious - or more wisely use - my free time. However, whilst not writing I am reading lots. I finished Charles Frazier's southern Gothic 'Nightwoods', which was taut and dark, yet with the right balance of light. I'm also close to finishing Gerhard Bakker's 'The Twin', which is a real gem, centring on the middle-aged Dutch farmer, Helmer, whose aged and bed bound father is shut upstairs. The father-son relationship is uncomfortable, cold, and at times cruel. Yet there is enough to attach to, emotionally.

I'm also close to finishing the first half of a manuscript by a man who has a real gift for description and emotional insight into his characters, and I hope, no, I'm sure, it will find a publisher. I'm racing ahead with both.

On my to-read pile is also the Booker long listed 'The Lighthouse', by Alison Moore, as well as The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story, which includes work by many of the great Irish writers, John Banville, Roddy Doyle, William Trevor, and Joseph O'Connor.

Today I also bought the new work by poet Christopher Reid, 'Nonsense', which I'm expecting much from.

BBC's iPlayer now allows users to download programmes, instead of just watching them online. I had no idea there was a programme called My Life in Books and downloaded it. It featured the luminous 91-year-old PD James, and the rather puzzling radio presenter Richard Bacon. But more confusing for me was why the inanimate-faced Anne Robinson was chosen to front the show; she offered no bookish insight, and whenever she gave the noddies, I just kept on expecting a withering and yet unintelligent put down. This is the book show dumbed down; barely scratching the surface of anything remotely meaningful.

Location:Kew

Friday, 24 August 2012

School's Out

It's the last Bank Holiday weekend of the year. Suddenly I feel determined to squeeze the marrow out of it; mostly because this week saw me start a new job, and after a week of meeting lots of new people whose names I'll have to be reminded of for the first few weeks, this 3-day weekend gives me time to recharge before the bull is grabbed by the proverbial. There's lots to do; when is there not? Anyway. I shall be spending tomorrow in St James's Square in the concentrated bookishness that is the London Library; writing; re-immersing myself into 'the book'. There's also a lot I want to read. Can I write 10,000 words AND read Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station, The Prophet by Michael somebody, Junky by William Burroughs and the new Alice Munro short story in this week's New Yorker? Oh, and meet a few friends lest I'm considered an impossible loner? Doubtful. I also had the urge this evening to re-read Orwell's Down and Out in Paris & London; such a wonderful book. It's better not fall into the trap, though, of expecting too much of myself this weekend, which will only defeat the purpose of it, but to slowly, leisurely, take it as it comes.



Location:Kew

Friday, 17 August 2012

Memoir and Iceland

I have made good headway on the memoir. I made a schoolgirl error this week though when I sought approval on where I'd reached by sending it to a literary agent. Her response, whilst friendly enough, made me question the entire thing; being questioned on one's endeavours is not a bad thing - but when you're not even halfway through the first shit draft, it is positively dangerous. I am now viewing it through her eyes, and my subjectivity has become diminished, which does not do for memoir. Or first draft of anything. I managed to plod on and do a bit more this evening but half-heartedly. I spoke to a good writer friend - she has read some of it, and she declared it to be the best thing I've written and that I must continue with it. Now it feels a bit like a big heavy bag of shite hanging above me. Will this feeling pass or can I push myself beyond it? I don't know. Maybe I need to look at my own attempts at self-sabotage through the seeking of professional approval that can only itself ever be objective.

It is hard, this writing bollocks; one has to feel the need at a core level, and I must, given how much time and energy I've devoted to it over the years. And then despite telling myself it's arrogance on my part, one can't help but note some of the stuff out there that gains recognition; some of it is absolute dross.

I may. I might. I must.

On the reading front, having been bowled over and winded by McGahern's Amongst Women and his Memoir, I turned to The Dark, the novel that was banned in Ireland when it was published. I found I couldn't even get through a third. Perhaps it was McGahern overload.

Desperate to get sucked into another book I picked up another from my 'bought but haven't read' pile and turned to Charles Frazier's Nightwoods. But it hasn't stuck yet. I bought Notting Hill Edition's 'Questions of Travel - William Morris on Iceland' with parallel commentary by Lavinia Greenlaw, ordered very quickly for me by my local: Kew Books. It's fascinating so far. There's no great heaviness - maybe that's why I feel so drawn every so often to 'cold climate' literature. That it represents both a clarity and a freezing? Morris first went when his marriage was 'in disarray'. It is on his second visit there when his 'spirits rise when he finally gets a hit of strangeness in the form of an extreme barrenness that he hasn't encountered before'. It is in the defamiliarisation or the unfamiliar (different concepts but the attraction or renewing ability presented by both is the same) that he needed; the sense of awe and wonder that can 'heal' a jaded spirit. He admits it when he says 'it was no idle whim that drew me here, but a true instinct for what I needed'. I shall continue and may post more anon. If I don't get utterly consumed with renewal of purpose on the memoir!



 

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