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 email@example.com by Friday 28th June 2013.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Today is my birthday. Thirty-nine; I have begun the last year of my thirties. I did nothing out of the ordinary. Received lots of lovely messages and then got on with geeing myself up with iced coffee and tackling more of the Mary Burns rewrite. It's coming along, it really is. It's even developed in a way that I hadn't envisaged. So, onwards, as they say. One film that's getting net unanimous five star rankings from the critics is the Chilean documentary film 'Nostalgia for the Light', which I may have to fit in tomorrow.
On my way home this evening I popped into Kew Books and read first page or so of Vargas Llosa's The Dream of the Celt, based on life of humanitarian and Irish nationalist Roger Casement.
There's also Kitty Aldridge's 'What I Learn from Dead Men', about a young man working as a trainee in a funeral home, yet dealing - or not - with bereavement at home. There's also 'Joy' by Jonathan Lee, about the attempted suicide of a corporate lawyer on the day she is about to be made a partner in the firm. There is also 'Dirt', by David Vann. So much to read, so little time. Mind you, sometimes I make do with the reviews in the LRB or the TLS or the New Yorker - though more often than not the Guardian. It gives me a feel for what's out there. I will have to write, though. I'm pretty sure that Per Pettersson also has a new book out, but not managing to finish To Siberia and After the Wake, both of which came after the sublime 'Out Stealing Horses', that maybe I shouldn't bother. I'm also awaiting news on new books from Ian Holding and Paul Harding, authors of Unfeeling/Of Beasts and Beings and Tinkers respectively.
Maybe on Sunday I will visit the Munch exhibition at Tate Modern, which aims to represent the late Norwegian artist as achieving more than just The Scream(s)!
The writer Adam Thorpe is in the Freelance seat in the current TLS, recounting when he included a poem in a new selection by the late John Fowler, which turned out to be by another poet!
Hugo Williams has a new poem in the TLS too, 'I Was Like', and I can't help but think/feel that his time spent on the dialysis unit is paying poetic dividends as he includes the idiom 'I'm like...' as the few trips to the hospital each week bring him into sustained contact with all manner of dialects, yoof speak, and all-round characters attempting to act their way out of their realities. Williams's poem includes: 'When I hear the knock/I'm like "this is it".' He may feel like he's ageing rapidly on that dialysis unit yet his words are sounding younger an more, like, vital. D'ya get me? (Not his words!)
However, the literary moment-of-being for the week has to be another poem in the TLS, Paul Batchelor's 'Brother Cole'. I was right there, in each line, each image, each feeling of each well-placed alliteration: 'My childish heart sinks like a falling flare'.
I shall have to keep it. It's a returner read, alright.
Secondly, I am still reading the book on fairy tales, but was swept up yesterday in The Life of Rebecca Jones, by Angharad Price and Lloyd Jones. It is a simplistically beautiful account of a Welsh farming family in which three of the sons are blind. Because of this they receive better educations, with Rebecca and and a seeing brother staying at home to work on the farm. There are moments so simply rendered and yet are bursting with poignancy, like when the father takes his two blind infant sons in the horse and carriage to their first school in Rhyl. We are told he doesn't get over it. Having come from a similarly large family myself, in which three of us went into children's homes, and when we were much younger, all the then five of us, it is my Dad's reactions to it all that has served as the my personal touchstone of that deeply private, and yet silently shared sadness that sits within like a fat teardrop that never moves. In Price & Jones's book the prose, which captures the much slower, harder and yet more poetic way of life, we are confronted with the satisfactions of living by the farming calendar; the seasons. I shall maybe post more when I've finished it.
Thirdly, the current issue of the New Yorker has a good piece on Hunger, A Writer's Apprenticeship by Mavis Gallant. It charts some of the time she spent in Barcelona in the 1950s; living worse than hand to mouth.
And, finally, the current issue of the Times Lit Supp has Hugo Williams in the Freelance seat, holding court on how 'need' has replace the 'shoulds' and the 'have to's. He's on fine form.
More anon. I'm still rewriting. Slowly. I'm listening a lot to Alt-J, Regina Spektor, and Sibelius.
It is a marvellous script from debut playwright and seasoned actor Stephen Beresford; to have a debut play staged at the National is no small achievement. The dialogue is sharp and hits a regular beat and the characterisation couldn't be faulted. The audience loved it. The comedy achieved the a tone that made way for a poignancy that lingered after the final curtain.
The winds up on the Downs were, in the first hour or so, quite wild, making the long grass dance back and forth; the clouds were fast moving, as though the sky was still looking for somewhere to fix its blanket of shade.
Wye is a tiny village, having given the world the 17th century woman playwright and author Aphra Behn. (A short piece I wrote on Behn a few years ago can be found on the Guardian website/books section.) It was a short walk from the station to the church, from where I found the path that brought me to the bottom of a footpath, alongside a field, that steadily inclined up to a forest.
I sat and admired the view before entering the forest, ruminating on how the Red Riding Hood fairy tale was such a fixed part of my own psyche - that and the odd news stories proclaiming attacks and bodies found in England's idyllic forestry.
I also recalled an image of a forest surrounded by black and yellow police tape, set up by an artist for an exhibition some years ago; a statement on how violence was becoming synonymous with these wooded idylls. Yes, the chances are a million to one, more even, but I found myself staring into the dark wood - as though in a doorway of a haunted house.
Within a few steps I had chanced upon a heavy log and carried it with me as the new relay baton to be delivered once I had reached the finish line of safety. There was a steeper incline in the forest, adding to the pronounced knots of tree roots and sharp stones. I emerged onto a narrow road and passed through a kissing gate - eventually arriving above the landmark of the Crown; a chalk crown made by students at the turn of the last century for the then monarch's jubilee. I sat up here awhile and marvelled at the view of the patchwork quilt of greens. The weather forecast had said rain around noon - but not a drop came my way. Instead the cool and by turns warm winds were the perfect conditions. Another half hour and I had reached the Devil's Kneading Trough.
This was a majestic dip on either side, yet almost like a giant grass 'V'. I sat and ate my lunch here, thinking how fortunate I was to have come.
I wasn't thinking that an hour later though, when I took a wrong turn, ended up in a field of thistles and nettles, cursing aloud. But I retraced my steps and then took the country road the 3.5 miles back into Wye. All in all I walked for a good 3 hours.
And there is far more that I could say - like 'there could come the day, quite easily, when you lose your lovely chintz Home Counties home or your pseudo-bohemian house with its library of enlightened thinkers that are there for show only, that you lose it all because of your banker friends' rampant greed, and you could have a breakdown because of it, affecting your mental and physical health. Where would you turn to then? The Daily Mail? No, you'd want us - the rest of society and the state - to help you - those of us who vote Labour because of everything that Party and its predecessors fought for: an NHS to try and mend you and not leave you in the street, like is common in America; a few quid a week to buy some groceries with; and a roof over your stupid fat head'.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:The London Library
Having finished King Crow I am now loathe to return to I Know This Much is True. I have this week off, I'm glad to say, leaving me some precious time to get on with rewriting Mary Burns. But I won't be just stuck in front of a laptop. I've also built in catch ups with a few friends (it's amazing how one neglects these when working/travelling long hours). Wednesday I'm off to spend the day at the St Pancras Renaissance hotel's spa for a spot of rest and recuperation - sauna, swim, snoozing. Thursday may involve the London Library and cycling, and Friday will see myself and a friend heading out to Wye, the North Downs village and birthplace of Aphra Behn, for a six-mile circular trek that will hopefully provide clarity of mind and oxygen!
Location:Train from London to Manchester
Yesterday, after several weekends of feeling disconnected from the Mary Burns rewrite, I got into a stride. I wrote longhand - which I haven't done for yonks - and I ended up with sixteen or so pages. Writer's cramp is much more pleasing than writer's block. I'm hoping it will be as easy to resume this Friday. I have seven working days off from this Thursday and I need to get it into a fit state to resubmit. And then, this evening, as I arrived home from a very long day at work, I found myself with the opening paragraph of a book that has been jostling for space for a while. I tried to ignore it, but then realised I'd have to get the words down. So I did. So it's there, this hook, of another book. That rhymes. It rhymed better when I inserted the comma after hook, hence leaving it in. So. A bit of a catch up. More soonest. And just to say - Lionel Asbo?! I feel any respect I had for Amis the writer has flown out the window. The current LRB has also given the cover story - four whole pages (broadsheet sized pages) of text about him and Asbo. Aargh. Why?! We know why. But why, oh why?!
For those accustomed with the reputation of Boyd as one of the UK’s leading contemporary novelists, Waiting for Sunrise had much to live up to. Set in the years before and during the First World War, the book opens in Vienna, Austria. It is here that we are introduced to the main protagonist of Lysander Rief. A fashionable young man with a ‘sportsman’s build’ and ‘brown breeze-blown hair’, and a London stage actor, he is in Vienna to partake of psychoanalysis in order to cure a sexual issue before he marries the beautiful, intriguingly named Blanche Blondel. Rief consults an English psychoanalyst based in the Austrian capital by the name of Bensimon. This, of course, is Freud’s area – geographically and intellectually – and whilst the man himself has a cameo role, his shadow and his theories loom large over the entire story, creating a puzzling subtext.
However, there are clues.
The first has to do with Bensimon’s own theory of ‘Parallelism’, which involves rewriting or building up the narrative of a disturbing or problematic memory to one that is soothing and pleasant, thus curing, or coercing the neuroticism into the safe cover of an illusion; in other words, to create a fiction within one’s own personal narrative.
The second, I think, has to do with the sleeping draught that Rief seems to take throughout the story, and which we later learn, through Bensimon’s warning to Reif, can cause distorted realities, which again can be reduced into the fiction compartment.
The third is Rief’s role as an actor, performing under the shadow of his late, great, theatrical father; the obvious strand here has to do with the father and son theories a la Freud. However, there has long been a device employed with varying effects in the modern novel – that of what is known as the ‘unreliable narrator’; it is a device I believe that Boyd uses with aplomb. This becomes clearer when one realises that the clues of the story are all focussed on the fictive, and it is through that prism that I believe this book can best be enjoyed.
It is in Vienna that Rief meets the strident ‘New Woman’ sculptress, Hettie Bull, with whom he enters into a passionate and, for a while at least, liberating affair, through which it could be said he really finds the cure to his issue. Bull, however, is already in a common-law marriage with a possessive artist. Rief and Bull are discovered, which starts a chain of events that sees Rief fleeing Austria, using his skills as an actor to great effect. But the whole episode, whilst riveting, again raises more questions than it answers. Following a page-turning debacle, Rief finally returns to London, and to a kindly impasse with Blanche.
The periods of time spent in London achieve a strong sense of place and time, and those familiar with the areas surrounding the Strand will recognise the Embankment and the theatre-district. The settings, reminiscent of the later Hitchcock, evoke intrigue and plenty of twists and turns. These continue into an assignment Rief undertakes with MI5, which sees him move onto a sinister scenario in Switzerland. At the heart of this story is also Rief’s touching relationship with a ‘musical’ uncle, and a stranger one with his Austrian mother.
Waiting for Sunrise straddles so many genres – historical, romance, thriller, spy – and is all the richer for it. The book is highly recommended.
I bought a new bike this weekend - a cream Trek Allant, with a wicker basket on the front. It's much faster than my previous Trek Navigator - and lighter. I'm lightening up a fair bit lately. I've even splurged out on some lighter additions to my wardrobe. I can get stuck in a rut until I suddenly realise that the vast proportion of my clothes are dark and say little. I worry about spending money you see - think I should be saving all disposable income for a future deposit on a flat. But that seems impossible. So, I tell myself, spend a bit of money on clothes - update the bike - and maybe the next job will enable me to save enough to actually make a difference - save enough to at least make me feel that a deposit is somehow possible! One cannot just save, whilst living in cold, less than desirable rented rooms - it brings on despair too often. It's ridiculous, of course, that anyone working full time shouldn't have a suitable home. But that is the south for you. There you are. A little update. I hope to have a more bookish post soon.
Once I learnt the word 'ontological' I began to see it fairly often, as if it was a new friend who wanted to spend lots of time with me until the relationship faded into a passive normalcy; now, when we encounter each other, the salutation consists of little more than a nod. So why am I suddenly finding dangling modifiers everywhere? They're the troublemakers of language; sometimes they offer great comedic value, yet sometimes serve only to confuse and slip, slide all over the p/lace. The one I spotted today was in that august publication, the New York Review of Books. Aren't literary Americans supposed to have a greater anxiety around the use of the English language? That's if the reviewer in question, Ian Buruma, is American - or literary. Of 'Thinking the Twentieth Century', the last book by Tony Judt, created through a series of conversations with Timothy Snyder, Buruma writes:
'We even know from (Judt's) last book ... distilled just before his untimely death from a series of conversations with Timothy Snyder...' On first reading one wonders whether Snyder was so taxing that he caused Judt's untimely death! The notion is horrific, of course, and given that Judt's death is relatively recent, some may think pointing out such a clanger as that made by Buruma is one that should not be highlighted. But there you are. It highlighted itself. Does it say more about the dangler, the danglee or the dangled? In this case, the dangled, Judt, would probably have had a laugh about it. As Snyder should.
Location:Banyard Rd,Bristol,United Kingdom
He is lobbying the present government - having donated to the Tories - to allow minicabs to use bus lanes, which will defy their very purpose, become a greater hindrance to the buses, cyclists and the highly regulated, trained and self-employed black taxi drivers.
This is clearly a man who thinks that he can throw money at the powers that be in order to create far more for himself.
about it on Friday, and Beth Anderson, another cyclist, set up a Die In, which is taking place outside the AL offices at 6pm tomorrow (please do join the group on Facebook). I also put forward the cyclists case on yesterday's Radio 4 PM programme, in which Griffin seemed to backtrack (backpedal!) somewhat, yet who still wants to use bus lanes.
David Mitchell has also written a piece in today's Observer.
Ian Austin MP has promised to table questions in the Commons this week.
Our cause as cyclists is a simple one - we need to increase our safety, not decrease it. We are cutting carbon emissions in the process, much needed in our already badly air polluted capital, and we would love to see more people cycling!
Please sign the petition, which calls for the AL license to operate to be revoked in light of Griffin's anti-cycling, illegal anti bus-lane vendetta.
Location:Train to Kew
I like some contemporary conceptual art; it has made me think, but I've always felt Hirst to be distinctly lacking in talent. His work has never made me stop and stare - or think. It has not moved me in any way, except to wonder how many it does speak to. Spalding, of course, is not the first to proclaim Hirst as arch-blagger, although his remarks come as the critic gears up to promoting his book 'Sell all your Hirsts...' (that's not the full title, but you get the gist. Is Spalding engaging in his own spot of publicity-friendly controversy? Perhaps. He's long been described as a maverick himself in art circles. But given that Spalding has an established and hard-worked for career history in his field, including the achievement of many great things for Scotland's galleries, I have to doubt that he's doing this just to sell a book. The key phrase in the latter sentence is 'hard-worked'. Spalding hailed from a South East London council estate, winning a place to study art, and then working hard to move ahead in museums and galleries. Hirst, however, has not worked an inch for his 'art'. Instead, he has employed an army of poorly paid assistants to put dots on the mass-produced canvases, which in my mind make them no better than bric-a-brac; the real 'craftsmen' in Hirst's career history have been the abattoirs and others who have prepared the animals and put them into the tanks of formaldehyde. Nor can Hirst draw. That lack of tangible skill is not said to matter, particularly with conceptual art, which is analogous to those who can't sing but who still expect a number one, and who will get it if they have enough marketing behind them; but neither making or creating, or having failed to demonstrate any measure of tangible talent, makes Hirst a man only of ideas (and how many of those are his own?). His own ability lies only in self-promotion and giving orders to his workers.
I really am against this whole tradition of bosses getting workers to do all the work - workers making all the sacrifices - putting their own ambitions on hold because they have to pay the bills - which said boss then takes from them and declares it to be his own. And then throws the workers a few coins whilst he buys himself a mansion. In fact, it's obscene, and I hope that this is the next big con/scam that is tackled. It should have no place in the twenty-first century. We should be resalvaging the purpose and skill that is inherent in learning and trying to master a craft. I saw some of this hard-won craft and talent in last year's BP Portrait Prize, one can only guess how long was spent by the artist on each photograph, painting - yet out of about 100 exhibited, maybe one will be lucky to make it their career - despite the talent that far exceeds that of Hirst and his ilk. Some of them may even have worked for Hirst.
Koons, the American, is another. He has a team of around 300 painters in India paint his work for him. Koons places not one splodge of pigment on the canvas. Asked why he didn't paint them himself, he said it would take him tweety-years to achieve the skills of his chief painter! Has no one thought to tell him that's why his chief painter should be the celebrated one? It is exploitation, pure and simple. There are now many art collectors who insist on buying art works that have been created by the named artist. One can only hope that this increasingly becomes the norm. No, those who claim that the 'works of Hirst' and others who don't do the work themselves, are great and everyone else must be jealous, are usually those who then turn up their noses at manufactured pop and formulaic fiction. It is worse.
I slept until late yesterday then felt a tad guilty for 'wasting' half the day. I took myself off for a four-mile walk, along the river and up to Mortlake, and carried a bag of groceries on the way back, whilst listening to a radio 4 Desert Island Discs podcast of John Peel, recorded in 1990. He really was an authentic man by the sounds of it - his voice, even and bullshit-free. And when he said there were rock and punk records that he cried to, I could relate and I felt, as I walked (also trying to eat a jam-filled brioche bun), that I wanted to cry because in that moment I felt absolutely connected to what he was saying - and why. When asked if he knew why he liked certain music he said he didn't know. The feeling I got when he mentioned 'bursting into tears' at these records was a kind of grief mixed with a survivor's gratitude - a grief for lost childhoods when the buoyancy and feelings of power that some of the music evokes could not be expressed but had to be stuffed down - and the adult tears in full yet verbally inarticulate acknowledgement of this - mingled with absolute gratitude for knowing it. It was a lovely walk, accompanied by John Peel.
This morning I ran (and walked a bit) 3:14 miles around Regent's Park in aid of the British Heart Foundation. I did not enjoy it at all. I'm struggling with running - I'm finding it hard to accept that I may only get one good run for every three or four others! Oh well. I said I'd give myself 2012 to get running and that's what I'm doing. 2013, though, could well be a different matter.
Onwards. I've written a few pages. That's all I'm saying on the matter. One of the pages is full of doodles!