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Showing posts from August, 2007

Politics Into Culture

Politics Into CultureA Conference to celebrate the centenary of Christopher Caudwell.When:     Saturday 20th OctoberWhere:    Charity Centre, 24 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2DPAdmission:  Apply for a free ticket by sending SAE to Marx Memorial Library, 37a Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU
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My new novel, A Clockwork Apple, is inspired by A Clockwork Orange, surprise surprise.  I find it interesting that Orange is described as 'abhorrent', which is rather too simplistic and such a knee-jerk reaction.  Here's a list of more novels from the world of dystopia, some of which I have read, The Handmaid's Tale is fantastic.  I have never been able to get in and run with Huxley's A Brave New World though.  Once I have my MA out of the way I want to read them all. 
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Recommended Autumn Reads

The Observer has another list! This time of recommended reads for Autumn - my favourite time of year, the time most suited to curling up with a book and a hot cuppa.  From the list I shall be looking at Fidel Castro, My Life, Edited by Ignacio Ramonet, Jonathan Coe, The Rain Before It Falls (Viking £17.99, 6 September), Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Capitalism (Allen Lane £25, 20 September), AND Peter Gay, Modernism: The Lure of Heresy (Heinemann £20) 1 Nov - A survey of the movement that extended from Baudelaire to Beckett - and beyond.Click here to check out the Observer's recommended reads for Autumn
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The wilting writer

It was scorching today and, like some become down and lethargic in the grey weather I am the opposite. I hate the heat. It is always easier to warm up than cool down, and I write better looking out of a window with a steady stream and tinkle of rain. I am truly of these isles. I do not suffer claustorphobia but I imagine my discomfort of the heat is like being trapped in a confined space. Anyway, I woke early, determined to have a productive day of editing my novel. I started the day with an iced coffee and the Guardian, then to catch up with a few friends, then onto gym and swim. By early afternoon the heat had me frazzled and of impending migraine. I took a couple of painkillers, but it persisted. I did some shopping, watermelon, grapes, hot weather nibbles, but still it harangued. I took another two painkillers then, when I returned home tried to nap for an hour. It is still there, but not as sharp as it was. Needless to say I have only, in the past hour, managed to beg…

Want to be a writer? Read this, nothing if not depressing.

Funny how this 'don't do it' always seem to come from regularly working writers! Yes, it's hard, financially, emotionally, mentally, possibly even spiritually, but........ but what? I don't know. If you need to write then you just will, regardless. But I do have to agree on the 'don't give up the day job' thing. Terry Pratchett, apparently, didn't give up his job as a Press Officer until he had published seven novels!

Tony Wilson mk II

There have been two Tony Wilsons to come from inner-city Manchester. One went on to be known as Anthony Burgess, the other remained Tony Wilson, sometimes trying on Anthony H Wilson for size before shrugging it off as unnecessary. The former gave us A Clockwork Orange with Alex and his droogs; the latter gave us Shaun Ryder, the maracas shaking Bez, New Order and loads more. The former stayed in Manchester to study at university, the latter left Salford to go to Cambridge, yet he returned to Manchester, the faithful son who did his family proud. The Tony Wilson who became Burgess went to Malaya and hardly again ever ventured back to the city of his birth. They both created culture worthy of cult-status, yet only one became known and loved as Mr. Manchester. And he was the one who died this week aged just 57, unable to afford the £3k per month for life saving drugs on the NHS. Belinda's blog:

Oh come friendly books and fall on Slough TravelLodge

On the Guardian website this morning I followed a link to a blog on how a hotel guest in France found, not the usual Gideon bible, but a collection of short stories. How divine is that? Can you imagine Slough TravelLodge doing that? What titles would they offer? A collection of Betjeman poetry, perhaps? Any west end hotel in London could have Orwell's Down and Out in Paris & London - the guests would never feel the same way about the goings on of the staff down t'stairs ever again. Read the story here

Cultural Materialism

Needing to really get under the skin of cultural materialism, and how it differs from new historicism I came across these clips from Marvin Harris, the man who coined the term, cultural materialism, in the anthropoligical context (as opposed to Raymond Williams literary/Marxist context). They are incredibly dated but interesting, and the clip on cults and protestant fundamentalism rather timely. Also had me thinking what a good idea it would have been, instead of schlepping all the way into the uni lecture theatre, just watch a clip from the net instead. That way the speaker can be rewound, and fast forwarded. And paused.

Clips here

Review - What was Lost, Catherine O'Flynn

I remember when, last year, I read Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go I gave up halfway through and complained to someone that it wasn't emotional enough, that I wasn't that interested in the characters. And they replied 'it's meant to be like that, that's the whole point'. I wasn't convinced. And, reading What Was Lost, I'm of the same mind. It took me a while to get into it and I kept tripping up over too much repetition, banging points home again and again and I kept thinking, 'maybe it's meant to be like that, that's the whole point', what with it being about day to day monotony of alienated labour and lives. I really got into it halfway through - I began to care about Lisa, one of the central characters. However, by the end I have to say I felt unsatisfied as a few loose strands were clumsily brought together in an attempt at a big bow. I love reading about urban alienation, but this didn't quite cut the mustard. I've yet to rea…


I feel like I've been working on my MA dissertation "The Unheard Voice of the Working Class Woman in the post-war Novel" for yonks. I feel like I have totally lost the ability to read it, understand it, and develop it. Someone at work yesterday asked me if I ever 'suffered' from writer's block. I was in the middle of writing something for work. I thought, and realised that, actually, no, I haven't. At least not in terms of my own creative stuff. But this dissertation? Yep. Blocked. I can't change the topic now either as the proposal for it has already been submitted to the university. Maybe I should do what I sometimes do with the first draft of a creative piece, put it into a box with a lid and leave it alone for six weeks or so. Except that I don't really have six weeks to leave it for. I should be doing it NOW. This minute. Well, not quite, I have work to do as well. You see, now it's becoming this huge pressure. I *should* just go to the B…

All change!

When I first wrote A Clockwork Apple I did so almost in a frenzy and rage about a lot of things. When it found a publisher I was happy, of course I was, someone was as enthusiastic about it as me! But then, after a few weeks I thought, 'shit', and that's when I began to get scared.

I have heard from other writers that writing is like giving birth - some mean the writing, others mean the whole process of publication, even more mean both. For me the writing was the fun part. But this part - shall we say the gestation period, is hard and scary. It's littered with 'what if's' - what if I'm discovered to be totally crap like that little voice that sometimes succeeds in telling me? And then, when the publisher asked me to submit for editing the version I was happy with I put my fears into action by totally re-structuring the novel and changing lots of stuff. Besides, I didn't want it to be seen as an adaptation of Burgess' Orange, but as being…

What was lost

I tried to get into the Per Olov Enquist book, The Story of Marie and Blanche. I gave up after only a couple of pages but I will try again. I seem to have much higher expectations of Scandinavian writers, as if they should all be a profound combination of Ibsen, Hamsun and Bergman, which is like expecting all British writers to be a combination of Shakespeare, Dickens and Ken Loach/Mike Leigh, which is quite ridiculous. Anyway, I am more than halfway through a Boooker longlist title, a debut novel by Catherine O'Flynn, published by the admirable Birmingham based Tindal Street. It was interesting for the first ten pages but then hit a boring patch in which much was repetitive. However, before I was half way through am now firmly into it. Based in and around Green Oaks, a shopping centre, I can feel the monotony and alienation of both centre workers and shoppers. The author has drawn strongly from her own experiences working in music stores and the lives and thoughts of Lisa and Kur…

The Bronte's should be 1,2 AND 3!

According to UKTV Drama, who carried out a survey of 2,000, Emily Bronte's WutheringHeights is the most loved love story. Austen's Pride & Prejudice and Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet came second and third. However, if the judgement had been mine alone, Jane Eyre would have been second and the much under-rated Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall third; Austen could make do with fourth. The Brontes were experts at conveying the passion that lies seething within a bleak backdrop, which is no surprise, considering where they grew up. I also have a theory: I think that the Brontes 'wild' nature (wild compared to their peers and the earlier Austen) was due in part to their Irish DNA – Marxist literary theorist Terry Eagleton referred to this in his paper, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, meaning the Irish famine. Could Heathcliffe have been Irish, coming in as he did into Liverpool? The Brontes father was Irish, and wasn't Bronte, but Brunty. …

When is a novel not a novel? When it's On Chesil Beach!

This year's Booker longlist has been announced and Ian McEwan is the only well known name. However, his.... book... is it a novel, or a novella? I don't know what the word count is but it's significantly shorter than the standard novel length. And the Booker entry requirements do stipulate that the competition is open to 'full length' novels. I have always been under the impression that that means 60-65,000 words plus. A novella begins at 20,000 words and the next down in size is the short story.

Another point to consider, can a novella be 'rightfully' marketed as a novel and charged as such?

Anyway, back to the Bookers, you see how easy it is to get distracted from the actual content of the titles and their contents? I haven't read On Chesil Beach, in fact I've only read one of McEwan's, and that was Saturday, which was a very good read, but not great. The bits about neurosurgery didn't do it for me! I also didn't like the condescension o…

Apple, anyone?

A Clockwork Apple poured out of me in its current form after many attempts to write the same story in a more traditional social realist manner. What I found, no, felt, was this constantly nagging feeling of insubstantiality - social realism was not cutting the mustard. Perhaps because it only lends itself really well to the lives of the middle classes - despite what Georgy Lukacs said about realism being best to write the lives of the working class and highlight 'the struggle'. Why? Because the middle classes (a very broad definition) spend so much of their time with convention, being, as they are, the instigators of it.

They also gave birth to the novel - the rise of the novel runs parallel with the rise of the bourgeoisie, and therefore it has, in many ways, always been their form. The working classes have taken instead to mis-lit and memoir and, of course, the 'telly', specifically the soap opera.

In my MA paper, the subject of which was The Unheard Voice from, and of…

Class War

Referring to my earlier post which asked whether Shakespeare could be read in Manchester reminded me of an important point cited by Alan Sinfield in Literature, Politics and Culture in Post-war Britain. He said that: ...from 1958 Basil Bernstein developed the idea that middle-class children were socialised into an 'elaborated' language, working class children into a 'restricted' one. (p.257)
Is this still relevant today, now that we are, according to some, all middle-class now? It has never been more relevant. It is one of the reasons why Burgess's A Clockwork Orange' and it's own mish-mash vocabulary is still a cult classic. If working class kids inherit a more restrictive language then it makes that much more interesting the tendency for working class kids to create their own language. This language is quickly absorbed into the mainstream media keen to speak to and capitalise upon today's 'yoof'. This moves onto another question - why are the w…

Shakespeare in Manchester

Having come, and converted to Shakespeare as a mature student in London I was able to ponder whether or not I would have taken to his works so enthusiastically had I remained in Manchester. I'm not just talking about whether, had I never moved away, I would have studied English Literature as a mature student, but, if I had, would I fave FELT the same way; would I have had the same revelations, interpretations, structures of feeling? I wondered this, and continue to do so every now and then because I remember, not so long ago, saying to my sister in Manchester, that I didn't think I could have got into it on anywhere near the level that seemed to be just right in London. I think a lot of it is due to the fact that I grew up in the turbulent inner-city, and so the question expands to 'can anyone get into the profundity of Shakespeare whilst growing up in a tough inner-city area?' 'Of course!' many people would reply, loudly. But I'm not so sure. Things that n…

Emma Hardy and writing for the self

Tomalin's biography of Thomas Hardy is also about the life of his wife, Emma. She comes across as an eccentric, socially ambitious but socially awkward woman. She wanted to be a writer, but her ambition and desire far outweighed her ability. She had a few bits and bobs published, but as Mrs Thomas Hardy, and not, it seems, in her own right - or write. It must have been hugely frustrating for her. How does 'one' know whether or not there is a talent for writing? Talent is relative; it changes, usually according to the dominant cultural values of the middle classes. I suppose the important thing for Emma Hardy is that she continued to write, regardless. Whether or not it started for herself it must have ended up for herself. And perhaps that ending point for so many is the true starting point.


I can't remember which book it was referring to but I recently read about the opening paragraph of a novel, described as shocking, or some other word, because it said something like 'I fucking hate my mother'. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was working on the idea of a history of a mad mother, and this is the opening paragraph of the first draft: It was my mother's funeral. Nice day for it. A cold snap in the air that made black gloves advisable, but the sun shone in a single concentrated ray. It felt like bathing in an Icelandic spa. Not that I have. I bet you're wondering whether I shed a tear. Well, no, I didn't. It did occur to me to force it for the benefit of the few others present - bit I couldn't be bothered, really. It would have been too much like trying to shit gold. I hated her. But you'd probably already guessed, right? From the age of two she had routinely, and without any effort, smashed each and every myth attached to that holier …


Reading is just as important to a writer as writing itself, and reading as a writer is learning to look at the house of fiction not by the initial admiration of it's look, but at the bricks and mortar with which it has been built. One of my favourite reads this year, so far, was the outstandingly constructed Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. The painstaking construction of the vastly differing narratives didn't reduce my ability to get engrossed in the stories, and how they interweaved was magical. In fact., reading Cloud Atlas forced me to question some of my narratological prejudices. I have always claimed not to like science fiction but I enjoyed this element in Cloud Atlas. Another title that challenged my readerly prejudices was A Clockwork Orange. I had seen snippets of the Kubrick film and was in no way attracted and thought the book would have nothing to say to me. However, having to read it as part of my degree I couldn't have been more wrong. Within half a page I wa…

Work in progress

I have several wip's, one is centred on the history of a mad mother, the other is The Carousel, which is on an advanced draft and should be ready in a couple of months, and the other is a more experimental novel based on five men in prison. I have done a bit of work on the prep outline, but am already wondering whether it would be too much to take on. I have no plot ideas for it yet, only a narrative objective and framework and a few vague ideas; perhaps it could be the personal and collective journey of the five men. I seem to write a lot about groups. A Clockwork Apple is centred firstly on alex and her gang, and then on the group based work at rehab. It is, of course, obvious when considering that I have six siblings. Groups come naturally, but in a way that makes solitude valued and yearned for. It is far too hot today, which I never write well in. I am also reading Tomalin's excellent biog of Thomas Hardy. It is now clear how and where the inner rage and sense of personal…

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