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Showing posts from May, 2008


I spent half of yesterday afternoon in various bookshops looking for guidance! Because Harding's The Solitude of Thomas Cave, Gerard Donovan's Julius Winsome and Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses impressed me so much, as well as speaking to my need and dream of solitude and a simpler life, I finally found this: The Burnt-out Town of Miracles, by Roy Jacobsen. I have never heard of Jacobsen before but he is apparently one of Norway's 'most celebrated writers'. The one line quote on the front of the hardback cover simply delcares it to be 'A gorgeous and moving piece of writing'. I will post a review as soon as I'm through.

I also bought two new books by Marxist psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, Man for Himself, and Chains of Illusion.

What the f**k is all this swearing about?

During the 1994 Booker Prize Rabbi Julie Neuberger called James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late a ‘disgrace’. Simon Jenkins branded Kelman ‘an illiterate savage’. Even Welsh’s Trainspotting was considered too offensive by many. The main reason? Bad language. Despite the fact that swearing is more out of the closet it is clear many still give a f**k about swearing – for it or against it.
And Kelman is definitely for it. So why has he asterisked all the swear words in his latest novel, Kieron Smith, Boy?
To make a point, yes, but one he could easily have made by keeping the words intact.
I should show my hand before we continue. I f***ing love swearing. As a child my dearest mother would shout from the kitchen into the living room ‘you kids in there, stop that f***ing swearing!’ But I don’t believe it had much to do with growing up in Manchester. Remember the ‘Fucking Fulfords’? Lords of the manor all and yet every other word was an expletive. I remember that episode of Curb…

Choose life, choose radical...

‘Choose life, choose radical…’I find myself currently beginning many novels yet failing to finish them because I find them boring. It is probably because I prefer radical – in both form and content.By radical I mean something that wakes you up or something far removed from the mainstream, that is, they try to get to the root or origin – usually of a societal problem and has you asking lots of questions, including about fiction itself.

was radical, as were some of James Kelman’s works – pushing into the novel’s predominantly middle-class arena voices of council-estate addicts along with a Loachian rage of some of the apathy-stricken working-class.Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late must have been radical – and great – if Simon Jenkins used his privileged space in The Times to brand him an ‘illiterate savage’!Such a strong reaction is the best hallmark as it seems to come from fear of having ones ideas challenged.Even years later many of the old radicals, now considered clas…

Books on prescription

Patients across Worcestershire will be able to get books on prescription after NICE recognised the benefits of bibliotherapy. Story here.

Man Lit Fest and The Portico Prize

I've been invited to give a reading at the Manchester Literature Festival which looks like it's going to be really interesting. Who needs Hay? Horses, that's who! I'm only sore because I haven't managed to get there yet!! Details of Man Lit Fest here.

I've also been entered into the Portico Prize for writing set in the Northern counties. Details here.

A Clockwork Apple can be bought here and here. And all other good, and bad, bookshops. Reviews of A Clockwork Apple can be found at my other blog, here.



Today I began reading Mad, Bad and Sad - A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the present by Lisa Appignanesi.


Want to read

Earmarked for my To Read pile:
The Behaviour of Moths - Poppy Adams
Who Was Sophie, Claire Robertson


The Strange Case of Dr. Simmonds and Dr. Glas - Dannie Abse

I've been dipping into this strange little book on tube journeys to work and for half an hour most evenings for the past couple of weeks. It's rather strange reading matter for me considering my mum's currently very poorly in hospital! However, I have to say one of the reasons I chose it from my local library was because of the cover - it's a print of Chekov's Chair and it looked so poignant yet spare. Also because it is based on the old classic, Dr. Glas by Soderberg. Not far into the book it went back in time to a doctor, Dr. Simmonds, working in the immediate post-war period. It is set in and around where I live, Belsize Park and Swiss Cottage and one of the reasons I have kept reading is my fascination with this particular pocket of London during that time, especially the large numbers of Jewish people who arrived here and how the area changed in often subtle ways. But I have to say that Abse, a Welsh poet and himself a doctor, rather over-eggs it a lot of…

Should we keep on being told?

The past seven weeks, ever since my mum suffered a series of strokes after suffering the first last year, have been very difficult.  On Friday I had a call from one of her doctors to say that she had deterioriated in the past twenty-four hours and they thought she would only have a days left, at most.  I reminded the doctor that this was the third time to have been advised of this in the past seven weeks.  The first time I got into a panic and raced up to Manchester.  The second time I was accepting and prepared.  Now this, the third time, has got me thinking, 'and?'  It got me wondering as to what purpose it serves to be told that your mum is dying, not once, but three times?  It's in stark contrast to my Dad's death last March.  He had been in hospital for seven months and, whilst he was very sick, he was still sending my sister to the betting shop and keeping up-to-date on what horses were running and when.  So when I suddenly received a telephone call to say he had…


Get to LitCamp for a short, sharp, shock - for writers, publishers and agents. is, in my opinion, one of the best short story and literature sites on the web. It's where I had my first short story, Radio Gaga, published and paid for! It doesn't just have short stories by some great writers, both known and unknown, but also has a live lit section which details up and coming lit events and even details for competitions. Go check it out.

Compendium of Manchester

A compendium of all things Mancunian is the Tuesday book in today's Independent. Hate the cheap graphics of the cover, but worth a look. See here.

Jon Ronson meets 'Reverend Death'

Journalist, documentary maker and all round good egg (and ex-Manchester dweller) Jon Ronson has made a very interesting programme on Reverend Death, George Exoo, a Unitarian minister who aids people who want to die. I watched a preview DVD this afternoon - not a great programme to watch on a Sunday afternoon! It isn't terminally ill people who want to control their final days that he seeks to help die, however, but people who just want to die - I say 'just want to die' they are obviously suffering from severe depression and/or other mental illnesses. Exoo does not in any way come across as some sort of depressives saviour. He comes across as a dunderheaded American who thinks his purpose here on earth is to be an angel of death - angel being the operative word. He believes that the afterlife is such an adventure and that those suicidal are better off 'over there' anyway. Many of these highly vulnerable people are no doubt 'soothed' by the fact that Ex…

The Life & Times of Michael K

Julia Leigh has written in today's Indie on her book of a lifetime. It is The Life and Times of Michael K, by J.M. Coetzee. I read it about five years ago, wanting to read something different and not on the uni reading list after I had just finished my first year and it too made such an impact. So much so that I dug out all of Coetzee and read most of him during the summer of 2003 - Disgrace, Foe, Here Come the Barbarians, Boyhood, Youth, etc, (I haven't been able to get into the latest, Slow Man) and they were all brilliant, but The Life and Times of Michael K was the true gem that outshines them all and that alone made Coetzee, in my view, a nobel winner.

Sluggish and slogging....

Most people assume that the warm weather is loved by all.  But I find it difficult to deal with - it's my time for some form of SAD - seasonal affective disorder.  I don't mind slightly warm with breeze but to have it so bright and too warm is just far too uncomfortable and it brings on low moods, mainly as a result of my energy being sapped and making me feel too sluggish to do anything very much. 

I'm a Northern European and my bones and my skin are not made for this weather - and nor is my writing. So why, instead of escaping to the cool interior of the British Library's Humanities reading room, did I opt instead for my local, Swiss Cottage Library?  I knew it was gonna be a non-starter from the word go, really, and not just because it was getting warmer (people talk quite openly all the time and answer mobiles!) and because it is Camden's 'flagship' library it is all big windows, so during the warm weather it's like a greenhouse and during the winte…

Finished...The Secret Scripture

I've just finished reading Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture. It was sad, mysterious, poignant, beautiful, political, philosophical... lots of things. It brought up lots of things, in particular, the notion of memory, history, truth, authority and the questionable nature of sanity/insanity. It wasn't just another Irish cliche either, yet still managed to present a history of pre-war and post-war Ireland - a nation coming to terms with the questionable authority of the church. I second guessed a couple of things that happened, but was totally thrown by something revealed towards the end, and it had me. There are lots of revelations in The Secret Scripture but not in the nature of cheap plot twists and turns just for the sake of it. I loved it. Read more about Sebastian Barry here.


My mum's sister, who had been informed of my previous post in which I declared my plans to write my mum's story, just called to say that my mum was not 'sent away' after her father died, but at 13 years old, four years after.  She also said that my mum was not 'sent away' by their mother but by the authorities.  But those same authorities needed a document signed and it was my gran who signed it when her eldest went away, and it was her who signed the release paper seven years later.  It was not a compulsory sending away by the authorities but a voluntary one by the parent.  That is not to say that I am blaming my gran who died in 1990.  I am not.  I spent many a weekend at my gran's house as a child and I totally understand how difficult it must have been to have been left alone with seven children all that time ago, but I believe a story can be told as objectively as possible, without laying blame at people's feet.  It is naturally very difficult when…

The Secret Scripture

I've been going on about Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture so much I thought I'd post an interview with Sebastian Barry by Sean O'Hagan from The Guardian, which gives far more information than I could. You see, when I love a book, I really love it and want to promote it for them, not that they need it. I think I may even post a variety of info, interviews and reviews from the other titles that have captured my imagination so far this year.

Defiance - the best survival tactic

Firstly, I spoke to my mum's doctor this morning and he said they were more optimistic than they were a week or so ago.  He also said my mum was 'incredibly resilient'.  I call it defiance and it's a quality about her I now think is bloody amazing whereas before it was just a pain in the arse! I feel much more settled knowing that she's fighting these things off.  Secondly, I'm giving a talk and creative writing workshop next Tuesday to a group of teenagers in Brixton.  I have been told the talk will be very informal and I have already half-planned the workshop element but I'm still very nervous - teenagers are that strange breed of creature that, by and large, are strangers to diplomacy and if they are not impressed with the workshop I'm sure they will not hesitate to voice it!  If I wasn't nervous I'd be rather more worried, I think.  The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry is moving along at a nice pace and, as I think I said in an earlier po…