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Showing posts from April, 2009

The Post Office Girl, Stefan Zweig and Engels

Yes, I have immediately jumped from the end of Toibin's Brooklyn (the TLS have a review in tomorrow's issue) into rich, pampered Switzerland and poor old post-WW1 Austria in Zweig's now ubiquitous The Post Office Girl. The dense prose of Zweig - he really does labour over description a little too much - is something I'm finding a little tedious, and, dare I say it, I'm not even 50 pages in and I already know what's likely to happen. OK, not the specifics, but I know it's a cinderella turned tragic story. But I shall plod on. I also received yesterday the just published new biog of Engels, by the maddeningly young academic hot-shot historian, (a year young than moi!) Tristram Hunt, which I'm also looking forward to delving into. In an email reply he said that he covers the Burns sisters in greater detail than previous biogs - and it's something which I shall be holding him to.

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin

Despite being such a well-known, successful writer, Brooklyn was the first Toibin book I have read. And now that I have I will probably go and read everything else he has written. It doesn’t happen to me often that I read a novel and then want to read everything else by that author. It happened when I read Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, The Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee and the Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker. To say that Brooklyn was poignant would be an understatement. The prose is deceptively simple and as clear as the surface of the calmest water, but underneath whirls a seething mass of emotion.
Eilis Lacey is a young Irish girl who lives at home with her Mother and older sister, Rose, in Enniscorthy, County Wexford. The house echoes with the ghosts of not only her dead father, but also the several older brothers who had to leave in order to work in Birmingham. Yes, it's about the Irish immigration experience, but it is much more than that. This is the g…

Reading...

I say reading but I have only just taken them out of the bookshop bag and put them on the coffee table, they are Colm Toibin's Brooklyn (hb) and Stefan Zweig's The Post Office Girl (pb). Unsure whether I will get any decent reading time though because I'm also hard at work co-writing a screenplay. It's the first time I've collaborated on any writing project and I've often hankered after it, wondering what it would bring up in me, creatively. I think that, even if writers spend the majority of their working time alone, there's also that need, for me at least, to talk about what I'm doing, to discuss it, and talk about the writing process in general, with other writers. So far, at this very early stage it's enabled me to be open and vocal about my enthusiasm although I feel somewhat strange around opening up my thinking processes around writing to someone else. The story was his idea but I'm sure I've got the bug for it just as much as he has …

Reading...

I'm reading Firmin by Sam Savage.

J.G. Ballard dies

J.G. Ballard has died aged 78 following his battle with cancer. Ballard wrote one of my favourite short stories, The Subliminal Man, which, like a lot of his work, was eerily prophetic. The Guardian article here.

Reading...

I'm reading Charlotte Bronte's Shirley, which apparently popularised the name for girls as, before giving it to a female character Shirley was solely a male name! Shirley not! I've also had a great idea for a new novel - I think. It's been brewing for quite some time and then someone recently re-emerged and in doing so has unwittingly provided the missing piece of the metaphorical jigsaw, and so it could well now have wings. We'll see. I have so many other things to do, but whenever a story fans itself out it begs to at least be noted, and from there to be outlined, and from there written and re-written. Or just written until there's a natural end. I'm not yet at the stage where I can say 'this is my writing process'. Some plan obsessively before putting pen to paper, some just begin to type and see where it takes them. Onwards...

Easter weekend means more writing time!

I'm just coming to the end of a novel I began towards the end of last year. It's only 42,000 words so it's not like it's a doorstopper or anything. A little bit more editing and then I'll be sending out. It's called Duty Bound and focuses on the life of Judy Western, a 67 year old, her recently deceased husband, Howard, who has left her with a load of gambling debts, and her neurotic pot-smoking US ex-pat son who blames her for everything. Yet at the centre are passions and desires that have been repressed under the veil of duty. I'm quite pleased with it, I don't mind saying. And it's very different from A Clockwork Apple, about as different as you can get, really. That aside, I have also been busy with my Victorian novel, which I have renamed 'Mary Burns - Manchester Muse' - I haven't decided yet whether or not it sounds too frumpy and saga-ish, but it's an improvement on just 'Mary Burns'. Or is it? There's still quite…

The Street Philosopher

Offer me any book featuring almost any war, particularly one about which I know not a thing except the year it started and I will probably pass - having no interest either in the military side, or, even in those figureheads of helpful sacrificial femininity, this time, Florence Nightingale. The latter, thankfully, has not yet featured in Matthew Plimpton's debut novel, The Street Philosopher', the former, however, plays a starring role.

This was just one of many books positioned to appeal to the fans of popular historical fiction on the tables in Waterstones. Yes, the cover piqued my interest, and then the blurb. But mainly the fact that The Street Philosopher is set also in Mid-Victorian Manchester. It also helps that the Victorian era is something upon which Plimpton is an expert - an academic - and he succeeds in presenting a version of that era that does not feel stereotypically staid. He has alternating sections in the book, toing and froing from the Crimea to Manchester,…

Phillip Larkin and the TLS

This week's TLS has a lengthy commentary from journalistic 'veteran' John Shakespeare, who enlightens us on the control issues and neuroticism of Philip Larkin. Shakespeare was charged, in the 50s, with obtaining the first Larkin interview and, rather naively gave the 'poet on the threshold of fame' a preview of the copy. Larkin then proceeded to cut up and reshape the entire interview copy in the most control-freakish manner ever recorded! I'm guessing. What is interesting about Larkin is realising that he was banished to 'bedsitting' rooms until well into his thirties, whilst working as a librarian at Hull University, confiding to Shakespeare that he would like to 'achieve his two private symbols of luxury, "my own lavatory and a daily copy of The Times'. Surely an example of what even Oxford educated full-time professional workers had to put up with. What is also interesting is Larkin's like of 'finding out about other writers…

New Beautiful Book on homelessness

Here's a piece on a new novel from Richard Walker-Hardwick, published by Beautiful Books. The novel's main storyline is the experience of homelessness itself. Walker-Hardwick had previously worked in a hostel for the homeless.

Thomas Carlyle