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Showing posts from January, 2010

The Saturday Poem

Today's 'Saturday Poem' in the Guardian Review is 'Turns', from the Costa award winning poetry collection, A Scattering, by Christopher Reid. I bought the collection earlier this week and just love it. From 'Turns' I particularly like the lines:

I know she's dead and I don't believe in ghosts,

nor that the house has been saving up

old echoes as rationed treats and rewards.


I'm dipping in and out of a few books at the minute. Have still got the Joan of Arc book beside the bed, along with new purchases, 'In-Gratitude and Other Poems' by Neville Symington (Karnac Books), 'Experiences in Groups and Other Papers' by W.R. Bion and the Costa winning poetry collection from Christopher Reid, 'A Scattering'. Note to self: Must get on with my own work.

van Gogh at the Royal Academy

I was at the RA for 9.45am today, and there were two longish queues - one for 'RA Friends' and the others who were buying their tickets. In the ten minutes we waited to be admitted (I was with an RA Friend) both queues doubled in length. van Gogh is a man whose life and work, it certainly seems, has maintained a hold over both populists and the arties in equal measure. Part of the appeal seems to reside in the tragedies of his life - the ear incident, the fact that he only sold one painting in his lifetime, even his friendship with fellow artist Paul Gaugin. It is almost as if he has to be accorded special status because of these things. Yet this special status is warranted in its own right; he was a gifted artist, maintaining that hold through his work alone - self-taught, his deep love of vivid colours has given him his own special place in people's imaginations. Thankfully, however, we are not in the habit of the Formalists and judge work by work alone, but see it in th…

Literary masters of misery

Yesterday the Indie on Sunday ran a great piece on the literary masters of misery. Cue Cormac McCarthy then. Today is also supposed to be the most 'dispiriting' day of the year! A friend I'm going to the cinema with this evening said to me that he's fed up of the slew of dystopic/apocalyptic films that are currently out - The Road, The Book of Eli etc... but I like 'em, as long as they're well done, which, alas, neither The Road or the dreadful Book of Eli was! Story here. He agreed on that.

Criminal-class voyeurism?

I'm off to see The Prophet in the next couple of days and as I liked director Audiard's The Beat That My Heart Skipped, and indeed, the premise of The Prophet. I'm going to see it regardless of the reviews I read beforehand. This, from The Times' Cosmo Landesman, in which he says he just doesn't get the predominantly rave reviews it has so far received, also asks important questions, like, if we go on about costume-drama fatigue, why isn't there the same fatigue of gangster films? He says: 'There’s something suspect about the way predominantly middle-class critics and festival judges delight in watching the criminal classes on the big screen. Such films offer a touristy trip into the lower depths of society.' Perhaps. Here's the review.


Off I went on the early morning train to Brussels yesterday morning in order to try and get a sense of place needed for the next part of my novel. It's weird how it takes the same length of time, on the Eurostar, to get to Brussels, than it does Manchester from London. Yet, whilst the train was packed for Paris last week, it wasn't for Brussels. I began with a coffee in the landmark Hotel Metropole on the Place de Brouckere, yet Mary Burns and Fred Engels would never have enjoyed a coffee here, for it wasn't built until the late end of the nineteenth century. Just around the corner from the Hotel Metropole was the English language Sterling bookshop - in a disappointingly modern building. I thought here, if anywhere, I would find a history of the city in the mid nineteenth century, but no, not even here, despite the very helpful and knowledgeable staff. What I did end up buying though was a book on Charlotte Bronte's Brussels - which is good enough - and goes over the s…

The Water Table, Up in the Air, and Brussels

The winner of the TS Eliot prize was announced yesterday as Philip Gross, for his collection, The Water Table. I went out and bought it today, not a bad move considering I hadn't even heard of him before, let alone read him. A brief leaf through at lunch-time brought the gem 'White Sheet' to my attention, here's the first couple of stanzas.

Note to self: might have to work
to break the beauty of white pages:
not much gets conceived
on an unsullied sheet.

Might have to sweat it a bit - not,
not in bounden duty but
with all ruthless lack
of circumspection

of pure play

Last night I went to see Up in the Air, with George Clooney. I didn't go with George, you understand, if only... It was a good film with that independent feel that so many American film-makers have adopted in the wake of upbeat successes like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine etc. It wasn't just a rom-com either, which is not a genre I would ever rush to see, and steers clear of tying up the end in a nice pink b…

The Book of Eli...

I went to the cinema last night for a late showing of The Book of Eli. The synopsis looked hopeful; it seemed to have, in post-apocalyptic terms, what The Road lacked. The two films share the same territory, even the journey that has them needing to keep on heading towards 'the ocean'. But, whilst there were promising scenes, especially with the seemingly unlikely parts played by Michael Gambon and Frances De La Tour, it was, on the whole, a bit of a stinker; cheap, uncredible, hokie and clumsy. And most of the script was badly written, although the plot, in different hands, and with different direction, could have worked. As it is this film amounts to is nothing more than Christian propaganda. The American right will love it. Guardian review here.

Paris, van Gogh and Great Depression = Great Art

It's been a strange week all in all, very little writing done from Tuesday onwards because on Wednesday morning I went off to Paris for a few days work at a creative workshop. It was not without its challenges, but it was interesting. And it's always, nearly, good to have a change of scenery. Once the work was out of the way I headed off to the Musee d'Orsay for an injection of art - van Gogh, Gaugin, Manet, Pissaro, etc... a few pieces sent shivers up and down my spine, and I hadn't been expecting to see furniture! But van Gogh and Gaugin were the Musee's focus. Talking of van Gogh, there's a new exhibition coming up at the Royal Academy here in London next Saturday, The Artist and his Letters, which I shall have to visit. van Gogh aside there is also a good article in this week's TLS on culture and the 'great' depression, by John Gross. That's it for today - thus far I'm c.67,000 words into my novel-in-progress, so it's going well, al…

Want to read...

Again, as soon as we move into a New Year there seems to be books aplenty that I would love to read but know I haven't the time or the energy to invest. Yet. One of those books is Homer & Langley by EL Doctorow. I read Doctorow's amazing Ragtime a few years ago and haven't read anything of his since. But his latest, introduced to me by way of a 'retrospective' feature in this quarter's issue of the Waterstone's magazine, looks intriguing. There's a review from the New Yorker, here.

The Road - where was the journey?

I had tried to read the book but never got beyond the first few pages, unable to invest the emotion whilst also trying to write and research. Such books as Cormac McCarthy writes deserve that investment at the very least. So I eagerly awaited a condensed hit in the form of the film, directed by John Hillcoat. A friend in the States saw it towards the end of last year and didn't give too much away except to say it was 'bleak'. Far from putting me off this only encouraged me. So as soon as it came on at my local Everyman my friend and I booked seats. I actually wanted to walk out halfway through but thought it would be a little rude for my friend. It was only afterwards, during a telephone conversation the next day, that I learned she had also wanted to walk out. What went wrong? The question should be, what went right? Was it the appearance of the 'good' family to take care of the now fatherless child at the end of the film - 'good' because the parents had n…

A couple of gems...

Sometimes a couple of gems come your way and today I was given two - one, a poem read by Saul Williams to music (rap?), here and this track, by Fever Ray, called Keep the Streets Empty For Me, which has a great video to accompany it; it has a post-apocalytic feel to it - haunting, yet with glimmers of hope, which is apt as today I'm going to see The Road at the delightful Everyman in Hampstead.

Patrick Ness - The Ask and the Answer

Snowy Manchester

I can hardly believe this is inner-city Manchester. Photo taken by my sister this morning.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Toibin's Brooklyn rewarded...

Having had a few grumbles on this blog last year because Sebastian Barry did not at first get his due for The Secret Scripture, it seemed last year it was going to be the turn of his fellow Irish writer, Colm Toibin for his profoundly simple and moving novel,Brooklyn. Yet that has now changed with tonight's announcement that Toibin has been awarded the Costa prize for novel of the year. Read Guardian book news here.

That was the year that was 2009

Yes, it was a year peppered with unemployment figures, the coinage of new recession-related terms such as 'staycation' and the liberal peppering of credit-crunch this, that and the other. Yet 2009 got off to a good start with the arrival of the much-awaited Sam Mendes film adaptation of Richard Yates novel, Revolutionary Road. The film was faithful to the book and the actor playing Givings, the so-called 'mad-man' won much critical acclaim, with some calling him the true star of a film which starred Di Caprio and Winslet. Sebastian Barry was also rewarded for his brilliant book, The Secret Scripture, which won The Costa. February was the month in which my own book, A Clockwork Apple, was made into a question on University Challenge, which made me happier than seeing a review in print! Talking of reviews, I think one of my biggest gripes this year was the need for newspapers book sections to review a hardback then review it again once out in paperback, giving a title (u…

Eleanor of Aquitaine - review for Tribune

Here's the review of Eleanor of Aquitaine for Tribune Magazine:

Eleanor of Aquitaine, by Ralph V Turner, Yale University Press

By Belinda Webb for Tribune Magazine

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s is one rich story, having lost none of its glory and power in the near nine centuries since her birth. It is a story that was sparked and fuelled from many quarters, not least from misogynistic chroniclers, long before she would die at the then astonishing age of 82.

First married at 15 to the pious Louis VII Eleanor proved her faith to church and husband by joining him on crusade. But, there’s nothing like a long crusade to reveal the cracks in a marriage. It wouldn’t be long, not even returning from crusade in fact, that Eleanor would demand an annulment via the church laws of consanguinity, forcing the Pope Eugenius III to step in and play marriage counsellor. However, after bearing Louis two daughters, Eleanor had her way and the marriage was annulled. This left her at the age of 30, free to mar…