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Showing posts from August, 2010

Writing freestyle and Not the Booker...

I've surprised myself with the few fiction books I've managed to read thus far this summer, and the poetry too. I have also reviewed a fair few non-fiction titles. But in the next week I shall have to stop and refocus my efforts on my own writing. Although when I say writing, what I mean is the novel-in-progress and the critical element. I have managed much other writing - a bit of screen writing (pending), poetry (which surprised me, arriving as it did, 'organically') and now I've just set myself a challenge - to write one short story that has not been planned in any way. Just a whisp of an idea and away you go. It's a bit scary writing on a whim because I could so easily, and maybe wil, end up with nothing worth reading - but in and of itself it will be an interesting task. The whisp of the idea came from looking at a random photograph that was posted by someone else on Facebook. It set something nostalgic off within myself, so I thought writing about it woul…

Book Slam

This coming Wednesday I shall be at Book Slam in Notting Hill to hear Will Self read from his new book 'Walking to Hollywood'. Poet Daljit Nagra shall also be reading.

Rain - by Don Paterson

Colm Toibin says that Don Paterson is 'one of the greatest poets now writing anywhere'. I am a long way from having read all poets 'now writing anywhere', but I really hope Toibin isn't right on this one. It may seem an obnoxious remark for a reviewer such as myself to make. I must also admit to not having read any of Paterson's previous work - just Rain, which I had heard so much about (not in general, you understand, but read in various literary pages). Mind you, that should mean little, after all, his previous work may be brilliant - and I'm sure it is - but I can only go on this collection and, whilst there are a couple of gems, some pockets of poignancy, most of it falls a bit flat on my internal piano of feelings.

Firstly, the poem that takes the title of the collection, Rain, also happens to be the last poem. The organisation of the collection seems to have imitated that of a chat show, with the best being left to last so that the watcher keeps viewi…

A Gate at the Stairs - Lorrie Moore

A Gate at the Stairs was my first Moore. I had of course heard of her previous work, Anagrams, and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, as well as her short story collections, but had somehow put her in a category marked 'whimsical, fey, American writer not unlike Joyce Carol Oates' and so she never managed to make my 'want to read' list. Yet last week, in Waterstones, having gone in to buy Don Paterson's Rain, which was stuck with the '3 for 2' sticker I thought I might as well pay for another book and get another one free. I chose the Moore as well as William Trevor's Love & Summer. (Trevor is much safer ground).

A Gate at the Stairs carries so many encomiums most writers could only hope for. 'Masterly', declares The Times, 'Exhilirating and heart-wrenching', says The Economist, 'Unbearably poignant and shockingly funny', claims the Sunday Telegraph and 'Full of perfect sentences', said Audrey Niffenegger'. The last …

Der Glasraum - The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer.

In an interview with The Guardian in the aftermath of being shortlisted for The Booker Prize for The Glass Room, (which went on to be scooped by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall) Mawer was referred to as a writer’s writer. It’s a curious moniker – like a chef’s chef, but one which says much, like a chef’s chef, one who cooks plain unfussy food at expert level – a welcome to the jadedly fussed-up palates of many a chef. In this regard, the prose style of The Glass Room, the first Mawer I’ve so far read, is unfussy. Each description is precise yet poetic – ‘the wave creaming up the shore’. Yet ‘writer’s writer’ also implies a less than satisfactory readership. Another writer with a crystal clear prose style was the late Richard Yates, and he was often referred to as ‘the writer’s writer’, firstly because he was so admired by the students he taught, as well as his contemporaries. He was, however, largely ignored for a long time by the American reader. His stories, …

The Glass Room - Simon Mawer

I have put Wolf Hall to one side for now, which, whilst good, am finding the story too rich for my palate at present. Instead I have turned to The Glass Room by Simon Mawer, shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize. The story centres on newly married Vikor, who is Jewish (non-observant) and his 'Aryan' wife Liesel Landauer who, in 1929, wanting nothing of the past in their soon-to-be-built house, commission architect Rainer von Abt. I'm only a third of the way through so far but the prose style is clear and crisp and I'm enjoying it. Review to follow.

Jimmy Reid

Today saw the funeral of trade unionist, journalist, orator, University rector, Jimmy Reid. Reid's desperately powerful and moving speeches made the New York Times and will surely live on for many years to come. In his 'rat race' speech he said:

A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.

This is how it starts, and, before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat pack. The price is too high.

At his funeral was childhood Govan friend, Sir Alex Ferguson, and comedian Billy Connelly, who made a poignant yet funny speech about his friend.

Frank Kermode

Literary critic and cultural icon, Frank Kermode, has died aged 90. The Guardian has published his obit, here, in which he says, having finished university in 1940, his parents expecting him to return home to the Isle of Man, he had to choose exile.


Social networking has been great for organisations such as The Tate. They get to advertise their current and upcoming exhibitions, ask for donations, and create a community of art lovers worldwide. However, there is a downside, as evidenced this morning on Facebook. Using the site, The Tate (Britain or Modern?), posted an ad for a proofreader. Great way to get the word out. You'd think. But the ad was for a 'volunteer intern'. Many comments followed, 99% of which were negative, including my own, that blasted an internationally renowned cultural institution for touting for unpaid work. There has to be an end, by law, to these unpaid positions that prey on young people desperate for experience to put on their CV and which also takes paid work away from those who need it. It is also blatantly discriminatory. Any unpaid position such as this automatically bars those from poorer backgrounds who do not have the luxury of a family to pay for their travel, food, clothes etc, whils…

BBC Writers Archive released

The BBC has today launched an online archive of interviews with 40 writers - covering everyone from Virginia Woolf to PG Wodehouse to JRR Tolkein to Salman Rushdie. It's a brilliant resource and also serves as a chronology of writerly attitudes - some constant, some not so, particularly apparent in the 1958 interview with Wodehouse who, having started writing in 1900, steered clear of anything remotely sexual. The legendary Frank Kermode interviews the late Iris Murdoch - talking about philosophy and novel writing; debating the conflict between freedom and form. She says novels have to do two things that can't easily be done together - they have to give a reader a sense of their own freedom and depth of character by giving them characters who have freedom and depth themselves. I like it when Kermode says in that early BBC clipped voice: 'Miss Murdoch is very fond of complex plots and she tends to write a lot about love'. There's also an interview with Angela Carter…

Ghost Light

This review recently appeared on Pereno World.

Great timing for my posting of this review on Joseph O'Connor's current novel, Ghost Light, as he has also written a feature in today's Observer charting how, in the aftermath of his mother's death in a car crash, he went to Nicaragua.


Joseph O'Connor is known for a number of things - he is the brother of Irish singer Sinead O'Connor, he used to be a journalist with The Sunday Tribune and Esquire Magazine, and he is a playwright. He is also a novelist. O'Connor has penned more than a handful of works, as well as the short story collection 'True Believers'. His 1991 novel, Cowboys and Indians, made the shortlist of the prestigious Whitbread Prize. He is, though, perhaps best known for his 2002 international best-seller, Star of the Sea, which he followed up five years later with Redemption Falls. His latest is the eerily named Ghost Light, which centres on the real life Irish actress, Maire O'Neill…

Tribune Blog - Whither Labour's working class heritage?

Blog appeared for Tribune - 7th August 2010

A new crime emerged in 1997 – ‘working-class’; not just being working-class, but talking about it. Since the dawn of New Labour, there has only been the recognition of the middle-class and the under-class or, as some would have it, the chavs and the chav Nots. Andy Burnham is the latest to have been charged with this most heinous of crimes – against his fellow leadership candidates, the Miliband brothers.

In an interview (Telegraph) Burnham audaciously suggested that the Milibands wouldn’t have got where they were had it not been for their late father, Marxist historian Ralph Miliband. This led to some sections of the media calling Burnham ‘shabby’ by ‘playing the class card’, claiming that he has ‘attacked’ the Miliband brothers. This response represents the increasingly pervasive and pernicious working-class discrimination that exists at the core of society. The reaction to Burnham’s suggestion as an attack is an attempt to silence and negat…

Second-hand favourites

One of my favourite second-hand bookshops, owned by Keith Fawkes (a direct descendant of Guy Fawkes whose comment is usually sought once a year!), is situated on Flask Walk in Hampstead. Its very location adds to the bookish romantic and nostalgic feel that I enter into whenever I visit, although the attraction has waned somewhat in the past year due to the outside ledges and space being used for a woman who sells bric-a-brac. Yet one of the advantages lies in the fact that the shop is managed by an American man who has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of books covering every discipline. For almost a decade I have bought from here everything from popular fiction to 18th century poetry, (tatty) nineteenth century editions of Carlyle to philosophy (it is here I found a lovely cloth bound A History of Western Philosophy by once local Bertrand Russell) to fly-fishing, (I made that last one up for the alliterative effect, but I’m sure they are all here). Living in London we are spoilt for…