Showing posts from June, 2011


The thing that struck me as I surveyed the work featured in the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery yesterday was the mention of 'self-taught'. It's odd, I thought later, how in writing it hasn't tended to matter which college or university one attended, whilst artists are more often than not described as, for instance, having studied at Slade/Thameside/Camberwell. But then again, where writers are concerned this has started to change. This is due to the increase in creative Writing MAs and the like. It's no longer unusual to read of a British writer's academic history. Ian McEwan studied at UEA, as did a whole load of others. It will be
interesting to see whether the university or college stated in the writers biogs represents sufficient variety. But apart from this I wonder if it will ever catch on to refer to a writer as 'self-taught'. It sounds somewhat ridiculous. When the term is assigned to visual artists it connotes a greater abili…
My latest blog for The Guardian's CiF questioned extended hours, which could mean kids will be at school up to 10/11 hours a day. And Saturday.

Location:Free Schools

Red dog, Red dog

I've just finished Red dog, Red dog, by Patrick Lane. Set in British Colombia in 1958 it covers a week in the lives of brothers Tom and Eddy Stark, and their parents, Elmer and Lilian. But to say it covered a mere week would be wrong, for Lane produces, here and there, every piece of the jigsaw that makes up the lives of these four individuals. The novel is narrated by one of Tom and Eddy's dead sisters, Alice, named after Elmer's beloved sister. Two girls died in infancy because Lilian was unable to form sufficient bonds with them. It seemed to me a combination of post-natal depression and mysogyny. She wanted no girls. But then she didn't really want Tom either, only Eddy, with whom she has a relationship that is unnaturally close. The device of using the dead sister as narrator was neither credible or needed, which was the only criticism I have. I mostly forgot there even was a narrator, reminded only at points. Lane, a poet, spent 'years' penning Red dog, R…

Raymond Carver, tedium and (re)writing

Yesterday I found myself with a bit of time to spare on Marylebone High Street. Daunts Books beckoned and I found myself asking for The Paris Review interviews. The first thing I was aware of was that I knew these interviews are freely available on the internet, just like Raymond Carver's, here - but I felt compelled to buy the book (£14:99). I read Raymond Carver's 'The Art of Fiction' almost immediately, whilst waiting for a friend to arrive. I haven't read much of Carver - although I was very taken by Cathedral, a collection of short stories. The interviewer referred to another interview he gave, in which, when asked why he preferred the short story form, said something about some tedious goings-on. He shed light on this. The tedious goings-on was the constant scrabble for money. Carver really is an example of a man, from a working-class family who, although graduating from high school, first spent six months at the saw mill his father worked at. Of course, Car…

The Waste Land

I bought The Waste Land as an 'app' on the iPad 2. This sort of offering is what pushed me to buy what I first thought would be little more than an oversized iPhone. But Faber has outdone itself. The touchscreen 'book' of this genius of a poem is arranged in sections. There is the main performance of the poem by the absolutely mesmeric actress Fiona Shaw, who resembles my Mum! She embodies each voice so fully that I just watched her, entranced. In A Game of Chess the way she performs the east end pub scene is remarkable - their characters not just in her voice but occupying her face. There are pictures of Eliot's original manuscript, edited by Ezra Pound, which clearly shows Pound's editorial freedom; he was not scared to use a pencil on each line. There is a selection of recordings too, of the work being read by Eliot himself, Alec Guinness and Vigo Mortenssen - majestic voices all. There is also a section given over to critical perspectives - Seamus Heaney, J…

Tribune Review

My latest Review of the Paul Goodman Reader for Tribune Magazine.

Crimes against punctuation

I believe there are two things that separate humans from animals: table manners and the use of the apostrophe. There is nothing guaranteed to irritate me more than someone slurping, slopping, and slobbering their way through food as though it had been served in a trough. There are also the seemingly trivial boiled-sweet crunchers, teeth clankers, tongue rollers, for whom boiled sweet mouth gymnastics is an Olympic level sport. No. Nothing more irritating - except the chronic and pervasive misuse of punctuation. For the past three years I have been teaching creative writing to undergraduates, a role that I carried out alongside my work in public relations. The students - despite, for the most part, having gone through 13 years or more of formal education - know not how to spell at a consistent standard, nor how to handle punctuation. The main item of offence is the apostrophe. Possessive, plural, contracted. The most intelligent critical reviews are marred by the howlers I've had t…


I'm currently about two thirds of the way through Red Dog, Red Dog. Written by the Canadian poet Patrick Lane, it seems like every sentence drips with insightful and enriching metaphor. Despite portraying a sparse, arid landscape, the prose is achingly rich, drawing pictures in the dirt. Jon McGregor calls it a 'shock of a novel' and he's right. I shall post a review once I've reached the end. I've made time for it each night before sleep, even though recent days have proved hectic work wise - suddenly inundated with copywriting work (see my new work website here). Where has my PhD novel gone? It's still there, waiting for me to reconnect and draw more pictures in the dirt to alleviate the sinking apathy that characterises it in other parts. Luckily I'm off to Suffolk this weekend, when I shall aim to do just that.

Le Quattro Volte

Snowed under with work all weekend I decided to take a break and head down to the Richmond Curzon to watch Michaelangelo Frammartino's film Le Quattro Volte. It received four stars from The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, and a big thumbs up from a friend who went to see it during the week. It seems this film is best appreciated in art house cinemas, it being an art house film and all. Said friend went to see it at the Phoenix in East Finchley. I went to see it at the lovely cocoon that is Richmond Curzon, on Water Lane, just yards from the riverside. It's also on at Bloomsbury's Renoir and a few other places. An Odeon flick it is not. One review declares it to be about a shepherd (it's actually a goatherd, although his loyal companion is a sheepdog), played by Giuseppa Fuda. It is true that the film opens on him and follows him for the first half, but it's not 'about' him - or the wonderful goats who did nothing but charm me, I'll never see a goat in th…


Today I took delivery of a second-hand book that I forgotten I'd ordered: Red Dog, Red Dog, by Patrick Lane. On my to-read pile is also The Cunning Man by someone Robertson. I'll post more anon.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

An Angel Visits - Paul Wilson

I stayed up late last night (the best opening to a book review) to finish reading Paul Wilson's A Visiting Angel (Tindal Street).

Set in Manchester the main character is Patrick Shepherd, a man who manages The Limes, a type of halfway house/sanctuary for people who've 'fallen down'. It was a role he took up by chance; some would say serendipity, and was taken under the wing of The Limes original pioneering manager, Benedict. A hard-bitten former alcoholic who originated from the Gorbals, like that factual famous Gorbals boy RD 'Ronnie' Laing, Benedict takes a pragmatic yet deeply humane approach to those who wind up in his care, seeing the house as a sanctuary from society - society is not being protected from them but vice versa.

Patrick is as fragile and anxious as those he works with and Wilson slowly and expertly reveals his story, alongside that of the angel of the title, Liam, his older brother whom we are led to believe has just returned from America whe…