Friday, 31 December 2021
Saturday, 25 December 2021
Our ChristmasIt's bacon for breakfast then coffee and chocs,
70s and 80s on Top of the Pops.
No church, no kids, no wrapping to do,
No Mum, no Dad now, just me, just you,
Two pigeons and Paxo, roast spuds, red wine,
Panettone and champers, and then there's just time
For a nostalgic film and a warm single malt.
That's it. Merry Christmas, and love to you all.
Monday, 20 December 2021
If you want something to get you in the mood for a merry Christmas, you could do no better than to pick up a copy of Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales. It's so short you can read it in less than an hour.
Saturday, 11 December 2021
Monday, 6 December 2021
Permissive, modern, challenging, gappy, frustrating, moving, attenuated, beautiful, ambiguous, resourceful, provoking, necessary. Yours.
Although written by a Shakespeare scholar, the writing style is accessible and engaging. Each chapter discusses one of the Bard's plays, but there's no need to read them in order. You can pick the book up and delve right into a comedy or tragedy that you know, then investigate those you may not be familiar with later. I started with favourite movie adaptations: Sir Ian McKellen as Richard III, Ben Whishaw as Richard II, Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet, and The Taming of the Shrew aka Ten Things I Hate About You or Kiss Me Kate.
One of the most memorable chapters dealt with A Midsummer Night's Dream, which I'd never seen and knew little about. I'd thought it was just a fairy story, but it turns out that it "really isn’t a play for children". I've subsequently enjoyed the 1999 film version with Kevin Kline as Bottom. Other adaptations are available.
Like many, my introduction to Shakespeare was at school, but when I studied Twelfth Night aged 15 its cross-dressing characters merely seemed to be a plot device to set up some humorous misunderstandings. Now, in a world of LGBTQ+ rights the play takes on a new relevance. This is the value of Emma Smith's book. It shows how over the past 500 years, for each generation Shakespeare "can resonate in particular circumstances, and how we can bring to the plays our own emotional, political, ideological and creative energies."
Friday, 12 November 2021
Thursday, 11 November 2021
The title of the book is taken from the supposed last words of Danton who is the subject of one of its fictionalised accounts. These narratives are based on a variety of reported last moments, some apocryphal, some invented, of the unfortunate souls who were guillotined during the Terror (generally reckoned to be from 1793 to mid-1794). Each is told from a different perspective, jailers, onlookers, relatives, friends, and even an executioner.
Allan Karlsson, never "given to pondering things too long", steps out of the window of his ground floor room in an old people's home, and sets in motion a series of tragic yet comic events. By chapter five we know a little about Allan's childhood, and his philosophy of life, "Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be. That meant, among other things, that you didn’t make a fuss, especially when there was good reason to do so".
Freddie identifies the turning points that have led him to his current situation. But if we think we can begin to understand his actions by these meaningful moments, Freddie quickly puts us right. He says, "They have significance, apparently. They may even have value of some sort. But they do not mean anything. There now, I have declared my faith.".
We can't believe anything that Freddie says. Which parts of his life are fake and which real? He tells us he might try to use what he has written as his testimony. "But no," he says, "I have asked Inspector Haslet to put it into my file, with the other, official fictions." On finishing The Book of Evidence I can only conclude that Banville has written a metafiction, an account of a murder narrated by a fictional murderer who never stops telling us stories. Deep!
The first of sixteen letters explains that Alice is "doing a college course in English Literature, and ... obliged to read Jane Austen" Alice finds Austen boring, petty and irrelevant and sees no purpose in reading her books, but Weldon attempts to persuade her niece otherwise.
Can the same be said for feline-centric literature?
The eponymous matriarch is a "grim and fiercely joyless old lady". Her 14-year-old great-granddaughter is sent to live with her for two months in the hope that the girl will benefit from the sea air in Hove, where Mrs Webster lives. As the teenager is leaving she discovers that her father, who died when she was nine, regularly enjoyed visiting the old woman.
Wednesday, 10 November 2021
Tuesday, 9 November 2021
I'll try to keep it brief. Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by millionaire General Sternwood to find out who's blackmailing him. The wealthy old man has two strong-willed and wayward daughters, "Vivian is spoiled, exacting, smart and quite ruthless. Carmen is a child who likes to pull wings off flies. Neither of them has any more moral sense than a cat". They both have links to crooks and gangsters, and the book follows Marlowe's investigation of this seedy underworld in Los Angeles.
Thursday, 4 November 2021
Waugh wrote the book during an all expenses paid visit to Hollywood, where MGM was hoping to obtain the film rights for Brideshead Revisited.
Monday, 1 November 2021
The story is in two parts: part one The Mind, part two The Body. In The Mind, we discover the events in Leila's life that led to her leaving home and becoming a sex worker in Istanbul. It's narrated in flashback during the brief time between her heart stopping beating and her brain ceasing to function; the 10 minutes 38 seconds of the title. I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that Leila and her mother, being female, have little control over their lives. There's a particularly disturbing scene that takes place when Leila is six, but in spite of the dark subject matter it's not a bleak tale because Leila is a fighter.
Friday, 15 October 2021
Jason has plenty of problems and several secrets.
Thursday, 14 October 2021
It was a bit like visiting friends you've not seen for ages and who have hardly changed.
Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Last year I reviewed John Cooper Clarke's Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt. I supposed that working class poets from the North West would mine the gritty reality of their industrial environment for their work rather than the romantic foppery of daffodils. How wrong I was. In The Mersey Sound, a collection first published in 1967, Adrian Henri has a poem called The New, Fast Automatic Daffodils(1).
Thursday, 29 April 2021
I woke up to the sad news that Michael Collins had died. Five years ago the Apollo 11 astronaut inspired the first story I wrote that I was pleased with. I don't remember watching the Apollo 11 mission on TV, but there's plenty of information online which I used as research: Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience, and Glamour: Would you go to Mars? Meet the four women astronauts who can't wait to go, and most importantly, the EP-72 Log of Apollo 11. Here's my story. Hope you enjoy it.
“What are you doing there?”Static crackled through the radio receiver.
Saturday, 3 April 2021
And so, I was wary of expecting too much from Alan Bennett's "The Complete Talking Heads",
Thursday, 11 March 2021
Years later you find the time to do that thing you wanted to do aged sixteen and you discover David Lodge's book, The Art of Fiction