Monthly Archives: May 2013

Morning after/Night before (another excerpt from my first draft)

Cold, dry air,
On hot, damp skin,
Mingled smells,
Of cigarettes and gin,
Clothes fighting,
Against being removed,
Two bodies,
Writhing and pressed,
And drunk and unrepressed,
Eros unmoved.
The morning after,
No romance,
Stilted conversation,
Awkward glance,
Hurried dressing,
Dried sweat smell,
Sheepish goodbyes,
Just as well.

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Authors who look like their writing: #5 Will Self

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This edition of the series was nominated by Mame from http://writemybrainsout.wordpress.com/I’m always up for taking suggestions so please shout if you want to nominate an author to be featured.

“What excites me is to disturb the reader’s fundamental assumptions.”

– Will Self

When I lived in Stockwell (South London) I would often pass Will Self, cycling with his kids, as I made my way to the Tube station on the way to work. Self is one of those ‘famous’ people who I could feel proud about living round the corner from. If he lived there, then it was clearly an area fit for creative types who bucked against the establishment and forged their own unique path. In addition, his writing gave the impression that he might just be a little unhinged. Excellent. Yes, this is someone I was happy to share a neighbourhood with.

He’d be so happy to know that.

But it’s the writing that makes the man – and I do believe he exudes the way in which he writes. He takes the everyday and twists it. He perverts it. He exaggerates the absurd and often ties it up in fantastical and surreal worlds. He’ll satirise pretty much anything and he’s happy to make you squirm. And that’s an author I want to read.

I’m off to the Hay Festival…

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So, yes, this is about as middle-aged and middle-class as my life has now become. In the past, it was all about music festivals; sleeping in a muddy field in a cheap tent; spending 3 days drunk or stoned or both; jumping up and down with 30,000 other people to loud music; getting no sleep.

But now, I’m about to head off to a literature festival. And you know what? It’s brilliant and I’m not ashamed at all… there’s the rest of the summer for teenage fun… for now I’m hanging with the grown-ups. I’ve been to the Hay Festival before and it’s awesome. I think it’s probably the premier literary festival in the world, and set in the quintessential pretty british village too.

My 4 days will include talks and readings by John McCarthy (who was held hostage in Lebanon for 5 years), Carl Bernstein (Mr Watergate), Hans Blix (Mr weapons of mass destruction), and Stella Rimington (the former Head of MI5). And I haven’t even mentioned the fiction writers.

So, I’m off to sip tea and wine. See you on the other side…

Stuff that inspires me: #3 Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001 apaocalypse

I always adored movies as a kid – from Dumbo to Mary Poppins (still one of my all-time favs!), from Ferris Bueller to Rocky… but it was seeing Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey in the space of a month when I was 15 years old that changed the way I looked at films forever. My first proper film crushes!

To be honest, I didn’t entirely understand either film at the time. When I watched both again a couple of years later they opened themselves up to me (a bit). But at 15… they were beautiful… no, somewhere far beyond beautiful. Poetry on the screen. They were epic in every way. They did more than just go from A to B to C: they communicated some sort of profound meaning and story that I couldn’t quite grasp but that felt really, really important. I think the fact that I felt I was missing something definitely helped me to become completely consumed by them – I mean, we all want to feel as if we’re appreciating something slightly above our heads, right? Especially as teenagers.

2001 is a story about the evolution of humankind via a black, alien monolith that we are first introduced to at The Dawn of Man, as it’s appearance on earth seems to stimulate apes to use tools and weapons. The rest of the movie essentially follows mankind’s quest to understand it’s own origins and future through a search for the origin of the monolith. It’s gripping and tense and exciting – but rather than creating thrills or relateable characters, it is primarily focussed on being quiet and patient and intent on filling us with wonder. Yeah, wow-erama.

monyage

Apocalypse Now, set during the Vietnam war (but very far from a typical war film), is about a mission of one soldier (Willard) down a river to hunt down a decorated war hero (Kurtz) who has ‘gone native’ and may have caused horrific atrocities. Behind this framework, it is a story about the reality of war – the horror – not so much about Willard finding Kurtz, but discovering what Kurtz himself discovered. It is dark but beautiful, operatic and horrific, and it reaches in to some very dark places of the human soul.

However, it wasn’t just that I was young that made me love these films. The directors, Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppola, were ahead of the rest of the world with what they were putting on screen. It is genuinely impossible for me to pull out favourite scenes from either film because pretty much every scene in each is a classic. The imagination and the skill required to make art like this is almost beyond my comprehension. Big love. Big, big love for these movies being awesome and showing me the very limits of what cinema can do. I’m not sure that either has ever been matched.

Abstract rant (another excerpt from my first draft)

This makes little sense out of context. However, it makes only a little more sense in context…

Words,
Can’t find,
When it’s correct.

Murmur,
Cry,
Windows,
Over me,
Through me,
Can’t see,
Call me,
Claw me,
Forget me,
Judge me,
Don’t.

Indirect,
Perhaps,
Betrayal,
No return,
Perhaps,
Accusation,
Kiss and tell,
Not to me,
About,
Choice,
Top drawer,
Always,
Expectation,
Release.

Listen,
Trust me,
Retain,
Plug it,
File it,
Trust me,
Never.

Book review: Canada by Richard Ford

canada

I’ve never written a review before but I just finished reading this brilliant, masterful book on the train home and wanted to share some of the love.

The novel is narrated by Dell Parsons, who looks back at the experiences of his 15 year old self in a small town in Montana in 1960. The bare bones of the storyline can be summed up in the opening passage:

“First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first.”

I’m a big fan of Richard Ford but the plot of this novel is probably the strongest he’s written in terms of page-turning. However, if you’re looking for a thriller then you’ve come to the wrong place – as engrossing as the plot is, it’s less important than the writing itself.

This was the book that inspired my series of posts about authors who look like their writing: at the time, I called Ford’s style elegant, languid and wise. Sometimes, writing this beautiful can give the illusion of being wise and full of insight – but there’s no illusion here… every page is full of a rich voice that feels as if it may be teaching you something new about the world and the people who live in it. That’s not to say that you need a dictionary to get through the book. It’s that Ford uses language so simply to do such complex things that is his genius and, for me, his only equal in this regard is Cormac McCarthy.

Canada is a novel about the strange turns that normal people’s lives can take, it believes in looking forwards and seeing what’s in front of you instead of always looking for hidden meaning in what’s already gone, and it understands above all about human fragility. As you can tell, I would absolutely recommend it. I find it impossible to read a book like this and not be inspired… well, partly inspired and partly accepting that I’ll never be able to write quite that well.

Authors who look like their writing: #4 Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

“My entire career, in fiction or nonfiction, I have reported and written about people who are not like me.”

–       Tom Wolfe 

Considering that the above quote is from the man himself, it may seem strange that I’ve chosen Wolfe for a post in which he’s supposed to look like his writing. But that’s who he is: an outsider looking in. An observer. He’s always one step, very clearly removed from the action he reports – and keeping his distance is one of the things that makes his writing so insightful and true. It’s also what can make it so cutting or full of awe. He’s never been a writer to deliver the most subtle of messages but he’s massively entertaining… brash, fun, exuberant… his writing is zapped with fiendish humour.

Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff are two of my favourite books. I like to think of him standing in front of a fireplace with a glass of champagne (or probably a fine scotch) in his hand, regaling a room full of people with tales from those books. Hmm, maybe I need to stop imagining all of these fantastical meetings with authors and get a move on with my own book…