This is a promotional video made by Unbound for the above. Thanks to Unbound for permission to use this. If any publishers like the idea of this collection, please get in touch! As you know I am now looking for another publisher as this project did not work with the excellent Unbound (see previous posts). The image here is of Alan Ross (on the left) and Ian Fleming at Fleming’s home in Jamaica in the early 1960s.
A few months ago I had an interesting meeting with Sarah Marsh from the Arts Council about the possibility of receiving a grant for a collection of stories from the London Magazine during the time Alan Ross was editor (1961-2001). The collection would also include new stories, selected through a competition. In this way, established writers would be shown alongside new voices.
The excellent Maura Dooley, Reader in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, has also been very helpful. I am still looking for the right kind of publisher….
It soon became clear that crowdfunding with the excellent unbound was not the right path for this project.
I am now exploring other ways to publish this fantastic collection of London Magazine stories.
London Magazine: Selected Stories 1961-2001. Editor, Jeremy Worman with an introduction by William Boyd.
Help back a new collection of brilliant stories from Alan Ross’s London Magazine by pledging to my crowd funding campaign. Alan, the gifted editor of this literary and arts journal for forty years, died in 2001. He was also a poet, cricket correspondent for The Observer, reviewer and traveller. In the Second World War he served as a naval intelligence wireless operator on arctic convoys. In the late 1950s he became friends with Ian Fleming, whose last James Bond novel The Man with the Golden Gun includes a character called ‘Commander Ross’.
No one knew better than Alan what makes a good short story. Among those he published for the first time were Graham Swift and William Boyd. Harold Pinter, William Burroughs, Nadime Gordimer, William Trevor, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and many other fascinating writers were also published there and are brought together for the first time in this collection. This publication is essential reading for anyone interested in London’s literary life – but it can’t happen without your help.
I owe a particular debt to Alan, since my first short story was published by him in the London Magazine. Support my crowd-funding campaign so that he at last gets the recognition he deserves, and you can enjoy these memorable stories.
What do you get if you pledge? A beautiful book at the very least, but there are various other rewards (see Unbound website). Every subscribers’ name goes in the back of every edition; once the funding target is reached, Unbound publish a special book for you – but if there are not enough subscribers, all money is refunded.
Unbound has been going for five years and is a success story. One of their writers, Paul Kingsmith, was long listed for the Man Booker 2014 Prize and Bookseller Book of the Year. Jonathan Meades and Erica Wagner have recently published with Unbound. ‘The Good Immigrant’ by Nikesh Shukla was BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week last month, and has just won the Reader’s Choice Prize for the Books Are My Bag Awards.
So please – spread the word – and pledge!
I am delighted to be the representative of Cinnamon Press at the launch of Will Kemp’s new collection of poetry, The Painter Who Studied Clouds: 7 pm on Friday 7 October at Keats House, Hampstead, London NW3 2RR. Will won the 2016 Keats Shelley Prize for Poetry. I shall be introducing Will who will read some of his poems — and he is an accomplished performer of his work.
He also won the 2015 Cinnamon Press short story prize with ‘The Day I Met Vini Reilly’. I was the judge for that competition. The short story anthology, The Day I Met Vini Reilly, including other prize-winning stories, was in the Waterstones short-story top-seller list for months.
It will be a great event at the lovely Keats House on 7 October. For reservations firstname.lastname@example.org
I first met Barbara in March 1983 when she interviewed me for a place on the BA English degree in her large, comfortable room in Malet Steet. Well dressed in a two-piece suit, set off by an exuberant scarf, she was a compelling figure. At the end she asked, ‘Do you write poetry?’ and gave me a warm, distinctive smile. She was an excellent lecturer, lucid and interesting, with a clear and lively voice. I recall her seminars on ‘The Novel’ as examples of engaged, democratic enquiry.
You can read the rest of my personal tribute to my old teacher, mentor and friend on the Birkbeck website.
On a windy February day I was pleased to be invited to read a sketch, ‘The Isle of Wight Festival, 1970′. You can watch a video of the piece here.
I am currently writing a few memoir pieces, set in late-1970s London, during the period of my life when I was involved with performance art. The artist was sculptor Paul Wright, who was also part of the design team for the Pink Floyd stage shows, and a QC, who was the ‘art object’, taken all over London in various disguises. The event was photographed and then recorded on a Rank Xerox colour copier, a new process at the time. I was the helper, sometimes writer of set pieces, and occasional performer. The QC, a good friend, is now dead, and the full story, which will reveal his identity, can be told for the first time. There will be a London exhibition of the work in September 2016.
I read a bit out loud each morning to inspire me. Ivan Illich is my new guru: ‘Vehicles have created more distances than they helped to bridge.’ He wrote that in Tools for Conviviality. If I’m still down I roll myself a one-skinner, always does the trick.
Traffic pounds above my head. And the Big-Brother helicopter is always in the sky, charting the street life of Hackney. ‘Down the stairs and down the years,’ that’s how I feel as I step into my basement shoemaker’s workshop. The world is going mad but I feel safe down here – this house was built at the time of the Napoleonic Wars.
The green revolution could be here now if people made their own shoes and if we travelled only as far as our shoe leather would allow – it would bring us back to our roots. The quality of life would return, we should have time for things. Illich put it well: ‘Development must be in terms of low and not high energy use’.
I like sitting at my bench, working at this gentle art of last and awl, threading and stitching. I make handmade shoes for the wealthy – these Oxford brogues are for an old customer. Those rich buggers don’t deserve such perfection, but some of them really appreciate it, I have to say.
Mind you, it’s just as bad that most of Hackney is walking around in mass-produced trainers, all that sweatiness and petrochemicals. Then they chuck them away, never nurtured, never loved. Of course, everyone recycles tins and bottles with evangelical fervour, we all eat our organic carrots and stuff our faces with muesli. That’s fine, but it’s only scratching the surface.
Don’t they realise! If they made their own shoes, and saw the limits of their walking potential as the limits of their world, then a real sense of community would begin. There’s a lot of bollocks in Green politics these days, it’s run by politically-correct boy scouts and girl guides.
I made a poster for my wall, yes you guessed it, a slogan from my guru:
TRANSPORTATION BEYOND BICYCLE SPEEDS DEMANDS
POWER INPUTS FROM THE ENVIRONMENT
You’ve got it, Ivan! Those speeds are destroying our planet and the pleasure of our life. Okay, I’m going on, my sister is always telling me that, but when you live in a world that’s crazy but pretends it’s sane, the way to be truly sane is not to be afraid to be crazy. I was trying to get that across to an attractive woman at a party last week. Well, I can see it wasn’t the best chat-up line. Didn’t get anywhere. Pity, she was very fit, as they say.
A good shoe should last for fifteen years. Making a shoe is like a history lesson, but all the kids seem to live in a vacuum of designer logos and fast food. They connect to nothing.
Jesus, I sound sad. But here’s another example. At the party last week, they held it at the top of the Samuel Pepys, the pub attached to the Hackney Empire. Well, there was really crappy music coming out of the crap Big Screens. Then they showed a baseball match, then some twenty-twenty cricket where none of the players look like cricketers. There was no English draught beer on tap, it was mostly lagers from America and Poland and Holland, all with silly names and prices. There should have been a local band playing in the corner.
Buses, cars, motorbikes, all those planes scarring the sky. The planet is dying from our hysteria of movement. Tapping away at the shoes on my bench, turning, kneading, reading the stresses and strains of the leather makes me still. Shoes are like my prayer books, my litany of living. If I believed in God I should be a shoe-making monk. We should all give up our obsessions with goods and with speed. As always, Ivan has a phrase for it: ‘Joyful Renunciation’. What is the worst thing the modern world has done?: taken away people’s power to dream, to use their own imaginations…
Getting carried away again. I love the history of footwear: ‘Wellington’, now that was a good boot, though there were some awful ones around in those days – the poor old soldiers suffered from their job-lot boots.
I was born in this house, Dad was a factory inspector, Mum was a district nurse. I went to an old-fashioned grammar school, then did the hippy thing, and after that a degree in philosophy at Swansea, then Cordwainer’s for shoemaking. If you were born in Hackney everyone thinks you must be a yob. Actually, I taught in a secondary school before getting into shoes.
Both my parents are dead now, buried near Worthing, where they had a bungalow. My sister and me, Lucy, we split up the house, she’s in the top, I’ve got the bottom two floors.
Life’s all right. Used to be in a local rock group, used to be married too, but I think I was more in love with my shoes. Anyway, my wife went off with her acupuncturist. We got married too young. They’re living in Bristol now.
The smell of good leather matures, becomes alive under the touch of a finger. Connecting the shoe together – the welt and throat and top edge, the waist and the sole – until you have made something almost as complete as a person, and far less quarrelsome. The trainer-footed world has turned its back on this inheritance that could save it.
Must put on a jumper. Hackney begins to feels cleaner in November, and the basement colder. The ghosts in this house prefer the softness of autumn, as if summer bleaches them out of existence…
I love the beauty of boots most. I collect them. Those Nazi Jackboots are always at the top of the stairs, they’re authentic. When I imagine them pounding down on their heavy soles I am reminded of the fascist state just under the surface of things. Today, the shoes may be softer, and the surveillance more subtle, but it means the same thing: the state can get you when it wants to.
Anyway, consider marching boots, well, it’s a whole way of telling history: all the places those boots have trod, the routes they took, the importance of the army cobblers who kept the footwear together.
In the First World War it was the ordinary soldier who suffered from trench foot, the water and mud squelching through the lace holes. Of course the British army boot came out of the Blucher boot. The officers had their top boots, much better.
Cavalry boots are the most beautiful, with their bucket tops, I made a pair in college, still got them, half way up the stairs. Cromwell’s people knew a thing or two about boots, so do the Americans, credit where credit is due – those cowboy boots at the bottom of the stairs, amazing tooling, superb leather, got those from a bootmaker in Texas ten years ago.
If people wore proper leather shoes and boots, the level of consciousness, I mean that in the Marxist sense, would rise dramatically. Ban superstores, ban trainers, stop fast movement, and people will reconnect. You think that’s mad? Not as mad as what goes on up there, is it? Anyway, I’m off to Budapest on a cheap flight for a long weekend with an old mate. Don’t look at me like that, you can’t help a few contradictions.
The opening chapters of Michael Ignatieff’s brilliant study of the Kosovo war deal with the situation at close range. His reportage from the Balkans includes interviews with key participants and moving reflections of the bombed Belgrade. The control of the material is striking.
The chapters that follow reveal Ignatieff’s moral thrust, as he explores the concept of ‘virtual’ war’, when only the enemy are killed, the Allied Command is in another continent and the media provided ‘a light show for Western TV audiences’ who’ve never had to face the body bags of their own sons and citizens. He deconstructs the rhetoric of the war — ‘precision violence’ — and convincingly argues that democratic decision-making was virtually bypassed (a theme taken up by Tony Benn, but few others).
The coherence of this multi-layered critique of ‘the first postmodern war in history’ makes Virtual War deeply disturbing and hugely impressive.
Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (1794-1847), the little-known subject of Andrew Motion’s intriguing book, was a significant figure in the London of his times: artist and writer, he painted Byron and was a friend of Fuseli and Blake. The form of the narrative is as beguiling as the subject matter. Eschewing straight biography, Motion writes the ‘Confession’ from the fictionalised first-person viewpoint of Wainewright.
At the end of each chapter, he adds ‘Notes’ — scholarly, biographical information about the real Wainewright. This ‘creates a fascinating alternative perspective to the vivacious but chilling story of the gentleman-dandy artist. After the suspicious death of three relatives, he was charged — though only with the forgery of life insurance documents and transported to Tasmania. Wilde wrote about him, spookily foreshadowing his own downfall.
This mixed-genre study produces a complex reconstruction of its subject, and reinstates Wainewright in his Romantic context.
(Published in The Tablet, 5 August 2006)
Dr Lachlan McCready, the eponymous hero of Scottish writer Michael Cannon’s third novel, is the much-loved doctor in a small fishing village, Rassaig, on the west coast of Scotland in 1941. For those who remember the popular television series of the 1960s, Dr Finlay’s Casebook, there is a resemblance between the programme’s benign, elderly Dr Cameron, and Lachlan McCready: both tend their community with humour and wisdom. But this bold, readable novel soon develops in darker and more complex ways than Dr Finlay ever attempted.
After a complicated journey, a Jewish refugee boy, Franz, turns up in the village and Lachlan gives him a home. At the same time three English girls, working on farms to help the war effort, are billeted in the area. The locals gossip salaciously about them.
Cannon is a natural storyteller and he explores Lachlan’s past, including service as a doctor in the First World War, particularly convincingly.
Cannon has the ability both to expose, and to sympathise with, human frailty. He writes intensely about sexual and religious passion, and his judgement of religious fundamentalism is acid sharp, embodied here in the figure of “Gavin Bone, Elder of the Free Presbyterian congregation”, and hater of all the village Catholics. Cannon makes a fascinating investigation of the conflict between a Presbyterian and a Catholic view of the world, as it is lived out in a small village.
If there is a flaw in this short novel it is its ambition: there are just too many characters and incidental plots. Lachlan’s War is attempting to be too many different kinds of novel: it is historical, psychological, a novel of ideas, and a novel of place. Occasionally, too, the author’s style runs to melodrama.
That said, it runs along at a cracking pace. The stories within stories keep the reader alert and interested, if sometimes frustrated that the central characters are not getting their share of attention. When the focus shifts briefly to Franz’s background in Prague, we feel alienated, and not close enough to care that much. It is Rassaig that provides the strange, sometimes macabre and primitive atmosphere that gives such a rich texture to the narrative.
The story concludes on an uplifting and moving note of change and acceptance, with Lachlan’s reflections placed rightly at the centre: “Only fools, or those who read too much, fail to take consolation from the texture of the everyday.”
Fragmented brings together short stories and sketches charting a personal journey from squatter and hippy in Seventies London to creative and stable middle age as husband, father, teacher and writer. Responding to and recording social change, often by seizing moments in the flux of city life, the stories are both self contained fragments and a cohesive narrative of a city as much as of an individual.
Many sketches are set in Hackney or Hornsey Rise – at one time the largest squat in Europe. Fragmented brings to life characters and places; examines the underside of London epitomised by outsiders, drugs, racial tension and crime, and explores deeper themes not only of childhood, family and relationships, but also of the nature of writing, political idealism, fear of oblivion and how we conjure and retain a sense of the past. The tone is variously reflective, nostalgic, critical, humorous and detached.
Read Mark Hannam’s review here. Also published in Dream Catcher
and The Short Review here
and Islington Tribune here
and Hackney Citizen here
and East London Lines (the online newspaper) review here
and Gwales review here
and Amazon readers’ review here
and Waterstones readers’ reviews here
and Nick Sweeney’s review here
and a review from The Frogmore Papers (Number 78, Autumn 2011) by Jeremy Page:
For anyone who has walked the streets of east and north London, where most of these often very personal pieces are set, this is a fascinating collection. Many of them are very short – some barely half a page – but these are texts which have been lovingly crafted from experience that was not always so sweet. The Great Wen is hauntingly evoked, and the character sketches are expertly drawn. Personal favourites here include ‘Hackney Sunday’ and the exquisitely titled ‘Myfanwy, China, Harry and a Goldfish’.
Jeremy Worman’s latest collection, Swimming with Diana Dors and other stories, was published by Cinnamon Press in June 2014. Barbara Hardy wrote: ‘Worman’s new collection reminds us what Henry James meant when he said the writer must be someone on whom nothing is lost, and it shows what the short story can do – memorialise place and time, concentrate feeling, relationship, sensation and history, in glimpses and vivid moments.’
Fragmented, my collection of short stories about London was published in 2011 by Cinnamon Press (partly funded by an Arts Council grant). Fragmented charts a personal journey from 1970s squatter to life in Hackney now. Fragmented is widely available. It is also on Kindle and may be downloaded from Amazon.
Swimming with Diana Dors:
Listen to Jeremy reading radio versions of some of the stories:
(Published in Multi-Storey 2, January 2001. Broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester, February 2001. Winner of competition)
When it rains in Salford I can taste salt in the raindrops, you know when you put your head up. I love sitting by the window in the front room in the dark. It’s started to drizzle and the days are drawing in. I think it’s the chemical factory, that’s where I worked since school, two A levels. Once I moved out of home for a month but something pulled me back, Mother I suppose.
I was always her little Terry, but sitting here I feel myself. Twenty-five-years a technician at the chemical factory isn’t everyone’s idea of an exciting life, but it suited me, all in all. I’m set in my ways, I know that. And since Mother died, two years this September, I’ve slowed up. I’ve done some tidying on the house, a Victorian terrace, otherwise I’ve been rather quiet.
‘Just do that for me will you, Terry love?’ Ooh, there was no end to it.
I don’t go out much, but I’m free inside now, that’s the difference. I get on very well with the neighbours. That’s Bola, she’s Nigerian. They moved in last year. I had a dinner round there recently, very interesting. And she wears the most lovely clothes, multicoloured material that wraps round and round. They brought some colour to the street.
Time I thought of something for tea. On a Friday I often have a takeaway, there’s a lovely Indian on the corner of Maygrove Street, but I’m feeling rather withered, you know. I might just take a mozzarella and ham pizza from the freezer and watch a video. Why not? I’m my own master now.
I love Marilyn Monroe. I’ll watch Some Like it Hot tonight, one of her very best, 1959. And all those cheeky chaps dressing up as women. Marlon and Clint, the budgies, are making such a racket behind me, but I’m very fond of them and they keep fit. We make each other laugh.
I’m going to Knutsford on Sunday, lunch with Veronica, my big sister. It’s good to get out. She was a dental nurse, married the dentist, Derek Palmer. His family are from Lytham, near the golf course. She must have given him laughing gas before he agreed. No children.
It’s a bloody ugly street, there’s no denying that.
‘Come fair bombs and fall on Salford.’
There were never much beauty in our family. Father worked in the power station, stoked boilers or summat like. He looked like a boiler too. Had this very loud voice and shouted ‘Hey up’ down the street to his mates. I don’t think he’d ever heard of art or films or film stars. He followed rugby league.
Every time he came back from a match, it was ‘Do you good, bit of rugby. You’re too soft, lad.’
I was always a thin boy, willowy, and I liked to wear my dark hair a bit long. I thought I looked nice when I smiled into the mirror after a bath, and held the little towel tight around my waist. I’ve hazel eyes and I’d pucker my lips like a film star.
If you sprinkle a little parsley on a pizza, it’s very nice. I’ll have a few glasses of Soave. Why not? I’m not short of a few bob.
I do water colours in my spare time. I might take it further one day. Dad smoked forty a day, drank stout. Over twenty-years-ago the old boiler just blew up, heat attack, Saturday afternoon, after his team Wigan had lost to St. Helens. It was a blessing, all in all.
Greta Garbo is my favourite, that feeling for the camera, those wonderful dresses, that face. Camille, Anna Karenina. I know every scene by heart. ‘You shouldn’t watch them so much,’ Mother used to say, ‘Get out more.’ But if I did she was the first to moan.
Just before Mother died I had trouble at work. Some of the lads started to taunt me. It seemed to be raining all the time and Mother had just been diagnosed. I’d got too friendly with Jimmy, a young boy in accounts. Made a fool of meself. I’d never encouraged that side of me before.
‘Quiet down, Marlon!’
I had this recurring idea that when God made the earth he gave Salford to the devil to play with, it was that ugly. I used to cry myself to sleep at night in the back room and imagine the clogs of the dead shuffling to work. And Mother used to stare at me.
Oh goodness! I thought I saw Mother coming down the street then. Sometimes I’m convinced it’s her, or me Dad – and then I’m so delighted it can’t be. Wicked, I know but she wouldn’t understand.
The doctor gave me uppers, I didn’t want to talk. On the way out, he said: ‘There’s nothing wrong, you know, your erotic feelings, nothing wrong at all.’
‘How dare you!’ I said.
But the doctor’s words kept repeating in my mind. What a nerve! When I got home I put on Anna Karenina to calm me down, and Garbo was wearing a long silky dress. I could almost feel its softness on my skin. Dad’s voice kept coming into my mind and I saw his image in the mirror: ‘You’re too quiet, lad.’ He was such a bully and everything about him was ugly, ugly, ugly.
It’s almost dark now, but I feel so bright inside me these days.
Anyway, after coming back from the doctor’s, I couldn’t settle. I went into the wardrobe where Veronica, my sister, had left a lot of her things. My heart was racing. I tried a dress, then a skirt and a slip. I felt so nice, so right, and I burst into a flood of tears.
I just sat there in front of the mirror, making up with a bit of old eyeliner and lipstick I’d found in the bottom of the wardrobe. Then I went downstairs and watched Anna Karenina all over again.
I’ll pour myself a glass of that Soave and sit here for another ten minutes before I draw the curtains. I’m going to paint the windows before the winter. I do it all myself.
After my first experience of dressing up, I bought a wig and other bits and pieces.
At the end of our street there’s a big billboard with Marilyn Monroe advertising cigarettes, and drinking a glass of champagne in the moonlight.
Oh, that’s lovely wine. I’m wearing my black cocktail dress tonight, blond wig, nicely made-up. I could almost be there, in that advertisement, drinking champagne. I’d call myself Jasmine.
When I’m like this, I’m me, only me. I’ve got no family, no Mother looking over me like I’m a bad smell. I’m just Jasmine and I don’t have any past at all.
It’s not a bad life, all in all, looking up at Marilyn. It’s started to drizzle. Marilyn’s lower lip is tilted upwards. I wonder if she can taste the salt in the raindrops too?
Terry ponders his life in Salford, now that his parents have passed away. A certain silver screen bombshell provides distant inspiration in the gloom.
Story by Jeremy Worman, and appears in “Swimming with Diana Dors”.
With William Wyld as Terry.
Filmed, edited and produced by Alexander Mayor for Papercasting.
(Published in The London Magazine, June 2003)
Last Christmas I was told of your despair
And I saw in a dream you falling down
A dark valley bottom, but high above
On hills there were lanterns waiting for your
Return, keeping faith. A few months later
I read of your death from a heart attack.
But now, far clearer, I see you in a
Bright fishing smack coming into an island
In Greece, in the bluest sea at sunset
Steering with pride. The deck is full of live
And shining silver fish. You anchor, drink
Cold white wine and salute the harbour.
All along the hot, stony road from the sea
There are lanterns on the squat houses,
Each illuminates a cover
Of all The London Magazine you made.
Every lantern honours you.