I have found membership of The Society of Authors very useful – legal advice, interesting guest speakers, communicating with other authors – and much else. I recommend it to all writers.
Wednesday, 29 November 5-7pm – Waterstones Greenwich
Both John Wilks and I have been tutors to this remarkable group who have now produced an anthology of their work – short stories, flash fiction, poems – including pieces by John and me. Barbara Ward, a member of the group, has been the driving force behind this project.
John and I met when we were students on the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. It has been a great experience for us to have been part of the Greenwich Creative Writing Group.
All profits go to the Greenwich Foodbank.
60 authors, 60 stories. Each story is no longer than 360 words long. Witty, poignant, entertaining, this anthology includes some of the best short short fiction writers around, including Lydia Davis, Roddy Doyle, David Gaffney and Gemma Seltzer. There is one by me too! Edited by Peter Blair and Ashley Chantler. The perfect little Christmas gift – and all money goes to Comic Relief.
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’.