Category Archives: The Golden Country

The words of the prophets are written on the (Subway) walls

Sometimes a simple statement, a simple phrase, can have maximum impact. Less can indeed be sometimes more. A match when struck and left on a pile of paper can cause an inferno. I find graffiti can have a similar effect on me. Just glancing over a statement can play on my mind for the rest of the day.

To complement the fabulous art galleries in Liverpool like the Fallout Factory, TATE and the Walker – to name but a few – there is another type of canvas on display all around the Pool of Life. Art pieces randomly pop up creating an external gallery populated by the graffiti artist.

Happiness is a journey

As a lover of words it is the notable turns of phrase picked up on the streets that really have a deep impact on me. Like, for example, the ‘Happiness is a journey, not a destination’ painted in bold yellow on Maryland Street. ‘Dream Big, Dare to fail.’ Found etched in gaffer tape in the window of a College. Or the simple ‘Money eats brain.’ I first encountered this simple piece of syntax walking past a disused public toilet by the St. Georges Hall. It made me chuckle and really think about how cash can in fact rot the cranium.

There is also a Banksy in Liverpool. I still to this day mourn the loss of the giant rat that was sadly annihilated by property developers, like so many beautiful things in Liverpool.

Banksy rat

We also have our own spray can legend, TOMO.

While the student club BUMPER always offers advice outside on its billboard. Just before term erupted last September there was the warning:

HIDE THE NOODLES, THE STUDENTS ARE COMING

and recently in the aftermath of the Christmas selfie avalanche that bamboozled the internet:

Ann Summers has been selling selfie sticks for years.

I am aware the influence pointing out graffiti art has had on my ten year-old niece, as we bomb around the city together on a Saturday.

banksy_liverpool_love-heart-loop-plane_lonely-villein_unurth_dec12_2_1000-460x345

The ginger minx presented me with a drawing of her own.

heartair balloon

Shame the kid wants to be an accountant. Apologies to people who work in finance and the world of filthy lucre, but let’s just get one thing straight, all the worlds’ top economists and financial experts did not predict or see the triple dip recession coming at all. An equation that for me simply does not add up!

Please keep your eyes on the hunt for any interesting pieces of street art and let ten minutes hate know. And you will soon see that sometimes the City’s best galleries can be outside on the very streets.

1 Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

Interlude by Rupert Smith

They say you cannot judge a book by its cover, but I must confess that it was the strikingly handsome chiselled profile of the chap gracing the cover of Rupert Smith’s INTERLUDE that initially made me hover over the shelf.

interlude

Thankfully, as I started to read the tale, it became apparent that the content was impeccable. I was entranced. You know it is the mark of a good book when you cancel social plans and get up half an hour earlier before work to read some more. I was a literary addict consumed and ravaged by my desire to just read on.

INTERLUDE:

Edward Barton was one of the most successful novelists of the twentieth century. The critics didn’t like him, but readers loved him – and so did the film industry, turning out movie after movie based on his blockbusters. Then at the height of his fame, after the worldwide success of his best-selling novel Interlude, Edward retired from public life and never wrote another word.
It’s left to his granddaughter Helen, married with two young children, to untangle the web of fiction and lies surrounding Edward Barton’s legacy, and to reveal the secret at the heart of her family – a love story far stronger than anything in his novels.

ten minutes hate was beyond pleased when author Rupert Smith agreed to be interviewed.  He spoke about all things literary, seagulls and an open mic night for new talent.

10mh: Do you have any rituals or specific routines when writing or working on a script?

No, other than getting up and getting to my desk and working for as long as I can, fuelled by coffee and sandwiches. I don’t really buy into the fanciful idea that writing is some kind of magical process. It’s just a job. A writer I knew got quite misty-eyed about his fountain pen, which he thought was a conduit to the imaginative realm, or something like that. I just thought ‘please, get a laptop and join the real world’.

10mh: What qualities do you think make a fantastic story?

I have very traditional, perhaps conservative ideas about narrative. I believe in structure, and suspense, and giving the reader an enjoyable experience. You must have humour.  I like there to be an obvious point to the story – something that you can sum up in a sentence or less. If you can’t do that, then you don’t really know what your book is about. I often get criticised for having ‘unlikeable’ characters, which I think is just another way of saying flawed or realistic characters. I like protagonists to be interestingly flawed. It’s what interests me in people, and in fictional characters.

10mh: Who are the authors and artists you admire?

Far too many to list here. Off the top of my head, JB Priestley, Honore de Balzac, Agatha Christie, Somerset Maugham, Elizabeth Taylor, Evelyn Waugh, EF Benson, Jean Rhys. But there are thousands.

10mh: If you could be an animal, which one would you choose and why?

A seagull. I’d like to be able to fly, obviously, and I like the beach. Also, shitting on people from a great height would be fun.

10mh: INTERLUDE references the power of cinema, what films do you go back to again and again?

I love black and white Hollywood stuff like Now, Voyager, The Lady Eve, Some Like It Hot and so on. And I love really schlocky horror movies – Poltergeist, Lifeforce, Species, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Faculty. Apart from that, I’ll watch just about anything with a handsome leading man, as long as it’s not too violent. Netflix is great for that kind of thing.

10mh: INTERLUDE has had a fantastic critical response and I finished reading it 16 days into January, thinking, ‘I have found my book of the year.’ What future projects do you hope to develop?

Thank you, I really appreciate that. The critical response has been great, although it’s really hard these days to get any coverage in the press. I’ve got a couple of projects on the go at the moment. Under my other writing name, James Lear, I’ve got a new erotic thriller coming out in the summer called Straight Up, it’s kind of like Lee Child but with hot gay sex. I’ve got a novel and a non-fiction memoir both doing the rounds but it’s one of my rules that I never talk about projects until the ink’s dry on the contract, so you’ll have to wait and see about that.

10mh: What advice would you give to new creative writers?

I’m the last person to ask for advice. My ‘career’ has lurched from one disaster to another, occasionally squeezing out some good books along the way. The only serious piece of advice I have is ‘marry well’. If I didn’t have a husband who earns a proper salary, I’d be in the gutter. But if you want literary advice, it’s this. Books are for readers, NOT for writers. You should always focus on giving the reader a great experience, not on some bollocks that your creative writing tutor told you.

And finally, if you want to read some of your work to an audience, come along to my monthly event Books in the Attic at Hackney Picturehouse in London, we have open mic slots.

Author picture courtesy of Fannar Gudmundsson

Author picture courtesy of Fannar Gudmundsson

Interlude by Rupert Smith is available now.

1 Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

Naomi’s Room

We have all been there, so it’s not hard to conjure up the scenario. A bustling Saturday shopping afternoon, you try to manoeuvre yourself through the lagoon of people who bash past oblivious to anyone in their pathway. Basic manners and people skills: clearly two lessons that were eradicated from their upbringing. People who were not brought up, but rather brought down.

You clasp tight hold of the child’s hand by your side. But being an infant, this is no ordinary day, no day is ever ordinary when you are three or four. It’s a world of imaginative possibilities. An escalator is a runway to a sci-fi alien world, a conveyor belt to the land of robots. A discarded take away box is a trunk of treasure and then there are all the neon flashing distractions of window displays and other excitements.

You may lose your grip for a fraction of a second, look down and he or she is still there, look away and then back and the kid has vanished, gone! This is every adult who is responsible for a child’s absolute nightmare. Because adults know the darkness of the world we inhabit. In that fleeting moment, the amygdala does not just hijack the brain, it tortures it.

Generally a few seconds later the child re-appears, you catch sight of him or her and your heart returns back to its normal rhythm. You shout, an almost roar, out of sheer panic about wandering off and how it is naughty or some other disdainful reprimand. It doesn’t matter what you say, it’s just words, noise expressing your inner fear. And equilibrium is restored.

But what happens if the child does not re-appear?

This is precisely the dilemma that Jonathan Aycliffe throws at his reader in the beginning of the short tale of terror NAOMI’S ROOM. From the onset he establishes his tale in the land of comfortable academia. It’s domestic bliss with Charles, the main protagonist, aged 30, his wife Lucy, 26, and their daughter Naomi who is 4.

It’s a world of possibilities,

Your life seems so directed when you are thirty.

Charles is a published promising academic, with an acclaimed piece on Gawain and the Green Knight. The loving couple and their daughter live a charmed life and the action starts with the two prepping for Naomi’s first proper Christmas. Taking Naomi on a trip to London, on Christmas Eve, her mood is one of excitement.

Naomi’s sense of adventure was infectious.

This picturesque idyll is not so much shattered as completely decimated when Naomi goes missing.

Nothing bad happened to children on Christmas Eve.

Each chapter is crafted to keep you reading on with a suspenseful final paragraph. This tale is in the style of supernatural masters like M.R. James and Susan Hill. The sadistic style of writing that is unflinching in its descriptions, slashes the canvas of comfort and provides an engrossing narrative. It is horror writing at its best, suspenseful, chilling and occasionally gruesome.

I’d say you know it’s a captivating tale when you open the envelope it came in as you come home from a solid day of graft and decide to look at the first paragraph to realise you are 80 pages in and the last hour or two has gone by. It was only when I finished NAOMI’S ROOM that I actually looked at the cover in greater detail. Thankfully, I had not given it a glance as on reflection this could have put me off, a naff superimposed stock image of a spooky child clutching a doll over a staircase was about as sinister as athlete’s foot, but I guess that depends on the severity of the foot ailment!

naomis-room

If like me you choose to read this tale in a room of your own, I can guarantee that when you bed down in the evening, a light of sorts will have to be turned firmly on somewhere in sight of the naked eye. You will hope that the mind does not decide to work overtime and you will hope that Madam Sleep wrestles you quickly into unconsciousness.

It does amaze me the fixation that society seems to have with fictional horror and crime. The world is crammed with gruesome realities from IS to UKIP, yet we still have an innate fascination with atrocities from watching hangings in Elizabethan times to reading penny dreadful novels in Victorian days, the 1970’s slasher flicks to the bordering-on-snuff films of the SAW franchise.

Perhaps we are all just twisted souls?

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

The tortoise had it right!

Next time you’re in a public space, a café, a bar arena or even a restaurant, take a peep around at how many people either alone, in couples or groups of friends are on their phones, travelling the internet, keeping up to speed with the latest viral sensation.

everyday robots Copy = Babycakes romero

This need for a flash spectacle is fantastically portrayed in the recent film BIRDMAN. Michael Keaton’s character, a washed up actor, gets accidentally locked out of his Broadway production naked midway through the play’s performance and has to walk through a congested Times Square. A common nightmare that I and I am sure others have.

People are addicted to the net, trailing through Twitter, Facebook and the like, an endless stream of information flowing like a river full of driftwood that cannot be used for anything of purpose. Although there will be an occasional salmon. This buzzing is constant on all apps.  We are all moving so fast and trying to achieve the unachievable.

I saw Carl Honore talk on the excellent TED site last year on slowing down and paying more attention to what is around us. His discussion on the slow movement encouraged me to buy his book, IN PRAISE OF SLOW. I generally buy a lot of books from the site ABE books. As they deal in second-hand copies, there is always something exciting about getting a book someone else has had, with occasional receipt or ticket as book markers, scribbling inside and the odd personal message.

In praise of slowIn general the books come in a day or two from the time I order them.  For some reason this particular book took a few weeks. Perhaps a witty bookseller was teaching me a lesson before I had even opened the pages of the manifesto. In keeping with the title of this book, I have read it slowly over the last few weeks. Normally when I am captivated by a subject I consume it quite fast, but I felt particularly with this topic it would be better to cogitate over each idea. I’d highly recommend reading it in a similar fashion.

Warhol said,

We spend much of our lives seeing without observing.

This is very apparent in the arguments put forward in the for a slower approach to all aspects of our lives from sex to food. To start the New Year, ten minutes hate caught up with Carl Honore and asked him to summarise why we should slow down:

  1. To recharge your physical batteries. Our bodies burn out when stuck in fast-forward. Pausing from time to time to rest allows us to enjoy life with more energy.

  2. To look back. Memories are hard to form when we live too fast. Pausing allows us to savour and learn from past experiences.

  3. To see the big picture. Pausing to reflect allows us to look beyond the trivial distractions of the moment to ponder the deeper questions: Who am I? What is my purpose here? How can I make the world a better place?

  4. To take pleasure. Many of us are racing through life rather than living it. Pausing allows us to engage fully with the moment, which means doing everything better and enjoying it more.

  5. To connect. Relationships wither when we try to rush them. Pausing allows us to listen to other people, to be with them fully. It also allows others to connect with us.

  6. To be more creative. Neuroscience tells us that slowing down is an essential pre-condition for creativity. Pausing allows us to unleash our imagination and creative powers in the workplace and everywhere else.

  7. To save the world. We are burning out the planet by consuming much more than we need. And much shopping is driven by impulse decisions. Pausing allows us to resist the siren call of turbo-consumerism and to make sensible decisions about what to buy.

You can find more information here.

So far for 2015, I am trying to ensure I spend quality time with friends and family, where they have my undivided attention, not ‘oh, I just need to take this call.’

I’ve joined a rambling club so a couple of times a month I can land in the middle of nowhere and walk for the day without any digital toxins, using a compass not a sat nav. I find it quite disturbing to be told you have reached your final destination, it sounds too much like death. In the same way I can never get over the fact they call an airport a terminal, after all that is also too, too final.

To combat the 24 hour online working society that we have become, where we can work anytime and anyplace, I now have a tech-free curfew for a few hours every day, I keep away from a digital screen. I can still write down my ideas but only in a sketch book. No digital sound beats the scratching down on to paper with a sharpened pencil. In the orchestration of our lives, we would all benefit from a marked rallentando, before the inevitable conclusion that awaits us all.

tortoise and the hare

As Simon and Garfunkel aptly sang in The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy):

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the moment last…

1 Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

The world can never have enough glitter!

In the limbo period of Xmas and New Year I found myself taking several parties of friends and families around the Pool of Life at different times. It is quite something, seeing the City through the eyes of strangers, aliens to its charms. I have a love affair with the City Centre which anybody who has read features on here previously will know.

The first shock to my friends was that the Museums are free!

If you have not had the pleasure of embarking on a ship as an emigrant at the Maritime Museum, do so! Although the black wigs on the dummies looked like they could have been stolen from a Human League Appreciation party. The Walker has a wealth of art, so much that only a limited supply is actually on display. Check out the new exhibit of Liverpool images though the years to see views of Castle Street and the St John’s Market resembling Covent Garden.

In a world where Russia creates ridiculous restrictions for LGBT drivers, it was an absolute pleasure to show off the cultural richness the City proudly exhibits and particularly the work of Homotopia:

  •  An ongoing exhibition about Gay life in the Navy with HELLO SAILOR at the Maritime Museum. It was an insight to discover that the common Scouse term bevvy (slang for a drink) stems from Polari .
  • The internationally ground-breaking April Ashley exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool Life. April Ashley has LIVED a life, a pioneer in LGBT history. I read the book April Ashley’s Odyssey last year. What a ride! From dining with aristocracy and being dated by Hollywood royalty to being skint in Hay-on-Wye, living on tinned food.
  • THE GANG, photographs by Catherine Opie at The Walker. Her collection of portraits of LGBT friends, an entourage of individuality, subverts American archetypes.

OPIE-square-The-GangCatherine Opie sums up how far we have come in terms of equality,

I made THE GANG after individually shooting them all for the 1991 body of work, Being and Having. It was great to see them with their moustaches and I couldn’t resist making some group photos of them…..I think it is perfect in celebrating Homotopia as this work was made 20 years ago, in relationship to visibility within my queer community. It is good to reflect on the equality that has been achieved, as well as the fight in regard to homophobia that continues.

So to banish the January blues, I would suggest painting over the grey and dark bleakness brought to us by the weather by catching the Technicolor works on display at all of the above.

Sail away to another land.
Check out the LGBT exhibitions.
The world can never have enough glitter!
And the Museums are free!

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

The Life of ‘The Master’

In the epicentre of the city, an electrical jungle, it seemed quite fitting that I started to read a biography of Lou Reed in Lime Street station, Liverpool. The speed of life was all around as I leafed through the pages of the book, LOU REED, THE LIFE BY MICK WALL. It was so cold you could smell the frost. Trains sighed, constantly in a mood. A distant whistle, then a robotic articulation read out train departures, all clipped vowels and pronounced words mixed with the click-clack of heels. A bird scream shattered the air.

The noisy chaos of a city, its people and their stories. The very madness of living that Lou Reed quite skilfully captured in his music. The singer lived the majority of his life in the middle of the similar hustle of New York City.

lou reed the life mick wall

This biography focuses on the rise and fall, rise and fall again cycle that the artist had during his lifetime. At times he was arrogant, vengeful and downright nasty.

He can’t leave any situation alone or any scab unpicked.

It was Mr. David Bowie who dubbed Lou Reed the ‘Master’. Yet they fought quite publicly, on many occasions. But we all love a Rock ‘n’ Roll feud, remember Oasis versus Blur?

What I discovered about the idol was not endearing. You don’t always have to like your idols; you can fall out and be frustrated by their actions. After all, it is okay to be contradictory, that is a necessary part of being human.

I continued to read the book at 6am on the day after Boxing Day, with a cup of tea and a bowl rammed with Yule log and extra-thick Jersey cream, which did make me giggle. I was reading about the musicians’ hedonistic exploration, dibble-dabbling in pharmaceuticals and narcotics as I was devouring the bowl of wrongness. How rock n roll, what a game, eh!

Thankfully, this festive over indulgence can be combatted by a couple of extra sets of sit ups. It’s clear from this book that a diet of heroin, LSD and other toxins cannot be so easily sorted. I have seen first-hand friends who danced the tango ballad with drugs in their twenties only to have hangovers either take root immediately or more innocuously in their mid- to late-thirties and forties. They had forgotten to read the small print, that drugs could lead to paranoia, claustrophobia and other anxieties, sometimes heaped together.

Kierkegaard said,

Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.

Wall’s no nonsense style of writing highlights the damage that the New York City man’s vices did to his mental well-being but hints at how it also stimulated his finer hours, like the pieces BERLIN and TRANSFORMER.

lou reed Berlin

I walk around Liverpool and hear the fragments of pieces of conversation, banter, arguments and all that I love about the city, the language, the talk, the buzzing. Where else in the world would you find scrawled on a toilet wall,
‘Ye ma’s baldy and collects Panini stickers’?

The type of dry sense of humour that is apparent in Lou Reed’s work. A great lyric in his track LAST GREAT AMERICAN WHALE (on the album NEW YORK) about where this sea creature has been spotted is delivered in that inimitable Yankee drawl,

My mother said she saw him in Chinatown, but you can’t always trust your mother.

I think Lou Reed would have loved Liverpool and its kick-ass attitude, finding the humour in the tragic.  It was his sardonic take on life that attracted me initially to his music. Its tales of picaresque characters from Warhol’s Factory, the broken people, transvestites, street workers and drug fiends who bleed glitter, glamour and damage. A cast of deranged souls.

velvet underground

The unsettling sound of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND with Nico’s droning somnambulist chanteuse next to Reed’s sandpaper-scratched vocal chords. John Cale’s avant-garde experimental score next to Mo Tucker’s anarchic drum beat. I remember buying their first album with Warhol’s Banana on the front from PROBE records, when I was a teenage bag of tie-dyed insecurities with blue hair and eye brow piercings, trying to standout but really unknowingly conforming. It was like something else! I lost track of his career trajectory as I grew up, with his pieces like albums ECSTASY and THE RAVEN.

This entertaining rock biography does exactly what it sets out to do, talk about Lou Reed and his musical legacy. It is also unflinching in describing his personal life, there is no airbrushing of the past. I found I didn’t warm to his attitude, but it has encouraged me to re-visit his back catalogue particularly. Like I said, you don’t have to like your idols, the person who created the music. It is, after all, the work that will always stand out.

Perhaps Bowie was right and he was the ‘master’, but I will let you be the judge of that.

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

A year in books – 2014 – J. C. Greenway

Like my good pal, Mr Maguire, I have taken a more systematic approach to reading this year by making a reading plan. It wasn’t too exact, reckoning on two books a month and allowing for other discoveries by only planning for 10 months instead of 12. It sounds unbelievably dull, but as it paid off in an extra 15 books read this year, it might become a permanent feature! Access to free, out of copyright downloads means that I read more ebooks this year. They are just too convenient to avoid these days, however strong the preference for the turning of an actual page.

stack-of-booksWhile putting this plan down on paper, I decided that I wanted to read more from outside the ‘dead, white, European male’ perspective which so often makes up my reading. As this year started as the last ended, with a whole bunch of classy spy novels, this wasn’t altogether successful, but the effort will continue when planning next year’s books. I also want to read more works in translation, to disprove that theory that English-speaking readers won’t touch such books. Also this year I was lucky enough to get an offer of free downloads from the website Unbound, which introduced me to many new writers as well as a new way of publishing books.

Here is my list of books read in 2014, with links to reviews written along the way, as well as some further thoughts following. In chronological order, I read this year:

  1. Mike and Psmith, P. G. Wodehouse
  2. Psmith in the City, P. G. Wodehouse
  3. Crying Just Like Anybody: A Fiction Desk Anthology
  4. A Murder of Quality, John le Carré
  5. The Looking Glass War, John le Carré
  6. My Name Is Loco and I am a Racist, Baye McNeil
  7. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
  8. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
  9. Under Fire, Henri Barbusse
  10. Piggy Monk Square, Grace Jolliffe
  11. Down the Figure 7, Trevor Hoyle
  12. These Turbulent Times, Paul Tomkins
  13. I’m The One, Miha Mazzini (short story)
  14. A Game With Sharpened Knives, Neil Belton
  15. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  16. Burmese Days, George Orwell
  17. Jew Boy, Simon Blumenfeld
  18. The Interpreters, Ben Anderson
  19. A Man Without a Country, Kurt Vonnegut
  20. The Road Home, Rose Tremain
  21. Our Game, John le Carré
  22. The Summing Up, W. Somerset Maugham
  23. Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell
  24. The Lighthouse, Alison Moore
  25. The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth
  26. A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, Ben Macintyre
  27. Swimming Home, Deborah Levy
  28. Elephant Moon, John Sweeney
  29. Salt & Old Vines, Richard W. H. Bray
  30. F**k The Radio, We’ve Got Apple Juice, Miranda Ward
  31. Cause for Alarm, Eric Ambler
  32. The Honourable Schoolboy, John le Carré
  33. Wigs on the Green, Nancy Mitford
  34. The Sweetest Dream, Doris Lessing
  35. Coming Up For Air, George Orwell
  36. Conversations With Spirits, E. O. Higgins
  37. Empire of the Sun, J. G. Ballard
  38. Snows of Kilimanjaro, Ernest Hemingway

Looking at my list, it seems that I didn’t do too well at #readwomen2014, with just seven women appearing. The inter-war period still seems to be my favourite, with 14 books either being written or set in the Twenties and Thirties. It is going to take a more concerted effort next year to break away from the old, dead, European men.

Some highlights this year were set very close to home, with Piggy Monk Square by Grace Jolliffe and Trevor Hoyle’s Down The Figure 7 offering two completely different perspectives on growing up in the North of England. Jew Boy by Simon Blumenfeld contrasted with and provoked thought as well as Orwell’s Keep The Aspidistra Flying.

Spy novels remain a pleasure, so it was engrossing to pick up Ben Macintyre’s tale of the real-life mole in our midst, Kim Philby. Miranda Ward’s book – part manifesto, part memoir – of making it or not in the music and other creative industries prompted much highlighting and scribbling in notebooks. Conversations With Spirits by E.O. Higgins was a triumph, taking on spiritualism and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, it should be read by all.

Despite its World War II setting, nods to Orwell and plucky heroine, I couldn’t warm to Elephant Moon by John Sweeney. It had all the right ingredients and should have been a cracking tale, but felt far too slow to me. Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse is undoubtably the work of a skilled writer, but I disliked her characters so much it was difficult to spend time with them.

When it comes to picking a best book of the year, there really is only one candidate. Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake was unlike anything else, written in an edited version of Old English and rewarding the dedicated reader with a finely woven and masterfully rendered story. Language and narrative both perfectly combined. The writer announced that this is planned to be the first of a trilogy, which is very happy news and something to look forward to placing on a future list.

So, how about you? How did you get on and which were your favourite reads of the year?

2 Comments

Filed under The Golden Country

A year in books – 2014 – John Maguire

Since I purchased myself a Reading Chair, my reading habits have become far more structured this year. It’s true I still read haphazardly in between appointments and on my daily commute on the buses of Liverpool. It takes 21 days for a new habit to be formed and now if I do not snatch a few moments in my chair daily, I feel like the day has not really been complete.

stack-of-booksI started the year with Patti Smith’s JUST KIDS, a first-hand observation of New York during the Bohemian seventies. It details her relationship with the controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe. The poetry behind her descriptions of the creative process is intense, dark and beautiful.

BREAKFAST WITH LUCIEN by Geordie Grieg tries to get behind the skin of the cantankerous painter Lucien Freud. This book does not shed the artist in a great light. I would hate for a friend who I chose to have breakfast with regularly to narrate all the things we intimately discussed (allegedly) after I died. As Freud was an enigmatic private man I find this well, quite frankly, quite rude. The book was an addictive read and proof that you can appreciate the artist even if his or her life choices are somewhat questionable and contradictory to your own moral compass.

THE COLLECTED SHORT STORIES by Roald Dahl were delicious, macabre, tales of the everyday with a sadistic twist, a tapas board of terror. I wanted to re-read THE GREAT GATSBY before seeing the new-fangled 4D bluescreen adaptation.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I would say that this is the greatest book of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, perhaps second only to TENDER IS THE NIGHT. Sadly, it left me questioning how he would have developed if he had not drowned himself in hard liquor. How many great writers have been lost on the wild seas of intoxication?

I abandoned THIS SIDE OF PARADISE as I felt it was like being in a room with a married couple when they drank too much and argued at a party. LAST DAYS by Adam Neville is an enjoyable horror focusing on a lost cult from the seventies. I could not help drawing parallels with Scientology.

Back to the classics next with the episodic story of self-development DAVID COPPERFIELD and then onto NICHOLAS NICKELBY both by Charles Dickens, I think I found my favourite Dickensian character too (so far) in the eccentric Mr Dick. I struggled through BLEAK HOUSE, a great tale but I found the legal wranglings tedious.

THE APPRENTICE by Tess Gerritsen was a grizzly and graphic suspenseful horror. Nothing quite like feeling like you are actually attending an autopsy when reading whilst on the bus to work at 6:45am. Surgically accurate fiction, you feel every cut. (Pardon the ridiculous pun!)

BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jess Walters will make you yearn to visit the slow country, Italy. A gorgeous tale of romance that reminded me of the great Sixties films by Fellini or the recent The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino.

KEEPING THE DEAD by Tess Gerritsen took me back to the morgue. A guide on how to mummify a dead body is always a good thing to have in your mind’s library. Perhaps though, something to omit from a CV or job application? A masterclass in pulp horror. With & SONS by David Gilbert, you can taste the atmosphere of New York City. The narrative focuses on a writer and his complex relationships with his siblings. DON’T POINT THAT THING AT ME by Kyril Bonfiglioli was camp farcical fun James Bond meets a sexed up Jeeves and Wooster.

DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King is the sequel to one of his masterpieces, THE SHINING, and is equally as horrific. Wow, I am now grateful for having read some of King’s weaker books as this illustrates the man’s sheer genius. When asked in an interview where he gets his ideas from he said,

I have the heart of a child. I keep it in a drawer in my desk.

REVENGE by Martina Cole is a recipe for gangster revenge tragedy. Take a dose of Danny Dyer, add a few WAG-like women, a sprinkling of Ray Winstone and a few reated metaphors, like he was ‘strung up like a kipper’. An entertaining spectacle of a book. MAGGIE AND ME by Damian Barr, is a coming of age tale about a gay guy growing up when it was not deemed acceptable to be gay, running parallel with the political changes during the Thatcher years. JUBILEE by Shelley Harris took me to the hot summer of 1977, one street in Blighty and all the little hidden tales behind the closed doors of its residents.

THIS BODY OF DEATH by Elizabeth George was an epic crime thriller that cleverly entwined several plots into a climatic conclusion. It left me trying to solve its mystery right up until the explosive conclusion.

goldfinchTHE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt was my book of the year. My only regret is I will never have the experience of reading this book for the first time again. With stunning sentence structure and imagery throughout I encourage all to indulge in this literary treat.

THE LEMON GROVE by Helen Walsh, a titillating tale of a Mum’s sexual obsession with her daughter’s boyfriend, had some luscious descriptions of the Mediterranean landscape. Like a holiday one night stand, it was fun at the time, enjoyable but didn’t develop into anything more substantial.

DECEPTION by Philip Roth is an experimental stream of conscious, dialogue between a writer and his mistress through the years of their affair. This then began an addiction to the writer’s work. THE BREAST followed a Kafkaesque story of a man who literally turns into a giant breast. Anyone who thinks of Roth as a misogynist needs to read this story. It brings us face-to-face with the intrinsic strangeness of sex and subjectivity. The narrator of this fable is David Kapesh and I followed his future adventures in THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE and then THE DYING ANIMAL. This piece sees Kapesh as a 60-year-old lecturer and cultural critic begin an affair with a 24-year-old student. An exploration of the human condition, the strange facets that make up an individual and the paradoxical emotions of love and desire.

I moved on to Roth’s other collection with narrator Nathan Zuckerman. THE GHOSTWRITER details the young writer meeting his literary hero E.I Lonoff. Again Roth takes the reader through this characters life story with ZUCKERMAN UNBOUND and THE ANATOMY LESSON, a tempestuous ride through relationships, fame and addiction. The thinner volume THE PRAGUE ORGY takes the reader along with Zuckerman’s adventures in Soviet Russia, a scabrous and gutsy observation of this country.

Okay, I made a Philip Roth patch to wear to wean me off this literary obsession and picked up A LIFE STRIPPED BARE by Leo Hickman, a non-fiction book which chronicles an experiment in how to live a more sustainable existence in our throwaway fast society. NOW AND YESTERDAY by Stephen Greco was an interesting story about a gay designer in his sixties looking for love in Eighties New York. The descriptions of his lifestyle and the interiors of New York were fabulous and decadent.

THE LITTLE BOOK OF TALENT by Daniel Coyle, short sharp tips on how to improve performance in your chosen field has equipped me with a few points on self-improvement. I slipped off the PHILIP ROTH wagon, as I wanted to read a book about the complex Israel-Palestine conflict. The COUNTERLIFE was a challenging and thought-provoking investigation into this chaotic mess.

SISTER MAYBE by Ann Tyler was recommended by my dear friend and fountain of wisdom Rita Tannett. As this lady has previously recommended the amazing BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin and many others in the past, this was priority. What a piece of writing – each chapter crafted to have maximum emotional impact. A tale of an American family and the undercurrent of troubles behind their perfect family set up.  It reminded me of the Roxy Music lyric,

in every dream home a heartache.

Prior to seeing the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate Liverpool, I read Viktor Bokris’ THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ANDY WARHOL. Bokris has written fantastic works on Blondie and Lou Reed. He is not frightened to ‘tell it how it is’ and focuses on Warhol’s love of art in the early years and his metamorphosis into a complex, cold, master puppeteer. I found this one of the most disturbing books to read, as for so many people that he came into contact with, although messed up to say the least, he seemed to add to their troubles. Not really one of those friends who you can describe as a life enhancer.

I re-visited one of my favourite poets William Blake, SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE. A volume of work that like a classic Kate Bush album needs to be digested in one sitting.

oh the places you'll goThe great thing about buying Xmas gifts for my nieces and nephews is I get to read the books before I give them away. THE LORAX and OH THE PLACES YOU WILL GO by Dr Seuss are like little nuggets of philosophy.

So be sure when you step,
Step with care and great tact.
And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)
Kid, you’ll move mountains.

Tove Jansen’s MOOMIN BOOK OF WORDS is like a kindergarten class taught by Salvador Dali. THE CHARIOTEER by Mary Renault, an of its time novel about the love that dare not speak its name during the war. It was an articulate brave, novel that plays an important part in LGBT history. On Xmas Day I read possibly one of the best gifts I have ever received, a Ladybird classic, CHARLES DICKENS, a thirty page book that neatly sums up the master craftsman’s career.

Final book of the year was Michael Faber’s THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS. He is the author of one of my favourite novels, THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE. What I love about this writer is the way he can adapt to different genres, from Victorian prostitution to sci-fi with his excellent UNDER THE SKIN. Incidentally, the adaptation of Under the Skin was my film of the year. Seeing Scarlett Johansen’s alien drift through the street of modern Glasgow past Clare’s Accessories and later try to understand Tommy Cooper on the television was surreal.

His latest work is a re-visit to the sci-fi genre, a novel about a religious preacher travelling into deep space to bring God and the light to an alien tribe. A graphic exploration of the importance of faith and what we mean by the word, ‘home’.

farage HITLERI may send it directly to Bigot – sorry I mean Briton – of the Year. Nigel Farage.

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

Time off

When you leave the house without your young kids – ensuring there is another compos mentis adult around first, of course – it can be difficult to switch off the instincts. Someone struggles with their coat next to you: leave them to it! People drop umbrellas: they can pick them up themselves! You don’t have to be a twit about it and if help is obviously needed and can be given, it should be offered. But none of these other humans are entirely reliant on you and isn’t that marvellous?

Everyone thinks – and you think yourself – that what you will want to do as soon as you have ‘time off’ are the big things: shopping, manicure, ski trip, etc – but actually what you crave is down time.

Ginza tea and cake

Sitting in a cafe, eating without interruption, staring into space or reading a book in bed. It is the little moments that matter more than a night in a club. Anyway, when you have done newborn duty pulling an all-nighter seems less hardcore. Try 100 nights of sleep broken into two-hour intervals. Being a sleep-lover, I am still not sure how I made it through…

Best thing has to be though, after a couple of hours away, you feel like you have been away a bit too long. (Really you have felt this since about 10 minutes after you left, but you have reached a point of being unable to ignore it.) Then you get back home, keen to see the little faces again. Walk in the door and…

…they didn’t even realise you had gone.

2 Comments

Filed under The Golden Country

An alternative to panto

I love Pantomime – it is awful but fantastic at the same time, if that makes any sense – but if looking for an alternative this break, perhaps these two theatrical treats may tempt you.

First, The Frozen Scream is a collaboration between the Wales Millennium Centre and Birmingham Hippodrome. The Welsh performances are over but it will run in Birmingham in January. The piece is co-written by Christopher Green and Sarah Waters, adapted from a tale by CC Gilbert.

frozen scream

I was fortunate to catch this production in late December. The proviso was to wrap up warm and wear sensible shoes. The hardest part of having seen this production is that I cannot really say too much about it, I now do not want to spoil the enjoyment, so I cannot reveal its secrets. My lips must remain frozen!

The-Frozen-Scream-cover-NEW-FORMAT

All I can say is it is camp and self-aware, a chilling evening’s entertainment. It is an experience that I would highly recommend. A beautiful glacial ornament, I hope remains frozen and complete in the memory box of my mind. Beware the Ice!

The second alternative is back on my home territory of Liverpool: Rumpelstiltskin.

rumplestiltskin

The Unity at Xmas never fails to impress. Through the years, a festive trip with my niece and nephews has become part of our annual yuletide celebration. Indeed, I buy tickets in lieu of toys or the latest fad. Funnily enough, experiences can sometimes be more enjoyable than fancy dressed festive wrapped gifts.

The Red Shoes, The Pied Piper, The Snow Queen, Hansel and Gretel, and traditional tales that are timeless and severely dark. I encourage anyone who has not read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to do so. At times they are shocking in their brutality. With this year’s offering, there is a simple set of hay that is used to create props, furniture, even a castle turret. The abolishment of the fourth wall means the audience are involved with the action at all times, with one kid even playing the part of a Bishop and marrying the King and Queen.

Rumpelstiltskin, a dark fairy tale that spins theatrical gold. A piece of real theatre, fabulous cast, fabulous set, fabulous lighting and an excellent score. I normally have an aversion to singing kids’ stuff, Frozen, well, freezes me… but the opener of the second act was magnificent, like a Grimm Brothers version of Cabaret. My three-year-old nephew’s first trip to the theatre and he was mesmerised. Result!

If these two dynamic productions do not appeal to you, there is always pantomime…

Oh no, there isn’t!

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country