Sunday, 29 May 2011

Lane Smith and It's a Book

My brother sent me the link to this smart video clip: Lane Smith's It's a Book.  And here's a link to Lane Smith's website, because he really is a rather superb writer and illustrator.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Recent reads: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Regular readers of this blog may realise that I've been on a Carson McCullers kick these last few months.  It began when I was blown away by the stunning prose in The Member of the Wedding.  After this, I had to re-read The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (and other stories), having first read this about 30 years previously.  Next, of course, I had to buy a copy of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

I've always admired the poetic title of this book (as with Ballad), so was glad to finally get round to reading it and, in doing so, learned that while Ms McCullers originally called the book The Mute, her editor insisted on replacing the title with this romantic line from a poem by Fiona McLeod ('But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts/ on a lonely hill.' - see Introduction to Penguin edition by Kassia Boddy).  While it's certainly a catchy title, I feel she did the book a disservice inasmuch as The Mute strikes me as more appropriate to the overall focus of the novel.  The characters revolve around him and share their stories in a light they believe is cast by him, and his presence helps them define who they are up until that point when they have to come to terms with his absence (and the manner of his departure).

As for the story itself, while it's necessarily introspective, it didn't grab my whole-hearted interest until almost half-way through, when Bubber accidentally shoots Baby Wilson.  Once upon a time, I could stomach a lot of navel-gazing and introspection in a book, but not anymore, and if The Member of the Wedding hadn't made such a big impact I may well have put this one down by page 80.  Nonetheless, I stuck with it and was pleased that the characters did begin moving out of their "inner rooms" more in the second half, but what really made me glad I persevered happened to be pretty much that same quality that attracted me to Member; namely, McCuller's frequent snatches of brilliant prose.

There is a very 'painterly' quality about many of her descriptions, as if she knew how to really see colours, how to mix them on a palette and apply them to a canvas.  And there's also a poetic quality about how she defined the world, drawing on all the senses, which leave her words still ringing several pages later.  Here are two passages I particularly enjoyed:
Nothing had really changed.  The strike that was talked about never came off because they could not get together.  All was the same as before.  Even on the coldest nights the Sunny Dixie Show was open.  The people dreamed and fought and slept as much as ever.  And by habit they shortened their thoughts so that they would not wander out into the darkness beyond tomorrow.
(p.176 Penguin edition)

Out in the streets again he saw that the clouds had turned a deep, angry purple.  In the stagnant air there was a storm smell.  The vivid green of the trees along the sidewalk seemed to steal into the atmosphere so that there was a strange greenish glow over the street.  All was so hushed and still that Jake paused for a moment to sniff the air and look around him.  Then he grasped his suitcase under his arm and began to run towards the awnings of the main street.  But he was not quick enough.  There was one metallic crash of thunder and the air chilled suddenly.  Large silver drops of rain hissed on the pavement.  An avalanche of water blinded him.
(pp.299-300 Ibid)
Here's the post about The Member of the Wedding, here's the very brief post about The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, and here's a link to the Carson McCullers Center in Columbus, Georgia (although I'm having problems getting it to open at present).

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The End of the World... yet again.

I heard on the grapevine that Metrex or Contro or whatever they're called - the private company behind Melbourne's public transport system - had also successfully tendered to organise the latest End of the World event.  That's why it didn't happen.

If you've been waiting for some sort of announcement about its indefinite delay/cancellation, don't hold your breath.  Just hang around for the next one.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Hallelujah for novel research... and Leonard Cohen!

It's not uncommon to hear writers lament how easily they're distracted from putting words down on the screen when the internet is only a click away.  It's too easy, they say, to pretend there's essential research to be done... only to find themselves, an hour later, still wandering about in cyberspace, hand-in-hand with Google.  And I'll put my hand up to that: I'm guilty too.  But I love it.

I love discovering weird and wonderful snippets of information to gather up and hoard away in a messy corner of my brain on the off-chance that one day they may come in useful.  And, without it, the task of writing The Grease Monkey's Tale would have been much more laborious because I don't know a whole heap about cars or the mechanics of them; nor as much about the illegal manufacture of drugs and money laundering as I really needed to know.

I've put myself in a similar position with novel Number Three, inasmuch as the main character is an accomplished pianist and I know sweet nothing about music - more's the pity.  Fortunately, this girl is also autodidactic and delights in discovering weird and wonderful snippets of information that she gathers up... so I've now got a ready-made excuse to wander about in cyberspace, hand-in-hand with Google (and her), almost anytime I want!

There's a section in her story where she moves her hands across the keys of her friend's Bechstein boudoir grand, ghosting out the chords of a song, and I needed to find out exactly what those chords were (without knowing a whole heap about music).  Twenty minutes later, I'm listening to one of my all-time favourite songs: Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and, on another couple of tabs, I've discovered all manner of discussion about the meaning of the lyrics and the significance of the chords.  It's exactly what I need!

Ten minutes later, I'm still on YouTube, but listening to Leonard Cohen - the man himself - singing this very song in Helsinki and London and...

At 76, he's still a stunning performer and he absolutely wowed his Australian audience in Melbourne last year (my daughter amongst them) - creating a new generation of fans and satisfying the die-hards too.  While I sometimes think his lyrics are clumsy, with too many forced rhymes (sorry), some of the worst of these songs are also my favourites!  They're stunningly evocative and remind me of moods and places and times and friends from my distant past.  I can't hear Suzanne without remembering back to a time when, after a party, I was strolling alongside the Thames at five in the morning with a girl I fancied, watching the sun whisk up a new day; nor can I listen to So Long, Marianne or Sisters of Mercy without an olfactory flashback that involves the smell of joss sticks mingled with other sweet-smelling substances.  His songs have become a springboard into nostalgia.

However, Halleluja, whether sung by Mr Buckley or Mr Cohen is in a league of its own, and I was delighted to come across it when researching Number Three.  It'll get an oblique reference (for those in the know) - C Major, F Major, G Major, A Minor, F Major - and might even get one or two readers humming along or looking these chords up on the internet.

PS. Whether you're a new or old fan of Leonard Cohen, his Live in London album is very well worth buying.  Superb.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Do you have a novel ready for submission?

If you have a novel ready for submission and are an unpublished author, Legend Press (the publishing house that publishes me in the UK) are now accepting entries for the 4th Luke Bitmead Writer's Bursary. The bursary, which has seen the launch of Andrew Blackman's On the Holloway Road and Ruth Dugdall's The Woman Before Me (with Sophie Duffy's The Generation Game to be released in August), calls for adult fiction and offers a publishing contract with Legend Press coupled with a cash bursary.

You can find further details here.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Grease Monkey's Tale and The Reading Agency

At the end of 2010, Legend Press and The Reading Agency launched a project aimed at promoting "word-of-mouth in the book community" and at promoting the importance of libraries.  To this end, one thousand free books were distributed and readers were invited to post reviews.  The Grease Monkey's Tale was one of the five titles chosen for distribution, I'm very happy to say, and the following review was one of my favourites:
I found this quite a gripping story, even though I could see what was coming. The main character, Nic, was very likeable if extremely gullible. A little part of me believes that such an amazing place as Gimbly could exist after seeing some of the remote areas of North America... I enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it.
ML - Huncote Reading Group, Leicestershire.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Penultimate print run of The View From Here

The last-but-one print edition of The View From Here is out now.  And June will see the 36th and final copy.  Yes, folks, after three years of running both an online ezine and a print magazine, The View From Here is returning to its roots and will be entirely online once more.  It feels like a momentous occasion.

This month's edition features fiction by Catherine McNamara, Quin Herron, Kathleen Maher, Dan Powell, an article by Richard Beard (director of The National Academy of Writing - UK) called Writing a Novel and Tantric Sex, poetry by Nicholas Petrone, a review of Jasper Fforde's One of Our Thursdays is Missing, and my review of Anna Lanyon's Fire & Song, The Story of Luis de Carvajal and the Mexican Inquisition as well as my interview with Anna.  Of course, there's the regular Rabbit Writer cartoon and lots of fabulous artwork too.

You can purchase your copy by following the links here.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Listening to Cesaria Evoria

I have a couple of Cesaria Evora albums (L'Olympia and Cabo Verde) and give them a spin pretty darned regularly.  Her voice, her songs, are the epitome of mellow, and I can't help but relax whenever I listen to her at the end of a working day.  Her music is perfectly accompanied by antipasto - olives, semi-dried tomatoes, anchovies - cheese and a glass of wine, and I usually find myself dancing along, olive in one hand, glass in the other.  It is wonderfully haunting.

I intended to post one of my favourite tracks here with images of Evora performing live, but in searching this out on You Tube came across an absolute gem instead.  Cesaria Evora is performing Historia de un amor alongside Tania Libertad, accompanied by a beautifully haunting video.  Enjoy - I hope you do.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Phil Burman - artist and bruvver

My brother, the artist Phil Burman, sent me a catalogue of his recent works the other day, hard on the heels of an exhibition at The Ropewalk in Barton Upon Humber (UK).  He's also had a piece selected for the Royal Academy's summer exhibition, which I thought I might shout about here (and jump up and down a bit too)... and a recent article in The Yorkshire Post.  To get more information on Phil's work, you can visit his rather cool website here and have a butchers at his Facebook page: "Phil Burman - Artist".  You can also buy his work, without needing a gallery or a mansion to house it in.

This is one of my favourite pieces: