Category Archives: Literature

The cruellest month?

Chaucer and his Tales (photos.com/ThinkStock)

Thus T. S. Eliot in the opening to his seminal poem The Waste Land. I’ve just realised that sadly I didn’t manage to get an entry to this blog in during April, the object of T. S. Eliot’s totally modernist foray into Chaucerian tradition, possibly because I’ve been so busy with other things, not least in gaining my laurea magistrale from university in Rome, which I am very pleased about and for which I shall proceed to blow my own trumpet!

It’s been the result of over two years of study in various subjects pertaining to English and German language (translation and literature), linguistics and language theory as well as the workings and history of international organisations such as the UN, the EU and so on. It hasn’t been easy ride, given my no longer tender age and other life commitments such as work, family and even moving house! To be honest the studying has been on the whole enjoyable, although I have found the exam situation to be rather stressful and extremely taxing on the nerves. Education is wasted on the young, they say and to some extent that may be true, but while memory cells are still very much alive in the young, in older folk (read over-40s) they are not. But no matter, I got through it all with generally satisfactory results, and my final dissertation in contemporary utopian/dystopian literature gave me a good sprint finish and I came out with a more than pleasing result.

At least for this year, after my own personal pilgrimage in education, appropriately ending up in Rome, I prefer Chaucer’s view of the month of April, and its lusty, fertile rebirth. In 2015 the month also appropriately began with Easter, or rather the pagan festival of fertility and abundancy, and of all things which will eventually bear fruit! Here’s hoping…

What that April with his showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed ever viene in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendered is the flowr;
What Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
the tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath the Ram his halve cour yronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye
That sleepen al the night with open ye-
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgramages…

Geoffrey Chaucer, General prologue to The Canterbury Tales 

Cement

I’m currently reading The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan. I wanted something short and simple and this is it, even though a tad macabre, and perhaps not as simple as it may first appear. It’s the story of a family of four children, whose parents both die in the space of a short time. The siblings create their own sort of utopia if you will, although as with most utopias it all goes a bit wrong.

Anyway I’ve discovered there’s also a film been made of it starring a young Charlotte Gainsbourg, directed by Andrew Birkin. The film/book is set in late 70s/early 80s and although made in 1993 it has some nice gritty images.

Cement Garden  Cement Garden 3 Cement Garden 4 Cement Garden 2

Ballardian New Year

A belated Happy 2015 to all my readers! I was pretty much tied up after Christmas and over the turn-of-th-year period, finishing off my dissertation with the final chapter concentrating on Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and a few selected novels of J. G. Ballard. I’m no expert on JGB, but I know what I like and I’ve concentrated on three novels The Drowned World (1962), High-Rise (1975) and Kingdom Come (2006), mostly becuase they have that kind of ‘dystopian’ theme running through them, albeit in a very ballardian way. I hope to be able to post some extracts of my labours here once the whole thing id done, dusted and ‘discussed’.

Meanwhile I can suggest this excellent South Bank Show documentary on JGB, presumably made just after Kingdom Come was published. It’s a kind of ‘Ballard for beginners’ with an interview by Melvyn Bragg, the bloke I wish I’d had as an English teacher at school.

My ballardian writings were also assisted by listening to selected musics of John Foxx, who has stated that during the recording of his seminal electronic album Metamatic he was “reading too much J.G. Ballard”. The fruits of that are adequately illustrated in this little pièce with accompanying visuals by Karborn, Foxx’s son and heir. I also took some stills off the telly which came out quite well, so I thought I’d share. (If you look hard enough you can see reflected the lights on my Christmas tree).

9 Things You Need To Write A Novel

My thanks to Mr Toby Litt for his feedback on his JGB interview, and for this piece on writing a novel…altough having read it, not sure if I should give up. Right now.

tobylitt

The first thing you need to write a novel is… Time.

The second thing you need to write a novel is… More Time.

And the third thing you need to write a novel is… Even More Time.

This perhaps seems a bit obvious. But let me explain.

Time, More Time and Even More Time are all necessary.

I’ve divided Time up into three because you need Time for different things.

The first lot of Time is, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, Time to write. Time to sit at the desk with words coming out of you.

The second lot of time, More Time, is… Time not to write. Time to do stuff which doesn’t seem to be writing but which, in the end, turns out to have been writing all along. To the uninitiated, this may appear to be window shopping or people-watching, taking a nice long…

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Big Brother is following you

1984>2014>1984…

Hurt / Smith, 1984.

Spent the evening listening to Anthony Burgess podcasts, writing ’til late on Orwell, checking on end of year tax payments etc. and then to bed in a bit of a turmoil. Should’ve had more cheese… woke up about 3 a.m. felt like I was Winston Smith .. cold, scared and even hungry .. wanted to get up for a quick shot of gin and a dry biscuit perhaps but was afraid the telescreen might bark at me, and get me to do my morning jerks (sic.) or even order me back to bed…

Somehow got back to sleep..dreaming of electric sheep in a desolate Airstrip One landscape .. woke again before the alarm call . .kept the lights and the telescreen off..but I knew Big Brother was still watching me. Crawled out for a pee .. thought of the day ahead..it’s cold outside. The Ministry awaits.
Never felt more grateful for running hot water, although razor blade a little blunt, Ingsoc style. Shavespeak. Tuned into the wireless. Radio App.. “Here is the BBC“, Listen, they said: some woman was talking about birds, then a man talked about doubleplusbad schools in Airstrip One and torturecrime in other parts of Oceania. Needed cornflakes and warm milk: easy on the Victory gin, don’t spare the coffee.
In other news….. I don’t remember. Change channels. Classical music…no! Too Clockwork Orangey!
Out into the cold morning air. Morning sun on thin veil of frost. Automobile. My turn to drive, Clemmy-cast to hand.
Reached my destination .. had to get something off my chest and out of my head. The thing I’d been gestating all night while Big Brother wasn’t watching. Scribbled in my secret notebook. Here it is.
I’m going to need a bigger piece of paper.

Brave New Worlds

reminder to self….

Brave New Worlds: The Dystopia in Modern and Contemporary Fiction

Welcome to the official site for ‘Brave New Worlds: The Dystopia in Modern and Contemporary Literature’, an interdisciplinary conference which will take place at Newcastle University on Wednesday 29th April 2015. Please keep checking the site regularly for further updates and information including the Call for Papers which will be published this weekend.

We look forward to seeing you all at the conference!

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Expo 58

Well I’m slowly getting back into some kind of routine now the August holidays/mayhem/anarchy is over, although due to stuff that will be going on over the next few months (new house – say no more) perhaps I won’t be able to give as much attention to this blog as I would like.

Any road up, this morning – quite by chance – I discovered that Brummy-born novelist Jonathan Coe is about to publish his new novel Expo 58. Coe is one of those authors whose novels I have consistently enjoyed and indeed devoured one by one over the years. What  A Carve Up, The Rotters’ Club (also made into a decent TV drama series) and The House of Sleep to name but a few. I must get round to re-reading those some time or other although right now of course I’m looking foward to Expo 58, described by the man himself as

…… a rather elegaic story, shot through with the sense of regret that seems inevitable when we look back on the hopes and dreams of an earlier era ­ whether these dreams involve the peaceful co-existence of nations, or the possibility of love between individuals. ”

The story is in fact set in 1958, in and around the Brussels Expo of that year, a time when Europe was at last  shaking off the post-war depression and really looking forward to a modern era. A new optimism and The Swinging Sixties were just around the corner. I often wish I’d been a young adult in those years – it must have been very exciting.

Doing a bit of web-researching into (read: googling) “Expo 58”, I see that it was in fact the reason why the Atomium monument / sculpture was erected, and what a wondrous sight it is too.

There are also lots of fabulous retro-graphics from the era , like this advert for the Soviet Union’s pavilion. They were obviously reaching out for a whole brand new world as can be seen in this:

ussr-expo-58-01

and this:

visit soviet pavilion

I can’t wait to find out if the Soviet Pavilion is featured in Jonathan Coe’s novel! 

Expo 58 is out in paperback on Viking, 5th September (I think) and in Kindle format. Expo 58

More of the Soviet Pavilion propaganda here .

The Wild Burroughs

A spot of the usual 80s pop music research yesterday led me to Duran Duran and their “The Wild Boys” single (1984). First of all I’d never really noticed the indefinite article placed before the noun and adjective (“wild boys! wild boys!”), but most importantly I never knew that the song was based on a  novel of the same name writtenby no less than Wiliam S Burroughs.

Thus wikipedia:

The idea for the song came from longtime Duran Duran video director Russell Mulcahy, who wanted to make a full-length feature film based on the surreal and sexual 1971 novel The Wild Boys: A Book Of The Dead by William S. Burroughs. He suggested that the band might create a modern soundtrack for the film ..

The film never materialised although Mulcahy did end up making a very elaborate and very expensive promo video for the Duran Duran track.

What’s even more interesting of course is what the Burrough’s novel is about. The Duran Duran video puts us in an apolocyptic, Mad Max style world of fire and violence but what about the “.. homosexual youth movement whose objective is the downfall of western civilisation” subject matter of the novel as mentioned in wiki? And what of the “allegory, fantasy, violence, drug taking and sex… teen boys engaging in gay sex, as well as a nun who dresses up as Christ, wearing a strap-on..” as mentioned by one amazon reviewer?

No wonder the source and inspiration for the Duran song which was to become an eighties classic was never really made public knowledge in those heady-mid 80s, albeit slightly prior to the AIDS scare. Imagine the reaction by the hoardes of screaming and adoring Durannies, not to mention the BBC and the public outcry which may have ensued had they known what the song was originally based on.

The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead by William S. Burroughs is available on Penguin Modern Classics.

The Wild Boys by Duran Duran is available on Arena (1984), Greatest (1998) with the full-length 8-minute extended mix featuring on Strange Behaviour (1999).

1913 and all that

Thank you to amazon for bringing to my attention to a new book by German author Florian Illies called “1913: The Year Before The Storm” to be published this week. It’s basically the story of what was going on in the world in that year, obviously before the outbreak of WWI the year after.

I’d never heard of Illies before, although I see he’s quite a prolific young writer. Now all I have to decide is to whether I get the English translation (as above) or have a bash at the original in German, in preparation for my German language exam in October.

Interestingly, the original is called “1913:  Der Sommer des Jahnrhunderts“, ie. “the Summer of the Century”. No mention of a storm brewing!

“1913” will be Radio 4’s Book of the Week from 22nd July … 2013.

Florian Illies