Tag Archives: books


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


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.


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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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:


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

Is there a hippo in the room?

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”

As part of my studies, I’ve started a Philosophy of Language course, part of which deals with Austrian born philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who spent a lot of his life in England, philosophising on mathematics, language and other stuff.

Seems a bit of a tough nut to crack at the moment, but I’ll let you know how I get on.

Books I’ve put together so far:

  • Wittgenstein for Beginners, John Heaton
  • Wittgenstein, Philosophy in an Hour [Kindle Edition], Paul Strathern
  • How to Read Wittgenstein, Ray Monk

The BBC/IOT podcast on Wittgenstein (2003) was a tad disappointing as none of the guests seemed to able to explain exactly what our Ludwig was on about, or perhaps I need to listen to it a second time. Anyway another good podcast – an interview with Ray Monk – can be found here.

Still looking for some decent documentary / OU type video material if anyone knows of any.