I first picked up this book for its cover, a vintage fashion shoot time black and white photo cover. Also it has all the themes which inspire and interest me: vintage, obsession, fame, class.
There has been a Formula One Grand Prix accident in Monaco, May 1968 witnessed by the world press in the grandstand as the celebs mingle with drivers and their racing cars. grandstand is witness to a terrible incident. Jack Preston, a simple mechanic for Team Sutton, will bear the scars of injuries from which he shielded Deedee, a budding film star. Back in a remote sleepy village in England, it seems like it is still the 1950s. Church-going villagers wish him well. A slow-witted boy stands around and assists Jack back in his garage while he tinkers with cars. Jack recovers from his injuries and is nursed back to health, after which he owes it to his wife and has to put up with her insatiable sexual appetite. Jack becomes totally obsessed with Dee the glamorous Hollywood actress. waiting every day for a sign that she would be back to show her gratitude, to find him, to see him, to say ‘thank you for saving my life’.
Peter Terrin’s writing is rich, beautiful and evocative. Already he is being compared to Camus and I can see why. This is a thin book, only 160 pages, yet it is full of restraint, lacking in verbosity and descriptive excess. Instead it is a clear, simple and imaginative account of a car mechanic’s obsession with a film star. “Monte Carlo” has been translated from the Dutch language by David Doherty. Peter Terrin himself was born in 1968 the year of the Grand Prix.
… celebrating for the first time with Unbound authors. It has been 12 or 13 years since I did my MA and listened to ‘readings’ from a writers’ group. I was touched that my new international writer friends had travelled from all over- Italy, Coventry, Winchester, Oxford and London of course, to my corner of SW London. It reminded me of the old days (1990s) of writers group where you meet in writers’ homes. There were no photos because no one carried such as thing as a camera around let alone a phone. I deliberately did not take photos of our secret gig on Sat 10th June. And definitely none of food!
In the old days you actually had to call people on their landlines (Hello? Hello? Are you coming tonight? Did you know it is tonight? I left so many messages on your ansaphone? I gotta go now, the boss is back. Click.) during your lunch hour from your office phones as there was no mobile phones or email then, or you had to actually use your landlines in the evenings from home. Today’s gig was intimately organised via Messenger, and not EventBrite or other invitation platforms.
For this event I invited everyone but I naturally hoped that not everyone of the 201 UB authors would turn up. During lunch we chatted about writing, publishing, agents, everybody’s experiences of the C-word*. After pizzas, salads, chicken legs and mojitos, we heard everyone’s work interspersed with cake, prosecco and tea break. We heard Jessica Duchen‘s new magical realist writing (Jessica is author of Ghost Variations), from Tamsen Courtenay, author of Four Feet Under, about the plight of the homeless, the only non-fiction writing in the group, an ‘uncut’ exclusive excerpt from Patrick Kincaid‘s The Continuity Girl. Jennie Ensor read stalker-point-of-view excerpts from her thriller Blind Side. Damon Wakes, author of Ten Little Astronauts, read interactive fiction from his 150,000 word “Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure” coming out this year on a Spanish label. I didn’t read from my Unbound book, Heart of Glass, instead read an old short story published in the Silverfish New Writing 4 anthology called“Friday Night at the Pheasant”. For those of you who did not hear but would like to read it, click on the link. Yvonne Lyon left her Prologue from the Burning Road: Book One: Moorland on the bus so she didn’t get to read it! For those of you who would like to read it, it is here. Yvonne is a friend from 2001 and we met in south of France on a writers’ retreat week.
It was a really heartwarming experience and support group which reminded us that before social media and all this nonsense, we were and are writers, and after social media and all this nonsense, we were and are friends. I can probably qualify as a tea girl now that I managed to make English tea. I think some of the other writers from the southern contingent would be fighting and elbowing their way to host the next secret gig. Whose turn next? Tune in to find out!
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PS. No one even mentioned the elections which is unbelievable? How retro is that? Remember the ancient caveat: Do not talk politix at writers’ do’s.
This is the Proverse Spring Reception on 27 April 2017. The film is 53:09 minutes long. The section where they announce the prize winners is from 4:32 to 9:10.
However, you may wish to watch to the end. It is actually very entertaining, especially as new books are being launched, and there are readings by writers and poets from all over the world. It is an evening celebrating writing, writers and books and a special treat for book lovers everywhere.
This is probably the worst meal I have ever had. I think my shoe is tastier. It cost 5.80 the princely sum for the worst meal I have ever had. I am also MSGed up to the eyeballs so will need a walking stick for the next few hours while my eyes adjust to natural daylight. It is starchy, bland and gloopy. It’s like eating hot clothes which have just come out of the washing machine.
When you are craving Seafood Wat Tan Hor and it’s on the menu, of course you order it. They had the cheek to offer me chilli sauce at the extra charge of 50p a serving. Nothing can save this dish so I politely or maybe impolitely declined. If this place was in Malaysia it would have shut down straightaway! The vegetables were nearly raw (this is the best bit, at least it was healthy). And I am a good girl, always have been, I ate all the vegetables. There were two prawns from a packet, a few crab sticks, a few squid slices, all from a packet. I don’t understand this business with the two slices of cucumber. Since when did Wat Tan Hor have cucumber?
I was very lucky to have been given an invitation to attend Ewan Lawrie’s book launch in Islington. This would be the first time I am meeting an Unbound author and in fact the first time I would be meeting an author that I had got to know first through social media.
Times have indeed changed. The first time I met an author was Catherine Lim, bestselling author of The Bondmaid, in Singapore, when I was a schoolgirl, a tweenie (this is somewhat anachronistic: there was no such word at the time, you were either a child or you weren’t). I was very impressed that she was not only leggy and slim, she wore killer stilettos and the traditional tight-fitting cheongsam with high slits. This was the 80s after all. Phwoar! I thought she was glamorous and that I probably should be a writer. Little did I realise. It is so totally not glamorous. It is 16:52 on Sunday and I am in my pajamas, typing this blog, sipping a moscow mule.
Gibbous House is about the adventures and misadventures of this thug called Moffat who has just inherited some assets and is making the journey up north to claim his goodies. It is very rich in atmosphere and detail. I have not got to the point why the book is named so, because gibbous means hunchbacked. I am on Chapter 5. Because of the florid Victorian lingo and voice, I have to slow down and take it all in.
I got to know Ewan through Unbound. I bought his book because I really love the Victorian gothic genre. I had read all of Sarah Waters’ books. I read up to page 12 of the book on the underground on my way to the launch, as I received it from Amazon that day itself. Ewan is also a supporter of my book Heart of Glass on Unbound. The evening was well-organised and very pleasant. Watch a couple of clips here: IMG_4671IMG_4673 Ewan was there to greet all the guests. I got to meet Rachel his editor, who introduced him. I was disappointed he did not do a reading and there was no Q & A session as I had burning questions to ask. He was kind, friendly and soft-spoken with his twinkling blue eyes. We talked about Unbound, crowdfunding, books, reading and all the usual lark. I may even have gained some tips. The pub, aptly named The Blacksmith and Toffeemaker, is an old Victorian boozer, amped up to modern trendy standards that we are now accustomed to. I think the venue was well-chosen, spacious, bright, with a back area that could be cordoned off.
Recently I became absorbed with Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian” and Chuck Palahniuk’s “Make Something Up”. I hadn’t read anything like these for a long time. They have some similarities and although I definitely preferred the latter so I will have to spill my guts out and start with .
“Make Something Up” by Chuck Palahniuk
I heard that Fight Club: The Musical is being made. Might be a rumour, might be a contradiction in terms. Edward Norton has a beautiful warm voice as seen and heard in Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You” (1998). But Brad Pitt? I am not sure. What would his audition piece be? I did not read Fight Club the Book I still do not think I can read it as it is quite male-dominated and bare-knuckled. I liked any movies with Edward Norton in it. If anyone can do bare knuckles, it’s Edward Norton.
“Make Something Up” is like literary devices on crystal meth. I just adored this book of novellas and short stories. It’s literary, it’s Americana, it’s art, it’s gothic, it’s retro, it’s dark, it’s kitsch, it’s noir. It is all of these and still worth devouring. The writing style is savage and slick. I would love to write like Chuck Palahniuk.
How does Palahniuk do it? Each story is wicked in both senses of the word. The power of his observation and nuances struck a chord with me. He has famously said “I like to write in verbs not adjectives”. I can see how motto has driven his punchy amoral style. I am actually scared to turn the pages. Something bad or good or crazy will happen and there is no telling what or when this will take place. Palahniuk has a way of dealing with violence and unexpected surprises with dark humour. His female characters are all like caricatures, blondes with big tits and miniskirts or grannies with fake teeth and sweatshirts. I don’t know. Maybe they are all like this in America? But I forgive him his sexism which is understandable due to the kind of characters he writes about, none of which are likeable. They are all mad, bad or sad. Great stuff! Who wants to read about goody two shoes?
In the opening story, ‘Knock Knock’, a son tells one dirty joke to his dying father, who in turn had told him bad taste dirty jokes all the years of his childhood when he didn’t even know what dirty jokes were or what the names of female private parts were. This has poignant repercussions. In ‘Zombies’, a high school craze of detaching cardiac defibrillators from walls to self-inflict electric shocks leads to a iop student’s downfall. Another story that stood out was ‘Tunnel of Love’ in which a massage “therapist” administers an unusual “relief” to dying patients. Fight Club comes back in ‘Excursion’ with the original character Tyler Durden.
The truth about the visceral style is that I feel very greedy and hungry after consuming Chuck Palahniuk’s books. They really waken the senses and the guts.
“The Vegetarian” by Han Kang
Due to my own naivete, I actually thought that “The Vegetarian” is about a vegetarian. It is and it isn’t. The title is a cautionary poetic description of the mental degeneration of the titular vegetarian. As we know, this is literary fiction in translation. What happens in literary fiction is just by the by. The plot is not crazy or twisty. It is totally linear.The most interesting thing about this book is the structure. It is traditional, linear and in three parts. The type of plot is: Transformation. Or Downfall.
The first part is in the viewpoint (VP) of the husband of the said vegetarian. Starts off well, Murakami-like, then strange things happen. At no stage is the vegetarian’s VP known or discussed. The first part is my favorite as it is the least literary. It is plainly written from a blokey bloke’s point of view and devoid of poetry, literary devices, metaphors or symbols. You actually sympathize with him because his wife has not only become vegetarian she has started to mentally unravel, unable to look after herself let alone him.
The second part is in the VP of the brother-in-law, a video artist who fancies the pants of the vegetarian. Although he is an annoying arty tosser, this part is not too bad and still quite digestible because he is trying to make art and in the meantime shag her. In the process he takes advantage of her and his own marriage falls apart when they are caught in the act.
The third and concluding part is in the VP of the vegetarian’s sister. Her marriage has fallen apart so she is now the carer of the vegetarian who has to be incarcerated in a mental home. This is my least favorite part It is thick and gooey with poetry which I secretly enjoyed reading because it is very heady, gutsy and “visceral” (that word again). I am not scattering this word carelessly. It is literally visceral because it relates to the guts of the vegetarian in the subject matter. You won’t feel squeamish and it won’t hurt because the language is so highly-styled and artistic. Nothing is done in poor taste. Yet I am and remain clueless about the conclusion. I really would like to have a spoiler alert here for those of you who like spoilers but I have none. In itself that is a spoiler.
relating to the viscera.
“the visceral nervous system”
relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.
was written in 1922. Zweig was born in Vienna in 1881 to a wealthy Austrian Jewish family. He moved everywhere after he was a student in Berlin, he ended in London and New York and finally Brazil. He died in a double suicide with his wife in Brazil in 1942. These are “Tales of Longing and Liberation” says the inside of the front cover. These are loose terms and indeed I did not have any idea or want to have any idea what they meant. Zweig was an inspiration for Wes Anderson‘s Grand Budapest Hotel. You are probably thinking the same thing. Yep. Moustache.
The titular story
is the first and the longest (54 pages) of the collection. The main character, unnamed, tells his story through the narrator being given the text of the story that is to be told. This was quite a modern psychological concept of the time, which also means that it is dated and contextual. “Fantastic Night” (I love the title BTW, I really think the writer has totally captured our hearts and our imagination because you straightaway want to know what is it about the night that was fantastic?) is about man’s spiritual awakening. That night, became
the pivot on which my whole existence turns.
Turning is always a good theme for a story, that is the transformation for which the reader is looking. And before that night, the main character was a wealthy, seemingly worry-free, successful yet vacuous 36 year old man, someone who was trite and childish. Money does do that to people. Therefore the universal themes did apply then. How many successful vacuous people do you know?
I did not lack for success with women, and here too, with the secret collector’s urge which in a way indicates a lack of real involvement, I chalked up many memorable and precious hours of varied experience. In this field I gradually moved from being a mere sensualist to the status of a knowledgeable connoisseur. … But nothing stirred, I felt as if I were made of glass, with the world outside shining through me and never lingering within…
The scene at the races which was his so -called pivot, took a tad too long. I really wanted to know why Zweig could not get the story told quicker. Maybe it is that archaic suspenseful literary technique of storytelling which grates on me. The character experiences and toys with a minor indiscretion (well, basically, overt flirting with a married lady), leading to
the pull of criminality
Where the “criminality” referred to is how he managed to pull wool over the woman’s husband’s eyes, cheated the stupid bloke of his winnings, in order to impress the woman he was flirting with (who was BTW not pretty but fat and red-faced yet someone he found attractive because of her raucous, dirty laugh), and then to return the cheated money in an over-the-top overpayment secret gesture.
I felt myself, desiccated as I was, suddenly flowering again.
The word desiccated was very evocative of a decadent period, decaying morals, old money, despair, coconut. Although it was predictable but open conclusion, I think the darkness, moral nature and long-windedness of the story actually contributed to its power and I found it satisfyingly morbid.
Once a man has found himself, there is nothing in this world that he can lose.
I think that is really beautifully said. This is a metaphysical story that actually brings about ideas, a story that makes you think. You cannot read this without thinking: you won’t be able to enjoy its richness. This is where the universal themes come into play. A rich man must start from scratch in order to live. That is the moral of the story.
was quite a brief old-fashioned story. Very simply it was about a nanny that got pregnant by Otto the lodger (a university student) of the household and she was so vehemently berated by her employer that she did something terrible to herself. The parents are supposedly on the moral high ground, they are cold, unfeeling and needless to say, wealthy (or wealthy enough to afford the nanny). The Frau of the house refers to the Fraulein’s condition:
“Excuses, excuses! Every promiscuous girl will offer that excuse! She’ll blame the first man who comes to mind and thinking nothing of it, hoping the good Lord will come to her aid. And a woman like that claims to be a governess and fit to educate girls. It’s outrageous. You sure don’t imagine that, in your condition, I shall keep you in my household any longer?”
This story was actually told in the third person, but from the children’s POV. I was very sad and frightened for the children she cared for, for truly they cared for her and thought she was very ill. They took the trouble to take their own money and buy white roses for her because they knew that she loved them. But it was too late. In this story, it was clear that the children were severely affected and upset because they were so attached to the nanny and the nanny to them.
“Letter from an Unknown Woman”
was the most powerful story in the colleciton, IMHO. I could not stop reading it. It was totally gripping and unsettling. The story spans a woman’s entire lifetime, from childhood to her early demise. The character that the story is about is not this woman, that is why this is such a clever story. That main character is a successful writer, who never speaks, to whom the entire story is addressed in second person, who receives a letter from a woman who is dying who turns out to have known and devoted herself to him all her life, from childhood onwards.
However, I did not guess that at the time age of thirteen, still a child, it was as it I had been immersed in fire. I though the tenderness was only for me, for me alone, and in that one second, the woman latent in my adolescent self awoke, and she in thrall to you for ever.
At first I thought this must be a stalker story. How foolish and modern I am. Turns out I am wrong.
The woman returns, becomes his lover, becomes mother to his child, becomes a prostitute and therefore making the writer her client in order to raise the child with middle-class luxuries, and all the time dedicated to him. She gave him so many chances to recognise her, as the little girl in the hallway of the apartment building they all lived in, who looked at him through the keyhole who grew up and left the apartment block and came back to become his lover. He never recognised her in more than twenty years despite having met her, fancied her, shagged her so many times. This story was about this character who was truly so solipsistic and narcissistic that he became blind and deaf to someone else, anyone else. They might as well not exist. And now they did not. It was too late, the letter said the son, their son, was ill and had died, and now she was dying too. Quite a depressing story and there is no light coming in from the window at any point. It was a dark, moving and disturbing story. Nuff said.
This is a fine glittering collection, will suit anybody who is a fan of that period of literature, the Viennese tradition, the Grand Budapest Hotel, the deepest, darkest moments of human emotions, loss, gripping passions, intense encounters. Very very excellent reading. It will transform your one evening into a “Fantastic Night”.
It was “dance, experimental, arty” and that I must come, said Nina the friend who was organising the girl’s night out evening for her birthday do. We were a party of eight. I have never been to experimental theatre before, let alone experimental dance, never been to Sadler Wells or Lilian Baylis Studio. How often does one get treated to theatre tickets in one’s lifetime? I think you can count the number of times in a hand. I could not say no to her. (Aside: no recording was allowed therefore I have no photos or audio clips to show of the night, much as I was itching to do a 15 second trailer. Being a neanderthal, I only just learnt to do this on my iPhone and I can’t stop making mini Instafilms now.)
I had deliberately not read the blurb or synopsis prior to watching “For Now, I am…”. I wanted to experience surprise, freshness and my own interpretation. I found Marc Brew‘s performance not only fresh and surprising, but revealing and poignant. It was his own personal story of becoming disabled and recovering. Marc was a professional dancer from NSW Australia and became paralysed after a car accident 19 years ago. This is his story about being reborn.
was composed by Glaswegian Claire McCue and began with the tentative sequence of open minor 7th piano chords. I knew there was something tender and heart wrenching going on. (All musicians know this, not just me). This is what they do in arthouse European cinema. It is very evocative, timeless and effective. Enters the cello, and so the most baritone-voiced string element. When the music builds towards the finale with diminished 7th alternating and repetitive arpeggios, so does the tension. The melodic theme is so strong you could actually sing it. It would work ‘live’, if the piano player cum composer McCue and the cellist Andrew Huggan turned up and played it would not have looked or sounded wrong. I wish I could hear it again. It is indeed a beautiful piece of music.
Structure and storytelling
is traditional (not experimental!) in approach, and therefore had a beginning, middle and a twist.
SPOILER ALERT (avert eyes from now on to the end if you do not want to know)
When the story begins he faces away from the audience, calm, seemingly asleep, lying down. The view from the audience was that of his bald head. (My friend Tina joked to me that that must be what I view everyday since my own hubby’s head was as bald and shiny as Marc’s). The whole show is floor-based except in the final scene.
The second movement was most difficult to take because the music was jarring, abrasive and plinky plonky (sorry I don’t know how to technically define it) Marc is in a cave with dripping water sounds echoing throughout. He appears to be convulsing, swatting or slapping insects and in a state of irritation and agitation. At this point I still did not know he was disabled because I did not read the blurb beforehand.
I was totally taken by astonishment and amazement when he unveiled his legs towards the final scene, making them walk with his own hands, as we would to a doll. This well-built, young dancer had legs with no muscular definition, that he was indeed a disabled person, vulnerable yet brave because he has told the story so well. He brought us on his personal journey and brought us into his world. Now I understood the first and second movement. It all made sense.
In the denouement, my own view was that it was the visual opposite of the crucifixion. Marc was upside down and being strung up like a hunk of meat by his own paralysed legs. At the same time, the eyeline of the character had been raised for the first time, like a curtain being raised, and raised to well above the eyeline of the audience. He was seeing the world upside down now. At the same time, his expression was that of resignation.
Was low-tech, simple and minimalist, an elasticated waistband around a Jesus-type loincloth pants, and chunky foot bandages.
Again simple and minimalist, almost clinical and religious in what it represented. A very enormous sheet of white Kabuki silk. A theatrical hook and guylines at the end.
Video projection and lighting
The opening scene begins with video projection of window panes onto the sheet of white silk and a light that strikes the window pane and moves down in a strobing effect, as we see when we are in a car at night, or when search lights cover a harbour. The sheet then becomes a calm sea, the sea that is brought to life later and becomes stormy when Marc apparently wakes up from his state of unrest or coma. The third scene has snow-like projections but instead of coming down, they are going up, thereby in keeping with the fact that he is in fact upside down.
was chaired by Alistair Spalding (Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Sadler Wells). They talked about Marc’s CV to date, what he is working on and what he would be working on. Marc discussed the themes that inspired him, such as that of water. Marc did swear on stage at one point, when talking about having performed this solo before and the audience went silent, he said he was thinking “Oh 5h1t they don’t like this”. I think that’s the nice thing about Aussies, they don’t mince words, they say it like it is and they are straight-talking. I thought he seemed like a nice guy, just a regular person. I was educated, and lived in and worked in Sydney, Australia for 8 years so I should know. I just love the country, the wine, the people and of course the climate.
Question and Answer Session
I asked Marc what he missed about Sydney and Melbourne and how often he went back home. I was first to ask a question. Alistair liked my question very much :-D. Marc said he missed the sunshine and family. He has just been back to Australia and he aims to go back home once a year as he has been in Glasgow for more than ten years.
Someone asked what I thought was a dumbed down question. She asked if Marc “worked out” as he looked “fit”. Oi, this is a dancer, Mrs. They all work out and look fit. It is actually a bit insulting because what she is really saying is: ‘you are disabled but you look fit’. You gotta look at it for real: this is a dancer, don’t even think of the disability. He is a total professional.
Someone said he found the performance “uncomfortable” and that he felt “grumpy” and this is “not a criticism”. The man has missed the point. Which is:
“The purpose of art is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
Marc has done just that. He is not baring his soul and his body in order to entertain and thrill, this is not the Lion King, this is a story of one man’s journey into discovering the unknown and to find himself again. And just one man’s story consisted of 14 names on the credit list to make this story happen and bring it to the masses.
Someone else said she found the performance vulnerable and she could empathise how lonely it must have been for Marc. I can totally agree with that.
I wanted to ask Marc what he likes to do and where does he like to go when in London, but there wasn’t time.
“For Now, I am…” is a most thoughtful, moving performance by Marc and I didn’t think it was uncomfortable at all. I thought it was very positive and heartwarming and of course, a thing of beauty. A lovely memorable evening out with the girls which I will cherish always. Thanks, Nina for your kindness and generosity, without which I would not have found myself in Sadlers Wells, Islington, last night. The three dots after “I am” is actually a clue as to the denouement of the show, one that provokes a central wisdom. He is what he is, and he plainly reveals it. I dance too but I am bloody useless. I can’t even control the limbs I have let alone the limbs I don’t have. Enough said. I would never complain about going en pointe with chilblains in the middle of February again. Or walking an entire block in heels in the rain. Marc is gifted, proud, a natural leader and achiever and has gained much, much more in the last twenty years than us able-bodied in a lifetime.