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The Western World 2

Great writing from Adrian Tinniswood.

Adrian Tinniswood

1905-john-millington-synge-2 John Millington Synge

Synge got three Guardian articles out of Erris, each illustrated with one of Jack Yeats’ oddly haunting drawings of thatched cabins, empty roads and half-formed faces. One day, they drove to the village of Geesala and walked out along the edge of Blacksod Bay until they came to the hamlet of Dooyork. The houses they saw were poor and primitive, ‘broken-down hovels of the worst kind’. People stared from their doorways as they walked by. Women passed them bringing in heaps of seaweed or turf in great panniers slung across horses, often with a toddler perched on top.

They got back to Belmullet to find Carter Square heaving with humanity. It was Friday 23 June, the eve of the Feast of St John the Baptist, and as the sun went down bonfires were being lit all over the west of Ireland. ‘A relic of Druidical rites’, according…

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The Western World 1

Adrian Tinniswood

Jack Yeats.jpg

It is late. The square is full of flaring fire and people.

In the falling midsummer light of a St John’s Eve crowds laugh and gasp at the antics of the boys as they hurl flaming paraffin-soaked sods of turf high into the sky, catching them and throwing them up over and again, leaping over bonfires, colliding with each other, swinging lengths of burning hay-rope around their heads. A child, caught in an ecstasy of pleasure and dread, reaches out unthinking to clutch the hand of a tall man, who just as unthinking returns its grip. This unlikely couple, who have never met before and will never meet again, stand close together, holding hands, until the fire play is done. Then the little girl vanishes back into the crowd and the half-light.


On any day, Carter Square in Belmullet is a mass of moving metal. Cars and 4x4s, camper…

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The Last Days of Leda Grey

This latest novel from, Essie Fox is in the tradition of her other novels, The Somnambulist, Elijah’s Mermaid and The Goddess and The Thief, three individual wonderfully written books, based in the Victorian era. The Last Days of Leda Grey, is a bit different, it’s not based in that period but, Fox has shifted her attention to one long hot summer in the mid seventies and going back in time to the Edwardian era and to the early days of silent films.

Ed, is a hip young journalist, working for a trendy London magazine. We learn he has had a troubled past and is a bit wasted from too much excess from a life in Fleet Street. While in the “Brightland” lanes, he comes across a little shop selling all kinds of hippy and occult paraphernalia, he sees a photo of Bette Davis and on a whim, because it reminds him of his mother, he goes into the shop. The proprietor is an old man, a bit shabby with a Bobby Charlton comb over. As Ed looks round the shop he sees some monochrome pictures of a dark-haired beauty. He is captivated by her and when the old man tells him she is still alive, he decides to track her down, thinking there could be a story in it for his magazine.

I thought this book was fantastic, I’m not great at writing reviews and only do it when something moves me, something I’ve really enjoyed. I read this book very quickly, it just flows along on the page, the writing is rich and descriptive, I like how great writers do that and it was so clever how Fox, made a kind of parallel universe in the town of Brightland, reminded me a bit of Lyra’s Oxford, in Philip Pullmans, His Dark Materials books. When I started to write this, I had to skimm through the book to help jog my memory and was once again, struck  by the wonderful writing of Essie Fox. All the characters are fascinating and well-drawn. Her locations make you feel as if you are in them, with the claustrophobia of the Brightland Lanes shop, to the mysterious shed. The house on the cliff, with its run-down rooms, like an old mausoleum. Every page is a Gothic painting of words.

Surreal Encounters at the Festival

Surreal Encounters.

The Edinburgh Festival is over for another year; amongst all the comedy acts and fringe madness, there was also a couple of art exhibitions, one at the Scottish National Gallery, on Princess Street and another one at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, just over the Deans bridge. I have been to both but this post will be about the second one, I may write about the first one, Inspiring Impressionism: Daubigny, Monet and Van Gogh, if I find the time. It is a fantastic exhibition and if you are going to Edinburgh, soon! I highly recommend it.

When the Festival comes around I always look for Shakespeare in the mix. In the past I have been lucky to see Kenneth Branagh and his Renaissance company productions of King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, staged in the Kings Theater back in the late eighties. That was amazing and, pretty much led to my total love of Shakespeare. I have managed to see one or two fantastic, independent plays on the Festival Fringe, my favourite being a post-apocalyptic: A Midsummer Night’s Dream but, this year I didn’t spot any.

The Surreal Encounters exhibition is spread out over nine or ten spaces; right at the start in the first part, the corridor actually, there to my delight, are some small pieces by Picasso, we are in for a treat here. The Encounters part of the exhibition refers to four collectors, five if you count the husband and wife, Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch. The other three are Edward James, Roland Penrose and Gabrielle Keiller. I knew of Penrose, he was married to the photographer Lee Miller and was a great friend of Picasso. He was a major promoter and collector of modern art; he was also an artist in his own right, with some of his work on display in this exhibition. The other individuals, collectors of surreal artwork, I was not so familiar with, Gabrielle Keiller who bequeathed her art collection to The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was a top ladies golfer, who fell in love with surreal art later in life. I hope l will get around to reading about them more extensively later, I will probably invest in the accompanying book for the exhibition, it is twenty-two pounds and is a bit of a door step, I didn’t fancy carrying it around Edinburgh with me all day.

The work on display are fantastic, there is a big section on Dali, some wonderful pieces including his: The May West Lips Sofa. I have been to see Dali’s: Christ of Saint John of the Cross, at the Kelvingrove gallery in Glasgow, many times, it is stunning. Seeing these works on display in Edinburgh has more than helped reinforced my enthusiasm for Salvador Dali. With paintings by Picasso, Joan Miro, photographs by Man Ray, great paintings by Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Alberto Giacometti. This was a very impressive Exhibition, from a wonderful and, very conveniently close Gallery.

Post Script: This exhibition finishes today Sunday 11th of September 2016.

The Noise Of Time

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes.

I have just finished this unusual and intriguing novel, maybe it’s not so unusual for a Julian Barnes novel, it is the first one I have read, so it may not be so unusual after all. A few months ago I did read his collected essays on art and artists: Keeping an Eye Open, it was a follow on from many years ago, 1989, of reading his book of short stories: A History of The World in 10 ½ Chapters, in which he first wrote about art in a chapter on Gericault’s The Raft of The Medusa. This book too, is about art, music mainly and one mans story in the arts.

I spotted this book as I was browsing the shelves of Waterston’s in Livingston, quite a slim volume, a plane brown dust cover, like a home-made brown paper cover of a child’s school book, with a sort of a cartoon drawing of a man with glasses; looking over his right shoulder nervously, as if he is expecting someone, he is wearing a coat and holding a case.

After I bought it; I walked over the road and settled down in the local coffee shop, only intending to read a page or two, normally, I am too easily distracted to concentrate on reading anything in public but, this book was different, I managed to read a good third before I had to move on. It is a book full of short paragraphs with lots of space between them, this made me read it quite quickly.

I thought the man in the book, who was standing by the lift, waiting for the NKVD to take him to the “big house” in the middle of the night, was a fictitious character, his name is Dmitri Dmitriyevich. I think most people will know who he is, it took me until the middle of the book to realize that Dmitri Dmitriyevich, a composer, is Shostakovich the composer. He mentions his symphonies and his opera: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk early on, I still I didn’t know who he was. This was a real surprise to me, I almost laughed out loud, I’m not sure if the author was intending to create this reaction in his readers, I think it was an unintentional bonus for me, not to know who Dmitri Dmitriyevich was. I loved the way Julian Barnes tells this story, it is like a biography, though it is I think from his imagination, after much research [I] would imagine. He gets into the head of the man and describes his fears, his bravery and cowardice, under the [power] of Stalin and the Soviet Union.

Over the course of the book, I had the sense of Dmitri Dmitriyevich getting older and the moving passage of time. Barnes’ writing is a treat, all the Russian names and places are seamlessly inserted into the prose without making it a difficult read. This is a very clever story; I don’t know if it is exactly how Shostakovitch thought about his life but, maybe some of you will have a better insight than me, all I can say is I enjoyed: The Noise of Time, and I will be giving his other novels a go.

A Paris Book Barge

The Little Paris Bookshop, is actually a barge, a book barge, in which Jean Perdu sells books to people who need them, he has a kind of sixth sense on what people are searching for, what ails them and how to match a book and sooth the heart of the ailing reader. The book barge is tied up on the river Sein in Paris where people can read and buy books. Perdu has a longing and loss for a girl he loved twenty odd years ago. When she left him, she left a note witch Monsieur Perdu, being devastated by her parting had refused to open.

One day a young, first time novelist, comes on board the book barge, he is in disguise but, Perdu recognised him as Max Jordan, who’s first novel is all the rage and he is a bit of a celebrity. He has lost something too, his muse, his inability to write a follow up book.

The book is about searching for something lost, about friendship and love, down through the waterways and canals of France on the book barge. This is a lovely whimsical novel, just when I thought I was reading something from the eighteen hundred’s, Perdu would mention a novel, Harry Potter or a Game of Thrones book and I’d remember it’s set in our time. That is not a criticism of the story telling, I think it is a plus, it makes the book seem timeless. I think this is a book for book lovers.

Bring on 2016: Diamond Year

A lovely reflective and forward looking post.

Put it in Writing

              photo via Shutterstock © Love the Wind

I’m back at my desk today after a two week, festive season break from all things writing. I’m keen to get going on my 2016 writing plans and projects and to share these with readers of the blog as the year unfolds.

Yes, it’s going to be my diamond year, in the sense that it will be my sixtieth birthday in 2016 and I’m borrowing the ‘diamond’ tag from wedding anniversary classification. But more of that later.

But for this first post of the new year, I thought I’d pause to do a quick look back at 2015 first and then finish with how I intend to approach 2016.

The Year Just Ended

On a personal level, 2015 was the usual mix of ups and downs, both at the desk and in real life, but I’d definitely say the ups won and…

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I’m not a great fan of short stories preferring to read a long novel instead but, when I received an email from the publisher Myriad, announcing the release of a short story by Isabel Ashdown, I downloaded it to my Kindle and read it in two sittings, I would have finished it in one, if I hadn’t fallen asleep.

A Quiet Winter, is the story of Sarah Ribbons, whom we met previously in another Ashdown novel: Hurry Up and Wait. I was a bit disoriented at first, enjoying being back in Sarah’s company but, wondering what part of her life we were at. Then it came back to me, the first book was written in flashback so actually we were sort of up to date with her. Believe me it’s not confusing, I’m just dense, I started reading: Hurry Up and Wait again, just to get me on the right track and I can’t put it down.

A Quiet Winter, is a beautifully written short story for a cold winters night, a bit sad and melancholy, Sarah’s dad having passed away two years previously but, it’s not depressing, with a character you wish you knew and were friends with. One day at work while checking her inbox, she receives an email from an old friend asking her if she would like to accompany him to their school reunion. It is a short story so it would be foolish to spoil it by giving anything away, just enjoy it. If you read: Hurry Up and Wait, I guarantee you will love this. And I wonder, in the future, if we will get to be in Sarah’s company again.