Quack, quack

duck-quack
Credit: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

I first read something by Muriel Spark in my late twenties and instantly loved her writing; I had that feeling that there was something new and great in the world that grows rarer the further you are from childhood, and that I hadn’t experienced for a long time. It wasn’t just how much I liked what she did, but how different it was, how individual. Continue reading

The wingless birds of less difficult media

When books have all seized up like the books in graveyards
And reading and even speaking have been replaced
By other, less difficult, media, we wonder if you
Will find in flowers and fruit the same colour and taste
They held for us for whom they were framed in words,
And will your grass be green, your sky be blue,
Or will your birds be always wingless birds?

Louis MacNeice (1907–1963), To Posterity (collected in Visitations, 1957)

Have a look at photographer Babycakes Romero’s smartphone-themed collection, The Death of Conversation.

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

umberto-eco-numero-zeroNumero Zero, by Umberto Eco. My review for Shiny New Books.

For a short novel, Numero Zero is amazingly leisurely and discursive. It’s like an Arabian Nights for conspiracy theorists, historians of the late 20th century and political sceptics, with stories within stories, asides, facts, speculation, satire and nods to the past and future. If that sounds like a bit of a mess and possibly hard going, in fact it’s jolly and generally entertaining, if slightly uneven.

Read the full review at Shiny New Books


“The point is, everything we heard was false or distorted … we’ve been living a lie. I’ve always said: never believe what they tell you …”

“And your story ends there…”

“Eh, no, this is the beginning of another one, and perhaps I only became interested through what happened next…”

Pets and prizes. Sugar, Johnson and Hodge

Johnson reading closely. Portrait by Joshua Reynolds.
“Wealth cannot confer greatness, for nothing can make that great which the decree of nature has ordained to be little.” Samuel Johnson.

This week’s Apprentice opened with the candidates being summoned to Dr Johnson’s house to look at the memorial to his cat, Hodge, outside. This was the set-up for Lord Sugar to give them a pet-bothering task: “People will stop at nothing to pamper their pets, and the pet market is worth a massive 4.6 billion pounds per year. Now I want you to get a piece of that action…” Continue reading

Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy

gorskyGorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy. My review for Shiny New Books.

Gorsky is an enigmatic, much-gossiped-about billionaire who is rarely seen at his own famously gorgeous parties; there is a suggestion of some enormous unresolved romance in his life; his public character has something staged, unusually deliberate, theatrical about it—you could say that his personality is “an unbroken series of successful gestures”, if you wanted to quote from The Great Gatsby. And you probably do want to quote from The Great Gatsby; I did from the blurb onwards.

Read the full review at Shiny New Books


There was something so obvious in his slightly taciturn appearance that, almost from day one, I called him the ‘The Great Gorsky’…

You must eat your boots first | Spelk

Marooned
Howard Pyle, Marooned. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

My short story, published by Spelk | Short, sharp flash fiction

Some years ago during one of the dull seasons—our work was very much on the seasonal side—my Waterstones branch entered a Book Tokens company competition on ‘opening lines’. We had to identify the opening lines of various more-or-less famous novels. We also had to come up with an opening line of our own. For whatever reason, ‘I’d been prodding the Frenchman with my boot all day to see if he was dead’ was the egg that my subconscious laid and we used that. It bothered me a little, it itched, and I knew that I wanted to make a story from it some time. Much later, the story suddenly came to me in the shower; at that time most of my best ideas, such as they were, seemed to emerge under hot water. I used to covet a pen with ink that would hold to the watery tiles, but that could be wiped away later. Continue reading

Glass by Alex Christofi

christofi-glassGlass by Alex Christofi. My review for Shiny New Books.

Alex Christofi’s debut novel is a mildly eccentric, likeable and interesting not-quite romp.

Read the full review at Shiny New Books


I have come to wonder whether I will make it through my twenty-third year. In the nine months since my mother died, I started a new job, which led me to meet a number of new people, one of whom I killed in a misunderstanding. But other things happened in the first twenty-two years that I should explain first.

There’s nowt so hard as fops

spectators-print-shop
© Trustees of the British Museum. (This version cropped.)

We tend to think of fops as weak, coddled, over-groomed, and lacking in mettle. A man wearing make-up, a powdered wig and silks, speaking with an affected drawl and striking artful poses; a woman with towering hair and a lapdog, fanning herself with infinite boredom and leisure. The 18th-century gentry must have been be soft, lacking in grit, surely? Continue reading

A reasonable amount of healthy dirt

Well, allow me to introduce myself to you as an advocate of Ornamental Knowledge. You like the mind to be a neat machine, equipped to work efficiently, if narrowly, and with no extra bits or useless parts. I like the mind to be a dustbin of scraps of brilliant fabric, odd gems, worthless but fascinating curiosities, tinsel, quaint bits of carving, and a reasonable amount of healthy dirt. Shake the machine and it goes out of order; shake the dustbin and it adjusts itself beautifully to its new position.

Robertson Davies 1951 Tempest-Tost (part one of the Salterton Trilogy)


Davies’ work is published by Penguin. Read an interview with him in Paris Review here. See what he has to say about gulls here.

Return to yesterday: an historical perspective on terrorism

In the late 19th century terrorism and unrest were commonplace in parts of Europe and the United States. Anarchists were the main bogeymen, though there were numerous violently progressive movements, each hating the others. Anarchists were a mysterious and little understood underground, haunting the popular imagination, much written about in the newspapers and in novels and stories, both feared and fascinating. There was a certain dark glamour and they terrified beyond any rational danger. There were many, many more likely causes of death, but there is something intimidating about someone desiring your death impersonally, and apparently not fearing their own. We feel this now as much as then, and it’s as well to get some perspective. Continue reading

A strange Hitlerian interlude

young hitler
He’s in the middle. No one at his school liked him. He met his first and only friend at the opera in his late teens.

Hitler once had a friend, of sorts: August ‘Gustl’ Kubizek. In the 1950s Kubizek wrote a memoir of young Adolf, a careful but somewhat sentimental and admiring one.

For a vital phase during the early years of his life, his late teenage years in Linz and Vienna, when we otherwise have tantalisingly little to go on, Hitler had a personal—and exclusive —friend, who later composed a striking account of the four years of their close companionship. This friend was August Kubizek. His account is unique in that it stands alone in offering insights into Hitler’s character and mentality for the four years between 1904 and 1908. It is unique, too, in that it is the only description from any period of Hitler’s life provided by an undoubted personal friend—even if that friendship was both relatively brief and almost certainly one-sided. For, like everyone else who came into contact with Hitler, Kubizek would soon learn that friends, like others, would be dropped as soon as they had served their purpose.

Ian Kershaw, Preface, The Young Hitler I Knew

Continue reading