Out Now!

Friday, 26 April 2019

Van Gogh should have painted rape fields, not bloody sunflowers


I love it when my daughter comes home. She makes me do things I don’t want to do—until I do them. Despite going to the gym twice a week and walking the mile to town twice a week, I spend far too much time at the computer—and when I have God’s own country just behind the house.

The day was hot and still, the fields an eye-burning yellow, and it seemed a million miles from our house and the computer screen, not the mere ten minutes to walk there. My daughter’s back in London now, and here I am at the computer conjuring up second hand experience. Mind you, it's raining today and overly windy.

A vain attempt to keep up with my daughter.
Almost there. Yay!


Daughter gone.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Beyond Redemption

I read recently about contenders for the most boring man in Britain, or it may have been the world. They included a man who collected 19000 beer cans and had to keep moving houses, a vacuum cleaner collector, a ‘roundabout’ spotter, a handsaw enthusiast, a mountain measurer and an aficionado of drain and manhole covers.  There are even dull men’s calendars (Amazon sell everything) and A Facebook page for dull men. 

It may be time for me to join their ranks and sign up for ‘Dull Men's Anonymous’, for I’m seriously worried that I, too, have a serious ‘dull addiction.’ Should I stand up and state proudly that it is six months since my last dabble in Pinterest? Trouble is . . . and with trembling fingers I write this admission . . . I can’t!

It started off simple enough – something alcoholics and heroin addicts tend to say, blaming Babycham or dope — I was looking for a few samples of noir images to get me in the mood for Clay Cross. But then my new ‘dealer’ wouldn’t leave me alone. Everyday, in my inbox, fresh ‘pins’ from Pinterest appeared. I dabbled. Tempted by one or two and then a few more. Next moment people started ‘sharing’ my pins, so foolishly I checked out their pages and pinched some of theirs. A week or two later Pinterest upped their game moving me on to the ‘hard stuff’ – pulp book covers, and now I have over five hundred of them on my Pinterest Board and 87 followers.

And I still haven’t done much on what started it all off – a series of new Clay Cross stories. Am I doomed to be Monmouth’s answer to George Eliot’s Causabon?  No Pinterest addict but the intellectually withered husband of Dorothea with a great plan to write the ultimate book on The Key to all Mythologies. Unfortunately for him, the poor fool spent so much time planning he never got round to writing the book, leaving only fragments for his less than grieving widow to discard.
Well, for the more intellectually inclined, here is a fine article, rehabilitating Edward Causabon 

And for those who still enjoy the trivial frisson of comics, garish front covers and blaring clich├ęs, here are but a few samples of my new addiction, putting me on a par with manhole spotting and collecting beer cans. And for those who've been tempted, you may or may not agree with Peter Chapman who's been collecting the actual books (not pinterest images) since 1952. Today he owns 7000 - and the fact that  I'm envious tells you I may be beyond redemption. As he said:  'Back in the old days, these books were 120 pages and they had a beginning, middle and end. That was it. Who needs 700 pages of crap you can't even fit in your coat pocket.'

Being blunt open any of these books and you're liable to be disappointed. But one look at the cover and open it, you will

Friday, 12 April 2019

Pulp is addictive

I’m coming to the end of a novel, done but for a bit of proofreading and editing. Now I'm itching to begin a series of short stories involving Clay Cross.

 He has a persistent voice that’s always there, murmuring in the background. Every so often, it erupts, the neurotic, narcissistic homophobe, racist misogynist barking to be released aurally or more safely (I hope) on the page. He is the archetypal pulp private eye of the early 1950’s demanding white privilege as a matter of right but in greatly changed times. He is Don Quixote, a man out of period, brave, loyal but misplaced and so vulnerable. It’s that historic vulnerability that hopefully prompts laughter, a raised eyebrow at most. I think it would be a timid soul that would feel threatened by him, else one determined to find outrage.

But that’s not the problem, or at least not the main one. How do you introduce backstory and context into that first short story? (One of five) How do you explain his origins and those of his consort, Sheri Lamour? Those who have read the book will know how a bookish and civilised 1950's couple became transformed into pulp caricatures, a process involving voodoo, and soul bottles; a cataclysmic fire turning them into djinn, immortal but earthbound.

I have several stories mapped out, but for the couple’s context and origins.  Readers will hopefully be curious but turned off by a large and clumsy info dump.  It’s doable but yet to be done.

The third problem is getting back into the mood, and for that I use pinterest, in particular noir photos and pulp book covers —especially those with hyperbolic tag lines etched over distraught ‘dames’. I also listen to a lot of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and skim through old Mickey Spillane novels. Ray Chandler is too highbrow for Clay Cross.

Below are a selection of photos on my Pinterest page  Trouble is, I have too many— 476—or can you ever have too many? I'm still collecting, and that's the subject of next week's post.

Friday, 5 April 2019

The Mikado

One of my earliest memories are of my mum and dad around the piano singing songs from the Mikado. I may be imagining my dad in his Chief Officer’s uniform and my mum in a beautiful purple dress, but I do remember most vividly running out of the room in tears as they sang ‘On a tree by the river’ (the Titwillow song) – Much to their amusement, I imagine.

The image reminds me of how you can never demarcate history and class into clearcut periods or social divisions.  A six-year old child in 1950’s working class area of Liverpool was watching his parents enjoying an Edwardian/Victorian past time, singing late Victorian light opera.

Turn the clock forward to 2019, the opportunity to see the Mikado performed by the Hereford Gilbert and Sullivan Society and the realisation that I had never seen a Gilbert and Sullivan production – nor heard the dreaded ‘Willow Tit Willow’ since those childhood days. The question was would I run out of the theatre in tears as the fate of the little bird unfolded.

We took the risk and I was entranced, caught up by the fun of it and by weirdness of British culture: reincarnating year after year pieces of comic light opera that one might have assumed had a sell-by date, and of equal importance, recapturing the flavour of a short but distinctive period in our past. Why?

We sat right at the front, the orchestra pit below us. While they were tuning I noticed three of the musicians were Asian and that led to the thought: Was about to feast on cultural appropriation – and if so, why hadn’t I heard of it before? Were Gilbert and Sullivan somehow preserved from this tsunami of the new correctness? Had the Mikado somehow slipped by unnoticed: ‘Yellow Face’ somehow being less offensive than ‘Black-Face’?
Again, when you look at the cast, you can’t help but be struck by the good humoured cultural self-confidence of the late Victorian with places and characters like:
Pish Tush
Yum Yum

Of course, I was wrong. In America at least the issue is live and casting a chilling effect on drama societies up and down the country, judging by a cursory google of ‘Mikado Yellowface.’
Life is too short to get involved in fierce debate as to whether operas like Madame Butterfly or Turandot should also modified or banned, suffice it to say that when, in 1907 Prince Fushimi of Japan visited London, the Lord Chamberlain banned performances of the Mikado in London for fear of giving offence. The gesture backfired, the Prince being upset that he’d been denied what he’d been looking forward to. The Daily Mail, more mischievous in those days, dispatched a Japanese newspaper critic to a provincial performance. M K Sugimura wrote: ‘I came to Sheffield expecting to discover real insults to my countrymen. I find bright music and good fun but could not find the insults’.

And that about sums up my first viewing of the Mikado and a beautiful Yum Yum winning the hearts of every Koko in the theatre. As for Willow, Tit Willow, on this occasion the Keyton stiff upper lip remained rigid.

On a tree by a river a little tom-tit
Sang "Willow, titwillow, titwillow!"
And I said to him, "Dicky-bird, why do you sit
Singing Willow, titwillow, titwillow'?"
"Is it weakness of intellect, birdie?" I cried,
"Or a rather tough worm in your little inside?"
With a shake of his poor little head, he replied,
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow!" 

He slapped at his chest, as he sat on that bough,
Singing "Willow, titwillow, titwillow!"
And a cold perspiration bespangled his brow,
Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow!
He sobbed and he sighed, and a gurgle he gave,
Then he plunged himself into the billowy wave,
And an echo arose from the suicide's grave —
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow!" 

Now I feel just as sure as I'm sure that my name
Isn't Willow, titwillow, titwillow,
That 'twas blighted affection that made him exclaim
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow!"
And if you remain callous and obdurate, I
Shall perish as he did, and you will know why,
Though I probably shall not exclaim as I die,
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow!"