Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Literary Review Summer Party: Flowers and Green Trousers

This is not Jeremy Lewis
Last night brought the Literary Review Summer Party, which took place in the elegant confines of the Academy Club, a refuge from the sweltering heat. A full complement of dashing editorial staff was present at the beano, including explorer Sara Wheeler who was wearing a garland of flowers as if she were the goddess of summer itself; Jeremy Lewis, our beloved Editor at Large, was wearing this seasons must-haves - electric green trousers, or 'candy pants' as I believe they are known to the fashion world. Henry Conway himself could not have chosen better. Also present were biographer Jane Ridley, historian Michael Burleigh with his wife Linden; Harry Mount, Suzi Feay, political columnist Joan Smith and David Cesarani, amongst others. A  flowering of literary talent fit to adorn the heads of explorers the world over.

Take a gander at this month's Literary Review - Mervyn Peake is on the cover, and there are the usual round of intelligent, witty and quirky pieces (including a lovely one about deer parks.)

Monday, 27 June 2011

Charles II: Horrible Histories

This is just so brilliant that it deserves as wide an audience as possible: Horrible Histories does Charles II, in the style of Eminem. Now altogether: 'The King of Bling, Bells ring, ding ding... I'm the King that brought back partying!'


Timurids and Architects: A Blazing Weekend

Saturday brought with it one planned activity: a visit to the British Museum, to listen to a lecture by Thomas Wide about Afghan art. He traced the influences of other cultures on the Afghans, and showed how they responded in interesting and creative ways. My particular favourite was 'two fabulous lions chasing a ribbon' (reproduced right, but not very well I'm afraid). I enjoyed the fact that Timur's nickname (Tamburlaine) means 'Timur the Lame'.

Then an unplanned activity: a visit to an architectural show where we were alternately baffled and excited by the various displays. It was a review of the Architectural Association's academic year. It was fascinating. In the first room were some labels (I hope intended ironically - see left). Space was played with in interesting ways, and one exhibit (which hummed and roared with electronics and lights and space maps) confused and delighted me. Brilliant.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Boomerang: Oscar Murillo and Marianne Spurr

Spurr: Treasure
After a day of editing, through the almost-rain to Aldgate East, where Hilary Crisp had put on a showing of Oscar Murillo and Marianne Spurr's work. Murillo's paintings stood casually as if they'd just been abandoned by the artist; two works by Spurr seemed to have organically appeared out of the floorboards. Murillo's paintings reminded me a little of Cy Twombley's; two of them leaning against a wall, one against the other, as if fighting against each other (or playing off each other) to get realised into the world. I was particularly struck by one of Spurr's pieces, which consisted of a cylindrical concrete bollard next to a slightly taller glass cylinder full of water, with a layer of oil; in the second cylinder was a black X on a gold background. The perspective made it look like a giant X was floating in the air, as if we were inside a treasure map. Gold in the everyday, indeed.

I also applaud the new practice of serving food at art openings - first there was Henry Hudson's pork roast; here there was arroz con lechona, which we ate out of cardboard boxes; (it's basically pork scratchings stuffed with rice.)


Friday, 24 June 2011

A Dashing Duo of Literary Delights: The Desmond Elliott First novel, and The Times Literary Supplement Summer Party

You wait all day for a literary party, and then three come along at once. Last night was positively abounding with them: I only managed to go to two, which is extremely unlike me I know, but you have to draw the line somewhere. The first was the Desmond Elliott First novel award. There was a strong shortlist, including Ned Beauman's Boxer, Beetle; (the longlist had on it both Jonathan Lee's Who is Mr Satoshi? and Leo Benedictus' The Afterparty); the gong was gonged to Anjali Joseph's Saraswati Park, which I haven't read yet, but now most certainly intend to. Edward Stourton was the gonger.  The party was in Fortnum and Masons, which meant the best sausages and mash and excellent champagne, whilst young literary types (including Jonathan Lee, and the dashing brace of Literary Review editors, Tom Fleming and Jonathan Beckman) quaffed ale (well, champagne) and I wish I could have stayed longer but I couldn't because...

... then it was a dash up the dashing Jubilee line to the imposing house of Peter Stothard for the TLS Summer Party. It was in an enormous marquee which covered the back garden. I spotted Ferdinand Mount in a very smart seersucker jacket; although it was eclipsed by a man in a blue and white checked suit who was wearing a bow tie; and a very small old man (who I think was a poet) who was wearing a purple suit that looked like it had been made out of the tablecloths. Miniburgers were the order of the day. Soon-to-be-novelist Cressida Connolly was there; I'm sure there were lots of other lights of the literary scene but I was having too much fun perching on the rim of the pond and trying not to fall in whilst holding a champagne glass. Novelist Anna Stothard was there, of course, and the young editor of the White Review, Jacques Testard. I misplaced my bag, more than once.

I think we went to a pizza restaurant afterwards. The other party was beyond me. It was Hodder Headline, in a church in Marylebone, and apparently there were chicken shish kebabs, but I think mini-burgers are better, don't you?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

It's the future! Or is it? Then by Julie Myerson, reviewed by Philip Womack in the Daily Telegraph

Julie Myerson (pictured right, in a cartoon printed in the paper on Saturday) whose memoir about her runaway teenage son caused a bit of a stir recently, has come out with a new novel, that seems in part to be a response to those problems. It's called Then, and I've reviewed it for the Daily Telegraph HERE.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

All the Current Editions

Today I received the reprint of the Brazilian Farol edition of O Outro Livro (fifth from left), which I have added to my collection.  Nothing makes one more happy than to know that one's book is being read in the furthest corners of the globe. Now let's hope for some of The Liberators...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Ivo Stourton: Launch Party at Shoreditch House

East London at the weekend became a haven for book lovers - although hopefully not the sort of book lover who is to be found in the pages of Ivo Stourton's new novel, The Book Lover's Tale, because that would be, well, dangerous to say the least and I'm not sure that many of us would have survived. Still at least the murders would have been done very tastefully. The party was at Shoreditch House, in an echoey room of the sort that one would expect Patrick Bateman to haunt. Bellinis were drunk; dancing was executed - perhaps most spectacularly by some gatecrashing breakdancers who shook their groove (if that's the right terminology) on the dance floor. Guests, including socialite Henry Conway, exerted themselves till the early hours and no one (so far as I know) was killed, so that's all right then. Now, where did I leave my meat cleaver? Oh there it is...

Friday, 10 June 2011

Making Merry with Marion Lloyd

Marion Lloyd (centre) and her Ladies
To the October Gallery in Holborn: strange nets hanging off the walls,  and a celebration of Marion Lloyd's list. All the authors published this year gave insightful speeches: they are an eclectic bunch, with some fascinating life stories: Jane Johnson, who grew up 'wild' in Cornwall and is now married to a Berber; the half-Sudanese Sam Osman, self-confessed 'provincial' mother of three Ally Kennen (whose interests include Viking funerals and rubbish tips); the hilarious Kate Saunders who works and reworks her manuscripts and then throws them away if they're not good enough; and Moira Young, who appears to have been pretty much everything, as well as a nurse. Sadly absent was Eva Ibbotson, who did not live to see publication of her lovely book One Dog and His Boy; but she was ably represented by her son, who gave a vivid, touching and amusing account of his mother's writing ways. 'Imagine me a bit shorter, with white hair and beady eyes, and imagine that I'm about to say something completely inappropriate - and you've got my mother.'

As an author it's always interesting to hear about other people's methods, particularly as the whole business is so strange it's hard to believe that oneself is actually doing it, let alone anyone else; Moira Young said that effectively she 'listened' to the voice of her characters, whilst Sam Osman commented on the fact that Marion Lloyd treats her characters as friends - which is what they are when they come whole into your mind. I've left three of my new characters sitting under an underpass - and I really ought to be attending to them.... The party was attended by many Scholastic people, as well as novelist Amanda Craig; an enormous thank you to Marion Lloyd and to Scholastic for a marvellous evening.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Prince Philip and the UFOS: Philip Eade's launch of his biography

Prince Philip: ufologist
Daunts Holland Park is the launch party venue of choice these days, and there we flocked for Philip Eade's party for his biography of Prince Philip's early years (Philip's obviously a good name, isn't it? Ahem). We learned of the Royal consort's liking for ufos - apparently he calls in abductees to the palace and grills them, the royal presence being 'like truth serum'. (If only J K Rowling had known she wouldn't have had to bother with veritaserum, she could have just wheeled on the Duke of Edinburgh. I am seriously considering using this as a plot point in my next book.) There were gallons of champagne, although I didn't manage to snarf any canap├ęs; and we discovered that the book has already shot into the Amazon Top 50. HRH himself didn't make an appearance (though one of his early girlfriends was present), but there were more than enough Philips there to make up the difference; this was before a saucer-like object landed on Holland Park Avenue and several grey men with large ears stepped out, demanding to be taken to our leader - or was that just the Duke's equerries? (NB this last bit may not be true).

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Book Lover's Tale by Ivo Stourton: Review

Stourton: nimble
Ivo Stourton's second novel, The Book Lover's Tale, is a deliciously dark literary thriller that concerns the seamy habits of an interior decorator, Matt de Voy. de Voy once had ambitions to be a writer; after his first novel was published, he found himself becoming increasingly dependent on his aristocratic girlfriend; eventually abandoning all pretence of 'writing', he ended as second in command to his now-wife's interior decorating business, where his job is to be the arbiter of elegance (sort of like Petronius, except madder) and sneer at the wide-boys who come to him for assistance whilst fornicating fulsomely with their wives. It sounds like the best job in the world. de Voy is a splendidly conceived character, possessed of a self-belief that precludes any sort of reflection that isn't directly focussed upon himself. He is vain, snobbish; he believes that he inhabits some kind of Les Liaisons Dangereuses world where he can seduce people by giving them books (in particular Anais Nin); he is mean to his long-suffering wife and to his lovers; he also believes that he can bring back the simplicity of Greek tragedy to the long-corrupt, amoral English landscape, where the old guard has fled to the back streets of Chelsea, its values and standards imitated by barrow boys and foreigners (as de Voy sees it). In this world soldiers are sneered at by bankers; sex is a weapon, and everybody has ulterior motives. It's bleak, brittle, and fascinating.

de Voy falls in love - or rather, obsession - with one of his client's wives, and resolves to keep her for himself. This can only be done, he decides, by murder. The novel hurtles along keenly to its resolution, giving us a portrait of a man of extremes as he battles his way through the inconsequential nothings of London society, threatening to make a final statement that will have real, destructive power - much more power than he could ever achieve through the subtle arrangement of books in a banker's palace.

Stourton has a gift for the vivid and the violent: there are many bold, striking scenes, as when a guest falls from a balcony at a party, or when one of the characters suffers a terrible accident. The reader marvels at de Voy's audacity and self-deceiving arrogance, and yet is pushed along by a plot that is hooked and shining - with some elegant literary criticism along the way. Stourton's smoothly shocking novel is a sharp comment on our heavily consumerist lives: de Voy, after all, is only a product of the system - just one that's taken things a little too far.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

PORT Magazine - 2nd Issue

Secundus, in Latin, means favourable as well as second; and it's a stonking second issue (in both senses) from PORT magazine (of which I'm a contributing editor). David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, gives a rare public interview, cementing PORT's policy of putting people on the cover who aren't just celebrities. There's a piece about assassins in Colombia by Martin Amis, with very striking photos by Tom Craig; an open letter by Fatima Bhutto to the Pakistani people about the state of education; an elegant linking circle of stories featuring John Keats, Baudelaire, Jarvis Cocker and Hunter S Thompson; and all the usual excellent writing and style we'd expect from PORT. Let's raise a glass of the stuff to it (yes, I know it's the morning).

Monday, 6 June 2011

Children's Books for the Summer: Philip Womack's Round Up in the June Literary Review

Eight sterling books for the summer
I've reviewed eight books for my biannual round up in Literary Review. It's not available on this thing called the interweb, so if you want to read it (which of course you will) you'll have to go and get it yourself from something called a 'newsagent'. The books I've reviewed are:

Bracelet of Bones by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Scrivener's Moon by Philip Reeve
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Magicalamity by Kate Saunders
One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson
Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Thomas, Silent by Ben Gribbin.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Scandilicious! by Signe Johansen

Signe Johansen: Crac(l)king
For some reason I've been to Islington and its surrounding boskiness rather a lot in the past week; I was there on Friday evening for the launch of Signe Johansen's cook book, Scandilicious! It was a crispy, aromatic summer evening; the leafiness of the area was a suitable setting for the recipes, which aim to show that Scandi cooking is not all about rollmops and herrings. There are receipts for hot trout salad, chocolate cake, and one for sour cream porridge that manages to sound enticing. I talked to a man who smoked salmon for a living (he was wearing rubber boots, having just come from the refinery) - some of his wares were available to taste, and were indeed perfect; and there was, delight of delights, a whole roast suckling pig. The tenderness of the flesh, the crackliness of the, well, crackling (although I did stop short at eating its ear), were so delicious that I may well have been seen going up for seconds.

Signe's recipes are the kind that make you want to go and sample them immediately - and I urge you to do the same. 

Thursday, 2 June 2011

How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone by Rosie Garthwaite: Launch

Rosie Garthwaite, in a non-conflict situation
To the offices of Bloomsbury for the launch of Rosie Garthwaite's (pictured, with flowers) exciting new book, How To Avoid Being Killed in A War Zone. We packed into the (extremely hot) panelled hall and learned of the genesis of the book, which offers down to earth and extremely practical advice for entering conflict zones. Nigel Newton, (head honcho) gave an enthusiastic speech: the book is being published globally. Also present was author of The Junior Officer's Reading Club, Patrick Hennessey, and many of the people who have contributed their ideas and guidance to the book.

Apart from a misguided flirtation, when I left university with some idea of being a dashing foreign correspondent, with the idea of writing for The Baghdad Bulletin (which my parents, quite rightly, vetoed), the closest I've ever come to conflict is probably trying to get a seat on a Central Line train. The book is still great though for non-adventurous types like me, who can dream, and for the real heroes and heroines who bravely enter the liminal territory of war. There is a section on skinning animals; notes on how to catch birds; and information on how to survive a kidnapping, as well as reams of diagrams and tips.  It's witty, earthy and real; it's got a striking cover, and is the sort of book that should be issued as standard to soldiers and NGOs and, well, everyone really. As Rosie's publisher said, Rosie would be the best person to have in a conflict - and now the whole world can have her in their pocket. (Well not literally of course.) Congratulations to Rosie, and may there be peaceful times ahead, as well as adventures.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Thurston Moore at The Union Chapel: Blessed Be the Noisemakers

"You're so tall!" PW and Thurston Moore.
A late night missive from the poet-den. Your correspondent has just been to see the legendary black-winged angel (in his own words. Well almost.) Thurston Moore play at the Union Chapel in London's Trendy Islington. Your correspondent was minding his own business on the pavement outside when who should walk by, long black coated, carrying a blue plastic bag from the local newsagents which contained, as far as yr sharp-eyed corresp. could see, a copy of Mojo magazine and a packet of Purple Silk Cut. There were so many things I wanted to say: Thurston Moore! You are a legend! being one of them. So many things that we could discuss about the structure of his music, his harmonies, the way that he makes abrasive sounds so beautiful. I caught his sleeve. What did I say? I commented upon his height. 'You're so tall!' My friend took our picture and Thurston swept off again, spindly and kind, into the corner where he supped on a beer with some friends. There is something remarkably nice about rock stars hanging out in the pub before their gig. It should happen more often. (Of course we exchanged numbers and now I am his best friend and will be joining him on tour as lead guitarist. NB This last bit may not be true.)

The gig itself was in an old church. We sat at the very top, at the back, commanding a view of the whole chapel. The audience was a good mix of ages (including a baby, to whom Thurston dedicated a song). The songs were from the new album, Demolished Thoughts, which are shimmering and hazy and controlled at the same time, carrying all the hallmarks of a Sonic Youth / Thurston Moore production: the dizzying ascents into cacophony, the sudden lapses into harmony, the juddering guitars, all with Thurston's rough-edged Silk-cutting voice over the top, and with the addition of a rippling harp and a violin. The songs had suitably pentecostal titles: Benediction, Illumine, Space. Bliss and joy come from that man's guitar, which seems somehow to be a part of him. He shuffles and stands like a teenager; his voice sounds gravelly and timeless. He read a poem at the end: whatever its qualities, it didn't matter. Thurston Moore could read a shopping list and make it sound cool. ( Can you imagine going shopping with Thurston Moore? 'Washing powder....carrots....narcotic squads sweeping through poet dens...small flowers...don't forget the cauliflower...'). He extended an open invitation to the audience to come and visit him in Massachussets and finished his poem with 'Blessed are the noise musicians.'

As an encore he played two songs from Trees Outside the Academy - but not Honest James (my favourite); however he did play my Absolute All Time Favourite, from his first solo album, Psychic Hearts, which I happily sang all the words to (although I'm not sure anyone else did). Blessed are the noise musicians, and blessed is Thurston Moore.