Monday, 15 September 2014

New Dan O’Brien; and ‘the necessary drudgery of the novelist’

Dan O’Brien’s new poetry collection Scarsdale will be launched at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in early November, where he’s reading as the winner of the 2013 Aldeburgh Fenton First Collection Prize for War Reporter. You can do these things by the book – which involves having blurb and cover and proofs in place many months before publication (and in time for the submission deadlines for the PBS recommendations, etc) – or you can think, a few weeks from now the author will be over from Los Angeles and reading in front of a large and generous audience, so let’s wing it. Scarsdale is a very different book from War Reporter: it’s home-grown, for a start, though of course home can be as conflicted a place as any war zone.

On Friday of this week, I and May-Lan Tan will be reading at the Cork International Short Story Festival. I haven’t been to Ireland for a couple of decades, at least. I’m excited about this.

May-Lan will be reading, I assume, from her CBe book Things to Make and Break and maybe from her chapbook Girly. I might be reading from The Manet Girl, published by Salt last year. More likely, the pages in front of me will be from what is resulting from finding my failure to write a particular story more interesting than the story itself.

As a lapsed poet, I’m still finding my way in fiction. I remember an agent’s note, handwritten in the margins of the printout of my first attempt: ‘Where are they? The reader needs to see them.’ They – the characters – were in the Golborne Road, as it happens, which is at the tag end of Portobello Road and is probably worth describing (junk stalls, cafés, Moroccan street food) but I got no enjoyment at all from this kind of writing (and if I’m bored, then God help the reader). I’m aware that good descriptive writing isn’t just scene-setting, but it still felt more duty than play.

Virginia Woolf in her 1924 essay ‘Character in Fiction’ has fun with Arnold Bennett’s descriptive writing, of which she quotes a chunk and adds: ‘One line of insight would have done more than all those lines of description; but let them pass as the necessary drudgery of the novelist … he is trying to hypnotise us into the belief that, because he has made a house, there must be a person living there.’ Into the category of necessary drudgery I’d add ‘characterisation’ and ‘plot’ and most of the other chapter titles in the how-to-write-a-novel books – but a lovely thing about the novel is that these things aren’t really necessary at all. Short-cutting, I’ll point to Gabriel Josipovici’s ‘Writing, Reading and the Study of Literature’, his inaugural lecture at the University of Sussex in 1986 (included in his The Singer on the Shore, Carcanet, 2006), in which he recalls writing his first novel: ‘It was not that that I didn’t like the forms of description I was using; I didn’t like any form of description. What’s more, I suddenly realised, I didn’t need it. What had happened was that I had adopted not just the tone and mannners of every book I had ever read, I had also adopted their assumptions … I had made a fantastic discovery, you see. I had discovered that I did not have to do do what I didn’t want to do to, and at the same time that I could do something which a moment before I had had no idea I could do.’ This is liberating, in the way that is characteristic of my own favourite novels: oh, so you don’t have to do all the high-cheekbones, blustery-weather stuff, you can do it another way.

Ninety years on from VW’s essay, the market into which novels get pitched is still deeply conservative: the choosing of what gets published, reviewed, wins prizes. But the novel is not ruled by the market. Kate Webb, reviewing Every Day is for the Thief in the TLS in July this year, suggested that Teju Cole’s work ‘occupies a now common ground of uncertainty in twenty-first-century writing, blending fiction, memoir, observation and conjecture’. Hari Kunzru, reviewing Ben Lerner’s 10:04 in the New York Times earlier this month, suggested that the book ‘belongs to an emerging genre, the novel after Sebald, its 19th-century furniture of plot and character dissolved into a series of passages, held together by occasional photographs and a subjectivity that hovers close to (but is never quite identical with) the subjectivity of the writer’. The precedents for this date back decades, but there seems now to be momentum, and this too I find liberating.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Free Verse: The Poetry Book Fair 2014





Top pic, near top right, the CBe table – no one behind it because I was, uh, at the opposite side of the room taking this photo. It took time to get back to it. Bottom pic, view from the CBe table. All those people. One person mentioned in passing, as if this was a perfectly normal thing to do, that she’d travelled from County Cork to London just for this event. Someone else I’d never met before offered to buy me lunch. There were readings, continuous through the day, both in a separate room in the venue and in the square outside, and then in a pub in the evening, but no speeches telling us what we were here for and why, no need. It felt like a good deed in a naughty world.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Robinson: the answers

– to the quiz posted on 21 August: here. Prize for competition with least entries: this one. I missed an obvious one (thank you, J.O.): Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, the story of the pig in Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’.

1(a) Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe; (b) Elizabeth Bishop, ‘Crusoe in England’; (c) J. M. Coetzee, Foe; (d) Michel Tournier, The Other Island; (e) Robinson Crusoe on Mars, 1964 film, dir. Byron Haskins; (f) Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands; (g) Eric Maltaite, Robinsonia (graphic novel)

2 Chris Petit, Robinson; 3 Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night; 4 Simon Armitage, ‘Robinson’s Resignation’; 5 Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son; 6 Muriel Spark, Robinson; 7 Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim; 8 Weldon Kees, ‘Aspects of Robinson’; 9 Henry Fielding, Amelia; 10 Charles Webb, The Graduate; 11 Franz Kafka, Amerika; 12 Henry James, The Princess Casamassima; 13 Robinson in Space, 1996 film by Patrick Keiller (or maybe it was London); 14 Jack Robinson, Days and Nights in W12.

If you like this kind of thing, go here; and check out his other riffs on zebra, joke, nail, lemon, mutt, etc.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Next thing: Sonofabook, the magazine

‘What! another literary journal?’ – Stendhal, 1822. (He was writing about a magazine started up by two people who ‘found it would it would be less boring for them to found a literary journal than anything else’.)

Magazines: why, who for, when and how and what? They’re not books; no magazine is going to be in your desert island luggage. They are secondary. But they have their place and their time: lunchtime, café time, between-times. They tease, they flirt, they make rash promises, all good things to do. They are a kind of foreplay. Through time – think Alan Ross’s London Magazine (the associated book list, London Magazine Editions, was the model for CBe at start-up), not to mention all the little magazines with odd names that everyone in the book world grows up with – they become a kind of of backplay. Either way, fore or back, they’re a form of intelligent play.

So: Sonofabook, a magazine/journal from CBe, first issue next March. Spring and autumn; prose (fiction, non-fiction), poetry. (No reviews, not least because if I open that door I will drown.) ACE have granted funding for the first three issues, so it’s for real, and I’m grateful and yes, excited, and daunted. ‘This one will be different from all the others,’ said Stendhal in 1822. They all say that but, first, none of that send-six-poems-max or one-short-story-under-3K-words: either the work is good enough to hold ten or twenty pages or more or it’s not. Second, and this is the defining feature: after the first issue, the contents of each issue will be chosen by guest editors (CBe backing off to a purely hosting role). The first guest editors will be invited from among the usual suspects – writers, critics, editors from other small presses – but if the thing gets going we can move out a bit: booksellers, bloggers, readers. As Hamlet in effect said to Horatio, there is far more literary intelligence and curiosity out there than is adequately represented by those professionally engaged within the book industry.

Each issue of Sonofabook will therefore bear the distinctive character of its editor’s interests, preferences, prejudices. (Nobody can read everything, let alone like everything; this is the point of having the magazine guest-edited.) Collaborative editorships – two or more people – will of course be fine. If the magazine continues beyond the first three issues (and the set-up can change: e.g., more issues per year if that can be made to work) it could become an occasional focus and record of what the mainstream deems not worth publishing but actually is, and here is one place where. (Mainstream is welcome too, but it will have to fight for its place.)

(Submissions. This is all a little bit different from how magazines usually work. Most of the contents of each issue are going to be determined by invitation from that issue’s editor. Very rarely will anything be held over from one issue for consideration for the next issue. Anyone can submit, of course they can, to the info@cbeditions.com address, but best to inquire first and don’t even think of submitting unless you’ve got some idea of what CBe is about and of what the issue editor might be looking for.)

Print, because I like putting physical objects into the world: things that weigh a bit, that involve a bit of manual labour. As each new print issue comes out, the previous issue will become available free online. Because the ACE money will guarantee the first three issues only (including payment for contributors), I’m going to have to work at getting other revenue; invitations to take advertising space (at bargain start-up rates) will be going out this week, and anyone interested in that do please get in touch. Website page up sometime soon.

Sonofabook 1 will include new work by a number of CBe writers, plus others. Issue 2 will be edited by Nicholas Lezard, author and Guardian reviewer. Issue 3 will be edited by Sophie Lewis, translator and editor-at-large for And Other Stories. Editors of future issues will be announced several months in advance.

I think this is such an obvious idea – setting up the form, inviting some of your literary heroes to fill it with content – that I’m surprised it doesn’t already exist. (Why, for example, does the Nicholas Lezard weekly Guardian paperback column work? Both as a guide to good books arriving under the radar and as a lever for sales. Because whoever gives him that space trusts him and just allows him to get on with it. It’s one model for how the magazine may work.)

One Friday eve in early 2011 the idea of a poetry book fair in London at which the full range of contemporary poetry publishers could display and sell to everyone, anyone, also seemed an obvious idea; the first book fair, initiated by CBe and with no funding, was held the following September; then 2012, 2013, bigger each time; the fourth (I’ve now ducked out, it has its own momentum and is more than brilliantly run by Chrissy Williams and Joey Connolly) will be at the Conway Hall, London, next Saturday, 6 September, from 10 a.m. Come.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Homework

Classified Revision Exercises in Spanish (George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 182 High Holborn, London WC1; 1932)


Exercise 1 (Definite and indefinite articles)

He said that truth was the most important thing.
He gave me such a look that I went into another room.
More than a hundred friends went to meet Mr Lopez.

The curious thing is that he himself did everything.
The children who understood raised their hands.
He put on his gloves and went out.

Exercise 2 (Adjectives)

His younger sister is very inquisitive.
The climb (la subida) is very long and very difficult.
A very important thing has just happened.

The third speaker spoke seriously and sadly.
He showed me a hundred jewels, all of great value.
None of the other speeches equalled the first.

Exercise 3 (Times, dates, etc)

I saw him at a quarter to four.
What time was it when he left? It must have been about 5 a.m.
I want to go away at twenty past seven.

Philip the Second died on September 13th, 1598.
He did it on Monday, August 1st.
He goes to Madrid on Thursdays.

Exercise 4 (Time, weather, etc)

I wrote to him a little time ago.
It’s a long time ago that it happened.
He’d been ill for three days before they sent for the doctor.

He said it was very hot, but I was cold.
In windy weather, one may lose one’s hat.
Owing to the fact that they had worked hard, they were hotter than we.

Exercise 5 (Negatives)

Haven’t I already done it?
My sister didn’t buy any flowers yesterday.
Nothing new has happened.

He swore he would never do anything of the sort.
I have no books; nor do I want any.
He doesn’t like it; nor I either.

Exercise 5 (Correlatives, etc)

He was not so ugly as his brother.
We need as many knives as forks.
It isn’t as hot as it was last summer.

The task is becoming more and more difficult.
More than three of my books are missing.
The black horse has won more races than it won last year.

Exercise 6 (Ser and Estar)

His house was of brick (el ladrillo) and was very high.
The streets are dirty because it has rained a lot.
Everybody is tired tonight.

Where is he now? He is still in the same house where he has always been.
Who is it that is calling us? It is we.
Most dogs are faithful animals.

Excerise 8 (Pronouns: objective)

Don’t do it now; do it later, please.
He went to meet me at the station, but I did not see him.
Don’t talk so fast, my son; I can’t understand what you say.

I didn’t tell them, because they knew it already.
Don’t speak to me in that way; speak to me more politely.
I have told it to your father, but not to your mother.

Exercise 9 (Pronouns: relative and interrogative)

I spoke to the doctor’s wife, whom I had already seen often.
Our neighbour, whose son you liked so much, has gone away.
He lost the sword with which he has killed so many enemies.

What did he give you when he came in?
What book do you mean? He didn’t give me any.
Which of the sailors came with you?

Exercise 10 (Pronouns: possessive and demonstrative)

I have found your handkerchief, but now I have lost mine.
A cousin of his has broken his leg.
His translation is worse than yours.

He washed his hands and put on his gloves.
His house is bigger than this one, and mine is bigger still.
The man with the black beard did this.

Exercise 11 (Subjunctive: general use)

Let them try to do this, if they think they can.
Do it at once, and don’t tell me it’s impossible.
Come here: don’t sit down on the chair.

I am sorry that he was not able to come.
I advise you not to come back too early.
Has anyone ever done a thing that seems so stupid?

Exercise 12 (Sequence of tenses)

I don’t think he will arrive tomorrow, nor the day after either.
Ask him to go off a little way off from the window.
My friends do not believe I am capable of doing it alone.

I was looking for a child who could read and write.
They all denied that they had seen the deed.
Their father did not want them to stay away from home too long.

Exercise 13 (Subjunctive and infinitive contrasted)

I hoped I would find them in the dining room.
I fear I shall be the first to arrive at the party this afternoon.
Everyone was afraid of not arriving in time.

I wanted them to finish it at once.
They were unwilling to speak to the others, or for the others to speak to them.
I want you to write to me every week.

Execrise 14 (Subjunctive: conditions)

If he stays there no more than a week, we shall not see him.
If you will open the window, it will be cooler.
If there is no snow in the mountains, it almost always rains.

If they had both gone together, it would have been easier.
I would have written to you, had there been another post.
If I told you I had done it, would you believe me?

Exercise 15 (Subjunctive: impersonal exptessions)

It is possible that my brother is the author.
It is doubtful if he means to marry.
It was important that they should do it at once, wasn’t it?
It is a pity that there has been so much rain.

It was not yet certain that there had been a revolution.
It seemed probable that there had been an accident.
It was obvious that no one was paying any attention to him.

Exercise 16 (Subjunctive: conjunction)

He passed without seeing us, and without our seeing him.
Provided he does this, he can take everything.
In order that his army might escape, the general sacrificed himself.

As soon as he saw me, he asked when I would go.
Tell him when he comes, that I knew he had lied to me.
We ought not to go until he comes back.

Exercise 17 (Subjunctive: whoever, whatever, etc)

Wherever you may be, don’t forget to take money with you.
However you travel, you must go quickly.
Whoever he may be, speak to him politely.

However cold the water may be, I am going to bathe.
Whatever shoes you wear, they must be strong.
However many mistakes you make, I shall not be angry.

Exercise 18 (May, might, etc)

Ask her: she may know.
It may be true; perhaps he did it.
Go now; maybe it will rain later.

He said they might do it at once.
May they take two apples each?
Each man may do as he likes.

Exercise 19 (Must, ought, should, etc)

I never thought I should have to do that.
According to the papers, he had to tell them everything.
I shall have to light the lamp as soon as I return.

Instead of playing, you ought to work a little.
He would not do it, and said we should have done it ourselves.
Please look for my stick: I should be sorry to lose it.

Exercise 20 (The passive, etc)

All the officers were killed by the enemy.
It is to be feared such things will be seen again.
What he had written was still to be seen on the blackboard.

They were in the act of doing this when I came in.
She is tired of always being surrounded by servants.
The platform was deserted when I arrived.

Exercise 21 (Reflexives)

As a rule, the word is spelt in this way.
He was much surprised, so they say, on hearing this.
They did not think it could be done so easily.

When their aunt entered the room, she was told the news.
The horses were heard in the stable.
The dog was seen wandering alone though the town.

Exercise 21 (Reflexives and reciprocals)

We don’t love one another, do we?
She did it herself, without my helping her.
I prepared dinner myself, while he was dressing.

He was sitting in an armchair, and soon went to sleep.
It was getting darker and darker, and finally we turned round.
I don’t dare stand up while he is sitting down.

Exercise 23 (Adverbs and conjunctions)

It would be something to know where we are going to.
He received me most kindly, and invited me to dinner.
He ran as hard as he could.

I spent the afternoon not sleeping, but writing letters.
I can see nothing on this map except a few rivers and islands.
Call them petals (el pétalo) or leaves, it’s all the same to me.

Exercise 24 (Prepositions, etc)

Look for him outside; he’s not likely to be under the table.
He was standing in front of the blackboard at the time.
He was upstairs when I saw him last.

I will go with you as far as the village, if you will will dine with me first.
He was always very good to the unfortunate.
I am tired of working without achieving anything.

Exercise 25 (Para and Por)

He went to meet them so that they might not lose their way.
She got up early so as to milk (ordeñar) the cows and goats.
Come and see me in order that I may tell you what to do.

I believe he bought this for me, but it will be useless.
There will be no prize for those who can’t swim.
As for me, I have not even playing cards for the party (la tertulia).

Exercise 28 (Measurements, etc)

These woollen stockings are eighteen inches long.
It is more than a thousand kilometres from Paris to Madrid.
They have built a wall seventy yards long and twenty feet high.

There is only half an hour left, and I have not done half my task.
Three-quarters of an hour later the play finished.
He lost half his money in the shipwreck.

Exercise 27 (Exclamations)

How splendid it would be to able to do that!
How much I meant to do, and how little I have done!
How badly your brother writes!

Would that we had already arrived!
Unfortunate people! They got wet to the skin.
I wish to goodness that man would stop talking!

Exercise 28 (Special verbs)

I didn’t think my bag would hold so much.
Tell him to bring it up; I don’t want to come down now.
Go up and tell them breakfast is ready.

It will be your turn when I get back.
Having dropped my pen, I can’t write any more.
He won’t miss you so much now that he can speak Spanish.

Exercise 29 (Some important words)

He was sitting in an armchair near the fire.
He was already seated when I was just sitting down.
A complete stranger asked me for a cigarette.

You can walk if you like, but I am going by car.
I have heard they are going to be married next week.
I did not realise what subject was going to be discussed.

Exercise 30 (Miscellaneous notes)

He found more books than he had lost.
I agree to their doing this when we’re gone.
I insist on this lesson ending now.

He complained little, but he didn’t seem well.
I have seen them all, and they all want to come.
He welcomed most politely all who came.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Robinson: the quiz (again)

Slack days, and I’ve been neglecting this blog. So in honour of Jack Robinson, and because when I first put this up last summer no one, despite the wondrous powers of Google, got all the answers, here’s the quiz again (slightly enlarged). First to email me before 31 August with author and title of each work from which the below are extracted can choose a couple of free CBe books.

1(a)
June 21. – Very ill; frighted almost to death with the apprehensions of my sad condition—to be sick, and no help. Prayed to God, for the first time since the storm off Hull, but scarce knew what I said, or why, my thoughts being all confused. June 22. – A little better; but under dreadful apprehensions of sickness. June 23. – Very bad again; cold and shivering, and then a violent headache. June 24. – Much better. June 25. – An ague very violent; the fit held me seven hours; cold fit and hot, with faint sweats after it. June 26. – Better; and having no victuals to eat, took my gun, but found myself very weak. However, I killed a she-goat, and with much difficulty got it home, and broiled some of it, and ate, I would fain have stewed it, and made some broth, but had no pot.

1(b)
The local museum’s asked me to
leave everything to them:
the flute, the knife, the shrivelled shoes,
my shedding goatskin trousers
(moths have got in the fur),
the parasol that took me such a time
remembering the way the ribs should go.
It still will work but, folded up,
looks like a plucked and skinny fowl.
How can anyone want such things?
– And Friday, my dear Friday, died of measles
seventeen years ago come March.

1(c)
We are now settled in lodgings in Clock Lane off Long Acre. I go by the name of Mrs Cruso, which you should bear in mind. I have a room on the second floor. Friday has a bed in the cellar, where I bring him his meals. By no means could I have abandoned him on the island. Nevertheless, a great city is no place him. His confusion when I conducted him through the streets this last Saturday wrenched my heartstrings.
Our lodging is together five shillings a week. Whatever you send I shall be grateful for.

1(d)
It happened one night that Robinson could not sleep. A pool of moonlight shone on the floor of the Residence. An owl called in the darkness, and he seemed to hear the very earth groan with a plaint of love deprived. His mattress of dried grass felt incongruously soft and unreal. He lay for a while thinking of Tenn’s mad, erotic dance round that open furrow, the body offered after being violated by Friday’s spade. It was a long time since he had visited the combe. His daughters, the mandrakes, must have grown big by now! He sat up with his feet in the moonlight and smelt the scent of sap rising in his big body, white as a root. He rose silently, stepped over the entwined bodies of Friday and Tenn, and set out for the copse of gum-trees and sandalwood.

1(e)


1(f)
The published confection has as much imagination as truth in it: Alexander becomes Robinson; the Scottish son of a cobbler becomes a merchant’s son from York who ignores the advice of his father; four years and four months becomes twenty-eight years, half a lifetime.

1(g)

[Click on image to enlarge]

2
Usually Robinson reserved the same large table in a fashionable restaurant where a dozen or more of us sat down to dinner. He went out of his way to be charming and intriguing (answering a question with a question), his deliberate reticence about himself calculated to provoke speculation. Everyone had a different angle on Robinson, who was at his most Gatsby-like during this period, mixing high and low life at the same table, seating rebellious young aristocrats next to a former criminal associate of the Krays who explained how to saw off the barrel of a shotgun. ‘Dangerous thing to do, now looking back on it,’ he told me. ‘But they were available, yeah, and they were usable.’ He fixed me with a dead stare perfected in the course of thousands of protection money collections.

3
The vocation for murder that had suddenly come over Robinson struck me in a way as an improvement over what I’d observed up until then in others, always half hateful, half benevolent, always boring with their vagueness, their indirection. I had definitely learned a thing or two by following Robinson in the night.
But there was a danger: the Law. ‘The Law is dangerous,’ I told him. ‘If you’re caught, you with the state of your health, you’ll be sunk … You’ll never leave prison alive … It’ll kill you …’
‘That’s just too bad,’ he said. ‘I’m fed up with honest work … I’m getting old … still waiting my turn to have some fun, and when it comes ... if it does, with plenty of patience … I’ll have been dead and buried long ago … Honest work is for suckers … You know that as well as I do …’

4
Because I am done with this thing called work,
the paper-clips and staples of it all.
The customers and their huge excuses,
their incredulous lies and their beautiful
foul-mouthed daughters. I am swimming with it,
right up to here with it. And I am bored,
bored like the man who married a mermaid.

5
Recent occurrences to which he need not more particularly allude, but which have not been altogether without notice in some Sunday Papers, and in a daily paper which he need not name (here every other member of the company names it in an audible murmur), have caused him to reflect; and he feels that for him and Robinson to have any personal differences at such a moment, would be for ever to deny that good feeling in the general cause, for which he has reason to think and hope that the gentlemen in […] have always been distinguished.

6
‘Robinson is not a man for the ladies.’
That, too, I knew already. There is easily discernible in some men a certain indifference, not to woman precisely but to the feminine element in women, which might be interpreted in a number of ways. In Robinson I had detected something more than indifference: a kind of armed neutrality. So much for his attitude to me. And I thought it likely that he could be positively hostile to the idea of women in general.
‘Look here,’ I said to Jimmie, ‘I wasn’t born yesterday.’
‘Is so?’ said Jimmie gallantly.
‘And in any case,’ I said, ‘Robinson is not my style.’

7
‘Know my partner? Old Robinson. Yes; the Robinson. Don’t you know? The notorious Robinson. The man who smuggled more opium and bagged more seals in his time than any loose Johnny now alive. They say he used to board the sealing-schooners up Alaska way when the fog was so thick that the Lord God, He alone, could tell one man from another. Holy-Terror Robinson. That’s the man. He is with me in that guano thing. The best chance he ever came across in his life.’

8
Robinson afraid, drunk, sobbing Robinson
In bed with a Mrs Morse. Robinson at home;
Decisions: Toynbee or luminol? Where the sun
Shines, Robinson in flowered trunks, eyes toward
The breakers. Where the night ends, Robinson in East Side bars.

9
Robinson hesitated a moment, and then said, with a smile, ‘I am going to make you, sir, a very odd proposal after your last declaration; but what say you to a game at cards? it will serve to pass a tedious hour, and may divert your thoughts from more unpleasant speculations.’ I do not imagine Booth would have agreed to this; for, though some love of gaming had been formerly amongst his faults, yet he was not so egregiously addicted to that vice as to be tempted by the shabby plight of Robinson, who had, if I may so express myself, no charms for a gamester. If he had, however, any such inclinations, he had no opportunity to follow them, for, before he could make any answer to Robinson’s proposal, a strapping wench came up to Booth, and, taking hold of his arm, asked him to walk aside with her; saying, ‘What a pox, are you such a fresh cull that you do not know this fellow? why, he is a gambler, and committed for cheating at play. There is not such a pickpocket in the whole quad.’ A scene of altercation now ensued between Robinson and the lady, which ended in a bout at fisticuffs, in which the lady was greatly superior to the philosopher.

10
‘Let’s go for a spin,’ Mr Robinson said.
Benjamin reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys. ‘Can you work a foreign gearshift?’ he said, holding them out.
‘What?’
‘Do you know how to operate a foreign gearshift?’
‘Well sure,’ Mr Robinson said. ‘But I thought you’d take me for a spin yourself.’

11
‘You ask that,’ groaned Robinson, ‘and yet you can see what I look like. Just think of it, they’ve very likely made me a cripple for life. I have frightful pains from here right to here’ – and he pointed first to his head and then to his toes – ‘I only wish you had seen how much my nose bled. My waistcoat is completely ruined, and I had to leave it behind me too; my trousers are in tatters, I’m in my drawers’.

12
He had determined to remain calm, so that, on turning round at the quick advent of the little woman of the house, who had hurried up, white, scared, staring, at the sound of the crashing door, he was able to say, very quietly and gravely, ‘Mr Robinson has shot himself through the heart. He must have done it while you were fetching the milk.’

13


14
Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows (1908) – in which Toad is bailed out from various scrapes by kindly others who have a soft spot for this feckless, conceited toff – while working at the Bank of England. Several of Grahame’s colleagues kept dogs in the basement and organised dog-fights in the lavatories. In 1903 he was shot at by an intruder named Robinson, whom the press referred to as a ‘Socialist Lunatic’.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

May-Lan Tan



I’m indecently proud that May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break is included, as readers’ nomination, on the Guardian First Book Award longlist.

Huge thanks to everyone who has helped keep the boat afloat, and not least to Claire Trévien, who nominated Things to Make and Break and whose own first book took this same slot on the list last year. Any purchase from the website gets more money directly to CBe. I suggest you buy now rather wait till later (a used CBe edition of Christopher Reid’s A Song of Lunch is currently on ebay at £100).

The photo above is © Brian Carroll and was taken, I think, when May-Lan read earlier this year in Cardiff for Bare Fiction magazine - click here for a podcast of that reading. May-Lan is currently in the US; her website lists the places/dates of her readings there. In September she (and I) will be at the Cork International Short Story Festival.