Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Lunch date

It’s official: the Guardian and other places announce today the BBC adaptation of Christopher Reid’s The Song of Lunch, starring Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, to be broadcast in October. Janice Hadlow, controller at BBC Two, is quoted as saying: ‘We hope that audiences will enjoy this dramatisation of Christopher Reid’s touching and witty poem and maybe feel inspired to indulge in a little more poetry themselves.’ And a little more buying of books, I hope. And another bottle of wine over lunch, Juliano (above) hopes.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Matthew Welton’s poem ‘South Korea and Japan 2002’ (in ‘We needed coffee but . . .’), structured according to the World Cup timetable of fixtures in that year, offers itself as a kind of I Ching for anyone interested in the result of the game tomorrow and and the ones thereafter. Here’s a couple of the final group-stage games:

‘As we idle out the evening in this overcrowded den of iniquity, there’s this feeling we get in the belly like something being offered for franchise.’

‘Trying to describe the parakeets in the trees at the zoological park, we begin to see something slovenly and sad in the leaves drying out in the grass.’

Also bought yesterday, a second-hand ancient Penguin whose author, according to the mini-biog, ‘specialised in derailing trains’ for the Resistance in France and wrote his first book while ‘cut off in an isolated house from all outside contacts and armed to the teeth’. On page 23 one of the characters, a poet, says this: ‘I seldom read what people generally call novels these days. When I do, it isn’t for the plot (thrillers are better), or for the characters (those in the newspapers have more depth to them), but for the author, his reflections, his style, what his book tells me about him.’

Friday, 18 June 2010

Amazon doesn’t make it to Glyndebourne

Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne – shown on BBC2 last night; the first of three programmes about the making of the Glyndebourne opera from Nicky Singer’s novel Knight Crew – is a feel-good production focusing exclusively on Gareth Malone’s heroic task of transforming a bunch of unlikely teenagers ‘who wouldn’t normally be seen dead going to an opera, let alone singing in one’ (as the Guardian puts it) into an opera chorus of professional standard.

He’s a good man. But in making this the Gareth Malone show, a lot gets left out. We see the delight of those who get through the auditions; we don’t see the disappointment of those who don’t. Nor do we learn anything about the novel on which this whole project was based, let alone the extraordinary individual stories of the people Nicky Singer met while writing the book.

Still, the book’s there, isn’t it, for anyone following the TV programme who is curious enough to look for it? And there’ll be a few of those. According to Digital Spy, who track ratings, 1.82 million people watched last night’s programme; which is not bad for a World Cup night on which other programmes included a documentary on Tiger Woods (1.21 million) and one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films (1.07 million). The Arts Desk review of the programme even includes a helpful link to the book on Amazon.

Follow that link and you get to a page telling you the book is ‘out of stock’. (Same message on the page for the Marjorie Ann Watts book.) What is Amazon for?

Buy the book from the CBe website. Write Not Amazon in the instructions-to-merchant box on the PayPal ‘review your payment’ page and I’ll make a refund so you get it at the same price as Amazon charge, if ever they can be bothered to stock it.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Summer in the city

The market in Portobello Road on Saturday.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A rare quality

In a feature in the Camden New Journal about both the book Are they funny, are they dead? and its author, Marjorie Ann Watts recalls how she was told by a publisher that she could only have her stories published after she’d written a novel; so she did so, and the publisher liked it, but then ‘told me I was too old – I didn’t have a three-book deal in me’.

The article continues: ‘Breathtaking ageism, which is their loss. Her writing is both beautiful and spare, immediately gripping, and has the rare quality of revealing a character in a few words. “How Things Turn Out”, the story of a tycoon’s flawed relationship with his children, starts: “Lord Porter had married young and then forgotten about it. He supposed he had loved his wife, he had never given it much thought.” In “Birthdays” (which won a literary prize), the entire tragedy of one woman’s life is there in a few domestic exchanges over the breakfast table . . .’

Buy the book here. Or order from your local bookshop.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

An interruption

Way back in the 70s I was driving north on the M1 when the radio programme I was listening to in the car was interrupted for the announcement of the death of an American poet. (Would they make that interruption now? For the death of a writer?)

A cloud scuds across the sun. The landscape changes. This year, recently, Peter Porter, Alan Sillitoe, and now David Markson. You don’t have to have met them, known them personally; if you’ve read their work and taken something from it, it hits. Here’s Coleridge: ‘The great works of past ages seem to a young man things of another race in respect to which his faculties must remain passive and submiss, even as to stars and mountains. But the writings of a contemporary, perhaps not many years older than himself, surrounded by the same circumstances and disciplined by the same manners, possess a reality for him and inspire an actual friendship as of a man for man . . . The poems themselves assume the properties of flesh and blood.’ A contemporary writer is someone who is alive while you are alive; listening to the same news, being moved to anger or splendour by the same currents, and writing, present continuous, practically in the same room; and then they’re not, and it’s different.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Not the World Cup

J. O. Morgan is reading from Natural Mechanical at the Bridlington Poetry Festival tomorrow, Saturday the 12th. Marjorie Ann Watts (Are they funny, are they dead?) writes about Cornwall in the Sunday Telegraph on the 13th. Next week, on Thursday the 17th the first of three programmes on the making of the Glyndebourne opera from Nicky Singer’s Knight Crew is presented by Gareth Malone on BBC2 at 9 p.m.

The BBC has commissioned a film adaptation of Christopher Reid’s The Song of Lunch, starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, to be broadcast later this year.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Michael Wojas, 1956–2010

Michael Wojas of the Colony Room has died. After school and university, ‘the rest of his life he gave to Soho’ ( Telegraph obituary ). Courtesy of Michael, Wiesiek read from his Grabinski book at the Colony Room back in early 2008; the drinking, chat, gossip and general to-ing and fro-ing were not exactly interrupted by reverent silence, nor should they have been; it wasn’t that kind of place.

Monday, 7 June 2010

David Markson, 1927–2010

David Markson, whose This Is Not a Novel was published by CBe in February this year, has died in New York. The end of that book: Then I go out at night to paint the stars. / Says a van Gogh letter. // Farewell and be kind.

And the opening of Wittgenstein’s Mistress: In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


Devon: trees in a field with buttercups. There aren’t many fields left in England in summertime without tents in them in which authors are debating the future of the book and being politely applauded. This one was nice.