Saturday 28 February 2009

‘Arrestingly lovely’

No, not a girl I happened to see down the Uxbridge Road this afternoon, but the Scotsman today on J. O. Morgan’s Natural Mechanical: ‘This arrestingly lovely memoir’.

Monday 23 February 2009

Culture shock

Yesterday I stumbled across – in an envelope in a box in a wardrobe, along with hundreds of letters saved by my mother – a handwritten page entitled ‘Books Read in The Last Year’. I was 11 or 12 or 13 when I wrote this page, certainly no older. Here’s the list:

HMS Ulysses – Alistair Maclean
Casebook of Sherlock Holmes – Conan Doyle
Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Conan Doyle
War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
The Time Machine – H. G. Wells
Alexander the Great
The Jungle is Neutral – Spencer-Chapman
Ben Hur – Lew Wallace
The White South – Hammond Innes
Sands of Dunkirk – Collier
Elephant Bill
One Man and his Dog
Travels of a Donkey in the Cevennes – R. L. Sevenson
He Went with Wellington
El Cid
The Gun – C. S. Forester
The Ship – C. S. Forester
Lord Hornblower – C. S. Forester
The Commodore – C. S. Forester
(and 6 others by Forester)
King Solomon’s Mines – Rider Haggard
The Yellow God – Rider Haggard
Collected Dog Stories – Kipling
Adventures of Gerard – Conan Doyle
The Eagle of the Ninth – Sutcliffe
Courts of the Morning – Buchan
The Wooden Horse – Williams
The Three Hostages – Buchan
Ivanhoe – Walter Scott
Oliver Twist – Dickens
Blanket of the Dark – Buchan
The Lion
Our Mutual Friend – Dickens
The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo
Julius Caesar – Shakespeare
Macbeth – Shakespeare
Henry V – Shakespeare
White Fang – Jack London
The Scarlet Plague – Jack London
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
The Scarlet Pimpernel – Orczy

Phew. It’s a boy’s list. It’s the list of a middle-class-early 60s-white-boy-who’s-had-a-keen-English-teacher. (James Birdsall, brother of the TW3 cartoonist Timothy Birdsall, who – James – married the handicrafts teacher, Miss McGee; and Miss Lee.) Just two women writers, and only one book that was intentionally written for ‘children’ or even ‘young adults’. But I’ll forgo the cultural essay because right now it’s more than enough that I can see the covers of many of these books (Pan Books, 2/6) and the print on the page, I can almost touch and smell them, and when I wander into the bedroom of one of my sons (aged 17; the dust gathering on early Harry Potters and the odd Philip Pullman, he hasn’t read a book for years) I’m in a time warp.

Friday 20 February 2009

Natural Mechanical

I live in the sticks, in a remote metropolis in the south of England that doesn’t take much notice of anything happening outside it, and am therefore cut off from some of the UK’s main cultural highways. But after a delay of nearly two weeks I’ve at last got hold of an article published in the Glasgow Herald by Rosemary Goring, the literary editor, about ‘a remarkable debut poem, Natural Mechanical, by J. O. Morgan [which] comes with warm endorsement from the current poet laureate, Andrew Motion . . .’

For others similarly isolated, here’s more from the Herald:

‘The enticingly titled Natural Mechanical (CB editions, £7.50) is the tale of a young boy, Rocky, who hates school and lives a feral life among the hills and woods of the island. A poor reader – he is later diagnosed as dyslexic – he tries to get as far away as possible from teachers, books, and his dour strap-happy father.
‘Rocky is an extraordinary but not an imaginary character, and J. O. Morgan has known him for many years. Gathering his anecdotes of a clever, untameable child into free verse, Morgan has created a rare biography in a style so vivid it is clearer than prose. If those who never read poetry tried a few pages of this, they might become converts.
‘This book is enthralling on two counts: as an indelible form of memoir; and as a superb evocation of country life. On both levels, it’s a winner. The Skye landscape, and its wildlife in particular, colour the pages. Self-taught, Rocky has an uncanny knowledge of the wild, so skilled at trapping rabbits and fish it’s as if he had cast a spell on them. But as easily as he can make a snare from grass, he can also take a broken-down car and make it purr once more . . .
Natural Mechanical is a bold and very modern take on how to portray the soul of a Scot whose passions will chime with many fellow country folk even – perhaps particularly – those now thirled to a city treadmill.’

Today, 20 February, is the book’s official publication date. Order from your local bookshop or buy from the CBe website. Before we sell out.

Tuesday 10 February 2009


This morning the heads of RBS and HBOS are being questioned by MPs . . . It’s fun listening, even though the MPs aren’t being sharp enough, and a good writer could make much of this format in which discomfort, fear and anger is overlayered by politeness and business platitudes. Paul Muldoon once wrote a TV play about the entrapment of the dodgy car-maker John Delorean in which executives trade small talk (‘Had a good flight?') while discussing cocaine smuggling and money laundering. The play was called Monkeys, which in turn reminds me of Zagajewski’s poem ‘Apes’: ‘One day apes made their grab for power. / Gold seal-rings, / starched shirts, / aromatic Havana cigars . . . Deeply involved in our other pursuits, / We didn’t notice: someone read Aristotle, / someone else was deeply in love . . .’

Tuesday 3 February 2009

'Walk fast and look worried'

I think this man is a banker. On the other hand he may be a very nice person. I cut the photo from a Guardian article some years ago and can't remember: if anyone can, or knows who he is, please let me know.

Meanwhile the CBe website has been updated with the 2009 books and Natural Mechanical is available NOW.

Monday 2 February 2009

Some window in California

Middle-row-sixth-from-the-left-just-to-the-right-of-the-vertical-bar - yes, there. The CBe Ponge book in the window of City Lights, San Francisco, where Beverley-the-translator was reading last week.