Saturday, 19 April 2008

George Steiner, maintaining the standards

I was 17 or 18 when I first encountered the critical writings of George Steiner, and I don't think I have ever liked a critic better. (I say 'critic' - modestly the man himself discounts his occasional fictions, including The Portage to San Christobal of A.H., but then one can be sure he sets the bar higher than the average mortal.) My favourite titles of his remain Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky and Real Presences. I will never forget hearing Steiner describe the true function of the critic as that of a postman: one who knows precisely where to deliver the missives of men & women of letters. (As I recall, he attributes this image to Pushkin?) And he returns to this theme in an excellent interview in today's Guardian. He also expresses the view that most writing "seems to me too often, in this country, at the moment, a minimalist art. Very, very non-risk-taking. Very tight - often admirably, technically. But finally one thinks of the nasty taunt of Roy Campbell, the South African rightwing poet: I see your bridle, where's the bloody horse?"

Friday, 18 April 2008

Ten Bad Dates With De Niro in America

Listen, I gotta tell ya - New York's never been a lucky town for me - for a buncha reasons - though as a visitor I like the place enormously, always have done. But anyhow, no hard feelings, and here's to maybe a little rub of the green come May 1 when the Rookery Press NYC will publish their US edition of the widely-considered-amusing movie-list compendium Ten Bad Dates With De Niro. I could say my luck's already turning a little, cos I never had no mention on no Page 6 of the New York Post before. And I've been reading Peter Travers in the Rolling Stone since I was a boy and Reagan was President, but now - whaddaya know? - my book's got a mention in his 'blog'. Yep, dollar for dollar all I can say is luck be a lady tonight. The new cover image for Rookery's edition really delights me, immortalising as it does the Very Worst Date real or imagined that you or I will ever be rubber-necker to.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

The genius of Nicolas Roeg, live in North London this Sunday

This Sunday 20 April 2008 the Phoenix in North Finchley offers a Nicolas Roeg double bill - The Man Who Fell to Earth (1975) and Bad Timing (1980) after which Nic Roeg himself will take the stage for a Q&A with the audience, a session that I will have the pleasure of 'chairing'. I'll be writing about this at greater length after the weekend, but I should just quickly take this space to say some obvious things, i.e. 1) that Roeg is as brilliant a filmmaker as Britain has ever produced, the golden era of his work (roughly the 20 years from 1966-1985) being comparable to the best of anybody else's ever, 2) that a lot of us out there feel this way, and 3) that I will never forget the first time I 'met' Roeg (i.e. got his autograph) after a screening of Insignificance and Q&A at the Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast, in November 1985. Theresa Russell was at his side that night, and I couldn't have been more in awe if the proverbial Martian had fallen to earth and sat itself beside me in the front row. (The photo of Roeg herewith is by fikirbaz (Ozgur Poyrazoglu) from the Flickr site, and was taken at the Antalya 44th Golden Orange Film Festival & 3rd Eurasia Film Festival.)

Crusaders in Australia, and The Spectator...

... and so I wonder which of the above was the less likely place for Crusaders to crop up, had I been a betting man? At any rate, it's interesting to note new responses to the book in print when one had thought that moment was past. The latest Spectator makes some rather wearily familiar remarks about Crusaders in a 'round-up' of first novels largely concerned with the recently-published Submarine. A much more detailed solus review is in The Australian, and as on many previous occasions I have to count myself lucky to receive such a considered response to the book, given its particular idiosyncrasies, which the reviewer itemises perfectly intelligently and without malice. This oft-commented-upon business of the book's old-fashioned structure and archaic turns of prose-style is something I'd like to comment on myself at greater length - and I suppose this site is the place to do it, all things considered - but maybe not tonight, eh?

"The Best Man"? Springsteen favours Obama

Not that these things mean anything. I don't recall Springsteen's deeply felt on-the-stump renditions of 'The Promised Land' doing anything for John Kerry in 04. Nor do I recall Obama saying anything very stirring this year, other than he wasn't minded to share a ticket with Mrs Clinton. But then I don't have a vote in this election. I was simply interested to read Springsteen's just-published reasons for wanting Obama in 08. There's only one thing to be read into his assertion that the senator for Illinois is 'head and shoulders' above the rival candidate(s). Springsteen is a well-mannered fellow in public, and even were he not, he probably wouldn't summon up the same invective (i.e. invoking 'evil') as Christopher Hitchens in this critique of Mrs Clinton from a recent appearance on Fox News. But then again...

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Crusaders - the basic plot explained...

The above 'author presentation' has been newly added to Faber and Faber's YouTube channel, and was recorded especially for an internal sales conference in September 2007. Not a fussy crowd, otherwise I'd have shaved that morning. The unflashy locations are matched by a spare attention to sound-levels, but it was quite a windy day, see...

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Gordon Burn & David Peace

Yesterday I had the privilege of a sit-down discussion with two of the most formidable English writers working today: Gordon Burn and David Peace, who share some obvious affinities in subject matter (Peter Sutcliffe for one - the subject of Burn's Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son and the shadow-stimulus for David's 'Red Riding Quartet' of 1974, 1977, 1980, and 1983. Football, for another - 2006 was a red-letter year for writing in this field thanks to Gordon's Best and Edwards and David's The Damned United.) But by the time your estimation factors in the further range of Gordon's four novels (Alma Cogan, Fullalove, North of England Home Service and Born Yesterday) alongside his studies of the art world that include a book with Damien Hirst - and then you think about David's GB84, that occult history of the 84-85 Miners Strike, and then the fictional accounting of post-war Japan that he has now embarked upon, beginning with Tokyo Year Zero - and you have to consider it a blazing miracle that England can boast writers such as these. The symposium I had with them was arranged by Esquire magazine and was concerned primarily with crime and other forms of aberrant true-life behaviour, and the extent to which they make fitting inspiration for books. The resultant article should appear in the August issue (i.e. late July). But if you're stuck for reading beforehand, get yourself into some Burn and some Peace. If you've already read one or two do yourself a favour and read the lot.

Crusaders at the Living Room Book Group

I had some very good fortune last month in having the opportunity to discuss Crusaders with the members of a book group who had been hacking their way through it together over recent weeks. That's me in the photo - I'm on the red rather than the white, but a large one, de rigueur - and it's not posed, I really was using both hands to make a point, as is my wont. The session took place in the Living Room bar on Newcastle's elegantly restored Grey Street, in the district of the city that my mother is surprised to hear they now call 'Grainger Town'. My luck in getting this engagement was in the sense that readers' group meetings are, of course, an emergent force in our society, but their members (naturally) tend to value their recreational reading time highly, and I sense they prefer to assign each other books with widely-vouched-for qualities (i.e. prizewinners, or acclaimed bestsellers) rather than Very Long Debut Novels by Unknowns. Clearly I had in my favour that Crusaders is very much a novel of Newcastle and the North East, but the fact that a book treats aspects of one's locality is not a cast-iron reason to want to spend time with it. At any rate, I had a truly interesting time at the Living Room, and found it rather a privilege to get the unmediated responses of real readers, whatever was their reckoning of the novel's accomplishment. I wonder if I'll get another chance?