Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Birdhouse In Your Soul

Have I shared with you just what it is I do for a living? I’m a freelance journalist and sub-editor, and spend my weeks flitting from pillar to post - mostly between pillars at high-profile celebrity weeklies and posts at top-selling TV magazines. Which is all well and good. But every so often I have a random week that I have to fill at short notice… and I end up working somewhere less, erm, desirable. Which is where I find myself this week.

I’m currently cooped up at a weekly trade magazine… which is like the land that time forgot. Working in an office that’s like the seventh-and-a-half floor in ‘Being John Malkovich’ - the floor has been raised for some inexplicable reason and the ceiling is lower than on any other floor in this building - I find myself with a random, although sweet, bunch of people. There is even one lady who has worked at this magazine for longer than I’ve been alive (hint: I’m getting on for 30), and she claims to remember the days when Tony Hadley - before he was in Spandau Ballet - worked in the postroom downstairs.

But what strikes me most about this bizarre brown office is the level of tedium I’m experiencing. While the people are undisputedly friendly and nice, the silence is deafening - and the click-click-click of the dirt-ingrained keyboard I’m using is overwhelming as I fail to hide the fact I’m spending my day on Hotmail rather than subbing their pages. Yesterday, for instance, I got so bored I found myself wondering who the most famous person I’d ever met was. Unable to decide whether it was Al Pacino or David Hasselhoff, I set about Googling them both (while the Hoff may not have won any Oscars he is the most searched person on Google, so I thought it might be close). Fact fans will be interested, if not surprised, to learn that Al won out - by a staggering 4 million pages.

Friday can’t come round fast enough. My spirit may have been well and truly crushed beyond all recognition by then.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I've Been To London To See The Queen

Well, Chelsea actually. I've been to Chelsea to see 'The Queen' (Stephen Frears, 2006) and she was bloody good.

Helen Mirren must surely be up for an Oscar after her turn as HM, and Helen McCrory (who we saw on stage in 'As You Like It' last year, and she was fab in that, too) was hilarious as a totally disrespectful, unimpressed Cherie Blair.

Now, I'm not much of a Royalist. I've always seen the royal family as a further drain on the tax payer and a poor excuse for dragging the tourists to London, but 'The Queen' has made me a tad more sympathetic - although I'm sure that won't last long. Apparently Helen Mirren has even become a Royalist after putting herself in HM's round-toed shoes.

Cherie Blair and Alistair Campbell come off particularly badly (albeit hilariously), and Tony Bliar is confirmed as the smarmy git we all know him to be - and the funniest line comes at the end when HM assures Bliar that sooner or later there'll come a point when the public turn on him, too. HM is shown to have a sort of heart - she sheds a tear at one point (certainly not over Diana) and admires the beauty of a stag while listening to the gun shots of Philip, who has taken William and Harry off stag shooting to take their minds off their dead mother… a barbaric family riddled with archaic institutions.

'The Queen' was well scripted, well acted, well directed and well put together. The legal logistics of making a film like this, when most of the main characters are not only still alive but also still in power (fingers crossed Bliar is off any day, though), must be a minefield... but hats off to Stephen Frears for pulling it off.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Wild Body

Wyndham Lewis's 1929 collection of essays, 'The Wild Body', is another one that I'm reading for the MA. Initially I found it rather dry, but further delving makes me think that George Orwell must surely have been heavily influenced by it for his classic 1933 book, 'Down and Out in Paris and London', which I read with relish a few years back... while feeling that life was getting me considerably down in London (Vauxhall, to be precise... before the rennovation that saw the likes of 'stars' such as , ahem, Lee Ryan from Blue move in).

Presumably Lewis's book is autobiographical, of his time as a soldier in the inter-war era, travelling though Europe under the psuedonym Kerr-Orr. Staying in boarding houses of various degrees of ill repute and commenting on the assorted characters he meets there, it never ceases to amaze me how - despite his travels across the continent - Kerr-Orr meets so many people he already knows. Maybe the world really is a small place?

While I understand that it is undoubtedly interesting to read accounts like this of a time that is gone for good, I am also left a little perplexed as to why this has stood the test of time so well and remains such a classic. However, I'm still two weeks shy of starting the much-hyped MA and maybe once I've got my teeth stuck into that, I shall cease making such naive comments and actually start to know a little bit about what I'm talking about. Here's hoping.

Friday, September 15, 2006


And finally - the third part in today's trilogy - Persephone has given yours truly a brief mention in their latest fortnightly newletter. Follow the link here:

The Brontës... Adieu

(Hurrah! I've finished it - and I've also written a review for potential publication on proper paper...)

“The Brontës Went to Woolworths” - Rachel Ferguson

Best known simply as ‘Rachel’ in the magazine ‘Punch’, former suffragette Rachel Ferguson went on to become an actress and dance teacher before writing nine novels. “The Brontës Went To Woolworths”, originally published in 1931, was her second – and possibly her best known.

A little delving has found that “The Brontës…” is something of a cult classic, which the recent reprint of Ferguson’s more heavy-going novel “Alas, Poor Lady” by Persephone Books will hopefully rejuvenate once again.

Although it’s a relatively short novel, “The Brontës…” will totally capture the reader’s imagination. AS Byatt, who first loved the book as a teenager, writes in her introduction, “I was intrigued by the title, which seemed to suggest some impossible meeting of the urgent world of the romantic imagination and the everyday world of (in my case) Pontefract High Street”. And indeed, the title alone is precisely how the book caught my eye.

The three Carne sisters – Deirdre, Katrine and Sheil – live with their widowed mother and starchy governess in a state of relative poverty, but construct for themselves a fantastical world where the dead come back to life and the inanimate becomes animate. The protagonist, Deirdre, is a journalist and becomes infatuated by Lord Justice Toddington, who she first discovers archly presiding over his London courtroom. Fascinated by his presence and what she imagines his life and wife to be like, Deirdre and her family incorporate their fictitious version of him into their real home life. And so ‘Toddy’ joins the ranks of Dion Saffyd (a pierrot doll named after a real-life cause celeb they have never actually met in person), Ironface (the French doll) and Freddie Pipson (a larger-than-life music hall producer), among countless others. But it is during a bored night away from London that the family finds themselves reluctantly welcoming the real Brontë sisters into their world… and suddenly Toddy has a much larger role to play.

Through “The Brontës…” it is possible to see where contemporary writer Kate Atkinson found inspiration for her early novels (“Human Croquet” and “Behind The Scenes At the Museum”), seamlessly blending reality with the supernatural to create a haunting story.

And as “The Brontës…” picked up pace, I found myself turning the pages ever more rapidly as I not only feared for the characters at certain points but also rooted for them and willed them to succeed. The way the family incorporates both the imagined and the real Toddy into their lives is touching, and it is easy to imagine how much they not only felt they needed him in their lives but how much they really did need him in their lives… and vice versa. But when the Carne family’s security blanket of their fictional world starts to seep into reality, the girls pull together and face up to the fact that real-life may not be quite so cosy as the world they have built up to protect themselves.

Where “The Brontës…” succeeds is with it’s beautifully written and wonderfully eccentric style, and with it’s simple story of three girls struggling to cope without a father figure and trying to make the best of what life has dealt them. As well as being a touching comment on grief and questioning the possibility of an afterlife, the book is also a good example of London life pre-WWII for many families.

Paranoia in the Launderette

My walk into work this morning led me past the fabulously named Bernie Spain Gardens by Gabriel's Wharf. Here I passed a man wielding a very large chainsaw device, who was neatly trimming the hedges. My immediate reaction was to take stock of the situation, think fast and wonder if - as I approached - he would let loose, turn and slice me into slithereens with his nasty, rusty, angry looking chainsaw.

Such paranoia is commonplace in my mind. And while I'm pleased to report that I managed to walk past the man without incident of any kind, it did remind me of one of my favourite short stories: 'Paranoia in the Launderette' by Bruce 'Withnail & I' Robinson (a snip at £2.99).

Published (and first read by me) in 1998, I never tire of turning the pages as the unnamed protagonist, a failing writer, takes a reluctant trip to the launderette in order to wash his only set of clothes before embarking on an interview for a job he doesn't even want... and that he fears may well lead to his death. Between getting in a scrape with the police and worrying about what the launderette's staff think of his pants, this is a reassuring anxiety trip inside the head of the truly paranoid. The final scene contains a true gem of a line: "I'm not in here to hurt anyone. I'm a professional writer."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


As a former fanzine writer (remember the three ground-breaking editions of Arketino that were published from my Somerset bedroom between 1994 and 1996? Hmm, thought not), I must admit that I'm loving all these grown-up takes on the fanzine that I'm increasingly coming across. By that I'm not referring to these wretched blogs that people keep writing (I mean, really, it is self-indulgent, and really, as Matt says, there is no outside editorial input, and really, it's on the bloody internet so by default it's geeky), but to the lovely publications I've come across like Matt's Smoke; Pen Pusher; and the, erm, Persephone Quarterley (it's essentially a magazine, OK). If you know some more, please feel free to share.

Writing a fanzine (aged 16-18) was a fabulous outlet for indulging my creativity and getting some free records... as well as 'kind-of' access to musicians (my regular interviewee being Stephen Duffy, who used to be underground and respectable, but lately he's teamed up with RobbieBloodyWilliams and I've since lost all respect for him, SD that is). Hell, I even had an interview with Bernard Butler straight after he left Suede... at a time when even Melody Maker couldn't get an interview with him.

It was in the days before email and the internet, and most things were done through the post or on the phone - being only 16 and living in a tiny village in Somerset, actually meeting anyone who lived further afield than Bristol was never very easy. And typing up bits of paper, photocopying them to size (as we didn't have a computer to fiddle about with it on), and Pritt Sticking them onto the page was great. Sending the pages off to the printers in Sheffield and waiting eagerly for them to return was the stuff that sleepless nights were made of. And even charging people 50p for the priviledge of reading said self-indulgent drivel was satisfying.

But where's the similar satisfaction in a blog (even the word makes me cringe)? (It's at this juncture that I should stress that my main reasons for starting this blog are 1) to give me an outlet to remember that I am capable of stringing a setence together even though my living is current earnt by re-writing other people's shoddy copy, and 2) because I have ideas above my station. Get me, etc.).

In the words of Councillor Duxbury, 'Think on'.

A Postcard From Kennington

An anti-blogger (and old friend from my fanzine days, so he's allowed to say what he likes - not that my approval or otherwise would stop him) writes:

"As for blogs... I think I just work on the basis that lack of outside editing is always A Bad Thing. I know that seems slightly contradictory coming from someone who publishes his own magazine and used to release records on his own label, but the economics of printing (or record-pressing) act as the editor - I can only afford 52 pages, therefore I have to make sure they're the best damn 52 pages currently on offer. Whereas with websites and blogs and MySpace, people can just fill the void with rubbish and no one tells them to stop it. That's bad. People need aesthetic policing."

Oh, hang on... there's more:

"I disapprove of your blog on the grounds that your profile includes something called Astrological Sign and something else called Zodiac Year. These are two more Bad Things."

(By the by, I hadn't realised such rubbish as my astrological nonsense had appeared on my profile, but please rest assured it has been swiftly removed. Yuk.)

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Word about Ulysses

And the word is, 'No'!

I'm sorry. It's indecipherable, insufferable and incredibly tedious. I've read a third of it (which is more than my aunt who used to work for the Oxford English Dictionary so *must* be clever) and I just can't face any more. I might skim bits and I'll read the chapters I have to for the MA, but I just can't punish myself any longer. I'm really starting to wonder what I did to deserve such torture.

Abandoning a book halfway through is something I hate doing, along with most people. But lately I've really started to relax my morals. Life is so short, that I have to wonder what the point is of slogging through an utterly miserable and life-stealing read just for the sake of getting to the end.

So James Joyce can loiter beside Erica Jong in my recent abandoned books pile, and they are welcome to see what they make of each other. Not that I think they'll get on. James will doubtless be horrified at all her nasty little Americanisms, and Erica will be equally up in arms at James' atrocious representations of women. Ho hum.

On the plus side - 'The Brontës went to Woolworths' arrived yesterday and I can't wait to get started on it in my lunchbreak today. I'm so excited. Not least because 1) it has the beautiful cover I mentioned yesterday, 2) Rachel Ferguson *must* be a great writer if Persephone endorse her, 3) all the Googling I've done on the book has made it seem like a cult read, and 4) the out-of-print edition I have is published by Virago Modern Classics seems to be a blueprint for the Persephone way of thinking.

War of Words

I have just returned from my lunchbreak (which is an achievement in itself, considering I'm working on the 29th floor this week and, being claustrophobic, I have to take the stairs) and, on my way to the nearby Konditor & Cook for cake, found myself caught in a war of words between the various freesheets now bombarding the pedestrians in London.

Not content with abusing the mentality of every single London citizen with the Metro every morning, Associated Newspapers has also been throwing the Standard Lite (an appalling misuse of spelling) at dinner-timers for the past few years (enticing them to cough up for the Evening Standard on their way home). Last year the diabolically dull City Am was launched, which, from the name downwards, is one of the most boring publications to go to press. Now, with News International having launched The London Newspaper (I refuse to pander to their lower case obscenities), last week, the Standard Lite has rebranded itself with a hideous new masthead and a vile new name, London Lite.

Personally, I feel abused by these glorified press releases, with TV listings attached. They're ugly, poorly designed, poorly written, poorly spelt ('Lite' and lower case titles being just the tip of the iceberg) and, apart from anything else, they're something else to 1) litter the streets of London with as filthy people just chuck them on the pavement, and 2) clog up landfill sites with as people chuck them on the pavement instead of recycling them (see point 1).

The Brontës Went to Woolworths

I love it when one thing leads to another and the power of distraction and procrastination means you end up somewhere you really didn't expect.

Friday lunchtime saw me dash into the wonderful Persephone book shop (59 Lambs Conduit Street, Holborn) to pick up three more dove-grey tomes ('Cheerful Weather for the Wedding' by Julia Strachey, 'Every Eye' by Isobel English and 'Alas, Poor Lady' by Rachel Ferguson) - as well as the brand new Persephone Quarterly (as I was too impatient to wait until Saturday for it to arrive in the post).

And Friday evening saw me doing the night shift at a celeb mag... so with lots of time to kill waiting for the repro house to send over the cromalins, I amused myself by reading the Persephone Quarterly (resplendent with a beautiful picture of some Victorian-era ladies parading on the beach in their finery) and flicking through my new Persephone purchases. From reading the blurb on 'Alas, Poor Lady', I learnt that the author, Rachel Ferguson, had also written a book called 'The Brontës Went to Woolworths' - which must surely be among my all-time favourite titles for a novel. So I promptly went to Amazon and ordered up the last remaining copy from the Marketplace and I eagerly await its arrival. I would also like to add that by strange coincidence, the cover of 'The Brontës Went to Woolworths' is the same picture that graced the front of the current Persephone Quarterly that I admired so much. (I'd have liked to post it here but it's disappeared from the site now that I've bought the last copy.)

Rest assured that I shall keep you posted on how I get on with the Brontë book.

But in the meantime, I've already finished the brief 'Cheerful Weather for the Wedding' (more of a novella than a novel), which was originally published by the Woolf's Hogarth Press. Virginia Woolf went so far as to call it one of the most perfectly formed books ever written. High praise indeed. The book wasn't quite what I expected having read the write-up, but I enjoyed it as a period piece, as a lesson in long-lost etiquette and for the timeless emotions of two people caught in a situation their hearts don't want to be in. And, as always, beautifully presented by Persephone.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Scritti Politici (sic)

A weary word about the Mercury Music Prize, which took place on Tuesday night. (NB: I never normally take any notice of dreary industry back-pats like the Brits and Mercury, but this year I was mildly curious for reasons that become apparent.)

Just how predictable was it that student bores the Arctic bloody Monkeys were going to win? When, as all the critics and writers seem to quite rightly suggest, the group that should have won was Scritti Politti.

Scritti frontman and musical genius, Green Gartside has been steadily and consistently producing timeless music since the 1970s, and his latest album, ‘White Bread, Black Beer’, is the best album I’ve heard all year.

I first heard Scritti Politti (‘The Word Girl’) in 1985, while sitting on the floor of a cricket pavilion at Brother Number Two’s school in Somerset. I might have been only seven, but I remember it so well. As a result, my school days were soundtracked by Scritti long-players ‘Songs To Remember’, ‘Cupid & Psyche’ and ‘Provision’, and my university years by the unexpected release of ‘Anomie & Bonhomie’. And this year I was thrilled when ‘White Bread’ followed a repackaging of Green’s 1970s output on his own St Pancras label, called ‘Early’.

PS: Brother Number Two currently lives in Dalston and informs me that Green not only pops into the local pub for a few drinks… but is ALWAYS in there – apart from on Tuesday night, when he pulled on a suit and headed out to the Mercury Awards to play one of his very rare live performances in the past 25 years. Good on him.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Holiday reading

As is now established, I’m freshly returned from a fortnight in the south of Italy… largely spent reclining under some olive trees, eating European Kinder treats and flicking through a variety of books. I impressed only myself by working my way through five of the seven paperbacks that accompanied me on the trip. And they were:

‘On Beauty’ by Zadie Smith
Largely, I’ve been reading books related to my MA in the past few months, but I’d promised myself a break while on holiday and resigned (bloody) ‘Ulysses’ to the bedside table in London – so I’d been really looking forward to Zadie’s third outing. Brushing aside the dismal ‘Autograph Man’, Zadie continues to impress with a book that shows Miss Smith herself has taken on board the criticisms of ‘The Autograph Man’ and gone back to the tried and tested format of ‘White Teeth’. She gives us a pan-Atlantic tale of two warring families and their various inter-personal relationship skills. A pleasure.

‘Pnin’ by Vladimir Nabokov
Fantastic! Like many people, the only other Nabokov I’d read is ‘Lolita’ (and enjoyed it enormously), but stumbled across the existence of ‘Pnin’ after Zadie Smith recommended it in a recent interview. So it made a nice bridge to read her choice after her book. 150 witty pages of dry humour, heartfelt bafflement and endearing eccentricities. Professor Timofey Pnin is a Russian bewildered in America… and the result in these pages is something that everyone should read.

‘The Scent Of Your Breath’ by Melissa P
Turgid, adolescent nonsense. What a waste of paper. Two years ago, 17-year-old Melissa threw up ‘100 Strokes of The Brush’, which purported to be her diary of her teenage sexual shenanigans. Having successfully whipped the world’s media into a furore, the lying brat now admits it was a load of codswallop (as most of her critics correctly suggested at the time). It was quite amusing though, so I picked up her sequel for some further light holiday reading. Written as a preposterously precocious letter to her mother, it’s pretentious beyond belief and took approximately one hour to read from cover to crumpled cover.

‘Fear Of Flying’ by Erica Jong
I’d never read ‘Fear Of Flying’ and felt, as a young woman of the world, that it was my duty to do so… and on holiday seemed as good a time as any. But half way through, I realised life was too short and left it out in the Italian rain one night and helped myself to another white wine. As an undergraduate I ploughed through ‘Of Blessed Memory’, but freely confess I remember one of it… not even the saucy bits. And on that note, I was disappointed to find nothing even remotely saucy in ‘Fear Of Flying’. On admitting this to the boyfriend (who found my soggy paperback the morning after I abandoned it to the weather), he shook his head in disappointment and reminded me what a classic feminist tome it is. At which juncture I’d like to add that yes, I recognise it’s a book of it’s time… but I’m a girl of my time and it’s not the ‘70s. Sorry.

‘Pgymalion’ by Bernard Shaw
Of course I’ve read this before. But it’s short, sweet and needed to be read for the MA (the only holiday read that did). Thoroughly enjoyable, it saw me through the torturous plane ride home… and not a hint of Martine McCutcheon in sight. Amen.

Good Goth!

Recognition at last! Paul (of Paul's Blog, on the left, fame) has seen fit to use one of my email ramblings on his site. In the absence of time to write a proper blog myself, I felt the need to share in someone else's.

A complaint - already (hurray!)

"Any more updates on your blog coming? It seems you started and then stopped immediately... Or now that Love Island is gone, is that it... nothing worth talking about?"


You know who you are, and you also know darn well that I've been tucked away in Italy for the past fortnight. And as if you'd think I had nothing else to say now that 'Love Island' has gone, tsk tsk.

To set the record straight, I have plenty to report back from my holiday reading. I'm just waiting for a gap in my tedious working life to allow me the time to do it. So hold your horses...