Archive for the ‘literature’ Category


I was about to sit down to write this when Bob Geldof came on the radio to discuss his documentary ‘A Fanatic Heart’ about the Shakespeare of Ireland that is WB Yeats. During the lively and fascinating interview (with Robert Elms on BBC Radio London) he mentioned that Yeats helped secure a Civil List pension for Joyce.

Joyce and Music and specifically the Sirens chapter of ‘Ulysses’ was the intended subject of this post.

But the radio intervention provides an appropriate Overture for a piece on that chapter which begins with an Overture composed of seemingly randomly colliding sounds and words.

Yeats made a mistake (self-confessed) about ‘Ulysses’. He read parts of Joyce’s great Modernist novel in the ‘Little Review’, the American literary magazine in which it was initially published, and judged it “a mad book” (ironic, given that Geldof has just characterised Yeats as “nuts”). But on further reading Yeats changed his mind: “I have made a terrible mistake – it is perhaps a work of genius… It is an entirely new thing – neither what the eye sees nor the ear hears, but what the rambling mind thinks and imagines from moment to moment. He has certainly surpassed in intensity any novelist of our time.”

Yeats bought himself a copy of the first edition of ‘Ulysses’ (1922) like this one I saw in Dublin in December while I was over working at RTE (the launch of whose TV services Geldof also mentioned in the wide-ranging interview in relation to Ireland’s sense of itself as a nation).

1st edition of james joyce ulysses novel

This one has a €30,000 price tag. A bargain given that a copy sold in 2009 for £275,000.

Yeats was an early champion of Joyce. They first met in October 1902 at the National Library in Dublin (which I visited a few minutes after taking that picture of the 1st edition, it’s literally a stone’s throw away). Yeats was 39 at the time, Joyce half the age at 20. As they parted Joyce declared: “I have met you too late. You are too old.” The kind of thing Geldof would have said when the Boomtown Rats first made their mark.

When Joyce travelled to Paris in 1902 and 1903 he passed through London and hooked up with Yeats (who lived a stone’s throw from Euston), had dinner with him and allowed Yeats to introduce him to his London literary circle.

Here’s another piece I wrote (Yeats Mates) prompted by the Robert Elms show about Yeats (in London). I wrote that piece back in 2015, the 150th anniversary of Yeats’ birth, on 14th June, the day after his birthday and the events described in that post. Yeats’ birthday is therefore the day after Robert Elms’s (which I happen to know as it is the same day as my wife’s) and three days before Bloomsday (the day Ulysses takes place on): 16th June. Things seem to be aligning themselves.

So Geldof, a musician, was talking about Yeats, a poet/writer, as I was preparing to compose a piece on the chapter of ‘Ulysses’ which examines “what … the ear hears”, the seduction of Music.

Last night I went for the second time to the Charles Peake Ulysses seminar, a seminar series that has been running monthly for yonks. I was first told about it some ten years ago by Fritz Senn at the Stiftung James Joyce in Zurich but I never quite got my act together to track it down. Until December, prompted by a visit to the shop where Leopold Bloom bought the bar of lemon soap he has it his pocket throughout 16th June 1904. I wrote about that visit here (Back in the Old Country).

sign for Charles Peake ulysses seminar university of london senate house

On my first visit to the seminar I was welcomed with enthusiasm: “You’re timing is lucky – we’re just starting a new chapter.” I didn’t quite appreciate the significance of this until it became evident that the group had spent 4 years doing the last chapter. When we reached the end of our session someone commented, straight faced, no messing: “Great session, folks – we did 76 lines!”

So the rambling mind comes to the point of this post (which will be an evolving post). While we were working our way word by word, comma by colon, through the next few lines last night I made an observation that when the boots (servant) in the Ormond Hotel bar on the north bank of the Liffey (where the Sirens chapter largely takes place) slams down a tray of tea things for the two barmaids who are those said Sirens, it is like the cymbals player in an orchestra, a lowly member of the ensemble delighting in his simple task and loud execution. For some reason it brought to mind the crescendo of Hitch’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (1956 US version) in the Technicolor Albert Hall.

The crashing tea tray made me reflect on the sequence of non-verbal sounds in the chapter so I took a notion to make a list of those sounds and see what patterns emerge.

So here is a list of the sounds making up the music-focused chapter (No. 11) of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ – ‘Sirens’:

(page references are to the Danis Rose edition of 1997 (Picador) which my Mrs bought me two decades ago as ‘Ulysses’ emerged as my favourite book)

  1. the “ringing steel” of hoofs from the cavalcade passing by the bar (p.246)
  2. tittering of Lydia Douce (one of the barmaids)
  3. laughter of same
  4. “chattering china” of tea for Lydia and Mina Kennedy (the other barmaid) followed by the tea tray being “banged” on the counter by the boots
  5. steel and hoofs (reprise) “steelhoofs ringhoof ringsteel” (p.247)
  6. “shrill shriek of laughter” of Mina (p.248)
  7. “huffed and snorted” – Lydia
  8. Lydia “chimed in in deep bronze laughter”
  9. “giggling peal young goldbronze voices blended” – both barmaids “high piercing notes”
  10. “panting, sighing, sighing”
  11. Mina “gigglegiggled”
  12. Lydia “spluttered … choking … laughter … coughing” “a splended yell, a full yell of full woman”
  13. [to be continued – from p.249]

List of the Day: Jack Kerouac, 27 items


Essentials of Spontaneous Prose

1. Write on, cant change or go back, involuntary, unrevised, spontaneous, subconscious, pure
2. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild type written pages, for your own joy
3. Submissive to everything, open, listening
4. Be in love with your life every detail of it
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what it is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. Work from the pithy middle eye out, from the jewel center of interest, swimming in  language sea
17. Accept loss forever
18. Believe in the holy contour of life
19. Write in recollection and amazement of yourself
20. Profound struggle with pencil to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
21. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
22. No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language, and knowledge
23. Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures
24. In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
25. Composing wild, undisciplined pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
26. You’re a Genius all the time
27. Writer-Director of Earthly Movies produced in Heaven, different forms of the same Holy Gold

The Subterraneans



Here’s a beautiful copy of Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Subterraneans’ I bought in Old Capitol Books in Monterey, California. It dates from 1958 and inside was the original receipt for $1.45 plus tax, a grand total of $1.51, from the UCLA bookshop.



I began reading it on 7th August 2015 on the BART from San Francisco to Oakland. I read some of it in North Beach the next day, at Columbus & Filmore, in a coffee shop with a jazz band playing on a chilled out Sunday afternoon. I finished it today in Chancery (not Heavenly) Lane, at the heart of the British establishment (a Molotov cocktail’s throw from Gray’s Inn).

Anyhow, because like most of Kerouac’s novels ‘The Subterraneans’ is a roman à clef, I thought it would be worth sharing who is who in the book in terms of the real-life counterparts/inspirations of the characters to save other readers the hassle of figuring it out:

  • Adam Moorad = Allen Ginsberg (poet)
  • Frank Carmody = William Burroughs (writer)
  • Leroy = Neal Cassady (cocksman and Adonis of Denver)
  • Yuri Gligoric = Gregory Corso (poet)
  • Austin Bromberg = Alan Ansen (poet/playwright)
  • Sam Vedder = Lucien Carr (killer)
  • Harold Sand = William Gaddis (novelist)
  • Annie = Luanne Henderson (cool chick)
  • Balliol MacJones = John Clellon Holmes (author of first Beat novel)
  • Larry O’Hara = Jerry Newman (record producer)
  • Arial Lavalina = Gore Vidal (writer)
  • Jane = Joan Vollmer (Beatess & Mrs Burroughs)

The central character/love interest Mardou Fox in real life was Alene Lee. She was mixed race, black and half-Cherokee. Kerouac met her in the summer of 1953 when she was typing up manuscripts for William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs & Ginsberg were sharing an apartment on the Lower East Side of New York at the time. Alene also shows up as Irene May in Kerouac’s ‘Big Sur’. Ginsberg was with her when she died at Lenox Hill Hospital, NYC in 1991. This is what she looked like:



Here’s a couple of related past posts:

4 Characters from On The Road

4 More Characters from OTR

OTR Triptych

Highway 1 Revisited


Coincidence No.388: Sisyphus


mythofsisyphusThis morning I was talking to Enfant Terrible No. 1 (who is currently doing a Philosophy course) about Camus and Existentialism. I mentioned Sisyphus, an important figure for Camus, and the image that first comes to mind when I think back to my undergraduate studies of Camus, alongside the killing of the Arab on the beach.


This evening I was working on my family tree and added Karl Radek, a cousin of my grandmother Dora, and an international Communist leader to boot (in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution). His real name was Karol Sobelsohn and he took the name Radek from a favourite character, Andrzej Radek, in ‘Syzyfowe prace‘ (‘The Labour of Sisyphus’), written in 1897 by Stefan Żeromski.


Sisyphus coming up twice in 12 hours – a bit Twilight Zone but I imagine he’ll be happy to be remembered.




Reflections on 2016 with a right Charlie


A right Charlie wrote this, which seems to say something about the year we’ve just gone through:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way

The Charlie in question was Dickens, written in 1859 about 1775 in A Tale of Two Cities.


Charles Dickens

I read A Tale of Two Cities between May 1989 and January 1990. Much though I loved it, I can be a slow reader. The story is set in the run up to and during the French Revolution. During the 9 months it took me to read the novel a number of actual revolutions broke out across Europe from Poland to Turkmenistan, Hungary to East Germany. The book sits on my Shelf of Honour:


Part of the Shelf of Honour


All Fall Down

This review originally appeared on A Penguin a Week.


Penguin no. 1742: All Fall Down
by James Leo Herlihy

Cover design uses still from the MGM movie ‘All Fall Down’.

“Tomorrow I’m going on a health binge, get some filter cigarettes and start doing push-ups every night. Maybe I’ll do some right now, to make myself sleepy. Because I’ve got about forty-seven big knots in my chest, and they hurt.”
When I pick up an old Penguin I’m hoping for a surprise – something off-beat, long neglected, out of left field, a lost gem. ‘All Fall Down’ delivered. 

It’s the first novel from the Detroit writer who went on to write ‘Midnight Cowboy’ five years later in 1965, James Leo Herlihy. It’s a coming of age story in the heritage of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, a decade in its wake. It follows the growth of Clint Williams from an isolated, uncommunicative 14 year old to an emerging adult with the capacity to care and love. 

A fair proportion of the story is told through Clint’s diary – it’s like an external hard drive he relies on to compulsively capture memories and documentation from his chaotic family life. He steals his mother’s private letters (outgoing and incoming) to copy into this notebook which he keeps tucked in his trousers, right against his flesh. It’s the one place he controls and to which he can bring some degree of order.

Clint’s hero, his older brother Berry-berry, is absent for much of the story, on his low-life travels around the USA, much of the time just one step ahead of the law. Yet his being has immense gravitational pull on the family. The disparity between what mother, father and little brother hope for from Berry-berry and the real man (in as much as he is grown up) is the source of the all-round disillusionment which engulfs the family.

When the Williams move to a new house across the city in Cleveland, Ohio, the cracks open up. Berry-berry takes off before he’s even spent a night in his new room. The father, a former left-wing activist, spends his time in the basement doing puzzles. The mother immerses herself in domesticity on the ground floor, while Clint eavesdrops from the laundry chute upstairs and records the exchanges in the diary which he “made use of … with an unconscious ease similar to that of walking or feeding oneself”.

Clint, in an attempt to come to the aid of the older brother he idolises, goes on a road trip across the country to the Florida Keys. He loses his innocence along the way when he is sheltered by Shirley, a young tart with a heart, whose inner beauty and profound loss influence Clint for life.

The person who catalyses the final destruction of both the dysfunctional family and their illusions is the unmarried daughter of one of the mother, Annabel’s, friends. Echo O’Brien is a dynamic young woman, very attached to her perfectly preserved 1929 Dodge touring car. Tall and slender, she could, in a parallel universe, have been in the pages of  ‘The Great Gatsby’. Think ‘Gatsby’ and Tennessee Williams for the kind of tension Echo brings into the Williams household as she becomes the object of both Clint’s innocent, tender love and Berry-berry’s careless lust, the latter returned to his home city and the proximity of his family, but living on the edge of town with a dark secret.

Watching Berry-berry live a lie and talk up his hollow, self-centred life, gradually grinds away at Clint’s hopes and illusions. Like Holden Caulfield’s obsession with ‘phoneyness’, Clinton Williams can’t take the lies: “I just stayed there at the table and thought about what big liars we all are”. Berry-berry tells his biggest, most unforgivable lie at the climax of the novel and it is this which finally severs his bond with his once adoring brother. Berry-berry ultimately cares only for himself and loves no-one, not even himself. Clint though has a great capacity and desire to care and cherish. His growth into adulthood is complete with the realisation that “[in] the difference in the love offerings people make to one another, lay the reason for all the pain in the world.”

First published in the U.S.A. 1960. Published in Great Britain by Faber & Faber 1961. Published in Penguin Books 1962.


Quel Coincidence!



I’ve been noticing coincidences a lot recently, and noting some of them down. Mainly of the type where you hear a word for the first time in decades and it comes up again the same day.


But today I had a cracker. I went to Church Hill near Letterkenny to visit Glebe House and Gallery. As luck (or the tourist season) would have it was closed so I contented myself with hanging out in the gardens by the lake, which I had entirely to myself in strong spring sunshine. I laid on the damp lawn and took out my two books. The first one I opened was ‘Human Chain’ by Seamus Heaney, a book of poetry my Other Half gave me for Christmas 2010. I’ve only ever read a couple of the poems so I brought in with me for this Derry-Donegal trip. I read a bit of it last night so it was parked up randomly in the middle wherever I happened to get to.


As I opened it and started reading today stretched out on the grass like a dying naturalist I wrote a note at the top of the page in pencil as a souvenir of where I was:

16.3.16 Church Hill – Derek Hill’s

Derek Hill was the artist who used to live in Glebe House and bequeathed it.

The poem I had got to last night was entitled ‘The Baler’, about a mechanical hay baler. When I got to line 19 who, of all the people in the world, is mentioned?

Derek Hill. I’m not sure if it’s the same one but it probably is.

But what I also remembered

Was Derek Hill’s saying,
The last time he sat at our table,
He could bear no longer to watch
The sun going down

What are the chances?

I finish the night before at that particular poem
I decide to go to Glebe House this particular day
I write Derek’s name
The name is printed on the very page

Doesn’t that mean there must be a God? 😉


Trigger Mortis

Apparently I registered with WordPress 9 years ago today. How time flies. I’ve got to fly myself now (to Bournemouth to drop off Enfant Terrible No. 1, which is a far more important landmark) so this is a quickie to reflect on the statute of limitations on titles. I’ve written before on the importance of titles such as in Starless and Bible Black.

Any way, it looks like 56 years is the statute of limitation in the world of Anthony Horowitz / James Bond / The Fleming Estate. The title of the new, just published Bond book is Trigger Mortis. The book below was published in 1959 and it’s also a thriller.

Trigger Mortis Frank Kane novel cover 1959

Trigger Mortis Frank Kane novel cover 1959

Trigger Mortis Frank Kane novel cover 1959

By the looks of things, the covers are far superior to the contents. Whether that’s the case with the new Horowitz book, I’ll find out soon as I broached it last night. Its cover is well designed and cool but not much fun, promising something very different to Frank Kane and Johnny Liddell. The title’s crucial. and so is the cover/image. That applies equally to other media such as the one I’m currently focused on: Short Form Video.

Trigger-Mortis-James-Bond Anthony Horowitz novel cover 2015

Tattoo Twists Channel 4 Adam Gee


14 years and counting

The best of the last 4 years

The best of the last 4 years

I marked the 10th anniversary of our old slippers of a book group by listing all that we had read to that auspicious date. The personnel is remarkably stable, adding members very rarely, so to herald the arrival of my friend Martin Bright I am updating the list:

  • In the Country of Men – Hisham Matar (Jun 15)
  • The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell * (Apr 15)
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan  (Mar 15)
  • Oblivion – David Foster Wallace (Nov 14)
  • The Leopard – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (Sep 14)
  • What Was Promised – Tobias Hill (Jun 14)
  • Stoner – John Williams * (Apr 14)
  • Rabbit at Rest – John Updike *** (Feb 14)
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – Alice Munro (Dec 13)
  • May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Homes (Nov 13)
  • Irretrievable -Theodor Fontane (Sept 13)
  • Wise Men -Stuart Nadler (July 13)
  • Bring out the Bodies – Hilary Mantel (March 13)
  • Yellow Birds – Kevin Powers (Jan 13)
  • There’s no such thing as a free press – Mick Hume (Dec 12)
  • Love and Summer – William Trevor (Nov 12)
  • The Uncoupling – Meg Wolitzer (July 12)
  • A Death in the Family – Karl Ove Knausgaard (May 12)
  • Nemesis – Philip Roth ** (April 12)
  • Old School – Tobias Wolff (March 12)
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain (Jan 12)
  • the first ten years
The runner-up of last 4 years

The runner-up of last 4 years


Boredom Boredom B’dum B’dum

spiral scratch buzzcocks record

Today is Record Shop Day. I’ve been frequenting mine (Alan’s in East Finchley) plenty recently so I’m just making an internal nod to indy record shops and I’ve just played a classic record Spiral Scratch by (the) Buzzcocks (albeit not on vinyl, I’m in the wrong room) – the track I played is Boredom because I’ve been thinking about it a lot yesterday and today.

I’m living in this movie
But it doesn’t move me
I’m the man that’s waiting for the phone to ring
Hear it ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding

You know me, I’m acting dumb
You know the scene, very humdrum
Boredom, boredom, boredom

Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe

Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe

I was just out jogging, listening to a podcast with Irish writer John Banville talking about Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. Banville, under his low-brow pen-name Benjamin Black (which I don’t much like – as fake as they come, a bit like Julian Barnes’ Dan Kavanagh), recently wrote a Marlowe book at the request of Chandler’s estate, The Black-Eyed Blonde. Marlowe stories usually start with the gumshoe sitting bored in his down-at-heel office waiting for something to happen, usually a dame walking through the door to give him a knight-errant mission.

Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe

Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe

Robert Donat as Richard Hannay

Robert Donat as Richard Hannay

Then late last night I was listening to a radio programme from BBC Radio 4 called The Buchan Tradition about John Buchan, marking the centenary year of The 39 Steps. Richard Hannay is bored in London at the start of that ripping yarn when lo and behold a spy dies on his living room carpet and the adventure begins.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

That’s also often the case with Sherlock Holmes – he’s bored out of his brain, coked off his face, ennui has well and truly set in when a character shows up at 221b with a juicy mystery to solve.

Michael York and Simon Maccorkindale as Carruthers and Davies

Michael York and Simon Maccorkindale as Carruthers and Davies

One of my favourites, a resident of The Shelf of Honour, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, opens with the protagonist bored in the “dead and fermenting city”, London in the dog-days of late summer. When the opportunity crops up to sail around the Baltic and North Sea coasts, in spitting distance of imperial Germany, with an English eccentric in an Aran jumper, it’s the perfect cure not just to boredom, but also to the complacency and materialism of modern life. One of my favourite scenes is when Carruthers, the narrator, can’t fit his trunk through the opening into the Dulcibella, the boat he is due to go off for a trip in and he has to dump most of his stuff (which he never really needed).

Martin Sheen as Captain Willard

Martin Sheen as Captain Willard

Recently I watched again one of my all-time favourite movies, Apocalypse Now, with Enfant Terrible No. 1 (a convert to The Godfather movies). Damn it’s good. Great. Nearly perfect. It opens with Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) bored to near-death in a hotel room in Saigon. Waiting for a mission.

Saigon…shit. I’m only in Saigon.
Every time, I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle.

I’m here a week now.  Waiting for a mission.  Getting softer.  Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker.  And every minute Charlie squats in the bush…he gets stronger.  Each time I looked around…the walls moved in a little tighter.

Bored to death

Bored to death

There’s boredom as debilitating ennui as in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. But there’s also boredom as a motivator, a prompt into adventure. The question is whether in real life the blonde walks through the door or the spy expires on your carpet? Does the ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding really come?

Lauren-Bacalls-style-The-Big-Sleep Bogart office Marlowe

bogart film noir phone maltese falcon

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