Archive for the ‘james joyce’ Tag

The 10 Books which made the most impact on me

A friend of mine, Carol, (aka The Naked Novelist) via my bestman Stuart, passed on a challenge this week: to list the 10 books that have had the most impact on my life. So that’s impact, not my favourite 10.

Here’s my stab at it…

1. ‘Here We Go’ – the Janet and John book I learnt to read with: “Look, Janet, look!”

janet and john here we go book
2. ‘Ulysses’, James Joyce – it’s about everything, and very resonant if you’re a Jew married to an Irish woman “Yes, yes, yes!”

First edition (I'd love one of these)

First edition (I’d love one of these)

3. ‘Paradise Lost’ Books 1 & 2, John Milton ed. John Broadbent – the poetry’s pretty damn good but the footnotes were a revelation – it helped me realise school subjects are artificial divisions and everything’s connected to everything else. “Of man’s disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree…”

 'Paradise Lost' Books 1 & 2, John Milton ed. John Broadbent book
4. ‘Asterix in Britain’ – I loved the notion of an invasion succeeding because one side stopped for tea at a set time every afternoon (5 o’clock)

Asterix Chez les Bretagnes

Asterix Chez les Bretagnes

Time for Tea (a fatal weakness)

Time for Tea (a fatal weakness)

5. ‘The Dinosaur Strain’, Mark Brown – got me into the subject of Creative Thinking, led to me making a computer game (MindGym) and ultimately to writing my own book about Creativity, ‘When Sparks Fly’ (5/8 finished, interviewed Jamie Oliver for it today)

the only picture I can find as it's almost extinct

the only picture I can find as it’s almost extinct

6. ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Shakey – emblematic of the year I had an inspiring teacher (English teacher of course – Mr Fitch RIP MA Cantab) who got me really reading

romeo and juliet shakespeare arden edition
7. ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, Erskine Childers – made me realise what a burden material possessions can be in the scene where the protagonist can’t get his trunk into the sailing boat and has to dump all his shit on the quay

'The Riddle of the Sands', Erskine Childers penguin book
8. ‘The Complete Plays of Joe Orton’ – bought it for a 6th form project, turned me on to satire and the Sixties

'The Complete Plays of Joe Orton'  book
9. ‘Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide’ – pored over this fat tome when I first got really into movies as a teenager

'Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide' 1979
10. ‘On the Road’, Jack Kerouac – led me to Allen Ginsberg who in turn inspired ‘When Sparks Fly’ (see above) and is the subject of the first chapter, With a Little Help from My Friend

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

on-the-road-book-cover-jack-kerouac-poster

jack Kerouac-On-The-Road book novelIf it’s not too Neknominate, please do share your Top Impact 10 below (or a link to it)…

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Caught in Session

Can you imagine the looks on the two teenage faces when their mother tells them that she is going to invite people round to the house every eight weeks to sing in the back room …and say poems …and read stuff? WTF?! And she wants you boys to join in. You can just listen but you’re to be there. WTFF?!! On Saturday night the second such session took place. Enfant Terrible No. 2 engineered  a sleep-over. No. 1 actually showed his face at the end after a no-show eight weeks earlier.

Here’s what was on the menu…

Daffodils

Una opened with a Spring theme reading Wordsworth’s Daffodils.  The next morning this Wordsworth quote arrived by serendipity in my InBox (7th April being his birthday, in 1770):

The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love. 

Later she read one of her own poems, Bodies, a moving and intimate Heaneyesque account of dressing her father’s body for his wake. Towards the end she read another of her pieces, Underground, inspired by a Northern Line encounter and written on the spot.

Here are two of my own recent Northern Line encounters:

tube couple underground red

double bass man tube

For my contribution this time I read one of my favourite posts from this blog, Starless and Bible Black, and then the passage from James Joyce’s  Ulysses to which it refers. It’s when the two protagonists have an outdoor piss together under the night sky, all done in the form of a catechism, and containing that very special line:

THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.

At the first session I read the opening of the first chapter of my book in progress, When Sparks Fly, about Allen Ginsberg. I concluded with a Ginsberg poem referencing the same incident mentioned in the first line of the book.

Joyce linked nicely to the next person up, an actress specialising in Beckett (who was Joyce’s secretary) – she read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot (whose masterpiece, The Wasteland, was published seven years later in 1922, the same year as Ulysses).

ballerina-ballet-black-and-white-dancer-tutu

She also recited from memory a brilliant poem of her own about her days as a ballet dancer and how that went down in the Midlands of Ireland. And as if that wasn’t delight enough, she sang a powerful Sinead O’Connor song (from Universal Mother I think). And then a song in Irish about a boy from Loch Erne (Buachaill ón Eirne).

pints of stout in a triangle

All the music and much of the rest of the singing came from our friend Patmo and his gee-tar. Highlight for me was a song about the potboy in the Dorset Arms in Stockwell where we used to go to watch Patmo and his band The Stone Rangers play. It’s called Put one in the tank for Frank and celebrates plying the late lamented Frank Murphy with beer to get access to the storeroom with all their gear in it. He also played Una’s favourite of his songs, A Little Bit of Lace (as immortalised on Adie Dunbar and the Jonahs’ Two Brothers), as well as some classic singalongs from Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon to John Denver’s Country Road (some painful, submerged teenage memories there from the height of the punk era but surprisingly enjoyable all these years later).

Our old friend Roddy read from a great early 60s first edition he has of Brendan Behan’s Island, a beautifully illustrated (by Paul Hogarth) travelogue around the old country. His other half, Alex, also by coincidence a former ballet dancer, read some Yeats love poetry (it was an evening of the Irish reading the English, and vice versa – perfect to herald the week which sees poet and president Michael D Higgins making a state visit to London, on the very day (8th April) Gladstone presented his first Home Rule Bill to Parliament in 1886). Alex closed proceedings with a parting shot of Dorothy Parker.

dorothy-parker

All in all, a pretty darn good evening (and that’s not counting the Connemara whiskey and fresh homemade soup).

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Dorothy Parker, when asked what she’d like for breakfast…

Just something light and easy to fix. How about a dear little whiskey sour?

Tower of Power (Day 89)

Tidied up my model chapter, With a Little Help from My Friend, added the intro and the piece between Chapters 1 and 2 and then sent it to two people for some fresh-eyed feedback. The first tentative steps into the public domain! No. 1 copy went to my Other Half and the second to a friend, Farrah, whose opinion I really respect but who I feel sufficiently safe with.

Then I went for a run back to Sandymount Strand where a Godsky was illuminating the beach.

Sandymount Strand morning sunrise Dublin Ireland

A good breakfast back at Bewley’s, a quick catch-up with an old friend of mine on his way back from an interview for production design on a horror movie, and then a great chat with TV producer Steve Lock who hails from my NW London neck of the woods but has ended up in Greystones, along the coast South of Sandymount and Dun Laoghaire (I’m always impressed with myself that I can actually spell that name). Steve helped me a few weeks back with the Tony Wilson/Music chapter, Chapter 2) by being interviewed about his time working with Tony at Granada. He kindly brought along today the Factory Christmas card for 1988 consisting of a flick-book animation from a New Order video and his FAC51 card for the Hacienda.

Factory records Christmas card 1988 and Hacienda membership card

Steve dropped me off at Sandycove Point where I went to visit the Martello Tower where Ulysses begins. First a scene on the roof of the tower, looking across the bay to Howth Head where the book ends, the story physically embracing Joyce’s native city; then the characters descend and head over the lane to the Forty Foot, a rocky outcrop just opposite the Tower from which people have been swimming in the Irish Sea of Dublin Bay all year round for some 250 years. There was an auld fella swimming just round the corner this very afternoon – January 15th, full on winter, albeit a beautiful sunlit afternoon.

The Forty Foot where Buck Mulligan swims

The Forty Foot where Buck Mulligan swims

I didn’t get any other writing done today, too busy immersing myself in a perfect yellowy afternoon, which will charge the creative batteries if nothing else. I’ll get onto the synopsis document I need to produce tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some images from the Sandycove adventure…

Martello Tower at Sandymount Dublin from Ulysses by James Joyce

The Martello Tower getting a bit of a spruce-up

The Forty Foot Dublin Bay Sandycove

The view to Howth Head

The Tower and the Forty Foot

The Tower and the Forty Foot

The Forty Foot Sandycove

The Forty Foot togs sign

Joyced by his own petard (Day 88)

Spent the morning in Donnybrook on the Southside of Dublin at RTE. Took a moment to explore the set of their long-running soap, Fair City. Had been planning to head out to Sandycove where Joyce’s Martello Tower is located but it turned drizzly so I went the other direction, into town, and took refuge in the timecapsule that is the National Library of Ireland as described yesterday (Day 87).

Fair City film set at RTE Donnybrook

I focused on completing an analysis/check of the structure and underlying principles of the finished Ginsberg opening chapter (by marking up the key themes in the margin as comments) and then cross-checking these against the principles I’d planned to convey. The match was good – only one point was missing which I inserted as a short paragraph.

I then worked on a distinctive feature of the book. Instead of the summaries/bullet points you often see in self-development titles and business how-to books at the end or beginning of chapters, I decided to take a more visual approach – a set of captioned photos which retrospectively illustrate the stories (i.e. you ultimately get to see what some of the characters and scenes you’ve been reading about actually looked like) and, as importantly, capture the key principles of the chapter (so, in effect, clear indication of how to apply the behaviour and perspectives communicated in the text to your life and work). I worked on the order and wording of the captions until I had a logical, flowing set of six.

I took a break at one point to check out the tea room and stumbled across a simple exhibition about Ulysses which the NLI had put together for the centenary Bloomsday nine years ago (which I actually flew over for). They had a touch-screen digital facsimile of the Library’s copy of Ulysses, the very first copy off the presses which Joyce presented to his patron, Harriet Weaver, in 1922 (it was published on Joyce’s 40th birthday on 2.2.22) who in turn presented to the National Library in 1958. I did my best to leaf through the opening pages by means of the clunky yet fascinating technology which aims to recreate the tangible sensations/properties of the hard copy (I’ve forgotten the name of it but they have it also at the British Library). I saw a copy of this first edition in an antiquarian booksellers’ catalogue (Southeran’s) recently for £45K. No wonder they don’t want fingers near the real thing.

Afterwards I headed over to Dame Street to hook up with my family/in-laws, before returning to Ballsbridge. Back at the hotel I read some more of The Beat Hotel and, once re-immersed in that world, searched for the photos for my patented picture summary. I found what I wanted, it was important to select carefully to convey the meaning accurately, and inserted them into the chapter creating a totally finished chapter for the first time. Hoorah.

Here are the images without their captions (but with functional captions for this context only):

the beat movement cafe

Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, David Amram, Allen Ginsberg

allen ginsberg and william burroughs writers

Ginsberg and Burroughs

Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Barbara Rubin, Dylan

Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Barbara Rubin, Dylan

allen ginsberg Flower

allen_ginsberg_and_peter_orlovsky

Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg, New York, December 1963

allen_ginsberg at his desk

ReJoycing in Dublin (Day 87)

National Library of Ireland Dublin Reading Room

You could call it bathos, you could call it homage, but it felt like a good idea plugging into the Joyce vibe whilst in Dublin, channelling some of that energy into When Sparks Fly. So I’m writing this in the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street which Leopold Bloom visits to check up on an old ad he’d placed in a Dublin paper. As previously mentioned in relation to Sylvia Beach/Publishing and in this blog pre-sabbatical, I’m a real lover of Ulysses.

National Library of Ireland Kildare Street Dublin

This reading room can’t have changed much since 1904 when Ulysses is set. It’s remiscent of the Reading Room in the old British Library with its pastel colours (here green, there blue) and circular ceiling (here a semi-circle extended into a barrel vault, there totally circular). The only time I ever did any research in that venerable circle was to look up an out-of-print Dr Seuss book (The Big Leap) with a TV project in mind. Here I haven’t even got a Dr Seuss book as I believe you need a reader’s ticket to work in here so I’m an illegal and daren’t monkey with the books in case I get turfed out. It’s drizzly out there and I like this place so head down, eyes on my fries, try not to attract attention. That librarian over there with the Victorian beard and red tie looks like he could turn nasty.

National Library of ireland Kildare Street Dublin

So I got a bit of writing in yesterday (Sunday) to catch up a bit on the slack days at the end of last week, did a bit more before leaving for the airport, and finished off late in the afternoon in my room in Bewley’s Hotel in Ballsbridge, South Dublin, an old masonic school. I finished my second draft of Chapter 1 on Allen Ginsberg after a whole week, longer than I expected but at least it reads well and I finally have a polished draft to use as my model chapter.

On the way over I read Barry Miles’ book about the Beat Hotel in preparation for my interview with him next month and as deep research for the Ginsberg chapter. I picked up my copy at Shakespeare and Company in Paris on Day 53 and visited its location on Rue Git-le-Coeur the same afternoon, another enjoyable literary pilgrimage.

Once I got to the hotel, with the winter late afternoon light fast fading, before settling down to writing I headed down the Sandymount Road opposite the hotel to get some air. I passed a hotel opposite where I once co-wrote a film entitled Memories Are Made of This (with a suitable Doris Day soundtrack). A block down I came, unexpectedly, to an urban cottage on a corner which a brass plaque indicates to be the birthplace of WB Yeats.

I carried on down to the coast, beyond the DART railway, and through a slice of Dublin 4 where I came out at Sandymount Strand, the sun now down and an almost full moon now out, reflected in the wet sand of the broad beach at low tide. I walked up to the Martello Tower, not The Martello Tower but a Martello Tower in the same coastal chain as the famous one in which the opening scene of Ulysses is set. That’s four and a half miles further down on Sandycove Point. I was hoping to go down there this afternoon but the weather’s too Irish (in contrast to yesterday afternoon at this time) so I’ll try again tomorrow and for now make do with the Library which is new Ulysses territory for me (the Tower I’ve been in before, notably on the centenary BloomsDay in 2004).

Martello tower sandymount strand dublin

I went down onto the Strand in the silvery light. A few dog walkers and joggers provided occasional punctuation but largely I was alone with my lunatic self. I took out the ol’ iPhone and on it I have two books – Kidnapped (which I’ve never got far into) and Ulysses. This electronic copy is the vehicle for my slow 4th reading, running in parallel to my further advanced 3rd reading of my trusty hardback copy. I opened the Eucalyptus app and on the very page I had previously reached was Gertie (MacDowell)’s name, the girl Bloom watches (in a naughty way) on this very strand. I leafed forwards a few pages to get Stephen Daedalus out of the stiffling school he teaches in and onto his walk into Dublin down Sandymount Strand. As he walks onto the beach it’s a philosophically charged moment, he has his eyes closed and is wondering what status the world has on the other side of his eyelids, whether and how it exists without being the focus of his conscious mind.

sandymount strand dublin moonlight

“I am getting on nicely in the dark … Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?”

Bloom later crosses Stephen’s path on the strand (Stephen by then long gone) when he spots Gertie and the girls and has a vigorous flight of fancy. Opposite the beach, in the distance, is Howth Head where the book climaxes.

I read for a bit on the illuminated screen on the illuminated beach then headed back to write.

For the evening I made for the gates of Trinity College to meet a colleague from RTE with whom I’m working tomorrow. Chat and food and a little drink was partaken of.

Who does that librarian remind me of? It’s really bugging me now. Lytton Strachey? Roger Casement? No, it’s someone alive and closer to home…

I came home, did a little more writing, read a bit more of The Beat Hotel in a hotel room far removed from Room 32 of M. Rachou’s establishment, no radio coming from the sink plughole or any other eccentric plumbing, no rationed hot water or limiting of the electric light to 40W, no smells of garlic, or of worse from the Turkish-style two foot position squatty hole arrangement so typical of Paris back in the day. You can’t build an empire on crappy plumbing as our very own Bazalgette, forbear of the man who brought the magnificent ordure of Big Brother to Channel 4, proved. I suspect the pipes in the Tower also left something to be desired, but then you got to shave outdoors overlooking the snot green sea so what’s to complain about. It’s a fair city indeed.

 Ginsberg in the Beat Hotel with rimbaud

Bitty Titty Soft and Bouncy (Day 72)

Sylvia Beach with James Joyce at Shakespeare & Co., Paris 1920

Sylvia Beach with James Joyce at Shakespeare & Co., Paris 1920

Another bitty day but progress was made. Kicked off with some Channel 4 work looking forward to to 2014, meeting a sports presenter to further develop a really interesting  idea we began kicking around a couple of months ago. From there I walked along a golden Malet Street past the University of London to the British Library where I installed myself in the Anthropology Library to work on the music project prompted by my interview with Jon King of Gang of Four yesterday. Got a few ideas down to start to set the scope and whacked them over to my radio friend. Then settled down to process my notes from the David Amram phone interview last night – mainly making sure it’s all legible in the long run.

Finished off my initial research into Sylvia Beach over a bowl of hot Greek bean soup in RADAland, sitting next to two glamorous, screwed-up actresses discussing boyfriend trouble and CBT experiences – in other words, very good quality eavesdropping material. The Beach research touched on her time in Savoy and mentioned Chambery where I went to university for a year, a not oft-mentioned town.

Once back home I  gave Malcolm Garrett a ring to set up an in-person interview with him about Tony Wilson & Manchester. Malcolm, who I know through working together on the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment committee, is the excellent designer behind the Buzzcocks record sleeves among many others, so first entered my life in the form of the silver and orange cover of Another Music in a Different Kitchen which delighted the teenage me. Rounded off things by getting in touch with Barry Miles, biographer and friend of Allen Ginsberg.

Took off for Chalk Farm on that note, the work day ended, to see the opening of an exhibition of photos of Andy Warhol (who I loathe and consider the opposite of Ginsberg – I wrote a scene about their meeting out back in a New York club where Ginsberg cut the twat neatly down to size in his own gentle way) and Edie Sedgwick (who, from the vaguest memory I have of the book I wrote about her – oops, Freudian slip, read about her I consider somehow tragic, like Basquiat and all the other cowardly damage Warhol left in his wake). It was at my friend/associate Alex Proud’s gallery in The Stables, an extravagantly large space, not really the right shape but different and fun.

From there to the 10th anniversary party of mySociety, a digital agency I admire hugely which is why I sacrificed the Channel 4 Christmas do to it (which was conveniently and teasingly  beside the Stables) and trekked off to Mozilla in St Martin’s Lane to see Tom Steinberg and crew. And that I’ll leave for my next post…

Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier in Savoy, not a million miles from Chambery

Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier in Savoy, not a million miles from Chambery

It’s only love give it away (Day 59)

Rounded off the week with a delightful phone conversation with Rosebud Pettet, a long-time, close friend of Allen Ginsberg, who lived with and beside him for over quarter of a century on&off. She was at his bedside when he passed on to the great poem in the sky and wrote a story about that experience which she shared with the likes of Patti Smith, Francesco Clemente and Philip Glass as well as Allen’s brother Eugene and partner Peter Orlovsky. She gave some beautiful insights into life with Allen from their meeting in the 60s when she was a teenager to his final years when he finally moved out of the building they had shared on the Lower East Side for yonks.

At one point in her travels Rose lived in London (not three miles from my end of the call) and at another point she was in Christiania in Copenhagen where I was last week.

christiania copenhagen hippy quarter

I began the day back in the walled kitchen garden of Kenwood researching Sylvia Beach and her relationship with Joyce, with whom she was very close and supportive, not just around the publication of Ulysses but in his Parisian family life too.

In the afternoon I wrote about the legendary 4th June 1976 Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, attended by some 35 people and yet which inspired a great blossoming of music from Manchester including Joy Division and The Fall and their knock-on effects. It’s a good way into exploring the interface of truth and mythology around Tony Wilson, Factory and the Manchester scene of that golden era.

Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock and Steve Jones - Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester - 4th June 1976

Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock and Steve Jones – Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester – 4th June 1976

All week I’ve been trying to get in touch with a lead singer from another great band of the time to interview, wracking my brains about who I know who would have worked with him in recent times. Was drawing blanks from that line of inquiry until I was standing at the bread bit of the local supermarket during the weekend when I turned around and there he was. Singer of one of the great singles of all time and a landmark of punk, both of us loaves in hand, both in our silver fox period, face to face over a basket of family shopping. The world works in mysterious ways…

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