Monday, 30 June 2014

Time flies...

...buzzing around as time decays. The whole thing made worse by the fact that we are moving in a different time stream to everyone else. This has always been the case, but it seems worse when you are packed up and ready to go and the others are, metaphorically, still scratching their arses as they climb out of bed.

Still. At least I can write and read as I wait for my home to be torn apart and put back together (such joy).

With writing, I’m at the bitty stage. A bit like all the preparation you need to do for decoration (to stick with a theme). All the choosing and buying of stuff. Going back cos you forgot the right sort of glasspaper (not sure of the metaphorical value of that, but there you go). And then stripping everything down to the bare bones.

As for reading, that is also back to basics in a fashion. I am replacing all my worn out and falling apart Ursula Le Guin books and re-reading most of them as they arrive. It is an education (or re-education). Not least because some of these books are out of print and I’m scouring the world (courtesy of that interweb thingy) looking for pristine copies. They have to last me the rest of my life and whilst I am happy to have second hand copies of some things, these I want new.

It was a blow to realise that a writer of such talent should have work that is out of print in an era when no book need ever be out of print, but not altogether a surprise. It is that sort of a time.

And as I get older, I was thinking about what will happen to my books when I’m gone. I’d hate to think they ended up in bins or the collections I have built up over the decades are dispersed. Although I don’t suppose I’ll be unduly worried.

And on that cheerful note… I’ll buzz off.

Books read in June
Brazen Tongue – Gladys Mitchell
Enderby’s Dark Lady – Anthony Burgess
Dead Men’s Morris – Gladys Mitchell
The Abominables – Eva Ibbotson
The Grand Banks Café – Georges Simenon [new tr]
Rocannon’s World – Ursula K Le Guin
The Wind’s Twelve Quarters – Ursula K Le Guin
Hangman’s Curfew – Gladys Mitchell
Planet Of Exile – Ursula K Le Guin
The Compass Rose – Ursula K Le Guin
Buffalo Gals & Other Animal Presences – Ursula K Le Guin
City Of Illusions – Ursula K Le Guin
The Eye Of The Heron – Ursula K Le Guin

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Little boxes...

Packing continues with minor interruptions along with bad news and good. Pretty much everyday life, in other words. It is an aspect of the paradox that is the writer’s life. Many people consider it a desirable life, yet I suspect that for many they have an unrealistic view of what goes on. Champagne for breakfast, chauffeur driven limos, long lunches with one’s agent and/or editor, literary soirées… Sorry. Not even for the successful ones (although they probably do see a bit of that, who knows there might even really be one out there who gets to hang out with the NYPD and solve cases). For the most part, however, the writing life means dragging your half-awake carcass from bed to keyboard, probably not changing along the way and then sitting in your spare room for hours on end suffering angst whilst fling irate birds at porcine adversaries (so I’ve heard).

All of which is just one side of the story. The other side is that you go places no one has ever been before, or if they have been there, the reports you bring back cast a whole new light (sometimes the eighth one in the spectrum) on things. Writers are explorers, adventurers, people who can, even if they are sitting in the middle of a huge pile of boxes that contain everything they own, create the most wonderful of places, characters, and events. And they conjure this out of the thinnest of air – true magicians.


Books read in May
The Longer Bodies – Gladys Mitchell
The Devil At Saxon Wall – Gladys Mitchell
I, Vampire – Jody Scott
A Crime In Holland – Georges Simenon [new tr]
A Delicate Truth – John le Carré
The Cat – Colette
Inside Mr Enderby – Anthony Burgess
Here Comes A Chopper – Gladys Mitchell
The Treasure Hunt – Andrea Camilleri
Enderby Outside – Anthony Burgess
The Clockwork Testament – Anthony Burgess

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Moving along...

...slowly. 

Trying to work when you are packing everything away is difficult. Quite apart from living surrounded by boxes, it's the psychological disruption, knowing that any time you are going to want a particular book and having no idea which box it is in. And it's not even as if we were moving to a new place with more room and no neighbours walking overhead at six every morning. Still, we are getting a new kitchen, bathroom, and wiring out of it; and the new porch has already been fitted (just waiting for a storm now to give it a proper test).

I also managed to get out from behind the desk yesterday and zipped down to Wigtown. What a place. A book town. It's full of book shops. Stuffed with books. And the sun was shining. If I ever get to heaven (doubtful), that's what it will be like.

Surprisingly, I didn't go down there for the bookshops (although I may have wandered into one or two, judging by the little pile of fresh titles beside me here). I went to the 2nd Wigtown Writers' Gathering and met lots of writers and listened to lots of writers and had a day of nattering with writers. And we had a superb lunch laid on as well.

See. Told you it was heaven.

Books read in April
Chéri – Colette
The Last of Chéri – Colette
Gigi – Colette
echo’s Bones [short story] – Samuel Beckett
The Ripening Seed – Colette
The Carter of La Providence – Georges Simenon [new tr]
The Yellow Dog – Georges Simenon [new tr]
The Ides Of April – Lindsey Davis
Clochemerle – Gabriel Chevallier
Speedy Death – Gladys Mitchell
Night At The Crossroads – Georges Simenon [new tr]


Tuesday, 1 April 2014


Stuff goes on. I write (although not as much this month as I'd hoped). I read (although not as much this month as I'd hoped). Whole days get lost hanging around waiting for other people or putting right what they should have done correctly in the first place. Being lost in a sea of stuff that needs sorting out doesn't improve tempers. The refurb to the flat later this year will entail packing up most of our belongings and seeing them put in storage, which is good. Us humans, on the other hand, have to wander the streets for a couple of weeks. We have been told there is a portakabin (as if it were some luxurious pad that we should be grateful for). The portakabin is a steel container - no windows, no seating, no loo, no heating. The thought of hiring a caravan sprang to mind, but the refurb takes place during the height of the holiday season and we get four weeks notice. Not looking forward to that. Oh well. Onwards...


Books read this month
The Collected Short Stories – Colette
Exploits & Opinions Of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician – Alfred Jarry
Ubu Rex – Alfred Jarry
Ubu Cuckolded – Alfred Jarry
Ubu Enchained – Alfred Jarry
The Jagged Orbit – John Brunner
Pietr The Latvian – Georges Simenon [new tr]
Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan [new tr]
The Late Monsieur Gallet – Georges Simenon [new tr]
A Certain Smile – Françoise Sagan [new tr]
On The False Earths – Mézières & Christin
Retreat From Love – Colette
The Vagabond - Colette
The Hanged Man Of Saint-Pholien – Georges Simenon [new tr]
Duo - Colette
Le Toutounier – Colette


Monday, 3 March 2014

Slightly derailed


I meant to blog a bit earlier, but things happened. They were good things. However, they resulted in a slight derailment of ordered life [ordered? are you sure?]. The worst of it is, from the point of view of blogging is that I cannot, as yet, mention what the good things are. But I will. Oh yes. When the time is right, I will blog about it.

What with that and the monster biography of Colette (and very good it was as well), my reading has dropped. I tackled the biography because I went back to the Claudine novels. And from there I’ll probably revisit the rest of my Colette collection; maybe even fill in some of the gaps.

Future upheavals to look forward to this year include various refurbishments by the Council.

Future events to look forward to include our 25th wedding anniversary (later this month) and Barbara’s tieth birthday.

And someone said we might get a summer this year, but I’m not holding my breath.


Books read this month
Mary Poppins Comes Back – P L Travers
Three To Kill – Jean-Patrick Manchette
Mary Poppins Opens The Door – P L Travers
Claudine At School – Colette
Le Grand Meaulnes – Alain-Fournier (tr Davison)
Claudine in Paris – Colette
Claudine Married – Colette
Claudine And Annie – Colette
Dirty Snow – Georges Simenon
Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette – Judith Thurman

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Monday, 10 February 2014

Shock of the new(ish)


One of my all time favourite books (which I re-read on a fairly regular basis) is Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes. I first read it as an impressionable adolescent and it has haunted me ever since. Anyone who has read my novel, Wealden Hill, will know that.

I grew up with the Frank Davison translation. I have struggled through a French edition, but my command of the language is nowhere near good enough to be able to enjoy the book as a pure read. So I always go back to my battered and falling-apart Penguin Modern Classic, the one with Sisley’s ‘Small Meadows in Spring’ on the cover, the one that cost me 30p, the one that replaced the previous one which did fall apart. And as always, when it gets to the point where Seurel finally gets to hold Yvonne in his arms, I choked up.

This time round I choked up for a different reason as well. I had a copy of the new(ish) translation by Robin Buss, published as a Penguin Classic in 2007. I thought I would try that version. So, when I had finished Colette’s Claudine at School as a kind of appetiser, I turned to this new Meaulnes.

It was like watching your best friend being knocked into the gutter and kicked in the head. The differences are subtle. It may well be a technically competent (and possibly more technically accurate) translation, but that’s all it was. I gave up on it before the end of part one as it was like reading someone’s homework and went back to the Davison translation. That older version reads like a novel written with passion, which is what the story deserves.

But there were other problems with the new version (and which a glance at the original French confirms). The first is the appalling level of proof reading. Penguin used to be a first rate publisher that produced quality. They have clearly dispensed with a lot of the backroom work that earned them their reputation. The result was me howling over basic errors – bits of text that hadn’t even been edited properly, let alone picked by a proof reader.

And then there was the Introduction. It was the sniffiest, snottiest, most dismissive piece about the book it was introducing whilst trying to display to all and sundry what a clever fellow the writer is. Well, sorry, but to me it made you look spiteful.

I know M. Fournier’s first (and only) novel is flawed, but if you are invited, for whatever reason, to write an introduction to a work, what I want to read is an introduction to the work, a discussion of its context (rather than all the American books it inspired), the writer’s potential, the wider resonance occasioned by the horror of the years that followed its publication and, yes, its flaws. That can all be done without a look-at-me parade of one’s own erudition.

That seems to be quite commonplace these days, and it is boring. I do not need people to show off about how clever they are; I can judge that for myself from what they offer in terms of illumination of the subject they discuss. In this case, it was very little beyond an absurd discussion about the difficulties of translation that Davison ably dealt with.

So that newer Penguin is going in the box with other stuff for the charity shop and I will treat myself to a hardback version of the Davison translation that was published last year on the centenary of the book’s first publication. That way, I know my favourite version of the book will last as long as I do.