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.

Friday, 31 January 2014


This blog has been neglected to a disgraceful degree - as were those who commented on the last entry seven months ago. Seven months!

I have no doubt it will get neglected in the future. I tend to moan a lot, and that doesn't make for edifying communication.

So. 2014. I'll be using this blog to post a list of books I have read each month (taking over from my other blog - Grumbooks - which has also been neglected). And if I have anything useful to say, I'll also post here.

Books read in January of 2014

The Shape of Water – Andrea Camilleri
The Terracotta Dog – Andrea Camilleri
The Snack Thief – Andrea Camilleri
The Voice of the Violin – Andrea Camilleri
Excursion to Tindari – Andrea Camilleri
The Scent of the Night – Andrea Camilleri
Rounding the Mark – Andrea Camilleri
The Patience of the Spider – Andrea Camilleri
The Paper Moon – Andrea Camilleri
August Heat – Andrea Camilleri
The Wings of the Sphinx – Andrea Camilleri
The Track of Sand – Andrea Camilleri
The Potter's Field – Andrea Camilleri
The Age of Doubt – Andrea Camilleri
The Dance of the Seagull – Andrea Camilleri
The Bull and the Spear – Michael Moorcock
The Oak and the Ram – Michael Moorcock
The Sword and the Stallion – Michael Moorcock
Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds – David Brittain
Shaman Pathways – Yvonne Ryves
Mary Poppins – P L Travers
The Jewel In The Skull – Michael Moorcock
The Mad God’s Amulet – Michael Moorcock
The Prone Gunman – Jean-Patrick Manchette
The Sword Of The Dawn – Michael Moorcock
The Runestaff – Michael Moorcock
Count Brass – Michael Moorcock
The Champion Of Garathorm – Michael Moorcock
The Quest For Tanelorn – Michael Moorcock

From this you might gather I got a set of the first ten Camilleri's for Christmas (and treated myself to the others). Excellent stuff. Not sure I'll keep that pace up all year, but 29 books is a good start.

At some stage I will also be updating my CV and other stuff.

Friday, 10 May 2013

What I Live For

Today I'm taking part in 'What I Live For', an online event organised by author Satya Robyn. People like me all over the world will be sharing what gives their lives meaning. In Satya Robyn's novel 'Thaw', Ruth gives herself three months to decide whether she can find a reason to carry on living. There's 75% off the kindle version today (99p / $1.49) - read more here.


What do I live for?

What gets me out bed in the morning? Apart from having my head used as a trampoline by the cat.

One word.


I am by nature a quite grumbly person (largely on account of poor health, constant pain, financial insecurity, and a world full of stupid), but when I cannot get my daily fix of writing, thunder clouds gather.

Writing is a safety valve, allowing the voices in my head a platform. It is a means of passing on what I have learned. It is the means by which I tell the stories through which I make sense of the world.

Writing is an act of magic (in which readers participate).

So the thing I get up for in the morning, the thing I live for, is performing magic.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Penguin and Author Solutions - an unholy alliance.

Read this, it's important. It says it all far better than I could manage.