FFB: A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark

69516I don’t know why I put this off so long: maybe it was knowing it was set in the publishing world. That sort of roman à clef doesn’t usually appeal to me much — possibly because there is nothing much that will surprise me about the publishing world anymore.

But dashing off on the train to meet the fab QoE (still need to write that up) and needing something to read, I wanted more #MurielSpark100 so I grabbed this from the shelf. An unfortunate cover: I see what they were trying to do but it doesn’t really work. So many other lovely versions like this.

But of course this is SPARK so I was riveted from the start. The opening sentence is now among my faves ever:

‘So great was the noise during the day that I used to lie awake at night listening to the silence.’

How great is that? Then she goes on to explore her late night thought process and it’s just wonderful, of course. Written as a memoir by the main character, Mrs Hawkins (surely a nod to Waugh’s Nanny Hawkins), life is a far cry from the rooming house in Kensington that she lived in during the post-war period. Everyone confides in the ‘comfortable’ woman who describes herself as ‘massive’ and ‘hefty’ until ‘I decided to be thin’ (a whole other post on Spark’s obsession about weight will have to be written by someone else). Though not old, everyone treats her as if she were.

Both the house in Kensington and the odd publishing house Hawkins works for are superbly and exquisitely unique as Spark lays them out for us. Modern publishers would have a fit: the opening is all description of people and places, yet it sparkles. Ullswater and York sound like so many real publishers, and yet completely mad, too. The dissection of class is barbed and hilarious. The back and forth in time allow us to know about York’s imprisonment even while we see how he gets away with his crimes because he’s charming and has the right accent.

So many things are going on–little dramas and tiny crimes–that it’s difficult to know what will carry on through the novel and what is merely an episode, which is how Spark surprises you all the time. But she creates one of the all time worst authors in soooo many ways: ‘At this point the man whom I came to call the pisseur de copie enters my story.’ Hector Bartlett is a terrible writer and a horrible man. She makes him absolutely unforgettable and worse than we even imagine. Anyone who has dealt with a horrible author will know him.

Like Highsmith, Spark finds a lot of life’s bizarre coincidences stand out. For Highsmith they’re the heavy hand of fate; for Spark, I rather think they are the reward of faith. Plus she’s so funny and charming between the slicing witty observations:

‘It is a good thing to go to Paris for a few days if you have had a lot of trouble, and that is my advice to everyone except Parisians.’

Go read more Spark! I have her play up next, Doctors of Philosophy.

Check out all the overlooked books at Patti’s blog.

#FolkloreThursday: #storytime by Joanne Harris and the Storytime Band

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If like me you have not been able to catch the live version of Joanne Harris’ #storytime, you’ll be glad to know that this CD captures the experience rather well (I suspect). Music, song and story blend together to create a magical experience with the freshness of a live performance.

Folktale aficionados will find Harris’ stories to be in a familiar vein that we have all imbibed since childhood. Yet her fairytale narratives offer original takes on those tropes that will surprise and delight you. If you follow @JoanneChocolat on Twitter you know her impromtu #storytime threads are always surprising, often timely and generally hook you quickly.

This CD gives me ideas — always a good sign.

Buy the CD direct for just £5 and get it personalised.

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Out-Create the Destruction

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Corinne Mikael West

Thanks to the fabulous Pam Grossman mentioning this in an interview, I have been recharged by the great quote from the always delightful Tori Amos:

“You have to out-create the destruction
– it’s the only way.”

(By the by, have you been listening to Native Invader? It’s really terrific.)

I realise that this is what I feel subconsciously in these (make no mistake about it) perilous times. Yes, work to undo the evil at every step. Yes, raise our voices in protest, in resistance, in outrage at the seemingly endless venal obscenities!

But I am not a politician. I am not an organiser. I am a creator and I will create because that is my path of resistance. Create and re-create everything they try to destroy. Create the community and its strength that we need. Create the vision that will give us hope. Make every day a resounding yes to all that they claim is impossible. Do not give in to their selfish mediocrity.

I’ve been filling the well of my head with artists like Corinne Mikael/Michelle West (I love this image because it looks like she’s lecturing on how abstract-expressionism will sort things out) and of course my trimulierate Varo, Carrington and Fini. Reading The Militant Muse which has fed that need for examples of unruly artists making their way through explosive, soul-sapping times. Hanging on to the hope of a better future:

“When the heroic male narratives of modernism begin to fade, we may, eventually, be ready to recognize this amazingly idiosyncratic body of work.”

Prophetic words on Hedda Sterne but much more widely applicable, I hope, in the coming days.

Pre-Order: Inanna’s Ascent

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Out in July it’s the goddess-inspired anthology Inanna’s Ascent: Reclaiming Female Power. I have an essay detailing the inspiration for my novel Owl Stretching which incorporates elements of the ancient Sumerian tale of Inanna’s Descent.

Pre-order here.

Edited by Trista Hendren, Tamara Albanna and Pat Daly

Scheduled for July 2018
With contributions by:
Amanda Lee Morris, Annelinde Metzner, Annie Finch, Arna Baartz, Chantal Khoury, Daphne Moon, Rev. DiAnna Ritola,  Donna Snyder,Genevieve Deven, Glenys Livingstone, Ph.D., Hayley Arrington, Iriome R. Martín Alonso, Iyana Rashil, Jaclyn Cherie, K. A. Laity, Laura Shannon, Lennée Reid, Liliana Kleiner, Lori Newlove, Lyn Thurman, Melanie Miner, Melissa Stratton Pandina ,  Molly Remer, Nina Erin Hofmeijer, Nuit Moore, Patricia Ballentine, Sofia Wren, Sinem Koca, Susan Morgaine, Talia Segal, Tamara Albanna, Tara Reynolds, Trista Hendren and others.

Out Now: Madonna of the Wasps 5 #WiHM

41r0rlouarlWhat better way to wrap up Women in Horror Month? The final chapter of The Blood Red Experiment is out now! Read the exciting conclusion of Madonna of the Wasps and all the gialli in this collection. The breakneck pace whips along to the unexpected end — how will all the threads be brought together? It’s a mystery!

Buy it here.

My Blakean Muse

Rouze up, O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads against the ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court & the University, who would, if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War.

William Blake, Preface to Milton

I have had some insight into a revision I need to make to my novel Hire Idiots. I’ve neglected to make clear the important role played by quislings.

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Quislings are the reason the neoliberal effort succeeds. The hard-line zealots would get nowhere without them. They help normalise, apologise and internalise the reframing of education as assessment. Their efforts to ‘not make waves’ allow the system to drown in mediocrity. It’s always easier to ‘go with the flow’ in the short term, but the long term effects are deadly.

I’ve had more insight in recent years about my inability to conform to neurotypical conventions. Despite accusations, it’s not a pugnacious desire to ‘think outside the box’; it’s a kind of blindness. I can’t see the box.

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William Blake: Apollyon Attacks Christian, Pilgrim’s Progress

Ione’s Dream Festival: Dream Poem for Sunday

Ione Dream FestThe SpeakEasy dames are hosting Ione’s Dream Festival this week: check it out on Facebook. Here’s our Sunday poetry offering by Wendy Goldberg; I think it’s got just the right touch of melancholy for an ending.

We’ve had a wonderful time sharing our writing, music and art. Keep dreaming, remember refill the well, and as the dames would surely tell you, make sure someone’s got your back while you dream. 

Dreaming

Perhaps it would be like no poem would ever be forgotten,
if we remembered every dream we ever had.

The day would be as surreal as the night,
populated with a memory that does not exist,
a narrative running counter to the light.
Would people say in the café, wiping sugar off the table
I am a flyer or I dream of water?
Would lovers whisper sexual non-sequitors
about images that abandon all sense of plot?

Perhaps those taboos would go silently unshared,
and if nightmares could not be broken with the day,
we might keep those secret yet.

But, we would remember all —
from an angel in the deep midnight womb
telling us the mind of God
to our last twilight vision in sickbeds
where dreams glide away like a grey sky
sliding its palms on an endless, still sea.
As we breathe at night, we breathe in day
like the way we dream
about the dead in that first year of grief.

Instead, mornings have merciful hands,
wiping a fogged-up mirror, and we see
the same story we keep telling ourselves.