Tuesday 23 August 2011


SWALC - LORD CLYDE, ESSEX RD N1 SEPTEMBER 10TH 1PM - 6PM (www.thelordclyde.com for contact details)

Book signings are like boring speed dates, conventions are just weird. Here's a chance to meet a bunch of writers and artists from a wide gamut of genres, media and backgrounds in a natural environment - the pub - and just sit and have a chat about their work.

Top writers, artists, comedians and musicians will be milling about happy to talk at length (within reason) to anyone about their work in that most wondrous of British traditions, the local pub, with great beers, good wine, excellent food, games, performances, competitions, bookstall and a convivial atmosphere with no walls between creators and guests.

here's the list so far...

Gail Renard - author of 'Give Me a Chance', her autobiographical account of spending 8 days at the John and Yoko bed-in as a 16 year old.

Nick Harkaway - author of 'The Gone Away World', an award-nominated masterpiece of a debut SF/fantasy novel, mixing political satire, high concept SF, comedy, killer mimes... breathtaking.

Rufus Dayglo - acclaimed artist on the still-going-strong cult classic comic heroine Tank Girl and keen taxidermy collector and illustrated man.

Jeff Povey - award winning short-film maker, novelist and staff writer on Eastenders, Holby and loads more.

Philip Gladwin - writer and editor and brains behind the brilliant writing program and website, Screenwriting Goldmine (its like Script Doctor, but professional and proper like)

The makers and some of the cast of Peacock Season, an astonishing feature-length comedy starring the cream of the british stand-up scene and made for an amazing £38 and a lot of favours.

The Comic Book Alliance - a whole swarm of Britain's comic artists signing their magnificent new anthology book 'Spirit of Hope', a fabulous creation raising money for earthquake victims in NZ and Japan.

Abigail Blackmore and the Blind Date crew. Blind Date is a brilliant short film that we'll be airing and its already won Audience Awards at the LA and Austin, Texas short film festivals.

Some idiot called Si Spencer who's done Grange Hill, Eastenders and the Bill as well as loads of comics inc. graphic novels The Vinyl Underground and Hellblazer: City of Demons, the first page of which is actually set in the snug bar of the venue

Webley Wildfoot, who was there at the birth of a 'well known spin off to a popular family SF TV show' and has documented the traumas of the event in his 'entirely fictional' work 'Torch, Wood & Peasants'.

There's music from Paul Mosley, without a doubt my favourite contemporay musician; imagine Nick Drake singing Tom Waits songs to the music from Bagpuss with a bit of electropop and Hi NRG thrown in.

Shooting schedule allowed, the brilliant Justin Edwards (Thick of It, Sorry I've Got no Head - everyting) singing a couple of comic songs, plus more music, some poetry and a Lennon singalong at the end... and I'm STILL waiting to hear from more folk, so it could get even bigger.

There's going to be a bookstall, so you can buy stuff and get it signed, but also a book drop - bring a novel you don't want, take one of out of the box for free. I'll try and organise a few games too and it would be BRILLIANT if people came in fancy dress as a fictional character. There'll be yummy-licious bar-snacks on sale all day and weather permitting a barbecue in the elegant seclusion of the beer garden.

All you've got to do is rock up and just chat to anyone you like. No formal signings, no lectures or seminars, just a day in the pub milling about chewing the fat, drinking of the beer and relaxing. And it's all FREE!!!!

Friday 19 August 2011

100% DYNAMITE - The Nobel Project 3

The Desert by J.M.G. Le Clezio

So once again, I’m reading intercut dual histories, set many years apart, but Desert is a very different book to ‘The Way to Paradise’, dealing as it does with two anonymous and fictional unknown protagonists, their lives several decades apart somewhere in North Africa (and more on that ‘somewhere’ later).

The first narrative (which essentially forms a framing device for the second, longer story) concerns Nour, a young tribesman on an immense Saharan trek, following their Imam/tribal patriarch as many tribes flee white colonial oppression in the North to rendezvous at a sacred place to muster for an uprising. It’s an immense and incredibly moving story, a macrocosm rendered comprehensible by being seen through the eyes of a small boy, and it’s an all too familiar story of one of colonialism’s many ‘Trails of Tears’. Thousands upon thousands, dispossessed and unable to fully comprehend the futility of their situation, march in quiet optimism behind a leader who has never failed them – there’s a grim inevitability to the story as starvation, thirst and in-fighting slowly morph the optimism to desperation to nihilistic acceptance.

The second story takes place some decades later in a North African coastal shanty town, where a young girl, Lalla is undergoing an another all-too-familiar trope, the rite of passage from girl to woman. There’s no sense of hope here initially, only browbeaten resignation to the misery of the battered, fly-ridden shacks, the relentless heat and unchanging poverty. But Lalla dares to dream; she listens to the stories of the old fishermen who have travelled the world, she runs to the desert to the tribal vagabond kid she calls the Hartani and she dreams of the eyes of the mythical, mystic Blue Man.

Essentially the two narratives play as elegant counterpoint to each other; the slow erosion of hope and identity under biting desert winds played against the shanty girl whose imagination soars with the gulls and drives her to find an escape. And the links between the two characters, while never exactly delineated, are always clear. Lalla is a foundling, the daughter of a desert woman, Nour is among the last of the nomads. Le Clezio never fills in the precise drawstrings that connect the two, and the novel is all the better for that lack of exposition, because this is not a story about two heroes, but about nations, cultures, belief systems and histories – Lalla and Nour are simply our entry points and our exemplars.

But therein lies what was to me, a bothersome flaw to the novel. Le Clezio has chosen an epic, sweeping writing style, grandiose and majestic but deceptively simple in vocabulary. If Mueller uses the personal one-on-one familiarity of the classic fairy tale narrative, Le Clezio’s writing embraces the style of The Saga, or the Greek epic, where small stories are buried like mileposts in a vast plain of narrative. The problem with this style is that leaves no room for pesky little trifles like context and historical perspective. There are no dates, no recognisable place-names, no western historical indicators to tell us when and where this is happening. I absolutely understand that to have included too much of such detail would have been deleterious to the narrative style, but I found myself frequently wondering what the context was, which armies people were fleeing and when, and even where Lalla lives. It’s disorienting to be without a map or timepiece when you’re reading and while I applaud Le Clezio’s courage in rejecting these details, it made for a tough read – a two page foreword would have helped.

But that’s a minor quibble; this is a scorching novel, powerfully evoking the elements as human metaphor, personalising the political and painting the minutiae into a much broader tragedy of colonial evil.

Next Up: Hopefully more familiar ground with ‘The Grass is Singing’ by Doris Lessing