Thursday, 27 November 2014

Monday the 1st of December, all invited.




On Monday, December the 1st I shall be performing a bit of Death of a Dreamonger in the Brixton Bookjam. It describes itself as ‘congenial, intelligent, unpredictable and eclectic.’ I’m hoping to provide the congenial and eclectic.

It’s been a very long time since I have performed and I am hugely looking forward to it. I love to read my own stuff to an audience and at university I road tested a lot of chapters and spoken word events and variety nights. I get a certain focus and clarity on stage I don’t often feel any other time, my head usually being full of a soup consisting of whatever I’ve been reading and seeing.



It is held in a large pub and appears to be a rather packed event from the photographs I have seen. I have been practicing, getting my timings right and trying so that I basically know the piece off by heart and can do it straight to the audience.

If anyone wants to come and have a look, the Brixton Bookjam starts at 7:30 at the Hootenanny pub on Effra road on December the 1st.


If you can’t make it, a podcast will be made of the event for the sure delectation and delight of those unable to attend.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

#Jubilateagno

For those unfortunate enough to follow me on Twitter, they may have noticed that I've been posting every evening with the hashtag 

As any regular reader to this blog will realise, that the hashtag relates to Christopher Smart's long, strange and wonderful poem of the same name. I plan to tweet the entire poem, line by line, for as long as it takes.

I am doing this for a number of reasons.

The first is to encourage myself to tweet regularly so it doesn't get rusty and dusty.

The second is to see if any of the lines catches anyone's attention.

The third is to encourage me to read the poem slowly. In previous readings I have pretty much gulped my way through it to get to my favourite bits and rather missing others.

At the moment, I am still somewhere in Fragment A, an invocation of various Biblical names and animals beginning with the word 'let'. The corresponding 'for' sections are missing which means that some of the explanation is missing.

It's probably my least favourite part of the poem. However I have been pleased by the notion of the ape as the maker of variety and pleasantry, and the warrens of a rabbit as mazes for the devil to get lost in.

So, if you want something a little odd and occasionally thought provoking to look at, I recommend a little look at   every now and then.


Thursday, 30 October 2014

Editors


I've been preparing my novel, 'Death of a Dreamonger', for self printing in my own Grub Street Publications.

One of the steps toward publication has been to hire an external editor to sort through the book and lend a clear and impartial bit of advice. The cheapest of these was 'cheapbookeditors'. I sent them three chapters and instead of advice, I received abuse.


you seem to be a man, yet write the story as a first person female
perspective, which will have every female reader throwing it down
as soon as that is realised, and every male reader thinking that it is
some gay thing, and every literary agent will shake their head in 
disgust at a man trying to write as a woman.
 
the book is all over the place with mixed tense, and it would need
a great deal of work, so I am not sure that we would take it on board.
 
perhaps you could send the whole thing, and explain it to us...


Aside from the fact that the editor can't use capital letters at the beginning of sentences; or that the reading was so cursory that the pretty obvious tense of the piece was misunderstood, the person behind the email really didn't understand that part of the fun of writing is assuming roles.

I had already decided there was no way I'd be using them but riled, I thought I would send them a little more and answer their points.


The original idea of the first person female narrator was as an inversion of the first person male narrator of the traditional gumshoe sort of novel. Setting her up as an outsider, often on the edge of respectability and financial stability was part of this gumshoe element. I was hoping that as the reader continued, they would read Eve as herself and appreciate her as such.

The tense of the book is present tense. I experimented with all three but present tense seemed to have a taut and exciting quality. However at the very beginning of the book she is looking back at her preparations (curling her hair and dressing up) and her hopes for the action ahead (he will gaze his two peepers on my two peepers) so tense does roll back and forward a little.


I received another email...


I have scanned through, and the problem is that it is clever, too clever for its own good, and us editors can only edit that which is 
traditional and fits some rules. No rules, nothing to edit.
 
There are very obvious punctuation problems, which begs the question
as to how someone who can write in a clever fashion can end speech
in a full stop and miss every comma that should be in placed before a name.
 
In order to fix this we would have to know what was in your mind, and we don't, so we can't apply normal rules - there would be red ink everywhere.
 
Also, you (and I the reader) look through the eyes of a girl kissing a man,and us male editors don't do that.
 
Good luck elsewhere, and you need a lady editor that is unconventional and a telepath.
 

I would admit that my punctuation is a little skew-whiff, readers of this blog would agree with that. They would also agree that I have a tendency towards unnecessary words. But to say that my book has no rules is an outrage and an insult. That's not counting the misogyny and homophobia implied all through the messages.

I know as an aspiring writer I am a ten-a-penny waste of space but I don't think I deserved such rudeness, especially from somebody I was originally intending to pay.

Luckily, I have found another editor. I am yet to ascertain her conventionality or telepathy but I did receive a first impression.

It's wonderfully original and your writing has a lively, youthful quality

Here we go then.


Friday, 24 October 2014

To nano or not to nano...

...that is the question.

For the last two years I have taken part in the National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo - or nano), a month long event where each member tries to write 40,000 words of a novel. At the end of every November I have sworn that it would be the last one.

Not that the pure wordage of the challenge puts me off, I enjoy the deadline to write my 40,00 words, it gives me an arbitrary date to write by and I’ve always found such dates useful.The problem comes from the fact that I disagree with almost every aspect of nanowrimo.

The focus of nano is quantity over quality. People say that it doesn’t matter what is written, as long as there are words on the page. The justification being that a novel is no good in the head and once it is down on paper, however patchily, it can be edited and improved but I personally see no point in rushing to create rubbish you only plan on changing later. I always sit at my desk hoping to write something wonderful. I know I do not often achieve something wonderful but if I were to sit down with the aim of writing merely something, anything, then I would not sit down at my desk at all.

In a drive to maximise quantity, it promotes a very mechanistic ‘cookie cutter’ guide to novel construction. 

Characters are created by vast character sheets in which the writer lists down every excruciating detail of the character; from eye-shape to chin-size, the names of whatever psychological disorder they may be suffering from, their favourite pop song and a catch phrase that sums them up. There is a particularly extensive one here

What seems to be forgotten in this process is that much as you can’t get to know a person by a long list of details, nor can you discover a character. To really know a character you need to see them acting (or not acting) to the stimulus of the plot. Even if you disagree with Satre, a character is defined by action.

Then there is the notion of plot. These are to be copied wholesale from various online sources, the most popular of which is ‘The Hero’s Journey’ in its various forms. Others use the Snowflake Method, others pick some other pattern. Maybe it is a very useful method but I find it so prescriptive; preferring to take an idea that interests me, ask questions about it and then knock it into shape and call it a plot.

Of course, if you are stuck, then you can employ a plot ninja. Here is the description of one…

A plot ninja is something that is inserted into the plot when the writer finds him- or herself at a loss for what to do next, or when their characters are bogging down in dull conversation rather than doing anything interesting. 

Now, in my first novel I had something like this happen. I had a scene set in a cinema where a really boring film was playing. So boring the character plays around with his need for a wee. Unfortunately, his need climaxes at the moment a gang of ninjas jump through the window in the film and he has to decide between wetting himself or watching the excitement on screen. I think I might have grown out of that phase. I think that something so unexpected would have to be the most planned so it doesn’t seem completely ludicrous.

The project has developed a completely different language for discussing narrative, character and storytelling, most of which I find quite ugly. First there are genres, many people write YA and NA some write YNA. On top of that, they don’t have protagonists they have MCs or MMCs or MMMC’s (to differentiate between the MFMC’s). They also have BFs, BGs, LBs and all number of letters.
I work in a school, I get enough bland-empty acronyms in my life. Maybe I’m just a bit of a snob.

My final beef is that conversation on the forums reveal pretty clearly that in nano-land, there are far more people writing books then reading them. I don’t really consider myself a writer, I consider myself a reader who stuffs his head with so many words that occasionally they are re-constituted and vomited back out, so I find it odd to be on a forum where so many writers foreswear from reading a book during the writing time incase it influences what they are writing.


So, why am I doing it again? The answer is simple: comradeship. 

For a month in the year there is a forum full of people talking about story, research, plots and characters - so what if they talk about them in different ways, the talking is still happen. In London people meet up to chat and write side by side, I even went to an event where the writing took place from 7pm to 7am, with plenty of breaks to chat and compare notes. 



In this lonely quest to write a book that might get some reading (and my goodness doesn’t it feel lonely today), I will probably band once again with all the other hobbits and miscellaneous misshapen souls and nano once more.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Lecture of Rasselas containing a big surprise.

It’s been a hell of a strange week; I suffered wardrobe malfunction at work, I was asked to show a librarian how to read, I got free tickets to ‘Made in Dagenham’ and I had much fun playing with the NGM crowd but the strangest part of all the week happened on Tuesday.

On that day I went to see Belinda Jack, Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College do a talk about Morality in Johnson’s Rasselas.

I had previously watched Jack’s six lectures from last year (all available on the Gresham website, along with about 1,500 other lectures). They were about the mysteries of writing and, although I sometimes lost the thread of her arguments, they inspired a lot of thoughts in me. In particular the one about how novels beguile the reader, appealed to me a lot.

So I was a little disappointed when she described Johnson as ‘known, above all, for his misanthropy and profound pessimism’. While I would be first in line to agree about the pessimism, I would fight the charge of misanthropy every inch of the way. One of the most noticeable things about people that read and study Johnson is how fanatic they become, how much they love him. Opening his house to complete strangers because they are ‘poor and honest’, or raising a freed slave almost as his son and leaving him everything, do not seem the acts of a misanthrope. 

She backed up this phrase by saying, ‘Perhaps the most famous Johnsonian couplet is one in which man:
             Hides from himself his state, and shuns to know,
            That life protracted is protracted woe.’

I wouldn’t say that is Johnson’s most famous couplet, I’d probably put forth,

‘There mark what Ills the Scholar’s Life assail,
Toil, Envy, Want, the Garret/the Patron and the Jail.’

And so on we went, with me rather disagreeing with much of what was said. Then we went on a tour of the book and when we got to the part of the book at the pyramids, she put up the following slide, causing a titter.



Hang on, I made that picture for this blog post here. It’s got my crummy photoshop skills in it and everything. I have to say I was quite flattered, as there was a good 50 odd people at the lecture, probably more people than ever read this blog.

I do not know whether Belinda Jack ever read my blog, the Rasselas review is halfway on Google’s second page if you type ‘Rasselas review’ and the picture on the first of the image search, maybe she only saw the picture.

As a conclusion, she talked about how far you could read Rasselas as a satire and she went through various jokes and lighter moments in the book. A lot of these moments were ones I had also seen and picked up on in my post and so for the end of the lecture we were in complete accordance.

I was especially chuffed because as I queued up for the lecture, I tried to chat with the regular Greshamites, who were rather sniffy at me so it was infinitely pleasing to know that at least some of the talk I was deemed too uncouth for, originated on this blog.

Cool eh?

Yours




PS. As November approaches, I wonder the eternal question, ‘do I bother with Nano this year?’ Plus that big Death of a Dreamonger announcement and a review of the Gothic exhibition at the British Library.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Washington Irving's Goldsmith Biography



I’m now back in blighty and sorry to say that the crowd funding of my novel, ‘Death of a Dreamonger’ did not succeed. I put this mainly down to the fact that I was in France for a big chunk of the pre-order time. My time in France was not wasted though; I had a lovely time travelling around seeing stuff, eating gorgeous bread and reading.

One of the books I read was Washington Irving’s ‘Life of Goldsmith’, largely cribbed off Forster’s immense book, which is on my shelf and I will get to reading when I find a table strong enough to hold the weighty tome.

Whereas later writers on Goldsmith want to reach the man, Irving was content to print the legend and I, for one, was grateful for it. Having only read revisionist writing on Goldsmith, it was a joy to hear all of the anecdotes and silly one-liners pour forth. I particularly liked his reporting the following lovely Goldsmith nugget;

‘The public will never do me justice; whenever I write something they make a point to know nothing about it.’ 

A quote that met very well with my experience of two months (I thought) intensive crowd funding. 

My favourite element of the book was Irving’s dismissiveness towards those who dismissed Goldsmith, particularly Boswell who he calls an ‘obsequious spaniel’. At one point he tells the story of Goldsmith having a sulk because the crowds in a French town were more interested in the pretty ladies Goldsmith was with then the writer himself. Boswell cites this story as an example of Goldsmith’s astonishing vanity but gets the following rebuttal from Irving;

‘It is difficult to conceive the obtuseness of intellect necessary to misconstrue so obvious a piece of mock petulance and dry humour.’ 

Irving’s last remark on Boswell is to paraphrase a letter where someone threatens Lord Charlemont ‘to bring over the whole Club, and let him loose upon him to drive him home by their particular habits of annoyance - Johnson shall spoil his books; Goldsmith shall pull his flowers; and last, and most intolerably of all, Boswell shall - talk to him.’

What can I say? I love a bit of Boswell bashing.

Irving’s summary of Goldsmith’s character is that he had a gift for beautiful writing and in following this gift he took, ‘no heed for the future, lays no regular and solid foundation of knowledge, follows out no plan’, and just mooches along to death.

I can’t say I’m completely convinced in that reading of Goldsmith’s life, nor can I say the biography was utterly involving but it gave me a few pleasurable hours; is short, is fun and is free as an ebook. 

As such I recommend it to all.



(Coming up, big announcement about Death of a Dreamonger, sneaky peeks at my new novel and a lecture on Johnson's Rasselas as part of the Gresham lectures.)

Friday, 22 August 2014

Hello from Rouen...and two more videos.


Bonjour mon amis.

I am in Rouen at the moment, having taking a month(ish) away to finish my eighteenth century blockbusting novel and then do a little sightseeing.

Unfortunately for all those eighteenth-century-philes out there, there hasn't been a lot of our favourite hundred years to look at, but I have had fun nonetheless. I have seen 13th century clockwork; stood to hear the bells ring from inside the belfry walked along a route of 15th century waterwheels, seen a few impressive churches and the final resting place of some Dukes of Normandy.

As for writers; I had a visit to Arras in rather better circumstances then when Cyrano de Bergerac visited (he was besieging it), I have visited Pierre Cornielle's place and today went to Flaubert's childhood home, which was also a hospital (because his dad was a doctor).

I'm halfway through (and enjoying) Marx's translation of Madame Bovary and have read Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes, so I have a small idea about him and his work. What impressed me most was the medical part of the museum, mainly the funny or icky stuff that appealed to the eight year old inside.

Included in the museum are; an eighteenth century do-it-yourself enema stool, some badly stuffed severed heads, a toy guillotine, a stuffed parrot, a cuddly toy, a collection of fake used baby's nappies to aid the doctor in diagnosing from the poo and some lovely old books.

The cuddly toy is an eighteenth century forceps training doll, designed to help trainee doctors to safely navigate a baby out. It looks like this.




As for the writing, I have been making some good breakthroughs and this massive, complex, intertwined novel I am working on will be finished before the year is out...honest.

As for the book I am trying to sell, here are two videos about the processes I used to try and shape the piece from all the disparate elements and how I tried to get into the role of Eve Lewis.







Until next time... A Bientot.




Sunday, 6 July 2014

Locations..Locations...(you know the rest).

Hello all.

Crowdfunding keeps on going, yesterday my Dad and I buttonholed people outside of Waterstones in Piccadilly Circus where we got a lot of nice comments and not all that many sniffy ones.

I had do buy a new laptop, the old one served me well but gave up the ghost, I am typing this on a laptop I have nicknamed 'The Major', due to the goggly eyes and moustache I have fixed to it.

Tomorrow is my birthday, It'd certainly be a better one with a few orders to perk things up.

The last batch of videos have all been about the locations used in the book, they start of very short and plain but get longer and more complicated culminating in a lovely little song. I hope you enjoy 'em.










Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Review: The Governess or Little Female Academy by Sarah Fielding



It's not rock 'n' roll but I like it.

The cover sleeve and introductions make large claims for this book, written by Sarah Fielding in 1749. It calls it the first school novel, the first educational book and the first children's novel in English. I am not convinced it is a novel, there isn't enough plot or general happening for that.

The plot, such as it is, is about a school on nine little girls who have an argument and a fight over a basket of apples. As part of the reconciliation they takes turns to read a tale each, discuss it and then to give their life story up to that point, paying particular attention to their previous faults. Thus allowing the reader to hear a number of fairy tales and fictional life stories of petty vice.

All if the tales and life stories have one didactic aim, to encourage the readers, young girls themselves, to achieve true happiness through moral conduct. Good conduct being a control and grounding of one's own bad feelings and an empathetic partaking in other's pleasures. It has a very Johnsonian bent, that happiness will never be achieved through a person's ambitions or wealth but in the ease they have in their own company and the company of others. 

The point is not subtly made and re-inforced by repetition but to be honest, it was a message I needed to hear. Since starting this crowdfunding for 'Death of a Dreamonger' my mood has been completely and utterly linked to the small box on the website that records pre-orders. Delighted when the figure goes up and distressed when it stays the same. My happiness has been completely out of my control and in other people's hands. I have grown unable to appreciate those who have ordered or the phenomenal support I have received from family, friends and acquaintances. So I enjoyed the message in the book and am trying to take it to heart.

Although there isn't much of a plot, the characters, though simply drawn, are engaging. I grew quite tired of Sarah Fielding's 'David Simple' and put it down half-read but in this book she has such a choice for the telling detail that many of the little girls came to life.

Sukey was one of my favourites, she was a sparky, feisty girl who fights and argues because she doesn't want people thinking she lacks spirit. I also liked Polly Suckling, the youngest one, whose main job is yo say or do whatever would be cutest at that moment - sort of like Mara Wilson in Mrs Doubtfire but without the annoying lisp.

Jenny Peace, our heroine was not a very good character though. Her moral perfection, mildness and goodness made her a rather dull and unengaging person to follow. As for The Governess herself of the title, Mrs Techum, she had some progressive pedagogical notions which would not have been out of place in a modern primary school. I bet she was the teacher everyone hoped they would get. Though I was uneasy about the closeness of the name Teachum and that of Peachum.

This book is very safe. It's very nice. It's polite and well-mannerd and passionless. It teaches pleasantness and mildness - and sometimes that is a good thing in a book. Though as much as I enjoyed it, I'm reading Sweeney Todd next.


P.S

For my own, possibly moral but not very mild book, order here..


Just because I don't want the sales of it to dictate my mood, doesn't mean I don't want people to get it.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Review: Tristram Shandy: Conception Cock & Bull



A little break from 'Death of a Dreamonger' to talk about something I went to see on Friday at the studio of St James Theatre.

First, I have to say, I don't like the St James Theatre. It was built last year and is as anonymous as anything else, could as easily be a travelodge or one of those luxury flats they are busy sticking in any spare space in London at the moment.

I must also admit that I didn't like the price. £17.50 seems a lot to pay for a one man show with simple staging which lasts for just over an hour. I later found out that the profits from the show went to a charity, which is fair enough but I'm sure the £5 they were asking for half a pint of beer was not. Then they asked me if I wanted to pay a donation to the theatre on top.

Putting all that aside and talking about the performance, it was written and performed by a man called Stephen Oxley and he did brilliant things with it.

My favourite part was when, in the middle of telling a story he suddenly ducked down and crawled before 'emerging' and standing up. We were then told he'd drawn a curtain over the previous scene and the audience realised that he had just wriggled his way out from under that curtain.

The digressive nature of Tristram Shandy was played brilliantly for laughs, the joy and eagerness with which 'Tristram' as the narrator kept getting sidetracked. He promised to tell it straight in the second half but could not resist a few digressions, especially when going through his chest of props and goodies.

The bawdy in the book was well represented. From the spirited impersonation of his conception (followed by a comment that he wouldn't tell us about his birth till we were better acquainted) to a whispered aside to an audience member that so shocked her she gasped. He played that Shandian game of informing us that a nose is definitely a nose, whilst making it abundantly clear it probably wasn't.

The representation of some of the minor characters was quite pantomimish but it added to the fun and Parson Yorick was played by a skull. Alas, we didn't have Yorick's death though (I thought maybe a blackout to represent the black page). Nor did we have the eternal curse or the business with Obadiah's knots but there was a lot of the good stuff there with proper and due attention paid to Uncle Toby.

So, I did enjoy myself, but I'd have liked it more for a tenner in the Dictionary Garrett in Dr Johnson's House...notwithstanding Johnson's own opinion of Tristram Shandy.

All yours

Oh... and if anyone does wish to be in on something special and preorder my book, click the picture below.


Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Horse's Mouth



So, I launched my little barque upon the seas and the seas have been fairly kind. Five days in and I approach fifty. I am worrying a little in case this is the rush as sales have slowed right down in the last two days.

Before I started this process I made a number of videos as something new to show every few days. This is video number two, a plain affair where I just read the first few paragraphs. I was going to be especially jazzy with the words all bouncing around but it took me so long to do the ones you see here that I mixed in me reading with it. Given the subject matter, I pull some pretty coquettish faces.

 Are you sitting comfortably? This is how the story begins....






Sunday, 1 June 2014

Here it comes!




Much of the eighteenth century emphasis of this blog is going to be on the back burner for a little bit as we prepare for a proper Grub Street party to celebrate the publication of my mystery/thriller 'Death of a Dreamonger'.

But that is not all, the possibility of the book's publication will rely on securing 250 pre-orders, so head over to britain's next bestseller and get pre-ordering.

Here is a little video about the main characters in the book. New videos will be uploaded each week.




Happy pre-ordering.

https://britainsnextbestseller.co.uk/index.php/book/index/DeathofaDreamonger

Monday, 19 May 2014

Review: Pompey the Little



I recently read ‘Down and Out in 18th Century London’ by Tim Hitchcock and although I was sometimes lurched about by the anecdotal style, I enjoyed it and was pointed to a number of other interesting works.

One of these was ‘Pompey the Little’ by Francis Coventry. How could I resist a book centring on a Bologna lapdog?

Coventry makes his allegiances clear, dedicating the book to Henry Fielding. Although he doesn’t have the same delicious and all pervading irony as Fielding, nor does he have Fielding’s ability with an understatement, a similar spirit runs through this book.



Pompey is a Bologna lapdog who finds his way from owner to owner, sometimes by luck and sometimes by his own actions and as such is not dissimilar to Fanny Hill (who gets a walk on part). Owners include people in the high-life with such wonderful names as Lady Harriden and the Lord Marmozet; children who play a little too rough, a Cambridge fellow, a few shopkeepers, a destitute poet and a blind beggar.

The pattern of owner, satyrical gibes, new owner should have become boring but Coventry nails the different characters and situations so well that each change is a delight. I pretty much galloped through the book and enjoyed it throughout. 

Naturally my favourite owner was the impecunious scribbler Mr Rhymer. The chapters featuring him are the perfect representation of a Grub Street life I have yet read in print and I reckon it should be as well known as Hogarth’s famous image of the distressed poet.

‘In one corner of these poetical apartments stood a flock-bed and underneath it, a green jordan presented itself to the eye, which had collected the nocturnal urine of the whole family...Three rotten chairs and a half seemed to stand like traps in various parts of the room, threatening downfalls to weary strangers; and one solitary table in the middle of this aerial garrett, served to hold the different treasures of the whole family.’ Needless to say, the treasures are meagre indeed.

Mr Rhymer’s wife is not happy to see that he has had a useless lapdog foisted on him by a Lord as a ‘gift’ and berates him for selling his chandlers’ business to take up writing. He argues that she should be pleased to have married a man so above the petty mechanics of life. We get the feeling this is an argument the two have had a number of times. After a dinner of weak broth, Mr Rhymer untroubled by ‘any of fumes of indigestion’ works on an ‘epic poem which was then on the anvil,’ before going out to a meeting of other writers, accompanied by Pompey.

The meeting of writers is torn apart by argument and Mr Rhymer walks home ‘in a pensive solitary mood, wrapped up in contemplation on the stars of heaven, and perhaps forgetting for a few moments that he had three-pence half-penny in his pocket.’ I find this a wonderfully poetic moment and typical of little character moments in the book.

Pompey’s fortunes change again when a couple of hooligans spy Mr Rhymer, ‘smoked him for a queer fish’ and duff him up. Pompey is quite pleased with this reversal as he was afraid he may ‘have fallen sacrifice to hunger, and been served up on Mr Rhymer’s poetical table’.


‘Pompey the Little’ is obviously a first novel and doesn’t reach the heights of a ‘Tom Jones’ or a ‘Tristram Shandy’ but there is much good about it. I think the success of the book lies in a statement made right at the beginning in the dedication to Henry Fielding. ‘The characters of a novel principally determine its merit’. I believe this is the case today and was the case then, and on those merits ‘Pompey the Little’ succeeds admirably.


Pompey's breed today.


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Review: Dear Mr Spectator


Last year I went to Florida with some of my family and we had the misfortune of attending the Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, a food and pirate extravaganza with live floor show. It had been my idea for I am a sucker for pirate-y things but we truly were suckers, the food being cheap and nasty and the show being poorly acted through a PA system so distorted that not one word could be made out, even though every line was screamed.

So, it was with some trepidation that I took my sister to Dear Mr Spectator! a dinner/show revolving around the characters and letters found in Addison and Steele’s initial run of the Spectator magazine of 1711.

First impressions were a little uncertain, a hipster cafe in New Cross not seeming the ideal location for a clubbable early eighteenth-century man. Mr Spectator himself was in a slightly cobbled together justacorps and a black fright wig which my sister thought looked like Brian May. He was, however genial and welcoming and although more voluble than I expected, did well to mingle as people entered. We sat down a little apprehensively.

The start was a little shaky, Mr Spectator leaning a little too heavily on his script and his interactions with Ralph rather uncomfortable. The exhortations to ‘huzzah’ frequently were a bit awkward for this very British audience. 

Then came the first course. It started with a meagre sort of watery mushroom soup, we slurped politely while music from the period was played on a viola. Then came the first course proper. The informative booklet we received on arrival said that the first course was the primary savoury one and there was all sorts. A very tasty rabbit stew; some stewed beef, chicken fricasse, bean stew, stuffed mushrooms, a light wallet and possibly more. Much of it was nice and on my part was he'd down with red beer brewed in nearby Brockley. I thought what Henry Fielding, writer of ‘roast beef of old England’ would make of us eating the ragouts and ‘slip-slops’ of France but I enjoyed it. 

After the first course we had the introduction of Sir Roger de Coverly, he was rotundly played and the introduction of his character and the increased use of the ensemble; together with the audience having settled and enjoyed the first course, meant that everything flowed together well. I began to notice how well the writer had taken parts of the Spectator Magazine and threaded them together. The use of all the ludicrous clubs was a particularly enjoyable running gag, with people joining fat clubs, widows clubs, rake clubs and begging clubs.

The next course was the strangest, consisting of sweet and savoury parts. This included gruel and rice pudding; heavily nutmegged sweet potato cakes, roast pork, a huge beef and sausage pie, a veg pie, spinachy things and weirdest of all, peas in a garlic sauce that had been chilled into a solid pyramid. I was loving all the strange combinations I could create, my sister less so.

The next part of the performance was extremely comfortable, with more ad-libs and little moments being introduced as everyone was very comfortable with each other. It could be the wine but I reckon it was the ease of company, but the laughs grew louder and more numerous that by the time the last course arrived, people were talking with ease.

That last course consisted of small cakes, cheese and biscuits and a cream with cinnamon apple. After eating all this, my sister and I said goodbye to everyone on our table and rolled our way to the  tube station.


In summary, the evening was not a Pirate’s Dinner Adventure sized disaster but was a very enjoyable evening featuring some great food and entertaining performance.


Thursday, 15 May 2014

Review: Gin Lane Gazette


Last time I talked about subscription and a book I helped crowdfund called the Gin Lane Gazette. It was written by Adrian Teal, a political cartoonist who also worked on Spitting Image and a number of newspapers. 

He was funding the book through Unbound, one of the new crowdfunding publishing outlets that are starting up to fill the gaps in the popular market. Adrian Teal is a very entertaining presence on Twitter and I was very keen to sign up. When the pre-order time was over and the book successfully funded, I waited a few months and was extremely excited to receive my copy of the Gin Lane Gazette (lucky copy number 13) and read it straight through, and have dipped into it many time since.

It takes the form of a compendium of articles from an imaginary magazine published between 1750-1800 under the watchful and increasingly jaded eyes of Nathaniel Crowquill. 



The jokes are frequently brilliant, from the in-your-face bawdy to the subtle. My favourite subtle joke takes place on the title page. The compendium was published by ‘A Cully’, a name that mixes both the notion of a cully; defined by ‘The Dictionary of the Canting Crew‘  defines as ‘a man that is easily drawn in and Cheated by Whores or Rogues’ but it also plays with the name of Edmund Curll - the ultimate Dunce publisher. 

Sort of like a grown-up Horrible Histories (in the best possible way) the book is absolutely crammed with as many fascinating anecdotes and stories from the latter half of the eighteenth century, liberally loaded with brilliantly observed caricature. Johnson turns up a number of times, William Beckford and loads of Charles Fox. The level of detail is brilliant. The text makes extensive use of the long s, the costuming and style of the characters change as the years go on.



A Cartoon about Johnson's review of Hanway.


What I most enjoy is the running soap throughout the book, just behind the text is the life of Nathaniel Crowquill, his frequently drunk etcher, his spy on the ground and all the other people who help create the magazine. This ties everything together and makes it more than a selection of fragments and hints at an almost lovely muppet show element that I love.

Of course the Gin Lane Gazette is about intriguing the reader and making them laugh, it’s not the place to look in any depth at the stories within it but to enjoy them and maybe go off and find the sources of the stories. There is a bibliography at the back to do this.

It is now available of all good bookshops and indeed, it is possible to tell if it is a good bookshop if it has some copies. Put it on your shelves between TH White's 'Age of Scandal' and Vic Gatrell's 'City of Laughter'.

Check Adrian Teal out on www.tealcartoons.com