Writing On Literature

  • At the age of fifteen, in 1980, at St Mary’s RC Grammar School in Blackburn, Graham Caveney was sexually abused by his headmaster, Father Kevin O’Neill. Caveney’s subtitled Memoir of an Adolescence starts with this fact, as how could it not? The trauma is ‘something that the survivor, the sufferer, carries within them; the wreckage that is part of their self.’ What Caveney brilliantly achieves in this powerful, distinctive memoir is the positioning of his repeated sexual abuse in the landscape of an early 80’s adolescence. Before the abuse, Caveney is a clever, bookish boy born into the ‘Respectable Working Class’ of Accrington, his dad a groundsman at the local comprehensive and his mum a factory worker. He is not

    Aug 29,
  • At the age of 60, when he sets out to write this memoir, Allan Jenkins is older than his mother and his brother when they died, ‘time near my end to unravel my beginning.’ At first, the omens aren’t good: all he sees are memories that ‘stir like crocodiles.’ In this particular family, the past needs to be approached with caution, but fortunately for Jenkins he has a place of safety from which to start: his London allotment, the Plot 29 of the title. His memoir of a disrupted childhood is structured to alternate with a gardening diary that takes in eighteen months of sowing and reaping from June to the following December. Throughout, the green refuge of the allotment

    Aug 29,
  • This piece was commissioned by the ILS as part of the 'Crossing Borders' series. To Live Outside the Law You Must be Honest An April bank holiday Monday, and I plan to go across the border somewhere in the south-west of England. I don’t know the exact place, but between Newbury and Bath the Kennet and Avon canal stretches fifty-odd miles over the English countryside. My border point will be the 60 foot narrowboat Eve, which has a continuous cruising licence, meaning that every fortnight it has to move. My friend Drusilla Marland, who lives on Eve, is hard to pin down... Read full text here.

    May 30,
  • “If you wish to converse with me,” said Voltaire, “define your terms.” A definition of terms is the boring, necessary foundation to any philosophical debate, and is equally relevant to appreciating this book. In the title the publishers have chosen to pick out “win” in Knowing the Score, but David Papineau, a professor of the philosophy of science, isn’t offering a new and unlikely marginal gain in the quest for sporting victory. Nor is his book an ambitious attempt to mesh the universal cogs of theoretical philosophy and sport..." This book review was in the Times on April 22 and the full text is available here, possibly behind the paywall unless you never look at the Times, in which case you

    May 03,
  • I was asked to write an Opinion piece for the Observer about reaction to the publication of The Day that Went Missing, including my own reaction to having written a memoir. How does it feel once it's out there? What was the point? 'Now I’m faced with the question of what happens next. What is a memoir actually for? There seems to be a lot of memoir about, but I can only speak for myself and wordsearching the typescript I discover the book contains 434 instances of the word Nicholas or variants. I have filled the pages with Nicky, with Nick-Nack, Nickelpin, Pinwin, all my brother’s various rescued nicknames. His solo photograph in beach-tinted Kodacolor is bold on a hardback

    May 03,
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