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,
  • What connects the CIA, Somerset’s Midsomer Norton Rugby Football Club and 1970s experimental literature in Paris? Easy. The answer has to be Harry Mathews. At least, it’s easy for me, because I’m the other connection. The novelist Harry Mathews, the “American Oulipian” who died earlier this year, was an entertaining and reliable correspondent. I could expect letters in fountain pen, on heavy engraved paper, from any of his four addresses. In the early 2000s he would update me on his novel My Life in CIA: A chronicle of 1973. “Part non-fiction, part fiction”, he let me know from New York; “I have a feeling the French will get more of a kick out of it than my fellows here”. Back in

    Mar 26,
  • Last night I introduced the fantastic Robert Goddard, who was giving the NAW lecture at the Birmingham Book Festival.  He's a speaker who can make a 500 seat auditorium seem like a living room, partly because he knows what he's talking about.  A crime writer, he says, has to get things right.  And to get things right, it helps to be the kind of person who protects detail like others feel for kittens.  If temperamenally you enjoy searching out errors in ancient train timetables (Bradshaw's (d.1961) for maximum satisfaction) , you could do worse than try your hand at a crime novel. Also, it's always reassuring when at a public event a professional storyteller turns out to be brilliant at telling stories.  The one

    Oct 23,
  • Questions for Gail Jones on the novel Dreams of Speaking by Ayano Fukuda, Aki Irimajiri, Asuka Kimura, Tadayuki Kin, Hiroyuki Koreeda, Joyce Jie Xuan Lim, Yusuke Matsumura, Chihiro Seko, Yuichiro Tanakamaru, Reiei Tei, Junichi Tran, Yasuhiro Wakai, Erika Yamauchi Tokyo University 28/06/06 Can you explain the title Dreams of Speaking?  [We have one theory that Mr Sakamoto is too elegant, tolerant, and even omnipotent (for example the episode of the waiters).  He can be seen as a symbol of perfection (especially on how to live with technology) and exists to offer Alice a kind of salvation.  His sudden death can be interpreted as the end of a reverie, a dream.  Whatever the imaginary Mr Sakamoto communicates therefore represents the ‘dreams

    Jun 28,
  • Questions for A.L.Kennedy on the novel Paradise by Liu Mei Cheng, Yuko Miyawaka, Keiko Nagano, Tomoko Takeda, Satoki Umezawa, Ayaka Wada, Yasuhiro Wakai Tokyo University 30/01/06 Would a Scottish reader understand the meaning of ‘Mo run geal og’ (my fair young love)?  Do you include it here because the song is dedicated as a funeral song?  Or because this song has political or any other specific relevance to the reading of Paradise?  These words are offered as part of the book – how are they significant? Not too many readers would understand it – but the Gaels would. And it’s a very well-known song, so easy to find, should they wish to make the effort. It’s not something without which

    Jan 30,