The riverside at Castlefields

The riverside at Castlefields

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Shrewsbury Folk Festival and Chuck Brodsky

Alex and I had a really super time at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival on Sunday, taking part in a harmony workshop (no, honestly, we did), listening to the odd sea shanty, watching in speechless astonishment as the Morris Men danced by (quite surreal), and catching up with Splendid Nephew Tim, the lovely Fiona, the lovely Fiona's mum and the lovely Jan.
And although the mighty Billy Bragg sparkled brightly at the big marquee's evening gig, the artist both myself and Alex were truly knocked out by was American singer-songwriter Chuck Brodsky (who took to the stage during the afternoon and therefore of course played to a much smaller audience than headliner Mr Bragg would enjoy as the big crowds gathered several hours later).
Chuck's songs range from the heartbreakingly sad to the downright hilarious. And the man himself is totally engaging with his warm, gentle sense of humour, and his big, big heart.
No doubt about it. . . On Sunday, Chuck made himself an army of new fans.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Holiday Ghosts

It is when I'm on holiday at the seaside that I feel closest to the spirits of my long-gone parents.
Not memories exactly, but often it's just the uncatchable essences of memories which fly by.
And if I try, even for a second, to focus on these, I can feel tears welling up.
I catch a glimpse of Dad smiling, relaxed, taking us to the park for a game of putting or crazy golf. We've lost a cheap rubber toy snake somewhere along the path and he helps us search through the grass verges.
Or there he is again with his pipe o'bacca in the sunshine. He seems happy. Not like the man he became in his final years, so greatly diminished by old age, ill health and institutionalisation. Bored and lost.
No, he's happy in the sunshine. He's helping us retrieve a football from under a caravan. Mum is cooking sausages on the Calor gas cooker. Also happy. Also relaxed. Nice change of scenery.
Like Christmases, family holidays are loaded with emotion.
For a deeply touching evocation of that bitter-sweet aspect which must inevitably imbue every family holiday, look no further than the gorgeously understated 1931 novel by RC Sherriff, A Fortnight In September, available again thanks to the wonderful Persephone Books.

Writing, Nick Hornby, Self-Publishing


Funny. But as the years roll by, I'm attracted more and more to those authors who started late in life. This may have something to do with the fact that I am now 53 – and still showing no signs of delivering The Great British Novel anytime soon.
But there are plenty of writers who were a bit slow off the blocks. And I take comfort from this.
There's the highly-acclaimed Annie Proulx. According to one of her admirers writing in the Guardian recently, Proulx is "A private, unassuming and generous woman who swept in at the age of 56, a fully-formed and great American writer". Which means that I still have time – as a private, unassuming and generous man – to sweep in as a fully-formed great British writer. What? Am I right or am I right?
The Nobel laureate Jose Saramago, a giant of Portuguese literature featured just now on Radio 4's Open Book programme, didn't publish a book until he was 60.
Then there's Howard Jacobson who was teaching English in a Midlands polytechnic for years before finally getting around to his ambition to become a writer. His latest offering, The Finkler Question, is on the Booker Prize longlist.
I haven't actually read any of these people, but I intend to. Oh dear. Is that enough? Intending to? Or is the road to hell really paved with good intentions?
Part of my problem, I feel, is that I've always lacked drive, I've always lacked focus. (Perhaps I should try driving a Ford Focus.)
Then again, attempting to write a book of any kind when you have a family and a full-time job is a serious undertaking.


Ever since reading High Fidelity in 1995, I've compared myself a little bit (no, don't laugh) to Nick Hornby. Yes, yes, yes, I realise he is an internationally successful novelist whose books have been made into internationally successful films whereas I'm . . . oh, never mind. But, you see, we are contemporaries, old Nick and I, both born in 1957. Not only that but he writes the kind of books that, given half a chance, I might have written myself. Of course it might just be that Nick is incredibly talented and I'm not, but, you know . . . it doesn't hurt to dream.


Much has been said and written about self-publishing. As someone who has gone down this particular road, I just wanted to say a few things myself:

Self-publishing appeals to three kinds of people:
1. DELUDED PEOPLE whose inflated egos easily eclipse their common sense. These folk are on a collision course with reality if they go ahead and self-publish in the belief that this will lead to fame and fortune (or even serious recognition). Clearly, it won't. Nor will it lead to a real publishing house wishing to snap you up. Such deluded people will almost certainly end up painfully disappointed with the outcome.
2. DRIVEN PEOPLE who feel passionately they really do have something worth saying and want to get it out there any way they can. These people could well find themselves reasonably pleased with the self-publishing option because they'll be able to distribute a limited number of books to those readers they want to reach. Excellent. Job done.
3. SENSIBLE PEOPLE who understand completely that their project will of course have only a limited readership (like, for instance, mechanics living in Macclesfield) or a very specific readership (their own immediate family), and therefore self-publishing is the perfect answer. These writers should end up entirely satisfied with the outcome.

To sum up, self-publishing is by no means a bad thing. Indeed, it can be a very good thing. But please understand what you are getting in to. Do not expect the moon and the stars.

I myself self-published a novel, Here Comes The Sun.
Now, whether I was deluded, driven or sensible is for others to judge.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this final thought.
If a man wins a raffle at the village fete and his prize is to play football (during training) with Manchester United, he could – many years later – tell his grandchildren that he once played football with Manchester United. This would not be a lie. But it wouldn't quite be the truth either.
Similarly, I could claim to be a published novelist. It wouldn't be a lie, but it wouldn't quite be the truth either.