Tag Archives: books

One Writer’s Journey

I grew up watching Superman, The Cisco Kid, O.S.S., hearing war stories, chasing down moth-eaten army uniforms back when milk arrived in a horse and cart marvelling at the colour style of actual coca leaf sugarpop in Coke bottles blinking at motor cycles Dick Van Dyke falling over a couch cowboy films shot in daylight B/W then coloured nights of my father’s home-grown vegetables, born with words in my mouth – ‘gimme-that’ , ‘how-dare-you’,  ‘what-the-fuck’ –

– ideas as fixed and eternal as the motives for every war, growing into Kidnapped bicycles desert boots Seventy Seven Sunset Strip Disney Land Rear Window Psycho Lawrence of Arabia, the annual anxiety of packing the car at holiday time, each and every moment stilled in memory of the forever mysterious parodies of life or art even if parodies weren’t even an option back then. I knew the Beatles before the Monkees, Bogart before Belmondo, but I can’t say I recall the idea behind the Summer of ’42 before it was a film conjured into a Mad magazine parody or whether it co-existed in the smash crash and kill dinky toy mind of George W. Bush. I believe I’m not alone, even growing more bewildered year on year by the incoherence of images and texts surrounding me from birth arresting my natural river environment in the far southern climes the commercial and cultural ink-blotting over my childhood my natural world a parody of some story my mother told me, those seconds on a baked sidewalk hearing JFK was dead, pink socks on the rock ‘n rollers, moments things events sounds sent to make life even more dangerous curious frightening, a direct result of the industrial military complex, Elvis Presley Chuck Berry even, the jack shit political influences beaten into the worrying shame of death in the world, prejudice, organically connected and woven into a general valueness held dear by so many years on from that day when morality was gunned down in broad daylight.


Sammakon in Turku

I was in Finland last week, in the western city of Turku, facing down five days of clear blue skies and 30 degree sunshine, weather Londoners can only dream about. Turku is a friendly, gentle-paced city.

I found a bookshop not far from the hotel.

What caught my eye right away was a small John Fante hardcover in Finnish lying on an outside table, selling for 3 euros.

No dumping books in remainder shops, not in this corner of the bookworld anyway. There it was at a price anyone can afford – with the added value of being in translation. Sammakon is not an average bookshop, even if it could be mistaken for one at first glance.

There are two sammakko.com shops, the other in Helsinki. Sammakon’s owner publishes, sells and translates from English himself, especially his favorites – Bukowski, Fante, the beat poets and novelists. His first book was a translation of Charles Bukowski’s The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. And don’t they just. After coming across this minor miracle for the world of books in English, one that so intimately caught my eyes, all both of them, it was on the bus for the drive back to Helsinki, for a day and a half of restaurants and walks, before flying back to rainy, chilly London.

Let’s Bet on Independents

Borders is dead, long live the independents.

When Borders came into the UK and bought up Books etc, what happened? A superb small bookshop chain that knew what it was doing slipped out of sight. We know what BIG can do. It goes bust with a BANG in bad times, well, a dull thud in this case.

Do we get the message? BIG doesn’t work in tough times. So why not support the people who are there for us with books year in and year out.

In my area there’s ONLY one – Stoke Newington Bookshop – owned and run by Jo for the last twenty-two years. She’s seen whole families of readers grow up, took over the floor space when Barclays moved out..remember that? A bit before my time. Jo has weathered rent rises, publisher and writer collapses, buyers and banks coming and going.

It’s a superb shop, one of the best book table layouts I’ve ever seen. If you are a  reader who likes to book-browse without pressure this is the shop for you.

Stoke Newington Bookshop 159 Stoke Newington High Street, London, N16 0NY (near the t-junction with Stoke Newington Church Street)

It’s enough to be in Paris


I went to Paris for my birthday (had to say it at least once). Found a wonderful hotel, with the sort of market just two minutes away you can only find in France. Combination of food on sale and items and atmosphere. Checked the book in Shakespeare and Co. Have a look, too – Uncorrected Proof, under A for Alba.



Walked the streets. Passed through, open-mouthed, the commercial alleys of the left bank. Should manic tourism do this to such a brilliant part of the city? Up and away through Montparnasse, by the Pantheon and back down by Joyce’s home (one of 13 while he was in Paris).* I  just found the address without any idea where it was, wasn’t even thinking of him. Now I’m asking myself what are the chances of chancing on it in a city the size of Paris.


Not one for tourist plaques or gravestones but this is worth lingering by.


Really didn’t do all that much in two days –  didn’t lunch or dinner at expensive restaurants, didn’t even tea or coffee in les deux magots. Just absorbed the sounds and sights from train to train. It’s enough to be in Paris.


* As the New York Times tells us, it was Joyce’s “prettiest place…Valery Larbaud’s apartment in a kind of mews at 73 Rue Cardinal Lemoine, on the Contrescarpe behind the Pantheon and with curving view of Paris.”

Another Voice for Nam Le

Louisiana Alba is the author of Uncorrected Proof, which I heart, so I asked if she would write something just for me (and you lit-lovers). Here ’tis:

Italians have a phrase: non mettere le mani avanti, don’t put your hands out in front (to prevent the fall you fear). Let the scholars sort out my fictions. I am trading here on memory and instinct alone, a dangerous line, I know, particularly as I was going to do a piece on Windschuttle and other historical fabrications. Do you know Windschuttle? Does anyone care? No? Then, I best leave him for another time.

Nam Le has just won the Dylan Thomas Prize. This is no small prize and no small feat, I said to myself, then realised I was staring at my own. My feet were the only feet in the room. I was intrigued though I confess I didn’t know Nam Le’s work before I went online and ordered the one copy of The Boat held by the British Library. The book of The Boat. The Boat in book form. It says a lot about the focus of readers in London that it hadn’t been snapped up already. After the Booker Prize shortlist was announced every copy of every book the BL had by every writer on the damn list was in use. Hell, what’s going on? I said at the time.

Nam Le, who is he? When no answers came I could interpret I webbed wider to find out more. I came upon: ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’, from The Boat itself. I read the screen-printed story. Even in the twenty-first century I still find it hard to read fiction this way. Yet Nam Le had me hooked with his first words. The Boat had cast me a line. ‘LHPPCS’ is a fine and good story, as Hemingway might have said. I saw echoes, or imagined I did. Thom Jones’s an-American-in-Vietnam stories, what was Nam Le doing here, a parody of memoir technique developed by a writer come writing-teacher in an Iowa writing school? Many stylistic lines from many American short story writers crossed my eye-line, Le skilfully self-addressing the author, wannabe, manqué throughout.

Thom Jones is still on that Iowa program I believe. I have long admired his work and reference him in Uncorrected Proof. Judging by ‘LHPPCS’, I feel no less strongly about Nam Le’s capacities, finding the comments of praise I saw this morning true and right down to the last syllable. Hemingway is an apt voice to mention as well, I suspect, for what happens at the end of ‘LHPPCS’ happens to the Hemingwayequestrian character in The Garden of Eden as well – the writing and story of both characters ending up…No, I can’t say it either.

Let me be frank or… Nam Le. This writing strikes more than one chord, literary and life chords. When I first left Australia, after university and film school, my first assignment abroad was to film a boat full of ex-Vietnamese hitting land in southern Thailand. Pure fate. It was only the second time I had professionally put an Eclair 16mm camera up on my shoulder, only the second time I had used one live full-stop.  As I clambered about the decks of beached boats, sweat running in my eyes, the stench of summer in the Gulf of Thailand all around, somehow I kept the excitement of the waving forms motoring towards me in focus, somehow I maintained the other arrivees close-by in frame, somehow I didn’t end up in that murky Thai seaside drink all sides up. All along I had no idea I would revisit this plot and theme several times in my life.

I move on to Hong Kong filming and producing two more films on escapees from a hell on wheels inside Vietnam, to a fate far worse than the Thai camps, if my olfactory memory of the warehouses along Hong Kong’s Pearl Harbour serves me well. My fourth and last experience is back in Sydney six years later, making a film for Special Broadcasting Service on a need some Vietnamese children developed for writing up their experiences. In a Strange Land, one girl titled her poem, or was it tilted, living out a nightmarish late childhood horror that was Cabramatta, or as some Australians casually called it back then, Vietnamatta. Reading Nam Le brings it all back.

What is Nam Le’s ‘LHPPCS’ all about then? Writing in Iowa? Growing up in Australia? Relationships? Remembering Mum? Revisiting or leaving Vietnam behind? Getting onto livable terms with Dad? Memory in ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’ is a wonderfully cruel trick. We live and die by it along with his character in the same instant. Nam Le’s memoir, the memory of his life’s truths as laid out in fiction, is an examination of a fictionalised ‘ex-Boat person’ narrated in such an unadorned air of truth that if the other stories in the collection are even half as good, then I know in truth I am in for even more of this rare treat.

Can’t wait to see what she says after reading the rest! – LM

Small versus Big, and small must win

ElephantEars Press, my publisher in Hackney, a small, new and independent publishing press dedicated to bringing you good literature, fiction and non-fiction, at fair prices, is now offering FREE post and packing to ANYWHERE in the world.

These holidays ElephantEars Press wants to give readers a real and true deal.

Lately, I have been following Amazon’s attempt to monopolize Print On Demand, to force independent publishers to accept Amazon on terms designed to crush the life out of the independent publishers and booksellers. It’s a disgrace – Amazon only got where it is because readers like you and me helped them become a force. We supported them in the early days because we wanted diversity, because we believed they were for us. Not anymore they aint!

Amazon wants to monopolize bookselling and print on demand publishing. They want to to kill off publishing independents and consumer independence. Don’t let them. Buy from small independent presses like ElephantEars. Support small and ignore the big homogenizers of creative output.

For this holiday, for your gifts – Buy from the small dedicated publishers like ElephantEars Press determined to bring to you reading quality for your pound, dollar, and euro


Where we are

Linda Nylind

London Fields outdoor Pool - The Guardian. Photo by Linda Nylind

I was doing my 1500 metres in the pool yesterday, lap, swim, turn, lap, roll, stretch, concentrating on my breathing, thinking of what novelist, inventor, academic, Eric Willmot said to me on the phone the other day, talking of his recently written essay on human and planetary survival. I had read the pages he sent me, describing our progress of us all, the twenty third species of human on this planet..the story aint all pretty. Well, I think we know that, but where do we go from here? We seem to be running out of time. Eric is convinced that the global warming we are experiencing is a prelude to another ice age.

Ice with a black hole - see that's the proof!

Ice Age (with a black hole in it as well!)

Our nearest refuge, that is, nearest to our earthly conditions in toto, is Venus, but that planet is a green house gaseous inferno. So that’s out. Another solar system like our little ‘Goldilocks zone’ around the sun, surrounds the star Gliese 581, but that is twenty light years away, beyond our capacity to reach in all our lifetimes. Without some sort of quantum leap in our capacity to travel, our interplanetary air bus is going to run out of gas, if not time.

And even if we get there Gliese 581 may not be quite for us. It hasn’t sent us any kind of signal, let alone a welcome email they want us over for any holiday coming. We better find out then. We could send the executives of Fanny Mae and Freddi Mac and a few bank presidents, the whole of Wall Street in fact, on ahead to check it out, investigate the real estate and other markets and set up for us. In the meantime, we’ll sit it out and wait down here, glued to the telly for messages, filling our neighbourhoods (and the silent universe) with the sounds of humanity, eating, drinking and getting inordinately merry, all those goings on, as we use up the planet we’re whizzing around on.

Eric has some ideas on what we can and can’t do. Are we facing extinction? Are we staring into the abyss, not so blissfully un-a-ware as impotently more-than-scared? Rabbits in the headlights of some rogue comet or asteroid heading relentlessly our way? What should we do? Recycle our rubbish, turn off our appliances, walk to work, invest in nuclear reactors using Thorium (pronounced /ˈθɔːriəm/ wikipedia tells me).

Well, I think the first thing we should do is get up to speed on the actual conditions, educate ourselves. Get to know our options (even if the picture aint pretty). We’ve faced threats before – Hitler, the Cold War, the nuclear holcaust. Let’s face this one, form neighbourhood groups to discuss intra and interplanetary survival.

Well..okay…let’s do nothing then..just sit and wait and watch it happen. Let’s climb into the warming pot we call this world and boil slowly and then when the fuel burns out, slowly descend down into that big freeze.