I’m writing this in the Belgian countryside, where I have managed to carve out some quiet writing time for myself - courtesy of a dear friend, who has kindly lent me her house on the outskirts of Brussels for a few days.
It seems a long time ago that I came to the Comédie du Livre in Montpellier, but my belated thanks go to the many French readers who came to see me and get their books signed over that beautifully sunny weekend. I really enjoyed my session with Vanessa Guignery and Pascal Arnaud, talking about BS Johnson, and it’s now possible to see a recording of the whole event here.
A few weeks before that, while I was in Paris, I had the pleasure of meeting Élise Guillon and Caroline Bodin from the excellent website Hors d’Oeuvres. We did an interview which - I have to say - was far more wide-ranging and better-researched than the ones I usually do with print journalists. You can read it here.
My next festival event will be in beautiful Cortona, in Tuscany, on August 4th, my father’s 84th birthday. Please come if you happen to be nearby!
A brief suggestion that anyone who is going to be in London between now and September should head over to the British Library in St Pancras to see their Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands exhibition. It has been described as a “book geeks’ dream” and contains an amazing variety of literary treasures. To name just a few: William Blake’s notebooks, the original manuscripts of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and To the Lighthouse, a (totally indecipherable) manuscript page of Ulysses – all of it easily enough to keep the visitor enthralled for two or three hours, I would have thought. (There is also a manuscript page of The Rotters’ Club, I should mention, but that rather pales in comparison with the other rarities on display.)
Anyway, I strongly recommend that you visit it. The details are here.
Meanwhile I’ve finally decided that the public should be allowed to share in the moment of musical glory I enjoyed in New York last year. Nigel Blows A Tune (written by Dave Sinclair of Caravan and included on their 1971 album In the Land of Grey and Pink) has always been one of my favourite tunes, and when Wesley Stace invited me not just to read but to perform some music at his Cabinet of Wonders show in March 2011, I tentatively suggested we do our own version. For the purposes of this show, Wesley works with a fantastic house band called The English UK, and they lost no time in learning the song and thrusting me in front of the audience armed only with a keyboard programmed to sound as close as possible to Caravan’s original Hammond organ. I can’t imagine that anyone knew exactly what to expect but the results were – well, not too embarrassing, I think, listening to it a year later. Judge for yourselves, in any case …
I have to begin, of course, with routine apologies for the lack of blogs over the last few months. No excuse, in particular, apart from the fact that putting words - any words - on paper (or on screen) seems to get harder and harder as time goes by.
Nonetheless, I have not been entirely idle lately. Last year I wrote a short book for children called The Broken Mirror, and I’m pleased to say that it will be published by Feltrinelli, in a translation by Delfina Vezzoli, at the end of September this year. There will be ten full-colour illustrations by Chiara Coccorese, whose wonderful portrait of me I have linked to on this site before. No news of publication in other languages yet, but I hope to have some soon.
Meanwhile I am making good headway with a new novel, and hope to have it finished later this year.
Music continues to be an important inspiration. Lately I’ve been listening a lot to The Quickening, the latest album from a band called Remember Remember, who specialise in just the sort of tuneful, multi-layered instrumental music that I love. Most of all, though, I would recommend that you visit the Soundcloud page of the brilliant Louise Le May to check out her haunting voice and the exquisite melancholy of new songs like ‘A Tale Untold’ and ‘Angry Birds and Uncle Sam’.
A band called Colour Clouds have alerted me to a new song of theirs called ‘The Pier’s On Fire’, with some of the lyrics inspired (I think) by Michael Owen’s visit to Weston-super-Mare in the early chapters of What A Carve Up!. You can listen to the song here - it’s very good. I can hear a strong Smiths influence.
Finally, my heartfelt thanks to all the people who came to hear me speak in Switzerland and Italy last weekend. Vevey, on the shores of Lake Geneva, provided a splendid backdrop to my discussion with Josée Kamoun, who translates my books for Gallimard, and I was - as always - overwhelmed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the hundreds of Italian readers who came to meet me in Rome. These encounters are one of the things that give me the will to go on writing, and convince me that it must be worthwhile.