Monday, 28 September 2009


Today we are delighted to present a guest blog by the novelist and Capuchin foreword writer Anthony Gardner.

Many books have been published years after they were first written. Proust was long dead by the time his early novel Jean Santeuil appeared; the same is true of Stendhal and Memoirs of an Egotist. But should the author be still alive when his work finally sees the light of day, there is an irritating question to be faced: what adjustments need to be made to reflect a changing world?

Ideally, the answer would be none. Any self-respecting writer aims to produce a book which is above fashion and ephemera: one which reflects the age in which it is set, but deals in eternal truths. Unfortunately, the whirligig of time has a way of tripping us up, as I discovered with my newly published novel The Rivers of Heaven, written sixteen years ago.

The story of its emergence is a strange one. Last year I finished another, very different novel – a thriller – which I showed to an aficionado of the genre; she was so enthusiastic that she took it upon herself to send it to a publisher. He rang me to say that while he admired it, it was not the sort of book he was looking for; however, if I would care to meet him he would tell me what he was after. The answer proved to be a short, dense literary novel – a description which immediately put me in mind of an earlier book. The Rivers of Heaven, in which a realistic story line alternated with a newborn child’s memories of its life before birth, had long been consigned to the bottom drawer. I dug it out, sent it off, and on a bright spring morning received a phone call with an offer of publication.

The immediate challenge was the novel’s chronology. The story was set in the early 1990s, but – its theme being the urge to recapture the past – there were many passages looking back to the narrator’s childhood in the 1960s.

My instinct was simply to preface the book with the date ‘1993’; my publisher, however, considered this to be cheating. The narrator, he insisted, must be telling his tale in the present day. This meant that I had to devise a double time scheme in which a character in 2009 remembered himself in the Nineties remembering the Sixties; I also had to decide what had happened to the other characters in the intervening years. Had they died? Had their marriages ended? ‘Much too complicated!’ I protested; but my publisher stuck to his guns. How far I succeeded in meeting his demands is for the reader to decide.

What surprised me on returning to the book was how much attitudes had changed. One of the characters, Stella, is both an unmarried mother and a white woman dating a black man – both causes of social stigma at the time of writing, though seldom considered shocking today. Would my readers recognise what she was up against? I felt confident that they would.

Similarly, I believed that they would make allowances for twentieth-century technology (part of the plot depends on the postal service being more reliable than the telephone.) I did, however, decide to remove a reference to eight-track cartridges – a recording format which readers under 40 were unlikely ever to have heard of.

A greater problem was that, as time goes by, words and names can acquire an unexpected resonance. In my original version, one of the characters was called Blair – a name not yet associated with a prominent politician. But in 2009 (or so my wife argued) no one could read the book without being reminded of weapons of mass destruction. So Blair became Clyde: a small change on the face of it, but one which involved checking the rhythm and assonance of every sentence in which the name appeared.

In the end, there was only one passage which I deleted in its entirety. This described the discomforts of a charter flight to Turkey – then something outside most people’s experience. But in an age when the miseries of Ryanair are common currency, I decided it was no longer worth dwelling on: however gruesome I made my account, someone would have a story to cap it.

Rivers of Heaven is published by Starhaven.

Friday, 25 September 2009

5 ON 3

Through the miracle of modern t.v. technology, I was able to record a Radio 3 dramatisation of Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut is my favourite novelist, and also occupies a leading position in my league table of wonderful human beings. I'll let you know what I thought of the adaptation once I've had the opportunity to hear it. The novel is based around the fire-bombing of Dresden in WW II and features a character who becomes "unstuck in time'.

I was greatly saddened by Vonnegut's death last year as well as by the relative lack of reaction to this event, particularly in the UK. I think he is still misunderstood by many people as being a 'science-fiction' writer (not that this should be any kind of deterrent to readers) because he sprinkled SF tropes throughout his books, although often in a self-aware and ironic fashion. The quality of his writing was, as he fully acknowledged, uneven, but at its best his work blended autobiography, fiction, humour and pathos in very powerful and moving way. Slaughterhouse 5 remains his most critically-acclaimed and best known novel, whereas Jailbird would top my list, although I have read, re-read and enjoyed all of his writing for many years now.

The broadcast can be heard through the inter-ether for a little while longer.


Friday, 18 September 2009


While working on informing the bibliographic world about our March 2010 titles (it's strange living in these different time zones) it struck me again that there's a strange green thread running through our titles.

We have The Green Hat, Green Dolphin Country, and (forthcoming) Greenmantle and The Green Child. To cap it all, we are reprinting the last of those titles with a foreword by Graham Greene.

Perhaps serving absinthe at the editorial meetings is to blame.


Thursday, 17 September 2009


The book I'm reading at the moment is another random, happy find from my local library. The tome in question is The Flowers of Hell, a Satanic Reader, edited by Nikolas Schreck and published by Creation Books. The book is an anthology of pieces from many genres and many different countries, each of which is concerned with some aspect of the Devil and humanity's relationship with him. The selections range from the obvious (extracts from Dante's Inferno and a brace of Fausts) to surprises such as a wonderful novella by Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger and The Diabolicon by Michael Aquino, a US Army lieutenant and specialist in psychology operations who also became an adept in and writer about necromancy.

Mr. Schreck's introduction provides a fascinating summary of the way in which Satan, Hell and associated concepts have evolved in western religious thought and culture in general, and all in all this book is a model of what a good anthology should be: some familiar pieces for context and comparison; some unusual entries - which inspire interest in unfamiliar writers and subjects - and a stimulating introduction which provides a thoughtful and useful framework in which to place the pieces.


Wednesday, 9 September 2009


The media coverage of the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War has reminded me of a poem and a poet I was introduced to in secondary school. This introduction was courtesy of the same inspirational English teacher to which this blog has previously alluded.

I speak of The Naming of Parts by Henry Reed (this is a really good website, by the way), one of a six part sequence based on and partly satirising the army's instructional lectures from that period. The way in which the poem took words and phrases from one context and gave them new connotations and meaning in another, was something I found very powerful and magical, and studying the poem helped set the seal on an early appreciation of poetry.

I was similarly affected by a Keith Douglas poem from the same war:

Vergissmeinnicht (Forget Me Not)

Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground
we found the place again, and found
the soldier sprawling in the sun.

The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.

Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his girl
who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht
in a copybook gothic script.

We see him almost with content,
abased, and seeming to have paid
and mocked at by his own equipment
that's hard and good when he's decayed.

But she would weep to see today
how on his skin the swart flies move;
the dust upon the paper eye
and the burst stomach like a cave.

For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart.
And death who had the soldier singled

has done the lover mortal hurt.

If, as I suspect, these poems are less well known than their counterparts from the first global conflict, I think it is a sad cultural loss.


Thursday, 3 September 2009


You've read the poems, now see the movie and visit the house.

I'm intrigued by the forthcoming film Bright Star, which charts the relationship between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Films about major British poets are not thick on the ground, (Shakespeare in Love is the only recent example I can bring to mind) but the young, tubercular romantic figure that Keats cuts in the popular imagination makes him the obvious choice. The film is directed by Jane Campion, best known for The Piano, and always a watchable film-maker. It will be interesting to see how the film affects sales of Keats' poetry, especially with the genre being so well treated to such good effect by the recent BBC programmes. I wonder if we're in for a bout of Keats mania, in the same way that the Auden poems featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral were given such a boost by that film. I think we can rule out Keats and Fanny action figures, however.

I'm not sure which Keats lines now resonate most within the public consciousness, but my favourite poems are Ode on Melancholy, for its superb, melodramatic, gothic atmosphere and The Eve of St. Agnes for its bold evocation of the medieval and its narrative brilliance.

I was pleased to read that the Keats House in Hampstead has reopened after a major refurbishment. This is one of the many London landmarks that I am ashamed not to have visited, and I look forward to remedying this deficiency.


Tuesday, 1 September 2009


We are very pleased to add an Edgar Allan Poe title to the Capuchin canon. Poe was an extraordinary and controversial figure, and the influence of his work still resonates to this day, especially through the crime, horror and detective genres in literature, film and television.

In addition to being widely recognised as the founder of the modern crime story, with his investigating genius Dupin (who brought what Poe describes as 'ratiocination' to his amateur crime-solving) Poe also developed and evolved elements of horror, the romantic and the macabre in his writing, and helped establish and define such writing for future generations of writers.

My own particular frames of reference for this writer include the highly eccentric but brilliant outpourings of an American Studies lecturer I had at university, among whose recommendations for further reading was a biography called "Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe", and the wonderful children's books by Joan Aiken (follow the link for one of the best and most originally-designed author's sites I've ever seen) about a raven called Mortimer and his hapless young 'owner' Arabel. Poe's raven lives on in this anarchically comic and rumbustious series, uttering, as did his gothic predecessor in Poe's poem, cries of "nevermore" whenever a situation displeased him. As with much children's literature, I was introduced to this series by a glorious rendition on the BBC's Jackanory programme, but only grasped the reference to Poe many years later.