Monday, 27 September 2010


I attended a very entertaining lunchtime recital last week, as part of the commendable and very imaginatively constructed Hampstead and Highgate Festival. The organisers have taken dance, and especially Diaghilev as their inspiration and binding theme, and the event I went to in Burgh House (itself a treat to visit, café attached) comprised poetry, prose and even some nicely delivered song, on the broad subject of dance.

The pieces were cleverly selected and exquisitely performed by Piers Plowright, Diana Bishop and Valerie Sarruf. Among many I had not met before, there was Auden in full horror nursery rhyme flow:

The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews
Not to be born is the best for man
The second best is a formal order
The dance’s pattern, dance while you can.
Dance, dance, for the figure is easy
The tune is catching and will not stop
Dance till the stars come down with the rafters
Dance, dance, dance till you drop.

a hilarious piece from Beachcomber, satirising ballet culture (in the shape of a 'Madame Tumblova'), trade unions and a wide range of other targets; the sadly undersung Louis MacNeice, with 'Bagpipe Music' (an absolute tour de force) and a smattering of work by contemporary writers, including India Russell, whose collection The Kaleidoscope of Time is published by our parent company, Stacey International. India's new collection is, appropriately, The Dance of Life, available from Godstow Press.

There is much more literature, music, dance and even walking available from the Festival, (full details of which are in the link above), with some star performers, including Jonathan Miller and Simon Callow.


Friday, 24 September 2010


I performed a highly pleasurable duty today when I visited a recently opened bookshop in Belsize Park. England's Lane Bookshop, delightfully but unsurprisingly named for the road in which it sits, is an absolute treat for bibliophiles, where carefully selected and well displayed books, betraying wide knowledge and good taste on the part of the buyers, very politely threaten one's wallet from every corner. The stock includes a very good range of recent books at reduced prices, but there isn't the frenzied rash of discounts one sees in certain chain outlets. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere is enhanced by interesting but unintrusive music. All this, combined with the presence of a very good cafe and other businesses of similar quality, on the very same street, will reward the time and effort of anyone journeying there from inside or outside the capital, especially if combined with a jaunt onto Hampstead Heath and a tour of Keats' house.

I'm taking my wife there with my Christmas books list.


Wednesday, 22 September 2010


Today's edition of The Brontë Blog features our forthcoming edition of Agnes Grey. As well as its regular postings on all things Brontë, this blog has an impressive number of links to new and forthcoming books and existing e-literature, runs a campaign to fund a blue plaque at Smith, Elder and Co. (the Brontës' publisher) and generally carries a wealth of information and opinion on all aspects of the subject.
There's also a weekly quote feature, which is currently occupied by a stirring piece of poetry from Branwell Brontë, pictured to the left.

It's well worth a click.


Monday, 20 September 2010


You are probably all familiar with the quandary of being in a bookshop and having to select, according to time and budget, which new books or authors to take home. I must confess to being a fairly ruthless exponent of the 'first sentence' method, and have probably passed over many a dazzling literary experience because of some perceived deficiency in the opening words of a novel (I don't apply the same test to non-fiction).

Today I learnt that Ford Madox Ford, (author of The Good Soldier, recently adapted for the stage by Julian Mitchell, whose The Undiscovered Country is published by Capuchin) developed the 'page 99' rule thus:
Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.
See this blog for more details and the results of various books being judged in this way.

Do please post comments with your results.


Thursday, 16 September 2010


It was gratifying to learn that - as commentators gleefully vie with one another to paint the gloomiest scenarios for physical books and bookshops - a new bookshop has opened in Bermondsey.

Woolfson & Tay (see picture above) had, by all accounts, a splendid opening day last weekend, and combines a bookshop function with those of a café and art gallery. Interestingly, the owners have chosen to focus on biography and autobiography, using the exhibition space to run events which will encourage people to tell their own life stories.

In a statement which is admirable on all levels, one of the owners explained:

We are aware that we are putting ourselves on the line, but there is no compelling alternative to purposeful living.

I hope to visit next time I venture south of the river.


Wednesday, 15 September 2010


A wonderful story is told in the current issue of The Spectator.
We now leave digital clues with our every mouse-click. Last week a friend of mine was mildly annoyed to find that, following his purchase of a box-set of Will & Grace, the Amazon site immediately assumed he was gay. In fact he is gay, but doesn’t believe his literary tastes should be defined by his sexuality. Half an hour spent browsing power tools failed to shake the site from its assumption. Only when he added The Autobiography of Geoffrey Boycott to his order list did things return to normal.

This is from Rory Sutherland's highly engaging - and amusingly named - column on technology and the web, 'The Wikki Man'.

I'm off now to see if I can recreate my personal profile as that of a spinster from Essex with slight schizoid tendencies and an interest in Peru. Perhaps this could be a new national sport.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010


While stumbling around Facebook the other day (I'm still waiting for the OS map) I came across a reference to Nightjar Press, and was impressed by a subsequent visit to their website. To quote said site:
Nightjar Press is a new independent publisher specialising – for the time being –in limited edition single short-story chapbooks by individual authors. It is brought to you by the people behind early 1990s British Fantasy Award-winning publisher Egerton Press, responsible for Darklands, Darklands 2 and Joel Lane’s short-story collection The Earth Wire. The publisher is Nicholas Royle, the designer John Oakey. We are open to submissions from writers who have taken the trouble to research what kind of stuff we like.

Having kindly been sent a copy of A Revelation of Cormorants, by Mark Valentine, I can certainly vouch for the attractiveness of the design and quality of the writing. I look forward to seeing this publisher develop and perhaps produce books in other formats.


Thursday, 9 September 2010


Here is my traditional post-holiday homework, focussing on literary endeavours, but mentioning in passing that dans Haut Languedoc, nous avons visite une grotte et une gouffre et that the region is now moins beaucoup de cakes.

My wife spent the evenings discovering Nancy Mitford with great delight. Just as a monastic peace would be settling each night, and as our friend Ian and I were nodding sagely over our respective tomes, stroking our chins as our minds moved in subtle and profound meditations, she would shriek: 'This is great; why haven't I read her before?' I finished Don Juan and read Mitford's Highland Fling (published, as previously mentioned, by Capuchin Classics) with equal pleasure. Mitford is brilliant at comic set pieces, and is supremely adept at representing her characters through a shrewd but humane satirical gaze. I failed to read The Dark Horse by the reliably inventive Marcus Sedgwick (I defy you to be unimpressed by his beautiful website), but Ian did it for me.

Related activites including playing the game of 'lists' by thinking of words beginning with each letter of the alphabet in specific categories. Eerily, shortly after one of these bouts of verbal jollity, I came across a passage in 'H. Fling' describing this very pastime and, moreover, listing 'diseases' as one of these categories, the very one which I had just introduced in what I thought was a highly original moment. I also introduced my holiday chums to the structure of the vilannelle, and produced one on the subject of Ian's aquatic antics.

We came home fatigue mais heureux.