AND ERE TO BED GO WE, GO WE ... DOWN ON THE ASHES WE KNEEL ...





Having recently come across old books once belonging to elderly family members, I was moved to find this book  of Prayers, Written at Vailima by Robert Louis Stevenson, with an introduction by Mrs Stevenson.

It was given to Great Aunt Toby - as the family members nick-named Miss Rachel Dorothea Fox -who trained as a family doctor but who never went on to marry. 

Toby was a lesbian who received this book as a gift for the Christmas of 1916. It was from her brother, Francis. The two of them were very close.

I was lucky enough to meet Toby somewhat later in her life, when she lived with her companion, Gwen. They remained together for many years, only parted in the end by death. Before that, we went to visit them and my daughter, Letty, very young at the time, managed to break a precious fossil from a collection that they had in two. They were very understanding!

Below are some images from that book, and then the full poem from which Francis took his dedication ...







OLD SONG ~ Edward Fitzgerald


TIS a dull sight
To see the year dying,
When winter winds
Set the yellow wood sighing:
Sighing, O sighing!

When such a time cometh 
I do retire
Into an old room 
Beside a bright fire:
O, pile a bright fire!

And there I sit 
Reading old things,
Of knights and lorn damsels, 
While the wind sings—
O, drearily sings!

I never look out
Nor attend to the blast;
For all to be seen
Is the leaves falling fast:
Falling, falling!

But close at the hearth, 
Like a cricket, sit I,
Reading of summer 
And chivalry—
Gallant chivalry!

Then with an old friend 
I talk of our youth—
How 'twas gladsome, 
but often Foolish, forsooth:
But gladsome, gladsome!

Or, to get merry,
We sing some old rhyme
That made the wood ring again 
In summer time—
Sweet summer time!

Then go we smoking, 
Silent and snug:
Naught passes between us, 
Save a brown jug—
Sometimes!

And sometimes a tear 
Will rise in each eye,
Seeing the two old friends 
So merrily—
So merrily!

And ere to bed 
Go we, go we,
Down on the ashes
We kneel on the knee,
Praying together!

Thus, then, live I
Till, 'mid all the gloom,
By Heaven! the bold sun 
Is with me in the room
Shining, shining!

Then the clouds part, 
Swallows soaring between;
The spring is alive,
And the meadows are green!

I jump up like mad,
Break the old pipe in twain,
And away to the meadows, 
The meadows again!

GEORGE SAUNDERS EXCITEMENT...

I love the short stories of George Saunders, and can hardly wait for his novel ~ Lincoln in the Bardo ~ coming out in the UK next week. While waiting, I'm watching this short film. Around seven minutes of  George Saunders giving invaluable insights on writing ...

BLACK BOX ~ HIROSHI SUGIMOTO AT AMSTERDAM'S FOAM GALLERY ...



On a recent visit to Amsterdam I caught up with some artist friends and was taken along to the FOAM gallery to see the photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto (born in Tokyo 1948).

This exhibition ~ curated by Philip Larratt-Smith ~ is a survey of the last forty years of Sugimoto's finest work, since he left Japan in 1970 and travelled to New York, where he studied the art of photography.

Having rejected digital technology Sugimoto works with traditional methods. However, by thinking outside the box he has created some astonishing art. His large format images investigate the natural world, but also perceptions of history, or the complex microscopic views of electrical impulses when they're charged against blank photographic plates. 

This exhibition ends on March 8 2017. It you are in Amsterdam it is well worth a visit.


Hyena-Jackal-Vulture. 1976. Gelatin silver print.


This, and other diaramas, are photographs of stuffed animals displayed in museums. The transition from reality to an image on a photograph seems to create some alchemy, as if bringing the creatures to life again. These photographs were oddly disturbing to me.









Lightning Fields

These iconic images of electricity charged against blank negative plates are simply astonishing. They seem to contain the essence of life, and could be representative of the root structures set down by plant, or the nervous systems beneath our flesh.

When Sugimoto made these images he was paying tribute to photographic pioneer, William Henry Fox Talbot.








Photographs of wax models of Henry VIII and some of his wives. Again there is the alchemy of a waxwork becoming surreally  alive when viewed through the lens of these photographs. 

If only those faces could look back out and speak to us about their lives. 

THE LODGER: NOVEL BY LOUISA TREGER ...



Not so very long ago I saw Louisa Treger speaking about H G Wells on a programme screened by the BBC. Future Tense: The Story of H G Wells can be seen here on Youtube, and is highly recommended. But I also very much enjoyed  Louisa Treger's novel based on her research about the man. 

The Lodger includes a great deal about the personal life of H G Wells. However, the focus of the book is on one of the women in his life - specifically Dorothy Richardson, the lover who became a writer, at one time as well-respected as her contemporary, Virginia Woolf.

The Lodger paints the picture of the life of a single working woman who resides in a London boarding house. This is no romanticised Downton Abbey but an honest and gripping depiction of the harsher realities of the time; including the vicious treatment often handed out to suffragettes who were arrested and then imprisoned. However, this is not to say that the novel lacks elements of romance. After all, the central theme of the book is the dramatisation of the affair between Dorothy and H G Wells. 

When writing about what had to be an essentially covert relationship, Treger shows great skill in depicting the excitement and sensuality of its early days -

They would take long walks though London and have dinner afterward at a restaurant. Or Dorothy might buy cold meat and salad and they'd picnic in their room; alone in infinite time, full of a sense of their liberating difference in relation to a convention-bound world. She experienced a keen pure happiness that was surely absolution? They talked about everything and nothing, their conversation made luminous by a bottle of wine. Bertie said his imagination was in a fertile state, and new ideas were blooming in his mind. He felt he was developing a new creative life.

Dorothy wants absolution because she knows this infidelity is cruel and unfair to Bertie's wife. And yet she is utterly charmed by the man; until later in the novel when his attitudes to certain events force her to stand back and take stock of her life. 

Again, this is where Treger excels in exploring the sexual honesty and growing independence of so many women at this time. In fact, I wanted to shout 'hurray!' when Dorothy finally decides she will no longer live in the shadows as the secret subservient lover, only there to stroke the ego or fulfil the sexual needs of a man. No, she will be true to her nature. She will also become a writer  - but a different kind of writer who embraces the modern changing world -

She would have to smash the old way of writing and make something entirely new. The part of her nature that flailed out and destroyed things would have no problem smashing the novel. But could she successfully remake it? Did she have the courage and the talent? She hadn't told Bertie about her writing. He would want to see it, or at the very least have it described to him, and she was afraid taht his forceful reaction would destroy it. Her work was like a frail young seed germinating deep within the earth; it would disintegrate if it was exposed to daylight too early. She was struck by the contrast between her writing, snatched in nooks and gaps of the day, and Bertie's. He had a whole household attending to his comfort and well-being; everything in it geared toward catering to his needs and nurturing his talent. Dorothy envied and half-resented the single-minded concentration this allowed him.

Much in the mood of a character who broke through the restrictions of her times, whether social, financial, or sexual, this is a novel that offers the reader a great deal of truth and integrity. 

If you also read The Lodger, I wonder if - like me - you will come to the end and find yourself yearning to know what the future might have held in store for Dorothy. I'm glad to say it worked out well. But that is a tale for another day...

Thank you, Louisa Treger, for introducing Dorothy to me, and for telling her story so vividly. 

Louisa Treger



If I have one complaint about this book it has nothing to do with the writing. It is simply the fact that the cover doesn't seem quite right for the period. I prefer this version, which seems more appropriate to the time and the essence of the story told.









  

CELL 7 ~ BY KERRY DREWERY. A TENSE YA MURDER MYSTERY



"A life for a life. Save our Streets..."

This is the slogan chanted by a future dystopian society who sit in their homes while texting votes to the programme, Death is Justice - the reality show where criminals are tried and judged by the audience, with a cruel and manipulative female host who’d do anything to keep her show at the top of the TV ratings lists.

In Cell 7 Kerry Drewery has taken the fake morality of the TV shows we watch today and developed that theme into something that is truly chilling. It provides a clever vehicle for this YA thriller mystery as Martha, the girl who has been accused of murdering a beloved celebrity, is locked in a number prison cells. 

The final one, Cell 7, holds the electric chair in which Martha may soon be killed herself ~ unless her innocence is proved and the voters decide to let her live. But just how much are the voters told? As the seven day TV trial goes on, with the clock ticking down to a travesty, we discover the true dramatic events that have led to Martha’s current fate.




Tense, and thought-provoking, and packing a big emotional punch, this novel set in a future world presents disturbing echoes of the worst of the one we know today. 

Published in the UK by Hot Key Books.



Kerry Drewery

THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY - A NOVEL BY HANNAH TINTI ...




In Hannah Tinti’s exceptional novel, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, we meet a flawed and dangerous man attempting to leave his past behind to secure the future life of Loo, the daughter who he fiercely loves.

Steeped in violent passions, the dramas of a troubled past are revealed through stories of the guns that shoot the bullets leaving scars across our ‘hero’s’ body. But for all its gory thrilling scenes, this is also a tender work of art exposing the universal needs of men to survive, to love, and grieve - whether their fate is cast in stars, or submerged beneath the surface until, like a gigantic whale, those secrets rise from darkness to show the horrors of the past.

Samuel Hawley is a sure-fire hit with characters I came to love. So shoot me if this novel fails to win the hearts of everyone who turns its thrilling pages.



I read a proof copy of this novel, to be published in the UK by Tinder Press on 28 March 2017.

For more information on Hannah Tinti, her author website is here.


ART ~ AUSTRALIA'S IMPRESSIONISTS AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY




I've suddenly dropped back down to earth after a busy period during which my latest book came out. And now, in the weeks and months ahead, I plan to catch up with visiting more theatres, galleries, and shows. So, today when I found I was early for a Christmas date with some old friends, and ~ being near to Trafalgar Square ~ I decided to go and take a look at some art in the National Gallery. 

Heading up the central stairs I was drawn to the Caravaggio posters, but that show will wait for another day. With only half an hour to spare I decided to take a look instead at the exhibition showing work by Australian Impressionists. 

Allegro con brio, Bourke Street West by Tom Roberts ~ 1885-86


What a good decision that proved to be. When I emerged from the gallery into a grey and rainy day my head was swirling with the heat and shimmering colours of gardens, of the bustling life of city streets in Victorian Sydney and Melbourne, of the dusty expanses of ranch lands, or the tunnels that run through mountains where men had mined the age-old rocks to forge the lines for railways.


A Holiday at Mentone by Charles Condor ~ 1888


The work of the artists Tom Roberts (1856-1931), Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), and Charles Condor (1868-1909) may not always be considered great. But, the sophisticated world they show ~ the industrial and urban development ~ is something that surprised me. I couldn't help but feel inspired by the cultural pride and identity in these views of a nation's history. 

John Russell (1858-1930), the fourth artist featured in this show, cast a different spell on me. He had mostly worked in Europe, where he had also been a friend of Van Gogh, Matisse, and Monet. Their influence is obvious, as is that of the French countryside which results in quite a different mood; with a more experimental use of colour and composition. 

I have to say I loved this show ~ so vivid and so dazzling that even a dreary winter's day looked brighter when I re-emerged.  



A Clearing in the Forest by John Russell ~ 1891


Australia's Impressionists is hung in the National Gallery's Sunley Room and will remain there until 26 March 2017.