Webzine Edition Issue 8

Book Review: Press Trip – Robin Mead

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eBook: Kindle edition £1.95

 

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

As a child growing up in North London travel writer Robin Mead’s dream, for as long as he could remember, was to be a journalist. “Whilst other boys were dreaming of becoming train drivers, or whatever else constituted professional ambition in the 1940s,” he writes, “I produced mock-ups of newspapers filled with local gossip both real and imagined”. Something which no doubt stood him in good stead some years later when working for a local newspaper he and a colleague, to cover the fact that in their editor’s absence they had spent the day in the cinema watching Some Like it Hot, fabricated a story about a tea-drinking giant cabbage in Ponders End. A plan that backfired when the editor decided it should be front page news and wanted photographs to accompany the article.

Mead’s dream of being a journalist had become a reality in 1953 when, at the age of 16, he joined the Enfield Weekly Herald as a junior reporter on a six-month probationary period leading to a three-year apprenticeship. An entrée into journalism which he reflects now sounds very “old fashioned”. Coincidentally the same year saw the publication of L.P. Hartley’s novel, The Go-Between, which opens with the famous line, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”, a line which is both apposite to Mead’s journalistic beginnings and also to Press Trip as a whole.

As a freelance travel writer for over four decades Mead has written 29 travel guide books and over the course of the last five decades countless travel articles for newspapers and magazines worldwide. As a result of which he has visited over 100 countries and continues to travel around 50,000 miles a year. Press Trip, as his first volume of memoirs, is his first book to visit that foreign country that is the past and look back on the many thousands of miles travelled. One of the many fascinating facets of this journey is just how dramatic the changes have been in newspapers, journalism, and travel during Mead’s career.

After serving his apprenticeship Mead moved on to work for national newspapers, first the Daily Herald (which was later re-launched as The Sun), then the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, followed by The Times and Sunday Times. At that time Fleet Street was not only a generic descriptive phrase for the national press but also a literal description of where the majority of the newspapers had their offices. During the course of Mead’s career that has all changed – there are now no newspapers based in the street. But when Mead arrived in Fleet Street in 1959, even standing on the pavement in the early evening he could feel “the anticipation and excitement” generated by the fact that, as he evocatively describes:

“deadlines were approaching; news editors were shouting at reporters to finish their stories; sub-editors were sweating over headlines; Linotype machines were chattering with increasing urgency, turning thousands of words into hot metal; in cavernous basements the huge printing presses – as vast and impressive as the mighty steam locomotives I had once so admired – were standing by to begin their nightly ‘run'; and lorries were already lining up to take the first editions to the main line railway stations for distribution around the country”.

It’s not just the location of newspapers that has changed dramatically during Mead’s career, but also the culture within their offices. When he first started working in Fleet Street not only were the titles almost entirely all-male preserves, but many of the senior positions were occupied by former military officers. At the Telegraph newspapers the hierarchies between the ‘officers’ and ‘other ranks’ even extended to which toilets they were allowed to use. Whilst when Mead moved to The Times in the mid-1960s the newspaper, although attempting to shake them off, still had some of its traditional vestiges, as he writes, “sub-editors traditionally had their afternoon tea served by a butler in front of the fire […] and the editor and other department heads liked to get home in plenty of time to change for dinner”.

In the 1986 Mead found himself on the front line, or more specifically the picket line, during the ‘Wapping Dispute’, which brought seismic changes to The Times newspapers, and ultimately would bring about the demise of Fleet Street as the geographical home to the newspaper industry. By the mid-1980s The Times and Sunday Times were owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International who had secretly built and equipped new offices and a printing plant in the Wapping area of London. The NUJ (National Union of Journalists) advised their members not to work in the new building unless agreements were reached on a raft of issues covering the move. A strike ensued and the strikers, of whom Mead was one, became known as ‘refuseniks’. When the strike ended as he writes in his insightful and emotive chapter covering the dispute, the remaining ‘refuseniks’ were dismissed. Mead went to work at The Observer, but it is clear that having worked for The Times newspapers for three decades the dismissal hurt.

Robin Mead

Robin Mead

The media coverage of travel has also been another big change during Mead’s career growing exponentially hand in hand with the rise in mass tourism and the widespread availability of air travel. “Travel editors were”, as Mead writes, “a rare breed in the early 1960s”. Serendipitously the Daily Herald, his first national newspaper job, did have a travel editor and looked favourably on such content, and his first Fleet Street by-line was an article about a holiday in Cornwall.

By the end of the decade Mead had written over 200 travel articles, including the first travel articles ever to be published in the London Evening Standard, and travel had become very much a buzz word – the BBC began broadcasting its long-running Holiday programme in 1969, which would be followed by ITV’s Wish You Were Here in 1974, both of which would include amongst their regular presenters Mead’s then Travel editor at The Times, John Carter. Whilst keeping a part-time Editorial Executive role at The Times newspapers, Mead launched himself into what he describes as “the Golden Years of travel” (the 1970s and early 1980s) as a freelance travel writer.

Through his many articles and books Mead quickly established himself as an expert on particular countries and areas of travel, principally Greece, Australia, the USA, and closer to home the Channel Islands and Britain, and also on all aspects of cruise ships and cruises. As he reflects on the miles travelled in Press Trip the book becomes not only an highly engaging travelogue filled with amusing, inspiring, often gripping, and sometimes poignant adventures, but also a fascinating and revelatory behind-the-scenes insight into the writing of travel books and articles with all the help, hindrance, and often extraordinary behaviour of PR people, hoteliers and the like, and fellow journalists.

Incidents that include, to highlight but a few, being manhandled away from an interview in the USA with the founder of the Marriot Hotel chain, J Willard Marriot – an interview that Marriot was only too happy to give Mead, whilst Mrs Marriot made cups of tea for them both – by four PR men who held Mead against a wall whilst demanding his interview notes, despite Marriot’s protests. Whilst, on another trip to the US being lead by a PR person into the desert and an ambush by rogue cowboys.

Also, despite speaking only a smattering of Greek, Mead was twice put in situations where he had to be a front man (or as Mead puts it “a ventriloquist’s dummy”) whilst Greek answers were whispered in his ear. The first time was having just landed in Athens airport Mead was made to give a television press conference, in Greek, by his host the owner of Olympic Holidays, whilst the latter whispered the answers to the Greek journalists’ questions to him. On the second occasion a Cretan hotelier implored Mead to meet local people who objected to her plans to build another hotel development – once again Mead responded to the their concerns, all voiced in Greek, via the hotelier whispering the answers to him.

One of my favourite stories in Press Trip occurs far closer to home, during a trip Mead, his wife, and their young sons made to Scotland, to Loch Ness to hunt for the Loch Ness monster.  Which, in a borrowed cabin cruiser fitted with underwater detection equipment they may well have found… except Mead has no proof because when the equipment showed up something very strange immediately below their boat, “we should have stopped to investigate, but instead of reaching for the binoculars or camera, I did what any sensible person would do if they found themselves perhaps 12 feet from a prehistoric monster: I reached for the throttle, jammed it wide open, and headed for the shore as fast as possible”.

Press Trip is a thoroughly engaging and very enjoyable multi-layered book that combines travelogue, cultural history, memoir and more filled with adventure and incident which Mead presents in a wonderfully readable style that is by turns, gripping, humorous, poignant, informative, and inspiring. All-in-all an highly recommended read.

Links:
Robin Mead: http://www.robinmead.com/

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Book Review: Life with a Porn Queen – Maurice Suckling

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(Ink Monkey Books) eBook £2.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

In mid-air over the Atlantic Ocean, en route to New York from London, 28 year old Zach Periton meets Mopsa Welch who might be the titular porn queen, a prophet, a physicist, a professor of English Literature, or a combination of all four. Equally given the severity of her painted nails, the tight scantiness of her clothing, the largeness of her fake breasts, alongside her geekyness (their initial conversation involves matching each other in roller-coaster G-force facts), and privately educated English accent, she might purely be a fantasy that in-flight dehydration has lead Zach’s mind to conjure. Or, since Zach is, or was until he walked out of his job, a computer games designer, she could also be his avatar.

Whichever or whatever she might be she has a name that sounds as though it must be an anagram until one puts it into an online anagram solver and is repaid with hundreds more phrases which are both instantly nonsensical but which one could immediately make some sort of case for them being completely relevant to Maurice Suckling’s début novel, such are its twists and turns, possible clues and potential red herrings.

Feeling that his life has become too predictable, Zach has walked out of his job, given away his possessions, and boarded the flight to the USA with the intention that when he arrives he will embark on a coast-to-coast road trip, before settling in California where he will surf, work in a bar, “living one day and one wave at a time”, and end up living with a porn queen. But Mopsa points out to him that that narrative would be clichéd, that it’s a story already written countless times, and that it would be just as predictable as what he’s leaving behind. She tells him that he’s suffering from “Story Over-Exposure”, from only living stories that he already knows the endings too, and then wondering why he feels unfulfilled.

As a cure she tells him a story, but leaves it to him to decide whether it’s a course of action he should follow: “So this man gets on a plane to another new country, he lands, and he feels just the same as always. It’s different, but any arrivals lounge is much like any other. This place doesn’t surprise him either. So, he walks through arrivals and he sees people holding up boards with names. Then he chooses a name at random, and goes up to the person holding the board – and he says, that’s me”.

Suckling is both a writer of fiction – he holds a PhD in Creative Writing from University of Newcastle, and his very well received short story anthology, Photocopies of Heaven, was long-listed for a British Fantasy Society award – and also of computer games, including the critically acclaimed, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. He also co-authored the book, Video Game Writing: From Macro to Micro. For me both sides of his work and studies intertwine in the multi-layered Life with a Porn Queen.

Maurice Suckling

Maurice Suckling

Zach and Mopsa discuss narrative predictability and unpredictability within a narrative frame that is equally unpredictable. Although Zach does follow through with Mopsa’s advice to choose a random name in the arrivals lounge, it’s a narrative thread that is discontinued after only a few pages, although long enough for one to both want to know more and to feel at first a little cheated/disconcerted that one isn’t going to.

But then there’s not much time to get stuck on that before Zach has re-met Mopsa in a bar and agreed to go and stay with her in her house in California, the outcome of which will at least finally begin to make sense of the confusing and bizarre parables that intersperse the text (The Parable of The Three Live Web-Cam Sex Workers, The Parable of The Man Who Was a Watermelon)… or does it… as Mopsa seems to be the leader of a religious cult, but there again that could just be one’s own projection.

And besides by this stage one has so fully entered into the themes/intent of the novel that one is already thinking, well if Suckling isn’t going to elucidate on what might happen when one says, that’s me, to a name-sign carrying person in an arrivals lounge, I am just going to have to go and try it for real, myself!

Reading Life with a Porn Queen, very much as Zach does in and around Mopsa’s house when he’s there alone, one does find oneself looking for clues, wondering whether there are fragments that one should put to one side that will help one later in the book – very much as one might with a computer game. Equally there is a sense, particular with the unexplored arrivals’ lounge narrative, that perhaps that narrative is there, if only one could find the right ‘key’ to enter that level of the ‘game’ – one finds oneself scrolling back through the book to see if one missed a way in.

After all of which, as one would fully imagine that it would, Life with a Porn Queen ends not only with a twist to the narrative but also to the narration, meaning that it remains a roller coaster read from beginning to end: innovative and unpredictable, engaging and insightful, fun and disconcerting.

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Maurice Suckling will be reading from and talking about Life with a Porn Queen (Ink Monkey Books, 2013), at Plectrum-The Cultural Pick’s (P-TCP) Mustered No.9: Shake, Rattle, and Roll Dem Bones, on Wednesday 30th October 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.

For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Links
Maurice Suckling
http://mauricesuckling.com/

Ink Monkey Books
http://www.inkmonkeybooks.com/

Book Review: Mickey the Mimic – Kirk Lake

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(Ink Monkey Books) eBook £2.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

I finished reading Mickey the Mimic just before going to sleep. When I awoke I hadn’t quite realised the extent to which the story had stayed with me until a few hours later when I had to telephone the author, Kirk Lake. The call went to answerphone and suddenly my head filled with scenarios from the book, and since as the jacket copy says it’s, “a neo-noir narrative of black comedy and casual violence”, my imagination did rather run away with me, or from me, screaming. Before I realised that I was conflating Lake with his protagonist, Mickey Dallow, and that another cup of coffee might be needed to sort out the fact from the fiction. In fact, my parallel universe moment is entirely appropriate both to the themes of the book and Lake’s adept telling of the story.

Duality, duplicity, what is real and what is fake, who is reliable and who is unreliable, including the narrator, and whether knowing for sure would be a help or a hindrance are central to Mickey the Mimic.

Set in London in the 1990s amidst the rise of Cool Britannia, Britart and Britpop, Lake has intermingled artists, pop stars, models, artworks and events, both real and imaginary into Mickey’s world. Mickey is both a prodigiously talented artist, but equally unable to express his own original creativity on paper or canvas. His nickname, Mickey the Mimic, dates from childhood, at first applying to his talent for impressions and then from art school onwards to his innate ability to perfectly replicate the works of other artists. Which sounds very happy-go-lucky, and seemingly is, until he meets Audrey:

“I was certain that Audrey was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She looked like Tippi Hedren in The Birds painted by Gil Evgren […] only this Tippi had brown hair and was wearing jeans and a Cure t-shirt. I wasn’t sure about the t-shirt but everything else worked for me.”

As a reader, in the knowledge of how the novel mixes life and art, one wants to shake Mickey and say, the Cure t-shirt is the least of your worries. Falling for a woman who looks like an actress who on-screen was one of Hitchcock’s ice blondes (manipulative, passionate, sometimes criminal women who make the leading men fall madly in love with them, whilst also bringing danger and complication to their lives) and who said that her off-screen relationship with the director, who was 30 plus years her senior, was characterised by him being “too possessive and too demanding, I can’t be possessed by anyone”, brings foreboding aplenty.

But sadly Mickey can’t hear the readers. Throughout the year of their MA course they live in each other’s pockets and are inseparable. But Audrey’s increasingly vociferous and insistent urgings that Mickey take off the mask of mimicry and reveal and produce his own creative work, the destabilising effect this has on him, and his increasingly obsessive feelings for her, build up to the collapse of their relationship. Although the final blow is delivered fittingly at the MA final show when Mickey unveils his artwork directly opposite Audrey’s and it is a double of her work, a perfect reproduction.

Kirk Lake

Kirk Lake

A particular instance of how successful and fun Lake’s mixing of real people and imaginary characters in the art and music scenes around Mickey and Audrey (in addition to how it evocatively explores the nature of the art scene at the time) comes in the form of Mickey’s post-MA job working for the artist, Matt Caine. He is Damien Hirst’s great rival, covering everything in his trademark stripes, in riposte to Hirst’s spots, pre-selling, for vast amounts, the ideas for artworks sketched on napkins or cigarette packets, and then having his assistants, Mickey and Stephanie, do the actual creating and painting of the work. When Caine decides that his pinstripe period is over, the two create one last huge canvas for him: “when we’d finished it,” Mickey recounts, “we both decided it was the best work Caine had ever painted”.

The idea of Caine works so well, much as I alluded to in the first paragraph, that I fell into the enjoyable and also slightly disconcerting duality of knowing that Hirst didn’t have a replica rival called Matt Caine, but liking the idea that there was someone matching him spot for spot, stripe by stripe, so much so that I started to seriously doubt whom I knew to be real or fake… Google beckoned. Although by then I fully expected Damien Hirst to be the make-believe character…

When Audrey the ice brunette re-enters Mickey’s life it is with her French gangster lover, Lionel, in tow: a man 30 plus years her senior who is particularly possessive and demanding of her – foreboding  come to fruition. They set about manipulating Mickey, who is still very much in love with Audrey, into their plan to fake a Picasso. But first as an initiation, ostensibly they say for them to decide whether he is the right man for the job or not, they commission him to paint a version of Gustave Courbet’s painting, L’Origine du monde, with Audrey as the model. The painting is a close-up view of the genitals and abdomen of a naked woman, lying on a bed with her legs spread.

As Lake says in the Q&A included at the end of the book, “for the female model to pose for such an explicit portrait, at the request of one man in order to manipulate another man, requires a degree of complicity in the manipulation on her part. Otherwise it’s just misogynistic fantasy. I was more interested in the noir character of the femme fatale. Audrey is ultimately the most devious character but also probably the most intelligent. Not that it helps her that much.”

Indeed, ultimately the painting doesn’t help any of the trio ‘very much’, as from the moment Mickey starts the first sketches they are all caught in a highly destructive trajectory, that culminates in the book’s surprising, but certainly, and wonderfully, Hitchcockian twist at the end.

To still be engaged with a book the day after reading it, as per the beginning of this review, says so much about the quality of Lake’s writing, in addition to his seamless ability to both draw one far further into the plot and characters than one realised, and also to create such an engaging and enjoyable hyperreality. Mickey the Mimic is also a book that once I’d read it (and worked out what my real life was again), I thought, I’d really like to read it again. Which in many ways is the best review one can give a book.

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KIRK LAKE will be talking about and reading from Mickey the Mimic (Ink Monkey Books, 2013) at Plectrum-The Cultural Pick’s (P-TCP) Mustered No.8: From Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe on Thursday 26th September 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.

For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Links
Kirk Lake:
http://www.kirklake.net/

Ink Monkey Books
http://www.inkmonkeybooks.com/

Book Review: Jar Baby – Hayley Webster

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(Dexter Haven Publishing) paperback £7.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

For the majority of those attending the posthumous retrospective exhibition of the work of celebrated fashion designer, Sir Rohan Rickwood, the exhortation of the last line of the museum’s press release to, “‘Drown in glamour and worship the sea'”, would sound like the most perfect mode de vie. To them, the childhood and teenage years of Diana Rickwood, through whose eyes Hayley Webster’s compelling début novel is told, would sound like a fairy tale existence. Because she spent them living with her Uncle Rohan in his beautiful beachside house and studio, to which celebrated models and famous faces would flock for fittings.

But the once-upon-a-times of Diana’s formative years were not a fast track to happily-ever-afters, for although Webster powerfully incorporates allusions to fairy tales in her narrative it is not to their post-Disneyfication versions, but to their far darker tellings from previous centuries by writers such as Charles Perrault in the 17th century and the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century in which violence, sexual threat, and abuse are common themes. There are also echoes to another 19th century writer, Heinrich Hoffmann, and his macabre and grotesque collection of cautionary tales for children, Der Struwwelpeter (Shockheaded Peter).

Far from drowning in glamour, Diana grows up drowning in a well of loneliness. Orphaned, her Uncle tells her, when her parents were drowned in a boating accident, when growing up her “entire life was made up of the interpretations of a lonely girl looking for meaning”. Exiled from the studio whenever anyone arrives for a fitting, and not allowed to meet the models, the only vestiges of a glamorous life her uncle allows her are the pins he asks her to pick up and untangle from the carpet post-fittings.

Far from basking in the reflected light of her Uncle’s glittering career, they share a bed because they are both afraid of the dark. But even in the daylight Diana’s life is permeated by darkness: from the sexual and mental abuse she suffers from the chauffeur of her uncle’s model muse, Stella Avery, to the titular half-formed human baby in a jar of formaldehyde who watches her from a shelf in Rohan’s studio, from the dog she kills on the beach, despite the fact he seems to represent “a sign of hope”, to her subsequent complete withdrawal for six weeks/mental breakdown, from her self-harming and self-abuse, to the animal’s shocking reappearance later in the novel.

Hayley Webster

Hayley Webster

At the age of 19, on the night of her uncle’s engagement to Stella Avery, having projected all the blame for her life’s troubles onto her in loco (evil) stepmother-to-be Diana leaves her uncle’s home, moving to London, to never see him again and spends the next 10 years until his death both cutting herself off from and suppressing every facet and memory of her past.

With the tide of media attention following his death, in addition to the retrospective exhibition, a biopic in development, and a biography being written, Diana is forced to rewrite the person she has spent the last 10 years becoming, for she is “no longer Dee Rickwood, food writer for Fair’s Fare supermarkets, but Diana Rickwood, niece of the glamorously dead and fêted designer Rohan Rickwood”.

Implicit in which, in her desire that the truth of both her uncle’s life and her own, as she knows it, doesn’t become submerged in a revisionist retelling, she has to re-examine her past and revisit the memories she has suppressed for so long. Which initially gives rise to ever wilder imaginings about those with whom she is reconnecting, particularly Stella Avery, but increasingly she discovers that the reality of who she is and of her past goes far beyond her wildest imaginings, is far more troubling than her darkest fears, and has been as carefully constructed by her uncle and his circle as the beautiful cape he sends her seemingly from beyond the grave.

With Jar Baby Hayley Webster makes a striking and particularly powerful début. Diana’s search for the truth, her attempts to cut through the mesh of concealments and to rethink the red herrings that she has created for herself generate the gripping excitement of a thriller, whilst the disturbing and chilling aspects of the story, both for Diana and for the reader, bring elements of Gothic fiction to the dramatic mix. Her weaving of fairy tales into the story is done so in a wonderfully evocative and playful way. I particularly liked that when Diana/Cinderella finally goes to the ball it is in a very surreal way as it is in a room in West London around which a myriad of ‘Rohans’ and ‘Stellas’ are waltzing, in rehearsal for a scene for the planned film about Rohan’s life.

Throughout the novel, Webster handles light and dark wonderfully well, in a way that heightens the power of both, for Jar Baby is both humorous and troubling, playful and deathly serious. Her exploration and depictions of the story’s unsettling and poignant themes of abuse, sexual, physical, and mental, and of interpersonal and sexual taboos, are singularly adept and insightful. Jar Baby is a book which I urge you to read.

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Hayley Webster will be reading from and talking about Jar Baby (Dexter Haven, 2012) at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.7: ‘Hubcap Diamond Star Halo’ on Thursday 27th June 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.
For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Dexter Haven Publishing is an imprint of Black Spring Press: http://www.blackspringpress.co.uk/

Book review: Derby Shorts – The Best New Fiction From The Roller Derby Track Presented by For Books’ Sake and London Rollergirls edited by Jane Bradley

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(For Books’ Sake) paperback £5.00 Kindle edition £3.60

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Pace, power, and panache abound, both thematically and in the manner of their telling, throughout the 14 short stories collected in Derby Shorts. Each story is set in and around, or inspired by modern roller derby which, although it has its origins in the sport developed in the 1930s, began its grassroots revival in the early 2000s as an all-female, self-organised, amateur, full-contact sport which eschewed the solely entertainment spectacle that the original sport had become, with scripted bouts and predetermined winners, in favour of a return to championing athleticism, prowess and a true sporting contest.

By 2006 the revival which had begun in Austin, Texas, was sweeping through the USA and in that year the London Rollergirls were the first league to bring women’s flat-track roller derby to the UK, the first European member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), and also played a key part in engendering the sport’s spread Europe-wide. There are now around 1250 amateur leagues worldwide and the sport is being considered for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics.

London Rollergirls and For Books’ Sake is an inspired pairing. The guiding principles of the former are to “take pride in being a positive character building experience for women, whilst not excluding men but working alongside them in equal respect” and to “endeavour to empower all women by promoting athleticism, good sportsmanship, both teamwork and independence, and positive self-image”. Whilst the acclaimed, intelligent but irreverent UK-based webzine, For Books’ Sake, founded in 2010 by Jane Bradley, is dedicated to promoting and celebrating writing by and for independent women, providing a dedicated platform for readers and writers alike, and “is a response to the systemic and institutionalised sexism which continues to be a problem in publishing, media and beyond”.

London Rollergirls photographed by Steve Newton

London Rollergirls photographed by Steve Newton

Both London Rollergirls and For Books’ Sake are also imbued with an inspiring joie de vivre, energy and a DIY/punk ethic of there being no reason not to do something, whatever the challenges or obstacles might be – if you want to do something, if you want to change something, start doing both. In collaborating and acting as both Pivots (the pacesetters of a roller derby team) and Jammers (roller derby ‘sprint’ skaters) in bringing their anthology to fruition, they have successfully created a book in which every story both celebrates and crackles with that same engaging and energetic joie de vivre.

Compliled following an open call for submissions, Derby Shorts features stories by Kaite Welsh, Cariad Martin, Robyn Frame, Kylie Grant, Steven LaFond, Evangeline Jennings, Magda Knight, Gavin Inglis, Daphne Du Gorier, Elena Morris, Kat M. Gray, Pam Berg, Jemima von Schindelberg and Tom Snowdon… or to put it another way, roller derby players, referees and fanatics from all over the world!

Their passion for the sport and the fun that they have clearly had writing the stories adds to the enjoyableness of each one. For newcomers to roller derby many of the stories are eye-opening (ghoulishly literally in Gavin Inglis’ equally funny and chilling, Derby of the Dead, about a Zombie grudge bout) not least in how all-consuming a passion it can become, highlighted in great style in Jemima von Schindelberg’s My Wife’s Wedding, in which moments after Louise’s wedding to her husband, Cesar, she then puts on her skates and a dress embroidered on the back with her ‘derby name’, Lou de Change, and is wed to her similarly be-skated and name-embroidered ‘derby wife’, The Mel of Fear, aka Mel.

“A derby wife is more than a friend,” von Schindelberg writes, “although friendship plays a crucial role, and a derby wife is different to a lover, although we love our derby wives dearly. Your derby wife is the skater you turn to when you don’t make the team and want to throw in the towel. She talks you down and convinces you that forty push-ups and an hour of plank will make everything better. She is the skater you will happily remind to ‘skate it out’ when everything has become too much. She is the skater you watch out for, who has your back. You defend her, protect her and when necessary slap her back into place if she’s got too big for her boots. She is the missing piece in your puzzle.”

London Rollergirls photographed by

London Rollergirls photographed byJames Laidlaw

There is plenty of love, lust, rivalry and rebellion, both inter- and intra-team, throughout the pages of Derby Shorts. In Cariad Martin’s Cuts and Grazes, a tale of Derby Brats (skaters in the junior roller derby leagues) the rivalry is sibling. Evocatively told through the eyes of ten year old Haf who not only yearns to join The Gosker Lil’ Rockers, the Derby Brats team which her dad coaches, but also to skate faster than her 13 year old sister, Skye, the team’s jammer. Lucie York’s act of rebellion in Kat M. Grey’s Tiptoes is to swap the role of prima ballerina in the making at the Key West Ballet Theatre, for jammer with the Key West Rollin’ Rogues.

The stories in the anthology are also played out through a variety of genres. I particularly enjoyed Kaite Welsh’s riotous and beautifully realised satirical short, This Is Not Your Great-Great-Great Granddaughter’s Derby, which imagines Victorian debutantes scandalising polite society by inventing roller derby on the banks of the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park. Also Magda Knight’s fantastic neo-noir, Dead Girls Don’t Wear Blades, which adeptly conflates Blade Runner and roller blades and is both gripping and amusingly knowing in its tale of a milk drinking assassin’s mission to kill a mutant roller derby coach who secretes biotoxins not sweat.

Staying with noir, Daphne Gorier, entertainingly and effectively creates a new strand, referee noir, or to put it in its specific roller derby terminology and the title of her story, Zebra Noir, as her hard-bitten, Marlowe-esque ‘zebra’, Potomac Ripper, is called in to help the police on a puzzling case.

London Rollergirls photographed by

London Rollergirls photographed by Steve Newton

There is an insightfulness running through Derby Shorts, and for me this was particularly highlighted in Elena Morris’s story, Pivot, which begins and ends with Rory doubled up on a pavement after a violent mugging. On both occasions the physical pain is no less severe, but the first time she’s in shock, in tears, her loneliness in a new town is heightened, and she also realises “that self-defence class turned out to be pretty useless”. The second time, nine months later her response has changed, although “the knee in my stomach hurts just as much as it did before I had washboard abs. But wait! I’m thinking, I didn’t have time to engage my core! He sprints away with my smelly kit bag, my purse and my phone and I’m left doubled over in pain on the pavement again. All I can really think is, wait until he gets a whiff of my wristguards. And then, I needed new skates anyway”.

What has changed in the interim is that she has joined a roller derby team which has completely changed her sense of herself: “When I skate, I feel powerful. I feel the wheels of my skates hit the floor and I feel my calves and shins take that impact and transfer it up to my thighs. I feel my strong arms pumping at my sides. I feel something that two years of working as a general dogsbody on TV sets could never make me feel: I matter. I am important. I am training so that my teammates can depend on me to give them a whip when they need it, and so I can put on that extra burst of speed to get me through a miniscule gap and score that winning point. I am Roary. Hear me roar”.

Inspiring, fun, bittersweet, energetic, all infectiously so, hugely enjoyable and filled with many moments to cheer about… Derby Shorts is very much in the mould of the sport it celebrates.

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In celebration of Derby Shorts, Jane Bradley, Kaite Welsh, and Magda Knight are all appearing at the P-TCP Live Edition: Mustered No.6 on Thursday 30th May 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1. Jane Bradley will be talking jammers, pivots, and zebras, and a world where fierce, fast women are often hell on wheels, Kaite Welsh will be reading This Is Not Your Great-Great-Great Granddaughter’s Derby, and Magda Knight will be reading Dead Girls Don’t Wear Blades, their short stories from the anthology. For more details please click here.

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Book review: The Spy who Loved – The Secrets and Lives of One of Britain’s Bravest Wartime Heroines by Clare Mulley

the-spy-who-loved-cover-webzine

(Pan) paperback £7.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

In the years following World War II the name of Christine Granville has been eclipsed in the popular imagination by those of her fellow Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents Odette Sansom Hallowes and Violette Szabo. Due in no small part to the highly successful films, Odette (1950), starring Anna Neagle in the title role, and Carve Her Name with Pride (1958), starring Virginia McKenna as Szabo, and the best-selling books on which they were based by Jerrard Tickell and R.J. Minney.

This would in all probability have been very different had the plans of Granville’s close friend and former SOE colleague, W. Stanley Moss, to write both a biography and a screenplay for a biopic of her come to fruition. Ill Met by Moonlight, Moss’s memoir of his own SOE years published in 1950 was a best-seller and was followed in 1957 by Powell and Pressburger’s very popular film adaptation of the book. For Moss’s proposed film about Granville, Sarah Churchill, Winston Churchill’s actress daughter, was already slated to play the lead role and apparently gave her reason for choosing the part as being that, “Christine was her father’s favourite spy” (although as Clare Mulley explores in The Spy who Loved this is an anecdote which is not possible to conclusively verify).

Similarly ultimately unverifiable but equally enticing is the suggestion that Ian Fleming and Granville were lovers and that he based the character of Vesper Lynd on her in the first of his James Bond novels, Casino Royale (1953), and thus perhaps over the years there have been silver screen representations of her, in the form of Ursula Andress in 1967 and Eva Green in the 2006 film, though the latter actress is far closer in looks to both the real Granville and how Lynd is depicted in the book (after writing which I then discovered that Eva Green has been linked to the role of Granville in the biopic that Polish film director and screenwriter, Agnieszka Holland, is said to be working on, Christine: War My Love). As Mulley writes, “a dark and enigmatic European agent, perpetually caught between sunbathing and action” and who Fleming characterises as being a fluent French speaker, who is in love with a Pole, and combines being “full of consideration without compromising her arrogant spirit” and whose raison d’être is “doing everything fully, getting the most out of everything one does”.

Lines which do serve very well to encapsulate the real Granville, although through her research Mulley believes that it far more likely that Fleming was inspired by stories he read of Granville rather than the woman in person. The title of Mulley’s biography of Granville playfully alludes to the ninth book in Fleming’s Bond series (The Spy who Loved Me), but as her story unfolds through its pages one quickly discovers that it would it would be far more fitting to find that she was an inspiration behind the character of Bond himself than a Bond-girl. One also discovers through Mulley’s excellent telling of Granville’s real-life story that it is far more compelling, extraordinary and larger than life than any fiction could dare to be.

Christine Granville

Krystyna Skarbek / Christine Granville

Purely by stating the facts pertaining to the beginning and end of her life, that she was born Countess Krystyna Skarbek in Warsaw in 1908, to a Catholic scion of one of Poland’s oldest families and a Jewish, banking heiress mother, and that when she died in 1952, murdered by an obsessed former lover in an hotel in London, she was a British citizen called Christine Granville and holder of the George Medal, an OBE, and the Croix de Guerre, one would know that a fascinating and ultimately tragic story had unfolded between those two points.

Her restless desire for action and adventure, her abilities with outdoor pursuits and her love of nature, her bravery her beauty, and later her love of sex, were threads that developed through her childhood and early life which retrospectively appear as though they were all in preparation for the role she played in World War II. Her father inspired her love of the outdoors, teaching her to ride almost before she could walk, to hold a gun, to use a knife, and also passed on his innate connection with dogs and horses. From her mother, a noted beauty, she certainly inherited her looks; at the age of 21 Granville was shortlisted in the Miss Polonia beauty contest and was declared “a national star of beauty”.

But it could also be said that her resilience and fearlessness in the most desperate and dangerous situations came from her mother; despite the best efforts of her daughter to persuade her otherwise, her mother stayed in Warsaw after the Nazi invasion, living outside the ghetto and teaching in a clandestine school, for both of which she could be executed on the spot, before being arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the notorious Pawiak prison where she is believed to have died.

In her twenties in the 1930s, frustrated by life with her first husband Granville became an expert skier spending a lot of time at the ski resort of Zakopane at the foothills of the Tatra Mountains on the Polish/Hungarian border, where, as Mulley writes, she “satisfied her need for excitement by dodging border patrols to smuggle cigarettes across the frontier into Poland”. This now appears a strangely prescient dress rehearsal. Because a few years later when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, by which stage she had married for a second time and was in Africa with her husband, she hurried to London and offered her services to the British SIS (MI6) who duly accepted her offer, and sent her to Hungary. From where she ran many missions skiing across the treacherous mountain ranges into Poland to lead British airmen to safety and also to compile and carry intelligence reports.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming – it has been suggested that Fleming based the character of Vesper Lynd on Christine Granville

As a female agent working in the field for British intelligence from the outbreak of war she was very much a pioneer. Indeed it wasn’t until two years later that SOE, as Mulley writes, “was officially given the green light to recruit women for operational duties”. So Granville was very much a forerunner, paving the way for agents such as Odette Sansom and Violette Szabo.

Through six years of war Granville’s missions, adventures, and exploits, are as manifold as they are thrilling and fascinating to read about. From the challenging and treacherous mountains, to escaping Budapest in the boot of the British Legation’s official car, smuggling microfilm in her gloves, to mesmerising vicious guard dogs trained to kill to not only not give her and comrades away but also on one occasion to convince a Nazi Alsatian to swap sides permanently! From driving with her childhood friend, lover, and fellow SOE agent and Pole, Andrzej Kowerski, in his Opel Olympia overland from Yugoslavia to Egypt, often only one step ahead of the Nazis, to parachuting into occupied France, joining the Maquis at the Battle of Vercours, to saving another lover and SOE colleague, Francis Cammaerts, and two other fellow agents from the Gestapo HQ in Digne, France, just before they were about to be executed… and many, many more tales beside.

Throughout this time she also left a string of lovers in her wake, often to be picked up again whenever and wherever the circumstance presented itself. Mulley recounts that W. Stanley Moss described her as having a “‘mesmeric power'”, and that “her attractiveness lay in ‘a blend of vivacity, flirtatiousness, charm, and sheer personality… like a searchlight’ which when she chose could blind anyone in its beam.”

Sadly the last man to be blinded in this beam murdered her. The tragedy inherent in her death is compounded by the fact that as an agent on active service for British Intelligence from 1939-1945, she had survived six years often in theatres of war where the expected survival rate was six weeks, and also that had she lived into old age she would have witnessed the restitution of, and been able to return to, an independent Poland, her patriotism for which had always motivated her. Also she would have lived through a cultural shift and seen the beginnings of a world where empowered and independent women were ‘allowed’ to be so, not only during wartime, but in peace time too.

An Opel Olympia similar to that driven by

An Opel Olympia similar to that driven by Christine Granville and Andrzej Kowerski from Yugoslavia to Eygpt

For a women who was so empowered, so independent, and in many ways so ahead of her time, the fact that up until now her name has been allowed to be largely forgotten, especially in relation to Odette Sansom and Violette Szabo, is not because of her bravery but in many ways because of her beauty, the effect it had on men, and the many men who fell under her spell. Because in an extraordinary further twist to her life story following her tragic murder, an all-male ‘Panel to Protect the Memory of Christine Granville’ was set up by Kowerski, Cammaerts, and three other WWII friends and colleagues.  Over the years they successfully vetoed plans for biographies and films (including Moss’s mentioned at the beginning of this review), and only finally allowed the first biography to be published in 1975, but then with a content that very much presented the image of Granville that Kowerski wanted presented – purer than pure.

Nearly 40 years later, Mulley has been free to tell Granville’s full story, presenting the complete and remarkable woman in all her complexities. The Spy Who Loved is an extraordinary story exceptionally well told. Through her unstinting research for the book she has had access to a wealth of previously unseen archive material and also in meeting people who knew Granville and the families of those who knew her, in Britain, France, and Poland, holding items that belonged to her, and retracing the journeys she took and the places she knew, she has gained an intimate understanding of her subject which underscores the vitality and vividness of Mulley’s writing. Indeed her research process including being arrested by the Gestapo in Warsaw… during filming outside the flat she had been leant by the son of one of Granville’s close friends, to the green parrot that nuzzled the neck of one of her interviewees throughout their two hour interview, would also make a wonderful book in its own right. The Spy who Loved is thoroughly engaging, wonderfully considered, endlessly illuminating, and highly recommended.

 

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Clare Mulley will be talking about Krystyna Skarbek/Christine Granville and reading from The Spy who Loved at the P-TCP Live Edition: Mustered No.6 on Thursday 30th May 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1. For more details click here.

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Clare Mulley http://www.claremulley.com/home/

Pan Macmillan http://www.panmacmillan.com

New Music Preview: Deadcuts – Nina Antonia celebrates the “perilous poetry and haunting riffs, feral mysticism and deadbeat glamour” of one of 2012’s most exciting new bands

Deadcuts' Jerome Alexandre and Mark Keds

Deadcuts' Jerome Alexandre and Mark Keds

by Nina Antonia

At the crux of myth and fact, there is Deadcuts, featuring Mark Keds (guitar/vocals), Jerome Alexandre (guitar/vocals), Joni Belaruski (drums), Mark McCarthy (bass). Formed on the first full moon of 2012, Deadcuts are the new treason; a fresh palette from a weary metropolis. Following sold out shows at London’s Signal Gallery and the Macbeth, Deadcuts’ Mark Keds and Jerome Alexandre are playing as a duet for a one-off appearance at the Plectrum-The Cultural Pick Live Edition: Love in Peril, at The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1 on Thursday, 10th May 2012.

Comprising perilous poetry and haunting riffs, Deadcuts encapsulate a feral mysticism and deadbeat glamour. From the Senseless Things to Jolt, the wraith like Keds has exerted an influence on the English music scene for more than a decade. He is the silent voice on the Libertines eponymously titled second album, having co-written, Can’t Stand Me Now, and can affect the tide of modish change with a lyric and a line-up as the mood takes him. Deadcuts guitarist Jerome Alexandre cut his teeth with The Skuzzies, whose debut, self-titled CD garnered praise in Classic Rock, Art Rocker, and Vive Le Rock. More recently, he appeared in Richard Wolsencroft’s film, The Second Coming, with co-collaborator, Peter Doherty. They are sepia and nightfall, a scalding declaration of intent, the spectres come to take the crown.

Nina Antonia’s first book, Johnny Thunders – In Cold Blood (Cherry Red Books), has now been in print for 24 years, gaining cult status with each decade. During the writing of the book between 1982 and 1987 Nina became good friends with Thunders when he spent time in London. When it was updated in 2000, the NME hailed it as, ‘a gorgeously sordid biography’. The book marked the beginning of an off-kilter journey that has transcended the boundaries of rock journalism culminating in a collection of outsider literature, including her equally acclaimed biographies of The New York Dolls (Omnibus), Peter Perrett (SAF), and her glam memoir, The Prettiest Star (SAF). She is currently working on her new book, Jeunesse Brulee,  which features an introduction by Peter Doherty.

PLECTRUM-THE CULTURAL PICK LIVE EDITION: LOVE IN PERIL
DEADCUTS’ MARK KEDS and JEROME ALEXANDRE are playing a special electro-acoustic set at the P-TCP Live Edition: Love in Peril, which also features literary rock ‘n’ roll with NINA ANTONIA, who will be ‘in conversation’ with the editor of P-TCP, GUY SANGSTER ADAMS, and telling electric guitar accompanied doomed love stories of the jeunesse brulee (burned youth) of the 1960s/1970s. Plus screenings of two short films in which love takes its chances on the streets of London, CROSSFIRE  (Ed Edwards, 2011, 9 mins), which was filmed on location amidst the civil unrest on the streets of central London in 2011, and will be introduced by the film’s producer, SAM EDWARDS, and THE ROCKING HORSE (James Scott, 1962, 25 mins), screening by arrangement with the BFI, filmed on location on the streets of London’s Soho and West End in 1959-1960.

P-TCP Live Edition: Love in Peril, Thursday 10th May, at The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1. Doors open 7.30pm.
Advance tickets: £5/£4 (concs): http://www.wegottickets.com/event/165600
On the door: £7/£6 (concs)
Full details: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Music review: A Guided Tour of Madness – Madness

grid box:Layout 1(Salvo) 3CD & 1 DVD box set anthology
On release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Through a rainy and misty dusk on London’s Westminster Bridge, the lamplight reflecting on the tarmac between the cars, black cabs, and Routemaster buses, the unmistakeable silhouette of the Houses of Parliament looms majestically over the traffic. It might be the past, the present, or times still to come, but it is unmistakeably and evocatively London, whether viewed from the city’s streets or internationally. Over this image on the back cover of the 72 page booklet accompanying this excellent Madness anthology floats the track listing spanning 30 years and beyond…

All aboard for a guided tour of Madness across three CDs and one DVD, 94 tracks, including singles, from 1979’s The Prince/Madness to 2011’s Le Grand Pantalon (released on CD for the first time), favourite tracks from their nine studio albums, from 1979’s One Step Beyond… to 2009’s The Liberty of Norton Folgate, and the first DVD release of the band’s performance at their inaugural Madstock festival in London’s Finsbury Park in 1992.

Madness One Step Beyond (c)Cameron McVey

Madness One Step Beyond ©Cameron McVey

To accompany this journey the back cover of the booklet unfolds through fantastic 1940s/50s Boys Own style illustrations of derring-do and suspicious goings-on in and around the capital’s bombed out streets and docks to reveal a ‘Sightseers’ Map of Madness’ with locations of import to the band highlighted by a pointing finger and a red dot. Although ostensibly ‘Madworld’, it is explained, is located within “a short stroll from Camden Town”, over the last three decades Madness have become a cipher for the capital as whole.

“We are London…” is the announcement with which the map’s legend begins, which is exactly who Madness are, unmistakably, evocatively and majestically. Listening to the tracks chosen for this anthology, none of which have been diminished by the passing years, it is clear that like the silhouette of the Houses of Parliament, Madness now instantly encapsulate London historical, London contemporary, London timeless. But although the majority of the songs may be London rooted, such is the strength of the songwriting, the storytelling, the shared experience of characters and situations, and the accessibility and irresistible panache of their presentation that they are and have become universal.

Madness ©Michael Putland/Getty Images

Madness ©Michael Putland/Getty Images

The joy of A Guided Tour of Madness is that one can plot one’s own route through the anthology: take the complete, chronological journey from start to finish, start in the era of the band’s work with which one is most familiar or indeed unfamiliar, or hop on and off along the way and see what one discovers. Either way it’s accompanied by a rush of emotions. With so many landmark songs and a career spanning so many years, the words and music are entwined, consciously or unconsciously, with so many stages in one’s own life instantly evoking, with a welter of back of the neck tingles, associations with people and places.

But their power is not purely nostalgic, in listening to the earlier songs again, in many instances for me they appear to have gained extra layers of resonance in the intervening years that I had been oblivious to before. A primary example being Michael Caine, which I realised I had rather dismissed at the time as being more of a ‘novelty’ song, but have completely rediscovered it now in all its perfectly paced and placed sonic and lyrical splendour. Madness’s acute talent for combining the seemingly contradictory elements of humour and poignancy, melancholy and joie de vivre, the wonderfully observed day-to-day with an equally insightfully created surreality, are all to the fore in the song which, depending on your point of view, could be the simple love of a fan for a star, or a far more sinister stalking confession, a cautionary tale of a celebrity being consumed by his public persona, the lost script of a Harry Palmer film… or all those at the same time and more!

a-guided-tour-of-madness-exploded_view

The enduring strength of the songs allied to the degree to which they have entered the vernacular was underlined last year by the reworking of two tracks for television advertisements. Virgin Media’s campaign, More Exciting Place to Live, used the lyrics of Our House narrated over the music of Dan Black’s HYPNTZ, whilst as part of Kronenbourg 1664’s Slow the Pace advertising campaign, Madness themselves rearranged Baggy Trousers, slowing the song right down to create the highly reflective and Francophile, Le Grand Pantalon. The track closes the anthology’s chronological journey in wonderfully surreal style, as though the life of Madness has been reimagined by Amelie director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, raising a glass of cognac and, as the repeated vocal refrain of Le Grand Pantalon has it, “baggy trousers to the days/To the days/To the days…”

A glass of cognac, and indeed any baggy trousers, should also be raised to Salvo because A Guided Tour of Madness continues their fantastic catalogue of box sets, put together with fantastic and celebratory creativity, insight, and passion. Each part of the concept for the Madness anthology works wonderfully well from the track selection, to the booklet which also includes an essay by Paul Morley, new interviews with the band and key personnel, and a reproduction of the first issue of the Nutty Boys Comic (1981), to the overall look and feel of the packaging… a wonderful celebration of the days: past, present, and still to come.

Links:




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Madness:
blog.madness.co.uk
www.myspace.com/madnessofficial

Salvo: www.salvo-music.co.uk
Union Square: www.unionsquaremusic.co.uk

Book review: The Drowning Pool – Syd Moore

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(Avon) Paperback: £6.99; ebook: £4.49

Reviewed by Dave Collins

Taking the codes and conventions of classic ghost stories and positioning them within a contemporary setting, Syd Moore’s debut novel, The Drowning Pool, is literally a tale of two dimensions. Sarah Grey, a young widowed mother, appears to be receiving signs, visions and visitations from the spirit of a long dead, although still unsettled, 19th century sea witch, also named Sarah Grey. But is it stress, illness or something genuinely supernatural that’s behind the hauntings?

The novel’s threads of historical wrong doings and teaser glimpses of horrors-to-follow have the long shadows of H. P. Lovecraft cast across them, while the serial style chapter closers draw on Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker, with the veil of local myths and mysteries stirring memories of Thomas  Hardy and The Withered Arm.

Bringing us into the present day, Sarah Gray and her network of female friends and family are a compact circle of extended sisterhood – almost an allusion to unwritten coven bonds for modern times – reclaiming the ‘Essex Girl’ image as an East Anglian archetype rather than a tangerine-tinted stereotype.

Taking its base, build and background from the area’s tradition of witchcraft, witch hunters and cunning men, keeps the fantasy rooted in reality but also brings a fresh perspective to the sexual politics of ‘Witchfinder General’, Matthew Hopkins’ 17th century hate crusades – particularly in Essex.

Like Hardy’s studies and sketches of ‘Wessex’, the book’s topographical map is also Syd Moore’s home town, Leigh on Sea, a Thames-side fishing village terraced between its neighbours, Hadleigh and Southend-on-Sea. If you are a Southender (or familiar with the area) you’ll click and connect with the micro-local references immediately. If not, you’ll want to visit and root around the town ticking off The Drowning Pool locations: Old Leigh, the Library Gardens, or St Peter’s Church, looking for sword marks on the Mary Ellis grave (yes, they really are there) and similar historical reminders of a hidden past.

One of the most accomplished debut novels I’ve read, The Drowning Pool’s now-wave narrative, historical story arcs and subtext of gender politics through the ages presents a fully formed, confidently voiced entrance into the world of fiction of any genre. With none of the style finding Bambi-steps and plot-wobbles that usually dilute the early works of established authors. It is a pitch-perfect read for a wild, wind-whipped, wintry evening. A black Jackanory, that at its ghostliest moments will trace a line of grave-cold fingernails down your spine, and one of the few books-at-bedtime that has genuinely given me a fidgety night’s sleep.

Tuesday 6th December 2011: Syd Moore will be in conversation with Dave Collins on the Radio Podrophenia programme on Chance Radio (www.chanceradio.com).
Listen live from 9pm or catch up with the programme after broadcast on iTunes.

podrophenia

In addition to being a regular contributor to both the webzine and print editions of Plectrum-The Cultural Pick, Dave Collins is editor of the blog, Planet Mondo, and also presents the programme, Radio Podrophenia, with co-host, Piley, on Chance Radio every Tuesday from 9pm. Following the live broadcast each episode of Radio Podrophenia is available on iTunes (search under, ‘Podrophenia’).

Links:

Avon is an imprint of Harper Collins:  www.harpercollins.co.uk

Chance Radio: www.chanceradio.com

Radio Podrophenia: www.facebook.com/Podrophonia.co.uk

Planet Mondo:  planetmondo.blogspot.com

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Single review: Turn 2 Dust – Boy George

turn 2 dust boy george

(Decode) On release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

The revolving opening rhythms that draw one into the ‘original mix’ of the highly atmospheric Turn 2 Dust suggest a police helicopter hovering above city streets; the sound of spinning rotor blades overhead make one wary on even the most familiar streets, bring an edginess to the happiest evening out, as all too often one can only hear the sound, and see neither the helicopter, nor what it can see, perhaps just around the next corner.

Emotionally and politically charged, Turn 2 Dust, which has now been released in a nine track remix package (including mixes by David Jones, Bootik, and a great ‘lovebox’ mix by Kris de Angelis and Sam H), is the second single from Ordinary Alien – The Kinky Roland Files, Boy George’s first artist album in nine years, on which it is the opening and particularly stand out track. Beginning with the homophobic pejorative, “Chi Chi man everywhere you turn”, the song is an exhortation to remain strong and proud in the face of growing intolerance and hate crimes directed not only towards gay men and women, but towards anyone who is different, or stands out from the crowd.

Within weeks of Turn 2 Dust’s first appearance, with the release of Ordinary Alien in March, the song’s message was brought even closer to home for Boy George, after one of his oldest friends, Philip Sallon, the always flamboyantly dressed, 59 year old, gay socialite and club host, who founded the Mud Club in the 1980s, was left unconscious, with a fractured skull, and many broken bones, after being attacked in London’s Soho; streets with which he is very familiar and on which he has been a familiar figure for over 40 years. Speaking after the attack, for which no one has yet been arrested, Boy George said, “It’s hard to say and you don’t want to jump to conclusions, but it must have been something to do with the way he looked.”

Listening to Turn 2 Dust on the back of August’s riots in London and other English cities, watching footage, much shot from helicopters overhead, of violence and flames, familiar streets made unfamiliar in an instant, brings another layer to the song.

Portentous and powerful, lyrically and musically Turn 2 Dust is an highly evocative collage of urban life: edgy dance beats give way to the sweet release of floating melodies, one both relaxes into the moment and stays watchful, not knowing what might be around the next corner, pleasure and pain are co-existent on these city streets. Turn 2 Dust is a great return for Boy George, that both channels resonances of all that has gone before, whist also resolutely setting off in a fascinating new direction.

We would all be the poorer if everyone was the same. Long may he continue to celebrate difference.

Links:
Boy George: www.boygeorgeuk.com
Decode Records: mn2s.com

Further reading:
Recent music reviews in Plectrum – The Cultural Pick
Miracle Worker – Superheavy (Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damian Marley, A.R. Rahman)
Elephant Room – Channel Cairo
Different Story – Wolfette

Or click on the tag Music Reviews to browse all the music reviews in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick

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Book Review: Everything Beautiful Began After – Simon Van Booy

ebba-front-cover-31

(Beautiful Books) Hardback £15.99; ebook £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

At first one is struck by the sheer beauty of the words. Words that combine poetically and often with seemingly abstract imagery into sentences that feel like the most delicate threads that should be reread and savoured for their own protection. The story seems secondary to the desire to maintain the feeling they engender, but the only way to do that is to keep reading. In so doing, one is almost unaware of the degree to which one is being drawn into the narrative, so gently and sensuously do the sentences envelop one.

However, when tragedy befalls the characters half way through the book, following the anger one feels with Simon Van Booy for not only turning the lives of Rebecca, George, and Henry upside down, but also one’s own, realisation dawns as one picks up the book thrown to one side in an effort to break the skein in which he has enmeshed you, that he has you well and truly caught on the hook at the end of those threads. The desire to keep reading is underscored by the fear of how it would feel to go cold turkey at that point such is one’s addiction to the book. Thankfully, although sadness does remain, as the second half of the story unfolds, hope is restored so fully to both the characters and the reader, that like them one does feel better equipped to embrace the future.

Haunted by events in their childhoods, the three lost and lonely protagonists have come to Athens, Greece, from three different countries and ostensibly with three different intentions: French artist, Rebecca, to paint, American expert in ancient languages, George, to translate, and English archaeologist, Henry, to dig. As their lives intertwine, their love for, and dependency upon each other grows, and in the streets of modern Athens and amidst the ruins of Ancient Greece, to further that love they begin to excavate and make sense of their own pasts, ultimately creating the means for independence and redemption.

Van Booy’s debut novel wonderfully and exhilaratingly compounds the promise, talent, and acclaim inherent in his two collections of short stories, Love Begins in Winter (Beautiful Books, 2009), which won the 2009 Frank O’ Connor Short Story Award, and The Secret Lives of People in Love (Beautiful Books, 2010). Beautiful, innovative, devastating, delightful, Everything Beautiful Began After is everything and more.

Links:
Simon Van Booy: www.simonvanbooy.com

Beautiful Books: www.beautiful-books.co.uk

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Book Review: Surf Mama – Wilma Johnson

surf-mama-cover

Paperback: (Summersdale) £8.99
Hardback: (Beautiful Books) £20.00

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

One could perhaps extrapolate that a defining formative moment for Wilma Johnson was the afternoon that she arrived late for a date with Joe Strummer, the legendary frontman of the equally legendary band, The Clash, to find he had already left and she never saw him again.

As she recounts in Surf Mama they had originally met in Camden Town, North London, whilst she was still a pupil at North London Collegiate School, when she chatted him up in a bar by asking, “‘Hello, are you Joe Strummer? Do you want to buy me a drink?'” To which, she writes, “‘I already have,’ he said with the coolest smile in the history of rock ‘n’ roll and handed me a can of Colt 45.” After which he would always put her on the guest list for gigs The Clash played, one of which coincided with her favourite day at school – the day she left! – when she hitchhiked to Aylesbury, a town to the north west of London, to see them.

Johnson had already begun her degree in Fine Art/Painting and Photography at St Martin’s School of Art in central London when Strummer took her out to lunch in nearby Soho and also bought her a present of some fabric from Berwick Street market. They arranged to meet the next day to go to an afternoon rockabilly gig, but she got stuck in a photography lecture and arrived late to find the gig had been cancelled and Strummer had left, and was heading off on tour soon after.

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The what-might-have-been has stayed with her, and continued to irk her, and one could make the case that the lesson she learnt by staying in lessons that day and conforming to a timetable placed upon her, and by extension conforming to what external powers would consider the best choice for a girl at her age and stage, to put classes before “a date with my favourite rock star”, was a lesson hard learnt. Particularly brought to bear twenty plus years later when she had turned forty and was living the life of a self-professed “earth mother” with her husband, three young children, and ducks, on the west coast of Ireland. One day looking out to sea on the “westernmost beach in Europe” reflecting on her long held desire to be a surfer, she edged into the initially comforting thought that now being a woman, a mother, and over 40, no one would expect her ever to do so, and admitting to herself that no one had probably expected she would, or could, anyway.

But her comfort was immediately submerged, as she writes, “as if an icy wave has crashed over my head. What does this mean? That I will never learn to surf? That it’s too late? That I’m too old?” She resurfaced with the revelation that she did still want to become a surfer and a voice in her head repelling the dictates of convention with ever greater force: “‘NONONONONONO!’ the voice shouts. ‘I cannot be too old, I will become an extreme sports heroine if I choose to.'”

Though I am wary of underplaying the power of Strummer, and The Clash per se, challenging convention was in Johnson’s blood long before she met him. Her motorcycle riding grandmother was one of the first women dentists in the 1920s, and when she was growing up her economist, Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, father would “wander around the house in a kimono at the weekends singing along to the soundtrack of The Jungle Book”, and took up windsurfing in his fifties. Equally, after Strummer’s departure from her life, Johnson turned away from punk to New Romanticism, of which her generation of St Martin’s students was the epicentre, and also, with Christine and Jennifer Binnie and Grayson Perry, in 1979 she founded the Neo-Naturist Cabaret, a ‘performance based live art practice’, whose idiosyncratic, body-painted, naturism took night clubs, galleries, festivals, public places, and even the stage of London’s Royal Opera House by storm.

Apres Surf at the Naturist Beach © Wilma Johnson

Après Surf at the Naturist Beach © Wilma Johnson

All of which, to my mind at least, creates an eccentrically perfect set of ingredients for not only taking up surfing in one’s early-forties, but also becoming an accomplished surfer! Although the ingredients did not begin to really blend until a few years after her epiphanic moment on the Irish beach, by which stage she and her husband had split up and she was living with her children in a village near Biarritz, the Atlantic coast city in south western France, which has become internationally renowned for surfing since the late 1950s. In addition to her own determination not to be beaten, Johnson’s surf chefs de cuisine came in the form of two friends she made in Biarritz, Johanna Matsson, a former professional free-skier, with whom she hatched a plan to form the Mamas Surf Club, a women-only surf club with the motto, ‘Out of the kitchen and into the surf’, and Matsson’s partner, Christophe Reinhardt, a former French surf champion, who became the Mamas’ instructor.

Now in her fifties Johnson is more than an accomplished surfer, she is a “surf addict”, her blood does more than stream, it crests with waves:
“I paddle down the face, then I stand up as the board becomes weightless and starts to accelerate. I can hear the white water breaking behind me and see the glassy blue curve stretching out in front of me. The spray blows into my face, flickering with prisms in the sunlight. In a moment I might be underwater swallowing seawater and small jellyfish, but right now I am an ancient princess of Hawaii, I am a bikini model, I am a goddess before the crest of a monster billow.”

Surf Mama is an exceptional memoir. Exceptional both in the story told and the storytelling. Exciting, funny, touching, revelatory, so completely does Johnson draw one in that one gets knocked for six when she wipes out, one dances for joy when she eventually hangs ten. Equally in all the exceptionality, in all Johnson’s brilliant upending of age and gender proscriptions and stereotyping, Surf Mama is a tale to which everyone can relate and take inspiration from. Because it is also a book about love and family, dreams and ambitions, and how one responds to, or more appropriately, rides the waves of, the changes that getting older brings to them all. Surf Mama is also a beautifully produced book, the publishers, Beautiful Books, very much living up to their name; the text is complemented and interspersed throughout with Johnsons’ wonderfully evocative paintings… writer, surfer, mother, she is also an internationally exhibited artist. Ultimately, Surf Mama is an highly inspiring, thoroughly enjoyable, and heartily recommended book.

Links:
Wilma Johnson: http://wilma.me/

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Flow Festival, 12th – 14th August 2011, Helsinki, Finland

flow-festival-poster-1

by Guy Sangster Adams

I may be biased, having lived and studied in Finland, but I would heartily recommend a visit to Helsinki at any time, and this year’s Flow Festival gives an extra reason-or if one looks at the line-up a whole host of extra reasons-if extra reason is needed to visit the city this August.

This year will be the eighth edition of the music and arts festival which since 2007 has been held within the historic and striking environment of Suvilahti, a former power plant, whose nine buildings and two large gasometers were designed by Finland’s foremost proponent of Art Nouveau architecture, Selim A. Lindquist, and were completed just over a hundred years ago.

Flow Festival at photograph ©Jussi Hellsten

Flow Festival ©Jussi Hellsten

Musically, Flow champions a diverse line-up, mixing the up-and-coming with the globally famous, Finnish/pan-Nordic and international acts, from indie-rock, to soul and jazz, from folk to contemporary club sounds. Thus this year the programme includes Kanye West, Iron and Wine, and Janelle Monáe, all from the USA, Australian electronic duo, Empire of the Sun, and British electronic legends, The Human League, plus Jamie Woon, the British singer-songwriter whose critically acclaimed debut album, Mirrorwriting, was released in April this year. The strong Nordic line-up includes the experimental Nowegian duo, Röyksopp, Swedish singer-songwriter, Lykke Li, and a rich mix of Finnish acts, including Finnish/French indie-pop band, The Dø, veteran DJ and producer, Roberto Rodriguez, and newer names to watch out for such as French Films, Jo Stance, and Regina.

The Human League

The Human League

Alongside the music, and inspired not least by its venue, Flow is also about the identity of urban spaces and the transformations, new uses, and the new interpretations that they can go through, the visual and decorative arts, and the best in food and drink. As the festival organisers say, “Flow is both a mental and physical state of being, where feeling flows collectively through music into a larger entity”.

There will be eleven stages and event spaces at this year’s festival, the most to date. These are: Main Stage, Nokia Blue Tent, Black Tent, Voimaila Live/Voimala Club, Cirko, Back Yard, Nokia Lounge, Open Source Stage, Wine & Sapas, Film Garage, and Samppanjabaari.

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Lyyke Li ©Daniel Jackson

The Main Stage is, of course, at the centre of the action, in the large courtyard area and features two LED screens. Acts on the main stage can be watched not only from in front of the stage, but also from the two storey bar opposite. The new Nokia Blue tent is a blue Kayam tent which can hold 5500 people, whilst the décor of the Black Tent, which hosts DJs and live performances by club acts, features 62 mirror balls. Voimala is, in effect, two venues in one, providing an early evening seated live concert area, and late night club dance floor. Cirko is devoted to experimental music and visual art, and Back Yard presents both Finnish and international DJs playing sets from a multitude of musical genres including Reggae, Afro, Latin, Disco and house, by top international and domestic DJs. The Nokia Lounge is a new addition this year and provides another club space.

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The Dø

Also new for this year’s festival are the Open Source Stage, the line-up for which was voted for by visitors to the Flow website, and the restaurant, Wine and Sapas, located within one of the site’s original buildings, Tiivistämö, hosted by the Helsinki restaurant, Juuri, with a menu featuring their speciality dish, Sapas, which is an authentically Finnish hors d’oeuvre, and other traditional dishes, all of which they have innovatively reinterpreted for modern tastes. The food and wine will also be complemented by live performances of Finnish new folk and jazz.

The Film Garage is hosted by The Future Shorts collective, and this year the space will not only be home to their programme of screenings but also to Flow’s first programme of talks and seminars. Whilst, Samppanjabaari, Flow’s champagne bar, is hosted by Moët et Chandon with a sparking line-up of DJs to encourage the bubbly to keep flowing!

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Johanna Försti from Jo Stance ©Kaapo Kamu

All in all, whether one goes for the whole weekend, or just for a day, as part of a wider trip to Helsinki and Finland, or just as a long weekend festival trip, Flow sounds like the perfect destination this August.

Flow Festival runs from 12th to 14th August 2011 (16.30 – 02.30 on Friday 12th, 14.00 – 02.30 on Saturday 13th, and 14.00 – 00.30 on Sunday 14th) at Suvilahti, Kaasutehtaankatu 1, 00540 Helsinki, Finland.

In the UK, 3-day tickets costing £100 plus booking fee are available from See Tickets, (www.seetickets.com). Alternatively, 1-day, 2-day, and 3-day tickets, costing 70€, 95€, or 115€ respectively, plus service charges, are available from Finnish ticket outlet, Tiketti, either in person or online at www.tiketti.fi, or from the Stupido Shop, Iso Roobertinkatu 23, 00120 Helsinki, Finland.

Ticket purchasers can also support the protection of the Baltic Sea by paying a 2€ supplement, which will be donated in full to the WWF, to support their projects protecting the Baltic Sea. The Flow Festival Baltic Sea Project is supported by Ben & Jerry’s, and those buying the Flow Festival Baltic Sea tickets will also be entitled to receive special surprises at the Ben & Jerry’s kiosk during the festival weekend.

Links:
Flow Festival:
www.flowfestival.com
www.facebook.com/FlowFestival
www.twitter.com/FlowFestival

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Book Review: A Taste of Chlorine by Bastien Vivès

a-taste-of-chlorine

(Jonathan Cape) £16.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Originally published in France in 2008, A Taste of Chlorine won the prestigious Essential Révélation prize, awarded to the most outstanding new talent, the following year at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême, Europe’s largest festival of graphic novels and comic book art held every January in the town in south west France. At the time Bastien Vivès was just short of his 26th birthday and the book was his third published work. All of which adds another layer to the accomplishment of this beautifully realised book.

Finally giving in to the repeated requests of his chiropractor to take up swimming, a teenage boy, suffering from curvature of the spine, begins going to his local pool every Wednesday. At first he finds not only the exercise hard going but also the environment to be just as hard, cold, anonymous, and uninviting. But then he meets an enigmatic, pretty girl, whose Arena swimwear, he rightly deduces, signifies that she has been a competitive swimmer. Their friendship develops hebdomadally, with few words, predominantly through touch and demonstration as she helps him improve his swimming technique. As they get closer and his prowess increases, so the swimming pool becomes a softer, more intimate space, with the other users fading into the background.

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But when he seeks to find out more about his muse, she is evasive to his questions, finally mouthing something to him underwater, which she promises to elucidate the following week, only to then not show up that week, or the week after…

A Taste of Chlorine is a wonderfully engrossing book, with few words, Vivès’ artwork, in ripple-edged frames and a muted palette, predominantly of aquamarine, draws one in, almost imperceptibly until, in parallel to the closing underwater scenes, one finds one has become completely submerged by the characters and their simple story beautifully told. And, like the boy, completely desirous to know more about the girl and as desperate to decipher what exactly it is she said underwater.

Links
Bastien Vivès: bastienvives.blogspot.com

Jonathan Cape is an imprint of The Random House Group: www.randomhouse.co.uk

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Literary event: Ace Stories – New Season July 2011 – April 2012

Hotel Pelirocco, 10 Regency Square, Brighton, East Sussex. BN1 2FG. UK
Ten monthly events from July 2011 to April 2012

After the success of their first season of live literature and music events, enthusiastically endorsed by the writers and musicians who took part, including Cathi Unsworth, Amanda Smyth, Scott Bradfield, and Naomi Foyle, and audience members alike – with the venue at Brighton’s Hotel Pelirocco often standing room only, Ace Stories, created and directed by Jay Clifton, returns for a second season which promises to be even better than the first.

In partnership with The Writing School at Kingston University, London, and supported by Arts Council England, the ten events in Ace Stories: Season 2, all take place on Sunday nights, from 6pm – 8pm, at Hotel Pelirocco, Brighton. Each event features an headlining writer, with support readings from two writers local to Brighton, and live music, in addition to prize giveaways to ticket-buyers (via a raffle system) of books, CDs, and DVD, from Ace Records, Serpent’s Tail, and Momentum Pictures.

The first three events in the programme are:

Sunday 17 July 2011:
Jayne Joso (author of Perfect Architect and Soothing Music for Stray Cats)

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With support readings from Mike Loveday and Lizzie Enfield, and music from Brighton duo, Fire Eyes.

Sunday 14 August 2011:
Cathi Unsworth (author of Bad Penny Blues and The Singer)

bad-penny-blues-cover

With support readings from Danny Bowman and Stefania Mastorosa, and music from Sandy Dillon (whose band includes guitarist Ray Majors, ex-Mott the Hoople, Yardbirds)

Sunday 25 September 2011:
Virginia Woolf: A Commemoration with Professor Rachel Bowlby (author of Virginia Woolf: Feminist Destinations) and Dr Theodore R. Koulouris (Author of Hellenism and Loss in the Work of Virginia Woolf).

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With support readings from Erinna Mettler and Hannah Tuson.

All events start at 6pm (audience members are advised to buzz to be let), admission (includes entry into raffle for prize giveaways) is £3, and take place at
Hotel Pelirocco, 10 Regency Square, Brighton, East Sussex. BN1 2FG. UK.

Links:

Ace Stories: acestories.ebn3.com
or:
www.facebook.com/acestories

Kingston Writing School: fass.kingston.ac.uk/writing

Hotel Pelirocco: www.hotelpelirocco.co.uk



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3D, cocktails served by ball boys and girls… watch the Wimbledon finals live W London style

W London Screening Room, W London – Leicester Square Hotel, 10, Wardour Street, Leicester Square, London, W1D 6QF. UK
Saturday 2nd July and Sunday 3rd July 2011

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This weekend W London – Leicester Square offers you the opportunity to watch both the Wimbledon Women’s Final and Men’s Final in the utmost comfort and luxury in their 39 seat private screening room. Where guests can enjoy all the excitement of the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament in innovative RealD 3D live on the big screen, whilst being served strawberry daiquiris, classic Martinis and plenty of Pimms in their seats by W London’s ball girls and ball boys. Game, set, and match!

A limited number of tickets are available for the screenings costing £15 each. To reserve your seat please email denne.dempsey@whotels.com
For more information please visit: www.wlondon.co.uk/calendar

Women’s Final 1.30pm for 2pm start, Saturday 2nd July
Men’s Final 1.30pm for 2pm start, Sunday 3rd July
W London Screening Room, W London – Leicester Square Hotel, 10, Wardour Street, Leicester Square, London, W1D 6QF. UK

Links:
W London – Leicester Square
www.wlondon.co.uk

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W Festival Cinema: A summer season of festival inspired documentaries and live screenings from the UK’s top music festivals at W London – Leicester Square Screening Room

10, Wardour Street, Leicester Square, London, W1D 6QF. UK
Friday 24th June – Friday 26th August 2011

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This summer, with their W Festival Cinema programme, W London is offering music lovers who would really rather not deal with crowds, mud and Wellies, Portaloos, or a bongo collective in the tent next door, a wonderful way to not only enjoy the best performances from an host of the UK’s top music festivals, but also an opportunity to watch a programme of seminal music documentaries. Add to this the luxurious and intimate surroundings of their 39 seater, 3D, state-of-the-art screening room, where guests will enjoy table service, and a special Woodstock inspired cocktail, the Absinthe Martini, mixing Gin, Cointreau, Absinthe, and lemon juice, and created by W London’s exclusive destination bar, Wyld, (Read more about Wyld in Plectrum – The Cultural Pick here) and the season sounds like a wonderful way to spend Friday nights in London.

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The W Festival Cinema dates already announced follow below, but more dates will be added and posted by Mr W on the W London Facebook page (www.facebook.com/wlondonhotel) and also at www.wlondon.co.uk/calendar where you can also find full listings for each screening.

Tickets for the festival screenings start from £5.  To book, email: denne.dempsey@whotels.com

So far, the W London summer festival programme is as follows:

Friday 24th June at 8pm
Glastonbury The Movie and Glastonbury Festival
Glastonbury The Movie is a 1996 documentary looking at the festival’s many characters, key performances throughout the years and historic events, such as the Pyramid stage fire of 1994.
Film followed by live coverage of Glastonbury Festival 2011

Friday 8th July at 8pm
Gimme Shelter and T in the Park
Gimme Shelter is a 1970 documentary film directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, chronicling the last weeks of The Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour.
Film followed by live coverage of T in the Park 2011

Friday 19th August at 8pm
Woodstock and V Festival
Woodstock is an American documentary about the Woodstock Festival that took place in August 1969 at Bethel in New York.
Film followed by live coverage of V Festival 2011

Friday 26th August 8.30pm
Beyond Black Rock and Reading Festival
Beyond Black Rock is a documentary about the Burning Man festival, a week-long annual event held in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada.
Film followed by live coverage of Reading Festival 2011

W Festival Cinema, from Friday 24th June – Friday 26th August 2011 at
W London – Leicester Square Screening Room, W London – Leicester Square, 10, Wardour Street, Leicester Square, London, W1D 6QF. UK
Tickets from £5.  To book, email: denne.dempsey@whotels.com

Links:

W London – Leicester Square: www.wlondon.co.uk
W London – Leicester Square Facebook page: www.facebook.com/wlondonhotel

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The Wyld Couple: Natasha Law’s limited edition shot glasses for Wyld

at W London – Leicester Square, 10 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6QF. UK
June – August 2011

By Guy Sangster Adams

Wyld at W London Leicester Square

Almost belying the intimacy of Wyld, and certainly playing beautiful havoc with one’s sense of scale, the fabulous gigantic mirror ball at the heart of W London’s invitation only bar not only evokes Wyld’s Monster Globe, a short-lived Victorian tourist attraction which stood a stone’s throw from the hotel and was created by the venue’s inspiratory namesake, James Wyld, but also dances it’s light upon Soho’s evocative lineage of decadent and louche nightspots and it’s rich pop cultural pedigree, which has inspired Wyld’s aesthetic and playlist, and which it is now very much a part.

Upholstered in diamond quilted black leather, part rock ‘n’ roll biker jacket, part Emma Peel catsuit, semi-circular sofas pay close attendance to circular tables whose tabletops glow ruby-red. In fact, Wyld, is suffused with a ruby-red glow, reflected and refracted by the mirror ball and lead into dark corners by strips along the floor and framing the windows. Reaching its emblazoned climax with the fantastic cylindrical bar, the ruby-red intensifying to flame orange at its core as it rises from the mirror finish black patent floor like a Wurlitzer organ playing out of an inferno, or an intense Gibson Les Paul sunburst.

Natasha Law for Wyld at W London female shot glass

Lined up along the bar from late June will be beautiful, coquettish women which guests may take home in their pockets… then in August handsome men will disport themselves along the bar, similarly only too happy to be spirited away in handbags and pockets. But guests are advised not to be wallflowers and only steal a glance, or to await ‘the right moment’, but to dive right in or the moment will be passed, because the female and male pin-up couple, ‘The Wyld Couple’, created by artist and illustrator, Natasha Law, in collaboration with Wyld, feature on shot glasses which have been produced in a strictly limited edition of 250 pairings available exclusively from the bar.

“I was inspired to create these characters by the fun, sleek, seductive qualities of Wyld at W London – Leicester Square,” Law says, and continues, “my concept was for them to work individually, but also interact as a flirting pair.” The glasses are an highly collectible addition to Law’s portfolio of work which already attracts high profile fans and collectors including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Cattrall, Jemma Kidd, Diane von Furstenburg, and similarly influential clients such as Browns, Mulberry, Vogue, Beatrix Ong, Harrods, Globetrotter, and Mr and Mrs Smith. The London based artist is best known for her paintings and line drawings of women, which combine the aesthetics and approaches of fashion illustration, with a fine art sensibility including elements of traditional portraiture, pop art, and abstraction.

Natasha Law for Wyld at W London male shot glass

Wyld, the fantastic interior of which was created by the Amsterdam based design agency, Concrete, is a collaboration between W London and Ignite Group. The latter founded by Matt Hermer and Paul Deeming is the company behind such London brands as Boujiis, the exclusive private members club, the Bumpkin restaurants in Notting Hill and South Kensington, which offer British home cooked food made with the best fresh and seasonal produce in relaxed and quirky surroundings, and the international boutique cocktail bar group, Eclipse.

For Matt Hermer, Law’s designs wonderfully evoke the Wyld spirit, as they “embody the playful and flirty side of Wyld perfectly.” He explains that they “wanted to create something to help showcase the Wyld shot with the carefully selected tequilas we have to offer and these bespoke glasses are a great fit.” Wyld’s signature shot is made from premium tequila, kaffir lime sugar syrup, lemon and fresh watermelon, and the bar has the most varied selection of small-batch, rare and vintage tequila in Europe. Whilst Wyld also has ten signature cocktails which have been created exclusively for the bar, including Mexican Sunsets and Sunburnt Senoritas, and for the ultimate night out its Bonkers Ball: premium rum punch topped off with either Dom Pérignon or Cristal champagne, and served in a large mirror ball replete with dry ice…

“By allowing guests to steal the glasses, we are hoping they continue the party,” says Hermer, but even with the temptation of running off with a limited edition Natasha Law creation in one’s pocket, when a Wyld night is in full swing it’s not a party that one is in any hurry to leave.

Wyld operates an invitation only door policy
Open Wednesday to Saturday, 9pm – 4am
Wyld at W London – Leicester Square ,10 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6QF. UK
For more information: www.wlondon.co.uk/wyld

Links:
Wyld: www.wlondon.co.uk/wyld
Natasha Law: www.breedlondon.com
Ignite Group: www.ignite-group.com
W London – Leicester Square: www.wlondon.co.uk
W Hotels: www.whotels.com

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Exhibition: Hare Styling – Original Art Raising Funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital

Heartbreak, 17 Bulstrode Street, London W1U 2JH. UK
16th April – 8th May 2011

By Guy Sangster Adams

Stella McCartney, Untitled, for Hare Styling

Stella McCartney, Untitled, for Hare Styling

Over 200 high profile figures including fashion designers, pop stars, actors, models, hairdressers, broadcasters, chefs, and artists, such as Stella McCartney, Paul Smith, Ronnie Wood, Sunday Girl, Cheryl Cole, Eliza Doolittle, Helena Bonham-Carter, Thandie Newton, Twiggy, Nicky Clarke, Jeremy Paxman, Jamie Oliver, Tracey Emin, and Jack Vettriano, have created unique artworks to raise funds for two new operating theatres at the preeminent London children’s hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Tracy Emin, A Kiss to a Hare, Hare Styling

Tracey Emin, A Kiss to a Hare, Hare Styling

Each canvas features their stylistic interpretation of an hare, many of which using the outline from an hare drawn by 15 year old Angelica Van Clarke, who had a life-saving operation at GOSH when she was just two days old. The Hare Styling event has been created by Angelica’s father, hairdresser Michael Van Clarke and designer Karen Welman, and is one of the initiatives of the HAIRraising appeal, which was launched in 2010 by leading members of the hairdressing community, including Van Clarke, Nicky Clarke, Charles Worthington, Daniel Galvin, Andrew Barton and Trevor Sorbie. HAIRraising’s target is to raise £1 milllion for two new specialist neurosurgical operating theatres which will help treat 20 per cent more children requiring pioneering brain surgery.

Ronnie Wood, Unititled, Hare Styling

Ronnie Wood, Unititled, Hare Styling

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity needs to raise £50 million a year to help rebuild and refurbish Great Ormond Street Hospital, provide vital up-to-date equipment and fund research into better treatments for the children. The hospital is one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals with the broadest range of dedicated, children’s healthcare specialists under one roof in the UK. The hospital’s pioneering research and treatment gives hope to children who are suffering from the rarest, most complex and often life-threatening conditions.

Sunday Girl, Selected Tails from Beatrix Potter, Hare Styling

Sunday Girl, Selected Tails from Beatrix Potter, Hare Styling

All the Hare Styling artworks will be sold by auction and online bidding opens on 14th April 2011 at Giving Lots www.givinglots.co.uk. The sale continues for six weeks, culminating with the Hare Ball a glittering evening of entertainment and fundraising at The Dorchester Hotel, London on 26th May 2011, at which 20 of the top canvases will be sold at a live auction. Both online bidding and ticket applications for the Hare Ball are open to everyone (for more information, please see the links at the foot of this article).

Cheryl Cole, Untitled, Hare Styling

Cheryl Cole, Untitled, Hare Styling

Heartbreak, which is sponsoring and hosting the Hare Styling exhibition, is a new gallery based in a six storey townhouse in the Marylebone area of London. The gallery offers an holistic approach, both representing and publishing the work of their artists, designers, and photographers in-house.

Hare Styling at Heartbreak
runs from 16th April – 8th May 2011
at Heartbreak, 17 Bulstrode Street, London W1U 2JH. UK
Telephone: +44 (0)20 3219 5170
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Film-and-book nights: Black Spring Press presents, at the Society Film Club, Weird Weekends – Part I: The Lost Weekend, Part II: Withnail & I, and Julian Maclaren-Ross’s Bitten by the Tarantula.

Sanctum Soho Hotel, 20 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NF, UK.

bsp logo

By Guy Sangster Adams

The highly regarded, and influential beyond their size independent publishers, Black Spring Press, whose catalogue includes, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Carolyn Cassady, Anaïs Nin, and Charles Baudelaire, continue to host the second Monday of each month at the Society Film club in true style. The programming for their nights features either films that are adaptations of the books from their catalogue, or films that adroitly complement their titles. Plus adding to the enjoyment the ticket price to their evenings also includes a copy of the relevant book.

the-lost-weekend film poster

The next two Black Spring Press events explore Weird Weekends. On Monday 18th April 2011, Weird Weekends Part I features Billy Wilder’s 1945 film, The Lost Weekend, starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, and the novel of the same name from which the film was adapted, written by Charles R. Jackson and first published in 1944. The book which was a bestseller and the film which enjoyed great success at the Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay, atmospherically capture life in the rundown neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York, USA, in the early 1930s and explores the five-day alcoholic binge of the protagonist, Birnham. The film broke new ground as it was the first mainstream screen portrayal of alcoholism, all the more surprising as Ray Milland, cast in the lead, was better known for lighter roles, and Wilder’s casting of him had raised some eyebrows.

the-lost-weekend-book-cover

Weird Weekends Part II, featuring the film, Withnail & I, and the collection of Julian Maclaren-Ross’s writings, Bitten by the Tarantula, follows on Monday 16th May 2011. Released in 1987, Bruce Robinson’s cult film, Withnail & I, is set in Camden, London in 1969, at that time a particularly rundown area, and follows two unemployed young actors, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and I (Paul McGann), who fuelled almost entirely by alcohol, escape their squalid flat for a holiday in a remote country cottage in the Lake District belonging to Withnail’s flamboyantly gay Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths).

withnail-and-i-film-poster

Julian Maclaren-Ross’s novella, Bitten by the Tarantula, contained within the Black Spring Press collection to which it gives its name, presents another sort of bizarre weekend: drugs, murder and bohemian excess on the French Riviera in the 1930s. This is not a setting or milieu for which Maclaren-Ross is well known, his most famous writings feature the London areas of Soho and Fitzrovia, and the English south coast, in the 1940s and 1950s, but he spent his early years on the French Riveria which informs the novella to great effect. The collection also includes a wealth of Maclaren-Ross’s other writings including fiction, non-fiction, film reviews, literary criticism, and literary parodies, and serves as a wonderful introduction to this fascinating writer.

bitten by the tarantula cover

The Society Film Club began earlier this year and takes place every Monday in the basement cinema of the Sanctum Soho Hotel in London. Black Spring Press schedules a film-and-book night at the Society once a month. Anyone can join, and until 14th April 2011, the annual membership fee is £5, after which it will go up to £30.  To join, or for more details, email: Babette at babettek9 at mac.com

Black Spring Press Presents Weird Weekends Part I: The Lost Weekend
7pm, Monday 18th April 2011, Society Film Club, Sanctum Soho Hotel, 20 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NF. UK.
£9 members, £12.50 non-members.

Black Spring Press Presents Weird Weekends Part II: Withnail & I, and Julian Maclaren-Ross’s Bitten by the Tarantula
7pm, Monday 16th  May 2011, Society Film Club,  Sanctum Soho Hotel, 20 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NF. UK.
£9 members, £12.50 non-members.

Further watching and reading about Black Spring Press on the Plectrum Broadcast Player and in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick:

Watch an interview with Robert Hastings owner of Black Spring Press and and a profile of the publishing house, featuring contributions from, amongst others, Alex Maclaren-Ross, Cathi Unsworth, and Nigel Jones discussing Julian Maclaren-Ross and Patrick Hamilton, on the Plectrum Broadcast Player.
www.theculturalpick.com

Black Spring Press and the Revival of Literary Reputations
www.theculturalpick.com/webzine/blackspringpress

Book Review: Julian Maclaren-Ross Selected Letters edited by Paul Willetts
www.theculturalpick.com/webzine/reviewjulianmaclarenrossselectedletters

Book Review: Through a Glass Darkly – The Life of Patrick Hamilton by Nigel Jones
www.theculturalpick.com/webzine/reviewthroughaglassdarkly

Links:

Plectrum – The Cultural Pick

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Black Spring Press
www.blackspringpress.co.uk

The Society Club
www.thesocietyclub.com

Sanctum Soho Hotel
www.sanctumsoho.com