John Baker's Weblog



Some reflections of a working writer and reader
Winged with Death current word count: 74534
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Recently read:
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell.
The Sound & the Fury by William Faulkener.
The Ikon Maker by Desmond Hogan.
The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vazquez Montalban.
True at First Light by Ernest Hemingway.
Absolute Friends by John le Carre.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunnant.
You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe.
The Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankell.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.
The Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson.
The American Boy by Andrew Taylor.
Tokyo by Mo Hayder.
Samuel Pepys - The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin.
Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman.
Sheer Blue Bliss by Lesley Glaister.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind.
Always a Body to Trade by KC Constantine.
The Tupamaros, The Unmentionables by Major Carlos Wilson.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.
Atomised by Michel Houellebecq
Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.
Mary Swann by Carol Shields.
The Forest of the Hours by Kirstin Ekman.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf.
Brick Lane by Monica Ali.
The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor.
Family Values by KC Constantine.
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson.
Unless by Carol Shields.
Good Sons by KC Constantine.
The Dark Room by RK Narayan.
The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy.
Hen's Teeth by Manda Scott.
Disgrace by JM Coetzee.
Burial of Ghosts by Ann Cleeves.
Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore.
Thinks . . . by David Lodge.
Darwin's Worms by Adam Phillips.
The Private Parts of Women by Lesley Glaister.
Death and the Oxford Box by Veronica Stallwood.
The Investigation by Juan Jose Saer.
The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert.
The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine.
Russian Disco by Wladimir Kaminer.
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.
Dockers and Detectives by Ken Worpole.
Heartbreak Tango by Manuel Puig.
Foe by JM Coetzee.
Shame by Bergljot Hobæk Haff.
Memoirs of the Author of 'The Rights of Woman' by William Godwin.
A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark by Mary Wollstonecraft.
The Sleeping and the Dead by Ann Cleeves.

Movies remembered:
Diarios de motocicleta (2004) by Walter Salles.
La Mala Educacion
(2004) by Pedro Almodovar.
Bowling for Columbine (2002) by Michael Moore.
Hable con ella (2002) by Pedro Almodóvar.
Elling (2001) by
Petter Næss

The Dancer Upstairs
(2002) by John Malkovich.
Laissez-Passer (2002) by Bertrand Tavernier.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) by Anthony Minghella.
Todo sobre mi madre (1999) by Pedro Almodóvar.
The Big Lebowski (1998) by Joel Coen.
Looking for Richard (1996) by Al Pacino.
Il Postino (1994) by
Michael Radford.
The Piano (1993) by
Jane Campion.
Änglagård (1992) by
Colin Nutley.
Thelma & Louise (1991) by Ridley Scott.
37°2 le matin (1986) by
Jean-Jacques Beineix.
Prizzi's Honor (1985) by
John Huston.
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) by Hector Babenco.
Body Heat (1981) by
Lawrence Kasdan.
Atlantic City (1980) by
Louis Malle.

All That Jazz
(1979) by
Bob Fosse.
Scener ur ett äktenskap (1973) by Ingmar Bergman.
Cabaret (1972) by
Bob Fosse.
Morte a Venezia (1971)
by Luchino Visconti.
The French Connection (1971) by
William Friedkin.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) by
Arthur Penn.
My Fair Lady (1964) by
George Cukor.
Marnie (1964) by Alfred Hitchcock.
Cape Fear (1962) by
J. Lee Thompson.
Jules et Jim (1962) by
François Truffaut.
La Notte (1961) by
Michelangelo Antonioni.
La Ciociara (1960) by
Vittorio De Sica.
Psycho (1960) by Alfred Hitchcock.
La Dolce vita (1960) by
Federico Fellini.
The Defiant Ones (1958) by Stanley Kramer.
The Key (1958) by Carol Reed.
The Young Lions (1958) by Edward Dmytryk.
Giant (1956) by George Stevens.
The Ladykillers (1955)
by Alexander Mackendrick.
The African Queen (1951) by John Huston.
The Third Man (1949)
by Carol Reed.
Key Largo (1948) by
John Huston.
The Big Sleep (1946) by
Howard Hawks.
Double Indemnity (1944) by Billy Wilder.
The Maltese Falcon (1941) by John Huston.
Citizen Kane (1941) by
Orson Welles.
Theatre, music and exhibitions from the recent past:
One Touch of Venus by Kurt Weill, performed by Opera North at the Grande Theatre, Leeds.
Steve Earl at Leeds Irish Centre.
Tynan at Newcastle Theatre Royal with Corin Redgrave in an RSC production.
Edward Hopper exhibition at Tate Modern.
The Permanent Way by David Hare at Leeds Playhouse.
Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams with Diana Rigg at Newcastle Theatre Royal.

Measure for Measure by the RSC at Newcastle Theatre Royal.
Käthe Kollwitz museum in Berlin and Cologne.





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Archive 2002 (return to current weblog)

30th December 2002.
I haven't written anything these last days. Too busy here with friends and family over Christmas. Doesn't look as though I'll get started again for a few days. I'm still enjoying the Ken Worpole book and will have to find other texts by him.
23rd December 2002.
I've begun reading Ken Worpole's Dockers and Detectives, published in 1983. It's a study of mass literary culture in the UK and discusses how readers and writers produce and absorb words. It is a well thought-through text which attacks the quite arbitrary division between popular and serious literature. The literary canon is castigated as a bar to greater cultural democracy.
20th December 2002.
At some point I have to abandon the novel and play at Christmas. I tell myself the longer I keep going the easier it will be to pick it up again after the holiday, but I know it's an illusion. Once you stop the devil gets on your back and he won't get off again without a fight. I've enjoyed the Puig novel. It's a little dated, but always refreshing to see different experimental writing. Somehow it doesn't quite work. Get's very close, almost there, but falls short.
Looks like Dubya is determined to go to war. What a prick. And the Blair dynasty, like blind and starving vermin pursuing a derelict and oozing freighter, flounder in his wake. Peace on earth, George.
17th December 2002.
To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Theodore Roosevelt.
15th December 2002.
I've just been to see Bowling for Columbine, the latest Michael Moore film. Very well made, thoughtful movie. Enjoyable isn't really the word to describe it. Surely the best American film of the year? But I don't expect it will feature in the Oscars. What a pity. A labour of love and courage. It deserves to be remembered.
11th December 2002.
Getting the right premise for this novel is not easy, but I'm beginning to see a way through it. It's like dealing with a ghost. I can feel it taking form just behind my left shoulder, but when I turn quickly, there is nothing there. I have begun reading Manuel Puig's Heartbreak Tango. Puig was an Argentine exile who settled in New York in 1963 and died in Mexico in 1990. He studied with Vittorio De Sica in Rome and worked in films there. He lived in Paris and London where he taught and washed dishes. He is best known for his 1976 novel Kiss of the Spider Woman.
9th December 2002.
Went to see Malkovich's The Dancer Upstairs. Enjoyed the two central performances and the beautiful camera work. Good mood, but the film gives rise to many important questions and fails to answer them.
My own novel has changed direction again and I am going back to the beginning to rework the opening chapter. I don't mind. It has to be right.
7th December 2002.
Time goes quickly. I'm working on chapter two already, although I have a few hundred words of chapter three in the bag. Strange mood about the first chapter, a combined sense of loss and anticipation. It feels as though it might be a subtle change of direction for Sam. But I'm speculating. I don't really know. It's a true mystery at the moment as I can't really imagine any of the revealed characters committing the crime. Perhaps there is someone else in the wings who done it? But it doesn't seem to matter at the moment. There are more important things to deal with, like finding the connections between the themes, and digging for the various ways all of the protagonists are abducted or held to ransom.
I saw Laissez-Passer, Bertrand Tavernier's bittersweet film on collaboration and survival in Nazi-occupied France. A wonderful movie about French cultural history, and the interaction of the film industry with the forces of Hitler. Echoes there of Hollywood's collaboration with Joe McCarthy. It handles personal tension well and although it lasts for hours the time passes very quickly. One of the best films of the year.
25th November 2002.
Mark Lynch asked me if this current novel is going to be in the first person, as I had mentioned earlier that I was interested in doing that. The answer is no. Which is a great pity.
24th November 2002.
Started to read JM Coetzee's Foe. It's a retelling of the Robinson Crusoe story, as told by a woman called Susan Barton, who spent time with Crusoe on the island and, later, approached Daniel Foe, a man of letters, with the proposition that he ghost her story. Fascinating and intelligent and obsessed with the telling and retelling of stories and what happens to them in the process.
My progress with the new novel is something less than two-thousand words a week at the moment. Looks like it might take a while to finish it at this rate. But you never can tell about speed. The narrative is interesting to me and I want to make sure that I get in all that occurs, but it is a multi-layered thing and not easy to control. Striving for a compulsive non-rational language.
The firemen are on strike for eight days after being screwed by the government.
23rd November 2002.
I've got around four thousand words and what feels like the beginning of a continuing narrative. The series characters all work fine, almost as if they are eager to be let out again for another run. The new characters in this novel are beginning to make themselves felt, though they are still somewhat shadowy. I like the feel of them, though, and although they are not fully fleshed out on the page they are very much there for me and I can feel their potential. I don't know if the villain of the piece has made an appearance yet, or even if a crime has been committed. Doesn't seem important yet.
12th November 2002.
I'm reading Shame by Bergljot Hobæk Haff. Reads like a family chronicle while at the same time mirroring the violence and alienation of the twentieth century. To some extent it deals with the concept of collective guilt and is totally joyless. Beautifully written, though.
Still struggling to find the right opening for my new novel. Have three alternatives at the moment, but suspect that none of them will prove to be right.
This is familiar territory for me; looking for a miracle and being bombarded with minor wonders.
7th November 2002.
I talked to a nice lady called Wendy Simmons from the Tang Hall local history group. I thought Tang Hall (an estate in York) might have some rich esoteric connection to the Tang Dynasty, but no such luck. Apparently it comes from the word tong or tongs, which refer to a fork in the river. This is only important because parts of the novel will be set in this area of York.
6th November 2002.
I thought I might start writing today but it didn't happen. Inside me there's a kind of pacing going on, back and forth, back and forth. It's a dialectical process. The unwritten book gets stronger and beckons. I have to get ready to step outside of myself and into the novel.
(Later the same day) I wrote the first couple of paragraphs. Looks like a Sam Turner novel.
Bush and the Republicans scored a huge mid-term election victory, putting them in control of the Senate, House of Representatives and White House for the first time since 1954. God save America. In fact, God save all of us.
2nd November 2002.
The concept of inexclusion keeps coming at me. The term was coined by Sanjoy Roy to describe the sense of being inside and outside at the same time, with particular reference to non-whites who have been subjected to the mapping of a white cultural identity.
A similar experience is described by second and third generation British Asians, who feel inexcluded by both the British and their parents or grandparents country of origin.
But it works the other way around, as was discovered by those white Britons who returned to the mother country after spending their working lives in the colonies.
Milan Kundera's latest novel explores the experience of two Czechs who arrive back in Prague after an absence of twenty years. Their dilemma is portrayed as a problem of memory, but there is little doubt that these fictional characters are also experiencing this same sense of inexclusion.
There is also the experience of genre writers' who are connected to and nourished by the literature of their mother tongue but whose writing is undervalued by the snobbery and elitism of the literary establishment.
Inexclusion is, in fact, one of the salient and important experiences of the post-modern condition. There is no way we can go back home. Apart from the one in our memory or in our fancy, there is no home to return to.
1st November 2002.
Good trip around Europe. Berlin, especially the former east, was wonderful. A city full of optimism, lots of young people moving in. Visited the Käthe Kollwitz museum. Later we travelled on to Prague, the latter part of the journey through a gauntlet of prostitutes waving down tourists arriving from East Germany. We had to leave our car there (broken piston) and travel on to Amsterdam by train.
Strains of the novel continue to come to me. I thought it would be fascinating to look at what it means that women usually dance backwards. But we know why, don't we? And I keep getting reminders of something Emma Goldman is credited with: 'If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.'
5th October 2002.
A few more days before we go to Berlin, etc. Then I'll begin the novel when we get back. Heard a wonderful story about a meeting between the Prophet Mohammed and Moses.
2nd October 2002.
I read an interview with a fifteen-year old girl who had lost her brother to a fatal illness when she was eleven. The girl had still not got over it and found that people didn't want to talk about it, making her own task of dealing with the event even more difficult. Her message was: 'We need to talk more about death.'
30th September 2002.
Tourist/Asylum Seeker/Refugee. I was almost there today, but it has slipped away from me. I can't quite reach it yet. It is on the tip of my keyboard.
28th September 2002.
Coming to the end of the Wollstonecraft book now. It is excellent. She certainly has opinions on everything under the sun. And although it was written over 200 years ago it is still worth your attention. Tomorrow I'll begin on William Godwin's Memoirs of the Author of 'The Rights of Woman'.
25th September 2002.
Tony Blair allowed himself to be seduced by George Bush. And Junior also managed to seduce a large chunk of the American population for his invasion of Afghanistan and his proposed invasion of Iraq, even though the man's an idiot. Strange, because you don't have to be psychic to see that the USA is being managed by Cheney and Rumsfeld and that Bush is just a smiling bimbo.
24th September 2002.
A further interest, to thicken the broth, is the idea of seduction. Sexual seduction, of course, but also literary seduction. Who has not been seduced by a book? I believe that the most powerful story of seduction in recent times is contained in the novella, Il Postino by Antonio Skarmeta. 'All men who touch first with words go much further afterwards with their hands,' Beatriz's mother warns her. But Beatriz has already been seduced by Neruda's metaphors.
The extension of seduction is contained in the world of PR and advertising, where deception, half-truths and downright lies usually carry the day. Manuel Puig quotes the text of a radio commercial for lipstick: 'For today's modern woman, personality comes before beauty.'
20th September 2002.
The other thing that interests me at the moment is Time. But I don't want to write a novel about time. I don't even think it's possible. Winged with Death, would be a good title. Hours are Time's shafts, and one comes winged with death. Time the destroyer. Time the healer. And the surest poison is time.
We write novels by putting all these disparate elements into a cauldron and stirring them over a temperate flame.
The pityless stars know in the midst of our laughter how that laughter will end. Who said that?
18th September 2002.
Finished the Ann Cleeves book yesterday and started on the Penguin edition of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. This edition also includes William Godwin's Memoirs of the Author of 'The Rights of Woman'.
The book contains a long introduction by Richard Holmes, a kind of detective story in which he traces and teases out the reasons for Wollstonecraft's journey. Fascinating. Can it really be true that she was searching for a treasure-ship?
I am reading this very slowly.
The novel I am gearing myself up to write will have a working title of Chocks Away. (I know it's silly). I want to explore the connections between inhibitions and alcohol and drugs, between inhibitors and morals and social ideals. Might be interesting to look at how we, as individuals and groups, use chocks to immobilize ourselves, to keep ourselves in readiness, and how from time to time we dispense with them altogether so that we might fly.
14th September 2002.
I have to add one chapter to White Skin Man and I've begun that and it feels good. Otherwise I'm still reading the Ann Cleeves book and enjoying it. I like her prose, it's clean and unfussy and she writes women really well. I'm still not thinking too much about the new novel. I can't do anything about it at all until White Skin Man is out of the way.
7th September 2002.
Still working on White Skin Man, so I haven't had to think about the new novel. Whatever else, I find myself more and more committed to a European novel. I've stopped reading American books in an effort to free myself of that template. Next month we'll go on a trip to Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Looking for the source. Reading The Sleeping and the Dead by Ann Cleeves, an intriguing and intelligent novel about a modern-day Casper Hauser-like figure.

31st August 2002.
I've just returned from holiday where I was working on the final draft of White Skin Man. There's still a little work to do on it, but the germs of the new novel have started to sprout. I arrived home to be met by the proofs of the last Sam Turner Novel, The Meanest Flood, so I've had to suspend work on White Skin Man for the time being.

For some time I've been wondering if I should write a first-person novel, a stand-alone. Maybe that's what is coming through now. I still haven't decided; occasionally it feels like another Sam Turner novel.