John Baker's Weblog

John Baker's Homepage

Archive 2005(return to current weblog)

Reflections of a working writer and reader

Winged with Death current word count: 91519

The About info is all on my website. Click on the link to my Homepage, over there on the left, under the photograph


24th December 2005

picture of osama's niece Here's a New York-based musician, posing for a photographic shoot in the January edition of GQ. She's Osama's niece, Wafah bin Laden, now known as Wafah Dufour.

Go figure.

Happy New Year.


11th December 2005

We stayed with Jack and Christine in London last week.

5th December 2005
Happiness is being 100% Microsoft free.

Today we saw Saraband, Bergman's 2003 made-for-tv film, sequel to 1972s Scenes from a Marriage. Liv Ullmann was spellbinding, although the rest of the cast, Erland Josephson, Börje Ahlstedt and Julia Dufvenius did not put a foot wrong. Strange experience, sitting through a masterpiece. Bergman never received an Oscar for this or any of his films. He was too good.

Photo: Ingmar Bergman

4th December 2005
We saw Factotum today. Impressive movie directed by Bent Hamer with Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor. Bent Hamar has a laconic sense of humour which underpins Dillon's peformance in the semi-autobiographical character of Charles Bukowski. Before the film I couldn't imagine Dillon playing this part, now I can't imagine anyone else doing it better.
2nd December 2005
We were in Newcastle yesterday to see the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Frank McGuinness's Speaking Like Magpies. Newcastle is always an adventure and getting across town to the Peoples Theatre was as exciting as it was going to get. Speaking Like Magpies is a play about Guy Faulkes and the gunpowder plot and manages to draw absolutely no parallels between acts of terrorism then and now. It has little tension and fails to give its audience enough information to make sense of the proceedings. A dismal failure, only barely keeping its feet by the efforts of the cast.
25th November 2005

George Best - died today
24th November 2005
Today I was refused entry on the bus to York (FirstYork - "we are never complacent about our obligations to passengers") because I offered the driver a £5.00 note. I usually walk but it was freezing cold and I thought I'd treat myself. Just goes to show, doesn't it, that no matter how fine the grass is growing, there's always a snake in there somewhere.

22nd November 2005
Stumbled over a good blog today. Take a look at Martyn Clayton's site, poetry, photography, rambling and rants from North Yorkshire.

Oh, yes, and this turned up: An election is coming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry. - T.S. Eliot

21st November 2005
This site is for Christians who can't turn the other cheek no more: Gospel Plow: The Christian Guide to Small Arms Online. Quote: "CGSA is not intended to be THE definitive source on this subject, but rather a primer for the Christian who is beginning to reject the false theology that requires him to be a pacifistic patsy in the face of heathen hordes." Don't have nightmares, insanity will always be with us.
15th November 2005
We got back to York last night after a couple of days in Bristol to see Holly and Chris. Good time. Many years since we were in Bristol but it hasn't changed much. On the train I read a Norwegian novel, Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, translated beautifully by Anne Born.

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10th November 2005
We saw Stephen Lowe's play, The Fox at Wakefield Arts Centre yesterday. Based on and inspired by DH Lawrence's story, the play is acted out by two women and one man. Jill and Ellie move to the country looking for peace, only to discover that the local fox has an eye for their chickens.
When young Henry appears on the scene the reality of the fox and the chickens becomes a metaphor with tragic consequences for the trio.
This is good theatre, written by a wise and experienced hand and is not to be missed.
5th November 2005
I've been trying to make this weblog more efficient. Learning something about Dreamweaver and how to use tables. Some of the things I've never tried before or understood are becoming clearer. If you can't get on here from time to time it's because I'm tinkering.

4th November 2005
Last night we saw John Hegley, the performance poet of Luton fame, at the Pocklington Arts Centre. Very funny, with impeccable timing:
There was a young lady from Leeds
Who swallowed a packet of seeds;
But after a shower
Her bum was in flower
And her fanny was covered in weeds.

3rd November 2005
Twins, a book by Mary Ellen Mark, published by Aperture.

Some photographs just make you think.




These images are from a series of photographs shot at the annual Twins Days Festival at Twinsburg, Ohio, over the course of two years. Check out Mary Ellen Mark's site for more photographs.

23rd October 2005
. . . both the saint and the poet exist through some propogation of destructive violence. In order to discover what is the centre of themselves, the saint has to destroy the world of evil, and the poet has to destroy the world of specious good. Wallace Fowlie.

21st October 2005


Found this on the web. I think it's Miss America. Thought I'd share it with you.

20th October 2005
Who is going to be the next leader of the Conservative party, David Cameron or David Davis. Yup, the time has come round again. Pick another tosser.

15th October 2005
On Thursday, the Queen and Tony Blair, together with other friends, will help celebrate Margaret Thatcher's 80th birthday at the Mandarin Hyde Park Hotel. Should be a rave.

The picture is of one of the Spitting Image puppets created for the long-running ITV series. The puppet sold at auction for £11,224.00.

13th October 2005
A late review of White Skin Man just appeared on The review is by Chris High, who is a writer, freelance-journalist and reviewer of books, films, theatre and music. I've extracted parts of it to my website (, but if you want the full review follow the chrishigh link.
I'm still working on Winged with Death.

6th October 2005
Musical treat of the day. . . .

But who is this, what thing of sea or land?
Female of sex it seems,
That so bedeck'd, ornate, and gay,
Comes this way sailing
Like a stately ship
Of Tarsus, bound for th' iles
Of Javan or Gadire
With all her bravery on, and tackle trim,
Sails fill'd, and streamers waving,
Courted by all the winds that hold them play. . . .
Samson Agonistes, written by John Milton, 1670 or thereabouts; the picture is by Peter Paul Rubens, allegedly.

5th October 2005
National Leglessness Day Austria 2005. The drinks are free!
How much beer and wine is there in Austrian patriotism? We construct our homeland through our beer and wine consumption: from Eisenstadt to Bregenz, from Vienna to Klagenfurt.

Culled from, the city of Vienna's website.

1st October 2005
I finished David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book consists of six interlinked episodes, all narrated by different voices. Each episode is split into two parts, the first part showing us man's inhumanity and capacity for cruelty, and the second part suggesting the processes that lead inevitably to destruction might be turned around by an emergent, community-conscious belief. The book reminded me of Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which also tells of lives brought together by convergent fates. In fact, one of the characters in Cloud Atlas is called Louisa Rey. At the end of his novel, Mitchell leaves us to make our own decisions. Ultimately there is only love and pain. You choose.
My own novel, Winged with Death, has shed about 3000 words in the last week or so. Feels a little better.

30th September 2005
A week of programmes about Dylan on British tv, including three-and-a-half hours of No Direction Home, the Martin Scorsese bio-pic about the maestro's life and work up to around the mid-sixties. There were some good moments, not least Dylan's performance of Ballad of a Thin Man while seated at a piano during his 1966 tour. I hadn't seen this before and it reminded me of just how electric the man can be.
But there have been some good moments since 1966 as well, including Blood on the Tracks, which arrived too late to get a mention.

My goodness, how times have changed. His latest CD,
Live at the Gaslight, is only available at Starbucks.

And all that footage of film with barely a word of analysis. Just because Dylan doesn't want to talk about what's going on is no reason for the rest of us to play brain-dead. Let's dump the personality. The man doesn't want it himself and the bits of it that come through are often incoherent, or muddled, or just plain arrogant.
The important things are the songs, particularly the lyrics, and it would be good to have some kind of debate about their relevance and influence. Dylan the man is only interesting in his journey from the dream of being like Woody Guthrie to his recent appointment as the voice of Starbucks.
Starbucks is a multi-million dollar corporation which makes its profits out of coffee and has been in the news recently for its reluctance to stand fully behind the fair-trade movement and for its Union-busting activities. Hey, Hey, Woody Guthrie, I Wrote You a Song. . . .

Recently read:
The Digger's Game by George V Higgins
The Quest Hero
by WH Auden
The Drunken Boat: The Revolutionary Element in Romanticism
by Northrop Frye
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
The Novel and America
by Leslie A Fielder
The Creative Experience in Poetry
by Herbert Read
The Political Theatre Reconsidered
by Eric Bentley
The Fate of Pleasure by Lionel Trilling
Symbolism and Fiction
by Harry Levin
The Death of Tragedy
by George Steiner
Scoundrel Time
by Lillian Hellman
Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
A Brief History of Time by Stephen W Hawking
The Art of Poetry by Paul Valéry
A Passion for Tango by David Turner
The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski.
News of a Kidnapping
by Gabriel García Márquez.
Blood Memory - an autobiography
by Martha Graham.
With Your Crooked Heart
by Helen Dunmore.
Playing Sardines
by Michèle Roberts.
Days and Nights of Love and War
by Eduardo Galeano.
Northern Lights
by Philip Pullman (abandoned half-way).
The Easter Parade
by Richard Yates.
by Kurt Vonnegut.
Revolutionary Road
by Richard Yates.
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.

21st September 2005

I don't know where this came from. But thanks anyway.

20th September 2005
Winged with Death word count: 93469

Still reading: David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas
Geoff and Anyaa are visiting from Australia and have stayed with us for the last four days. It's good to spend time with old friends. But they leave today and I'm beginning to orient myself towards work again. I'm giving a writers' workshop in Stoke-on-Trent on Friday and a talk and reading during the evening. After that it's back to the novel.

13th September 2005
I sat by the edge of the Kure fjord with E=mc². Watched the small waves from passing boats rocking the Silver Viking at its mooring. By the time the old boat got the jitters the craft that set off the waves of particles had long gone. They were no longer visible, only the distant thunder of their motors broke over the otherwise soundless morning.

12th September 2005
Went to see Crash, directed by Paul Haggis, the guy who wrote the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby. Apart from the astounding performance by Matt Dillon, the film has little to recommend it. Although it sets itself up as a piece of cinema realism there are very few recogniseable characters. All of them are taken to the limit and then pushed over the top. There is a predictably mushy and sentimental ending where we are supposed to believe that everything is all right really. This after 90 minutes of unrelenting, nay, ferocious exchanges between apparently unrelated people on the streets of Los Angeles.
10th September 2005
Back from a six-week stay in Norway. My e-mail program crashed, followed, seemingly by the remainder of my computer. I think this part is up-and-running for the time being. Hope so. There's a guy downstairs building a new kitchen. It's raining outside. I'm looking for a reason to carry on living
22nd July 2005
A late review of The Meanest Flood just appeared on The review is by Denise Pickles, who is a Sam Turner fan. I've extracted parts of it to my websit, but if you want the full review follow the marymartin link.
I'm going back into hibernation now, for the next month, to put the finishing touches to Winged with Death.
11th July 2005
. . . .the sentiment of love, which is weakened by possession, is developed by loss and deprivation. Possession means ceasing to think; but loss means possessing indefinitely in the mind. Paul Valéry, Concerning Adonis.
7th July 2005
Sen. Ted Kennedy, today criticized President George Bush's as-yet-unnamed replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as a "brutal, Bible-thumping, right-wing ideologue who hates minorities, women and cocker spaniels."
"He or she is clearly outside the mainstream of American values," said Sen. Kennedy. "President Bush has again ignored the Senate's 'advice and consent' role, forcing Democrats to filibuster this outrageous nominee."
The Massachusetts Senator said his aides have already discovered "reams of memos" showing that the man or woman Mr. Bush will appoint has "a history of abusing subordinates, dodging military service, hiring undocumented workers, spanking his or her children and rolling back the clock on human rights to the days when the Pharaohs ruled Egypt with an iron fist."
2nd July 2005
I got an email from Daniel Nagrin about my novel, Shooting in the Dark. The great loner of American dance seemed to like it, so, casting any vestige of modesty to the wind, this is what he said:
"I was drawn in by the complexity of each (character). They are all vividly written. I was concerned for the fate of these decent, hard working people. A really good read."
22nd June 2005
This novel, Winged with Death, keeps resurrecting itself in my subconscious. Every time I think I've finished it and put it to one side it comes at me again in the night. There is this or that to add; another possibility of deepening the experience of Ramon, the narrator; and a hail of concepts around the main themes that had not occurred to me while writing the previous drafts.
I'm aware, of course, that one can overwrite a piece and it is important to know when to stop. But as long as I'm enjoying it I'll carry on. Call it polishing, though in truth, it is much more than that.
19th June 2005
"The past" Proust thought, "(was) hidden in some material object...which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not...."
The key scene in Á La Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), The Novel, is when a madeleine cake (a small pastry) enables the narrator to experience the past completely as a simultaneous part of his present existence: "And suddenly the memory revealed itself: The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray, when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane.
"And as soon as I had recognised the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine."

10th June 2005
We were in Filey yesterday. Small seaside resort on the North-East coast; place where I spent most of my childhood. It was beautiful, the sun was hot and we walked out on the brigg, right to the tip, so we had the ocean on three sides of us and there wasn't even a breeze. A large silver-grey seal was washed up, maybe the same weight as me, and the birds were sharing it out between them, trailing intestines over the rocks.
The light was magic, too. Sea and sky sharing a spectrum of blues and greys between them. Apart from us and a party of dazed school kids from a once-industrial town, the beach was almost deserted.


2nd June 2005
I've finished the Jerzy Kosinski novel, The Painted Bird. It's a story about the tangential nature of savagery and terror to love and innocence. A dark haired boy is abandoned by his parents during the second world war and wanders alone around a group of Slavic villages. He is sometimes sheltered and other times hounded and beaten. He is always learning something. I can think of no other novel like it. It evokes fear, shame and sadness because we know at the moment of reeling horror that we are, nevertheless, contained within our own concepts of probability and fact.

Movies remembered:
Saraband (2003) by
Ingmar Bergman.
(2005) by Bent Hamar.
The Sea Inside [Mar adentro]
(2004) by
Alejandro Amenábarby.
A History of Violence
(2005) by David Cronenberg.
(2004) by Paul Haggis.
Maria Full of Grace
(2004) by Joshua Marston
(2004) by Oliver Hirschbiegel.
The Assassination of Richard Nixon
(2004) by Niels Mueller.
Kitchen Stories
(2003) by Bent Hamer.
(2004) by Mike Nichols.
Vera Drake
(2004) by Mike Leigh.

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
Casablanca (1942) by Michael Curtiz..
The Maltese Falcon (1941) by John Huston.
Citizen Kane (1941) by Orson Welles.
29th May 2005
We saw Subitango at The Gate in Goole tonight. Subitango is the combination of four musicians (Tango Siempre) and two dancers (Anabella and Giraldo). Great evening. If they come your way be sure to go see them. They play tangos from a hundred year period, 1903-2005 and the dancers and musicians together explore the various forms of the tango with depth and humour. Just do it.
28th May 2005
We were at the Chelsea Flower Show this week, before it opened to the public on the first Members Day, although I'm not a member (Don't ask). Impressive; cacti like entire galaxies, flesh-eating plants and blooms of every description from the prim to the pornographic. But most interesting were the garden designs. Again, a vast variety from minimalist to frankly cluttered, from clean, simple statements to romanticised and sentimental depictions of a vanished Victorian world that never existed. Water was the keynote. You can't say you've got a garden if there's no water in it. Oh, yeah, and decking is out. I'm glad I went. But I doubt if I'll go again.
22nd May 2005

This image is from a sequence of photographs by the French photographic artist Zineb Sedira.
19th May 2005
Galloway talks to the US Senate.

16th May 2005

There was a young lady named Bright
Whose speed was much faster than light;
She set out one day,
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.
Arthur Henry Reginald Buller

15th May 2005
We were at the Minster last night to see the York Guildhall Orchestra play Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony. They also performed Belshazzar's Feast by William Walton with the Leeds Philharmonic Choir and the Leeds Festival Chorus. Paul Whelan sang the solo part in Belshazzar.
The concert Fanfare "Xanthos" was composed by Roger Nichols and performed here for the first time.
During the interval I met Herbert Whone, whose book, The Simplicity of Playing the Violin, taught me how to live.
14th May 2005
I've been working on the additional chapter in Winged with Death and have just about come to the end of it. It was slow work but feels good and adds another dimension to the novel which I was only vaguely aware of during the earlier drafts. Brings in the concept of self-deception or what we now call 'denial'. It has also necessitated amendments to the general text and means that I'll be combing my way through nearly a hundred-thousand words over the next days.
2nd May 2005
We went to see Laurie Anderson performing The End of the Moon at The Sage in Gateshead. Good trip, great venue, but the performance was a little disappointing. It was one-paced and she managed to use an unvarying tempo for the whole ninety minutes. There was a real sense of loss and melancholy but it needed something to lift it out of the doldrums from time to time. I got the impression that it was written and designed for an American audience and wasn't avant garde enough for a European setting. We'd heard it all before. Politically naive and with too many cliches she seemed to be living off past glories rather than exploring new ground, and her treatment of the concept of time was under-researched and bordering on the sentimental.
28th April 2005
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us... We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves,
like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
Franz Kafka.
Today we saw Maria Full of Grace (2004) Directed by Joshua Marston and starring the Columbian actress, Catalina Sandino Moreno as Maria Alvares, the seventeen year old pregnant teenager who becomes a mule for the Columbian drug barons. This is an impressive and very watchable film which is made with the eye and sensibility of a latter-day Dickens. If you're thinking of using heroin in the near future, go see this first.

27th April 2005
The French National Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) has mounted an exhibition marking the centenary of the birth of Jean-Paul Sartre in 1905.

Comment in France has concentrated on the photograph used for the exhibition. Where the original would have featured a cigarette, in the poster this has been airbrushed out. Who is responsible for sacrificing Sartre to the politically correct or the anti-smoking lobby?

26th April 2005
Albert Einstein

Theatre, music and exhibitions from the recent past:
A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin at the Haymarket Theatre Royal.
Speaking Like Magpies
by Frank McGuinness at the Peoples Theatre, Newcastle on Tyne.
The Fox, a new play by Stephen Lowe, inspired by the DH Lawrence story, at Wakefield Arts' Centre.
John Hegley
at Pocklington Arts Centre.
Billy Elliot - the musical at Victoria Palace Theatre, London.
at The Gate, Goole.
The Chelsea Flower Show, Chelsea.
Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony with John Hastie as organist. Belshazzar's Feast by William Walton with the Leeds Philharmonic Choir and the Leeds Festival Chorus. "Xanthos" by Roger Nichols. Performed by York Guildhall Orchestra at York Minster.
Laurie Anderson
performing The End of the Moon at the Sage, Gateshead.
Don Carlos by Friedrich Schiller at the Gielgud Theatre in London, with Derek Jacobi.
Tate Sculpture: The Human Figure in British Art from Moore to Gormley
at the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield.
by William Shakespeare at York Theatre Royal.
Stewart Lee
at Hovingham Village Hall.
The Thieving Magpie
by Rossini, performed by Opera North at the Grande Theatre, Leeds.
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.


25th April 2005
I finished reading Blood Memory, the Martha Graham autobiography. I've got the Sceptre edition with many wonderful photographs from her career. A full and fascinating life is described, not without its moments of heartbreak and poignancy. The woman's wit comes through with a real immediacy and throughout the text her love of dance and the human body is ever present.
I've begun work on the rewrite of parts of Winged with Death. It feels good and even better to know that there really isn't that much to do. I expect to finish within a few weeks.
21st April 2005
We were in London yesterday to see Mic Cheetham, my agent, and had lunch at the Malaysian Melati close to Piccadilly. Anna and Mic had Singapore laksa and loved it, though the servings were huge. I went for the fried rice with chicken and prawns and managed to get right through to the end. We started with vegetable sate, which was delicious. This is a place not to miss if you find yourself hungry in Soho and overwhelmed by the choice of eateries.
Afterwards we met up with Jane Bryant and David Tasker and saw Schiller's dark, shadowy and threatening Don Carlos at the Gielgud Theatre. Derek Jacobi is impressive as the King of Spain and Richard Coyle's alienated, despairing and guilt-ridden Don Carlos brings tension, hope and fear to the unfolding drama. The Catholic Church and the Inquisition inhabit the wings from the opening of the performance, slowly venturing on-stage towards the climax of the play, underlining the king's proclamation, 'The instrument God places in my hand is terror.'
Schiller began this play while in hiding, after deserting the army. It is wonderfully presented in this minimalist production, reintroducing us to the ideas of the Enlightenment, setting reason against superstition and freedom against tyranny. Although it is, in the end, a tragedy, the audience never loses faith that the revolutionary ideals which underpin it, will eventually triumph.
19th April 2005
Pete Latarch reminded me how good it is to recall the Jacobin view that the work would be done 'when the last lawyer was hung with the entrails of the last priest.'
Especially since we are ruled, under 'New Labour' by trained lawyers whose vocation is clearly that of priests.
18th April 2005
When Bruno Ganz, the German actor, portraying Adolf Hitler, first showed his face in the film, Der Untergang, I held my breath for a moment. Is this an actor, I asked myself, or is it the real thing? It was one of those suspension of disbelief moments. And I decided it was Hitler himself and for the rest of the film I didn't need to question it again.
It's a must-see movie. The action takes place almost entirely in Hitler's bunker under Berlin, during his last days, as the Russian army slowly advance and overwhelm the Third Reich. You have the feeling that you're watching a documentary, a slice of history, as the Fuhrer and his henchmen go through their final contortions. But what the director, Oliver Hirschbiegel is giving us, is a slice of realism that can stand its ground with anything the masters of Italian or French cinema have served up in the past.
The supporting cast are impeccable, as is the lighting, the filming, the sound and the attention to detail of the period. The signs of Hitler's humanity do nothing to lessen the chill of his being. Although his ability to mesmerize and inspire devotion in his followers is not any more understandable, the film raises these questions again, keeps them alive.
14th April 2005
We saw the film The Assassination of Richard Nixon today. Sean Penn playing the part of a man whose personality disintegrates in the face of what he perceives to be the realities of American society. Penn is superlative in the central role. I don't know who the best actor in the world is at this time, there's probably someone in Turkey or Iceland who can do it better than anyone else. But of the ones I've seen, Penn is certainly up there with the best. He plays a character you can't warm to, because the guy is totally self-obsessed. He cries too much and he's incapable of feeling anyone else's pain. Even as his personality fragments before our eyes we still don't feel real affection for him, only pity. Penn gives us shades of de Niro in Taxi Driver, he gives us glimpses of Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man and collected fragments from the characters created by Charlie Chaplin. He gives us Job from the Old Testament, so much so that I began to wonder when the Sean Penn character would be visited by the plague.
This is not one of the best films ever made, but it can't be faulted for the lead, or, indeed, for the supporting cast. It's good on ideas and the script, design and direction are all impressive. It leaves your head buzzing with concepts and comparisons, but doesn't all quite hold together. Go see it.

10th April 2005
I finished Helen Dunmore's With Your Crooked Heart and enjoyed it enormously. It's a sensuous and visceral read, charting the lives and loves of a small group of people in London and Yorkshire. Dunmore shows us how little hold or control we have over our lives, and she delights in those transcendent moments when people recognise the ties that bind us to each other. If you know her work already, this is one of the better ones.


8th April 2005
I was in Wigan yesterday, at the Literary Festival, speaking to a small but enthusiastic audience of readers and writers. Good time. Lots of questions.
Now I'm going to hibernate for a couple of days while they bury the old Polish guy and marry off the Brit with the prosthetic ears.

Some books I've written
4th April 2005
They're all queuing up to tell us how wonderful the Pope was. Nobody wants to be left out, Bush, Blair, all the representatives of the minor parties. Our society has no embarrassment about hypocrisy anymore. Or maybe these leaders just hope that people will continue the lie about them when they are also dead. Truth is, the Pope was a disaster for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. A reactionary old fart. Let's hope that he's replaced by someone better, or that someone decides not to replace him at all. But don't hold your breath on either of those counts.

3rd April 2005
Strange old world. Last month I exchanged a few words via email with Shawn Ewald over at Public Humiliation
, which resulted in him going down to Partners & Crime in New York and getting a copy of one of my novels, The Meanest Flood. Also, his Public Humiliation blog is great for people who want to approach the world with a degree of reason. And Shawn's own book, Anarchism in Action, is a labour of love and a modern classic.

Today we saw an exhibition of modern sculpture at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield. Twenty works focussing on the human form and individuality. Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, alongside contemporary artists like Sarah Lucas and Antony Gormley. There was a video sculpture by Gilbert and George, in which the ash on a cigarette is the entire narrative. Henry Moore's King & Queen was impressive, the king with a Pan-like, as well as human quality. And Ron Muerk's "Ghost", an oversized 7ft teenage girl in a bathing suit, awkwardly leaning against a wall, gawky and anxious, is almost too much to observe. She makes you feel like you shouldn't be there.

31st March 2005
An old friend, the Norwegian artist Gøsta Munsterhjelm, died on Tuesday 29th March 2005. Born in Tromsø in 1912, Gøsta spent his boyhood in Finland before returning to Norway where he has lived and worked ever since. You were still painting last summer when we had our annual get-together over coffee and redwine. I remember the many dinners we shared in Oslo and York, talking our way into the small hours with you and Edel. Our thoughts are with her tonight as you rest in peace.



30th March 2005
I'm writing letters to copyright holders, trying to get permissions to use the words of the various people I've quoted in the novel. There are a lot of them and it's not always easy to chase down the people who own or control the copyright. Found the controlers of Rabindranath Tagore's work in India eventually, but I'm still having trouble locating anyone who admits to the copyright of the American dancer Martha Graham. Sometimes I find the right people and write to them and they don't reply. Have they gone away or are they just being lazy? This could take a long time.
My favourite quotes in the book now belong to the authors who are long dead and out of copyright.
27th March 2005
Anne, Louise and I went to the Phoenix Cantonese Restaurant in Gillygate last night. This was my second visit in the last couple of weeks. Great food and service. It's important to know the good places to eat in York as most of the establishments here are tourist traps. Good Chinese food is hard to beat and the Phoenix has been serving it up for the last eighteen years. Unimposing from the outside and situated amidst a raggedy row of take-ways and a tattoo parlour, once you cross the threshold you can toss your cares away. It'll be smiles and good food all evening.



19th March 2005
Remember Rachel Corrie? She was a young woman who believed that good would triumph over evil, and that justice would eventually prevail. She also believed that the Israeli state would not kill her for her belief.
On 16th March 2003 she was sitting in front of a family home in Palestine, pleading with Israeli soldiers not to demolish it.
Two Israeli soldiers drove a bulldozer over her twice. Then they dumped sand on her body. She was 23 years old when she died of multiple fractures to the skull and chest.


16th March 2005
I saw the Scottish play (staged by Damian Cruden) at York Theatre Royal last night. Oriental visuals with samurai swords, Eastern costumes and sliding screens. The stage was inches thick in black sand. The witches and the opposing armies were played by puppets made by Leeds-based John Barber. The soundtrack was made up of drums and percussion.
Macbeth himself was not convincing. He was the same man at the end of the play as he was at the beginning. No one could possibly believe he was capable of murder.
But Lady Macbeth, played with intensity by Barbara Marten was mesmerizing. Whenever she was on stage the temperature went up considerably.
Still it was the life-size puppet witches which stole the play. Such a simple innovation, and yet it worked perfectly.
Overall, a good experience, a real feast for the eyes, supplemented by stunning effects from the many sliding screens and lighting by Malcolm Rippeth.
15th March 2005
The Ides of March.
I'm reading Playing Sardines by Michèle Roberts. A collection of short stories. Rather patchy, but the best stories are very good. I never read her before and I'm enjoying the prose and her extraordinary imagination. She often plays for amusement when a lesser writer would go for the outright laugh and her best characters appear quiet and understated, managing to conceal their voluptuousness and sensuality, at least for a while.

14th March 2005
I printed out a copy of Winged with Death this morning and posted it off to my agent, Mic Cheetham. Came out at 88256 words. No, it's not finished, there's still a little tinkering to do. But Mic will also have some comments, suggest some rewriting here and there, so I'm not totally unemployed. I'm in a state of waiting. I don't have an idea for another novel, nor do I even want to think about it.

7th March 2005
Saturday we saw Stewart Lee at Hovingham Village Hall. Great stand-up comedy. But the warm-up act, Josie Long, was disastrous. Several people in the audience shrivelled up and died.
Working on Winged with Death. Just taking one point at a time, gathering criticism from my first readers, so I don't know how long it'll take. Probably not as long as I fear.
5th March 2005
I was in Northumberland on Thursday. Great day starting with a train journey through bright sunshine and snow-covered fields. I spoke about reading and writing and read a passage from The Chinese Girl in Hexam during the afternoon. In the evening I joined other Murder Squad members in Morpeth and we read extracts from our work and answered questions from an inquisitive and interesting audience. Since then I've been fasting, getting ready for the final re-writes on Winged with Death.





#Blogging Brits?

28th February 2005
The Oscars 2005. Looks like the Academy getting together to boost their own egos and convince each other that they make the best films in the world. Hello America. Is Splendid Isolation setting in over there? Do you need to get out a little more?
25th February 2005
I've almost finished a wonderful book called Days and Nights of Love and War by Eduardo Galeano, a native of Montevideo. The book was originally published in Cuba but my copy is imported from America. It is a series of recollections from memory, scraps of character and incident, mainly centred around Buenos Aires and Montevideo during the dirty wars of the 1970s. Heartfelt and beautifully written it is a candid and overt testimony to the memory of those who refused to be silenced.


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Rachel Seiffert - The portal for writers and authors



20th February 2005
I saw Kitchen Stories today, a Norwegian film from 2003. Neat, subtle and underplayed little cameo featuring a few of the inhabitants of a 1950s Norwegian village which is chosen by a Swedish Kitchen company as a suitable place for research. Very satisfying. Take a look if it comes your way.

18th February 2005
I got more than halfway through Philip Pullman's Northern Lights before giving up. It was a real page-turner but I need more than that at the moment. If I'd been fourteen I would have gone right through to the end and then read the rest of the trilogy. I liked the ideas behind the central metaphor; the abduction of the children. Because, of course, it is true that childhood is appropriated by organised religion. The ruling fathers can't exist without the innocence of childhood and they need to destroy it to ensure their own continued existence.
Lyra was a great character, too; the wild-child, Huckleberry Finn thinly disguised. Much to admire in the book. But I require my wonders to be more surrealistic/expressionistic these days. This is not a land I will be revisiting in the near future.

11th February 2005
The Easter Parade by Richard Yates was good right to the last sentence. It's a beautifully crafted novel and deserves a much wider audience. Now I'm beginning to look at Philip Pullman's Northern Lights for my reading group. Not my normal fare by a long way but I'm looking forward to the change.

9th February 2005
I finished the first draft of Winged with Death this morning. Came out at 83901 words. There still some fairly advanced tweaking to do, but it slowly creeps towards a birth in the real world. I'm giving it to a couple of people to read and criticise and then I'll have some rewriting to do.


Oh, yeah, and then there was this on Mark Dilley's site:

7th February 2005
I'm reading The Easter Parade by Richard Yates. Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents' divorce. First published in 1976, it is a masterpiece of modern American fiction. The strength of the author's sympathy and observation mark the novel out as a unique achievement.
5th February 2005
The American administration says Iran harbours terrorists, holds weapons of mass destruction, and hates freedom, and that America have no plans to attack. Does this mean they are going to invade the country and torture its people?
3rd February 2005
Top US Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis told his audience at the San Diego Convention Centre, 'Actually, its a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. I like brawling.'
'You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil,' Mattis continued. 'You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.'
I'm not gonna say no more; I'm just a reporter.
2nd February 2005
Winged with Death word count: 81496
Reading: Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake
I'm still working on the last two chapters of Winged with Death. I can see the end but I'm not there yet. The Vonnegut book is a joyful escape
which was good to find and which is nice to savour.
29th January 2005
Getting very close to finishing my own novel, Winged with Death. I'm now working on the final and the penultimate chapters together. Totally ambiguous about it while still suppressing a great surge of . . . what? Joy? Relief? Some form of euphoria. It's what is known as the pay-off. But it does remind me of Borges: I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities that I have visited, all my ancestors... Perhaps I would have liked to be my father, who wrote but had the decency not to publish.
27th January 2005
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates is the best novel I've read for a long time. What a find, a writers' writer with several other unread novels to his name. This novel burrows into the alienation of suburbia, stripping its inhabitants of all their protective skins. It stands comparison with any of the novels which were published around the end of the fifties or the beginning of the sixties (Updike, Fitzgerald, Cheever), and many others besides. The characters are classically trapped within the shells of their individual selves and struggle as they may, the time for a sustained fight is long past. If you love the novel as a form, get your hands on a copy of this one now.
25th January 2005
My novel, Winged with Death, is coming to a close. I expect to finish the first draft within the next few days, probably by the end of January. I'm fairly well pleased with it, because it has been an ambitious project and has changed shape many times since I first thought of writing it. There will still be some editing and rewriting work to do on it, but that's to be expected and is the part of the process that I find most exciting.
One of the main spin-offs from writing this novel is this weblog, which was first set up to document the process of writing the novel. I intend to keep the weblog current, while soon the novel will be set free on its still wobbly legs.


22nd January 2005

The other side of the shrub's inauguration. For more pictures take a look at Brad's Blog.


21st January 2005
In his coronation speech the shrub mentioned the words free, freedom, or liberty forty-nine times, and made no mention of Afghanistan, September 11, Iraq, or terrorism. He tells lies in public almost all the time. He's a rather worrying chap. As are the sixty million American voters who would rather have their sons killing each other than kissing each other.

20th January 2005
Some borrowed images of Montevideo.

These are all of the Ciudad Vieja, the old town.

For more goto the source:

19th January 2005
"Moscow plans to erect a new statue of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, returning his once-ubiquitous image to its streets after an absence of four decades, a top city official said Wednesday. Since President Vladimir Putin was elected in 2000, a number of Soviet symbols -- including the national anthem and an army flag -- have been restored to use, reflecting widespread nostalgia for Russia's communist years... In another sign of Stalin's growing appeal, state television channels have shown a number of prime-time television shows in recent months depicting him in a positive light." (Reuters)


16th January 2005
Mike Nichols' latest film, Closer, with a script adapted from his own play by Patrick Marber, introduces us to a stripper and a writer, a doctor and a photographer. We witness their deceptions and their cruelty to each other as they lie, swap partners, fall apart and generally demonstrate that they don't have a clue about life or relationships or love.
I don't know what this film is about. It suggests that it is concerned with the nature of truth, but it's treatment of truth is only superficial. Perhaps it is trying to say something about sexual relationships, but if this is so it fails by telling us nothing new.
Natalie Portman gives Julia Roberts an acting lesson. And Clive Owen does the same for Jude Law.



15th January 2005
Winged with Death word count: 76133
Still reading: Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road
I went to see the Mike Leigh film, Vera Drake with Imelda Staunton in the title role supported by a lesser known but equally impressive cast of British character actors. Vera Drake is a wife and a mother and a back-street abortionist with a heart of gold, and it would be difficult to think of anyone who would play the part for more than Staunton gets out of it. There were sections towards the end of the film when Vera Drake is so conflicted with emotion and the tension so electrifying that I thought she might burst.
Typically, with Mike Leigh at the helm, the film doesn't dodge any of the issues it raises, and nor does it proffer easy answers or solutions. We watch Vera cleaning out the houses of the rich and the wombs of the poor and at the film's close we are not left with a compunction to get on a soapbox or come down slickly on this or that side of the debate. We've seen too much for that, been too close to the heart of things.

13th January 2005



Laya Torkaman, whirling.





English PEN believes that the Government’s proposed offence of incitement of religious hatred in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill would suppress the freedom for people to express views on religious affairs. While the Government tries to say that the legislation will not do this, the reassurances it gives are hollow. Read More.


12th January 2005
Jo Gordon is the name of the bookseller who was sacked by Waterstones for gross misconduct for making satirical comments on his blog. "The book trade can only exist with freedom of speech and information," he said. I'm not going to argue with that. Give the guy his job back.
Ghostwritten was a good book to read. Mitchell was generous and clever and witty and coincidental without being too obviously self-conscious and his descriptions and evocations of place were astounding and worth the time spent on this novel by themselves. His command of character and voice and the ease with which he seems to outline a life are impressive. This is an author I'll be visiting again.
For the moment I want to read Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road.


10th January 2005
This is from Jeblog.

7th January 2005
Got an email from Simon Shields which begins to answer the question that every writer asks sooner or later. Fiction . . . can it make a difference?
"I really loved everything about your book, White Skin Man, the characters, plot, situation and location and found it highly enlightening bringing an opinion on the politics of race that I had never considered.
"As a resident of Hull it is easy to get caught up in the whole scenario of slagging off the increasing amount of asylum seekers whilst remaining mostly ignorant of their plight. I've never really considered myself a racist but I find myself behaving more and more like one sometimes directing many unsavoury comments toward them. In my defence it isn't easy seeing a once proud area sink into such a dramatic decline, the frustration being exacerbated by the apparent ease with which the asylum seekers claim benefits and lead a lifestyle many of our natives cannot. I guess these feelings are just another symptom of living in a city which is going through it's death throes.
"Having read and, I hope, understood your novel I am more than willing to admit the shortcomings of such a mindset and have experienced a realisation that the angers of myself and, I'm sure, many others are misdirected. Is it really such a drain on the resources to take care of these poor folk and is this local recession their fault? Obviously it isn't, I am no closer to any solutions but I am at least aware that there needs to be one and I thank you for bringing this to my notice as I believe was your intention, I have not experienced a great epiphany but will certainly endeavour to be more charitable in future."


6th January 2005
Just in case.
The boy about 2 years, from Khoa Lak is missing his parents. Nobody knows what country he comes from. If anyboy knows him please contact us by phone 076-249400-4 ext. 1336, 1339 or e- mail :

4th January 2005
Alexandra Gill wrote an article on his time teaching creative writing in prison. Turned out to be very similar to creative writing classes anywhere in the world. The customers were comprised of the overly earnest and the badly misplaced, the frighteningly psychotic and guys hooked on time travel. I've been in those classes on both sides of the counter. They are usually redeemed by one person turning out to be a poet.
3rd January 2005
A taster from David Mitchell's Ghostwritten:
The minutes are hauling themselves by like a shot Hollywood gangster crawling down a corridor.

2nd January 2005

The economic cost of the tsunami is estimated at $13 billion. Bill Gates' personal fortune is estimated at $47 billion. You listening, William?

Buying Books. If you live in the UK there's a nice website for buying books called bookbrain. If you type in the title or author Bookbrain calculates which on-line supplier is offering the book at the best price. Amazon is cometimes on top but not all the time.

 Who Links Here
1st January 2005
Winged with Death word count: 72635
Still reading: David Mitchell's Ghostwritten
Happy New Year. Still jaded from the excesses of last night. No work today, apart from tidying up the computer; maybe some cooking later on.


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