Recent reading

In the five weeks since leaving Sigmer I’ve read about 20 books, more than I’ve read in a long time.  A number of the books were forgettable, but some were worth recommending, and possibly re-reading:

Jonathan Coe‘s Like a Fiery Elephant was an excellent biography of BS Johnson.  It’s worth reading, even if you’ve never read Johnson (I recently wrote an entry about him).

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is a short, brilliantly written novel about old age. 

Pierre Bayard‘s  How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read was treated a little unfairly in the press, partly because of its provocative title.  In fact the book is an excellent analysis of what reading is, and why it matters, particularly when so many books are forgettable (like the 15-or-so recent books I’m not mentioning here).  It’s another short book, and well worth taking for a long journey or a couple of bathtimes. 

Anne Fadiman‘s collection of essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is another short book on reading, but even quirkier than Bayard’s.  Fadiman talks about her experiences of books using anecdotes, such as the interior decorator who rearranged a friend’s bookshelves by colour; or her father who, when reviewing books while travelling, would tear out each page as he read to save weight.

I picked out Being Dead by Jim Crace at the second hand bookshop on Highfield Road because it looked like a bland literary novel and I was (for once) in the mood for something forgettable.  In fact it was a haunting and brilliant novel, one of the best I’ve read in years.  I’m now reading his collection The Devil’s Larder.

The biggest disappointment was a literary novel I read about quantum mechanics.  I’ve read two books recently that straddled physics and literary theory and both have been irritating and poorly written.  I discovered the recent one through a weblog recommendation and the Time Out reviewer is quoted on the cover, declaring that it ought to win the Booker.  Instead I found the writing scrappy and the ideas dull.  Maybe physics doesn’t lend itself well to literary fiction.

Back to Blackpool

I made the journey from Brighton in 4.5 hours and I’m now back in Blackpool.  The packing continued while I was away and the house is very empty.  Apart from my room, which is full of post (including the new phone) and books.  I have lots of things to do between now and Saturday when I set off for Coventry, via Luton.  I also need to pack the room up too.

Which means my last 2/3 days in Blackpool will offer little time for walking along the beach.  Guess I’ll have to come back here for a weekend when things calm down.

It’s weird to be bouncing around so much.  Since yesterday I’ve had no housekeys but I don’t actually need any of the keys on it.  Technically I don’t have a home right now – I’m not paying rent on anywhere and all my things are in the storage, which may or may not have a leak. 

Whatever.  The plan for tonight is simple – write one of the 5 letters I need to write in the next week and figure out all the things to be done between now and Luton.


I’m still in Brighton where I’ve had a relaxing weekend.  On Thursday night I attended the Short Fuse Short Story Slam.  The quality of the stories was highly variable but I was pleased that one of the winners was Bill Jones, who read at Telling Lies last year.  As with poetry slams, comedy did much better than serious pieces. 

I didn’t mind too much not reading my story (called ‘This is not a true story and happened to someone else anyway‘) as it meant I could relax and enjoy the night.  The story was a throwaway, so will probably not now see the light of day. 

Friday night I watched the movie Be Kind Rewind.  It was a fun, uplifting film (a couple of people applauded at the end) but somehow felt slight.  It’s interesting how many recent films have been about ‘little media’ and/or overtly undermine corporate copyright.

On Saturday I hung out with Beth.  She’s been working on some interesting projects recently, such as Node 101 Brighton and it was interesting to hear about those.  We had breakfast on her allotment, on the hillside above the Lewes Road.  I’d not been there before and couldn’t believe how beautiful it was.  I imagine it’s even better in Summer with warm weather and everything flourishing.  I saw Beth again in the evening and walked to the marina and back.  The marina is beautiful at night, and I actually think the Roaring 40s is going to look pretty impressive, setting aside the problems with the project.  It will certainly add to the feeling that the marina is a JG Ballard theme park.

On Sunday I attended a friend’s daughter’s Harry Potter themed birthday party.  I don’t remember children’s parties being that noisy and intense but had a good time.  It was fun to see games I remember as a kid, such as the eating-chocolate-while-wearing-gloves-and-scarf game.

I still don’t have a camera and have packed up the cable to copy images from my phone, so can’t post any  photos of the weekend.  Hopefully I’ll have a camera again next week, ready for my arrival in Coventry.

On research

One thing distracting a lot of aspiring writers is the question of research.  I know people who write beautiful, entralling prose yet don’t work seriously on their book because they ‘need to do their research first’.  Yet one person I know spent weeks researching the suffragette movement and the resulting information was used in only one paragraph of the finished book.  Yes, it’s important give the reader confidence that they know their material, but it’s more important to finish the writing.

I recently discovered the writer Jim Crace.  I’d bought his book Being Dead on a whim and was surprised to find it was a great novel.  Reading an interview with him, he had this to say on research:

"I invent
everything. I don’t do any research. Life is too short. To be a
convincing liar, facts don’t help. What you need is vocabulary, the
ability to use words with confidence. This came home to me when I was
in the Judean desert, before I wrote "Quarantine," which was set there
but 2,000 years ago. I went not to research but to see what the desert
was like so I could tell informed lies. I had a Bedouin guide with me,
with his gun on one hip and his mobile phone on the other. We slept out
one night under his jeep, and in the morning, he said "Jim, how did you
sleep?" I said "Oh, I slept like a log."

I saw his eyes
narrow, and I looked over his shoulder at the desert stretching away
with, certainly no logs, and at best about 600 meters away, a little
skimpy thorn tree. I knew this hadn’t worked. He spoke better English
than I did, but the English didn’t work. It was badly researched
English; it didn’t travel. So I said "How did you sleep?" And he said,
"I slept like a donkey. I slept like a dead donkey. If you’d have
kicked me, I wouldn’t have woken up." I thought here is the answer.
This is how you persuade a reader that you know your subject and are
inhabiting that culture. It’s not about research. It’s all about
turning your logs into donkeys. I just love that trickery.

Something I found with the WW2 book (which I plan to finish real soon…) is that the research didn’t help make it more plausible.  People believed the things I’d made up, but always questioned the situations and events based on fact.  The research made the book less believable.


Where’s James?

I’ve not been so good at updating my weblog the last fortnight (I was updating twitter in the meantime).  I spent a couple of weeks relaxing in Blackpool.  I did lots of writing, rediscovered my love of reading and spent hours walking along the beach.

Since Thursday I’ve been in Brighton.  I’ve caught up with a few people, but not as many as I would have liked.  Mostly I’ve continued relaxing and started preparing for some J2EE work.  I’m going to be here until Saturday at least, then I’m going to Derbyshire for a week before starting the new job.   As of the start of March I’m beginning a six month contract in Coventry.

I’ve not caught up with everyone in Brighton I would have liked to.  However, I’ll be making frequent trips back over the next six months.  I’m definitely going to be around the weekend of March 15/16, where I’ll be attending ‘Enchantment Under the Sea’ at the Hanbury and BarcampBrighton2.  Hopefully I’ll catch up with some folks at one or both of those events.

Lytham St. Annes

My Uncle and Aunt invited me for tea yesterday so, just after lunch, I set out to walk from Blackpool to their house in Lytham (I’ve been walking a couple of hours each day recently).  This walk was fantastic – the first half was across Dunes and sandy beaches straight out of a Ballard novel: jet planes flying overhead, the sea so far out it was almost invisible, and the weirdness of St Anne’s Pier, which I’ve yet to see with the sea below it.


I found a cafe in St Annes.  There were few people out on the beach but this seaside canteen was packed.  I took away a cup of coffee and a slice of the best fruitcake I’ve ever eaten.  I also shot a couple of fantastic photos nearby but, since I don’t have the grey lead to connect my phone to my PC, I can’t share them.  I was going to try describing them instead but one of them (a weird beach-sculpture) is beyond my powers.

I arrived in Lytham early so haunted the charity bookshops, where I found a copy of Edwin W. Teale’s ‘The Golden Throng’ which I’ve wanted to read for years.  Then to my Uncle and Aunt’s for tea and Ashes to ashes.  I had a good day.