Saturday, 30 June 2012

runners, wigwams, rain, cycling, aclaiir, lie-in



Intended to dig over the patch on the allotment where the runner bean wigwams are to go--runner plants are waiting in pots at the top of the garden. But before I'd finished my cup of tea it was pouring with rain.

Went out on the bike instead and hope to be able to get onto the allotment tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the online course comes to an end this weekend and diploma marking is arriving.

The ACLAIIR meeting yesterday at the Taylor was terrific. Lovely to see colleagues, meet new people, listen to the seminars and attend the AGM.

Meanwhile, the countryside is looking pretty healthy (including the mallow beside Clanfield to Bampton road above), although I think the corn seems late this year (lower pic of wheat off Calcroft Lane).

Looking forward to a lie-in tomorrow.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

s1, al-andalus, aclaiir agm, seacourt tower, roots building, stowe, 18, filmscript


Heading home on the S1 bus, feeling pretty stuffed, to be quite honest, after an excellent meal at Al-Andalus tapas bar, Oxford.

Pre-AGM dinner for members of ACLAIIR (Advisory Council on Latin American and Iberian Information Resources). Last year's AGM was held at the British Library but this time it's at the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford.

Thanks a million to my colleague Joanne for organising such a great meal (and, indeed, the event tomorrow). So much scrummy food. Not to mention, lovely company.

Meanwhile, took this pic as the bus wizzed past the Seacourt Tower, a landmark that has been part of my life since 1973. In those days, pre-refurb, it was known, I think, as the Rootes Building, after the long-defunct car company. When I was a boy, Dad driving by this meant it would only be half-an-hour before I was back at Stowe School (sometimes a good thing, other times not so good).

Returning to Oxford tomorrow on the 7 am 18 RH Transport bus for the ACLAIIR AGM itself. En route I'll be working on a further rewrite of the short filmscript I collaborated on in the early spring. Getting there, hopefully.
--
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Saturday, 23 June 2012

decent bike ride, waterlogged allotment, cotton thistles, hedge and ditch, bunting, two great evenings



















Haven't been on a decent bike ride for some weeks, what with the demands of the allotment and the trip to Yorkshire last weekend.

I couldn't do anything on the allotment this morning as it's pretty near waterlogged. Still, some of the potatoes are in flower (though I never got the chance to ridge them up), the shallots and onions are looking good and the cucumbers and Italian courgettes are beginning to bush out.

So, it was great to take my mind off what I wasn't able to do on the allotment by heading out on the bike. Strong head-winds to start with before I turned off the Langford road just after Broadwell and was carried back along Calcroft Lane and the Clanfield road. Noticed how green everything was because of the rain. Even so, the grass and the corn aren't as far forward as I'd expected--too cold, I imagine. Or maybe it's the waterlogging.

A plant that appears to be thriving is cotton thistle, which, when the sun went behind a cloud, seemed to shimmer out at you like a wraith. The ones in the top photo (taken near Bampton) were about seven foot tall; the one in the next pic (in Alvescot) was about six foot.

Interested to see how much more established the recently-laid hedge and new-dug ditch off Calcroft Lane look (see post of Sunday 26th February).

Loved the home-made bunting still lining the brook in Clanfield.

It's been a bit of a mad week, I must say, what with the MSt Guided Retreat coming up tomorrow. A really fun experience was the end-of-year evening for the undergraduate diploma finalists yesterday. Terrific readings! Also, had a great time when J's god-daughter came to stay on Thursday and we ate out at Biztro (best meal ever there).

Sunday, 17 June 2012

north york moors, kirby, burlington, pope, melbourne, nunnington, hound trail

Lovely weekend staying with family on edge of the North York moors, near Kirkbymoorside.

Looked through really interesting files of family papers, architectural drawings and photos yesterday afternoon, that brought the lives of my ancestors to life. Sad to think that family house, Kirby Hall (a rare design by Lord Burlington--who was the subject of Alexander Pope's Epistle to the Earl of Burlington, Of Taste (1731), one of the Moral Essays) was demolished in the twenties. Great-grandfather lost heart after the death of his only son during the First World War and sold up.

Day also overlaid with happy memories from my childhood of coming to Melbourne Hall near York where my dad grew up.

A sad task yesterday morning was visiting Dad's grave in order to decide on a headstone. While there we also trimmed the grass on his grave and around the many headstones of our ancestors.

A delicious lunch at the Royal Oak at Nunnington.

In the afternoon we walked on the moors for a bit and came across a hound trail. Fell hounds--a sort cross between a hound and greyhound--race across the moors, following a pre-laid laid trail. Beautiful animals. An old-fashioned sport. There are a series of trails throughout the summer and cups are awarded to the champion animals when the season ends.

Non-stop rain yesterday but a great time.
--
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Friday, 15 June 2012

oxford canal, oclw, dr nicoletta demetriou, lawrence durrell, bitter lemons

















Went to another literary event earlier in the week--the Life-Writing Lunch at Wolfson that was led by Dr Nicoletta Demetriou from St Antony's College. A terrific talk followed by a fascinating discussion. I only hope my notes below do the event justice.

(The photos btw were taken along the Oxford canal this morning.)

Oxford Centre for Life-Writing lunch, Wolfson College, Tuesday 12th June 2012 (see www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing)

'The OCLW is delighted to welcome Dr Nicoletta Demetriou (Alistair Horne Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford) as speaker at this term's Life-Writing Lunch: Dr Demetriou will be exploring the ways in which biography can sometimes turn into autobiography, taking the lead from her biographical work on Lawrence Durrell (whose centenary is celebrated this year) and his years spent in Cyprus.

...The choice of a biogrpahical subject is, in a sense, an autobiographical one. (Reference to Biography: A Very Short Introduction by Hermione Lee (OUP, 2009): 'No such thing as a purely objective treatment.' (sic))

Ref: experiences shared between writer and subject--examples of when it is hard to escape subjectivity.

But what if the biographical subject is a hate figure--a terrorist, for example? Subjectivity enters work in ways other than sympathy: 'We' as authors would end up, perhaps, bringing our outrage at atrocities to the text.

'We' write from a position--but concession that end product might not be autobiographical, as such. [See question about impersonal academic biography below.]

NOTE: Nice reference to writer being 'invisibly present'--ie in a third person narrative.

Talk based on one writer's experience.

Durrell was in Cyprus in 1950s--53-56. (Speaker's work is partial or microbiography.) Cyprus was then British colony. Durrell taught English to make money. Then held official post at Public Information Office. This was on the eve of the revolt against British rule that was to lead to independence. At first Durrell was welcomed by writers and intellectuals but when he took up his official post he was regarded by many as a traitor. His work, Bitter Lemons, published in 1957, draws on his time in Cyprus. British critics thought at the time that his account of British rule was fair but his erstewhile Greek friends did not.

Nicoletta Demetriou was born in the late 70s immediately before the Turkish invasion and the division of the island. Huge change in Cypriot life resulted. In part ND's book became a quest to explore the 'lost' Cyprus.

Preparing to write it forced her to face certain questions about her identity and the voice she wanted to use in order to narrate the story. Discussions with friends. In the end the 3rd person voice no longer seemed valid because it would divorce her from the forces and tensions that produced her--and her interest in Durrell and his Cypriot world.

Book will include her family's experiences after the island was divided, her memories, interviews with people who knew LD (after Turkish invasion community he lived in was forced to move into southern, Greek half and dispersed), and 'travel' sections about places LD knew (he lived in what is now northern, Turkish Cyprus but worked in the south). First draft of book to be completed at end of summer.

ND made a decision to 'live' the book--to go to places where LD lived--and to contrast her experiences with his. The book that she is now working on has become a blend of personal reminiscences, travel writing, history and biography.

--

Questions

--Reaction of family? Family pleased. Friends: a friend bought 10 copies of Bitter Lemons in Greek and circulated it amongst other friends. Divided reactions about LD. One friend described emerging book as a love story between ND and LD.

--(per Liz): Target audience? Primarily English. May be translated. Turkish audience? Maybe.

--(per me): How was blend of diverse elements (personal, travel, biographical etc) structured? Planned or instinctive? To begin with, confusion. No structure. Decision to let stories guide her. No artificial divisions. Resistance to imposing structure. Allowed structure to suggest itself.

--Self-indulgence? Yes but LD is always there, so reader will learn a lot about him. (His centenary this year. Conference 'starts' 13.06.12. Ref to LD not being as popular now as he was. Suggestion from audience that for this reason and in order to illuminate the complexities of Cyprus, ND was a necessary guide to subjects.)

--Nostalgia for lost Cyprus apparent in the book? Not really because there is a lot about the division during the 80s and interviews with people who knew LD.

--A criticism of Biography: A Very Short Introduction could be that it leaves out academic biography. Does biography always have to be subjective? Is it possible to be objective and impartial? ND asked in turn, Is there any impartial academic work? (Ref during discussion to biography as 'the bastard child of history'.) Questioner wondered if what she thought of as academic biography was now considered an old-fashioned approach--compared to the more self-reflexive contemporary one. Somone suggested that biography always involved the question of where the author was positioned realtive to the subject. ND finished by saying that perhaps she and the questioner could agree on the idea of the 'subjectively objective'.
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Thursday, 14 June 2012

rose solari's a secret woman, chris andrews, warm friendship

Just heading out of Oxford on the S1 after going to the launch of my friend Rose Solari's novel A Secret Woman (Alan Squire Publishing in association with Sante Fe Writers Project, Chris Andrews Publications Ltd, and Left Coast Writers--now there's a challenge for a former library cataloguer!). See also my 7th June post below.

A great evening, held at the Old Bank Hotel. Three beautifully written excerpts read by Rose in the aptly-named Gallery Room, which was en-studiod by Chris Andrews' magical photos of Oxford and its environs.

Lovely to see so many old friends too.

A warm evening after a cold and progressively wintry day. What happened to that heatwave friends taunted me with when I was in San Francisco!
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Sunday, 10 June 2012

oaks, oxfordshire cotswolds?, up and down dale, third novel
















There are few oaks in and and around Bampton. As I think I've said, this is supposed to mean that the soils are poor. It's difficult to tell the truth of this because fertilisers compensate nowadays. Oaks are found nevertheless along Hayway Lane to the south and towards Brize Norton to the north. The two oaks above are off the Bampton-Brize road and Mount Owen Road respectively--both north of the village.

This morning I spent an hour or so working on the allotment--weeding mostly because the clay was still too wet to fork through--before a quick cycle along the Brize road and back to Bampton via Lew and Mount Owen. The ride reminded me of how the oaks start as one nears the southern edge of the Cotswolds. (The references in tourist brochures to Bampton actually being in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds are, it always seems to me, a recent invention and somewhat spurious.)

Even so it was fun to be cycling along roads that gave an approximation of going up and down dale for a few  minutes.

Meanwhile, I've been writing up comments on assignments for much of the weekend and thinking about 'this and that'. It's been a bit of a restless time since getting back from San Francisco.

I've also been putting the finishing touches to the planning of my third novel. The plot is based on something I wrote over twenty years ago. At first I tried to simply recast the original in a more contemporary setting but have come to realise that this is a waste of time--having 'wasted' a considerable amount of time doing so. Subsequently, I have come up with something new that incorporates one or two aspects of the original  but which has nevertheless changed a great deal and which reflects where I am as a writer in 2012. The process has been protracted and at times painful, although I am very pleased to have reached the point of beginning the real writing!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

kellogg: dialogue between rose solari and frank (of 2001)













Spent a very enjoyable hour or so at Kellogg College, listening to Rose Solari's seminar.

A fascinating talk containing memorable phrases--some of which are recorded below (though I haven't done full justice to the talk in my brief notes, I realise, but nevertheless I hope they will be of interest).

I had only read one of the four novels Rose discussed, The Leto Bundle by Marina Warner. As a supplement to Rose's talk, I reproduce after my notes my review of this novel, which was published in the FT on the weekend of May 19/May 20 2001.

--

Rose Solari, Kellogg College Centre for Creative Writing, Trinity Term Seminar: Navigating Time: Narrative Structure and Believability in the Contemporary Multiple Time-Frame Novel

Rose's new novel--A Secret Woman

Novel with multiple timelines and narrators.

This kind of novel challenges reader's expectations of how narrative will progess. Also demands multiple narrative voices.

Vivid continuous dream--John Gardner (ref?). Novel has to do this, despite dotting about. Rose rates Gardner [as have other writers I admire].

The Photograph by Penelope Lively:

Discovery of revelatory object. Followed by journey of exploration. Re-evaluation of relationships. 3rd person omniscient.

Underworld by Don DeLillo:

Revelatory object, multiple timeframes. Two narrators. Lively looks at small community; DeLillo looks at US society over last 50 years. Switch between 50s and 90s.

The Leto Bundle by Marina Warner (see FT review below):

Multiple narrators. Magical object--bundle of papyri.

Stone Virgin by Barry Unsworth:

Character's encounter with statue changes him. All above books involve a quest.

A Secret Woman by Rose: 12th century mystic--story told by Louise, whose Mum was fascinated by the mystic. Louise finds object through which she can relate to her mother, and which her mother valued. Quest. Louise comes up against resistance--in herself and others. Leads to Louise herself having visions, in London, where her mum came to live (Louise US, practical modern woman).

Each book contains one significant death NB. Death opens doors in time--when we are grieving. Louise's search for her mum. When we grieve we become porous, and we become more receptive to the holes between time periods. Exploring these ideas was part of the reason Rose wrote the novel.

Questions

Atonement by Ian McEwan--attempts to rearrange the past.

Continual fascination with parents, regardless of how we got on with them. Death, though, often reveals how little we knew them.

Clare--narrative structure and dream/believability: influence on this of bereavement; Rose--leads to vividness of perception; Clare--exploration of this by the writer is part of the cross-threading of the of the narrative timeframes.

Ref Adrienne Rich's article, 'Jane Eyre: The Temptations of a Motherless Woman.' Jane Eyre / Charlotte Bronte. New York : Norton & Co., 2001.

Reference to Rose having to write 100 lines of poetry to get the first line. Similar process to finding the music of Louise's voice--her time signature.

Rose's novel contains nothing that Louise couldn't see, apart from two interludes. Rose avoids moments when the author seems to be winking at the reader behind the character's back.

Rather a wonderful anecdote from the novel about Louise realising how wrong she got her mother, having read a document written by her mother.

--

Mother of all myths

THE LETO BUNDLE
by Marina Warner
Chatto £16.99, 408 pages

It is almost 10 years since Marina Warner's last novel, Indigo, was published. However, time has not dimmed the sparkle of her imaginative engagement with potentially "difficult" areas such as mythology, the child's emotional quest for a lost parent, the plight of society's dispossessed, and the notion that the past is "prologue" to the present.

These stimulating themes are interwoven with a vivid portrait of 1990s Albion, which is in part a satirical version of Britain. It is also a place about which Warner is surprisingly optimistic.

The novel begins with a protest at Albion's National Museum. According to the police the protesters are a gaggle of "women who're just lost for something to believe in", "failed economic migrants" and "urban flotsam". For Warner it is precisely these groups which have something vital to say about our current spiritual malaise: the state of "permanent internal exile".

Their spokesperson is Kim McQuy, a primary school teacher in a run-down quarter of Enoch, the nation's capital. Born in the 1970s in Tirzah, a kind of time-displaced Sarajevo, he was given up by his mother to a civil servant and his wife who had gone there to rescue an orphan. Although he is close to his adoptive parents, his early background has conspired with his temperament to drive him first into political activism and then to near-obsession with the Greek goddess Leto, whose mummified remains are held in the museum.

With the help of one of the curators, he starts researching the Victorian translations of papyri and other documents which make up the Leto Bundle. It is through these fragments, which alternate with Kim's narrative, that Warner draws us into the magical story of Leto, a Titaness, and a fascinating debate about the nature of mythology.

When we first encounter Leto she has just been expelled from Olympus by Zeus's jealous consort, Hera - after he has pursued Leto in the guise of a swan and impregnated her with twins, Phoebe and Phoebus. Her initial delight at their hatching with human forms (albeit without navels) soon gives way to concern for their safety in their barren surroundings, until a wise she-wolf teaches her the art of survival.

Back in the present, Kim discovers a medieval text which appears to show that Leto was reborn in Syria at the time of the crusades. With his website about her beginning to attract interest, including that of "agitprop edge" folk singer Gramercy Poule, he next comes across a sailor's deposition describing Leto's appearance on board a Victorian ship. To the reader's astonishment, Leto's penultimate incarnation is in 1970s Tirzah, where she is forced to make a painful moral choice about her son's fate.

There is a sense of Warner debating with Christian mythology throughout. She has expressed the view elsewhere that while she is drawn to traditional representations of the Virgin Mary, she finds them deeply unsatisfactory. To an extent her portrayal of Leto suggests an alternative Marian mythology. It seems significant that at the outset of the book Leto rejects the fable of the pelican. Following the birth of her twins she remembers her wet nurse telling her how the bird pecks its breast and feeds its young with its blood - but Leto decides that a weakened or dead mother is "no good to anyone".

Marina Warner's Leto is presented not as a goddess or saint but as a diminutive human being, who has been stripped of everything but the most fundamental instincts. She is a survivor with strong maternal feelings, and when she resorts to prostitution to earn money for her children we are asked to sympathise with her: she is more Mary Magdalene than Virgin.

For Kim, Hortense and Gramercy the conundrum of the Leto myth is how they might use history to liberate themselves from the past. Warner explores this in relation to various issues: Britain's Imperialist heritage, multicultural Britain under New Labour and the value of eclectic New Age ideas when compared with rationalism. While Kim's unexpected fate emphasises some of the worst aspects of modern life, the book's overall tone suggests that Warner is hopeful that new ways of seeing can be found and that we shall create a better, and more feminine, society.

Frank Egerton

Sunday, 3 June 2012

rain, bunting, walking, morris dancing
















How well rain and bunting go together, the wet ensuring that the flags don't flap about too much.

And today was wet! Had a lovely walk, though--completely drenched after about ten minutes but it was warm and just great to be out in the countryside.

Looking forward to the Morris dancing tomorrow. The dancers go from house to house and we'll catch up with them for breakfast at some friends' and for a late lunch at other friends'. It's looking like it'll be dry tomorrow. Let's hope.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

pruning, biking, lag, festivities, tons

















Great to get out on the bike earlier, despite it being a misty-grey morning.

Took longer than expected to get the bike from the shed--had to prune back rambling rose and philadelphus that had grown over garden path beforehand.

I've not been up to the allotment since returning from the US but will try to do something there later. The overnight rain hasn't helped my chances of working the ground, though. Meanwhile, I'm hoping that the spuds, shallots and onions have grown as much as everything in the garden. (I imagine the weeds have not been slow in coming forward either...)

Feeling less tired today but have been very surprised by the effects of jet lag, which I've never experienced before. Disorientating, apart from anything else.

Well, Bampton is gearing up for the Shirt Race, the Morris dancing on Monday and the various street parties on Tuesday. The folk musicians will be in the pubs throughout.

Surprised when cycling btw by the difference between Bampton and Clanfield, as far as bunting is concerned. Tons in Bampton but not much at all in Clanfield--north end, at least.