It all depends what you mean by…..

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This Place, The Right Place.

This is the second Staymore novel I have read and I’m both intrigued and bewildered. It follows the story of Diana, recently graduated from a top college, and Day, the teenage boy who channels Daniel Lyam Montross,( a local no-good who died years before). They run away together to visit the lost villages where Daniel had stayed eighty years previously.

Diana’s businessman father employs G, a washed up college lecturer, to find out what happened to them after the ending of the previous novel ( Lightning Bug.) Most of the story is told by G ( who is Donald Harington in every respect apart from his name.) He tracks the two runaways from one abandoned village to another, trying to tease out the reason for their long, and apparently pointless journey.

And that is just about the whole story. It’s packed with all kinds of literary references- Diana and Day as Adam and Eve trying to get back to Eden, Daniel Lyam Montrose as either God ( who is running the whole show) or the Devil ( I can’t make up my mind which)- and G the lecturer, allergic to everything except whisky, who is trying to make sense of it all.

“ This Place, The Right Place” is about all kinds of things – Arkansan dialect, village life, sex ( lots of sex) but more than that, this is a book about the nature of the novel. When you read a good novel, how real are the characters ? How real are the characters to each other ? Or the author ? Do we , each one of us, have a tangible reality, or are we all just a summary of how everyone else sees us ?

Is there a clearcut border between the writer and the people he creates ? Or do they create him?

This book, like the one before it, has a long literary ancestry. You can find Laurence Sterne here, James Joyce for wordplay, Dickens for intricate plotting, Chaucer for coarse humour and sex and Melville for mind boggling weirdness. Oh- and Pirandello for theatricality.

Did I enjoy it ? Well it all depends on what “it” is and who I am doesn’t it- there – you see -the damn thing is infectious.

It’s a great book. And I shall read it again sometime.

But not yet. I need something simple, like the telephone directory.

Lots of characters. Not much plot though. Never mind.

I didn’t delete it after all…

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I almost did. I’ve been trying to write this poem since the start of the year and it’s been driving me crazy. I like the idea of writing a poem as a reaction to someone else’s poem, and I love Frost’s ” The Road Not Taken.” It is so simple, and so clever- it’s about choices- which might not see important at the time – and how they can change the course of your life.

So over the past week or so I got all the scraps and odd lines I’d collected, and bolted them together into some kind of order. Usually I can tell if a poem is going to be any good, but this one really bewildered me. One moment I thought it was perfect- a brilliant piece of work, and the next I wrote it off as trash. So I put it up and begged for help.

And I got it. Cherie L gave me the most useful crit I’ve ever had. First of all she said she liked it – and then she pointed out all the little details that I had  missed – putting a line space in here, rewriting a word there. She pointed out that the end of the first verse didn’t make sense ( which it didn’t) and that the very last line didn’t quite work. I knew that, in my heart, but I’d been too damn lazy to do anything about it.

So this evening I have buckled down and  done some re-writing. I think it’s a lot better. Compare this post (the new version) and my previous post and you can see the changes. And Cherie…thanks for the help…I really appreciate it.

After “ The Road not Taken”- Robert Frost Version 2

I took the road more travelled.
Cajoled by circumstance and friends
I chose the broader way.

But now I can’t return.

The yellow wood,
the intersecting paths
belong to others now.

Way no longer leads to way
but narrows to a single track.
I cannot stop. I cannot stray.
I must walk on and not look back.

The finish can’t be far.

Perhaps another wood at the road’s end,
with trees just coming into bud,
leaves dripping sunlight,
my footsteps
soft on the warm earth.

This is a first draft. Critique it for me.

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This is a response to the wonderful Robert Frost poem- ” The Road Not Taken.” I think it absolutely brilliant – now. Maybe tomorrow I will rip it up and delete the word file.
What should I do ?
Should it go ?
Or should it stay ?

After “ The Road not Taken”- Robert Frost

I took the road more travelled,
cajoled by circumstance and friends
into a broader path, for one
who fears to start more than to end.

But now I can’t return.

The yellow wood,
the intersecting paths
belong to others now.

Way no longer leads to way
but narrows to a single track.
I cannot stop. I cannot stray
I must walk on and not look back.

The finish can’t be far. Perhaps
another wood at the road’s end,
with trees just coming into bud,
leaves dripping sunlight,
and the smell of green.

Why you must read Donald Harington

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I’ve always had trouble with American literature. Maybe it’s because “ Moby Dick” casts a long shadow over my reading life (it’s a big book- and a big whale).. I’ve never read Carver, Gore Vidal or even Scott Fitzgerald. Although I have read- and enjoyed- Robert Ford.

I came across “ The Nearly Complete Works of Donald Harington” when it appeared as a cheapie on Kindle. Six novels for 99p- it sounded like a good deal.

It was a better deal than I could ever imagined. Donald Harington sets this novel sequence in an imaginary Arkansas village, miles from anywhere. Harington based it on Drake’s Creek, a hamlet he had stayed as a boy.He has a razor sharp memory for what it is to be very young.

“Lightning Bug” begins with Dawny, a little boy of five or six, sitting on the verandah of Latha Bourne’s house. He listens to the screen door squeak, the cats purring in the yard. Latha keeps one of the two village stores. She’s strong, lonely, uncertain- a wonderfully complex creation. She lives with her ( putative) niece and her life is broken apart by the return of her erstwhile lover Every Dill. He is the town’s bad boy. Years before he robbed the bank where Latha worked, went to prison, joined the army, and now returns as a hellfire preacher.

The resolution of this relationship ( Will they get back together ?) is the core of the book and it’s presented through Dawny’s eyes, the narrator’s omniscient view, and the opinions of the other villagers.

The whole thing works perfectly. It is very funny – even surreal. The bootlegger up on the mountain has imprisoned a revenue man in his barn and only lets him go after his daughter has seduced the poor man into marriage.

It’s also very moving. Harington doesn’t shy away from complexity. People are complicated; they change their minds- they act inconsistently- and all this is reflected in the book.

Harington’s novels are easy to read – you don’t notice the complexities because they are so completely embedded in the text. But he makes language really sit up and dance. One incident can be described by three or more participants. He describes two love-makings – years apart in time- as though they happen in the same time.

“ Lightning Bug” is in the tradition of Chaucer ( for it’s cheerful vulgarity) Dylan Thomas for its use of language and Antony Trollope for its compassionate view of people.

I’ve started the next one “ Some Other Place The Right Place” – it’s wierd, totally involving. I shall report back.

A Close Shave

images-2Beards are back. Have you noticed ? Maybe it started with David Beckham who grew a rather snazzy, pointy beard to go with his thick, short-at-the-side-and-piled-up-on-top hair style. In fact beards have been back for eighteen months or so, and according to the pundits, we have passed the Point of Peak-Beard and are returning to the Fields of Stubble or the Smooth-as-a- peach style.

I mention beards because, for the first time since I was fourteen (and that’s a very long time ago) I have trouble shaving. When I was fourteen the problem was finding enough beard to shave- it was a pathetic growth- a few whispy streaks of peach down. Now I have a face covered in sandpaper. It hurts when I rub the back of my hand against my face. And it’s spreading too. For years I shaved my chin, round the mouth and under the nose. Nowadays I have to go down the neck ( have you ever tried shaving your Adam’s Apple ? It’s like steering a lawnmower over a boulder) and up the sides to- right up to my ears.

I am turning into Sandpaper Man, and they will make horror films about me when I am dead.

I digress. Young men are stating their masculinity. That’s what it’s all about. The fashion is to grow a full set- cheeks, round the nose and mouth- even a daring plunge down the neck. Everything is neat and tailored. They look like Victorian statesmen or explorers. They look like proper men.I think they look great.

But growing a beard is not for old men. If your hair is silver ( mine is white ! White !) then a beard puts twenty years on your age; if you are bald and grow a beard, you look as though your head is on upside down. Don’t do it – ok ? Leave it to the handsome lads. Let them have their time in the sun.

And give a cheer for David Beckham- underpant model, human palimpsest, and style icon.

Nice one, Dave !

The Cutter

A filigree of intersecting lines

pale as gossamer against her skin –

it could almost be sunlight

silvering the bright hairs on her arm.


It is her talisman.

One time, when her mind was dark,

a blade between her fingers,

she incised a calendar of suffering there,

drawing hope from each bright bead of blood.

Whatever she released did not return.


At times she looks
at what she once engraved

and sees a pattern
carved by someone else
who died completing it.

Critic School

Originally posted on The Man of Words:

(Alex Cox, cult film director and the most passionate, honest film critic I’ve ever encountered)

‘So how do you become a film critic?’  No one asked me, ever. I mean why would they? It’s easy! All you have to do is go see a film, drink some coffee, write 700 words about the pre hype for the movie, 200 words on the movie itself, make sure there’s a gif every 100 words and then go home and roll around on your big bed made entirely of money! How hard can it be?

Being a shitty film critic is easy.Being a good film critic?

It’s EASIER.

With a tip of the hat to Robert Rodriguez’s 10 Minute Film School, I present 6 Point Critic School.

1. No one cares about you.

Seriously, no one does. They care about the film and whether it’s any good, not what you had for breakfast…

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