the truth hurts; or it might if I knew what it was – Wood, Talc and Mr. J, a 2nd-person perspective…

I introduced my previous post by once again declaring my fascination for storytelling, and how it might be best achieved. For literature, I also declared a preference for first-person narrative, or point of view, attracted, as I am, by the thought that, like life, we might only ever be privy to segments of the truth. Can an author be reticent with information, whether fiction or not? Can s/he be deluded? Can s/he bend the truth? Can s/he lie? 3d-book-wood-editedIn posing such questions, I thus suggested I only part-knew the first-person narrator, Phillip, of my debut novel, Wood, Talc and Mr. J: We never had it so good… you’ll find the second chapter here – whom I therefore decided to interview, the Phillip of 1978.

I interviewed a character of my own creation, and plan to do more.

My experiment, a philosophical one, a quest for ‘truth’, caused quite a stir in certain quarters: how can a first-person author lie?

Well, perhaps we should begin from the premise that all fiction is a lie.

But how can you not know your own character?

My character is based on my own experiences, someone you might see totally differently…

And on it goes. And I could, go on, but I won’t. ‘Truth’. If ever a word was weighted down with possibilities, then that one is…

I’m reminded of the groundbreaking 1950s film by Kurosawa: Rashomon, a psychological thriller in which a man is murdered and his wife raped. Four different people give four different accounts of the incident; indeed, the film studies the very idea of ‘truth’; and the very power of storytelling. Four people are out for the same thing: to persuade others.

As I type these words, incidentally, my eyes keep rising upward and back to my line of “all fiction is a lie”. It brings to mind how Phillip, somewhere in an early chapter of the book, describes his father:

* * * * *

   The good to come out of it was that it rendered him a real-life character. And I was sure he knew; he’d often laugh at himself. Crowds smothered him up in our local, my friends included, since he’d recount a tale like no other; spice it with a unique passion. And never would he let one of those ‘‘injustices’’ go by if he believed there existed a solution. Although the consequences weren’t always favourable, they made for an extensive repertoire.

* * * * *

Phillip, our fictional character, talks of his fictional dad as being a real-life character”… No, I’m not even going there. What I want to say is that his father would “recount a tale like no other; spice it with a unique passion.”

Just what, then, might that imply? That his dad would bend the truth? Lie, even? And why? To persuade?

narrative-794978_1280In this blog post, all I’d like to do is allow you to read the shortest chapter in the novel. He and Jed have just left a bar on a seaside promenade and are making over the road to a nightclub, where Phillip ends up being something of a war casualty. Or at least that is how Phillip would have us view said situation: might he be exaggerating a tad? Who knows…

Following the passage, I’ll attempt to rewrite it from Jed’s point of view, Phillip’s so-called “best friend”. What I should point out is that, in doing so, I’ll be by no means dogmatic; I am not dictating what Jed is really thinking, for that would be impossible. I do but conjecture:

* * * * *

   April hauled ex-Macca’s ex-body, directing our army via the fairground, supposing her beguiling beam would secure that crucial last ride, even if the boys had put the toys away half an hour back. As all but two of us fell for it, it was a sight to behold, evoking flashes of dizzy Disney scenes – that our band of tearaways should sprout tails from trench coat vents for their excesses!

   Jed was taken more by life on our side of the road, his eyes reflecting a medley of promenade hue. ‘Look at this lot,’ he said, nipping my question of where on earth Ilkeston was in the bud. ‘None of ’em have any convicts of their own.’

   ‘Do you mean convictions?’

   He didn’t hear. But asked had I noticed how ‘Mod’ and ‘Ted’ rhymed. He barred my smirk with a hand: ‘Three letters, ending in d…’

   The rhetoric was cut short when someone turned to meet us dead on, pressed us in a North-eastern accent to offer our allegiance, until the glaze of anxiety was snuffed by a frothing beer bottle, a stick-grenade of sorts, impacting against his head, granting Jed a light ale-blood facial. The beggar collapsed into my arms. The bottle crashed onto the kerb.

   Screams of a different nature rippled like a breeze of bitter change, and yet I couldn’t put my finger on its source. Groups silhouetted, an approach, a retreat; a car shunned dug-in feet, the to-ing and fro-ing. And then, in squadron-like re-formation, on a general’s growl, all became as plain as a size ten boot: ‘Skinhead! Skinhead!’

   There was something malevolent in the way they did that.

   Jed yanked my hood as I laid my patient to the ground. He dragged me down a street leading to the park, safest bet, but for a division of our craven copraphagics catching on, screeching forth their personal excreta.

   I took the knee-high wall Red Rum-style, only to recognise that one of us had committed an error of judgement: a step, a day out-stepped, my grand-national winner falling to dust at this last hurdle; a frantic thought on which to cling, this short-straw-of-a-moment million. And so again I placed a glossy sole upon a Jolly Fisherman’s sun-bathed stairway, in past imitation or practice for the future – I had the world at my feet after all…

    Teeth penetrated the footwear in Morph-ish splatter. Courage cared for the spine.

   “You’re going to fall flat on your face,” echoed a warning, before a nervous laugh above…

© Chris Rose

* * * * *

Romantic. He paints a picture, does Phillip.

raebgwAs for Jed, I don’t know what to make of him, he’s quite a character, though rarely gives clues as to his thoughts. That said, the Phillip of 1978 would have us believe – particularly during the interview of my last post – that there’s little else to know about him, beneath the surface, that what you see is what you get; Jed worries about, and is scared of, nothing. This point of view hardly differs with the one of today’s Phillip either, as he looks back… Or is the Phillip of today simply asking you to make up your own mind?

As a mere exercise in creative writing, I’ll now playfully offer another version of the above scene, from Jed’s point of view:

* * * * *

As we come out of the pub, April does as I’ve told her: leads everyone off to the fairground. And I can’t believe everyone except Phillip follows on; it’s only him I need to get rid of – that’s the point, he sticks to me like glue at times. The gear Vicky’s promised me in the bar’s the business, and she’s ready to give it me half price along with a lay – talk about my birthday! But what do I do, with Phillip clinging on?

And as always I end up taking it out of somebody else, like the lot in front doing all the mouthing. ’Thing is, I’m totally gone on barbiturate and so start slurring. I mean to say something about ‘convictions’ but it comes out wrong – and I should never bring poetry into it! And he pulls his smug look – God, I feel like smacking him at this point! But someone in front cops a beer bottle from nowhere, and before we know it we’ve got skins giving it the big boys.

So we decide to take a side street leading to the park – too many skinheads for my liking. Some of ’em follow on, and then Phill just jumps over this wall and completely mistimes it – this skinhead thought it was hilarious; he asks me for a cigarette and then the coppers turn up so he goes over the wall as well.

Phill, talk about fall flat on your face…

* * * * *

Well, I don’t know what you make of that but Jed does tell a different story, or what you might call a variation of the same story. I like the stream of consciousness effect, in the way he draws us in with his use of present tense… And I just can’t help but wonder how big that wall is in ‘reality’, and who is it that laughs once he’s “mistimes” his jump.

Again, I could go on but I’ll refrain.

Things may not always be as they seem, the moral of this post may be. And that there are rewards in taking a different perspective from time to time, either in book-form or everyday life…


Your literary, theatrical friend

when third-person narrative just won’t do; a first interview with one of my many literary – character – heroes…

For those of you coming here for the first time, welcome, and I hope you’ll come back.

Having recently read a post by the talented and charming author Anna Belfrage, a post entitled Of leading ladies and gate-crashing male protagonists, so inspired was I that I’ve decided to revamp an old post of my own, as of the above title, from my previous website – it can also be found residing in my book 22 daydreams (or Wood, Talc & Mr. J, my social media rambllings thereof)

Without further ado, then, meet Phillip Rowlings, around the time of his debut, and interviewee of his very own author.


For my regular readers, you may have noticed over the months that I’ve developed something of a fascination for storytelling – I say “developed” like it were something new; it’s more a case of my having studied the idea via my blog posts, by putting it into writing.

As far as literature is concerned, over the years, I’ve frequently debated with fellow-readers my love for first-person narrative – I’ve also felt a little awkward doing so, and always will; as with all things, I like books to be in their place, otherwise it seems a bit self-indulgent. I come off a loser more often than not, for being outnumbered by lovers of the omniscient author, those of us who prefer the narrator to have power to delve in and out of the characters’ minds at will, so as to keep we readers in the loop.

3d-book-wood-editedI tend to be misinterpreted quite a lot, too, in the course of these debates, to leave people with the impression I’m all black and white: that I’ll only read books narrated in first-person.


Moreover, I appreciate the arguments for third-person, and I’ve sometimes read third-person books that, afterwards, have had me believe I read it in the first, whereby the narrator has portrayed a particular character so skilfully that I’ve come to know him/her quite well, and so judged the events from his/her point of view.

But all I’d like to say for this blog post, regarding first-person narrative, is that I am simply more intrigued by what I don’t know about characters. We can never truly discern what a character – fictional or real life – is thinking at any given moment, without s/he endeavouring to explain. Which, then, prompts the questions:

In a novel, how do characters, excluding the first-person narrator, perceive other characters and events?

Each of them would have a different story to tell.

How, then, do other characters regard the narrator?

Each would depict him/her quite differently.

Mmm. What, then, is a first-person narrator not telling us? About people, situations and events past and present – even without telling lies or bending the truth?

– it would appear my questions are becoming rhetorical.

We might ask further, how does a narrator perceive certain people, situations and events, and why? In other words, how does a narrator want to see them?

Still not convinced? Have I at least got you thinking? Here’s a last question – I didn’t set out to interview you: it’s one thing to wonder how a first-person narrator sees him/herself, but how does s/he want you, the reader, to see him/herself?

tdyjtj6yj786fThese are ideas which fascinate me regarding first-person narrative, even when writing my debut novel, Wood, Talc and Mr. J: We never had it so good… And as a consequence, in this blog post, I’d like to get to know more about Phillip Rowlings, the first-person narrator.

You may think it odd, a writer not knowing his own creation, but I believe that is one of the reasons for which we write, in our endeavours to make sense of the world.

I’ve found that I don’t know Phillip Rowlings any more than you will. Besides, had I believed I knew him from the outset, maybe I wouldn’t have written about him. And so, in order to try and get to know him that bit better, I – CR – am going to throw a few questions his way, in the hope of being more enlightened.

Possibly you’ll then be intrigued enough to buy the book, too.

* * * * *

CR:    ‘I can’t begin to tell you, Phillip, how times have changed since your day – which, admittedly, I’ve not yet worked out if it’s for better or worse. But without giving me one-word answers – because I know how up-or-down you can be, and that it’s all going to depend on which of the two Phillips has turned up – could you tell me a little bit about how you see living in the north of England in 1978, and what makes you tick?’

Phillip:    ‘You’ve read Wood, Talc and Mr. J and you don’t know what makes me tick?’

CR:    ‘Tell me a bit about life before Wood, Talc and Mr. J.’

Phillip:    ‘Mmm, it’s all very black and white, really.’

CR:    ‘You don’t say! Sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you; but it’s just how I’ve described you in the synopsis. You’re shyer than I expected you to be, though.’

Phillip:    ‘Yeah, I don’t know if that’s the best way to be, I’m still trying to work that one out. My dad reckons so, with his “humility is next to godliness”, ’heard that one more than once. But he’s got me calling my boss by his last name: Mr. Alcrap. And I’m not sure he deserves it; I think he’s exploiting it, but I’ve taken that road now, so… I feel like I can’t stand up for myself anymore, if I ever could. In my dad’s world, it’s that only he can ever be right; he has this way of saying things, and you believe him while ever he’s there; he’s so persuasive…’

CR:    ‘So how do you see it, from back there, in ’78 and before?’

Phillip:    ‘Well, I’m kind of scared of gettin’ old, I…’

CR:    ‘You’re seventeen!’

Phillip:    ‘Yeah, I just don’t want to get much older. I want things to stay as they are. I know people say you have your whole life ahead of you but… Either that or I want it to be the early 70s again; I want those Motown tunes to be all comin’ out for the first time again; there was somethin’ about those summers, they were magical… But at the same time, in winter I’d walk the streets and cry… I hated stopping in that much, but other kids seemed to be okay with it, and I hated the dark streets, colourless; housing estates all look the same…’

CR:    ‘Has that gotten better, being seventeen?’

Phillip:    ‘Yeah, but only to a degree. There’s the pub, but then there’s approaching twenty; I just can’t imagine it. I can’t ever imagine being married; ’can’t imagine finding anybody.’

CR:    ‘We all feel that way at that age…’

Phillip:    ‘I’ll be doing all-nighters when I’m 35!’

CR:    ‘You and your Northern Soul music. You don’t strike me as someone with much ambition. ’Not meaning to embarrass you again, and I won’t ask you one of those awful questions, like they do in interviews, you know: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’’

Phillip:   ‘Do they?’

CR:    ‘Oh, you’ll see. But I gather you hate your factory job. Have you ever thought of doing anything else?’

Phillip:    ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster, and I can’t get off; like my future’s been worked out by someone else. I couldn’t take school too seriously. And I can’t even say I was easily led, it was like there was only ever ‘the now’, I had to enjoy it while I could. I wouldn’t even wear my teeth-brace at school, which would’ve straightened my teeth, because I didn’t want people – girls – to see it. I wish I’d worn it now…’

CR:    ‘So what did you want to do in life?’

Phillip:    ‘’Don’t know. Escape. Live on a beach on the east coast. That’s it. You know, my dad could get so upset about coming home from holidays, and I just wonder now… you know… I’m looking for something in life, I just don’t know what it is… But I hope it won’t be here, I can’t imagine it. I hate this city, this existence!’

CR:    ‘What do the others think of you, your gang; your Soul people?’

Phillip:    ‘We’d die for each other. You can’t understand that, cos you’re either into soul music or you’re not, you can’t describe it to someone. Going to Wigan Casino, I suppose it’s like going to church, only much greater. In fact, that’s how we call it.’

CR:    ‘All of you?’

Phillip:    ‘Yeah. Some of us smile when we say it, but we mean it…’

CR:    ‘And how do you feel about things politically? I mean, there’ve been all sorts of upheavals in your decade, haven’t there? Three-day weeks, strikes here, there and everywhere. Do you envisage a first woman-prime minister? As in Margaret Thatcher?’

Phillip:    ‘Maybe, yeah. No. I know who she is, but I can’t really get my head round it. People hate her at work, but I can’t seem to take any of it in, I couldn’t care less, I’m too busy just longing for the weekend. My dad can’t make his mind up about any of it, but rants both ways.

CR:    ‘How do you see your best friend’s drug problem?’

Phillip:    ‘Problem?’

CR:    ‘Jed’s drug problem, as I’ve worked out reading the book?’

Phillip:    ’Not sure it’s a problem, Jed can handle anythin’. He has this sense of humour that – God, I hate saying this, so please keep it to yourself, but, I sometimes get scared of stuff, and maybe that’s why I don’t take many drugs – that and the fact that my mum and dad, well, I just couldn’t do it to them, couldn’t hurt ’em… Besides I think my dad would kill me… Then again… But Jed, he kind of fears nothing; he can just burst into laughter, even if he’s about to get his head kicked in, and people just let him off…

CR:    ‘Do you want to be Jed? I honestly don’t want to embarrass you, but you can tell me. Would you say you love him?’

Phillip:    ‘How do you mean? I love women…’

CR:    ‘No, but you can love him in a different way. Okay, what about Nathalie, you’ve only just met her, with regard to this interview. Could you love her?’

Phillip:    ‘It’s kind of… that rollercoaster thing again: I just don’t feel like any of it’s in my hands, if I’m honest. Maybe I love her, but I love Soul music, and do the all-nighters, and you can’t have both, it’s what we’re about. I know I keep saying this, but you could never understand…’

CR:    ‘Funny, you use quite a bit of rollercoaster imagery in your story; I’ve talked about your recurring themes in the synopsis. But who says you can’t do both, your friends, Jed, who? And are you intimidated by her background, since she’s very middle-class?’

Phillip:    ‘No-one says it, it just is! And no, she could never intimidate me… No. She’s mad about me.’

CR:    ‘So where do you see the sequel, if ever they’ll be a sequel?

Phillip:    ‘Well, hopefully, it’ll be about me still being young. If I do end up writing about me being 35 or something, I only hope things won’t have changed too much. Except me living by the sea of course. I could do portraits for holidaymakers…’

CR:    ‘Thanks, Phillip, I think I’ll end it there, while we’re winning. And thanks, you’ve argued your points with vigour – I’m not so sure I agree with all you say, or even understand it all, but then, as you yourself state; me being an outsider and all… But it’s been interesting.’

Phillip:    ‘Thanks. Keep The Faith, as we say!

* * * * *

Well, that was interesting.

I’m not so sure what you made of that, but I’ve come away not so much more enlightened as feeling I’ve, at least, scratched the surface – I don’t really know what I expected but, I have to say, I’m now quite looking forward to a second interview; Phillip wears a mask at the best of times, I feel it, and that there’s so much more going on than meets the eye, between those words on a page…

backAnd this is a character today, looking back to then, to those heady days. How does today’s Phillip see things as they were? How does Phillip want you to see things his way? Or does Phillip hope you’ll pick up on his irony and see all for yourself?

One last question: will all depend on you, the reader, on where you are, figuratively speaking, in life, thus dictating your reading?

But isn’t it fascinating stuff? Sorry, I didn’t mean to ask any more questions.

Once Wood, Talc and Mr. J: We never had it so good… is released, which is going to be very soon now, I’ll interview Phillip again. It’ll be an open post, whereby you, the reader, will also have the opportunity to ask Phillip as many questions as you like, once having read the book, which I hope you’ll enjoy enough to want to do so.

Thanks for reading,


Your literary, theatrical friend

some of us are hooked in on strife – … what about you? – or “some of us are booked in for life”; part 2 (I just wanted to make it rhyme)

Hello and welcome back – So soon, I see you swoon!

As long as you’ve provided the coffee we’re away…


But a few days ago, I wrote and told you how five books changed my life, or helped make me who I am today. I’d now like to tell you of five such films to have also helped the process along.

Once more, they won’t be in order of preference – it’s hard enough having to pick only five – but what I will say is that they’re films to have lasted the course; I never tire of seeing them. And what I’m able to conclude from my list is very interesting indeed; I might even say alarming…

Therefore, as with the afore-mentioned five books, prepare for a four–dimensional journey, and do dress accordingly.

* * * * *

Flat caps on, then, for I’d like to begin in God’s Own Country, or County, the one of my birth: Yorkshire; amid World War Two. On second thoughts, forget the flat caps, make it steel helmets…

Adapted from Ronald Harwood’s successful 1980 play, The Dresser, directed by Peter Yates and released in’83, hits home on a number of levels, some being very personal. But I’ll start by stating that, for all its wonderfully comic moments, and lines, particularly between Finney and Courtney, actor and dresser, the pervasive sense of pathos running throughout the film is almost tangible. We can’t help but laugh, and yet feel guilty for doing so…

I believe Finney was only in his forties when taking this role, the one of an old man verging on madness, and how convincing he is. But then, he’d already more than proved himself in another film adaptation, in the musical Scrooge, a version which, for me, will never be surpassed.


Finney’s character, known only as ‘Sir’, has problems – excluding the fact he’s on his last legs. All the able-bodied actors are overseas fighting for Britain’s life against Nazi Germany, while the luftwaffe is bombing all the better theatres. He, therefore, in Churchillian endeavour without the splendour, fights the fight to hold the Shakespearean company together, having, in his own words, been reduced to “old men, cripples and nancy-boys”.

At one point, ‘Sir’, who’ll be taking the stage in about 30 minutes’ time, can’t remember which play the company is performing that night. As it turns out, he’ll be playing King Lear.

As it follows, he can’t remember his first line. It’s every theatre-actor’s nightmare – my bi-annual dream is that I’m offered a large part in a play to be performed that very evening; I’ve somehow lost the ability to say ‘You can get lost!’ and so spend what little time I have striving to cram the text into my head, while an audience impatiently waits at the other side of the curtain.

I wake up in a sweat…

Joking aside, though, this film is essentially a love-story with a difference; and the symbiotic relationship, between the washed-up actor and his dresser – or one of society’s outcasts of the day – is doomed from the outset.

As with any great book, film or play, a line tends to sum it all up, a line encapsulating the story’s very essence. When Sir lies down for what is the last time, on the dressing room sofa, provoking the dresser’s bout of hysteria, the latter suddenly, poignantly, utters: “Come back”.


* * * * *

We’ll now steal to France, and to the mountainous Clermont-Ferrand, during the mid-00s, for a film very similar, thematically, to The Dresser: Quand J’étais Chanteur – translated as The Singer.

This time, the pained relationship is between a young, new-in-town, blond-cropped beauty – Cécile de France – and an ageing, portly, regional celebrity and crooner, a survivor – Gérard Depardieu.

Their initial meeting – in L’Aquarius, where Alain Moreau, Depardieu’s character, is a regular performer – is everything you’d expect it to be: awkward. Moreau relies on old lines; and Marion (de France) rebuffs them with equal worldly-wisdom. It’s cringe-worthy, difficult to view… and yet hilariously irresistible.

968full-quand-jetais-chanteur-posterOne character is everything the other isn’t; they’re chalk and cheese, a living incongruity, and yet, they were somehow made to be together. Indeed, they end up ‘together’ on the first night, due to a little too much champagne, only for Marion to flee before breakfast is served and Moreau to thus call in on her place of work. Another magical meeting takes place between the two in a café across the street. Moreau’s philosophy is a simple one: “A singer becomes corny only if he survives; if he doesn’t survive, he doesn’t become corny…”

Pacino and De Niro meeting up in The Heat? No, give me De France and Depardieu any day of the week…

pj88x22tuow12ujue4ob24scnqgWritten and directed by Xavier Giannoli, he chose the perfect couple for this relationship, and, furthermore, left us guessing as to what would become of our heroes following their final meet-up in the film, as the credits begin to roll.

Will they or won’t they? It seems ok… But then all happy endings are ironic, somebody once said. Xavier Giannoli must believe that too.

Still, it doesn’t prevent panache.

* * * * *

A short train ride will suffice for our next cinematic classic, to a black and white Paris of 1959. A major influence on Depardieu, Francois Truffaut was one of the leading lights in the Nouvelle Vague movement: a group of cineastes endeavouring to create a new kind of realism.

Les Quatre cent coupsThe 400 Blows – was Truffaut’s first and finest film, in my humble opinion.

Autobiographical, Truffaut chose as himself a remarkable young actor by the name of Jean-Pierre Léaud – and as a little treat, below you’ll see the interview for the actual role.

What Truffaut succeeds in drawing from Léaud is purity; it’s unadulterated, unselfish and untainted; raw innocence, it is magic. And when Leaud’s character, young Antoine Doinel, is interviewed by a social worker – whom we never see but hear her voice, the emphasis being on Doinel – we, thus, partly become the jury, having borne witness to the kind of broken home from which he hails. How does the saying go again? He manages to suspend our disbelief? I, back then, viewing the scene for the first time – a good twenty-five years ago; when Channel 4 was a worthy channel, and indeed introduced me to La Nouvelle Vague – was convinced there was nothing fake about it.

And in a way there wasn’t.

Of course, the final scene must be one of the most iconic in French Cinema, where Doinel has escaped the Boys’ Home and made it to the sea – it’s all he ever wanted; he’s never seen it before – and so turns to the camera, which, in turn, leaves us with a still.

Speechless, in every sense of the word…

* * * * *

It would be so easy for me now to keep you here, same time, same place, with A bout de souffle Breathless – which was Jean-Luc Goddard’s first and finest film, too; the ultimate style-film, making way for the ultimate Mod icon, another cropped-headed blond by the name of Jean Seberg – do you see a pattern? And is there any wonder – as some of you may remember from my previous post covering my five all-time books – I fell in love with Truman Capote’s literary Holly Golightly?

allquietwesternfrontposteraBut I’ll yet resist. For as with those five books, we’re off again to Flanders Fields, and to a film that, if it doesn’t surpass Erich Remarque’s book from which it was adapted, it certainly stands equal to it: Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front…

I saw the film as a young boy; the book came later. And if I’m honest, as powerful and as heart-wrenching as the book is, particularly by the end where the narration suddenly moves from first to third person, as Paul Baumer’s life is snuffed out by a sniper’s bullet on the eve of the Armistice, a little part of me was disappointed by Paul’s not having left himself open to the bullet for reaching out to a butterfly… a butterfly in No-man’s land…

Made in 1930, it’s a time of transition in film, from the silent movies to the ‘talkies’, which serves somehow to enhance its greatness, and it is non-replicable…

3d-book-wood-editedMy debut novel, Wood, Talc and Mr. J: We never had it so good…, about a lad growing up in the 1970syou know where to find the chapter and synopsis – is, believe it or not, greatly inspired by both the book and the film.

* * * * *

Our final destination is to a fictional place in England, of the 1980s, and to an animated one at that.

When The Wind Blows was a 1986 film adaption of Raymond Briggs’ 1982 graphic novel of the same name, using Briggs’ illustrations and directed by Jimmy Murakami, David Bowie and Roger Waters providing the soundtrack.

And it is pure genius.

From the perspective of old country-dwellers and comical couple, James and Hilda Bloggs – to the voices of John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft – When The Wind Blows tells the story of a nuclear attack on Britain. They’re hardly ready, James and Hilda, for this new kind of war. But then that’s the point: who was? Who is?

when_the_wind_blowsBut not to worry, the ever-pragmatic James will take a bus ride down to the village library, to pick up the leaflets before stocking up on provisions and such, much to the scorn and ridicule of his son at the other end of a phone call – each seems to think the other’s lost his mind… and somehow, once again, we have to laugh when there’s nothing else we can do.

The film is imbued with such exquisite moments, like when James gets carried away, standing before the fireplace, and recalls how things were different for Monty’s war… and when Monty appears momentarily beside him, like old buddies from bygone days. Or when Hilda takes a walk in the garden, picks a dandelion and blows it into the breeze, to a Roger Waters acoustic backing of Folded Flags, and all the good times flash before her eyes… Or like when Hilda’s hair begins to fall out following the nuclear blast, and the look on James’ face when he realises he can do nothing about it.

And ending with their final prayer…

As I said in my intro, the word is timeless.

* * * * *

And I only hope you haven’t been too traumatised by my choice of five films, five films, along with many others, as with the books I chose in a previous post, to have marked me profoundly, to have guided me along; to have opened my eyes to the power of the seventh art…

For my art, I tend to go for a sense of realism, where less is more, where there is hope, but yes, where happy endings are ironic, where everything is temporary, where only time resolves issues and so we must cherish, embrace the now, for good or bad…

You might well think that, for the above five films, all our heroes are doomed, but that’s only one viewpoint. I prefer to think that what makes all our heroes stand out is due to the fact that they truly live within the confines of each film.

There’s the secret. Hope you’ve enjoyed the journey.


Your literary, theatrical friend

some of us are booked in for life… – what about you?

They can do all kinds of things to you, books:

They can get you into trouble when you’re young – ‘Put that book down, Christopher, you were in bed two hours ago! They’ll be ringing social services next, that school of yours; you look like a zombie!’

narrative-794978_1280They can be bad, then, for your health – ‘How many times have I told you not to read in the dark, you’ll be as blind as a bat by the time you’re 30; you’ll have glasses like jam jars!’

Be bad for your diet… or maybe good for it – ‘’No wonder I’m hungry, I forgot to eat!’

Be bad for musicians – ‘Look at my guitar nails, but I thought she’d get killed!’

They can cause insomnia – ‘’Couldn’t sleep until I knew he’d marry her!’

Or have the reverse effect – ‘I’ll never finish this book at this rate!’

They can make you late – ‘Shit, I’ve missed my stop!’

And put you off films – ‘’Nothing like the book’ (snooty voice!)

They can make you say even sillier things – ‘Ohhhhh, so many books in the world and I have only one pair of eyes!’

They can force environmentalists into a corner – ‘’Nothing like the feel of a good book, you can keep your kindle… oh, wait a minute…’

They can force you into a corner – ‘’Can’t move in this room for…!’

They can arouse you – ‘Has it suddenly got hot in here?’

But get this, they can even bring about delirium: they can trip you up; actually have you fall in love with a fictional character – ‘Why isn’t Holly Golightly my next door neighbour!’

Of course, I could go on. And it’s enough to make you wonder why we do it: read books – according that list, we’d be better off chain-smoking ourselves to death, wouldn’t we?

Why, then, do we do it?

Because, furthermore, books can also make us cry, from deep within, almost in a way nothing else can…

As well as make us laugh, wholeheartedly, from that same place…

And further to that, they may guide us, lead us down the right path, or at least steer us from the wrong one; they allow us to empathise, sympathise…

They may not always tell us anything new – perhaps they never tell us anything new. Yet they always tell us in a new way – aye, there’s the trick! A new and different, exciting, or calm and collected, and poetic way, but always a new way…

For stories guide us; our world is in narrative form.

Books, then, may be a major influence in our lives, particularly in our formative years; to a degree, they mould us into who we are today, construct our perspectives, those leading out onto the world…

And all I’d like to do in this first, introductory blog post, dear reader, is to state five such books that have played an important role in my life thus far, and why…

Who knows, in doing so, I may just persuade you to tell me yours, too, to allow me to enter your literary world, for yet another perspective.

In the meantime, I urge you to dress accordingly, according, that is, to whichever my – our – literary destination…

read-gullivers-travels-online-freeGulliver’s Travels, by Jonathon Swift.

It was an old English teacher who, indirectly, prompted me to read this one. Though when I say indirectly, do I mean belatedly? Whatever the case, I laughed in her face – I was thirteen years old, what would I want with a children’s story, thank you very much, teachers are so stupid!?

“I read Richard Allen and Peter Cave, Miss!”

I recall, when eventually picking up and delving into Gulliver’s Travels, many years after my teacher’s rebuked guidance, referring to the big Collins Dictionary in our house, for a peak at its definition of ‘satire’.

“Wow! I thought I knew what the word meant. Jonathon Swift must be like, the Master…”

I’ve rarely read satire to equal that kind of power since. Certainly nothing has ever surpassed it.

I also haven’t read the book for over twenty years, and have only ever read it that first time. Isn’t that strange! That such an influential book and inspiration should then hold me at a distance? And the truth of the matter is that my recollections of the story have become rather vague. All I now recall are names, the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos, Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians – ’can’t forget those!

I think that, however subconsciously, I’ve always been afraid of reading the book again. It’s a bit like going back to somewhere very real after many years of living on memories; it’s just sometimes better to leave it there.585px-jonathan_swift_signature-svg

What I do recall, though, is getting pulled in, to the point of believing that this first-person narrator had gone quite mad – I was concerned – in this classic, no-one-escapes-the-jape satire on humankind; in other words, for some uncountable time, my world lay in a book, and that’s all there was.

You could say: He well and truly had me!

jonathan-swift-quotesBecause by the end, I’d feel a litle silly, but oh-so thankful.

And to think the man, the writer, was eventually certified insane. By whom, one might ask, by whom?

Thanks to this book, my dad’s over-cited favourite citation, “The pen is mightier than the sword”, finally made sense…

Let us now depart these fantasy islands and, to France, to France! For, as someone else once said:  “the King will be gone from Southampton…

Actually, the next book may be scribed in the French language but all takes place in Algeria.

41zeaekuqtl-_sy344_bo1204203200_ql70_L’Etranger, by Albert Camus – first translated into English by Stuart Gilbert as The Outsider, and not a title I care for, but I’ll leave that one for another time, I promise.

It could be said that Camus’ first person ‘alien’ hero, Mersault, is even more skilfully achieved, in that here we have no fairytale encounters with Little and Large, simply an everyday man going about his everyday business, and somewhat taciturnly with it… barring a frightful encounter with a priest in his prison cell prior to his execution, where, instead of yielding before his knees, instead of surrendering to outpourings of contrition… well, there is no contrition; Mersault isn’t sorry for killing a man in ‘cold blood’ in the brutal Algerian midday sun, but only that he should now be subjected to religious bigotry, be forced to feel something he does not, and be deprived of those utopian Algerian evenings.

albert_camus_quoteMersault ultimately, verbally, explodes with something as formidable as it gets; something as hot as that Mediterranean sun. ..

… and up until that point he has posed questions I once dare not ask. Indeed, I feared I didn’t have the language to articulate them, my feelings. But, as Camus himself once stated, this man at the forefront of existentialist thought, “Difficult concepts need only be expressed in simple words.”

He was a soulful character, that Albert Camus. And as literary heroes go, Mersault? Well…

L’Etranger, by stark contrast to Swift’s masterpiece, I have read many, many times; I will never tire of it.

And back to England, then, where ere from France – Algeria! – arrived more happy men…

Yes, there’s always been an actor in here – I’m patting my chest – fighting to get out. And sometimes he does, but only ever in French; isn’t that weird, too!

My next choice, then, is by The Bard himself – I’m allowed a play, am I not?

But since I feel it would be wrong to pick two Shakespeare plays from a choice of only five books, I’ll go for Henry IV part 2 over Richard II. Besides, I love these plays very much for the same reasons: principally, they both taught me to appreciate the force of ambivalence in literature – moreover, to then witness it further brought to life upon a stage.

zxsdsdrgfAmbivalence. To be torn. To be in two minds… Call it how you will, yet know there exists no easy answer; there is no easy way out. A man must be a man; must make a choice, for better or for worse.

And if Henry IV’s usurpation of Richard II’s throne makes for provocative reading and viewing, the act is surpassed only, for me, by one of the most powerful theatrical acts ever to grace paper and a stage: Henry V’s rebuking of the debauched, though wonderfully comic, Jack Falstaff.

Was a literary, theatrical relationship ever greater, than between the latter and the then Prince Hal?

Immediately upon coronation, a worldly prince is transformed into a pious and responsible king; for the great that is to come – a wondrously led English success over a numerically far greater French army – William Shakespeare must wield the knife by way of a quill and eliminate the influential Falstaff from the page… and oh, how our masterful playwright achieves the deed!king_henry_v_at_the_battle_of_agincourt_1415

I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!

Has it now suddenly gotten cold in here? For even when typing out the lines, the hairs on the back of my neck are raised…

I know that many of you simply cannot read plays from the page – plays are for performance, and all that. For me, conversely, the very idea of the text being a play adds something extra to my already imaginative mind, for the playwright never tells us how we should think…

Maybe just a little something for you to think about…

And so to 50s New York, and to a brownstone apartment buzzing with life, thanks wholly to the catalytic character that is Truman Capote’s creation Holly Golightly. In the classic Breakfast at Tiffanny’s

zsaqenuFor me, in this case, the book and the film are as disparate as red wine and white; they’re different drinks from different grapes.

The Holly Golightly I see in my mind’s eye – to take nothing away from Audrey Hepburn – is the impish, cropped-headed blonde; one of the boys, but a real girl…

Funny, but I imagine old Joe Bell’s still standing around with a burning cigarette, outside his café on Lexington Avenue, silently yearning to set eyes on her once again: “I see pieces of her all the time, a flat little bottom, any skinny girl that walks fast and straight.”

I feel that sense of loss, of something never even attained; a childhood sweetheart, that first, secret, love; I feel what is truly meant by worshiping the ground upon which someone walks. That she might just recognise that I exist…

How can a novel do that?

I have yet to visit New York but, suffice it to say, the first thing I’ll do when… Or maybe not. Again, maybe that place is better left where it is…

Our final destination is Emile Remarque’s not-so-green fields of France, fields amid the Great War of 1914-18, the one to end all wars…

allquietwesternfrontposteraMy choices are not in order of preference, by the way, and nor have I left the best until last. But this one, All Quiet on the Western Front, a book “… intended neither as an accusation nor as a confession, but simply as an attempt to give an account of a generation that was destroyed by the war – even those of it who survived the shelling” – is possibly the one that speaks for itself most, in that it surely speaks to the public most; is the most well-known and for the right reasons. It is the one, then, capable of creating tears from that normally well-hidden somewhere…

How well, the German army characters become our friends, our families!

And, speaking of that ambivalence again, we recognise how, for Paul Baumer, the novel’s principle character, is better left where he is, never to return to his native Germany. For things would never have been the same, nay much for the worse… the last of a breed of men; sole survivor of a slaughterhouse.

But even when privileged with this knowledge, when first person narration moves to third, when the author steps in to inform us of the news of a sniper’s fatal bullet, but a day or two before the day of the Armistice, nothing is made any easier…

Funny, but when looking back to my own debut novel, Wood, Talc and Mr. J: We never had it so good…, it being part of what has since become a series entitled The Rowlings Years, the second chapter of which you’ll find in random extracts, I’ve come to realise just how affected, influenced by the above books I’ve been when writing it, and no doubt others…

I can but wonder whether you’ll spot/ have spotted any, of those influences.

The power of words, eh.

What are your favourite books? And why?


Your literary, theatrical friend…