Monday, 23 April 2012

the shrinking avocado

Book covers which have recently appealed to me include the covers of almost every book in the super-great Much Ado Books in Alfriston, which is run by people I am literally proud to call my friends and where we did a book swap this weekend, and these two:

The Shrinking of Treehorn is about a boy who shrinks, and whose parents are too busy to pay attention. One of the illustrator's stepmothers was the woman who plays the guitar and sings the Marseilleise in Casablanca.

The Dud Avocado is (apparently) a racy taste of fifties Paris. It was written by an American heiress slash actress who knew Hemingway and Olivier, and married Kenneth Tynan. It got good reviews, and there was also this letter:

Dear Mrs Tynan, I don't make the habit of writing to married women, especially if the husband is a dramatic critic, but I had to tell someone (and it might as well be you since you're the author) how much I enjoyed The Dud Avocado. It made me laugh, scream and guffaw (which incidentally is a great name for a law firm). If this was actually your life, I don't know how on earth you got through it. Sincerely, Groucho Marx.

Friday, 20 April 2012

'After leaving Mr McKenzie' - Jean Rhys

The guy next to me in the British Library yesterday was reading about Jean Rhys. She was prettier than I had imagined, but then I am quite JR-ignorant. I have not even read Wide Sargasso Sea (Penguin Modern Classics). But I did have a vague sense that she was a part of the racy inter-war literary set that I hope fans of my tuna novels will soon be more familiar with. She was. Here's a snatch from her Wikipedia page.

In 1919 Rhys married the French-Dutch journalist, spy and songwriter Willem Johan Marie (Jean) Lenglet, the first of her three husbands. She lived with him from 1920; they wandered through Europe, living mainly in London, Paris and Vienna. They had two children, a son who died young and a daughter. They divorced in 1933.

The next year she married Leslie Tilden-Smith, an editor. They moved to Devon in 1939, where she lived for many years. He died in 1945.

Two years later, in 1947 Rhys married Max Hamer, a solicitor and cousin to Tilden-Smith. He spent much of their marriage in jail.* He died in 1966.

* This was clearly not totally unique for Rhys. This was in 1924: At that time her husband was in jail for eight months for what Rhys described as currency irregularities: Rhys moved in with Ford and his longtime partner, Stella Bowen. An affair with Ford* quickly ensued.

* I do know about bit about Ford Madox Ford, and I have read The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (Penguin Classics), and it's absolutely amazing.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

matters arising some bad pictures

 Maybe I will start taking pictures of the television screen all the time now. I've often thought of it. Anyway, I had never heard of this programme, which you presumably have since it's a prime time detective on ITV. But my first question was not:

B: 'a sexily dressed woman with a green head'? That is intriguing.

It was:

A: 'Scott & Bailey'? This has to be a sort of pun on motte and bailey castles, right? But it's only a very sort of pun. What's the thing? Are they maverick archaeologists? Is this a murder series set in a Time Team-style series? In fact, now I write that, it seems incredibly plausible. I'm going to check.

===wibbly-wobbly lines indicating time-shift===

Oh, Scotland Yard and Old Bailey, say some 'rumours', unconfirmed by the author. Maybe. It would make the pun better. And it would be the sort of satisfying thing that didn't impact on anyone who didn't notice it, which is the right sort of pun or reference.

But, disappointingly, they are policewomen, not maverick archaeologists: 'Rachel is impulsive and free-thinking, whereas Janet is subtle and wise.'

In holiday news, I saw this in a town in Devon mainly notable for all the sculptures of sheep: 

You might not be able to read the faint writing. It says, next to the picture of the mounted fish head being auctioned: NOTHING FISHY ABOUT THIS FIRM!

Monday, 16 April 2012


Hi. Sorry if this has been everywhere while I was on holiday, but it's really bugging me:

1. The Supreme Court seems a hilariously undemocratic institution, compared with, say, the House of Lords. Two loads of elected officials put through Obamacare and, basically, the only Supreme Court justice who matters because he's the middle one is in a position where he can decide against it, all because of some weird constitution-fetish? It seems batty. Have people been doing stories comparing these two institutions?

Sub-question: constitution-fetishism: is this a constant in American politics or is it one of those things that look old but is actually cyclical? Would it look weird to our seventies equivalents, who would be amazed at trad-wedding-revivalism and at the turning back of the clock on sexual freedom?

2. And another thing, while we're at it: have you read Parkinson's Law? So much of it has stuck with me for twenty years - not just the bits about work expanding, but the sections on how bureaucracies increase in size because people appoint two deputies on being promoted so their jobs look more important and so no single one can take their job; and on how people argue for hours over small things in committees because they can understand them, and then just let the giant, important, complicated things through without much scrutiny.

Anyway, the bit about organisational bloat was clinging like a burr to my mind the other day when I was thinking about political funding. I think the way money gets called free speech in America while buying influence is disgraceful, and it's getting shittier here too, but is one reason the professionalisation of politics, which is hard to undo? Retinues of self-serving political experts want to make political races and strategies into complicated, manpower-intensive things because that makes their jobs more important. And then congressmen have to spend two hours a day, every day, raising money. It's insane.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

rude words

There are some rude words in my historical novel. Always an issue. Bound to have bungled something. My book is set in the 1930s, and the people who swear are a very particular set, and I drew on various reading, and, well, whatever, this is not exactly the time and place, but my mind was definitely eased by this letter.

It's from a baseball team owner in 1898 who wanted to eradicate foul language from the game. It details various on-field profanities, including 'A dog must have f****d your mother when she made you' and 'You c**t-lapping dog'. The whole thing is well worth reading.

It's generally acknowledged as being from that date, by the way, but there is some doubt as to whether or not it was written by the owner or by someone writing a satire based on how foul-mouthed baseballers were. Interestingly, though it is not part of my book, one of my characters played very minor professional baseball in 1897-8.

Note 1: I know some people don't approve of bowdlerisation, but I also know that my blog is read behind a couple of firewalls that might label me an undesirable, which could hardly be further from what I am.

Note 2: I heard this letter on Hang Up and Listen, and I was going to send it to Letters of Note, but that's where they found it. Letters of Note don't miss much.