Pictures work better on the radio

“Too much custard powder and not enough gobstoppers.”

This was my quote of the week from Radio 4’s new series of programmes devoted to Eric Blair, aka as George Orwell.  The Real George Orwell is celebrating the 110th anniversary of Orwell’s birth and the 75th anniversary of Homage to Catalonia, Orwell’s account of fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell when struggling to make a name as a writer had turned to shopkeeping to earn a crust. He and his wife ran a small general stores in Wallington in Hertfordshire and sold desserts and confectionery. The quote came from a radio drama about Homage to Catalonia being aired at the moment.

I am particularly interested in radio drama at present as I am writing a book about Laurie Lee’s Spanish Civil War years for publication next year to coincide with Lee’s Centenary anniversary year. He was born in Slad, Gloucestershire in June 1914. His famous memoir  Cider with Rosie was set in this edge-of-Cotswolds village. My part -biography of Lee, is told by myself, as I retrace Lee’s walk across Spain on the brink of civil war in 1935. I had always assumed that narrated non-fiction drama would not work well as a radio drama piece.

However, as a just graduated MA Professional Writing student, I was invited back to Falmouth University recently to attend a talk being given by James Robinson, a senior BBC Radio Drama producer. James oversees the Radio 4 Afternoon Play series and is passionate about narrated drama and has made a career out of proving that it can work in a primetime slot with 1 million listeners. James played a clip of a drama aired last year called Cry for Me: The Battle of Goose Green. It was made to mark the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Goose Green, a key event in the Falklands War. This drama-documentary looks at the events of May 1982 from the Argentinian perspective. The drama tells the story of two fictional Argentine conscripts and it is gripping. The conscripts tell their story in the moment and a narrator pulls the strands together.

James demonstrated how narration can work in a very powerful way in the very intimate medium of radio. I began to wonder whether As I Walked Out in Search of Laurie Lee’s Spain, the title of my book, could work as narrated radio drama. I had a very general discussion with James after the talk and it was clear that the subject matter was potentially appealing, the existence of a significant anniversary being a big positive (he also told me that programmes on Dylan Thomas who also has a 2014 centenary were in the pipeline.) Significantly however, from my perspective, he also warned me that first-time radio drama writers very rarely pitched successfully for prime time Radio 4 drama slots.

That’s that I thought…. and then I began to think about a tie-up with an established radio drama writer who might adapt my book…. and then I listened to Orwell last week and his custard powder and gobstoppers and was captivated.

I remembered also a radio series aired a year ago on Radio 4. It featured a contemporary writer following in the footsteps of another writer who had made a journey in the early1930s through a troubled country, Scotland. Louise Welsh, crime writer and presenter of Welsh’s Scottish Journey retraces the journey taken by the Orcadian poet and writer Edwin Muir across Scotland. Like now Scotland was a country full of savage contradictions, a country uncertain about its future while struggling to live up to its past. Similarities certainly with the Spain of 1935 and now. Spain, a nation still hiding behind a” pact of amnesia” in respect of its civil war past, and facing austerity and mass unemployment on a scale not seen since the 1930s.

England, especially with the threat of the break up of the United Kingdom, is too suffering an identity crisis and the halcyon days of Cider with Rosie and As I Walked Out One Midsummer morning could well provide a useful tonic in 2014 when, of course, the mainstream spotlight of the publishing and broadcast anniversary season will be focusing on the start of the Great War.

I will leave the last word with James Robinson who talked generally of great radio drama “going into somebody’s head and going with them,” and specifically about “finishing a scene with a question.”

So, what am I going to do about finding a great Radio 4 drama writer who shares my passion for Laurie Lee and Spain and who has got a window over the next 12 months?



Granada-A Place I am drawn to

Granada is for me where it all began. It’s where I first really fell for Spain and all its charms.

I lived there for a year in 1975.

On a Sunday evening I would walk up the slick black winding cobbled streets of the Albaizin, the Moorish quarter. I would not go up as far as Sacromonte, where gypsy families still lived in caves and underground dwellings.

I would take a right turn from the main street and climb steeply up a narrow whitewashed alley, past the house with the broken guitar affixed to its creased outside wall, and enter the Plaza de San Nicolas.. my plaza.

On those autumn evenings, I would sit on the low wall, feet dangling in the cool dusk air circling upwards from the valley far below. I would drink in the silhouette of the Moorish Alhambra palace, the green watered gardens of the Generalife still woozy from the drugged warmth of the early autumn Spanish sun, as darkness fell.  The snow- coated outline of the Sierra Nevada sat above the palace in a blood- red sky. A nightingale’s song would occasionally break the stillness, I would trace its journey down from that sky, through a rainbow of colours, to the Plaza.

Plaza de San Nicolas

I am drawn to this place when in need of succour. A place where African princes conversed with the birds from their homeland, mourned to their melancholy songs, rejoiced to their love refrains and whose lovers in the harem were rocked to sleep by their lullabies.
I am here again now, 37 years on from when I first came. Then, like now, it was both a beginning and an end.
I have left Laurie Lee behind in Almunecar, 70 miles to the south. I finally reached there, the end of Lee’s journey, a few days back. I have been retracing his steps on a journey he took from the North West Atlantic coast of Spain to Almunecar near Malaga on the Mediterranean in 1935,  when Spain was on the brink of a civil war.
To complete my own journey I had felt the need to come back to Granada.
I had risen early to see the sun rise over the Alhambra. After 37 years my internal compass was not set correctly and I had walked up too high and to the west of the square. Glimpses of the church steeple finally led me back down through the years.
It was a cold, damp November morning, like many in Granada- a magical but melancholy city. At 21 minutes past seven,the time of sunrise, the Sierra behind the palace was covered in a grey sheet, like my memories of its Autumn sheen.

Granada was the home of Federico Garcia Lorca, a soulmate of Lee, and someone who influenced greatly his poetic and lyrical style of writing, though they never met. It was also the home of Manuel de Falla who captured the soul of the City and its people with his music. (Click to hear Falla’s Nights in the Spanish Garden.) 

Lorca was executed by Franco’s followers, early in the civil war in August 1936. The favourite place for such executions was across the valley in front of me. The firing squad would line up its victims against the wall of the cemetery, underneath the cypress trees that lined the walk up to the Alhambra Palace. Lorca though was not buried there, he was buried somewhere in the green valley outside the city, the valley in which he grew up, the valley down below me covered in early morning dew.His grave has never been identified and those still alive who know the answer are silent on the matter.
I had started the second half of my journey in Madrid in October. Before leaving the city I visited the Residencia De Los Estudiantes. Part of Madrid University, it was where Lorca, Bunuel and Dali all studied and lived together back in the 1920s.

Lorca’s Student Digs

Lorca wrote about duende- the soul of the Spanish people- and defined  a concept as elusive as running water. What Falla captured in his “Nocturno del generalife,” Lorca nailed down in prose. I am fascinated by his words, I think Laurie Lee, such a charmer himself, was seduced, like me,  by Spain’s duende and came closest to expressing it in English. My retracing of Lee’s journey had led me to pure Flamenco song. A sound that,in Lorca’s words, originated not in the throat “the duende climbs up inside you , from the soles of the feet.” Lorca talks of “all that has black sounds has duende.”  I had seen, as Lee had seen, the “moon-frozen heads painted by Zurbaran” in Seville, I had wallowed in El Greco’s “butter yellow and lightening yellow” paintings in Toledo and listened to the “innumerable rites of Good Friday…the popular triumph of Spanish death” in Valladolid.
The wind ruffles the leaves on the square of the plaza, frustrating the efforts of my only companians, two street cleaners, and spreads them out over the indented images of the Granadino, the symbol of the city, the pomegranate, whose black shells and seeds carpet the cobbled floor.
Lorca had ended his homily to duende with the lines”Where is the duende? Through the empty arch comes a wind, a mental wind blowing relentlessly over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents; a wind that smells of baby’s spittle, crushed glass, and jellyfish veil, announcing the constant baptism of newly created things.”

Churros con Sol y Sombra

As I tore myself away from the plaza to a nearby bar for a well-deserved warming breakfast. I thought of Lee’s final thoughts as he left Almunecar, for what he certainly thought would be the last time in his life, as he set sail for England, “Spain drifted away from me, thunder-bright on the horizon, and I left it there beneath its copper clouds.”

The Sun Also Rises

It’s 5 o’clock in the afternoon and I stagger across the roman bridge into Allariz in the south of Galicia in the North West of Spain. I have been walking since that morning. It is the hottest day of the year so far in this part of Spain. 40 degrees centigrade in the town of Orense where I started the walk. A real baptism of fire, it is my first full day of walking.

“las heridas quemaban los soles, a las cinco de la tarde.” “the wounds were burning the soles of my feet at 5 o’clock in the afternoon”

I think of the line above from Lorca’s poem “El llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias.”

I rest for 2 days in a lovely shady restored farmhouse two miles outside the village. A Palleira, the name of my farmhouse, like much of Allariz, has been beautifully conserved. Much of it, no doubt, with public money. Money well spent because much of Galicia is now quite poor and suffering again from the emigration of its young, seeking work, much as they did centuries ago when they went off to find the New World and their fortune. Much is made of the reckless spending of the autonomous Spanish regions in the press and media but Galicia, much like many English northern areas,has no natural industry bases and no large conurbations. It needs support and investment in its tourism infrastructure.

Allariz is celebrating its annual festival “Festa da Bois”, a festival of bull running. 90 years ago,Hemingway went to Pamplona ,to the San Fermin festival and ran with the bulls and wrote about it in his book “The Sun Also Rises”. I read this book as a young man. I had recently heard an old BBC radio recording of Laurie Lee , talking of attending a similar small village bullfight festival in the Basque country. The tale he told was one of the English visitor, Lee, taking on the experienced and wily bulls, that the locals would not touch with a “bandillero”, and emerging as a much feted hero. Like much of Lee’s tales, it is possibly best taken with a large pinch of salt.

As the excitement builds , waiting for the first bull to be released into the small winding streets of the old town, I shelter in a tiny packed bar in the main square. I am there hiding,not just from the bulls,but from the incessant downpour that has followed the heat wave. Everyone is wearing their “fiesta” bright red “panuelos” (neckerchiefs) tied around their necks in what Lee would have called “cravat style”. The stylish young women were back home in their “pueblo” for the Corpus Chrsti holiday , escaping from their professional careers in Madrid. They mix with their brothers,sisters and nieces and nephews. The chatter is a mix of Castellano-purely spoken Spanish-and Gallego, the Galician language. Gallego has Celtic cousins like Welsh, Cornish, Breton.

Gallego Is the first Spanish language that Lee would have heard following his arrival in North West Spain. The large country of Spain is home to a rich melting pot of languages, Catalan, Basque, Andaluz and many people have died over the years to protect their right to speak them.  Many were executed in the Civil War for their allegiance to their region rather than to the centre. Ironically , Franco himself was born in Galicia. When in Orense, the day of 40 degrees plus, I came upon a plaque and a trail commemorating a local activist,singer and writer, Alexandre Boveda He was executed by Franco troops on the 17 August 1936, for simply being a local patriot. The date is now designated as a “Dia da Galiza Martir.” A salutary reminder that you did not have to be a cultural icon like Lorca to be hunted down. In those desperate times it was sufficient  to be a simple man with values who believed in something.

Six loud blasts are heard, the signal for the first bull to be released. We all rush outside. The bull appears, disappointingly but sensibly, not running totally loose but tethered to ropes, skillfully managed by a team of men in white outfits. The crowds scream and the bull is chased by a posse of young men, high on alcohol, adrenalin and machismo. I experience a fleeting sense of fear and awe and then almost immediately, complete empathy with the bull which is clearly scared out of its wits.

I return to my rural escape. My taxi-driver, a corpulent gruff fellow appropriately enough called “Macho”, spent the short journey singing the praises of the bull.

I guess I am no Hemingway and retire to my bed consoled by this thought.

Greek generals waiting in the wings?

32 years on I arrive once again at Santander on a ferry from Plymouth. This  time alone and on foot. I am picking up again my journey following in the footsteps of Laurie Lee who walked through Spain in 1935 , unaware that the country was already irrevocably set on a momentous civil war that would change it and Europe for ever.

Last month I travelled to Vigo where Lee landed in Spain. This time I am traveling to Orense in Galicia to walk south, along the Via De La Plata, towards Zamora. I lived in Santander for  two years in the 1980s with my first love and where I took my wife, not  the same person, two years ago for a short holiday.

A year ago my wife, out of the blue, decided to divorce me. I stand outside  C/Santa Lucia 15, and gaze  up at the 3rd floor balcony. Behind the shuttered window ,  I am lying with my first love. She pronounces sadly but definitively that I will not be the father of any child that she might have. We do not part for several months, years even, but that was the beginning of the end.

I wonder alone around old haunts but this visit I  am accompanied by the ghosts of two former lovers. There weren’t the signs in the bars of “crisis menus” that I had seen in Vigo, Valladolid and Madrid one month earlier. Santander was always more prosperous and protected from the economic storms of the rest of the peninsular.

I search for an old friend, not seen for 25 years. He has left the family travel agency business. He was the boss. Something feels wrong. Somebody else looking at a second chance in life?

I track down  the red-haired vivacious M who had fallen head over heels for  L, way back in the distant past, a “bombonero” man, in my previous life in Santander. L, in his vivid orange overalls,  would effortlessly sling a couple of heavy metal gas canisters on his shoulders and race up the stairs of the city’s flats. He was all rippling muscle and entirely defenseless against M’s Scottish charms. L would fly those steps. At the thought I recall Cortezar’s description of the uniqueness of a stair which perhaps put into words the thought process of an Egyptian pyramid architect or an Aztec master craftsman). L’ s life was unencumbered by such thoughts, mine dominated by them. Cortezar said…
No one will have failed to observe that frequently the floor bends in such a way that one part rises at a right angle to the plane formed by the floor and then the following section arranges itself parallel to the flatness, so as to provide a step to a new perpendicular, a process which is repeated in a spiral or in a broken line to highly variable elevations. 

Ducking down and placing the left hand on one of the vertical parts and right hand upon the the corresponding horizontal, one is in momentary possession of a step or stair. 

Each one of these steps, formed as we have seen by two elements, is situated somewhat higher and further than the one prior, a principle which gives the idea of a staircase, while whatever other combination, producing perhaps more beautiful or picturesque shapes, would surely be incapable of translating one from the ground floor to the first floor.

I had stayed recently in a hotel in Madrid on the Gran Via, Hotel de las Letras, in which the public and bedroom walls were not decorated with pictures, but with quotes from , mainly Spanish and Latin  American, writers. At the foot of the stairs was the quote from Julio Cortazar. It resonates as my personal emotional journey is a steep climb with many false steps and stumbles along the way.

As I make my way through Spain,I am reading the “Snow Leopard” about the quest in Nepal , by the writer, of a glimpse of the unattainable mythical creature . The process of the journey applies balm over raw grief, a product of a lost soulmate. A beautiful tale punctuated by devastating insights into the inner turmoil of a man’s loss. The book was a tip from Emily Barr , the writer, as a good read to take on a personal journey of discovery . I am not searching for an elusive snow leopard but I am seeking something as I retrace the footsteps of Laurie lee through Spain. Peter Matthiessen, the author, is grieving for his wife, and embarks on a journey through Nepal in search of a glimpse of the creature, real enough but rendered mythical  by dint of its invisibility to the human eye when in its native surroundings. Subtly interwoven into the story of his journey are slender threads of insights into his  buried feelings. These observations snag on the weft of the tale,momentarily, but are soon unpicked and the pattern continues to unfold. Matthiessen, at the start of his journey, talks of “Knowing that at the bottom of each breath there was a hollow space that needed to be filled.”

My hotel in Santander is on C/ General Mola, named after one of  Franco’s fellow rebel conspirators, reminding me of the city’s affiliations and my ex landlord, one of the conspirators who threw his weight behind the infamous  Lieutenant General Tejero, he of the handlebar moustache , who held the Spanish Parliament hostage on that infamous  day of 23 Feb 1981. The king, Juan Carlos, according to the accepted narrative, intervened decisively and ordered the rebels to go back to their barracks. Another version has the king, the figurehead of the old order and establishment, losing his nerve at the moment of truth, and betraying his fellow conspirators. Take your choice.

I recall the controversy in the 1980s  in Santander, when Franco’s statue, in a main square, had to be removed in order to build a car park. It never returned but I muse that perhaps it is there waiting in the wings for a dramatic return when, as some diehards of the right would no doubt like to think, the inevitable failure of democracy leads to a return of the old values … Over in Greece, I can see the old Generals dusting themselves down too, waiting for their moment.

Why do all goalkeepers cheat at penalties?

“All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”- Albert Camus.

Ok, the gloves are off!

I have been writing this blog for six months and I have avoided the subject of football throughout this time (more or less) and I have not ranted. I am about to do both so look away now if you might be distressed by this.

Incidentally, I can be calm and rational, I really can. How do I know? Because The Guardian says so today in the paper and online.  

I am writing this wearing my favourite Philosophy Football T-Shirt bearing the above quote from Albert Camus. He was a half decent French/African writer but crucially also played football as a goalkeeper for Algeria.

Yes, so this is a blog about having a second chance in life as a writer so what’s that got to do with football I hear you say. Well I would put forward in my defence, Nick Hornby, John Crace, Emily Barr (come back to her), Colin Shindler (for Jim and Rhianna).

So back to Emily. She is a successful writer who used to write a column for Guardian Sport.She spoke as an MA Guest Speaker at University College Falmouth recently and admitted that the column about a young women living with a football obsessed partner was fictitious. It got me thinking though and I realised that I could well have been that person.

Who else would be so preoccupied with the fact that goalies cheat every week with millions watching on Match Of The Day, Sky Sports( and the odd few on ITV) and NOBODY notices except for me… and that’s the problem, I feel more and more that it’s just me. It’s affecting me, my writing, it’s a conspiracy. I need to get it sorted!

To get technical for a moment- and no I am not going to touch on the current offside law(but I could do because it is an abomination)-if a side is awarded a penalty, the goalkeeper must stay on their line until the penalty is kicked. But they don’t, every week they jump forward a split second before the kick, narrow the angle, and more and more kicks are saved illegally.

Gary and the boys scratch their heads about why more and more penalty kicks are missed BUT they know, all the players, referees, linesmen, commentators know but nobody says anything. Now, Albert Camus knew all about conspiracies and feeling like an outsider and he played football for Algeria as a goalkeeper. He would sort it out, but he can’t, he’s dead. So I have to!

I have had letters published on this issue by the Guardian and the Observer ( though David James wouldn’t discuss the issue!), I have tweeted on the subject with @thesecretfootballer, who admitted the whole thing.But the cover up goes on. The popular You Are the Ref strip discusses ball-to-groin outrage,huge punts and metal toecaps but it doesn’t go near the penalty scandal. Why? Someone put me out of my misery please?

Ok, so does this one obsession make me a total football nerd, perhaps not, but I have previous. Consider the following:

  • Supporting a team for 50 years whose last major success came in 1963 when he was eight..
  • Forcing a non- football loving girlfriend to listen to the crackly BBC World Service and keep a written detailed record, minute by minute, of the first half of the 1981 cup final.I arrived home in time for the second half. She left me a year later
  • Buying his six year old daughter a Goal Net for her birthday and made her stand in it for hours on end in the wind and rain while he scored goal after goal.
  • Purchasing a ticket for a Spurs game in Madrid knowing that it coincided with a holiday break in Edinburgh with his mother and wife. Despite having the full backing of a certain Alistair Campbell to go to the game (Long story but I was his chauffeur on a charity gig that he did and we spent all day talking football-he’s a Burnley nut- and discussed amongst other things Tony Blair’s alleged sighting of Jacky Milburn playing  for Newcastle. “Seize the moment” he said but I bottled it. We lost 4-0 and my wife divorced me 6 months later anyway. Alistair, by the way, was amazing on the day and is a brilliant ambassador for Mind.
  •  Considering a tattoo having noticed It seems to be the fashion amongst his younger writing student colleagues. Ankles, shoulders and just above the groin seem to be the preferred locations of choice.  A Tottenham Hotspur Cockerel would be the only possible design choice! Could be another ball-to-groin-outrage!

So, football nerd or not, I will leave that to others to decide, I will conclude this rant by making a simple request.

Watch football today, live,  or on the telly ( listening on the radio or following online is no good) and decide for yourself how many goalies cheat on St Patrick’s Day 2012 and tweet me about it on @hotspurman.

Should a referee, two linesmen, a fourth official( plus two more in European games) spot this cheating if you and I can with our naked eye? I think so but will Gary, Alan, Lee, Mark, Alan or Adrian, Gareth, Andy refer to it. I don’t think so, they will be too busy looking at borderline offsides or shirt pulling.

Perhaps their editors should ask them?

Good, glad I got that off my chest. Now, what’s the team news for today’s big match.

Incidentally, I can be calm and rational, I really can. How do I know? Because The Guardian says so today in the paper and online.  

PS  Happy 25th Birthday to that six year old daughter for yesterday! She has escaped to Milan, sadly not to see a football match.

My Many-coated Man – A Surreal Week

I came to Falmouth 6 months ago to learn the craft of becoming a writer, I had a Second Chance in Life to realise an ambition. It followed a low period of my life, redundancy, divorce, bereavement. It has not been an easy journey but, at times, a satisfying and rewarding one.

The last week of February has taken me on a surreal journey, a product of my decision to dive into the fast flowing waters of academic life beside the sea in Cornwall.

The week starts with the arrival in the post of a beautiful new book, “To the River, A Journey Beneath the Surface” by Olivia Laing, An account of a walk along the length of the Ouse: the Sussex river made famous by the author Virginia Woolf , who loved it and lived by it, but who drowned herself in its waters in 1941. The opening lines of the book are:” I am haunted by water. It may be that I’m too dry in myself, too English, or it may be simply that I’m susceptible to beauty, but I do not feel truly at ease on the earth unless there’s a river nearby.”

The week continues with me wandering fairly aimlessly down Falmouth’s high street that skirts the meandering edges of the bay. I pass the Falmouth Booksellers, resplendent with its new vivid, swirly aquamarine display promoting Diving Belles. This is a lyrical debut book by Lucy Wood, a  recent graduate from the Exeter MA Creative Writing course, a sister to my MA Professional Writing course at University College Falmouth. The book brings to life the rich and magical Cornish cornucopia of myth and legend : a folkloric cocktail of sea, sirens and mermaids lolling on blanched sands and bathing in moonbeams.

  I glance cross the road and strike gold.

 A second- hand shop. A bare utilitarian window display. Twinkling like a jewel sits a rare and coveted book.  A signed 1955 first edition by the poet and writer, Laurie Lee.  He of Cider with Rosie and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. He, that sparked my lifelong love of Spain and language and words.

I had to have this small book of poetry “My Many- coated Man.”  I did have it and bore it home, unopened, a treasure to savour.

On Friday, I join the University guest speaker of the week, Sylvie Saunders,  from the design agency, Pearlfisher. Sylvie has, what must be the best job title in the world,” Head of Words.” She specialises in Design and Packaging and has clients like Innocent , Jamie Oliver and Maldon Salt. She has to tell stories using sometimes just 4 or 5 words, spare, sparse minimal prose to conjure up magic. She is good at it.  I can relate to this as I await to see whether my 62 word story, Blood Cell, one of a hundred such stories in 26 Hidden Treasures, gets the green light for publication by Unbound. It looks very likely which is great news.

 Sylvie wraps up the talk and hands out her business card. Can a business card be a thing of beauty?

 I think perhaps it can, hers is a single block of greeny- blue texture with the solitary word, Sylvie, swimming across its centre, in white.It is beautiful and minimal and just floats past the eye.

I go home and open up My Many-coated Man at page 15 and read the following from the poem “Song by the Sea.”

Girl of green waters, liquid as lies,

Cool as the calloused snow

From my attic brain and prisoned eyes

Draw me and drown me now

O suck me down to your weeds and fates,

Green horizontal girl

And in your salt-bright body breed

My death’s dream-centred pearl

I look at Sylvie’s green rectangle of green in my hand.

I go back, that evening, to that same small stretch of street in Falmouth, seemingly alive with early Spring magic, and slip into the Poly and listen to The Roving Crows, a band voted the best Irish Celtic rock folk band in 2011. My eyes and my ears are drawn to, and bewitched by, Caitlin Barrett, a water sprite of a girl from the Emerald Isle who caresses and coaxes her fiddle to evoke her Celtic ancestry and to tell stories of grief and love and hope.

The Awakening of the Muse

Double Deadline Friday

All writers need inspiration to get the creative juices flowing. I have just had a Double Deadline Friday on my MA Professional Writing course at University College Falmouth.  Deadlines gird the loins but sometimes the spirit is lacking. David Lodge wrote a piece for the Guardian Book Club last month and spoke of the myriad range of influences that helped to develop the plot of one of his best selling novels, Small World. Amongst those he listed were: Homer’s Ulysses;James Joyce;Excalibur ( Film by John Boorman”);T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land; Arthur Kingfisher.

 I thought it would be interesting to look at one of the pieces I submitted for Double Deadline Friday, ” A Shaft of Light” a short story of a man revisiting his childhood with slightly surreal and ghostly undertones. See full version of the story.

This is what I came up with:


 Macbeth- a text I studied for GCSE; Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold; To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf;The End of the Affair by Graham Greene; A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens;The Ice Lovers by Jean McNeil;The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy;The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes.


Sicily Unpacked BBC.


A performance of Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid at Tremough Performance Centre,University College, Falmouth.


What he Wrote by Laura Marling ( a beautiful haunting song) allegedly based on love letters found from a First World War Soldier, stationed at the front, to his wife back in England. 

A Photograph

Bar Girl in a Brothel in the Red Light District, Havana, 1954- Eve Arnold.

Arnold captures and transmits that elusive quality that Cartier-Bresson defines as “The silence in somebody.”


The Clashing Rocks of Greek Mythology.

Some of the influences are easily detected in my piece:  the Catholicism of Graham Greene ; the three ghosts of Christmas; the three witches of Macbeth. Others like the sound of Laura Marling and the photographs of Arnold; they must work at a more indefinable subconscious level, but I know they helped to awaken the dormant muse as Double Deadline Friday approached.