Two months’ reading conflated, due to the small matter of PhD thesis duly submitted, with this post rushed due to impending holiday – which, though, should allow plenty of time for more reading – and all coming out in the wrong order, a concatenation of events, stitched together with tiredness, a tinnitus of the calendar.
Working backwards, from July to June we have: After Claude, by Iris Owens, The Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante, All The Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride and Armed With Madness, by Mary Butts. To which I’m adding a long poem, ‘You, Very Young in New York’, by Hannah Sullivan, from Areté’s Retrospective. Two new novels, one of them a new debut novel, the others recommendations from my Myopic/Misogynist reading list, one recent Italian translation and two classics of varying modernity – bitchy 70s New York, and and England between the wars.
And all touching, in one form or another, on madness, on a mind battling to contain and control the rising tide of reality – although strangely enough it’s the one with Madness in the title that least matches with what we think of as madness today – which I’d characterise as psychological disturbance. (I might be influenced in some of this by the fact that I’m married to a psychologist, who is very much against any kind of mystification or romanticisation of the topic.)
Perhaps that’s not surprising at all. Mary Butts’ book, Armed With Madness is a piece of modernism, coming somehow between Virginia Woolf and the Beats, if that’s a valid continuum, and seems to be of a time, or a moment, or a genre, that sees madness as something divine, and tragic, rather than, as today, something medical, and solvable. Continue reading
So last night was the launch of I Digress, a pair of zines curated and edited by Megan Dowsett, Alison Drewitt and Naomi Sloman. Their neat idea was to begin with one illustration (by Hannah Carding) and one short text (by Evie Wyld, author of ‘After The Fire, A Still Small Voice’) and give the illustration to six writers to respond to, and the text to six illustrators. The resulting works were then fed back into the machine, each of the new texts given to one of the illustrators, each of the illustrations to one of the writers. Like a short, confusing game of Chinese Whispers.
The end result was a pair of zines, one following the trail of Hannah Carding’s original illustration, the other that of Evie Wyld’s text. Everything was supposedly themed around The Grosvenor Pub in Stockwell, where the launch was and where the editors apparently like a jar now and then.
As a writer, the project was fun and distinctive. Responding to a visual stimulus is hardly unique, but doing so knowing that an illustrator is going to respond to your text in turn adds another layer or direction of responsibility. Hannah Carding’s illustrations featured a cute horse and some tiny winged people.
Now cute horses and tiny winged people are usually outside my fictive frame of reference, so I wanted to write something that would make sense when read next to Carding’s pictures, but also on its own – as the illustrator responding to my text wouldn’t have seen the original, and I didn’t want to force them to draw cute horses and winged people if they didn’t want to.
So, naturally, I turned the whole thing into a miniaturist remake of Wim Wender’s ‘Himmel Über Berlin’ with the horse a version of the trapeze artist, and the tiny winged people sarcastic versions of the angels, though when the horse spots them she thinks they’re pigeons. Here’s how it starts:
The city is abuzz with gossip, and the sound of wings. You look up as you trot along, past shop, caff and bank. Pigeons, is it? Scuffing the air as they scatter from roof to roof. You’re en route for the latest in a line of lunch hour speed dates. This one you’re excited about. You smile at the people you pass but all you get in return is their glum lunchtime faces. It’s like you’ve got a secret, and everybody knows you’ve got a secret, and they want to know what it is, but you – you maintain your pose of quiet inscrutability.
If you want to read ‘Lunchtime Rendezvous’ in full, of course, you’ll have to buy the zines, which cost £3.50 the pair, or at least did last night, and I should think you can do that by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The picture of the morose dog and sexy, haughty cat are from the other zine. They’re a response by London-based Swedish illustrator Staffan Gnosspelius to Evie Wyld’s short story, which I then had to respond to (the pic) without having seen the story. I met Staffan last night, he’s a charming bloke and his website, full of scintillating imagery, is here. I urge you to visit it.
Here’s the beginning of what I made of it (‘Pub Eclogue’):
Pub pub pub pub pub.
What is a pub, anyway? What manner of a place? Clearly, not somewhere to come to save your marriage.
I leave the bar, pint in one hand, gin and bitter lemon in the other, but the phantom glass between them is an ache, a gap in my chest. Three glasses you come back with, the clink of it, the solid maths in your hands. I look left, I look right, I positively want someone to bump me, jog my elbow, slosh a bit of drink, just so as I can half-turn and nod, ‘No, you’re alright, mate’, dip my head and shoulder on. But no, I cross the floor unimpeded and place the glass in front of her.