Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy New Year and all that

Going to be a little quiet on here for the next few days as I'm off to Ireland for a family break - and to do some more editing on The Outcast. 

So - a slightly early New Year greetings and good wishes to everyone,  and thanks for reading this (and the books) in 2007.

Peter Haining

Martin Edwards, in his splendid blog, recently reported on the death of the writer and anthologist, Peter Haining, and there's now an excellent obituary in The Daily Telegraph.   As a teenager, I loved Haining's anthologies of supernatural and crime fiction.  They were always lovingly compiled, sometimes with a theme, sometimes simply a collection of terrific stories, often mixing the relatively familiar with the highly arcane.  Haining was one of the figures who helped turn me into a reader and, in due course, into a writer. 

I was slightly startled to discover that he was only 67 at the time of his death.  When I read his anthologies, I suppose I'd unconsciously imagined him as some aged Jamesian antiquarian figure, so it's a little disconcertingt to discover that, at the time he was compiling those books, he must have been rather younger than I am now.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Devil gave birth before God...

There seems to be an increasing number of intriguing films emerging from Mongolia.  I suspect it will be a while before Let's Serve for Mongolia gets a Western release (and that title perhaps loses something in translation), so we'll have to be content with this account of what sounds like a potentially fascinating account of the country's period of independence in the 1920s and 1930s. 

A global Mongolia?

I've covered the debate about Mongolia's global future on a number of occasions here.  The UB Post, Mongolia's always interesting English language journal, offers another perspective

Sunday, December 23, 2007

These boots are made for - delivering presents...

So, perhaps not the North Pole after all...?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not your average Christmas movie

The Observer newspaper's veteran film-critic, Philip French, contributes a weekly DVD club, typically extolling the virtues of classic movies.  Last week, his review focused on a film that's certainly in my top half-dozen favourites - Charles Laughton's extraordinary Night of the Hunter.  French describes the film better than I ever could, but misses one detail.  I recently saw Night of the Hunter included in a list of great Christmas movies (a little way above Fred Claus, anyway).  That took me aback at first, as the majority of the film takes place in high summer - but, yes, the ending and resolution of the film does indeed take place at Christmas.  So that's an excuse to watch it again over the next few days. 

Incidentally, while French is certainly correct to ascribe much of  the film's power to its director,  Charles Laughton, when I finally got around to reading Davis Grubb's original novel I was surprised to find that almost everything that makes the film remarkable was already there in the book.  Laughton did a wonderful job of bringing it to the screen, but the vision undoubtedly came from the now rather overlooked Grubb. 

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Poguetry not going through the motions

We didn't intend it, but it seems now to have become part of the Christmas ritual.  Since The Pogues started performing together again a few years back and instituted their annual Christmas tour of the UK and Ireland, the run-up to Christmas (which I understand used to be called Advent) now includes mandatory attendance at their Manchester gig. 

In previous years, the concerts have been held at the Manchester Arena, which I'd describe as the most soulless venue in the UK except that numerous other similar arenas compete eagerly for that title.  This year, they'd moved to Manchester Central, which isn't exactly intimate but does have the great virtue of being unseated.  In that environment, it's not difficult for several thousand well-oiled Irish Mancunians (and others) to create a party atmosphere. 

The Pogues attract a bizarrely mixed constituency of punks (good to see that the UK Subs are back on tour), Irish or those of Irish descent (many of whom looked as if they'd have been just as happy as a Dubliners or Furey Brothers gig), and those like me who are just of a certain age and grew up with the music.  But a manically good time was being had by all.  And it's always fascinating to be the one sober person (well, one of two - my teenage son was with me and also uninebriated) in a room full of semi-drunks. 

For some reason, The Pogues had decided to give us Mancunians an additional exclusive treat in the form of a support set from Billy Bragg (as well as one from The Holloways, a fine young band featuring what can only be described as punk fiddle).  Mr Bragg was on good, crowd-pleasing form, and I'm sure was immensely satisfied to be able to dedicate 'Power in a Union' to the Police Federation (who, for those outside the UK, are currently threatening to ballot for the right to strike, which carries a certain irony for veterans of the 1980s miners' dispute...).

And The Pogues were the best I've seen them.  It's always been slightly startling that the ramshackle bunch I first saw twenty or more years ago have somehow transformed into an extraordinarily tight outfit.  But in previous years they've sometimes tended to come across as their own tribute act, churning out the familiar hits.  Last night, they became a real living band again.  Maybe it was the venue.  Maybe it was that Shane Macgowan actually did virtually all the singing (in previous years, perhaps in deference to Shane's, um, delicate health, he's tended to do a couple then hang over to Terry Woods or Phil Chevron or Spider Stacey to do one - this year, partly due to Phil Chevron's sad absence through illness, he sang all but a couple, and very well, too).  Maybe it was that they were prepared to take some risks and move away from just the obvious stuff - three songs in a row from 'Hell's Ditch', for example.  Anyway, for me, it came to life. 

But, as always, it was a slightly haunted party.  There was the ghost of Kirsty McColl, drfting through 'Fairy Tale of New York' and Bragg's 'New England'.  And the ghost of Joe Strummer lurked mischievously throughout - Junior Murvin's 'Police and Thieves' playing over the PA, The Holloways' version of 'Bank Robber', Bragg's excellent new 'Old Clash Fan Fight Song', The Pogues' familiar use of 'Straight to Hell' as their intro music...  An Irish tradition, I suppose, partying while the dead breathe over your shoulders.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Heavyweight Campion

A S Byatt wrote in The Daily Telegraph at the weekend about her love for the work of Margery Allingham.  It's an enthusiasm I share.  It took me a while to get round to reading her because I'd assumed - on the basis of no evidence whatsoever - that she was simply a lesser Dorothy L Sayers.  What can I say?  I was young.

In fact, her work is unlike that of Sayers - or indeed of anyone else.  As Byatt points out, her gift lies in creating a world which is almost like ours, but a little skewed.  Byatt suggests, intriguingly, that Iris Murdoch might have been influenced by her.  Maybe so. 

My own view is that Allingham is one of the great overlooked English novelists of the 20th century - arguably another victim of the much-debated literature/genre schism.  I can't see any good reason why she shouldn't at least sit in the pantheon alongside, say, Waugh, Amis, Powell and, yes, Murdoch.  While her earlier Albert Campion books may be relatively disposible (if you discount their enormous entertainment value, that is), her later books - The Tiger in the Smoke, Hide My Eyes, Traitor's Purse, even the last-knocking The China Governess - exert an eerie power that must surely constitute literature.   She wrote about London better than anyone since Dickens, and about wartime and post-war London better than anyone.   If you haven't yet explored her off-centre world, give her a try. 

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Stolen Nuts and Geometric Haircuts

There are moments (quite a few of them, actually) when news from Mongolia takes a vaguely surreal turn.  Here are two recent stories from UB Post, the weekly English-language newspaper in Mongolia.  The first is in the Business News section and defies further comment.  The second is classed as Entertainment.  Which is fair enough, given that 'the highlight of the event was when one of Mongolia’s best hairdressers, Tserenkhand, gave a haircut while three morin khuur players performed.'  Who wouldn't be entertained by that?

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Mad Soft Expanse of Green

Interesting piece from The Times about the summer festivals in Mongolia.  Potentially something of a taster for The Outcast, the forthcoming third Nergui book, which is set in the high days of a hot Mongolian summer...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Sumo Chucks a Sickie

Sorry - I really just wanted to use that headline, which I've borrowed from ABC Australia's coverage of the Sumo champion, Asashoryu, and his travails.  As this report in today's Guardian newspaper indicates, one of Asashoryu's potential difficulties is that he's not Japanese but Mongolian (his real name being Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj) which doesn't necessarily go down well with the traditionalists.