Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Farewell to Ballard

I suppose the death of J G Ballard wasn't unexpected, in that he'd been ill for some time.  But somehow Ballard seemed so quintessentially to embody the modern world that it's surprising that he's no longer part of it. 

I can't really claim Ballard as an influence on my writing (although, when I think about it, my depictions of the decaying factories in The Shadow Walker perhaps owe more than I realised to Ballard's characteristic post-industrial landscapes).  But, when I read him as a teenager, he was one of the authors who first made me want to write - I wanted to be able to evoke a world in the way that he did.

I suspect that, in time, Ballard may be seen as among the best and most under-rated British writers of the 20th century - and perhaps as the author who most effectively delineated the second half of that century.  The Guardian todays carries a fascinating series of short articles tracing Ballard's influence on other art forms.  Incidentally, various commentators (including the BBC and The Guardian again) have highlighted Ballard's influence on popular music.  But I've not seen any reference to the song which seems to me to capture, whether deliberately or not, the essence of one strand of Ballard's work - the Mekons's wonderful 'Ghosts of American Astronauts'

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Late-Flowering Art

An interesting piece by Mark Lawson in today's Guardian about the work of artists who are well into what we've traditionally thought of as old age.  Lawson discusses performers such as Leonard Cohen and Neil Diamond, who have been gracing the festival stages around the UK this summer.  But he devotes the majority of the article to new novels from PD James and Stanley Middleton, both well into their ninth decade. 

Baroness James's new novel will no doubt receive plenty of deserved coverage, but it's nice to see Middleton getting some attention for once.  I don't think that Stanley Middleton has ever been a fashionable writer, and his determinedly low-key style is perhaps an acquired taste.  But once you acquire it, as I did many years ago, it's highly addictive.  Lawson says of Middleton's recent work: 

'...His very late novels find him worrying away at the literary and social values that have informed his work. There is also the feeling of absolutely authentic reportage of the experience of being old in a culture biased towards youth: the experiences of illness, bereavement, pensions and insurance bureaucracy. When, in a recent novel, Middleton featured a character with Alzheimer's, there was a moving sense of a report being sent back from a massacre by one of the few to escape.'

That's accurate enough, but it doesn't convey the seductive nature of Middleton's prose style or the fact that - despite the conscious avoidance of anything that might be described as melodramatic - his best books are as tense as any thriller. 

Monday, May 5, 2008

Murderous Marple

Martin Edwards's always fascinating blog, Do you write under your own name?, has recently included a couple of references to the town of Marple in Cheshire (or, more accurately these days, Greater Manchester).  His first post discussed the theory that Agatha Christie's famous detective was named after the town.  Yesterday, he discussed the now largely-forgotten crime writer, Joyce Porter, who was apparently born there.

I've found this interesting since, as it happens, I've lived in Marple for over ten years.  What's more, there's at least one other current crime writer living in the vicinity,  and the writer Edmund Cooper - best remembered as a science fiction writer but author of at least one crime novel - was also born in Marple. 

Given that Marple's a fairly pleasant little place on the edge of the Peak District, with a very limited number of mean streets, I'm not sure how to explain this affinity with crime fiction.  The attraction of opposites, maybe. 


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Alan Garner

Nothing to do with Mongolia (except perhaps through a loose shamanism connection) or indeed crime fiction, but - well, it's my blog so I'll talk about what I want.  I had a fascinating evening last Friday listening to a talk delivered by one of my literary heroes, the great Alan Garner.  Garner is probably still commonly thought of as a writer for children - and, given that his first four books constitute four classic children's novels, that's probably fair enough.  But his more recent work, from 'Red Shift' to 'Strandloper' and 'Thursbitch', explores territory largely untouched by any other novelist - history, myth, identity, landscape - in a prose of extraordinary intensity.  Friday's talk - delivered in the atmospheric shadow of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope in the heart of Garner's Cheshire, as the rain beat down around us - was characteristic of his work.  It ranged from personal reminiscences about the creative process, through family history to archaeology and mythology.  Impossible to summarise, but if you want a taste, it's worth tracking down Garner's sadly out-of-print book of essays, 'The Voice that Thunders'