Five Scottish artist for Muriel Spark week

As it is Muriel spark week ,I decide as she was Scottish I decide to do an expanded song for sunday .To include five of my favourite Scottish bands and singers –

First up is Scottish singer songwriter Ivor Cutler  ,I can’t remember the exact day I heard Ivor first but I know where I heard it and that was on John Peel ,I ‘d been twelve or thirteen under bed covers listening to his radio show .I remember thinking  this guy is surreal and still think that his deadpan delivery and odd humour make him a true one-off .

Second up are the  Jesus and Mary chain these were a band I discovered via friends at school or the NME  I can’t remember ,but there fuzzy hazy guitar and dark lyric matter soon made me a fan of them like a bastard child of the velvet underground and sex pistols with a bit of lee Hazelwood thrown in these guys looked like no one else in a time of flowers and fey pop .

In the early nineties Irvine Welsh appeared on the lit scene and just  before him the Scottish writer James Kelman won the booker so sottish dialect and tales of the dark side of growing up in Scotland were the order of the day so then step up Arab strap another band lead by a singer with deadpan singing style but much darker and up to date than Ivor Cutler .

Fourth up is King creosote a member of  the fence collective ,whose members all hail from the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland Crail King Creosote is only eight miles from my Late Gran’s home and near where my Aunt still lives ,also Fife is home to the mighty Rob of Rob around books .


Last I give you the Phantom band a band I ve like for the last few years the debut was in my top ten albums the year it came out ,they seem to embody all the Scottish artists  and bands I grew up with in one package .

Who are your favorite Scottish band ?

The life of Rebecca Jones By Angharad Price

The life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price

Welsh fiction

Translator -Lloyd Jones

Angarad Price is a Welsh writer she grew up in the Wales and is a fluent Welsh speaker and professor of Welsh at Bangor university .The life of Rebecca Jones is her second novel it won the Wales book of the year .

When this drop through the door I read it was about a family in a Welsh valley ,my mind was drawn to Bruce Chatwin’s on the black hill ,that book set in the Welsh borders dealt with family and isolation from the outside world and a way of living like Rebecca’s that is very traditional  .But As I read the book ,another book a favourite of recent times for me sprung to mind that was stones in a landslide although set in spain a lot of the context ,subjects and ways of life seemed similar in both books  .This book is the story of a women’s life she is a Welsh women born to a family in the Maesglasau valley in the heart of Welsh speaking Wales where this family has lived for a 1000 years .As I read i  found it hard to believe this book was a translation,as  it read like it was written in english .So back to Rebecca and her family, and isn’t it an odd family because out of her four siblings three of them are blind from a genetic condition .The book follows Rebecca growing up in the valley and her  adult life ,but we also the brothers dealing with their blindness and when you think this was in the early parts of the twentieth century and the family lived in a remote valley but the parents made sure they got to the blind school and they all lived a full  life and work which was a real achievement at the time ,but this family was cultured there were books and talking about books in this families kitchen which I loved it seemed like a world I love to be in .The book is inter sped with photos .I m sure these are prices own family as the family is here Rebecca was here great-aunt ,the lads feature on a BBC  documentary in the 1960’s  I tried to find if this was on you tube but didn’t have any luck .

As a matter of fact , Tynybaich went to television rather than vice versa .In 1964 the journalist John Robert Williams came to interview us for the BBC Heddiw news programme .He’d heard an amazing story about the “three blind brothers ” from Tynybraich and wanted to make a short film

the BBC visited the valley .

Price has remind me how wonderful Welsh writing is at it’s best. but also very different at times from what you may say is the English novels from the capital . This book is short but after I finished it felt like I been through a 900 page novel such is the way she draws you into this families life . If wasn’t for the fact some things from 20th century are mention this story could be from anytime in the last few hundred years .What great shame it is with all the talk in the booker last year of readable books and literary books, well I d say you got one here that combines both and because it wasn’t in english originally it isn’t eligible that is a joke .This is a book that should be next to the like of Chatwin’s on the black hills  and Dylan Thomas under milkwood ,more important than them both it catches the Welsh speaking community of wales ,and reminds us of how we need to save the welsh language for future generations to enjoy and experience .

Have you read this book ?

Do you like welsh fiction ?

The Coming by Andrej Nikolaidis

The coming by Andrej Nikolaidis

Montenegrin fiction

Translator Will Firth

The first chapter of this book was featured in this years best european fiction Andrej Nikolaidis is a rising star of central european fiction born to a half greek family he spent his youth in between his current homeland and Bosnia and you can see the effect on his book ,he won the Montenegrin section of the european literature prize last year and has so far publish three novels .He is well-known for speaking his mind in his Native country on a number of subjects mostly to do with Serbia thou  and has work closely at times with the new government in Montenegro .He is also married to a famous poet from the region .

As soon as I opened my agency ,though it seems all of Ulcnj decided to start killing ,robbing ,abducting and raping .And there was plenty of adultery too it seems to be close to a dozen marriages torn apart .

Is the detective just describe the town or what happened in the areas in  a wider sense .

SO the coming is An.drej first book to reach us in english what is about well like all good central european fiction it is about a lot more than it seems on the surface .For on  the surface it could be view as a crime novel  but also cynical and comic with a touch of the historic novel and some epistolary touches as he likes to use emails . The story starts when someone dies and the local library burns and   a father the town’s sheriff of Ulnjc  starts to investigate as he does so his son appears he has been in Austria .Then we have a second story line of Fra Dolcino a heretic born in the late 1200’s that announces the return of the messiah hence the title of this book and the manuscript by Fra Dolcino call the” the book of the coming” .Add in a third strand of strange things happening in the local environment and you have just scratched the surface of this book .This book even has it own soundtrack at the back of the book to listen to as you read I knew most of the tracks but enjoyed listening to the non english artists on the list that I didn’t know but I liked Andrej taste in music as a huge fan of Nick Cave ,the smiths and stone  roses .He says music helps his writing process and he falls asleep to music every night .

The other theme of the book is the end of the world coming but also about what happened in the region Andrej comes from he grew up between Bosnia and Montenegro ,he was caught up in Bosnia civil war 1992  .I heard an interview via Andrej publishers Istros books with Andrej and Will firth  the translator .I worked alongside a Bosnia Croat in the mid nineties as he and I lived in Germany so the sense of how the war could happen and the end of something is some I felt from book also the first chapter when the detective describes what he has seen in the village can be expand to the canvas of the Bosnian war .I found this book a real hidden gem I must admit Will Firth looking for a new voice from this region and the new country of Montenegro has turn up a real gem and a strong new voice .That reminds you of why you read books in translation it is to see worlds through different eyes and concepts .   There  is a lot of imagery in this book the Fra Dolcino section could be seen as what happens when people’s views get out of hand .I say if you like a book that makes you think for weeks after but isn’t as long as a Umberto  Eco  this is the one for you .

A Far cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark

A far cry from Kensington by Muriel spark

Scottish fiction

Muriel Spark was a Scottish born writer ,she wrote over twenty novels in her life .She studied in Scotland  at Herriot watts a course on precise writing,she then taught english before world war two and in the war worked in intelligence ,after the war she moved to London .She is probably best known for the book the prime of Miss  Jean  Brody .I Haven’t until now tried her works she is one of the writers I class as scary female ,but thankfully for Simon of stuck in a book and Harriet of Harriet Devine who are hosting Muriel spark week as they both took part in my Henry Green reading week I thought this would be an ideal chance to try her so I head to the main library in Chesterfield and found a few of her book on their shelves ,the one that grabbed my eye was the Virago modern Classic of A far cry from Kensington .

So I cracked it open last weekend the book was  A far cry from Kensington I was drawn to the fact this story was partly set in the publishing world  .The book is about Mrs Hawkins a catholic ,war widow , it is told in retrospective ,as she starts on  the low rungs of  the publishing world at a rather poorly run publisher Ullswater press ,I love an early description of her working at the office at how the partners in the business work .I laughed at how she describe the daily life of publishing in the fifties  .Later this company folds and she is left looking for a job ,luckily she did at a more well-known and prestigious publishing house ,but when there she finds things are still run badly .

Then as now ,all jobs in publishing were greatly sought after ,and perhaps consequently ,poorly  paid

think even sixty years after this book this is still true .

The other tract of the story is her home life she lives in a house divide into flats .In one of these flats lives Wanda a polish women and a dress-maker  ,this also leads to a few comic lines about her out look on life .That is a enough of the comic parts as the book is dark as well things turn strange when Mrs Hawkins called a writer   a pisseur de copie (urinates frightful prose ) as he wants the Ullswater press to put his work out this desire takes a dark turn and at a later point the man Hector Bartlett is possibly  involved with Wanda but later in the book things start going bad for Wanda and is it this man ?and her work and home life collide with a shocking results .

“How is Wanda getting on ,Mrs Hawkins ?”

Wanda ,the Polish dressmaker ,had enough problems to fill up the rest of the afternoon.Mr York filled his glass,and I him in about Wanda

“Wanda ” I said “suffers greatly ”

“I never met a pole who doesn’t ”

this little passage made me laugh .

I really didn’t know what to expect from Spark but didn’t expect to fall in love with her clear prose style the way she drew you into the story with twist and turns of the plot ,the main characters all seemed so well drawn out to me , very real Hawkins a war widow and Catholic struck me in some part as a thinly veiled Spark  .I would imagine post war the was a number of Polish or other eastern european women like Wanda  after the second world war I was drawn to a character in Christie’s  book a murder is announced called Mitzi she had the same paranoid and suffered personality as Wanda .Muriel spark  did live in London after the war but not in Kensington but Camberwell .and worked as an editor  for a poetry magazine so would have had interaction with the Publishing world of the time .I m going to try to pick another spark on my visit to sheffield later this week hoping the second hand shop has some of the great early penguin covers .Thanks to Simon for host the week

Have you read spark ?

What would you suggest to try next ?

1q84 vol 1 and 2 by Haruki MurakamI

1q84 by Haruti Murakami

Japanese fiction

Translator Jay Rubin

Well I ve said a lot about Murakami in previous posts about him ,so I ll talk about his running .I link to a interview here in running world where he says he has been running for over twenty years .He wrote a non fiction book a few years ago called” what I talk about when I talk about running ” A book I d recomme3nd short but full of insights into the japanese mind ,which in a rather clunky way brings me to 1q84  Whch I feel is his most Japanese .

How many people could recognize Janaecks sinfornetta after hearing just  the first few bars ? probably somewhere between “very few ” and “almost none” .but for some reason .Aomame was one of the few in the world

Janacek sinfonetta to express the contempoary free man ? is start of one line of surrealism in this novel .

I have been putting off reading 1q84 for a number of reasons partly the uneven reviews it got in the newspapers ,also some bloggers who views I  trust were not overly keen on it .So I finally decide to read it when it was named on the IFFP longlist having dodged it some what already  for man Asian shadow  reading  I couldn’t for the second time .I  then decide to entered open  minded ,to forget all the bits I ve read about it before  and was surprised how much I enjoyed it for a Murakami fan there is the usual Murakami traits people on the edge or just coming into adulthood ,a lonely girl ,a writer,a whole host of surreal parts  and set in the 80’s .T he novel is told in the form of two story lines from April to September  Aomame ,she is a thirty year old women ,she works for a strange organisation as a sort of assassin ,we meet her as she is of to kill some one  but has to rush and escapes a txi as she is running late and hear the Janacek piece and sometimes wonder if she is in a different 1984 maybe 1q84 .The other main character is Tengo he is a teacher at a prep school but dreams of being a novelist and when he helps a young girl that has written a manuscript called air chrysalis .But he  is surprised when this book takes off  and its young writer forgets his work on it .Well that is the bones of the book we see these two characters lives but then like a pair of skylarks mating the end up flying closer and closer together ,we see this as the story draws them together and to complete the analogy there is a third minor character but he is the third narrator Ushikawa he is a grotesque hired to follow first Tengo then Aomame so he is like a hawk watching the two skylarks falling and rising as they get drawn together .Also add in a cult and a some of his best surreal touches and do you have his magnum opus well when it first came out in Japan it seemed that way .I m not sure I enjoyed the book much more than I initially thought I would ,I do sometimes wonder if the surreal bits of this book pass me by at times .I also wondered if this book has a great meaning to the Japanese reader I feel the issues and subjects dealt with in the book are the most Japanese of his books I ve read .  I Think it is now in my three favourite books by him ,I will finish the story later this year when I read third part of the book .

What did you think of this ?

Are you planning to read it ?

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