Friday, 30 October 2009

Japanese tunnel

I was very pleased to hear that there is to be a Japanese edition of Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth. It occurs to me now that I am not sure that there is to be a Japanese Tales of Terror from the Black Ship. I'll have to check.

I've done a couple of interviews this week. I had a chat to Lorne Jackson who is Books Editor on the Sunday Mercury and Birmingham Post. It was a pleasure to talk to him but I do find interviews tiring. It was no fault of Lorne's - it was a very relaxed affair - but the dread of saying something completely stupid is always with me, and someone taking notes just makes it seem all the more threatening.

And if this were not terrifying enough, I have also had a chat about an upcoming radio interview for Radio Scotland that I will be doing from the BBC studio here in Cambridge on the 16th of this month. I haven't done much radio, to be fair - but I can't say that I have excelled in the medium.

I have never been asked to do TV.

Not yet anyway.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Strip club

I have been doing some life drawing at a class run by the appropriately named Kate King, at King's College here in Cambridge. The classes are for King's students but there are spare places and so the likes of me can - for a fiver - have a small taste of what it would have been like to come to a Cambridge college.

I get a pathetic thrill walking through the small door within the large locked door in the gatehouse. Last night there was an Atkinson Grimshaw sky with a bright moon lighting up a scattering of clouds. The big old lamps were lit and I wondered what it must be like to take this kind of place for granted. I'm not sure I would ever stop pinching myself if I were a student here.

As for the life drawing, the classes - or strip club as my son insists on referring to them - are not classes in the sense of teaching; at least not for outsiders like myself. Kate will certainly give guidance to students, if called upon to do so. But for me it is just the access to a model and the chance to get back into drawing for the hell of it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Blood red splatters

I went up to London today with my son to see the Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy. I've never been a great fan of Kapoor. It all seems pleasant enough, but it has never moved me. His childlike love of materials often seems to produce work that is a bit, well, childlike for me. For all the talk of alchemy and mysticism, a pile of coloured pigment can often doggedly refuse to be anything but a pile of pigment - not less colourful or even beautiful, but not invested with the power that it is clearly intended to have.

But this exhibition - with certain exceptions - seemed different. The huge railway carriage made of red wax, extruding its way through the Royal Academy galleries so slowly it was almost imperceptible, was extraordinary. I can't say I've ever had a dream involving a wax railway carriage, but it was certainly dreamlike. Or is it nightmarish?

And the canon that fires blood red wax at a wall was also rather wonderful. We waited ten minutes but it was worth every second. A man appeared and silently performed the preparations and then BANG - the noise was not so much deafening as shattering: you could feel it thump through your body as the wax shot out and slapped against the far wall.

My son and I had looked at the plaque to the Artists' Rifles as we queued for a ticket, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who found this more than a hollow art trick. While we stood waiting behind the canon I find my thoughts turning to my father who was in the Royal Artillery during World War II and for much of his life thereafter.

Blood red splatters.

The wax dripping down the wall brought a few whoops and a ripple of applause, but I think the noise and the spectacle also stunned the audience a little. Like the wax railway, it was darker than it seems.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Buy my books, they are good

I have had lots of conversations recently about sales. This might have something to do with the fact that it is royalty time for writers, so - unless you are Stephanie Meyer (and let's face it, you probably aren't) - October can be a cruel month.

There is much talk of reduced advances and falling royalty payments. Look how grumpy that last post was. Poor Tracey. Once I start getting crabby there is no telling who I might lash out at next. So keep my spirits up. Buy my books and encourage your friends to do the same.

You know it make sense.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Stuff white people like

I am indebted to The Guardian here in the UK for telling me about the blog called Stuff White People Like. Here is a post on Apple products that is so much better than my rant of a couple of weeks ago. Superb.

I am not indebted however, to The Guardian ruining my morning coffee with not only a photograph of Tracy Emin, but Grayson Perry as well. They are standing on the cover of G2 like something from Revelation. . .

And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the fourth beast say, Come and see.

And I looked and lo, I beheld a woman flogging a dead horse and a man who appeared like unto a six year-old girl with no taste.

Perry is living proof that a grown man can dress in a ridiculous frock, Bo Peep bonnet, platform shoes and ankle socks and still be utterly uninteresting. To paraphrase Bill Clinton: It's the work, stupid.

Emin has threatened to leave England because she pays too much tax. She seems to forget that this country has been misguided enough to provide her with the wealth that has brought this appalling tax burden.

But if ever there was an argument for higher taxation. . .

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Death of death ray

I was very saddened to get an email the other day announcing the death of the excellent Death Ray magazine (or at least its lapse into a coma). Shame on you all for not buying it. Death Ray have been good to me. I was to have appeared in its November issue. They were to run a story and a Q&A I did via email.

The straw that broke the camel's back obviously.

Proofs of The Dead of Winter arrived by jiffy bag. The book is edging ever closer to its publishing form. I'm actually looking forward to sitting down and reading it again.

That may seem odd - and I was actually asked once on a school visit, 'Have you read all of your books?' - but if you put the book aside for long enough, it is possible to read it with some degree of freshness. It is still yours, obviously. But it has also - hopefully - taken on a life of its own.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Une semaine de ripping off Max Ernst

As promised, I thought I'd share with you a couple of the paintings I've been doing based on Max Ernst collages from Une Semaine de Bonte. They are a bit too constrained by the source image to really be 'mine', but they were fun to do. The bottom one could do with a bit more work, but I've spent as long on them as they deserve. I never did get round to re-doing the one I showed earlier.

But I quite like it how it is. . .

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Swedish chair pusher

Malcolm Harding popped round today with a funky chair for me to try out. It's Swedish and it rocks. No - it really does rock. Backwards and forwards. It's good for your circulation apparently. Malcolm is trying to get me hooked on expensive chairs. He's a chair pusher.

I rang the doctor's surgery today and the results of my x-rays were in. It appears that I don't have any bone or joint abnormalities. So it looks like I don't have osteoarthritis. I just have some hideous tendonitis type thing.


And I have been getting to grips with Facebook after setting up a page months and months ago. I don't have many friends. It is quite a long-winded way to discover that. I already have friend-envy. Ed Briant has over 500. Over 500! I was relieved when I went over 5.

I did, however, get an email from John Pilger, who has been lobbying for the return of Payne's Grey. It is weirdly humbling to have someone of John Pilger's stature bothering about me and my strip. Hasn't he got any iniquities to uncover? I feel like I might be distracting him from something important.

Friday, 9 October 2009

For you lover give some time

Richard Hawley's latest has already become a favourite in our house. His Jaques Brel via Scott Walker thing doesn't always work. But For Your Lover Give Some Time is great.

Maybe I will drink a little less
Come home early, not complain about the debts

Bring you flowers from the graveyard now and then

And for my lover make some time. . .

Lovely stuff

I have spoken to both Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart this week. I spoke to Chris on the phone the other day and he was waxing lyrical about Scotland. He and Paul had been on a Highland tour organised by the Scottish Book Trust. Chris was full of praise for the Trust and the country. Chris has had a bit of a Romantic time of it this year, walking in the lakes and wandering the west coast of Scotland. I don't think he knew either area and he seems to have really enjoyed the experience. As well he should.

I had a long email from the lovely Paul Stewart. Despite his reservations about such things, it turns out that he has been reading my blog. He recommended loads of music to me, as usual. He also told me that he had a soft spot for Melanie. Here she is singing Lay Down and it is easy to see why. How does she manage to sing like that sitting down? And how does she work up any enthusiasm when the audience looks like they are attending a funeral. However she does it, it's brilliant.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The beast with five fingers, one of them swollen. . .

My hand has been my enemy for some weeks now. It hurts. It makes writing a pain. I went to the doctors this week to see what she had to say. I had self-diagnosed the problem as being RSI of some kind, but it was getting worse and I had begun to fear it might be something more serious. The middle joint in my forefinger is swollen and I can no longer form a fist.

Not that I'm planning to punch anyone, you understand.

My fears were confirmed when the doctor said it might be osteoarthritis. It is only a might as yet. I went to have my hands x-rayed today to check. The results will be with my doctor tomorrow.

I also spoke to the doctor about by deviated septum. In my nose. The bit of cartilage that separates your nostrils. Well, I have a crooked one. It means one of my nostrils is basically permanently shut, or as good as. This makes me me surprisingly bad at breathing. And yet, ironically, surprisingly good at snoring.

The doctor said that the Ear, Nose and Throat surgeons could do something about that. They would basically break my nose and reset it, so that it was straight. Quite how they break it was left hanging there. Do they have a special surgical hammer?

Or do they just call a porter who has a good right hook?

We are The Glums in this house at the moment. My wife is in constant pain with a frozen shoulder, my son had a brace fitted today and has face ache and I am wincing as I type and looking forward to a surgical head butt. It doesn't seem fair.

Our mood was not helped by viewing a house for the first time in ages. Bidders had already put in offers above the asking price before we even saw it and the tedious business of trying to extract the truth from the spin was as tiresome as ever. The agent described the garden as 'south-ish'-facing. My wife pointed out that it was actually north-facing. The agent then explained that though that was undoubtedly true, if you walked to the bottom of the garden it was in essence south-facing.

If you turned round and faced the house.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


I bought a book on Caspar David Friedrich this week. It is one of the excellent little Taschen Basic series books. They are cheap with decent reproductions: small and slim, but big enough to get a feel for someone's work or, as in my case, to serve as a reminder of someone you already admire. They are also pretty readable.

I've always loved Friedrich. When you draw or paint, certain artists seem to have a particular resonance at different stages of your life. One day you will see the work of someone you thought was absolutely fantastic and wonder why on earth you hadn't seen through all his technical shortcomings and empty trickery before. An artist who had previously appeared without any kind of merit will now seem to hold the key to all kinds of possibilities. Actually, that's true of writers too.

But Friedrich has been a constant. Even when my painting output grew increasingly abstract, I still found things to admire in his work. More often than not I am drawn to a painter because of the way he paints. Rather than standing back from the work, like most painters, I make the guards nervous by leaning in. I want to know how it was done.

The strange thing is, this is totally different with Friedrich. This is not to say that there is not much to admire about his painting technique, but it is the imagery that I find so compelling. There are lots of pictures of men and women standing on shorelines and cliff edges or at windows, shown from behind. They pull you into the painting to share the view. I want to tap them on the shoulder.

It is often twilight in Friedrich paintings. Many of the paintings are of sunrise or sunset, or of eerie moonlit nights. He paints snow covered trees and mist drifting across hillsides. He paints ruined abbeys and deserted graveyards. There is an unearthly quality to most of his best work. They seem like notes from a dream.

His work is so evocative and moody that it is often used for book jackets. Here he is on the cover of the Vintage edition of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black.

Friedrich is a quintessential Romantic and his work is often used on the covers of books that deal with Romantic painting or literature. With his paintings of graveyards, mountains, frozen seas and mysterious travellers, almost any Friedrich painting would serve as a very good illustration to Frankenstein, but it his Wanderer Above a Sea of Mist that always seems perfect for that book. It seems to evoke both the doomed, god-like loftiness of Victor Frankenstein and the tragic isolation of his creation.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Kiss me, you bat-winged fool!

As I mentioned the other day, I have been looking at Max Ernst's Une Semaine de Bonte quite a bit recently. I have also been playing about with acrylics at my studio and, for the first time in a long time, began using them in glazes (having bought some glazing medium). I just wanted to remind myself of the possibilities of this technique and so I borrowed one of Ernst's images and did my own version of it.

It is not really a finished thing, but I quite like it. It feels odd putting work like this up for display, but I think it is like showing a sketchbook - it just gives those of you who might be interested, a little glimpse into my world. I have decided to have a go at doing more of these. I will do another version of this one I think - and I will do three more of the bat-winged characters from the book. The artwork is small - smaller than A4 (so that I can scan it myself) - and is acrylic on paper.

If the others turn out OK, I'll let you have a look.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Mildy diverting monday

After last week's Super Thursday in the publishing industry (with its bonanza of cook books and celebrity biographies), we now have Mildly Diverting Monday, when Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth is officially released onto an unsuspecting public (along with one or two other books). It has been in the shops for a few days now actually, along with the paperback of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship.

October is a great time for the Tales of Terror books to come out. Halloween is approaching and these books are definitely winter books. They need darkness. They need a bit of a chill in the air.

A roaring fire and candlelight would be a bonus.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Bravo Rio

Congratulations to Rio on getting the Olympics. I was there a year ago and it's great to think that the students I met at the British School will have the chance to attend - and maybe even take part, some of them. They will be really excited, I'm sure.

And you'll never find a better place for beach volleyball, let's face it.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Time machine

I was very pleased to see Cambridge's The Haunted Bookshop in the Guardian's top ten list of second-hand bookshops. I have bought many prized items from that shop and there is something magical about hauling yourself up the narrow staircase to the upstairs room and its piles of old children's books. It's a mixture of treasure box and time machine.