On the Road …

There’s nothing like restriction of movement to get you thinking about how badly – having changed trains in York – you want to be sitting again, upfront on the bus taking the winding road from Scarborough to Whitby; or the never-ending train journey that makes each and every stop between Plymouth and its eventual terminus in Penzance. And January being the month Body & Soul is published in France, I could have expected, in more normal times, to have been whisked across to Paris on Eurostar for lunch with my French agent and publisher, with talk of returning later in the year to take part in Noir sur la Ville in Lamballe or Quais du Polar in Lyon.

But, no. Rien. Instead, there are memories of journeys taken, book tours in Sweden and Italy, the UK and the USA.

For a number of years, when the Resnick novels were being published in the States by Henry Holt, they would fly me over and, after several events in New York, where they are based, send me out on the road. More precisely, and before my highly developed fear of flying, in the air. Most visits were short-lived. Someone would be standing at Arrivals with a copy of my latest book in their hand and I’d be whisked off to sign stock at Barnes & Noble et cetera, before being deposited at the hotel and picked up again later and ferried to whichever bookstore I was appearing at that evening. After which, most often, I’d be driven to the airport early the following morning to catch a plane to the next stop on the schedule. It was tiring, it was fun, and I was getting to see far more of the States than I’d ever visited before.

New York City, mid-90s

Ferreting through a poorly organised folder labelled Events, I came across the following, a list of venues visited on a book tour I made in 1994, twenty of them.

Reading at Partners & Crime, New York City, 1996

Generally speaking, events at dedicated crime and mystery bookstores were more successful than those at larger, general stores, and over a number of years I got to know a number of them – and their owners – well and relish the opportunity to make another visit. The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale would be one of those and The Black Orchid another. At Partners in Crime, in New York City, there was always the possibility of at least one other author being present, Larry Block on one occasion, I remember, and Charlotte Carter on another. Michael Connelly dropped in to the Mystery Annex on an evening when, for some reason, I’d decided to read poetry as well as fiction – the story of which is told in his 2011 novel, The Drop.

Outside the Bird of Paradise, Ann Arbor, before reading with local jazz musicians

Now, here we are when planes and trains are out of reach, buses are risky last resorts and visiting my local bookstore – Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town- to chat to Gary, the manager, and browse the shelves, is no longer a possibility – and a visit to Ross Bradshaw and Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham a fantasy

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Art in 2020

Ivon Hitchens : Space Through Colour
Djanogly Gallery, University of Nottingham

Ivon Hitchens : Red Centre, Oil on Canvas, 1972

9th St. Club : Elaine de Kooning, Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, Mercedes Matter, Joan Mitchell
Gazelli Art House, Dover St., London

Grace Hartigan, Untitled, Watercolour & Paper Collage, 1965

Philip Guston : Locating the Image
Ashmolean, Oxford

We Will Walk : Art & Resistance in the American South
Turner Contemporary, Margate

Andy Warhol
Tate Modern

Best of 2020

BOOKS

Fiction / Non-Fiction

Stand By Me : Wendell Berry
The Falconer : Dana Czapnik
Some Kids I  Taught and  What They Taught Me : Kate Clanchy
All Among the Barley : Melissa Harrison
Long Bright River : Liz Moore
Olive, Again : Elizabeth Strout

Re-reading …

Anne Enright
Kent Haruf
Thomas McGuane

Poetry

Country Music : Will Burns
When the Tree Falls : Jane Clarke
New Hunger : Ella Duffy
Yes But What Is This? What Exactly? : Ian McMillan
How I Learned to Sing : Mark Robinson
Sweet Nothings : Rory Waterman
Squid : Matthew Welton

FILMS

The Perfect Candidate : Haifaa Al-Mansour
Rocks : Sarah Gavron
The County : Grimur Hakonarson
Da 5 Bloods : Spike Lee
A  White,  White Day : Hlynur Palmason 
Portrait of a Lady on Fire : Celine Sciamma
So Long, My Son : Wang Xiaoshuai

MUSIC

Albums

From An Old Guitar : Dave Alvin
Ballads : Paula Cole
Time : Jess Gillam
Piano 2 : Pete Judge
Bach, Goldberg Variations : Pavel Kolesnikov
Monk – Palo Alto : Thelonious Monk
Winter Hill : Liz Simcock
Avenging Angel : Craig Taborn

Tracks

The Oil Rigs at Night : The Delines
All in the Past : Dave Ellis & Boo Howard
Straight Back To You : Everything But the Girl
Angry All the Time : Tim McGraw
Inside : Bill Morrissey
Wichita : Gretchen Peters
Angels & Acrobats : Rod Picott
You Tattooed Me : Tom Robinson
Old Chunk Of Coal : Billy Joe Shaver
Flowers on Valentine’s Day : Liz Simcock
Sister Mercy : John Stewart
Tryin’ To Hold the Wind Up With a Sail : Jerry Jeff Walker

Poem for Christmas Day

CHRISTMAS DAY

Christmas morning, the sky 
an opaque unhindered grey; 
upstairs, our daughter, 
returned for the holiday,
is in her old room, sleeping; 
her mother’s cough, brittle, 
as she catches her breath on the stairs.

Slow-footed, careful, her grandparents
sleep on in unfamiliar rooms,
soon they will shuffle on their coats and shoes 
and make their way through quiet streets 
to early morning mass.

A timid boy of nine or ten,
let out of school, I hurried past
the Catholic Church on the hill,
copper dome gleaming green,
fearful lest in my haste I forgot,
as the Christian brothers ordered,
to doff my cap in respect
and brought down the wrath
of a watchful God. Remember:
He can see you everywhere.

When I was in kindergarten,
waiting in the corridor for
the teacher to arrive,
I punched Anthony Hipsley 
for squirting his water pistol
at the picture of the Sacred Heart
that hung from the classroom door
and was duly admonished
and made to stand in the corner
to contemplate the error of my ways.

Last night we sat late, listening 
to that motet by Vivaldi, 
the one from the movie,
nulls in mundo pax sincere
in this world there is no honest peace.

Timisoara, you called out earlier
in answer to some question 
already forgotten, a game 
of little consequence born of boredom, 
while the news from Aleppo
plays out, silent, on the screen 
behind us: street after street
of broken houses, ghosts of 
Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki,
Beirut, Grozny, Mosul, Palmyra …

Give me a word for a virtue 
associated with kindness, 
benevolence and goodwill,
beginning with the letter H,
eight letters …

Shadows lengthen in the hall.
Prayers rest, unspoken.

Books in a Good Cause

On Twitter recently, I offered signed copies of the penultimate Resnick novel, Cold in Hand, in exchange for donations to Médecins Sans Frontières – or Doctors Without Borders – an international medical organisation working in conflict zones and countries affected by endemic diseases. The take-up was pleasing enough to send me scouring the shelves in search of other gems with which to broaden the offer.

Here’s the deal: email me at info@mellotone.co.uk, giving a mailing address and letting me know which book you want and if you’d like a dedication as well as a signature. Then, once I’ve confirmed the book is still available, you make a donation (a tenner?) to MSF. and I send you the book. Simple.

And these are the books …

BODY & SOUL
Pegasus Books (US) hardcover edition, 2018.
The fourth and final book in the Frank Elder series

“When he’d said he’d drive in and meet her at the station, she’d said there was no need, she’d catch the bus. Lengthening his stride, he was in time to see its headlights as it rounded the hill; time to see her step down and walk towards him – ankle boots, padded jacket, jeans, rucksack on her back – uncertainty flickering in her eyes seen as she summoned up a smile.
‘Kate . . . It’s good to see you.’
When she reached out her hands towards his, he struggled not to stare at the bandages on her wrists.”

BLUE WATCH
Troika paperback, 2019.
A ‘Young Adult’ novel set in London 1n 1940, during the heart of the Blitz, it follows the adventures of Jack, a fifteen year-old Fire Brigade messenger, and his friendship with Lilith, a young refugee. A good read for anyone of secondary school age and beyond – quite a few adult readers have liked this a lot.

“It was one of those nights when it seemed as if the whole of London was on fire.”

dav

OUT OF SILENCE
New & Selected Poems
Smith|Doorstop, 2014
New poems – well, new in 2014 – along with Peter Sansom’s selection from two earlier collections, Ghosts of a Chance & Bluer Than This.

Driving through Camberwell
the rain slides down black across the windscreen
and as we pass the lights for the third time
you push a cassette into place
the click and hiss of tape and then it’s him:
Rhythm-a-ning. Charlie Rouse on tenor,
Sam Jones on bass, Art Taylor at the drums.
New York City, February, 1959 . . .

… and still some copies of

COLD IN HAND
Harcourt (US) hardcover edition, 2008
The penultimate book in the Charlie Resnick series

At first he thought what he heard as he stepped into the hall was the sound of a car backfiring, then knew, in the same breath, that it was not.

Back to Ronnie’s

Watching Ronnie’s, Oliver Murray’s excellent documentary about Ronnie Scott and the club that bears his name, my mind, inevitably, ran back over the many evenings spent there, some blurred by time, others, like a particular evening when Ronnie himself was playing – and playing beautifully – I remember more clearly. Here’s Charlie Resnick sharing that memory in the novel, Living Proof.

Betty Carter was singing ‘Body and Soul’ on the car stereo as he drove, mingling the words and tune with those of a second, similar song, so that the final, climactic chorus seemed forever delayed, but that wasn’t it. Not exactly. More confusing still, the words of yet another song were worrying away at some part of Resnick’s mind.
‘Send in the Clowns’.
He had heard Betty Carter live just once. A rare trip to London, a weekend in early spring, and she had been at Ronnie Scott’s. A striking black woman, not beautiful, not young; warm and confident, good-humoured, talking to the audience between numbers with that slight slow-business bonhomie that set Resnick’s teeth painfully on edge. But when she sang … He remembered ‘But Beautiful’, ‘What’s New?’, the way she would move around the stage with the microphone, her body bending to the shapes of the words with a combination of feeling and control that was unsurpassable.
Scott himself, nose like a hawk and gimlet-eyed, his sixty-odd years showing only where the skin hung thinly at his neck, had been leading his quartet through the support slots on the same evening. Tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums. After several rousing numbers, Scott had played a two-chorus version of Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’, almost straight, bass and drums dropping out, the tone of his saxophone ravishing and hard, one of the best ballad performances Resnick had ever heard, silencing the club and striking him straight to the heart.

When the book was published, I sent a copy to Ronnie Scott, along with a tape (!) on which I read some of my poems with accompaniment by the band, Second Nature. Here’s his reply …



https://www.waterstones.com/book/living-proof/john-harvey/9780099585732

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/John-Harvey/Living-Proof–Resnick-7/14678739

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/living-proof-4

Art Chronicles: Cornelia Parker

The first time I became aware of Cornelia Parker was seeing her installation, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), a spectacular piece made with the assistance of the British Army and comprising, as the catalogue coldly states, blown up garden shed and contents, wire, light bulb. Dimensions variable. It’s large, challenging, unforgettable.

Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View 1991 Cornelia Parker born 1956 Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1995 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T06949

“… the debris in Cold Dark Matter is still in the air, an aftermath of an explosion recreated in freeze-frame, so that people can examine it in a meditative way … It’s me making sense of all the violence we see around us. processing it in both a psychological and physical way. … “simply, with Cold Dark Matter, I was taking an explosion and trying to formalise it, to try and make sense of it. It’s an impossible task and so the work sits in suspension between order and chaos, in balance, in flux, caught in limbo.” *

* From an interview with Jonathan Watkins in the Whitworth catalogue

The work was reassembled (?) recreated (?) for the retrospective of Parker’s work which was chosen to reopen the Whitworth in Manchester in 2015 – an exhibition which made clear the extraordinary breadth and diversity of her practice. Drawings on acid free paper folded and burnt with a hot poker; lead from bullets melted down and drawn into wire then threaded through paper; brick dust from a house that fell off the White Cliffs of Dover; paper used to blot J. M. W. Turner’s drawings, damaged by a flood in 1929; pieces of a shotgun that had first been sawn off by criminals and later sawn up by the police (with thanks to Greater Manchester Police); a neat pyramid of cocaine incinerated by HM Customs and Excise; August Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’ wrapped in a mile of string; spectacularly, a room hanging with the perforated paper negatives left over from the production of British Legion remembrance poppies. And that’s barely the half of it.

You can’t help but notice the extent to which a proportion of her work seems to focus on violence, both small scale and large; the ways in which she uses the instruments and detritus of violence in a manner which seems both to neutralise their violent potential (or past) by making them into often patterned, often little works of art, at the same time as causing us to pause and think back through what they have now become to their original use.

What does it say in the introduction to the catalogue? “Cornelia Parker’s art reverberates through our lives, connecting with the everyday and making it extraordinary.”

During the pandemic, Parker has been working on a series of Polymer Gravure etchings which have been on display until the recent lockdown at the Cristea Roberts Gallery on London’s Pall Mall, under the title Through a Glass Darkly.

As it says the handout, “What we can’t see clearly now will eventually become evident and the artist has indeed presented us with a world of domestic objects and flora in the first stages of emergence from a ghostly past. She has breathed life into dead flowers and animated glassware as they struggle to shed their shadows.”

These are the photographs of the work that I took on a visit to the gallery, my faint appearance in some unwittingly contributing to the overall ghostly atmosphere.

A Far Cry from Aldeburgh

I greatly enjoyed Randall Wright’s film about the artist, Maggi Hambling, Making Love to Paint, that was shown recently on BBC2. Hambling herself has such a strong and idiosyncratic personality and it was fascinating to hear her talk about the constant preparatory work she does in advance of making the paintings themselves. I knew her turbulent sea paintings from an exhibition at the National Gallery, but little of her portraits – some with a nod in the direction of Bacon, others reminding me of Auerbach – all clearly her, strong and deeply felt.

Maggi Hambling

One work of Hambling’s I’m very aware of is Scallop, a large stainless steel sculpture in memory of the composer Benjamin Britain, which is installed, controversially, on the beach in Aldeburgh.

Scallop, Maggi Hambling, 2003

I used the sculpture and the setting in a 2009 novel, Far Cry. The central character, Ruth, has suffered the terrible experience of a daughter, Heather, dying in an accident while on holiday in Cornwall; since then she has done all she can to put her own life back on track: she remarries, and, with her new husband, she has another child, Beatrice. In this chapter from the book, Ruth and Beatrice have taken advantage of the good weather and driven to Aldeburgh for a day out by the sea.

They ate their sandwiches in the lee of one of the numerous fishing huts, keeping a wary eye out for the more predatory of the gulls wheeling and gliding above. A light haze was settling over the further reaches of the sea, so that the horizon had all but disappeared and sea and sky were one.
‘Come on,’ Ruth said, stuffing things back down into the rucksack, ‘there’s something I want to show you.’
From a distance, the steel constructions rising up from the shingle at the north end of the beach looked like giant fans and then, as they drew nearer, like angel wings.
‘What are they?’ Beatrice asked.
‘Wait and then you’ll see.’
The nearer they got, the bigger they became, until they stood some twelve feet high at their tallest point and almost as wide.
‘They’re shells,’ Beatrice said.
‘That’s right, scallop shells.’
‘What on earth are they doing here?’
‘An artist designed them, Maggi Hambling. A tribute to Benjamin Britten.’
‘Who?’
‘He’s a composer. Was. Used to live near here. A lot of his music was about the sea.’
Beatrice shrugged and pressed her hand against the surface of the iron shell. ‘It’s warm.’ She leaned her face against it and closed her eyes.
I love you, Ruth thought. So much. I really do.
‘Look,’ Beatrice said, ‘there’s writing round the top. What does it say?’
‘Read it.’
‘I hear those voices that will not be drowned.’
‘It’s from an opera,’ Ruth explained. ‘Peter Grimes.’
‘By that man?’
‘Yes.’
‘What does it mean?’
‘What d’you think?’
Beatrice flapped her hands. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Do you like it, though? The sculpture?’
‘It’s okay.’
‘Some people don’t. People who live here. They’ve poured paint over it and everything. They think it should be taken down or moved.’
‘That’s stupid.’ Beatrice shielded her eyes. ‘Can we go now?’
Half way on their journey back to the car, Beatrice let go of Ruth’s hand and started lagging behind, head down.
‘Come on,’ Ruth said cheerily. ‘Not far now. We’re nearly there.’
By the time Ruth had reached the beginnings of the town, Beatrice was a good fifty metres adrift. She swung the rucksack down from her back and sat on a bench to wait.
When Beatrice caught up she stood, swivelling first on one foot and then the other, looking anywhere but into her mother’s eyes.
‘What’s the matter?’ Ruth asked.
No reply.
‘You don’t want to tell me?’
A shake of the head.
‘Come and sit here, then. Let’s just rest for a minute before we get back to the car.’
At first it seemed as if Beatrice was going to stay put, but then, grudgingly, she went and sat beside her mother, close but not close enough to be touching, flip-flops trailing on the ground.
‘Voices that will not be drowned,’ she said eventually. ‘That’s her, isn’t it? Heather. That’s why we came here, because of her. It is, isn’t it?’
‘Not really, no.’
‘But you’ve been here before? With her?’
‘Yes,’ Ruth admitted.
‘To look at that – that scallop thing?’
‘No, that wasn’t here then. But to Aldeburgh, yes. A long time ago.’
Beatrice turned away, back hunched.
‘Beatrice, don’t … ‘
‘I hate her,’ Beatrice said. ‘I hate her.’
Ruth reached for her and felt her body stiffen, before she turned, sobbing, and pressed herself against Ruth’s chest.
‘It’s all right,’ Ruth said softly, her face resting close against the top of Beatrice’s head, smelling her little girl smell, the warmth of the sun in her hair.
‘It’s all right,’ she lied.

Far Cry: Book  https://www.waterstones.com/book/far-cry/john-harvey/9780099539438

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/John-Harvey/Far-Cry–Grayson–Walker/148311

https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Far-Cry-by-John-Harvey/9780099539438

Ebook: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/far-cry-1

Audiobook: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/audiobook/far-cry-5https://www.waterstones.com/audiobook/far-cry/john-harvey/mike-grady/9781407449326

Resnick on Radio …

I’ve always relished the opportunity to write for radio, whether adapting another writer’s work – I’ve been fortunate enough to be let loose on such as Graham Greene, A. S. Byatt and Paul Scott – or dramatising my own. The process of reducing a novel or short story to its essentials before beginning the process of building them up again in a different form is a task I’ve always enjoyed. A task for which I was unknowingly prepared by all those grammar school English lessons in which we were called upon to summarise a longer and usually very dull piece of writing into something succinct that captured its essence – the art, in other words, of précis. [I doubt, nowadays, if even the idea of it is allowed through the school gates. Though I’d like to be proved wrong.]

Having stripped the story down to its bare bones, its skeleton, the next task is to build it up again in a manner which does as much justice as possible to the original author’s style and intention; a task which, a certain amount of voice over narration and the occasional internal monologue aside, is achieved almost entirely through dialogue. Dialogue which has the function of revealing character and situation while propelling the story forward.

Where bringing Resnick to the radio is concerned, I was fortunate to work throughout with an experienced and sympathetic producer, David Hunter. We began in 1995 with a 2 part dramatisation of the fifth Resnick novel, Wasted Years, and then, a year later, a triple episode version of the third novel, Cutting Edge. Slow Burn, broadcast in 1998, was from an original two-part script, set in and around a Nottingham jazz club and later published as a short story, and this was followed in 2001 and 2002 by two single plays, Cheryl and Bird of Paradise.

All in all, a fair run, and Radio 4 Extra has been generous in lining them up for not infrequent repeats. Cheryl, in fact, is due to be heard again on Friday, October 30th. And they are all, as from today, October 22nd, available as an Audio Download from BBC Audio with the added attraction (?) of my stint as a guest on Radio 3’s Private Passions.

Quite frequently, repeat broadcasts bring forth a small flurry of questions. The theme song in Wasted Years, for instance: who is the singer and where can I get hold of a copy? And why on earth are there so many different Resnicks?

Last things first. in 1992/3, Tom Wilkinson had played Resnick in the televised adaptations of the first two books – Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment – that were produced by Colin Rogers of Deco Films & TV for the BBC, and he seemed the perfect choice to continue in the role on radio. After Wasted Years, he was pencilled in for its radio sequel, Cutting Edge, but film work interceded and the role went to Tom Georgeson, who was familiar with the character, having played one of a pair of cat burglars in the TV version of Rough Treatment

[Keeping up so far … ?]

Phillip Jackson, complete with authentic East Midlands accent, was Resnick in Slow Burn, followed three years later by Keith Barron, who played Charlie in both Cheryl and Bird of Paradise, reuniting in the first of those with his sparring partner from the long-running television sitcom, Duty Free – the wonderful Gwen Taylor.

Which brings us, finally, to the music in Wasted Years. The lyric and melody were written by the fine folk singer, Liz Simcock, whose demo was the basis for the version heard on the programme, which, appropriately, is sung by Gillian Bevan who plays the singer Ruth Strange.

Chilterns Ramble: in the footsteps of the Ashridge Drovers.

The weather looked promising on Sunday, if a tad on the chilly side, and with the Chilterns no more than thirty minutes or so away by train, Sarah and I made our pack-up, filled our water bottles and the thermos, and were on our way. Euston station was very well organised with more than usual staff ensuring that people kept, as far as possible, out of one another’s way. Everyone in the concourse was wearing a mask, as they were on the 12 carriage train, and we were able to sit with no one facing us or even particularly close. The surprise came when alighting at Tring station, when the platform was suddenly awash with ramblers, sixty of them at least, two organised groups and the remainder in dribs and drabs like us. And a further surprise, the majority oƒ them seemed to be aged 30 or younger. Not the kind of rambling groups we’re used to walking with.

Most of the other walkers seemed to be heading towards Ivinghoe Beacon – a fine circular walk marking one end of the Ridgeway [Britain’s oldest ‘road’, beginning some 87 miles away in Wiltshire], but a few miles longer than the Ashridge Drovers Walk, which would have us following in the footsteps of farmers and cattlemen of former times, who used the paths to drive their cattle between the villages of Pitstone, Ivinghoe and Aldbury. [Think an Ealing Comedy version of Howard Hawks’ Red River.]

Not far from the beginning of the walk, a long and steep climb (and I do mean steep) takes you up to the Bridgewater Monument [dedicated to the third Duke of Bridgewater, known as ‘the father of inland navigation’] and thence into attractive ancient woodland which, after progressing a mile or so northwards, curves eastwards and joins the Ridgeway, bringing you back over Pitstone Hill (steep, but not nearly as steep as before) and eventually down towards Tring Station. An easy and enjoyable six miles in all. And, if we hadn’t missed the Euston train by minutes, a perfect end to the day – as it was, we had a deserted platform on which to sit, suitably distanced, and eat our sandwiches. [Since you ask, Co-op’s Finest Mature Somerset Cheddar with banana and hot mango chutney, followed by chunky peanut butter and raspberry jam with yet more banana. Do we know how to treat ourselves or what?]