Walking with Geoff …

Spurred on by the positive comments in response to my previous post, I’ve logged reasonable distances over the past week: on Thursday, a couple of miles around the perimeter of Highgate Wood; close to three on Sunday, a good number of those making my way from Herne Hill station to Dulwich Picture Gallery in what, to me, was excesssive heat, and today an amble to the boating pond on Hampstead Heath, a destination since I was old enough to walk from where we lived on the far side of Tufnell Park.

I came here with my father
to sail the yacht he’d crafted
lovingly all summer;
a gift on my winter birthday. 

The wind carried it proudly
to the centre and left it there,

from ‘Setting Sail

In recent years, it’s been my habit to bring a book, then sit and read on one or other of the benches at the southern end of the pond, glancing up occasionally at the movement of moorhens across the water or to nod a greeting to passers-by. Today I’m reading Geoff Dyer’s ‘The Last Days of Roger Federer and Other Endings’: as the title suggests, a zigzag through the final effective years of those whose glory days are largely behind them – whether they are prepared to admit it or not. The points of reference, as one would expect from Dyer, are wide and sometimes surprising – John Berger and Nietzsche, of course (too much Nietzsche?), D. H. Lawrence, Dylan, Larkin, Amis and all those heroes out on Centre Court: Sampras, Becker, Murray and Federer himself. But Hemingway? And Larry McMurtry’s ‘Lonesome Dove’?

Throughout, the underlying questions are the same: how do you know when, as an artist, an athlete, you’re getting towards the end of your productive life? And what do you then do with that knowledge? Quietly retire or – and the dangers of this are manifold – attempt the big comeback? One last job? Where writers are concerned, Dyer seems to suggest, better to let the ink dry, leave the cover on the typewriter, let the latop run down uncharged. Better that than labour to create something a poor shadow of its former self.

In addition to the pleasures of reading Dyer’s prose and following the quicksilver way in which (even at middle age) his mind switches direction, it should be obvious why this particular book of his appeals. The Last Days of … 

I thought writers never retired, people say, when I tell them that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve had two jobs in my life: for a dozen or so years I taught English and Drama in secondary schools, and after that I earned my living writing. At this stage, this age, it’s good to be reminded of both: the occasional message from someone I taught many years ago who remembers with pleasure a particular lesson, a drama production in which they took part; someone in whose life I made a small difference. 

And the writing? One thing I’m not going to do is set out on another novel, knowing full well I no longer have the physical or mental resources. But, hopefully, I have a slender collection of new poems on its way before the end of the year, and then, just perhaps, I’ll get around to writing that short story that’s been bugging me since before Covid, the first paragraph of which remains virtually unchanged, despite the number of times it wakes me somewhere close to 4.30 with the suggestion of a small alteration, shift the adverb here, the comma there … Something to cling onto before I’m rendered down to the obituary writers and remainder book dealers …

They found the man’s body first …

Taking a Walk …


Good, she says, good, good,
scrolling down her screen –
the second Wednesday of the month,
my regular session with Dr McGregor,
consultant, medical oncology –
Kidneys, liver, alll clear. PSA fine.
And you’re feeling okay? No pain?
A shake of the head. No pain.
Well then, angling her chair,
it seems to me, for the present
we have your disease under control.
And longer term? I read
the hesitation in her eyes.
On balance? She smiles.
Let’s just say I’ll see you again
in four weeks’ time.
And keep up with the exercise, mind.
The walking …

Ah, yes … the walking. One downside of the treatment that is so effectively keeping any further spread of my prostate cancer at bay, is that it brings with it increasing fatigue. What used to be an everyday stroll is now slower, shorter, more of a physical effort – even with the aid of my trusty walking stick, trusted since my fall some little time ago which resulted in a fracture or two and the necessity of wearing a neck brace for a dozen or so weeks.

And these limitations, I have to confess, do result in my sometimes adopting different avoidance strategies which can keep me from straying further than the local Turkish café for my morning coffee or to the nearby shops. So I’ve tried to make a pact with myself: walk every other day, even if it’s a walk round a couple of blocks. Try to do more than that if you can.

Well, yes. I knew from chatting with them that my neighbours, of a similar age, perhaps a little younger, and one of them also walking with a stick, quite frequently began a walk by taking the bus to a starting point a short way distant, just to mix things up. Golders Hill Park on the far side of Hampstead Heath, I knew from time to time they went there.

Either a 390 or 134 to Archway and then a 210, which would drop me outside
the entrance to the park. Fortified by a fairly decent coffee, I set out on a vaguely circular route that would take me through the nicely tended garden of shrubs and flowers – time for a rest on a friendly bench – and round past the bird and animal sanctuary, up a short incline and into the Hill Garden, a little known haven that is beautifully looked after and leads onto the Pergola, a raised archway running above yet more flowers and shrubbery, finally turning you out close to the road by Jack Straw’s Castle, where it had been my intention to pick up a 210 for the reverse journey towards home.

But, perhaps with the oncologist’s words echoing in my ears, I decided to press on, crossed the road into Hampstead Heath and slowly made my way, with a healthy stop or two on the way, back towards home. 9472 steps, 3.4 miles.

David Elliott, 1943 – 2023

After a long illness – really, a succession of illnesses – my friend David Elliott died eight weeks ago today. We met at Goldsmiths College in the early 1960s, and gradually became part of a small knot of people centring around the college debating team, the film society (which David set up and organised) and the college newspaper, Smith News, which I edited in my final year and for which David, as well as being responsible for the design, wrote numerous film reviews, mostly of films he’d actually seen.

A fellow student from that time, looking back, described us gliding through the corridors of the college in some kind of golden light – like something from an early Scott Fitzgerald novel, I suppose – but that wasn’t what it felt like at the time. We were full of ourselves, I suppose, cocky and articulate – some of us a little older than the average – and with no more than 500 or so students on campus, once you’d stuck your head over the parapet, it wasn’t hard to be recognised.

I can still remember a good deal of what I learned about education during my three years at Goldsmiths, the essentials anyway, but little if anything gleaned from various academic lectures and tutorials. As with many, then and now, I learned more from my fellow students than my teachers. From my great friend Tom Wild, who was to die far too young, I learned, I think, the most – introducing me, as he did, to everything from the music of Frank Zappa and Olivier Messiaen and the voice of Boz Scaggs to Brechtian stage production and Shakespearian improvisation, and to some small understanding of what it meant to be gay. From David I learned about cinema – European, Japanese, silent, avant-garde – and began, belatedly, to understand something about politics and the importance of protest and direct action. 

We were out of touch for a number of years, during which time David moved from book selling into publishing, but once we’d made contact again, along with Jock Whiteside and Harry Marsh, two other Goldsmiths/Smith News alumni, we would meet regularly for supper in Chinatown, and then, when evenings and distances became more difficult, for lunch somewhere no great distance from over- or underground. 

Harry, Jock and I will be meeting again on the first of June and raising a glass in David’s honour.

David in his Goldsmiths days, channelling a little French nouvelle vague before escorting Ms. Barbara Spencer to the Ball.

In Remission

Just twenty minutes after my appointment I’m sitting at a pavement table outside Store St. Espresso; twenty minutes after hearing the magic words: In Remission

My head is buzzing and not just from the espresso and I feel a burning need to tell someone, so in the absence of anyone else, I settle on the two guys – one from Nottingham as it happens – who’ve just settled at the adjacent table after leaning their bikes against a nearby wall, and, to give them their due, they feign a lively enough interest to offer congratulations and then wish me good luck a little later when I set off for the London Review Bookstore where I buy far too many books, more than I can really afford, by way of celebration. 

Okay, there’s still the vertebra that might need some cementing to prevent further crumbling, and the irregular heart beat that requires some attention. And I know remission doesn’t mean cancer free, there’s always a chance of it recurring; best perhaps to think of it as a temporary release, a stay of execution … 

But for today …


Spring Playlist

Well, You Needn’t
from Chet is Back, Rome, 1962

Dry Lightning
from The Ghost of Tom Joad

Father & Son

Four Brothers
from Art Pepper + Eleven

This Girl’s in Love With You

Central Park Blues

from Record

I’m Not Through Loving You Yet
from Destiny’s Gate

I Remember You
from Trio & Quintet


I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling
from Satch Plays Fats

from Amplified Heart

Nothing Less Than Brilliant

Shadows of the Angels’ Wings
from Airdream Believer

Is This America (Katrina 2005)
featuring Pat Metheny
from Rambling Boy

St. Olav’s Gate

No Regrets
from The Circle Game

from The Atomic Mr. Basie

Fragments for World Poetry Day, 2023

Muffled voices
carrying faintly from the farthest bank

Clouds slowly swallow the horizon
till only the ghost of a tower block

A slow fall of rain
freckles the back of my hand.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

like silver chainmail
across the water

A heron on the bank
poised for flight

Your suitcase by your side
a memory

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Swathes of grass
seeding silvery purple
surrendering the green

clustering at my feet

How often do you think
of the first girl you kissed
her name all but lost in the mist.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Clouds go scudding by
heading west

You are in another country
speaking in another tongue

When you call
I can hear the roll of waves
on shingle
the spray sharp against my skin.

All poems from Summer Notebook / John Harvey November 2021

“The Lawmen” Book 1 : ‘Evil Breed’


The rider rounded his back, hunching himself forward against the cold. His woollen coat was buttoned tight to the neck; a strip of blanket from his bed-roll tied about his head, holding the brim of his hat tight down over his ears. His face was smeared with dirt and prickly with several days’ growth of beard. Here and there stubble hung with beads of frost.
He pushed his knees into his horse’s sides, moving him sideways and up along the slope. Anxious for distance yet careful. If the animal slipped badly or caught his hoof against a piece of rock and stumbled …
He stopped the thought, turned heavily in the saddle and looked back to where his partner rocked unsteadily as he rode; the white smoke of his breath showing clearly on the air as he whistled a tune the man did not recognise.
If one horse went they could ride double – for a time. Then they would be on foot in that expanse of country. Moving so slow the cold would cut through to their skin, the snow would rot their boots, ice frost over their eyelashes.
When the other man drew level, he turned once more and looked back at something he could barely see.
A black speck moving right to left like a fly across the contours of a map. Sometimes closer, sometimes further off.
He cursed and spat, wiping the sleeve of his coat back and forth across his face.
‘Best move on.’
‘Reckon so.’
Midway down to the level of the plain, the snow began to fall more heavily; a white bead curtain the men were tempted to push aside with their hands. If it continued like this, he might no longer be able to watch them from above; he would have to descend and seek them out.
Face to face.
The man opened his mouth and caught a snowflake on his tongue. For the first time in days his face cracked into something approaching a smile.
If that happened, they might do it. They might just.

The above is a newly (yesterday!) edited (trimmed) version of the opening pages of Evil Breed, the first of the Lawmen series of westerns, which were written between 1977 and 1980, by myself and Angus Wells alternately, and originally published by Coronet Books. All six in the series are due to be republished as e-books by Piccadilly Publishing, beginning this March with Evil Breed. Yours, as far as I understand it, for roughly the price of one and a half flat whites.

“In a True Light”

Commenting on a recent blog which dealt, in part, with my novel, In a True Light, Michael Elkington mentioned the American paperback, published by Carroll & Graf, which he bought at the “still much missed” Murder One bookshop for $13. As he points out, the ‘selling’ quote at the head of the front cover comes from a review in The Washington Post Book World

“A gem … a rare example of crime embellished by art, the crime novel as art.”

What the jacket fails to do is identify the reviewer by name. It was Patrick Anderson, – along with Marilyn Stasio and Bill Ott, one of the most positive and consistent supporters of my work in the States. In this instance, Patrick’s review is graced with a generous double column under the heading Bop Noir.

“The story is perfectly serviceable *, but it is the telling that delights. Harvey is an elegant, understated writer who loves jazz and painting. Readers of a certaing age will savor his flashbacks to New York in the 50s, as when the lovers meet at the Five Spot, where Thelonious Monk and Johnn Coltrane are performing: ‘Monk’s foot, his right foot, skewed wide and stomping down, punctuated the broken line as, stationed in the piano’s curve, the bassist, eyes closed, feels for the underlying pulse.’

“Jackson Pollock turns up drunk in a Village bar, looking for a man to fight or a woman to bed. The lovers attend a party at the poet, Frank O’Hara’s apartment, and their host, seeing  Jane, ‘broke off his peroration on Orpheus and Eurydice to wrap her in a warm, quick embrace.’ When Sloane reads to someone in a hospital, he chooses early Hemingway, one of the Nick Adams stories. Billie Holiday’s music floats in the background of the novel.

“In one scene, Harvey devotes two pages to Sloane at work in his studio. A sample: ‘Only when he was satisfied he had the right shade did he reach for a fine, sable-tipped brush and, after stepping back to judge the necessary balance with the existing smudge of grey, make the first fresh mark, a curve of violet tapering away, the size and shape ofe of a feather on a magpie’s wing, the shade of skin seen by certain eyes in faiing light.’

So that’s In a True Light through someone else’s eyes. As I suggested in my previous blog, there are things about it I suspect don’t quite work – but the things that do … 

If you’re looking for something to read, well, it’s out there, it’s readily available, why not give it a try?

  • Sloane, who had an affair with an established American artist, Jane Graham, when he was just 18, returns to New York decades later to track down the child from that relationship – the daughter he never knew he had –  a small-time jazz singer with dangerous mob connections.

John Ashbery, Jane Freilicher and “In a True Light”

Waiting to meet my friend, the writer Woody Haut, for coffee the other week, I passed the time (though more than that) browsing through this neat little David Zwirner Books edition of the poet John Ashbery’s later writings about art, interleaved with a selection of his poems and some intriguing lists of the music he would have been listening to during the same period, roughly 1998 – 2004. Music that would mostly come under the broad term,  modernism, I suppose – John Cage, Morton Feldman, Gavin Bryars – with some Brian Eno and Bernard Herrmann’s score for ‘Vertigo’ for good measure.]

Growing up, Ashbery had wanted to be a painter, only changing direction when he went to Harvard, though his early interest in surrealism and collage would underpin much of his poetry. That he started to write art criticism was, apparently, an economic decision. “I felt I was never really qualified to be an art critic.The only reason I did it is because I needed to earn some money … It was obviously pretty easy to write about abstract expressionist painting, since it was brand new and nobody knew anything about it, so what you had to say was as valid as what anyone else might. Also, it’s not unlike the poetic process in its being a record of its own coming into being.” That last sentence pretty interesting, I think, not to say crucial.

But be that as it may, art criticsim remained an intergral part of Ashbery’s life. Along with fellow poets, Frank O’Hara and James Schuyler, he wrote for ARTnews in New York; living in Paris between 1960 and 1965, he was art crtic for the New York Herald Tribune (just typing those words brings vividly to mind Jean Seberg in A Bout de Souffle), and, back in New York, he was an executive editor of ARTnews and a critic for New York magazine and  Newsweek.

Perhaps it’s the sense that he wasn’t ‘really qualified’ to be an art critic that makes him such a good one – it helps him to eschew what might be termed ‘art speak’ and permits an openness of approach. Important also, I think, was the proximity he felt between his own practice and that of the artists whose work he wrote about (see 2 paras above) – artists who in many cases he knew personally and who were an integral part of the New York scene – Joan Mitchell, Larry Rivers, Joe Brainard, Jane Freilicher. 

I first became aware of Jane Freilicher through the poems of Frank O’Hara, in which she appears again and again as muse and companion – ‘Interior (with Jane)’; ‘A Sonnet for Jane Freilicher’; ‘Jane Awake’; ‘Chez Jane’; ‘To Jane; and in Imitation of Coleridge’ – after which she seems to have been usurped by Grace Hartigan and, to a lesser exent, Joan Mitchell.

Once I got to know Freilicher’s work a little, I began to marvel at her persistence of vision; her determination to continue following her chosen course – a personal version of realism that she adhered to as if the explosion of abstract expressionism wasn’t happening all around her. Her subject matter scarcely varied – the views from her studio windows in Greenwich Village and Water Mill, Long Island, and many many still lives, most often a simple portrait, decepetively simple – yet without a glimmer of trickery – of beautiful flowers in equally beautiful vases.  

‘Marigolds II’ Jane Freilicher, 2000, oil on linen

 Why doesn’t this sameness result in a dulling over-familiararity? Boredom even? Not another bloody bunch of marigolds!

This, in part, is Ashbery’s answer  …

The same fields, bouquets, slants of light, views out over water or streets and buildings seem to recur, but it is the tremendous difference in them from picture to picture that entraps and enthralls the viewer. This is because she is able to half-forget the subject at hand and concentrate on the sheer pleasure of moving paint around.” 

And as she said herself in an interview with James Schuyler …

“I’m interested in landscape, but there’s a paradox: it’s depressing to get that realistic look: ‘Why, that’s just the way it looks!’ or ‘I know that time of day’  … Of course a landscape goes on forever but a picture doesn’t. So very soon it has a composition or a form of its own.”  

‘September Moment’ Jane Freilicher, 1998/99 oil on linen

This is Ashbery writing about a small pastel, Flowers on a Table

“The colours are low-keyed and matte, the surface dry and scumbled. The flowers look tangled with burrs like the coat of an old sheepdog.” 

‘Flowers on a Table’ Jane Freilicher 1998 pastel on linen

I was thinking of her use of colour, her use of light when I was preparing my novel, In a True Light, partly set in the Greenwich Village of the 1950s, Monk at the Five Spot and Frank O’Hara and company in the audience. 

Through an intermediary – the poet William Corbett – I asked Jane Freilicher if I could use a statement she’d once made about her work as an epigraph to the novel …  “I suppose I think more in terms of colour than of line.”

I was hoping, I think, that it might in some respects be appicable to the writing, the organisation of the book. Heavy on atmosphere, with a story line that shifted, sometimes surprisingly between place and time.  A scumbled narrative, you might say.

You might. In the event, I think I lacked the courage of my convictions: added a less than necessary secondary crime plot to the basic story of a British painter in search of the daughter he had previously never known existed, the result of his brief and heady relationship with an American abstract expressionist painter decades earlier. 

Even so, it’s a novel I’m fond of – fond in the way, perhaps, one might be fond of errant children. There are scenes, moments, I can still go back to with pleasure rather than embarasment or regret. And there are readers who, amongst my books, place it as one of their favourites. Readers with the abiity to see what I could never quite see myself.

Films, Books, Music of 2022



The Lost Daughter : Maggie Gyllenhaal
Belfast : Kenneth Branagh
Parallel Mothers : Pedro Almodovar
The Quiet Girl : Colm Bairéad
Hit the Road : Panah Panahi
Emily : Frances O’Connor
Decision to Leave : Park Chan-wook
She Said : Maria Schrader


Aftersun : Charlotte Wells


For whatever reasons, I’ve done a lot of re-reading this year – Liz Moore, Jamie Harrison, Maile Meloy, Joan Didion – but the one big find for me, spurred on by an interview in the Summer 2022 issue of The Paris Review, was the American writer, Sigrid Nunez. I’ve read and greatly enjoyed four books so far …

What Are You Going Through
The Last of Her Kind
The Friend
A Feather on the Breath of God

And am eagerly awaiting delivery of Sempre Susan, her book about Susan Sontag.

Also outstanding were two novels by Claire Keegan …

Small Things Like These

and Ruth and Pen by Emilie Pine


As I get back into writing poetry, I find – surprise, surprise – that I’m reading it more. (Works both ways).

Collections I’ve especially enjoyed include …

Wasn’t That a Time? : Jim Burns
A Reader’s Guide to Time : Rebecca Cullen
Notes on Water : Amanda Dalton
American Sonnets for My Past & Future Assassins : Terrance Hayes
Larder : Rhona McAdam

and, the one I’ve returned to most …

Lanyard : Peter Sansom


Randall Goosby playing the Bruch Violin Concerto with the LPO under Alpesh Chauhan – and encoring with a Louisiana Blues Strut. Royal Festival Hall.

Celebrating Mingus: Guy Barker Big Band & the BBC Concert Orchestra : Queen Elizabeth Hall.

LPO/Jurowski : Mahler 9th Symphony – Final Rehearsal, Royal Festival Hall.

LSO/Noseda : Shostakovich 11th Symphony, the Barbican.

Joanna MacGregor: Jazz Inflections : LSO St. Luke’s

Two Pianos, Eight Hands : Fitkin, Hammond, Stott, Wall : Queen Elizabeth Hall

Jo Harrop singing Fine & Mellow with the Paul Edis Trio : Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham.

Paul Edis Trio : Jazz at the Oxford, Kentish Town

Perville Bévort & Bévort 3 : Pizza Express, Soho

London Jazz Orchestra : The Vortex

McMinn & Cheese

A chip on my shoulder you can see from space


A blog about music by Richard Williams

Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise

Writers & writing: books, movies, art & music - the bits & pieces of a (retiring) writer's life

Woody Haut's Blog

Writers & writing: books, movies, art & music - the bits & pieces of a (retiring) writer's life


Writers & writing: books, movies, art & music - the bits & pieces of a (retiring) writer's life