Van Gogh At Last!

In a recent post dealing with school drama productions I’d been involved in while teaching in Stevenage, I made passing reference to an earlier piece about the life of Vincent Van Gogh from my time at Harrow Way County Secondary School in Andover. Like the Stevenage work, this was a co-operative effort involving as many students and staff as possible, although, as the production evolved, one student in particular, Stephen Lewis, had a fuller involvement as actor, writer and composer. As was the case with Van Gogh himself, no matter the circumstances, you can’t keep good man down!

Knowing a little of Steve’s later involvement with drama, I thought it would be interesting to ask him for his memories of the production and its significance. This is what he wrote …

Drama was my favourite subject at Harrow Way School and thanks to our enthusiastic and inventive teacher, John Harvey, it became a core part of my life. For the first twenty-five years of my career, I was involved in drama teaching, culminating in running the MA in Drama in Education course at what is now Birmingham City University. The strongest memory I have of the work John did at Harrow Way was the collaborative nature of it and the way that it engaged pupils and staff from right across the school.

As a 14 year old I was cast as Vincent in a show called At Last the Vincent van Gogh Show. The “At Last” was added because opening night was delayed owing to an industrial dispute and teachers having to work to rule; this meant that out of school hours rehearsals were postponed for a term. Because John wanted to involve as many pupils as possible, the only way of getting the whole cast together was after school and at the weekends. This was probably why I had a go at writing some of the script and enjoyed researching the life of Van Gogh in such detail.

The set for the show consisted of two 16 x 8 feet screens made by the woodwork department that were fixed at the front stage-right half of the traditional school platform stage and used to back-project images of Van Gogh’s paintings put together by the art department. The performance took place in front of the screens on the hall floor and a raised, tiered area built out from the stage-left half of the stage. This early practice of getting as much of a performance off the stage and thrust out into the audience space must have had a real impact on me, since very few of the hundred or so productions I directed subsequently were set on a proscenium arch with curtains.

I am sure that my attempt at scripting the show was very conventional and limited by an experience of plays that did not extend beyond what we had studied at school or I had seen on television. John had an overall concept for the show that included dance-drama numbers so that more people could be involved beyond the smaller group of characters surrounding Van Gogh’s life. Looking back, I can see now that this was a creative device to make scenes where Van Gogh was painting at his easel more theatrical and of interest to the audience. 

While Van Gogh was painting sunflowers, for example, George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun was playing and a group of dancers performed around the artist at work in one of his more happier moments. In contrast to this I remember the scene in the cornfield where I was surrounded by staccato-moving dancers dressed all in black enacting the movement of crows to the music of Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain. It was an expressive way of representing Van Gogh’s deep-seated depression and made the moment where he shoots himself in the groin seem more plausible. There was also a dance to a piece called Urizen from a jazz album by David Axelrod which is a fusion of orchestral sound and rock band. It has these rising glissandi on strings and listening to it again after all these years I can visualise the dancers rising up dressed in yellow and swirling ribbons of fabric around me. 

John has written about the infamous ear-cutting scene which was portrayed by my holding up a 2 x 1 foot piece of ear-shaped polystyrene to the side of my head. I had to cut across the top of the polystyrene with a handsaw and I can still recall the squeaking sound it made as I sawed a lump of it away. The fragment of polystyrene ear fell to the floor and then a character dressed as a policeman walked up to me, picked it up and said to the audience, “’ello, ‘ello, ‘ello: what’s this ‘ear then?”. It got a laugh every night.

The fact that I can still recall this so vividly fifty years later shows what a lasting impression this production made on me. That the structure of the show was an example of Total Theatre or that using an oversized prop and a music hall gag at a serious moment was a Brechtian technique were unknowns to me at the time. But thank you Mr Harvey for creating the circumstances and providing the experience that helped me find my element in life

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Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf and the triple-decker egg-and-bacon sandwich.

Funny the ways in which school students remember their teachers, aeons on; funny if they remember them at all. I was buying a pair of jeans in one of those boutiquey men’s clothing stores in the centre of Nottingham, when one of the salesmen said he knew me from school – Heanor-Aldercar Secondary School in Langley Mill.
“One thing I’ve always remembered – you coming into our English lesson with the record player and an LP, saying, ‘Right now. You’ve all got to listen to this.’ And you played Sergeant Pepper all the way through.”
Worst things to be remembered for.

Four or five years ago, quite by chance, I bumped into someone I’d taught at Stevenage Girls’ School when she would have been twelve or thirteen: getting on for 45 years before. I didn’t recognise her, but she knew me right off.
“Triple-decker egg-and-bacon sandwich!” she said and laughed.
I’d used it in some way I can’t exactly recall as a metaphoric way of explaining a complex sentence; I think the middle slice, between the bacon and the egg, might have been a semi-colon.

Following my recent post about teaching at the Girls’ School in Stevenage, Pam Smith, one of the sixth form students taking the Modern paper in A Level English – Beckett, Virginia Woolf and, I think, Eliot – got in touch via a friend. What it seems she remembers most clearly was the lesson in which, reading from Malone Dies, I laughed so helplessly that I slid under the desk and onto the floor. [Whatever it takes … ]

A quick search along the shelves at home soon came up with my teaching copies of both Malone Dies and To The Lighthouse.



Pam went on to take a degree at the University of Nottingham and it was her enthusiasm for the Department of American Studies that led directly to my applying there to do an MA, making many new friends and renewing my acquaintanceship with what is surely the queen of cities.

Stevenage Days, Stevenage Plays

Circumstances have got me thinking again about the years I spent teaching in Stevenage – four years in the English Department at Stevenage Girls’ School, 1971 – 75; the same four years that I was studying, part time, for a BA in English at Hatfield Polytechnic, now the University of Hertfordshire. A course of study made easier by the generosity of Hertfordshire County Council, who allowed me one afternoon off a week, with pay, to attend lectures, together with four weeks – four whole weeks – off to revise for my finals. Outstanding.

Stevenage Town Centre

Stevenage was the first of the New Towns to arrive in the wake of the Second World War, a brutalist cousin of two nearby towns that were products of the earlier Garden City movement – Welwyn to the south and Letchworth to the north. Up until 1969, there were two grammar schools, the long-established Alleyne’s School for boys in Stevenage Old Town, and the rather peripatetic Stevenage Girls’ Grammar School, which dropped the word ‘grammar’ from its title when it arrived at new buildings on Valley Way in 1968, in readiness for joining the comprehensive revolution.

It was my experience teaching young people in secondary modern schools – those who, in pre-comprehensive days, would have taken and failed their 11 Plus – that made me an attractive proposition for the head teacher, Miss Osborne – though to what extent Mrs Crewe, the Head of English, agreed, I was never certain. And it wasn’t just English I was teaching; I was also teaching drama. Lots of small group improvisation, probably rather too much wafting around to the likes of Britten’s Sea Interludes – and, on a couple of occasions, a full-scale production. The school play.

In my earlier post at Harrow Way County Secondary School in Andover I’d warmed up with an abridged version of Shaw’s St. Joan [called, of course, St. Jo – what else?] followed by the (almost) all-dancing, all singing At Last, The Vincent Van Gogh Show! – the highpoint of which was the actor playing Van Gogh coming out wearing a huge polystyrene ear and proceeding, slowly, and squeakily, to saw it off with a fretsaw. Well, it was the 60s! And something I might well return to in more detail in a later blog – but for now, back to Stevenage.

At the Girls’ School, the first production was Alice, based, of course, on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and very much under the influence of the Jefferson Airplane song, White Rabbit.

One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small, and the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all, go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.

You can imagine the scene: Alice, red hair, blue dress, and the first of several white pills and, pretty soon, the first sighting of the white rabbit itself.

Half-buried amongst a pile of miscellaneous papers, I found a copy of the programme …

It’s noticeable how strictly I was sticking to the protocols laid down by the Drama Department at Goldsmiths, where I’d done my teacher training, and followed through by my great friend and mentor, Tom Wild, whose productions of Brecht and Shakespeare with ‘secondary modern kids’ in Yorkshire were an inspiration. So, rule one, involve as many of the school as you can, and two, list them all equally and alphabetically . Everyone counts.

Having suggested ideas of madness in Alice – see the Cheshire Cat’s riposte to Alice above – the following year’s production, Split, was based on a case-study of a girl suffering from schizophrenia that was written about in R. D. Laing’s The Divided Self. [The 60s continued to loom large.]

The majority of the scenes were built up through improvisation during many rehearsals, improvisation that continued in performance, save for opening and closing lines, which acted as cues for the people doing music and lighting.

It was a recent exchange of emails with Moya Cove, one of the musicians listed above, that got me harking back to Stevenage days – and plays – and I was very interested to read Moya’s thoughts about growing up and going to school in Stevenage – thoughts she is happy for me to share …

The more I look back and think about it the more I realise what a unique ‘brave new world’ social and economic project we were all involved in. Personally, I feel we had the very best of Stevenage new town in those forward looking post-war days before the shine wore off. And it was successful – for an all too brief moment in time – in facilitating real social mobility, along with optimism, hope and a feeling for social justice. As a group of girls I would say we all came out of Stevenage -in those days of rising feminism – and were utterly determined to have careers and be economically independent. Our generation were incredibly fortunate to experience Stevenage at that time. 

For proof of what Moya says about social mobility, a feeling for social justice, and the rise of feminism amongst Stevenage’s young women, I would point to the life of Sherma Batson (whose name appears in the Alice programme).

A community activist with a wide variety of interests, Sherma was one of the founders of the Stevenage World Forum for Ethnic Communities, and largely responsible for setting up Celebrate!!!, a multi-cultural showcase held annually at the Gordon Craig Theatre during Black History Month. A stalwart member of the Labour Party, Sherma was elected to Hertfordshire County Council in 2001 and in 2008 she was made an MBE for services to the county. In 2014/15, she was elected by the Stevenage Borough Council to be Mayor of Stevenage, the first black woman to hold that role. All too sadly, with so much more work to do, so much more life to live, Sherma died suddenly in January 2017, following a subarachnoid haemorrhage, at the age of only 59. In February of that year, Stevenage Borough Council posthumously conferred on Sherma the title of Honorary Freeman.

Sherma Batson

Frank Elder Through French Eyes

During the years since Payot Rivages published the first Resnick novel – Coeurs Solitaires – Lonely Hearts – in France, I’ve been fortunate in both the depth and breadth of reviews that have appeared there, both in print and on radio. With the publication of Le Corps et l’ame – Body & Soul – in early January, I’ve been well served again. What follows are extracts from three reviews, rendered into English through a shaky combination of Google Translate and my ancient schoolboy French [Advanced level, Failed].

TELERAMA 
Christine Ferniiot

Thriller writer John Harvey says goodbye to his heroes …

In 2014, in Darkness, Darkness, British writer John Harvey decided to abandon his famous hero, Chief Inspector Charles Resnick. He did not kill him off, preferring to watch his figure blend into the landscape; leaving him on a bench, a cup of coffee in hand, outside Nottingham Town Hall, daydreaming of a recording by Thelonious Monk – an ending suited to his image: melancholy, poetic and discreet. At that time, John Harvey explained that he wanted to devote himself, in a personal capacity, to poetry and jazz. We believed this to be the case, but luckily writers can change their minds. Here he is again, with Le Corps et l’Ame, a new thriller, one last lap in the company of Frank Elder, a retired police officer. This time, the book does sound like a farewell from this major author who began his career in 1976 under several pseudonyms, writing detective novels and westerns. 

It was François Guérif, then editor of Rivages/Noir, who enabled French readers to discover John Harvey in 1993 and to follow him for almost thirty years. “Another British writer, the formidable Robin Cook, spoke to me one day about John Harvey, telling me to read Lonely Hearts, the first investigation by his hero Charles Resnick. I immediately loved this character, full of humanity and compassion, but also the elegant writing of John Harvey, very inspired by the jazz he loves.”

https://www.telerama.fr/livre/le-maitre-du-polar-john-harvey-dit-adieux-a-ses-heros- et-puis-sen-va-6795950.php

MEDIAPART
17 JAN. 2021- BY W CASSIOPÉE / ANNIE

…. Consider the title of this novel in its original edition : it is called “Body and Soul”, like the title of a song by Billie Holiday which dates from 1957. ** One of those jazz tunes imbued with melancholy, blues, both sad and beautiful, oscillating between different emotions, leaving you alone facing the sea (as on the front cover), as if, finally, to better understand life, you sometimes had to let it rock you with nostalgia. .

The intimate, beautiful, poetic, musical writing (with many and magnificent references) won me over. It has a “je ne sais quoi” that is sublime. Suffering is faintly present between the lines: it inhabits the novel but is not painful because of the way Elder carries it, certainly like a burden, but it is not allowed to dominate the story, because it is mentioned with discretion, finesse and intelligence. The style is sober, calm, each word (especially in the dialogue) carries meaning.

The author talks about art, the complex links between models and artists; about the difficulties of family relationships when a person has mental health problems; the role of parents, of friends. The whole book is imbued with a bittersweet vibe that charmed me. Like jazz, it captivates you, captivates you, and stays with you for a long time … 

** Billie Holiday first recorded “Body & Soul” in 1940. The 1957 recording, with Ben Webster on tenor saxophone, was one of her last.

https://blogs.mediapart.fr/edition/le-coin-des-polars/article/170121/le-corps-et-lame-de-john- harvey-body-and-soul 

http://unpolar.hautetfort.com/archive/2021/01/17/le-corps-et-l-ame-de-john-harvey-body-and- soul-6291473.html 

https://wcassiopee.blogspot.com/2021/01/le-corps-et-lame-de-john-harvey-body.html

https://www.partagelecture.com/t27240-harvey-john-frank-elder-tome-4-le-corps-et-l- ame?highlight=harvey 

LIVRESSE DU NOIR
LE CORPS ET L’ÂME – NADIA DI PASQUALE – 5 JANVIER 2021 

A dark novel, full of atmosphere where the contrast between the rural landscapes of Cornwall and the urban settings of London is striking. Family relationships are at the heart of this story, the author explores the father-daughter relationship … A father assailed by doubts, devoured by guilt, plagued by demons from the past; a very touching father who tries to reconnect with his vulnerable daughter, a father ready to do anything to defend and protect her. 

A very realistic plot, tightly wound in 300 pages, which advances at its own pace and captivates us from start to finish. The construction is rigorous, we oscillate between the meticulous investigation, the procedures, a few well-placed twists and small touches of decor and atmosphere. The characters occupy a central place; John Harvey has the art of searching their souls and complexes with great depth and a beautiful humanity. His pen is very elegant, the style classic while leaving a lot of room for darkness; the dialogue is sharp and subtle. 

And then, an unexpected finale, tinged with a certain sadness. Goodbye! I’m happy to have discovered Frank Elder. An excellent reading moment!

The Road to Oradea

For quite a while now, it’s been my habit to begin the year – my reading year – with either Katherine Mansfield or Virginia Woolf, occasionally both: one of Woolf’s novels, most often To the Lighthouse or Mrs Dalloway; two or three of Mansfield’s short stories – ‘The Garden Party’, say, or ‘Prelude’; ‘Daughters of the Late Colonel’ or ‘At the Bay’. This time around, everything else being different, I felt like a change. Though nothing radical. Something from roughly the same period, the early 20th century.

England, My England, a collection of ten short stories by D. H. Lawrence, was first published in 1922; the copy that I have – one of Penguin’s uniform edition with tastefully rural photographs by Harri Peccinootti – I bought at Hatchard’s in Piccadilly in 1974. Still a long way from Oradea, which, if you were uncertain, is a university town in the north west of Romania, close to the Hungarian border. But I urge patience. No sooner had I finished reading the second story – ‘Tickets, Please’, which begins with a bravura description of the journey made by a Midlands tram into the industrial countryside and back again: two jostling, skittering 11-line sentences with a pair of shorter sentences applying the brake in between – than I thought the perfect companion for my reprise of Lawrence would be Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage, in which he does everything possible not to follow his alleged purpose of writing about Lawrence and ends up writing about him with perception and a great deal of humour. A quote from Lawrence himself, at the beginning of the book, gives us the idea …

“Out of sheer rage I’ve begun my book on Thomas Hardy. It will be about anything but Thomas Hardy I am afraid – queer stuff – but not bad.”
D. H. Lawrence, 5 September, 1914

The title page of my copy was signed by Geoff – in green ink – matching the cover – with a sprawling dedication which refers to the “many memories … of our Romanian quest … especially of your drumming.” Drumming? Okay, take a step or so back. Try to explain.

In the spring of 1997, I was one of a group of writers setting out on a British Council sponsored visit to the University of Oradea to take part in a three day seminar, an exchange of work and views with Romanian (and, as it turned out, Moldovan) colleagues. Myself and Geoff Dyer aside, our group included the poet George Szirtes, the short story writer, Helen Simpson, and the academic and critic, Valentine Cunningham, who had recently written a very positive review of one of the Resnick novels for the Times Literary Supplement and, I suspect, was behind my inclusion. It was Cunningham, also, who had the trumpet. Have horn, will travel. In this case, aboard BA2894 from Gatwick to Bucharest and hence by well-appointed coach across country to Oradea. If he had known there would be a band on hand at our welcoming dinner, I don’t know – perhaps he took his trumpet with him everywhere on the off chance – but once he had discovered that George Szirtes could play the piano – admittedly only 12 bar blues in the key of, I think, C – and that way back in the early 60s I had played drums in a ‘trad’ jazz band at Goldsmiths College, he had no hesitation in leading us up onto the stage the moment the band announced the interval. What occurred for the next thirty minutes or so is something of a blur – much as it was at the time. All I know is that I performed my basic function of keeping time, with only the occasional cymbal flourish or snare drum paradiddle, and Valentine played some decidedly tasty trumpet.

Could our visit get any better? It could, and did, and one of the highlights was listening to Geoff Dyer read from Out of Sheer Rage, which had me – at the appropriate moments – helpless with laughter.

Amongst the writers whose work I enjoyed discovering were the Romanian poet, Romulus Bucur, and a young Moldovan poet, Julian Fruntasu, and thanks to some financial help from the British Council, I was able, through Slow Dancer Press, to publish their poetry in Britain for the first time. Typeset, of course, in Romanian Bookman Light.

The following year, together with a different group of writers, including the poet and novelist, John Burnside, I was pleased to return to Oradea with copies of the two pamphlets, present them to the poets, and listen to their inaugural reading. My only small sadness on this occasion, no welcoming band, no trumpet, no last chance behind the drums.

In a snowy Oradea with Iulian Fruntasu and his friend, whose name, I’m embarrassed to say, I have forgotten.

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

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.