Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Before the law



Recently there has been one of those Facebook list things - where someone writes a list and then nominates three other people who write a list and nominate...and so on. The subject of the list this time has been '10 books that have stayed with you'.

Like most people I could write a different list every day for different reasons. It depends on my mood - and my memory. It did, however, make me think I might go through my bookshelves and pick out books that I think have made a particular impact on me for whatever reason.

I can't remember when I first read Franz Kafka's The Trial - some time in my twenties I would imagine. What I am pretty sure of though, is that I would not be the same person had I not read it - not that it changed me so much as confirmed in me something that was already there.

The book has stayed with me like a half-remembered dream and the beginning is a favourite of mine:

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.

The book was written at the beginning of the First World War and not published until 1925, after Kafka's death, but that paranoid beginning seems to be perpetually relevant. It could have been written in the 1950s, the 1970s - or yesterday.

I remember vividly the last passage too, where Joseph K is lead through town to a quarry to be stabbed 'Like a dog!' with a butcher's knife. This kind of bleakness has given Kafka a reputation for miserablism but he in fact expressed frustration that people did not recognise the humour in his work - dark though that humour undoubtedly is.

The section I remember most of all is the strange parable told in the novel called Before the Law. In this story a 'man from the country' comes and tries to gain admission to 'the Law' at a doorway in a wall, but the guard tells him it is not possible to gain admittance at that time. He is kept waiting for years until he is weak and near to death. He manages to summon the energy to ask the guard why in all the years he has waited there no other person has tried to gain entry. The guard tells him that no one could gain entry at that door because that door was meant for him and him alone and 'I am now going to shut it!'

It's hard to judge a style when you are reading in translation and in the case of Kafka's novels, reading fragments (although Before the Law was actually published on its own in his lifetime), but there is something magical about the way that story is structured. I loved it then and still re-read it occasionally and whenever I do it re-awakens something in me - something in the way I think about stories and about writing.

You can hear Orson Welles reading it in his film of The Trial with Anthony Perkins as Joseph K.





Monday, 8 September 2014

Creepy old spaceship



We have watched Alien and Aliens in the last few days. I had not seen either movie for a long time - apart from the occasional clip or coming across them as I flicked through the channels looking for something to watch.

Together with some friends, I bunked off college one afternoon to watch Alien when it first came out. There was so much hype surrounding it. We were terrified. I can't say that I was terrified this time round, but it still looks pretty good, all things considered.

Technology - imagined technology - dates very quickly. The tiny computer screens with their luminous letters on black screens and banks of flashing lights look a bit silly now of course, but the ship itself has become a template for so many spaceship interiors. It was the first film I remember seeing where the interiors in a spacecraft were dirty and industrial - and badly lit.

That bad lighting is essential of course. Because Alien is essentially a 'creepy old house' movie. It is like an old Universal monster movie, or a slasher movie like Halloween, with the residents of the isolated old Nostromo being picked off one by one. It relies on the same kind of 'Don't go in there!', 'He's behind you!' triggers.

One of the problems with monster movies is the monster itself. It is usually only partly glimpsed through the movie until the reveal at the end where it often disappoints. But not the alien designed by the late H R Giger. That still looks great. It's one of the few movie monsters that you can look at for a long time and still be awed by it.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Holkham


We went up to the north Norfolk coast today - our traditional last day of the school holidays trip. The last few years we have gone to Thornham and Titchwell, but this year we decided to go to the wonderful wide beach at Holkham for a long walk and a late lunch before picking blackberries on the way back.

Holkham is a special place - much nicer out of season. We came here once winter when there was snow on the sand and geese flying in through the mist to feed on the farmland behind the woods.

Those woods were used for the location of the barrow in the BBC Ghost Story for Christmas adaptation of M R James' A Warning to the Curious and the hapless Paxton (Peter Vaughan) is chased across the beach by the cowled guardian in one of the most effective scenes in any of the series of Lawrence Gordon Clark films.

The beach also stood in for America - or at least the Elizabethan colony of Virginia - at the end of the film Shakespeare in Love.

Today it was sparsely populated, with horses being taken down to the sea with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Far off in the distance we could see riders and horses quite a long way out, the water up to the riders knees.


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Terror and wonder


This rather lovely Dave McKean illustrated invite came in the post this morning. It is to the opening of an exhibition and series of talks called Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination at the British Library in London in October. The opening is on 2 October and then runs from 3 October to January next year.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A box of books



Advance paperback copies of The Dead Men Stood Together arrived a couple of weeks ago. As I have said many times before, the excitement of opening the box of new books - even new editions, as in this case - never fades. Nor should it.

I can still remember the excitement I felt receiving my advance copies of my very first book Dog Magic! as though it was yesterday. I've only ever had one book published solely as an ebook - Christmas Tales of Terror - and there was a definite feeling of anti-climax. I need something to hold in my hand or it seems like it doesn't really count.


Monday, 1 September 2014

The last of the spirits



And here is the cover of my new book for Bloomsbury - published this November. It's called The Last of the Spirits and it is the last in my trilogy of metafictions - books that have been inspired by, and run parallel to, stories that had a big impact on me when I first encountered them.

It began with Mister Creecher, linked to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, then The Dead Men Stood Together, inspired by Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and now there is this book - a story that takes a sideways step out of the world and characters of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

More about that later....

The dead men paperback



Just thought I'd share this with you - it's the jacket for the paperback of The Dead Men Stood Together, published this October by Bloomsbury.