... from ardnamurchan. the second one was taken at sanna bay which is a long way from anywhere and all the better for it. the third (of the smaller ben next to ben hiant) contains the very tiny silhouettes to two deer looking over the summit and very possibly saying to one another, dear god, how much noise can those two children make? let's bugger off. and the fourth shows, not a bath full of beer, but the colour of the loch-fed water supply which was, i have to say, surpisingly nice to drink (though not from the bath).
This blog is in a state of suspended animation
so, anyway, some background... i was being interviewed by claire armitstead at the edbookfest. during which she said that whilst reading the red house she kept thinking about those old tile puzzles, the ones you used to get in party bags c. 1975, a 3 x 3 grid containing eight tiles which you moved around to complete a picture, this being made possible by the missing square.
(i see mostly them online now - and there is one, a picture of a leopard, which is part of the basic mac dashboard package - but i'm never tempted to do them. it was the crappiness of the construction, the cheapness of the materials, the way the tiles got slightly stuck, which was an essential part of the appeal).
i felt a lurch when claire said this, a) because before writing the red house i'd given up on a novel called the missing square, the central image of which was precisely one of those tile puzzles, and whose organising conceit was that certain spaces or absences or holes may make a little world imperfect, but they are precisely what enables that little world to change and generate new images and meanings... b) stranger still, i suddenly realised that far from giving up on this image it had remained a model for the central structure of the red house, which is a story about the eight remaining members of a family and a ninth member (a stillborn daughter) who is still having a profound effect on the family despite, or because of, her absence.
just to prove how central the image of the tile puzzlewas to the missing square, i was trawling through the mac folder where i'd dumped everything associated with the abandonned novel, and stumbled on these covers ideas (the back cover image is a picture of me and my sister as children):
i'm doing 2 events at the edinburgh book festival this coming week. the first is an interview in the main theatre with claire armitstead at 4:30 on thursday 23rd, the second a solo talk, flying and swimming, in the spigelent on the friday at 9:00, which is 'free and drop-in', though it would be nice if you could be quiet about the dropping in (and out) since the talk is partly about silence and stillness. see you all there.
so... i did an interview for the sunday times 3 weeks ago. it was nominally about simon stephens' adptation of curious incident being on at the national theatre but it was intended for the news section, so we strayed inevitably into newsy territory. i can't remember the specific questions i was asked and i can't read the interview because it's behind the times paywall. but at one point i said that i'd written to my MP, nicola blackwood, several times in vain asking her why, in this time of recession, the poor and the disabled were suffering when the comfortable lives of wealthy people like myself like myself hadn't changed a jot.
as has become increasingly obvious over the recent months, there are plenty of wealthy people who think that they should pay less tax while benefits to the poor and disabled should be cut. and those people are, in my opinion, beyond contempt. but i didn't think my own opinion was quite that singular or newsworthy. nevertheless i've been inundated with requests for interviews. i'm turning them down because i seem to have been quoted in every national newspaper, and going into recording studios or sitting in front of a camera or talking to more journalists in order simply to repeat myself seems like unnecessary soapboxing (not to mention the fact that i'm looking after small children during the school holidays).
for the record, i also said (and because of the paywall i have no idea whether this was quoted in the original interview), 'the present government came to power with one of the weakest mandates in living memory yet their ministers are carrying out the most radical reforms in living memory, many of which involve slashing vital services upon which wealthy people like themselves have never depended, and which are hugely important to people with whom they have absiolutely no sympathy'.
also, for the record, all those on twitter and in the guardian comment columns who suggest that i simply send an extra cheque to the HMRC are missing the point. i am talking about a systemic, moral and political problem not personal feelings of guilt. and, in point of fact, i do send an extra cheque, but i send it to oxfam. some people think that's wrong, too, but you can't please everybody...
from amazon's books > fiction > romance > family sagas chart. runaway heiress *and* war and peace. it doesn't get much better than this.
i hate flying. i really really hate it. i've done 6 fear of flying courses, 2 accompanied flights, 7 lessons in a piper cherokee and dr diazepam holds my hand from runway to runway, but it's taking a bloody long time to get over it. during the main body of the flight i can resort to films or minigore or scrabble on the ipad (reading is out of the question). but during take-off and landing i'm not allowed to do anything electronic so i try and draw to occupy myself. the quality of the drawing has become a rather good measure of the amount of turbulence.
this, i think, is me coming into istanbul during a storm earlier this year (turkey was the furthest i'd flown since the fear really took hold 12 years ago):
the way back was a lot smoother:
then i had to fly to dublin during freak storms that were knocking walls down and flooding caravan parks in the south of england (i was not terribly comfortable at this point):
i'm thinking of taking out a patent and calling it the haddon sketch turbulence scale.
i'm doing a talk, 'flying and swimming' at the purcell room next monday, 9 july at 7:45, as part of the festival of the world. it's about... wel,, pretty much everything: great white sharks, thoreau, poetry, creative writing, engine fires, ice hockey. it's about an hour long and it will be very different from most author talks...
whilst i've never been opposed to ebooks in principle, i've always disliked the kindle for a string of reasons (see kindle below), so i've rather surprised myself by falling in love with ibboks on the ipad, on which i'm reading wirginia woolf's orlando (her gender-bending historical romp; one of her best-selling novels at the time but not a great work of art and for woolf completists really). the interface is great. it looks like a book (black print on white 'paper'), the page flip is rather sexy, the search, navigation and bookmarking are fluid and intuitive (you really can flip back and forth easily) and the underlining / highlighting are actually easier than using a biro. you also get to see the (colour) covers, titles and authors' names on the main 'library' page (kindle readers occaisonally tell me they're reading a great book then can't remember the author because they don't see it when they pick up the kindile which remains 'open' at the last page they read). obviously you can't use it in bright sunlight or in the pool (neither of which i've ever really done with books) but now that my ipad is fixed suited in a us military grade rubberised cover (mostly so my children don't destroy it) i can drop it onto conrete from 6 ft or use it in a sandstorm, presumably if i need some down time while invading an oil-rich middle eastern country.
but, but, but... this particular novel / edition contains the worst piece of proofreading / ebook scanning i have ever seen:
'to seventy yellow satin chairs and sixty stools, suitable with their buckram covers to them all... sankuarsankuarsan kuarsank uarsanku arsan kuarsanku arsankua rsank uar sankua rvsanku arsankua rsankuarsan kuar...' etc. to end of paragraph.
shame on you, penguin digital.
... somebody's son, by gordon burn, a meticulously researched book about the yorkshire ripper, peter sutcliffe.
some second thoughts:
it seemed rather brilliant at first, a brave attempt to get behind the salacious headlines and tabloid rhetoric of vicarious thrills and 'absolute evil', prostitutes who deserved little sympathy and the 'innocent victims' sutcliffe wrongly identified as prostitutes. and indeed it was interesting to to read about sutcliffe's childhood family history in detail. but you can't read this kind of book without wanting some insight into why he went on to do what he did. would he, for example, have become the yorkshire ripper if he hadn't grown up in a town with its busy red light district, drinking in pubs where 'respectable' people mixed with prostitutes and damaged young women with chaotic lives, in a culture where violence against women was widely tolerated? would he have become the yorkshire ripper if he had not worked in a graveyard or become obsessed with a particularly gruesome collection of 'medical' waworks or worked as a lorry driver and so on and so forth?
there is no clear or obvious answer. if there was a clear and obvious answer the police, incompetent and disorganised as they sometimes were, might have caught him earlier than they did
if there is any conclusion to be drawn it seems to be that psychopaths, however terrible their crimes, are psychologically less interesting than other people. they are psychopaths because they have something missing. there are things which they can't or don't feel (empathy imagination...), and extreme version of ordinary feelings they can't or don't control (anger, sexual desire...). and, ultimately, it is more interesting to read about the complexities of empathy, imagination and self-control than their absence.
one final note: there are passages in the book where burn seems to have been infected by, or possibly to share, some of the prejudices of some of his subjects, particularly with respect to characters who are not white and who are often spoken of dismissively or not given names (... an educationally subnormal west indian... the asian immigrant to whom she was married... married to an asian wearing a sari...).
... by bryan talbot, which my son (11) and i have been greatly enjoying, along with the follow-up, grandville mon amour, steampunk detective graphic novels set in a parallel version of history in which france has invaded and subjugated britain and guillotined the royal family and recently granted the country independence. london and paris are inhabited anthropomorphic animals of various species (humans appear infrequently in a few subordinate roles as fetchers and carriers) and the muscular badger inspector lebrock is called upon to investigate and solve dastardly crimes often resorting to somewhat excessive level of violence which, sadly, appeals greatly to my son. sly literary references abound which also appeal to me. not that i'm averse to a bit of blood, too...