Visiting Writer Page

The lovely folks at the Centre for Modern and Contemporary Writing (CMCW) in Southampton University have added a listing of me on their blog.

The mission the CMCW sets out of to ‘bring together academics, writers, and research students with interdisciplinary interests in the relations between 20th and 21st-century writing and contemporary culture in all its forms.’

My ArtfulScribe Residency at the University’s John Hansard Gallery has let me swim into their ken and it’s a generous, intellectually broadening experience to spend time in their company.

Just today I spotted in the London Review of Books, a piece on a collection of articles on poet F.T. Prince edited by member of CMCW Will May. I hadn’t realised before I attended the centre’s research day last month that Southampton Uni’s English Dept had been been headed by F.T. Prince in the post-war years. Prince is a poet I’ve been curious about for some time (I posted his ‘Last Poem’ on this blog back in 2012) and it’s wonderful to walk unawares into the centre of research on this rhapsodic, lyrical, sexually-charged voice from a time when many of the discussions that shape my identity as a gay/queer man within British culture were being triangulated.

Am looking forward to further time spent at the centre over the coming year. I hadn’t quite realised when I applied for the writing residency how much access I would have to this aspect of university life and it’s a wonderful boon!

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You’re such a brick!

I currently find myself with a habit of listening regularly to long-running British rural radio serial The Archers and of consuming every by-product of Agatha Christie I can get my hands on: television Marples, radio Poirots, exhibitions, Christie websites, the books themselves etc.

At work the other day, I called someone a brick. It was meant as a compliment, but I realised from the nonplussed reaction I got that not everyone goes around using  1940’s upper-class slang for a ‘good sort’, there I go again sorry, I mean ‘a great guy’. When I checked online, I found this mention on an old discussion forum that,

‘[you’re a real brick] has never been a phrase I’ve heard very often but I’ve seen it in plenty of books, especially in genres like Agatha Christie, Wooster, and others that centre on societies who have used public-schools!’.

My colleague at work said I must be hanging out with posh people, and I had I think in fact picked up the phrase from a rich art-collector who probably would consider themselves to be classed in that bracket.

Someone was reviewing PD James new book ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ in the London Review of Books recently. The book is a sort of Murder Mystery sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The reviewer kind of dismissed the book calling it a ‘Tory Idyll’. Maybe that’s my inference that it was a dismissal, but you got the sense from the tone that the reviewer was saying, the book can’t be important because it presents an unchallenged fantasy of successful life with the king in his castle and everyone knowing their place. The reviewer went on to say that buying the PD James book was akin to buying ‘a Christie for Christmas’, which apparently used to be a publicity campaign for Agatha Christie’s ever-growing book list. If you look on The Archers online discussion forum, you’ll certainly find plenty of old buffers, or at least pretend old buffers.

What does this say for my own politics and artistic stance, that I’m so into this trad y’Englsh fayre? It might have to do a little with my educational experience which saw me go on scholarship to one of Edinburgh’s private school’s aged 12 after attending my local primary, and then going on to Cambridge University to sing in St John’s College Choir after a year training at Winchester Cathedral. I mean, those transitions took me a long way away from my family’s more Scottish working class context and probably I was fascinated and awed a little. I should probably confess at this point – I mean, I need to confess it somewhere before I’m found out! – that I appear on the roll of members of Cambridge University Conservative Society. I can explain! There was a politically ambitious chap in the choir at John’s who was standing for some office in the society and persuaded me that it was ok to join up, even if I didn’t hold the appropriate views, purely so he could garner more votes. I mean, how could  I mind who was running a society I didn’t care about anyway? Well, there you go, proof if needed that Conservatives are corrupt 😉

Anyway, I think there’s always a child-like awe potential with visions of richness and privilege. I loved those Christmas adaptations of children’s books that came on when I was wee, like ‘The Children of Green Knowe’ or ‘The Box of Delights‘ even before there was any prospect of social-climbing myself.

I’ve noticed that some of the language from my vintage conservative obsession is finding its way into my writing. Here’s an excerpt from a recent poem called ‘a brilliant character dies early on’.

 

‘Gotta love a posh help,

a bet that paid off, that didn’t suck. Miss Molly

had maid in a bother and a lather,  all over some employment law tosh.

Miss wasn’t asking for an identity parade, but the bunkum spun Mother wouldn’t wash.’

 

I’m not quite sure what this is doing, but I think the language of war-time upper class Brit feels like a fun tool to use to write about social relations. I have a friend who is doing a PhD on Christie, so I guess my inspirations needn’t be dismissed as mere Tory frippery, or at least not uninteresting Tory frippery.