Tuesday, 21 July 2020


Caravagio; a Novel by Robert Payne is an ex-library book I picked up from one of their sales oh so long ago. well thumbed and a little dog eared it suited me just fine. i do not think it had been borrowed for quite some time before it ended up in the sale, or else it was returned to them by some one who was really, really tardy. Anyway, the unspoken journey of books is all up in the air, it could have come from anywhere, could have belonged to anyone. Like the great gifts that make an artist what he, or she, is.
              Caravagio's real name was Michelangelo Menisi, but he took the name of the town he was born into.I suppose there was no point being another Michaelangelo in much the same way few new artists call themselves Bowie. The fame of the other person bearing those names is unrepeatable. It would be like trying to catch a lightning bolt in a butterfly net.
              At nineteen years old it is said Caravagio opined that a painter at that age knows all he needs to know. By the time he had reached the end of his apprenticeship he had escaped from the murderous attack of robbers, survived the plague and any number of daily hardships which are a person's lot in life, then and now.. then much more so than now. Life was hard and short for rich and poor alike, apprentice, painter or Pope, everyone got it hard. Caravagio understood this and learned to live with it, enjoying the fleeting moments of pleasure, again and again. Talk about mad, bad and dangerous to know. He possessed a quick fire temper and also the swordsmanship to do something other than threaten. yet he was also possessed of an incredible talent, a masterful grasp of  painting. froman early age he displayed prodigious talent. over time his genius brought him admiration ,and for intervals,the lavish patronage of nobles and churchmen. but his recklessness and volatile personality would also bring him great suffering and eventually exile, before an untimely death far from his birth place and those who perhaps understood his passion's best. Yet he led a life of extraordinary adventure, creating legendary works of art that would outlive Empires. He was a stand out personality in a great city blossoming through a renaissance of art and culture.
             Robert Payne's novel captures the spirit of that age with alacrity. some chapters of the painter's life feel breathlessly delivered, with almost any possibly being his last, such were some of the adversaties he was forced to overcome, not all off which he was able to. Commiting terrible offences, including murder, he was forced on different occasions to uproot and flee. Even escaping from a prison in a fashion that would not have seemed out of place in Dumas. the Devil of course, is in the details and Caravagio is the very devil. robert Payne evokes the setting masterfully, with an almost audible clatter of wagon wheels on cobblestones and the lively tumult of the Italian Renaisance crowds, capturing the beauty, pain and complexity of the era.
              I saw one of his paintings once, long ago in a gallery in Dublin. I was struck by its size and the black, black, blackness that people seemed to bob in, like a sentient ink. Caravagio understood perfectly how to use that darkness to draw the gaze, to focus the eye in whichever way he wished.
             Born to darkness, he had no fear off it.

Mother London.

It has been some time since i have been so affected on an emotional level by a novel as I was by this wonderful book by Michael Moorcock. While reading it, and enjoying doing so, I found there were chapters I just did not want to end. The prose was so compelling, the characterization so strong, it felt like a series of unfolding memoirs. Michael Moorcock has so masterfully constructed (If that is not to workmanlike a description for such humane poetry at play) a sprawling and complicated work of fiction that feels almost alchemical in its immensity. as I neared the end of the book I found myself wanting it to go on just a bit longer so that I might spend some more time in the company of these wonderful creations, these endearing people and these interesting places.
            There is a feeling I get sometimes when i read Shakespeare, or William Blake, when I roll the text over in my head. It feels like the touch of the warm sun on ones upturned face, catching the rays between the clouds. When it is possible to put aside the worries of the day, to appreciate the complexities for the sum of what they are, to believe just for a moment in the sublime mysteries, that it might be possible to speak into being a way of living at peace with the world. i have no wish to diminish the extraordinary gift of some of Michael Moorcock's prose by clunkily describing its effect, and boy, I am as clunky as The Iron Giant.
             Much like the city this novel is set in, and about, this isa vast undertaking. As the reader finds oneself buffeted through time as much as space. Although it is quite a complex piece of work it flutters with all the enthusiasm of a Silver Jubilee bunting, dancing with all the unfettered joie de vivre of a blizt blown kerchief, dancing in the incendiary winds of the past.
             And London is a city with one hell of a past. Perhaps more Hells and Heavens than most major cities. If one is interested at all in the psychogeography of any major city then this is a book for your shelf. A city like London is off course a work in progress, one that never ends as its inhabitants and its many eras pass. But it is in the unearthing, the great joy of the undertaking, when it comes into its own. the joy of the dance as much as the joy of the music, Take a long dander in the company of Michael Moorcock into the eco system of a great city, feel its pulse, know that it is alive, never more so than when it is sleeping, when it dreams. With so vast a living organism as London surely it is not too much to believe that occasionally a great city dreams its fictional inhabitants into becoming reality. It is not an common thing for a reader like myself, prone to sprnding long periods alone but always intrigues by the lives of others, can come across a character or a person we wish were not fictional. such is the case with the characters in this novel, as well rounded and believable as anything in Charles Dicken's.work. Their creation so mired in our own humane fallibility and bitter sweet fragility they are surely real on some familiar plain of existence, at least something like our own.
              It was on another level a really interesting way to experience the novel as seen through the various POVs of people who hear voices as they try to get through their days. Three hyper perceptive telepaths who in turn are forced to meditate and even medicate to have some semblance of a rational existence. As the reader you actually have a taste of what this must be like for them. The narrative is broken up so we jump back and fourth along their timeline we sometimes experience their outcomes before they do. it is not always pleasant and adds a fission of melancholy to unfolding events.
             A wonderful work. i feel enriched just having finished it.
             Also felt like laughing and crying at the same time.
             It is that sort of experience.


Yet another ground breaking and entertaining graphic novel by living legend Bryan Talbot, another superb piece that would grace any bookshelf it sits upon. This one written by his wife Mary. The second time the couple have cooperated on a comic book work, the other being the highly regarded and rather special  The Dotter of Her Father's Eyes. Bryan Talbot is something of a national treasure (a notion that would probably make an artist of his stature and regard  cringe but I speak on an emotional level. He just is.)
          Take the opening pages of Rain as an example of that;you flip open the book to see a two page spread, a view of a distant moorland, a beautifully understated piece of art where one can almost feel the wild wind come off the page accompanied by the pitter patter of heavy raindrops on scattered moorland boulders. three pages later we are dislocated, for narrative reasons, through time and space to a valley in southern america , only to move past those pages two centuries later to be confronted with an enviromental disaster that were the 2015 floods in northern England. it is ambitious but handled delicately with Mary Talbot's scripting. what a bittersweet thing it is then to watch the love blossom between the two women as nature itself buckles and twists in artificially induced spasms. go look up some of the photographs of destruction caused by the flooding, the sight of small towns and villages, rural homes, engulfed in flood water. they are just heart breaking.
            Rain centres on one relatively, in the world wide scheme of natural mismanagement, example of moorland ownership by an "elite" , for want of a more user friendly and simple euphemism, group that impacts catastrophically on those people living under the surrounding hills. the whole ecosystem of the surrounding landscape thrown a googlie by clay shooters greedily hellbent on riddling the wildlife with undiscriminating abandon. its class based and idiot driven, the last vestiges of a cultural tradition as crustily bourgeoisie as it is unpleasant.
             It is a non linear tale but never over complicated, nor is it preachy. it gently unfolds and we learn as we go along the simple fact that while things are rarely simply they are neither too complex to fix or understand. There a nice group of friends at the heart of this tale, a little kooky, but then lovers often are.
             The sea, sun and sky that surround us are all that we have.
             We need to learn to love them a bit more.
             Even though they will never truly love us back.
             Appreciation and coexistence is enough for now and always.

Body Alchemy.

I have a new short story in issue#14 of Phatasmagoria magazine. A story about a young man from Belfast who returns from a tour of duty in Afghanistan a changed man, in some worse ways than others. As always this magazine is chock full of enough stuff to make it worth picking up, regardless of my yarn.

Pop Poe.

Poor old Efgar Allen Poe, he did not have the happiest of lives. Life put him through the wringer, sharpening and refining his genius, filling his ink well with as much sorrow as ink. and now, all these years later. he has been reborn for a new generation as a Pop figure.
            I think they have ended up making him look like a teacher from The Umbrella academy.

Dan Leno And The Limehouse Golem (Revisited.)

In his day, on top of his game, Dan Leno was described as "The funniest Man alive", probably by himself, such was his impish self promotion, although in all honesty was no more than a self fulfilling projection of the esteem, love and affection his audiences felt for him.And such affection was hard won. These people led exceptionally hard lives, day to day existance in Victoria's London for those near the bottom of the rigidly class based social hierarchy. Life expectancy was short, people played hard any opportunity they got.
            Yet a performer of Dan Leno's many abilities, who constantly grafted to improve and refine his act, had the power to lift them from the brutal niches they were forced to live in. For a short spell he could distract them from the grim daily grind. He had the power to make them laugh, to make them cry, but with joy.  His mimicry of the many characters who would have filled their lives made him one of their own, in a sense, all off their own. Gifting them the joy of the moment, a relief from casual brutality.
            But off course, there was brutality to go back to and sometimes even the most hardened of Victorians could be shocked by the scale of such brutality. Almost a decade before the more infamous Jack The Ripper Whitechapel murders there were a series of equally shocking crimes, attributed in this era to the mysterious and inexplicable "Limehouse Golem." in this book Peter Ackroyd takes us into the world of the Victorian music hall, gas lit and gin soaked, bawdy, bad and beautiful. He blends fiction and reality, the dreamscape and nightmare country of the age, in a way most peculiar to historical storytelling. Peter Ackroyd navigates the dark waters of the East End, mustering affection but not shy of its horrors. he recreates an extraordinary city scape, bringing it alive as one turns the pages. It is not at all always a pleasant journey to go on, this is not some touristy Ripper Walking Tour where one can pop into a bar along the way for some beery relief. We are drawn on and on and down and dirty into a nightscape more From Hell than Oliver The Musical. Peter Ackroyd introduces us to this gas light and flickering music hall world of Victorian clowns and performers, peeling off the make up to reveal the many grinning and gurning skulls beneath. It is not for the faint-hearted...
             That is history for you.Where did a faint heart ever get anybody?

The House Of Doctor Dee (Revisited.)

Reread a couple of Peter Ackroyd books recently. He has a very nice section of books in the room where I keep them. His work is always rewarding and more than bears up to rereading ,with layers of information like rich seams never quite worked out, so to speak. I discovered this with his books Hawksmoor and Chatterton when revisited.( But not so much with The Last Will And Testament Of Oscar Wilde, which of all his really work I would have expected to reward most.. Tra lal la...perhaps third time lucky, one does not like to give up even on the ghost of Oscar Wilde.)
             Love the cover of this edition of the book. It is a copy of the portrait of John Dee which hangs in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. I do not know who painted it. He has the sort of face I would have imagined of one hanging around on the fringe of the Elizabethan Court, or a Tiger Lillies gig ( a gig is a live musical presentation that involves a gathering of people, yes, I know, who have come together to listen to music they like to listen to. People used to do this frequently in Olden Times.) John Dee looks most august, he has the eyes of a man who knows things one probably should not, as though he has peaked behind the curtain of creation. this was after all a man who conversed with angels, possibly demons. using an Irishman, Edward Kelly, as his medium, his scryer, communicating with angels through a dark mirror.
              John Dee was once imprisoned in The Tower Of London, sent there by the will of Queen Mary, the original Bloody Mary., Queen Elizabeth's older sister, daughter to Henry Vlll. Imprisoned there around the same time as Elizabeth herself, for daring to project a horoscope, detailing the passing of the former and the ascent of the latter.These were dangerous times to be a royal, with family members being the main threat to ones future.
             The novel straddles centuries, from the london of the sixteenth century to the London of the present day. As a young man takes ownership of the house of his deceased father, an old house in Clerkenwell. The house of Doctor John Dee. A house filled with secrets now owned by a man made of secrets. This is dark stuff, with dark magicks soaked into the very foundations.
              Much like the city of London itself.

Flea in Yer Ear.

                                 ..Really missed you. Please, c'mon in, sit down, lets catch up...