The Next Big Thing!

The Next Big Thing is a blog chain in which participating authors answer ten questions about their current work in progress or upcoming publications. I was tagged for this post by Susan Furlong Bolliger who talks about her cozy mystery novel, Murder For Bid, here. You can also find out more about Susan at http://www.sfurlongbolliger.com/

Because I like to be difficult, I decided to do this post a little differently and answer the questions on my album rather than my latest book.

What is your title of your album?
The title of the album is “Do You Dream At All”.

Where did the idea come from for the album?
I’ve been posting songs – both my own songs and cover versions – on my blog for the past year and a half, on what I call “New Music Monday”. All of these songs are recorded by me in my home studio. I found that more and more people were asking me if I had an album and where they could get it. As the production values on my home recordings continued to improve, I realised I could produce my own album in my home studio. So that’s what I set about doing.

What genre does your album fall under?
Hard to say exactly what genre of music the album is. Generally, it’s alternative rock, but there’s a diverse range of songs styles on the album, from acoustic songs to heavy guitar-driven songs.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ideally, I could see Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt playing me in the rock biopic. In reality, it would probably be Carrot Top!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your album?
Hard edged guitar tunes mixed with acoustic numbers, featuring strong melodies and intense lyrics.

Will your album be self-published or represented by an agency?
My album is entirely self-recorded and self-released. All the publicity is being undertaken on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) However, the album is available from all music outlets, such as, iTunes, Amazon, etc.

And right now the album is on sale for the bargain price of $5 on www.cdbaby.com

How long did it take you to record the album?
The recording and mixing of the album took approximately two months, including the design and production of the CD booklet.

What other bands would you compare this album to within your genre?
That’s very hard to say. I will say my influences range from Nirvana to The Smiths, from Bruce Springsteen to The Shins, so take from that what you will!

Who or what inspired you to write this album?
The inspiration behind the recording of the album was the interest shown in the music I posted to my blog. As for the individual songs, as with my novel writing, the subject matter of the songs is not inspired by one specific incident. The songs deal mostly with relationships between people (often troubled relationships), whether they be romantic relationships or otherwise.

What else about your album might pique the listener’s interest?
In this age of corporate control and the homogenisation of music, I think it’s important that there are artists out there making their own type of music, independent of fads. I hope that is what “Do You Dream At All” is and I hope people will support it.

 

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The Little Bookshop That Could: Shakespeare & Co.

Sylvia Beach – the owner of the bookshop Shakespeare and Company – died on this day in 1962. Shakespeare and Company was nothing short of a phenomenon. A small bookshop on rue de l’Odéon that became the meeting-place, focal point and publishing house for some of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

In 1918, 31-year-old American, Sylvia Beach, walked into a bookshop on the rue de l’Odéon in Paris and met its owner, Adrienne Monnier. For the next 36 years, the two would be friends and lovers, and that day marked the beginning of an extraordinary story history in the history of literature. Sylvia soon began having ideas about setting up a bookshop of her own. It would prove to be a momentous decision. She called her bookshop Shakespeare and Company.

The post-WWI years in Europe were a hugely important time for English literature. Writers from both sides of the Atlantic – from America, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Des Passos, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound; from Europe, Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Valery – were changing the face of English writing, ushering in a period that would be known as Modernism. Indeed, 1922 saw the publication of two texts that would become cornerstones of the Modernist movement – Ulysses and The Waste Land. The disillusionment of the Diaspora of American artists led them to be known as the “Lost Generation”. And one by one, each member of the “Lost Generation” turned up at Sylvia Beach’s door.

Of the major names of Modernism, the first to come to Shakespeare and Company was Gertrude Stein in March 1920. Within a couple of years, Stein would become the “mother figure” of the “Lost Generation”. Everyone – from Joyce to Hemingway – would gather in the apartment she shared with Alice B. Toklas, adorned with Picassos and Cézannes. In time, her relationship with Sylvia would sour; Stein regarded herself as the foremost voice of Modernism and regarded Joyce as a rival. After Sylvia published Ulysses, Stein never set foot in Shakespeare & Company again.

The next member of the “Lost Generation” to turn up at Shakespeare & Co. was the American poet, Ezra Pound. The presence of Pound – and later Joyce – in Paris contributed in no small way to many other young writers arriving there.

The next visitor to Shakespeare & Company would be the person who would change – not only Sylvia Beach’s life – but the face of English literature. At the time, James Joyce was living in Trieste teaching English. Pound – who had just recently met Joyce – encouraged him to move to Paris. Joyce arrived in July of 1920. A party was held to which the Joyce’s were invited, as was Adrienne who encouraged Sylvia to accompany her. Sylvia and Joyce hit it off immediately. Joyce loved the name of Sylvia’s bookshop and wrote down the address, telling her he would visit the following day.

In December 1921, an American journalist and his wife came into Shakespeare and Company and met Sylvia for the first time. The journalist – Ernest Hemingway – would become a great friend of Sylvia’s. After he became famous, many of Hemingway’s friends fell by the wayside for one reason or another. But he and Sylvia remained great friends for years afterwards and he had only good things to say about her.

While it may be overstating the case to say that – without Sylvia Beach – there would have been no Ulysses, it is certainly the case that James Joyce would have found publishing it much, much harder without her help. He had struggled for years to get Dubliners published, a book that was nowhere near as controversial as Ulysses. As with many of Joyce’s friendships, however, his relationship with Sylvia soured after he began to question why Ulysses wasn’t making more money. Sylvia – who up to that point had not only been his publisher, one of his financiers and oftentimes his skivvy – was understandably upset. She eventually rescinded all the rights of Ulysses to Joyce.

Shakespeare and Co. continued to operate after the outbreak of World War II. However, in 1941, the Germans closed the shop, reputedly because Sylvia wouldn’t sell a copy of Finnegan’s Wake to a German officer. The shop remained closed for three years, but was finally “liberated” by Hemingway in 1944. Sylvia wrote:

“We asked [Hemingway] if he could do something about the Nazi snipers on the roof tops in our street … He got his company out of the jeeps and took them up to the roof. We heard firing for the last time in the rue de l’Odéon. Hemingway and his men came down again and rode off in their jeeps – ‘to liberate’ according to Hemingway, ‘the cellar at the Ritz’.”

Despite this, Sylvia never re-opened Shakespeare & Co. In 1956, she wrote a memoir of the years in “Shakespeare and Company”. Monnier – beset by illness – committed suicide in 1955. Sylvia remained in Paris until her death – on this day – in 1962.

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The Scandalous Life of Lady Caroline Lamb

Lady Caroline Lamb – born on this day in 1785 – is a fascinating character. Ostensibly known as one of Lord Byron’s lovers (and the first documented stalker), she was also an accomplished writer and a fiercely independent woman at a time when women were meant to be anything but. Lady Caroline is also an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, which is interesting given the eventual tragic fate of both women.

Caroline married her husband, William Melbourne (who would later be Prime Minister) at the age of 17. Initially, their marriage was apparently a happy one. However, this did not last. William had political ambitions and the more time he spent on them, the less time he had for Caroline. Caroline also gave birth to a son who had severe mental problems. The couple chose to care for him at home, despite the aristocratic convention of the time being to ship any children born with a “defect” off to an institution for the rest of their lives. The care of their son also put a strain on their marriage and forced a wedge between Caroline and William.

Enter Lord Byron.

When Caroline met Byron in 1812, she was 26, he was 24. He had just published Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage and was the toast of London society.Despite the fact that Byron engaged in affairs with numerous ladies – both married and unmarried – Caroline was very much his equal. It was she who coined the famous phrase about Lord Byron when she called him, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” She said this after their first meeting when she ignored his advances. Of course, as was typical with Byron, this only made him pursue her more.

Byron described Caroline as “the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago.” Their affair was fiercely passionate – and short. After four months, Byron broke it off. Despite William’s family urging him to divorce Caroline, he was fiercely loyal to his wife and took her away to Ireland to try to escape the scandal. Caroline and Byron continued to correspond during her time in Ireland but, upon her return to England, Byron ended things for good. If he thought he was going to cast Caroline aside as he had so many others, however, he was mistaken. In what many call the first recorded case of “staking”, Caroline spent the next four years pursuing Byron.

In a sign of the times, she was diagnosed with “erotomania”—dementia caused by obsession for a man. She lost weight and Byron remarked that he was being “haunted by a skeleton”. In 1816 – just weeks after Byron’s departure from England – Lamb anonymously published the novel Glenarvon. It featured a thinly disguised main character based on Byron who betrays his own country. Lamb not only painted an unflattering portrait of Byron but of many other prominent members of London society also. This was the final straw. She was completely ostracised from high society.

There are two things which seem to set Caroline apart from her (female) contemporaries, both of which would lead to her downfall. She hated the aristocratic maxim that anything was permissible as long as one was discreet, and her unwillingness to hide her indiscretions led to her eventual ostracisation from high society. The other was her unwillingness – as this website dedicated to her puts it – to “crawl away and suffer silently as married women did when their lovers jilted them.” By all accounts, she was a fiercely independent woman and – instead of the crazed, jilted “other woman” that many biographers have painted her – she would seem to be a shining example for any woman. It would seem Byron was right when he said she “ought to have lived 2000 years ago” – in fact, she ought to have lived 200 years hence and would have been a force to be reckoned with.

Caroline’s final years were unhappy (no doubt partly due to her obsession with Byron). She and William separated in 1825. Her struggle with mental instability increased, complicated by her abuse of alcohol and laudanum. She died on 25 January 1828 with the ever-faithful William by her side.

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The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was a fascinating character. He lived a short life but, in that time, was responsible for helping to create two major genres of literature, before meeting a mysterious death at the age of forty.

Born in Boston in 1809, his father deserted the family when Poe was only a year old and his mother died a year later from consumption. He was adopted by a Scottish merchant named John Allan, but Poe would have a very strained relationship with Allan throughout his early life.

At the age of 17, Poe enrolled in University but dropped out after a year, partly due to gambling debts – something that didn’t help his strained relationship with his stepfather. He then joined the US Army but that didn’t seem to take either and he eventually left the Army by having himself court-martialed. At this point, Poe’s stepfather disowned him.

With no family support, Poe turned to writing to try to make a living. In 1835, Poe secretly married his cousin Virginia who was only 13 years old. During this period, Poe was the editor of a number of periodicals and published many short stories and poems. Despite making his living as a writer, he was constantly in debt and was always turning to others for money. However, he is regarded as one of the first well-known American writers to make his living solely through writing.

In 1845, he published “The Raven”, which was a big hit and made him a household name. In 1847, Virginia died of consumption after many years being sick. The theme of the death of a young woman is a constant throughout Poe’s later works. After Virginia’s death, Poe apparently began to drink heavily and to behave erratically. On October 3, 1849, Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, delirious. He was taken to hospital where he died on October 7.

The popular conception of Poe’s death is that he was found lying in a gutter, delirious, after the effects of an alcohol-fuelled week-long binge. However, much of this would turn out to be false. It’s true that Poe went missing a week prior to his death but the fact is, nobody knows where he was or what he was doing for that week until he was found on October 3. Another reason for the alcohol story may be because he was found outside a tavern, but it seems he was staying there, it’s not known whether he was drinking there. The man who found him – Joseph Walker – later claimed that he found Poe “in a state of beastly intoxication” but, again, this has been proven to be untrue.

However, the main reason for this image of Poe is an obituary and subsequent biography written by Rufus Wilmot Griswold who was a rival of Poe’s. Apparently, through pure jealousy, Griswold set about assassinating Poe’s character, claiming he was a depraved alcoholic, drug-addict. Despite the fact that many who knew Poe came to his defence and denounced the obituary, it became the popular image of Poe in the minds of the public.

In the end, there is no agreement on how Poe died. Over the years many theories have been put forward including suicide, murder, cholera, rabies and syphilis. However, it’s somewhat fitting that the man so influential on the mystery genre should have such a mystery of his own surrounding his death.

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What Can Writers Learn From Songwriters? Elvis Costello

 Elvis Costello is an underrated lyricist. True, he has legions of fans and is widely respected in the industry. However, his name is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen when it comes to lyrics. But he would give both of them a run for their money with the quality of some of his writing. And like them both, he has his different periods.

When he started out, Elvis Costello was an angry young man. And it’s in those lyrics that the first lesson for writers is contained. I’ve spoken before (in posts about Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen) about the ability of these writers to write sparklingly witty but also quite vicious one-liners and Elvis is a master of that. Any writer who wants to write satire and witty put-downs need look no further than the King of snark. For example:

“She said she was working for the ABC news,
It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use.”

“I was a fine idea at the time,
But now I’m a brilliant mistake.”
“Brilliant Mistake”

“I can’t lie on this bed any more – it burns my skin.
You can take the truthful things you’ve said to me and fit them on the head of a pin.”
“Poor Napoleon”

Or one of my personal favourites:

“Now that your picture’s in the paper being rhythmically admired…”
“Welcome to the Working Week”

*snort*

Another thing that Elvis Costello can teach writers is how to write with disarming honesty. One of the most stunning examples of this is a song he wrote during the break-up of his marriage to his first wife. He actually addressed it in a number of songs, one of which – “Indoor Fireworks” – contains the lines:

“Don’t think for a moment, dear, that we’ll ever be through,
I’ll build a bonfire of my dreams And burn a broken effigy of me and you.”

But the song that – for me – has the most brutal honesty of all is the song “I Want You”. This song is almost like a poem or even a short story and it reminds me a little of Joyce’s or Virginia Wolff’s stream-of-consciousness approach. It begins with the line:

“I want you,
You’ve had your fun you don’t get well no more.”

and slowly builds and builds with increasingly vicious rhetoric directed at his ex-wife.

“Did you mean to tell me but seem to forget?
Since when were you so generous and inarticulate?”

“It’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing
It’s the thought of him undressing you or you undressing.”

“Did you call his name out as he held you down?
Oh no my darling not with that clown.”

It is – at times – painful to listen to, it is so brutal and brutally honest, and he certainly doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of either his wife or himself. But this is the honesty that every writer could learn from. And if none of these lyrics appeal to you … well, I’ll leave the last word to Mr. Costello himself:

“And if you don’t like my song then you can just go to hell
I don’t care if I’m right or wrong or if my typewriter can spell.”
“Little Atoms”

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The Case for Stephen King

Stephen King is one of the bestselling fiction writers in the world. His books have sold more than 350 million copies. These are the facts. They are indisputable. Stephen King is also one of the most gifted storytellers in the world. This is subjective opinion (one which I am in agreement with, as it happens). And this is where things get complicated. Despite his mountains of bestselling books and his legions of fans, King has never been taken seriously by the literary establishment. He is seen as a genre writer, and as we all know, genre writers are akin to child molesters.

One New York Times review called King “a writer of fairly engaging and preposterous claptrap”. In 2003, when King was honoured by the National Book Awards with a lifetime achievement award, Richard Snyder, former CEO of Simon & Schuster, described King’s work as “non-literature”. Writer Orson Scott Card, responded: “What Snyder really means is that it is not the literature preferred by the academic-literary elite.”

But the most astonishing attack came from literary critic, Harold Bloom, who said:

 “The decision to give the National Book Foundation’s annual award for “distinguished contribution” to Stephen King is extraordinary … another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I’ve described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis.”

This is an extraordinary and wrong-headed accusation. Whether or not you like King’s books or his style, you would have to admit that he is a consummate crafter of prose in a way that so many of his contemporaries are not.

In the speech he made upon accepting the award, King touched upon the controversy:

“Somewhere along the line, we learned to associate the deliciousness of a cracking good yarn – that ineffable sense of things falling into place and connecting with one another in an accelerating, exhilarating cascade – with shame, as if literature shouldn’t be this much fun, and if it is, it isn’t literature … Nor do I have any patience for those who make a point of pride in saying they have never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer.”

Later in the night, author, Shirley Hazzard, responded to King:

“I don’t think giving us a reading list of those who are most read at this moment is much of a satisfaction …”

When asked about her comments in an interview in the “Paris Review”, King said:

“What Shirley Hazzard said was, I don’t think we need a reading list from you … With all due respect, we do. The keepers of the idea of serious literature have a short list of authors who are going to be allowed inside, and too often that list is drawn from people who know people, who go to certain schools, who come up through certain channels of literature. And that’s a very bad idea – it’s constraining for the growth of literature … When someone like Shirley Hazzard says, I don’t need a reading list, the door slams shut on writers like George Pelecanos or Dennis Lehane. And when those people are left out in the cold, you are losing a whole area of imagination. Those people – and I’m not talking about James Patterson, we understand that – are doing important work.”

And this is an important point. King is not talking about hack writers who churn out five or six books a year with co-writers simply to keep the money flowing; he’s talking about gifted writers (like himself) who happen to work in a field classified as “genre” or “popular” fiction. Of course, when a “literary” author such as Margaret Atwood or Kazuo Ishiguro stray into this territory, the genre labels mysteriously disappear and critics refer to them as “dystopian” or “magical realist” novels.

It would be much better if the literary snobs dropped the other labels and, instead, focused on just two: “good writing” and “bad writing”.

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The Case Against Star Wars

So you may have heard the news that Disney has bought George Lucas’ company “Lucasfilm” for $4 billion.

This won’t be a long post. There have been enough weighty tomes, editorials and blog posts written about Star Wars to restock the Library of Alexandria. So, this is just a short, personal piece to say:

“Don’t bother.”

As a Star Wars fan who grew up with the original movies, I tried to stick with the “franchise” (I hate that word.). I tried to stick with it after The Phantom Menace. I tried to stick with it during the hilarious farce that was Attack of the Clones. And I even got a little bit excited about Revenge of the Sith. (Until Darth Vader howled “Noooooo!” at the end, like a pussy.) But, even then, I did try. I tried to overlook the cynical exploitation of all my best childhood memories for the sake of a quick buck and a few more action figures.

Oh, come on, I hear you say. Get a grip. It’s only a movie.

This is what writer and comics editor, Heidi MacDonald had to say, prior to the release of Revenge of the Sith:

“Star Wars was the guiding light of my teenage years. You can only imagine what we felt like 25 years ago when we walked out of the theatres showing Empire Strikes Back. There was no internet – nothing had been spoiled in the slightest. We were in shock – Vader was Luke’s dad? Who was the other? Were we really going to have to wait three years to get Han out of carbonite?

Against all common sense, I surrender myself to Revenge of the Sith. Stephen Spielberg says it made him cry. I’m sure I’ll cry, too. For my childhood, for the many hours of love and faith my friends have poured into a dumbass movie franchise for the last 30 years, for Anakin, for the fact I can’t turn back now.”

I’ve always loved that quote, and I felt pretty much the same way at the time. And then, yesterday, with the announcement that Disney has bought “Lucasfilm”, I read these quotes:

Disney CEO Robert Iger: “This is one of the great entertainment properties of all time, one of the best branded and one of the most valuable, and it’s just fantastic for us to have the opportunity to both buy it, run it and grow it.”

George Lucas: “I’m confident that with Lucasfilm …. having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come. Disney’s reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products.”

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not about making entertaining movies that will enrapture an audience and stay with them for the rest of their lives; it’s about making theme park rides and “consumer products”. And don’t get me wrong; I’m not naïve. I’ve always known it was about money, ever since the first Star Wars lunch boxes. But I guess I was foolish enough to think that George Lucas might have some integrity left. This cynical, money-grubbing exercise says otherwise.

There was a time for Episodes 7, 8 and 9 and that was back in the mid-80s when the actors involved where still of an age when they could play those characters. Now, they would need to hire a new cast of actors. While it’s fun to imagine the possibilities (Michael Fassbender as Han Solo?) this is entirely missing the point.

The original movies were often hokey, often corny, and the dialogue was often risible. But we loved them. We loved them because of the characters and the actors who played them and because they were very much of their time. That can never be created.

So, don’t bother, all you new generations that Lucas talks about. Take Michael Fassbender and make your own science fiction epic. Leave Star Wars in the past. Where it belongs.

As W.B. Yeats famously said about Star Wars, “I have spread my dreams under your feet, George; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

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A Book is Never Finished, Only Abandoned

“Graham Greene [said] “The writer is doomed to live in an atmosphere of perpetual failure.” There it is … every writer writes with the knowledge that nothing he writes is as good as it could be. Paul Valery said, “A poem’s never finished, only abandoned.” The same thing with a novel. It’s never finished, only abandoned. I’ve had any number of novels where I’ve just at some point said to myself, well, unless you’re going to make the career out of this book – spend the rest of your goddamn life chewing on it – you might as well just package it up and send it on to New York. Go on to something else. Because between conception and execution there is a void, an abyss, that inevitably fucks up the conception. The conception never gets translated to the page. It just doesn’t. I don’t think it ever does.”

 - Harry Crews

I’ve printed this rather long quote in full because I think it’s a fascinating point. A written work is never finished, only abandoned. (Of course, I say “written work” but this could equally apply to a painting or a song or a movie.) If we take this to be the case, then perhaps we should merely accept this. Maybe we shouldn’t care what’s not finished or what’s not quite right yet. Maybe we should just leave it there and move on. We can belabour the point and spend too much time thinking about the one thing and you’re never going to get it right.

Theodor W. Adorno, a German philosopher, once said, “The finished work is, in our times and climate of anguish, a lie.” And this ties in with something I’ve talked about quite a bit lately – the idea that everything is fragmentary. Our society is fragmentary, the works we write are fragmentary, and perhaps that’s why we feel that a work is never truly finished. Because, unlike the modernists, who believed that everything – both in life and in fiction –had some overarching narrative, we realize we’re living in these fragmented times. There is no overarching narrative to our lives, only a series of fragmented and sometimes contradictory events. And this is reflected in our writing and our other forms of art.

The Modernist’s “overarching narrative arcs” meant they were secure in their view of the world and their place in it. That is no longer the case. We live in an age of information overload. As soon as we make up our minds about one piece of information, another view comes along to challenge it. Nothing can ever be tied up in a neat bow. And neither can our writing.

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Rimbaud – The Infant Shakespeare

Jean Rimbaud – born on Oct. 20, 1891 – was the original enfant terrible. A precocious child genius (Victor Hugo called him, “An infant Shakespeare”) he had done all of his best writing and given it up by the age of 20. He was – throughout his life – a restless wanderer and a story is told (probably acrophycal) that soon after he was born, a nurse put him on a cushion but he rolled onto the floor and immediately began to crawl towards the door.

A child prodigy in school, Rimbaud won numerous prizes and was the head of his class in almost all of his subjects. Two separate tutors sparked a love of Greek, Latin and French classical literature, as well as an interest in writing original verse. At the tender age of 15 Rimbaud was already showing promise as a poet. The first poem he showed one of his tutors would later be regarded as one of his best.

Following the outbreak of the France-Prussian war, Rimbaud’s tutor who had encouraged him to write poetry left his post. Rimbaud was distraught. He ran away to Paris but had no money and was arrested and imprisoned for a week. This would be the beginning of many tumultuous such occasions. It was after this that his behaviour became increasingly erratic. He began to drink heavily, steal from shops, and began to let his hair grow long and abandon his previous neat appearance.

In 1871, at the age of 17, Rimbaud wrote a letter to fellow poet, Paul Verlaine, containing some of his poems and Verlaine responded by sending him a one-way ticket to Paris. It wasn’t long before the married Verlaine and Rimbaud began an affair. Their relationship became the stuff of legend. Verlaine had recently given up his job and taken up drinking. Now the two engaged together in drinking absinthe and smoking hashish. All of Paris was scandalised by their relationship. They eventually decamped to London in 1872, Verlaine abandoning his wife and their new-born son. This is somewhat surprising as – only a few years before – Verlaine had expressed his love for his wife in his poetry and they were only married in 1870.

The following year, Verlaine – seemingly frustrated with their relationship – returned to Paris alone. However, he soon began to miss Rimbaud. He sent Rimbaud a telegraph asking him to come meet him in Brussels. As soon as they were reunited, however, they began arguing again and Verlaine began drinking heavily. At one stage, in a drunken rage, Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the wrist. Initially, Rimbaud did not press charges but sometime afterward, as Verlaine’s behaviour became more bizarre (Rimbaud said he behaved as if he were insane), Rimbaud began to fear where it might lead and decided to have Verlaine arrested for attempted murder. Despite the fact that Rimbaud subsequently withdrew the complaint, Verlaine was sentenced to two years in prison.

At this point, Rimbaud returned home to Charleville where he completed his most famous work Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell). Verlaine was released from prison in March 1875, and converted to Catholicism. At this point, Rimbaud had given up his short but mercurial writing career. Numerous reasons are given for this. Some say he was tired of the wild life; others say he wanted to become rich and independent. At this point, he was travelling around Europe – mostly on foot.

In 1876, Rimbaud enlisted as a soldier in the Dutch Colonial Army but within 4 months he had deserted and returned to France. Over the next ten years – up until his death – Rimbaud travelled all over the world to numerous destinations where he worked on construction sites as a foreman and as a merchant selling – amongst other things – guns.

In February, 1891, he fell ill and had to return to France where he was diagnosed with cancer. He died in November 1891, at the age of 37. Verlaine ended his life a popular figure in France. In 1894, he was elected France’s Prince of Poets. However, in his last years he was dogged by drug addiction, alcoholism and poverty. He died in 1896, at the age of 51.

Comics. They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To!

I’m a comic book nerd. Anyone who knows me will tell you this. But, funnily enough, I don’t read that many comics anymore, and haven’t done in recent years. The reason for this is because they simply don’t have the same kind of sense of wonderment that comics once did. (And when I say “comics”, I’m referring to superhero comics. I still read other comics that don’t involve superheroes.) Now this might seem like some old fogey talking and bemoaning the fact that they don’t make them like they used to. And, I’m sure there were 60s comics fans who made similar complaints in the 80s and 90s. But it’s more than that.

When I was a kid I got a bumper omnibus reprint of a load of 60s Superman comics. And the imagination and inventiveness in these stories was breathtaking. Yes, there were some naff stories too but overall I was blown away by the ideas in there.

It’s a well-known fact that comics became much darker in the late 80s and early 90s, following the publication of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Moore himself has often bemoaned this fact, stating that he didn’t want to make comics grittier, he just wanted to write a story about what it would be like for superheroes if they lived in the real world. He wasn’t setting out to make them all alcoholics and rapists, but his successors didn’t seem to understand this and took them in a different direction. But I didn’t have a huge problem with these dark and gritty comics; I loved Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison, for instance.

The problem for me arises from the fact that that sense of wonder and boundless imagination is gone from comics to a large extent. I believe it’s possible to be dark and still have that sense of endless possibilities. And some might say that the reason comics no longer have that is because I’m not a child anymore. But there’s one fatal flaw in that argument, and that’s Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman. This was a 12-issue, out-of-continuity, limited series, where he basically took all the craziness of the 60s Superman mythos and updated it for a modern audience. It’s the one and only comic that resembles those crazy 60s Superman comics. And it was brilliant. Elena, a reviewer for website Sequential Smarts sums it up thus:

“Clark Kent/Superman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, and zany scientist Leo Quintum do pretty much the exact same things that they’ve always done – but fabulously. A modern Superman story that somehow manages to perfectly capture the limitless wonder – and complete insanity – of the Golden Age Superman stories, All-Star Superman is both a quintessential distillation and a fresh repackaging of everything that makes Superman awesome.”

So, it can be done. But – despite the fact that All Star Superman was a huge success – that, sadly, doesn’t seem to be something that the writers or the readers want.

Mores the pity.