When Writers Attack …

Many writers are known for their sharp turn of phrase and withering put-downs. It’s no surprise then that when they decide to turn their attention to other writers, the results are entertaining to, to say the least.


Vladimir Nabokov is regarded as one of literature’s finest prose stylists, and he certainly wasn’t shy when it came to sharing his opinion of other writers. On Dostoevsky:

“Dostoevky’s lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic misadventures of human dignity – all this is difficult to admire.”

On Joseph Conrad:

“I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir shop style and bottled ships and shell necklaces of romanticist cliches.”

On Ernest Hemingway:

“As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.”

He wasn’t alone in his loathing of Hemingway. William Faulkner said of Hemingway:

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

Faulkner Hemingway

Although, the feeling was mutual: “Poor Faulkner,” said Hemingway. “Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

Joseph Conrad was no fan D.H. Lawrence: “Filth. Nothing but obscenities.” Indeed, Lawrence came in for a lot of criticism for his “obscene” writing. As such, one would think he would have been sympathetic of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Oh contraire:

“My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

Mind you, he wasn’t alone in his opinion of Joyce. Virginia Woolf:

“[Ulysses is] the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.”

Harold Bloom is a noted critic of literature who does not suffer “lowbrow” literature gladly:

“How to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Why, very quickly, to begin with, and perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do.”

Even the sainted Jane Austen does not escape criticism. Mark Twain:

“I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

Mark TwainJane Austen

Oh dear.

While one would presume that the Romantic poets were all great pals, the following quote would suggest otherwise. File this one under “With Friends like These”. Lord Byron on John Keats:

“No more Keats, I entreat: flay him alive; if some of you don’t I must skin him myself: there is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the Mankin.”

Then there are comments which could be filed under “How Could He Know That?” W. H. Auden on Robert Browning:

“I don’t think Robert Browning was very good in bed. His wife probably didn’t care for him very much. He snored and had fantasies about twelve-year-old girls.”

Evelyn Waugh on Marcel Proust:

“I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.”

Some of the comments made – while often cruel – are also often very funny.

Gertrude Stein on Ezra Pound: “A village explainer. Excellent if you were a village, but if you were not, not.”

G. Wells on George Bernard Shaw: “An idiot child screaming in a hospital.”

Robert Louis Stevenson on Walt Whitman: “…like a large shaggy dog just unchained scouring the beaches of the world and baying at the moon.”

Gore Vidal on Truman Capote: “He’s a full-fledged housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices.”

Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

Oscar Wilde on Alexander Pope: “There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.”


Here’s To You, Mr. Rushdie

I wrote this blog post at the time of the firebombing of the offices of “Charlie Hebdo”. It seems sadly appropriate to repost it today.



Today’s post was meant to be an entirely different post but something a friend of mine pointed me to this morning led to this. It’s probably going to piss off a lot of people, but for that I’m not going to apologise. What my friend pointed out to me was an article on the firebombing of the offices of the French satirical paper “Charlie Hebdo” for printing a cartoon of Mohammad on their front cover. Now, we’ve all become so familiar with this notion that the image of Mohammad being printed is blasphemous that we perhaps lose sight of how ludicrous the notion is.

It’s a cartoon.

Nobody deserves to die over a piece of ink on a piece of paper. So many people tip-toe around this issue, that it’s probably important to put this on the record, once and for all.

*Just because you believe in a particular god does not mean you have the right to be protected from free speech. (I may believe in the Force. That does not give me the right to stop you taking the piss out of Star Wars.)

*As the famous quote goes, “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

And in case I give the impression that this is a Muslim-centric issue, it’s not. Other religions are more than capable of the similar kinds of sensitivity to criticism. William A. Donohue of The Catholic League is the perfect example of this. Donohue has condemned and called for the boycott of everything from the movie “Dogma” (directed by Kevin Smith, a practicing Catholic) to – ludicrously – the Joan Osborne song “One of Us”. Donahue consistently speaks of bullying of Catholics as if they were some kind of downtrodden minority. There may have been a time when this was the case – perhaps in the 19th Century when priests in Ireland were hiding in hedges – but hardly now, when the head of the church is sitting on the most expensive tract of land in the world (not to mention sitting on reports of child rapists).

Everybody in public life – be they a politician or a celebrity – accepts that by putting themselves out in the public domain, they are open to scrutiny. And oftentimes, satire. There is only one organisation in the public arena that seems to believe they are above criticism, and that is organised religions. (And make no mistake – all religions are in the public domain). This criticism or satire may not be kind; however, it is free speech. And free speech is more important than anything else. Those who took part in the uprisings of the Arab Spring will testify to this. (Ironically, there are many who demanded an end to totalitarian regimes who still adhere to a religion that would have a person murdered for drawing a cartoon).

But this is the world we live in now. We’re scared to talk about religion in case we offend anybody. We’re straddling the 21st century and the 19th, almost as if the 20th never happened. We’ve got 21st century technology taking our race forward at an astounding rate, while we’ve got the resurgence of the 19th century superstition of religion raising its ugly head once again. In the late 90s and the early years of the 21st century, most of us thought that atheism was a given; now, in the last couple of years, we’ve had atheists having to write whole books to defend their positions, as if they’re some kind of Medieval devils once again. It’s a very worrying trend, as are incidents of violence such as the one that inspired this article. As Voltaire famously said: “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them”.



To celebrate the release of Jessica Bell’s latest novel, WHITE LADY, she is giving away an e-copy (mobi, ePub, or PDF) to the first person to correctly guess the one true statement in the three statements below. To clarify, two statements are lies, and one is true:

Jessica Bell’s first creative goal was …

  1. to become a rock star
  2. to become an inspirational author
  3. to become a professional dancer

What do you think? Which one is true? Write your guess in the comments, along with your email address. Comments will close in 48 hours. If no-one guesses correctly within in 48 hours, comments will stay open until someone does.

Want more chances to win? You have until October 31 to visit all the blogs where Jessica will share a different set of true and false statements on each one. Remember, each blog is open to comments for 48 hours only from the time of posting.

If you win, you will be notified by email with instructions on how to download the book.

Click HERE to see the list of blogs.


*This novel contains coarse language, violence, and sexual themes.

​Sonia yearns for sharp objects and blood. But now that she’s rehabilitating herself as a “normal” mother and mathematics teacher, it’s time to stop dreaming about slicing people’s throats.

While being the wife of Melbourne’s leading drug lord and simultaneously dating his best mate is not ideal, she’s determined to make it work.

It does work. Until Mia, her lover’s daughter, starts exchanging saliva with her son, Mick. They plan to commit a crime behind Sonia’s back. It isn’t long before she finds out and gets involved to protect them.

But is protecting the kids really Sonia’s motive?

Click HERE to view the book trailer.

Click HERE for purchase links.

black and white_Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Connect with Jessica online:

Website | Retreat & workshop | Blog | Vine Leaves Literary Journal | Facebook | Twitter

Lee Miller – The Forgotten Feminist

Lee Miller was many things: a fashion model, Surrealist muse, assistant to Man Ray, Vogue photographer, war photographer, sexual bohemian whose lovers included everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Picasso – but most of all, she was a feminist long before the word became popular.

Miller 1927

“I looked like an angel, but I was a fiend inside,” Lee Miller said of her early days as a model.

Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907, her father – an amateur photographer – took many photographs of Miller, as well as her schoolgirl friends. Troublingly, many of these were nude shots. Miller was raped by a family friend at the age of seven (Miller’s son, Antony, speculated that the rapist may have been her own father) and contracted gonorrhea, the treatment for which at the time was invasive and extremely painful. The counselling afterwards cautioned the tiny girl not to confuse sex with love. Biographers have speculated that both her father’s photographing of her and the horrific rape had a profound effect on the rest of her life.

Miller went to New York to study art at the age of nineteen and a chance encounter with the owner of Vogue magazine (he stopped her from stepping out under a passing car) led to her becoming one of the most successful models in New York at that time. A photograph of her was the first ever picture of a real-life woman used in a sanitary towel advert and caused a mini-scandal. But the life of a model wasn’t enough for Miller.

She moved to Paris in 1929 with the intention of becoming a photographer. She tracked Man Ray down in a cafe: “I told him boldly that I was his new student. He said he didn’t take students, and anyway he was leaving Paris for his holiday. I said, I know, I’m going with you – and I did. We lived together for three years and I learned a lot about photography.”

Miller went on to be hailed as one of the most beautiful women in Paris. Her breasts were used by one French glass company for modelling the shape of its champagne glasses.


Miller photographed by Man Ray

She became part of the surrealist set, starring in one of Jean Cocteau’s movies, all the while taking her own photographs and honing her skills. (Indeed, many photographs attributed to Man Ray were taken by Miller.) When she began to embark on the same kind of hedonistic lifestyle – with the same laissez faire attitude to sex – as her male counterparts, however, Man Ray decided this was a step too far.

“The woman who was a shockingly good surrealist photographer shocked her daring male surrealist friends with her far-too-open attitudes to sexuality. Free love was for the boys; even the surrealists found it too surreal in a girl … her sexual independence drove [Man Ray] nearly insane with jealousy. He took to threatening suicide, walking round Paris carrying a revolver and wearing a noose, then made his famous sculpture Object to be Destroyed – a metronome whose ticking pendulum tip is, revealingly, a photograph of one of Miller’s eyes.”

“The Look of the Moment” Ali Smith

In June 1934 she married an Egyptian businessman and moved to Egypt. She may have been looking for a quiet life but she very quickly became bored and was ready to move onto the next phase of her life.

“At a costume party in Paris she met Roland Penrose, a wealthy British painter and writer who was an eager member of the Surrealist circle. After waking in his bed two mornings later, she embarked on a passionate affair with Penrose, and a wild summer of bohemian partner-swapping and exhibitionism that included a visit to Picasso at Mougins. There Lee was painted by Picasso six times and gladly loaned to him by Penrose for a night or two.”

“Shutters and Shudders” Toni Bentley


One of a number of paintings Picasso did of Miller

Miller moved to London with Penrose and got a job with Vogue magazine – this time on the other side of the camera. When the Second World War broke out, she wanted to go to the front but the British army had a policy of not giving accreditation to female photographers.

“You cannot understand Miller’s deep feminist need to get herself to the very centre of events unless you also understand her other, equally deep conviction that those events could not possibly damage her.”

“The Real Surrealist” David Hare

In 1941 she met the Life photographer Dave Scherman. He became her friend, lover and – after moving in with Miller and Penrose – a third member of a ménage à trois. He also solved her accreditation problem. If the British army wouldn’t take her, he told Miller, the Americans would.

Miller’s war photography is astonishing: from a top-secret napalm strike to corpses piled high in the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps, her stark photographs shocked the readers back home. “She got very close to things,” said Mark Haworth-Booth, who has curated exhibitions of her work. “Margaret Bourke-White [famed WWII photographer] was far away from the fighting, but Lee was close. That’s what makes the difference – Lee was prepared to shock.”


One of the most famous shots of Miller (taken by Scherman) in Hitler’s bath.

“It is almost impossible today,” Scherman wrote “to conceive how difficult it was for a woman correspondent to get beyond a rear-echelon military position, in other words, to the front, where the action was.”

But the war had taken its toll on her. When she returned to England in 1946, Miller was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and drinking heavily. She gave birth to a son in 1947 and suffered from postnatal depression. Miller and Penrose moved to Farley Farm House in East Sussex in 1949 and were visited by many of their famous friends and colleagues, including Miró, Picasso, Henry Moore and others. But Miller continued to battle her demons.

“Her looks had deserted her once she got on the bottle and she was having trouble accepting Roland’s affairs,” recalled her son, Antony. “They had both always had lots of affairs, the place was very free sexually, but Lee got more and more angry watching women hurling themselves at Roland, and she drank more and argued a lot.”

Lee Miller and son Anthony Penrose

Miller with her son, Antony

Theirs was a fraught relationship, although they reconciled a year before her death. She died in 1977 at the age of 70, a minor figure in the art world. It was only after her death that her son realised the depth and importance of her photographic work, something Miller had hidden away in the latter part of her life. He discovered boxes in the attic containing over 60,000 negatives, as well as her writings and letters. Since then, Antony has devoted his life to promoting his mother’s varied career. Her work is now housed in the Lee Miller Archive at her home, Farley Farm House and is on display at www.leemiller.co.uk

The reason she “buried” her work is probably best explained by Miller herself: “I could never get the stench of Dachau out of my nostrils,” she told her biographer Carolyn Burke shortly before her death.


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“Comics Aren’t Just For Boys Anymore” Or “How Not To Be A D**k”

215. GirlsDontRead

The phrase “Comics Aren’t Just For Boys Anymore” is hardly revolutionary. If you’re a female comic’s fan or creator, you’re probably saying, “Duh, obviously. We’ve known that for thirty years.”


Here’s the thing. It would seem that not everybody in geekdom has gotten the memo. In fact, if recent events are anything to go by, the memo is still in the “Out” box. One of the recent events I refer to is a critique of a comic book cover that Janelle Asselin – a former comic’s editor – wrote called “Anatomy of a Bad Cover”. Asselin was an editor and associate editor on such DC titles as Batman, Batwoman, and Detective Comics, amongst many others. So, we’re talking the big leagues here. The cover she wrote about was this:

214. Comics Aren't Just ...

This is the cover of the first issue of the new Teen Titans comic. You don’t need to be Brainiac to figure out what one of Asselin’s main gripes with this cover was. Yes, that would be the outrageously anatomically incorrect proportions on the young lady to the fore (Power Girl). Her problem was not just that these are quite obviously breast implants, but that they are breast implants on a 17-year-old girl. She also made the point that – according to research – 50% of the audience of the original “Teen Titans” animated series are girls aged 15-23 with the bulk being 17. She rightly suggests that a clever marketing strategy would be to aim this new comic at that demographic but goes on to note that, “This is not a cover you run if you’re trying to appeal to teenagers, and it’s especially not going to appeal to teen girls.”

Andy Khouri in an excellent blog post entitled “Fake Geek Guys: A Message to Men About Sexual Harassment” describes what happened next:

Subsequently, Janelle reported that a number of men had called her a “whiny bitch,” a “feminazi,” a “feminist bitch,” and a “bitter c*nt.” And then, the online misogynist’s finishing move, the rape threats.

Yes. Rape threats. This woman received rape threats because she had the audacity to criticise the cover art on a comic book. Now, there have been a number of blog posts written – including Khouri’s – condemning this behaviour and suggesting ways in which it might be stopped. (You would think all of this was self-explanatory but as a female friend of mine put it when I told her the story: “I wish that was surprising and unusual.”) One thing that struck me though when I was reading them all was that there was another point being missed here. So if I could address the “men” in question here for a moment.

You sad sacks of shit who make these rape threats are under the mistaken impression that comics fandom is the sole preserve of you and your saddo friends, and that women have no place in it. Well, that was true once upon a time. And what was also true about that time was that comics were regarded as being for kids. There were very few superhero movies or TV shows, very few science fiction or fantasy TV shows and certainly none approaching anywhere near the kind of quality that exists today. Do you guys honestly think that the movie and TV studios are making these shows solely for you? Do you honestly think you would have the Batman and Iron Man and Avengers movies, Game of Thrones, True Blood, Supernatural, etc, etc, if it wasn’t for the female fanbase in comics?

There was a sea change in the ‘90s with comics like Sandman and TV shows like Buffy when suddenly young girls and women started to read these comics and watch these TV shows. And as the female audience grew, so did the output of superhero and fantasy product from the studios. Can you misogynist assholes seriously not see the correlation here?

I’m really sorry to break it to you guys but – not only do you have to put up with women in comics – but without them, you and your comics can go crawl back into the dark corner from whence you came and forget about ever watching another major studio superhero movie or HBO show with major Hollywood stars ever again.


(Click on the pics for links)

RTE Has Shamed This Country

FearImage by Eamonn Crudden

There are some – possibly many – people in this country who believe that our national broadcaster is a biased institution that too often toes the ruling political party line and ignores a lot of what should be reported. I can see why people would think this, although I have to say I would never have previously whole-heartedly agreed with it. I think there are many fine presenters and journalists who very often take the political and social elite to task.

Over the past few weeks, however, RTE has shamed this country.

On January 11th, 2014, Rory O’ Neill, who performs under the name “Panti Bliss”, appeared on The Saturday Night Show and told presenter, Brendan O’ Connor, that organisations such as the Iona Institute and individuals like John Waters were – in his opinion – homophobic because of their opposition to gay marriage and gay adoption. Solicitor’s letters immediately followed, as did an apology and the payment of a large sum of (taxpayer’s) money (85,000 Euro according to this article in the Irish Independent) to the aggrieved parties. As if this wasn’t bad enough, RTE then decided to have a “debate” on The Saturday Night Show last night – February 1st – as to when it was acceptable to use the word “homophobia”. Colm O’ Gorman and Senator Averil Power did their best to point out the ludicrousness of the notion, but they were fighting a losing battle.

If the issue weren’t so serious, the panel would have been worthy of a Monty Python sketch or an article in “The Onion” (One commentator even uttered the line, “Some of my best friends are gay.”) After the show, I took to Facebook and Twitter to apologise to any non-Irish residents who might have seen the show and to assure them that this is not what our country is about. I was not being hyperbolic or facetious – I was genuinely mortified that our national broadcaster would have thought it acceptable – in the year 2014 – to have a discussion on what was “mild” homophobia and what was “serious” homophobia.

Substitute the word “rape” for “homophobia” in that sentence and tell me that it is an acceptable subject for discussion.

What all this achieved was summed up brilliantly by O’ Neill on the stage of the Abbey Theatre on the very same night as this farce of a programme was broadcast:

“… which is a spectacular and neat Orwellian trick because now it turns out that gay people are not the victims of homophobia, homophobes are.”

Shame on you RTE. Shame on you.

Do You Remember Your First Time?

Everyone who loves to read has different first times. The first book you remember reading, the first time you read your favourite book, or the first time you read one of the books by your favourite authors. For writers, there’s another first time: the first time you encountered the possibilities of the written word. I’ll venture to say that for most writers, this occurs sometime in their teens. It certainly did for me. As such, it’s most likely not going to be Finnegans Wake that inspires this moment. For me, it was a story in a comic called Warrior. Warrior No. 8

Growing up, I was an avid reader – especially of comics. At the time in Ireland, our comics were exclusively British comics (we rarely got any American comics). The British comics that I was reading were mostly action and war comics like Victor and Battle. The stories in these comics were black and white – in the art sense and in the literal sense. It was usually the brave Allies versus the nasty Nazis. Not that some of the stories weren’t very well-written, but there was a serious lack of nuance or ambiguity there.

196. Battle

And then I read a story called Miracleman. I had recently graduated from Victor and Battle to 2000AD, a science-fiction weekly with much more well-written and nuanced stories and characters than the other titles I had been reading. I began to see how writing could be a multi-layered thing, with sub-plots, underlying themes and – most importantly – grey areas. I began to discover the lure and attraction of the anti-hero (Judge Dredd being one of the best examples of this). Then on one trip to the newsagent, I picked up a new comic. It was called Warrior. It was a monthly comic styled on the European model of anthology comics. More pages, better quality paper, and more adult themes and stories. Also, more expensive than regular comics. And the story that immediately caught my eye was Miracleman.

In 1982 – four years before he and Frank Miller would change the face of comics with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns respectively – comics writer, Alan Moore, began work on Miracleman, a story that would lay the groundwork for Watchmen’s subsequent deconstruction of the superhero mythos. Mike Moran is a freelance photographer who – upon saying the word ‘Kimota’ – becomes the superhero Miracleman. But this superhero was unlike any I – or any comic readers – had ever seen before. He was depressed, unable to have sex with his wife, and she only conceives when he has sex with her as Miracleman. I never read many Warrior comics – being both too young and too broke – but I did pick up Warrior issue 8, which contained Miracleman Episode 7 . In this issue, Moran is at his day job in the newspaper office. When he steps into the lift, a woman asks him to hold her baby while she gets something out of her bag. Then this happens:

196. Miracleman 1

This was shocking stuff. Superheroes fought monsters and aliens on other planets and mad scientists on the streets of Metropolis. They didn’t get gunned down in an elevator. The character of Mike Moran understands this and says as much:

197. Miracleman 2

The story was probably only about ten pages long but I must have read and re-read it about fifty times. Especially those final panels. And that was it. My first time realising the true power of the written word. No more black and white. From now on, there would be only grey areas.