Sunday, 30 June 2013

Good writing week!

This has been my best writing week for a very long time!

I completed and sent off a short screenplay about civilian life during WWI, it's based on the diaries of a woman whose brother was a conscientious objector. This is part of the 'Unheard Voices' project being run by Jan Perry in conjunction with the University of Leeds, to commemorate the centenary of the war. If my screenplay is one of those selected, I hope it will be filmed in the autumn.

I wrote and sent off an article about Art Deco in relation to buildings and ships, which will be published in the summer edition of QS Eye magazine.

I extracted from my reams of research two pared-down artists' biographies - Meraud Guevara and Kay Sage - which I published here on this blog.

I had an idea for a new play - it's about a tramp who remembers he was once a musician - and I've written the opening scene, with dialogue and stage directions.

Finally out of the slough of despond - cheers!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Kay Sage, the 31 Women number 13; her Birthday is 25 June.

The career of Kay Sage demonstrates the near impossibility, for any woman painter before the 1970s, of being acknowledged as a significant artist in her own right. This was even though she was part of the Surrealist movement, which was ostensibly enthusiastic about female involvement. Her paintings are true surrealist landscapes, emerging from deep in her psyche, painted with precision and secret desperation. They have been compared with the work of Yves Tanguy or Giorgio de Chirico and are often dismissed as merely derivative, which is totally undeserved. 

Katherine Lynn Sage did not have an obvious beginning for a Surrealist artist. She was born in 1898 on her wealthy father’s family estate in Albany, Connecticut. Her education was disjointed and she developed a dislike of school, having attended eight, art was the one field in which she would accept teaching. Her parents separated when she was small, forcing her to constantly change schools. Her father, Henry Manning Sage, became a senator. Her mother, Anne Wheeler Ward, was very young and rebellious, she was not interested in performing the duties required of a politician’s wife. Katherine accompanied her mother to live mainly in Europe, while her sister stayed with their father.
She returned to the US to attend the Corcoran Art School in Washington when she was 20 and remembered the practical style of the drawing teacher, Miss Critcher. This indicates her attitude to the art classes she would take later. She was enthusiastic to learn all the techniques, academic and technical, and chafed when she could not move on to the next. What she did not yet know was what to paint.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Meraud Guevara, the 31 Women number twelve – her birthday is 24 June

 Born in 1904, Meraud Guevara was a British/Irish painter who made surrealist/magical realist images, portraits, landscapes, collage, still life and abstract compositions on plaster. She was also a writer & poet. Though brought up in England and the possessor of an Irish passport, Meraud Guevara spent almost her entire active career in France.

Meraud Guevara, C1920's

She was an imaginative, technically able painter who uncompromisingly lived the life of an artist, but before 1999 her career was un-examined and she doesn’t appear in published art histories.  A few early newspaper references describe her as a popular heiress who gave memorable dinner parties. This is very misleading, giving the impression that Meraud was a society hostess, when in fact she chose to live on the outer edge of bohemia. A report that she lived in a cave with gypsies is also inaccurate. So much for the press.

 By birth Meraud, whose name is Welsh, was part of a wealthy social elite. She was born Meraud Michael Guinness in London, into the hugely wealthy Guinness family. This society, including her own father, couldn’t comprehend a well-bred women, whose dismissal of correct forms of behaviour was as extreme as Meraud’s became.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Iain (M) Banks RIP

One of my favourite authors has died. He told us he was ill, but his death wasn’t expected quite so soon, he was only 59. He is known for both his hugely imaginative and detailed science fiction and his equally imaginative ‘literary’ fiction. His writing is often boldly experimental, which is I suppose what gives him the ‘literary’ slot, but his books are a far better read than much which gets that dreary soubriquet thrust upon it.

When I saw Iain, the only time I did, he seemed well and was on good form. This was about fifteen months ago and, slightly appropriately considering his black humour and liking for the creepy, in a crypt in Huddersfield. The event was to promote his latest title, Stonemouth. It was a fairly standard ‘author evening, ’ although better than some I’ve been to.  Iain came across as a nice guy, with a love of the absurd and a political commitment to left of centre. He talked entertainingly for forty minutes or so and I wish I could remember what he said. Afterwards he took questions. I asked about female protagonists in his books and we agreed broadly that the musician in Canal Dreams was less rounded as a female character than the juvenile lead in Whit. I duly bought his latest book, he duly signed it and it is on my bookcase along with with most of his other books.

I have a copy of all his ‘literary’ books, many in the beautiful black and white paperback covers they were issued in by Abacus. I have some, though not all of his science fiction. This isn’t because I don’t like sci-fi. I love it and am annoyed that it is still regarded as inferior to other genres. Good novel writing uses the imagination and science fiction uses more imagination than most. Iain M. Banks’ imagination is astonishing not only in its scope but its depth. Most writers wouldn’t let themselves do what he does, even if they knew how! Oh yes, and for those who sniff at the genre, the quality of his writing is second to none.

I’m sure I remember that Iain said somewhere (not in the crypt in Huddersfield), that his first claim to fame was, while studying at the University of Stirling, he spent a summer vacation wearing chainmail and rushing around in the mud beside a loch with a number of other lunatics. The explanation was, the filming of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As holiday jobs go, that isn’t bad!

I found his very first book, The Wasp Factory, in my local public library in Stony Stratford a year or two after it came out. I took it home because the sleeve notes were intriguing. I read it with increasing astonishment that such an inventive, dark, wicked and un-literary book could get published. I’d been working my way through ‘proper’ fiction by such luminaries as Iris Murdoch, Philip Roth and that other Ian, Mr McEwan, because I felt I should. Mostly they left me not really wanting very much more.

Only Ian McEwan’s first novel, The Cement Garden, had really clicked. The similarities between that and the Wasp Factory are not huge, but they are there in the basic premise; children, isolated and unsupervised, making the best of things. Both are extraordinary books, ultimately I prefer ‘The Wasp Factory,’ for its black humour and bizarre essence.

I will miss the annual appearance of another of Iain’s books. His last, The Quarry, comes out on the 20th June - so next week - and for those like me who can't even wait that long , there's a tiny extract on the Guardian website - .  I’ll buy one asap. I’m just sad that nobody will be able to meet him in a crypt, or anywhere else, and get a signed copy.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Djuna Barnes; the 31 Women number eleven; her birthday is 12 June.

Djuna Barnes in 1921
         Djuna Barnes is one of the most original talents among the 31 Women, although anyone who has heard of her may be slightly surprised to find her named as an artist in an exhibition.  However it would be wrong to regard this as undeserved.  She was a more than able visual artist and known for her pen and ink portraits and newspaper illustrations, though from early on she made a conscious choice to be a writer rather than a visual artist. She often illustrated her own poetry and in the 1930’s she sold an unknown number of oil painted portraits.

She had acute visual awareness, which she usually converted into words, her writing style has been described as painterly. In both art and writing she was an obsessive perfectionist, working and re-working a painting or manuscript for months and years, often having difficulty letting go of any work she regarded as less than perfect.

Although Djuna Barnes frequently illustrated her written work, revealing technically and artistically sophisticated visual skills, she always regarded herself as a writer rather than an artist. There was only one solo exhibition of her artwork, in 1915, where she showed drawings and watercolours, some on anti-war themes. Guido Bruno, gallery owner, described her as the American Beardsley as she created deliberately Beardsley-esque illustrations for newspaper articles and poems. She avoided direct involvement with art movements, although before 1920 she was already friends with artists including Berenice Abbott, Marcel Duchamp, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Lawrence Vail, Mina Loy and Man Ray.

Monday, 3 June 2013

I am not a Yorkshireman

I’m standing in the Northumberland Street

parcel office in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

I’m in a very bored queue, waiting

to collect a packet from a bookshop in

Minnesota, which the postman claims

that he couldn’t fit through my letterbox –

the packet, I mean, not Minnesota.

I am not a Yorkshireman. Neither was I

a Yorkshireman when I joined this bloody queue.

As I’m a woman, this may be obvious to some.


There are some Yorkshiremen in this queue,

they don’t move, much. I hope the Minnesota bookshop

have sent me a book about Louise Nevelson,

who is not a sculptress, but a sculptor.

She is not a Yorkshireman either, though

as a child she emigrated from Russia to New York.

I don’t know if she ever made it to Minnesota.

My parents never emigrated, they never stopped

long enough in one place: Aden, Aldershot,

Berlin, Carthage, Tripolitania, Zanzibar.


This queue hasn’t moved. You do have to

stop moving to become an emigrant, who

comes from somewhere, or an immigrant

who comes to somewhere. However, I am still

not a Yorkshireman, still waiting in this

queue which with a burst of optimism rare,

for Huddersfield, has just moved on two whole steps.

I am still waiting for my book from Minnesota, about a

sculptor who may or may not, have been to Minnesota.

She has certainly never been to Yorkshire.


The queue is in Yorkshire, so is the book, I

live in hope. I’m very interested in Sculpture.