Wrapped Up in Books #6: Bowie-inspired fiction, Kiran Leonard interview, women’s refuge book appeal

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Inspiration is the inspiration for this month’s book column, and as luck would have it, Getintothis’ Cath Bore finds inspiration everywhere.

This month’s Wrapped Up In Books is focussed around the things which inspire us.

We have news on figures from the present and the past whose work continues to garner affection – including an event in Liverpool dedicated to Charles Dickens.

F.G. Morris has written an enticing collection of flash fiction, each piece motivated by her fandom of David Bowie, and inside its pages we find so much more than words about a man of flesh, blood and bone.

Book At Bedtime, a national charity which supplies books to children surviving violent homes, issues an appeal to offer comforting and reassuring reads to youngsters.

A new Poet Laureate is chosen in the New Year; the laureate’s role is to reflect on major national happenings, so we wonder who may be chosen this time.

Libraries are a home from home and a treasure trove of stories for the bookworms amongst us and casual readers alike. Find out about a campaign and petition to ringfence funding for libraries everywhere.

And Kiran Leonard, who this month releases his new album, talks about his love of literature, and how it feeds into his work and life.

F.G. Morris

This Is (Not About) David Bowie – F.J. Morris

No piece of creative work exists in a vacuum, biases and fancies and the environment seeping through and infecting it, consciously or otherwise.

Music and creativity are interlinked, in a number of ways.

David Bowie is lodged safely within the popular music cannon, he’s going nowhere and will be played and meddled with and moulded and mentioned in new music forever more. The old guard’s relationship with the new – whether the cannon is ignored or embraced or rebelled against-  is how music progresses and shifts, keeps moving. After all, if anything stays around too long it starts to whiff a bit.

Inspiration is not confined to one singular form or genre.  It spreads – and yes, infects is the right term when it comes to this book, a collection of fiction around Bowie.

Different mediums of art and creativity are as rich a seam for fiction writers to mine as any – music, writing, poetry, film, physical art, the whole lot. In Bristol author F. J. Morris’ debut collection of short fiction we see her pulling from the artist, but the world he constructed and emotions he generated as well.

This book is not about David Bowie, the author stresses, and that’s right enough. Don’t expect a series of tributes or true stories, tales of discovery or record collecting triumph or trauma, or list of name dropping opportunities to latch onto.

Instead, we get imaginings and wandering around his songs, image, and the very nature of Bowie fandom itself.

Morris has fun in her stories, taking us on adventures and opening strange worlds and possibilities. She pulls inspiration from Bowie songs, even from his less than glorious period; a personal favourite from the collection, Loving The Alien, tugs at the heart and painfully at that. Loving The Alien perfectly describes life as the outsider, the discarded.


When she says these stories aren’t about Bowie and instead about us, the reader, I get it.

Aladdin Sane’s flash make up is mirrored in a scar in To The Woman Who Saved My Life, and In The Last Thing My Father Said To Me, a painting opens a window of opportunity and freedom.

It’s the magic and fantasy element in the book that appeals the most. In The Trial Of Mr Travers, a woman wants to be Bowie – hey, who doesn’t – and her fantasy is a good, constructive thing; but in When David Bowie Moved In – we get the vibe that fandom’s taken a somewhat obsessive turn.

This book may not be about Bowie, but it’s a nice touch that he makes an appearance himself, in his own way, in Blooming Scars.

It’s fitting that an artist reluctant to stay still and ever keen to experiment and morph into something fresh and unexpected and strange should invade other art forms. Here, F.J. Morris has taken that notion and ran with it, gadded over the houses and rocketed into space more like, and these tales all the better for it.

This Is (Not About) David Bowie is out now, published by Retreat West

  • BOOK AT BEDTIME  – WOMEN’S DOMESTIC VIOLENCE REFUGE BOOK APPEAL

Book at Bedtime is a charitable organization which provides books to women’s refuges.  Set up eight years ago, they provide a bookcase full of children’s books to refuges all around the UK.

When women and children leave a violent home, they often have no personal belongings with them. Book at Bedtime’s bookshelves offer a comfort, in terms of giving children something to read while in the refuge, and upon leaving can take a favourite book, meaning they now have something belonging to just them and no one else.

Christmas is a busy time for refuges, and the thought of familiar comforts at home lead some survivors of domestic violence to return to abusive relationships during this period.

To donate and make life a little brighter and easier for women and children escaping domestic abuse all year round, go to the website.

Reader patron Frank Cottrell-Boyce

  • PENNY READINGS

Charles Dickens had a fondness for Liverpool – calling it ‘that rich and beautiful port’, appearing in plays there, giving speeches and was even involved in the launch of a daily newspaper in the city.

He famously travelled to read to audiences at what became known as the Penny Readings, due to the price of entry. In 1866 one of his readings brought him to Liverpool’s St George’s Hall, followed by another at Manchester Free Trade Hall hours later. He returned to Liverpool that night, to stay at the Adelphi Hotel. His friend and manager George Dolby, who was with him on the tour, commented in his memoirs,

‘…it is not to be wondered at that Mr Dickens should prefer to return to this his favourite hotel, and, except London, his favourite city.’

 In tribute to the relationship Dickens had with Liverpool, since 2004 national reading charity The Reader Organisation hosts its own annual Penny Readings at St Georges Hall on the run up to Christmas.

This December 7 there’s entertainment and music and a variety of readings including an excerpt from A Christmas Carol. The bill includes Reader patrons Maxine Peake and Frank Cottrell Boyce, and founder, Jane Davis MBE plus a cast of readers and performers.

Tickets available to the public are free but limited to 100 and can only be obtained by entering a ballot, which closes on Monday 18 Nov. Enter here. Winners are notified on 23 Nov.

  • CAMPAIGN TO RINGFENCE LIBRARY FUNDING 

Library supporter Frances Belbin started an online petition last month calling for library funding to be ringfenced in order to protect against branch closures.

The government’s response to the petition, now standing at over thirty thousand signatures and supported by JK Rowling, Malorie Blackman and Neil Gaiman, was not encouraging; it suggested local councils need to retain flexibility over budgets.

All is not lost, however – if more than 100k people sign then the issue must be debated in parliament. You can sign it here.

  • NEW BRITISH POET LAUREATE IN 2019

A new Poet Laureate is to be announced in the New Year.

The post, currently held by Carol Ann Duffy, dates back to 1616 and requires the holder to pen verse for significant national occasions, for example Remembrance Day.

Five poets – Thomas GraySamuel RogersWalter ScottPhilip Larkin and Seamus Heaney – all turned down the laureateship at some point. Contemporary poets Benjamin Zephaniah and Wendy Cope have recently and publicly ruled themselves out, although it is not confirmed at this point if they were under consideration.

Previous Poet Laureates include Ted Hughes, William Wordsworth, Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

The Laureateship was held for life until Andrew Motion stipulated he would stay in post for ten years only. Carol Ann Duffy, his successor, steps down in May.

Glaswegian Duffy, who studied Philosophy at the University of Liverpool, is the first woman to occupy the post.

Kiran Leonard

  • Bookworm of the month: Kiran Leonard, musician, composer, singer-songwriter.

Kiran Leonard released Western Culture, his fourth album, earlier this month via Moshi Moshi.

On the record, he explores class and social inequality, fake news (‘how we perceive information and how we receive it’) and questions the notion of culture in the first place.

‘When you say it, you feel like you’re drawing on something deep in the earth, grandiose. But when you think about it the word doesn’t actually mean anything,’ says Kiran. ‘It’s completely hollow vessel that changes depending whether Noam Chomsky’s talking about it or Farage or Boris (Johnson) …or whatever, it doesn’t have any fixed meaning.’

The Saddleworth musician delayed the new album release whilst he completed his degree at Oxford University. Previous albums Bowler Hat Soup, Grapefruit and Derevaun Seraun were all recorded at home or sporadically, Western Culture his first to be made in a recording studio, the Old Granada Studios in Manchester.

We spend a total or 13 or 14 days on it as opposed to on and off for a few years…Andrew, Dan and Dave who I play with all play their respective instruments instead of me doing a bit of everything and (it) all sounding a bit chaotic…’ 

This autumn’s dates, in two chunks, are the first full band shows for a couple years. He plays around the UK over the next fortnight, and tours Ireland for the first time.

You finished your degree earlier this year. Those final weeks are so intense, did it put you off reading for a while? 

KL: ‘I guess you (do get) heavily saturated with it. I found I turned towards different stuff… I am still reading, it’s mostly towards an exhibition we were working on…last year. We’re going for it again and I’m reading to help me understand the context of it…it’s a piece that uses artifact from a planet in another solar system where there’s no longer life.’

What have you read for it?

KL: ‘The famous one I read to help me with context is On the Beach by Nevil Shute…a nuclear war era book, except it’s set in Melbourne in Australia and there’s been a large nuclear conflict in the northern hemisphere and the fall out is spreading across the earth… everyone’s lives (in it) are very normal but there’s this creeping definite determination…most apocalyptic stuff isn’t like that, it’s crazy dramatic, volcanic disasters… the way climate change is spoken about in fiction is giant tornadoes ripping apart cities, giant ice caps…the reality is more mundane than that.

There’s less books suitable to that context than one would think… end of world scenarios is one of the biggest clichés in fiction. Every person and their dog’s got an idea about it or written something about it. It’s much harder to find books that are dealing with the concept of end-ness.   It’s a difficult thing to think about.’  

Your 2017 album Derevaun Seraun was directly inspired by literature, namely works from James Joyce, Albert Camus, Henry Miller, Clarice Lispector and Manuel Bandeira. And you originally performed it at Manchester Library a two or three years earlier.

KL: ‘What I wanted to do was write about culture around books. It’s completely false and academic and off putting, this sort of idea where people who don’t go to university read Andy McNab, people who do can read James Joyce and all that.

No disrespect to Andy McNab, I’ve never read an Andy McNab book but…actually someone like James Joyce for example – or Clarice Lispectorthey are every complicated but they are also complicated for everyone and very accessible (too), and knowing about all the arcane references, the classics or Irish history that he puts in doesn’t especially improve your enjoyment of the text.’

Commercial fiction, particularly those that tell a good yarn and not much else, is looked down on sometimes, when in my view they’ve got an equal value to literary works, it’s just different. Libraries are a great leveler, everything and everyone in it is the same footing. No hierarchy.  

KL: ‘That’s why the library’s an important thing. All of those things are on an equal pedestal.

And that’s something nice about the library, it’s like a democratization of complicated and deeply enriching literature. It doesn’t stratify things where you’ve got to have learnt a certain amount or read a certain amount to be worthy or reading Virginia Woolf or anything, which is nonsense. My experience of reading it is not an intellectualized experience. It usually isn’t.’

What was the first book you enjoyed?

KL: ‘As kid with my mum, reading lots of series…I’m a big JK Rowling defender. She’s a really good writer and those stories are amazing. Really engrossing and it got so many people I know into reading books who otherwise wouldn’t have… the Harry Potter books are the first ones I remember and the Lemony Sticket books as well.’      

And as an adult?

KL: ‘Either To Kill A Mocking Bird or Animal Farm. We didn’t do either of them at school… my mum gave me Mocking Bird. I’ve had this conversation with someone about…what should be taught at GCSE level for English and I think a book like To Kill A Mocking Bird is almost better to do than Shakespeare.’

Controversial!

KL: ‘Not even sure if Shakespeare should be taught to secondary school kids. It’s a bit of an unpopular opinion, maybe it flies in the face of what we were talking about before to do with accessibility…I don’t know. Maybe that’s a different point entirely. I remember reading To Kill A Mocking Bird and Macbeth at the same time… when I was 15 and it put me off. It’s hard. It’s too hard I think. I feel like it’s the flipside of “oh you can’t read so and so because you’re not smart enough”. There’s a lot of weird jingoism around Shakespeare and you have to learn him at school and it’s actually really hard.  

I remember To Kill A Mocking Bird being really immediate, the things it has to say, moral compasses very straightforward but also quite radical, I think. I haven’t read it for about 10 years but I remember it hammering home something that I already knew because that was the household I grew up in, an anti racist household.’

What’s your favourite book, or one that’s had the biggest impact?

KL: ‘The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse. The book’s framed as a biography of a man called Joseph Knecht, a disciple of this imaginary game that exists which is a weird synthesis of something resembling chess… the ultimate intellectual game, I suppose… the rules of the game are not properly explained you couldn’t play the glass bead game in real life, based on the information that’s in the book. It’s a long book, it’s about 560 pages long, the scope of it is so immense and it feels like such a complete piece of work and it’s very poetic and immensely gratifying.’

What are you reading right now?

KL: ‘In the theme of pre apocalyptic dreary stuff  I’m reading a book by Mary Shelley, The Last Man, which is long, very very … those old books give you a hundred pages of backstory… to learn about the protagonist’s dad and his dad and all the other character’s dads and it takes a hundred pages to get anywhere…it’s obviously very dated but… there is something quite funny about reading prose that’s so overly laden with poeticism… but I’m waiting for it to get relevant to the project I’m reading it for.’

Are you the type to think ‘life’s too short’ and lash a book if it’s not working for you and or do you soldier on like a good ‘un to the grim end?

KL: ‘I usually soldier on like a good ‘un. Especially for this because I know from what I’ve read it starts slow then gets good, it’s worth it…I don’t finish everything especially if it’s something mega heavy and it’s non narrative and I (only) need to read a chapter of it.

Starting books but not finishing them…it’s fine…the police aren’t going to kick the doors down.’

Reading your press, two things come up. Your (relative) youth – four albums and countless cassettes and so forth and you’re still in your early twenties – and the fact you studied at Oxford Uni. Sometimes I get the sense that we’re not allowed to have brainy musicians in our lives.  

KL: ‘I think the two are very closely connected and…it’s not that I see it as a vocation, all this reading stuff, but if you want to write well and want to make good things it’s good to expose yourself to other things, educate yourself…way more people read than is acknowledged (and) have already read books in school, know what they liked and didn’t.

 I don’t think it’s part of my personality or something that I want to be make an aesthetic out of. But it’s important and it’s enjoyable it’s something I really wanted to emphasise in my library piece, it is really accessible. If I ever draw references from stuff I’ve read or I’ve seen to what I do I always make an extra effort to make sure it’s not name dropping. It’s not just ‘oh yeah, I read this Hermann Hesse book and I’m going to quote it, oh my god’ because it’s not the way I experience reading it and I hope it doesn’t come across like that. There’s nothing special about reading a book.’

UK & Ireland tour dates:

21 Nov Roisin Dubh, Galway
22 Nov Upstairs at Whelan’s, Dublin
23 Kasbah Social Club, Dolan’s, Limerick.
26 Nov Green Door Store, Brighton
27 Nov Moth Club, London
28 Nov Soup Kitchen, Manchester
29 Nov Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
30 Nov Hug & Pint, Glasgow

1 Dec Cumberland Arms, Newcastle Upon Tyne
3 Dec Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich

 

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