"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
click HERE and access his website
Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Monday, 8 July 2019

Who Was the Better Prophet? Huxley or Orwell?

PRESTEIGNE FESTIVAL 2019







Event 6

Friday 23 August at 4.00pm 
Assembly Rooms, Presteigne LD8 2AD

Dydd Gwener 23 Awst am 4.00pm
Yr Ystafelloedd Cynnull, Llanandras LD8 2AD

Huxley or Orwell? The Battle of the Books

Literature with Nicholas Murray

Nicholas Murray, biographer of Aldous Huxley, looks at the competing claims of the two great twentieth century dystopian novels, Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Which predicted more accurately the way the world was heading in their time and ours? Was Huxley’s book, predicting a consolidation of ’soft power’ in Western consumer societies more accurate in the world of Facebook and Google than Huxley’s darker vision symbolised by the famous image of the jackboot on the face?

Tickets £7.50 unreserved 
Tocynnau £7.50 heb eu cadw 

Event ends at approximately 5.15pm
Bydd y digwyddiad bwn yn gorffen am tua 5.15pm


Friday, 8 March 2019

Rack Poets Reading on Film


Follow this link for a fantastic film of our poets reading from the new pamphlet. Released today by Doorway Films for International Women’s Day.


Thursday, 7 February 2019

Depressed? Moi? Houellebecq’s Sérotonine

Gare du Nord Eurostar Lounge two days
after publication; not yet quite in the top 10
  When the French author Michel Houellebecq’s agent, François Samuelson, warned him that his new novel (published 4 January) would provoke a reaction from feminists the novelist, practised in the art of provocation (rompu à l’art de la provocation as Le Monde put it) replied in his customary sardonic fashion: “Elles sont moins dangereuses que les islamistes.”
   Feminists are not the only ones to have been disapproving of the contentious writer in the past. He is indeed expert in upsetting people (something once considered an essential faculty in the writer; this author’s name is an extended 'trigger warning'). On cue he told Harper’s Magazine just before publication that Trump was the best President ever. I doubt if he believes that for a moment but it was time to bait the Parisian liberal commentariat.
   Yet he is popular. Translated into countless languages, his latest book, when I arrived in Paris recently two days after publication, had sold out in the first bookshop I tried but fortunately was heaped up on the counter everywhere else. At the lovely Écume des pages bookshop in the Boulevard St Germain the woman ahead of me in the queue was handling it tentatively, trying to make up her mind, as if there were a possible toxicity that she should be wary of. The bookseller understood her hesitation. He had read the first 40 pages, he said, and was willing to recommend it. Ok, she said, I’ll take one. Contrast that with the lack of animation with which we pick up the latest Costa or Man Booker garlanded fiction.
   Are feminists right? Is he a menace to women as well as all the other targets in his new book: the ecologically aware, the proprietors of smoke-free hotels, the architects of the common agricultural policy etc etc? I hesitate to say this but I thought I detected something that almost resembled mellowness. (The author has recently married for the third time, to Qianyum Lysis Li, and sent Le Monde his wedding photos in lieu of an author profile, dressed in a fetching grey morning suit and topper.) Set aside the childish contrarianism and the predictable winding-up that constitute the Houellebecq media persona in his shabby parka (already compared in Private Eye to David Threlfall in Shameless) and read the new book and I think something else emerges. This waspish observer can also write:

 Le monde extérieur était dur, impitoyable aux faibles, il ne tenait presque jamais ses promesses, et l’amour restait la seule chose en laquelle on puisse encore, peut-être, avoir foi. [The real world was hard, pitiless to the weak, it hardly ever delivered what it promised, and love remained perhaps the only thing in which one could still believe.]

Not quite a nihilist?
   The novel is called Séretonine and the narrator (let’s not fall into the obvious trap of equating him with the author though the temptations are strong) is a late 40s depressive on a medication called Captorix. The drug has left him in a state of anomie without any sexual desire, which considering the central role rather explicit sex has played in his previous six novels is a novelty. There are a couple of perfunctory erotic scenes but they are not on the former scale.  Florent, the narrator, lives regretfully at having lost through his own selfishness and stupidity Camille, one of the women in the book who are represented, I would say, in a very positive way. He tracks her down to her vet practice in northern France where she is successful, has a small child, and lives in a pleasant house by a lake. Florent realises that the love he could have enjoyed with her is now entirely focussed on her child. “It is him or me,” he reflects and the child wins out.
   In contrast the relationship he has with Yuzu, a remarkably (and comically, for a sense of humour is essential to appreciate Michel Houellebecq) selfish Japanese whom he eventually escapes from by secretly terminating the lease on his flat and moving into a Paris hotel and later a soulless flat in a tower block, is almost wholly dysfunctional and the separation does neither any harm. His job as a freelance agronomist working for the ministry of agriculture with the specific brief of marketing Normandy cheeses takes him to that region where he connects with an old university friend, Aymeric. The latter is heir to a landowning family but, like his fellow dairy farmers, simply cannot make the farm work (I won’t spoil the plot by recounting how all that is resolved). His wife runs off with a visiting pianist, dumping both the struggling and desperate Aymeric and her two small children, so the word salope which you and I are too delicate to use might be appropriate in the circumstances. And there you have it. All the other women in the story, from old flames to hotel receptionists, are presented in ways that I cannot see anyone finding objectionable.
   The great appeal of Houellebecq’s writing to me is its contemporaneity. He is writing about Europe now. His description, for example, of a vast Normandy Leclerc supermarket is both accurate and funny. His eye for detail, sardonically presented, gives the book, in spite of its sombre subject matter (a depressed middle aged man contemplating suicide as the only way out) a richly humorous flavour.
    I laughed a lot.


Monday, 30 July 2018

Bloomsbury Festival: Harold Monro and The Poetry Bookshop Celebrated 18 and 20 October



Bloomsbury Festival Event 18 & 20 October 2018


Tickets available from the Bloomsbury Festival Box Office




A Poetic Revolution: 
The Poetry Bookshop in Bloomsbury

A scripted programme of readings and music celebrating the famous 
Poetry Bookshop which opened in Bloomsbury in 1913 and helped to define a radical new poetry in the opening decades of the 20th Century.

The Music Room, 49 Great Ormond Street, London WC1

Wednesday 18th and Saturday 20th October 2018

6pm

With live music from the pianist Mihaly Berecz who plays Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin which was started in 1914, the year after the Poetry Bookshop opened.
Readers: Jean Woollard, Mark Unwin, Sarah Chatwin, Nicholas Murray, Michèle Roberts

  


A Note on the Poetry Bookshop

The Poetry Bookshop opened at 35 Devonshire Street, WC1 (now Boswell Street) in January 1913 and in 1926 when the lease expired the shop moved to new premises at 38 Great Russell Street opposite the British Museum. It finally closed in 1935 three years after Harold Monro's death.
The best account of the Bookshop remains Joy Grant's Harold Monro and the Poetry Bookshop (1967). See also The Poetry Bookshop 1912-1935: a Bibliography (1988) by J. Howard Woolmer which reproduces many title pages and Poetry Bookshop posters, some in colour.  Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (1984) by Penelope Fitzgerald and Val Warner's Virago edition of Charlotte Mew: Collected Poems and Prose (1982) are invaluable. The opening chapter ("The West End Front") of Nicholas Murray's The Red Sweet Wine of Youth: British Poets of the First World War (2011) gives an account of the literary background to the shop's opening.




Monday, 12 March 2018

R.I.P. Doddy

From the chapter ‘The Meaning of Scouse’ in my book So Spirited a Town: Visions and Versions of Liverpool (Liverpool University Press, 2007)


One summer I took a job as a horticultural labourer.  Each morning the small gang of three labourers would muster in the yard to find out where the boss – a well-meaning Quaker with an awed reverence for The Guardian  – was going to take us that day.  One sunny morning he announced that we were off to trim the lawns and tidy the flower beds at an old people's home in Knotty Ash.  We all erupted into spontaneous laughter.  For Knotty Ash is both the home and focal point of the humour of the city's most famous comedian, Ken Dodd – "the face that launched a thousand quips" as his website informs us.

Born on 8 November 1927 in Knotty Ash, Ken Dodd is an interesting phenomenon in the history of British popular entertainment.  Starting out as a traditional end-of-the-pier variety entertainer he seized the opportunity provided by television.  His career flourished and still appears to be flourishing as he approaches 80.  He has even appeared at the Hay on Wye Festival of Literature.  He took off as a professional performer in the mid-1950s and6, topping the bill there in 1958 at the Central Pier.  This led to appearances at the London Palladium and on television.  He had his own TV series such as The Ken Dodd Show and Doddy's Music Box and in the 1960s he developed an additional career as a singer of romantic ballads.  The titles of some of his recordings say it all: Love is Like A Violin (1960), Happiness (1964) I Can't Seem to Say Goodbye to You (1966).  This was the sort of stuff that the explosion of the Merseybeat and the whole Beatles phenomenon was supposed to have relegated to the dustbin of light entertainment but Doddy wowed them throughout the sixties with these schmaltzy ballads.  His 1965 single Tears spent four weeks at the top of the Hit Parade which could not be matched at the time by the Beatles, The Hollies or the Rolling Stones.  Moreover he kept it up for ten years.

But it is the comedy that counts.  Dodd represents the softer side of Liverpool comic surrealism.  He is no Alexei Sayle. His repertoire of comic characters from Knotty Ash is drawn from the tribe of Diddymen which he invented originally to appeal to children in the audience. ‘Diddy’ is Scouse for ‘little’. Dicky Mint, Mick the Marmaliser, Evan, Hamish McDiddy, and Nigel Ponsonby Smallpiece (check the familiar ethnic and class stereotypes) worked at the Jam Butty Mines in Knotty Ash. In panto the Diddy Men are played by children in costume but for his stage act Dodd used just a puppet of Dicky Mint with whom he did a ventriloquist routine.  Another of his properties is the tickling stick which looks a bit like a feather duster.  The jokes are Liverpool jokes.  At the Liverpool Empire he looks up at the people in the Gods and announces: "It's a privilege to be asked to play here tonight on what is a very special anniversary.  It’s a hundred years to the night since that balcony collapsed."  The asides to the audience, the women addressed always as "Missus", the daft routines, the puns, the old jokes (he famously keeps copious notebooks of jokes classified according to what will work where) the cracks about the Inland Revenue with whom he had a famous confrontation and court case ("Self-assessement - they stole the idea from me."), add up to a style of comedy that is almost certainly on its way out and that is utterly removed from the patter you hear in the comedy clubs listed in Time Out.  There's a common quip you hear in Liverpool after some possibly less than Wildean witticism: "Well it made me laugh."  This is impossible to translate but means something like: "This may not be regarded as funny by anyone applying strict canons of criticism, especially people who live south of Watford, but I have decided it's funny and that's all that matters as far as I am concerned. Don't think you or anyone else can lecture me about what is or is not funny. You's be wasting your breath.  It's my freedom to laugh at whatever I like."

Ken Dodd has occasionally made me laugh.

[pp22-24]


Wednesday, 24 January 2018

My new poetry pamphlet The Museum of Truth is published on 14th February and can be ordered in advance now from Melos Press.


Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Quiet Life of the Literary Blogger

The fact that it is nearly four months since my last post perhaps says all that needs to be said. When the idea of the literary blog was first launched it seemed like a great idea. With one bound Jack or Jill was free of the suffocating restrictions of the literary establishment. One could now say what one liked, ignore the prevailing assumptions of the literary world, champion a different set of writers, and be listened to for this final miracle seemed true. Literary bloggers were being taken note of.

Of course the Bibliophilic Blogger never took itself too seriously and was probably not itself taken seriously but it was fun to do at the beginning. Since those heady days, however, we have all been washed away by the floods of online matter and the shorter and sharper social media like Twitter are more than enough to cope with.

Last Sunday at the Ledbury Poetry festival I read (see picture) below the ancient market hall my latest poetic satire A Dog’s Brexit and other political and topical poems to a lovely receptive audience who afterwards cleaned me out of the entire stock of books and pamphlets I had brought with me. Thank you to them all. When I was being introduced by the Festival Chair, Peter Arscott, he mentioned the Bibliophilic Blogger and asked shrewdly whether I was still writing it. “Intermittently,” I replied, shiftily.

I have a feeling that intermittence will be its continuing fate.  Or maybe not? There could be life in the old dog yet.