"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

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Luxury of Art

A clutch of letters in The Guardian has appeared on "the battle between arts and science" – a phoney war surely?  Many of us are the victims of a British educational system that created, around the age of 14, a division into arts and sciences that has been intellectually damaging and, of course, it is scandalous for artistic and literary people to be ignorant of science – or of anything else for that matter.  Although the queasy spectacle of watching Ian McEwan writing about brain surgery in Saturday could in itself constitute an argument for writers not attempting to mug up on science, clearly art and science are fundamental aspects of human knowledge and shouldn't be set against each other.

But one of the Guardian letter writers, Iain Morgan, Professor of Molecular Oncology at the University of Glasgow, insists that science is necessary, not to further knowledge, but because "without science and technology our country will lag behind others". Moreover – and this is his killer conclusion – "only by science and technology generating inventions and wealth can we afford the luxury of art".  Why do I find this such a miserable conclusion?

Because art is not "a luxury", a by-product of wealth-creation.  Art simply exists, it is. Art is fundamental, necessary, needs no justification, is the element in which sentient, intelligent human beings move like fish in a stream.  It is not a by-product or an incidental consequence of anything. Given the current state of British universities where money-making is the summum bonum, I suppose it is not surprising that such ideas as that of the Prof. flourish.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Literature Sector: Production Values

The following appears in the latest newsletter of the Welsh Academi. Comment, I think, is superfluous:

"Creative & Cultural Skills is inviting the literature sector to contribute to a new plan to develop the skills needs of the industry. The Literature Blueprint will be a workforce development plan for literature in the UK. It will analyse the skills needs of the literature sector and propose key actions in response.
The plan is focused on creative writers and those who support them. They would like to hear a range of views from the sector, from writers across different disciplines to writers’ networks and anyone who works to support the development of the literature sector. The plan will be UK-wide.
Tom Bewick, Group Chief Executive, Creative & Cultural Skills, said: “The UK is rightly proud of its literature sector, which encompasses a range of working practices and business models. To ensure the continued success of the sector in a time of intense technological and economic change, we need to focus now on developing those skills that will be needed in the future.”
Antonia Byatt, Director, Literature Strategy at Arts Council England, said: “We are delighted to have been partners with Creative & Cultural Skills in developing the Literature Blueprint. To ensure that everybody can access high-quality literature experiences, both now and in the future, is at the heart of our work, and the development of skills is vital in this aim.”

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Paweł Huelle: Mercedes-Benz

Scanning the shelves of bookshops in Paris or Athens or Madrid it is always interesting to see what gets translated, what is considered canonical, from the UK.  And in the same way various random factors conspire to deliver certain foreign titles to us.  Is Orhan Pamuk the most important Turkish writer, for example?  The Nobel committee seems to think so.  I am reading another novel by Paweł Huelle, having enjoyed his Castorp, and this time it is an absorbing tale, Mercedes-Benz, of a man who takes driving lessons in the city of Gdansk (where Huelle comes from) with a crazy instructor, Miss Ciwle, just after the collapse of communism.  It's a lively, witty tale, juxtaposing, through the medium of the motor vehicle, three Polish generations: the pre-war brief period of independence, the communist years, and the new era of post-communist liberation.   The narrator is based on Huelle himself (that's his dad in this picture) and the stories he recounts as he drives around Gdansk with Miss Ciwle are addressed to the Czech master Bohamil Hrabal to whom this book is a kind of hommage. I have no idea how Huelle is seen in Poland but this translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones certainly glides along with the smoothness of a Mercedes and even someone like me who is about as far from being a petrol-head as it is possible to be can enjoy the ride. Recommended.