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Clapham Book Festival 2019

Calling all lovers of books and reading!  The countdown to the annual south London celebration of both has begun.  Clapham Book Festival takes place on 5th October 2019 at Omnibus Theatre.

The preparations are now well under way.  The CBF stall at the recent Clapham Summer Fete attracted a lot of interest from locals and visitors alike. It’s taken us almost four years but folk now expect the Book Festival to take place, it has become part of the Clapham scene.  Our stall this year had books donated by Clapham writers, especially those who had been prize judges. So they were, by and large, pristine copies at knock-down prices and some of them signed by the authors as well. One woman was delighted to find the signature in the book she had just purchased. We had a superb hand-made chocolate cake to raffle off as well (congratulations John, I hope it tasted as good as it looked).

Ably assisted by the ladies from The Reading Den another Clapham-based not-for-profit organisation which acts as an on-line central hub of advice and guidance for book clubs, we managed to raise £130 for the Festival, as well as doing a lot of promoting of the events ( and having fun talking about books and writers ).  Clapham Writers has at least three new members, who we hope to see at the Meet & Greet event after this year’s Fest.

We have also been out and about leafleting around Clapham. We were at Venn Street market on Saturday and our small battalion of volunteers is posting flyers through letterboxes all over Clapham. One may be coming through your door soon.

The Windmill on the Common has again supported the Festival by donating a voucher for an overnight stay for two in that boutique hotel as a prize in our Festival day raffle.  Last year’s winner was a Clapham resident who, as the occupant of a one-bedroom flat, was able to have his parents to stay by using the voucher.  Thank you The Windmill and Young’s Brewery.

As regards publicity, you will find us mentioned by the Royal Society of Literature, the Society of Authors, in the Sunday Times On-line and in a veritable cornucopia of local media of various kinds.  There’s also a podcast coming out on 1st October.  Henry Hemming – Our Man in New York – had a double page spread in the Sunday Mail and Elizabeth Buchan – The Museum of Broken Promises – an excellent review in The Times.  Aida Edemariam and Ursula Buchan won the plaudits when their books, The Wife’s Tale and Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps, respectively, were first published. That’s not forgetting our opener – Professor Kate Williams on the relationship between the Rival Queens, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots – and Frank Gardner OBE, BBC Security Correspondent to close the Festival.

Tickets can be had at Omnibus £16/£13 concessions or £10/£8.  A snip at the price.  Buy soon, the events are filling up fast!

For more on Clapham’s own Book Festival try       On The Day….           Books and Walking – A Literary Trail 

Introducing….and reading

As part of 2019’s amazing line-up of authors at the Clapham Book Festival  on 5th October, we introduce a new type of session this year, of an author introducing his or her new book and then reading from that book.

Local historian, biographer and travel writer, Henry Hemming takes the inaugural slot talking about, then reading from, his latest book Our Man in New York.

After the hugely successful M, a biography of Maxwell Knight, MI5’s greatest spymaster, Hemming has moved on to tell the story of the covert British operation to manipulate public opinion in the US, using, amongst other things,  fake news and spin, to prepare the way for America to enter World War II. Our Man in New York has been described by William Boyd as “A revelatory and wholly fascinating work of history. Superbly researched and written with gripping fluency, this lost secret of World War II espionage finally has its expert chronicler.”  

As Nicholas Shakespeare has said, it is Gripping and intoxicating, it unfolds like the best screenplay.’ There are rumours that Hollywood is interested. So come along and listen to its author read an extract at five o’clock on Saturday 5th October.

For more on this year’s Clapham Book Festival take a look at the Programme on the web-site. Or buy your tickets at Omnibus Theatre.

Flamenco in north London

So to Sadlers Wells Theatre for the annual Flamenco Festival in north London. This time I had only returned from Jerez de la Frontera the day before and I went to see Santiago Lara and Mercedes Ruiz who hail from that city.  I have written about this married couple before ( see Lamento and The Guitar in Time ) and I listen regularly to Lara’s guitar playing.

On Saturday they were performing with dancers Maria Moreno, from nearby Cadiz, and Eduardo Guerrero, who I have tried to see several times at the Jerez Festival, only to be stymied by the schedule.  Accompanied by rising singing star Maria Fernandez Benitez, known as Maria ‘Terremoto’, and male singers, Emilio Florido and Ismael ‘el Bola’. They were billed as the Gala Flamenca and it was excellent.

Lara was the musical coordinator and he led the musicians on stage, a second guitarist, Javier Ibanez and percussionist, Paco Vega.  The artistic director was Miguel Linan, renown dancer and regular performer at the Jerez Festival ( see Reversible ).  Linan’s choreography is distinctive, although the three dancers were undoubtedly also contributors ( and listed as such ).

The programme began with Morena dancing an alegria. As is always the case with British theatre audiences, while the dancing was well received, there was little feedback between performer and audience until the end of each piece.  This contrasts with watching flamenco in Jerez, when the audience is supposed, even obliged, to clap, shout encouragement and cheer during the performance. I was very pleased therefore when a particularly spectacular series of steps ended with a sweeping flourish and a spontaneous cheer from the audience.  I noticed Lara, who was nearest the edge of the stage, start to smile.  The performance had ‘taken’ and the audience were bound in.

The show continued with a remarkable pas de deux between the young singer,  and Mercedes Ruiz.  Ruiz, dressed in black, male garb performed accompanied only by the singing and her own castanets  and stamping feet. She was outstanding.  The audience was well and truly captured by now, so much so that Ruiz could be playful, making us laugh as well as astounding us with her artistry.  How could anyone top that?

Well, then came Eduardo Guerrero, long black hair flying, in a stunning Cana.  Guerrero’s arabesques were straight out of the Miguel Linan playbook, athletic, fluid and captivating.  What was not was the truly amazing footwork which followed, which had the audience, by now half way to behaving like Jerezanos, applauding and cheering with every flourish.  As a female member of our group said afterwards, he was gorgeous and absolutely commanding ( and the dancing was pretty good too ).

There followed another pas de deux, this time with Moreno and Guerrrero in perfect synchronicity and a final Solea from Ruiz.  All three dancers returned to the stage for a rousing finale and, by the time the stage lights went down, everyone was on their feet and applauding.  At the curtain calls I was pleased to see the recognition of Lara’s stunning guitar playing and Miguel Linan was also invited on stage to take the applause. He brought with him a birthday cake with lighted candles, it was the birthday of one of the company  and he was persuaded to dance along with the mini-encore.

We left the theatre buzzing, but exhausted, that’s what watching flamenco does!

For more articles about flamenco, in London and Jerez, try         2018 Festival Round-up              Flamenco Fix            Paco Pena

Summer Book Sale

It’s that time of year again and books are being discounted to promote sales and capture the Summer holiday trade.

LastSaturday my local church had its annual fete, smaller this year, as the event has grown in recent years ( see Books for Sale in the Sunshine ), but the Clapham Book Festival had representatives there, including me, staffing the book stall, handing out our flyers. A must for the diaries of book lovers and those who like talking about books is Saturday 5th October, the Saturday of the 2019 Clapham Book Festival!  Check out this year’s Programme.  Tickets are on sale from 1st July.

But last Saturday we were selling books – £1 hardbacks, 50p paperbacks, everything must go!  Lots of people browsing and buying mentioned that they were looking for a good book for the beach, the country, the plane or the train and, in one instance, the fishing.  I guess reading a good book is ideal when sitting on a river bank waiting for the fish to bite.

On-line too, the Summer Sales begin. Over at Smashwords from 1st July until the end of that month you can find J.J.Anderson’s ‘e’ books at a major discount.  In the Al Andalus stories , Reconquista will be FREE to download until the 31st July. The next book in the series, The Silver Rings, will have 25% off RRP at $2.45  or less than £2.  The Village; A Year in Twelve Tales will be discounted by 50% to $1.99 or £1.50.  So, if you want to make a journey in the imagination on your holiday, why not travel to 13th century Al Andalus, or to a contemporary English village, you can do so for free or at a major discount on Smashwords as part of its summer sale!

In the meanwhile it’s time to submit my latest manuscript to the publishers. A real departure from the historical adventures written previously, Plague is a contemporary thriller set in Westminster, which draws upon my own experience working in Whitehall and the rich history of Westminster and Thorney Island.  On the basis that informed and independent criticism is worth its weight in gold, I have been fortunate enough to have the members of three different book clubs read the manuscript.  Any author will tell you that, however objective your friends try to be, they will, invariably, be less critical than people who don’t know the writer personally. Their comments have been insightful and very useful, helping me refine the novel before submitting it to the publishers.  Now I await the editor’s comments.

Plague is also the first in a series – I am about to begin writing Oracle, the second book featuring the same protagonist, while I wait.  I am enjoying researching the ancient temple complex at Delphi on Mount Parnassus, somewhere I actually visited during a 1999 conference at the modern conference centre just below Delphi town. What a place for a murder mystery story, I thought at the time. Now it’s going to be just that!

For now, if you haven’t already, why not make a visit to the exotic Al Andalus, with its Kings and Emirs, its warlords and treasure and all for less than a cup of coffee.

For more about Reconquista and The Silver Rings and writing them try             Seduced by History            The Godmother’s Tale              Warp and Weft

Portrait of an artist…

as a young man, not the James Joyce novel but Tate Britain’s summer exhibition, on Vincent Van Gogh and his time in in south London. Van Gogh arrived at the age of twenty in 1873 and lodged in Brixton ( though it’s described here as Stockwell ) where he fell in love with his landlady’s daughter. He worked for two years at the offices of Covent Garden art dealers Goupil, before turning to both teaching and preaching, when he was dismissed from his job.

Any number of Impressionists and post-impressionists fetched up south of the Thames at some point in their lives ( usually during the Franco-Prussian War and the time of the Paris Commune ). So his was a path well-trodden, by his almost contemporary Pissaro in Norwood, Sisley at Molesley, Monet at the Savoy or Tissot in St John’s Wood (okay, that’s north of the river).

The exhibition is a large one, with nine rooms, containing Van Gogh paintings, drawings and washes, but also many works of contemporary, or near contemporary, artists who were living in London at that time or which Van Gogh would have seen while he was here.  It includes works and prints which Van Gogh owned and there is cross-over here with the Tate’s winter exhibition of 2017/18 The Impressionists in London.

The Van Gogh also includes later, British artists clearly influenced by him.  So, for example, his Sunflowers, in Room 7, is juxtaposed with paintings of sunflowers by William Nicholson, Frank Brangwen and Jacob Epstein, among others.  I very much enjoyed these – the whole is joyous and up-lifting.  I enjoyed too the paintings of later artists, like those of the Camden Town School and David Bomberg and Francis Bacon, who acknowledged their debt to Van Gogh ( see study, by Bacon, left, of his painting of Van Gogh in the sun-bleached landscape of the south of France ).

I am insufficiently knowledgeable to be able to draw any but the most obvious of parallels between Van Gogh and the artists who influenced him while he was here.  That the river-scapes of Whistler, with their floating fogs and twinkling lights, had an influence, especially in the depiction of lights in the Rhone, doesn’t surprise me and there are obvious links to be made with Pre-Raphealite paintings like those of Edward Millais.  Some of the other connections are less obvious, indeed they may seem tenuous to the untrained eye, though I have no doubt that the scholarship behind this exhibition is excellent.

That Van Gogh adored Dickens and his works was new to me, though it fits, some of his portraits have the gnarly yet fluid quality that one perceives in some of Dickens’ descriptions of his characters. That he collected British prints and reproductions – the ‘black and whites’ – over 2,000 of them, often of modern subjects, like the workhouse, the prison or the deprivations of the poor, also feels fitting.  As he said ‘I often felt low in England… but the Black and White and Dickens, are things which make up for it all.’

The exhibition is at Tate Britain and runs until 11th August.  It is very popular, we visited at 4 o’clock on a Friday, when we thought it would be quiet, yet it was anything but.  Afterwards a steward told me that, in relative terms this was quiet!  So beware the crowds.  Entry costs £22, with concessions for students, seniors etc. and if you are not a member you will have to book.  It’s well worth a visit.

For more on art and exhibitions see            Soane and Kapoor          Art on the Underground                 John Ruskin, The Power of Seeing

To the Lighthouse

… the lighthouse or faro at Bonanza in Andalucia, to be precise, not Virginia Woolf’s Hebrides set novel of 1927.  The fishing village of Bonanza is on the estuary of the Rio Guadalquivir as it reaches the Atlantic, just north of the Bahia de Cadiz. The derivation of its name is from the Spanish (and Latin) for calm sea, or tranquil waters, though it has come to mean a windfall, or unexpected piece of good fortune. It was our good fortune to be there last Sunday.

I doubt Ms Woolf ever visited, though the place itself is small and charming, with one main street running parallel with the river, houses backing onto a deep sandy beach. Bonanza does feature elsewhere in literature, however, in The Confusion, the second in Neil Stephenson’s rip-roaring and erudite Baroque Cycle (2005) as the location for an audacious piece of thievery. There are no grand mansions to be found there now, though fishing boats bob on the swell and there is, at the Alguida end of town, a port area with docks and factories. There are, unsurprisingly, good places to eat fish, which was what we were there for.

Beyond Bonanza is farmland, now often given over to poly-tunnels, interspersed with houses whose architects certainly had exuberance and imagination, though they didn’t tend towards understatement (the Baroque featured here too, though attached to flat-roofed bungalows). If you continue along the single road you eventually gain access to that portion of the Donana National Park which lies on the south eastern side of the Guadalquivir.  Here there are wonderfully tranquil forests of Iberian pines and a lagoon, complete with bird watching hides.  The flamingos were displaying and we saw not one other human being.

Or maybe head back to Sanlucar de Barrameda, of which I have written before ( see Contrasts ) the rather larger port and holiday town. Both Columbus and Magellan set sail from here, their voyages being recorded in sculpture and tile work around the town. The former completed his first circumnavigation of the globe from Sanlucar, while the latter returned to his own discovery of Hispaniola. The town is intensely proud of its hugely influential maritime history. On Sunday afternoons the Plaza de Cabildo is the place to be and be seen, amongst the bougainvillea entwined palms, as the inhabitants drink manzanilla or eat ice cream at the square’s two competing ice cream parlours.

Maybe visit the Castillo de Santiago the fifteenth century fortification on the edge of the Barrio Alto, with its two museums and excellent views over the Barrio Bajo or take tea in the gardens of the 13th century Palacio de Medina Sidonia, now a hotel/hostel, for similar views.  There’s an interesting monument between the two, indicative of today’s desire among many Spaniards for the truth to be told about what happened during the Fascist era and commemorating just some of those killed or ‘disappeared’ during that time for opposing Franco. The Duchess who owned the aforementioned Palacio was one of those who was imprisoned, although she was, presumably, too eminent to do away with quietly.

If you’re in this part of the world Sanlucar and Bonanza are worth visiting – we will do so again.

Not Quite a Fleeting Glimpse….

…is what one gets at the Dennis Severs House, or 18, Folgate Street, Spitalields, E1.  Not quite a fleeting glimpse of those people who have just left the room, who were eating that meal just before you walked in, or smoking that pipe, or baking that loaf.  Whose wig sits on the wing of the chair? Or whose floral perfume scents the formal withdrawing room?

18, Folgate Street is an 18th century house (1724) which has been preserved and restored and, during his lifetime, lived in, by Dennis Severs, the American artist and storyteller, who died, aged only 51, in 1999. Twenty years after purchasing the house he saw the Spitalfields Trust buy the house and commit to keeping it going, when on his death-bed.  It’s still going twenty years later.

The House is chock-full of antique furniture and fol-de-rols, china, costumes, tapestry and tat, but all in period. So is the lighting, mostly candlelight, but some gas-light in the Victorian rooms. We visited on a sunny Monday lunchtime so it was relatively light, but the house is most often open in the evenings, from 5 – 9pm Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and on Sundays ( see Tours ).  I imagine that then it is even more atmospheric, though it would also be more difficult to see the multiplicity of objects on show, often close together.

Severs created an imaginary family of Huguenot silk-weavers called Jervis to inhabit the house and it is their homely detritus (and comestibles) that one comes across as one climbs the narrow stairs, either down to the kitchen and cellar, where there are the supposed fragments of St Mary’s, Spital (1197) and the warmth of an iron range and the smell of…what is that smell?  Or upwards, through fashionable London entertaining to the elaborate boudoir and then up beneath the eaves to the penurious lodgers’ rooms.

Scent is something the House does well, as is sound – the ticking of a clock, the half-caught chatter, like Eliot’s rose garden ‘full of children, Hidden excitedly, containing laughter’ in Burnt Norton. Visitors are asked to walk around the house, on a pre-determined route, in silence, so that this sound track has full effect. There are wordless guiders, who will direct you if you go wrong.

There are other symbols of life lived in the house.  The half lemon on the mantlepiece, the half drunk glasses of sherry on the card and occasional tables, the cheese and bread in the kitchen.  I like to think of the guiders going round each morning setting everything fresh into position, spraying the scents and lighting the candles ( there are piled candle ends in several rooms, today’s occupants being as thrifty as Madame Jervis could have been ).

It takes about 45 minutes to walk through the house and costs either £10 on Monday lunchtimes, or £15 in the evenings ( a guided tour is available for groups at £50 per person ).  We arrived at about 12.45 on Monday lunchtime and had to wait for a further twenty minutes, in a queue, as only small numbers are allowed in the house at any one time.  Once inside, you realise why ( people were smaller then ).

It’s an unusual and, for me, unique, experience and well worth visiting.

For more visiting of history try                        Undiscovered                  The Real Thing      Mother of Parliaments                           An Old Prospect                     Metamorphosis                    Waterloo

All photographs are from the House web-site, photography inside the House not being allowed.