Ten Books

There’s this thing going around on Facebook where people are asking people to list 10 books that have stayed with them. It’s my kind of thing and I’ve enjoyed reading the lists.

I thought I would have a go at it myself. 

As an aside, it felt a little revealing that I didn’t get tagged by anybody to do the list. I’m a pretty overtly ‘booky’ person, after all. 

I think it confirmed for me the way I have always chosen to play social media. I’m there and I'm happy to be involved but I’m not part of any particular collective or cohort. I'm just a free agent, floating around. The thought seems to please me and confound me in equal measure.

Yes… Ten Books.

Ten? There could be fifty, couldn’t there? There’s been so many books down through the years. What I did, I sat down and thought about it for a little while (not too hard) and wrote down ten books as they came into my head. The result is not terribly high-brow or intellectual. I could have chucked in a couple of works of literature or well-thought-of tomes to raise my image a bit but why bother? It’s not like I’m trying to impress my cohort or anything (steady, Ken). Most of the books seem to come from my very early teens, where strong impressions were obviously made.

Also, because it’s my blog, I get to editorialise a little on my choices. In a  number of instances, I’ve written stuff about these books already and, where that’s the case, I’ve thrown in a link to that piece.

The Dice Man - Luke Rhinehart:  I was only a lad and far too young to be reading this. It’s stayed with my because of my perception of it as being uncomfortably ‘adult’ and marked the commencement of a reading and movie-going teen-hood which was always old beyond its years. (more)

Watership Down – Richard Adams: It gripped me and wouldn’t let go. Then it made me cry at the end. Forget the film, which is an honourable failure. This may well be my favourite book. (more)

Jaws – Peter Benchley: Ah, ‘Jaws’. I read it long before I ever heard a whisper of a movie and it may have been the first book I was anxious to get my hands on. I was eleven and my older brother had first dibs on it. Like the Dice Man, it was more ‘Adult’ than I should have been dealing with at that age. But no harm done. (more)

If Only They Could Talk by James Herriot: I think I was initially drawn to these books by the nice Norman Thelwell cartoons on the covers. I stayed for the warm simplicity of the stories within and, as one book cover put it, the ability of the author to tell a story against himself. I do that quite a bit myself.

From Russia With Love – Ian Fleming: I found a battered copy of this in the cupboard and loved how it had stills from the film on the back cover. I was reading Bond before I ever saw him on screen and so I remain drawn to the earthier misogynistic character who lives within Fleming’s pages.

Papillon РHenri Charri̬re: Again, I was eleven when I read this. I loved the heft of it and the way it had been written in copybooks. The time taken in reading it was like prison time and the concept of hiding your valuables up your ass was one that was hardly going to go away quickly.

The Kenneth Williams Diaries: I keep going back to these and I find it hard to pin down why. The book seems to capture a real life within its pages like nothing else I’ve ever read. The person in there is awkward infuriating and completely inconsistent but full of good deeds and hateful recriminations. 

Deliverance – James Dickey: A rare occasion where I saw the film before reading the book. The novel has all the violence and adventure one would expect but there’s something more too. There’s a musing of what it might be to be a man.

The Karla Trilogy – John Le Carre: I just found these to be an enormously satisfying read. The first one ‘Tinker Tailor…’ exists in many forms on TV and film and I find them all engaging and find new things in them every time they come on.

A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving: I love John Irving and I think this is my favourite of his. Owen is a great character and I think he haunts quite a few readers as well as me.

There you go. If you weren’t tagged you can consider yourself tagged now but only if you want to be.

A Good Idea - Irlam Fringe Festival

I think some people thought I was bloody mad to fly to Manchester for one evening and then fly straight back again. I think that because I was one of the people who thought it, so it follows that there were probably a few more who thought it as well.

“Are you mad?” A little voice in my head (which was really just me doing a funny accent) kept saying, “are you bloody cracked or what?”

As it turned out, I wasn’t mad at all. Going to Irlam turned out to be a very good idea indeed.

There was this Fringe Theatre Festival, you see, and one of my short plays got selected to be in it. As soon as I heard that, I said, “I’ll go.” I just resolved. To hell with the cost and the hours travelling. I’ll just go.

As I said, I’m glad I did.

Lots of people did lots of things to make it happen but The Festival was Jane McNulty’s baby really. And Jane, as I have learned, is a bit of a force of nature. When she gets her teeth into something, she doesn’t tend to let go. She booked the venue, she assembled the actors and the directors and the tech-wizards and the bar staff and the ladies who sell raffle tickets. She built it and they came.

It took me a while to get to Irlam Catholic Club (a fine establishment). The journey involved cars and planes and trains and buses. There was even a short run on a badly behaved knee. But I got there at 7.10 for a 7.30 start. 

“There’ll be nobody here yet.” I said to myself, my mind still operating on West of Ireland time. 

The place was packed. Jammers. Twenty minutes before the kick-off. Unheard of where I come from. The large hall was filled with people chatting and socialising and queuing for the bar and… stop, wait, ‘queuing?’ ‘for the bar?’. I know, I’d never seen it before either; an orderly line, waiting for their turn to procure a drink. I told Toto I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and went to score myself a seat.

One of the things I liked best was the seating arrangement. The seats, to my eye, were laid out for Bingo rather than in the orderly lines boringly associated with theatre. And, Bingo, it worked. People sat at their lines of tables and chairs and they were able to interact and look each other in the eye and still have a good view of the stage. The way people were sitting added considerably to the evening, for me. One to remember, that.

I got sitting with a lovely couple. Retired, I’d say. Never caught their name. We chatted away the whole evening. They were nice to me and struggled gamely with my funny accent. 

The raffle lady came round.

“How much for a strip of tickets?”

“A pound.”

“How many will you give me for five pounds?”

A momentary beady-eye

“Five.”

“Right.”

I won two bottles of wine, so that worked out okay too. 

I won’t do a review of all the plays. From the moment the lights dimmed, right through to the end of the evening, there was never a moment’s doubting of the skill and professionalism of the acting and directing talent on display. These people meant business and, whether it was comic or tragic or dramatic business, they had all brought their A-Game to the stage. 

The audience was warm and receptive and savvy and fine. A lovely audience. Jane did a brief intro at the start and then let the plays do their own talking. No individual intros. When one play was finished, the next came on. The audience got it and the evening flowed.

My play, 'Dance Night', was up last. It had a great cast; Samantha Vaughan, Hayley Cartwright and David Milne. Gayle Hare directed. They made me cry a little bit. At my own play. The buggers. Well done, guys, and thanks very much. You did my scribblings proud.

Afterwards there was no rush to vacate. There were drinks and chat and fun and warmth and drinks and a doll (for some reason) and drinks. Then a taxi back to the airport hotel. I left my phone in the taxi and the taxi driver drove back and returned it to me. That’s Manchester for you, they’re all right.

Jane says she’ll do it all again next year. Keep an eye on her and on Irlam too. If you’ve got a nice short play, let her have a look when she asks for it. If you’re lucky enough to get chosen, they’ll take good care of your play and of you as well. 

You can be sure of that.