Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Saints and Beasts

The artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins has been working hard these last few months - that may be something of an understatement! Well worth going to look over his latest offerings which are four (of eventually seven) paintings on the theme of saints and beasts (of the animal kind). In particular I would draw your attention to the story of Herve and the Wolf which is a little known but very haunting piece of hagiography and can be found under one of the images of the saint on Clive's site.

I Love This Book #2

When I first had a mind to run this little occasional series of post on the blog, I don't think I envisaged that one of my 'I love this book'-books would be a slightly scruffy Penguin paperback but, when I was given this at the weekend, it really was love at first sight.

This book is The Penguin Story, Penguin Book Q21, published in 1956.

It was published to mark Penguins 21st birthday and is just a wonderful little thing containing everything I love. There are articles on the typography and book-design in which Penguin was already a world-leader at this point; there are the most wonderful illustrations of Penguin covers, promotional material and associated images; lovely geeky-stuff like a page of the various Penguin and Pelican motifs used with dates; and more wonderfully than all the rest, a full catalogue of every Penguin book to that date, from every series.

I know, I know, there's the recent publication Penguin by Design, which I haven't yet seen and I'm sure is wonderful. But however good that latest is, it has to be missing the one vital ingredient that this book has in spades... it is, itself, a vintage Penguin paperback! with everything that entails in terms of the look of the book and the feel of the paper.

As ever with Penguin, it is worth paying attention to the cover. So clever in this instance to ignore the idea of a 'Penguin Cover' and to cover the cover, with covers...! The wraparound photograph of the Penguin book display is simply marvelous and no amount of 'retro' marketing is ever again to provide quite such a display in any bookshop.

More Aspects

Thanks to all of you who took the trouble to pass comment on the proposed cover for Aspects of Wilde which I posted below - some here and some by email - it really was very much appreciated and I have taken them all into account. The final version has now been sent to the printers so they can produce a proof copy for me to go over once more. I have already spotted one or two punctuation and phrasing issues that I want to change in the text on the cover but for those of you who are interested enough here is the .pdf file. It's a fairly large file!

Aspects of Wilde Cover

Monday, June 18, 2007

Trial Run...

I am just a little way from being able to publish my first conventionally printed hardback book: Aspects of Wilde by Vincent O'Sullivan. The introduction has been written by a very respected authority on the 1890s and O'Sullivan in particular, the 'type has been set' (or whatever the digital equivalent of that is), the text has been proofed twice (by my mum and by me), and I am nearly half-way through creating the 'Index of names and titles' for the back of the book: an essential addition I feel as it is one of those rambling, anecdotal kinds of books which drips with the names of the great, the good and the not so good.

So, during a break in proceedings, I began thinking about the cover. The book is to be the first in a series of books which reprint work from or about the 'long end of the century' - the 1890s to 1930s - so in thinking about the design it has to be something which is adaptable to the next book and then the next... Also, I'm aware of a trend in the covers of republished classics at the moment, which is to give them a very sleek and modern look, often with b/w photos. Without wanting to appear derivative, it is both a look which I like and a 'brand' which I can opt into.

The cover illustrated here is, genuinely, a trial run. I needed to check that my digital camera was capable, with a little help from photoshop, of taking photos which were good enough for a book cover (the jusry is still out on that), certainly the photo is to change. The thought I have at the moment is the photo wil be of one of Wilde's flowers, a sunflower, a carnation... and that will be used in place of the current picture of an orchid (which we just happened to have around the house!) I expect the final cover will look very different but, nonetheless, as a first attempt, a sketch if you like, I'm reasonably happy with the way this looks so far.

Monday, June 11, 2007

New Post...

... on The Agony and The Ecstasy

The Walk for Life 2007

One of the lovely things about this weekend was the fact that following Equus I was booked with a friend into a hotel for the night, which obviously meant that instead of the sudden rush to Waterloo to ensure not missing the last train, it was possible to wander around the heart of London at night soaking up the atmosphere. The overnight stay was because come the morning R and I and others were joining up to take part in the annual Walk For Life, a six mile (10k) sponsored walk around central London in aid of HIV/AIDS charities around the world and in the UK. Sunday was roastingly hot in London, and humid. The walk, all of which was on concrete, was physically painful by the end and exhausting but nonetheless, thoroughly enjoyable and took us past an enormous range of iconic London landmarks, the kinds of places one doesn’t normally go near if one knows London well. So below are the edited highlights of the walk.

...out of Hyde Park via Hyde Park Corner and down Constitution Hill to the very famous buildling at the bottom of the road...

...past Buckingham Palace and off down the Mall...

...and into Trafalgar Square, where, only the night before my friend and I had watched an amazingly steady drunk on a bike wandering around at 11pm in only a pair of speedos!...

...and then there's the long slog along The Victoria Embankment, made much more pleasant by the views on the way across the river...

...coming up to and then under Blackfriars Bridge they tell us we've done 6k. Everyone comments it seems like there's still more than half way to go, we wonder if this really means there is 6 to go...

...from under Blackfriar's Bridge on the north side where we can see the walkers ahead of us already crossing the Millenium Bridge...

...the Tate Modern from the north bank of the River, the walkers ahead of us still visible along the route...
...coming up the stairs to the Milennium Bridge provides this slight vista of one of London's grandest landmarks - St Paul's Cathedral...

...finally onto the Millenium Bridge from where the views up and down the river are quite superb, including Tower Bridge for the old, and the London Assembly Building for the new...

....and into the seriously busy, artsy bit of The South Bank, where every few steps are secondhand bookstalls, mine artists, pavement artists, graffitti walls with accompanying gaggle of skateboarders and cyclists...

veering off behing the London Eye, to avoid the crush of people normally milling in front of the London Aquarium...

...and across Westminster Bridge, from whence the route back was more or less retracing the first few roads we came out on back to Hyde Park.

The End of Equus...

Those of you who read this blog occasionally might remember that the first time I saw the recent West End production of Equus, on the first preview night, it had a profound and disturbing effect on me which took several days to shake off. Saturday saw the last performance and I was there.

At the end of the performance Richard Griffiths (Martin Dysart) sushed the standing ovation half-way through and made a short but unsentimental speech of thanks to the audience on behalf of the cast and crew. In the course of that speech he remarked how unlike many productions he has been involved with which are set in stone after the press night, this one had evolved and changed right up to the final performance. Having seen the first and last public performances this was mightily evident. This last performance was something of a tour de force and the emotional and dramatic impact of the play had been ramped up by orders of magnitude since the previews. None of the changes were large but there were so many small tweaks that the overall impression was of a huge difference.

The first performance I saw had two slightly disappointing elements for me. The scene at the end of the first half involves Alan Strang (Radcliffe) riding a horse, naked through a field in the middle of the night to the point of a quasi-mystical orgasm. In the first preview, this intensely powerful scene was lacking something, it seemed to be over too quickly, not giving the audience time to become properly aware and then to react to the building sexual tension in what they were witnessing. By the time of this last performance the scene had been tweaked so that the building monologue seemed to take more time and build more slowly to a, therefore, more powerful crescendo. Daniel Radcliffe too, in the preview performance was, not reserved, but his body and voice portrayed more a continuation of the anger that has been brewing in Alan Strang through the first half and not so much the sexual ecstasy required in that scene. In the final performance Radcliffe’s voice and body were unmistakably those of someone in the throws of sexual excitement and orgasm. Where, before, the end of the first half had been dramatic and interesting, it had evolved into an unforgettable, disturbing and passionate moment of theatre.

The second slightly disappointing aspect of the first performance I saw was Richard Griffith’s interpretation of the anguish of the psychiatrist. Griffith’s is always a superb naturalistic actor but his slightly off-hand and easy approach to Dysart’s central tension seemed, just a little, to play down the real torment of a soul which is present in the text. After seeing the first performance I was happy to write this disappointment off as a result of unwilling comparisons with the film in which Richard Burton in the same role sweats, shouts, weeps and rages all direct to camera - clearly a level of intensity not available to the stage actor. However, in this last performance, Griffiths seemed to have found much more of a voice for the sheer agony of Dysart’s position. His final monologue, which closes the play, was a revelation as he speaks of how, now he has set Strang on the road to recovery, he can feel the ‘bit’ of Equus’ bridle in his own mouth and he mimes the pain of it as it breaks up his ability to speak.

Clearly in a last-night performance every stop is going to be pulled out and in this instance, not only did that make for an intensely powerful experience for the audience, it demonstrated a cast of actors at the very top of their game and giving everything they have to the performance. The first time I saw Equus I would have said it was a fantastic performance of a fantastic text, Radcliffe and Griffiths were very, very good in that first preview. In this last performance, the text and the ’performance’ were submerged completely into the experience of a young man’s mental breakdown and healing and a psychiatrist’s torment: Radcliffe and Griffiths were beyond good, their combined and complimentary skills took this last performance to superlative level.

PS. In fact, this is unlikely to be the last that this blog hears of Equus the play. Negotiations whir, contracts flurry... and one day I shall be proudly talking about another project related to Equus.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Big Weekend Coming Up

Another weekend in London - what is the world coming to for such a normally retiring and shy-of-the-world fellow as myself!?

Those of you who have been popping in here for a while will remember that I was present at the first preview night of the new West Production of Equus starring Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths. You may also remember that the whole experience was something quite overwhelming. I am going back, tomorrow night, to see the last performance. It will, of course, be interesting to see how the production has changed over its three month run, and it feels very good to be able to see that I am going to be present at the first and the last.

Then staying overnight...

Then in the morning it's off to Hyde Park for the annual Walk For Life. A huge fundraiser for work in the field of HIV/AIDS both here and abroad. It's been quite a struggle asking people for money but between us R and I have a reasonable enough sum not to feel embarrased I hope. 6 miles through the hard streets of London and probably on a very hot and sunny day - think I'm perhaps not quite prepared for how rough that's going to be on the feet!

A Life-Time Ambition Acheived

It may be a strange thing. I'm prepared to accept that getting a reader's ticket for the British Library might not seem to many people to be something worth longing for. But it really is true: since my teenage years I have consistantly wanted to be classed among those who have this arcane piece of plastic in their wallet. In my defence I must say that at the age of fourteen we (my small circle of friends and I) truly did believe that in some musty basement of the BL there might be a copy of The Necronomicon to be found, if only we could get inside. Also, for many of my teenage and indeed student years, becoming a reader at the library was something more of a trial than it is today. New standards in information access and new trends in public collection management mean that today, unless you seem like a serious risk to the collection you are unlikely to be turned away.

So I was, on Monday just gone, able to spend a very happy day in one of the bright, modern reading rooms at the (still relatively) new British Library building next to St Pancras station. I was able at last to see, read and transcribe from books which I stand no chance of ever being able to own and the result may be something of a burgeoning in my publishing schedule over the next few months.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Nor Let Me Die...

Have spent the evening involved in a personal project for fun only. I've written before about the fact that I enjoy slash fiction and have shown off a couple of 'one-off' books I have made of other people's slash stories. In fact, they have been 'two-off' as I have so far made one for the author and one for me as a way of encouraging the authors to be well-disposed towards signing my copy.

I recently wrote a long slash story of my own which seems to have gone down very well in the world of slash-fiction - and believe me, it's a whole world of its own! And as I was rather proud of the story, I thought I would create a couple of hard-copy, hard-bound books - just the two: one for me and one for the dedicatee, the woman who helped with editing, proofing and provided a general welcome to the status of slash-writer.

The book is bound, for the first time in my experience, with proper endpapers and in Cockerell marbled papers on the boards, with Zerkell mould-made paper on the inside for the text. The layout follows the rules of Jan Tischold which I like to think of as the 'Dark Art of Geometry'. (Thank you NMcD for the initiation).

As always, these one-off personal projects are done with more commercial versions in mind.

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