Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The joy of a good short story

The Swimmer by S J Butler is just one story in The Best British Short Stories 2011, selected by Nicholas Royle and  published by the redoubtable Salt Publishing, (who I can't recommend strongly enough, not just because they publish my daughter-in-law's poetry).So far, every story has been a fine example of the genre, and I am reading them slowly to savour each one.

What impresses me about The Swimmer is not only that it is a beautifully crafted story, and yes, it features a swan who is not the swimmer, but that it was the first story this writer has had published. Here she is, amongst some of the finest fiction writers around, such as Salley Vickers, Hilary Mantel, John Burnside and Michéle Roberts. I would be interested to know how she was chosen. I guess that Nicholas Royle read a great deal of stories in magazines and literary journals, before choosing this selection.

This piece by the anthologist is a thorough examination of the state of short story publishing today.  THRESHOLDS

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dissertation time

Peter Lanyon (1918-1964) Construction for Lost Mine 1958, glass, paint & Bostik, Tate Collection
Lost Mine, 1959, Glass, paint and Bostik, 53.8 x 48.3 x 27.
Together with thousands of young people, mature students like myself are deeply embedded in writing dissertations. The notion appalled me. I am a disorganised writer who muddles through - to quite reasonable marks I have to say - so the thought of keeping 10k words in control was daunting. On the other hand, it is a wonderful opportunity to really dig deep. Even deciding the topic has been hard. I have 'my man' who is Peter Lanyon (1918-1964), the Cornish artist whose work is deeply involved in movement in and through space, above ground, below ground. I have chosen to debate the position of his lesser known 'constructions' (he did not want them referred to as sculpture, reliefs or collage).

Initially, under the tutelage of Ben Nicholson, and inspired by the Constructivist Naum Gabo, he started 'thinking outside the box'. He learned to see things differently, from fresh angles and sometimes all in the same piece, and his early constructions were autonomous works. Then he began to use the concept to create works that were intended to be an aid to his painting, such as this one. He liked to work with found objects, bits and pieces lying around his studio, often broken perspex or glass, stuck together with Bostik. Then he would put them in front of his large canvases and use them in relation to his painting. Actually he mostly painted on board of varying kinds. This was probably due to his practice of layering colours, then scraping away. In 1951 he overdid it on the canvas for Porthleven which was shown at a Festival of Britain exhibition, and having gone through the canvas he then had to repaint on board. (Having worked for many months on the canvas, he completed the ultimate image in just four hours, and its spontaneity shows - surely there is a message there).

He died young (46); well, that is young to me! All his constructions stand alone now, as fascinating works in their own right. He was showing tendencies of Pop Art, although this was more encouragement to others. He would never have stopped painting his environment in huge semi-abstract swirls of beautiful colour. But his attitude to mmovement and himself in and outside space informed his wonderful constructions. And, until his premature death the most fascinating aspect is his deep rooted Cornishness. He was the only one of the modernist St Ives painters who was born and bred there. He travelled quite a bit, but always came home to his beloved West Penwith.

So, on, on I must go. Writing this has helped me consolidate some ideas - another lesson learned. If we just ramble to an unknown and maybe non-existent audience, with no pressures, clarity can come. Watch out for more rambling blogs.