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Publishing internship (6-month placement)

Fitzcarraldo Editions is currently recruiting for a 6-month publishing internship through the DWP Kickstart scheme, paid at the London Living Wage. Providing support to Fitzcarraldo Editions’ staff, the publishing intern will be involved in every aspect of the publishing process, including editorial, production, publicity, marketing, foreign rights and general office administration. The position will suit someone able to work as part of a small team but also willing to use their initiative and work on their own. Attention to detail and an interest in contemporary literature are essential.

Suitable candidates must be aged 16-24, based in London, currently be claiming Universal Credit and are required to apply through local Job Centres following a referral from their Work Coach. Deadline for applications: 28 April 2021.

Anyone interested should speak to your Work Coach as soon as possible, quoting the postcode (SE8 3DX / SE1), as well as the job title and organisation.

Lynn Gallagher’s Postcards by Jeremy Cooper


In Bolt from the Blue, Jeremy Cooper, the winner of the 2018 Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize, charts the relationship between a mother and daughter over the course of thirty-odd years. In October 1985, Lynn moves down to London to enrol at Saint Martin’s School of Art, leaving her mother behind in a suburb of Birmingham. Their relationship is complicated, and their primary form of contact is through the letters, postcards and emails they send each other periodically, while Lynn slowly makes her mark on the London art scene. Here, Jeremy Cooper takes us through some of the postcards that appear in the novel.

[p.245] Carla Cruz’s postcard ‘To be an Artist in Portugal is an Act of Faith’, 2003

All my books, sixteen or more publications to date, novels and non-fiction, are centred on subjects I know and care about. In the case of Bolt from the Blue, the world inhabited by Lynn Gallagher is personally familiar to me, her progress as a young artist in London from the mid 1980s till the death of her mother in 2018 is informed by my friendship with artists of her generation, several of whom are named as themselves in the novel. Although I did not think of this when settling down to plan the book, in the course of writing it I decided to lend Lynn one of my more recent key interests: the collection of artists’ postcards. Being an artist, it soon became clear that Lynn would need also be the maker of some of the postcards she sent to her mother over the years, and instead of inventing spurious and possibly inadequate works I pretended it was she who created the examples from my collection. For instance, the painting on the Gordon Matta-Clark postcard described on page seventy-three of the novel is in fact the work of a young Spanish artist called Cristina Garrido, an MA graduate from Wimbledon College of Art, in a technique she used in another of her manipulated postcards, part of my gift in 2019 to the British Museum.

Every postcard sent by Lynn actually exists. As a way of communicating Lynn’s politics, I mostly selected on her behalf commercially printed cards from the political section of my collection, which is in the process of preparation for a substantial exhibition planned for Tate Liverpool. Some of these postcards, particularly the outstanding body of work published by Leeds Postcards between 1979 and 1996, were printed in relatively large numbers and, being easy enough to find, appear in several of my exhibitions. Paul Morton’s great Thatcher card [p.42] and Richard Scott’s graphic I Don’t Give A Shit What Your House Is Worth [p.15] were both illustrated in the catalogue which Thames & Hudson published of my British Museum show The World Exists to be Put on a Postcard. Spare examples of these two Leeds Postcards will also go to Liverpool. Another show I am working on, of artists’ portrait postcards, is planned for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and will include a rare postcard image of the avant-garde American performer Vito Acconci [p.118] – he is one of Lynn’s ‘favourite artists’, and one of mine too. Already fixed for 2023/24 is an exhibition of European artists’ postcards at the Dresden Kupferstich Kabinett, of the same size and scope as the British Museum show, resulting in the permanent gift by me to Dresden of another thousand cards, including the artist Carla Cruz’s postcard To be an Artist in Portugal is an Act of Faith [p.245].

[p.227] The most recent of the postcards, Jonathan Horowitz’s anti-Trump diatribe, was in fact not yet made when I describe Lynn’s Mum sending it on January 2016 from Spain to her daughter in London. The publishers, Primary Information of New York, produced a series of these polemical postcards, stating that they ‘see the need to double down on this form as a political space embedded with the urgency, diversity, and complexity of voices that are the hallmark of our times. Who better to do this than artists?’

*

[p.18] The Guerrilla Girls collective of a fluctuating group of unnamed women artists was founded in New York in the mid-1980s and is still active today, hiding their identity by wearing guerrilla masks in public.. One of ten billboards presented by the Public Art Fund in 1991, this one was sited on West Side Highway at 48th Street, New York.

*

[p.106] This Leeds Postcard, published in 1984, strongly represents the hundreds of postcards they made for trades unions and other left-wing groups, printed on the reverse: ‘NALGO, Britain’s biggest white collar trade union, is campaigning for equal pay for work of equal value.’ Jo Morris’ design was originally published the year before in her book No More Peanuts: Evaluation of Women’s Work.

*

[p.69] Gender and sexuality were standard subjects in political postcards, seldom more poignant than in the set designed by Aboud-Sodano and published in the mid-1990s for free distribution to combat AIDS by the Terrence Higgins Trust. The Irish designer Alan Aboud made his name with work for Paul Smith.

*

[p.79] The main body of postcard work in my museum exhibits is of cards designed by artists for significant shows, such as this rare early YBA survival, an invitation to the opening on 20 May 1998 at Kölnischer Kunstverein. The Goldsmiths-trained artists Sarah Lucas and Angus Fairhurst were living together at the time and sharing a studio in Clerkenwell.

*

*

[p.42] The founder in Yorkshire of Hot-Frog Graphics, Paul Morton, designed a number of Leeds Postcards, this dot-to-dot card of Mrs Thatcher in 1984, captioned on the reverse: ‘Thatcher Therapy. Take a broad, black, water-based felt-tip pen and follow the dots until Mrs Thatcher’s face is obliterated. Wipe clean and it’s ready for the next go. In no time at all you’ll be looking forward to starting the day with fresh vigour.’

*

[p.118] Vito Acconci, a lifelong radical, used this 1959 image of himself in the marines on an invitation postcard to his solo show Rehearsals for Architecture in 2003 at the gallery Kenny Schachter/Rove in New York. Acconci said of architecture: ‘Maybe you can sneak something in. You can sneak something in that maybe gives people a chance to think.’

*

[p.94] This is another of those postcards which Lynn claimed to have made herself but is, in this case, one of an ongoing series by Duncan Wooldridge begun in 2007, in which he meticulously removes with an India rubber the writing in a message on commercial postcards made from Gillian Wearing’s photographs of 1992-3. Standing in a shopping precinct in Peckham, South London, the tattooed man had written the message CERTIFIED AS MILDLY INSANE

*

[p.30] Like other cartoonists of the period, Angela Martin worked on groups of themes and characters, most of them feminist in essence, publishing postcards with The Women’s Press, Cath Tate Cards and, most frequently, Leeds Postcards. Another postcard of Martin’s ironical Famous Radical Feminist Sayings, also published by Leeds Postcards in 1994, read ‘The personal is … IKEA’.

***

Bolt from the Blue publishes 27 January 2021

Esther Kinsky and Caroline Schmidt on gardens

While in lockdown, Esther Kinsky, author of River and Grove, and Caroline Schmidt, translator of Grove from German to English, have both been focusing on gardening. Here they share one of their email exchanges about gardening and photographs of their successes.

(EK to CS, May 29 2020)
How is your little cherry tree doing that seemed like a shivering waif in the March sunlight? One of my cherry trees in the orto (planted last year) has five immaculate cherries to show for itself. The fruit tree miracle is my peach tree, also planted last year, which is full of little flat vineyard peaches. 

But the flowers! The first wave of rose bloom is already over, and unfortunately my great project of having an old English climbing rose (nicely named ‘Shropshire Lass’) intertwine itself with a late blooming violet Clematis on the rose arch hasn’t worked out, they’ve just missed each other, the tips are touching, but the lass has finished her first bloom (rosy white, as befits the name) while the clematis is only just coming out and looking a bit stark with nothing but the thin black iron of the rose arch to match its deep violet. Maybe next year they shall wed.

My seven English roses have all survived my learning curve here in Italy, some are thriving more than others. Roses are such strange creatures, they are characters really, sometimes they make me think of cats because they also do as they please. But probably I’m just an impatient and inconsistent gardener, too greedy for beauty. Apart from that, I’m almost aghast at the size and copiousness of my snapdragon (up to my shoulders), Sweet William, and Nigella, and Echinacea. The former two come from a 70 cent Lidl seed packet, I have to confess (I hate Lidl and usually limit my shopping there to cat food, but the seeds have proved to be quite something). I really recommend Nigella, these wispy flowers in so many shades of blue, very undemanding, after the blossom they form pretty seeds pods, and the seeds make a wonderful spice (black cumin).

Last year’s English poppies have self seeded and are now, probably after some cross fertilisation with the wild red poppies, developing the most amazing colours and colour effects, I attach a few photos, they are so delicate and short lived, and that’s why their beauty is so touching. I hope we’ll manage an Olson week this year and you’ll see the garden.

Did I tell you how much I like your project to offer a kind of collaborative residency? Maybe I can come and contribute something one day, and write a text about Altfriedland, the birds, the Wende.. But I’m not good at building work, so you’d have to find something else for me. Sewing curtains, or gardening. A week of weeding! Not such a nightmare in the sandy soil of the Mark, as Martin used to say. Apparently the Mark Brandenburg was called the sandpit of Europe in the 18th/19th century. (The Friuli is charmingly named the pissoir of Europe because of the precipitation). Considering the martial inclinations of the Prussians the name is rather deceptive.

 

(CS to EK, June 2 2020)

Your flowers are gorgeous, and you’ve convinced me to take a trip to Lidl the next time I’m in Seelow.

Helga says it was a bad year for peaches. She is 80 and lives alone. Every evening she sits down on her veranda and says to her garden: ich weiss du bringst mich um, aber ich liebe dich!

Whenever I water the garden, I imagine the neighbours are rolling their eyes, thinking: there she goes again, giving the weeds a drink! But being a negligent gardener has its advantages. After avoiding eye contact with our blackberry bushes for days, which were drowning in stinging nettle, I was pleasantly surprised to find they had sprouted three squash plants, as big as squirrels. The seeds must have come from the compost.

And when you don’t have a lawn, you have other things, like Storchschnabel. The seedpods are nutty, supposedly; they tasted green to me. Still, I appreciate that the name invites you to see them as beaks.

Readings MINOR DETAIL by Adania Shibli and Elisabeth Jaquette

Minor Detail begins during the summer of 1949, one year after the war that the Palestinians mourn as the Nakba – the catastrophe that led to the displacement and expulsion of more than 700,000 people – and the Israelis celebrate as the War of Independence. Israeli soldiers capture and rape a young Palestinian woman, and kill and bury her in the sand. Many years later, a woman in Ramallah becomes fascinated to the point of obsession with this ‘minor detail’ of history. A haunting meditation on war, violence and memory, Minor Detail cuts to the heart of the Palestinian experience of dispossession, life under occupation, and the persistent difficulty of piecing together a narrative in the face of ongoing erasure and disempowerment.

Reading Aloud Allowed

Antonia Lloyd-Jones, translator from Polish, describes her experience of reading her own translation for the audiobook recording of DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD by 2018 Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk

When Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, was shortlisted for several prizes including the Man Booker International award in 2019, there were a number of public promotional events, at which I did readings from the book. To maximise the opportunity, I never read the same extract twice. I chose dialogue-free extracts, and made the unconventional narrator sound eccentric, to catch the audience’s attention, and give them an idea of the whole book – black comedy, with this strange character at its heart. These readings were well received, and even though the book didn’t win any prizes, I was rewarded by kind comments and excellent sales. To my surprise, several people asked if I was going to read the audiobook. I hadn’t heard of a translator doing that, but authors read their own work, so why not? I asked Jacques Testard, the publisher, if it was possible. He liked the idea, but although hoping to make an audiobook, he didn’t yet have the resources.

Meanwhile the much larger American publisher was planning to record one, so I offered my services, but was told I sounded too British. The job went to an American professional actress of Polish origin, who read it with a mild Polish accent, and won an award for her reading. I was disappointed, but realised I’d expected too much. I thought the whole thing was off and forgot about it.

Almost a year later, Jacques told me that Fitzcarraldo had received a grant to make some audiobooks, and would I still like to record Drive Your Plow… for the UK market? I immediately said yes, although I knew it would be a challenge.

 

How to get it wrong

The recording schedule was tough – three days to read 268 pages. I felt nervous on the first day, and soon discovered that I wasn’t properly prepared. Of course I knew the text well, but I had never read the whole thing aloud to an audience before, just short, self-contained pieces, for a few minutes at a time, to make an impression quickly.

On that first day I expected to record six chapters, but after four, Kate Bland, the audiobook producer, said she thought we’d better stop to allow Tamara Sampey-Jawad – the Fitzcarraldo editor responsible for their audiobooks – to hear it, and decide if that was what they wanted. It was obvious from her tone that it wasn’t what she would have wanted. I asked her to tell me straight what I was doing wrong. She was diplomatic, but made some general suggestions: I wasn’t differentiating the characters well enough in the dialogues, and I wasn’t getting the pace right for long sections where the narrator describes a scene at length, or expounds one of her bizarre theories.

I was crestfallen – so I was out of my league. As someone with no professional training, I’d been presumptuous to imagine I could do this. I was afraid Tamara would listen to the recording, agree with Kate, and ask me to stop. Instead, she liked it, and I was back on board. But I knew I should listen to Kate’s warning. I asked to defer the recording to give me time to do some more thinking, and to prepare properly.

 

How to get it right, possibly

In my efforts to find a new approach, first I consulted friends: an actor who has recorded lots of audiobooks, and a theatre director. They gave good advice, and prompted me to listen to some existing audiobooks with a new ear. I also read the entire book again, aloud, to rehearse, which earned me some funny looks on public transport.

As I read, I highlighted the dialogue to give myself visual cues for the lines spoken by different characters. I realised that I shouldn’t give them accents or strong quirks of speech, because I wouldn’t remember who spoke how, it would be hard to keep up, and it could sound off-putting or patronising. Instead I simply had to alter the tone to reflect who was speaking and what they were saying – act the lines, as it were, and pause between them to allow the listener to keep pace with changes of speaker.

Most importantly, I realised, or rather remembered, that the narrator was the key to the whole reading. When I translated the book to be read on paper, I had made sure that although the central character, Janina Duszejko, is plainly eccentric, she shouldn’t be too weird, or the reader wouldn’t want to stick with her to the final page. For the purposes of the story, ideally the reader needs to sympathise with her, even though she’s a rebellious non-conformist who rubs people up the wrong way. More than that, the reader needs to become complicit with her as she embarks on some unusual behaviour. I think she sounds quite stylised in Polish, and it works, but for English-language readers I instinctively feel she should be a little less overtly strange, so in my translation I reined her in a bit, to make sure the reader found her likeable as well as odd.

Now I realised that I needed to do the same thing for the listener. Reading aloud adds another layer of interpretation – reading off the page for themselves, the readers understand the text in their own way, but the actor reading the audiobook inevitably interprets, influencing the listeners’ response. While in short bursts at public events it had been all right for me to add a tone to tell the audience that Duszejko is eccentric, that was the worst thing I could do when reading the entire book. It would become annoying after an hour or two – and that’s what Kate had picked up on. I was making the narrator too alien, and ultimately unsympathetic.

So I took a new approach, and read it straightforwardly, as me, rather than the way I imagined the character might sound in real life. And it all fell into place – reading it without encumbering myself by “acting” the narrator allowed me to change the pitch, pace and tone when I actually needed to. I felt much more relaxed when I came to do the recording, and wasn’t fazed by the dialogues either. Of course I can’t be the judge of the result, but Kate seemed happy with my change of approach.

 

How it works in practice

If you’re wondering how audiobooks are made, the producer sits you down in a recording studio, carefully adjusting the seat and the position of the microphone to make sure you’re comfortable. Then she shuts you in there alone, taking her place on the other side of a glass screen, at a computer showing the sound levels. She speaks to you through a microphone, occasionally making useful comments. In my case, the book was on a stand in front of me as I read, and I made pauses to turn the page, a noise that has to be edited out afterwards.

It’s impossible to read for long without fluffing. Some sentences took several goes, making me feel like a scratched CD that’s juddering. Some words just decide to be bolshie: I had trouble with ‘retrograde’, ‘particularly’, and ‘deaths’. Thankfully, the producer removes all the false starts, coughs and splutters, making the recording sound smooth as silk. So yes, there is some mild cursing, but it ends up on the cutting-room floor.

The text included two songs, one very famous, but on my theatre director’s advice I didn’t attempt to sing, but spoke them. I had to check in advance some dates in German, and how to pronounce some unusual words, including ‘adipocere’, ‘Ephemerides’, ‘pyknic’ and ‘butyric’. Oh, and Cucujus haematodes.

Of course, as the translator, I couldn’t resist making a few tiny amendments as I read, and even found a mistake, where a ‘not’ had been left out, so the audiobook is slightly different from the printed edition.

And it was bloody hard work – try reading 104 pages aloud in a period of six hours with two half-hour breaks. After the first day I felt as if I’d swallowed tin tacks. Hurray for Strepsils and especially for (disgusting but effective) Vocalzone throat pastilles, honey and lemon juice.

 

What I learned

Even after translating this book, reading the whole text aloud showed it to me in a fresh light. It confirmed what I knew, that Olga Tokarczuk is a brilliant writer. Perhaps only a former psychotherapist could have created the extraordinary Janina Duszejko, who talks a lot of truth and common sense, but who can also come across as seriously unwell and out of control. Reading it again so intensely made me have new feelings about Duszejko – she partly inspired me as I found myself sympathising with her often extreme views about animal rights and human folly, and she partly made me want to get away from her at high speed as she gradually slid off the rails.

Perhaps some people will like my reading, and some won’t – the sound of someone else’s voice is a personal thing. But I hope I’ve done justice to Olga Tokarczuk and her extraordinary creation, Janina Duszejko.

Thank you to everyone at Fitzcarraldo Editions and Cast Iron Radio.

Esther Kinsky and Caroline Schmidt present GROVE

In Grove an unnamed narrator, recently bereaved, travels to Olevano, a small village south-east of Rome. It is winter, and from her temporary residence on a hill between village and cemetery, she embarks on walks and outings, exploring the banal and the sublime with equal dedication and intensity. Seeing, describing, naming the world around her is her way of redefining her place within it.

Here, author Esther Kinsky shares photographs of the places that inspired Grove and gives a reading, followed by a short talk by the translator, Caroline Schmidt on the experience of translating Grove.

 

 

 


Dispatches

From Katharina Volckmer, London, UK

I wanted to write about the books I’m reading. About Tolstoy, Proust, Bachmann, Bernhard, Humboldt, Stepanova, Vuong, Preciado, Nelson and Smith. About colours and how they move me. How I painted the door of an old shed in bright turquoise and felt redeemed. About how desperate I am to visit the Forbes Pigment collection in Harvard. How I imagine that standing in front of colours which no longer exist elsewhere would heal my broken soul. I wanted to write about how colours can tell us what is right and what is dangerous. About how the aesthetics of Netflix are so ugly that I want to cry. About how some pigments continue to be made from organic matter. That some famous paintings are made with cow piss and pulverised mummies. How brutal beauty really is. About how if we stare at green for long enough our eyes will interfere and turn everything red. How red is the oldest pigment we know. How we can only stare at things for so long before our brain stops blurring their existence. I wanted to write about my body and how it keeps drifting in and out of me. How there is no desire left. How I’m scared that all the wrong forces are in charge now. That nobody will ever fuck again and all museums will be permanently closed. About how all colours will cease to exist and we will have to destroy someone before we can create again. I wanted to write about how Stalin was right that a single death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic. How I think that all historical anecdotes are bullshit and usually told by self-important men who think they are a mix between Churchill, The Godfather and Joyce. I wanted to write about how all I want from these daily numbers, 761, 897, 937 is to go down. How I want people to stop dying so I can carry on with my empty pleasures. How I have started to do workouts and live in hope of a firmer ass. I wanted to write about how a zoo in Germany has contemplated slaughtering some of its animals to feed the rest. How they have a fucking list and how their polar bear would come last. How this is exactly what we are doing. How we sacrifice each other to get to the top of the list. How we play around with the word essential. How we brush our shining white fur and look down on antelopes and meerkats as second-rate cat food. How beating hearts suddenly become disposable. How Count Bezukhov says – Whilst I’m alive, I should live. How we think that only joy can reconcile us to our fate.

Katharina Volckmer is the author of The Appointment, forthcoming from Fitzcarraldo Editions in September 2020.

Dispatch from Rotterdam

By Kate Briggs

The book I have been working on for the last three years has two main characters: a young woman and her newborn baby. I have been drawing on observation, on reading, my own experience. But mostly I have been making them both up. Each weekday morning since the schools closed here in Rotterdam, I have been getting up early, before my kids wake up, to spend a couple of hours with the two of them: trying to make them do things, think things, look at, touch and feel things. The other day, after describing this new routine, a friend asked me whether, given the new reality of our situation and all the unknowns to come, I still felt the project was relevant. Honestly, her question floored me. I realized – but only in the moment of her asking – that it hadn’t yet occurred to me to consider, let alone to worry about, this, and immediately went into a spiral of self-doubt: was this a good sign for my state of mind, for my capacity to respond to the world, for the book, or a very very bad one?

I have been thinking about these questions a lot.

I think I have two possible answers to them now.

The first is that it has clearly felt, if not exactly relevant, then at least necessary and important to go quietly in the morning into this other space at my desk, populated mostly by other people’s books, and spend some solitary time there, before relaying with my partner and being pulled into all the other activities (home-schooling, online teaching, a bit of indoor and outdoor exercise) of the day.

The second is that this book-in-progress, in ways I still find hard to articulate (even to myself), is also about the novel as an art-form and so also, to my mind, about relevance: about spheres or circles of relevance, how they are generated and how they can be made to open and expand. Something I have been trying to write about is now an almost outmoded form of address, the kind that used to open a formal letter, like an unpaid electricity bill, before the cookies (the algorithms?) knew everyone by name and addressed us personally. (I still have to check my impulse to feel touched by an automatically generated email taking the trouble to write: Dear Kate, Hi Kate). To Whom It May Concern – I remember getting letters that opened like this. It seems to me to be a very novelistic form of address. On the one hand, to some degree targeted and precise: the letter addresses a person, is seeking to address a person, very likely the person who happens to open it. But, on the other, the whom is still very undecided, as yet undetermined. So, the letter asks, sharing the responsibility for answering the question out, is this of concern to you? Will this, the subject matter to follow, be of immediate and obvious concern to you? Possibly not. But, the phrasing suggests, there’s a chance. It’s the may that leaves the door open. Who may this – for instance, a book that opens and stays with a baby – concern? Who would it appear to concern most immediately and who might find themselves included, perhaps unexpectedly, within the remit of its address? Surprised, a bit wrong-footed to find that a subject, a setting, a set of actions or problems that they didn’t think mattered to them, that they wouldn’t have thought was of any particular interest or concern to them, can matter.

This – getting taken by surprise by unexpected, unlikely concern – happened to me recently with a book written by one of my oldest friends. He is a sculptor, and also into skateboarding. The two for him are indirectly, sometimes very directly, related. I have always felt like I could meet him anywhere, on any level of his life’s interests, but not on small wheels. Not my bag, I would say to him, deliberately choosing a translation-resistant expression he’d appreciate: not my bag, not my thing, my friend. But then there has been this mother-character, and the way she uses a corner of her street, a patch of urban planning where, for no obvious reason (to prevent cars parking?) large round stones have been sunk into concrete, how she has discovered that if she rolls the pram very slowly over this edging of the pavement the rise and fall – like great rollers working to lift and tip a ship – can sometimes get the baby to sleep. And I found myself reaching for Raphaël’s clear and thoughtful prose, feeling, for the first time, very directly concerned by his documentation of the activation of public space, and especially of public art, by skateboarders: making monumental sculptures kinetic, animating solid forms into temporary liquid waves a person can surf.*

With so much more clearly and critically at stake, something like this, something somewhere in the region of this sudden spreading out of the remit of relevance, has happened with the virus. Day by day the circle expands: it’s way over there, it’s only the flu, it’s over here, the schools and my students’ studios are closed, someone’s father is dying. We are all concerned now. We didn’t expect to be at the start of it, but now we are.

COVID-19 is not a literary problem, I realize.

But I think the question of relevance – which is also the question of concern, who is concerned by what, who sees what as pertaining to themselves and their own interests and situation – is. And I am coming to believe that, as in the personal-impersonal letter, personal because it arrived at my door, impersonal because it doesn’t know me, it doesn’t even know my name, relevance is something always to be sought out, to be asked for searchingly, also hopefully – Could this matter? Might this track in at the outer edges of your concerns? – and not given, never taken for granted in advance. For who am I to have decided, already and for you, what interests you, what might come to matter or pertain to you?

In the afternoons, as an improvised extra-curricular activity for these weeks off school, my youngest has been co-writing a story with four of his friends. Step one was for each them to think of a character, name him or her and describe them. They invented Planet, a she-dragon who lives on the sun; Lightrock, an evil gargoyle with big wings; Icon, a scavenger who drives a red Tesla; Fynix, a transformer who can blast lightning from his hands. The idea is that each household takes turns to write a chapter of the story. Our method has been for my son to freestyle while I type, trying to keep pace. The ideas come so fast: Planet is too hot on the sun. So she flies down from the sun to the highest mountain on earth. The very highest peak of the highest mount. A mist falls. The mist rises. There is a blast of lightening. Lightrock appears, showing his evil face –

NO MUM!

Sammy shouts in my ear with such force and volume my hands leap from the keys.

What what what? I stare at him, thinking he must be in pain.

Go back! He is wide-eyed, totally into it: a blue mist.

A blue mist falls.

Right, right. I press delete; go back: a blue mist falls.

There is a blast of lightning. Then, the mist rises. Lightrock appears, showing his evil face.

Okay, I think. So this is how you do it. Let me learn from this. This is how to make things up. This is what it looks like to be properly invested in the elements in your bag (your problems, your questions, your objects, your passions, your fantasy fictional scenarios), this is the lightning-power of conviction that can for a minute, for a half-an-hour, for the duration of my typing the story, or for some passage of my life, make it the bag that I am prepared to carry around, too.

*Raphaël Zarka, Free Ride: skateboard, méchanique Galiléene et formes simples (Paris: Editions B42, 2011) and Riding Modern Art (Paris: Editions B42, 2017).

Kate Briggs is the author of This Little Art.

Diarist, letter writer, painter, poet

From Sophie Hughes, Birmingham, UK

I have very few childhood memories of my paternal grandmother, Barbara Hughes (née Holland). I really got to know her in my twenties. By that time, neither of us bothered with conventional grandmother-granddaughter roles. We became friends and have shared hundreds of correspondence, mostly online.

In an early email to her in 2008, I asked Barb about her husband, my paternal grandfather, who I could barely remember. Architect, playwright, drinker, rogue. The ‘playwright’ part was beginning to interest me, a gradually engaging student of literature. I wanted to know more. She put the answer on hold, replying only that: ‘I am dogged by the feeling that I must get the record of his tremendous talent documented’.

In eleven of Barb’s emails to me she refers to herself as a ‘BOVLB’ (AA Milne’s ‘bear of very little brain’). In a 2012 email, long after I’d begun to suspect who the creative energy in that duo had really belonged to, she confirmed my inkling that she was in fact a bear of very considerable brain (and wit, creativity and talent) who had simply not been seen in the same light as her husband: ‘My favourite situation has always been a reflected glory glow!’ she signed off, cheerfully, as if she had not just encapsulated the sad fate of all wives to husbands who encourage (or don’t discourage) an idea of themselves as ‘tremendous talents’.

Today, her artistic legacy outshines his: dozens of poems, paintings and sketches, years’ worth of diaries that chronicle an extraordinary self-education in classical music (a concert a night, for a time); an incognito creative life that I might have known nothing about had she not insisted, throughout her turbulent life, on writing for herself. Her husband published. She wrote.

This week, the suddenly Barbaraless, locked-down world beyond my house is unrecognisable and inaccessible, and I have time to sit with her emails, song recommendations and poems (or the ‘best ones […] and that’s not saying much’), which she emailed me over the years, remembering not the grandmother, but the woman who never stopped writing.

 

The diarist

Here is an entry from Saturday 30th March 1946, when she visited Leonard Woolf (something about a broken gramophone). A pioneer of the ‘accompanying playlist’, in her diaries there is a song for every occasion:

‘A foggy day in London town (sung by Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald). The bus crept along and I was late getting to Victoria. He was standing in the street, his back towards me, looking up at the Mansion flats as if he had not seen them before. Was he expecting her to emerge from the building, the sound of that clanking lift, a muffled echoing reaching outside.  Leonard turned around and lifted both arms, bringing the palms of his hands together in an instant prayer. “Virginia hated fog – in London”.  His arm around my shoulder we went in…..’

 

The letter writer

I have three of her paintings hanging by the entrance to my house like amulets.

One of them (pictured above) was painted from a photograph taken in early January 1978, from a period in the seventies when Barb was living in Abu Dhabi and later in Al Ain. She was, she told me in an email from 2012, like the speaker in Walter de la Mare’s poem, ‘crazed with the spell of far Arabia’: ‘These kids were straight out of the desert – those lovely orange flowers from the great garden city of Al Ain just springing up, were theirs.’ Barb had a way of seeing and remembering people. Some of her emails remind me of Natalia Ginzburg’s personal essays in this respect, but also perhaps because of that classic Ginzburgian line, which is also classic Barb: ‘There is one corner of my mind in which I know very well what I am, which is a small, a very small writer.’ Barb was a small writer, but one whose words, unspooling without punctuation from her naturally digressing mind, or springing up like lovely orange flowers between parenthesis, were hers.

 

The poet

For some time now,

weeks,

I have been half dead:

not under the ground,

resting

in a brown funereal

parlour,

not grim, but rather

jolly:

like a French film coffin

knowing

the funny man would come,

trip,

and lift the lid.

Certainly the top would come off.

 

I did not expect

a tune

from Claude Debussy

dying of cancer

1914

out of the sepia

listening

a tight white light

firing

each vertebra

once,

life lumber puncture.

Certainly I could stand up again.

 

Barbara Hughes

15 January 1926 – 19 March 2020

 

* Claude Debussy, Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Minor, played by Alfred Cortot and Jacques ThibaudSophie Hughes is the translator of Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor.

 

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