What a week for brave and startling writing. Tuesday was the launch date of Love's Gutter, a collection of poems by Thomas Glover published by Stepping Out with endorsements to die for from Philip Gross, Georges Szirtes, Rose Flint, Abegail Morley, Elvis McGonagall, and Luke Wright. As Thomas's editor, I was thrilled that all these respected poets made time to read and to recognise the authenticity of these 'poems with punch and verve that linger behind the eyes for hours.' It was a privilege to work with Thomas as well as a pleasure to introduce his words to the world - and specifically the launch party in Cooper's Loft. Thanks, Andrew, for catching all the assembled poets in a jolly moment after the readings.
And on Thursday night Nathan Filer came to the Merlin for an event initially billed as a Poetry Platter, a small and intimate on-stage soiree with supper and poetry. In the time between Nathan agreeing to do this and the actual event, his debut novel made headlines across the literary world by scooping the Costa Book of the Year award, so we sold five times the expected number of tickets and Nathan adapted his performance by general consent to focus on The Shock of the Fall. As my friend & fellow-novelist Debby Holt summarised, "The man is a star: a natural communicator, a born showman and a fascinating commentator about our weird world of writing." As well as being hugely entertaining, Nathan's presentation incorporated encouraging advice to aspirant novelists, and a frank and fascinating insight into his own journey.
Much has been made of Nathan's credentials as a psychiatric nurse in Bristol, but Nathan is quite clear that though his narrator is diagnosed as having schizophrenia, this is "not a story about mental illness, it's a story about Matthew and his family, and how they deal with loss and grief." He sees this first-person novel as in the lineage of Vernon Godlittle, Frank in The Wasp Factory, Christopher in Curious Incident, and JD Salinger's Holden Cauldfield. "There’s a lot of nonsense written about schizophrenia, some malicious and some misconception, and I don't want to propegate malicious myths," he says: "Matthew is brave, decent, and kind - he's also irascible, conflicted, and can be horrible. He has a pernicious illness but he does not let that define him.”
Even though we didn't have time to hear about his trip to the West Bank and subsequent deportation (you can read about that in his Palestine blog) we did manage a quick peek down memory lane as Nathan produced a cutting from the Frome Times about the first time he stepped onto the Merlin stage. This was ten years ago when as Writer in Residence I decided to bring slam-style poetry to Frome, and a couple of youngsters named Nathan Filer and Luke Wright were on the bill.... I had a rummage when I got home and found the same clip ~ and realised I still wear that top...
Seems a good moment to reflect on the joy of writing - views about which The Guardian recently asked nine well-known authors. To save you wading through a welter of words like misery, discomfort, depression, boredom, anguish, dread, here's a breath of fresh sense from Will Self: "Frankly, if I didn't enjoy writing novels, I wouldn't do it - the world hardly needs any more... fiction is my way of thinking about and relating to the world." Julie Myerson broke the mould of melancholy angst too: "It is a joyous thing. I feel very lucky to be paid to do it.. but the person I'm really always writing for is me." Well said, both.