1. THE WORLD NEVER stayed the same long enough for me to feel any confidence in it. It upended itself. So quickly. So often. From comfortable middle-class to poor. From the ashram to the suburbs where neighbours built their demolition-derby cars in their front yards. Recessions. Layoffs. Earthquakes. Nothing ever settled. The realities of one world invited derision in the other. There was nowhere and no one comfortable for me to be. Life had land mines everywhere. With every ‘are you related to…’ I shuddered. I couldn’t explain what had happened. I didn’t want to know what they had done. More than anything I wanted to be normal, but I could never work out what that was.

    I was a sickly child. Minor things, but an endless accumulation of them. My hearing kept going. Measles one year. Rubella the next. Whooping cough – so rare at the time that the doctors seemed genuinely excited to encounter an actual case. Long bouts away from school. My eyesight deteriorated. No one noticed. I couldn’t see the blackboard or the ball properly. I became distracting and distracted at school. I had an unbroken losing streak at squash that lasted three years because the ball kept disappearing.

    It pulled me further and further into my own head. My parents were case studies in the dangers of living there. I began to write songs, but I wasn’t cool, confident, talented or sociable enough to sing or start a band. They remain unsung. I settled for poetry. I found Auden and Eliot. Someone told me I’d like Rimbaud. ‘Rambo?’ the lady at Angus and Robertson asked.

    'No, I think he's French. I'm not sure how you spell it.'

    'Never heard of him. We've got First Blood though.’ I went to the Newcastle University library one Saturday afternoon and spent three hours reading Une Saison en Enfer. I loved it so much that I stole it.

    The only place I became sociable was online. I got a modem in 1986. It changed my life. Bulletin boards. Fidonet. Amigas. 1200/75. Mail hour. I’m showing my age now, but I wasn’t then. On the internet no one knows you’re a dog. Or fourteen. Or living in Shortland. Or who your parents are. Or anything else you don’t need to tell them. I was a different person online than I could ever be in real life. Bolder. Smarter. Wiser. I could pass myself off as grown up. As normal as that world got. I played games and cracked software. I downloaded 2600 and found secret codes that allowed me to call the world for free. I had no one to ring.

    I wrote. It was a text-based world. I wrote a lot. I argued global politics and local development. I learned to write reading Eliot, Auden, Rimbaud and staying up all night arguing with people on the internet. It shows. I was good at it. I argued the school system with a guy for weeks before I admitted I was in Year 11 and my interlocutor told me he was a union rep for the Teacher’s Federation. He invited me to the state conference in Sydney. I accepted. I caught a train. I travelled three hours to Sussex Street before, on the verge of crossing from my invisible to visible self, I shrunk back to my actual size. I didn’t go in.

    Marcus Westbury is one of the classiest foremen in the engine room of creative industry in Australia. This is the beginning of his story - I feel there must be more to come.

  2. Ted and I, by Gerald Hughes, is due this autumn from The Robson Press. Publisher Jeremy Robson, a poet who gave readings with Ted Hughes, acquired the book after Ted Hughes’s daughter Frieda mentioned that her uncle had written a memoir about his upbringing in the Yorkshire village of Mytholmroyd.

    "Frieda and I were having a long lunch, and she mentioned that her uncle had written a memoir and asked if I’d like to see it. What a question!" Robson said at the London Book Fair this week. “It’s an evocative account of their childhood together, roaming the fields, fishing, shooting – all the material for Ted’s later poems, and a good deal more.”

    Gerald is Ted’s older brother. A former gamekeeper, he emigrated to Australia in 1952, but the brothers continued to write frequently to each other.

    Read more

  3. Mrs Winterson continued to have an effect on life choices far removed from her own experience: ‘She hated the small and the mean, and yet that is all she had. I bought a few big houses myself along the way, simply because I was trying out something for her. In fact, my tastes are more modest – but you don’t know that until you have bought and sold for the ghost of your mother.’

    Rather tough essay-review on Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? This quote happens to be something I rather sympathise with, even consider it to be something my own family members do.

    Sure, Winterson may be a bit larger than life, but some of her experiences are not that unusual, surely. Mars-Jones’ essay is perceptive, but borders on harsh for the most part.

    Adam Mars-Jones, LRB 26.

  4. Of all these famous visitors to the Island, however, it was Brian Ó Ceallaigh from Killarney who reaped the greatest harvest there. “An Seabhac” (Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha) urged him to go there to improve his Irish, and gave him a letter of introduction to Tomás Ó Criomhthain. That was in 1917, and it did not take him long to discover the spark in Tomás, and in order to spur him to action he read some of Pierre Loti’s and Maxim Gorky’s work to him, as if to suggest that if their sort could write great literature about the simple lives of fishermen and peasants, surely Tomás could do likewise. That was how Tomás’s diary Allagar na hInise and his autobiography An tOileánach (The Islandman) came to be written within the space of 10 years.

    The first to put pen to paper was Tomás Ó Criomhthain. The Blasket books generated controversy and debate on the Island. Writers were accused of misrepresentation – “that is not how it happened”; “all lies and invention”. Much of this criticism was inspired by envy. Behold, however, the result of their collective efforts up to and including our own time. Other less important books were written by Tomás and Peig, and by two of their sons, Seán Ó Criomhthain and Mícheál Ó Gaoithín (Maidhc File). Since then other books have been written by islanders – Seán Sheáin Í Chearnaigh, Máire Ní Ghuithín, Seán Faeilí Ó Catháin, and Seán Pheats Tom Ó Cearnaigh. They are all draining the last drop with melancholic longing for the past, while the Island where they were born and reared is now home to one-night strangers and stragglers – gulls and ravens – who merely pick the bones.


    History and Heritage of the Blasket Islands, Ireland

    These are the last two paragraphs in an engrossing selection from a booklet written by Irish writer Pádraig Ua Maoileoin. It appears, with attribution, on a Dingle tourism webpage with information on the Blaskets, a group of islands I’ve been interested in since reading Twenty Years A-Growing (in my twenties. Snap).

    I am intrigued by the visiting scholar’s introduction of Loti and Gorky to the Blasket writer. The whole extract is delightful, as is this earlier webpage on island life. I was kind of hoping that a youth hostel on one of the islands was still in action, but this site would suggest otherwise: now, it’s day trips only. Sigh.

  5. Peter has a range of river posts in this blog that are very appealing. I particularly like this one though, mainly for the story about the friend who stared at punks, and the Germans who wanted to buy ‘shirt’.