Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Busy Summer

Several interesting projects came my way this summer, including editing an edition of a Turkish history magazine – link to follow when it is live.

Among other commissions, I have written the catalogue essay for a thought-provoking exhibition of epic photographic triptychs by Ben Gibson-Cowan.

I am about to start some translations from the French, for a British university’s academic journal.

I am also working on my own creative writing… and developing some London walks tracking literary landmarks in the ‘Outlaw Borough’, Southwark.

Always looking for more interesting assigments though!

 

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RIP Heathcote Williams

RIP HEATHCOTE WILLIAMS 1941 – 2017

It was with great sadness that I attended the funeral of Heathcote Williams, who died on the 1st July. Heathcote had been ill, and in hospital, but he was still so full of life, ideas, and plans…

But how wonderful to see the beautiful church of St Barnabas in Oxford filled with hundreds of people who had come to mark his life and his legacy. When we arrived, Heathcote’s voice, a recorded reading of ‘Whale Nation’, inhabited the space entirely, echoing from the vaulted ceilling and swirling round us as if we were, indeed, in the deep seas or, perhaps, tiptoeing into eternity. Grey Gowrie’s wonderful eulogy, placing Heathcote in the pantheon of the great rebel writers which includes Shelley and William S. Burroughs.

There were portents, too, both grand and comedic – just as Heathcote would have ordained it:

First, as the mourners walked along the canal towpath towards the church, a huge hawk circled over us the whole way (H for Hawk, for Heathcote too, perhaps). Intimations of freedom? Michael Horovitz sang ‘Stairway to Heaven’…

Later, sitting outside a pub opposite the church, after the wicker coffin woven with flowers had begun its final journey, and as the murmuring congregation flowed along the street… a fly buzzed through my hair, making me jump out of my seat with surprise. It landed, legs in the air, stone dead on the table in front of me. It was exactly the image that Heathcote had used to illustrate his poem from the ‘American Porn’ collection, ‘The White House Fly’. Why me? Because when we were working on the book, we had some lengthy and energetic discussions about dramatically cutting ‘The White House Fly’… I thought the brilliance of the conceit was obscured by the original length of the poem. Heathcote, graciously, conceded, but I couldn’t help thinking he would have loved to have given me this last scare… and a laugh. The fly was solemnly placed in a plastic sandwich box by Tymon Dogg and thereafter accompanied us for the rest of an extraordinarily peripatetic wake.

Heathcote was a one-off; the foremost leftfield/underground bard of our times. His environmental (Whale Nation, Autogeddon etc) and political (Brexit Boris, American Porn) polemics offer a no-holds-barred critique of everything that is wrong with our world today – from the wilful destruction of the planet and its animals to the infamous branding of all Moslems as terrorists and the inevitability of Donald Trump’s election to lead a nation of ‘pornographers and warmongers’.

Eton and Oxford educated, few would have anticipated his life-long devotion to anti-establishment causes, including running the infamous Rough Tough Cream Puff squatting ‘estate agency’ in Notting Hill (providing break-in housing tips for members of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Slits among others) in the 1970s.

He was a modest man and a joy to work with editorially.

RIP Heathcote…may your words live forever.

Susan de Muth

 

The Jericho Fly

 

Lost Aragon Stories from the Resistance Currently Being Translated

I am working on three fascinating short stories by the great French writer, Louis Aragon, which were lost for many years, having been published cladestinely during the war under the pseudonym Saint Romain Arnaud. I found this little book in a junk shop in Paris (picture below).

The stories are about life under Nazi occupation: a bickering elderly couple are visited by a Gestapo search team;  a bored country priest becomes the unwitting accomplice to a resistance bomb plot; a sports journalist charts his own political journey via a decade of cycling events.

Witty and chilling at the same time, with an almost journalistic approach to narration, these stories are very unlike his surrealist writings.

Watch this space for availability via Thin Man Press and Kindle.

Major NPG Claude Cahun Show References my Translation of ‘Disavowals’

The ongoing exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, which ends 29 May 2017, places Claude Cahun – whose most important literary work, ‘Disavowals’ I translated from French for Tate Publishing – alongside contemporary British artist, Gillian Wearing.

Both artists, born seventy years apart, deal with universal themes of identity, gender and notions of self-disclosure often via self-portraiture and masquerade.

It took me three years to translate Cahun’s complex and utterly unique work. I was commissioned by Professor Dawn Ades, who gave a very interesting talk about the exhibition (for which she wrote the catalogue introduction) at the NPG last week. I was in the audience, and in the course of the event, she frequently referenced my book and even waved it around so that the audience could see it!

I have to say that I am rather baffled that nobody from the NPG saw fit to invite me to participate in any of the events associated with the show; when Professor Ades talked about self-portraiture and the ambiguity surrounding the attribution of Cahun’s photographs (taken by her companion, Susanne Malherbe) I wanted to jump up and down and spout my theory about this which comes straight from the pages of the book. Ha!

Not wishing to appear bitter and twisted (B&T) allow me to recommend the show to you!

And the book!

 

 

Editing ‘American Porn’ by Heathcote Williams

I have to say that Heathcote Williams is an absolute joy to work with. We rushed out his book ‘American Porn’ to co-oncide with Donald Trump’s inauguration and he accepted all my editorial suggestions – even some quite radical ones – with incredible calm, charm and absence of ego.

Last month, Blackwell bookshop in Oxford, hosted an event to celebrate ‘Brexit Boris’ and ‘American Porn’. Williams, recovering from a serious bout of illness, gamely attended and the evening was a great success..

If you are interested in finding out more about the book, just click on the cover!

Translation of Peter Doherty’s book out in French Feb 2017

I very much enjoyed supervising the translation by talented Parisian poet/singer-songwriter, Thomas Baigneres, of Peter Doherty’s latest scribblings to be published by Le Castor Astrale in February 2017… somehow it’s even more intriguing, imaginative and pokey in French!!!

Congratulations to the team at Le Castor Astrale who have done a fantastic job and worked so hard to make this happen.

Click on the cover for more info:

french-pd-cover-page-001

 

http://www.castorastral.com/livre/journal-darcadie/

Sally Beauman RIP

I was very sorry to hear of Sally Beauman’s untimely death. My interview with her for my Independent column was one of my favorite and most memorable. She was so articulate and bright and mesmerising…

One night, my dead mother rang me: Susan de Muth in bed with Sally Beauman

I  AM sometimes quite frightened of the dark and I really resent that. It seems to me that it’s a particularly female fear and very foolish.And yet I also love the night. I am fascinated by altered states of mind and particularly enjoy twilight. As light fades, every shape is open to a new interpretation and the imagination released from certitude.

I also love walking by starlight in the Cotswold village where we have a cottage. No human lights diminish the effect of the moon and stars, and sensing people asleep all around me is very peaceful. The only sound is my own footsteps and Lovell huffing and puffing now he’s gettting on a bit.

These contradictions in how I experience the night are, I think, very interesting and quite common. We are conditioned from early childhood, particularly by fairy tales, to regard the night as a very potent, usually threatening, presence. Later on, night becomes associated with romance, sex, magic and poetry.

I hardly ever work at night. I am very strict with myself and stop around 6pm, spending the evening winding down. When Alan’s performing he gets back very late, high on adrenalin, and that’s the time we finally get together. I’m usually exhausted, having been writing all day, but I drink black coffee and we go to bed ridiculously late.

I don’t often go to watch Alan in plays, though I’m always at his first nights. I identify with him immensely and feel frightened: I know the exact bits where he sometimes forgets the line or gets it slightly wrong; I know all the care and passion he’s put into it. Until quite recently I couldn’t get through a first night without rushing to the lavatory and being violently sick in the interval. Ridiculous] He’s always fine.

Our bedroom is like a uterus, a cloistered private space. It’s the only place in the house where I keep photographs. I don’t like them on public display. I find the way photos freeze time perturbing and see them as personal icons. When Alan’s away I particularly miss his warm physical closeness in bed. I like to put my cold feet on him to warm them up – even though it usually makes him angry]

I have to read for at least an hour before I go to sleep. This often helps me through an impasse I might be having with character or structure in my own writing. Even if what I’m reading is a completely different type of fiction I will wake up with problems mysteriously solved.

I often dream of the characters in my books. I always know who they are, though sometimes they look completely different from how I’ve described them. When that happens I realise there’s another aspect of that person I haven’t yet considered, and I’ll alter them as a result. This close relationship between dreams and fiction is wonderful for a writer.

I don’t think I’m ever in my dreams. I’m always observing – from where I don’t know. The strange, novelistic thing that sometimes happens is changing from being an exterior viewer to an interior viewer, like a narrator switching from third person to stream-of-consciousness. I don’t think it’s important to understand dreams. I prefer them to be mysterious and would never want mine analysed.

I am delighted when I dream of the deceased and wish it would happen to me more. The other night I dreamt extraordinarily vividly of my mother, who died nearly 20 years ago. At the end of the dream she went away somewhere and then telephoned me. I absolutely could hear the phone ring. I picked it up and heard her voice, at which point I woke up. This effect of this moving, indirect communication, stayed with me all through the next day.

I do enjoy sleep and it’s very comforting. I always sleep on any big decisions. You wake up distanced and can look at everything more sensibly. I’m not lazy like I used to be, however. It seems to me now that I spent half my life as a student at Cambridge asleep. I was so hedonistic in those days.

What changed me was having a baby. You suddenly become very aware of your own lifespan being limited and you want to use your time as well as possible. I’m quite terrified of being idle and wake up every morning at 6.30am. I creep down to the kitchen for my first shot of coffee and read poetry – good gymnastics for the mind.

I know that breakfast in bed and a good long lie-in would be the most wonderful sybaritic thing – but it’s simply no longer a possibility.

Sally Beauman is the author of several blockbuster novels. She lives in London with Alan Howard, the RSC actor, their 19-year-old son, James, and a large dog called Lovell.

Sally Beauman’s latest novel, ‘Lovers and Liars’, is published by Bantam at pounds 15.99.