Thursday 30 April 2020

Mr Beethoven by Paul Griffiths

Mr Beethoven is published today by Henningham Family Press, run by the artists David and Ping Henningham. 

The author Paul Griffiths is a distinguished music historian and critic,  and his novel is prompted by an intriguing historic footnote in Beethoven's life. In 1823, the 52-year-old composer received a commission to write a Biblical oratorio in the United States. He never crossed the Atlantic to do so - but what if he had? Griffiths explores this hypothetical visit, coupling a profound knowledge of his subject with narrative flair. 

From the publishers' website:

As Beethoven wrestles with his muse, and his librettist Rev. Ballou, he comes to rely on two women. Thankful, who conducts his conversations using Martha’s Vineyard sign language, and a kindred spirit: the widow Mrs. Hill. Meanwhile all Boston waits in anxious expectation of a first performance the composer, and the world, will never hear.

This novel is among many cultural highlights marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth on 16th December 1770 and, in line with their established practice, the Henninghams have produced two versions of the book - a beautiful edition de luxe (all but a handful of copies have been snapped up) and an equally covetable trade paperback 'litho printed in lilac-grey. French-fold red Takeo cover debossed with gloss black and gold design.' Few publishers can match HFP's stratospherically high production standards. 

We should all be supporting our authors and indie presses at this time and you can order your copy from the publishers here. And look out for a forthcoming Leap in the Dark on Saturday May 9th to mark the publication, with readings by the author and an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the Henninghams' studio

While we're on the subject there's an earlier book by Paul Griffiths that I never tire of recommending: let me tell you, in which Shalespeare's tragic Opehlia is given a voice and fresh agency with which to tell the story of her life.  It's a short, elegant, beautifully-realised Oulipian exercise in which the author employs only the words that Shakespeare gave her in Hamlet. 

This mandated vocabulary is deployed with great wit and ingenuity and a fine ear for rhythm and euphony. As the text accumulates the repetitions and variations begin to mesmerise, as do the  many ingenious compensations; Ophelia cannot, for instance, use the word 'mother' as her creator doesn't use the word, yet has much to tell us about the woman.

let me tell you was published in 2014 by the Hastings independent Reality Street Editions. I think it's now out of print, but you can easily find copies on (Life hack: use this website to find books but don't order through it as you'll be further enriching Jeff Bezos; simply contact the bookseller and buy direct from them.)

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Letter from Auckland 2 by Oscar Mardell

Here's the second of Oscar Mardell's Letters from Auckland, delivered live to camera on Saturday 25th April as part of that evening's Leap in the Dark, and reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

It's a fascinating piece exploring the popularity of New Zealand with American billionaires as a safe refuge in a time of global crisis, and has some penetrating things to say about  the creepy Jacob Rees-Mogg's equally creepy father William. And it introduced me to The Quiet Earth, a dystopian film shot in New Zealand and one I shan't forget in a hurry.

Ends of the World at the End of the World

Kia ora koutou once again from Aotearoa New Zealand.

Since I last spoke, New Zealand has been keeping well: our infection rate has continued to decrease, and our fatality count has only climbed as high as twelve. And most of this is due, no doubt, to the stateswomanship of our Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern– whom the Atlantic recently called “perhaps the most effective leader on the planet”, and whom everyone else simply calls ‘Cindy’.

Otherwise, it might well seem that the daily experience here has remained unremarkable: we continue to spend our days at home, and we continue to be confronted by eerie, empty landscapes whenever we venture outside. But here, I think, an empty landscape is doubly eerie. A place void of people is weird in itself, an excess of nothing where there should be something; but in New Zealand it’s weird for political reasons too. And that’s because, for the past twenty years, a certain kind of person has been busy imagining New Zealand as the best place to survive the end of the world, as the ideal stage on which to enact their fantasies of last-person-left-alive (perhaps ‘person’ isn’t quite the right word).
It all begins in 1997, with the publication of a Libertarian manifesto called The Sovereign Individual. It’s authors are James Dale Davison – a private investor who specialises in giving advice to the mega-rich on how to profit from economic catastrophe – and William Rees-Mogg – the long-time editor of The Times, and father to the Conservative MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg. Now, there’s a lot of sinister stuff in The Sovereign Individual (I’ve glanced through it so that you don’t have to touch it with a barge pole): it holds that the rise of the internet and the advent of cryptocurrencies will render the state an obsolete political entity, and that from the wreckage will emerge a new world order and a “cognitive elite”. The members of this elite, it reckons, “will operate like the gods of myth in the same physical environment as the ordinary, subject citizen, but in a separate realm politically”. From my position, what’s perhaps most sinister of all is the fact that the book names New Zealand as the “domicile of choice for wealth creation in the Information Age”: I live, apparently, in the best place to get rich while the world burns.

Peter Thiel – the billionaire venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal – once said that The Sovereign Individual had influenced him more than any other book. No surprise, then, that Thiel’s “domicile of choice” is also New Zealand, nor that he once declared that “no other country that aligns more with my view of the future”. What might come as a surprise is that Thiel is also obsessed with The Lord of the Rings – whose latest film adaptations were famously shot here by Peter Jackson: Thiel’s companies have names like Palantir Technologies, Valar Ventures LP, Mithril Capital Management LLC, Rivendell One LLC, and Lembas LLC. One suspects that Thiel’s “view of the future” like his vision of New Zealand, is faux-medieval, laissez-faire feudalism.

Since Thiel’s declaration, The Sovereign Individual has developed a cult following among the billionaire executives of Silicon Valley, whole legions of whom have been dutifully buying up whole swathes of land in the South Island, filling them with luxury survival bunkers and converting the terrain into some kind of End Times Shire, a Hobbiton-on-Hades. On the one hand, it’s clear that New Zealand has been chosen for practical reasons: for its isolation, its access to fresh water, and its relatively low levels of pollution.  On the other hand, the country has doubtless been picked for symbolic reasons too – on account of what it represents. The islands which we call New Zealand have been inhabited by Maori since at least as far back as the 13th Century (perhaps as far back as the 8th), but since the earliest colonial times, these islands have been imagined  – and on some occasions, declared in law – as ‘terra nullius’, a no man’s land, a clean slate and a blank canvas. There is, in other words, a long-established tradition here, of people turning up and pretending that they are the only ones around, of Johnnies-come-lately transplanting their own fantasies onto a landscape that is already pregnant with its own history. 

Looking outside, it might be tempting to conclude that the psychopaths of Silicone Valley might have been right all along: that they were correct in predicting catastrophe, and that they were correct in imagining New Zealand as the ideal place to spend it. But to do so would be wrongheaded, I think, and that’s because the view outside – desolate streetscapes and so forth – has been predicted with greater accuracy, and with more sensitivity to place, by the actual inhabitants of New Zealand. People aren’t saying that their cities looks like Libertarian Mordors or like the Bitcoin Mines of Moria. The film on everyone’s lips right now is a Kiwi-made Science Fiction film from 1985 called The Quiet Earth. And it’s on everyone’s lips because it yields a very good answer to the question: what does it look like when New Zealand gets to imagine a global catastrophe on its own terms - when, instead of simply being cast as the set of someone else’s last-man-left-alive fantasy, it gets to write the fantasy itself?

In The Quiet Earth, Dr Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) wakes up one morning to discover that he’s the only person left alive. He wanders, baffled, through empty streets in Auckland, dressed in a silk negligee and armed with a pump-action shot gun. It makes for quite weird viewing today, not because of the negligee/shotgun combination – this is standard attire in many rural areas – but because the setting looks so uncannily like the view outside right now.

Watch an astonishing clip here.

Hobson does some tests and makes some conclusions: he hasn’t just survived an event which has killed everyone else, he has woken up in an exact replica of planet Earth – albeit, one which is otherwise void of people (though it does eventually transpires that there are two other people in this replica). But in New Zealand, the replica feels doubly eerie. Much of the film is shot at recognisable Auckland locations: at Pah Homestead – an Italianate Villa built on the site of a former Maori settlement which now houses the private art collection of a tannery tycoon – and at St Matthew’s Cathedral – an edifice from the Disneyland branch of Gothic-revival, and an unconvincing imitation of Truro Cathedral in Cornwall.

The meaning of these settings is clear: much of New Zealand is already replica, a facsimile version of some Italian or English location, which is itself – more often than not – a facsimile version of some other time or place. These sites are the offspring of the ‘Terra Nullius’ myth: when we pretend that one landscape is vacant we invariably force it to resemble another. And the Doomsday Hobbit Holes of Silicon Valley are their latter-day descendants. 

If the streets feel eerie now, it’s not because they fulfil the fantasies of those techno-psychos, it’s because they evoke an earlier myth, and the ancestor of the Silicon dream: for the first time since the 13th Century, perhaps even the 8th, New Zealand does actually look like ‘Terra Nullius’, like a landscape void of people.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Malady Nelson's 'oh dear!' by Amy McCauley

This new work by Amy McCauley was performed on Saturday night at A Leap in the Dark, with the poet in persona as Malady Nelson, throwing shapes to a remote electronic beat. Here are the words she spoke, with Amy's kind permission. None of us who weer in. the audience will forget her intense, unsettling delivery which spoke so directly to the way we live now. It's been running through my head ever since.

Malady Nelson’s ‘oh dear!’

i feel so connected to money 
it’s everywhere it’s nowhere 
i feel so connected to money

i know i’m not special
           you know i’m not special

i know you’re not special
           you know you’re not special

no one’s been special since holodomor 
no one’s been special since belsen
no one’s been special since chernobyl

you are only as incapable as your last intrusive thought 
          i am only as capable as my last intrusive thought
you are only as incapable as my last intrusive thought
          i am only as capable as your last intrusive thought


oh dear! says mum mum 


oh dear!


oh dear! says mum mum 


oh dear!poor mum mum!

i feel so connected to deathdeath’s nowhere death’s everywhere 
congratulations on your destruction

you know you’re not special
          i know you’re not special

you know i’m not special
          i know i’m not special

no one’s been special since hiroshima 
no one’s been special since kosovo 
no one’s been special since rwanda

i am only as incapable as my last intrusive thought
          you are only as capable as my last intrusive thought

i am only as incapable as your last intrusive thought
          you are only as capable as your last intrusive thought


oh dear! says mum mum 


oh dear! says mum mum 


oh dear! says mum mum 

poor mum mum!

i feel so connected to godgod’s everywhere god’s nowhere 
i feel so connected to god

you are growing inside me like itō hiromi
this is you inside me you are inside me
you are growing inside me like gwendolyn brooks 

this is you inside me you are inside me

you are growing inside me like hélène cixous 
this is you inside me you are inside me
you are growing inside me like amy mccauley 

this is you inside me you are inside me


you are inside me like bum bum baby 
you are flowing like river itōyou are inside me like squishy pus pus 
you are flowing like river brooks

you are inside me like hélène cixous 
you are flowing like river cixous
you are inside me like squishy furnace 

you are flowing like river mccauley

i feel so connected to collateralcollateral’s nowhere collateral’s everywhere 
i feel so connected to collateral 
congratulations on your destruction

baby makes aesthetic choices
          baby does not make aesthetic choices

squishy does not make aesthetic choices 
          squishy does make aesthetic choices

hélène cixous makes aesthetic choices
          hélène cixous does not make aesthetic choices

furnace does not make aesthetic choices 
          furnace makes aesthetic choices

i feel so connected to the internetthe internet’s everywhere the internet’s nowhere 
congratulations on your destruction

Amy McCauley (April 2020)

Monday 27 April 2020

Letter from Auckland by Oscar Mardell

On Saturday 11th April our New Zealand correspondent Oscar Mardell delivered his first Letter from Auckland at the fourth Leap in the Dark, a twice-weekly gathering of musicians, singers, poets, authors, performers and other creatives. The straight-to-camera piece of impeccable social commentary was followed by a dramatic recreation of that manliest of Antipodean activities, sheep-shearing. Oscar was dressed as a ram throughout, and the vigorous shearing was undertaken by his partner Briar, who now has a cult following.

Oscar has kindly sent me a copy of his original text, which appears in full below.

Dear Leapers,

Kia ora koutou na Aotearoa: Hello from New Zealand, where we are fortunate enough to have the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern at the helm, where the advice of the medical authorities has been followed from the outset, where we’ve been on full lockdown for two weeks, and where the population has been told unambiguously:
  • Keep your distance
  • Wash your hands
  • Don’t leave your homes except for necessities
  • Don’t even think about leaving the country
And it’s working: the number of new cases is actually decreasing. As a headline in the Washington Post recently put it: NZ isn’t just flattening the curve, it’s squashing it. The prevailing mood here right now is simply one of gratitude: for an unusually robust government at such an uncertain time. And there have been stipends available to artists and freelancers, books printed for children without access to computers – the sorts of things unimaginable under the previous government. 

Government aside, the New Zealander’s first-hand experience of the pandemic might not seem particularly unique: the items on our daily agendas down here are doubtless the same as those on yours up there. But, of course, it’s the items which are absent from agendas that define our days in days like these - items like:
  • Visit friends and family
  • Enjoy the outdoors
  • Go travelling
Such fun is simply not scheduled. It’s the abundance of negative space which gives these times their strange shape.

Again, the feeling is not unique to New Zealand – people are cooped up the world over, distancing and isolating and wishing that they weren’t. And yet, I think, the experience of having to stay at home, of being unable to go ‘Overseas’ or even ‘Outdoors’, weighs uniquely on New Zealanders– or at least, on Pākehā New Zealanders, New Zealanders of British or European descent – for whom the categories, ‘Overseas’ and ‘Outdoors’, are, I think, unusually loaded. 


Pākehā start making their homes in New Zealand at the end of the 18th Century. But for more than a hundred years afterwards, they continue to call Britain ‘home’ – even if they’ve never set foot in Britain. It isn’t until well into the 20th Century that Pākehā writers such as Katherine Mansfield begin to describe the country that they actually inhabit as their ‘home’. And even then, the very notion remains radically unstable, plagued by the feeling that this ‘home’ is still foreign to Pākehā and they to it, by the feeling that we do not belong to the land in quite the same way as Māori – the indigenous people of New Zealand. In a 2011 book called The Settler’s Plot, the New Zealand literary critic Alex Calder gave this feeling a name – ‘Pakeha Turangawaewae’ – Turangawaewae being a Maori word meaning ‘a place to stand’, a deep-seated and fundamental sense of absolute belonging. Crucial about Pakeha Turangawaewae’ explains Calder, is that it ‘is an oxymoron’:

Pākehā turangawaewae…is the sort of belonging you have when you don’t have turangawaewae. We Pakeha are at home here, we identify as New Zealanders, this is our place, we belong – and yet, without denying any of those things, there is another degree of belonging that we do not have that is available to Maori (or perhaps to the Maori side of you).

For Calder, this belonging/unbelonging constitutes an important – perhaps the defining – strain in Pākehā-written New Zealand literature. I would add that it’s most obvious in the institution which Pākehā call ‘The Overseas Experience’ or ‘The Big O.E.’ – the Pākehā rite-of-passage, the Kiwi equivalent of the Amish Rumspringa on which you earn the right to call New Zealand ‘home’ by spending time away from it, the journey there on which you prove that you belong here.

How on earth does this work? In her 2011 song ‘Overseas’, the New Zealand singer Princess Chelsea provides what remains our best explanation of the paradox:

Life in New Zealand is pleasant enough
When we turn twenty two it’s not violet enough
When we go overseas to a much bigger place
We’re still doing the same things, but without all the space

Much of ‘Overseas’ is laugh-out-loud funny - even its title is hilarious, a mocking nod to the fact that, within our national psyche, New Zealand and not-New-Zealand occupy equal territory. Go into any bookstore here, for example, and all of the stock will be stacked in two categories: New Zealand and Overseas But the song’s diagnosis is acute: when we exchange our lives in New Zealand for those on foreign shores, we invariably discover that the two are largely the same. The goal of the Overseas Experience, then is twofold: on the one hand, to discover the familiarity, the homeliness, of not-New-Zealand; on the other, to discover the strangeness, the foreignness, of our own homeland. ‘Life in New Zealand’, in other words, isn’t just ‘pleasant enough’; it is textbook unheimlich. It is for this reason that a trip to foreign parts can bring us closer to home: for Pākehā ‘home’ and ‘away’ are mutually constitutive categories. Locked in our homes, we Pākehā are, in a weird way, locked out of our ‘home’. Denied access to ‘Overseas’, we are barred from Terra Familiaris. The second mood in Pākehā New Zealand right now is a legitimate homesickness – albeit, for foreign parts


But the place where Pākehā feel most at home is not ‘Overseas’ but ‘Outdoors’, not in the strange familiarity of foreign shores, but in Nature. 

If things get so bad here that we have to sing from our balconies, we won’t sing “Bella Ciao” or the Marseillaise or even God Defend New Zealand. We’ll sing our unofficial national anthem, which is a song called ‘Nature’ by a band called ‘The Fourmyula’. And the bit that people will sing is the bit that goes: ‘do-do-do doo doo do-doo, do-do-do-doo. Nature enter me-ee-ee.’ Why are we so fond of this dreadful ditty? Calder has a good explanation:

Whenever  Pākehā have rejoiced in their physical presence in these islands, have felt a special sense of dispensation, of simple rightness in being here; whenever it seems the sun shines especially for us; whenever person and place are in propitious alignment, we have reached beyond inarticulateness to the simple formula: feeling good about nature equals belonging.

Locked in our homes, we Pākehā are, in a weird way, locked out of our ‘home’. Denied access to the ‘Outdoors’, we are barred from the one experience that can assure us that we might belong in this country after all.

Virtually everything about this is problematic. Ideas of Promised Land and Manifest Destiny cast a dark shadow over New Zealand’s history, and too many of its current events. But the particular problem which has occupied me recently is this: since the arrival of the first Pākehā settlers, New Zealand’s ‘Outdoors’ has been coded as masculine, and ‘nature’ has been understood as a giant boy’s room. Early colonists were all lured out here with the same myth: New Zealand was not just a pristine country, but - in the words of the historian Jock Phillip’s – ‘a man’s country’. It was not just a place where nature had remained intact but a place where nature could be mastered, and where even the most desk-bound bureaucrat could come to fulfil his wildest fantasies of masculinity. It’s a myth which remains doggedly persistent.

Hence, for New Zealand writers and artists under lockdown, one of the most pressing questions facing us is this: how do we reimagine the outdoors when we cannot go outdoors? How do we continue to make ‘nature’ available to people other than Pākehā men, while ‘nature’ is unavailable to everyone?

One of the most typical demonstrations of New Zealand masculinity, of unambiguous mastery over nature, is the sheep shearing competition. I thought we’d host a bastard equivalent of the vile demonstration – an indoor, domesticated version, in which the New Zealand male is not simply doing the shearing, but being shorn. 

Sunday 26 April 2020

Spring Journal Canto VI

Two more Leaps in the Dark, and our largest audience to date on Friday night. We enjoyed a reading by Sweet Home author Wendy Erskine; publisher Susan Curtis and translator Celia Hawkesworth recalled their friend Daša Drndić and her great novel Doppelgänger; Kevin Boniface delivered a Letter from Huddersfield and the answers to The Pale Usher’s Unusual Literary Quiz. The latter, despite generous contributions from Nemos' Almanac editor Ian Patterson, was not the super-boffo crowd-pleaser I'd anticipated. 

On Saturday night we had a beautiful song from Melanie Pappenheim with Giles Perring on the harmonium and quayside bell (her performed live in his music room on the Isle of Jura); we had two blazing performances from poets Rhys Trimble and Amy McCauley; the novelist/translator Nicholas Royle talked about his translation of the chilling French novel Pharricide and gave us a quick tour of his unsettling bookshelves. Our New Zealand correspondent Oscar Mardell  gave us another Letter from Auckland  (about Silicon Valley billionaires and their down-under bunkers). Finally an extract from The Pale Usher’s unpublished memoir All Along the Watchtower. 

A highlight of last Friday's programme was the latest canto of Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, beautifully read by Michael Hughes. Here it is, with the author's kind permission:


And I remember Spain 
     In summertime, ripe as a mango on the point of dissolution, 
Our holiday was a home exchange: 
     One terraced London house for one flat in suburban Seville,
But with a communal pool, 
     And air conditioning, for which no perfect setting could be found, 
And the boys learning Spanish at school 
     Had the writing on the wall and the menus to read.
With cheap beer in tumblers, 
     With café con hielo over great lunks of ice, 
With plates piled high with prawns in La Mar de Gambas, 
     With the walls of the Alcázar
Jealously hoarding its shadows, 
     And its floors rilled with ribbons of water, 
And its gardens augustly disposed 
     For slow hot walks under oleander and jacaranda.
And the cathedral courtyard’s orange trees 
     In rows, though the inside reeked of glitz and gilt,
And the saints' bones in their reliquaries 
     Except where absent “for liturgical purposes”.
And the bat we found 
     In the Parque de María Luisa, by the Punto de Lectura,
Lying helpless on the ground, 
     And that we placed back in the shrubbery,
But carefully, lifting it slowly with sticks; 
     That bat the only visible portent of the coming disaster. 
There were no other signs, no simple tricks 
     For avoiding what has now landed squarely on us and squashed us flat.
Yes, the standard of living was low, 
     But that, we thought to ourselves, was not our business; 
What the tourist wants is the status quo 
     On a plate, at half the price, in a little place
Not even TripAdvisor knows about. 
     And to be a tourist today seems not anachronistic but absurd, or obscene. 
Last month we were still holding out 
     For this summer’s holiday, already booked – not now.
Now we wonder 
     If we will ever see the Alhambra, Baixa, Rialto, 
If we will have the gall to wander 
     Those ranked and storied European streets gloved and masked;
That’s what being a tourist is: 
     Walking other people’s streets uninvited and unasked
Those ‘sights’ are hers, are his, (Suggest: ‘Those sights are hers, are his, are theirs’)
     Not ours; those cafes, restaurants and bars
If they ever take their shutters down,
     Are for them to sit and eat and talk in, not us.  Suggest: ‘not for us’
This crisis has thrown 
     The old ideas into abeyance,
And the new ideas are as yet 
     Untested: indistinct and inchoate,
They are the lens through which our grandchildren contemplate 
     Our lives with vast, appalled regret.
Frequent fights, a piece of meat      (weak? Perhaps ’slab’ or ‘pound’ or ‘chunk’ or ‘slice’?)
     On every plate; people housed like animals,
Animals crammed in concrete 
     Silos, and all of it hidden, from thought and sight.
And so I feel the pull 
     Of something I can’t fix down, for maybe this isn’t princely
Asceticism after all,
     But base vindictive puritanism, that sits back and nods
As the economy rolls toward the precipice,      towards? And perhaps a stronger word than    rolls? Lurches?
     And I work on my thousand piece jigsaw
Of Las Meninas 
     Bought in solemn homage at the Prado,
And only finished now
     We have time on our hands – and our hands,
Needing to keep busy somehow,
     Sift through the shreds and shrapnel of "the true philosophy of art".
So I remember Spain,
     Not as a premonition of the current state of affairs
But as a quivering membrane,
     A portal into a remembered time that no one wants to say is gone.
And the next day we flew
     Home, not realising
That Spain would soon be a two-week-ahead preview
     Of our own incoming fiasco, our shame;
So look to Spain, Italy, Germany, and compare
     The policies, the testing regimes, the ‘all cause excess mortality’ numbers,
And then measure and compass and plumb your despair.
     Countries will have to learn how to look at each other again.

Saturday 25 April 2020

A Leap in the Dark 8 - tonight

Last night's audience - the largest to date - enjoyed readings and conversation with authors Wendy Erskine (in Belfast) and Kevin Boniface (in Huddersfield), learned more about the great Croatian writer Daša Drndić from publisher Susan Curtis and translator Celia Hawkesworth, who later read some of their own work, including Susan's contribution to One Hundred Words of Solitude which she's Kindly allowed me to include here: 

   Lockdown London (with thanks to Blake)

     As silent as Christmas Day,
     the flag poles on Regents Street
     rattling in their brackets,
     the furling and unfurling of wings
     as birds reclaim the skies 
     and the black asphalt laid bare,
     revealing undulations of the land beneath;
     the fields and hills and earth that once 
     meant home. Freed now of the static 
     of traffic that scatters our vision,
     our horizon has been restored. 
     While the tiger in the zoo,
     still silent in his symmetry,
     surveys the fearful passersby,
     caged by their own uncertainty
     and the dread hammer of wild
     time, unchained.

I hope some of you will tackle the Oulipian challenge of producing precisely one hundred words of poetry or prose and share it with our audience.

I'm afraid The Pale Usher's Literary Quiz wasn't the popular crowd-pleaser I'd hoped, but thanks to all of you who stayed until the end and I promise tonight's Leap will not last nearly as long. 

Tonught's programme features music from Melanie Pappenheim, new work from poets Rhys Trimble and Amy McCauley; novelist/translator Nicholas Royle on the labour of love that is Pharricide; our New Zealand correspondent Oscar Mardell delivers another Letter from Auckland and there’s an extract from The Pale Usher’s unpublished memoir All Along the Watchtower

There's no charge for taking part but please make a donation, no matter how large, to a very good cause: The Trussell Trust.

The Programme

1 The Pale Usher welcomes you

2 Melanie Pappenheim performs ‘Long Island Beach’ (composed by Orlando Gough; text Andrei 

I come I come I come upon the footprints of sea gulls
I come I come I come upon the footprints of sea gulls
Here on the shore at dawn
Like the print of their sex that the mermaids left
When with the tide they’ve gone

3 Rhys Trimble 

4 A new piece written and performed by Amy McCauley

5 All Along the Watchtower read by by The Pale Usher


Pharricide by Vincent de Swarte, with translator Nicholas Royle

7 Oscar Mardell’s Letter from Auckland 

8 The Pale Usher signs off 

Oscar Mardell is a teacher and writer - originally from South Wales, but currently living in Auckland, New Zealand. He is a frequent contributor to 3:AM Magazine, and poet of the month at The Inquisitive Eater. He is the author of Rex Tremendae - a ghost story set in the rubble of the Blitz, and Housing Haunted Housing - a collection of poems about Brutalist architecture.  

Amy McCauley is a poet and freelance writer. She is the author of OEDIPA (Guillemot Press, 2018) and 24/7 Brexitland (No Matter Press, 2020). Amy’s first full-length collection of poetry will be published by Henningham Family Press in 2021.

Melanie Pappenheim is a singer, composer and performer.

Nicholas Royle is the author of seven novels, two novellas and three volumes of short fiction​. He has edited twenty anthologies of short stories. Reader in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and head judge of the Manchester Fiction Prize, he also runs Nightjar Press, publishing original short stories as signed, limited-edition chapbooks. He works as an editor for Salt Publishing.

Rhys Trimble was born in Zambia in 1977. He is a bilingual poet, text artist, performer, drummer, editor, critic, collaborator, shaman, staff-wielder and shoutyman based in Wales. He is interested in avant-garde poetry and Welsh metrics. He has authored more than 15 books of poetry in Wales, England, India and the US since 2010, including Swansea Automatic, Anatomy Mnemonics for Caged Waves (US) and Hexerisk. Since 2008 he has edited the experimental poetry e-zine ctrl+alt-del.

The Pale Usher (David Collard) organises these shindigs.
The pale Usher—threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. He was ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.
  Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

The next Leap in the Dark is on Friday 1st May and features:

— Irish author Rónán Hession on his acclaimed debut novel Leonard and Hungry Paul   

  “Leonard and Hungry Paul is a story about gentle people. It's about 
   people trying to work out how to engage with the world without getting 
   swallowed up by it […] It's a book about people who often get 
   overlooked, and also about human traits that are everywhere but 
   perhaps underappreciated. Kindness seems invisible because it's so 
   often expressed in private, but those who have received it understand 
   its value.” - Rónán Hession 

— Canto VIII of Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs read by Michael Hughes

— a lockdown yoga lesson with Yoga Dave of Budapest

- no end of other stuff

Stay well!

The Pale Usher 

Friday 24 April 2020

A Leap in the Dark 7 - tonight!

A Leap in the Dark tonight at 8pm (BST) features a Letter from Belfast from, and a conversation with, Sweet Home author Wendy Erskine; Michael Hughes reading the latest canto of Jonathan Gibbs’s Spring Journal; publisher Susan Curtis and translator Celia Hawkesworth recalling their friend Daša Drndić and her great novel Doppelgänger; a Letter from Huddersfield by Kevin Boniface and answers to The Pale Usher’s Unusual Literary Quiz with Nemo's Almanac editor Ian Patterson.

There's no charge for taking part but please make a donation, no matter how large, to The Trussell Trust.

The Programme

1 The Pale Usher welcomes you

2 Author Wendy Erskine joins us from Belfast

3 Michael Hughes reads Canto VI of Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs

4 Publisher Susan Curtis and translator Celia Hawkesworth on Doppelgänger by Daša Drndić


5 Letter from Huddersfield by Kevin Boniface

The Pale Usher writes: Round About Town is hard too classify - imagine a commonplace book written by the offspring of W G Sebald and Cold War Steve, a stream of deadpan observations made on the early morning streets of Huddersfield over the best part of a decade. All human life is here, and more, and it's been my  beside reading for over a year (DC) Read extracts and buy it here

Kevin's blog is here

100 words of solitude: lockdown poetry from Celia and Susan, and an invitation

The Pale Usher’s Unusual Literary Quiz - answers, scores and prizes with Ian Patterson 

The Company

Kevin Boniface is an artist, writer and postman based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. Over the years his work has taken the form of zines, exhibitions, artists’ books, short films and live performances. He is the author of Round About Town, published by Uniformbooks.

Susan Curtis is the Founding Director of Istros Books, an independent publisher of contemporary literature from South East Europe, based in Bloomsbury, London. Istros Books was set up in 2011 to showcase the very best fiction and non-fiction from the Balkan region to a new audience of English speakers. Its authors include European prize winners, polemic journalists-turned-crime writers and social philosophers-turned-poets. Susan is also a sometime writer and translator from BCMS.

Wendy Erskine works as a secondary school teacher in Belfast. Her debut short story collection, Sweet Home, was published in 2018 by Stinging Fly and in 2019 by Picador. Her work has been published in The Stinging Fly, Stinging Fly Stories and Female Lines: New Writing by Women from Northern Ireland. She also features in Being Various: New Irish Short Stories (Faber and Faber), Winter Papers and on BBC Radio 4

Jonathan Gibbs is a writer and critic. His first novel, Randall, was published in 2014 by Galley Beggar, and his second, The Large Door, by Boiler House Press last year. He has written on books for various places including the TLS, Brixton Review of Books and The Guardian. He curates the online short story project A Personal Anthology, in which writers, critics and others are invited to 'dream-edit' an anthology of their favourite short fiction. Spring Journal is a response to the current coronavirus pandemic taking its cue very directly from Louis MacNeice's Autumn Journal.

Celia Hawkesworth worked for many years as Senior Lecturer in Serbian and Croatian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London. She has published numerous articles and several books on Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian literature, including the studies Ivo Andric: Bridge between East and West (Athlone Press, 1984); Voices in the Shadows: Women and Verbal Art in Serbia and Bosnia (CEU Press, 2000); and Zagreb: A Cultural History (Oxford University Press, 2007). Her translation of Belladonna by Daša Drndić was the 2018 winner of the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation and in 2019 she was awarded the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize for Literary Translation for her translation of Omer Pasha Latas by the Nobel Laureate Ivo Andrić (published by New York Review Books). 

Michael Hughes is the author of two acclaimed novels: Countenance Divine (2016) and Country (2018) both published by John Murray, the latter winning the 2018 Hellenic Prize. Under his stage name Michael Colgan he recently appeared in the acclaimed HBO television drama Chernobyl.

Dr Ian Patterson is a writer and poet, retired academic, translator, former second-hand bookseller, and the editor of Nemo's Almanac. He translated Proust's Finding Time Again (Le temps retrouvé) for Penguin. Guernica and Total War was published by Profile in 2007. His most recent book of poetry is Bound to Be (Equipage, 2017). Marsh Air is forthcoming. His elegy for Jenny Diski, 'The Plenty of Nothing', won the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem, 2017. At the moment he's writing a book about books.

The Pale Usher (David Collard) organises these gigs.

The pale Usher—threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. He was ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.
  Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Tomorrow’s Leap in the Dark features:

- A performance by Anglo-Welsh poet Rhys Trimble 

- A new piece written and performed by Amy McCauley

- Flash Fiction: Pharricide by Vincent de Swarte, with translator Nicholas Royle 

- Letter from Auckland by our New Zealand correspondent Oscar Mardell 

All Along the Watchtower (extract) by The Pale Usher

- another mind-bending literary quiz, this time set by a Distinguished British Novelist Who Wishes to Remain Anonymous

Stay well!

The Pale Usher