Saturday 30 December 2023

The Butcher's Dozen: looking back at 2023

The Butcher's Dozen was a short series of 11 gatherings, both in real venues and online, spread over the past six months and featuring some porky prime cuts, as follows:

1.  Thursday 8th June

Live launch of Wes Brown’s Breaking Kayfabe (Bluemoose Books) at Waterstones, Gower Street. Here I am with the author deploying my trademark headlock. You could smell the fear.

2.  Wednesday 14th June

Power Game: a live performance at the London College of Communication. Among those taking part were Amy McCauley, Ping and David Henningham and Laura Hopkins. The performance involved a version of the card game Chemin de Fer, and I was the croupier. It was based on the original Power Game performance devised by the artist Liliane Lijn. First staged during the Festival for Chilean Liberation at the Royal College of Art, London in 1974, Power Game 'holds a mirror to our preconceptions and our fantasies of power.' There's no script, no actors, no rehearsals. 

3.  Friday 16th June:

An online Bloomsday gathering, with me banging on about different editions of the novel (and recommending the cheap Dover edition (below), a facsimile of the copy that Joyce would have known, complete with thousands of errors. This version is the real Ulysses - an urgent despatch from the frontline of modernism. I'm not much interested in later editorial interventions, which strike me as layers of varnish concealing the original. This is the one for me.

4.  Friday 23rd June

Online launch of Paul Griffiths’ let me go on hosted by Henningham Family Press.

I was in the Beckett Archive at Reading University that day so unable to attend this launch of Paul Griffiths' long-awaited sequel to let me tell you (also published by the Henninghams). By way of compensation I write about both books in the December 2023 issue of Literary Review. 

Read Lara Lara Pawson's review in The Guardian here.

5.  Thursday 27th July:

Online launch of The Hinge of Metaphor (a new and inspiring collection of essays about cinema) with publisher Richard Skinner and contributors Dan Dalton, Dan O'Brien, Susana Media, Tony White and myself (stepping in at the last minute) blathering on about Hitchcock's under-rated The Trouble with Harry.

6.  Friday 25th August

The online launch (in two parts, before and after the watershed) of BDSM superstar Ariel Anderssen’s memoir Playing to Lose (published by Unbound). One of my books of the year, and a real eye-opener. 

Ariel Andressen

7.  Saturday 9th September 

Celebrating the timeless genius of Laurel and Hardy with Todd McEwen. We chose this date because it marked seventy years since the boys arrived by liner in the small Irish port of Cobh on 9th September 1953. It was a moment recalled by Stan in his autobiography:

The love and affection we found that day at Cobh was simply unbelievable. There were hundreds of boats blowing whistles and mobs and mobs of people screaming on the docks. We just couldn't understand what it was all about. And then something happened that I can never forget. All the church bells in Cobh started to ring out our theme song and Babe [Oliver Hardy] looked at me and we cried. I'll never forget that day. Never.

I have a lump in my throat as I type this. 'All the church bells in Cobh'. They'd come by boat because they couldn't afford to fly. 

"Hard-boiled eggs and nuts" Stan and Ollie in County Hospital (1932)

8.  Friday 22nd September 

The online launch of My Weil, the third volume in the trilogy by Lars Iyer, published by Melville House. Hosted by publisher Tom Clayton with Lars Iyer, Vik Shirley and C. D. Rose.

                                                                               Lars Iyer

9. Sunday 8th October 

The online launch of Sports and Social by Kevin Boniface with the author himself and special guests Joanne Lee, Sam Skoog, Molly Boniface and Georgia Boniface. This followed a real-life launch in a wonderfully dilapidated Brixton chapel with a stand-up routine by comedian Johnny White Really-Really and readings by the author and (among others) the Will Eaves.

                           Young people gather on street corners in South London to read Sports and Social together.

10. Sunday 26th November 

Istros books publisher Susan Curtis introduced Faruk Šehić, Bosnian poet, short story writer and novelist, to mark the publication of his new poetry collection My Rivers. Suzi and Faruk were joined by the New Zealand poet David Howard for readings and conversation.

                                                                                                 Faruk Šehić

11. Tuesday 5th December 

One-to-one with American poet, playwright, essayist, librettist and memoirist Dan O'Brien, who read from Survivor's Notebook, From Scarsdale and his forthcoming play Newtown (published in 2024 by CB editions). 

                                                                                              Dan O'Brien

We also found time during the year to organise a special gathering to mark the coronation. This culminated in a royal art competition with some very strong entries (below). 

In the face of stiff competition the winner was Molly Boniface (see below). Well done Molly!

There was one other 2023 gathering, on Thursday 28th December, our annual fund-raising pantomime performed by The Carthorse Orchestra Players in aid of The Trussell Trust.This year it was a very approximate take on Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap. More about that elsewhere on this blog.

And that's it for 2023.

More online gatherings are planned for 2024. Details will follow.

These are dark times, so let's keep the lights on. 

Saturday 16 December 2023

The Carthorse Orchestra Players 2023 pantomime

If you're not already on my mailing list and would like to join the audience for this year's show please leave your name and email address in the comments box at the foot of this blog.


Since 2020 The Carthorse Orchestra Players have been performing a live online pantomime every year, starting with a candle-lit production of A Christmas Carol:                            

From top left: DC, Andrew Zec, Kevin Davey, Laura Hopkins, Georgia and Kevin Boniface, Rónán Hession, Aea Varfis-van Warmelo, 
Emma Devlin, Amy McCauley, Melanie Pappenheim, Samule Skoog and audience. Composre Helen Ottaway is on the bottom row, second from right.

In 2021 we tackled Through the Looking-glass and last year a star-studded and action-packed production of Peter Pan.

This year we're not planning an adaptation of a much-loved (and out-of-copyright) classic, but have devised an entirely original script, developed by the cast and based very loosely on two other literary benchmarks. Do join us. If you're not already on the mailing list please leave your email address in the comments section at the foot of this blog. It's free to attend, and donations to The Trussell Trust are welcome.

                 The Carthorse Orchestra Players present

              THE MOUSEBOOK

    an end-of-the-year entertainment inspired by

The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie and The Notebook by Ágota Kristóf

        Thursday 28th December at 7pm

        CAST (in order of appearance)

              Celebrated author of Photo, Phyto, Proto, Nitro

                   MELISSA McCARTHY

            as the Curator


                        Man of a thousand voices

                       J O MORGAN 

                  as the British Broadcasting Corporation


        Introducing two newcomers from Dublin’s famed acting dynasty


      as KLAUS & LUKAS

 with a special guest appearance by MRS SINÉAD HESSION as their Mother


                   Huddersfield’s popular mirth-makers


  as GILES and MOLLIE RALSTON, bickering proprietors of Monkswell Manor

                  with MOLLY BONIFACE as Herself


 That ageless matinee idle



         “A hyperactive young man who acts in a very peculiar manner”


Straight from central casting


            as MRS BOYLE, the battle-axe with a heart of gold


                          “I don’t mind if I do”

        KEVIN DAVEY 

        as the bibulous MAJOR METCALF


            “Is she, or isn’t she?”


             as MISS CASEWELL, “a strange, aloof, masculine woman”


           That broth of a boy from the Emerald Isle

                      RÓNÁN HESSION

            as SIGNOR PARAVICINI, “a man of unknown provenance”


                           “‘ullo ‘ullo ‘ullo” 


             as DETECTIVE INSPECTOR TROTTER of Scotland Yard 


           Original music composed and performed by 

             HELEN OTTAWAY



   This production contains sudden violence and occasional foul language

Friday 1 December 2023

Books of the Year 2023

 'They flee from me that some time did me seek...'

By which I mean it seems I'm no longer the go-to guy for annual roundups as organised by our leading print journals. AND I'M ABSOLUTELY FINE WITH THAT. I expect go-ahead commissioning editors don't want their pages sullied by some superannuated blimp with a taste for well-wrought prose from adventurous indie presses.  

Mind you Thomas Wyatt wasn't talking so much about go-ahead commissioning editors as ... well, you know... concubines? I wouldn't use the word myself, but he would have. And if any commissioning editor, or come to that any concubine, appeared at night 'with naked foot, stalking in my chamber' I'd pull the blanket over my head and holler like billy-oh. But all the same it's nice to think one is on somebody else's to-do list. 

So, since I've not been invited to share my books of the year with a paying audience (although I've knocked something off as usual for Houman Barekat's Review 31 and will also be contributing to the Galley Beggar Press Advent Calendar which starts on 1st December), I've decided to do so here, and for free, so if you're wondering at this time of year about books to buy for others or yourself, here are some suggestions, with links to the publishers. 

These are all books I've read and admired during 2023 and some of them are by writers I'm pleased to count as friends, and a couple of them come from my own publisher, Sagging Meniscus Press. If that means I'm log rolling, then call me a log roller. I've resisted the temptation to write about each book, but believe me when I say that I admire every one of them so much I wouldn't be disappointed to get extra copies as gifts. I'd be happy to have one in every room. 

Fiction (short stories)

Sports and Social by Kevin Boniface (Bluemoose  Books)

Open Up by Thomas Morris (Faber)

A Writer's Diary by Toby Litt (Galley Beggar Press) (and I include this book, published on 1st January 2023, in this section but it's really unclassifiable - a mash-up of fact and fiction in short diary entries that is a book to read every day for a year, any year).

Fiction (novels)

Caret by Adam Mars-Jones (Faber) (I write about this for Review 31)

let me go on by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press) (I wrote about this and the previous volume for the latest Literary Review)

This Plague of Souls by Mike McCormack (Tramp Press)

My Weil by Lars Iyer (Melville House)


I Think We're Alone Now by Abigail Parry (Bloodaxe Books)

Crisis Actor by Declan Ryan (Faber)

Please Don't Bomb the Ghost of My Brother by Julian Stannard (Salt)

House on the A34 by Philip Hancock (CB editions)


Photo, Phyto, Proto, Nitro by Melissa McCarthy (Sagging Meniscus Press)

Wish I Was Here by M. John Harrison  (Serpents Tail)

Playing to Lose by Ariel Andersson (Unbound)

The Stirrings: A Memoir in Northern Time by Catherine Taylor


Dante Elsner by Maia Elsner (Guillemot)

Plea$e Steal Me for 100 Plus Dollar-zz by Kirsten Mosher (I provide the cover blurb so should declare an interest. Kirsten's work is new to me, and a real discovery)

Songs for Olympia by Tomoé Hill (Sagging Meniscus Press)

Finally, looking forward, here are a dozen indie highlights to look out for next year:

Unwords by Andrew Gallix (Dodo Ink)

Walter Benjamin Stares at the Sea by C. D. Rose (Melville House)

Ava Anna Ada by Ali Millar (White Rabbit) 

Christ on a Bike by Orla Owen (Bluemoose Books)

Newtown by Dan O'Brien (CB editions)

Toothpull of St Dunstan  by Kevin Davey (Henningham Family Press) 

Ghost Mountain by Rónán Hession (Bluemoose Books) 

Paris Fantastique and Shadow Lines by Nicholas Royle (Confingo)

Spent Light by Lara Pawson (CB editions) 

Home is Where We Start by Susanna Crossman (FigTree, Penguin)

Mary and the Rabbit Dream by Noémi Kiss-Deáki (Galley Beggar Press)

Zerox Machine: Punk, Post-Punk and Fanzines in Britain, 1976–88 by Matthew Worley (Reaktion Books)

And coming later in 2024:

In the dream of the cold restaurant: fifty short essays about one short poem (Sagging Meniscus Press) by yours truly. I expect I'll mention this again at some point.

However and whatever you celebrate at this time of year, give it your best shot. And keep the lights on.