Years take a while to start these days, don't they? But yesterday was 1st March and if 2014 is going to mean anything, then it needs to get its act together. A year from now we'll be gearing up for getting rid of the Tory/Libdem coalition that has wasted so much of the country's energies since elected in 2010. A hundred years on from the anniversary of the Great War, its ominously we watch the troubles in independent Ukraine. Can Russia ever be powerful without being dangerous? That a united Europe remains more an ideal than a reality is highlighted by the sabre rattling to the north. I have just returned from Rome, where colleagues from across Europe met, perhaps for the last but one time on a project that has been running just over two years. A Europhile before my recent travels, I've strengthened my belief in Europe the more I've seen in it, and coming back to large queues as mostly British people have to show their passports to get back into their own country, I sometimes wonder at the logic of this petty nationalism. In or outside of the European Union, we will, I suppose, always be grateful for a queue.
I've some time off, but its already filling with activity - and annoyingly, major changes at work might mean I have to go in for a critical meeting next week. My cultural fixes have been anything but cerebral this last week or so, so I'm determined to read a bit, to write a bit, to listen a bit, to watch a bit, to see a bit.
A new exhibition of work by painter Iain Andrews is beginning at Castlefield Gallery on Thursday as well - so another thing I'll miss the launch of, as I'm up in Newcastle, improbably seeing some roots reggae at the Sage.
Though I'm sad to miss it, I urge Manchester literary types to get along to Blackwells on Friday where Birmingham's Charlie Hill, and Manchester's Nick Royle and David Gaffney will be reading from and discussing their "Books" (the title of Hill's new novel). The following day, Poets and Players return to the wonderful John Rylands library with three poets and some music. Its usually a pleasant event, as well as being free.
There's an interesting feature by Robert McCrum today talking about the fate of midlist writers, whose advances (and sales?) have collapsed. A little light on fact, as is his tendency, it makes a serious point about our literary culture - in that it is no longer a given that a writer will be read, remembered or even published, however much acclaim they receive. I met Paul Bailey back in 1998 when we were studying on our M.A. and he was a shadow from the past (albeit an entertaining one) back then; I don't think any of us - particularly those of us not living in London or having had a very non-literary job for years - felt that a writing career was a road to riches; and there's always an element of thinking that for there to be room for younger writers, then some of the older ones need to make way. Yet, I think this is exactly the sort of thinking that has impoverished the country over the last few years: beggar my neighbour and I'll feel better. I know several acclaimed younger authors who gave up or delayed writing after a first, second or third book - as their advances shrunk or their book deals disappeared. Maybe there are other solutions out there. A writer like Rupert Thompson or Paul Bailey has a suitably impressive back catalogue, yet there's no heritage industry like there is in music (unless they are regulars on Radio 4 or the festival circuit, performing "the hits"), and yet there's much to admire in these writers' work. They, at least, are still writing, yet as I mentioned recently when talking about the mid-90s chemical generation authors, whatever happened to them all? In this literary steeplechase, I begin to think my own (unpaid) marginal position has its advantages after all. I don't think literature deserves or needs special pleading in this day and age, and wish McCrum and his co-editors would look deeper into the fervent and fecund literary undergrowth that I'm involved with, but at the same time, a culture that doesn't value its culture, becomes a society that doesn't recognise its culture, and in the end, won't be able to recognise itself.
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