A Stroll On The Heath

This is another fragment found amongst the Jack Vincent Papers, the first volume of which I edited and published last year. Like the story of the murderer George Slaughter, this curious little anecdote was not part of the packet containing the second memoir, and I confess that I am not entirely sure where it belongs. I’ve decided to share it here because it confirms my theory that Jack Vincent and the author and traveller George Borrow knew each other, while also providing an interesting portrait of my hometown, Norwich, in the early-1850s…

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Five Favourite Reads: 2016

Writing this list is beginning to feel like a Christmas tradition, alongside the good single malt and the seasonal ghost story. As ever, reading for pleasure has been mediated and muddled by research and editorial work, and I honestly couldn’t tell you how many books I’ve read in the last year.

Deep in the Woods – A Victorian Ghost Story

I do not believe in anything. My dear wife was always more religious than I. That is to say she was more open-minded when it came to matters spiritual and incorporeal, tending towards a polite agnosticism over my own intractable atheism, and general scepticism towards the supernatural beyond the pages of my own fiction.

This Time It’s Personal LIVE – Something Like a Review

here are few things finer in the creative arts than a project that is totally unexpected but in hindsight makes perfect sense, like the end of a really good novel. The album This Time It’s Personal (Sony 2016) is one of those projects, a musical collaboration between the godfather of performance poetry, Dr. John Cooper Clarke, and legendary guitarist, singer/songwriter and author, Hugh Cornwell, the original Guildford Strangler, a cultural event as modest as it is huge.

Remembrance Day

For Remembrance Day, this is my maternal grandfather, Alexander Kennel-Webb, who I think was in the 8th (Service) Battalion, Norfolk Regiment. Service battalions were part of Kitchener’s ‘New Army,’ and were raised entirely from volunteers. (My father’s father, James, was a professional soldier; an RSM in The British Indian Army, he returned home during the war to train volunteers like Alexander - I don't have a picture of him in uniform.)

Ainsworth’s Guy Fawkes: Tragic Hero, Catholic Martyr

Nowadays, the image of Guy Fawkes – the man who tried to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605, assassinating James I so a popular revolt could install a Catholic monarch – has become synonymous with anti-establishment protest. This modern symbolism began in the British comic strip V for Vendetta, a dystopian revenge tragedy with an anarchist heart by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1982 – 1988) produced during the darkest decade of Thatcherism.

A Story for Halloween

I was having had a spot of bother with a rich man’s wife. She was older than me but I didn’t care. I just wanted her, like some strange and terrible drug. It was the usual story. She’d married young, enticed by the charm of a mature and successful man, and the stability that comes of secure investments. The age gap had not seemed so much when she was twenty and he was fit and fifty.

The Death Hunters: A Fragment

The current fashion for talking to the dead started about four years ago. While Europe was in revolt and the Chartists were falling apart, across the Atlantic the veil was lifting. It began in a desolate farmhouse in the Hudson Valley, where the Fox Sisters, Kate and Maggie, struck up a dialogue with an entity that had been nightly tormenting the family by banging on walls, doors and windows. They asked the presence questions which it affirmed or denied by rapping, clearly indicating some sort of intelligence. The girls called it ‘Mr. Splitfoot.’ They said it was the ghost of a murdered peddler.

Mockingbird’s End – Part One

There were at least five ways home from The Saracen’s Head, and Stan couldn’t think of any of them. He adjusted to the sharp shock of the winter darkness instead, lit a fag, and smoked it savagely as if it had in some way done him greatly wrong. Behind himself, the lights of the pub shut off one by one. Loneliness bit down. Stan Metcalf stoically lit another off the butt of the first. It was late, he was in trouble. Ruby would be waiting.

Colin Phillips: The Last of the Soho Poets

My dear friend, Colin Phillips, Marxist, Existentialist, cyclist and the last of the ‘Soho Poets,’ died earlier today after a long battle with cancer. This is something like an obituary, although my chronology might be slightly out, so I’ll apologies to friends and family in advance. Anyway, Colin was a proper Cockney, born in Brick Lane to a Quaker family at the start of World War Two; his father was a cabbie and his mother stayed at home.