Everybody's Reading

Monday, 16 October 2017

Interview with Lyndon Mallet


About Lyndon Mallet
Lyndon Mallet is a British novelist and cartoonist with film, TV and radio credits to his name. He started writing in his teens and became road manager of a flying circus in exchange for being taught to fly, before embarking on a career in advertising. The film of his novel Taffin (New English Library) was released in 1988 with Pierce Brosnan in the title role. His fourth novel in the series is Taffin on Balance, released by Matador in 2017. Credits include The Bill (Thames Television), The Hare Lane Diaries (BBC Radio 4), Bucks Peasants (long-running cartoon series). His website is http://lyndonmallet.co.uk/



Interview with Lee Wright

LW: When did you first realise you wanted to be a novelist?

LM: I was read to a lot as a child. Grateful for that. When a book appeared, that was the start of a good time. When I could read for myself I learnt the joys of total immersion in a story. Authors became my heroes and guess what – I wanted to be one. I started writing short stories when I was 11 and it developed from there.  

LW: Which authors have you been most influenced by? 

LM: Roald Dahl. Fellow villager who taught me it was OK to write about events close to home. Conan Doyle. My father was a Holmes freak and I caught it. Jack Kerouac.  Early love of jazz, restless energy and Americana. (My wife is from Ohio). George MacDonald Frazer. Great storyteller, innovator, researcher and wit. Gogol. Object lesson in fitting characters to a landscape. De Maupassant. Economical storytelling through the characters. J.P.Donleavy. How to get serious without sounding preachy. Kipling. Kim is still as relevant as when it was written.

LW: Why did you decide to bring Taffin back after so long? 

LM: I had two stories in mind (HS rail and Barn Finds) and felt they could be told within the same structure.  It took me a while to realise Taffin would fit Centre Stage. 

LW: What were your thoughts when your publishers, New English Library, originally asked you to write the first sequel, Taffin’s First Law?

LM: Mixture of ecstasy and foreboding. Having banished the character to exile, I had to find a way to bring him back. That done, forget sleep for the immediate future (I was in full-time employment). 

LW: You have also written a sequel to another popular work of yours, The Hare Lane Diaries. Yet some novel sequels, like Joseph Heller’s Closing Time (a sequel to Catch-22) have been rubbished by critics. As someone who has written sequels, do you think they work?       

LM: I think this relates to the first novel being a pleasure, the second a duty – in which case sequels  start at a disadvantage. I think it’s probably better for the author to write at least one other book of a different kind before returning to the original in search of a sequel – and only then if the characters exert a powerful enough draw.  The sequel to Hare Lane uses the principal characters setting up house in France. The experience was too good to miss. 

LW: Both Taffin and Taffin’s First Law were traditionally published. Yet the third sequel and this latest instalment have been self-published. Was that a creative decision on your part not to go down the route of submitting to editors? And how have you found the self-publishing experience?

LM: The third Taffin coincided with the death of my editor at NEL, to whom it is dedicated. She edited and championed it so I ignored advice to the contrary and went ahead. Taffin On Balance had a traditional publication offer before I researched Matador and liked the look of them. I wouldn’t normally recommend self publishing from a standing start; in this case, the creative decision was based on design. I like the look and feel (crucial) of the books they produce. I also felt Taffin had enough provenance to justify a risk. 

LW: Did the film adaptation of Taffin help or hinder the character in your eyes?  

LM: Well, look at Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities – a magnificent novel utterly trashed on screen. Taffin’s producers made something more conventional than I would have liked. The American posters featured guns up front, which missed the point, and left out a couple of scenes I thought were pivotal. Even so, it led to opportunities I wouldn’t have had without it. Provenance again. 

LW: Each Taffin story deals with the issue of vigilante action. Is the concept of taking the law into one’s own hands frightening to you? 

LM: No. Vigilante is a loaded term. I wouldn’t advocate it. But ... "for evil to thrive wants only that good men do nothing." The Taffin idea is partly based on personal experience, which suggests (a): that Good Men aren’t always around when they’re needed and (b): pressure doesn’t necessarily involve violence. Whatever – Robin Hood deserves to exist.

LW: The title of the new novel is Taffin On Balance, and the word "Balance" features throughout the book. Taffin himself seems almost fixated with getting the balance right. Why is this and should a novelist or indeed any person be dominated by fixations? 

LM: Good one. A character should develop over time, which involves questioning earlier behaviour. Taffin is aware of being perceived as a straightforward thug and has the wit to seek redemption. His attempt to explain Balance to the journalist falls short because he lacks a clear understanding of it himself. In the event, he can only express it clumsily in terms of debt collecting: the balance between what’s owed and what’s paid. I think the novelist must share the character’s doubts, fears and, if necessary, fixation. 

LW: On your website you said that this novel (Taffin On Balance) feels special. What were your thoughts while writing the manuscript? 

LM: This is an episode in a character’s development following a substantial time lapse. Taffin knows more than he did in his earlier days. On Balance probably reflects the author’s questioning of his own fascination with this type of character. This is hindsight of course; at the time I was just enjoying time with old mates, the assembled cast. 

LW: You have said before that Mark Taffin is an old mate. Have you ever known a ‘Taffin’ in real life?   

LM: Yes.




About the reviewer
Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

Review by Lee Wright of "Taffin on Balance" by Lyndon Mallet



The 1988 action thriller Taffin featured a pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan in the title role as the freelance debt-collector Mark Taffin, hired to defend a small Irish community against a group of evil developers and their band of ruthless heavies. It was Robin Hood, only with shotguns and Brylcreem.  

A few years ago, I came across a copy of the original novel on which the film was based. Rumour has it that Taffin’s author, Lyndon Mallet, was not best pleased with the casting of Brosnan. The tough County Meath man with Hollywood good looks was a far cry from the large framed, expressionless Teddy Boy on the cover of the novel. 

The novel explores vigilante justice and how far people are willing to go to protect what is dear to them. But there is a flipside to that coin. How far is too far? Taffin understands this only too well. In the novel he warns someone who comes to him for help: “If I took this job, you’d be begging me to stop within a week.” Probably the finest line from the film is when Taffin confronts those who want to hire him to rid them of the developers with no questions asked: “My help has consequences,” he says. “When you turn against me, as you surely will, you remember, I am only your weapon.”

A follow-up sequel to the first novel was commissioned by the publisher, New English Library, and Mallet wrote Taffin’s First Law within four months of the first book being published. A third instalment followed, and Ask Taffin Nicely seemed to be a fitting end to the trilogy. 

Now, after a decade away, Mallet has returned to the town of Lasherham in Taffin On Balance, where Mark Taffin has settled down and runs a business restoring and selling classic cars. All is well until someone with money and a personal grudge tries to put him out of business. Along the way he discovers a web of large-scale corruption causing issues for the locals of the town, and we find that Taffin is still very much the modern-day Robin Hood.     
As ever with Mallet, the action is punchy and realistic but not too heavy. The author also dips into meta-fiction territory as references to the Pierce Brosnan film are made throughout the book. One character asks Taffin: “That film. Fact or fantasy? Is it about you and if so, is it a true story?”

When I asked Mallet why he did this, he replied, “It’s called playing the cards you’re dealt.” 
There is nothing slow paced about Mallet’s writing. Like his main protagonist, Mallet gets on with the job at hand. It’s a technique which has shown results. Not only did he sell the film rights for Taffin, he also had success with his epistolary novel, The Hare Lane Diaries, which was later adapted for radio and broadcast in six episodes on BBC Radio 4.  
   
But the Taffin novels are not as well-known as they could be. Copies of the first two novels are now out of print (though some second-hand copies can still be picked up and all of Mallet’s novels are available in e-book form). So, to have Taffin On Balance available in paperback is a treat for both old fans, and those discovering the character for the first time.
Taffin On Balance is published by Matador Fiction and is available now.


About the reviewer

Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

Review by Lee Wright of "Writing Lives Together: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose"



The Centre for New Writing's Writing Lives Together: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose brings together contributions from eight writers who have been inspired by nineteenth-century works. Dickens, Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey, Edmund Grosse, and William and Dorothy Wordsworth all provide a springboard for twelve new creative pieces.
   
Inspired by Dorothy Wordsworth’s The Grasmere Journals, Richard Byrt’s "Two Bags, Two Voices" explores the similarities in homelessness between 1796 and 2017: “All I own in two bags. Only a barn for shelter .... // Now all I own in two bags. Only a doorway for shelter.” Byrt shows us how much time has passed, and yet how so little has changed.

Anna Larner, author of the novel Highland Fling, gives us two pieces in this collection. In her first poem "On Reflection," she leaves flowers to wilt at Coleridge’s door. And her prose poem, "Writing is a leap of faith," takes Dickens’ Autobiographical Fragment, and delivers a piece pumped full of sentiment: “How awful the gap, and how hopeless my attempts have been to close it.” Larner expertly explores the push-pull life of the writer between the authentic self and the "other. 

In William Wordsworth’s "A Complaint," loss is everything, and the University of Leicester’s Jonathan Taylor makes Wordsworth accessible for modern day minds with his poem, "Out of the Well": "From deep within, I hear them pleading." Taylor concludes that love is terrifying and sharpens the appetite for both Wordsworth and Japanese author, Koji Suzuki.

“She said, eat it. So, I shoved that piece of news into my mouth and chewed”: Alyson Morris describes the experience of eating a piece of acid coated newspaper in her poem, "At De Quincey’s Pleasure." She makes Thomas De Quincey’s language interesting again. Morris’ poem, like others in the pamphlet, carries more weight than expected and brings Victorian literature out from under the staircase.  

Aysar Ghassan gives us a kind of bug-hunger in his poem, "Greater Than Illiterate Love," where he powerfully combines stale rock cakes and the death of Betamax, whilst stepping on the toes of the value of love. 


About the reviewer
Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Review by Robert Richardson of “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan

In Britain, the term ‘goon’ tends to invoke a 1950s radio comedy show, but in America it means a thug. Jennifer Egan’s metaphorical use of its American meaning, in her 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner, is revealed by Bosco, a fading rock star, who associates it with time and its humiliations that led to his present grotesque state.

Bosco inhabits one of the chapters, each of which can be read as either a short story or part of an innovative novel. For the latter we must accept digressions: characters who are minor in the “greater” novel are substantial within their given chapters.  The practice of providing a final chapter to satisfy the reader’s desire to know the futures awaiting characters is occasionally sprung by Egan early on, and this can be poignant, since time, the goon, has a habit of beating up youthful energy and aspirations. Egan might be seen as attempting to weaken the brutal grip of time by rejecting a linear narrative, shuffling the phases of her leading characters’ lives.

Although there are loose ends, there are also connections between characters across the chapters, and two characters in particular are given more weight: Sasha and Bennie. This helps an overall narrative to be perceived. Sasha, a kleptomaniac with dysfunctional teenage years, including a time living with criminals in Naples, finds a stability of sorts as an assistant to Bennie, a New York based successful manager and producer of rock bands. Bennie’s younger self appears in 1980 as a member of the Flaming Dildos punk band in his native San Francisco.

Egan adopts an array of techniques in a refreshing way. There are chapters in the first person, third and, more daringly, second, and both past and present tenses are brought into play. What might have been a mess is not: it hangs together because of Egan’s command and panache. Her stylistic adventures are not virtuosity for its own sake, they seem relevant to how we currently experience others through a variety of ways: in person; through texts; on social media etc. This recognition of cultural change, especially that concerned with technology and communication, is reflected in the penultimate chapter: a series of PowerPoint slides (and not just a few, they take up 74 pages in the paperback edition). These are the work of Alison, the twelve year old daughter of Sasha, now married to Drew, a doctor who appears in an earlier chapter during Sasha’s student days. The slides are an attempt by Alison to make sense of her mother, father, brother and herself.

The final chapter is set in the near future (the 2020s) and has a slightly science fiction atmosphere. Egan satirises our growing dependency on mobile phones, referred to as handsets, and texting. Infantilism is literal, with babies pointing at images on handsets being accepted as a significant arbiter of cultural value. As an antidote to this, Bennie is promoting, albeit through digital media, an old performer, Scotty, who was once a fellow member of the Flaming Dildos. A crowd gathers to see and hear this authentic representative of the pre-handset world. His songs, though, are infantile too, with titles such as ‘I Am a Little Lamb.’ Egan seems to be predicting our immediate future will be a cul-de-sac of superficiality.

Nevertheless, there are grounds for optimism. Time, the goon, might also be benign. Remember Bosco, the decayed rock star bloated by the drugs needed for his diseased body? He is encountered about midway through, planning a suicide tour and hoping it will culminate with dying on stage. We later learn that he survives, recovers, and ends up owning a dairy farm.

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist and writer. His work is included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, published by Reaktion Books, London). He has recently exhibited online with the Paris/Barcelona based Corridor Elephant publishing project, and is a member of the Biennale Austria association of contemporary artists. In 2014, his solo exhibition TextSpaces was exhibited at Eugen Gomringer’s Kunsthaus Rehau in Germany. He is also the co-editor, with William Pratt, of Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York). 

Monday, 9 October 2017

Review by Josephine Peppers of “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” by Ocean Vuong


So I have a little bookcase in my pub with books left behind by customers and so far I have a small collection which is consists of four books, Kinsella’s Shopaholic, Dario Fo’s Trampets & Raspberries, Jonathan Taylor’s Entertaining Strangers, and Ocean’s Night Sky. At home I have more books, but now I’m writing about my time in the pub, especially when it’s very quiet and I can read. I don’t drink when I’m in the pub and I don’t drink when I’m not in the pub either, FYI. I also don’t get poetry to be honest, in most cases I don’t, sometimes it’s nice to read poetry, but usually it is not. Before I start reading a book I always study the back cover and the flaps inside. I really, really like doing this, and I like more the back cover than the front cover. I even go as far as to read all that copyrights page that gives information about the book, when it was published, etc. When I saw Ocean Vuong’s photo on the back flap I thought he must be 13 years old. He looks like a naughty, slightly criminal thirteen year old who smokes and skips school and doesn't shower. Make a long story short: this friend’s friend asked for book reviews but to be honest I haven’t read the book. I’ve read most of it though. Usually with poetry books, as I think I mentioned before, I don’t get what they are about. From what I’ve read from the Night Sky so far, this is the case here too, the only difference is that sometimes some lines make so much sense that I don’t care that I’m getting old.

About the reviewer

Josephine Peppers owns a pub and the souls of her three ex-husbands.

Review by Mohammed Mohammed of “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra


When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!

I had read Don Quixote when I was still scared to read a novel in English. It took me 6 months to finish it. I envied the other students on my course who were so fast in finishing their books. They had read so much, and I so little, but I never pushed my reading, I had to read slowly, never skipping a word, even in those long verses in Don Quixote I read every word. Although I couldn’t understand so many words I just read them.

I remember, that was many years back, I remember I went for a very long walk down the beautiful English countryside, with nature so green and different to that of my country. I found a small quiet river with clear waters, and using my bag as a pillow, I lie down next to it, and opened my Don Quixote and read and rolled around with laughter.

I have read somewhere that Cervantes is the father of modern literature, I have read various interpretations about Don Quixote, about what this or that means. What I have understood, is that I am not a clever person, for me Don Quixote is nothing but a simple story that I will never forget.

About the reviewer
Mohammed Mohammed is undertaking a PhD in Egyptian short stories at a UK university.  

Review by Mohammed Mohammed of “Said the Fisherman” by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall

Born Marmaduke William Pickthall in 1875 London, Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall was a convert from Christianity. His novel Said the Fisherman was published in 1903 and stirred the literary circle of Britain at the time. A work that was praised by writers such as D.H Lawrence, H.G Wells and E.M. Forster, is now almost forgotten. Said the Fishermen is a masterpiece in my humble opinion, and tells the story of a little corrupt, a little deceitful, and a very compassionate and sweet man, Said.


Opening this book you are stepping straightaway into another world, the Arab world of the 19th century. Said begins as a poor fisherman, he leaves his hometown to become an adventurer, a world merchant, but he never stops being a little liar. His life begins as tragedy and ends as tragedy, and even when I shed a tear about this sweet liar, there was always a smile in my heart. Said the Fishermen will take you into faraway places, he will make you laugh and cry, he will make you remember his lies, his story.

About the reviewer
Mohammed Mohammed is undertaking a PhD in Egyptian short stories at a UK university.  

Review by Kamratrabisinianian Kabasutrabramanian of “Drown” by Junot Diaz

This little, tiny, almost pocket-sized book is chock-full of strong poetic language and adds a grain of sand to the secluded beach of literature. The metaphors are so strong that they seize to be metaphors, they are lungful blows that clear away the dust that covers reality so you can see, for a change, something authentic.

Disappointed by contemporary literature, I had abandoned the modern writers and stayed on with the wise old men and women, smoking my pipe. And when my friend Alex stormed in my house one day and snapped my pipe away, I jumped off my comfy chair and screamed, Give this pipe back to its owner right away it is my great grandfather’s pipe from back home, he took a long long long puff and coughed his insides out and threw this little book at me and said, You better read this motherfucker. He went to the kitchen to eat my food and I opened Drown and read and read and read screaming, THIS IS TERRIFIC, and by the time I had read the first story Alex had finished with the fridge’s top two shelves. I went to the kitchen and read the second story while he was frying and eating eggs with ketchup. In the third story he ate my biscuits, had a coffee/smoke break while I read the next story, and we drank all my wine while my eyes stayed faithful to Drown. What a fucking brilliant little book.

About the reviewer

Kamratrabisinianian Kabasutrabramanian works for IBM.

Review by Pam Andersen of “Under Milk Wood” by Dylan Thomas

Once or twice a year, sometimes once every two years, when I’m completely alone and need to have a break from everything and everyone, I wait for the evening and put on the Under Milk Wood CD, the one with Richard Burton. I don’t try to listen, I don’t try to understand, I just sit and look up at a wall or the ceiling or objects and the voices pass by. This is my treat, sweet melancholy. Organ Morgan, Captain Cat, Myfanwy Price, Mrs Ogmore-Prichard, how soothing it feels to hear their voices. Do you laugh or do you cry when Captain Cat dreams?

To begin from the beginning, I smile at that. No, To begin – I hold my breath during the silence – from the beginning… And as he continues, his lips and tongue dance: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobbledstreets silent and the hunched courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.

I always remember the man who gave me the book. I read it and didn’t like it. Then it happened that a few days later Under Milk Wood appeared in the theatre of the little town where I was living. I went to watch it and again, I didn’t like it. And maybe a few months passed, I saw the CD in a supermarket. I bought it and listened to it and I loved it. Time passes. Listen. Time passes. Come closer now. Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night.

This is how I count time. How many more times in my life will I listen to Under Milk Wood? Ten, maybe fifteen?

Come on up, boys. I’m dead.

About the reviewer
Pam Andersen was a primary school teacher. She lives in Loughborough with her two cats, Ha and Ha-Ha.