Friday, 24 March 2017

Britain is no longer a country for an old, quintessentially English, crime fiction writer called Colin Dexter who gave it Inspector Morse

Colin who will be remembered as the crime writer who created the curmudgeonly crossword and Wagner-loving detective, Inspector Morse who drove a vintage Jaguar around Oxford and solved murders by deep thinking, has died at the age of 86.

When actor John Thaw's 'Morse' first appeared on BBC TV screens in 1987 and subsequently in a further 32 episodes, Colin appeared, Hitchcock style in all but three episodes. He was 'The man in the wheelchair at Magdalen Bridge' and variously an Oxford tourist, doctor, prisoner, college porter, bishop, professor and 'The man with crutches in the hospital waiting room' and often appeared at the bar of the pub where Morse was drinking. In 1993 he achieved his ambition and played a small speaking role and added his enigmatic presence to episodes in the spin-off series, 'Lewis', between 2006-15. and 'Endeavour', with Shaun Evans as the young Morse, which began in 2012.

Born Norman Colin Dexter in the market town of Stamford, Lincolnshire in the Autumn of 1930, he was the son of Dorothy and Alfred, who had both left school at the age of twelve and were determined that he and his elder brother should get a good education and as a consequence excused them from household chores on the understanding that they spend every minute at their studies although he later confessed, in his early grammar school years at least : "Mother wrote my essays." In addition, he revealed that her Quaker beliefs and his Father's interest in Captain Cook may have informed his decision to christen Morse, with the name 'Endeavour' in deference to the Quaker tradition of naming children after abstract nouns and Cook's 'HMS Endeavour.'
Despite the fact that his father ran a shop in the town, where he sat outside on a chair, a large man with thick-lensed glasses, in a white overall and a peaked chauffeur's cap who served from a petrol pump, with his mother serving inside, the family lived in straightened circumstances. When Colin later recalled his big brother, John as the person who influenced him the most, he said : "We shared a bed for 19 years as we were so poor. One night, when I was 16, he woke me up playing Beethoven's 7th. He was in tears and I was intrigued. Classical music's been one of the great joys of my life." Poor as they were they did travel fifty miles to the coast in the summer where he enjoyed a "paddle in the sea at Skegness, which I loved as a boy."

He started at St John's Infant School when he was five in 1935 and after two years, he moved on to the nearby Bluecoat Junior School where he was impressed and remembered a trick with words when his teacher, Mrs Ireland, chalked on the board 'You will never misspell FRIEND as it has END in it.' After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 he recalled the occasion when his class were sent down into an underground cellar when a German aircraft appeared. Then, after being let out after an 'all-clear' had been sounded, being very scared when a Messerschmitt appeared overhead and machine-gunned the playground and, without injury to anyone, cut a zigzag swathe from the houses to the garage,

Age the age of eleven, both Colin and his brother before him had taken up their scholarships at Stamford, the independent school for boys where at least one teacher left an indelible mark on him because, many years later when he was asked : whether he wrote for a readership or for himself ? His answer was that he wrote for his old English teacher Mr Sharp and would write a page and then ask himself, “Would Mr Sharp like that?” His aim was to feel that Mr Sharp would give it at least 8 out of 10.

Colin excelled in Mathematics and recalled "I loved algebra, loved answers to things. I've always been pretty good at that sort of thing, still up in the front row. The only thing I am good at" but only came to books when he was in the sixth form : "When I was a boy I didn't read anything until I was 16. Until then it was Beano and The Dandy because there were no books in the house. Then I started to take reading very seriously and I would read in bed every night. If I came across a word I didn't know I couldn't sleep until I had looked it up in the dictionary. It would worry me all the time. I had to know the answer."


Characterised as 'as sporty as academic' he played for the school rugby team where, at 18, he is seated centre and played alongside and remained friends with the great M.J.K. Smith, seated to his right,who went on to captain England at cricket and represent England at rugby. In the same year, 1948, he was enlisted for his two years National Service in the Armed Forces and served as a morse code operator in the Army Royal Corps of Signals, then took himself off to Christ’s College, Cambridge, to study Classics where he secretary of the hockey club and a was a keen tennis player. He graduated in 1953, a beer drinker, crossword solver and Wagner and Charles Dickens lover, who thought 'Bleak House' "a masterclass in writing" and appreciator of what became his favourite film, the 1951 'The African Queen' for its "tension and chemistry." 



In his mid twenties, in the mid 1950s, he became an atheist but remained "very, very fond and always shall be of church music, church art, church literature and so on and I also found myself, from the word go, congenitally incapable of voting for the Tory Party." Then in 1956, at the age of 26, he married, having met Dorothy, a physiotherapist, at a New Year's Eve dance in Leicester. By this time he was a classics master, teaching Latin and Greek at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Loughborough. He went on to earn his master’s degree from Cambridge in 1958 and said that his classical training gave him 'Initium est dimidium facti','The beginning is half of the deed' and that he "always found that the beginning is the hardest part of anything. Once that's done, I'm off and away." He claimed for the rest of his life, that he was a born teacher rather than a writer who took no interest in the moral welfare of his pupils, but prided himself on getting them better exam results than those of which they thought they were capable and, in addition, "I'd tell my pupils that asking questions is vital."

Colin, who had started to lose his hearing when he was still at school and had four unsuccessful operations to improve his hearing in his twenties, was teaching the fifth form 'The Aeneid, Book II', when he began to feel that there was something underhand going on in class of which he was unaware and discovered that one of the pupils had been playing a pop music station on the radio and had been gradually turning up the volume to see how long it would be before 'Sir' noticed, only to find that, even at full volume, he had heard nothing. He knew deafness was part of his genetic inheritance, since all four of his grandparents, an uncle and his father had become deaf. It was now that he made, what must have been, the heart-breaking decision to abandon his career in teaching, of which he later said : “I think it’s truly more satisfying than writing, It forms very strong links in your life.”

In 1966 he secured the position of Senior Assistant Secretary at the University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations which set exams for secondary schools and he ran the English and Classics syllabuses for the board for the next 21 years, until 1987, when, at the age of 57, he retired to concentrate on his writing. Colin's job had taken him to Oxford where he lived with his wife Dorothy and their children Jeremy and Sally. Three years later,'Something' by the Beatles became little Sally's favourite song and remained the one which meant the most for him for the rest of his life. He also admitted that when he had her dog put down at the vets he could "hear Sally, who was 13, weeping next door. It was one of the few times I've wept."

In these years, to supplement his income, he wrote school text books, published by Robert Maxwell and later admitted that the event that altered the course of his life because it was : "Getting my first book, 'Liberal Studies, 'published in 1964 which started my writing career." In fact, the three books he had published and aimed at sixth formers were co-authored with a colleague at school in the History Department.

It was when he was 43, on holiday in a guest house in North Wales with the family in the inclement summer of 1973, that Morse was born. It was another wet day, a saturday afternoon when feeling miserable and bored after the kids had said : "why didn't I take them to a place where the sun was shining ?" and "We want to go home" that he read the two detective novels in their holiday accommodation, one about Miss Silver in the 1930s and decided that he could do better than that. The result, 'Last Bus To Woodstock', which began life as no more than a page and a half written behind a locked door, on the kitchen table, owed much to its medieval and suburban Oxford setting and lent credence to his later claim that he would never have become a writer if he'd he moved to Rotherham. The fact that the book wasn't an instant success, having been turned down by Collins before being published by Macmillan, may have gone some way towards explaining why he maintained his career with the exam board and said : “I never, ever, had to earn a living out of writing. I was well looked after and paid at the University Schools Examination Board.” In fact he slotted his writing in an exercise book, after his day job and in between listening to long-running radio soap 'The Archers' and a nightly visit to the pub and "found if I wrote a page a day, 360 days a year, it soon built up.”

His principal characters, 'Morse' and 'Lewis', were named in deference to his friend and "just about the cleverest man I’ve ever met," Jeremy Morse, who went on to become Chairman of Lloyds Bank, a Director of the Bank of England and a Mrs B Lewis, both regular and successful entrants in the crossword competitions which Colin, five times champion in the Ximenes and Azed Competitions, also entered. In his character, Morse was unlike him as an irascible, mean, intellectual snob and like him as a lover of Wagner, Vermeer, particularly 'The Milkmaid' in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Charles Dickens and the taste of real ale.

The initial print run of this, his first novel was only 4,000 copies and not long after the book came out, Macmillan offered to send him the 120 copies they had sitting in their offices at a cost of a £5 freight charge. Colin declined the offer. He had no way of knowing that a quarter of a century later a copy of a first edition of 'Last Bus to Woodstock', in good condition, would cost around £1,000.

His guiding principle in writing his Morse stories remained the same from start to finish 25 years later : “I’ve never worried about character study or anything like that. I want to write stories that people are interested in. The idea that I am analysing or exploring the dark abyss of the soul is silly. I stress plot. I write short chapters and keep things moving.” He also confessed that : "I never did any research at all really. I used to know quite a lot of policemen and then I became quite friendly with quite a few of them, but I was never a researcher."

As he continued with Morse and it wasn't long before success caught up with him. His 'Service of All the Dead' in 1979 earned him the 'Silver Dagger Award' of the Crime Writers’ Association and two years later, 'The Dead of Jericho' he won it for the second time.

He won the 'Gold Dagger Award' for 'The Wench is Dead' in 1989, in which Morse solved a century-old murder while recuperating in a hospital and 'The Way Through the Woods' in 1992. This found a miserable Morse temporarily transported from his City of Dreaming spires to a reluctant holiday break in Colin's favourite, the Bay Hotel on the seafront in Lyme Regis, Dorset, a frequent summer holiday destination for him, Dorothy and the kids. In 2012 he told The Telegraph that the town was his "favourite place on earth." He harboured fond memories of sitting in a deckchair with a glass of scotch or taking a teenage Sally on the Thomas Hardy Trail before lunch in the King's Arms in Dorchester.

He also won the 'Cartier Diamond Dagger Award' for 'Services to Crime Fiction' in 1997 and the 'Sherlock Holmes Award' in 1999. It was in that year that in 'The Remorseful Day' he killed off Morse, after 13 novels featuring some 80 corpses and in that inimitable Dexter way : in a hospital bed, from cardiac arrest brought on by his inattention to his diabetic condition.

Colin's own diabetes had been diagnosed in 1987, when at the age of 57 he spent two weeks in hospital, the first on an insulin drip and the second in the Radcliffe Infirmary Diabetic Ward. In his diagnosis 'heredity' scored 'low', 'worry' scored 'average' and 'alcohol' scored 'high.' Following in his Father's footsteps he had been and continued to be a "very big drinker indeed," who had his first drink at the age of 14 and continued for 60 years until at the age of 74 in 2004, when he was having problems with high blood pressure, had seven laser treatments on each eye and when he found : "They're afraid I'll go blind like Sue Townsend," gave up alcohol completely and as a result lost two stone in weight.

The first of 33 episodes of the Inspector Morse television series was presented in 1987, with John Thaw as 'Morse' and Kevin Whately as Lewis and after his original novels ran out he wrote additional scripts, before turning over the series to other writers. For the record : Morse’s car, in the original books, was an old Lancia which was swapped for an iconic 1962 Jaguar during filming because the production company couldn’t find a Lancia to suit; the Morse code for MORSE  – — •-• ••• • features in the background of the famous 'Morse Theme' and incidental music, written by award winning composer Barrington Pheloung who occasionally spelled out the name of the killer in his music using the code.

In 1995 he told the Irish Times : “I don’t take all this awfully seriously. There are more important things in life than detective stories. For me it is just a bit of fun. I’ve never had to meet a deadline, never had to make a living out of writing a book. I just happened to be lucky.”

Tongue in cheek, Colin was always at pains to point out the misapprehension people had about him : "That I'm cleverer than I am! The Inspector Morse plots made people think I'm very smart. I'm definitely not as smart as Morse." At the height of its popularity he saw the series reach a global audience of a 750 million people in 200 countries. He once said : "It's always a sadness when your parents die before you've done anything,"

The last episode of 'Morse' in 2000, featured his death and after John Thaw’s death in 2002, Colin stipulated that no other actor should reprise the role. He said : "I didn't feel any regrets writing about Morse's death. Why should I? I'm getting older too. I shall be 70 next year. I've murdered lots of people, written 13 or is it 14 novels? Things come to an end. It's only natural" and "Morse would never have lasted in retirement. He had no lawn to mow. He had a few girlfriends but he never got married. He would have gone spare. No, it's better this way. I in the meantime shall do nothing more than read more and listen to more music."

In fact, Colin did much more and went on to write 42 episodes of the spin-off series, 'Lewis', between 2006-15 and 14 episodes of the 28 episode prequel series, 'Endeavour', with Shaun Evans as the young Morse, which began in 2012.

He said his the happiest moment he would cherish forever was being given the 'Freedom of the City of Oxford' in 2001 at a time when the only living recipients were Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi and when asked about the City he said : “My only claim to fame is to make it the murder capital of Europe. The body count before Lewis started recently was up to 87, now it’s up to 93.”

He was by now a wealthy man who eschewed and cared little for the things that money could buy. He and his wife continued to live in the semi-detached house in North Oxford which had been their family home since the 1960s; they never replaced their car until it began to disintegrate and were perfectly happy, when they took a holiday, to book places on a coach tour or walk in the hills of mid-Wales and stop in Machynlleth for tea. Another pleasure was fish and chips at The Trout Inn in Oxfordshire, with children, Sally and Jeremy, both in their fifties and grandsons Thomas and James in their twenties. In addition, at the age of 80 in 2010 he said : “The only thing I’m good at is crosswords” and published  'Cracking Cryptic Crosswords: A Guide to Solving Cryptic Crosswords.'

Colin once described himself as : “Short, fat, bald, deaf; a lukewarm socialist; a Low Church atheist; a lover of crosswords, Wagner, cask-conditioned beer and the scholar-poet AE Housman; a hater of American musicals, Australian cricketers, litter and the political prejudices of Sir Peregrine Worsthorne.”

He said that the poem which touched his soul was and 'Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard' by Thomas Gray from 1751, which was "so lyrical it's like music when you read it."
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Colin wrote of Morse in 'The Way Through the Woods' :
'During the previous night his thought had been much preoccupied with death, and the mood persisted now. As a boy, he had been moved by those words of the dying Socrates, suggesting that if death were just one long, unbroken, dreamless sleep, then a greater boon could hardly be bestowed upon mankind.'

He offered no one the opportunity to write his biography while he was alive and said with perfect understatement : "I would never allow that. I've had such a lot of luck, I don't want to risk having someone ridiculously ill-informed doing it. I think it should wait till you are dead. 
And when you're dead, everyone forgets you anyway, if you write crime fiction."

In 2008 he told Sue Lawley on BBC Radio's 'Desert Island Discs' : "I no longer believe in the Almighty or any future life, but I've always loved a lot of church music and I think if there is a future life I shall long to be paraded into eternity by the 'In Paridison' from the Fauré Requiem" which was used in the first episode of 'Endeavour' and featured in 'Morse.' 

Monday, 20 March 2017

Will Britain, grant Mal Peet, novelist for young adults and passionate believer in the power of reading, a posthumous Carnegie Medal for his last book ?

Mal died two years ago at the age of 67 after a career as a children’s author and especially for teenagers, which he had started fifteen years before. He was suspicious of books that targeted teenagers, on the grounds that “such books usually give off a strong whiff of condescension, although there are, of course, very honourable exceptions.” Now he has been considered for a posthumous Carnegie Medal, after making the shortlist with his co-author Meg Rosoff who finished, published and submitted his novel 'Beck', his coming-of-age tale about a mixed-race boy in America during, the first chapter of which, started and ended with Mal writing :

'His Mother met his father in Liverpool on a frigid night in 1907. She was not a prostitute but in times of need, short of other forms of employment, she would sell herself to men. She never spent the proceeds frivolously, Every last farthing of the five shillings she charged would be spent on rent and on food for her family, which consisted of frail parents, who were addicted to patent medicines, and an older brother who was wrong in his head.
and
A month before Beck’s eleventh birthday, his great-grandparents and his mother and his daft kindly uncle all died in the flu epidemic. Anne (his Mother) was the last to go.
Just before the fever stilled her heart she tightened her clasp on the boy’s hand and whispered, “There’s three pound seven shillin’ put away. It’s in …”

He was an odd-looking kid with his mother’s green-flecked hazel eyes and a deep shade of his father’s colouring and hair that stuck out all ways. He was taken to the Catholic orphanage run by the methodically cruel Sisters of Mercy. The shame of his mixed race meant that he was also victimised by other orphans. He lived in that dire and loveless establishment for three and a half years; at the end of that time he had become a little hard bastard who had learned to cry silently and dry-eyed. Christian names were not used in the orphanage and eventually Beck forgot that he had one.'

Mal's own story began unpropitiously when he was born Malcolm C Peet, a post-Second World War baby boomer in the autumn of 1947 and brought up in the small town of North Walsham, Norfolk, where his father, an ex-sergeant-major from the War worked in Caley's Norwich Chocolate Works and his mother, Grace, was a part-time bookkeeper for a number of Walsham traders. He lived in a small house on the new Millfield Council Estate with his parents, younger brother and sister and grandmother.

An early reader, he quickly consumed the book collection at Millfield Primary School and was then, at the age of eight, was given special dispensation to join the town library. It was just one room in a basement off a narrow alleyway, but it seemed to him like a subterranean treasure house. He recalled :"I'm not sure that, when I read Treasure Island for the first time when I was about ten, I understood all the words or what was doing on, but that didn't stop me reading it and I certainly didn't forget it."

In addition to this he recalled : "My parents got me a book a month from a mail-order company; my best memories are of new books arriving; unwrapping the parcel; studying the pictures on the cover; smelling the book, they smell different; putting off starting to read until I couldn’t bear it any longer" and "I had a serious addiction to comics. When I had a newspaper round, I used to sit in a bus shelter and read all the comics before I delivered them, which got me into trouble more than once and made me late for school."

When he later reflected on his early reading he said that he : "didn't quite know why, because we weren't, by any means, a literary household, but I just got the hang of it quite young and then I devoured books because, I think it was escapism, because books were my way out. I lived in a very crowded and slightly, more than slightly, argumentatively household. Getting you own space was difficult and books were my window, they were my hiding place and my mode of transport. I went to Treasure Island and I went to Outer Space and fought the First World War with Biggles and it was another world, simply that."

"One of the places I had to read was a tall tree at the end of our garden that had the top lopped off it and I used to climb up it with a book and a sandwich and spend the afternoon perched on the top of this tree with a book. Nobody could get me. Even if it was time for homework my Mum couldn't climb trees, so she couldn't get me down from there."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFFmH5bl8ws&t=0m37s

Although he once described his childhood as "impoverished, miserable and colourless"when he looked back, it wasn't unremittingly grim : "We had very little money and there was no culture, but now I realise that I did have an amazing amount of freedom. We would go off on our bikes all day into the woods and no-one would worry."

After passing the 11-plus exam he went to the Paston School in town, an old-fashioned boys' grammar and recalled that  : "It was pretty dreadful; the kind of place where the masters, it was an entirely male place, went around in black gowns like daylight vampires and the Head kept a display of canes on his study wall and used them not infrequently." Fifty-four years later he had the school in mind in his semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age novel aimed at the 14 plus, 'Life : An Exploded Diagram.' in which young Clem attends Newgate Grammar School where he endures humiliation, bullying, sacracasm, violent games, caning, snobbery and 'ferocious patriotism.'

His passion for and ability in soccer, led him to play for his school, his town and his county and needless to say, at that same school : "and this is a familiar story, I suppose – there was one teacher who inspired and encouraged me to write. Although I still really wanted to draw cartoon strips" and he often handed in school history essays as cartoon strips. His passion for kids comics expressed itself forty-five years later, when he originally envisioned his award-winning first novel for young adults, 'Keeper', as a graphic novel.

Mal's childhood clearly left him with an indelible sense of 'place' which infused 'An Exploded Diagram' : "North Norfolk is where I grew up; I’ve cycled most of the roads on that map. The locations named in the novel are barely-disguised real places; sometimes I didn’t even change the names. But for several reasons it’s the perfect setting. North Norfolk is – was – pretty remote. In post World War Two Britain, great social and cultural shiftings were gathering momentum, but their vibration didn’t quite reach us up there. We lived a little apart from the historical flow; we were, as Clem observes, still recognisably feudal. In some of my earlier books, I devoted a great deal of energy to creating an imaginary country: its history, landscapes, society, all of that. Writing out of memory was just a little bit easier."

Mal was 15 when the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the USA and USSR and the world to the brink of nuclear war and he was aware that : "East Anglia was home to a number of British and American bases for nuclear-capable bombers, and we would have been a prime target for Soviet missiles" and he "was incandescent with outrage at the thought that the Yanks and Russians might convert me to ash before I’d got my hands on the prematurely voluptuous Avril Samms at number 64. Now, the whole episode seems like a weird dream, an interruption of normal service. We’d sit and watch the terrifying news on the telly, then get comfy for ‘Dixon of Dock Green’."

At the age of 17, he resisted his parent's idea that he should go to 'Art School' and, encouraged by his English teacher, applied for and gained a place to read English and American Studies at the new University of Warwick and in 1965 “escaped Norfolk” and that "very dull town which I managed to survive by means of football, bikes and books."

At Warwick he began drawing cartoons in earnest, first for his friends and then for the university newspaper and having graduated in 1968 and unsure as to what to do next, he decided to try his hand at academia, stayed in Warwickshire for another two years, got a Masters degree and then, at the age of 23, moved to Devon. It wasn't long before he was lured into teaching by the luxury of a regular salary, but, afflicted by a low boredom threshold and “a very low tolerance for routine” he quit his college job in Exeter after a few years and tried to scratch a living as an illustratorwhich failed, along with his first marriage.

In his late twenties, he now worked variously : in a hospital mortuary where he "didn’t much like the night shifts;" "hung out with a bunch of gypsies who did dodgy tarmac. Once we did an abattoir; what with the heat and the carnage it was an authentic vision of Hell;"as a plumber and a builder and even, for a time, worked on a road-building crew in Canada,"consisting of mad Newfoundlanders, North American Indians, Black Americans and exiled Irishmen. I met a love-sick man in Ontario who wanted someone to share the drive to Vancouver where his girlfriend was. That week-long drive across Canada was one of the best and worst things I have ever done."

It was now that he met his future wife, Elspeth Graham, who persuaded him that in spite of his having no formal training in art, he ought to use his talent for caricature and cartooning to become an illustrator. In this phase of his life the two of them made their living writing school texts and literacy books for children and young adults including "rather academic text-books about poetry."

Not unsurprisingly, given his love of literature, he supported the work of England's 'National Literacy Trust', for whom 'he was a 'Reading Champion.' 

The political events of the 1980s, when he was in his thirties, clearly had a bid impact on him and in his Carnegie Medal Acceptance Speech in 2006 for his historical novel 'Tamar', he lamented what he saw as "Disconnection or alienation from the past" which he thought had "political consequences" and cited : "A clear example is the popularity of Margaret Thatcher's mutilation of the trade unions in the 1980s. Many of those who supported her in this seemed to have forgotten or not known that they owed the social benefits they enjoyed - health, education, social security - to the trade union movement. Now I do not think that there is a single young person of my acquaintance who has any knowledge of the social history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."

Mal confessed that : 'Like many people, I suspect, I had no real interest in children’s literature until I had children of my own. It'll sound a bit evangelical, I suppose, but I truly believe that there are few things more important, useful and protective than sharing stories with your children. After their bath, heaped into a big, deep chair, doing the voices, discussing the pictures, softening your voice as the rhythm of their breathing deepens... You start to understand why certain books work and others don't.'

It was when Mal had more than a hundred Easy Reader books behind him and had declared himself to be "bored stiff" by them, that Elspeth encouraged him to write his first novel. 'Keeper', published in 2003, which won the 'Branford Boase Award.' It had been inspired some years before by the Senior Fiction Editor at Walker Books, Sally Christie, who told him that if he ever wanted to write a book, she was looking for stories about death and stories about football and to which he replied : "Well, maybe I should try writing a story about a dead footballer.

 'Keeper,' a tale of soccer and the supernatural, lent itself to the National Learning Trust's 'Reading the Game Project' to get boys reading and Mal gave readings from the book at schools and soccer grounds all over the country. In his work to promote a love of reading in children he was steadfast in his belief that the most important thing is to cultivate a desire to read, not to impose it.

Initially he imagined the book as a graphic novel but found that : "No-one would publish it as a graphic, too expensive, not a big market for graphic novels in Britain, etc., etc. So I sulked for about a year." The the Easy Readers intervened and kept him busy for about four years while the book "lurked half-forgotten in a drawer." He was then persuaded to write it in straight prose in a process, where, he recalled : "What I did was imagine the novel as a series of pictures, as in a graphic novel, and describe what I saw."

His second novel, 'Tamar', published in 2005, a powerful love story about Special Operations Executive agents parachuted into Nazi-occupied Holland to work with the Dutch resistance in the Second World War, demonstrated that he was comfortable writing for older teens and avoided him being pigeon-holed as a ‘football writer.’ His research took him on drives around the Dutch countryside on what he called “location shoots”, giving fuel to the intensely visual imagination that now informed his writing process which he expressed as : “I have to make little movies, I have to sit and film.”

He followed this with 'The Penalty' in 2006, which again starred Paul Fustino, the footballing journalist in 'Keeper' and which was shortlisted for the 2007 'Book Trust Teenage Prize'. Paul appeared again in 'Exposure' in 2008, which was an up-to-date version of Othello set in South America, with contemporary celebrities succumbing to the tricks of Shakespeare’s original and which won the 'Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.'

In 2006 Mal felt very strongly about the the Tony Blair and George Bush war on religious fundamentalism and said in his Carnegie Medal Acceptance Speech that : "Fundamentalism - of any variety - is a form of illiteracy, in that it asserts that it is necessary to read only one book. It is unbelievably stupid to imagine that this kind of illiteracy can be combated with bombs and bullets. And terribly scary that the U.S. and Britain are being led by men who do not, or cannot, read. Three hundred years ago, Jonathan Swift wrote a satire called The Battle of the Books; it would be great if Bush and Blair could be helped to read it. It has a great deal to say about the "collateral damage" that is incurred when violence is used in a battle over the printed word.  They might also discover that when it comes to struggling with fundamentalism, there are arsenals packed with weapons of mass education in all our towns and cities. They are called 'libraries' "

Mal was 64 years old when he made a figurative return to the Norfolk of his youth and wrote his semi-autobiographical 'Life: An Exploded Diagram' in 2011, with the proviso that : "My Gran, although churchy and prayerful, was nothing like as harsh, or bonkers, as Win. I altered my family’s personalities not out of love or deference, or revenge, but in order for the dynamics of the story to work. Newgate is a pretty accurate, if sour, portrayal of my old school. The bike rides, the strawberry fields, the fearsome mystique of sex and the non-availability of condoms are all ingredients of my youth. Sadly, however, there was never a real Frankie. I had to make her up."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ml3d1acrSDE&t=1m12s
He later said that in this coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Cold War and events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis : "My own feelings are expressed not by Clem but by Goz, in his outburst in the school bogs. And by Frankie when she says ‘I absolutely refuse to die a virgin. It would just be too awful.’ "
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8wQmSQoFRs&t=0m32s

It was only with 'The Murdstone Trilogy' in 2014, his dig at fantasy novels and at the world of celebrity writers which he both loved and was terrified by, that Mal was first published as an 'author for adults', although he said : “It’s definitely not my attempt to break out of the YA bracket, because if I were to say I’m breaking out of it, I’d have to recognise it, as a genre. I can’t really claim it doesn’t exist and simultaneously break out of it.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJjmbLJ-XTE&t=2m11s


Now, two years after Mal's death, he may be set to win a 'Carnegie Medal', after making the shortlist with his co-author Meg Rosoff who finished his novel 'Beck.' She said that : “He was such an astonishing writer. Any attention that he can still get, even after he’s dead – not that he would care now – it is really important, because I’m not sure his books were ever read enough,”
If  Mal wins the Carnegie, which celebrates outstanding writing for children and teenagers, it will be the second posthumous win in the Prize’s history,

Meg said at the time of his death :  "Nobody wrote like Mal. His humour was leavened with blackness, his gimlet eye with kindness, his substantial talent with modesty."

Mal said of books, when he was a boy reader up that tall tree,sixty years ago, in the garden of his house on a Norfolk Council Housing Estate :
"For me they are windows they are transport, they are hiding places. Places of safety."

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Who in the world visits 'Britain is No country for Old Men' ?


At a distance of 5,536 miles, a visitor from the Republic of Korea viewed :
Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old architect called James Gowan

At a distance of 1,529 miles, a visitor from Moscow in the Russian Federation viewed :
Britain is a country where a town called Lerwick and its Festival called Up-Helly-Aa in Scotland's Shetland Islands, bid "Farewell" to an old Jarl called Willie 'Feejur' Tait

At a distance of  5,710 miles, a visitor from Hanoi, Dac La in Vietnam viewed :
Page unknown 

At a distance of 1,819 miles, a visitor in La Corua in Spain viewed :
Britain is a country where young boys today will look back, when they are old men in the 2070's, and reflect on the poverty of their youth

At a distance of 319 miles from Dublin, in a visitor from Ireland viewed :
Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to that old, upper class and English actor with a stiff upper lip, Edward Fox



At a distance of 3,588 miles, a visitor in Mascat in Oman
viewed : Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to the Grand Old Man of Myrmecology and the World of Ants, Cedric Collingwood


At a distance of 5,775 miles in Rio De Janeiro in Brazil a visitor viewed : Britain, a country where the "air is very foul", is no longer one for an old novelist called Ian McEwan

At a distance of 1,266 miles in Bucharest in Roumania a visitor viewed : Britain says "Happy Birthday" to two old actors called Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins

At a distance of  2,205 miles in Israel a visitor viewed : Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to its Prince of Linguists, Adam Kilgarriff

At a distance of 937 miles in Rzeszw in Poland a visitor viewed  : Britain is a country where Scotland's Shetland Islands say "Farewell" to their erstwhile lighthouse keeper of Muckle Flugga and storyteller from Yell called Lawrence Tulloch

At a distance of 184 miles in Nanterre in France a visitor viewed : Is Britain still a country for an old Polish warrior from the Second World War called Captain Zbigniew Mieczkowski ?

At a distance of 5,829 miles in Tsuyama in Japan a visitor viewed : Britain is no country for 'Driftwood Dave' and his wooden shack in Embelle Wood

At a distance of 3,362 miles in Ottawa in Canada a visitor viewed : Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to its old and best blind artist, Sargy Mann


At a distance of 5,294 miles in Phoenix in the USA a visitor viewed :
Britain is still a country for an old, self-effacing Second World War hero called Lieutenant Roy Wooldridge