PASSION FOR BEGINNERS
Important note! For a year this blog has been posting as a daily event, but as of now it will appear only weekly every Monday. The next post will be Monday, December 7th. The reason is, I am about to embark on a radical new novel, the first for 6 years, and provisionally entitled PASSION FOR BEGINNERS. Once it is finished (and definitely not before) I will publish it on this blog, chapter by chapter, week by week, over about a year
John Murray also offers Bargain Online Fiction Tuition. Novels, stories and memoirs, all given detailed and precise criticism, appropriate for any writer who is ambitious to be published. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
An amazing phenomenon today in the Glaros cafe. There actually exists, and I would have sworn it was an impossibility, a Greek TV channel I had never heard of called EPT 3, which apparently does not broadcast endless vacuous rubbish. Ella, re, ti na kanoume (hey pal, what the hell are we going to do, whatever next)? Even more captivating for yours truly, was that it was broadcasting a most appealing How To Be An Accomplished Artist programme, where a very pleasant Greek bloke of mid 40s with tight curly hair and a chiselled beard, was painting a splendid winter scene replete with fir trees, immense quantities of snow, and a distant perspective of a fading forest illumined by a pink and shimmeringly sunlit sky. I found myself horripilating (q.v. Sanskrit poetry) just looking at it, and I also shivered at his wonderful innocence, meaning his selfless wish to impart his technical knowledge gratis to the world.
Every time he did one of his professional tricks, such as getting the effect of worn tree bark by applying a sharp edged spatula, or using a little wire brush to get the illusion of dark impenetrable foliage under the fir tree, he stopped and congratulated himself and said, Poli oreia! (‘very nice!’). I will modify that second verb though, for this gentle and peaceable man, who I’m sure would make an absolutely matchless lifelong friend, and who is probably from the far north of Greece, where they do sometimes get snow and floods, bless them, was not boasting about his own skill, but was congratulating the tree itself for being such a fine specimen. It was almost as if his own considerable craftsmanship was incidental, or even that he was some sort of passive conduit of that remarkable beauty, rather than the one who created it.
Even stranger in its bizarrely ramifying connections, is that the last time I had watched such a ‘How To Be A Fab Painter With Nil Evident Talent’ feature, was back in North Cumbria, in prehistoric 2001, when I had just been given a Sky subscription for my 51st birthday by my wife Annie. She wasn’t out to wreck my already porous brain, you’ll be pleased to know, but she knew that I hankered after the outstanding satellite channels Artsworld (now the far inferior Sky Arts 1 and 2); the sadly defunct Performance Channel, and its equally mourned jazz-rich offshoot Main Street; BBC Knowledge (precursor of, and far, far better than the present smug and pallid BBC4) and Film 4 with its excellent if short lived kid brother, Film 4 World, which was then an optional fee-paying channel. So it was that one day in November 2001, while stuck painfully between novels (I had just published John Dory, had completed Jazz Etc, to be published in 2003, and was racking my brains for fertile new subject matter) I chanced to see on the Hobbies Channel, the identical American twin of this same Greek TV artist I was watching today in 2015.
This 2001 bloke, who of course I did not realise was a twin of anyone or anything, was also, would you credit it, presenting a very accessible guide to being a successful amateur landscape painter? Moreover, exactly like, let’s call him Kostas here, he had tight curly hair, a tailored beard, and was surpassingly gentle and encouraging to his worldwide viewers! As he dabbed away, he kept saying to the middle aged Brit called me who was suddenly very rapt at his words, in those calming mid west tones of his, Yup, too easy what ah did thar. Durn easy as pie, you folks, back home
Attaboy, said I to myself delighted. As one whose only graphic skill is pencil drawing of mounds of eggs, potatoes and snowballs, which all look identical to the undiscerning eye, I felt quaintly almost magically reassured, virtually lulled hypnotically by his infinitely patient and tolerant certitude.
But hang on, something worryingly prodded me, was it really that easy to be a very talented artist? Was it really? Of course that was all a smoke screen, as it happened, as I never got off my arse, nor any further than thinking of looking for a 6H and agh, a lethal 6B pencil, a 6 inch ruler, a huge rubber, and some art paper. Instead I was suddenly seized by a very powerful fictional inspiration in a way I had never before experienced. I swear that within 5 minutes, my looking at beardy Hank But Call Me Van Eyck from Idaho, instantly reminded me of someone, a ‘third twin’ as it were, a real person and not a telly star, my inimitable landlord Tommy Dukes of 20 years ago. Dukes it was, who had owned half of the roughest and cheapest but definitely not the most cheerful bedsits in the grubbiest bits of Oxford, and who would encourage as tenants absolutely anyone, and especially his ever reliable unemployed claimants, who had their rents paid for them of course… and not forgetting miscellaneous pariah people like myself and Annie, who were foolhardy enough to own a beloved if alas ‘unhygienic’ dog. Exactly like peaceable Hank here, Dukes had tight frizzy curls and a manicured beard, though sadly all correspondences stopped there, as, cruelly beset by so many massive mortgages, so much debt, and by so many duff and often dysfunctional, i.e. barking mad tenants, he coped with what would have killed anyone else by blanking it all out, and living on a personal budget for him and his family of about £60 a month, which even in the early 1980s, I can vouch for it, didn’t take you far.
The subsequent stage of this effortless flow of inspiration, was that I would now plan a short and discrete fictional scene about the gentle Idaho artist, emphasising his tender insistence that it was ‘durn easy and you folks back home can do it the same yourselves, real simple’. Next, acknowledging the compelling link of vivid personal memory, with its own inherent associative narrative tension, I would abruptly switch to another ‘dramatic’ scene, with his 1982 clone-lookalike Tommy Dukes. Dukes, with an altered name of course, would be described in some classic caught-by-his-own-cupidity scenario, say the time that thanks to his selective amnesia, he belatedly realised one of his houses was a principal centre for the disbursement of very hard drugs in this hallowed city of dreaming spires.
All this was to be the germ of a novel which would be built up via an episodic digital narrative, where the narrator’s satellite viewing over a few days in 2001, would ingeniously alternate with and be a counterpoint to, the sequential (read analogue)story of his whole life up until he was 51. The faithful sequence would preposterously be orchestrated by the history of his TV viewing on the good old pre-2001 terrestrial channels(namely BBCs 1 and 2, ITV and Channel 4). I also made this redoubtable square-eyed character of mine, incredibly sex-obsessed, and gave him no less than 4 wives and 4 failed marriages, and the rest was history as they say.
That book was Murphy’s Favourite Channels (2004) and it soon got more lengthy and approving reviews in more posh papers and magazines (10 in all) than any other of my works of fiction. It sold in modest handfuls, needless to add, but received the highest praise from the Lancastrian poet, editor and courageous iconoclast, Alan Dent (born 1951). He wrote to me that ‘reading the book was a bit like feeling I was floating out pleasurably to sea’ and you can’t say better than that.