BEFORE THE BREAK
Novelist, scriptwrlter and historical author John Prebbie, whose memoirs landscapes and Memories, are published on 5 April, talks to Sue Wilson about his writing Iiie.
~ 2 . ‘I was born In Middlesex, so long ago I can scarcely remember. My ancestors were all agricultural labourers, though my lather was in the iiavy. There were no writers - my two grandmothers were illiterate, this being a long time ago. So my tamin reacted with a certain amount oi caution when I became a writer — my mother lived to be 96, and In her 91st year she was still worrying about me not having a steady job.
‘I spent my childhood in a Scots town in Canada, which was very conscious oi its roots It a little inaccurate about where they were actually rooted. So I was always curious about Scotland, though I’d never been there until i was about twenty, when I went walking in the highlands and lust iell in love with the place. I’ve iound that what interests me, I often end up writing about; I usually write books which I’d like to read.
‘l left school in the middle oi the Great Depression, and it was about iltteen months beiore I iound work, collecting rents in the slums. I don’t remember it with any bitterness - one didn’t in those days expect a great deal, the State didn’t do much ior you, and it was a side oi llie that was interesting, the way people lived, the way they couldn’t live.
‘When I was twenty, twenty-one, I started in loumaiism, in the trade press, then on magazines, until I was called up In 1940. When the war ended I Ioined the British Army iiewspaper llnlt 1n ilamburg; when i was demobiiised i came back and worked on a news magazine until 1 iinished the war novel I’d started in ilamburg - everybody wrote war novels then. My publisher at that time had been secretary to lord Deaverbtook during the war, told him I’d published this book and the Beaver gave me a lob on the Sunday Express. I was tired alter about three years - every good newspaperrnan gets ilred a iew times - and went across the street to the Sunday Dispatch. Then on the strength oi this story which I sold to iiollywood in the 50s, I started ireelancing, and I’ve been writing ever since.
‘it’s not so much that I’ve always wanted to write, but it’s about the only thing I can do, though I wasn’t a bad soldier. Writing is like having an extra arm or leg, it’s not something you choose - it you are a writer you become one, nothing stops you. I try not to get onto a high Intellectual plane when I’m talking about it, because it’s a very personal thing, It’s rather like taking your clothes oil in public.’
I lied Sorghum Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt (Heinemann. £14.99) Although Mo Yan has long been the most critically-acclaimed writer of his generation on home soil, Red Sorghum is the ﬁrst of his novels to appear in English language translation. A truly epic tale of the peasants. bandits and revolutionaries of China’s Northeast Gaomi Township, it weaves together sharply realised characters and non-
I The Janus lleport on Sexual Behavior Janus and Janus (Wiley £16.95) What is going on under the duvets in North America? This husband-and-wife team spent the Bush years asking a statistically representative cross-section of the Great American Public an awesomely comprehensive list of questions about their sexual habits, preferences and
linear narrative strands to create a tapestry celebrating the harsh, heroic rural life of the 305.
Although Zhang Yimou‘s ﬁlm concentrates on only a fraction of the novel, Mo’s prose is painted with equally vibrant colours. At the centre of it all are the ﬁelds of sorghum, providing for the locals food, wine, medicine, cover for battle. a bed for sex and a mound for burial. This is history made tangible as a series of folk tales. and told with a passion that renders its human and political truths all the more poignant. (Alan Morrison)
moralities. The results are simultaneously fascinating, voyeuristic and curiously unsatisfying.
Fascinating, because J and J analyse their data from various angles, breaking down results not only by age. marital status, wealth and education, but religious and political persuasion, also comparing the experiences of ‘career’ women with ‘home-makers‘. Voyeuristic, thanks to the inclusion of frank extracts from individual interviews. Unsatisfying, in that such nuggets as half the very religious believing oral sex to be normal (94 percent of the non~re1igious) slip in. but aren‘t cross-referenced to, say, the ultra-conservative response. More seriously, contraceptive use and ‘safe' sex are not broken down by any of the categories. Perhaps there were no correlations, but it would have been useful to know. (Thom Dibdin)
I Dolores Claiborne Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99) She spins a good yarn, does Dolores. At 65, she stores a lifetime of tales unfolded round the rocker and the porch, and doles them out in sassy, chirpy, backwoods style. She killed her husband 29 years ago but that’s neither here nor there — the purpose of this here interview at the island’s police station is to uncover the facts behind the death of her crippled (and loaded) employer Vera Donovan. And so, one almighty
I Margaret Forster Waterstone’s. 45/50 Princes Square, 221 9650. Fri 26. 7pm. Free. Reading, signing and discussion with the author of the controversial and revelatory biography Daphne du Maurier (Chatto & Windus. £17.99).
I christine Marion Fraser Waterstone’s. 45/50 Princes Square. 221 9650. Sat 27. 12.30pm. Free. A chance to meet the bestselling Scottish novelist. whose new book King's Farewell (HarperCollins. £14.99) is published this month along with the paperback of Stranger on Rhanna (Fontana. £5.99).
I Scottish Book Fair oi Radical, Black and Third World Books Woodside Halls. Clarendon Street. info 357 0638/357 5198. Thurs I—Sat 3. 10am—5.30pm. Admission free, small charge for daily forums. First Scottish foray for Britain‘s premier ‘alternative’ book fair. Stalls from independent, international and radical presses plus author visits and talks from June Jordan. James Kelman, Gus John, Satwat Rehman, Jeff Torrington. Torn Leonard and many more. A forum discussion will be held each day on the themes of ‘Radical Publishing and Radical Change‘ (Thurs). ‘Ten Years on From Grenada’ (Fri) and
‘Fundamentalism, Communalism and
blether ensues . . .
King‘s latest offers little in the way of white-knuckle frights or even devilish intrigue. Rather than exercising his knack for gore he tests his mettle on the mechanics of prose-as-chat. Dolores' extended testimony, for all its perceptiveness and pacing, is no great work of soliloquy - if it were weighted with import, it would defeat the whole exercise. Namely, to sketch a folksy life-story that is more charming than compelling, warming than chilling. (Craig McLean)
Secularism' (Sat). Evenings will see readings and ﬁlm showings. and there will be a concert on the Saturday nights with author readings and music from Makumba and Zulu Syndicate. For full details contact the numbers above.
I NOW Lanark Book launch New Lanark Visitor Centre. New Lanark Mills. 0555 661 345. Sun 4. 2.15pm. Launch of the ﬁrst full history of New Lanark. Historic New Lanark (Edinburgh University Press. £9.95) with co-authors lan Donnachie and George Hewitt.
I June Jordan Tron Theatre Bar, Trongate. 552 4267. Mon 5. 7.30pm. £3 (£1). One of America’s leading radical writers and poets. in conversation with James Kelman about her two new books Technical Diﬂiculties: Selected Political Essays ( Virago. £ 7. 99) and Haruko/Love Poetry (Virago. £6.99).
I iiebel Inc. Book launch Filmhouse. Lothian Road. info 334 5271. Fri 26. 7.30pm. £2 (£1). Launch of three new publications from the hard-hitting new writing press: Graham Fulton‘s This, Kevin Cadwallender’s Baz Poems and the third issue of Rebel Inc magazine itself (all Rebel lnc.. £1.99). With readings from all three authors and contributors Rab Fulton and lrvine Welsh. plus bar and music.
I Women in Publishing Filmhouse.
I Sand Blind Julian Rathbone (Serpent’s Tail. £7.99) Gripping contemporary thriller, like an ideologically-sound Frederick Forsyth, analysing the build-up to the Gulf War through the stories of a British radar engineer unwittingly working for the lraquis and a Baghdad archaeology professor employed as Saddam Hussein‘s record-keeper. Seamlessly mingling fact and ﬁction. the novel paints a chillingly plausible picture of international realpolitik and games of double-bluff — everyone knew the Allies' motives were far from pure, but few can have thought the whole business was quite as dirty as this.
I Stalin’s ilose Rory MacLean (Flamingo. £5.99) Detailing the meanderings of an award-winning travel writer in a dilapidated Trabant from the Baltic to the Black Sea, just after the Wall came down. accompanied by two elderly. irascible aunts and a friendly pig. Family anecdotes ﬂesh out his travelogue to illuminating effect, and the result
is an affectionate. astute, apprehensive cross-section through the newly post- communist East.
I Mischiei Chris Wilson (Flamingo. £4.99) Elegantly told tale of the last surviving member of a Brazilian tribe. plucked from his homeland by an English biologist who becomes his adoptive father. Charlie is slightly but signiﬁcantly different — orange skin, precious little hair, yellow eyes and, most importantly. no innate ability to be angry or cruel. Survival in his new habitat requires that he acquire these skills, and the story of his singular, sentimental education makes for a piercing. bitterly funny satire on modern humanity.
I Demanding The Impossible: A liistory oi Anarchism Peter Marshall (Fontana. £9.99) A satisfyingly fat. compendious volume tracing the venerable tradition of anarchist ideals back to antecedents in Taoist and Ancient Greek thought. chronicling its developments. manifestations and exponents throughout the world to the present day. It‘s a huge. authoritative volume. but lively and highly readable. the more so for the author‘s cogently-argued belief that ‘anarchism remains not only an ultimate ideal. but also increasingly a practical possibility‘. A ﬁne antidote to Majorist greyness. (Sue Wilson)
Lothian Road, info Alison Jones. 557 4571. Thurs 1. 7.30pm. Free. Monthly meeting/discussion. on the theme of ‘Women in a Man‘s World: Women Journalists Speak Out‘. with Scottish scribes Joyce McMillan (Guardian/Scotland on Sunday) Sue lnnes (Sos) and Jane Curr. editor of the Edinburgh Herald & Post. All welcome. I Mike Dillon, Paul ileekle a Ayr Writers’ Group West End Hotel. Palmerston Place. 225 3656. Fri 2. 8pm. £1 (50p). Another ‘First Friday: Poems and Pints’ session. with open slots, hosted by Edinburgh Writers‘ Association.
I J.K. Mayo Waterstone's. 83 George Street. 225 3436. The 6. 7.30pm. Free. The popular spy-thriller writer reading from and signing copies of his latest novels A Shred ofHonour (Han/ill. £14.99 h/b, £8.99 p/b) and Cry Havoc (Fontana. £3.99).
I Penguin Beginnings: Diare Doylan, Stevie White a olare Chambers Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Thurs 8. 7.30pm. Free. Waterstone‘s George Street's new writing promotion continues with a visit from one established author and two up-and- comings. reading from and talking about their recent work - Boylan's Home Rule (Penguin. £5.99) and the book of interviews with writers she has edited. The Agony and the Ego (Penguin. £6.99). White‘s Boy Cuddle (Penguin. 5.99) and Chambers’ Uncertain Terms.
66 The List 26 March-8 April 1993