Wrestling Goats in Albi

I’m writing this from Toulouse railway station, where I’m awaiting the train to Albi. I caught the train to Paris yesterday evening, and then the overnight train down here to Toulouse. I’m here in France to spend a couple of weeks working on the final draft of my next novel, Goat Music. It has been a long time in the works, this book, and so it’s good to have the chance to spend time wrestling the draft into shape. Read more

Lyres, Kindles and Book Awards

I’m delighted to say that my novel, The Descent of the Lyre, has been shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award. It’s a very strong shortlist, and so it’s great to be on it. You can find out more about the award here.

Meanwhile, the book has just been issued in Kindle format, where it’s £5.99 in the UK and less than $10 in the USA. So if you are a Kindle user, and are given to fables about Spanish guitarists, the myth of Orpheus, Bulgarian saints, banditry and fierce alcohol, then [amazon_link id=”B00BXIJIMY” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]get yourself a copy[/amazon_link]. The book is also available in [amazon_link id=”9380905076″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]handsome hardback[/amazon_link].

You can find out more about the book on my personal website, where you can listen to extracts, watch the book trailer (book trailers being the in thing), listen to extracts and read reviews. The link is here. But, for the mean-time, here are some review extracts to whet your appetite…

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“Blends history and myth… lyrical and well-written.” The Bookseller

 

“This is a book that is memorable for all the right reasons. The story is gripping and highly original, and it is beautifully written” Louis de Bernières.

 

“Seasoned with knowledge of philosophy and storytelling as well as a deft touch and lyrical beauty… it feels totally original.” The Book Bag

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The prize-winning book will be announced in June at the Oakham Literary Festival. Wish me luck!

Great images, non-objects and fog

It’s been foggy lately—the kind of fog that makes the edges of things blur into indistinctness; the kind of fog in which forms dissolve into the background, or loom again, imprecisely shaped, out of the greyness. I’ve been thinking a lot about fog lately, because I’ve been reading François Jullien’s book [amazon_link id=”0226415317″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Great Image Has No Form, or On the Nonobject Through Painting[/amazon_link]. The title is admittedly something of a mouthful, the first part coming from chapter forty one of the Daodejing, which reads 大象無形, dà xiàng wú xíng, “the great image is without form”, but it’s a fascinating read.

The central question of Jullien’s book is this: how did it become possible, in Western thought, to “posit an object of perception, simultaneously isolate it, and abstract it in a stable and definitive form?” (p. xxi). So Jullien sets out looking not so much at painting as representation, but as de-representation. This, in other words, is a book that is about vagueness, about that which is indistinct, about the mist and fog that swirls through Chinese painting, about the mountains that simultaneously arise out of, and are dissolved into, the cloud. Read more

Lyre on the East Midlands Book Award Shortlist

The Descent of the Lyre

Well, I’m tremendously excited to announce—at the end of a very long and very busy day at the States of Independence independent publishers’ fair here at De Montfort University—that my novel, [amazon_link id=”9380905076″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Descent of the Lyre[/amazon_link], is on the shortlist of the East Midlands Book Award.

I’m absolutely delighted with this news. The novel is published by Roman Books, a relatively new press with considerable ambitions, and I’m up against some formidable contenders. The full list is here:

 

  • Will Buckingham – The Descent of the Lyre, Roman
  • John Gallas – Fresh Air, and The Story of Molecule, Carcanet
  • Graham Joyce – Some Kind of Fairy Tale, Orion
  • Jon McGregor – This Isn’t the Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like you, Bloomsbury
  • Alison Moore – The Lighthouse, Salt
  • Neil Roberts – A Lucid Dreamer, The Life of Peter Redgrove, Random House
  • Jonathan Taylor – Entertaining Strangers, Salt

 

This is an impressive list by any standards, and it makes me realise what a darned literary part of the country I live in. As an example of the calibre of some of my fellow shortlisted writers, Jon McGregor won the 2012 International IMPAC Dublin award, whilst Alison Moore was also shortlisted for the Booker. It’s good, too, to be nominated alongside my colleague and very good friend, the Jonathan Taylor.

The final award will be announced in June. Which gives you time to buy all the books on the list, and make up your own mind…

How the Revolution Began

After reading Julian Baggini’s piece on burning the Encyclopædia Britannica in Aeon Magazine, I couldn’t resist reposting this story about book-burning that I wrote way back (as one of my series of Yijing-based stories), and that was published on Necessary Fiction back in 2010. The story was called ‘How the Revolution Began’, and featured not a blazing encyclopaedia, but instead whole libraries of burning books, culminating in a set of blazing dictionaries.

 

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First they banned novels, because they said — reasonably enough — that the world was complicated enough and the problems of the world grave enough, without the distraction of imagined worlds and non-existent problems. I was a young man back then. I remember standing outside the City Hall and watching the people bring cart-loads of dreams, fantasies and imaginings to fuel the pyres set up by the authorities. And perhaps I was not alone in feeling a kind of glee at the sight of those cheery orange and yellow flames, at the satisfying crackle of paper going up in smoke.

Afterwards, it was strange how quickly we adjusted. We got used to reading other things on the bus as we travelled to work. We filled the empty spaces on our shelves with ornaments. We got by.

Two years later, they outlawed books of poetry. There were protests, mainly from the poets themselves, but the reasoning of the authorities was sound: light verse, they said, was inconsequential; ballads were stories in disguise, and thus should, for the sake of consistency, go the same way as novels; love lyrics fostered delusion; sonnets were impossibly elitist; limericks inclined the mind to disrespect; and haiku — well, haiku were just downright odd, and foreign with it. Besides, nobody had read any poetry for years, even if — unaccountably — there were many who persisted in writing it. Read more

Interview with a Dormouse

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Dormouse over on the website of Shakespeare & Friends, the wonderful English language bookstore in Varna, has interviewed me about my novel, [amazon_link id=”9380905076″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Descent of the Lyre[/amazon_link]. It is, I think (although I can’t be sure), the first time I have ever been interviewed by a dormouse, and you can read the interview here.

The Myriad Things — Reloaded

The Myriad Things
The Myriad Things

Just a quick post to say that I’ve recently given my blog site, TheMyriadThings.com, a bit of a facelift. Since giving the site a new lick of paint, I’m hoping to be blogging a bit more frequently over there.

The Myriad Things is, as the name suggests, a miscellaneous collection of bits and pieces—short essays on this and that, ideas, snippets and stories, an unsystematic collection of everything from the Moomins to Mao Zedong.

Knowledge and Friendship at the End of the World

The following post was first published on the old version of WillBuckingham.com. From time to time, I’ll be republishing essays that disappeared from my old website when I switched over from Textpattern to WordPress a year or so back. The post had its origins in a paper that I gave at a conference on the apocalypse in literature at Westminster University in 2011.

When it comes to the ways that we think about the apocalypse, we are often inclined to moralise the end of the world. From Noah’s flood, to zombie apocalypses caused by the hubris of scientists, to the various kinds of environmental disasters that may or may not face us, our stories about the end of the world often have the distinct air of moral retribution for past misdemeanours. But there are certain kinds of apocalypse – amongst which can be numbered apocalypse by comet – that have nothing to do with blame and responsibility, nothing to do with how virtuous we are or not. These are endings that simply are, or at least that might be. Read more

A brief note on knowledge in the hands

Some time ago, in a post on learning Chinese and the Bulgarian bagpipes, I wrote about the notion of concepts expressed in the hands, about the way in which learning a new skill—whether speaking Chinese or playing the bagpipes—goes beyond the acquisition of information, and instead involves the formation of particular kinds of bodily habit. Some time after writing that, I came across the following snippet from Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, and I thought that it was worth sharing here. Here’s the quote:

 

To get used to a hat, a car or a stick is to be transplanted into them, or conversely, to incorporate them into the bulk of our own body… It is possible to know how to type without being able to say where the letters which make the words are to be found on the banks of keys. To know how to type is not, then, to know the place of each letter among the keys, nor even to have acquired a conditioned reflect for each one, which is set in motion by the letter as it comes before our eye. If habit is neither a form of knowledge nor an involuntary action, what then is it? It is knowledge in the hands, which is forthcoming only when bodily effort is made, and cannot be formulated in detachment from that effort (166)

 

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