On those days when I’m between books and can’t quite settle on something new, I often think about those ‘if only..’ books which I long to read but know that they will only ever exist in my imagination. Here are a few of them…
A new novel by Tony Warren. His last novel, ‘Full Steam Ahead’, was published in 1998. He died in 2016. Let’s hope that during that time he was scribbling away at something fantastic.
The Secret Diaries of Virginia Woolf. Woolf’s diaries are a revelation of wonderfully bitchy proportions – after all, this is the woman who wrote to her sister about a recently deceased acquaintance: ‘All that remains of her in my mind is a cows black blubbering cunt: why that image persists I know not’ (Letter to Vanessa Bell, Sunday 5 May 1929). So let’s hope that there were pages of diaries which were too ‘hot’ to handle on first publication, too damaging to the traditional image of Woolf as the sickly, mad intellectual who made weakness into an art form.
A new novel from Shena Mackay. A memoir is on the way, but I’d much rather a novel, not least the one Shena has spoken about laying to one side many years ago – I think it was called ‘The Flyblown Hotel’?
Some great true crime. True crime is my guilty pleasure – in a literal sense in that hovering round those garish shelves in a bookshop always make me feel slightly grubby. But when well done, true crime does more than shed light on the perpetrators, it opens up the festering cruelty and unspoken complicity at the heart of society. Gordon Burn’s ‘Happy Like Murderers’ – the story of Fred and Rosemary West – is true horror classic. In depicting the casual brutality of Fred and Rose West’s lives, Burn also picks out the network of conspirators who enabled and assisted the gruesome couple’s crimes. One true crime book which made me cry was Alexandra Artley’s ‘Murder in the Heart’ which depicts the heartbreaking butchery of souls within an ordinary family: In 1988 Two adult sisters from Preston are arrested for the point blank shooting of their father, a man disabled by illness. At their trial the women are found guilty but the judge allows them to walk free, stating that they had paid for their crime before it was committed. This is the story of that punishment. It is also a mirror to the close knit community which turns a blind eye to the abuse of children and the adults those children grow up to be.
The third part of Nell Dunn’s ‘Joy’ trilogy. We first met Joy in Dunn’s second novel ‘Poor Cow’ (1967) when she was around twenty and we caught up with her twenty nine years later in ‘My Silver Shoes'(1996). I would love to meet her again in old age.
A new book on music by Garry Mulholland. I love pop music. I love how the most simple of pop sings can evoke a time or a place or an emotion. I love how what were once considered throw away pieces of nonsense are often the most evocative mementoes of our lives. And Garry Mulholland is possibly the greatest writer on pop music ever. Mulholland understands pop music, the seriousness of it and the silliness of it and the importance of it. In his two books, ‘This is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles since Punk and Disco’ and ‘Fear of Music: The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk and Disco’, he writes about the many genres which make up pop music with equal knowledge and aplomb and, possibly like no other writer on pop, he writes perfectly about the emotional impact of pop music.
Here he is on The Human League’s mighty ‘Dare’ album:
‘…the two girls – the wonderful Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley – who couldn’t play, sing or dance, but were better than all that because they represented the working-class pop audience, being glamorous on the cheap, being cheeky and tough and indefatigable, making the best of what they had and deserving to strike gold – the entire gamble was about demystifying showbiz and stating that prole beauty and prole art were actually better than stage-school fools and pampered brats employing battalions of posh stylists to make them appear …better than us. Pop stars are not better than us. No one is better than us.
It’s for that exact reason that Beyoncé Knowles’s entire public life will never produce anything that has one ounce of the sexiness or soul of Joanne or Susan dancing clumsily on Top of the Pops, or Phil’s iconic lopsided haircut. And the great thing about Dare is that you don’t need to have seen it or felt it back then because it’s right here, captured for eternal posterity, in every thunking drum and blaring synth and loving word of this album. No matter what pop puts me through I still believe in Dare.’
…and don’t think that these books are nostalgia fests or marred by a narrow view of music: ‘Fear of Music’, for example, starts in 1976 with The Ramones and Stevie Wonder, ending in 2003 with OutKast, Dizzie Rascal and The White Stripes. Bob Stanley’s recent ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah: the story of modern pop’ may have been a majestic, extensive stroll through pop’s history, but Mulholland keeps it short and sharp and to the point…more please!