A Start In Life by Alan Sillitoe

A Start In LifeA Start In Life by Alan Sillitoe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d never read any Sillitoe before because I had this idea that he was dour, northern, kitchen-sinky and just not for me. I was wrong. Our amoral “hero” features in a picaresque series of events, peopled by colourful characters into whom we just keep on bumping in unlikely coincidences and ludicrous situations. It’s a bumpy ride.
Sillitoe is a fantastic technical writer who always has the right words and expressions at his command. The book shows its age in its female characters who are always complicit in their own dreadful mistreatment, but the book piles along and before I knew it it had gone. Good stuff.

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Book Review

Jane Austen, the Secret RadicalJane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found it fascinating. Based on deep reading of the texts and the author’s own and others’ research we find there is a good deal more to the works of Jane Austen than meets the eye. Perhaps some of the theories are a bit of a stretch but everything here throws new light.

Also contains biographical information, showing that biographies of Austen quickly run to ‘might-haves’ and ‘maybes’ to fill their page-count.

Recommended to all Jane Austen readers.

*I just gave an actual Austen book 5 stars: I’m sure Ms Kelly won’t begrudge being given one fewer!

Note: since I wrote this a gent called Arnie (@janeaustencode, http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.co.uk) has been in touch, alleging, at the very least, that Helena Kelly may have borrowed some of his thoughts and writings for this book without giving him any credit. This little blog hardly seems the place to start a fight but if if the want to have a snarl at each other comments are enabled below!

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Jayne Mansfield Park

I just thought of a way of rewriting Mansfield Park in which our heroine is, instead of being a breakable, probably consumptive, mistreated valetudinarian type, a heartily healthy and unfeasibly pneumatic blonde bombshell.

Fanny Price

It needs some fleshing out (hur hur). I can’t help thinking that Mrs Norris, who is, surprisingly, not a cat but an aunt, might have had something interesting to say and Sir Thomas would have crept up to the East Room for a chat a good while sooner.

Instead of marrying that pill Edmund at the end, Fanny probably goes off with Henry Crawford in his borrowed BMW and is decapitated on the A509 Wellingborough bypass.

Yep, I’ve got this.

From Rye to Winchelsea & back in the Footsteps of Ford Madox Ford

“Thirty years ago or so Henry James lived at Rye. I had a house at Winchelsea” (Ford Madox Ford, “Return to Yesterday”, Chapter 1.

“Winchelsea stands on a long bluff, in shape like that of Gibraltar.” (ibid, Chapter 2)

It seemed a good idea to walk across the marshes from Rye to Ford’s house at Winchelsea one summer afternoon, in the footsteps of Henry James and Ford Madox Ford, so last weekend I did.

View towards Winchelsea

It’s an easy flat walk, except the last bit up to the town.

“There is only one Winchelsea, and there is no place like it, no place that so effectually and so pleasantly teaches us the lesson that we most need in these days of hurry and forgetfulness.” Ford, from the Introduction to his “Cinque Ports”.

Put another way, I saw two people this Sunday afternoon in July: there was a chap sitting outside the church and a man washing his car.



Down past the church and almost leaving town, is Ford Madox Ford’s house:

“The Bungalow was in fact a small house, built for his retirement by the first governor-general of Canada ‘in exact imitation’, Ford said, ‘of a Canadian (clap board) framed house.’ It had a verandah, across the front, now gone, over which hops grew and on which Ford and Conrad sat talking in the warm summer nights. It was later enlarged by Elsie and later still was bought by an old school friend of Ford’s, Charles Kinross, who in 1955 had a plaque commemorating Ford put on the front. Now called The Little House, it is, despite alterations, more or less as when Ford and Elsie lived there.” (Alan Judd, “Ford Madox Ford”)

The plaque, in the style of the well-known Blue Plaques, is over the front door. It has been painted over.


No plaque over this house, No 5., which is where Joseph  Conrad lived. It is almost opposite. (There is a bit of my finger top left which I have left unedited for reasons of authenticity and laziness).





Out through the Strand Gate as I wanted to go back to Rye by another path.

The gates at Winchelsea are much-photographed, but one more won’t hurt.

Down the hill, turn right and head for Winchelsea Beach, a recent settlement that’s only possible since the waters receded. Where the road goes sharp right we carry straight on…


… back towards Rye via Camber Castle which has nothing to do with Ford or Conrad, but which was built by Henry V111. (I expect he had help).






The present custodians are not much interested either way.

I won’t burden this with lots of links – Wikipedia is your friend! – but www.winchelsea.net is full of goodies. Thanks to the people behind that.

Ford Madox Ford’s best-known books are “The Good Soldier” and “Parade’s End” (which is actually 4 books but usually sold in a single volume these days). “The Good Soldier” seems as though it is going to be a late-Victorian tale of morals and manners, but as the body-count rises… I won’t spoil it for you. “Parade’s End” is a masterpiece.




My entirely non-radical reading list

source: howtodrawit.com

This is probably unspeakably tiresome, so don’t feel obliged… It’s a list of the books in my to-read pile. It’s overwhelmingly dead, white, European – in fact English – males, and this bothers me.

  • The Cinque Ports, a Historical and Descriptive RecordFord Madox Ford
  • Return To Yesterday – Ford Madox Ford (now)
  • The Way of all Flesh – Samuel Butler
  • A High Wind in Jamaica – Richard Hughes
  • Twilight of the Gods and Other Tales– Richard Garnett
  • Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  • The Invention of Nature: How Alexander Von Humboldt Revolutionized Our World –  Andrea Wulf
  • A month in the country –  JL Carr
  • The Journal of a Disappointed Man – WMP Barbellion (next?)
  • Hot Water – PG Wodehouse (done)
  • The Habsburg Monarchy 1809-1918 – AJP Taylor
  • The Red House Mystery – AA Milne
  • The Parthenon – Mary Beard
  • In a Class of Their Own: A History of English Amateur Football – Terry Morris (done) My Amazon review here

-There’s some quite demanding stuff here so I’ll have to leaven it with some Terry Pratchett and some Milligan, who are sadly also DWEMs.

-It’s about time I reread To The Lighthouse and Scenes of Clerical Life, so DWEW get a foot in the door.

-I haven’t read any Wilkie Collins for a while either. Dickens is covered for now as I’ve got Little Dorrit on audiobook, beautifully read by Mil Nicholson.


-Additionally I’ve got about 20 books on my A****n Wish List, none of which are shown above, so I’d be immensely grateful if #Bookshambles, @backlistedpod and others would lay off telling me about great new stuff and just recommend things I’ve already read for a few months if that’s OK.

-Of course if Gotham Season 2 comes on Netflix soon, if Hastings United make a serious promotion bid or if I just come over all anti-intellectual I’ll only be able to manage reading Angry People In Local Newspapers When Saturday Comes. but that’s OK too.

-A good thriller. Someone recommend me a good thriller.

PS I had the great pleasure of briefly meeting Alan Judd on the train on Monday. Mr Judd wrote this biography of Ford Madox Ford , which he’ll be delighted to know I instantly ordered when I got home. He’ll be less delighted when I say that I bought it 2nd hand for 1p + p&p.