Archives for posts with tag: books


James Kennaway was a brilliant, talented writer, whose career spanned best-selling novels, block-busting screenplays and Oscar-winning movies.   More than forty-odd years after his death, he remains one of Scotland’s most enigmatic and unacknowledged literary heroes.

Born in Aucherarder, Perth, in 1928, Kennaway first came to prominence with his 1956 novel ‘Tunes of Glory‘.  An instant critical and popular success, it was made into a powerful film with Alec Guinness and John Mills in 1960.

In 1962, Kennaway adapted another of his novels for the superior psychological thriller ‘The Mindbenders‘, starring Dirk Bogarde (who was just at that cross-over point in his career, from “cheesecake” to serious actor), Mary Ure, and Wendy Craig.  Later in the decade, another of Kennaway’s novel, ‘Household Ghosts’ about an incestuous relationship between brother and sister, received the big screen treatment starring Peter O’Toole and Susannah York in 1969.

Kennaway’s other books include ‘The Cost of Living Like This’, ‘Some Gorgeous Accident’ (the last published during his lifetime), and the filmic and beautiful novella, ‘Silence’.

Kennaway was an Oscar nominated screenwriter (‘Tunes of Glory‘) who also wrote the screenplays for ‘Violent Playground‘ starring Peter Cushing, David McCallum and Stanley Baker, as well as a successful adaptation of Morris West’s ‘The Shoes of the Fisherman’ and Len Deighton’s ‘The Battle of Britain‘, starring Michael Caine and Robert Shaw.

His short story ‘The Dollar Bottom’ was made into an Oscar-winning short film in 1981 with Rikki Fulton and Robert Urquhart.

Tragically, Kennaway was killed in a car crash in 1968, at the very moment he seemed destined for greater success.

A theatrical production of ‘Some Gorgeous Accident’ will be premiered at the Edinburgh Festival, this year.

Derek Marlowe copyrght Paul Gallagher 1984

Someone, somewhere, has probably written a thesis on fan letters, showing how the turn of phrase, spelling, sentence structure and language, reveal the psychology of the writer.  I can guess the flaws my intense three or four fan letters reveal about me, both good and bad.  That said, the replies were always pleasing – a signed photo, a message from a secretary, a written response.  The reply that meant so much to me, in my mid-teens, came from the brilliant author, Derek Marlowe.

Marlowe inspired me to see the beauty of writing and the power a novelist has in telling their tale.  His books took me away from the comfort of Sherlock Holmes, Alistair MacLeans, and dog-eared ghost stories, into a world of shifting ambiguous, complex relationships, through dark, witty stories told in beautiful language.

Marlowe’s response to my Biro scribbled missive was a typed, two page letter, in lower case and capitals.  It is a letter I still cherish, for it gave me a sense of what can be made of a life – for Derek Marlowe was more than just a novelist, he was a successful playwright, a screenwriter, and an award-winning writer for television.   In the letter he explained about his life and career, how he had started after being sent down from University:

“I was thrown out of Queen Mary College, London, for editing and writing an article in the college magazine.  The article was a parody of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ reflecting the boredom of college seminars.  Not very funny or special but times were odd then. Besides, I hated University and I think I’d made that rather too clear.

“I began writing plays since I had started a play for the College which took a surprising course.  Continued with plays for about four years, went to Berlin, came back and then I realised, after writing DANDY (I was then a clerk) that I preferred prose to theatre. Besides, the person I was sharing the flat with and had done for six years, seemed better at theatre than me.  He was and is Tom Stoppard.”

‘A Dandy in Aspic’ was Marlowe‘s first novel, and the one that launched him onto his successful career.  It was the story of a double-agent, Eberlin, sent on a mission to assassinate his alter ego.  ‘Dandy’ was made into a a so-so film starring Laurence Harvey, Mia Farrow and Peter Cook, of which he wrote:

“Regarding the film DANDY.  The director, ANTHONY MANN died during the filming (a superb man and great director) and it was taken over by Laurence Harvey, the badly cast Eberlin.  He directed his own mis-talent, changed it and the script – which is rather like Mona Lisa touching up he portrait while Leonardo is out of the room.”

Rather than follow the expected path of genre-writing, Marlowe followed up his debut novel, with ‘Memoirs of a Venus Lackey’, the disturbing tale of a roue, who examined the sins of his life from Hell.

Next, an historical novel ‘A Single Summer with L.B.’, which focussed on the fateful meeting in 1816, when Mary and Percy Shelley spent a summer with Lord Byron and his doctor, Polidori, a gathering that inspired the writing of ‘Frankenstein’.  In the book, Marlowe gave thanks to Ken Russell (amongst others), who would later make his own particular version of these events in ‘Gothic’.

Marlowe returned to thrillers with ‘Echoes of Celandine’, which dealt with the loves, infidelities and obsessions of a melancholic hitman.  Of this he wrote:

“ECHOES OF CELANDINE has just been filmed, starring Donald Sutherland and John Hurt (as Atkinson), David Warner (as Burbage) etc.  It’s very good but held up by squabbling producers.”

The film wasn’t what I had expected, its location moved from Britain to Canada, and I found it too ponderous, and filled with an imposed alienation. Yet, there was still something of Marlowe in the film.

“About the novels.  All characters are close or have been observed in some element of truth.  One book went too far and I was sued for libel – but I shan’t reveal which one it was.  Loner and anti-hero?  Loner, certainly – even though I am married with four stepchildren and one son of my own – but not anti-hero.  I’m for heroes, though if not Lancelot or Tristan, heroes appear out of the mould of the time.”

He followed ‘Echoes’ with ‘Do You Remember England?’ – a haunting novel about a doomed love affair.  Reading it, I thought this book closest to who Marlowe was.  The character of Dowson had the mix of his parentage – a Greek Mother, a Cockney father -and I sensed that like Dowson, in some way, Marlowe was a man who belonged to a different century. For Marlowe seemed a true Romantic, and to an extent a dandy, but I doubt he would have agreed with that.  Yet, it should be noted that one of his heroes was Beau Brummell, whose biography he penned for the Dictionary of National Biography.

Another hero was Raymond Chandler, and it was Chandler who inspired Marlowe’s 1974 homage ‘Somebody’s Sister’, about a washed up PI, Walter Brackett.  Then the haunting ‘Nightshade’ in 1976, about a mis-matched couple on a dark and disturbing holiday to Haiti.  Of the central character, Marlowe wrote:

“Edward in NIGHTSHADE is an aberration in my character.  I was going through stage of mysoginism (sic) and even misanthropy.”

At the time of writing he had just completed ‘The Rich Boy From Chicago’ and a 9-part series on Nancy Astor for the BBC:

“My next novel to be published in the winter in hardback, is called THE RICH BOY FROM CHICAGO – a five hundred pager, I’m afraid – but I think in this novel you will see the quintessence of all I have written.

“If you read RICH BOY FROM CHICAGO, you might detect in the charcater of Freddie, the protagonist and the life of Bax, a combination that could be me, good or bad.”

‘The Great Gatsby’ was Marlowe’s favourite book, and Fitzgerald’s influence can be seen in ‘Rich Boy’ and, more importantly, throughout Marlowe’s work.  Both writers were incredible stylists, both were Catholics and both captured the time they lived in perfectly.

After his divorce, Marlowe moved to Los Angeles, where he wrote for TV (series and films as diverse as ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Jamaica Inn’).  His final work for TV was an episode of ‘Murder, She Wrote’ – ‘South by South-West’.  Tired with LALAland, Marlowe planned to return to England to finish his tenth novel, ‘Black and White’, but he contracted leukemia and tragically died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 58, in 1996.

Sadly, Marlowe’s genius as a writer has been nearly lost, as none of his novels have remained in print.  But through the internet, it is easy to find second-hand copies of his work, and I urge you to do so.

I kept in touch with Marlowe for the next five years, eventually meeting him for an interview in 1984.  The cliche is never meet your heroes, but I am glad I did, for Marlowe was more than any fan could have expected – kind in his attentions, generous in his support, and always funny.

In his advice to a teenage wannabe writer, he wrote:

“Remember books last longer than reviews and the most boring part is typing the damn thing afterwards and planning beforehand.  Never think too hard about what you are going to write – just jump in.  I’ve never known the end of my book, nor even the middle until after I am halfwat through.  And ignore anyone who says you can’t make a living out of writing.  You can if you don’t limit yourself to novels in England alone and don’t want a Rolls immediately.  I have never known a writer over thirty who has got the stamina to be poor.  Talent doesn’t make for success.  Courage does first.  But above all, if you want to survive, heed Nabokov’s remark: I write for myself – but I publish for money.”

Derek Marlowe 1938-1996

It’s strange to think now, but back in 1989, Salman Rushdie‘s novel ‘The Satanic Verses‘ was published to mixed reviews.  Let’s be honest, it isn’t exactly gripping reading, and would, no doubt, have clogged up the remainder shops, had it not been for Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who issued a fatwa over the book’s content. Rushdie went into hiding and a rather so-so book became the symbol of western liberty.

The fatwa marked a major shift in cultural relations between the West and the MIddle East. But more importantly for literature, the fatwa led Rushdie to writing his novels on a computer.

Rushdie described how working on a computer made his writing “tighter and more concise” as he no longer had to perform the mechanical act of re-typing endlessly. This meant all the time taken up by the mechanical act left him free to think.

But this change also created a new problem that affects museums, archivists and literary historians to this very day.  For “born-digital” materials — those documents or artefacts initially created in an electronic form — are far more complicated and costly to preserve than was ever anticipated.

Why?  Well, this is because all electronically produced writing is ultimately just a series of digits — 0’s and 1’s — which are written onto floppy disks, CDs and hard drives, and surprisingly, all of which degrade far faster than good old-fashioned acid-free paper.

But that’s not the only drawback, for the relentless upgrading of technology means older equipment and software, that could make sense of all these zeros and ones, simply no longer exists.

However, Emory University has been working towards solving this problem of archiving Salman Rushdie’s computer files and have started displaying some of Rushdie’s work.

Even so, as these discs primarily contain corrected and revised versions of work, this raises the question as to whether future archivists and historians will learn anything of value from Rushdie’s, or any other writer’s creative processes?  You know the kind of thing: the development of themes, characters, and drafts, scribbled on old cigarette packs, the backs of envelopes, or even just in good old notebooks – all of which reveal the thought process by which an author creates. Whether we like it or not, corrected copies on an old floppy disc will only give us the answer, and not the question.


“Hey, Johnny, What are you rebelling against?”
“What’ve you got?”

Strange to think now, but back in 1954 ‘The Wild One‘ was considered such a serious threat to British society that it was banned by the Board of Film Censors for 14 years.

It was believed that Marlon Brando and his band of slovenly bikers would give youngsters “ideas on how to brutalize the public”. More understandable once you know the film is loosely based on a real event, when a band of bikers took over the town of Holister in California in July 1947, during the Gypsy Tour Motorcycle Rally. Around 50 people were arrested, mainly for drunkeness, fighting, reckless driving, and disturbing the peace. 60 people were injured, 3 seriously. Even so, it’s hard to picture how the chubby Brando and his non-sensical mumblings could have inspired anyone.

Afterall, Britain wasn’t America, as John Lennon later found out when he went to his local fleapit to take part in the alleged riots inspired by Bill Haley and his Comets in ‘Rock Around the Clock‘. Instead of seat slashing and fighting in the aisles, Lennon was dumbstruck to find orderly youngsters appreciatively watching the screen.

If the film did inspire any rebellion, then it was in the imagination of a young poet called Thom Gunn.

Gunn saw ‘The Wild One‘ in America, where it inspired him to write the generation defining poem ‘On the Move‘.

“On motorcycles, up the road, they come:
Small, black, as flies hanging in heat, the Boy,
Until the distance throws them forth, their hum
Bulges to thunder held by calf and thigh.
In goggles, donned impersonality,
In gleaming jackets trophied with the dust,
They strap in doubt–by hiding it, robust–
And almost hear a meaning in their noise.”

Gunn’s poem critiqued the film’s sensibility, its search for purpose for meaning, while noticing the underlying homo-eroticism, contained within the denim and leather of its biker heroes.

“Men manufacture both machine and soul,
And use what they imperfectly control
To dare a future from the taken routes.”

‘The Wild One’ presented a portrait of a world where the individual could control their own destiny.  This appealed to Gunn, who was a young gay man at time when homosexuality was a criminal offence in Britain.  To the poet, Brando and his rebellious cohorts presented a sharp contrast to the gray and repressive world Gunn inhabited. .

“A minute holds them, who have come to go:
The self-denied, astride the created will.
They burst away; the towns they travel through
Are home for neither birds nor holiness,
For birds and saints complete their purposes.”

Gunn’s analysis inOn the Move‘ provides a literal manifesto, that later became the poet’s own.

“At worse, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.”

For Gunn never kept still. He followed his lover to America, where the tolerance he found in San Francisco changed his verse style from English tradition to American idiom; from strict form to free verse. In the same way Gunn by day was a disciplined intellectual and by night a physical hedonist, who cruised for sex and indulged in drugs.

However, the excesses of his personal life never detracted from the discipline of his poetic vision. He was once described as “the only poet to have written a halfway decent quintain while on LSD.”

Gunn used his experiences as material with candour and sympathy, which led many to believe he “seemed to hold no small number of life’s mysteries and meanings within his grasp.”   A truth that is more than evident when you read his brilliant, beautiful and inspiring poetry.


Sean Connery once remarked that ‘From Russia With Love‘ was his favourite Bond film, as it depended more on story and character than gadgets and special effects.

This is true but the film also had a great title song, sung by the incomparable Matt Monro, and outstanding performances from Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya in its favour.

By the time of making ‘From Russia With Love‘, Lotte Lenya was a celebrated singer and actress, known for her pioneering performances in, her husband, Kurt Weill’s and Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Mahagonny-Songspiel‘ (1927) and the legendary ‘Threepenny Opera‘ (1928).

In ‘From Russia With Love‘, Lenya played Rosa Klebb, a sadistic former SMERSH Agent who has joined SPECTRE to become Ernst Blofeld’s No. 3. The name Rosa Klebb was a pun contrived by Bond author Ian Fleming, derived from the Soviet phrase for women’s rights, ‘khleb i rozy’, which is a Russian translation for ‘bread and roses’. Lenya’s perfromance as the sadistic Klebb is one of the most iconic of all Bond villains, with her poisoned tipped dagger, secreted in the toe of her shoe.

Lenya’s Klebb often overshadows Robert Shaw’s underplayed, though equally efficient Donald ‘Red’ Grant. Shaw was a highly talented man whose own personal tragedies (his father a manic depressive and alcoholic committed suicide when Robert was 12) and alcoholism hampered him from rightly claiming his position as one of Britain’s greatest actors.

Robert Shaw established himself through years of TV and theatrical work, most notably his chilling and subtle performance as Aston in Harold Pinter‘s ‘The Caretaker‘. He went on to ‘The Battle of the Bulge‘ (1965), an Oscar-nominated performance as Henry VIII in ‘A Man For All Seasons‘ (1966), ‘Young Winston‘, the mobster Doyle Lonnegan in ‘The Sting‘ (1973) and most memorably Mr Blue in ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three‘ (1974) and Quint in ‘Jaws (1975).

But Shaw’s success as an actor was countered by further personal tragedy when his second wife, Mary Ure, died from an accidental overdose.  Ure’s death caused Shaw considerable guilt and despair, and led to the actor becoming severely depressed and reclusive in his personal life.

Shaw countered this by continuing his career as a respected and award-winning novelist and playwright. His first novel ‘The Hiding Place’, was later adapted for the film, ‘Situation Hopeless… But Not Serious‘ (1965) starring Alec Guinness. His next, ‘The Sun Doctor’ won the Hawthornden Prize.  While for theatre he wrote a trilogy of plays, the centerpiece of which was his most controversial and successful drama, ‘The Man in the Glass Booth‘ (1967).

The Man in the Glass Booth‘ dealt with the issues of identity, guilt and responsibility that owed much to the warped perceptions caused by Shaw’s alcoholism. Undoubtedly personal, the play however is in no way autobiographical, and was inspired by actual events surrounding the kidnapping and trial of Adolf Eichmann.

In Shaw’s version, a man believed to be a rich Jewish industrialist and Holocaust survivor, Arthur Goldman, is exposed as a Nazi war criminal. Goldman is kidnapped from his Manhattan home to stand trial in Israel. Kept in a glass booth to prevent his assassination, Goldman taunts his persecutors and their beliefs, questioning his own and their collective guilt, before symbolically accepting full responsibility for the Holocaust.  At this point it is revealed Goldman has falsified his dental records and is not a Nazi war criminal, but is in fact a Holocaust survivor.

The original theatrical production was directed by Harold Pinter and starred Donald Pleasance in an award-winning performance  that launched his Hollywood career.  The play was later made into an Oscar nominated film directed by Arthur Hiller and starring Maximilian Schell. However, Shaw was unhappy with the production and asked for his name to be removed form the credits.

Looking back on the play and film now, one can intuit how much Shaw’s own personal life influenced the creation of one of theatre’s most controversial and tragic figures.

Robert Shaw died of a heart attack in 1978, he was 51.

There’s an oft quoted line about Scotlands football team how they manage to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s a line that does in many ways reflect the Scottish character, as we can often appear a nation of heroic failures, rather than an empire building super power.

Yet, this failure comes with considerable cultural ramifications, something that can be seen in Donald Cammell‘s film ‘Demon Seed‘.

Cammell was the son of the poet and writer Charles Richard Cammell, who had written the biography of Aleister Crowley. Born in Castlehill, and not Edinburgh Castle as he would later claim, the young Cammell was considered a child prodigy and by the 1960s had established himself with London’s Chelsea set as an artist, illustrator and portrait painter. By luck and connections he started writing movie scripts and soon co-directed his first, and most legendary film ‘Performance‘.

Performance‘, which starred Mick Jagger and James Fox, should have made Cammell a major star but the film was quickly disowned by its production company, was considered obscene, violent pornography and described by one critic as “the most completely worthless film I have seen since I began reviewing.” What should have been a victory, was an unmitigated disaster.

It took Cammell seven years to make his next movie, the sci-fi thriller, ‘Demon Seed’ – a highly provocative and intelligent film. Again, it should have established Cammell as one of the world’s great cinematic auteurs, but Fate was to play a damning role.

Based on the best-selling novel by Dean Koontz, ‘Demon Seed‘ speculated on a computer, Proteus IV, impregnating a woman to create a living hybrid of man and machine. A bit like ‘Rosemary’s Baby‘ except with a computer. Cammell had major studio backing and his star was Julie Christie, was at the height of her fame, with a series of film hits including, ‘Shampoo‘, ‘Don’t Look Now‘ and her Oscar nominated performance in ‘McCabe and Mrs Miller‘. He even had Robert Vaughn as the voice of Proteus. With such talent on board, it seemed Cammell  was destined to make a brilliant film and at last achieve the success he deserved.

But no. After years of preparation, and  just as the film was released in 1977, a new sensation swept all before it, which made ‘Demon Seed’ look cheap, dull and boring. George Lucas‘ ‘Star Wars‘ changed film, cinema, TV and the way an audience responded to entertainment for ever. As Cammell’s film disappeared, ‘Star Wars‘ conquered the world.

The failure of ‘Demon Seed‘ marked a cultural shift in cinema, the end of an era if you like, for Cammell’s movie was the last of the great, intelligent speculative science fiction films. True, there would be the occasional movie like Ridley Scott‘s ‘Bladerunner‘ or, David Cronenberg‘s ‘Videodrome‘, but cinema and its audiences demanded the sensations that ‘Star Wars’ delivered, and the sound and fury of the summer blockbuster was born.

For this reason, ‘Demon Seed‘s’ failure has been cinema’s and our loss. ‘Sex in the City 2‘ anyone?

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