What a literary line-up!
IMPRESSED? These are my books, most of them written since I 'retired' in 2009. Actually, there are more titles than those shown here, but I confined myself to creating a 'work of art' to lead this page. Enjoy!
The tragedy of Ukraine
THE Ukraine War is a massive blemish on the age we live in, showing that the 20th century's two world wars taught us nothing about the horrific consequences of tyranny and conflict. It would be remiss of me to let it go by without some kind of pictorial acknowledgement. This drawing depicts the horrors of the 2022 attacks by Russia on Ukraine's cities. With buildings on fire, people lying dead in the street, and rockets raining from the sky, it seeks to highlight the futility of warfare.
Victims of a dying nation
HAITI has been close to my heart since I spent three weeks there in 1968. Papa Doc was the ruler then. He murdered thousands and ruled by fear. But things have got worse since his day. Now the capital, Port-au-Prince, is terrorised by armed gangs, and the people are more terrified than ever. This picture captures, I hope, something of their ongoing misery.
Story - on
AT last, The Most Famous Little Paper in the World has been highlighted in book form, with my story of the Falmouth Packet now on sale.
The famous Cornish newspaper, launched in 1855, was named after the Packet international mail service, which operated from Falmouth for 150 years.
Among tales featured is that of an editor suspected of being a Russian spy.
Well worth a read, even if I say so myself.
A bargain buy
- plus a signed
BOOK-LOVERS find joy in simple things.
I bought a hardback copy of Charles Causley's poems off an outdoor bookstall the other day. Price: £2.
Tucked inside the back dust-jacket was a short letter to a previous owner - from Charles Causley himself.
The owner had queried the meaning of one of the poems.
Mr Causley replied courteously, pointing out that some poems are open to different interpretations, depending on the reader.
Revised valuation of my £2 book: with letter attached, about £100. That's because it was also a first edition.
Our 'fame' is
join from far
MORE readers are following this site, with one fan in the Emirates welcoming my attacks on what he calls 'the world's idiots.'
We've now been up and running for over six years, and our fan base includes several media professionals, many of them senior executives.
Among the latest devotees are a Caribbean newspaper editor, a media professional in the Middle East, a Cuban businessman, and several British professionals from the Home Counties and the North.
Though my books and prints receive a fair bit of attention, what really gets them going is the 'Comment' section, and my trenchant views on national and international affairs.
I can't claim to match 'celebrity bloggers' for the numbers following my provocative prose, but I reckon I score highly when it comes to the quality of my audience.
I've always thought it far better to be read by fifty genuinely intelligent people than 50,000 morons, so it seems this site is finding its target.
I'm now being read in Australasia, North America, the Caribbean, Europe and, of course, Britain, so the 'fame' of johnmarquis.net is spreading satisfactorily, albeit at a steady pace.
What I find particularly gratifying is that some of my followers hate what I write, but enjoy reading it anyway. That's music to the ears of any writer, whatever their medium.
its way to
CONSIDERING it probably weighs more than a house brick, it's gratifying to know that readers are prepared to pay good money to have my new Flushing history book airmailed to faraway places.
With volumes now winging their way to America, Australia and the Caribbean, I can claim - with all due modesty - that my beloved tome has genuine international appeal.
Copies have already gone to readers in Europe, and found their way to far-flung areas of the British Isles, so the collectable hardback edition of Flushing: A People's History already sits proudly on bookshelves the length and breadth of the civilised world.
The last twenty or so of the edition - numbered 280 to 300 - will be on sale at Flushing Arts Week at the end of May, offering a chance for summer visitors to grab a piece of history.
As the discount stores say, 'When it's gone, it's gone!' In this case, never to be reprinted in any form. Don't miss it.
In search of
THICK sea fog shrouded a maze of bumpy lanes in North Cornwall this week as I went in search of a man with a claypit.
It's amazing what
dedicated amateur potters will do in the interests of their craft, but finding the elusive Mr Doble was a mission worth pursuing.
With visibility down to fifty feet, car speed reduced to two miles per hour, and no SatNav to help me, I was on the verge of giving up in despair when I finally found his isolated makeshift office next to arguably the most famous claypit in the world.
Since 1975, the Doble family have been supplying Cornwall's most discerning potters with clay of such distinction that they will cross some of the county's roughest terrain to find it.
Among them was Bernard Leach, the most famous British potter of all, and the Dobles continue to supply The Leach Pottery in St Ives to the present day.
The Doble claypit has already provided a living for three generations of the family, and there's enough goo left in the ground to make them secure for several more.
'It keeps us out of mischief,' Mr Doble muttered philosophically as he heaved a bag of stoneware clay into the back of my car.
As I ventured back into the thickening fog, I left behind the lonesome figure of Mr Doble with two young, starstruck ceramicists who had travelled far to find this holy grail of the potter's world.
With reverence and a sense of wonder, they gazed at this sodden hole in the midst of a foggy field and paid due homage to the boundless treasures lying within.
'We read about it on the internet,' they said.
Thus, new technology had guided them to a site potters have come to revere in practising one of the world's oldest crafts.
Ancient and modern had found common ground in the middle of nowhere.
Meanwhile, Mr Doble just keeps on digging.
WHEN I look back on my fairly undistinguished school career, I recall no more than one or two teachers worthy of the name.
Among them was undoubtedly Anton Bantock, who died a few years ago in Amman, Jordan, after a lifetime devoted to good causes.
He was 82.
Mr Bantock, as we knew him back in the more respectful 1950s, taught history with flair and no small degree of eccentricity. He brought alive great characters of the Victorian age like Gladstone and Disraeli, and was passionate about the Great Reform Bill of 1832.
Now I learn that he spent every summer during his teaching career cycling round the world trying to make life better for deprived people of all races.
He not only tirelessly raised money for charity, he also set up the 'University of Withywood' in a poor district of Bristol, hosting community events and offering educational opportunities to the needy.
He was also a talented artist, though his family background was musical. Both his grandfather and mother were accomplished composers.
Mr Bantock was an Oxford graduate who taught me and other classroom slackers for two years at Guthlaxton School, Wigston Magna, Leicestershire.
I recall the day a lout at the back of the class threw a piece of chalk at the blackboard while Mr Bantock was in full flow.
The chalk bounced on to the floor with a sharp ping, but the unperturbed Mr B carried on, not even bothering to remonstrate with the culprit.
His enviable sang froid is fondly remembered even now, nearly sixty years on.
I'm pleased to hear that he received the MBE for his good works, earned an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol and was loved throughout his life by all who knew him.
dies after fall
WHEN you pass your 70th birthday, you become increasingly aware of mortality and all that it implies.
So it was this week when I heard of the death of my former colleague Des McCartan, for 30 years the Westminster correspondent of the Belfast Telegraph.
He suffered a very bad fall in London on the day the Westminster Bridge atrocity occurred.
He was taken to St Mary's Hospital, where victims were being treated, but never regained consciousness. After a week, his life support machine was switched off. He was 68 and leaves behind a wife and daughter.
SEE Old Hacks Gazette (under MORE signpost) for more details.
Pottery is the way to inner peace
LOOKING for inner peace? Fancy a few hours a week when you can lose yourself in an all-absorbing hobby? Time to take up pottery.
My weekly sessions at Penzance School of Art are now an eagerly anticipated part of my busy creative life.
As with football, pottery is a thoroughly enjoyable activity whatever your level of competence. My occasional forays into the world of ceramics are the equivalent of Sunday morning kickabouts - but, oh, what joy they bring!
My recently-completed coiled pot - see blog on left - has been described by my daughter as 'tribal', which I've taken as a compliment, especially as traditional African pottery is so sought-after.
Next up is a tall, thinnish vessel with a flared neck, and another big honey-glazed vase with sgraffito design. Can a Tate exhibition be far off?
Portrait of the Artist as
an Old Bloke
SO why does a retired hack get into art in his seventies? I haven't a clue, but that's no reason for not offering some kind of explanation.
My new booklet, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Bloke, is a 68-page round-up of colourful images created by Yours Truly over the last three years.
It attempts to describe my fascination for shapes, colours and composition, and the themes that dominate my work.
For me, the motive for drawing and painting is simply the enjoyment it generates. The fact that people like my images enough to buy them is an added bonus.
See Booklets section
A decade at the helm
IT'S a long way from Fleet Street, but Falmouth in Cornwall offers one of the most alluring journalistic berths in Britain - the editorship of the Falmouth Packet.
My booklet, On Being Editor of the Falmouth Packet and Other Essays, is a collection of pieces on everything from my dog, Jack, to the lure of small towns, the joys of authorship and the life of my enigmatic dad.
But the lead essay describes my ten years as Editor of one of Britain's most famous titles - a newspaper whose history stretches back to the Crimean War.
See Booklets section
As a lifelong newspaperman, I have a wide range of interests, including modern literature, the visual arts, music, history, politics and sport, especially football and boxing.
Though I have travelled widely, I have a special interest in Cornwall and The Bahamas, the two places where I have spent most of my life.
Apart from my wife and family, journalism has been my dominant passion. To echo the words of the essayist H.V.Morton, I regard it as 'the most bewitched and attractive calling in the world.'
More recently, I have developed an interest in painting, and specialise in what I call 'Crazy Art', which translates as 'infantile depictions of everyday situations.'
You can view my work on the 'Prints' page.
My books (see BOOKS page) cover a wide range of subjects, from Bahamian politics to D.H.Lawrence. My latest project is a collectable (and revised) hardback edition of my village history, Flushing: A People's History.
I am also compiling a collection of my journalism, and working on a revised (and revealing) edition of my book Blood and Fire, about the famous wartime murder of Sir Harry Oakes, the British Empire's richest man, which remains the most fascinating crime mystery of the 20th century.
What I've read recently
(Firstly, heartfelt apologies -
I've read dozens of books since this column was last updated, but I've been diverted by other things)
A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin
BIOGRAPHER Claire Tomalin is noted for getting into the hearts and souls of her subjects.
But she appears oddly detached in her examination of her own life.
Her book, A Life of My Own, is an interesting insight into London literary society, but is somewhat clinical in dealing with the tragedies marring an otherwise gilded life.
Her unusual marriage to the gifted journalist Nicholas Tomalin - he was a freewheeling romancer who became a notable foreign correspondent - produced five children, including one who died early, another who was severely disabled, and a daughter who committed suicide.
Both had affairs, and she appears strangely insouciant about his wanderings while juggling motherhood with her various journalistic responsibilities. They parted for a time but were together again when he was killed while covering the Yom Kippur war in 1973, having been struck by a Syrian missile. She later went on to marry playwright Michael Frayn.
Parts of the book read like a shopping list of London’s literary in-crowd, but it is the lack of emotional engagement that will strike most readers as its biggest defect.
In spite of all that, I quite enjoyed it.
Instead of a
Letter by Diana Athill
THOROUGHLY wise memoir from a very pleasant woman who spent her life in book publishing and embraced life with gusto. She knew happiness and sadness in equal measure, but never lost sight of the immense privilege of simply being here.
Neil Munro: The Biography by Lesley Lendrum
WRITER Munro, a reluctant newspaperman turned novelist, gave us the highly amusing Para Handy tales, about life on the Loch Fyne puffer known as the Vital Spark. Though a West Highlander through and through, Munro gained a national reputation with his charming yarns about the Spark and its endearingly eccentric crew.
Kiss Me, Chudleigh by Auberon Waugh
POOR old Bron Waugh, son of Evelyn, was obliged to live out his writing life in the shadow of a satirical genius.
I always thought both he and his dad were soured by class confusion, Evelyn having spent his life trying to be the rural gentry he clearly wasn't, Bron forever obsessed by the nuances of social demarcation.
My old dad's dictum - 'It's all in the face, my boy' - was borne out by this bitterly snobbish pair, who spent their lives trying to find people to look down on. They both possessed the unmistakably constipated countenance of the socially insecure, and sneered their way through life by demeaning what they liked to call 'the lower orders.'
For Bron, the double whammy of being considered inferior to his father was enough to poison the soul of the hardiest of men.
His unfathomable complexes came out in his writing, an odd mixture of pure nastiness and subtle humour.
This collection of his journalism highlights not only his many prejudices, but also the undoubted talent he possessed for articulating his oblique view of the world.
He was a master of vituperation who was easy to dislike, but his prose has the virtue of luring the type of reader who gets guilty pleasure from seeing others skewered in print.
Bron's inner agony was exacerbated by life threatening injuries he received when he accidentally shot himself through the chest with a machine gun while on Army service in Cyprus.
The physical pain lasted for the rest of his truncated life, no doubt deepening the well of resentment created by his unenviable upbringing. His dad, it seems, never liked him much, and Bron's indifferent scholastic record did little to improve the situation.
Neither Evelyn nor Bron made old bones, both dying in their sixties. After six decades, it appears, their toxic natures and profuse eruptions of bile led to terminal physical deterioration.
To give credit where it's due, Evelyn remains one of the 20th century's literary stars, while Bron will go down as a journalist of note. in spite of his cruel depictions of his contemporaries.
This book is often amusing, occasionally enlightening, and sometimes confusing, because the reader is frequently left wondering whether he actually means what he says.
Sad case, our Bron. He never seemed to know where he stood in England's unforgiving social spectrum, and suffered enormously from the bewilderment this brought into his life.
Britain's Art Colony By The Sea by Denys Val Baker
ST IVES in Cornwall, besides being one of the prettiest towns on earth, is an art colony of some standing, having attracted some of the 20th century's finest painters.
It is also home to the internationally-renowned Leach Pottery, where Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada set up shop in 1920.
This study of the town's artistic history is by the colourful Denys Val Baker, a prolific novelist and short story writer who became part of the St Ives scene from mid-century until his death in 1984.
Beryl Bainbridge, Artist, Writer, Friend
by Psiche Hughes
The late novelist Beryl Bainbridge was quite a painter, too. This book offers a glimpse of her creative 'double life' through the eyes of a friend.
Scouser Beryl trained to be a thespian, got involved emotionally with a publisher, and spent the rest of her life writing critically acclaimed novels.
But the urge to paint was never far away.
Her art, as you'd expect, is quirky but competent, much like her books. But it never eclipsed her writing, which earned her five Booker Prize nominations and, towards the end of her life, a damehood.
Lost for Words by Edward St Aubyn
I've never read St Aubyn's celebrated Melrose novels, and this is considered one of his lesser works. But it is a light, refreshing insight into the world of literary prizes, and the behind-the-scenes machinations that cast doubt on their worth.
Why do panel judges want the job? What do writers hope to achieve? What criteria decide the winner? And does real talent ever get a look-in?
These are the questions St Aubyn addresses in this satirical but profound analysis of a deeply flawed process.
Next time you feel inclined to splash out twenty-five quid on a Booker Prize winner, you'd do well to read this first.
Dear Bill, A Memoir by
BILL DEEDES was, by all accounts, a genial old chap whose journalism career spanned the best part of the 20th century.
He was an editor as well as an MP and gained fame as the 'model' for Evelyn Waugh's hapless hero William Boot in the newspaper novel, Scoop.
His memoir, charting his rise in a profession he clearly enjoyed, features many of the most fascinating figures of his time.
He began his working life on the long defunct Morning Post and was absorbed by The Daily Telegraph in one of the industry's early mergers.
There he traversed the globe as a correspondent and eventually found himself in the hotseat.
All round, a satisfying life well-lived - and, despite the stress, always with a smile on his face.
THE Angry Island by A.A.Gill
LIKE me, Gill was more Scot than English, and he clearly shared many of my reservations about the uptight, anal retentive race south of the border.
Here he explores many of the dominant themes of English life, with snobbery and stand-offishness to the fore, along with what he sees as a resolutely angry outlook on everything.
In fact, the English do have a curmudgeonly demeanour, accentuated by a severe downturn of the mouth - an unattractive feature which grows more pronounced with age.
Ugly, rigid and life-denying, they are not the prettiest of the human species, but they do have the virtues of fundamental honesty and a love of animals.
In most instances, they also have a sense of humour, their major saving grace.
Gill, typically, lays bare the English with a wry, knowing smile. An engaging read.
The Skeptic: A Life of H.L.Mencken
by Terry Teachout
FOR those journalists who, like me, see Mencken as the ultimate exponent of our crazy trade, anything about the master is welcome.
Teachout's study is a highly readable portrait of America's greatest journalist, capturing H.L's renowned candour and cussedness, and his unshakeable courage in the face of official censure.
Mencken loathed politicians, detested clerics, had no time for God, and dispatched his words to war in the cause of common decency. He was a one-man earthquake under the complacent establishment, a role he relished in his eternal fight for press freedom.
There's no doubt Mencken had prejudices that ring negatively today, but there has never been any quibble about his integrity, or the immense power of his prose.
America needs a Mencken now, probably more than ever before.
The View from 80
by Malcolm Cowley
OLD age is a different country, according to Cowley, and he demonstrates how and why in this truly engaging little book.
Originally written as an article for Life magazine, it views life from the perspective of a man in his ninth decade, and shows how priorities change as the years - and expectations - ebb away.
It's not all bad news. Though mathematics and biology are against you, wisdom born of long experience affords a measure of self-containment and quiet confidence denied us in our youth.
Cowley expanded his original article into what is now regarded as a minor classic. Which all goes to show that 80-plus is not necessarily the end, or even the beginning of the end.
A Writer's People
NAIPAUL is a writer torn asunder by the inner conflicts created by his island background, and the limitations it imposed on his genius.
Put simply, Naipaul was too big for Trinidad, too constricted by its geographical and cultural limitations. He had universal themes to pursue - and life on The Trinidad Guardian was never going to cut it for him.
In one sense, his life has been spent in exile in Britain, but he has drawn deeply from his Caribbean origins to fuel his powerful books, fiction and non-fiction.
His journalist dad stayed put, but V.S. wanted out to free himself from the suffocating parochialism of his home turf.
He endured early struggles to become one of the leading novelists of the 20th-21st centuries, but one senses he has remained a divided soul with deep, fast undercurrents of confusion and discontent.
The English Companion
by Godfrey Smith
THIS idiosyncratic guide to Englishness and the English is what I call an interesting 'dipper' - a bedside buddy you can rely on for a smile as you drift off at the end of a busy day.
Smith, a former Sunday Times journalist, proves an engaging guide as he captures the essence of everything from the Cotswolds to the Conservative Party, from Somerset Maugham to the Somerset Levels, and country picnics to the good old English pint.
by Janet Street-Porter
DURING a journalism career spanning five decades, JSP has been engaging and enraging readers in more or less equal measure. This book charts the friends made and lost during a roller-coaster media life taking in newspapers, television and fashion.
Goofy Janet, whose Steinway keyboard teeth and Gor Blimey accent defined her from the start, is not what I would rate a stellar talent, but she has undoubtedly added colour to life over the years and I do like her refreshing candour.
The Last Word on Frank Sinatra by George Jacobs
GREAT singer, vile man. This book tells the story of Ol' Blue Eyes from the inside, and not much of it is pretty.
His involvement with The Mob, his fight with the Kennedys, his relationship with Marilyn Monroe, his career ups and downs...it's all here, related by his long-time valet and gofer in a strangely compelling style.
Hooked on hookers, brutish in manner, Sinatra was no paragon. Were he not the very best at what he did, I can't see any intelligent person giving the little squirt the time of day.
City Lights and Streets Ahead
WITH notable success as novelist, playwright and journalist, Keith Waterhouse
has to go down as one of the really significant talents of the 'kitchen sink' era of English literature.
This book offers a nuts and bolts analysis of a writer's life during the heady days when provincialism was hip and English novels were actually worth reading.
With a sizeable stake in drama, journalism and fiction, Waterhouse was gifted and versatile - a true writer's writer from a humble background who dominated the world of words on three fronts.
Later Days by
FAMOUS for his Autobiography of a Super Tramp, Davies went on to write this lesser-known memoir about his later life, when he was a rated poet and friend of the leading literary names of the day.
For me, his most memorable verse remains 'What is this life if, full of care, there is no time to stand and stare...', a poem drilled into generations of 20th century schoolchildren.
The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe
ANYONE who has ever wondered whether Tracey Emin is capable of producing a drawing worthy of the name will be interested to read how today's artistic superstars come into being.
Wolfe's book wittily explores the process in New York, where Uptown and Downtown (the Brahmins and the Bohemians) conspire to create 'big name' artists for their mutual benefit.
Two points emerge very strongly: that merit has little or nothing to do with it, and that the public is excluded from the process.
Prepare to be amused, enlightened and enraged, not necessarily in that order.
Not That It Matters by A.A.Milne
RESCUED from a pile of old books I've had for years was this tiny gem from a popular author of his day. 'Love and best wishes from May and Sidney, Xmas 1942' says the inscription inside, penned a little under a year before I was born.
It's such innocent trivia that helps make book collecting such a joy.
The text is fascinating, too, with Milne ruminating on such weighty matters as goldfish, the unfairness of things, and smoking as a fine art.
It's hard to believe such slight but amusing ruminations would find a market today, but I found them to be both diverting and enlightening.
BANKSY: The Man Behind the Wall by Will Ellsworth-Jones
THE Bristol dauber whose nickname has become synonymous with fashionable urban graffiti is the subject of this revealing but unauthorised biography of a 21st century cultural phenomenon.
Whatever you think of his work, Banksy has become a totemic, albeit invisible, product of a society enchanted by secrecy and mischief. He provides both in abundance, and the lad's got talent, too.
The Loving Friends by David Gadd
A highly readable insight into the Bloomsbury set, the literary/artistic oddballs who saw themselves as an exclusive band of luminaries during the early years of the 20th century.
The Cornish Review, edited by Denys Val Baker
Unearthed in a National Trust bookshop, this copy of a respected literary magazine of the 1960s proved to be a forager's treat. Full of informed comment on Cornwall's cultural life of the time.
DELIGHT by J.B.Priestley
Short uplifting essays by a man dismissed as a 'tradesman' by literary snobs of his day, but who was, in fact, a rare talent of staggering range and versatility, most notably as a novelist and dramatist.
The Story of American Painting by Abraham A. Davidson
Whether your taste is Whistler or Pollock, this book offers useful insights into US art from its very beginnings to the present day, embracing the strictly figurative of Washington's time and the outrageous abstractions of the 20th century.
Fifty People Who Fouled Up Football by Michael Henderson
Having been a soccer fan since 1948, I despair at the corrosive effects of big money on the beautiful game. But it has also been debased by some of its high-profile personalities, many of whom are pilloried here.
Farewell Fred Voodoo by Amy Wilentz
An affectionate insight into one of the world's most beautiful and shambolic countries. Torn apart by political unrest, besmirched by its blood-soaked history, Haiti remains strangely lovable, like an unruly child with a winning smile.
A Private View of L.S.Lowry by Shelley Rohde
Fascinating biography of the awkward misfit who became one of Britain's greatest artists of the 20th century, though Lowry himself said: 'I am not an artist - I am a man who paints.'
Oh Rare Don Marquis by Edward Anthony
This is the biography of Don Marquis (no relation) who was a well-known American journalist and humorist of the early 20th century (he died in 1937).
Home Truths, Life Around My Father by Penny Junor
The highly personalised biography of John Junor, long-serving Editor of the Sunday Express, who in his day was one of the most prominent figures in the old Fleet Street.
Ceramics by Bryan Sentance
Beautiful book about pottery worldwide and the ingenious techniques used to produce inspired bowls, figurines and vases.
The following books have made the greatest impression during a
lifetime of great reading:
Sons and Lovers by D.H.Lawrence
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
Brighton Rock and The Comedians by Graham Greene
Of Human Bondage and Cakes and Ale by W.Somerset Maugham
The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
For Whom the Bell Tolls
and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Boy by James Hanley
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Room at the Top by John Braine
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe
A House for Mr Biswas by V.S.Naipaul
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Nineteen-Eighty-Four, Animal Farm and The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
Voss by Patrick White
Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Newspaper Days by H.L.Mencken
The Best of Cassandra by William Connor
New Grub Street by George Gissing
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Below is an example of my Crazy Art. See the 'PRINTS' page for further examples.