My latest book which I've edited and written an introduction to is 'Lifting the Veil: Beloved Dead, Biography and other appreciations' is now available on Amazon. This is a collection of writings by and about Max Ehrmann an American poet who I'm writing a biography of at present. He is famous for his poem 'Desiderata' which is included in this volume but the title essay is a spiritual investigation into the nature of reality! Biography is a new territory for me and so far I'm finding it fascinating. I'm planning a series of books that include material by Ehrmann which will be edited and introduced by me. The cover of the next book, which will follow hot on the heels of Lifting the Veil, is below!
Because I’ve been working on several projects connected to Max Ehrmann, I have found very little time to write a blog recently. So, in lieu of a piece written especially for the Farthingstone Chronicles, I’ve attached below, a part of the introduction to my new book, Lifting the Veil, Beloved Dead and other appreciations. This is a collection of writings on and by Max Ehrmann, an American poet known mostly for his poem Desiderata. The book will be out in the next week or two: In researching the materials for this book, I decided to look through the archives of that venerable literary publication The New York Review of Books. I assumed, there would be a few articles on this author, who in his time was the friend, acquaintance or correspondent of the likes of Nobel Laureate Sinclair Lewis, the novelist Jack London, Theodore Dreiser (author of the classic An American Tragedy), Eugene V. Debs (the union leader and founder of the Industrial Workers of the World or ‘Wobblies’), Havelock Ellis (the physician and social reformer who put sexuality on the map in the nineteen-thirties), Birth Control campaigner, Margaret Sanger, the radical editor and political activist, Max Eastman, Booth Tarkington, author of The Magnificent Ambersons and many other notable figures. However, Ehrmann’s stock has fallen so low in the literary world since his death in 1945, that to my surprise I could find nothing on him in The New York Review of Books (which was founded in 1963). This apparent amnesia is curious but has happened before with Ehrmann. One Sunday during Lent in 1956, Reverend Frederick W. Kates, the rector of Old St Paul’s in Baltimore, placed on the pews, as was his habit, a poem. The poem, mimeographed onto sheets with the parish letterhead, was Desiderata. Perhaps because it was only a little over a decade since Ehrmann’s death and the rector assumed his congregation was familiar with the text, or simply because he relayed it in his sermon, either way, Reverend Kates failed to include the name of the poem’s author on the handout itself. The letterhead simply read ‘Old St. Paul’s Church, A.D., 1692’. An alternative version of the story has it that Ehrmann’s name was omitted by a member of the congregation when passing it onto friends. Either way, copies of the poem slowly began to leach into the local community and eventually into the consciousness of the burgeoning youth movement, nascent, but growing across America at that time. Hippies, Flower Power and the ‘swinging’ sixties, saw the poem reproduced on posters and in underground magazines, misattributed, however, with the urban myth, ‘Anonymous, written in 1692, found on a plaque on the wall of Old St. Paul’s Church’ and so on. Not until 1965, with the death of Adlai Stevenson, the former Democratic presidential candidate and US Ambassador to the United Nations, did the issue of authorship come to national prominence. Stevenson died in London, on July 14th, during a stop-over back from Switzerland. Soon after, a column by Betty Beale appeared in the Washington News and was syndicated nationally. In her column, she was objecting to a cover story in Time magazine, which had claimed that Stevenson was a lonely and gloomy figure. This Beale rejected, reporting that his close friends said otherwise. In support of her argument, she wrote, ‘When he took off for Geneva [shortly before his death] he left behind on the bedside table in his New York apartment a printed page that he had marked. Perhaps it was intended for a commencement address [others have said he intended to use it in his Christmas cards that year]. He did not write it but that he chose it and saved it for his attention upon his return is indicative of his own thought. It was entitled Desiderata, and it was originally found in Old St. Paul’s church, Baltimore, dated 1692.’ In her next column Beale corrected the error and named Ehrmann as the poem’s author but perhaps unsurprisingly, in some quarters, the ‘Anonymous’ authorship of this piece of supposed 17th Century Americana continued being promulgated. Indeed, 1968 saw Star Treks’ Leonard Nimoy release an LP with his rendition of the poem included but re-titled Spock’s Thoughts. Not to be outdone, in 1970, Bonanza’s Lorne Greene read it on the Johnny Cash Show, as did Joan Crawford, in the same year, on David Frost’s TV show. Then in 1971, Les Crane, a former talk show host, recorded the poem. Crane was accompanied by a musical arrangement from Fred Werner which included a gospel choir and harpsichord. This reached number 8 on the Billboard charts and went on to win a Grammy for Spoken Word Recording in 1972. In 1978 Richard Burton recorded it as part of a ‘personal anthology’ entitled The Hound of Heaven. Max Ehrmann’s name didn’t appear on any of these TV shows or recordings, and the verse was usually misattributed. A typically ironic example of attribution was the credit given on the Les Crane LP, which read, ‘Produced by Fred Werner and Les Crane for Old St. Paul Productions.’ In the age of the internet, Ehrmann is now generally credited with authorship of the poem, but he still remains a shadowy figure on the literary stage. Aside from Desiderata most of his work remains unknown. ‘Lifting the Veil’ is perhaps one of his most obscure pieces, but deserves to be better known, as it reveals much about the philosophy or weltanschauung of the man behind Desiderata.
Last night I had the good fortune (well I bought a ticket) to see ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ at the Derngate in Northampton. This was its second night of a new UK tour. It’s been a phenomenally successful play, winning Olivier, Tony, Broadway and WhatsOnStage Awards for its director, writers and stage designers. Some months ago, I had finally caught up with the success of the show and had thought it would be good to get to see it sometime. It was, as I expected, an extremely well drilled, physical play, which makes it sound a bit stern, when in fact it is a hilarious farce. Those words ‘hilarious farce’ are the kind of trope repeatedly attached to any comedy that’s successful in the West End and Broadway. In this case, the words could have been new minted. The premise, of an amateur play, a murder mystery (put on by the so called, Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society) which rapidly descends into an unintended farce, is not original (and immediately made me think of ‘The Art of Coarse Acting’ by Michael Green) but its strength lies in the execution of the physical action (including a very dynamic set, which is really a character itself) and the snappy, joyful humour of the script. I enjoy farce but I haven’t been to see one in sometime and I’m not much in the habit (I admit rather shamefacedly being an actor myself) of going to the theatre. The reason I was sitting in the audience was not because of the excellent press the play has received but because I know the director, Mark Bell. I haven’t spoken to Mark for probably a couple of decades. I think I last saw him on stage, as an actor, with a company called Hoi Polloi maybe ten years ago and I haven’t kept up with his career much since. I knew he had an good career, as an actor and director, always making good work and drawing strongly on his own training (at the very prestigious École Internationale de Theâtre, Jacques Lecoq), and that he himself had also taught, at the well know acting school, LAMDA. His was a successful career, full, I’m sure, of half a lifetime’s pleasure, hardwork and satisfaction at work well done in the world of theatre. But ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ and his association with Mischief Theatre has been, as he himself says ‘a life changer’ catapulting him into what could seem like another career. Of course it isn’t, it’s the same career, the same job, the same art, that he’s been working on, and making stronger, for decades. This ‘overnight success’ is, like so many similar stories, based on years of hard graft and dedication. The best thing that such success brings, I imagine, is a sense of validation of one’s efforts. Naturally, throughout his career, because he’s excellent at what he does, Mark has received compliments from colleagues in the trade and from audience members. That is good and helps and validates one’s work. But nonetheless, it’s good for your friends (if nothing else) to see someone they know, being given praise and awards and kudos for their excellence. I said above that ‘I haven’t spoken to Mark for probably a couple of decades’, that was, up until last night. So, when I bumped into him (and his AD Sean Turner) in the foyer, during the interval, I was especially pleased. The show has been around since 2014, has had half a dozen casts, at least, and is on not its first tour, so I really hadn’t expected him to be there. What was also nice was that, although I hadn’t seen him in a long time, he hadn’t changed all that much. He was perhaps a little gentler than I recall, as last time I saw him in a rehearsal room, he was probably shouting at me, in his Geordie accent, saying ‘That was shite, do it again!’ But apart from that, he was, if anything quite gracious, certainly friendly, to someone who was an acquaintance from many years ago. I asked him a few questions, about his life and the show and the future but I really wished my good friend Caz Tricks was there, who knew Mark better than I back in the day. She is much more forthright and quicker witted than I and I would have enjoyed seeing her give old Biffa a hug and ask him properly how the hell he was. She, like I, probably even feels a bit of pride in Mark’s achievements. Which isn’t really warranted and perhaps pride is the wrong word but it is great just to see an old friend doing well for himself. I was asked recently if I felt jealous of Mark’s success and I have to say there are plenty of people that are doing as well as he is, if I wanted to indulge in feeling jealous (which is truly one of the stupidest emotions) I could just be jealous of them. As for Mark, I wish him continued, on-going and greater success. He told me he was working on other plays and interesting projects which I’d expected. Well good luck to him. (Given Mark’s success, I was going to call this blog ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ but in the end decided that sounded too much like Mark was about to cop it, which was not my intention at all!) It’s funny how projects can snowball and become bigger than planned. In fact, that’s one of the delights in the acting world. Success, on whatever level, often means you go further than expected, push your own limits and improve you craft and sometimes your life. In a related, tangential way, I was thinking the other day about nepotism in acting, and in the Arts in general, and concluded that, in fact, it’s very difficult and possibly counter-productive (in the same way that Soviet Art was counter-productive and in the end vacuous), to try and get rid of it. The reason being, that nepotism in the theatre world, is one way of insuring you work with people you work well with (often mates, friends or good work colleagues, at a minimum), people who read each other well and know how the other person operates. Time is not wasted, the machine turns over immediately. Filmmakers especially, again and again, work with the same team. Sometimes this includes actors, sometimes not, but almost always a director or producer will choose to work with the same technical team behind the camera. There is room for ‘new blood’ and sometimes that’s vital but as illiberal as it sounds I think a bit of a dictatorial or nepotistic attitude in the arts is necessary. Just as the world would benefit from a benign dictator, so does a play! I don’t make this point overly seriously but human co-operation is vital to the art of acting, in both play and filmmaking, and that co-operation, counter-intuitively, often has to be co-opted and controlled by a good director. When I was younger I used to think, the actor did all the work and a director, more or less, looked after the set and directed traffic. Now, I much more relate to Hitchcock’s statement that actors are cattle! The more experience you gain as an actor, the greater the respect you gain for directors, and the more you realise, that in theatre as much as in film, you need an auteur, an author with a single vision of what works and what doesn’t. The actor serves the story and the director, if they don’t, they may be impressive and smash a bit of china, like the proverbial bull, but their work will be bullshit in the end, it will stink of undigested ego-glory.
The question of identity for an actor doesn’t rise from the graveyard of dream until they have picked up the mask many times. One morning they will get out of bed, breakfast, sit with a coffee, pull out a battered script to go over their lines. If they are some way along the road, the script is a prop, a crutch, more for comfort than necessity. If they have the words, have thought about the topography of the play, the motivations, the deviations of spirit they can take that are not upon the page (but round out the character, the mask they are making), then as they raise the teacup they may just pause. What are they doing? ‘Why do we all love story some much?’ they think. Every day we slaughter and devour more stories than we do cattle. Rarely in a digital, radio and televisual, computer hitched society, does a day pass in which the citizen doesn’t watch or listen to a narrative full of characters. Alternatively, we read the newspaper, magazine, periodical, book. We gossip. We hear the fragments of autobiography, from friends and strangers, fresh from the press of existence. Some are Dadaist in composition, broken, inchoate, violent in volume or intent, incomprehensible, mysterious, dull, some are full-bodied, full of the muscular arcs and bridges of narrative pathways integrated, formed, written, built, over months or years, amplified into imaginative alleys, streets, cities, planets, peopled, populated with humorous, happy, dark, tragic, ordinary, everyday, playful, archetypal and symbolic characters. All humanity, encompassed, portrayed, captured, nailed down, expanded, ridiculed by the actor, writer, artist, dancer, musician. In the second, between lip and cup touching, the cosmos of what it is to play a part unzips in the actor’s head. Their past, the player of a hundred parts, spills. And they consider themselves. Like a yogi, they contemplate the body. Their body. The body of steam rising with the cup in their hand, to their lips. The bodily content of ideas, thoughts, emotion contained within the machine, the body of flesh, the organic matter that they are. Playing other people has always possessed them, intrigued and entertained them, felt natural. Their nature is to adopt the mask, create personas, figments, imagined creatures. Their nature is to play seriously; the comic parts are the most serious, the tragic playful. Spend half a life being Jim Carrey and the character of Jim Carrey departs or you could say he arrives, to live the life for the person within or behind, the character of Jim Carrey. Carrey was the actor with a thousand inauthentic faces. He obtained everything he desired, wrote an imaginary cheque to himself, made himself a millionaire before he was a millionaire, was a film star before he was a film star, projected and became the projection, then found himself looking at the screen with the rest of the audience. Now, Jim Carrey does not exist within a body; he is an idea in the world. The idea of Jim Carrey lives within the minds of millions, loved, hated, impressive and barely visible. He is a ghost, a digital reality, a whisper, a joke in an Italian hotel, as solid as air, as clear as smoke. Jim is now fond of saying ‘I’m not a guy experiencing the world. I’m the world experiencing a guy.’ Attaining everything transforms the content of the world, everything, into nothing. Having it all, one is pressed, crushed out, emptied, made devoid of desire for things, objects, ambitions, nothing holds, everything is released. Once one has exhibited characters, the face solidifies, the person, the will behind the facial muscles, slips out. We are all the actor without a face, the mask. You and I separate ourselves by the desire for recognition by you and I. It is a chain of being, a genetic envelope, which makes of the division of self, the object and the subject, a letter. We send out letter after letter, but they are always returned undelivered. The cell we are within, continually splits. We are the sweaty little man behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz, as Jim Carrey is found of analogising. The bigger the actor, the bigger the fall, the heavier the realisation. I am you, and you are me, becomes a meaning that feels right, not a mantra for foreign bodies. You become part of a foreign legion, the detached, the damaged and the reforming, the deformed released from criminal practice, the practice of being a person, the art and the social discourse, are alienated. In a poem, Berthold Brecht wrote that the mask of evil on his wall had veins in its temple, pulsing with effort, what a strain it is to be evil he said. But the effort is universal; it is the pain of evil which makes the veins stand out so much. C.S.Lewis says somewhere in ‘Mere Christianity’ that the proto-Christian cannot begin on the path to enlightenment, cannot lose the burden of this life, until they recognise the guilt they have within. Only when you see that you are sick will you hear what the doctor is saying. But our dis-ease is not of our making. It is circumstantial, existential. The Manichean may be right; there is no light without the dark. And we may be both dark and light. But neither is a chosen state. We are presented with masks to choose from, and we can choose which mask to wear, and this is a becoming, a choice, but the void of being is not a choice, a decision is not made to change it. The mask of sickness like all masks is an illusion, not a human fate. Attainment of all one’s dreams, leaves one without dreams. The illusion and death of identity is lost and found in the graveyard of dream.
I have just published my third collection of essays this year ‘The Three Hearts of the Octopus’! This collection includes an essay on the arresting work of MK Artist Shelly Wyn-de-Bank who is now exhibiting in London and is going from strength to strength. Below is a section from the introduction, on Octopuses, which will feature on Blue Planet II at some point I should think. I thought I’d share it with you just because I think they’re amazing: ‘…The octopus does, by the way, have three hearts and like this collection is a strange and fascinating creature. To begin with, they have no fixed shape, they are boneless, and even the Giant Pacific, with an arm span of more than six metres, can fit through an opening the size of its eye (about an inch). They have no stable colour or texture and camouflage themselves extremely effectively. There is no clear distinction between their brain and their body, two-thirds of their neutrons are in their arms. Each arm can act intelligently and independently. They are intelligent problem solvers, can learn and use tools, have a capacity for mimicry, can be sly or deceptive, and some people think they have a sense of humour. If any of my essays are half as interesting as the average octopus, I’d be surprised, but metaphorically speaking, they may have some similar traits’. My first essay collection I called autobiographical, the second historical, this is both, with some very personal material on my Mum. It’s an eclectic mix with essays on Victorian photographer Francis Meadow Sutcliffe, meeting Ken Loach the film director, Egypt, Hermeticism, writers Levi, Nin, Koestler, Orwell, Moore Shakespeare and Bolt, Ealing Comedies and there’s even a little fiction and a few poems. Hoping to start work in earnest on a biography or biographical study on the poet Max Ehrmann soon. I also have a new audiobook to work on, another crime novella, from Adam Croft and have just auditioned for a Disney movie. So, you never know, might be Litchborough this week Hollywood next!
Above is the cover art for the latest audiobook I've narrated. This has been in the works a long time, Debbie the author was a close listener to my edits and wanted everything just right. I was happy with that I like authors who care about their work and it makes you feel more involved with the process. When I first began narrating books for Audible I was excited when I first auditioned for this book and Debbie indicated that she liked my voice. However, she had already promised the book to another actor, so I was pleased she liked my voice but very disappointed I wasn't going to get to record the book. To my suprize and delight Debbie contacted, me after about a year, to say the other actor after much to-ing and fro-ing had dropped out and would I like to do the book? I was doubly excited the second time around and had always felt this was the fish that had got away, now finally in was in the net! It's a dark tale with sex and violence that some people would find hard to listen to. But Debbie, the author, has not written it in a gratuitous way and there is a good moral core to the book. Debbie was at times very complementary about my reading saying that she felt it gave dimensions to the story that she hadn't noticed, which was very gratifying to hear. I hadn't realized until recently that the book was long-listed for the UK Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award but it doesn't surprise me because it is very well written which is why I'd really wanted the job. I'd also wanted the job because although I like the challenge of doing accents sometimes it's nice to do something pretty close to your own accent once in a while. This was set in London and so it was not much of a stretch for my voice, which I always call 'London-overspill'. Anyway, the blurb below gives an outline of the book: Michael Redford died on his 17th birthday - the night Eddie picked him up off the street, shot him full of heroin, and assaulted him. Now he's Mikey and he works for Joss. With streaked blond hair and a cute smile, he sleeps by day and services clients at night. Sometimes he remembers his old life, but with what he's become now, he knows there is no return to his comfortable middle-class background. Then he makes a friend in Lee. A child of the streets, Lee demands more from friendship than Mikey is prepared to give. But the police are closing in on them now and Mikey's not sure anymore who he really is - streetwise Mikey or plain Michael Redford
I've just completed an audio version of my book Penumbra which I published back in 2015. I have slipped this project in inbetween much other work so it was good to finally complete it and I'm pleased with the results. I was especially happy with the cover simply because I did the artwork myself. I'm no artist but I enjoyed doing this pastel and it's nice to be able to utilise the little art I have produced in some practical way. The smaller the image the better it looks!
By accident, I have to confess, I have just published my second volume of essays (the companion to The Purple Rose and other essays). I say 'by accident' because whilst it was complete and fully edited I actually wanted to see a hard copy before publishing. However, early in the morning, not properly awake, I hit the wrong button (twice!) and bam! the book was out there! The kindle version is out now and the paperback will be out in a couple of weeks. The kindle version retains its page numbers, which ideally it wouldn't, and consequently the contents page isn't paginated quite right but apart from that it's fine, honest! I will at some point do a second edition but for the price it is still value for money I would say! Anyway confession over this is how I’ve blurbed (is that a verb?) the book:
This collection is packed full of diverse literary and historical essays including pieces on George Orwell, his poetry, being taught by Aldous Huxley, living in Paris and his ability to quietly read, on family outings in the car, whilst in the company of two guinea pigs, a cat, a baby, rugs, holiday paraphernalia and a poorly goat. There are essays on Gavrilo Princep, the teenager who started The Great War, why the Dark Ages were so dark, the Jungian psychology behind hoaxing, why Thomas Paine was ‘the greatest Englishman ever’ and how he influenced the American and French Revolutions, an in depth look at the forgotten Kingdom of Alt Clut, the connection between Jimmy Cagney and Jean Paul Belmondo, the dubious role of Jacob Gens in the Vilna Ghetto during World War II, how Ian Fleming was involved in one of the greatest military operations of that war, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Wilde, George Washington, Bram Stoker, WB Yeats, the death of Tony Benn, the Ku Klux Klan and much more. If you ever buy a copy please to write a review!
I have just published a collection of essays which have taken me a long time to edit having been busy with many other audio projects. It's nice, however, to produce a volume of material that's completely my own stuff for a change. This is the first of two volumes of material that has 'been in my bottom drawer', as they say, waiting (patiently!) to be published. I'm very happy with the writing even though much of it is from long ago and far away and life has moved on quite a lot since I wrote most of the essays. I am edging towards producing totally fresh, new writing but still have numerous projects on hand until I get to that point. I guess I just want to get everything I have out there first and then I can feel that I have a clean slate. I would like to write perhaps some political commentary as there's plenty to comment on at present! And I have a biography of an American poet that has been on my mind to write for quite a while. However, first things first I am planning to publish the second volume of essays to partner these, then my Dad's memoir with commentary from his son, a short collection of something called the 'Tiger News' which was a newpaper produced for the troops in WWII by my great uncle plus I want to re-issue another book called I Was An Eight Army Soldier by him, a novella called Isolbel's Shadow probably needs taking down and dusting off and publishing and the list goes on a little more! So perhaps by the end of next year I'll be ready to produce that new stuff! Anyway, for now this is my blurb for The Purple Rose and other essays: This is a diverse and eclectic collection of autobiographical writings (by the actor and writer Tim Dalgleish) which includes pieces on authors such as Jack Kerouac, Ted Hughes and Jack Trevor Story, filmmakers Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mingella and well known theatre luminaries, such as, Antonin Artaud and lesser known practitioners, such as, Peter Sykes of RAT Theatre. Other topics include comics, travel, valentine's cards, the desire to be a writer, the flamenco guitarist Eduardo Niebla, Ghosts, Chess, Christianity and existential disquisitions on Time and the nature of Being.