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‘The Mind Benders’: The true story behind the cult classic psychological thriller

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The writer James Kennaway was working as a publisher’s agent when he first heard talk of the sensory deprivation experiments carried out at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, during the early 1950s.

Kennaway’s job entailed traveling across England seeking out academics and scientists to contribute texts for Longmans catalog of books. The stories he heard at Oxford University were just idle chat shared over cups of milky tea or warm beer in pubs. Rumors someone had heard from somebody else that students were being paid to undergo a week of sensory deprivation—so far no one had succeeded. Though still an unpublished author, Kennaway knew he had found material for a very good story.

James Kennaway was born on 5 June 1928 in Auchterarder, Scotland.  His father was a successful lawyer, his mother a graduate of medicine. The younger of two children (his sister Hazel was born in 1925), Kennaway’s early childhood was one of tradition and privilege, with the expectation that he would one day follow in his father’s footsteps.

His childhood idyll ended when Kennaway’s father died in January 1941. Though at a preparatory school in Edinburgh, the twelve-year-old felt obliged to take up the role as “male head of the household.”  He suppressed his own emotional needs and began to write letters to his mother full of the advice and emotional support he felt his father would have given.

The untimely death made James feel that he too would die young, and this early trauma, together with the pressure he felt to succeed at school led to a fissure in his personality that would widen with age. Kennaway’s biographer, Trevor Royle described this gradual change of character as:

James was the sophisticate, Jim the “nasty wee Scot”. Later, he came to characterize the split as James the domesticated man constrained by society and Jim the artist who should be allowed any amount of license.

Or, as Kennaway later described it:

James et Jim, man and artist, wild boy and introvert.

At school “James” was the likable, eager-to-please pupil; while “Jim” was beginning his first thoughts towards a career as a writer—as Kennaway explained in a letter to his mother:

...I feel I have been granted with more than one talent; in such a life my talent of sympathy would shine but my other talents would lie buried. On my part I would get lazier and fatter every day. I might however do this at the same time as I write and really go in for writing, but I must learn more about the English language before I can write any stuff worth reading.

After school, Kennaway carried out his National Service in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders before going up to Oxford to study Modern Greats (Politics, Philosophy and Economics or P.P.E.). It was here he met Susan Edmonds, whom he married in 1951.

After university, Kennaway worked for a publishing firm, and in his spare time, started work on his first novel Tunes of Glory.
 
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Published in 1956, Tunes of Glory was the story of a psychological battle between bully Major Jock Sinclair and war-wounded Lieutenant Colonel Basil Barrow for control of over a peacetime battalion stationed in a Scottish army barracks. The story had been inspired by many of the people and events Kennaway encountered during his National Service.

Max Frisch noted in his novel Montauk that a writer only ever betrays himself; this is true for Kennaway who channeled the experiences of his life through the prism of his writing.

The book’s overwhelming success brought Kennaway more work as a writer: a commission to write an original screenplay. This became Violent Playground, which was filmed in 1957 with Stanley Baker, David McCallum, Anne Heywood and Peter Cushing. Its story of a juvenile delinquent holding a classroom of children to ransom was inspired by real siege in Terrazanno, Italy, when two brothers, armed with guns and dynamite, held ninety-nine pupils and three teachers to ransom. The brothers threatened to kill their hostages unless various demands were met. The siege ended after a teacher attacked and disarmed the brothers allowing the police to rescue the children. Kennaway followed the story in the papers, keeping numerous press clippings, and using the story for a key scene in his screenplay.
 
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The following year, Kennaway was commissioned to write another film, this time he relied on the stories he had heard from academics at Oxford in the early 1950s.

The term “brainwashing” was first used by journalist (and CIA stooge) Edward Hunter in an article he wrote for the Miami News, 7th October 1950. Hunter used the term to bogusly describe why certain U.S. soldiers had allegedly co-operated with their captors during the Korean War. Simply put, Hunter was suggesting the Chinese had used various psychological techniques to create a false sense of friendship with which they could undermine, reprogram and brainwash American soldiers. This led to Western governments commencing their own brainwashing experiments.
 
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In June 1951, a secret meeting at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montreal saw the launch of a CIA-funded, joint American-British-Canadian venture to fund studies “into the psychological factors causing the human mind to accept certain political beliefs aimed at determining means for combating communism and democracy” and “research into the means whereby an individual may be brought temporarily or perhaps permanently under the control of another.”

Dr. Donald Hebb of McGill University received a grant of $10,000 to examine the effects of sensory deprivation. Volunteers were paid to lie on a bed, cradled in a foam pillow (to block out external sounds), their arms wrapped in cardboard tubes (to limit movement and sensation), whilst wearing white opaque goggles. Without any external stimuli and only short breaks for testing, feeding and use of the toilet, the volunteers quickly began to hallucinate—seeing dots, colored lights, and faces. The experiments had disturbing affects on the volunteers with only a few managing to continue beyond two or three days—no one lasted the week.

The experiments progressed with the use of flotation tanks that became central to Kennaway’s screenplay.
 
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In an article “The Pathology of Boredom” published in Scientific American, one of Hebb’s associates wrote:

Most of the subjects had planned to think about their work: some intended to review their studies, some to plan term papers, and one thought he would organize a lecture he had to deliver. Nearly all of them reported that the most striking thing about the experience was that they were unable to think clearly about anything for any length of time and that their thought processes seemed to be affected in other ways.

It was also noted during these experiments that the volunteers were overly susceptible to external sensory stimulation—making them open to ideas or beliefs they may have once opposed. In A Question of Torture, professor Alfred McCoy of Madison University, noted that during Hebb’s experiments “the subject’s very identity had begun to disintegrate.”
 
More on James Kennaway’s ‘The Mind Benders’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘Everything to the extreme’: Be a guest at one of Henry Miller’s dinner parties
07.23.2014
02:04 pm

Topics:
Literature

Tags:
Henry Miller


 

“The earth is not a lair, neither is it a prison. The earth is a Paradise, the only one we’ll ever know. We will realize it the moment we open our eyes. We don’t have to make it a Paradise-it is one. We have only to make ourselves fit to inhabit it. The man with the gun, the man with murder in his heart, cannot possibly recognize Paradise even when he is shown it.”

― Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

“We get about as much information about the other peoples of this globe, through the movies and the radio, as the Martians get about us.”

― Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

I think I probably “discovered” Henry Miller from Tom Schiller’s SNL shorts that featured the dry wit of the Tropic of Cancer author and from his role in Warren Beatty’s Reds as one of the “witnesses” who had personally known John Reed and Louise Bryant. Miller’s presence onscreen was remarkable for a man his age and I wanted to know more about him. I was a kid, but I thought he was a very cool motherfucker for an old guy, like his near contemporary in authoring banned books, William S. Burroughs.

By the 1970s, Henry Miller’s work, once very, very difficult to come by in America, was being stocked in regular shopping mall bookstores and could be found on local library shelves, even one in a conservative backwater burg like my hometown of Wheeling, WV, which had most of his books. Frankly, the “erotic” Henry Miller didn’t really interest me all that much. I was more interested to read his opinions on things and events, non fiction essays, in other words, or interviews with him. High on my list of Miller’s writing were “A Nation of Lunatics,” his bicentennial contribution to an anthology titled Four Visions of America and The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, his scathing assessment of traveling around America in a car for two years after a decade spent in Europe (Think of it as a mix of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, which it preceded by many years. with Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night.)

When he was 84, Miller began a relationship with a young woman of twenty named Brenda Venus—a future Playboy model and author of several bestselling sex instruction books—from Biloxi, Mississippi. Venus found Miller’s address in a used book she’d purchased and had written to him. Miller was was infatuated by her and wrote her over 1,500 love letters, which were published in 1986 as Dear, Dear Brenda. (Worth noting that Dear, Dear Brenda was staged as a play in Russia a few years back, with Venus played by Olympic gymnast Svetlana Khorkina. According to her Wikipedia page, Brenda was invited to be the guest of Vladimir Putin at the premiere, which was held at the famed Moscow Art Theatre, home of Chekhov.)

Miller was an extremely gregarious man, known for holding court at frequent dinner parties he threw during the final two decades of his life spent in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles. In the video below, you can be a fly on the wall during one of Miller’s dinners. “The Botticelli of Mississippi” is present at the author’s side. The Swiss poet and novelist who Miller is expounding on at length, and calls his “hero,” is Blaise Cendrars, who many considered the heir to Rimbaud. It’s probably a good idea to read the Wikipedia page on him before beginning this video, because he’s the main topic of conversation. Note that the conversation begins with Miller talking about how he’s hoping to win the Nobel prize (for the cash reward!) and where it ends up a half hour later.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘Our Father, who art in Mordor…’: Hilarious reviews of Tolkien-themed prayer ring
07.22.2014
01:07 pm

Topics:
Literature

Tags:
Christianity
J.R.R. Tolkien

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I’ve been far too engrossed by the amusingly vitriolic negative reviews of protein supplement shakes on Amazon and almost missed the gloriously geeky reviews of one of the most absurd products of all time:  a men’s black ring with the text of the Lord’s Prayer written in Elvish script.
 
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According to Wikipedia: “The Tengwar are an artificial script created by J. R. R. Tolkien. In his fictional universe of Eä, the tengwar were invented by the Elf Fëanor, and used first to write the angelic tongue Valarin and the Elven tongues Quenya and Telerin. Later a great number of languages of Middle-earth were written using the tengwar, including Sindarin.” 

Here are a few highlights:

Exactly what I wanted. Lovely ring. Well made. I’m only giving it a 4, because it is a little uncomfortable. But my plans for world domination are now coming along quite nicely. The included power to command the wraiths has been very convenient.


Stainless? I don’t think so. This ring is supposedly stainless steel, but the mark it left on my soul will never be healed. Beware, my friend, beware.


Simply precious! I love this beautiful ring. It’s my favorite thing in the whole wide world. Although, ever since I’ve started wearing it, I feel like someone is stalking me. He follows me constantly, staring at me from the shadows, mumbling and hissing. He wants to take the ring.


I bought this ring as a weight-loss aid. I’m giving it only three stars, because while it did help me lose weight, it left me feeling thin, and stretched, like butter spread over too much bread.


Special Care Instructions. I found this ring to be of fantastic quality and very durable - at one point my friend had hit it with an ax with no noticeable damage. However, I would suggest the following tips when caring for this ring:

1. Keep it secret
2. Keep it safe


I keep mine in an envelope and this works very well.


Didn’t last very long. Wanted as family heirloom to last several generations unfortunately they neglect to list that it’s Not lava proof, #thoroughly disappointed.

Via io9.

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
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The doodly Picasso faces of Norman Mailer
07.17.2014
08:07 am

Topics:
Art
Literature

Tags:
Norman Mailer
Pablo Picasso

Norman Mailer
 
Norman Mailer’s admiration for Pablo Picasso is well known; in 1995 he published a book, Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man: An Interpretive Biography about the modernist master.

According to Amy Weiss-Meyer at The New Republic, Mailer would frequently take his two daughters to what he called “the Church of MOMA,” where they often would find themselves admiring this or that Picasso masterpiece. He also loved to draw, and he commonly sent friends cute little doodles, many of them of the human face. According to Mailer’s daughter Danielle, drawing was a respite from writing, which was a laborious and taxing undertaking. Drawing, on the other hand, was simply fun for him, an escape into pure delight. A new online platform called POBA is hosting a good many of Mailer’s doodles, many of which are reproduced below.

This passage from J. Michael Lennon’s Norman Mailer: A Double Life mentions the doodles: “Most of his correspondents got Xerox copies of one of his drawings, doodles, and cartoons, and faces made of numbers, an idea he says he got from Picasso, who as a boy thought the number seven was an upside-down nose.”

As you can see, there’s a numerological facial portrait in the set, but Mailer opted to use a 1 for the nose, rather than a 7.
 
Norman Mailer
Parted Hair, 1985
 
Norman Mailer
Open Face, 1985
 
Norman Mailer
Ink on paper, 1974
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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John Cheever vs. Burt Lancaster and the making of ‘The Swimmer’
07.14.2014
05:15 am

Topics:
Literature
Movies

Tags:
John Cheever
Burt Lancaster

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Author John Cheever made a fleeting appearance in the film adaptation of his story The Swimmer during the summer of 1966. He played John Estabrook, a party guest at one of the homes Burt Lancaster’s character Ned Merrill visited on his journey to swim pool to pool across the county. In a letter to a friend, Cheever described his day’s filming:

What I was supposed to do was to shake hands with Lancaster and say “You’ve got a great tan there, Neddy.” Things like that. I was supposed to improvise…

So we rehearsed about a dozen times and then we got ready for the first take but when this dish [actress Janet Landgard] came on instead of shaking hands with her I gave her a big kiss. So then when the take was over Lancaster began to shout: “That son of a bitch is padding his part” and I said I was supposed to improvise and [director] Frank [Perry] said it was all right. I asked the girl if she minded being kissed and she said no, she said I had more spark than anybody else on the set…

Lancaster heard her. Anyhow on the second take I bussed her but when I reached out to shake Lancaster’s hand the bastard was standing with his hands behind his back. So after the take I said that he was supposed to shake hands with me and he said he was just improvising. So on the third take I kissed her but when I made a grab for Lancaster all I got was a good look at his surgical incision in the neighborhood of his kidneys. We made about six takes in all but our friendship is definitely on the rocks.

 
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John Cheever was an established writer by the time the movie was made. He sold his first short story “Expelled From Prep School”  in 1930 when he was eighteen years old. He sold his first story to the New Yorker two years later and went on to publish 120 stories with the magazine.  His first novel The Wapshot Chronicle was published in 1957. Cheever originally intended his story “The Swimmer” as a full-length novel, with each chapter set in one of the 30 neighboring pools Ned swims across on his way home to his wife and family. He had been “kicking around” an idea of retelling the Greek myth of Narcisus which, according to his biographer Blake Bailey, was loosely inspired by his meeting Ned Rorem, with whom he had a brief sexual relationship, at an artist’s community in Saratoga Springs:

...[Cheever] had in mind a fellow Yaddo guest whom his meeting for the first time that September, composer Ned Rorem, who’d just broken his ankle and was hobbling about with a little plaster cast. As a reader of Freud, Cheever tended to equate homosexuality with narcissism, and in this respect the (almost) forty-year-old Rorem struck him as a kind of wistful, aging boy: “[H]e seems, in halflights, to represent the pure impetuousness of youth, the first flush of manhood, Cheever wrote. “He intends to be compared to a summer’s day, particularly its last hours and yet I think he is none of this.”

But the idea of retelling the Narcissus myth for modern day seemed slight, as Cheever noted in his journal for 1963:

I would like not to do the Swimmer as Narcissus. The possibility of a man’s becoming infatuated with his own image is there, dramatized by a certain odor of abnormality, but this is like picking out an unsound apple for celebration when the orchard is full of fine specimens.

 
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Moving the story away from Narcissus gave Cheever greater freedom with his narrative, but he soon realized the main difficulty in writing the story as a novel was the impossibility of convincingly maintaining Ned Merrill’s delusions about his life over a long period of time:

The Swimmer might go through the seasons; I don’t know, but I know it is not Narcissus. Might the seasons change? Might the leaves turn and begin to fall? Might it grow cold? Might there be snow? But what is the meaning of this? One does not grow old in the space of an afternoon.

He further explained the struggle of writing “The Swimmer” in Conversations with John Cheever:

It was growing cold and quiet. It was turning into winter. Involuntarily. It was a terrible experience, writing that story. I was very unhappy. Not only I the narrator, but I John Cheever was crushed.

He edited his text down from 150 pages to about twelve, which meant the story moved seamlessly from one season to another within the space of a sentence.  “The Swimmer” was published in the New Yorker on July 18, 1964, and became Cheever’s most famous story.
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Frank Zappa, John Cage, Patti Smith & others celebrate William S. Burroughs at the Nova Convention

Nova Convention
 
In 1978, after many years of living in London and Tangiers, William S. Burroughs decided to return to his home country. For a small group of artistic weirdos, this was a significant event, and a convention was held in his honor at the Entermedia Theater from November 30 through December 2, 1978, on Second Avenue and 12th Street in New York City (it’s no longer there). Much earlier, it had been announced that Keith Richards would be on hand, but after his heroin arrest in Toronto, his management calculated that it would not be wise to appear at a festival honoring the legendary deviant drug addict William S. Burroughs. Frank Zappa was enlisted to read the “Talking Asshole” section from Naked Lunch. Patti Smith, who wore “a glamorous black fur trench” in the words of Thurston Moore, objected mightily to having to follow Zappa and had to be placated by Burroughs confidant and organizer of the convention James Grauerholz, who explained to Smith that Zappa’s appearance was a last-minute necessity and not intended to show Smith up. You can listen to Smith’s contribution, in which she addresses Richards’ absence, here. At the “event party” for the convention, the musical performances included Suicide, The B-52s, and Debbie Harry and Chris Stein from Blondie. The inclusion of The B-52s is most fascinating, as they hadn’t even released their first album yet.
 
William S. Burroughs
 
Other participants included Terry Southern, Philip Glass, John Cage, Laurie Anderson and Allen Ginsburg. You can read a writeup of the event from the December 4, 1978, edition of the New York Times: “Of the other performers, Mr. Burroughs himself was the most appealing, and this had less to do with what he was reading than with how he read it. Although he has created some enduring characters, he is his own most interesting character, and he was in rare form, sitting at a desk in a business suit and bright green hat, shuffling papers and reading in his dry Midwestern accent.” An LP and cassette documenting the event were released in 1979 and they fetch top prices today at Discogs.

According to Ted Morgan in Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs,
 

The Nova Convention took place on November 30, December 1, and December 2, 1978, with the principal performances being held on the last two days at the Entermedia Theater, on Second Avenue and Twelfth Street, which had in the fifties been the fabled Phoenix Theater. Attending were an odd mixture of academics, publishers, writers, artists, punk rockers, counterculture groupies, and an influx of bridge-and-tunnel kids drawn by Keith Richards, who made the event a sellout.

-snip-

Saturday night the Entermedia was packed, largely with young people waiting to see Keith Richards. There was a small hitch, however, which was that Keith Richards had cancelled. He was having problems as the result of a heroin bust in Toronto, and his office convinced him that appearing on the same program with Burroughs was bad publicity.

But the show had to go on, and the composer Philip Glass, playing one of his repetitive pieces on the synthesizer, was thrown to the wolves. The disappointed kids who wanted Keith Richards shouted and booed. Then Brion Gysin went on amid cries of “Where’s Keith?” and found himself hoping that the riot would not start until he had done his brief turn.

In a last-minute effort, James Grauerholz had recruited Frank Zappa to pinch-hit for Keith. He volunteered to read the “Talking Asshole” routine from Naked Lunch. But as Zappa was preparing to go on, Patti Smith had a fit of pique about following him. James did his best to make peace, saying “Frank has come in at the last minute, and he’s got to go on, and he’s doing it for William, not to show you up.” Patti Smith retreated to the privacy of her dressing room, and Zappa got a big hand, because that’s what they wanted, a rock star.

 
From July 1 through July 13, the Red Gallery in London is putting on an exhibition dedicated to the Nova Convention. The exhibition is curated by Thurston Moore and Eva Prinz; Moore, who was present at the event in 1978, supplies a short piece called “Nova Reflections” to the exhibition catalogue; here are some snippets of that:
 

What I remember of the Nova Convention, in my teenage potted reverie, was a palpable excitement of the importance of Burroughs’ return to NYC. He had been living and working in London for some time, and before that, was residing in Tangiers. My awareness of the poets and performers on the Nova Convention bill was obscure, but I did realise everyone there had experienced a history in connection to the man. The poet Eileen Myles performed, and I have a hazy memory of what she has since reminded me was a polarising moment that night: She and a femme cohort came out on stage and performed the so-called William Tell act where in 1951 Burroughs tragically sent a bullet through his wife Joan Vollmer’s skull, killing her instantly. According to Eileen she was hence persona non grata backstage, and frozen out from the coterie of avant lit celebrities shocked at her “reminder” performance.

-snip-

Glass’s idiosyncratic high-speed minimalist pianistics was natural, gorgeous and sublime. Zappa came out and read a Burroughs excerpt “The Talking Asshole” which seemed appropriate and was mildly entertaining. Patti hit the stage in a glamorous black fur trench, purportedly on loan from some high-end clothier. She rambled on a bit, brazenly unscripted, testing the patience of the long night when out of the audience some fan-boy freako leapt on stage and bequeathed her with a Fender Duo-Sonic guitar. She accepted it cooly and before long was gone. And we stumbled into the 2nd Avenue night.

 
In his catalogue piece, Moore leads with an anecdote about photographer James Hamilton, whose astonishing pictures of rock icons are collected in the book (Moore was intergral in putting that book together as well) You Should Have Heard Just What I Seen. Hamilton was covering the event for the Village Voice, and while it’s not stated as such, presumably many of Hamilton’s photographs, are featured in the exhibition.
 
Here’s Timothy Leary, Les Levine, Robert Anton Wilson and Brion Gysin engaging in “conversations” about Burroughs’ work:

 
And here’s Frank Zappa reading “The Talking Asshole” from Naked Lunch:

 
Preview video of the “Nova Convention” exhibition at the Red Gallery:

 
via {feuilleton}

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Peter McDougall, the hard-man of British TV drama
06.17.2014
08:32 am

Topics:
Literature
Television

Tags:
Peter McDougall
drama

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Just A Boy’s Game

Though there is a mass availability of choice most of today’s television dramas are cut to the same unimaginative pattern. Indeed, there are computer programs to help writers “craft” their material to fit a dramatic template. These writers are helped by script editors trained to implement politically motivated agendas and then focus group administrators who screen the “finished” dramas to selected audiences to gauge their responses, influencing the creators to make changes accordingly. The producers are usually more concerned with maintaining this farce rather than allowing originality and talent to flourish. In other words, the writer is secondary, or is part of a team of “professionals,” performing dogs who bark for the needs of their employers. In a world of off-the-peg TV drama, truly original writing is a rare thing. 

Once, writing and writers were respected and allowed the freedom to create, to imagine, to write. One series, which allowed such freedom was the BBC’s Play for Today (perviously known as The Wednesday Play), which produced work by the likes of Dennis Potter, David Mercer, Caryl Churchill, Howard Brenton, Barrie Keefe, and Stephen Poliakoff. Play for Today offered imaginative, issue-based, social drama. One of the single most important writers to come out of this strand was Peter McDougall, whose plays put real working class experience on television for the first time—unfiltered from middle class agendas.
 
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Peter McDougall at his home in Glasgow.
 
McDougall once gave me the simple advice that every writer should heed:

“Write about what you know.”

That’s what McDougall did—he wrote from his own experiences, writing down on wee bits of paper stories, dialogue, he was at first ashamed to show anyone until one day when he was working as a painter and decorator in London, the actor and writer Colin Welland told him to write about his life. This Peter did: starting with his adventures as an apprentice boy twirling the baton on Orange walks, those sectarian parades where Protestants in Scotland and Northern Ireland celebrate Prince William of Orange’s victory over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. This he turned into the Prix Italia winning drama Just A Boy’s Game (1975), one of the most controversial plays ever screened on British television, as it questioned the brutality of sectarian violence then as now endemic in Scottish society. It was so controversial that the Glasgow police banned the filming of the drama;s central Orange walk from the from city in fear of “bloodshed on the streets.” The production was forced to relocate to more genteel Edinburgh to film.

Born in Greenock in 1947, McDougall left school at fourteen and started his working life in Glasgow’s shipyards, where he first met and worked alongside Billy Connolly. As McDougall has recounted, working in the shipyards was brutal, the conditions so cold in winter that skin stuck to the iron rungs on ladders. His experience in the shipyards and his knowledge of the people he worked alongside were incorporated into his most notorious drama Just A Boy’s Game (1979).

Just A Boy’s Game was a morally complex drama that starred singer Frankie Miller as the grandson of a local hardman, who wants to win his respect. The film was described by Martin Scorsese as Scotland’s Mean Streets, while playwright Tom Stoppard thought the script contained some of the best dialogue ever written. The play opens with a bloody razor gang attack in a small night club and ends with a brutal fight between Miller’s gang and an up-coming younger generation of thugs, before a powerful final scene between Miller’s character and his grandfather.

Not all of McDougall’s work is about violence—he wrote a beautiful, moving and funny drama The Elephant’s Graveyard (1976), a kind of modern-day ghost story, which starred Jon Morrison and Billy Connolly as two men running away from the own separate problems. He also wrote the powerful and harrowing drama on Edinburgh drug dealers and heroin addiction, long before Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, called Shoot for the Sun (1986), which starred Brian Cox and Jimmy Nail, and then a drama about the life of a US Navy shore patrol officer based in Greenock, Down Where the Buffalo Go (1988), which starred Harvey Keitel.

His last major drama, Down Among the Big Boys (1993), was originally intended as a three-part series focussing on different characters form the same story—a bank heist—which was eventually cut down to a single drama starring Billy Connolly and singer Maggie Bell.

McDougall still writes, though these days mainly plays for the stage, as TV wants dramas that will satisfy focus groups, advertisers and fit the constricting formatted structure of today’s programmes. Intelligence isn’t required, good writing isn’t required, and experience certainly isn’t necessary for today’s television dramas.

However, for those who are serious about writing, and serious about learning how to write, then this documentary on Peter McDougall will help supply the information and inspiration on how best to write.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Peter McDougall’s classic gangland film ‘Just A Boy’s Game’ starring singer Frankie Miller

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Ernest Hemingway’s reading list for a young writer, 1934
06.16.2014
09:55 am

Topics:
Books
Literature

Tags:
Ernest Hemingway
Arnold Samuelson

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In 1934, a young student Arnold Samuelson read Ernest Hemingway’s short story “One Trip Across.” Inspired by what he had read, the 22-year-old decided to travel across America to visit the author and ask his advice about writing.

Samuelson had just finished a journalism course at the University of Minnesota and had ambitions to become a writer. He packed a bag and hitch-hiked his way down to Key West. When he arrived, he found the place, like the rest of America, in the grip of the Depression. He spent his first night sleeping rough on a dock, and was woken during the night by a policeman who invited Samuelson to sleep in the local jail. He accepted the offer, and the next day, Samuelson ventured out in search of his hero’s home.

When I knocked on the front door of Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, he came out and stood squarely in front of me, squinty with annoyance, waiting for me to speak. I had nothing to say. I couldn’t recall a word of my prepared speech. He was a big man, tall, narrow-hipped, wide-shouldered, and he stood with his feet spread apart, his arms hanging at his sides. He was crouched forward slightly with his weight on his toes, in the instinctive poise of a fighter ready to hit.

Hemingway didn’t hit the young fan, but asked what he wanted. Samuelson explained how he had read “One Trip Across” in Cosmopolitan, and wanted to talk with him about it. Hemingway thought for a moment, then told Samuelson to come back the next day at one-thirty.

Samuelson returned at the appointed time to find Hemingway sitting on his porch. They started talking and Hemingway gave the following advice:

“The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time,” Hemingway said, tapping my arm with his finger. “Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.”

They then started talking about books, with Hemingway asking:

“Ever read War and Peace? That’s a damned good book. You ought to read it. We’ll go up to my workshop and I’ll make out a list you ought to read.”

Inside the house, Hemingway wrote down a list of fourteen books and two short stories, which he suggested a young writer should read:

“The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane
“The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Hail and Farewell by George Moore
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Oxford Book of English Verse
The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
The American by Henry James

 
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He then gave Samuelson a collection of Stephen Crane’s short stories, and a copy of A Farewell to Arms. When Hemingway heard Samuelson was sleeping at the town jail, he invited him to sleep on his 38-foot cabin cruiser Pilar, and keep it in good condition. Over the next year, Samuelson worked for Hemingway and traveled with him on trips to the Florida Keys and Cuba. He later published a memoir based on his experiences, With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba.

Below a brief news item on Ernest Hemingway, looking back to the Nobel Prize-winning novelist’s life in Key West.
 

 
Via Open Culture

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Today in 1816, Mary Shelley first dreamt of ‘Frankenstein’
06.16.2014
09:44 am

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Books
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Frankenstein
Derek Marlowe
Mary Shelley


 
In the wee small hours of the morning, 16th June 1816, Mary Shelley had a terrifying “waking dream” that inspired the creation of her novel Frankenstein. As she described it in her journal:

When I placed my head upon the pillow I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.

The cause of this haunting reverie had been a discussion between Mary’s lover, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, his lover and half-sister Claire Clairmont (who was then pregnant with his child), and Byron’s doctor John Polidori. They had all traveled to spend a summer together at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. Mary was the daughter of radical political philosophers Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and was the teenage lover of firebrand poet Shelley—with whom she had eloped to Switzerland to visit his friend and fellow poet, Lord Byron. 

It was the year without summer, when the skies were grey with the volcanic ash that had erupted from Mount Tambora the previous year in the Dutch East Indies—it was the largest eruption in 1,300 years, and led to floods, food shortages, and cold, inclement weather across the world. A suitably ominous year for the birth of literature’s monstrous creation—Doctor Victor Frankenstein’s creature—the “Adam of [his] labors.”

Unable to spend time outside, the menage sat late into the evening reading ghost stories to each other. These were taken from Fantasmagoriana, an anthology of German and French horror tales. Then one evening by the flickering log fire, Byron suggested that each member of the group should produce their own tale of horror. This they did, mainly Gothic tales of ghosts and the undead. However, Doctor Polidori surprised the company with The Vampyre, which was eventually published in 1819, and is said to be the first of the vampire genre. But it was Mary Shelley—or Godwin as she was then—who had the greatest and most enduring literary success.
 
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Having struggled to come up with an original tale, Mary was inspired one evening by a discussion on “Galvanism,” the scientific phenomenon discovered by Luigi Galvani, whereby muscles (originally on frogs legs, later corpses) twitched and moved, and seem to come alive, when jolted with an electric current.

As author Derek Marlowe described it in his book A Single Summer With L.B.:

The earlier talk of reanimation and the rekindling of dead matter spun in her mind until without realizing it, she herself experienced in her sleep a grotesque nightmare that was so vivid that she felt it was happening within her very room. She saw a manufactured corpse stretched on the floor, a thin figure kneeling beside it, and then she witnessed the corpse stirring, moving, coming to life.

He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes: behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery but speculative eyes.

Starting up in terror, she was no more comforted when she saw the familiar room, the closed shutters, the dark parquet flooring, the patterned walls, for the vision haunted her still. In vain throughout the night Mary attempted to banish the images from her mind, but they returned constantly, until dawn she realized at last that there was only one thing she could do.

I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.

 
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The shy, eighteen-year-old Mary started writing her story that very day and developed it into a novel during 1817:

It was on a dreary night in November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost mounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light I saw the dull yellow eyes of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a conclusive motion agitated its limbs.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was first published anonymously in an edition of 500 copies of three volumes in January 1818. It proved an immediate success, with a second edition published in 1822. The following year a stage production based on the novel, Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein was first produced, which greatly popularized the story, as Mary’s father William Godwin excitedly wrote in this letter:

My dear Mary

I write these few lines, merely to tell you that Frankenstein was acted last night for the first time, & with success. I have therefore ordered 500 copies of the novel to be printed with all dispatch, the whole profits of which, without a penny deduction, shall be your own. 

I am most impatient & anxious to see you, and am ever most affectionately yours

W Godwin

195, Strand,
July 29, 1823.

 
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A revised, more conservative version of Frankenstein was eventually published under Mary’s own name in 1831.

The first movie version of Frankenstein was made in 1910 by Edison Studios. Filmed over three days, the creature was a snaggle-toothed monster with Russell Brand hair. It proved successful, but not as successful as James Whale’s classic film version starring Boris Karloff as the monster in 1931.

From one dream were these wonders so created.

Thomas Edison’s 1910 version:
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish’: John Steinbeck’s advice on writing
06.11.2014
12:42 pm

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Books
Literature

Tags:
John Steinbeck
Writing

kcebneitsnhoj11.jpg
 
Responding to a letter from Robert Wallsten, who was “experiencing a kind of stage fright about actually starting to write a biographical work,” John Steinbeck, author of those longtime staples of high school syllabi, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, gave the following advice.
 

Villa Panorama
Capri
February 13-14, 1962

Dear Robert:

Your bedridden letter came a couple of days ago and the parts about your book, I think, need an answer…

...let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience which is why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.

1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find the reason it gave trouble is it didn’t belong there.

5. Beware of the scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Well, actually that’s about all.

I know that no two people have the same methods. However, these mostly work for me…

love to all there

John

 
1962 was a good year for Steinbeck, as he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. At his acceptance speech, given at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1962, Steinbeck said:
 

Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches—nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair. Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.

 
Steinbeck’s speech can be viewed below.
 

 

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