Saturday, July 25, 2015

Who was Alroy Kear? Well, while you’re finding out, let me tell you about my fourth culture vulture visit to south-west France

Who was Alroy Kear? Well, if I’m not 100pc certain, I’m at least 99.9pc certain that no one knows what they hell I’m on about. But I do, and in this case that’s all that matters.

. . .

‘Who’s paying for this lunch?’

‘Well, if we don’t publish you, we are. If we do, you will be.’

I had been warned and I appreciated my companion’s candour. I told her that I wasn’t very hungry and ordered the pasta tuna. It had a rather more impressive name on the menu but I know pasta tuna when pasta tuna is offered.

‘Red or white?’

‘Well, as I’m having tuna I suppose it should be the white. And just a glass, please.’

She smiled, the smile of a professional who had eaten many such lunches.

‘Don’t stint yourself. I’ve got little on this afternoon and I’m off tomorrow and who knows, we’ll probably not publish you, so go for it. We might as well have a bottle. I could do with more than a glass. Are you going to have a starter? I am.

 I wasn’t persuaded, but all in all this wasn’t my shout. I ordered a starter. Of every book published, nine out of ten are non-fiction. Of every book of fiction published nine out of ten make no money. Of every book of fiction considered for publication another nine or ninety or nine hundred or quite possibly nine thousand submitted are ignored as just so much dreck. So, whether I would be footing the bill for lunch or not, I had so far got just a little further than most. A little. Not much. My companion, a woman in her forties who had her charms once I had finished my first glass and was well into my second, knew her job.

‘You’ve called your novel Who Was Alroy Kear? Why, exactly?’

‘Are you familiar with the name?’


I began to explain. ‘He’s a fictional character invented by. . .’

‘Well, I don’t suppose it matters much, and be ready for marketing to insist on another title if they don’t like it. I should tell you that it’s a hard market and it’s getting harder every year, and what they say goes. What’s your story about?’

‘Have you read it’

‘I’m afraid I haven’t, no, but don’t let that bother you, we have some very good editors and they have, and if they think there’s something in it for us, if they think it has possibilities . . .’

She trailed off. ‘Who do you read?’

‘All sorts,’ I told her.

‘Well, all sorts doesn’t help much, does it? Have you read any Ooja Kanago or Paul Moore?’


‘Well, they’re selling very well at the moment and it’s the kind of thing we’re looking for. Are you gay?’

‘No. Should I be?’

‘No, not really, but it does seem to help, though marketing won’t insist, of course.’

Her mobile rang.

‘Sorry, I’ve got to take this.’ She answered. ‘Where are you? Well, don’t bother with that now, I’m quite busy. What is it?’ The other party spoke. She replied. ‘Well, she has got one down at the cottage and apparently the broadband is on again. And if it isn’t she’ll just have to live with it. Is Julian coming or staying up in London with Sasha?’ The other party spoke. ‘Well, tell him to make his mind up. Anyway, can we do this another time, I’m in a meeting. I’ll ring you at four. Oh, and I wouldn’t mind getting away at five.’ She ended her call.

‘Sorry about that. What was I saying?’

‘You asked me if I was gay.’

‘And are you?’

‘No. But my brother is.’

‘Well, that’s neither here nor there, is it.’

. . .

Illats, day three.

This is, I think, my fourth annual trek to this neck of the woods in what is sometimes called Aquitane, sometimes Les Landes and sometimes just Bordeaux, by which folk who call it that (as I do when people ask ‘where are you going to in France) mean the area south of the city which is also called Bordeaux. I come to accompany my aunt – my stepmother’s sister, but I think of here as my aunt – to a series of concerts put on by various chateaux as part of the Rencontres Musicales Internationales des Graves (which means Very Serious Musical Encounters, though as I don’t speak any French – as I ‘have no French’ – I might well have got that a little wrong).

Regular readers of this ‘ere blog might be familiar with my annual excursions to this part of France at this time of year, and I must add that I enjoy them a lot in as far as although I’m a really, really cool cat who doesn’t only like jazz but J Blackfoot, Alexander O’Neal, Lisa Ekdahl, Pink and Pretty Reckless (none too contemporary, I’m afraid), I also like almost all kinds of classical music except sodding German romantic stuff from the mid to late 19th century, which, as I get older makes me feel like puking rather quicker than a pound of full-cream fudge.

The first concert was on Thursday at the Chateau Latour-Martillac, and on the bill – is it OK to use the phrase ‘on the bill’ when talking about classical music? – a sonata for violin and piano by a Russian call Anton Tanonov, Brahms second string quintet and finally the ‘concert’ for piano and string quartet by Ernest Chausson, a chap who is apparently very well-known except by me. The Tanonov piece, very modern and very squeaky, was fair enough and although I have a strange liking for what I was once told is often called ‘squeaky gate music’, it didn’t do a great deal for me, though I didn’t hate it either. The Brahms, a new one on me, I liked. And I also like the Chausson. (Incidentally, he died rather young, at 44, in a bicycle accident – he rode into a wall. True – look it up.)

Last night’s concert, though was something else. It was at the Chateau Doms, just down the road in Portets, and all three pieces were memorable. The first, by a Uri Brener was the kind of squeaky gate music I can’t get enough of (as opposed to Mr Tanonov’s and don’t ask me what I preferred the one to the other, but I did).

Then came Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, opus 57, and that, dear friends, was spot-on. It sounds daft to put it that way, and again I’m told it’s very ‘well-known’ but not by me, but I’m
glad I came across it and have already bought it from Amazon. Finally, we got Schubert’s string quartet Death And the Maiden, which I have heard before several times but don’t ever mind hearing again. (Sad, sad note: just looked it up on Wikipedia and it seems he wrote it after he came out of a serious illness and realised he was dying so, you know, blah, blah. Altogether now: aahh!, though I trust folk won’t be quite as viciously flippant when the time comes for me to knock, knock, knock on Heaven’s door.)

Apart from that I’m enjoying good food and pleasant weather. Whereas, it seems Old Blighty has already had its two and a half days of fine weather this summer, here in the South-West of France the temperature is warm, in the mid-twenties, and sunny. They had just emerged from a heatwave the day before I arrived and we’re told another heatwave is on its way, but I’ll cope with that as and when. Pip, pip.

Oh, I hope you enjoy the snippet I started this entry off with. With a bit of luck – i.e. hard work – there’s another 69,410 words to go. And I do actually plan to call it Who Was Alroy Kear?, though marketing might well have other ideas. (Alroy Kear? Look it up. It is obscurely relevant, though you will never guess how and why.)

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