Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The new novel - and a dodgy wine metaphor

Aaah for those days. The writing retreat in France was a sweet thing. I trimmed the writing to between two and three hours a day, from 10am, sitting by the open window and staring out at the Pyrenean foothills. A new novel began and slowly unwound through ninety pages over a fortnight.
The novel's set in Big Sur in 1994, though it looks back to the holocaust. I've lived in Big Sur a couple of times, so the book is built around a place I know well, but curiously those French hills also inhabit the book in some way. They're companions in writing. The book kept on writing itself while I was walking among them.
'Writing fiction is mostly sufffering,' Anthony Burgess wrote (in a foreword to James Hanely's Boy),'though, with luck and obduracy, the suffering can sometimes be transmuted into a kind of muted joy.' Well partly. Writing fiction is also a grand healing, the disparate parts of your being gradualy melding into a whole again. 'Muted joy' is a fine term for where it leaves you. And then, of course, in the afternoon a gentle melancholy is likely to descend so as to achieve some balance.
I brought the novel to a point from where it should continue. Now I'm at the start of a new teaching term here in Plymouth. It's an adjustment from solitude, that little solar whirl of creativity, back into company and leading from the front. The trick, of course, is to readjust and apply that creativity to teaching, to lectures.
Meanwhile I presume the new novel is playing away somewhere in the back of my head. It will be fuelled by all I learn in the coming months. It will be different to the one that would have emerged had I just had another six weeks to sit it out in France ... maybe I'll think of it like wine, the first grapes picked of a good vintage and now it needs to age and mature.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Super Saturation - a celebration of the centenary of diving at Plymouth


I'll be giving a talk on the life of J.S.Haldane as part of a spectacular weekend of events in Plymouth, Super Saturation, October 31st-November 2nd 2008. It marks the centenary of modern diving, stemming from the introduction of Haldane's dive tables in 1908.
It is a wildly varied and fine event. An underwater photography exhibition, a series of the earliest dive films, some grand talks (Professor Philip James on hyperbaric medicine, Dr Maurice Cross divulging secrets of nuclear diving from the seventies, as well as me), displays by the Coastguard and Police units and the Plymouth Diving Centre, Buster Keaton's THE NAVIGATOR with live musical accompaniment, a premiere of new marine related music including a performance following the movements of live fish in the National Marine Aquarium. All entertaining and illuminating - come along!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dawkins and me


Richard Dawkins is a pro, switching on and maintaining that bright smile to the lens, but I was well chuffed to receive my award (see below, 1st Prize Basis of Medicine, 2008 BMA Medical Book Awards) from him. My delight is more subtle, though I'm told I did punch the air and milk the applause on hitting the stage.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

J.S.Haldane book wins top Medical Award - hooray!


I cut short my idyll in the French Pyrenees to fly back for the BMA (British Medical Association) 2008 Medical Book Awards evening. It was a splendid bash at the BMA headquarters in Tavistock Square. 640 books were submitted to the competition this year.
And - quite thrillingly - my biography of J.S.Haldane, Suffer & Survive, was awarded FIRST PRIZE, BASIS OF MEDICINE.
Richard Dawkins was handing out the splendidly large certificates. I skipped up to the stage with childlike glee.
Winning is a grand novelty in itself. I especially appreciate the source of this award. I was venturing deep into the territory of these worthy doctors, writing about one of their own, so it is very satisfying to have the profession adopt the book so handsomely and wholeheartedly.

By the way, to mark the Centenary of Modern Diving (Haldane's dive tables first introduced in 1908) we're holding a grand weekend's celebration down at the University of Plymouth, Super Saturation. I'll be giving a talk on Haldane and there's so much more ... great speakers, events, photo shows, concerts, silent movies with live music, film treasures, October 31st - Nov 2nd 2008. Come and join us!