Monday 9 April 2018

Friends and Traitors by John Lawton BLOG TOUR @groveatlantic #FriendsAndTraitors

It is 1958. Chief Superintendent Frederick Troy of Scotland Yard, newly promoted after good service during Nikita Khrushchev's visit to Britain, is not looking forward to a Continental trip with his older brother, Rod. Rod was too vain to celebrate being fifty so instead takes his entire family on 'the Grand Tour' for his fifty-first birthday: Paris, Siena, Florence, Vienna, Amsterdam. Restaurants, galleries and concert halls. But Frederick Troy never gets to Amsterdam.

After a concert in Vienna he is approached by an old friend whom he has not seen for years - Guy Burgess, a spy for the Soviets, who says something extraordinary: 'I want to come home.' Troy dumps the problem on MI5 who send an agent to debrief Burgess - but when the man is gunned down only yards from the embassy, the whole plan unravels with alarming speed and Troy finds himself a suspect.As he fights to prove his innocence, Troy discovers that Burgess is not the only ghost who has returned to haunt him...

Friends And Traitors by John Lawton was published in hardback on 5 April 2018 by Grove Press. The authors joins me here on Random Things to talk about the books that are special to him, in My Life in Books

My Life in Books - John Lawton

To begin at the beginning … The Wind in the Willows. Read it when I was eight. First memorable book and I would imagine most English writers would say that.

Richard III. Shakespeare. The first time I realised how attractive out-and-out villains could be. Same year. I’d be eight or so. Paul Daneman played him on the BBC … and a few years later in John Barton's adaptation Ian Holm blew my socks off. Best Richard ever. Subsequently caught up with the Olivier film version, but Ian Holm has it.

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov. Probably the first non-kids book I read about four years later. Nabokov is surely the best prose stylist in English in the 20th century and it wasn't even his first or second language. Pale Fire and Speak Memory are also on my tops list.

Skipping a lot in time … The Complete Emily Dickinson. The Joni Mitchell of her day (no, honestly, I’m serious) … original rhyme and rhythm and quite possibly the only poet I’ve ever committed to memory, albeit only a handful of her poems.

The Idiot. Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment is the grandad of crime fiction, but this novel stayed with me longer. Objectively, all Dostoevsky has crime as an element — Karamazov centres on a murder and a trial — although The Idiot might be the least crime-centred, it has the most memorable central character in Prince Myshkin.

Middlemarch. George Eliot. Got stuck with this for A level. Could not finish it. Years later I was teaching in Adult Ed at Cambridge and got stuck with it again. Wondered if I could possibly lecture on a book I hadn’t actually read (inside me there appears to be an anti-Jiminy cricket, voiced by Martin Clunes, urging me on to lie and skive). Couldn’t do it (sorry Martin) … and knuckled down.. Socks blown off again (thinks: buy tougher socks) … my favourite novel of its era. It should come with printed caveat on the cover — “Not suitable for readers under 30."

Great Expectations. OK, perhaps this is my favourite novel of its era. No idea how many times I’ve read it. First time aged about thirteen. Whilst reading Little Dorrit is like ploughing porridge with a donkey, this is … bliss. All the heartbreak you could ever want. And is asked, I would say that heartbreak is my subject in much of what I write. I don’t seem to have a happy ending in me.

The Go-Between. LP Hartley published about 1950. Read it only after I’d seen the Pinter/Losey film about 20 years later. It might just be the perfect English novel.

And five works of non-fiction I read in the seventies.

Bomb Culture. Jeff Nuttall. Nuttall was always full of surprises … impossible to pin down … Bohemian to hippie (almost) to … a guest appearance in Men Behaving Badly (honestly) about ten years before his death. Bomb Culture is his take on British culture post-war viewed through the prism of the work of Antonin Artaud.

The ABC of Reading. Ezra Pound. You don’t have to share Pound’s taste for Mediaeval French poetry to understand this book. It might be subtitled ‘How To Read’. We are awash in Creative Writing Courses. We need a course in Creative Reading. A quick glance at the reviews on Amazon ought to be enough to prove that there is more to reading than just knowing the alphabet and expecting books to do no more than mirror your own preferences and prejudices.

How To Talk Dirty and Influence People. Lenny Bruce. It’s not a handbook for stand-up. It’s a treatise on language, logic and morality. It should be on every 6th Form Lit syllabus.

The Female Eunuch. Germaine Greer. Some books that came out of the late 60s and hippydom are utter crap eg. Richard Neville’s Play Power, Jerry Rubin’s Do It. Dated before the ink was dry. Neville’s fellow Oz-writer published this round about 1970. It was/is a game-changer that should be read by every adolescent male. As a reviewer put it years ago … Germaine has always been in the vanguard, facing life’s obstacle course and 'first over the barricades.'

The Manifesto of the Communist Party. Marx and Engels. Nuff said.

John Lawton is a producer/director in television who has spent much of his time interpreting the USA to the English, and occasionally vice versa. He has worked with Gore Vidal, Neil Simon, Scott Turow, Noam Chomsky, Fay Weldon, Harold Pinter and Kathy Acker.He thinks he may well be the only TV director ever to be named in a Parliamentary Bill in the British House of Lords as an offender against taste and balance—he has also been denounced from the pulpit in Mississippi as a “Communist,” but thinks that less remarkable.John Lawton spent most of the 90s in New York—among other things attending the writers’ sessions at The Actors’ Studio under Norman Mailer—and has visited or worked in more than half the 50 states—since 2000 he has lived in the high, wet hills of Derbyshire England, with frequent excursions into the high, dry hills of Arizona and Italy.He is the author of 1963, a social and political history of the Kennedy-Macmillan years, six thrillers in the Troy series and a stand-alone novel, Sweet Sunday. In 1995 the first Troy novel, Black Out, won the WH Smith Fresh Talent Award. In 2006 Columbia Pictures bought the fourth Troy novel Riptide. In 2007 A Little White Death was a New York Times notable. In 2008 he was one of only half a dozen living English writers to be named in the London Daily Telegraph‘s “50 Crime Writers to Read before You Die.” He has also edited the poetry of D.H. Lawrence and the stories of Joseph Conrad.He is devoted to the work of Franz Schubert, Cormac McCarthy, Art Tatum, and Barbara Gowdy.

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