Tuesday, 12 September 2017

One year on

Here we are, nearly a year after my last post. My life has moved on in some respects, I am now officially retired and travelling a lot. Other than that, I am easing into a post retirement phase, but active with various projects, not least of which is moving home and having to say goodbye to some books etc. Ian

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Censorship on Amazon

I have been reading of issues of censorship on Amazon, with some books no longer being visible unless you have selected 'adult content', this includes books such as Alexander's Choice for instance.

I have just checked, and Alexander's Choice does appear, but it will show you no more until you select 'show adult content'. Not a problem but when does a book move into this category?

Alexander's Choice does indeed have some 'adult content' but it is all in the context of the story, not for titilation.

When writing Scholarship, originally there was similar content, but in the end I decided to self censor as to me, 'adult content' was not the main purpose of the book and if had been reasonably truthful to my own experiences, it would have been very repetitive. So I still stick by my decision even though some have asked for more details. Sorry that is unlikely to happen!


Thursday, 28 April 2016

Some Illustrations by Gaston Gloor from Les Amitiés Particulières

There are some nice illustrations from a French version of this classic now available here at http://callumjames.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/gaston-goor-illustrates-les-amities_12.html An example, which many will recognise as forming the basis of a crucial scene in the film:

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Mark Behr’s ‘Embrace’, Edmund Marlowe’s ‘Alexander’s Choice’, Roger Payferitte's ‘Les Amitiés Particulières’ and Henry de Monthelant’s ‘Les Garçons’

All of the above are examples of the ‘schoolboy romance’ genre.  This genre homes in on the romantic life that sometimes occurs in the adolescent hot house that is the all male boarding school with boys forming relationships with each other and sometimes with a schoolmaster at the school. Because of the forbidden nature of both types of relationship, these novels normally end in disaster if not actual tragedy. The line ‘and they lived happily ever after’ is not one that would occur in any novel of this nature.

All of these books had an influence on my own contribution to this genre ‘Scholarship’. I missed out on the possibility of a relationship between a boy and one of his masters although my main protagonist Pip has a dim awareness that one of his masters, Mr Barnes, had a more than passing interest in him.

I fear the schoolboy romance genre may be in decline, all boys boarding schools are not as popular as they once were. The other change is social; there is more acceptance of the possibility that boys can be gay. This is the case at one of my old schools where I was delighted to see the celebration of the relationship between two older boys, mentioned in the school magazine. Hard to imagine such a thing would have happened a few years back.

Whilst on a recent holiday, I took the opportunity to re-read Mark Behr’s novel ‘Embrace’ a thick tome of a book that has as its setting some significant autobiographical content, our hero Karl De Mann, like Behr, was born in Arusha Tanzania and then moved with his family to South Africa when a young boy.

Mark Behr’s ‘Embrace’ also has a theme about changing identity and how his main protagonist, Karl De Mann, identity changes as he grows up. As a boy with mixed Irish-Afrikaans parentage, Karl spends his early life crossing from the English to Afrikaans speaking world and has decidedly mixed loyalties as a result. Karl’s loyalties are further confused by hints at an early age that he is bisexual (there are repeated references to one event that defines him that is only fully revealed at the end of the book).

Karl spends the most formative years of his childhood (11-14) at the exclusive Drakensberg Choir School in a remote part of South Africa (see the choir in action above). This is perhaps where fiction is informed by real life as Marc Behr went to the same school aged 10-12 (see the pictures above, he is second from left in the first photograph). In the novel, Karl has a relationship with both a school friend and with his Choir Master. Embrace must make uncomfortable reading at the School, as it is not that large with just 120 pupils and could be read by some as a ‘truthful’ account of Behr’s time at the school, even though no such claims have ever been made.  Like other authors in this genre, the use of a familiar location provides for the authenticity of the novels produced. Certainly, Marlowe’s ‘Alexander’s Choice’ is richer for its detailed description of the day to day running of Eton as an institution.

On reading Embrace for the fourth time, I now appreciate more the central 11-14 year old Karl’s eye view of the World, complete with the adolescent predilection for endless lists and rants that could run through the mind of a boy his age. Large chunks of the book read like a diary or set of letters. Towards the end, the inevitable diary does indeed take centre stage.

Embrace is quite a read as the action moves back and forth in time between early childhood and the present. There is also a central conceit in that Karl threatens to write a book in English but leave chunks in Afrikaans (angry as a boy at how some of the books he reads do the same thing). Embrace is exactly that, written in English with some bits in untranslated Afrikaans (Behr’s first book ’The Smell of Apples’ was written in Afrikaans and then translated into English).

Both Behr’s first two books touch on a boy’s eye view of betrayal and people not being what they seem. This was true of Behr in real life who whilst at Stellenbosch University, spied on his fellow students for the soon to fall apartheid regime. He confessed all it but remained a controversial figure in some circles. Despite this backstory colouring some of the reviews of Embrace, Mark Behr ended up a professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee.

After writing The Smell of Apples and Embrace, Behr went on to write one further book ‘Kings of the Water’.

The reason I am writing this now is whilst rereading Embrace I wanted to remind myself of Mark Behr and to see whether he had written anymore, the answer is no as sadly Behr died in December 2015 at the comparatively young age of 52.

If you have not read either ‘The Smell of Apples’ or ‘Embrace’ I would encourage you to do so as both are excellent books about the complexities of boyhood relationships. They have much in common with other books in this genre.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Downloads and continuing sales via Lulu and Amazon

I guess writing has its rewards when others take some of their own time to read the book.

Each time the cash register 'dings' with a new sale of the paper back version, there is a special pleasure even if the reward is in cents (as I assure you it is, I do not make a living out of Scholarship).

For the moment, this blog is reverting to matters relating to Scholarship only. Other projects may emerge but only when I feel it is time for that to happen.  New ideas do occur to me as does the weight of a nearly completed draft of a book that is currently 'resting' near the back of this author's stove.

Season's greetings!


Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Custard Boys by John Rae

I have been asked to provide a link to where one can find this book.

Whenever I am looking for a book the most reliable source for anything rare is abebooks.com.  Sure enough, 'The Custard Boys' is available for a price.

Since I bought my copy, it has shot up in price, that may be due to my publicising it.  It is now on for $45-$250.

The same thing happened after I purchased my copy of Montherlant's  'The Boy's, that now costs $200 and up, it is the most valuable book in my collection.

Good luck, both books had very limited print runs so are climbing in value all the time.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Early Flowering in Cornwall: Amazon Review of Scholarship by Edmund Marlowe

I hope Edmund Marlowe will not mind, but I have taken the liberty of posting his review at Amazon here for others to see.
"This moving story of sensitive Pip Cox's years as a boarder at The Rocks, a fictional prep school in Cornwall, is apparently otherwise only loosely fictionalised autobiography. Though it covers the full span of Pip's time there in the 1960s, most of the story concerns his last year, when he was twelve, and his deeply affecting friendship with slightly younger Sacha in the year below. The author has a remarkable memory of the atmosphere of prep schools and the emotions of young boys which he makes excellent use of, so that by the time we reach the love story at the heart of the novel we are well immersed in the details of life at The Rocks, whether special or mundane. 
On one significant point, I am puzzled. The average age at which boys reach the critical stage of puberty where reproduction is possible has dropped steadily from sixteen in the 19th century, when prep schools were invented, to below thirteen today. The invention is indeed sometimes said to have been occasioned by the need to segregate sexually-innocent pre-pubescents from their lustful elders. As late as 1986, the average age was 13.4. The 12-year-olds of The Rocks, however, were in 1968 at least as developed as boys today (they had to wash away the evidence of masturbation). Their headmaster even tells them a Victorian stable boy their age was "more than capable" of making a woman pregnant, which I suspect was actually impossible.
Why does this matter? The story hinges entirely on the deep suspicion of apparently everyone at the school that Pip's friendship with Sacha was sexual and so immoral on little more grounds than that Sacha was in the year below. The principal characters all conclude (rightly as it turns out) that Pip is queer and it is this perception he was nastily different that poisons the end of his time there.
This image of prep school as so sexually charged is so alien to my own as to demand explanation. Yes, pubescence at mine lent the emotions and friendships of many 12-year-old boys a new intensity, and a few engaged in fondling, but that is all. Boys at my prep school and those of my friends who had reached spermarche were either non-existent or unique. We never heard a suspicion of any boy being queer. The authorities never gave the slightest discouragement to age-discrepant friendships. It is in fact hard to see the rationale for such a taboo at prep school. It sometimes existed at public school because the still androgynous beauty of 13-14 year-olds could bring them to the erotic attention of female-starved older boys to a degree that adolescents with more developed manliness could not.
All these things depicted at The Rocks were by contrast so familiar to us at public school that a friend is convinced Pip's story has been transposed from one, which I doubt because the depiction of prep school otherwise rings so true. Is it possible that the author, having soon later established his sexual orientation and tormented by the sadness unjustly inflicted on him, has read too much into the earlier sexual consciousness of his peers and even himself, easy enough to do? Or is it possible that the headmaster who so brutally attacked Pip and his friendship was by his misplaced and exaggerated suspicion himself guilty of importing into the school an untypical hysteria about sex? Or was extra maturity another bonus of the location, which gave Pip "the typical Rocks look, long-legged and suntanned by years of days in the Cornish sun"? I wish I knew.
None of this in the least detracts, however, from the heart-wrenchingly poignant depiction of loss, which is the author's crowning achievement.
Edmund Marlowe, author of Alexander's Choice, another pubescent boy's love story."
As I have stressed many times, Scholarship is a work of fiction but it is heavily influenced by my own memories of my time at prep school down to the incidents and dialogue that I can recall.

Were age-discrepant friendships discouraged? This is perhaps where I have taken a liberty with facts, I do not recall a deliberate separation of boys because there was a large difference in age, but I do recall that generally it was the boys who policed this aspect. As I was the youngest boy in my year, I drifted between being at the top of the year 'below' or being at the bottom of my real year so I had friends in both years, I recall being an exception, by and large friendships were contained within one's year.

It was very generous of Edmund Marlowe to write a review, I was particularly pleased to see the review from an author whose work I admire.