- WolfieWolfgang (Colin Bell)
- Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom
- Hello and welcome! I am Colin Bell, a novelist and poet, previously a TV producer-director of arts programmes, also known as the blogger Wolfie Wolfgang. I hope you find something here among my daily blogs. I write about anything that interests me - I hope it interests you too. Let me know what you think.
Friday, 19 September 2014
I may be a bit tired after hanging around during the night wondering about the Scottish Independence Referendum results but I feel good today - all of me except the tired bits - all my Scottish, Northern Irish and English DNA (my British-European DNA) is dancing around inside of me. Phew!
If you missed the results, Scotland has decided - 55% of the population said No Thank You and 45% said Yes Please. The turnout was an extraordinary 84.6%.
I'm the son of a Scot who lives in England and who had no vote but opinions enough to be delighted that the No's have it.
My common sense feels happy too. Well, common sense is that bit of you that just feels what is right so I am delighted that the tiny land mass known as the United Kingdom, the united countries that raised me and my ancestors, has been allowed to stay, yes, united.
I feel good too after hearing that splendid speech by the much missed and much misunderstood former British prime minister, Gordon Brown. I couldn't help thinking that if, in 2010, more of the British electorate had kept the faith with him, we might not have been struggling from one constitutional bungle to another as has been the case since Mr David, d'oh, Cameron became Gordon Brown's successor and, annoyingly, since Ed, where's-he-when-you-need-him, Milliband became Leader of the Opposition. It's a sobering thought that those 84.6% of Scottish voters could turn out to get a solution and yet the whole of the UK couldn't find a political party that it wanted to elect. In case you'd forgotten, Cameron didn't get a majority and the Conservatives haven't had a majority for over twenty years.
If I'm worried about the calibre of our politicians, I'm happy about the inevitable and much needed changes that have now be forced upon them. I, here in Lewes, Sussex, England, UK, would like to be independent of Westminster as much as any Northern Scot, Welshman, Devonshire maid or Yorkshire cricketer. What the Yeses and Nos have achieved for all of us Brits, is the chance to have more say in our own affairs and to be less patronised by that gang of career politicians who still too often think they know what is best for us. There's now a chance that we might actually feel more represented in what is still a democracy worth defending but also worth improving. We'd get better local politicians too if the jobs are seen to be worth doing. It's difficult to get enthusiastic about many of the men and women elected to councils and devolved parliaments over recent years. Maybe giving the regions more power, would give us a few more brain cells in our representatives.
I'm talking about being happy so, carrying on, I'm also happy to get an itchy feeling in my heart, or wherever these things are felt, telling me that, just maybe, one day, we might really be respected enough by our elected representatives, to look after our own patch but also to feel that we are all, sorry to repeat this, Citizens Of The World.
So thanks for saying No you guys - it's much appreciated. Thanks too to the Yes voters - your enthusiasm and idealism could be a new electoral lesson for the whole UK.
Just a couple of things:
Please Mr Cameron, if you're going to inflict another referendum on us can it be less simplistic in future? No more Yes/No or In/Out, OK. We not only want to have more of a say about life as it is where we live but we'd like to be treated with the respect that allows that we can also see the subtleties - there is more to a united country and, for that matter, a united Europe, than you allow in your two simple questions.
The other thing? Oh yes. It's already bad enough that we as a nation still witness anti-Semitism, racism, Islamaphobia and anti-European zenophobia, let's not start (or continue) all this anti-Scottish, anti-English aggression. The United Kingdom, for all its faults, is a wonderful mix of nationalities, cultures and skills. Let's put this debate behind us, learning from it that we, as a united community, have much to share and, I'm dreaming again, we could even be at the beginning of a brave new era: a country looking for the common cause, learning from our fellow citizens and respecting our differences, looking after our own turf without greedily or suspiciously eyeing up our neighbours, in fact, learning to be grown-up democrats. Other nations could learn from us if we get it right - now that's a dream worth dreaming.
I feel like listening to some bagpipes to celebrate:
Thursday, 18 September 2014
It's nice to be appreciated. Thanks New Writing South for the recognition. Thanks also to all Wolfiewolfgang.com readers - we go from strength to strength and you are coming to this page from all over the world.
Long live to blogosphere!
Tuesday, 16 September 2014
I've been looking at some of my answers published on-line yesterday, pleased to remember those foothill years as a novelist when I was planning my first novel, Stephen Dearsley's Summer Of Love.
Sometimes, I'm amazed that I ever got it together and that it finally made it into print. Amazed and thrilled.
My fellow Ward Wood novelist, the Irish writer, Shauna Gilligan came up with some great questions when she asked me to do an interview with her for her blog, A Girl's Writing Is Never Done. We did a question and answer session on my novel, Stephen Dearsley's Summer Of Love and it was a useful exercise for me to go back into my memory to find some of the reasons and motivations for my writing about Stephen and his progress through the late 1960s in his hometown of Brighton, Sussex. Shauna's impressively sharp line of questioning drew out of me thoughts I didn't know I'd had or that I'd forgotten. So thanks Shauna - much appreciated, especially the stuff about James Joyce and one of my favourite books, The Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man.
I hope, some time, that she will let me pose her a series of questions about her terrific novel, Happiness Comes From Nowhere.
If you'd like to read our interview, here's the link to Shauna's blog:
Thanks for asking me to do this, Shauna.
Wednesday, 10 September 2014
I haven't joined in the debate about Scottish Independence until now because I just couldn't make up my mind about next week's referendum. I suppose it needn't concern me as I don't have a vote. It does concern me though. Like many residents of England, I feel and respect the Scottish blood that flows through my veins. I also feel a close connection to the Hebrides island of Islay where my father's family can be traced back to the 16th. Century and, probably, beyond. I have only visited this beautiful island once in my life (so far) but it was enough to awaken those often sneered at sensations that effect people when they visit the land of their fathers.
Me on holiday on Islay in the 1980s
I am often told that I am typically English and I'm never quite sure if that is meant as a compliment. My mother is English and from good English stock but my father was every inch a Scot. He was Scot enough and proud enough of his national identity to make sure that we, his sons, were alert to our inheritance even though we grew up in Southern England - the land of my mothers.
My parents - an Anglo-Scottish union
My father was born in Scotland in 1896 and really he should have been my grandfather but he lived to be the patriarch of two families and I was one of the results of his second marriage. A late flowering in his eventful and migratory life. He was born at the perfect time to be a soldier in the First World War and at the age of 18 he was far away from Scotland fighting with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in the bloody Gallipoli campaign (1915-1916) where he was wounded and where he saw all of his friends killed.
My father, 1915
My father was always a reluctant English resident but he admitted that, after all those years in India, the climate in our family home in Sussex was infinitely preferable to those romantic Scottish mists of his home country. Now, of course, I wonder what he would have made of the Scottish Independence Referendum. In all honesty, I just don't know. It is due to him that I grew up feeling British rather than English and it is due to him that I would feel a sense of bereavement if the two countries of my joint nationality are to split.
Major Andrew Oliver Bell M.B.E. (1896 - 1977)
In the 1980s I took my two sons on a four week holiday to Islay, the land of their fathers too. It was a powerful and memorable experience for all of us and it was inevitable that we would spend some time looking at grave stones. The last cemetary we visited, having failed to find any of our ancestors, was a tiny collection of stones on a small hill overlooking Loch Indaal. Grave or no grave, it was a suitable place to remember the generations of our family that had lived in these parts.
I was standing near a small grassy bump and idly kicked away at the turf feeling that there was a stone beneath. It was a gravestone and I scraped the grass away to read the inscription. One of those extraordinary moments of fate. The letters read: 'This place belongs to Archibald Bell, Lyrabus.' It was the grave of my great great grandfather, Archibald Bell (1786 - 1862) who had lived just down the road in a place called Lyrabus.
I could feel his pride in those words... 'this place belongs to...' I felt some of that pride and now believe that a little bit of that place belongs to me too and to my sons. No referendum will take that away from us.
My sons on Islay in the 1980s
Since then I have only been able to find one photograph of my Islay relatives. He is Donald Bell, my great uncle. I never met him but his image has to stand for all my Scottish ancestors. I don't intend to sever the link.
Great Uncle Donald
Saturday, 6 September 2014
I was thrilled this week to read a truly encouraging review in the popular Huffington Post for my novel Stephen Dearsley's Summer Of Love from Dr Michael Petry, the director of London's Museum of Contemporary Arts. It was equally encouraging and terrifying as it came just before the announcement of the short list for this year's Polari Prize. I was lucky enough to appear on the long list of 12 books and next week I will discover if I've made it to the short list of five. I keep telling myself it is great even being on the long list so I'm turning my face to the wall but not holding my breath. Whatever the outcome, it is so pleasing to receive such an understanding review from someone who obviously "got it" as far as I'm concerned. It is great to have my work compared to that well-known author Philip Hensher too. I know that my much put-upon character Stephen Dearsley would have been happy to have known that he has a such a supporter in his troublesome life trying to find himself in the late 1960s.
Here is a section of Michael Petry's article:
"Hensher is well known and highly regarded with his The Northern Clemency being shortlisted for the 2008 Booker Prize and Kitchen Venom winning the Somerset Maugham Award. His The Emperor Waltz is a wonderful read across many time periods. Early Christians in the 3rd century clash with young artists at the Bauhaus and young men in the 1970's at London's first gay book store. How they all link together is rather complex and like David Mitchell's The Cloud Atlas a brief description does them no service at all. But there is a neat surprise at the end of the waltz through time, which involves signed copies of a novel. As a book collector myself, I know how exciting it is to find a signed copy or better still, one inscribed to a mysterious person whose identity I will likely never know. But holding those physical objects is another link across time, and as long as physical books exist I am sure there will be people like me who want to have them. An e-book is not quite the same, and is there a first edition of a digital book?
Colin Bell's Stephen Dearsley's Summer of Love is on the longlist and I do hope it makes it to the next stage. It also cuts across time as the young fogey Stephen, who is uptight, and upright, finds love, drugs and the facts about the mysterious Austin Randolph who's biography he has been commissioned to write. Like Hensher's the form of the book is alternating chapters of time and characters, that gather together to create a whole picture of various times and lives. Randolph proves to have been one of Oswald Mosely's Blackshirts, yet a highly charismatic figure who everyone, including his own half brother was in love with and lusted for. Stephen's summer of love in Brighton is well observed. Bell and Hensher easily convey a sense of what it must have been like to have been at the many times described. Bell is published by Ward Wood (a small UK company) while Hensher works with Harper Collins (a large international publisher) and their coverage has subsequently been very different. I don't really like artistic competitions as they are inherently based on the personal biases of the judges. What I think, matters to a few friends, but I hugely enjoyed reading both books and hope others do too."
Dr Michael Petry
Artist, curator and author, director of MOCA London
Huffington Post 4th September 2014.
Friday, 5 September 2014
The NATO leaders are meeting here in the UK - well Wales actually but let's not go on too much about nation states. Britain is in the middle of an important and historical debate about whether Scotland should leave the Union and become a small independent nation. Well, that's up to the people of Scotland and we'll know their decision in a few weeks from now. It's none of my business even though my father was a Scot. I've always preferred to see myself first as a human being and second as a citizen of the World. I think we all need to respect and protect our own immediate environment so I'm a Lewesian too - proud to live in the small English town of Lewes. Watching the NATO leaders and thinking about the state of the World today, I can't help thinking that we would all do better to stand together rather than continually struggling to be tiny Nationalist units always at odds with our neighbours and I have no doubt that in the present climate it is time for the peoples of the World to unite rather than splinter. This is a dangerous time - 100 years after that first great Nationalist World War and the many countries of the World have been closing their eyes for too long to a danger that threatens all of us.
So let's see if we can make it work - here in Europe, in the Americas, Asia, Australasia, Africa and in the Middle East. When all those leaders come together to conference and to pose for group photographs let's encourage them to do our bidding. All of you out there, put away your differences and combine your economic and, yes, sadly, if necessary, military power, to eradicate from the World what President Obama describes as a cancer. Yes, let's forget our petty differences and do something about that small band of brutal fanatics known as ISIS. Who knows, if the nations of the World could unite over this then maybe other dreams could come true too.
Tuesday, 2 September 2014
What's that noise? What noise? A solitary seagull? The postman ringing just once? The slight rustling of leaves? All of those things but something else too.
The sound of silence!
Yes, folks, here in the UK, the kids have gone back to school and for people like me, lucky enough to work from home, back-to-school time means I can keep all my windows open knowing that there's no chance of any of those holiday sounds: a bored boy bouncing a ball; two kids laughing then screaming then crying then laughing then screaming then crying; no adolescent radios playing from upstairs bedrooms.
They've all gone - it's as if the Pied Piper has paid a visit to Lewes, my home town.
The kids have gone to a better place - or have they? - they're enjoying the first week in the last Education Secretary, Michael Gove's 'new' 19th Century school syllabus. At least it's keeping it quiet round here - hope it works for them too. Now I feel just a tinge of regret for them - poor kids!