Before reading Falling Man, I heard a Newsweek podcast in which its book critic said it felt like the "first genuine work of art" about the attacks, though the New York Times critic Kak utani was not so keen. Some critics were uncomfortable with the sections from the perspective of an imagined terrorist (not unlike Martin Amis's Mohammed Atta short story).
I rated the book - any time spent reading Deillo is time well invested. It did not amaze me throughout but I made my way quietly through it, and felt inspired and wowed by the odd passage - like the one at the start in which the central character Keith, a survivor of the attacks, is being looked at by a doctor.
The doctor tells him about how in places where there are suicide bomb attacks, survivors sometimes bumps which turn out to be "small fragments of the suicide bomber's body" because the flesh hits them at such velocity it gets wedged into whatever it hits.
"They call this organic shrapnel," the doctor says.
A poster on a Guardian arts blog about it, attacks this as "semi-digested research" inserted into the book, but I liked it, because it told me about something I didn't know about and did not ring false as something a New York doctor might say.
I also liked the 'Falling Man' of the title, the performance artist who hangs from structures around the city, prompting fury at his perceived insensitivty (I read somewhere that Delillo uses this as a device to acknowledge how fraught it is to create a novel out of an event which caused such grief, so relatively recently).
I remember trying to write around the time of the Spetember 11 2001 attacks and just being totally frozen: that anything I was writing felt unimportant, that there were weeks when it felt like "the only subject" and one that I was not qualified to tackle. I recall being quite awed by how Spike Lee's movie - released in 2002 began with images of the Memorial in Light.
Who is more qualified to write a 9/11 novel than Don Delillo whose great work Underworld had cover art depicting, prophetically, a funereal image of the World Trade Centre?
In Falling Man, the other main character, Liane, obsessively reads all of the New York Times "portraits in grief", the stark profiles of the victims (I remember the Guuardian doing some profiles and being really moved by a guy working there, I think as a painter and decorator who had been a drug addict and had a tattoo of the Angel of Death on his arm but who was clean and optimistic when the planes hit as he worked in one of the towers).
I just read this on Esquire saying the novel is "the best test-case yet for the idea that when the planes hit and the buildings went down we entered the “age of nonfiction,” when journalism, even journalism as modest in means as one of those Portraits of Grief, is able to grasp what’s happened -- and, more to the point, what’s happening -- to us more than fiction can, even fiction by our most accomplished and ambitious writers".
I think there is something in that, though suspect the best books and films about 9/11 may not be created for several decades.
The best article I read about 9/11 was by a novelist, writing in a newspaper: the Ian McEwan article in the Guardian a few days after the attacks.
I came across this in Arena magazine's tips of good reads one week and coincidentally discovered a copy of it going begging at work.
Tony O'Neill, a musician and writer and formerly a member of Kenickie, has written a very biographical novel drawing on his time as a drack and heroin addict in Los Angeles.
After getting through the first third I still couldn't make my mind up about it but then got quite into it. O'Neill is not exactly Don Delillo - this may be a harsh comparison - but he is an adequate writer and certainly has plenty of life experience to draw on. He has a direct style and there is a great line in the first chapter which maybe should have been the book's opening: "I followed Hollywood Boulevard West and watched my feet as they trampled the stars."
He means, of course, the stars with actors names on which dot the boulevard.
Obviously the book is what Will Self would describe as "drug pornography" and the novel has some disquieting sections. The main character is not very sympathetic, which is a bit of an issue and you kind of feel he often deserves what is coming his way.
The character has that music scene sensibility that sneers at anything phoney-seeming that sometimes strikes me as obnoxious and willfully
What is very well done are the various pledges to get clean after the latest rock bottom which seem pivotal for a moment and then are often completely forgotten and unremarked on as he moves onto a new chapter and a new caper to score his fix. That seems to capture something truthful about addiction.
O'Neill is part of a group of northern writers who launched a self-proclaimed "literary movement" they call brutalist on Myspace. They are associated with 3am magazine, which looks far more interesting than the Mirror's 3am column.
"He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great ocurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and the lions on the beach."
This is my favourite couple of lines from Ernest Hemingway's perfect novella.
Listening to radio coverage of the return of power-sharing in Northern Ireland earlier this year I was struck by a line on the report about how there were no plans to pull down the dozens of peace walls that snake through various 'interface' estates in Belfast and Derry.
I thought it would be interesting to hear what people who lived there thought of how the peace process was going and what prospects there were of them coming down. Obviously peace walls are also nteresting at the moment because of their adoption in Iraq.
I thought a trip to Belfast would work well as a multimedia project with pictures of the walls and voices.
In the end, it was trickier than I thought to get people to talk and very hard to get people to agree to be photographed. But with then Guardian Ireland corr Owen Bowcott and freelance photographer Paul McErlane we created a slideshow. Owen had a good angle on the story as there was a school where there were plans to build a new wall after a house in a Nationalist estate was firebombed late last year.
photo from flickr, a11sus
We didn't really get a chance to look at the graffiti on the walls, which I thought was interesting. Looking at this Belfast peace wall flickr group there is a lot of graffiti on parts of the walls. A lot seems to be pro-peace but not all. I also spotted a "f*** the Queen".
The first novel by Joshua Ferris is jaw-droppingly good. If you want to write a book, you are going to love it and hate him, it is that assured, funny, moving and interesting.
As the fantastic metacritic website says it has met with universal acclaim.
I think the narrative technique of using the third person pronoun "We" and "some of us thought" is genuinely innovative, as far as I remember I have never come across it before. There is never a clear narrator - the narrator is the group, the team. This so clearly underscores the theme of the book, you feel like applauding.
The characters all work in an ad agency in Chicago. The novel is much concerned with the human interactions that glue together people's days: the gossiping, the coffee breaks, the ennui. It opens:
"We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise ... We thought moving to India might be better, or going back to nursing school. Doing something with the handicapped, or working with our hands. No one ever acted on these impulses, despite their daily, sometimes hourly contractions. Instead we met in conference rooms to discuss the issues of the day."
There is a pre-occupation for some of fretting about how they could do something better with their lives; most just worry about not getting fired, or shitcanned. Among the minor characters are a wannabe screenwriter who says "it's funny but I was writing something based on this idea" when he hears a good anecdote. He lets people read his material after signing confidentiality agreements and calls Robert de Niro "Bobby". Another character is writing an angry small novel about work (Ferris wrote a very good piece about work in novels for the Guardian's Review section, noting Delillo's Americana is about work at the start). "People spend most of their time at work, that interests me," the character says, and we hear the voice of Ferris. The same character, Hank Neary, xeroxes entire novels and sits at his desk reading the sheets which to passersby look like the "honest pages of business".
The text is studded with insights into working life: like how you subconsciously send group emails with the names in order of company rank.
One of the best characters is Tom Mota, the office rebel. He sends destructive emails from other people's computers. He refuses to play the game. There is this great tension between everyone shunning him and thinking he is crazy and the fact that, in a way, he comes out with the most honest, perceptive insights. He quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson. In one email he says "lets not lose sight of the nobler manifestations of man and of the greater half of his character, which consists not of taglines and bottom lines but of love, heroism, reciprocity, ecstasy, kindness and truth."
There is a genius recurring gag bout the chairs. When someone gets fired, vulturous former colleagues pick over their office furniture. People keep stealing each other's chairs - then one i caught out by an office coordinator who has, on her own initiative, put serial numbers on all of the furniture. They then become terrified of being sacked for taking someone's chair. "Look what has become of us", someone says. It skewers the paranoia and pettiness of corporate culture.
There is a lot of moving material about illness. The boss character Lynn has breast cancer. She is terrified of hospitals and after a long dark night of the soul goes to work instead of to her appointment to have surgery. At the office, her workers struggle to come up with anything for a mysterious commission to come up with ads that will make women with breast cancer laugh.
The title is a homage to Don Delillo and you can see that he is a big influence. Ferris has something of his eye for material, and something of his touch, though he has more of a comic sensibility and the book is more distinctively stylised.
Benny, the raconteur character, the "Hero" of the anecdote and gossip is a very Delillo type character. He hides outside a co-worker's car to listen to an argument he his having with his wife to try and gather material for gossip. He is left a huge totem poll in a late colleague's will.
The end of fourth act finale is fantastic. After he is fired, everyone worries Tom Mota will return with a gun and go on a rampage. He does return with a gun but it is a paintball gun. He shoots people with red paint. The twist on your expectations and the restraint of the plotting is amazing.
The final paragraph ending and its narrative flourish is deeply satisfying. The characters reunite several years and are having a drink. They drift away slowly, then: "We were the only two left. Just the two of us, you and me."
"There is a play here of Shakespearean proportions" T Dan Smith told writer Peter Flannery when he went to see him.
The character of Austin Donohughe - who is based on controversial Newcastle politician Smith - and the real-life scandal of a dodgy building firm in cahoots with city councilors was Flannery's genesis for the play and later landmark television drama Our Friends in the North.
The drama was shown on BBC In 1996, charting the lives of four friends from Newcastle over almost 50 years.
Annoyingly, I missed it when it was first broadcast, to great crtical acclaim, and had wanted to watch it for years. Finally I got hold of a boxed set of the whole series, and was not dissppointed. It is first rate television drama. The performances are fantastic. For a long time I thought Christopher Eccleston was the best thing in it but slowly GIna Mackay's emerges as the greatest performance. Mark Strong is also very good as Tosker, especially as he grows older and becomes a successful businessman.
Daniel Craig's Geordie is also well played - though watching it you would be pretty canny to guess Craig would become James Bond. His character - who becomes lost in the Soho clubland - has one of the best lines of dialogue about a love interest. He normally felt like he was in a snowstorm, but it stopped when she was around, he says.
The use of events from certain yeas sometimes feels a little heavy of touch but then this is TV drama with big ambitions. The joy riding subplot, for example, feels a little grafted on.
It is quite prophetic about how the Labour party changes in the 1990s as it moves into the centre and is sometimes dismissed as being a "bunch of Tories".
The series has inspired me to find out more about the 20th Century history of Newcastle and Smith - who died in 1993 - in particular.
There were something like 1000 extras and the creators say nothing like it could probably made today in the current TV drama climate, which rings true, and is a shame.
I got up very early and hauled myself to Trafalgar Square and interviewed a retired lady called Shelagh Moorhouse who is part of a group who take turns to do early morning feedings of the pigeons.
The group are warring with mayor Ken Livingstone who has introduced a ban on feeding in the square (the group found a loophole, which Westminster council is about to close). The days of the pigeons in Trafalgar Square do look numbered.
Shelagh was kind of sweet. She said that the birds recognised faces and once got excited when she was there later in the day with a friend, without feed.
It was fun being there during the feedings - I was taking photos like crazy and trying to do the interviews at more or less the same time.
This crazy mass of birds. Thirty minutes later they were virtually all gone.