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COLENSO BOOKS: A selection of titles

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Sunday, 29 November 2009

Book of the Year

It is the time of the year when most of the newspapers publish lists of their columnists' "Books of the Year".

My old friend, Mark, publisher and editor of "Wiltshire Life" recommended John Carey's William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies. I will certainly be getting that well-reviewed biography in due course. Mark even phoned me to tell me that I get a mention in the book, concerning the time that Golding visited Thessaloniki.

(Update, March 2010: Golding visited Corfu in May 1965 and wrote "Corfu...was wonderful. In a strange way it was Keatsian. I suppose we all got our first idea of Greece as a separate place, from Keats. But this abundance, this fertility, this lushness; this heat and beauty...". I have also found the reference to Golding's 1982 Salonika visit: "The next day he flew to Thessaloniki, where chanting crowrds of communist students were demonstrating against Greek membership of NATO. He hoped this would mean his engagements were cancelled, but the British Council's Jim Potts decided to go ahead. 'Belief and Creativity' had a 'muted' reception, and when he 'slanged' Marx three young men got up walked out". There's no mention of the dinner party we held in his honour, with distinguished Greek writers like Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis and Zoe Karelli).

My own nomination for book of the year is Glyn Hughes' Life Class (Shoestring Press, 2009).

It's a strange coincidence, but I also first met Glyn Hughes in Thessaloniki.

Life Class
is a truly inspiring autobiographical poem about his roots, about nature, about his three marriages (including marriage to a Greek woman)and it also covers the period he spent living in Greece.

It belongs up there with Wordsworth's The Prelude and John Betjeman's Summoned by Bells.

Life Class is a modern classic. It's a long poem, but immensely moving and readable.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Demetrius Toteras, Corfiot Californian Writer

Demetrius Toteras, the Greek-American playwright and philosopher, died in California on Thursday 12 November, 2009.

I first got to know him in Corfu in 1967-1968. He came to live in Wallingford, near Oxford, at the time that I was studying film direction as a postgraduate at the University of Bristol Drama Department, and he helped to produce a film based on his life and excerpts from his play "Sunday They'll Make Me a Saint".

Apart from being an extraordinarily original writer and challenging thinker, he was an outstanding flamenco guitarist and guitar teacher.

I managed to visit him twice in the USA, once in San Francisco, the other time at his home in Sebastopol.

Toteras was his nom-de-plume. His real name was a well-known Corfiot surname. His family had emigrated to the States from Mandouki.

In the late sixties people in Corfu knew him simply as "Jimmy Christ". Everyone who met him was impressed by his intelligence and the "life-force" he seemed to embody.

He was my "koumbaros". I hope his partner, Bronwen. will be able to bring out more of his works over the next few years. Here's a short excerpt from a scene from "Sunday They'll Make Me A Saint" (New Directions in Prose and Poetry 22, New York,1970). It's a dialogue between Mama Spider and Picalo's shoes.

From the typescript by DKT

Billy Lee Riley

I was sad to see that one of my favourite rockabilly and blues singers died on 2nd August 2009. Billy Lee Riley was one of the great Sun rockabilly artists, and he played extraordinary blues harmonica.

I didn't know that he had died, although I knew that he had a number of serious medical problems, because we'd been exchanging occasional emails since we met some years ago. He also sought some legal advice concerning broken bookings in Europe.

He was one of the wildest rock 'n' roll singers around, and deserved to be as famous as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Take a listen to "Red Hot" (the original if possible).

He was enthusiastic about a CD I recorded at Sun, Memphis. That meant a lot.

He was born on October 5, 1933. There was a good obituary in The Guardian. I missed it at the time.