The Writer's Life

Mar 26, 2014

Notes on the eBook publication of Jim Hawkins & the Curse of Treasure island

Treasure-island_delaney_conversionIt’s not so long ago – that is, if you insist upon seeing Time as a linear system of aggregating years. I don’t. For me it's the working of personal history – sensation, remembrance, the feeling on that day, at that time. In the matter in hand, I was eight years old, no more; and an adoring godmother, a spinster of blazing intelligence who rode a bicycle through the Irish countryside and gave the best birthday presents, handed me a copy of Treasure Island.

Yes, as she said, it was “a book for boys.” And yes, I devoured it, read it at one sitting, and retained so much of it, especially the terror of Jim Hawkins the cabin-boy as he overheard the mutineers making their dreadful plots around the apple-barrel on board the Hispaniola. It became, however, much more than a book for boys – it stimulated a lifetime of affection and enquiry, because the said godmother, who always had the cunning foresight and emotional smarts to attach bars of Cadburys chocolate to “improving” gifts,  added, this time, a remark.

“As you read,” she said, “think of the man who was making up this story. Where was he sitting, what kind of pen was he writing with?” She was, as you’ll have divined, a teacher.

Now we drift forward several decades, and I’m sitting in a television studio taping what was perhaps the last – certainly one of the last – interviews ever granted by the blind little giant of the Argentine, Jorge Luis Borges. As the Times in London reported next day, “It was like watching an interview with Homer.”  

Question: “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?”

Borges: “At the age of eleven when I read Treasure Island and found myself more interested in the writer than in the characters he created.”

Although I cannot claim to have self-started the same impulse in me I yet felt the shiver of recognition. And then the delight as Mr. Borges went on to say, “And all my life since I have felt an unusual affection for its author, Robert Louis Stevenson.”

 I’ll drink to that. He liked his name pronounced “Lewis,” and he was to my mind a delight back then, and became even more so as the years wound along. With his straggling mustache, his unstoppable curiosity and his heart of fire he has always been one of the very few authors with whom I’d ever have wanted to hang out. Writers, when they meet, don't talk about “literature” much – they talk about money and agents and publishers and contracts and bookstores. RLS would have talked about anything. This is a man who, tired of seeing his girlfriends vamped by his father, brought home a hooker to dinner one night. This is a man who looked though a long window in a French house, saw people dining, opened the window, climbed through it, sat beside the woman at the table, then married her and took her to the South Seas. This is a man who fought the British government on behalf of the Samoans, and when he won their battle they built a street from the center of town to his house and called it “The Road of the Loving Heart.”

Treasure Island has always been for me his most perfect book, and I’ve read all his work. I’ve even done a little tracing of his French wanderings in the Cevennes on his Travels with a Donkey – and in a sense I’ve followed him to the South Seas too. To test changing patterns in language for the BBC language program, Word of Mouth, I wrote a faithful sequel to Treasure Island, chapter by chapter, and as far as I could manage it, word count by word count. I even went and looked at the ornamental pond in Edinburgh’s Heriot Gardens, which has a little rocky islet that Stevenson saw every day of his boy’s life through the bedroom window of his overlooking house and which is believed by some to have given him the shape of the book’s actual island .  

The writing of Jim Hawkins and the Curse of Treasure Island interested me as much as – and perhaps even more than – any book I’ve done. I took Jim forward in life by a decade or so, made him the treasure-rich young landlord of the expanded Admiral Benbow inn on the coast of Somerset (near where I lived at the time), and stood him there, behind the bar, regaling travelers with his tales of adventure. His neighbors, Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey appear, older now, and less keen on adventure, though still helpful and enabling. And Ben Gunn, penniless again, hedge-cutting for a local manor is still addicted to cheese. 

Re-creating them all had warmth in it, and pause for thought, and renewed admiration for how completely Stevenson had made them. Into their peaceful English milieu I then introduced a glamorous and mysterious stranger, and her young son, the same age as Jim when he boarded the Hispaniola. And a benign rich uncle, the kind of man everybody should have in their lives: he, however, still irks me on behalf of Jim. So far, so good, so enjoyable – this was a rich and cheering experience, and it took me closer to my lovely RLS.

Then the high octane flooded in – Long John Silver appeared. I had known that he should, that he must – but I hadn't known how. So I did what I’ve often done, I left it to the book – and the book did the rest, leading even to a final swordfight on board the Hispaniola, a tussle that made me regret, not for the first time, that Errol Flynn is no longer alive. In short, I too wrote a book for boys, even if, like me, they’ve all grown up.

Now, by the magic of the Internet, the eBook brings Jim and Silver and Ben Gunn and some new others to the widest world. There’s always been a magic to Treasure Island, not just in the original text, and not just acknowledged in the homage I’ve tried to pay – it’s a magic of sharing. Its title alone gave the world a universal concept: do an internet search, entering no more than the two words, and see what shows up: holiday resorts, real estate, souvenir places, building developments, flea markets, and of course film, television and Muppets – all because Stevenson’s book advanced a great idea: the adventurous will be rewarded. 

One day I may write another kind of sequel. I may go down to Venezuela and find out whether a convent of nuns was indeed helped to safety with all their precious belongings by a rascally sea-captain, who then threw them overboard and buried their treasure on an island “offe Carraccas,” as the original map says. And establish whether Long John Silver was based on John Lloyd, a one-legged rascal from Wales who wrecked ships off the Carolinas. 

I still favor W.E. Henley, Stevenson’s gregarious 19th century acquaintance, described by RLS’s stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, as  "a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled like music. In a letter to Henley after the publication of Treasure Island, Stevenson wrote, "I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver."  Now that would make an interesting eBook, the tussle between two one-legged men, each with claims to fame in the South Seas.

Oct 10, 2013

The Old Master

About suffering they were never wrong/The old Masters: On Thursday night, October the 3rd, 2013, I had the great privilege of interviewing James Salter. He’s 88, born 1925. There’s a poem of W.H. Auden’s, Musee des Beaux Arts, that was running through my head all the time I was preparing. People often requested it when I hosted Poetry Please on BBC Radio Four, and I heard its music in my mind again during the evening - curated by Ruda Dauphin at a packed Irish Arts Center on West 51st street in New York; How well they understood/Its human position: how it takes place/While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.

Someone said of Salter that were there a Mount Rushmore for writers he’d be on it – he certainly has the face for it now, and the life of his books is written in his eyes and in the texture of his face. In his work and his person he is and has been extraordinary. As far back as 1984, Esquire magazine was saying, “He has been more appreciated by more serious literary authors than any other American writer.”

Many people in the audience had come along because they revere Mr. Salter, and with justification. Six novels between his first, The Hunters, in 1957 and All That Is this year – his reputation rests on those; six works of lapidary, often poetic prose; six canvasses in oils, all significant, frequently magnificent. Plus a slew of miniatures – by which I mean short stories. No, he’s not a reporter, he said, nor a documentarian, nor an autobiographer in disguise – he’s a painter, he agreed.

I first read him in my twenties; that was The Hunters, a book about fighter pilots in the Korean War. We had a strong awareness in the south of Ireland of Rineanna, the place that eventually became Shannon Airport; we went there for outings, to see the big planes, silver on the ground by the river. Though I don’t recall anybody voicing it, these huge glinting birds had, so to speak, replaced the emigrant ships; instead of awful race memory, America was now reachable by glamorous means.

Thus, flying became part of a boy’s romantic connection to the world. Its literature was scarce, though, and only Saint-Exupery had something to offer. Then came Salter with his somewhat autobiographical The Hunters, and his hero, Cleve Connell, a thoughtful American in the Korean war, pursuing Russian-made MIG fighters – and Death - over the infamous Yalu River that we all thought was spelled “yellow.” Not since then have I read a book that brought me into the cockpit.

It’s difficult to pin down James Salter’s work: he’s multifarious. Let’s start with his urgent readability. Often seen as unfashionable in a “literary” writer, he is astringently compelling: you read, then you read more, then you read on, deep into the night. Scrutinize it: how does he do it, how does he keep you wanting to know what happens next? That’s the next point: He brings it off by settling for ever – to my satisfaction anyway – the hoary question, “Is plot character or is character plot?” From the moment they appear on the page, he interests you in his leading men and women. Here’s the unforgettable young wife in Light Years;

“Nedra was working in the kitchen, her rings set aside. She was tall, preoccupied; her neck was bare. When she paused to read a recipe, her head bent, she was stunning in her concentration, her air of obedience. She wore her wrist watch, her best shoes. Beneath the apron, she was dressed for the evening. People were coming for dinner.”

Key word there, for me, anyway? “Obedience.” Defining obedience as a component of concentration – that’s pure Salter. “Who cleans this large house, who scrubs the floors? She does everything, this woman, she does nothing. She is dressed in her oat-colored sweater, slim as a pike, her long hair fastened, the fire crackling. Her real concern is the heat of existence: meals, bed linen, clothing.” Nedra was somebody whom Salter knew, and her husband, called “Viri” in the novel; they lived on the Hudson, by the wide water up above New York City, and he had been a friend and neighbor, and fascinated by them.

They didn’t know that he had observed them so closely, and then written about them. When the book was about to be published, he bumped into “Nedra” on the street one day and handed her a copy and told her. He said that he never heard what she thought of the book and the whole enterprise – but Mrs. Salter, from the audience, told us that Nedra had said there was a sentence in the novel that she, Nedra, would have carved on her gravestone.

We didn’t learn what the sentence might be; perhaps it’s, “Her dreams still cling to her, adorn her”? Or, “She had accepted the limitations of her life. It was this anguish, this contentment which created her grace.” Or, “She was easily kind, Nedra, easily or not at all.”

James Salter was born in New York and when The Hunters was published he quit the U.S. Air Force to become one of the new “Few,” a fulltime professional writer. In a few sporadic visits to the movies, he wrote the screenplay for Downhill Racer, the Robert Redford skiing film; he also directed Sam Waterston and Charlotte Rampling in Three, a feature film that he also wrote.

However versatile – in the novel, Solo Faces, he’s so almost ferally arresting on the subject of mountain climbing that you know it must be firsthand (and it is) - he does have certain trademarkings. In this year’s novel, All That Is, the protagonist, Philip Bowman, is an ordinary man. “An archer in the ranks of archers?” I suggested. Mr. Salter nodded. Part of the book’s drive is the “ordinariness” of Bowman as he goes about his reasonably well-to-do life, and his bleak adventures of the heart and soul. We’re back to James Joyce again; in the ordinary is the extraordinary; in the particular is the universal.

If you haven’t read the novels of James Salter do so now. Then you’ll likely respond as Stephen King did when he read his first Elmore Leonard – rush out and buy them all. I remember where I was and what I was wearing when I read this from Light Years; “The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in rivers and enter the bodies of swimmers.”

Life-changing: that’s what the Old Masters did - and do every time we visit them. How did they bring it off in those great works of art? They understood life, the downs as well as the ups. They never forgot/That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course/Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot/Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse/Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

Jun 20, 2013


Bloomsday, Philadelphia 1913


So it wasn’t a mirage last year. A horseshoe of white folding chairs did indeed fill half of Delancey Place in Philadelphia, and the cradle of democracy gave air once again to the democratization of one of the world’s great works of art – James Joyce’s mighty Ulysses.  Its original manuscript lies in active splendor within the Rosenbach Museum, sentried by Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things, who, with horns, spiky fur and terrifying frowns, stand guard over Joyce’s sloping handwriting. 

I had not been dreaming; I went back again to see. And, with some considerable delight, take part. This was the 18th year, I think, that the Rosenbach Museum & Library celebrated its glorious resident, Mr. Joyce, and I was again given the privilege of reading aloud, beneath skies of shifting white clouds. And so, “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

Before that, Judy Guston, Curator and Director of Collections at the Rosenbach, read, in Greek and English, from the opening words The Odyssey, by Joyce’s literary godfather, the immortal Homer; “Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.” As my blood quickened, and my mind’s eye went back to days in Athens and Crete and Cyprus and Corinth, could it be that the skies over Philadelphia became the blue of the Aegean Sea, the same color that Joyce asked for in the bindings of Ulysses? 

As if all that didn’t generate sensory overload, out on the air then floated Mozart - live – and we heard the duet that sighs through Joyce’s Dublin on Thursday the 16th of June 1904, the day that Philadelphia and increasingly all the world celebrates as Bloomsday, the day of Mr. Leopold Bloom. Là ci darem la mano, they sang, Là mi dirai di sì. Here we’ll entwine our hands dear, here you will say “I do” and Don Giovanni, the rake, and Zerlina, the maid, were off to the races to enjoy the sweets of sin, what true Dubliners have always termed “carnival knowledge.”

More than eighty readers and singers took part in this year’s Rosenbach Bloomsday. We saw the polished and the unrehearsed, the passionate and the timid, the thoughtful and the fierce, the whimsical and the serious, the hesitant, the sincere, the involved – and all of them committed. A father and son read, the Fitzgeralds. A father and daughter read, Bill McLaughlin and Morgan McLaughlin, and as though directed by some great stage manager somewhere, late bronze sunshine arrived and lit them from the side. William Dreher, not yet two years old, punctuated the readings of his father, the Rosenbach’s Director, Derek Dreher, by pounding the microphone with his little toy car, perfect accompaniment in a book where non-verbal sound is part of the deliberate music. The Simpson brothers read again in Braille, they read heart-achingly the heart-aching, slow descent of Mr. Bloom into sleep, sleep, sleep.

Once more Drucie McDaniel performed the lioness’s share of Mollie Bloom’s soliloquy, and once more we saw the woman, not the literary character. Mollie became flesh (lots of it) and blood (some), and we saw her as narcissistic and bipolar and really real as though she were heaving and strutting her way down the steps of the museum and into our lives. Carl Gustav Jung wrote to Joyce regarding this Penelope episode, “The 40 pages of non stop run in the end is a string of veritable psychological peaches.” In Delancey Place, we plucked every one. 

Since my first appearance there last year I’ve ben trying to analyze what it is that makes the Rosenbach Bloomsday so special, so different. Is it the rapt people in the horseshoe of white chairs, beneath the leaves of the calm trees, the bark wearing the badges of time and street life? Or the flicker of a curtain here and there from a tall window as a Philadelphian listens from behind a high brick wall? Or the young, man, all in black, who looks like Alice Cooper cleaned up, withdrawn behind his shades, his Gabler version of the text falling apart as he murmurs every word to himself in time with each reader? Is it the woman with the hat as exotic and lovely as a Pullman car clasping her hands to herself like a girl when she hears a phrase she knows and loves? Is it the couple in their tender eighties, each helping the other with fingers on the text? Is the twenty-something girl in the summer dress, fingers to her mouth in awe at Mollie’s daring? Or the dog who barks at every round of applause? How frequently he barked.

For me it’s the democracy of the thing. Last year I was struck by the conjoining of art and civics. Joyce wrote an extraordinary novel full of ordinary people; Philadelphia, an ordinary city, gave birth to an extraordinary idea in the Continental Congresses. In Delancey Place, the celebration of the human being’s thought process and our general mastery of ourselves met, and embraced, and spoke it out loud, in public, under the June skies that only rained once, and didn’t in any way faze the seamless management and the warm volunteers. They and the city had already been tested by parked cars; never before have I heard a tow-truck being applauded.

Which also spoke to the demotics of the day – this was great art shared, brought to us by the voice of Everyman and his wife. The city and the world are much the better for hearing it, and I myself even more so, for the word-music it has left in my mind, and the pictures that will shimmer there – like a mirage - for another year and beyond. 

Mar 11, 2013

Announcing the Story of Your Life Twitter Challenge Winner

So – your life’s story in a tweet? How was it for you? Did the tweet move? For many it did, and I’m among the many. This was my best challenge yet, with the largest number of entries ever (in the hundreds) and the widest range of skill and emotions. The entries tended to stratify into factual renditions and poetic interpretations of Tweeple’s lives. This makes for difficult judging; a genuine - and valid - split appeared between the inventors and the documenters. Both had the power to arrest, to move, to touch the heart – and the soul. And that is precisely what I had in mind, but for which I didn’t dare hope. But the Tweeple rose to it – my word, there are tons of talent out there. I had more than one sharp intake of breath, and many “I wish I'd thought of that” moments.

The process of selection – always beginning with a whittling-down – almost hurt; which finger or toe do I cut off next? Ultimately I had to abandon all idea of objectivity and listen for the music, judge where the singer and the song were as one. That, after swinging like the pendulum of a slightly deranged clock, my surgery produced the shortlist of ten, then a private five, then an agonized three – and then a winner: @clove819 "In spring I sprang at the stars, springing at the farthest; in winter I tiptoe at the nearest, knowing of distance."

Congratulations @clove819 – and to all of you who entered. And thank you – SO much. Once again my faith in who’s out there has been not only renewed but further elevated: you’re a great bunch, you Tweeple!

Mar 08, 2013

Top Ten Entries from the Story of Your Life Challenge #140mystory

Congratulations to the top ten entries from the Story of Your Life twitter challenge, and thank you to everyone who entered! People are encouraged to vote in the comments section of this post to try to sway Frank's opinion as he determines who will be the final winner and who will receive the top, mystery, prize. 

The final prize will be awarded Monday, March 11th. 

@B4Steph If I think I am therefore I must be - but how do I know which mind is mine? Uncertainty is a life worth living.

@Combot_Elliot Running away from those who would save me to find something I never lost. 

@MohsinTS Couldn't choose family, but could choose friends. Now, most of the latter are most of the former. 

@clove819 In spring I sprang at the stars, springing at the farthest; in winter I tiptoe at the nearest, knowing of distance.

I declared I wanted my independence vociferously. Now, I can't get loneliness to depart.

They stole more than just her heart and at times her soul, but ultimately she overcame. 

I was well loved as a child. As I grew, I loved many. Too many for our culture's approval, so I stopped loving our culture. 

That tall white stucco house, where I grew, was large. Almost unknowable. Visiting years later, the stairs were very narrow.

There's an invisible spectrum of magic between art and science. I'm revealing it gradually, like a lemon juice hidden message.

Died half a lifetime ago. Reincarnated with all my memories intact.Don't know now if I'm really half or twice my age.

Feb 21, 2013

Story of Your Life Twitter Challenge: #140mystory

Dwell for a moment on the word "story." It forms most of the word "history" (one of the terms for a wise man used to be the word histor). Here's the Oxford Dictionary definition: Story: a narrative, true or presumed to be true, relating to important events and celebrated persons of a more or less remote past.  To mark the paperback appearance this month of The Last Storyteller, a standalone novel that is yet the final book in my Venetia Trilogy, I'm asking, in a Twitter Challenge - a Twallenge - the question, "What's your story?" You have to tell it in 140 characters that include the hashtag #140mystory - and you may win a cool prize.

Why am I doing this? I can hear you saying, "Enh, he has a book coming out" - but the deeper truth is that I'm fascinated, truly fascinated with "story." There used to be a comedian in London name of Max Bygraves, a cheerful fellow with a big nose and he'd begin his routine, "I wanna tell you a story." He had me. Always did. 

So will anyone who tells me a story. It's our most powerful, our most available, and our most democratic medium of communication. News editors have always issued the basic directive, "Get the story." The U.S. elects presidents on the basis of who has the most compelling "story." Businessmen are now understanding that deals can be done through the excellence of "the story." And I've spent a great part of my life deep in the beautiful woodlands of story. To me it's one of the finest and most exciting words in the English language. I've encountered Irish hero-gods, English kings, Scandinavian trolls, Chinese dragons, Italian princesses, French cavaliers - and the Wild West.

Now - I want your story. So here's the Twallenge: Tweet your autobiography. Tell it like it is, and/or has been. Go for broke. Be kind to yourself - or cruel: e.g., Hemingway: I gave Life both barrels. Or Ezra Pound: They caged me but my poems got out through the bars and flew across the world. Or Gertrude Stein: They said I was obscure, and yes, meaning my meaning's hidden meaning had meaning hidden. Or Scott Fitzgerald: I didn't find wisdom in the bottom of a glass; I found my reflection. Be rude if you want to be; be merry; be introspective; be wild; be sad; be daring; be lonely. Above be original and truthful and, of course, be brief.

CHALLENGE RULES for #140mystory 
Step 1: Follow @FDByTheWord on Twitter
Step 2: Tweet your best life story in 140 characters or less. Include the hashtag #140mystory in your tweet.

You may enter as many versions of #140mystory as you wish during the course of the contest.
The challenge begins Tuesday February 26th at 9am.  
The challenge ends Tuesday March 5th at midnight. 

On Wednesday, March 6th by 5pm Frank's top 10 entries will be posted to the blog. The top 10 contestants will all win the e-book of Frank's short story e-book, "Sea Folk." People are encouraged to vote in the comments section of  Frank's blog to try to sway Frank's opinion as he determines who will be the final winner and who will receive the top, mystery, prize. 
UPDATE: The final prize will be awarded Monday, March 11th. 

Best luck and happy storytelling! 

*The #140lifestory tweet must be your own. You will be disqualified if you lift it from a published work. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.
*You may enter via mail (and skip steps 1 and 2) by sending a postcard with your 140 character verbage to Frank Delaney, c/o Meier, 907 Broadway, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10010. Entries must be received by Wednesday March 6th 2013.

Jan 16, 2013

Simile Challenge Winner!

The Simile Twallenge (should we have called it "Twimiles"?) has now closed, and thank you for all your game and engaging entries. Some of you have no shame; you openly canvassed my heritage, my interests as you perceive them, my generous nature; at one or two moments I half-expected bribes (well, you never know a man's price until he tells you.) Others of you have had a roller-coaster 2012, to judge from the directly contradictory nature of your good-year/bad-year entries. Yet others sent in entries that must have been written under the influence of some strange, rain-forest chemicals, to judge from how wide of the mark you fell in terms of what makes a simile. I love, in these challenges, how our concerns get aired, how the collective unconscious surfaces. Beneath the gathered skin of you all - you are drinkers, you love and/or fear animals, you spend a lot of time gazing at the night sky, you are deeply literary, you drink a ton of tea and coffee, your emotions range between desperation and glee, you are drawn to contemplation of the natural world, and/or you think that everything more or less sucks. Good stuff: that's nature: all human life is there. Thank you all again: I love my Tweeple (most of them) and the handsome winner is Steve Shilstone @steveshilstone who wrote something that I wish I'd written: "2012 was like being caught in a revolving door with an undisciplined monkey." Congratulations, Steve: the new monkey in your life will be a copy of Ulysses.

Jan 08, 2013

2012 in Review: Simile Challenge

Now that we’ve all had a week to look back on the past year, who can write the best simile to describe it? I love similes; they’re the energy drink of writing. The great English dictionary maker, Dr. Samuel Johnson, loved them too; the simile, he said, will “illustrate and ennoble the subject, and show it to the understanding in a clearer view.”

You don’t need to be as lofty searching for similes that sum up 2012. Remember Norm in Cheers;

“How’s the world using you, Norm?”

And Norm answers, “Like a baby to a diaper.”

Between those two portly gentlemen, Dr. Johnson and Norm, you’ll find your pitch. We ran a simile challenge last year, we had a ton of entries and great fun; the winner was @rebeccablood "He gazed up at the pole dancer like a baby watching a ceiling fan." This year the task is to tell us how your year was in 140 characters or fewer. You might go for something like, “The past year was as memorable to me as my first tooth extraction.” Or – “Living through 2012 was liking losing my virginity – anxious, messy, unsatisfying, and leaving me wondering what it was all for.” Or you may reach for a different response; “2012 was for me like eating floating islands followed by chocolate and strawberry ice-cream parfait – luscious, thrilling and dangerous.” What about “2012 was like Life of Pi in multiples – there was a snarling tiger in every room.”

Whatever you choose, make it clear. If you write, say, “The past year to me was as explosive as the ultimate and curated antinomic deriding of subatomic particles” – you won't win because I won't know that the hell you mean. If you write, say, “2012 sucked like a drain” – you’ll have a better chance, but you won’t win because I’ve now used it. And if you do win – you get a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which will encourage you, I hope, to join the mighty band of 600,000 people who have downloaded my weekly Ulysses podcast on this website. Go to it; write with the clarity of an upcoming dawn in a clear sky; write with the energy of a steam engine driving a triphammer. Oh, just simile your heart out. The rules are…


Step 1: Follow @FDByTheWord on Twitter
Step 2: Tweet a simile that describes your past year. Include the hashtag #FDsimile in your tweet.
You may enter the Simile Challenge as many times as you wish during the course of the contest.

The challenge begins Wednesday January 9th 2013 at 9am. 
The challenge ends Friday January 11th at midnight. 

At noon EST, on Tuesday January 15th 2013, Frank will pick a winner.

*The simile must be your own. You will be disqualified if you lift it from a published work. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.
*You may enter via mail (and skip steps 1 and 2) by sending a postcard with your 140 character verbage to Frank Delaney, c/o Meier, 907 Broadway, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10010. Entries must be received by
Monday January 14th 2013.

Jun 18, 2012

James Joyce’s Democracy

Saturday, 16 June 2012, dawned sunny and clear. There you have a sentence that Joyce might have written in the “namby-pamby marmalady jammy drawersy” Nausicaa chapter of Ulysses. Nevertheless, that's what it was like on Delancey Place, Philadelphia, where the brotherly love overflowed and cascaded down the tall columns of the monumental, long-dead author. This was the first year that Joyce could be read unfettered, free of the legal incivilities of his keeper-of-the-flame grandson, who chose down the years to make enemies, and yet might have honored his grandfather far more profoundly had he chosen to make friends.

The Rosenbach Museum owns the original manuscripts of Ulysses. Could they have found a better home? Not in my opinion – great curatorship requires love, as well as physical care of the artifacts. And the Rosenbach shows its love in many ways, not least an annual celebration of the mighty novel by means of  a day-long reading that was more joyful and intimate than any I have attended. More than 80 readers took part; I had the honor of being among the first and we stayed to watch the elegant democracy of the event as professional actors and singers led and followed passionate citizens and, from time to time, their children. It was moving; it was amusing and in this it echoed the novel. And, as with Joyce himself, class took no foothold, neither socially nor intellectually. Philadelphia, after all, is the city where America began the first and most comprehensive exercise of democracy. Curious – and delightful  –  how much one hears afresh at each reading. Even more curious – and even more delightful – is how the book works no matter what the reader’s voice. It was as though Joyce’s famed common-man intent had indeed come to life.

One of the most enjoyable ways to “get” Shakespeare is to sit with a great cast recording and read the play at the same time. Many audience members at the Rosenbach had brought their copies of Ulysses and kept their eyes on the pages; and it occurred to me that, were it possible, the perfect way to grasp the novel is to have a marathon Rosenbach reading of the entire work rather than the – necessarily – edited pieces we heard on Saturday.

Highlights? Begin at the end, with by any measure the best Molly Bloom I have ever seen and I’ve seen fifteen or so. Drusie McDaniel’s vivacity had all the fun and the tawdry glamor, and the seedy egotism, and the awful intimacy of Molly’s borderline personality and her near-desperate self-involvement – the casual amorality; the boundless self-belief; the unchecked narcissism. The singers and musicians who performed the music that haunts Ulysses had exactly the appropriate balance of merriment and wistfulness; and I will never as long as I live forget the readings from Ithaca, by David and Daniel Simpson, blind-from-birth brothers, who not only read the pages, they lived them, right down to the poignancy of Mr. Bloom’s final snore. And thus their fingers, moving at great speed across their Braille, also reached in and touched our hearts. For all his edgy arrogance, Joyce, sight-challenged himself, would have turned away to conceal his pride.

Before the readings began, Derick Dreher, the Rosenbach’s Director allowed a few of us to look at the manuscripts. Remember the moment in Indiana Jones when we see the Ark of the Covenant? That’s what it was like looking at Joyce’s Jesuit handwriting, sloping away off the page, driven to the extremities of his sight by astigmatism or glaucoma or macular degeneration. The pages on which he worked were smaller than I’d expected; and even when he used French school notebooks with their graph paper, his control of his lines didn't much improve.

The readings sank to a wistful closing near 8pm. I still feel the regret. Why am I not there today, among those tall brick houses of Philadelphia’s rich past, still listening to this book that was also read elsewhere across the world on Bloomsday: somebody said 40 cities? The Rosenbach's, I feel certain, was the largest and - I'd put money down - the warmest.

But, though the chairs have long been folded, the words linger, and perhaps not just in the minds of those who were there. Several years ago, a psychic investigator in Ireland claimed that voices remain in the air, that the words we speak hang there above us, ineluctable modality of the audible, if you like. One of the phrases he recorded (I never doubted him: millions did) was a male voice, self-identifying, who said, over and over, the words, “James Joyce, James Joyce, James Joyce” – I have the 45rpm recording somewhere, and I have to concede that the accent and the tone were damn close to those of the everyman from Dublin and Trieste and Zurich and Paris. That's what can happen when you want to believe something.

If it’s true, if our words do indeed hang above where we've spoken them – then rush down to Delancey Place, Philadelphia, with a pyschic tape recorder. Hold the microphone above your head and you’ll capture the most wonderful cornucopia of sounds in the air outside the Rosenbach Museum. If you can’t make it today – don’t worry; they’ll hang there for a while. And they’ll be refreshed next year.  

Feb 13, 2012

Storytelling Twitter Challenge

If we presume that “twitter” must be the collective noun for “tweets” then we took on a great freight of twitter over the past few days in our latest challenge.  Timed to appear with my new novel, The Last Storyteller,  I asked you all to complete the world’s most wonderful sentence, “Once upon a time.”  I expected – I hoped for – imagination, wit, thoughtfulness, originality, even perhaps a flash of magic.  When it’s in the hands of a magician, the phrase “Once upon a time”  exists, doesn’t it, to generate excited anticipation? At least that was the basis on which your entries were always going to be judged and I’ve chosen, as promised, and in no particular order of merit, these five winners earn a copy of The Last Storyteller;

@BearNecessitude Once upon a time a man came to take me to a different life.
@LaurenBaratzLogsted Once upon a time, the vampire was the least of our worries.
@BenHeyes Once upon a time there was distance and derision.
@semivivum Once upon a time, we were content.
@LordEnzi Once upon a time, time stopped once. 

However,since consistency is the natural enemy of imagination, I’ve broken my own rules and added a sixth prize, which I’ve awarded on the basis of the entrant observing the medium with humor – here it is:

@earlystages Once upon a time, only birds tweeted. Now we can all tweet happily ever after. 

Thank you all; you are such good sports and so generous with your efforts –your entries seem to increase in number with each challenge, and were I a demographic profiler I would have the most fascinating time determining the shape and tastes of my followers on Twitter!

Re: Joyce, from the beginning:

With Tremendous Sadness

Delay in the Podcast

Re:Joyce Episode 368 – Cavalcades & Comets’ Tails

Re:Joyce Episode 367 – Theatrical Turns & Toxic Gas

Re:Joyce Episode 366 - Gesundheit!

Re:Joyce Episode 365 – Soubrettes & Silken Thomas

Re:Joyce Episode 364 - Be Italian

Re:Joyce Episode 363 - Blond as Blazes

Re:Joyce Episode 362 - Sisters in Time

Re:Joyce Episode 361A - Baker’s Dozen

Re:Joyce Episode 361 – Coins, Licorice & Ice-Cream

Re:Joyce Episode 360 – Courting Couples & Cabbage

R:Joyce Episode 359 – Missionaries & Malahide

Re:Joyce Episode 358 – Kid Gloves & Butter

Re: Joyce Episode 357 – The Dancing Master

Re:Joyce Episode 356 - On the Rocks

Re:Joyce Episode 355 -Last Eddies

Re: Joyce Episode 354 - Rude & Lewd

Re:Joyce Episode 353 – MUMMERS & MYSTERIES

Re:Joyce Episode 352 - Mockery & Belief

Re:Joyce Episode 351 - Kings & Princes

Re:Joyce Episode 350 - Banishment & Catastrophe

Re:Joyce Episode 349 - Fairytales & Lapwings

Re:Joyce Episode 348 - Naming Names

Re:Joyce Episode 347 – Plays & Players

Re:Joyce Episode 346 - Fathers & Sons

Re:Joyce Episode 345A - Plato & Aristotle

Re:Joyce Episode 345 – Feelings of Greed

Re:Joyce Episode 344 - Cornjobbers & Gross Virgins

Re:Joyce Episode 343 - Family Fortunes

Re:Joyce Episode 342 - Giglots & Gombeens

Re:Joyce Episode 341 - Insults and Insinuations

Re:Joyce Episode 340 - Parodies & Pints

Re:Joyce Episode 339 - The Colors of Mockery

Re:Joyce - Episode 338: The Buck Returns

Re:Joyce Episode 337 - Lords of Language

Re:Joyce Episode 336 - Moles & Wild Oats

Re:Joyce Episode 335 - Mummies & Dirty Looks

Re:Joyce Episode 334 - Name-Dropping

Re:Joyce Episode 333 - Hermetists & Tongue-Twisters

Re:Joyce Episode 332 - Errors & Bosh

Re:Joyce Episode 331 - Green Room Gossip

Re:Joyce Episode 330 - Ghostly Stuff

Re:Joyce Episode 329 - Buttocks & Beggars

Re:Joyce Episode 328A - Manuscript Matters

Re:Joyce Episode 328 - Erotic & Esoteric

Re:Joyce Episode 327 - Rocks & Hard Places

Re:Joyce Episode 326 – Flesh and the Fear of Flesh

Re:Joyce Episode 325 - Seeing Eyes & Striplings

Re:Joyce Episode 324 - Tarts & Garters

Re:Joyce Episode 323 - Hiccups & Horse Races

Re:Joyce Episode 322 - Gossip & Grog

Re:Joyce Episode 321 - Bottoms Up!

Re:Joyce Episode 320 - Seafood & Stuff

Re:Joyce Episode 319 - Blushing & Boxing

Re:Joyce Episode 318 - Cheese & Wine

Re:Joyce Episode 317 - Street Eating

Re:Joyce Episode 316 - Swillings & Smells

Re:Joyce Episode 315 - Pincushions & Pantaloons

Re:Joyce Episode 314 - Parallax & Poetry

Re:Joyce Episode 313 - A Two-Headed Octopus

Re:Joyce Episode 312A - The Dancing Soul

Re:Joyce Episode 312 - Mooching Loonies

Re:Joyce Episode 311 - The Hidden Hand

Re:Joyce Episode 310 - Plumpness & Pigeons

Re:Joyce Episode 309 - Different Women

Re:Joyce Episode 308 - Character Driven

Re:Joyce Episode 307 - Pastry & Pregnancy

Re:Joyce Episode 306 - Wide Eyes & New Moons

Re:Joyce Episode 305 - Frogs & Stays

Re:Joyce Episode 304 Fun in High Hats

Re:Joyce Episode 303 - Wit & Social Disease

Re:Joyce Episode 302 - Gulls & Guinness

Re:Joyce Episode 301 - Lestrygonians

Re:Joyce Episode 300 - Falling Winds

Re:Joyce Episode 299 - Plum Lines

Re-Joyce Episode 298 - Fundamental Osculation

Re:Joyce Episode 297 - Dubliners Redux

Re:Joyce Episode 296A - The Blooming Year

Re:Joyce Episode 296 - Tara to Troy

Re:Joyce Episode 295 - Ancient Orators

Re:Joyce Episode 294 - Mastermystics & Morale

Re:Joyce Episode 293 - Paradise & Powerful Men

Re:Joyce Episode 292 - Silver Tongues & Skin-the-Goat

Re:Joyce Episode 291 - A Murder Story

Re:Joyce Episode 290 - Lists & Limericks

Re:Joyce Episode 289 - Of Soup & Sin

Re:Joyce Episode 288 - Tobacco & Tweeds

Re:Joyce Episode 287 - A Little Mazurka

Re:Joyce Episode 286 - Flossing & Fretting

Re:Joyce Episode 285 - Part Two

Re:Joyce Episode 285 Part One - Welsh Combs & Feathery Hair

Re:Joyce Episode 285

Re:Joyce Episode 284 - Barristers & Bosky Groves

Re:Joyce - Episode 283: Pensive Bosoms & Purple Prose

Re:Joyce Episode 282 - Stories & Soap

Re:Joyce Episode 281 - Spellingbees & Slithery Sounds

Re:Joyce Episode 280A - The Mysterious Mr. Macintosh

Re:Joyce Episode 280 - Keys & Clankings

Re:Joyce Episode 279 - Flatulence & Debt Collecting

Re:Joyce Episode 278 - A Stately Savior

Re: Joyce, Episode 277: Blow Ye Breezes

Re:Joyce Episode 276 - Dented Hats & Dislikes

Re:Joyce Episode 275 - GreatGrandfather Rat

Re:Joyce Episode 274 - A Touch of the Immortal

Re:Joyce Episode 273 - What’s in a Name?

Re: Joyce, Episode 272 - Frying Pans & Fires

Re:Joyce Episode 271 - Trestles & Tweed Suits

Re:Joyce Episode 270 - The Mysterious Man in the Macintosh

Re: Joyce Episode 269 - Ageing & Fertilizing

Re: Joyce, Episode 268: Jealousy and Diplomacy

Re:Joyce Episode 267 Of Boats and Pumps

Re:Joyce- Episode 266: Lilting Sepulchres

Re:Joyce Episode 265 - It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas!

Re:Joyce - Episode 264A: Weaver’s Work

Re:Joyce Episode 264 - Boots, Beds & Bald Heads

Re:Joyce - Episode 263.1 - Stiffness and Mutes

Re: Joyce Episode 263 - Cemetery Thoughts

Re: Joyce Episode 262 - A Little Murder

Re:Joyce Episode 261: Canal Water Preferably

re:Joyce Episode 260 - Deadly Thoughts

Re:Joyce Episode 259 - The Fifth Quarter

Re: Joyce, Episode 258: Kellys & Cattle

Re: Joyce, Episode 257: Fast Cars & Hairy Ears

Re: Joyce, Episode 256: Malice Aforethought

Re: Joyce, Episode 255: Re: Hearses 

Re: Joyce, Episode 254: Street Smarts

Re: Joyce, Episode 253: Vino & Veritas

Re: Joyce, Episode 252A: A Baker's Dozen Special Edition

Re: Joyce, Episode 252: Tales of the Riverbank 

Re: Joyce, Episode 251: Moneylenders & Mirth

Re: Joyce, Episode 250: Sombre Pedestals

Re: Joyce, Episode 249: Silent Ripostes

Re: Joyce, Episode 248: Second Thoughts

Re: Joyce, Episode 247: Art Versus Life

Re: Joyce, Episode 246: Bleak As Blazes 

Re: Joyce, Episode 245: Points of Interest  

Re: Joyce, Episode 244: Sadness & Woe

Re: Joyce, Episode 243: Pecking Orders & Pomposity

Re: Joyce, Episode 242: Dogs’ Homes & Gasworks

Re: Joyce, Episode 241: Carriage Trade

Re: Joyce, Episode 240A: Reading Joyce

Re: Joyce, Episode 240: Cease to do Evil

Re: Joyce, Episode 239: Breadcrumbs & Bastards

Re: Joyce, Episode 238: Fidus Achates

Re: Joyce, Episode 237: The Road to Hell

Re: Joyce, Episode 236: Funeral Pace

Re: Joyce, Episode 235: Farewell the Lotus

Re: Joyce, Episode 234: Lingering Lotus-Eaters

Re: Joyce, Episode 233: Sports & Porters

Re: Joyce, Episode 232: The Throwaway Factor

Re: Joyce, Episode 231: Waxes & Warts

Re: Joyce, Episode 230: Skinfood

Re: Joyce, Episode 229: Poppysyrups & Poisons 

Re: Joyce, Episode 228: Pestle and Mortar

Re: Joyce, Episode 227: Furtive Hands

Re: Joyce, Episode 226: Browbeatings & Buzz

Re: Joyce, Episode 225: Whispers of Remorse

Re: Joyce, Episode 224A: Throwing the Book at Him  

Re: Joyce, Episode 224: Eunuchs & Liqueurs

Re: Joyce, Episode 223: Mozart or Muller?

Re: Joyce, Episode 222: Beer, Wine & Spirits

Re: Joyce, Episode 221: Character & Assassination

Re: Joyce, Episode 220: Bread & Bleeding Statues

Re: Joyce, Episode 219: Cannibals and Corpses

Re: Joyce, Episode 218: Swimmers & Sodalities

Re: Joyce, Episode 217: Jesuits & Jossticks

Re: Joyce, Episode 216A: The Birth of Dubliners

Re: Joyce, Episode 216: Pools and Swirls

Re: Joyce, Episode 215: Stout Fun

Re: Joyce, Episode 214: Cool Waters

Re: Joyce, Episode 213: Martha & Mary

Re: Joyce, Episode 212: Pinpoints

Re: Joyce, Episode 211: The Flowers That Bloom

Re: Joyce, Episode 210: Matters of Correction

Re: Joyce, Episode 209: Petals & Pussycats

Re: Joyce, Episode 208: Taws & Dobbers

Re: Joyce, Episode 207: Nags & Nosebags

Re: Joyce, Episode 206: Stage Stars & Sadness

Re: Joyce, Episode 205: Soft Soap & Smallpox

Re: Joyce, Episode 204 A: Location, Location, Location

Re: Joyce, Episode 204: Funeral Tricks  

Re: Joyce, Episode 203: Portmanteaus & Potted Meat

Re: Joyce, Episode 202: Silk Stockings & Esprit de Corps

Re: Joyce, Episode 201: Foosterings & Fallbacks

Re: Joyce, Episode 200: Rich Fantasy

Re: Joyce, Episode 199: The Real McCoy

Re: Joyce, Episode 198: Soldiering On

Re: Joyce, Episode 197: The Language of Flowers

Re: Joyce, Episode 196: A Touch of Eureka

Re: Joyce, Episode 195: Leaves of Life

Re: Joyce, Episode 194: Hatbands & Heat

Re: Joyce, Episode 193: Funeral Music

Re: Joyce, Episode 192A: Love & Ulysses

Re: Joyce, Episode 192: Hitting the Streets

Re: Joyce, Episode 191: Bowels & Bells

Re: Joyce, Episode 190: Mona Lisa Molly

Re: Joyce, Episode 189: Of Cabbages & Combs

Re: Joyce, Episode 188: Take it Easy, Mr. B.

Re: Joyce, Episode 187: Bath Times & Braces