Friday, 30 January 2015


This month has brought me to the end of a very difficult process. I'm writing this in the chaos of my new temporary home, having been too busy for Irresistible Targets for all of January (except to comment on my obit of the great Robert Stone). Apart from my filling in on Channel 4's NFL highlights programme, the weekly @c4nfl Extra Yard podcast and doing round-ups for Irish radio, I've only been writing about the football this month, but Sunday I will be in the studio presenting the big game with Gnat Coombs and Osi Umeniyora. Sadly, the studio itself will be in Stratford, East London, not in Phoenix, Arizona.

I previewed the Super Bowl on The Extra Yard, and on our own Americarnage podcast (see today's column for nfluk is the only place I've come out and made a pick. It was a difficult choice, and I really would not be surprised to see New England sneak it. Of course if the latter were to happen it would please me considerably...

Here's the link to the column. Enjoy:

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


My obituary of Robert Stone is online at the Guardian, you can link to it here and it should be in the paper paper tomorrow or soon. It wasn't until I was writing the piece that I realised how deep Stone went into himself to pull his fictions out; the long spaces between books were likely as much recovery as research. There was the sense too, which I didn't put directly into the piece, that Stone lived before (and while) he wrote, in fact, was driven to live. Whereas so much fiction today is written very well but has no life behind it.

The obit is pretty much as written up through Dog Soldiers, which deserves every bit of praise I gave it, and more. I should have mentioned Stone wrote the screenplay of the movie as well (with Judith Rascoe) and that it was titled Who'll Stop The Rain (after a Creedence Clearwater song) because some executives thought people would think Dog Soldiers was an animal movie. The three leads are all spectacularly good, Richard Masur heads a stellar supporting cast: Gail Strickland, Anthony Zerbe, Ray Sharkey, and I think you could consider it, alongside The Gambler as perhaps Karel Reisz's best films (though he didn't necessarily agree when I posed the point to him once years ago).

When I started to explain what made Stone's writing unique, the paper had a problem with a quote from Stone: 'I like big novels. I really admire the grand slam', fearing their audience wouldn't understand what he meant my grand slam (a phrase used in tennis, golf and bridge as well as baseball).

I then wrote: 'His friend Kesey's first novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1962) featured passages of beautifully unfocused prose, mirroring the effects of the hospital's drugs on its patients; his second, Sometimes A Great Notion (1964) was an attempt at the Big American Novel, in more standard prose style.' This, I thought, explained perfectly the idea of the synthesis Stone created in his writing. It was also interesting that Paul Newman directed and starred in the film adaptation of Sometimes and that it was retitled Never Give An Inch.

The paper also lost one of my points by changing 'actress' to 'actor' in the copy. What made Children Of Light so personal was that the schizophrenic character was a woman, like his mother. It's an odd policy, to use a gender-neutral term for actors, but insist, for example, on the gender-specific coinage 'gay and lesbian'.

The controversy over Outerbridge Reach was something I merely mentioned, but Stone was accused of borrowing heavily from a book called The Strange Voyage Of Donald Crowhurst. This is one of the perils of research; the uses Stone made of the story, as the obit implied, went farther and wider than the Crowhurst did. For which I would cut him some slack.

I don't believe any of Stone's novels could be called best-sellers, though they were very favourably reviewed and nominated consistently for major awards. I probably should have made more of his beat connection; his novels sometimes read like beat writing with more sympathy for the mainstream. His mixing of poetry and realism, while not quite magical as the Latin Americans, or his drug-familiar contemporary Tom Robbins, is probably the most thoroughly and painfully American of any major novelist of my lifetime.