Pulp.net - Alan Mahar

The Online Home of New Fiction

November 2008
My Literary Top 10:
Alan Mahar

Top 10
Best short stories I’ve ever read
One of the most remarkable single stories I ever read was Italo Calvino’s The Watcher (about an election observer at a polling station in a hospital for incurables). I’d prefer though to mention three landmark collections: Peter Taylor’s In the Miro District; Julio Cortazar’s We Love You Glenda So Much and Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.
Book I finished reading but wanted my time back afterwards
I still worry about Martin Amis: The Information had such powerful promise in its first half, ideas about stars and the male identity crisis; and then an inanely stupid second half plot about literary rivalry. What can he possibly know of struggle and failure? I wanted him to pay his advance back – or half of it.
Book I’d blush if seen reading on the tube
Living in Birmingham, I’m an infrequent, but always hyper-stimulated tube traveller. I’m too busy clocking what all the busy-busy, smarter-than-the-rest-of-us readers are reading, to be reading myself. If I blush it’s because I’m pigeon-holing every one of them, smugly.
Best film of the book I have seen
My memory tells me Garden of the Finzi-Continis; I visited Ferrara and saw the names of Bassani’s relatives on the plaque listing the deported Jews. Amongst the few bookish films I’ve liked: the Altman /Carver Short Cuts; and Henry James meets Helen Bonham-Carter in Wings of the Dove.
Most overlooked/underrated novels
So glad America rediscovered Paula Fox. Her Desperate Characters has a bite and an all-seeing eye. I’ve been catching up on her other tight, wise novels. The Widow’s Children is painful with seedy perceptiveness. I still don’t understand how I didn’t spot her at the time; same with Nick Drake. Blush again.
Most out of date or misleading author photo I have seen
Something rather sad about the photo of Elizabeth Taylor, posh 1930s vamp, portraited demurely, uneasily on the back cover of her beautifully crafted, quietly clear novels and story collections from Chatto - right up to the last one, Blaming, into the 1970s, and already in her sixties.
Most famous author I have met who acted like a prat
The famous ones I’ve met have been fine. This one’s not so famous, and I’ve not even met him. He has a university connection, writes lots of offbeat, weightless novels, and is proud of his reputation for sounding off and making enemies. He wrote a needlessly spiteful, pettily negative review of my second novel in TLS. I know what to do when I do meet him.
My favourite bookshop
In the middle of a characterless retail park in Winnipeg, Manitoba is a great big bookstore: McNally Robinson. The view is an almost empty car park. It’s hailstorming golf balls outside, denting a few car roofs, but I’m sipping coffee in a brown armchair. I’ve just been browsing among the Canadian stories: Munro, Shields, Vanderhaege. (Yes, they actually publish books of stories here!) Smug again.
Authors I’d like to see win more awards
Paul Bailey won lots of prizes for slim novels in his early career; and he was Booker-short-listed for Gabriel’s lament in 1986. He has also been one of the most consistently sure-footed and appreciative critics of the last twenty years. His Euro-novels Kitty and Virgil and Uncle Rudolf are as good as any of your recent prize-winners.
Celebrity author I’d like to catch up with again
I had a couple of Guinnesses with Kazuo Ishiguro in a rough pub in Sparkbrook in 1985, just before his Artist in A Floating World appeared. As a flailing scribbler, I was intimidated by such an elegant and focused talent; but then greatly reassured by his modest and considerate manner in person. I’d like to ask him where his more recent, more European books have taken him. And does he still play guitar?
Alan Mahar grew up in Huyton, Merseyside, studied in London, settled in Birmingham. His novels so far are: Flight Patterns (Gollancz,1999) and After the Man Before (Methuen, 2002, now in paperback). He is just finishing off his third, Huyton Suite, which won an Arts Council Writers Award as a work-in-progress. A veteran string quartet musician returns after 60 years to give a master class in the city where he was interned as boy in 1940. The title refers to a civic centre cafe frequented by jobless shoppers and asylum-seekers; and a composition for camp inmates by the (real-life) Viennese composer, Hans Gal. Alan founded Tindal Street Fiction Group in 1983 and is publishing director of Birmingham’s independent fiction publisher, Tindal Street Press.