Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘writers’ Category

Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 16th October, 2017

Oscar Wilde 2Today is the 163rd birthday of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and as usual on this anniversary occasion the writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth brought together an extraordinary band of people to celebrate, this time in the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair, which was frequented by Oscar and his wife Constance at least as late as 1893. Gyles is London’s networker sans pareil; the late socialite, writer and editor Fleur Cowles must be spinning in her grave with envy. Half of the British theatrical royalty were there, including Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Simon Callow and Ronnie Hardwood, as well as a whole cricket team of members of the House of Lords, the odd duchess, marchioness and — as Gyles put it cheekily in his witty homily — a bit of rough trade, of which Oscar would have approved. Oscar’s sole grandson, Merlin Holland, loyally put in an appearance. But this evening’s event was special for another reason, this being the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adult men — the “crime” that had sent Oscar to prison. How fitting, therefore, that one of the speeches of the night should have been from the head of the capital’s police, the Commissioner of the Metropolis, Cressida Dick, who was there with her wife. How things have changed.

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Dulat Issabekov at 75

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd October, 2017

Dulat IssabekovThe Kazakh writer and playwright Dulat Issabekov is in London at the moment, as several of his works are being performed in the city to coincide with his 75th birthday. Celebrated in Kazakhstan, and well-known in much of the rest of the former Soviet Union, Issabekov is the author of numerous novellas and short stories, though it is probably his plays that have had the greatest resonance. Last night, at a dinner at the House of Lords, organised by Rahima Abduvalieva of the Aitmatov Academy and chaired by Lord (Ian) Wrigglesworth, guests were not only able to meet the playwright but also to hear brief extracts from his work. His themes are universal, dealing with subjects such as love and memory, even if their settings are Central Asian. Kazakhstan — a country I have had the pleasure to visit three times — is physically huge and ethnically diverse, despite its comparatively small population, and Issabekov’s work reflects some of his country’s cultural diversity. Tonight, at the Bridewell Theatre off Fleet Street in London, his play The Actress will be performed by the Korean Theatre of Drama & Music from Almaty (in Korean, with English surtitles), then tomorrow through to Friday, at the same venue, one can see his Song of the Swans, performed in English by London’s own Pajarito Theatre.

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Writers’ Houses

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd September, 2017

Lamb HouseYesterday I was at the Mermaid Inn in Rye in Sussex to address the annual gathering of The Friends of Tilling, one of two societies that celebrate the work of E.F. Benson and in particular the Mapp and Lucia novels. It was a gorgeous late summer’s day — the perfect weather to visit nearby Lamb House after my talk. A National Trust property that is only open to visitors a few afternoons a week (and is otherwise lived in by lucky tenants), Lamb House was Fred Benson’s home for many years and appears as Mallards in his Tilling (Rye) novels. So it is a regular place of pilgrimage for Benson fans. Yet it is much more redolent of the legacy of an earlier inhabitant, Henry James. The house is early 18th century, but many of the artefacts date from James’s time there and I could really feel his presence, especially in the garden, strangely. Sitting out there in a quiet spot, all  alone, in the late afternoon sun, I totally understood why someone could write in Lamb House. Benson and James were not the only literary inhabitants who found inspiration living there; Rumer Godden was another.

Hemingway house CubaAs I know myself, the place in which one writes can be all important. Some people can compose in cafés or modern-day coffee shops, whereas for me it has to be a particular house or room where I can focus totally on what I’m writing. And I do believe that some sort of special atmosphere is created in a place where a writer has been at work over a long period. Sensing Henry James at Lamb House was not the first inkling of that kind; I felt it strongly at Ernest Hemingway’s house in Cuba. That was in much less pristine condition than beautifully maintained Lamb House, though I understood it has been spruced up since my visit. It remains chock-a-bloc with Papa Hemingway’s books and other possessions. At the time I went, one was not allowed inside, but could look in through open windows, which gave the whole experience a slightly surreal quality. The rainwater in the swimming pool was green with algae and there were weeds around, but so to was the ghost of the writer and the aura of his creative energy.

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Stefan Zweig on My Mind

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th August, 2017

Stefan ZweigI’ve been thinking a lot about the 1930s recently, what with the rise of xenophobia and intolerance on both sides of the Atlantic and the current supremacy of Donald Trump and the Brexiteers. Surely things must get better, one imagines, yet the lessons of between the two World Wars suggests not necessarily. What should one do if things continue to deteriorate from a liberal perspective? One solution would be to make permanent my Brazilian bolt-hole, where I have spent the past month and increasing amounts of time over the past 30 years. But would that be escapism? The same dilemma confronted the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, many of whose books I read when I lived in Belgium in the 1970s. He was first blessed with enormous success until damned and driven away by the Nazis, because of his Jewish heritage. After gaining British citizenship, he eventually moved to Brazil, where he committed suicide, together with his second wife, in 1942, on hearing news of the fall of Singapore. Some of his erstwhile friends criticised his flight to safety in South America as well as his pacifism, while others lamented the loss of a good and prolific writer and biographer, if not always a great one. I visited the Zweig’s house in Petrópolis, outside Rio de Janeiro, some years ago and thought what an idyllic place for a writer it was in many ways. But Stefan Zweig could not bear the thought that the world was doomed to be controlled by fascists and the like. Alas, he therefore missed the redemptive defeat of Hitler, Mussolini and Imperial Japan. So perhaps even if I do decide to settle in Brazil some time in the not too distant future I shouldn’t let hope die.

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