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The Finger, a journal of the arts, literature and culture, enjoyed a brief starburst
in the closing quarter of 2005, running to two issues. Published by CentreHouse Press,
and edited by Peter Cowlam, it featured the work of writers Val Hennessy, Allen Saddler,
Mari Garcia, Jack Degree, Richard Hillesley, Bob Mann, Brian Poilly, Robert Vint,
Jo Larsen, and Sam Richards.
'The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ, / Moves on...'
Issue #1, October 2005; Issue #2, November 2005. Collector’s items!
Cavan O’Connor was born into near destitution in Nottingham in 1899, but quickly
rose to become the legendary ‘Vagabond of Song’. He was one of the most famous singing
legends of his era. He topped Variety bills. He was an adventurer, who cut a swashbuckling
figure. In the golden age of radio, his broadcasts reached listening figures of over
thirteen million. With his flawless tenor voice his status was as latter-day troubadour,
a star of stage imitated by romantics young and old all over the civilised world.
But what lay behind the idealised celebrity? Was he a gift from God, or a flawed,
vulnerable being like the rest of us? Enter the writer son Garry O’Connor, who answers
that question emphatically. In his memoir The Vagabond Lover, the father-son dispute
unveils without sentimentality the general mess of domestic and family life, of which
Cavan was the head. Revealed – in this searing, honest, dark revelation – are the
miserable depths the sweet singer of lyrical song plumbed, and remorselessly so.
O’Connor fils does not spare the reader, refusing to gloss over the traumas and crises
of family conflict, as they run in parallel to his own fortunes and vicissitudes.
He is dispassionate with the biographical detail, yet impassioned enough to recall
one of his own plays, penned in his Cambridge youth, where the father Cavan is reimagined.
In fiction as in life he is cast as the pivotal character in a family drama painful
in its climaxes. Overarching is a first ever account of those Cambridge years, peopled
with familiar icons of twenty-first-century culture. It’s a fast-moving, two-pronged
probe into the nature of celebrity, arriving at a profound resolution as the author
shrugs off the flaws and setbacks packaged as part of the celebrity deal.
G. K. Chesterton wrote of Orthodoxy that it represented an attempt ‘to state the
philosophy in which I have come to believe’ and to do so ‘in a vague and personal
way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions’. For most
of its readers, it is the wittiest and most rollicking defence of the Christian faith
ever written. Anticipating much modern theology, Catholic and Protestant, Chesterton’s
apologia is more personalistic than propositional. He understands that, in order
to be credible, a belief system must appeal to the heart as well as to the mind.
No one has set out more engagingly the reasons for believing in Christianity as the
timeless truth about who we are, and rejecting the alternatives as fads and fashions.
Jon Elsby, author of Light in the Darkness and Wrestling With the Angel, has written
extensively on Christian apologists and apologetics, and has penned an illuminating
introduction for this edition of Orthodoxy, which also contains brief notes and an
Light in the Darkness, by Jon Elsby. Christian apologetics is an important area of
intellectual endeavour and achievement, standing at the boundaries between theology,
philosophy and literature. Yet it has been largely neglected by historians of literature
and ideas. In these essays, the author attempts to establish apologetics as a subject
deserving of respect in its own right. He analyses the apologetic arguments and strategies
of four of the greatest Christian apologists of the twentieth century – Hilaire Belloc,
G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and C. S. Lewis. He shows how different lines
of argument support each other and converge on the same conclusion: that what Chesterton
called ‘orthodoxy’ and Lewis ‘mere Christianity’ represents the fundamental truth
about the relations between human beings, the universe, and God.
Naked Woman, by Garry O’Connor. Under the one title Naked Woman are brought together
two plays by the critically acclaimed Garry O’Connor. The first, Semmelweis, is a
victim play in the Tennessee Williams tradition, about the German Hungarian physician
who discovered the cause of childbed fever and introduced antisepsis into medical
practice. The second, De Raptu Meo, is a theatrical re-creation of English poet Geoffrey
Chaucer and his times. Semmelweis was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival,
and De Raptu Meo had its first reading in Inner Temple, with Derek Jacobi in the
part of Geoffrey Chaucer, and its first full performance in the same venue with Ian
Hogg in the lead role.
Reassessing the Chesterbelloc, by Jon Elsby. Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton
were two of the biggest names on the Georgian literary scene. They were what today
would be called 'public intellectuals'. Each wrote nearly a hundred books in a variety
of genres and on a huge range of subjects. But they are now almost entirely unread.
Jon Elsby reassesses their legacy.
Wrestling With the Angel, by Jon Elsby. Who am I? Am I an autonomous being, able
to define myself by my own free choices, or a created being with a given human nature,
living in a world which, in significant respects, does not depend on me? Are these
two views necessarily opposed? Wrestling With the Angel is one man's attempt to answer
those questions. Raised as a Protestant, the author lost his faith in his teenage
years, and then gradually regained it – but in an unexpected form. This is the story
of a spiritual and intellectual journey from Protestantism to atheism, and beyond:
a journey which finally, and much to the author's surprise, reached its terminus
in the Catholic Church.
The Burghers of Ceylon, by Andrew Elsby, traces the origins and history of the mixed-race
populations of imperial Ceylon. It explains how, and why, those populations emerged,
how they developed, how they were distinguished – and how they distinguished themselves
– from the Europeans and from the native populations. It explores the components
of burgher identity. The author also provides answers to the following questions.
How reliable is the evidence of the Dutch Burgher Union’s genealogies? How prevalent
is racial misrepresentation, and what were the motives behind it? How were the mixed-race
populations treated by the European colonial powers? What happened to those mixed-race
populations when colonial rule ended in 1948?
The Engaged Musician, by Sam Richards, is a passionate call to musicians, of whatever
genre or discipline, to rescue themselves and us from the commercial tyrannies and
dictates currently forming our musical life, and relocate it very determinedly in
a meaningful social and aesthetic exchange. The book focuses on various themes typical
of social, political and cultural engagement, without insisting on sectional interests.
In part it scrutinises pervasive myths and doggedly held positions.
New King Palmers, by Peter Cowlam. The novel is set in the late 1990s, in the months
up to and after the death of Princess Diana. It is narrated by its principal character
Humfrey Joel, who is a close friend of Earl Eliot d’Oc. The earl’s ancestry is closely
bound up with the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and d’Oc is a member
of the British Privy Council and a close friend of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
In the months preceding Diana’s death, d’Oc commissions a newly emerging theatre
director to complete a theatrical project centred on constitutional issues surrounding
Prince Charles. The play he commissions is called New King Palmers and d’Oc maintains
rigorous editorial control over it. When d’Oc’s death shortly follows Princess Diana’s,
Humfrey Joel finds himself named as d’Oc’s literary executor, charged with the task
of bringing the play to the English stage and to publication. We now learn that supposedly
written into the text is an encoded message from the British Privy Council on behalf
of the House of Windsor addressed to the then stewards of the European Union, with
the heir’s interests served by UK withdrawal from the EU, before it becomes a federal
superstate. When news of this leaks out no one in the British literary and theatrical
worlds believes it. In fact most come to see Earl d’Oc as an invented character Humfrey
Joel is using as a shield for himself, whatever his motives might be. All this Joel
vigorously denies, though his real secret makes him much more personally vulnerable
than anyone can imagine.
Joel comes to work closely with Daphne Hao, an emerging theatre director, and as
they join forces in bringing the play to the English stage much is revealed of d’Oc’s
European ancestry, and the levers of power his family has had its hands to. Over
the course of the book, we see this range from Simon de Montfort, after the Albigensian
Crusade, to the inner core of the Nazi party when Hess and Hitler rose to prominence.
We learn too that the source of the d’Ocs’ enormous family wealth has been control
of the European salt trade. We also begin to suspect that Earl Eliot d’Oc may have
been Joel’s biological father.
The message encoded in the play is cleverly disguised through the depiction of intimate
scenes in the lives of the Prince and Princess of Wales, wheile they were together,
with the controversy this is likely to arouse deflecting general attention from the
play’s real purpose. On its first performance it is greeted with hostility (though
does fare well from a tour through the Low Countries). Furthermore there is incredulity
in the theatre and artistic world that an English earl has written the play at all,
and it is this that leads to speculation that the real author is Humfrey Joel. From
this moment Joel finds himself hounded by the tabloid press, and pursued by British
intelligence services, to the point that his life becomes unbearable. From here he
must find inventive ways of keeping the world at bay and protecting himself. As a
chronicle written from Humfrey Joel’s viewpoint, the remainder of the story describes
that undertaking, though increasingly we, the readers, can’t be certain of the veracity
of his claims, and like others can even come to doubt the authenticity of d’Oc as
The book’s setting is mainly London, with excursions to the earl’s country estate.
As a whole it plays on conspiracy theories attaching to Princess Diana’s death, highlighting
specific historical precedents to it.
Across the Rebel Network, by Peter Cowlam. Anno centres a federated Europe in an
uncertain, and not-too-distant digital future, when politics, the media and mass
communications have fused into one amorphous whole. He works for the Bureau of Data
Protection (BDP), a federal government department responsible for monitoring the
full range of material, in all media, posted into cyberspace. The BDP is forced to
do this when rebel states are seceding, small satellites once of the federation but
now at a remove from it, economically and socially. A handful of organised outsiders
threatens to undermine the central state through a concerted propaganda war, using
the federation’s own digital infrastructure. It is this climate of mutual suspicion
that to Anno makes inevitable decades of digital guerrilla warfare. While his department
takes steps to prevent this, he doesn’t reckon on the intervention of his old college
sparring partner, Craig Diamond, who is now a powerful media mogul. The two engage
in combat conducted through cyberspace, in a rare concoction of literary sci-fi.
Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize? by Peter Cowlam. Winner of the 2015 Quagga Prize
for Literary Fiction. For Alistair Wye, assistant to ‘top’ novelist Marshall Zob,
Zob makes just two mistakes. First, he plans a commemorative book celebrating the
life and work of his dead mentor, John Andrew Glaze, whose theory of ‘literary time’
is of dubious philosophical pedigree. Second, Zob turns the whole literary world
on its head through the size of advance he instructs his agent to negotiate for his
latest, and most mediocre novel to date. Secretly Wye keeps a diary of Zob’s professional
and private life. Comic, resolute, Wye stalks through its every page, scattering
his pearls with an imperious hand. An unsuspecting Zob ensures perfect conditions
for the chronicler of his downfall.
Two new plays by Garry O’Connor bring together Debussy Was My Grandfather and The
Madness of Vivien Leigh. The first is set in London in the late 1960s, and is about
a composer, conductor, pop group manager, former dancer, and for good measure the
daughter of a Zürich gnome (as they were known in those days). The Madness of Vivien
Leigh is based on books O’Connor has written about Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh
and Ralph Richardson.