Meet the Characters (Part 2)

January 28, 2010

Florence Bray
Apparently growing older is best done gracefully, but no one told that to Florence Bray. With her barely tolerated husband recently in his grave, she rages against the wasted years, casts off acquaintances and finds solace, and adventure, at last in the company of the demonic Mr Drew, a man with an appetite for love, drink and offending the elderly.

Henry Caldwell
Meet an ice cream salesman with a mind as cold and icy as his frosty confections. Henry is the scourge of hot, sweaty optimistic youth, and seems bent on bringing the knowledge of life’s disappointments to the young as quickly as is inhumanely possible. What will save the youth of Hayle from Henry? Love, of course, in the shapely shape of fellow ice cream vendor Sarah.

Ronnie Honeychurch
What is art? No idea, and neither has Ronnie by the looks of it. Until one day this anxious little painter of twee Cornish landscapes accidentally smears one of his tired paintings and begins a journey through impressionism, expressionism, and finally a deadly abstraction. Or something like that. Like I say, I know nothing about art. Like everyone else, I just look at the price tag.

Bill Downder
Bill keeps a diary. Every day he writes what he has for dinner, and what the weather’s like. Then his wife dies. And Bill embarks on a furious spree of writing (well, about 1,000 words)  looking back at the years with humour, regret and an admission that he knew exactly what his wife did with Fish Pie Matthews at the dinner and dance.  I’m sorry, I can’t write any more. I’m welling up.

PC George Thomas
He’s fat, he’s indolent, he wouldn’t know a clue if he saw a great big sign saying ‘Clue!’, and therefore, naturally – and really it goes without saying – he’s absolutely nothing like any policeman in Cornwall or adjacent counties. PC George Thomas is, however, quite the connoisseur of quality biscuits. Join him on a courtesy call to the recently robbed Mrs Grace Pellow, and on a high-tea adventure through Hob Nobs, Chocolate Fingers and beyond.

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Meet the Characters (Part 1)

January 18, 2010

Here’s a few of the character’s that appear in One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place. (And, incidentally, are popping up frequently in the next collection of stories I’m writing now.)

Dandy Allcock – Take a gameshow host from the Seventies (preferably one from an unbroadcast pilot) mix in a little auctioneer and finish with a sprinkling of horse-racing commentator and you have Dandy: a man who just wants to be loved and that no one in Hayle can stomach for more than a few minutes.

Barbara Morethek – Morethek means something like sadness in Cornish, I forget exactly what now, and Barbara is the epitome of the person who sees all the world through a veil of sepia-tinted nostalgia. Her life is a crackling Cine film, with a soundtrack made up of sighs and water dripping from guttering on a Sunday afternoon.

Jack Tremenyans – When some people swear it’s ugly, when others do it’s an art form. Jack belongs to the latter group – never does ‘fucking’ sound so vital and alive than when falling, mid mishap, from his cursing Cornish lips.

Archie – Otherwise known as Old Broken Window Bachelor. Living a life of purity can be a pretty dirty business. Ragged old Archie drinks and smokes his way through his autumn years like the young poet of his youth. Wise people salute him; commonplace people sneer.

Tommy Wakfer – The uber Cornish male. Suspicious of change one moment, Quixotic the next, a profanity or a poetic utterance never far from his lips. He’s never had a full story proper to himself yet, just an anecdote, though he pops up in a lot of other character’s stories when the raging spirit of Cornishness need to rear its beautiful/ugly head.


First review for One Big Echo

January 12, 2010

Town takes its place in the literary landscape
Monday, January 11, 2010, 11:00

A Cornish author’s debut collection of short stories is a tour de force, says Des Hannigan

WITH his first collection of short stories – One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place – Martin Philp stakes his claim as an original and authentic voice and as a Cornish writer of some power.

Philp’s stories vibrate with humanity, wit and, at times, a merciless but honest view of the human condition. He says that he discovered his Cornish hometown of Hayle as a rich seedbed for stories after forays into the wider world in search of inspiration. But a universal wisdom illuminates this collection and Philp has made of Hayle, with its no-nonsense rhythms and its rough vitality, a vehicle for a liberating take on life in much the same way as the Canadian broadcaster and writer Garrison Keillor has done for his fictional Lake Wobegon. Martin Philp has secured for Hayle an enduring and colourful place in the literary landscape of Cornwall and beyond.

Eleven stories make up this collection of often ribald, but always humane vignettes. Philp’s style rolls along gently as if the writer is talking directly to his readers at a pub or cafe table; the occasional lapses in syntax and form are manageable and there’s little need of too much background colour or literariness either. These stories are so insightful about the behaviour of ordinary people and their tangled lives that the scenes are set with ease.

Dialogue is a key element in these tales but Philp shows his skill as a writer by avoiding the hit and miss device of trying to replicate dialect. Rendering any dialect convincingly on to the page is rare; in the wrong hands, Cornish dialect especially, can be excruciatingly badly rendered. These stories have no need of such gilding. You hear the rich Cornishness for yourself in the mouths of Philp’s characters and in the nuances of their robust language and the rhythm of their often surreal thoughts.

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Such gentle surrealism threads its way throughout the book, not least in the titular story, One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place, about two ordinary souls, Barbara Morethek, trapped in a loveless marriage, and Charles Spycer, fruit and veg man, playing to the crowds with rude wit and lonely cheerfulness until he and Barbara discover their mutual contentment in being miserable.

In the terrific story, Clink Clink Clink, widowed Florence Bray dutifully conforms to the world of local chatter, godliness, envy and narrow-mindedness on bus tours to Cornish resorts. On the harbourside at Fowey, however, Florence has an epiphany and finally dismisses her tormenting “best friend” Marjorie Eddie and throws in her lot with the scatological and liberating philosophy of the ancient Mr Drew.

In The Drunken Sunset, Philp offers a savage, but utterly sane take on the world of painters and art collectors. He takes his hero, the happily conventional artist Ronnie Honeychurch, on a gentle odyssey through his past and through the raw Cornish landscapes that inspired Ronnie’s work as a painter. From this, Ronnie is delivered into happy anonymity by a hilarious final gesture towards artiness and its pretensions.

Most of the stories in One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place are about the redemption and renaissance of ordinary people. There is no romanticism, no sentimentality here, no whimsy or quaintness. Nobody in a Martin Philp story trades windy chatter over wine or escapes to the sun. They transcend their apparently dull, dutiful lives to reach the “much nicer place” that lies within themselves.

Cornwall has seen a blossoming of short story writing talent in recent years, not least through the work of the collective Scavel An Gow, with such fine practitioners as Annamaria Murphy and Mercedes Kemp to the fore. The work of these writers has also had welcome exposure through the literary magazine Scryfa, now sadly reaching the end of its fruitful run. A serious loss to Cornish culture; but in promoting short story writing so generously Scryfa has found a real star in Martin Philp and this first collection is likely to be the start of a much wider and deserved recognition for a writer of such exhilarating talent.

One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place by Martin Philp (with a splendid cover painting by Penzance artist Rod Walker) is published by Scryfa at £7.50. It is available from shops, by visiting http://www.onebigecho.wordpress.com or by sending £10 (including p&p) to: Jean Philp, 2 Boskennal Drive, Hayle, Cornwall TR27 4QX. For more information about Scryfa’s unique co-operative publishing scheme, visit: http://www.scryfa.co.uk


Official – The Indian Cornish

January 8, 2010

Following on from my previous post about the Cornish/Indian connection…

I’ve been living in Bangalore for a few months now, and you’d imagine Cornish people would be pretty thin on the ground. But I have discovered an interesting Cornish/India connection in one of my partner’s best friends.

She is an Anglo Indian, a term given to people with a part British, part Indian heritage. This multiracial group was a common phenomenon when the British ruled India because, to put it bluntly, officers and civil servants did a lot of fraternising with the locals.

So, I discovered recently, her grandfather turns out to have been a Cornish soldier based in Bangalore, who had an Indian mistress.

He’s buried somewhere back in Cornwall and I’ve promised to look up the grave and get a picture to her.

It’s not like she’s on the mead and pasties every evening or greets you with a ‘Namaste, my ‘andsome.’

But it’s an undeniable Cornish connection, all the same.

So you’ve met Cousin Jack. Now meet Cousin Ramesh…

It all sounds like good material for a story…