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June 12, 2010

REVIEW FROM WESTERN MORNING NEWS,  1 JUNE 2010

BY MIKE SAGAR FENTON

AUTHOR GETS UNDER THE SKIN OF PORT TOWN

Humphry Davy stood at the top of Market Jew Street, his hand on his hip, and a look of haughty condescension that said: “It’s about time you dreadful people pulled yourselves together and made something of your lives.”

I owe this vivid and accurate picture of my home town of Penzance on a winter afternoon to a man from the other side of the world – Hayle.

And if Penzance is so dreadful, my townsmen might say, what about that post-industrial wilderness through which we trailed unwillingly for so many years until it was, thankfully, bypassed and, therefore, forgotten?

But the words are by author Martin Philp, a name synonymous with Hayle for decades.

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One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place is a collection of short stories which has already been reviewed in these pages, and I’ve just finished reading it. I can’t remember which author said that “it’s not enough to be successful – others must fail” but generosity is rare between most creative artists and that’s how we like it.

However, this little blue book, published by Scryfa, is one that any Cornish writer must stand up and salute. He has got Cornwall right, as only an insider can.

And even more of a revelation is that he has celebrated Hayle itself, which is as much a character as any of the complex, sad, funny, utterly humane people whose lives he delicately brings to life. It’s a love/hate relationship.

“Hayle’s a dump and always will be,” says one resident, while another revels in its “faded glory … like an overlong youth, frayed and worn in places (most places)…” awaiting the line of would-be developers who have threatened to make it grow up like other towns.

The author’s ear for dialogue in real Cornish – as opposed to “proper Cornish” – style is marvellous and his satires are as gentle as they are true.

We share the frustration of a conventional local artist bewailing modern art’s money and praise while he looks around his studio at Bosigran And The Heavens, Carn Galver In Autumn, Morvah At Dusk, Last Rays At Zennor Head and other doomed works.

Meanwhile, the art critics do what art critics do: “bludgeon a work with words and concepts until they are quite sure it has stopped breathing.”

No contemporary portrait of Cornwall could work unless it dug beneath the gloss and the pseudo-romance, down to the well of Cornish identity – the mixed sadness of defeat coupled with deep pride of ownership, the sense of abiding values, the willingness to let the world go on its mad way without wanting to jump aboard, and — making it all bearable — the humour, love and humanity which keep our societies together under the harshest circumstances.

It’s truly beautiful stuff, and you should go out and buy a copy.

One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place by Martin Philp is published by Scryfa and is available for £7.50 (inc, p&p) from Scryfa, Halwinnick Cottage, Linkinhorne, Callington, Cornwall PL17 7NS.

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