Reviews

fishyMartin Philp is a highly original writer of great talent. He has qualities that remind me of the best of Arnold Bennett, with a marvellous sympathy for ordinary people. His odd blend of humour and tragedy must be quite unique.

COLIN WILSON, author of The Outsider

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. [It is…] likely to be the start of a much wider and deserved recognition for a writer of such exhilarating talent.

DES HANNIGAN, WESTERN MORNING NEWS

Philp conjures a world inhabited by convincing characters. Sad, foul-mouthed and always authentic, his stories invariably possess a great sting in the tail.

THE WESTERN MORNING NEWS

Very funny. Read it at your peril and be prepared to laugh a lot.

THE CORNISHMAN

FULL REVIEWS FOLLOW

WESTERN MORNING NEWS, 12 JANUARY 2010

Town takes its placed in the literary landscape

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

FROM THE CORNISHMAN, May 13 2010

BY FRANK RUHMRUND

ECHOES OF HOME FROM WRITER BASED IN INDIA

Martin Philp with his new book of short stories One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place.  1003CIOSP10902PHILP

Martin Philp with his new book of short stories One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place. 1003CIOSP10902PHILP

FOR ONE reason or another Hayle has never received a good press. In his Shell Guide to Cornwall, John Betjeman describes it as having been “given a sense of inferiority because of not being so picturesque as its neighbour, St Ives”. Then, too, he points out that the main road to Penzance passes through its long main street and this “robs it of peace at all times of the year”.

While he wrote that long before the building of the town’s bypass, the memories of trying to drive through it especially in the summer, remain.

But, like all places, Hayle has its share of the good, the bad and the ugly, something which author Martin Philp has discovered and now provides the subject matter for the stories that make up his first book One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place.

Although born in Penzance, he grew up in Hayle, attended Penpol School, then Humphry Davy School and Penwith Sixth Form College in Penzance, prior to studying English Literature at Sussex University.

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On leaving there, nursing the ambition of being an author, he worked in London as a sub-editor and as a writer on magazines achieving, as he says, the highlight of his journalistic career in the capital with this headline for a baked apple recipe – Cored Blimey!

At this time, as he admits, he was better at talking about writing than actually doing it but he received great advice from an established author.

Finding a voice

“Like most good authors she was economical with her words. ‘Writers write’, she said.”

Bearing her words in mind, he wrote two novels that he acknowledges were not very good, and then, some eight or so years ago, he came back to live and work in Cornwall. It was then that he started to write about the county and “found the voice” that he felt suited him.

Curiously enough, since completing his book of short stories, he has moved to Bangalore in India where he is putting together another collection of stories about Cornwall.

“It’s odd writing about Foundry Square in Hayle or Causewayhead in Penzance with the sound of rickshaw horns and parakeets drifting in the window.

“My mum tries to lure me back with descriptions of home-made pasties and roast dinners but I tell her that samosas are just like pasties, only spicier. She isn’t convinced, to be honest, I’m not sure I am either.

“I love India, but I think I’ll be back home in the not too distant future and, hopefully, with another collection of stories about Cornwall stuffed in my suitcase.”

If they are anything like those between the covers of One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place, then their promise is as mouth-watering as that of a home-made pasty.

A bare-knuckle writer who pulls no punches and who has already had several stories published in Cornwall’s literary journal Scryfa, the last he had published there happens to be the first in this book.

Martin Philp crosses the generations with ease and writes with understanding of people who are much older than him.

His characters range from the artist who says: “We live in an age when objects are not judged by their inherent value, but by the fashions of the market place,” to the ladies who find comfort in the fact that “friend or foe, acquaintance or stranger, we are indeed all in this together”.

He dishes up generous helpings of good humour and insight into the human condition, lust and love, that are as tasty and as easy to swallow, even allowing for their profane wrapping, as the prize 114 creation served in Love And Ice Cream. Stories that, to borrow another of his titles, are Richer Than The Kingdom of Heaven, peopled by those who are young and old, sad and happy, fuelled by wisdom and driven with skill by Martin Philp, they have the faces and the feelings of humans everywhere.

Eleven stories for £7.50, published by Scryfa with a cover illustration by Penwith painter Rod Walker, One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place is available from local bookshops, or from www.onebigecho.wordpress.com or by sending £10 to Jean Philp, 2 Boskennal Drive, Hayle TR27 4QX.

FROM THE WESTERN MORNING NEWS, JUNE 1 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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