Sunday, September 24, 2006

Burgess Versus Bateman: The Early Rounds

When, back in June, Fee Plumley first invited me to take part in The Burgess Project, I felt a bit guilty about accepting. Though I knew a bit about Anthony Burgess, and had read some of his stuff, I was very aware that my feelings towards Burgess weren’t entirely positive.

So, having written that, “yes, I’d be delighted to take part in your current project,” I explained my ambivalent relationship with Burgessiana. Cue the copy-and-paste...

I’m not actually a mad keen Burgess fan, but he’s interesting enough that he’s inspired me to write stuff in the past, and could pretty much certainly do so again. I’ve mostly only ever read A Clockwork Orange (which I enjoyed a lot) and the Enderby novels (which I enjoyed not so much); and I regard him as someone who was morally very mixed up. That said, I have a fairly intimate involvement with A Clockwork Orange, since in 1986 I wrote a stage adaptation of it for Hit & Run Theatre Company, which was staged at the Unity Theatre in April 1987.
Later that same year, Burgess brought out his own stage-script of A Clockwork Orange (which is a bit cursory, and looks like he spent all of about five days working on it), and he wrote the following, in what he calls “A Prefatory Word” – which actually runs to six full pages, so it’s quite a long word:
“I am disclosing a certain gloom about visual adaptation of my little book, and the reader has now the right to ask why I have contrived a stage version of it. The answer is very simple: it is to stem the flow of amateur adaptations that I have heard about though never seen.”
Wow! What motivation for his writing! Anyway, I’m personally quite proud to be one the people of whom he whines.
An incidental extra is that in 1986, while writing the adaptation, I wrote a couple of poems as potential lyrics, based on a song-title that turns up in the novel of A Clockwork Orange, namely You Blister My Paint. (You’ll find one of the poems in Curse Of The Killer Hedge.) Then in 1987 in his stage-script, Burgess himself did a short lyric of You Blister My Paint, and his is actually copyright a year later than mine – all of which I naturally find very entertaining. (I will add that the only things our respective poems had in common were the title line and the use of the rhyme-phrase “you ain’t.”)
Well, now you know about my ambivalent relationship with Burgess, you might not be so keen to have me in any Burgess-oriented project. As I say, I’m quite keen myself, and I’m sure I’d do something positive, and also it would be a pleasure to work with you again; but it’s probably worth you knowing this other stuff in advance so you aren’t under any misapprehensions.

By the way, did you know that Anthony Burgess’s full name was John Anthony Burgess Wilson? Just think: given the choices, he could so easily have called himself Anthony Wilson.

Funnily enough, ... just this weekend ... I was putting together a little summary of my publication history, and ... In a way there’s an odd little Burgess connection there too, because the reason I was putting together my publication history was that I’m trying to place a novel I’ve written –a nonsense comedy thriller called The Sarga Of Harry The Hand– which is written in its own unique twisted version of English, rather like A Clockwork Orange is, though personally I’m more influenced by Professor Stanley Unwin and Doctor John Winston O’Boogie Lennon (not forgetting Edward Lear) than by Anthony Burgess. Still, he was pretty daring, and very important in showing that it can be done: a whole novel in a dialect that no one’s ever heard of before!

Anyway, if you’re still interested in having me, please do tell me more...

Obviously, it turned out that they were still interested in having me; but for some reason, nearly three months later and despite their promises, I still can’t get them to listen to the funk version of You Blister My Paint.

PS. This is my first ever weblog attempt (he announced pathetically). Next time I will even try to bring myself to use the word “blog.” It’s like when people say “Burgessian,” the “Bur” bit tends to disappear, and you just hear them saying “Jessian,” and you think, what’s all that about, then? Anyway, the point is that if turns out I’ve made a complete mess of it when I paste the bugger in, or if the act of mostly just pasting in a three-month-old e-mail should give the appearance of cheating or not trying hard enough, then I’m very, very sorry.
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