As the song goes, I love Paris in the Springtime, I love Paris in the Fall …
Not sure when or where it all began – 2014, that is – this staggered (sometimes staggering) road trip along the year; most likely it was Worksop, an otherwise gloomy Tuesday in February, made bright for me by the four guys in the Blue Territory band, and, hopefully, for the 80 or so assembled in the library to see and hear us on the first leg of our Jazz is the Word tour of the East Midlands. Since which time, sometimes with Blue Territory or John Lake’s fine little band from Brighton, but more often on my own, I’ve been fumbling my way from small festival to large, from Fowey to Edinburgh and Hay, from bookstore to church crypt, reading and rambling in a manner somewhat unkindly but maybe accurately described as resembling Tommy Cooper without the jokes and without the tricks. All this to celebrate the publication of not one book, but two: a collection of new & selected poems from Smith/Doorstop, Out of Silence, and from William Heinemann & Arrow, the twelfth and final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness.
So, more events this year than in the previous three or four, and the weekend just past saw the last, happily and surprisingly sunnily, in Paris.
Held in the rather magnificent Mairie of the 13th arrondissement, under the eagle eye of the splendid and splendidly named Chargée de Mission, Catherine Weigel d’Angelo, the Paris Polar festival featured talks, discussions, screenings – some wonderful vintage silent movies with appropriate piano accompaniment, as well as Bertrand Tavernier’s In The Electric Mist – a live duel between graphic artists to the tune of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say & similar jump-jive drive, and exhibitions of photography, painting and illustration. Another chance, then, to admire Hermance Triay’s photographic sequence, Scenes de Crime, and to sample the work of Francophiled American Miles Hyman, the colour and craft of whose graphic novel adaptation of James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, is, well, magnifique!
In one of Saturday’s round table sessions, the other British representative at the festival, Cathi Unsworth – critique rock, journaliste et auteur – joined two French writers to talk about the manifold links between music and crime fiction (and, over lunch, along with her husband, Mike, introduced me to the Sohemians, a group dedicated to the exploration of the life of London’s Soho in the 40s and 50s). And in the other session, I joined the writer and publisher of Rivages Noir & Rivage Thriller, François Guérif, and film maker – and the festival’s Guest of Honour – Bertrand Tavernier to talk about the Western novel both in its new incarnation through the likes of James Carlos Blake and the work of older, wrongly overlooked writers such as Ernest Haycox and W. R. Burnett. Although Tavernier has never (so far) made a Western movie as such, there was no doubting his enthusiasm for the genre and, in France, he has started curating his own list of Western fiction in translation through the publishing house, Actes Sud.
On the Saturday evening, Tavernier introduced a screening of In The Electric Mist, based on the novel by James Lee Burke, describing his problems with the American distributors, who wanted quite extensive cuts, and extolling the qualities of his lead actor, Tommy Lee Jones. Somehow I’d missed seeing the film before and enjoyed it very much, not least for Jones’ strong yet sympathetic presence in the central role, and the support he received from the likes of John Goodman (a real performance this, not the one he sometimes phones in), Mary Steenburgen, and, in the role of a Louisiana blues singer, no less than Buddy Guy.
As part of the outreach work of the festival, on the Friday afternoon I went to the nearby lycée Claude Monet to talk to the older students about two of the Resnick novels they had been studying as part of their English course: Lonely Hearts, which they had been reading in French, and Rough Treatment, which they had been reading in English. No getting away from it, there’s something quite intimidating about facing a room filled with a hundred or more 17 year olds, but any fears I may have had soon faded: the students were well-prepared with questions, their command of English was, in most cases, admirable, as was their concentration and stamina, the session lasting two hours before coming to a close. By some nicely unanticipated good fortune, the final question was about the subjects I dealt with in my poetry, and having said that I tended to write quite a lot about jazz musicians and mortality, I was able to conclude by speaking one of the few poems I know by heart, the one in which Chet Baker falls to his death from a hotel window in Amsterdam. Silence. Applause. Two hours I very much enjoyed.
So that was Paris: the end of the road. Next year (hopefully) we rest …
What nicer way to bring my arduous year of book eventing to a close than with four days in Paris?
Paris Polar, the city’s annual festival of crime writing and associated fields, is this year honoured to have the film director Bertrand Tavernier as its Special Guest, and Tavernier will introduce a showing of his film, In the Electric Mist, based on the novel by James Lee Burke, on the Saturday evening.
The formidable Cathi Unsworth and myself will be representing British crime writing at the festival; Cathi – who knows a great deal about such matters – will be taking part in a panel discussion about the relationship(s) between music and the crime novel, while I have the honour of sharing a platform with Bertrand Tavernier and publisher, editor and writer, François Guerif, to discuss the return of the American West and the Western novel to the literary landscape.
I’m delighted also that the festival will give me another opportunity to look at Hermance Triay’s Crime Scene photographs, which I first came across in Villeneuve Lez Avignon earlier in the year, and which inspired the author Marc Villard to write the twenty short texts which have been published alongside the photographs in a book of the same name
Outside of the festival itself, on Thursday afternoon I’m a guest on Kathleen Evin’s radio programme, L’Humeur Vagabonde on France Inter, and on Friday I have the uncertain pleasure of talking to four classes of sixteen year olds at the lycée Claude Monet, who have been reading Coeurs Solitaires (Lonely Hearts) in its French translation and Rough Treatment (Les Etrangers Dans la Maison) in the original English.
And if I can slip away from my duties at the signing table long enough, there are currently exhibitions by two leading American photographers I’d very much like to see – Garry Winogrand at Jeu de Paume and William Eggleston at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Sunday, 16th November 2014 : BBC Radio 3
Listen on the BBC Radio iPlayer here …
Interviewed in the Guardian about his new film, Winter Sleep, which won this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, and which – having seen the trailer, especially – I’m anxious to see (but not so anxious that, although it opens a week today, I’m not planning to see it till the following Monday – there’s deferred gratification for you) this is Ceylan’s response to the question, could he imagine making a comedy …
“No, no, no!’ Ceylan says, his deep voice rising in a kind of soft lament. “I am not that kind of guy. I don’t like comedies; I don’t like to laugh.” At which point, he bursts out laughing. He is laughing now, I remark. “No, some people go to these … entertainments. I like melancholic things better.”
Now there’s a man after my own heart.
I’ll work on the deep voice …
There’s a lovely, quite elegiac piece – Blues for Charlie – On Reading the Last Resnick – on Catherine Annabel’s Passing Time blog – you can find it here – at the end of which she has a suggested playlist with which to accompany a reading of the novels, and, with her permission, here it is …
- Lonely Hearts (1989) Billie Holiday : ‘(I Don’t Stand a) Ghost of a Chance (With You) (Music for Torching, 1955)
- Rough Treatment (1990) Red Rodney Quintet : Shaw ‘Nuff (Red Rodney Returns, 1959)
- Cutting Edge (1991) Art Pepper : Straight Life (Straight Life, 1979)
- Off Minor (1992) Thelonious Monk : Off Minor (Monk’s Music, 1957)
- Wasted Years (1993) Thelonious Monk : Evidence (Thelonious Monk at the Blackhawk, 1960)
- Cold Light (1994) Duke Ellington Orchestra : Cottontail (The Carnegie Hall Concerts, 1943)
- Living Proof (1995) Stan Tracey Duo : Some Other Blues (Live at the QEH, 1994)
- Easy Meat (1996) Billie Holiday : Body & Soul (Body & Soul, 1957)
- Still Water (1997) Miles Davis : Bag’s Groove (Bag’s Groove, 1957)
- Last Rites (1998) Sandy Brown : In the Evening (In the Evening, 1970)
- Cold in Hand (2008) Bessie Smith : Cold in Hand Blues (1925) (The Bessie Smith Story, Vol. 3, 1951)
- Darkness, Darkness (2014) Thelonious Monk : Blue Monk (Thelonious Monk Trio, 1954)