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The Finger

The Finger, a journal of the arts, literature and culture, enjoyed a brief starburst in the closing quarter of 2005, running to two issues. Published by CentreHouse Press, and edited by Peter Cowlam, it featured the work of writers Val Hennessy, Allen Saddler, Mari Garcia, Jack Degree, Richard Hillesley, Bob Mann, Brian Poilly, Robert Vint, Jo Larsen, and Sam Richards.

'The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ, / Moves on...'

Issue #1, October 2005; Issue #2, November 2005. Collector’s items!


The Vagabond Lover

Coming Home looks, in the broadest sense, at the Catholic Church and the phenomenon of conversion. It considers, among other things, the varied components of Catholic identity; the complex, multifaceted relations between Catholicism and postmodernism, and between Church doctrine and pastoral praxis; and the controversies between so-called conservatives and liberals over the direction the Church should take in the future. The Catholic Church, with its 2,000 years of accumulated doctrine and definition, claims to be the one and only divinely appointed repository of religious truth and wisdom, authoritatively taught and preserved for transmission to posterity. No other institution makes such a claim. It would be unwise to dismiss that claim in accordance with some dogmatic presupposition rather than weighing it impartially according to the evidence. Coming Home invites the reader to consider all the evidence before making up his or her own mind.

Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1937 to May 1940, and is identified with the policy of ‘appeasement’ towards Adolf Hitler’s Germany in the period preceding World War II. In this new study, Chamberlain and Appeasement, Dr Andrew Elsby assesses the different explanations of appeasement, taking into account evidence as to its causes. He rejects the revisionist case, and develops a counter-revisionism, establishing a more comprehensive assessment of the causes of British foreign policy during the period, using minutes of Foreign Policy Committee and Cabinet meetings, Chamberlain’s personal papers, and in addition literature on the theory of foreign-policy decision-making apropos of the British political system. Stress is laid on the effect of attitudinal and motivational factors and individual influence, not least that of the Prime Minister himself. Conclusions reached by this new study are timely, and are of relevance now, vis-à-vis the UK and its relationship with Europe.

Cavan O’Connor was born into near destitution in Nottingham in 1899, but quickly rose to become the legendary ‘Vagabond of Song’. He was one of the most famous singing legends of his era. He topped Variety bills. He was an adventurer, who cut a swashbuckling figure. In the golden age of radio, his broadcasts reached listening figures of over thirteen million. With his flawless tenor voice his status was as latter-day troubadour, a star of stage imitated by romantics young and old all over the civilised world. But what lay behind the idealised celebrity? Was he a gift from God, or a flawed, vulnerable being like the rest of us? Enter the writer son Garry O’Connor, who answers that question emphatically. In his memoir The Vagabond Lover, the father-son dispute unveils without sentimentality the general mess of domestic and family life, of which Cavan was the head. Revealed – in this searing, honest, dark revelation – are the miserable depths the sweet singer of lyrical song plumbed, and remorselessly so. O’Connor fils does not spare the reader, refusing to gloss over the traumas and crises of family conflict, as they run in parallel to his own fortunes and vicissitudes. He is dispassionate with the biographical detail, yet impassioned enough to recall one of his own plays, penned in his Cambridge youth, where the father Cavan is reimagined. In fiction as in life he is cast as the pivotal character in a family drama painful in its climaxes. Overarching is a first ever account of those Cambridge years, peopled with familiar icons of twenty-first-century culture. It’s a fast-moving, two-pronged probe into the nature of celebrity, arriving at a profound resolution as the author shrugs off the flaws and setbacks packaged as part of the celebrity deal.

G. K. Chesterton wrote of Orthodoxy that it represented an attempt ‘to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe’ and to do so ‘in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions’. For most of its readers, it is the wittiest and most rollicking defence of the Christian faith ever written. Anticipating much modern theology, Catholic and Protestant, Chesterton’s apologia is more personalistic than propositional. He understands that, in order to be credible, a belief system must appeal to the heart as well as to the mind. No one has set out more engagingly the reasons for believing in Christianity as the timeless truth about who we are, and rejecting the alternatives as fads and fashions. Jon Elsby, author of Light in the Darkness and Wrestling With the Angel, has written extensively on Christian apologists and apologetics, and has penned an illuminating introduction for this edition of Orthodoxy, which also contains brief notes and an index.

Light in the Darkness, by Jon Elsby. Christian apologetics is an important area of intellectual endeavour and achievement, standing at the boundaries between theology, philosophy and literature. Yet it has been largely neglected by historians of literature and ideas. In these essays, the author attempts to establish apologetics as a subject deserving of respect in its own right. He analyses the apologetic arguments and strategies of four of the greatest Christian apologists of the twentieth century – Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and C. S. Lewis. He shows how different lines of argument support each other and converge on the same conclusion: that what Chesterton called ‘orthodoxy’ and Lewis ‘mere Christianity’ represents the fundamental truth about the relations between human beings, the universe, and God.

Naked Woman, by Garry O’Connor. Under the one title Naked Woman are brought together two plays by the critically acclaimed Garry O’Connor. The first, Semmelweis, is a victim play in the Tennessee Williams tradition, about the German Hungarian physician who discovered the cause of childbed fever and introduced antisepsis into medical practice. The second, De Raptu Meo, is a theatrical re-creation of English poet Geoffrey Chaucer and his times. Semmelweis was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival, and De Raptu Meo had its first reading in Inner Temple, with Derek Jacobi in the part of Geoffrey Chaucer, and its first full performance in the same venue with Ian Hogg in the lead role.

Reassessing the Chesterbelloc, by Jon Elsby. Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton were two of the biggest names on the Georgian literary scene. They were what today would be called 'public intellectuals'. Each wrote nearly a hundred books in a variety of genres and on a huge range of subjects. But they are now almost entirely unread. Jon Elsby reassesses their legacy.

Wrestling With the Angel, by Jon Elsby. Who am I? Am I an autonomous being, able to define myself by my own free choices, or a created being with a given human nature, living in a world which, in significant respects, does not depend on me? Are these two views necessarily opposed? Wrestling With the Angel is one man's attempt to answer those questions. Raised as a Protestant, the author lost his faith in his teenage years, and then gradually regained it – but in an unexpected form. This is the story of a spiritual and intellectual journey from Protestantism to atheism, and beyond: a journey which finally, and much to the author's surprise, reached its terminus in the Catholic Church.

The Burghers of Ceylon, by Andrew Elsby, traces the origins and history of the mixed-race populations of imperial Ceylon. It explains how, and why, those populations emerged, how they developed, how they were distinguished – and how they distinguished themselves – from the Europeans and from the native populations. It explores the components of burgher identity. The author also provides answers to the following questions. How reliable is the evidence of the Dutch Burgher Union’s genealogies? How prevalent is racial misrepresentation, and what were the motives behind it? How were the mixed-race populations treated by the European colonial powers? What happened to those mixed-race populations when colonial rule ended in 1948?

The Engaged Musician, by Sam Richards, is a passionate call to musicians, of whatever genre or discipline, to rescue themselves and us from the commercial tyrannies and dictates currently forming our musical life, and relocate it very determinedly in a meaningful social and aesthetic exchange. The book focuses on various themes typical of social, political and cultural engagement, without insisting on sectional interests. In part it scrutinises pervasive myths and doggedly held positions.

Laurel, by Peter Cowlam, a sequence of poems whose terrain is love, loss and lovers’ rivalries.

‘His poems have an epic feel…painting vivid pictures with the fewest words possible. This new collection gathers together threads of irony, self-deprecating nostalgia, and linguistic playfulness in one powerful skein of sharp, imagistic one-liners.’ Jane Holland, author of Disreputable

‘His spare poems brilliantly unfold an inner landscape on a complex journey of the heart that feels both personal and universal.’ Rachel Blum, author of The Doctor of Flowers

‘I am reminded of T. E. Hulme’s imagist poems I discovered as a teenager through Herbert Read’s The True Voice of Feeling. Laurel is a distillation of mood, atmosphere, feeling, expressed in a direct and surprising way, with the infinite – sky, sea, moon, sun – brought close to us and homely.’ Garry O’Connor, author of The Vagabond Lover

New King Palmers, by Peter Cowlam. The novel is set in the late 1990s, in the months up to and after the death of Princess Diana. It is narrated by its principal character Humfrey Joel, who is a close friend of Earl Eliot d’Oc. The earl’s ancestry is closely bound up with the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and d’Oc is a member of the British Privy Council and a close friend of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. In the months preceding Diana’s death, d’Oc commissions a newly emerging theatre director to complete a theatrical project centred on constitutional issues surrounding Prince Charles. The play he commissions is called New King Palmers and d’Oc maintains rigorous editorial control over it. When d’Oc’s death shortly follows Princess Diana’s, Humfrey Joel finds himself named as d’Oc’s literary executor, charged with the task of bringing the play to the English stage and to publication. We now learn that supposedly written into the text is an encoded message from the British Privy Council on behalf of the House of Windsor addressed to the then stewards of the European Union, with the heir’s interests served by UK withdrawal from the EU, before it becomes a federal superstate. When news of this leaks out no one in the British literary and theatrical worlds believes it. In fact most come to see Earl d’Oc as an invented character Humfrey Joel is using as a shield for himself, whatever his motives might be. All this Joel vigorously denies, though his real secret makes him much more personally vulnerable than anyone can imagine.

 Joel comes to work closely with Daphne Hao, an emerging theatre director, and as they join forces in bringing the play to the English stage much is revealed of d’Oc’s European ancestry, and the levers of power his family has had its hands to. Over the course of the book, we see this range from Simon de Montfort, after the Albigensian Crusade, to the inner core of the Nazi party when Hess and Hitler rose to prominence. We learn too that the source of the d’Ocs’ enormous family wealth has been control of the European salt trade. We also begin to suspect that Earl Eliot d’Oc may have been Joel’s biological father.

The message encoded in the play is cleverly disguised through the depiction of intimate scenes in the lives of the Prince and Princess of Wales, wheile they were together, with the controversy this is likely to arouse deflecting general attention from the play’s real purpose. On its first performance it is greeted with hostility (though does fare well from a tour through the Low Countries). Furthermore there is incredulity in the theatre and artistic world that an English earl has written the play at all, and it is this that leads to speculation that the real author is Humfrey Joel. From this moment Joel finds himself hounded by the tabloid press, and pursued by British intelligence services, to the point that his life becomes unbearable. From here he must find inventive ways of keeping the world at bay and protecting himself. As a chronicle written from Humfrey Joel’s viewpoint, the remainder of the story describes that undertaking, though increasingly we, the readers, can’t be certain of the veracity of his claims, and like others can even come to doubt the authenticity of d’Oc as author.

The book’s setting is mainly London, with excursions to the earl’s country estate. As a whole it plays on conspiracy theories attaching to Princess Diana’s death, highlighting specific historical precedents to it.

Across the Rebel Network, by Peter Cowlam. Anno centres a federated Europe in an uncertain, and not-too-distant digital future, when politics, the media and mass communications have fused into one amorphous whole. He works for the Bureau of Data Protection (BDP), a federal government department responsible for monitoring the full range of material, in all media, posted into cyberspace. The BDP is forced to do this when rebel states are seceding, small satellites once of the federation but now at a remove from it, economically and socially. A handful of organised outsiders threatens to undermine the central state through a concerted propaganda war, using the federation’s own digital infrastructure. It is this climate of mutual suspicion that to Anno makes inevitable decades of digital guerrilla warfare. While his department takes steps to prevent this, he doesn’t reckon on the intervention of his old college sparring partner, Craig Diamond, who is now a powerful media mogul. The two engage in combat conducted through cyberspace, in a rare concoction of literary sci-fi.

Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize? by Peter Cowlam. Winner of the 2015 Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction. For Alistair Wye, assistant to ‘top’ novelist Marshall Zob, Zob makes just two mistakes. First, he plans a commemorative book celebrating the life and work of his dead mentor, John Andrew Glaze, whose theory of ‘literary time’ is of dubious philosophical pedigree. Second, Zob turns the whole literary world on its head through the size of advance he instructs his agent to negotiate for his latest, and most mediocre novel to date. Secretly Wye keeps a diary of Zob’s professional and private life. Comic, resolute, Wye stalks through its every page, scattering his pearls with an imperious hand. An unsuspecting Zob ensures perfect conditions for the chronicler of his downfall.

Two new plays by Garry O’Connor bring together Debussy Was My Grandfather and The Madness of Vivien Leigh. The first is set in London in the late 1960s, and is about a composer, conductor, pop group manager, former dancer, and for good measure the daughter of a Zürich gnome (as they were known in those days). The Madness of Vivien Leigh is based on books O’Connor has written about Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Ralph Richardson.

Buy Our Books Coming Home Light in the Darkness Who's Afraid of the Booker Prize? Chamberlain and Appeasement Laurel Orthodoxy