Sunday, 15 October 2017


'The Road to Corbyn' talk at the Redwing Gallery in July 2017 given by the author
Yesterday's blog told the story of my Oxford Half-Marathon last Sunday. Today's post is focused on literary matters, specifically my first book: The Road to Corbyn and the biography of the artist, Jago Stone (1928-88) that I am researching and writing at present.

First, let me explain about my monthly MailChimp Newsletter that's designed to bring those who are interested in the biography of Jago Stone up-to-date with developments. At present I have 41 subscribers and 29 'Opens' so far for the October edition. Here's a link if you haven't signed up for these free Newsletters - 'Jago' MailChimp Newsletters. Do please open the October edition and read if you haven't done so already. I am using the Newsletter for two purposes: first, to get information to those who are most interested even before I post material on my blog - and second, to give publishers and agents when I approach them from January 2018 a sense of the public interest in this project. Some of the material in this blog is taken from the latest Newsletter but by no means all.

Before we left for Greece at the beginning of September, I did put the finishing touches to the first six chapters - around 28,500 words - of 'Jago', the biography of Jago Stone, and circulated copies of that

text to various interested parties - Merlin Porter and Jenny and Tony Fell and 'Mark' and Steve and Jo McIntosh. They and others will be my readers and critics and the text will be all the better for their contributions.

Merlin Porter, Jago's youngest son, in 'Mama Mia' in Jericho, Oxford - with his water-colour of the interior

On our return, I've had feedback that has been positive which is always encouraging but there are sections that I now know need a measure of rewriting. After my Oxford weekend when I shared a meal with Merlin Porter, Jago's youngest son, and later a tea with Merlin and his mum, Maggie, I now have more evidence of Jago's literary skills as well as his artistic talents. Jago not only developed his art in prison; he also taught himself a great deal by reading widely and began to learn the skills of writing. I have always explained my reason for being drawn to write this biography by saying first that I have lived with Jago's art for four decades and remain impressed, and second, that after reading his autobiography I empathised with this self-taught non-conformist who loved tilting at windmills. Call it a child of the sixties attraction. After the feedback to date, I now recognise my empathy for Jago needs to be more apparent. An historical training with a leaning towards neutrality is a valuable tool for a biographer but this approach needs softening at times or a good biography can be blunted.

Turning the clock back to 1976 - four decades and five years before the birth of Merlin - Jago Stone is in the centre with two guys from I imagine the American Embassy as he presents his bicentennial gift to the American President and People - a painting of Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington. (Special thanks to Mark A. Donohoe in N.J, U.S.A. for this picture)

Interestingly, I also got positive feedback from one of the judges for the Tony Lothian Prize 2017 by email at the end of September. Back in March, I think, the LRB carried an advert for this prize and I seemed to fit the qualifications for applicants. I made my submission - which included a chapter - and wrote my cheque for £15.00 and then thought little more about it. At least I would get my work and ideas read by four judges well established in the literary world. I did not expect to break through at the first attempt. Well, last week I got the confirmation that I had not been short-listed but this news came from one of the judges - Ariane Bankes - who went on to say: "You have a fantastic story to tell, so I do wish you luck in finding a publisher and reaching the audience it deserves. And thank you for giving us the chance to consider it: the story of 'Jago' needs to be more widely known". I can live with that - and will include these lovely comments in my submissions to agents and publishers from January 2018. Ariane Bankes is a writer for The Spectator - a publication that is hostile to Jeremy Corbyn and the socialist vision - which makes the praise all the sweeter!

Whilst we were away in Greece, the steady stream of Jago news continued. I had an email from a lady, Joan Goodenough, who sent an image of her Jago Stone palette-knife painting that seems to be dated 1976. I know of no other such oil painting with a date later than 1970. The picture itself is extraordinary in our view. What's your judgement?

'Untitled' - Jago Stone (1976)

I also had a Facebook message from a lady, Rosa Damaska, in the Forest of Dean area - where Jago spent his last years - that included an image of a water colour of a house - 'Madeira' - painted by Jago in 1985, three years before his death. Apologies for the quality - we're aiming to get a better image.

'Madeira' - Jago Stone (1985)

Mark, my anonymous source, and I have been in contact and we would both like to find out more about the Staverton Art Society and Exhibitions that Mark used to attend in the period after he came to Daventry in 1974. These exhibitions were held in the New Inn - now the Countryman - run by Colin and Pauline Griggs - and Jago and Rowland Thomas, the de facto squire of Hellidon, were perhaps the founders of this art society. We would love to know more and we're researching for photos of these exhibitions.

Also since returning from Greece, Louise and I have had the pleasure of meeting Jenny and Tony Fell for the first time face-to-face and sharing a meal. Jenny was the post-mistress of Hellidon and has been with her husband, Tony, an invaluable source and contact.

As for 'The Road to Corbyn', I am still waiting for news of sales at the Party Conference and will give you the stats in November. I'm doing my best to widen its circulation amongst Labour activists here in the South West now that so many CLPs are now shaped by the socialist values that Jeremy Corbyn holds true. I am waiting for a reply from the regional office of the Labour Party here in the SW. It feels good, speaking personally, to know that I have a claim to be a socialist prophet as the writer of TRC!

Here's a quick way to get a copy for yourself or as a Christmas present for another ... follow this link here!

When in Oxford, I entered Blackwell's - the iconic bookshop - again, as I had a year before. Then, in October 2016, my visit had been as an author requesting that my book 'TRC' be stocked. I was told it would be. This year I entered in search. Down in the Norrington Basement, in the Politics section, I discovered a shelf labelled 'Corbyn' on which there were five titles, all focused on JC. There were two copies of my book.

How cool is that!

No comments:

Post a comment