KICKING UP A STORM: Pauline Fisk on Bob Dylan's 'Tempest', and 'Sparks', the forthcoming Authors Electric anthology

A couple of weeks ago my brother and I got into a heated argument on the subject of Bob Dylan’s voice. He reckoned Dylan had lost it.  I reckoned [and PS. I was right] that Dylan’s singing better than ever.  Singing differently maybe, but different in a good way.  The difference of age and experience, and of having lived a life.

Certainly in his latest offering, ‘Tempest’, Dylan has things to say and he says it in good voice. I came across it recently, and found it to be as powerful as anything he's written for a long, long time – which is saying something because these last few years Dylan's writing has been good.

The album gets off to an impressive start with 'Duquesne Whistle' and 'Soon After Midnight,' but then Dylan really starts to dig in, dig deep and suddenly he's off like a sky rocket. 'Long and Wasted Years. Oh, my. 'Pay in Blood'.  He sings it like he has.  ‘Scarlet Town’. Been there? Recognise anything? ‘Tin Angel’. Dylan at his balladeer best. The songs are getting better all the time. Listen to the passion and anger in his voice. ‘Tempest’. Dylan’s take on the Titanic, told as if the entire human race was on that ship. Remind you of anything with its innocently sweet tune? The writer of ‘Desolation Row’ still knows how to turn the screw. And then ‘Roll on John’, Dylan’s tribute to John Lennon, growled out in the sweetest, saddest voice.

Why, you might ask, am I reviewing Bob Dylan here on a web page dedicated to words, not songs, and e-words in particular? Well, this is why. We live in a world where the brave, the bold, the new, the young are always right, and the old are meant [quoting the Rolling Stones this time] to Just Fade Away. But Dylan’s not fading away.  Nor - if it’s the Stones we’re talking about now - is he making his bucks on stage by regurgitating old music, with nothing new to say.  Dylan’s genius shows through in that, in youth or age, he still has things to say, and in writing out of a life lived, and out of long years of experience, he says them as well – if not better – than ever before.  

And it’s that word ‘experience’ I want to write about today. Over the last week or so it’s been my privilege to work on the copy-edit of ‘Sparks’, the first Authors Electric anthology, out soon to a download button near you. And what a wealth of experience it contains. I knew the twenty-nine of us who comprise Authors Electric were an interesting bunch, but I didn’t know the half of it. Whether it’s writing for screen and radio; winning, amongst us, the majority of the UK’s major children’s book awards; spending a lifetime in journalism; working with prisoners; performing on stage; working as a television presenter, or as Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellows; teaching, travelling, sailing [including sailing Arthur Ransome’s Peter Duck], or spending half a lifetime in the saddle, the members of Authors Electric have been there, done it and lived to tell the tale. 

And those tales aren’t just virtual, believe me. ‘Sparks’ teems with tales and attitudes about the brave new world of e-publishing, but its authors have most definitely lived in the real world too.  Take Dan Holloway, for example, who has played his spoken-word show, The New Libertines, to full houses across the UK. Or Mark Chisnell, who may have written Kindle chart-topping thrillers, but has also hitch-hiked to Mt Everest base-camp in Tibet in training shoes. Or the playright, poet and award-winning novelist [as well as a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow] Catherine Czerkawska, who also is a collector of rare, antique vintage textiles. 

Then there’s Valerie Law, with degrees in Anglo-Saxon and Old Icelandic, Theoretical Physics and Creative Writing, who’s been even more prolific [and not just as a writer] since her life-changing car accident than she was before. Then, too, Charles Christian, the former practicing barrister whose accomplishments include freelance journalism, [award-winning], university lecturing, working as an advisor to the English Law Society, devising the highly successful poetry webzine Ink Sweat & Tears and sitting on the board of the Poetry Trust.

And it’s not just on the Contributors’ pages that the experience of the Authors Electric collective shows. When Stephanie Zia writes about those e-book tools she couldn’t do without, as publishing director of Blackbird Book she knows what she’s talking about. And ditto Kathleen Jones, of The Book Mill, when it comes to writing about blogging. And when Andrew Croft writes about the phenomenon that is, his years as one of the most highly-regarded ghost writers in the UK shows in not only what he says but every line and comma of how he chooses to fashion it into such a riveting read.

And so it goes on. When Dennis Hamley writes about his long career in publishing, there’s never a moment when you don’t want to read more. When Cally Philips writes with passion about the future of publishing, you can feel her heart beat. And Susan Price - our formidable leader - when she writes in defence of Amazon against the likes of Terence Blacker, Alan Gibbons and the rest of the panel at this year’s CWIG conference, she takes you with her every inch of the way. Something is definitely Happening Here, she seems to be saying, and all you Mr Joneses better look out.  

The names I’ve selected here have been at random.  In Authors Electric, everyone’s a star.  There’s a richness that comes from experience - and that’s what we have. The publishing world has changed/is changing/will change a whole lot more. ‘Sparks’ is our take on it.  It’s also our first year. Look out for it.

What will the new year bring?


The same thing happened with Leonard Cohen's later work, Pauline...amd Johnny Cash's late series of both their cases, I loved their early work, but the best work they did was the late, creative, artist-work...liberated by time and circumstance, mellowed into profundity by weight of experience.
What they all have in common though, is a Spirit that stayed Free.
Kris Kristofferson too...though I heard him joke on stage once in Aberdeen that he never had much voice to start with...
I think it's good when the blogs here take in the other arts which inform and feed into the passion authors here have for their own work.
SPARKS away!...into the ether and the electrons of 2013...
Pauline Fisk said…
It's all part of the same thing, isn't it? Dylan's been an electric writer from the word go. Some of what he's written over recent years is stunning, and 'Tempest' pips the lot. Yes to a spirit that stays free. It's hard sometimes isn't it? But your spirit's certainly been soaring over the last year. Very exciting, John, to see what's been happening for you.
julia jones said…
Not going to enter the Dylan controversy - except to say that John's quite right to say that whatever feeds your passion is good material for the AE blog - think of Roz Morris and her undercover soundtrack. I also agree with you that the Notes on Contributors section of Sparks is a real treat. Yes we sort of know what people have done but seeing it spelled out page after page was, well, quite thrilling as far as I was concerned
Kathleen Jones said…
Sparks now in the pipeline!

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