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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 20 August 2018

"How I got into art school (and out of prison)" by William McLellan

This book also seems to be published under the title Wild Ride to Freedom.

There's not a lot about art school. This is a memoir of prison life in Franco's Spain. Because he wanted to be an artist but couldn't afford to go to art school, McLellan decided to spend a year in Morocco drawing, funding it by selling LSD tabs smuggled from England (these were the sixties). The route lay through Franco's Spain. Although McLellan's drugs weren't found, he was arrested for joy riding, badly beaten up for trying to escape (he assaulted a guard in the attempt) and thrown into Modelo prison to await trial. This is the story of the mediaeval grimness of the prison and the friends who helped him survive. Prison also allowed him to remember his dreadful childhood. Finally he finds salvation through art: he ends up forging antiques in the prison workshop for the authorities to sell to tourists.

It is an extraordinary story and it is well written with a very clear structure . The childhood reminiscences are interspersed with prison scenes in a carefully measured way so you never get too much of either. The descriptions of prison life are matter of fact and it is the material itself that makes them gripping. I was hooked.

Brilliant descriptions:

  • "Sylvie had cried so much that I could taste the salt on her wet face." (p 38) Nevertheless, the dumped girlfriend is the only person to visit him in his more than six months in prison.
  • I waited in a wilderness of time until a distant commotion roused me.” (p 54)
  • His fingers ... were short, stubby and grubby, with almost non-existent nails - just little strips with the fingertips curling over them like mushrooms.” (p 134)
  • Men dressed completely in white pummelled pastry with such force that their tall white hats waved around the room like mushrooms in a hurricane.” (p 268) 

Hippy prison philosophy:
  • “Dope will get you through times of no money, better than money will get you through times of no dope.” (p 102)
  • Don't give up on the past - it forms the present.” (p 243)
  • By splitting things into boxes to classify them, the free-flowing unity of the world had been broken up and man had separated himself from it ... Animals didn't have words so they fitted into nature without thinking about it, but we saw ourselves as above nature and tried to control it. That's what words were used for - control.” (p 283)
  • I can do anything. There are no rules for me, only horizons.” (p 285)
  • Life is like a shit sandwich - the more bread you've got, the less shit you have to eat.” (p 332)
  • That's when you’re truly happy. When you forget to eat!” (p 359)

There were things that helped me understand about art and artists:
  • The clean white page of my book invited me to plunge into it like a pool.” (p 122)
  • I'd decided ... never to make a guide sketch in pencil so I'd have freedom to draw whatever came into my head. It meant I had to incorporate any mistakes into the design, but it was worth it.” (p 122)
  • “The subtle gradations in a tone ... were almost photographic.” (p 124)
  • I wanted the curve of the sugar bag to bulge with the weight of its contents.” (p 228)
  • I sort of knew what the yin-yang sign meant. The two fish shapes showed how the opposite sides of life flow together, meaning you couldn't have one without the other. Opposites worked that way in drawing too. You couldn't make something look bright unless you put something dark behind it.” (p 300)

And there were brilliant insights into the life of a poor and poorly parented child:
  • My dream was about the huge scissors cutting open the past, releasing the memories that are hidden for years.” (p 307)
  • I didn't like the wheezy way he breathed when he did it, or the long,cleaning up of the Vaseline.” (p 310)
  • Mum didn't work, but the place was always so filthy that none of us brought our school friends back. Sometimes I'd wash the dried-up porridge from the breakfast bowls and tidy up the room. I’d always leave a note on the tablecloth that said: The fairies have been.” (p 362)
  • I crept into the cold bed and curled up like a question mark so the sheets wouldn't stick to the blood.” (p 365)

A brilliant book. August 2018; 450 pages

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