Several years ago, in one of those broadsheet “Books Of The Year” round-ups, Jeanette Winterson chose one of her own titles for the supreme accolade. In that spirit, we asked Frank Key to review his own new paperback.
The title of this fat collection is taken from “The Windhover” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I purloined it for three reasons. First, it reflects my writerly interest in – some might say obsession with – birds. Second, because the buckling of the windhover has some vague echo of what has been described as my ‘lopsided’ prose. Third, and most important, is the idea that, if ever I get invited to a sophisticated cocktail party, I can say, in a booming baritone, while leaning insouciantly against a mantelpiece, “My latest book, Brute Beauty And Valour And Act, Oh, Air, Pride, Plume, Here Buckle!. . .” I look forward to that.
One day late in 2011 I came upon the word ‘perpilocution’, defined as ‘the art of expounding upon that of which one knows little or nothing’. Gosh!, I thought, that’s what I’ve been doing for all these years on the Hooting Yard blog. Henceforth, in the unlikely event that I do get invited to that sophisticated cocktail party, when asked what I do, I can reply, while leaning insouciantly against a mantelpiece, “I am a perpilocutionist”.
At some point before the new year dawned, I determined to test out my perpilocutionary chops by the discipline of writing roughly a thousand words per day throughout 2012. I had made such plans for a daily blog before, but never succeeded in getting as far as the end – or even the middle – of January. This time around, two things emboldened me. First, the liberty granted by the conscious act of perpilocution. Second, perhaps oddly, was the happy, if unoriginal, thought of deploying a standard format, beginning each title with the word ‘On’. I am not entirely clear why this serves to inspire me, but it does. Thus far I have pretty much managed to stick to my plan. On several occasions I have posted on the blog resurrected pieces from the past, but not often.
For the paperback, I chose one hundred and eleven pieces from the first half of the year. The list of things I apparently know little or nothing about includes brains, jelly, air, and fools, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, the livers of polar bears, and bringing the good news from Ghent to Aix. At times my ignorance is alleviated by the knowledge of others. The Dabbler’s own Jonathan Law, for example, alerted me to the interesting fact that Rudyard Kipling was named after his parents’ favourite reservoir. Jonathan is duly credited in the resulting piece “On Naming Your Child After Your Favourite Reservoir”.
Some years ago, a reputed – and not unsympathetic – publisher told me that I was “not commercially viable”. I have occasionally been tempted to pretend I am a photogenic young woman from a background both exotic and Oxbridge, and to turn my attention to the travails of life in a small tract of north London. But then the little homunculi that live inside my head remind me of the deep wisdom of ploughing my own furrow, and I turn again to topics such as hiking pickles, Soviet hen coops, and the daily strangling of serpents chez Thomas and Jane Carlyle – you know, the big and important issues.
This is a fantastic book which I heartily recommend to Jeanette Winterson, and to anybody else who might be reading.
Brute Beauty And Valour And Act, Oh, Air, Pride, Plume, Here Buckle! is available by mail order from Lulu.