Comments have always been the oxygen of dovegreyreader scribbles and the benefits hit home last week with this suggestion from Mike Petty,
"I wish you would seek out A Dance for the Moon, by Richard Burns, about the travails of a shell-shocked poet. Published 5 yrs before Regeneration and superior to it IMHO."
As always I don't need much encouragement to seek out a book that one of you recommends, and Mike's wish felt so urgent I was onto Amazon Marketplace in a flash and had purchased a copy for 1p before the minute was out.The book arrived within days and was read within days because then Carol came on here and said,
"Also, thanks to Mike Petty's comment on your post of last Sunday, I'm half way through Richard Burns' A Dance for the Moon. It's as good a novel about WW1 as any I've read, and doesn't have that deliberately shocking element that I thought Regeneration slightly suffered from - but is no less powerful for that."
How good is all that to know and how near might Carol and I have been to remaining clueless about Richard Burns but for Mike's timely recommendation? Well me anyway, Carol's probably well on top of all this.
Information is hard to come by now that any trace there may have been of Richard on the internet has been supplanted by both a rally driver (also very sadly deceased) and another writer sharing the same name. I am therefore very grateful to Mike for scanning the newspaper obituary that he wrote for this Richard Burns, and also for sending over other articles published following Richard's early death.
On the day before his 34th birthday, August 31st 1992 and on the brink of taking up the post of Head of Creative Writing at Lancaster University, Richard Burns took his own life. Every tragedy conceals a sad narrative of its own and Richard's harbours a terrible disillusion with the fickle world of publishing in which he found himself mired.
Described by Philip Hensher as 'one of the most varied and interesting novelists writing in England', Richard had been cited back in 1987 among a list of young writers to watch out for, and in the company of Jeanette Winterson, Kazuo Ishiguro and Caryl Phillips you can only only imagine that like them his star may have been in the ascendency still.
Perhaps pressure like that coupled with a keen sense of his own worth ('ungraciously immodest' has been mentioned) and a highly cynical and suspicious approach to the integrity of the realms of publishing made Richard Burns his own worst enemy, but it was also seemingly sufficient to kill the spirit of a promising but fragile writer.
However placing supposition and that highly-charged emotional baggage aside, now that I've read the book I'm truly very hard-pushed indeed to understand exactly how A Dance for the Moon has faded into such complete and utter obscurity. A prizewinner in the Jonathan Cape First Novel competition and first published in 1986 as part of the prize, it attracted great critical acclaim,
'...remains one of the best novels about the effects of the first world war upon its most sensitive participants. In it he showed a remarkable grasp, aided by much painstaking and sympathetic research, of the way such poets a Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Ivor Gurney and others felt, both as writers and as victims of months and even years of continuous violence.'
Plaudits surely making it deserving of
ongoing recognition, especially given the Pat Barker novels some five years later which this would sit alongside very comfortably?
Like Carol, I'd make it a sure and certain inclusion amongst the best of the Great War fiction and yet who has even heard of it?
Mike's obituary is strangely prophetic in saying this of Richard Burns,
' He was angry and cynical about what he saw as the publishing business's pursuit of the fast buck, but he was fiercely proud and protective of his work and it is to be hoped that it will remain in print as the best memorial to him. "That'll be the day," Richard would have said.'
Even more poignant and quoted from Xandra Hardie's obituary to him, Richard Burns' own self-fulfilling and equally prophetic perceptions of death, written as an outline for a book never written,
' Suicide is the mark of the minor artist: it is a way of drawing attention after the art has failed...to kill oneself whilst in charge of one's destiny; it is to shout loudly, though in an empty auditorium : "I am here, I had something to say, and look what you lost when you failed to listen!" Above all, though, it is an act of vanity, and a way of conceding defeat, whilst pretending victory. For to continue to work the artist must survive.'
I know fiscal times are tough and there's much anguish and fingernail biting in the world of publishing right now, but there must be a publisher somewhere who could
just perhaps give JKR or Wayne and Colleen or Peter and Katie a little less
money (they really wouldn't mind surely) and get A Dance For the Moon out of mothballs and set up a little print run ?
My thoughts on this incredible novel tomorrow but in the meantime, if you haven't read it head to the library or grab your copy for 1p off Amazon, I think I can promise that you won't regret it.