The Undiscovered Writings of Marcus Preece - Edited by Malu Halasa and Aura Saxén
Two guys named Tom Bone. A spaceman speaking only lyrics from pop songs, confusing the aliens. A Gogolesque telesales agent with a dog problem. A return to a desolate Australian mining town. Cowboys, detectives and witches, unlike any you’ve ever seen. An irate email to Sepp Blatter. Wise children. Musings on whiskey, the sea and the end of the damn world.
Marcus Preece was one of the most interesting writers you’ve never heard of. Before his death in 2017 at fifty-three, the filmmaker, teacher and editor had completed dozens of short stories, screenplays, comic strips, poems and music journalism; he left behind incomplete notes and drafts for dozens more.
Picture taken from The Guardian's obituary of Preece, which you can read here: theguardian.com/film/2017/feb/19/marcus-preece-obituary
Thanks to editors (and friends of Preece) Halasa and Saxen, and Paper and Ink publishing, we can now read some of this amazing collection of writing. And that's a good thing!
When I was contacted regards reviewing this book, I admitted to being ashamed that I hadn't heard of him before, and thus, actually, I'm the reason why this book has appeared...many of us have never heard of Preece, yet he was a prolific and gifted writer in a variety of forms, and had received moderate success with screenplays and writing here in the UK, before moving to Hanoi and working there towards the end of his life. This anthology is born from a desire to see his work shared and enjoyed.
Picking up his collection of work after his death in 2017, Halasa and Saxen have combined some of it here, in a mixture of prose, poetry and screenplays that range from the deeply personal recount of a visit to family history and origins in 'Isa', to morose musings on the end of the world, with views on race, politics, corruption and whisky thrown into the mix. Much of this writing seems particularly prescient in our current, uncertain times, when we are considering the nature of nationality, acceptance, and our futures, and it is obvious from reading these tales that these issues preyed heavily on the mind of the writer too.
I enjoyed dipping in and out of the mixture of writing the anthology includes - too many tales to talk about individually, so I'll mention a couple of highlights for me:
I loved the gritty realism and description of Australian mining town, Isa, as the writer returns to the town looking for family history and connections, and finds, yet also doesn't quite find, find what he is looking for. I loved also the tube-incident drama of screenplay 'Here We Are Nowhere' with its oppressive sense of building tension forcing the characters to display themselves in their basest forms - racism, prejudice, intolerance - before reconsidering their actions as they emerge from the dark (both literally and metaphorically!).
Thrown into the mix with these more formal writings are witty comic-strips, poems, letters, and (in possibly my favourite, unexpected inclusion) sets of quiz questions from Preece's acclaimed Saturday-night quizzes at Blah-Blah - a salubrious Hanoi dive bar. The introduction to this ('Fun and Games') by his friend, Ursula Bradshaw, shows in just what high regard Preece was held by his friends and companions in his time there.
Read this, and I have a feeling he might just be raised in your estimation, too. A fine mix of forms, with something to make you laugh, reflect, argue and ponder over, there really is something for everyone in this collection, and I am glad that its publiaction means Preece may now be read by a wider audience.
Thank you to Kelly at Folk PR (folkpublicrelations.co.uk ) and to Paper and Ink for providing me with a copy of the book to review and including me on the blog tour for the book.
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Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) February 2021