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Page last updated at 10:57 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 11:57 UK
Bluecoat remembers 'lost' author
Malcolm Lowry
Malcolm Lowry took ten years to write Under the Volcano

A forgotten literary hero from Merseyside, Malcolm Lowry, is being celebrated by eight weeks of events at Liverpool's Bluecoat arts centre.

Born in New Brighton in 1909 Lowry wrote Under the Volcano, hailed by Time magazine as a modern masterpiece.

He battled with alcoholism throughout his life and died in mysterious circumstances in 1957.

The Bluecoat's programme runs from 25 September, and includes an exhibition, live music, dance and talks.

"He's an overlooked genius," Bluecoat artistic director Bryan Biggs told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"I think he was quite sort of prescient in terms of other writers that followed, the beat writers Jack Kerouac and Ginsberg were big fans and tried to track him down."

Under the Volcano is set in Mexico on the eve of the Second World War on the Day of the Dead - a Mexican festival when deceased family and friends are remembered.

Lowry had a taste for adventure which began as a a teenager in 1927 when he left Birkenhead to sail to the Far East as a deckhand on the steamer SS Pyrhus.

Over the next thirty years he would travel across the world, taking in two marriages and a heavy drinking habit.

Despite Under the Volcano being claimed as one of the top 20 books of the last century Lowry is little remembered on Merseyside, something the Bluecoat, in marking his 100th birthday, is hoping to address.

"It took him a long time, about ten years to write this book," Bryan Biggs says

"It finally got published in 1947, a huge success and then nothing."

"He couldn't write anything else to compare with it.

"So he's sort of been written out of history a bit and particularly been forgotten by Merseyside, which is a shame.

"It is considered a modern classic, but it's gone out of favour and we're trying to restore his reputation."

Malcolm Lowry
Wirral's Malcolm Lowry, an inspiration for Kerouac and Ginsberg

Lowry lived in Mexico in the 1930s with his first wife Jan Gabrial.

After the marriage ended Lowry took to drinking heavily and this eventually led to him being deported from Mexico, he then moved to Canada in 1939 where he married his second wife, actress and writer Margerie Bonner.

"He lived in a squatty shack outside of Vancouver and wrote this novel over ten years," Bryan Biggs says of Under the Volcano.

"Before the environmentalists he was writing about how we must respect nature and how we're destroying the environment.

"I think we should be proud of him and we're looking to see a blue plaque on his house either in New Brighton where he was born or in Caldy where he grew up on the Dee side of Wirral."

The Bluecoat's events include film screenings and performances based on Lowry's work.

"John Houston made the film version of Under the Volcano starring Albert Finney, I don't think it's anywhere near as good as the book but it's a pretty good film nonetheless," says Bryan Biggs.

"Ian McMillan, the poet, is doing a song cycle where he's imagining Lowry coming back to Liverpool and he's going to present that as a series of songs sung by Sense of Sound."

Despite his travels Merseyside wasn't forgotten by Lowry, "He actually said famously, 'Liverpool that terrible city whose main street is the ocean'," explains Bryan Biggs.

"I don't think he was being particularly disparaging about Liverpool, I think for him in 1909 when he was born and growing up on Merseyside he saw it as this major world city that was connected to the world, but commerce was at its heart and he was suspicious of commerce and saw it as this a sort of hellish city.

"He writes very fondly, particularly about the Wirral, about growing up round there, about pubs round there, the lighthouses.

"So he's got a great affection for the city."

Lowry died in 1957 while living with his wife in East Sussex it's thought that a possible overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol may have been responsible for his death.


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