What was happening in Belgrade, Serbia, in the second week of July 2006?
I should know, because I was there. But luckily for us the comics artist Aleksandar Zograf, aka Saša Rakezić of Pančevo, Serbia, drew a weekly diary of goings on in the city for Belgrade-based news magazine Vreme.
It’s a great and really innovative piece of commissioning by Vreme, and a great body of journalistic commentary by Zograf – and I think some of the strips have been collected in book form too.
According to Zograf’s strip from July 2006, the US performance artist Laurie Anderson had performed in Belgrade, and I was visiting (to speak at a Council of Europe conference, although Saša is not asking me about that here). Meanwhile, at various locations around the city, the cult film sequel We Are Not Angels 3 was being shot.
Saša came in to the city to interview me. We had coffee on the pavement outside the Hotel Moskva on Terazije in the city centre, as you do.
Here’s a rough translation of the first page at least:
A lot happens in the city over the course of seven days. Laurie Anderson gave a concert, with Serbian translations of all the songs projected onto a screen. She also sang about how people stutter at the beginning of a word, and never at the end: ‘In the end it’s too late to feel fear.’ These are exactly the details you would expect Laurie Anderson to single out to sing about. The British writer Tony White is also in Belgrade. His book Another Fool in the Balkans mostly talks about the contemporary scene in Serbia and Croatia. None other than Paddy Ashdown, the former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, has written an unfavorable review of the book, objecting to White’s not talking about ‘mountains where there are still wolves and bears; pristine forests that man has not cut down; dizzying canyons and majestic rivers. Every mountain produces a local type of cheese and every village has its own dance…’
In the first speech bubble I’m laughing at Ashdown’s pompous review: ‘Wolves, bears, cheese . . . Ha ha ha!’ Then, ‘A couple of years have passed since my last stay in Belgrade and I notice only minor changes – it is good that the sidewalk in the center has been raised, so cars cannot take up pedestrian space. Small changes that seem to be a hint of major changes yet to be made in this country . . .’
When Saša sent these JPEGs through at the time, I was stunned by the likeness of me that he had managed to capture in the profile drawn at bottom right of the page. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I was stunned by how much it looked like my father (who sadly died a couple of years later); a resemblance that I hadn’t quite acknowledged before seeing Saša’s drawing.
Welcome. This page pulls together some further reading and browsing related to my lecture – ‘How Visual Artists Helped Acclaimed Author Solve Crime Novel Puzzle’ – for the American University of Sharjah’s Ramadan Lecture Series in Art & Design on 14 April 2021.
I’m grateful to Art & Design at AUS for inviting me to talk about my practice in relation to the series’ themes of alternative and potential histories, with particular reference to my novel The Fountain in the Forest, and the several collaborations with artists that fed into the research and writing process.
Read a sample chapter of The Fountain in the Forest here:
Tony White, ‘The Penguin Book of Oulipo Review – Writing, a User’s Manual’, The Guardian, 18 December 2019 . . . [READ MORE] – see also The Penguin Book of Oulipo, edited by Philip Terry, and The End of Oulipo by Lauren Elkin and Veronica Esposito, among many other titles by Oulipo members or about Oulipo.
Tony White, Dicky Star and the Garden Rule, London, Forma, 2012 — buy from Cornerhouse Publications
Alan Phelan’s short film ‘Include Me Out of the Partisans Manifesto’, adapted from Tony White’s short story (reflecting upon Phelan’s work) ‘Include Me Out’, commissioned by the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) for the catalogue accompanying Alan Phelan’s exhibition Fragile Absolutes . . . [READ MORE].
Installation shots, ‘Piece of Paper Press, artworks and ephemera 1994–2017’, for Strong Language, curated by Tim Etchells, Off The Shelf Festival of Words, Site Gallery, Sheffield, 2018 . . . [READ MORE]
I’m really looking forward to speaking as part of the Ramadan Lecture Series in Art and Design at the American University of Sharjah next week – albeit remotely, due to the Covid-19 global health emergency. The theme of the series is alternative and potential histories, and the title of my lecture is ‘How Visual Artists Helped Acclaimed Author Solve Crime Novel Puzzle’.
I will of course be reading from and discussing my latest novel The Fountain in the Forest – the ideas, and the writing process, and the collaborations that fed into it.
I’m also looking forward to attending the other lectures in the series.
Commissioned for the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, and to accompany the touring exhibition Nature Abhors a Vacuum by Jane and Louise Wilson, my 2012 novella Dicky Star and the Garden Rule also turned out to be an exploratory prototype for my latest novel The Fountain in the Forest.
Not only in terms of the period in which it is set (I’d long been looking for a way to write about the legacy of the social and political transformations that took place in the immediate aftermath of the UK Miners’ Strike in the mid-1980s, and this commission offered a way to make a sustained and detailed pass at the period), but also because it was the crucible for the development of a particular, Oulipo-inspired, mandated vocabulary technique, and an opportunity to test that out on a major (i.e. full-length) work of fiction. I then went on to use the technique to write The Fountain in the Forest, and the forthcoming titles in the Fountain trilogy.
It was such a privilege to collaborate with – and learn from – Jane and Louise, both on Dicky Star… and on the script for their critically acclaimed short film The Toxic Camera.
A limited edition A5 chapbook edition of Dicky Star and the Garden Rule produced by the print workshop at DCA in Dundee is still available from distributor Cornerhouse Publications for £5.00.
I’d love you to read it!
Here’s the blurb:
Dicky Star and the Garden Rule follows young Leeds couple Laura and Jeremy through the turbulent days at the end of April 1986 when the world’s worst nuclear accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the former Soviet Union. Jeremy and Laura’s story is told in vivid daily chapters that follow the unfolding disaster’s impact in the UK, but are also determined by their own quixotic puzzle: each chapter must be told using all of the answers to the Guardian Quick Crossword from that day in 1986. Drawing on newspaper archives of the former independent left-wing weekly Leeds Other Paper and the then still broadsheet Guardian, Tony White creates an evocative story of mid-1980s life.
Reviewing Dicky Star and the Garden Rule in Art Monthly magazine, Stephen Bury said: ‘This is an elegant demonstration that using such a text engine need not compromise the high quality of writing.’
Phil Kirby of the Leeds-based Culture Vulture blog said that it, ‘manages to convey the general paranoia about Chernobyl perfectly. ’
Issue 23 of Transition Gallery’s excellent Garageland magazine is dedicated to Living British Cinema, and I’m delighted to have been invited to contribute a short article on David Hare’s 1985 feature film Wetherby.
Regular readers may remember that I recently had the privilege of introducing a screening of Wetherby as part of the London Review Bookshop’s excellent LRB Screen film series, programmed by Gareth Evans. (The screenings – in fact all London Review Bookshop’s events – continue in an online form during lockdown, FYI.)
I’m particularly thrilled that my article is illustrated with a painting of a scene from the film by Cathy Lomax, from her Film Diary series.
I’d love you to read it.
The issue is guest edited by Lucy Bolton, and features a really wonderful and timely essay by film historian Pamela Hutchinson on (the sadly, now, late) Barbara Windsor and avian imagery in Sparrows Can’t Sing (Joan Littlewood, 1963), as well as contributions from artists including Matthew Richardson, Rosemary Cronin, Katherine Tulloh, Harry Cartwright, Paul Housley, Cathy Lomax, Jennifer Campbell, Alex Michon, Rose Bradshaw, Stephen Harwood, Paul Murphy, Davina Quinlivan and more. See full contents page below.
Lucy Bolton writes:
Diversity and inspiration are evident all across the pages of this rich and rousing issue. Contributors have chosen films that speak to them, for a variety of reasons, and been given the opportunity to engage with them here and now, in these very specific times.
You can buy Garageland direct from Transition Gallery’s website, and there’s also a special offer on back issues right now. Here’s the contents page:
Like many others, I’m deeply dismayed that the Secretary of State has granted permission for the major road development on the A303 in Wiltshire, UK, including two road tunnels with deep cuttings etc. within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, for negligible benefit, and at unknowable cost. Find out more about these plans on the Stonehenge Alliance website here.
And the costs are not only financial and archeological, but also involve a less tangible, but nonetheless important public good. For millennia, Stonehenge has been visible free to all from track & road. It’s a view that has also inspired artists & writers including Turner, Constable, John Cowper Powys, and many more. (And me! Anyone who’s read my latest novel The Fountain in the Forest will know that it is a detective thriller set in London, at Stonehenge, and on the French Riviera.)
Under the new scheme, Stonehenge will no longer be visible to passing travellers from the road.
Amidst the grosser damage these tunnels will cause to a unique World Heritage Site, that free and ancient view of the stones will now be denied to future generations.
When I was interviewed in 2015 by Russian car magazine Ключавто, I spoke about the government plans to build the tunnel.
If this happens it will all be done no doubt in the typical hypocritical style, using words like ‘safeguard’ and ‘preserve’ while happily smashing everything.Tony White interviewed in Ключавто
(It came up because editor Timur Ryzhkov had reminded me that that my first novel Road Rage! includes a wholly fictional plan to build roads over ancient sacred sites and stone circles across the UK!) But even then I didn’t fully understand the scale of the project and the damage it would cause within the World Heritage Site, and simply hoped that such an obviously disastrous plan would not go ahead.
The decision goes against the explicit advice of both the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, and the UK’s independent Examining Authority.
And it is even more surprising when you consider that the scheme was greenlit in 2017 by none other than the then Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – he of ‘Brexit ferry fiasco’ fame. On top of everything else, you’d think that this association with ‘Failing Grayling’ would be more than enough justification to drop such a destructive waste of money.
A scary story for Halloween? The closure of 100s of UK Public Libraries, slashing a statutory public service with many jobs lost. That’s what inspired Blast Theory’s and my novella ZOMBIES ATE MY LIBRARY.
ZOMBIES ATE MY LIBRARY follows four young people in the West Midlands—Alice, Gareth, Tommy and Rukhsana—as they plot a sleepover in a haunted library. What could possibly go wrong?
This was part of A Place Free Of Judgement made by Blast Theory and Tony White, with support from Arts Council England Lottery Funding and Arts Connect. It was made in collaboration with young people and staff from Telford Wrekin Council, Staffordshire County Council, Worcestershire County Council and in partnership with young people and staff from Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, Shropshire Council and the University of Worcester.
(It’s got real ghosts and everything. Seriously, one of the libraries we worked with, on the site of an old hospital, really was haunted.)
I was sorry to learn today of the death of Diane Di Prima. Better known as a poet, Di Prima’s memorable 1961 short story ‘The Visitor’ was one of my picks for author Jonathan Gibbs’ crowd-sourced short story project A Personal Anthology last year.
‘The Visitor’ is anthologised in The Moderns: an anthology of new American writing, edited by Leroi Jones aka Amiri Baraka, and published in 1963. I can’t remember where I picked up my battered copy of the Mayflower Dell paperback of The Moderns in the early-1990s, but this is where I first came across Di Prima’s writing.
The Moderns is a great anthology, progressive for its time – featuring works by William S. Burroughs, Ed Dorn, Hubert Selby, Jr. and more. LeRoi Jones packs them in too, with two or three or more stories per writer. And no space is wasted: if one story ends mid-page, the next one starts right away. What is striking now is that Diane Di Prima is the only woman included. Her writing also stands out because it is concise and economical – in marked contrast to most of the other contributions.
‘The Visitor’ is a story about poetry, but it is also about power and who has it and how they use it and who gets to write.
If anyone is interested to read ‘The Visitor’ and two other of Di Prima’s short stories, I just checked and there are a number of second-hand copies of The Moderns currently available on Abebooks (although they are not cheap).
Twenty-five years ago today (or thereabouts) I had my first short story published in Technopagan, the second anthology in Elaine Palmer’s visionary Pulp Faction series. I’d seen a poster for Skin, Palmer’s first anthology, when I was cycling to work along the canal, from Hackney to Islington. So when I saw in Time Out that contributions around the theme ‘technopagan’ were being invited for a second publication, I realised that I had an unpublished story that might fit the bill, which I sent off. My story, ‘A Pagan Day’, was a bit rough around the edges, but luckily I was in some great company as you can see from the contents page below. Pre-publication, I had a call to say that there would be a photo-shoot for contributors out in Limehouse. We all met up at Tower Hill DLR station, where I gave Palmer a copy of Tim Etchells’ short story ‘About Lisa’, which I’d just published on Piece of Paper Press and thought she might like. I’m not sure that I ever saw that Technopagan press photo. Launch events that I and others may have read at (IIRC) were at Cyberia – the world’s first internet cafe, by then moved to Golden Square, Soho – and at the then Dillon’s, Longacre.
Update: Since posting these photos I found a press release, an author letter and a flyer relating to the Technopagan anthology, which turns out to have been launched at Madame JoJo’s in Soho on 6 November, with a further reading at Dillons on 16 November. I think the event at Cyberia may have been the launch of the Homelands anthology being trailed for February 1996. I’ll try and scan these and add them to the post later on.