Inventive Podcast – launches 23 June

Superstar engineers and fantastic fiction writers collaborate on the brand-new Inventive Podcast

I’m really excited to be part of the Inventive project. Each writer was introduced to an engineer, with a brief to write a piece of fiction inspired by any aspect of their life and work. Starting 23 June, each story will be broadcast alongside an interview with the engineer. And there will be events, including at Edinburgh Science Festival.

I don’t know the full line-up yet, but I do know that some great writers are involved, including Nina Allan and Tania Hershman.

My episode – with the brilliant aeronautical engineer Sophie Robinson – will be broadcast on 7 July. I can’t wait to share it with you.

“Engineering is so central to our lives, and yet as a subject it’s strangely hidden in plain sight. I came up with idea of Inventive to explore new ways of telling the story of engineering by mixing fact and fiction,” commented Professor Trevor Cox, Inventive Host and an Acoustical Engineer from the University of Salford.

The series will debut on Wednesday 23 June with 6 new episodes dropping across the summer. We’ll have a break and be back with the final five episodes in October.

For more information about Inventive Podcast, go to www.inventivepodcast.com

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“POPP: Tony White on his unique imprint”

This weekend I was privileged to have been invited to talk about Piece of Paper Press – the artists’ book project I founded in 1994 – for Carthorse Orchestra, David Collard’s online literary gathering. Here are a couple of slides showing the titles published to date. The book in Chris Saunders photo is an untrimmed cover registration test of Joanna Walsh’s Shklovsky’s Zoo, from 2014.

Here’s the blurb for the Carthorse Orchestra event – many thanks to David, and all:

This week we mark the publication of three outstanding works of fiction: Rónán Hession will be reading from his second novel Panenka, Joanna Walsh will discuss Seed with Tim Etchells, and Lynn Buckle will share her new novel What Willow Says. We’ll have close-up magic from Oli Catford, Tony White will talk us through his unique imprint Piece of Paper Press. and theatre maker Laura Hopkins will tell us more about a theatrical work-in-progress ‘Brutal Arithmetic’.

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Spring, 1985

Having been writing around/about the spring of 1985 (and all points in between then and now) for a while, first with my novel The Fountain in the Forest, and latterly with Volumes two (completed) and three (in progress), I found this photogaph of me right then, aged nearly 21, on the edge of the moors outside Otley, West Yorkshire.

Spring in Yorkshire: warm enough for a picnic, cold enough for a donkey jacket!

I lived in Leeds at the time. The photo is by my good friend and housemate Debbie, who had darkroom access via her Fine Art course at what was then Leeds Poly.

In that spring of 1985 – having already done a Foundation Course at the former West Surrey College of Art and Design (now the University for the Creative Arts) in my hometown of Farnham – I was working my way towards going back to study Fine Art myself, although that wasn’t as straightforward as it might have been. Which is partly why I was living in Leeds.

Access to education, especially higher education, is an issue that is really important to me. And it’s a theme I’ve found myself returning to in my fiction, so more on that later maybe – but it will need a longer piece than I can write now, today. In the meantime, thanks to Debbie for taking such a good photo – I’m lucky to have it!

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Belgrade Week

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.

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14 April — Ramadan Lecture Series, American University of Sharjah

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.

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Limited edition

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. ’

Tony White reading from Dicky Star and the Garden Rule at Free Word Centre, London

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Garageland – Living British Cinema

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:

Contents page: Garageland #23

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Buy Garageland issue 23 ‘Living British Cinema’ direct from Transition Gallery’s website

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Stonehenge tunnel debacle

John Constable, Stonehenge, watercolour, 1835. Collection Victoria & Albert Museum

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.

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Please sign and share the petition on the Stonehenge Alliance website

Read Tony’s interview with Russian car magazine Ключавто

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Zombies Ate My (Public) Library

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.)

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Read more about A Place Free Of Judgement by Blast Theory and Tony White in the British Council’s new public art collection Where Strangers Meet

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