Dirty work, ‘Slang Truth’, Errata

1) Dirty Work

Lots of work behind the scenes in the past week for the inaugural Dirty Literature event that I’m doing with writer Tim Etchells at the National Portrait Gallery on 17 March. I’ve been rehearsing with musician Simon Edwards, who will be providing live musical accompaniment to one of the pieces I’m reading. I’m very excited about this, and I’m hoping we’ll get a good recording of the piece on the night, too, which we can make available after the event.

The producers, Electra, sent through a j-peg of one of the slides I’m planning to use during my reading (see left). It is a reversed-out version of my freehand drawing after the Throbbing Gristle flash design that I’ve mentioned in a previous post. I’m planning to use analogue technology in the shape of some Kodak Carousel projectors that are permanently installed in the National Portrait Gallery’s theatre. We’re testing it all out on Wednesday.

Tim and I last shared a bill at The Story 2010, Matt Locke’s annual conference about contemporary story telling across media and platforms (which just had its 2011 outing). Planning my reading for Dirty Literature I had wanted to respond to the location of the National Portrait Gallery at the southern end of Charing Cross Road, so was looking for creative commons licensed images of the Poll Tax Riots that took place in and around Trafalgar Square 21 years ago in March 1991. I found a couple of great images online — scans of distressed old photographic prints (see right), scratched and covered in finger prints — and funnily enough it turned out they had been taken, all those years ago, by Russell Davies who was the MC at The Story 2010. Russell has generously granted us permission to use them.

The blurb for our event just went to press in a publication that Electra and the National Portrait Gallery are producing to publicise and document the series. Here’s the latest version of what I’ll be doing:

Responding to the ‘Poll Tax riots’ and recent protests in Trafalgar Square, White will read from Charlieunclenorfolktango, his satirical 1999 novel about an alienated police force, before being joined by musician Simon Edwards to preview a new short story commissioned by digital arts agency SCAN for their Digital Transformations project.

The Dirty Literature series at the National Portrait Gallery kicks off with Tim Etchells and I on 17 March at 7.30PM. As noted previously, the event is free, but booking is essential.

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2) Foxy-T in the Indy

Last Friday the Independent published a feature article by their Deputy Literary Editor Arifa Akbar in their weekly Arts & Books supplement entitled (in the print version) ‘Stories from the Sounds of the Streets’, which includes brief interviews with myself and others about our own work and/or about ‘the vernacular tradition in literary fiction.’

I very much enjoyed chatting with Arifa about all this. A couple of factual errors* about Foxy-T crept in to her final copy, but I guess that is par for the course, and I am amazed and delighted that Foxy-T continues to be written about nearly eight years after publication: most novels having (I’m paraphrasing a long-lost note from Iain Sinclair) ‘the shelf-life of a fruit fly.’

The article is framed by questions of authenticity:

slang narratives continue to raise debate over what is seen, and sometimes claimed, as a more authentic mode of storytelling

The double-page spread of the print version is punctuated with pullquotes from writers Stephen Kelman (‘I felt from the beginning his voice was authentic…’) and Gautam Malkani (‘…I thought wow. It is authentic, but invented authenticity’).

I’m not sure that ‘authenticity’ is the issue, but it reminded me of the line scrawled on the cover of The Fall‘s 1982 LP Room to Live: ‘Undilutable Slang Truth!’

Sarfraz Manzoor writing about Foxy-T and Londonstani in a piece following the publication of Malkani’s novel a few years ago asked whether an unrealistic expectation of authenticity is placed upon writers from Black and Minority Ethnic groups. Maybe so. I think ‘authenticity’ is also used as a kind of critical shorthand that masks more complex questions of power, identity, class, narrative, the reading experience, etc etc. For me writing Foxy-T at the turn of the century, it was precisely the inauthenticity of Bangladeshi rude boys calling each other ‘rasta’ — an observable/audible rupture with the necessary identity politics of Black British language in the second half of the 20th century — that made the novel possible; that the novel set out — amongst other things — to explore.

After the usual ‘street talk scare stories‘ (which I’ve discussed here), Akbar’s wide-ranging and broadly positive article is very welcome. I was and am thrilled to see that Foxy-T is also included in a round-up of ‘The best in “slang” fiction’  alongside how late it was how late, A Clockwork Orange and Trainspotting. Great!

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3) Errata

*One of the small (but to me, glaring) errors in The Independent article states that Foxy-T was ‘published a year before [Monica] Ali’s Brick Lane and […] was buried beneath the critical acclaim of her book.’ Ouch! Actually, Faber and Faber published my novel one month after Ali’s, but Foxy-T continues to receive plenty of its own ‘critical acclaim’, including recently here in the Indy itself or in this Browser interview with the esteemed Great Hedge of India author Roy Moxham. More press elsewhere on this site, of course.

FYI, the Radio 4 Today Programme interview about Foxy-T that is mentioned in the article is weirdly absent from Today‘s otherwise more or less exhaustive ‘listen again’ archive, so I put it on Youtube:

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