Tony White: Author Photo Diary

This post first appeared on the Faber and Faber blog – 19 March 2018.

Introducing a new feature on our blog, where our authors take away disposable cameras and come back with a selection of photos from their day-to-day lives.

Our first photo diary comes from Tony White, author of five previous novels including Foxy-T and Shackleton’s Man Goes South. White has been creative entrepreneur in residence at King’s College London and writer in residence at the Science Museum. His latest novel, The Fountain in the Forest, a thrilling experimental detective novel was published at the start of the year.

Tony White: I’m lucky that we live close to both the River Thames and Richmond Park in London. I usually get up, make coffee and start writing quite early, so if I need a break after a few hours at my desk, I can go for a walk along the river, or – most likely – cycle around nearby Richmond Park. That’s my old Pashley leaning against a tree there, which I’ve been riding around London for about 25 years.

I regularly visit the studios of Resonance 104.4FM, London’s award-winning arts radio station – an Ofcom-licensed community radio station – on Borough High Street, SE1. Here is general manager Sarah Nicol helping to set-up a live session in the studio. I am a big supporter of Resonance, which is run on a shoestring, and I’ve been proud to chair the board for the past eight years, to help out in whatever way I could. If you haven’t listened to Resonance for a while, it’s still the most innovative broadcaster in the country, reflecting London’s diversity and constantly pushing the boundaries of what a radio station can be and do. It’s programming includes tons of new music – hundreds of live sessions every year – as well as sound art, talk shows and many books programmes. There are programmes that are art, and programmes about art, whether that is the visual arts, theatre, gaming, comics, or more experimental stuff. Listen now.

After all the work involved in writing a book – sometimes years of research and writing, followed by the many stages of editing and proofing – it is still a great thrill and the most exciting of moments when the first copies of a new novel arrive from the printers and you get to see the actual book for the first time. However many times I experience this – I never tire of it! Incidentally, I love Luke Bird’s cover for The Fountain in the Forest. It is so striking and original, and has made a great impact everywhere.

In the run-up to publication we made a short video of me discussing The Fountain in the Forest with Lee Brackstone, my editor at Faber & Faber. This is Faber’s Marketing Campaigns Assistant, James Stone, setting up for the shoot. We shot on location in Sid’s Cafe on Lamb’s Conduit Street: a local landmark, and a regular fixture in The Fountain in the Forest, as it is Detective Sergeant Rex King’s favourite cafe.

This festive-looking set-up was for a new live literature night called ‘The Ungoverned Tongue’ in Crystal Palace, who invited me to read on a cold night in early December. I often do book events, live literature gigs and readings, in all kinds of venues around the country and beyond: bookshops, libraries, universities, pubs and festivals. I know that some writers hate doing readings, but for me it’s an important part of the work and I enjoy it. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to do live collaborations with musicians and composers. Here’s a short story I recently did with a great new Irish musician called New Pope for the TULCA Festival in Galway.

I also love to hear other writers read and talk about their work. I went to see the authors M. John Harrison and Lara Pawson in conversation at Housmans in King’s Cross. Such an inspiring event, by two authors whose work I would definitely recommend.

You might recognise this amazing bit of Brutalist architecture from the film of A Clockwork Orange. In fact it is the Lecture Centre at Brunel University London, where I have been doing some visiting lecturing in their Creative Writing department. I enjoy the little bits of teaching that I do, and not just because it gets me away from my desk occasionally: I also remember how important my teachers and my own access to higher education were to me. I was lucky enough to go to art school when I was young, and that experience led directly to the professional life that I have now. The arts are – or should be – a fundamental part of education. It annoys me when writers who should know better moan about creative writing courses. I’m all in favour. Whatever they go on to do, where else can emerging writers find space and time to develop their craft and meet their peers?

Where I live, near Barnes Common in South West London, Barnes Bookshop is one of my two local independent bookshops, and our family have been buying books there for years. The out-of-focus finger on the right-hand side of the frame is mine of course. It’s a feature of analogue photography that I’d completely forgotten about until now, but I must have been photobombed by my own fingers dozens of times in those pre-digital years.

Another favourite haunt on Barnes High Street is Barnes Fish Shop – a proper, old-fashioned fishmonger’s. I had planned to take a photo of the strange aquatic life forms, denizens of the deep, that are usually laid out so decoratively in the stunning window displays… Here is our friend the master fishmonger Michael Fabray cleaning up at the end of another busy day!

The Society of Authors do important work, lobbying government and others in order to improve the lives and remuneration of authors, as well as offering free legal advice to members. Any authors who are not already a member of this professional association, I’d recommend it. The annual conference is an opportunity to meet new colleagues, and to hear from all sectors of publishing. This year’s speakers ranged from Charlie Redmayne, CEO of Harper Collins, to Crystal Mahey-Morgan of OWN IT! As usual I did a bit of live-tweeting during the conference presentations (you can find me on Twitter at @tony_white_ ) and as things were winding up I asked one of the staff to take a pic that I could include on this blog.

We shot a book trailer for The Fountain in the Forest in the club room at London’s brilliant October Gallery with my brother-in-law and good friend, the TV director Rupert Such. The October Gallery’s exhibitions programme includes international avant-garde and visual arts by such greats as the Ghanaian sculptor and installation artist El Anatsui, as well as more ephemeral and visual works by the Beats, in particular William S. Burroughs and Bryon Gysin. I was proud to give a reading at the October Gallery as part of the events programme alongside their recent exhibition of paintings by Burroughs. The October Gallery is on Old Gloucester Street in Holborn and well worth a visit. Coincidentally (or not) my own London detective, The Fountain in the Forest’s Detective Sergeant Rex King, lives in the block of flats next door.

My other local bookshop is the wonderful Sheen Bookshop on Upper Richmond Road in East Sheen, and it was great fun to do an event with them around publication of The Fountain in the Forest. The staff are super friendly, and very knowledgeable about current releases, so be sure to pop in if you are in the area!

I’ll end this blog with another ride around Richmond Park, back in the early autumn. That’s not a filter, by the way, but the sky certainly wasn’t that colour IRL. It’s been fun carrying this shonky disposable around and taking snaps. I hope you enjoy The Fountain in the Forest – let us know what you think, maybe by tweeting me or Faber, or using the hashtag #thefountainintheforest on Instagram or Twitter. And do please look out for any events or readings I might be doing near you.  Thank you!

Tony White’s new novel The Fountain in the Forest is available in paperback here.

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