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. ’