Yesterday I went back to the source. I still slightly have to kick myself to believe that three novels have grown out of these particular two small boxes of microfiche.
A top-secret The Fountain in the Forest-related mission had me back at the British Library and consulting 1985 editions of The Guardian newspaper in the National Newspaper Collection. Specifically, I needed to consult Guardian newspapers from March to June of that year, which are miraculously contained in just these two reels of photographic microfiche.
When I started writing The Fountain in the Forest in earnest, I knew that I was on to something exciting, but could never have imagined it would lead to nearly a decade’s work. (More news of the two further forthcoming volumes anon.)
When I was researching the 2012 novella Dicky Star and the Garden Rule in which I tested out the Oulipo-inspired ‘mandated vocabulary’ technique that I subsequently used for ‘The Fountain Trilogy’, the National Newspaper Collection was housed within a great Art Deco warehouse in Colindale, North London. I loved the archaic basement reading rooms, cranky old microfiche viewing machines, and the chits that you had to fill out to request everything. I think that Colindale is still the repository, but the public reading rooms have moved to the BL’s Euston Road site in Central London.
Newspaper archive materials can now be accessed (with a reader pass) via a dedicated and very much updated ‘Newsroom’ at the British Library’s Euston Road site.
It was the first time I’d been to the British Library since before the COVID-19 Pandemic. I realised how much I’d missed the place. I also realised that having lost two-years to the Pandemic, my Reader Pass had expired. Luckily, with thanks to helpful library staff at every turn – in Reader Pass Renewals, the Rare Books and Music reading rooms, and the aforementioned Newsroom – I managed to get through all of my tasks in a head-spinning couple of hours.
Mission accomplished at the British Library, I then walked back down through Bloomsbury to Waterloo, via – of course – Lamb’s Conduit Street, home of Holborn Police Station, where Detective Sergeant Rex King from The Fountain in the Forest is based.
I was very sad to see the Conduit Coffee House – better known as Sid’s – closed down and boarded up. I knew that it had closed down. I’d heard from a friend and Bloomsbury resident that it had been a victim of the first UK COVID-19 Lockdown in 2020. But it was still a shock to see it in this state.
Sid’s is or was a Lamb’s Conduit Street institution. An old fashioned greasy spoon that served Police Station, Hospital, and local community. It was a really useful amenity in the area, and for that reason figures highly in The Fountain in the Forest.
It also made a high-quality, and reliably old-fashioned ‘Full English’. The image above is of their ‘Set Breakfast No. 1’ – my ‘usual’; in fact a rare treat – which was especially fine when washed down with a couple of mugs of their good strong tea.
Thanks all. Happy days.
Buy The Fountain in the Forest via publisher Faber and Faber
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