Foxy-T and Fountain in Faber ebook

If you’re having trouble getting hold of print editions, or you just prefer reading on your chosen device, ebooks of my Faber and Faber novels The Fountain in the Forest (2018) and Foxy-T (2003) are available from all the usual outlets.

Here are the preview links for Kindle readers:

Praise for The Fountain in the Forest:

“It is absolutely terrific . . . it can be enjoyed at the level of a thriller, and yet it does all these other fascinating things, and best of all it’s the first in a trilogy . . . It’s such a good book.” Andy Miller, Backlisted Podcast

Praise for Foxy-T:

“Foxy-T is one of the best London novels you’ll ever get to read” Toby Litt, Herald on Sunday

NB Other ebook retailers are available – but I wanted to test out these new WordPress Block-edit links. If you try them, do please let me know how they work! I’d love to hear how you get on. Thank you ;)

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‘to step beyond oneself’ – Tim Robinson, RIP

I was sad to learn last week of the death of the writer Tim Robinson (1935–2020), who is best known as a critically acclaimed writer of the Irish landscape, in particular for his Connemara Trilogy: Listening to the Wind (2006), The Last Pool of Darkness (2008) and A Little Gaelic Kingdom (2011).

I’d been privileged to see Robinson reading in 1997, at the launch in Hanbury Street just off Brick Lane, London, of his book The View From the Horizon, published by Coracle.

The View From the Horizon was

a first attempt to link the work of the artist Timothy Drever with the writings of his alter ego Tim Robinson.

Background note: As Timothy Drever, Robinson had exhibited to some acclaim in the early 1970s at the Lisson Gallery among others. Before my (gallery-going) time, then, but I find it really interesting that even in 1997 – twenty-five years after ‘Drever’ had quit the London artworld for his ‘particular little crossroads of reality’ in Ireland – it was still ‘Tim Robinson’ that was seen as the alter ego, when by the time of his death last week, Robinson was by far the better-known figure.

Discussing this personal and professional rupture in the book’s introduction, Robinson writes

Whereas I used to be dismayed by the breakage and loss caused by that sudden change in habit and habitat, nowadays it is the unchipped good order in which my little store of imagery accompanied me on the jolting journey from city to island that makes me wonder if it is ever possible to step beyond oneself.

Since that event on Hanbury Street in 1997, The View From the Horizon has been an often-noted presence on my shelf. The spine stands out among other titles, because its dust-wrapper (comprising a single, wrap-around photograph of some Drever constructions from 1972) is so visually distinctive. It made it easy to locate the book again now, so that I could re-read it these 23 years later. And it’s wonderful stuff – look!

Tim Robinson, The View From The Horizon (detail)

Strangely, or perhaps not, I’d already been thinking about Robinson earlier that week. While sorting through some old papers, I’d come across photocopies of a short article of mine for the then Artists’ Newsletter – now AN – from that same year, which mentions Robinson’s reading alongside a number of other books/works by artists including Ian Hamilton Finlay, Gordana Stanišić, and the historian or historical geographer John Field.

I did a quick scan of the article on my phone, and reproduce it here (with apologies for the blurriness of the photocopy).

Tony White, ‘Taking an idea for a walk’, AN, August 1977

Incidentally, it took me a while, but I finally found and bought a copy of John Field’s English Field Names: A Dictionary last year. I can’t quite believe that it took so long, but there you go. And it really is a exceptional piece of work. I’m not sure how I managed without it.

Here’s a little taster – see what I mean?

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Charlieuncle… Foxtrot Bravo?

Codex paperback of CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO

Friends may be interested to know that right now a small number of rare second-hand copies of my novel CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO seem to be available via Abebooks. The novel has been out of print since the publisher Codex sadly ceased trading in the early noughties.

ICYMI at the time, here’s what John Williams said in Time Out:

These days, if you want innovation in crime fiction, you’re better off looking closer to home. Tony White’s Charlieunclenorfolktango sure as hell stands out from the norm. Imagine a cross between Clockwork Orange and Irvine Welsh’s Filth, and you’ll be somewhere close. Written in phonetic cockney geezer-speak and narrated by hell’s own copper . . . there’s a berserk comic energy present that bodes well for White’s future.

While Christopher Tayler reviewing CHARLIEUNCLE… in the London Review of Books alongside Canteen Culture by Ike Eze-anyika and Filth by Irvine Welsh, absolutely hated it, calling it

Bizarre, depressing and unreadable…

And that’s one of the nicer things he had to say. Well, you can’t win ’em all. (Although, incidentally, I learned a really important lesson from Tayler’s LRB review, which I will tell you now: it is never – but never – a good idea to reply to a bad review.)

There are more reviews of CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO on my press page (you’ll need to scroll down a bit).

But while reviews are important – and sometimes life-changing – they aren’t everything. There are other kinds of critical feedback, too. Some of which have a very slow burn indeed. Because books do have a long life; even obscure experimental novels like CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO, published on the margins in tiny print runs by long defunct small presses. Once a book is out there in the world it has a life of its own – independent of both author and critic – and is reanimated whenever someone picks it up, or remembers something they once-read.

Which reminds me that I meant to say, one of my favourite art exhibitions of recent months was PERIOD by Fiona Banner AKA the Vanity Press at Frith Street Gallery, London which ran from 21 November 2019 to 24 January 2020. Here’s a photo from the Frith Street Gallery site.

PERIOD, Fiona Banner AKA the Vanity Press, Frith Street Gallery, London, 2019

It was a fantastic show, and I felt especially drawn to the large hanging scroll of marine rubber on the right of this photograph. Entitled ‘Tongue’, this is a book-ish text work that remixes the genres and jargon of the colophon page and the gallery wall text.

I love Fiona Banner’s work, especially her ‘publications’ – in the loosest sense of the word – and the relationships and antagonisms with traditional publishing that they contain and inscribe.

‘Tongue’ even has its own ISBN number, which is written out in full like so:

India Sierra Bravo November Nine Seven Eight dash One dash Nine Zero Seven Six Three One dash Eight Zero dash One

Here’s a close-up that I took on the night of the exhibition’s opening.

Fiona Banner AKA the Vanity Press, ‘Tongue’ (detail)

Intrigued, I asked Fiona if ‘Tongue’ was a colophon for the whole show (as it were) or a self-contained, stand-alone publication.

It’s the latter, she confirmed: a one-off publication in its own right. ‘The legal deposit people hate me!’

But then, apropos of nothing, Fiona told me that her use of the phonetic alphabet to depict the ISBN was (in her words), ‘inspired by that old book of yours.’

Wow.

‘Can I quote you on that?’ I asked.

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Fiona Banner aka The Vanity Press

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Background to CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO here…

More about CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO here…

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Tuna

Right now you can read The Fountain in the Forest in synch with the French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Saturday 14 March 2020 converts to Quintidi 25 Ventôse CCXXVIII in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 25 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 13 of the novel are dedicated to tuna.

What better way to celebrate than with Michel Roux Jr’s recipe for Tuna Tartare from BBC Good Food.

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Daisy

Right now and for the next eighteen days, you can read The Fountain in the Forest in synch with the actual French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Friday 13 March 2020 converts to Quartidi 24 Ventôse 228 in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 24 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 12 of the novel are dedicated to the daisy.

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Scurvy grass

Photo: Franz Xaver. CC BY-SA 3.0

Right now and for the next nineteen days, you can read The Fountain in the Forest in synch with the actual French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Thursday 12 March 2020 converts to Tridi 23 Ventôse 228 in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 23 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 11 of the novel are dedicated to scurvy grass or Cochlearia, an edible coastal plant that is rich in vitamin c, and with a strong peppery taste similar to horseradish and watercress to which it is related.

Here are some tips on how to find and use scurvy grass from Bernard Lundie on BBC Scotland…

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Parsley

For thirty days this year and every year The Fountain in the Forest synchs up with the actual French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Wednesday 11 March 2020 converts to Duodi 22 Ventôse CCXXVIII in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 22 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 10 of the novel are dedicated to parsley.

A good way to celebrate the revolutionary day of parsley in a timely fashion might be to grow your own.

In Chapter 10 of the novel, Detective Sergeant Rex King dines on a boil-in-the-bag cod in parsley sauce. Alternatively, you could do worse than get hold of a big bunch of fresh parsley and make pasta with parsley and anchovy sauce. There are plenty of variations of this recipe, but the key ingredients are linguine, a tin of anchovies and the oil they come in, onion, garlic, a big bunch of parlsey, and a ladle-full of the pasta water. (You can vary this to your own taste with a couple of chopped, fresh tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon of dried red chillies, or a sprinkling of capers.) Eat with or without parmesan. Here’s a similar recipe to give the rough idea.

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Mandrake

For thirty days this year and every year The Fountain in the Forest synchs up with the actual French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Tuesday 10 March 2020 converts to Primidi 21 Ventôse CCXXVIII in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 21 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 9 of the novel are dedicated to Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum, or Mandragora autumnalis). Mandrake is highly toxic, and associated with many superstitions.

Photo © Chris Dorley-Brown, 2018

Much of Chapter 9 takes place in the paint frame, a scene painting studio in the stage house of the Royal Palace Theatre, a fictional theatre but one that is closely modeled on the real Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The paint frame is a high-ceilinged and sky-lit scene-painting studio with deep drops on either side, into which large wooden frames or stretchers can be lowered via pulleys, so that all parts of the canvas or gauze are accessible and can be painted from floor level.

My use of the paint frame in The Fountain in the Forest is in part a tribute to Alastair Brotchie, whose studio it is (and who can be seen in the background of Chris Dorley-Brown’s photo above). Brotchie is a founder of the London publishing house Atlas Press – ‘a small publishing house devoted to publishing an “anti-tradition” of avant-garde literary and artistic dissent’ – a Regent of the Collège de ’Pataphysique in Paris, the editor of books and anthologies on Surrealism, Dada, and the Oulipo, and author of the wonderful biography of Alfred Jarry, recently published by MIT.

Theatre researcher Eleanor Margolies wrote a beautiful article about the paint frame in The Fountain in the Forest.

There used to be many more paint frames around London and the rest of the UK, and the Historical Research Committee of the Association of British Theatre Technicians have published a list of paint frames, which is ‘constantly developing’ as more are demolished or fall into disuse.

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Twine

Right now, and for the next 22 days, you can read my latest novel The Fountain in the Forest in synch with the French Republican Calendar. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Monday 9 March 2020 converts to Decadi 20 Ventôse CCXXVIII in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 20 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 8 of the novel are dedicated to Twine.

Q. What does that have to do with this photo of a pair of ‘vintage farming or veterinary scissors very old’ that I just found on ebay?

In the 1990s when I worked for the Post Office, sorting post at the London NW1 mail centre on St. Pancras Way in Camden, and later the N1 mail centre on Upper Street, Islington, I learned how to tie-up a bundle of letters using a kind of yellow nylon twine that was threaded through a hole on each sorting desk from large bobbins that slotted onto spindles beneath the work stations. The knot in question – the ‘Postman’s knot’? – was a kind of one-way slip-knot, with a loop that you’d pull to tighten the twine around the bundle, so that the letters wouldn’t come lose in the rough and tumble of the mail bag. The knot seemed archaic at the time, and was something that only the old-timers, the  ‘senior men’, generally used. But one of them taught it to me, and it came in handy when, periodically, the sorting office ran out of rubber bands. Mail bags too were tied with twine, but of a heavier-gauge, which came in pre-cut lengths that you fastened in a certain way before the pinching the string with a ‘bag-seal’, a hinged piece of die-stamped metal that clamped both knot and bag label in place.

In fact the ‘veterinary scissors’ being auctioned have nothing at all to do with animal health and husbandry. They’re Royal Mail, standard issue, bag- and bundle-opening shears. So shaped that the lower blade is shallow enough to slip under a tightly-knotted round of twine.

If you look closely you can just about see the letters ‘GPO’ stamped into the metal near the hinge.

Although the early 1990s was a period of rapid mechanisation in the Royal Mail, the workplace that I joined was in many respects little-changed from the one illustrated in this ancient British Movieone News public information film about using the correct postage. And right at the beginning of the film you can see a pair of these shears in use, snipping the twine to open a bundle of letters (at about 00:08).

(ICYMI Some of my own experiences of working for the Post Office found their way into my 2012 novella Missorts Volume II, published by Situatons in Bristol, which is set in and around the abandoned sorting office, the former South West mail centre, at Bristol Temple Meads.)

Even in the early 1990s, Post Office workers, postmen and postwomen, were still being issued with a pair of these strange looking bag-opening shears. ‘Borrow your scissors?’ colleagues would ask. So of course I lost mine on the job pretty quickly, and – sad to say – having left the Post Office in 1997 I’ve long-since forgotten how to tie that special ‘Postman’s knot’.

If I could still remember how to tie it, I would of course – in honour of the revolutionary day of twine – have given you a quick demo here.

If anyone can remind me how to do it, do please let me know!

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Download a free copy of Tony White’s Post Office novella Missorts Volume II (Situations, 2012) in ebook and PDF formats from the Missorts web archive

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