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.
I was lucky to share that event with fellow novelist Gregory Norminton who was also talking about his own novel The Devil’s Highway.
Gregory’s novel (his fifth) is set in the kind of ancient Surrey heath-lands that were on my doorstep growing up. Gregory is a great and thoughtful novelist and a very good speaker about writing, so it was a real pleasure to appear together.
But this also reminded me that The Bookseller Crow was the source of my best ever customer/reader review, which Jonathan Main of The Bookseller Crow posted on Instagram at the time.
In case you were ever wondering whether reader reviews and feedback make a difference, and if they are ever passed on by bookshops, the answer to both questions is Yes.
Sharing here with immense thanks to Jonathan and Gerry for the feedback and support — it means a lot.
Here (L) is an installation shot I took at the opening.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently for obvious reasons about Jane and Louise’s extraordinary and visionary research and making process, and that work we did a decade ago. The (literally) hundreds of pages of transcripts from interviews they’d conducted in Ukraine. So much memorable material that I was privileged to have access to for my part of the script.
It is beyond sadness to reflect on the current hellscape of inhumanity, the many thousands of lives lost, ruined and endangered, contrasted with the care and diligence of nuclear workers on the Chernobyl site whose own safety may now be compromised. The many conversations ended, and the conversations that simply would not be possible now, or ever again.
(Posting this photo from the archive, as Facebook just reminded me that this event at the wonderful Oxford Waterstones was four years ago today. I was privileged also to be in conversation with the brilliant Professor Michael H Whitworth of Merton College, Oxford. What a blast it was – thanks all!)
You may have seen this nice campaign running today by the European Writers’ Council, the Society of Authors and other international writers organisations for #WorldBookDay2022.
I haven’t seen so many UK colleagues joining in. But I like the idea, so am posting here and on my other social media ICYMI and in solidarity with bookish friends everywhere. Especially wherever writers are being persecuted right now.
PS joinEnglish PENor the local branch where you are, if you haven’t already!
I love collaborating and performing with musicians. I learn so much from how a musician will read and respond to a story. How they can find new themes, structures and ideas in a piece of fiction. And how they open up a story for readers to access in new ways.
It’s always a revelation. Even down to things like knowing how many BPM you read at!
I’ve been really privileged to collaborate with some amazing musicians including Richard Norris, Simon Edwards, Jamie Telford, New Pope, and more. (This photo is from my performance with New Pope at the TULCA Festival in Galway, November 2016.)
I’ve just updated the audio page on my site, where you’ll find various live and studio recordings and collaborations. Most of the tracks are downloadable for you to takeaway and listen to on your preferred device.
An early start today. In fact it’s an early start every day at the moment, as it always is when I’m on the finishing stretch of any novel. And from deep in the edit of a forthcoming work of fiction comes this cryptic note-to-self; part intensifier, part organising principle. What could it possibly mean?
If anyone can guess what it stands for, I’d be impressed.
I found this old press clipping recently, and it’s taken me on a journey to Cardiff. Come along with me.
The clipping’s from the days when Time Out still had destination books pages, and an actual Books Editor in post! It’s a review by author John Williams. It was an important magazine at the time, with huge circulation. Everyone used to read it. So it was a thrill to get a brief positive review in John’s then regular/occasional crime fiction round-up. Especially for a confrontational avant garde novel like Charlieunclenorfolktango!
It was critics in the country’s various listings magazines – The List, The Source, etc. some of you may remember, some may still be going – that responded most positively to the novel in general, IIRC. And BTW some of those reviews are collected on the‘Selected Press’ page on this site.
I have since got to know John Williams a bit. Among other things because a beautiful, short, off-the-cuff poem about Cardiff by him (set in Chapter Arts Centre) is collected in Borivoj Radakovic’s 2002 book for Piece of Paper Press, ‘Posjetiteljeva Knjiga’ (or ‘Visitors’ Book’).
Radakovic’s book is a compilation of scans from his notebook, comprising dedications and short texts by writers Boro spent time with on a trip to the uk in early 2002. Radakovic is an important translator of English language literature into Croatian.
It’s a really wonderful poem in fact. If you can’t read John’s writing I’ll put the text in below.
Here’s how John Williams’s poem looks in Borivoj Radakovic’s book.
If John’s name rings a bell, it may be because he’s written many great books, not all of them Cardiff-related, although some are, including Bloody Valentine, about the murder of Lynnette White and the wrongful convictions of the so called ‘Cardiff 3’. Right now, out this week in fact, his new biography of CLR James — CLR James: A Life Beyond Boundaries — is getting universally brilliant reviews across the broadsheets, and sounds really excellent.
Here is John’s poem in type:
We are in Chapter Arts Centre – there are a lot of writers here. There is Niall Griffiths, Lloyd Robson, Sean Burke. There are writers here, this is Cardiff.
This is Cardiff: Clark’s Pies & Brains Beer, steel & wool, docks & ships. This is Cardiff: it used to be a fighter’s town & now it’s a writer’s town.
Handmade ‘business card’ given out by Sarah Lucas (and Tracey Emin) at the opening of Young British Artists II, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Sarah Lucas, Marc Quinn and Mark Wallinger, Saatchi Gallery, February 1993.