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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In for a treat

I found these cards  in my jacket pocket the other day. They comprise notes I’d made in advance of ‘Under the Paving Stones’ – the Faber Social night of experimental fiction that we put together to celebrate publication of The Fountain in the Forest – knowing that I would have to introduce three great women writers on the night. In order of their appearance (on a bill which also included Kirsty Gunn, Richard Milward and myself): Joanna Walsh, Iphgenia Baal, and Eley Williams. Since this particular Faber Social had been put together collaboratively, Faber’s Lee Brackstone and I shared MC-ing duties: Lee introduced me; I introduced Joanna; Lee, Kirsty. After the interval I introduced Iphgenia, Lee did the honours for Richard Milward, and I introduced Eley Williams.

The first card quotes Rosie Šnajdr in the TLS. My additional note ‘(MANCHESTER TONIGHT)’ was a reminder that I should mention the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2018 (a prize for books published by small presses) the shortlist for which which to be announced that same night, 19 February, following a day of panel discussions on the subject of small presses at the University of Manchester’s New Writing Centre.

These are my notes for Joanna Walsh, whose Worlds from the Word’s End is my favourite short story collection of 2017. (FYI, I did check with Joanna and the title of her forthcoming novel Break.Up  is pronounced ‘break up’, not ‘break-dot-up’.)

These notes on Iphgenia Baal include a reminder that I was to draw the winner of our The Fountain in the Forest prize crossword. BTW it may not be clear from my handwriting, but the line ‘Puts the psycho back into psychogeography’ is a quote from Stewart Home.

And finally, Eley Williams – and my additional note here was to check with the audience whether anyone knew if the shortlist for the Republic of Consciousness Prize had been announced yet, up in Manchester — it had!

Since then, of course – this week! – Eley Williams and Influx Press have together won the Republic of Consciouness Prize (here is a prize that rewards both author and publisher) for Williams’ brilliant collection, Attrib. and other stories (As I said in my notes, it is hard to think of a debut short story collection that has made such an impact.) The result was announced in Fyvie Hall, at the University of Westminster on Monday, and reported in the Bookseller here. Congratulations to all.

I was delighted to learn that to celebrate Influx and Williams’s win, the TLS have brought Rosie Šnajdr’s review ‘Toothsome Prose’ (the piece quoted above) out from behind their usual paywall.

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Reviews of The Fountain in the Forest

The Faber Social website

The Fountain in the Forest — book trailer

The new trailer for my latest novel The Fountain in the Forest (Faber and Faber, 2018) was shot at the October Gallery in London, and on location in the South of France, in and around the town of Vence in the Alpes-Maritime region, an area where parts of the novel are set.

Since the novel explores the legacy of the 90 days between the end of the Miners’ Strike and the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985, I wanted to be able to include at least some new footage shot using media that I might have had access to at the time, in those pre-digital days, so some of the trailer is shot using Super-8.

The close-up footage of water purling and playing in the fountains of Vence was shot on location in August 2017, on a vintage Canon 512XL. It’s a beautiful camera, an absolute pleasure to use, and the delicate clattering sound that it makes is incredibly evocative. While I was shooting in the Place du Peyra in Vence, I was aware that someone had stopped to watch, although he stood still and remained respectfully out of shot. Once I’d finished, he came and shook my hand, nodding at the camera enthusiastically. ‘Super-huit?’ he asked.

Oui,’ I said. ‘C’est Super-huit!’

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Read ‘The Fountain in the Forest by Tony White review – alternative social history’ by Sukhdev Sandhu (Guardian, 24 February 2018)

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Guardian review

Sukhdev Sandhu has reviewed The Fountain in the Forest for the Guardian:

If, in some circles, crime fiction is still associated with penny dreadfuls and mass-market mediocrity, [Gertrude] Stein represents a counter-tradition – one that includes Jorge Luis Borges and William S Burroughs, Paul Auster and Thomas Pynchon – of highbrow and formally adventurous writers who have bent sinister, seeing this residually pulp genre as an ally in the war against a bland literary mainstream. The Fountain in the Forest is a rich, riveting example of this alternative lineage. […] White’s innovation is to fuse his revisionist narrative with techniques associated with Oulipo, the group of writers and mathematicians, including Raymond Queneau and Georges Perec, who produced work according to sometimes baffling rules and constraints (Perec’s novel A Void featured not a single “e”). White forces himself to use all the words that comprise answers to the Guardian’s Quick Crossword from March to April 1985 […] The words (Mondale, Ulster, Orwell, Derby Day) emerge as the collective lexical unconscious of the period, exude the strange poetry of the Shipping Forecast, and – mandated as they are – invite comparison with the kind of planted evidence that plays a key role in the novel. […] More insecure writers would have laboured to show off their erudition and ended up producing drily conceptual fare. White is always convivial company […] a restless, endlessly curious, somewhat centrifugal writer. His books […] are characterised by stylistic innovation, a feeling for place, a love of rogues and rebels. The Fountain in the Forest is no different. It’s also the opening salvo in a trilogy. I’m already awaiting the next.

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Read ‘The Fountain in the Forest by Tony White review – alternative social history’ by Sukhdev Sandhu (Guardian, 24 February 2018) here.

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Ray’s ‘Recommends’ in Blackwell’s Oxford

Thank you to staff at both Blackwells and Waterstones in Oxford for inviting me over to sign their respective stocks of The Fountain in the Forest this weekend. Waterstones staff including Chris and Katie have been very supportive of the novel, including on Instagram (and I love this photo that they posted, which I have now learned was taken amidst the ivy in St Mary Magdalen’s churchyard over the road).

I was also honoured that The Fountain in the Forest is one of bookseller Ray’s ‘Recommends’ in Blackwells – I love the succinctness of his review!

There is also talk of an event at the Oxford Waterstones, so watch this space for info.

In the meantime, the team at Faber have produced this banner for our February dates:

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Buy The Fountain in the Forest direct from publisher Faber and Faber

‘Under the Paving Stones’ — Faber Social and Tony White present a night of experimental fiction with Iphgenia Baal, Kirsty Gunn, Richard Milward, Joanna Walsh, Tony White and Eley Williams – 19 February 7:00 pm

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The Fountain in the Forest: first reviews

It is a great thrill that The Fountain in the Forest has had some substantial print reviews in the Times Literary Supplement, the Financial Times and Spectator, as well online in Crime Time’s January round-up, and from the author and critic Nina Allan. Here are some quotes and links:

“a gripping police procedural […] impeccably Oulipian in conception and execution […] The Fountain in the Forest sets the author and his readers a bracingly high bar.” David Collard, TLS

“an engaging plot allows plenty of room for radical yet accessible interventions. The Fountain in the Forest can be read on several levels: as a crime novel, a Bildungsroman, a tale of protest and institutional violence, as well as a text written with the use of a mandated vocabulary. […] That all these stylistic fireworks can illuminate several rich plot lines, each with multiple twists, which an attentive reader will enjoy disentangling, is the best vindication of experimental prose. […] Let’s hope for more surprises in the next instalment.” Anna Aslanyan, Financial Times

Tony White’s latest novel begins for all the world like a police procedural, following the delightfully named sleuth Rex King as he investigates the grisly murder of man in a Covent Garden theatre. […] The Fountain in the Forest is a slow-burner. White lulls the reader into absorbed bewilderment before weaving the strands together with all the deftness of a seasoned crime writer. […] pays timely homage, in a far subtler way than certain self-styled Brexit novels, to the strength of British ties with the continent. […] The Fountain in the Forest is told with an obituarist’s unsentimental deference. Enjoy it as a noir entertainment or as an evocative picture postcard from the past.” Houman Barekat, Spectator

“A truly intriguing venture into the crime genre by the talented White […] But there is more to the novel than the actual plot, as White unveils a series of literary challenges which throw the whole story a softball curve, while never slowing the plot down. Engaging and at the same time a challenge, this is both a good read and a cheeky divertimento, and all rather unique.” Maxim Jakubowski, Crime Time

Tony White speaking at The Fountain in the Forest launch, Daunt Books, 11 January 2018. Photo: © Kit Caless, 2018

The Fountain in the Forest can be read with all the pleasure you might expect from a knotty police procedural, a knowledgeably detailed, intriguing and compelling police procedural at that. The story drives ever forward, even when it takes you backwards in time to take a look at the roots of the crime in question. Even when it flip-flops between two distinct time-streams and character identities within the space of a single sentence, the sense throughout is of a steady and satisfying accretion of significant information, i.e clues – exactly what you’d hope for from any good thriller. […] You could read the novel with no knowledge of OULIPO and enjoy it just as well. […] Anyone who enjoyed Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn & Child or Nicholas Royle’s First Novel will love this book. Anyone who is into Ian Rankin or Denise Mina will love it, too. […] Above all, there is the joy inherent in a book well made: language expertly deployed, place wonderfully evoked, ideas, characters, memories, theories, political subtext brought vibrantly to life, a good story well told. The Fountain in the Forest would be a worthy contender for the CWA Gold Dagger. It is equally the kind of book that might win the Goldsmiths Prize. Read, and enjoy.” Nina Allan

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Buy The Fountain in the Forest direct from publisher Faber and Faber

‘Under the Paving Stones’ — Faber Social and Tony White present a night of experimental fiction with Iphgenia Baal, Kirsty Gunn, Richard Milward, Joanna Walsh, Tony White and Eley Williams – 19 February 7:00 pm

Sign up to receive news and invites to book launches and events from me and my publishers and producers