In conversation at Brunel University London

Tony White talking about The Fountain in the Forest with Nick Hubble for the Brunel Writers Series, Brunel University London. Photo: © Bernardine Evaristo, 2019

Thank you to novelist and Professor of creative writing Benardine Evaristo for inviting me to talk about my latest novel The Fountain in the Forest as part of the wonderful Brunel Writers Series 2019 at Brunel University London back at the beginning of the year, and for taking a few photos of the event. Bernardine is a great force for good and for writing, and her latest novel Girl, Woman, Other was published by Hamish Hamilton last week, and is getting rave reviews all round.

At Brunel I was in conversation with Nick Hubble (L), whose latest book The Proletarian Answer to the Modernist Question is now out in paperback from Edinburgh University Press. On the screen behind us is a detail of Guardian ‘Quick Crossword’ No. 4,652 from 7 March 1985, one of twenty-six crosswords from the 90-day period between the end of the Miners’ Strike and the Battle of the Beanfield on 1 June the same year, which provide the ‘mandated vocabulary’ that I used to write the novel. Find out more about The Fountain in the Forest’s use of an Oulipo-inspired ‘mandated vocabulary’ in Sukhdev Sandhu’s Guardian review of the novel here, or in this interview with Kevin Gopal of the Big Issue.

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Forthcoming events, and a note about bookings

Events archive: 2012–2017

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Library promotion

May 2019 is National Crime Reading Month, and I love this imaginative crime fiction promotion that I spotted in Whitechapel Idea Store a couple of weeks ago.

Actually, I love Whitechapel. As some friends will know, I lived in the area for quite a while, and my novel Foxy-T is set there, just a few minute’s walk away on Cannon Street Road.

(ICYM You can read reviews of Foxy-T, or hear me talking about the novel on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.)

In 2013, the Whitechapel Idea Store held an event on the 10th anniversary of the publication of Foxy-T as part of a Cockney Heritage Festival, which was a great thrill. And not least because local libraries had been supportive of the novel when it first came out. (At that time there were not as many bookshops in the East End of London as, thankfully, there are now.)

This time I was visiting because the Idea Store hosted the launch of Spread The Word’s London short story prize anthology. Emerging writers of all ages reading great work to a supportive audience? What’s not to like?

While I was there I was also delighted to learn that the library had The Fountain in the Forest in stock. As seen here – in the Crime section FYI.

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Crime fiction panel in Staines

After our sell-out event at Chiswick Library earlier in the year, it was a great pleasure last week to do a second panel discussion with the authors (L–R) Louise Burfitt-Dons, Emma Curtis and Amanda Robson, to another packed house – this time in Staines.

(Or ‘St. Aines’, as an old friend of mine who lived there many years ago, and was from Staines, used to call it.)

It was a beautiful spring evening on the Staines riverside, and we received a really warm welcome. The event had been brilliantly marketed to book groups in this part of Surrey, and once again a fantastic and very engaged audience gathered to hear Amanda, Emma, Louise and I speak about our novels, our influences and approaches, about writing in general, and about each of our very different relationships with the crime genre. We each have new books out, so there is lots to talk about, but I think this particular panel works so well because we are all coming at crime fiction from such different angles, e.g. Emma Curtis is founder of the newly-formed Psychological Suspense Authors Association, Amanda Robson is a Sunday Times Bestseller, Louise Burfitt-Dons is a screenwriter and anti-bullying campaigner who writes topical political thrillers, while I spoke about my interest in an alternative lineage of more experimental detective novels.

I learned a lot, as usual, and the response from the audience was incredibly positive.

After a bit of Q&A, the conversations continued over tea and biscuits and the signing of books. It was great fun. I hope we can do it again sometime.

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Finneganight photos

Follow me through the heavy steel mesh security grill and into the derelict former Paddington Conservative Club, scene of the inaugural Finneganight, which was held here on Saturday 4 May 2019 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the first publication of James Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake by Faber and Faber.

Described as ‘a one-off pop-up Dadaist cabaret’, Finneganight brought together a brilliant company of authors and performers for readings, discussion and performances. I was honoured to have been invited to be part of it.

I read ‘The Willingdone Museyroom’ (p.8–10 of Finnegans Wake), and wore my old Royal Mail tie for the occasion (for the first time in probably twenty-five years), as later in the evening I also spoke briefly about reading Finnegans Wake in the Camden Town of the early 1990s – ‘A Portrait of the Author as a Young Postman’, in David Henningham’s words – before giving a reading of Patrick Kavanagh’s poem ‘Who Killed James Joyce?’

Here is author and critic David Collard – Finneganight’s impressario and Master of Ceremonies – and author June Caldwell, just arrived from Dublin, unwrapping the cheese and ham sandwiches (triangular cut), ‘shop cake’, fig rolls, and black and white puddings. This was the part of the evening where there seemed to be enough Guinness to go around . . .

And here’s David introducing the proceedings in front of the Convervative Club’s honours board, which stops abruptly at 1990.

Visiting from Los Angeles, Dan O’Brien and Jessica St. Clair performed ‘Jute and Mutt’.

‘So when did you first not read Finnegan’s Wake?’ L–R Jennifer Hodgson in conversation with Susan Tomaselli, Eley Williams and June Caldwell. The funniest, most earnest and illuminating literary conversation of the year.

‘Finnegan’s Wake’ – the song, with apostrophe – here performed by Melanie Pappenheim, accompanied by Alice Zawadzki. Later both company and audience reprised the song in the ‘shoutmost shoviality’:

Whack! Hurroo! Now dance to your partner! Welt the flure, your trotters shake; Isn’t it the truth I’ve told ye, Lots of fun at Finnegan’s wake.

David Henningham sang ‘The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly’ . . .

. . . while Henningham Family Press produced the programme, which was printed on their physics-defying – ‘Quarko’ format, specially developed for Finneganight.

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4 May is Finneganight – ‘a one-off pop-up Dadaist cabaret’

I just dusted off my copy of Faber and Faber’s 1989 paperback edition of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce in preparation for Saturday’s inaugural Finneganight celebrations, convened by author and critic David Collard, and featuring an incredible array of writers and performers including Eley Williams, Jennifer Hodgson, Susan Tomaselli and many, many more.

I see from the barely ‘legligible’ (p.356!) date on the 55 bus ticket I’d been using as a bookmark – as was my habit in those days, and which I just found still tucked into the novel’s closing pages – that I finished reading Finnegans Wake on or around 5 October 1993.

I’m truly thrilled to be a late addition to the bill of what promises to be an extraordinary evening, on the 80th anniversary of the original publication.

I’d say ‘Come along!’ but brilliantly/sadly it is completely SOLD OUT. And looking at this line-up, it’s no wonder.

If you were lucky enough to get a ticket I’ll see you there ;)

If not, I’ll try and post some pictures . . .

Here’s the blurb:

Let us propel us for the frey of the fray! Us, us, beraddy!

Finneganight will take place on Saturday 4th May (the actual publication date of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in 1939).

This is a gathering of enthusiasts, sceptics and the well-disposed uncommitted who would all like to celebrate the world’s most difficult book.

This is emphatically not an academic bunfight. Finneganight is a one-off pop-up Dadaist cabaret, created to mark the 80th anniversary of the publication by Faber & Faber of Joyce’s astonishing masterpiece. It’s an antidote to the commercial cavortings of Bloomsday but is nevertheless likely to get a bit rowdy. There will be live music, songs, readings, performance, film, and an all-woman panel discourse.

Taking part will be an illustrious cohort of poets and performers, musicians, artists, publishers and literary luminaries from Dublin, Paris, the United States and London. Confirmed names are:

Alba Arikha London-based writer and musician. Her latest novel is Where to Find Me (Alma Books, 2018).

Jessica Boyd London-based violinist.

June Caldwell Irish author whose debut short story collection is Room Little Darker (New Island Books, 2017).

David Collard reviewer, critic and author of About a Girl (CB editions).

David Henningham artist, writer, performer and publisher, one half of Henningham Family Press.

Jen Hodgson editor of The Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments by Ann Quin (andotherstories, 2018).

Dan O’Brien American poet and playwright. His most recent poetry collection is Scarsdale (CB editions).

Melanie Pappenheim: singer, composer and performer.

Alex Pheby author of Lucia (Galley Beggar Press), joint winner of the 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize.

Jessica St Clair American actress and improvisational comedian from the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

Susan Tomaselli founder and editor of gorse, Ireland’s leading literary journal.

Tony White author of novels including The Fountain in the Forest (Faber, 2018), and publisher since 1994 of the artists book series Piece of Paper Press.

Eley Williams author of Atrib. (Influx Press), winner of the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize.

Alice Zawadzki singer, violinist and songwriter/composer

So much for the first Finneganight!

I hope it’s not the last.

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Photo from the archive: reading in Mostar, 2017

I’ve updated my listings and events archive pages, and while I was doing that I found this fantastic photograph by the photographer Ivan Kelava of my reading in the Black Dog Pub in Mostar, Bosnia i Hercegovina, for Festival Poligon back in September 2017.

Tony White reading at the Black Dog Pub, Mostar, Bosnia i Hercegovina, for Festival Poligon, September 2017 / © Ivan Kelava, 2017

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Thank you . . .

. . . to my good friend Alison Turnbull for sending through this photo of The Fountain in the Forest in the window of the lovely Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, London NW5. So thrilled to see this ;)

If you should spot a copy of Fountain (for short) on your travels, I’d love to hear about it – do please send a pic!

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Buy the new paperback edition of The Fountain in the Forest direct from publisher Faber and Faber

Sign up to receive news and invites to Tony White’s book launches and events