Tagged: Tim Etchells
London Consequences 2 – a collaborative novel
Announcing a new and very exciting collaborative writing project: London Consequences 2.
London Consequences 2 is a collaborative novel being written from September to December 2022 by a collection of amazing contemporary writers (see below!). It is organised and curated by David Collard, Jonathan Gibbs and Michael Hughes, and is a creative response and homage to a little-known but very interesting book published 50 years ago called, yes, London Consequences.
London Consequences was a collaborative novel written for the 1972 Festivals of Britain and edited by Margaret Drabble and BS Johnson. Drabble and Johnson co-wrote an opening chapter, and then passed the manuscript on to a series of 18 writers (including Melvyn Bragg, Olivia Manning and Eva Figes) who each wrote one chapter before passing it on, until it returned to the editors, who co-wrote the closing chapter. The published book listed the contributing novelists, but each chapter was anonymous, giving readers the fun parlour-game challenge of trying to work out who wrote what. (There was a £100 reward for whoever could successfully do this – as yet we have no idea if this was collected!)
Piers Paul Read
The original novel features a middle-class London couple, Anthony (a journalist) and his wife Judith (a mother and housewife) on a single day – Easter Sunday, 1971 – as they navigate the capital, and their relationship with each other. It was published in 1972 by the Greater London Arts Association, with a cover price of 65p.
The idea for this new project came about in a strange and serendipitous way. In April 2022 I turned 50, and Michael Hughes gave me as a present a copy of London Consequences, which I read and very much enjoyed. I tweeted that it would be a fun idea to do a contemporary version, to which David Collard, who knew the original, responded by throwing down the gauntlet. We should do it, he said.Continue reading
January and February Reading, 2020: Simenon, Chandler, Evans, Markson
January was largely taken up with Simenon – for a piece still forthcoming, for which I tried to read as much of the famously prolific novelist as possible. This was not an entirely rewarding experience. After all, which writer can you honestly binge-read to the extent of weeks and weeks of nothing but them? Bear in mind that your average Inspector Maigret novel is around 170pp long, and you can absolutely blaze through them, so unencumbered are they by much in the way of plot, description or linguistic complexity.
The fact that they are crime novels, that they mostly open with a murder, and are peopled by rough, tough types, don’t stop them being, essentially, soft reads. They are close to Barthes’ Degree Zero Writing. As books, they practically read themselves. This is a good thing, individually: the Maigrets are ideal comfort reads; you can pick them up in confidence that you know what you’re getting. In conjunction, in succession, this is not the case.
Simenon’s romans durs (straight or hard novels) are different. Without the broad, brooding humanity of Maigret – so long as you’re not Jewish, or eastern European, or female and ugly – they give off an acid, acrid stench. Their anti-heroes are nastier than Patricia Highsmith’s basically amoral villains.
So, reading lots of Maigrets back to back was not a particularly edifying experience – in my photo they’re represented by Maigret in Vichy: a fine example. It doesn’t help that Simenon seems to have got more slipshod in the later novels. Nowhere really do the books offer up an ‘extended universe’, beyond the dependable lode stars of Madame Maigret and the inspector’s closest colleagues at the Quai d’Orfèvres, but they do repeat themselves, and they get sloppy. I will go on reading them, and acquiring them in their lovely new Penguin editions, and I will seek out more of the non-Maigrets, but by the time I filed my piece I was desperate for something sparkier, something punchier, something with more heart and mind. I turned to Raymond Chandler, thinking I could make do with one story from Pearls a Nuisance, but actually reading all three of them: the title story, ‘Finger Man’, and ‘The King in Yellow’.
Oh, Chandler is such a joy. Like Simenon he knew well enough to make his hero(s) good, honest men with gruff exteriors, knights in tarnished armour. Like Simenon, he knew that we don’t want Poirot or Holmes-style clever-clever cryptic crossword mysteries; we’re quite happy to tag along behind the detective, picking up clues with them. Bad guys are usually pretty obvious, after all. Most murder is decidedly uncryptic. Unlike Simenon, however, Chandler is a delicious prose stylist, who would never settle for Degree Zero. (He is so even in ‘Pearls are a Nuisance’, in which the first-person private dick protagonist talks like a Dulwich College stuffed-shirt, rather than a laconic, tooth-pick chewing gumshoe; when called on it, he answers:
‘I cannot seem to change my speech, Henry. My father and mother were both severe puritans in the New England tradition, and the vernacular has never come naturally to my lips, even while I was in college.’)
But it’s not just the case of a way with a particular vocabulary. The is a splendid sharpness to the narration in terms of what is told, and what is not. Here is a paragraph from ‘Finger Man’, in which the hero, another standard-issue private eye, comes back to his office to find a client, a standard-issue femme fatale, in his waiting room.
I unlocked the other door and she went in and sat in the chair where Lou had sat the afternoon before. I opened some windows, locked the outer door of the reception room, and struck a match for the unlighted cigarette she held in her ungloved and ringless left hand
The ‘ringless’ is a good detail, but you’d expect that from a private eye. It’s the fact of how that unlit cigarette comes right at the end of the paragraph, like the verb in a German sentence, and the way it sits there, patiently, on the page, shows us that she’s been sitting there like that for a while – for the time it takes him to lock the door and open the windows – waiting for him to light it, in the way of femmes fatales down the ages. And it only takes a second look at that sentence to realise (or guess, if you’re being picky) that he, the private eye, had spotted the cigarette, there in her hand, just as he spotted the ring, at some point in his tour of the office windows, and left her there, waiting, while the rest of the sentence rolled itself out. It’s not narrated, but it’s there. Continue reading