Just a quick update to report that next week I’m going to be appearing as a panellist at the inaugural debate of The Information Project. This is a new initiative, organised by local Crystal Palace residents – in particular those behind the brilliant Overground Festival – intended to spark debate around the proposed redevelopment of Crystal Palace Park by the Zhongrong Group.
The first debate is entitled ‘Who Owns Culture? Park, Space, Building’, and will take place at 7.30pm next Wednesday (30th April) at The Salvation Army, Upper Norwood. I’m really looking forward to taking part, not least as my own feelings about the redevelopment are very ambivalent, and this gives me a great excuse to try to get my thoughts in order.
In other news, the Kindle editions of both of my novels – So Long, Shakespeare, and the Crystal Palace Park-based railway fantasy Strange Air – have been reduced to 99p on Amazon for a very limited time.
The last week has been predictably crazy in the run-up to Christmas – making this a rather belated post to say a great big thank you to all who came along to Upper Norwood Library last Saturday (14th December) to hear me talk about Strange Air.
I was really touched by the size of the turnout, as well as the enthusiasm of all who attended – both those who had read the book already, and those who were looking forward to getting stuck in over Christmas. After so many years of solitude spent researching, planning and writing the book – all based on the hope that others might be interested in Thomas Webster Rammell and the history of Crystal Palace Park – it was immensely gratifying to discover to have my hunch confirmed at last. Biggest thanks of all go to Rita, Carol and the rest of the team at Upper Norwood Library for being so immensely welcoming and setting up the whole event.
All being well, I’ll be appearing again at the library early in the new year to talk in more detail about the process of self-publishing, and exactly what’s involved for a go-it-alone author like me.
It’s been a long time since I posted anything here – an inadvertent hiatus caused by having to move house (damn my returning landlord!), an overflow of activity at work and, chiefly, promotional efforts associated with my new book, Strange Air.
The latter have been going terrifically well, and the Kindle edition has been flying off the electronic shelves, with a fair few paperbacks following in its wake. The whole enterprise has been massively helped by the news that Chinese developers ZhongRong Holdings are proposing to re-build the Crystal Palace in its original form and location – an out-of-the-blue endeavour which, as those who’ve read it will know, couldn’t be any more relevant to my novel. The rights and wrongs of their proposals have provoked passionate debate in Crystal Palace, and I have personally reacted with a complex mix of enthusiasm, intrigue and dread.
On the one hand, what could be better than having the Palace back at the heart of the suburb which sprang up around it, and gave the area its unique grandeur? The park needs some kind of regeneration, and with the actual site of the Palace largely unused at present, it’s difficult to mount a convincing argument about loss of green space – especially since the development is intended to bankroll existing plans to redevelop the rest of the park.
But on the other hand, what on earth are the developers (and Boris) thinking? Although superficially appealing, the idea of going back to old glories could easily be considered anathema to the core Palace principle. While admittedly crammed full of replicas of ancient artefacts, the original building was nonetheless a forward-looking enterprise: inspired by imperial exploration, and intent on expanding its visitors’ minds by bringing the fruits of those excursions back home. In short, the place was progressive, so why regress by rebuilding it?
And then there are the knotty practical arguments – how can a space that big not be essentially and intensively commercial? – regarding which we need to ask if the greater economic pay-off is worth the disruption caused to what is currently a proudly independent suburb?
Clearly, the sensible thing to do is wait until the detail of the proposals emerges, whereupon the consultation process can begin in earnest. But therein lies the biggest fear: that with the mayoral and municipal winds in their sails, the developers will be ushered through due process without the right questions being asked at the right time.
Who can say? For now, at least, the best way to experience the Crystal Palace as it was remains – he says with a marketer’s smile – to read my book. Below are a few links to articles and reviews that have appeared over the last couple of months, collected here as much to aid my memory as anything else.
(1) Lovely review from the Londonist, in which the editor Matt Brown remarks: ‘What a peculiar and wonderful novel Strange Air is . . . a true page-turner, whose ultimate outcome is as unpredictable as a blindfolded interchange at Earl’s Court.’
(2) A piece I wrote about the gestation of the novel for Inside Croydon
(4) A beautiful piece from local blogger James Balston about the magic of Crystal Palace Park, containing his fantastically atmospheric photography and a few kind words about the book
(5) A nice mention in Guardian blogger Dave Hill’s ruminations on the Chinese plans to rebuild the Crystal Palace
(6) An enthusiastic review from the website Fictional Cities, a charming site devoted to fiction about London, Florence and Venice
(7) A slightly lukewarm – and spoilertastic! – review from London blogger IanVisits
Now this is a fine way to fire the imagination on a Friday morning. According to today’s Times (quoting Property Week), a billionaire Chinese developer (operating through ZhongRong Holdings) plans to build a full-scale replica of the Crystal Palace in the south London park to which the original Palace gave its name – a park which I know and love so well.
There have been lots of regeneration masterplans in the 77 years since the first (or rather second) Crystal Palace burnt down – some, in truth, more masterful than others. It’s not even the first time people have dreamt of restoring the Palace in something resembling its original form.
But that doesn’t make this latest news any less exciting. Details are scant – apparently they ‘hope’ to submit a planning application later this year; the building would be used for exhibitions – but in a way the story is all the better for its vagueness: one is free to fantasise about how glorious the restored Palace would be.