Blog Archives

A river flows through it

I’ve been looking for this for years – and now, perhaps somewhat naughtily but nonetheless delightfully, a fellow fan has taken the trouble of putting it up on YouTube.

This is ‘Listening to the River’ – a 30-minute ‘oral history’ of the River Medway in Kent, recorded and composed by one of my favourite folkies, Chris Wood. It was commissioned for Radio 3’s Late Junction a few years ago. I missed it at the time, but later caught Chris performing an excerpt at King’s Place in London.

The clip alone blew me away. As described here, the aim of the piece is to show how England’s indigenous music is intertwined with the rhythms and melodies of its people’s speech – dialects and all. And in a brilliant musical fusion of form and meaning, that’s exactly what it does.

I remember reading somewhere that Chris is working on a longer/revised version, for possible CD release in the future. If that’s still the case, then I look forward to the results with great anticipation.

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Coming full circle

I’m just putting the finishing touches to my new novel Strange Air – a historical ghost story set in Upper Norwood, which will be published in the coming weeks. The novel tells the true story of the Victorian Civil Engineer Thomas Webster Rammell, who was a tireless advocate of air-powered city railways as a safer, cleaner and more reliable alternative to those – like the Metropolitan – that were propelled by steam. For reasons that will become clear, Rammell’s story is intimately interwoven with the history and fate of the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, making it impossible to tell one tale without also recounting the other.

One of my remaining tasks is to touch up and double-check some of the book’s historical detail, particularly regarding the interior of the Crystal Palace as it was in its heyday. This in turn has led me back onto the internet – and into Upper Norwood library – rummaging through illustrations and photographs of the second (Sydenham) Crystal Palace.

And my goodness: what a joyful way to while away the hours / procrastinate as I contemplate a pile of editorial changes. I mean, just look at this:

Or indeed this:

Beautiful and intriguing all by themselves, the pictures are even more absorbing when you consider what the park is now – an eerie patchwork of half-forgotten schemes and dreams. Admittedly, I’m no great adventurer, but I can imagine few places where the immense contrast between past and present is so great and so tantalisingly documented; where the longing to go back in time, to see it all as it was, is so acute.

As you can tell, this latest bout of research has re-kindled in me the intense, melancholy buzz that fired me to write Strange Air in the first place. I am, in the best possible sense, ending where I began. And that’s not only satisfying, but also inspiring – so much so, that I’d quite happily go round and write the whole thing again, if only my editor thought it necessary. Alas, no such drastic overhaul is required, meaning I’ll just have to crack on and write a whole new ‘Crystal Palace’ novel instead.

In the meantime, click here to be kept up-to-date about Strange Air.

Dulwich Books of West Dulwich - 6 Croxted Road, SE21 8SW - 020 8670 1920

Winner Best Independent Bookshop UK & Ireland 2014

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