Monday, 29 December 2008

The Observer's literary map of Britain: Includes me!

Kate Kellaway filed this very interesting piece on the contemporary English novel and its vexed relation to place and 'region' in the Observer last Sunday. As I recall, I talked to Kate on the phone for this very purpose about six months ago, so it's nice to see the finished piece finally appear, especially since it's so packed with good discursive meat. More generally I'm also glad of the consideration, of course, and that my efforts should be considered in such distinguished literary company; and, just as last week, I appreciate the Observer's continued support of Crusaders (and it brings particular amusement since their main book critic had one of his deeply characteristic hissy fits about the novel when it first appeared back in January 2008.)
It's looking like bedtime now, but I hope to write a bit more in respect of the various issues raised in the Kellaway piece tomorrow. But these are the quotes concerning me and my stuff:
"At a south London all-blokes bookclub, [Blake Morrison's] South of the River was read with territorial interest. "Would they have read a book called 'North of the River'?" Morrison wonders. It is his belief that people feel a "strange gratitude", that they are "validated" when they are put on the map through fiction. Richard T Kelly, author of Crusaders, an epic first novel set in Newcastle, has had a similar reaction from readers who have felt energised by "a long and detailed book about their locality and recent history".
Crusaders is set in the 1990s and describes the changing face of north-east England - a time of urban regeneration. Newcastle was natural terrain for Kelly because he grew up in the region but also because he feels there is "something epic, magisterial about the North-East in general and Newcastle in particular". It is "a love letter to the North-East", he says, reflecting that he is glad to have had a positive response because "love letters are often returned to sender". Kelly is also quick to say that he would be "hanged from a tree" if he tried to pose as the sole Newcastle novelist - mentioning Julia Darling, Andrea Badenoch, Jonathan Tulloch, David Almond.
Kelly makes the point that "regional literature" is often treated with "condescension" and the literary map is far too London-centric. It is hardly a new complaint. But I am not sure that he is right. Irish and Scottish voices often seem to have more clout than their southern counterparts. Think of James Kelman writing about Glasgow. Think of Roddy Doyle, or of Anne Enright's Dublin-based novel,
The Gathering, which won last year's Man Booker Prize.
Yet Scottish novelist AL Kennedy, who was born in Dundee, agrees with Kelly. She implies writers outside London need to try and resist feeling marginalised..."

BTW I'm very pleased to find that Alison Kennedy agrees with me. She's the sort of person whose side you want to be on.

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