Going Local

In 1990, having struggled to make a living as a writer (that hasn’t changed) I wrote an accessible biography of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The book was published, sold a few and I moved on …. as you do! barbed-wire-fbban

Then along came the internet and, yes (don’t judge me) I checked on Google to see how it was doing. I noticed that quite a few academics were recommending it as a good introduction to the life and literature of Dostoyevsky, so I thought maybe I should take another look at it. I queried whether the publisher would republish it, but they were not keen so I got the copyright back and went round again.


This time I went local. Amberley Publishing is my local publisher, specialising in local history, general history and biography. They took a look and asked for an additional thirty-thousand words; the book is quite definitely new and improved. The first version was researched in the British Library Reading Room, the old one (the round one in the British Museum). But the advent of the internet allowed access to greater research material, more time to read through the journals and the new translations, which enabled a more measured approach to this sometimes daunting writer.

In addition, a lot has happened since then. Yes, I know that Dostoyevsky has been dead for well over a hundred years, but his influence and his impact on modern media has become increasingly powerful. There’s plenty in the book about how Crime and Punishment, Notes from the Underground and The Brothers Karamazov have been reinterpreted and re-enacted in modern film and media. dostmemeObviously film and TV has dramatised his work, almost from the beginning, including Albert Camus’s staging of The Devils (the story of a terrorist cell, not a supernatural horror story) in 1959, at the cost of 30 million francs (production costs were queried at the time). There are the direct retellings, who can forget John Hurt as Raskolnikov in the BBC’s Crime and Punishment in 1970? Much more recently Jesse Eisenberg has starred in Richard Ayoade’s version of The Double and Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy (dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2013), a less direct retelling of that story. Other films and media indirectly approach the stories and the characters; a recent independent horror movie It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell, 2014), quotes Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot throughout. The references to Myshkin (the protagonist of The Idiot) are a clue to one of the characters, and the sinister entity that clings to the unfortunate teenagers has the aura of The Double.

Dostoyevsky created characters who wandered the streets of an urban landscape. He dealt with the plight of those who experienced poverty; people who had work but not enough pay and there was a housing crisis in St Petersburg. People  shared apartments divided by curtains, or lived in cupboards – sound familiar? Like Dickens and his portraits of London, Dostoyevsky mapped the streets of his beloved St Petersburg and populated it with his characters; some were disturbingly real, others fantastical, some likeable, some 14597372418_f558ae00da_oredemptive, some dark and unredeemed with a hint of David Brent. I could go on  – and I do, in the book. I don’t speak Russian and I have not yet been there, although this year I did get to stand in front of the only portrait painted of Dostoyevsky in his lifetime. The portrait by Vasily Perov, was lent to the National Portrait Gallery for a short time in 2016, by the Tretyakov Gallery, where it is housed. He was accompanied on either side by Tolstoy and Turgenev whose novels of the Russian landscape, were precisely that, epic sagas of the landed gentry, while Dostoyevsky got down and dirty in the chiaroscuro of his own urban noir.

Meanwhile going local is to be recommended. I have done some legwork, introducing myself as a local author to local bookshops and this has been received well. Dostoyevsky: A Life of Contradiction is in the window of my local bookshop!

Stroud Bookshop

Stroud Bookshop window!


The launch at Meme Cafe Bar in Stroud.

Independent booksellers appreciate independent publishers, and while Amazon marches on, independent booksellers work through local distribution, or suppliers like Bertram Books. Amberley has been working on my behalf  sending out review copies and meanwhile I  have set up a Facebook page, a Pinterest page, I have tweeted and I have learned the difference between “Boost Post” and “Create Ad” on Facebook (I went with boost post, hopefully that was the right decision). I even created my own Dostoyevsky meme! I threw my own launch party to celebrate the book’s publication, at local Cafe Bar Meme and, because they were local, some of Amberley’s senior staff paid a visit. Amberley publishes a decent number of books and mine is just one, but a little effort on my part has proved positive for both aspects of marketing – mine and theirs. Our local listing magazine, Good On Paper, boosted my local publicity with an extract on their site, and before Christmas I shall do a little local radio with Corinium Radio; while after Christmas, well, then it will be emails to academic institutions offering lectures and visits.

Marketing is as much the role of the author as is the writing and Dostoyevsky knew that too; for when he and his wife sold copies of The Devils from his apartment door, the maid feared she had become part of some kind of devils’ coven. Local publishing is as alive now as it was then, but local publishers need to survive, and a well marketed author is the life-blood of their work as well as the author’s. Local links do not always need to be the history of local bridges or local heroes, just a good book and local ambition works well for all; and in this day and age access is far beyond local once it’s out there and it is…. Dostoyevsky: A Life of Contradiction, is available in all good bookshops (especially local) and on Amazon …click here!


Images: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Antique print 1899.(©Georgios Kollidas | Dreamstime.com)
Flickr Creative Commons

Reflected Glory

1966 and All That is an appropriate title for an exhibition of photography in St. Leonards-on-Sea, just down the road from Hastings, and it was a chance for me to bask in some reflected glory. It is an exhibition of the photography of an old friend, Graham Keen, whose chronicling of the Sixties of fifty years ago, conjures the atmosphere of a year that refuses to fade into history, a year that is as far away from the young of today as the First World War was to the teens of 1966.


Proof I was there!

1966 and All That is at the Lucy Bell Gallery in St Leonards-on-Sea, featuring the photographs of Keen, who spent some of that decade photographing the up and coming and the already famous of that time. He was there when Yoko Ono went up a ladder and when John Hurt was nowhere near an alien. He was there when Marc Bolan (then Mark Feld) marched with Vanessa Redgrave, Joan Baez and Donovan against the Vietnam War. He was at Ready, Steady, Go! with the Rolling Stones, he photographed Muhammed Ali meeting Michael X (yes Michael X, Black Power in Britain), the Kinks, The Who  and many more. That was the year of rock and revolution!


See if you can spot Marc Bolan

Alongside the photos of rock and rollers such Jagger and Daltrey, are haunting photographs of artist Alberto Giacometti, pictured both solo and in conversation with Francis Bacon – perhaps they were talking beer perhaps art, but the photos are compelling, iconic. John Hurt and Jonathan Miller look on, Ginsberg howls, Ray Davies is wistful and Sixties specialists will remember John “Hoppy” Hopkins co-founder of International Times where Keen also worked and there is William Burroughs who worked with Graham on an adult comic called Cyclops.


Artists in residence


Portrait of the artist as a young man

The Guardian has nominated this exhibition as one of the  “must see” exhibitions of Autumn 2016. If you are in the area take a look, if you are online, images are available to view and purchase from the Lucy Bell Gallery.

Meanwhile the Guardian itself has populated its pages with other retrospective reflections on the glory of 1966 and as I bask in the reflected glory of Graham’s achievements I must point also to the work of another mate (I know, name drop city) Steve Turner, whose biography of Johnny Cash is considered definitive and whose expertise on the music greats and the Beatles is a force to reckon with, Steve is set to offer us another take on 1966: Beatles’66 A Revolutionary Year is to be published in November.

1966 and All That documents the glory and the talent of the time, and is on until 24 October. I guess we all do still bask in a little reflected glory.