Writing the first draft probably took about a year. The later drafts involved a lot of cutting so I could probably have written the first draft quicker if I’d been wiser from the start…as with many things in my life.
I wouldn’t dare compare myself to any of my heroes but I was interested in writing a book with some of the detached irony of the Graham Greene entertainments – especially Our Man In Havana which is one of my favourite books. I am still in love with the last sentence and tried to achieve something like that in my final chapter.
One of my favourite biographies is Michael Holroyd’s Lytton Strachey. I was impressed that such an erudite writer was self-educated, like he was, in a public library. This was an early idea for Stephen Dearsley’s similar struggle with self-education in Brighton’s Reference Library. Holroyd’s achievement in his great biographies made me wonder what the relationship might be like between a relatively unassuming writer and some of the giant egos that they set themselves to study. Austin Randolph is one of those big personalities – a hero and, ultimately, like so many heroes, a destructive force. For me this is a David and Goliath story. Also, as above, Graham Greene’s Our Man In Havana inspired the idea of writing about an underdog, someone who is never quite as successful as we want him to be. The contrast between Stephen and Austin was born out of these thoughts. I was also inspired, yes I guess that is the write verb, by being lucky enough to remember the late Sixties and to be young enough to believe that the world could actually be changed if enough idealists got together in the spirit of peaceful revolution. Some of the melancholy in the book comes from looking back on what actually happened between then and now.
During my television career, I was asked to research an epic documentary about the 20th anniversary of The Beatles’ album It Was Twenty Years Ago Today for Granada Television. Called It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, the two hour documentary was transmitted around the world on the 20th anniversary of the day the album was first released with its opening song “It was 20 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.” The documentary traced the album’s influence within the counter culture and the influences that inspired The Beatles to make it. I was lucky to work in the golden years of British television and I was allowed to spend two years researching this film and meeting most of the important figures of the period from the surviving Beatles and many of the other rock legends of the time to some of the cultural gurus, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs to forgotten but still thriving hippies in the USA, Britain and The Netherlands. I hope that some of those research conversations guided my hand in writing about the history of the period. There was also, at this time, a less inspiring conversation with the British fascist, Sir Oswald Moseley’s widow, Diana Moseley whom, I’d hoped, might have given me some understanding of how anyone in Britain could have supported such a vile idea. Sadly, she had found a comfort zone to hide behind and I left none the wiser. That too became a theme in the novel.
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community development worker, poet, librarian and publisher, Keith Armstrong, now resides in the seaside town of Whitley Bay. He has organised several community arts festivals in the region and many literary events. He is coordinator of the Northern Voices Community Projects creative writing and community publishing enterprise and was founder of Ostrich poetry magazine, Poetry North East, Tyneside Poets and the Strong Words and Durham Voices community publishing series.
He recently compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham, the market town of Hexham and the heritage of North Tyneside. He has been a self-employed writer since 1986 and he was awarded a doctorate in 2007 for his work on Newcastle writer Jack Common at the University of Durham where he received a BA Honours Degree in Sociology in 1995 and Masters Degree in 1998 for his studies on regional culture in the North East of England. His biography of Jack Common was published by the University of Sunderland Press in 2009.
His poetry has been extensively published in magazines such as New Statesman, Poetry Review, Dream Catcher, and Other Poetry, as well as in the collections The Jingling Geordie, Dreaming North, Pains of Class, Imagined Corners, Splinters and The Month of the Asparagus, on cassette, LP & CD, and on radio & TV. He has performed his poetry on several occasions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at Festivals in Aberdeen, Bradford, Cardiff, Cheltenham (twice at the Festival of Literature – with Liz Lochhead and with ‘Sounds North’), Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Greenwich, Lancaster, and throughout the land.
In his youth, he travelled to Paris to seek out the grave of poet Charles Baudelaire and he has been making cultural pilgrimages abroad ever since. He has toured to Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Poland, Iceland (including readings during the Cod War), Denmark, France, Germany (including readings at the Universities of Hamburg, Kiel, Oldenburg, Trier and Tuebingen), Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Cuba, Jamaica and Kenya.
I studied Experimental Physics at Trinity College Dublin, before turning my hand to writing. I co-edited (with Theo Dorgan) the anthology ‘Watching the River Flow: A Century in Irish Poetry’ (Poetry Ireland/Poetry Society, 1999) and was the winner of the START Chapbook Prize in 2003 for my collection ‘The Silence After’. My full poetry collection ‘In the Library of Lost Objects’ was published by Ward Wood in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Strong Award for best debut by an Irish poet.