Tag Archives: crusaders (kelly)
All this by way of saying that it means the world to me that the 2011 Durham Book Festival has picked The Possessions of Doctor Forrest for its first countywide civic reading project, and has released a thousand copies of the novel for free distribution through local reading groups, libraries, civic and cultural venues and hand-picked ‘ambassadors.’
The effort has been directed by the truly superb New Writing North agency, who gave a no less staunch support to Crusaders back in 2008 – such that with that book, too, a number of reading groups much more accustomed to spending their valuable reading time on proven/bestselling titles by known/acclaimed names were persuaded to give my stuff a try-out. If you’re not a front-rank recognisable novelist then it’s a very, very precious experience to get your work commended to readers in this manner for inspection and discussion. Consequently you do get a lot of straight-spoken opinions coming back at you; but in this day and age it’s hard to imagine a more meaningful and educational experience for a writer. In these situations the readers who have enjoyed a book tend to evince an embrace of it that’s hugely more ardent than any review you could imagine. And with those who weren’t so struck on it… well, the opinion will usually be candid and also fresh, free of the formula and conveyor-nature of newspaper write-ups. I certainly learned a lot on Crusaders, and very much look forward to the same once Durham’s had a read and made its mind up on Doctor Forrest.
I was asked by Durham Book Festival to create content for a Reading Guide to be used by anyone seeking a bit of background on the novel and what inspired it; along with a set of questions for consideration by reading groups. That guide has been very handsomely designed and is downloadable here.
The Festival is also programming a selection of gothic-themed movies which will tour Durham by mobile cinema, and there will be a number of guided walks around the city that explore the gothic architecture and the darker side of local history. A writers’ workshop exploring Doctor Forrest will happen on Friday 21 October
And on Tuesday 18 October I will be talking about the novel at the Gala Theatre, as well as reading selections from Doctor Forrest and also (abetted by actors) some of the great Victorian gothic classics.
A whole lot of Forrest, then, in Durham come October. ‘Come and play with us’, as those sweet little girls say in The Shining…
For those who are truly curious I’d hazard to say that there is plenty of good material to be found on Doctor Forrest courtesy of the new Faber podcast, made by George Miller, with whom I also discussed my debut novel Crusaders back in 2008. Some of the podcast material is made very conveniently accessible at the Faber ‘Thought Fox’ blog: here (if you scroll down a little) you will find a 20-minute audio interview with yours truly and also 4-5 minutes worth of on-camera interview. And at George Miller’s own Podularity site you will find a download of the interview but also three extracts from the novel read by myself – and if you would like to proceed to these readings directly from here let me do the linking and say that the first is the voice of Dr Grey Lochran from Chapter 1, turning over the details of Forrest’s disappearance; the second is Dr Steven Hartford from Chapter 18, relating the bizarre and violent behaviour of David Tregaskis just prior to Eloise Keaton’s discharging from Blakedene Hall; and the third is Doctor Forrest, from his ‘Confession’, admitting to the ‘secret wound’ within that drove him to his terrible crimes.
I was extremely glad of a review of Doctor Forrest in the Guardian yesterday, and by the acclaimed novelist Toby Litt, no less. To speak of just one gratifying aspect, quite early on in the write-up Litt makes a comment that reflects or sums up much the greater part of my reason for writing the novel in the first place:
“If you’re looking for a yarn about making a dodgy deal with the devil, a fast-paced pitch-black romp through some familiar spooky locations and situations, you won’t be disappointed.”
Litt goes on to make some very thoughtful and astute comments on the subject of the gothic as a genre, Forrest‘s particular take upon it, and the takes of some other writers of more recent vintage and much more distinguished than I (Angela Carter among them.) I was especially interested to see his comments on the way in which the novel’s various narrators all write “in what you might call a gothically appropriate way… as if  they are collaborating in creating a stonking old-fashioned yarn.” That suddenly made me wonder what the novel would have been if the narration had been more of a ‘mash-up’: different, for sure, and probably more of an ‘experiment’.
But as with the experience of my first novel Crusaders I am once more brought face to face with my fundamental old-fashioned-ness. If this book is read as ‘an old-fashioned moral treatise on vanity’ I couldn’t really disagree for one minute. But of course it’s as much a matter of style as of theme. For instance Litt notes that the present day setting of Forrest is one ‘where everyone is keeping secret journals – page after page of descriptive prose – and writing letters, and no one is social networking or sending emails or recording their life in a non-anachronistic way.’ And that put me in mind of something someone said about Crusaders, how the novel didn’t seem to have nearly enough of the backdrop of mid-1990s pop culture in it. I should say that with Forrest I did always have it in mind that the entirely epistolary Chapter 21 was an exchange of emails rather than handwritten and posted letters – but I just didn’t feel like presenting it that way on the page. Another bit of private thinking I chose not to share with the reader was that the book is, to my mind, set round about 2007 rather than 2011, which places it just a bit prior to the eruption of Facebook and Twitter.
Nevertheless, I have to be honest and say I’d have had not the slightest idea how to manage the specific tone I had in mind for this novel without a certain purposeful scouring away of The Way We Live Today. Really it’s as I said to Glennis Byron in the interview she kindly ran at the Gothic Imagination site last month: the ‘nineteenth century boy’ is me. Similarly there was – there is – another version of Forrest that ought really to derive its horror from stem cells and gene therapy, or at the very least from full-face transplant. As I told Glennis: “I feel a tad guilty in that the world of hi-tech surgery could easily lend itself to a gothic where the horror is explicitly born of science a la Frankenstein or Jekyll and Hyde. But then I’m one of those heretics who can’t believe in God but is fairly convinced of the Devil…”
In today’s Independent I write on The Brothers Karamazov for the paper’s Book of a Lifetime slot – an opportunity I’m hugely grateful to have been afforded – and therein I wind my way round to the following remarks:
“The scene I love best… is Ivan’s hallucinated encounter with a shabby aristocratic devil who affably refutes his complex atheism. This might indeed be my favourite passage in literature, one that I stole and re-worked in my novels Crusaders and The Possessions of Doctor Forrest. I confess this freely (I want to be found out), and well-read readers might think it an annoying pseudery. But in my teens I first heard of Dostoyevsky through a minor American novelist whose own name I’ve long forgotten – still, I owe that guy, and I believe in passing on the good word. To me this is what Christians mean by “stewardship”, and as such I pray The Master (by which I mean Dostoyevsky) might approve.”
‘Take three respected Scottish doctors, now all living comfortably in suburban London. Make one of their number suddenly disappear and you have the beginnings of a very satisfying thriller … It’s all marshalled with a real feel for pace, character and that gap where metafiction meets the gothic novel. The Possessions of Doctor Forrest is a big departure from the epic sweep of [Kelly’s] debut novel Crusaders, but is no less impressive in its desire to reshape a
Paul Dale, The List *****