My 14th book.
The book that was written over four and a half years, tried to have different forms, took loads of drafts, was made alongside a (second) breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, and the conception, birth and astounding growth of Fun Palaces. Absurd and huge, all of it. And, as ever, as I always do, I was writing a book all along. I have been always writing a book (different books!) since 1990.
Then the book comes out and I can’t quite recall how there was time or space to write, where it started, when I knew it was a book not a story or a film or merely an idea. They come out, these books, and they are real. Things in and of themselves, stories that are also artifacts. They leave my head and become a thing.
Publication day is odd – people have already read it, reviewed it, responded. And yet there is still a sense that the official date is somehow a curtain-raising.
So, here it is … London Lies Beneath.
I think it’s my best book ever. It is community and class and relationships and families and love and grief. It is London and several pasts, all elsewhere. It’s fiction based on fact, spun round with superstition, prayer and hope.
Here are some events I’m doing, some book-specific, some book-tangential :
Nov 1st, Camberwell Library
Nov 3rd, National Portrait Gallery (not primarily book, but v interesting I think!)
Nov 4th, Exeter Library
Here’s an interview for Foyle’s with some book questions and some Fun Palaces questions and some life questions.
And reviews in the Financial Times, Daily Mail and one in the Mirror which I don’t have a link for, but it says : “The seamy atmosphere of working class life in pre-war London is conveyed in hauntingly beautiful prose.”
I’m going down to the Thames later, I shall give the river my love, and remember the real people who were part of this story, the boys of the 2nd Walworth Scout troop, who drowned off Leysdown on 4 August 1912.
Dear Stella Duffy, I caught the closing moments of your recent interview on R4 about your latest novel which had shivers going down my spine. As a child, my mother when standing looking out towards the Isle of Sheppey, said ‘….. my brother drowned over there, when he was with the scouts’. I grew up in Walworth and had never heard the story of ‘the Walworth Scouts.Since the broadcast I have seen the memorial in Nunhead Cemetary,and there is inscribed the name James Skipsey aged 12,my mother’s brother. That distant story became real.
I know that the novel is based on that tragedy, and you have created fictional characters around the story. Does ‘Jimmie’ relate to James? In fact James(named after my grandfather), was called Jimmie in the family. They were a large, close-knit family, my mother was the longest lived, died aged 95 years in 2011. There were fourteen children of the Skipsey family who survived into adulthood,I,like all my cousins grew up in Walworth, and have fond memories of the area. My grandfather was a master builder, and a strict man, and the family was considered as very respectable. They were neither rich or poor, but ‘comfortable’, all the children were well fed and clothed. However, I can remember surrounding streets where poverty and degradation were evident. Jean Williams
oh Jean! thank you for being in touch. No, I tried very hard not to try to write the ‘real’ stories of those boys, as I thought it really wasn’t up to me, and there was no way to get their personal grief ‘right’, so I invented three families and three boys who feature in my book.
If I want to leave me your email address here, I’d love to get your address and send you a copy of the book (I’ll delete the email address as soon as I note it.)
thank you very much for getting in touch,
I thought London Lies Beneath was a wonderful novel, so immersive and powerful in its portrayal of tragedy. I felt closer to my grandparents through reading it, and that is a precious thing. Thank you for writing and sharing it with the world.
oh thank you, how lovely of you for saying so. much of my grandparents in it too.
Just superb, although a Xmas gift only just read it and loved every paragraph. Some many beautiful images,emotions running riot. Thanks Stella and especially Sarah for the gift.
oh, I’m delighted you enjoyed. thank you for letting me know.