Wednesday, 31 March 2010

David Peace, LitFest Headliner

The large audience in the New Headingley Club on Saturday afternoon was overwhelmingly sympathetic and pleasantly inquisitive. It really impressed the amiable David Peace, the LitFest's headliner, and I know that because he said so. At the end of the questioning sections, he made the point that his audience at the last Ilkley Literature Festival last autumn had been relatively dull.

This one was not, and it was also very different in its make-up from the audience in the library on Friday for Frances McNeil. We have had a good 'spread' in all our audiences this year in terms of age and gender.

The double focus was Occupied City, the second in the (as yet incomplete) Tokyo Trilogy, and GB84, on the Miner's Strike, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the finale of which is about now. After a brief introduction, the author read from the first part of Occupied City before engaging in a public conversation sat at a table with me. He read the final words of GB84, from the chapter entitled Terminal, or the Triumph of the Will. The questions from the floor came thick and fast.

It would be daft to attempt to cover all of the questions and answers on the blog, but here is a very brief taste of what was said.

On music and song titles: he talked about his time in a band when he was an Ossett teenager, and its influence on his thought processes, perhaps paraphrasing Noel Coward's famous quote that it is extraordinary how potent cheap music is.

On the often-recurring Wasteland theme: yes, he had studied T S Eliot's poem in the sixth form as part of the English Literature syllabus, and it is one background influence.

Many stretches of Peace's novels sound poetic, especially when read out loud. Is there a poetry volume in the pipeline? Sometime perhaps... 

On main literary influences: West Riding realists like Stan Barstow (also from Ossett) and David This Sporting Life Storey and more recently the American master of the staccato sentence, crime writer James Ellroy, but also Roald Dahl. He remembers being turned on to writing through the stimulus provided by Fantastic Mr Fox, which must have brought a flush to the cheeks of any primary teachers present. "I enjoy reading a great variety of prose and poetry." he said. "Even Ezra Pound."

On the often-recurring theme of police pouncing on innocent people: he spoke about the example in Occupied City of Sadamichi Hirasawa, a watercolour artist who had died in prison forty years after being convicted of the mass murder by cyanide poisoning of almost the entire staff of the Teikoku Bank in Tokyo (The Teigin Incident). A campaign to clear his name is still going on. The real poisoner could well have had something to do with the infamous chemical and biological warfare research unit which the Japanese operated in occupied China during World War Two - Unit 731.

On researching, writing and teaching: researching for GB84 took place in Japan, where it is easy to get hold of archived copies of The Times and The Telegraph, but not other relevant newspapers, and teaching adults English (TEFL) is not like teaching in, say, a local comprehensive.

On the title of the last chapter of GB84: yes, of course, Terminal does echo the famous Germinal by Emile Zola, also about a long-lasting pit strike, and carried everywhere by The President in GB84. Germinal, however, is a name with many resonances, sending out messages of rebirth and the spring. At the end of GB84, there is no rebirth, just defeat by a triumphalist authoritarian state.

On the theme of child murders in 1974... how deeply has becoming a family man with children affected your writing? Substantially, was the answer. "I did not have children when I wrote it... I regret the swan's wings now."

There were people present who remembered the ferocious Battle of Orgreave, and who had been involved with food-runs for the families of strikers. One woman's statement of her memories was particularly moving. Others had had something to do with the Red Riding television series, and no, David Peace is not just about to write a screenplay...

I think he was charmed by the Headingley crowd. He liked the idea of a constant supply of tea and home-made cakes, the New Headingley Club and the general atmosphere.

Below, Richard Wilcocks with David Peace.


  1. Nobody could wish for a better ending!

  2. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the David Peace talk at the Lit Fest. I frequently attend such events, and this compared so well with other, more corporate literature festivals. To be greeted with a cuppa and homemade cakes was real Yorkshire hospitality, and David was down-to-earth, but spoke powerfully about his work and the eras he portrays in this fiction. Thank you to the organizers - I will definitely come again next year!

  3. I was googling images of David Peace, still calming down after finishing watching the Red Riding trilogy.. I am fascinated by the mind of this writer. The casual cruelty and evil portrayed by the West Yorkshire Police Dept. will unsettle me forever!
    Powerful and unnerving images...