Arts: The grit between the teeth

Jonathan Myerson is sick of reading novels about lovelorn graduates in Hampstead. He lives in Clapham. Well, it's a start

Jonathan Myerson likes causing unease. "I like the theatrical tradition of discomforting your audience," he says. "A happy ending makes you feel that the world is all right."

It would be easy to assume that Myerson's world was indeed all right. We're sitting in the sunshine at a Thames-side cafe, near the National Theatre where Myerson once worked as a director. We're in Southwark, starting point for the Canterbury Tales - which Myerson has adapted and is currently directing, in an animated version to be broadcast soon on BBC2. But in case that all sounds too comfortable, remember this: we're also close to the principal haunts of London's homeless, who figure prominently in Myerson's first novel, Noise.

Published this month in paperback, Noise could almost be the book of a film by Ken Loach. Written in transparent prose, it tells the story of a hospital doctor's struggle to come to terms with the death of her young son - in a car accident - and a husband who, far from supporting her, descends into alcoholism. Escaping from London, she finds herself among society's refuseniks in the wastes of East Anglia and eventually falls into trouble with the law. It's exceptionally well imagined, one of the benefits of less than extensive research: "I've never even been to Lincolnshire," he says, "but I've been to Holloway prison, and I've read about road protests."

It's that gift of empathy (or bluff) that enables Myerson to be one of the few male writers who can successfully portray a female protagonist. He's even brave enough to tackle a rape scene. Before showing it to his agent, or his publisher - both of them women - he sought the opinion of his wife, the novelist, Julie Myerson.

Noise is dedicated to Myerson's father, Aubrey, a barrister who'd hoped his son would follow him to the Bar after reading Classics at Oxford. But that didn't happen because the Oxford Playhouse commissioned a play, and Jonathan never looked back. But in his next novel, he intends to examine his father's influence: "It's about how sons turn into their fathers, as I have."

By which he might mean he has inherited a highly developed sense of social responsibility. "My father used to get something out of being a poor man's spokesman," he says. Not having qualified as a barrister, Myerson can't do that, but he does something similar: he sits for 26 days a year as a magistrate at Balham Youth Court. "You can convince yourself that you're changing defendants' lives, that it's not too late," he says. "I do feel slightly evangelical. I want to change people's thinking and people's lives."

With few exceptions, English novelists fall short of Myerson's ideals. "I'm sick of reading about graduates in Hampstead," he rages, "wondering about having an affair. Recently, successful English novelists have all tended to be showing off. Noise refers to no other work of literature. There's no witty murderer referring to Nabokov as he commits his crime!"

Before writing novels, Myerson enjoyed some success as a playwright - notably writing an adaptation of diaries by the Sixties writer, Joe Orton, which played at the King's Head in Islington and then transferred to the West End - but earned a crust writing for TV, "because Richard Eyre didn't say: `Come and write a new play for the National,' amazingly".

While working as a "jobbing scriptwriter", he was offered The Canterbury Tales. The two 30-minute films are co-produced by S4C, BBC2 and BBC Education (for schools the films are being dubbed into Chaucer's English, with modern- language subtitles). Part one features The Nun's Priest's Tale, The Knight's Tale and The Wife of Bath's Tale. Part two comprises The Merchant's Tale, The Pardoner's Tale and The Franklin's Tale. Both have already been sold internationally, and Myerson is working on a third.

The Canterbury Tales starts with the pilgrims (filmed in 3D, stop-frame animation a la Wallace and Gromit), then moves into the tales (which are drawn). Myerson enjoys the potential of a medium, which, until now, was unfamiliar to him: "Animation, like pop music, can say things with speed."

He cast the voices himself: Sean Bean as the Nun's Priest, Robert Lindsay (the Host), Tim McInnerney (Pardoner), Bob Peck (Chaucer) and Billie Whitelaw (Wife of Bath). An additional layer of interpretation went into the writing: "I based Chaucer on Michael Caine in Alfie," he says, "looking at the camera every so often to say, `And this is the Miller...'."

His experience in writing for TV came in useful. For Chaucer's low-life characters, Myerson reverted to the language he previously used when writing scripts for ITV's The Bill - language he might also have come across in court. "I like the grittiness, the sex, the pissing and so on."

Momentarily relaxing, Myerson gives a glimpse of something more playful: "I have been in a gritty phase for a long time," he concedes, "but I'm hoping to grow out of it."

`Noise' is published by Review, pounds 6.99. `Canterbury Tales' will be broadcast on BBC2 later this year

Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal