SECOND THOUGHTS / Quays of the kingdom: Iain Sinclair follows the river back to the source of his second novel, Downriver (Grafton pounds 5.99)
Saturday 23 January 1993
You can always sell a good title. Then you can write whatever comes into your head. Editors are far too busy to actually read these things. They delegate. To anyone who is hanging around the office, some rep or phone-cleaner. Keep them waiting long enough and they'll be pathetically grateful for any scrap of paper. The wretched functionary who commissioned your original synopsis will certainly have been rationalised by now, booted into the street, and - if he or she is any good - surfaced at some other conglomerate. They'll be foaming at the bit to buy the same yarn again, under yet another title.
It was the river that hooked me. The river seen through the window of a train.
The Thames had been off the agenda far too long. It's the lifeblood, the torpid spine, the dream-chute of the city. It obsessed me. It was thick with the auditioning voices of the almost dead, prophetic whispers focused by earlier, finer writers: Conrad, Eliot, Dickens, as well as that literary underclass populated by such spectres as Sax Rohmer's Moris Klaw. Competing ideologies rippled along the shoreline in an unresolvable Manichean conflict. They threw up miraculous anomalies, zones of surreal savagery. Greed spat out its glittering towers to shine above the swamplands of entropy.
It was all too easy. I had only to cultivate the speed to accept the dictation of these furies. Every bend in the river offered a fresh witness. Arriving in Tilbury on a promise from Granta (and with the firm belief that if a story is worth selling once, it must be worth selling twice), I walked out of the station into a narrative that screamed to be transcribed. The town was a posthumous fiction. The stuff was lying everywhere like contraband cargo. I was in the wrong place at the right time. Tilbury Riverside, with its abandoned cathedral of a station, its decaying wharfs, was the capital of wrongness. I spent all that remained of my advance on railway tickets out of Fenchurch Street. There was no turning back. My pious hopes of 'redeeming' with this text certain dubious aspects of my first novel, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, were lost in a hellish babel of competing voices.
That is what all writing seems to be: waiting, listening, smothering the cruel logic of conditioned reflexes.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 2 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 3 Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
- 4 John Travolta addresses former pilot's gay romance allegations publicly for the first time
- 5 Kanye West stops concert after two fans don't stand up - doesn't realise one is in wheelchair and the other disabled
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly