William New, J. New
Jeff New, J.W. New

I’m now going to try very hard to trace William New. The whistling in the dark stops here.

First, I’ll see if I can get to him through his writings of thirty years ago. The biographical note in
PEN New Fiction 2 tells me that he also had pieces published in PEN New Fiction1, Firebird 3 and Ambit.

The earliest of these pieces was issue 93 of
Ambit, published in 1983. Amazingly, Ambit is still going, run by Briony Bax, who I guess is some relation to Martin Bax, who set up the large-format magazine, a sophisticated blend of text and illustration, in 1959.

I phoned Briony who found the relevant issue and confirmed with me that the six stories by J.New are not the same as the ‘Six Heated Tales’ in
PEN New Fiction 2. So I have sent her a cheque for £20 and await the journal that will mean I have to hand the complete published works of a mysterious Mr. New.

Oh yes and Briony did give her father, the now elderly Martin, a call. He has no recollection of this particular contributor to his magazine.


PEN New Fiction 1 and Firebird 3 are both 1984 publications. Let’s take Firebird 3 first, since there is a biographical note to it while for some unknown reason there aren’t any at the back of PEN New Fiction 1. (Where would I be without the potted bios that appear at the back of PEN 2?)

Firebird 3 is a Penguin that also contains stories by J.G. Ballard, Alasdair Gray and Marina Warner. So J. New (as he’s again here called) is in illustrious company between these covers.

‘J.New was born in 1952 in South Shields. He now lives in Oxfordshire, where he has completed a book, 100 Stories – from which ‘The game at Ghost Beach’ is taken, and a set of fifty paintings.’

In the story, two boys play games on the shore, which has become a council dump. Ray and Triv search for things in the rubbish. To begin with, it’s simply who can find a bottle first, but things soon escalate. After a while they’re providing each other with lists of items to find and bring back to base rock. In the end they argue, and after that Ray plays alone. The final paragraph reads:

‘One day looking for chains he found a pocket radio that was no bigger than his hand, and there must have been some JUICE left in its batteries because when he knocked it it hissed at him, like a small beast, and after tuning on the dial started to sing, at the top of its voice as it seemed on the quiet ground. Oh why did you ever go away,? Ba-by? Oh why did you ever go away, the waves seem to whisper goodbye. Tears fill my eyes. And although it was not near the end of his game, he carried the radio straight up to the shelf and threw it, that was still singing, into the sea. Half expecting steam and bubbles where it went in, but that sank like a stone, clearly.’

I look up a map. South Shields is just to the south of the mouth of the River Tyne. A few miles to the north is Whitley Bay, where the artist Paul Noble comes from. I sense a connection between these Geordie creatives. Not least because I know that Paul and his friend, Trev, used to play together, and Paul Noble, who was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2012, has produced monumental drawings that commemorate their relationship, turning his childhood at Whitley Bay into the timeless Nobson Newtown.


PEN New Fiction 1, the story is called ‘Crossing Demon’. The protagonist, on his way home from the industrial estate, comes to a crossroads with a roundabout in the centre. One of the roads leads to Rickmansworth. He realizes that there is a man on the roundabout, a tramp perhaps, and he listens as the other starts to speak. What he says is hard to follow. There are many biblical references as well as references to personal struggle. Aylesbury too is mentioned, grounding the story in the south of England, north of London. The protagonist falls asleep. When he wakes up on the roundabout it becomes unclear as to whether there ever was a second man in which case the ravings may have been his own. The story ends ‘Lordy, lordy. Best get me home.’

After the two 1984 publications there is a three year gap until the ‘Six Heated Tales’ of
Pen 2. In addition, a story by J.New appears in Panurge 7. The information that he was born in South Shields in 1952 and moved to Oxfordshire is repeated. It’s three stories this time and in the third one, the action returns to a northern beach edged by cliffs. The protagonist funds a block of wood, which he thinks has been carved into a Buddhist head. But has it been carved at all or is it the work of chance? That night he dreams that the head has risen from the sea and that it has two properties: it illuminates the area underneath and makes sounds.

The story ends with the head travelling the world and revealing the same scene: ‘streets ranked with steel-helmeted men, combat-draped, and, waving above them the hard-headed few, sharply suited, at watch, and TO them a million little radios transmitting pap or martial music, according to each state’s political affiliations, which drowned the voice out until at once all cut dead and he heard it finish: Man MADE? Man MADE?’

OK, maybe there should be another word in common usage: man-unmade, man-killed or man-dead.

Interesting that the piece ends at the sea with mention of radios and music, as did the
Firebird 3 story.

Anyway, the point is I can ask John Murray and David Almond, who were the editors at
Panurge, whether they know of New’s full name or indeed anything about him.


John Murray is now resident in Greece where he runs a creative writing class throughout the summer months, so I write to him there and immediately he replies on this 5th day of January, 2016:

Dear Duncan,

The strange thing is that talking about 1987, 20 years ago, etc. seems quite in order...though given that I am 65 now (and was 36 in 1987) it's not so odd. Panurge 7 was David Almond's province (I did 1-6 and then 19 till the last one) and the best thing I can do is forward your email to him and ask him to get in touch. Do hope he gets back soon.

Hope David can help you. He's abroad a lot. He gave all his MSS logs to me but he didn’t bother putting addresses with the MSS, so I think it might be a tough brief you have.

David Almond, the other Panurge editor, does indeed get in touch. He tells me he remembers J. New well but doesn’t have an address for him. I follow this up by asking if the editor met his contributor and if so could he jot down his recollection of the man.

Apparently, he didn’t meet J. New, just remembers the thrill of reading his work when he took it out of the envelope. The editor always thought he’d see more of New’s work being published, but concludes that there may not have been much more of it.

Panurge editors have been helpful. Alas, the man New remains elusive. Which means I must try harder.


The issue I ordered of the literary magazine
Ambit has arrived. I remember this large-format cloth covered book from the 1980s. I recall its cool combination of text and image, the serious and the whimsical.

William New’s contribution is ‘Six Pieces from 100 Stories’. These are eclectic to say the least. In the first a man with antlers scrapes his cock against a stone. The full-page drawing opposite shows the man with ‘a headful of points’ walking across the moor.


It gives me pleasure to read such challenging material. Moreover, I now have William New’s complete published works on my desk. Or at least I think I do. So let me extract from the five publications clues to New’s biography and the extent of his unpublished work.

Ambit 93. 1983. J. New. No biography as such. Reference to a work called 100 Stories.

Firebird 3. 1984. ‘J New was born in 1952 in South Shields. He now lives in Oxfordshire.’ 100 Stories is accompanied by a set of 50 paintings.

PEN New Fiction 2. 1987. ‘William New. was born in South Shields in 1952. Pieces from his two unpublished collections of stories Studies and Gesta Daemonorum have appeared in PEN New Fiction 1, Firebird 3 and Ambit.

Panurge 7, 1987. ‘J.New was born in South Shields in 1952 and now lives in Oxfordshire. His stories here from a collection that seeks a publisher.’

Let’s try something. I Google ‘Births, South Shields 1952’, the facts that have come up three times. And seconds later I’m gazing at the information that there were two News born in South Tyneside in 1952. One was a female and the other was Jeffrey William New. That has simply got to be the right person.

Now, I know he moved to Oxfordshire, where he was living in the mid-80s. Might he be still there? I look up Jeffrey New and a site called comes up with a list of 10 results from up and down the country. But amongst that list there is a Jeffrey W New who lives in Witney, Oxfordshire. What’s more he is in the 59-63 age bracket, which would be correct. By my calculation the New I’m looking for will now be 63.

Soon I have the address. Jeffrey New (59-63) lives with Juliet New (57-61) at an address in Witney. Also living at that address is Beatrice New (27-31).

I imagine Beatrice is Jeffrey and Juliet’s daughter. When is the earliest date she could have been born? 2016 – 31 = 1985. And the latest? 2016 – 27 = 1989.

It seems quite possible that having a child distracted Jeffrey New from his literary ambitions. But why speculate when I can now simply ask him?


Dear Jeffrey William New (aka J.New, aka William New),

This letter will come out of the blue and I only hope I have got the right Mr. New. Sincere apologies if I don’t.

I've been commissioned to research and write a book about the subsequent writing lives of those who contributed to
PEN New Fiction 2, edited by Allan Massie. I may call it The Class of '87 or PEN PALS or even Many are Called, Few are Chosen.

Back in 1987 I really liked your disjointed and Beckett-influenced piece, 'Six Heated Tales'. Indeed, it was my favorite thing in the anthology. As a result, I believe we met at the launch of PEN 2 on January 21, 1987. Can you recall anything about that distant evening? Who you spoke to and what your thoughts and emotions were? Did you meet Allan Massie?

It would be good to hear what your aspirations were back in the mid-80s and how those have changed over the years. I suspect I have your collected published works. An issue of
Ambit, another of Panurge, the two PEN New Fiction volumes and the Firebird. Is there more out there? If not, what distracted you from your literary career? Something more absorbing and life-enhancing perhaps? The biographical notes refer to 100 Stories and Gesta Daemonorum. Did these ever find a publisher? If not, do the manuscripts still exist?

I should mention that one of our fellow contributors (Ian Rankin) has sold 30 million books. Another is currently in Brixton Prison from where he is writing to me. I will be reading his latest missive as soon as I get this off to you. Charles doesn’t have a copy of the anthology to hand in his cell, but he has a remarkable memory, and he was well networked, so he’s been able to provide me with little pen portraits of several of our fellow contributors. He too loved your story and thinks he met you on ‘the night of the party’.

I hope that once you have got over the shock of receiving this letter you will feel able to reply to it. I’d be delighted to receive a letter, email or phone call from you.

Best wishes, Duncan McLaren


I don’t have to wait long for a response. It comes in the form of an email the next day.

Dear Duncan (if I may),

I certainly was surprised to get your letter -- and, well, pleasantly. I find it thoroughly disconcerting to think that you've actually read and still have copies of these books and mags (
Panurge -- it must be like some sort of rare specimen kept in a drawer in S. Kensington). Dear me...

Well, unlike the fellow contributors you mention I haven't sold 30 million books (only 30 million short!), and I've managed to stay out of jail. While I had some luck placing a few pieces in anthologies of New Writing this didn't convert into getting any publishers interested, much to my annoyance at the time (my standard reaction: 'Those FOOLS! Why don't they REALIZE! Are they BLIND?' etc. etc.). Later on though I began to think they had a point.

There were good things in there, but the book-length collection I tried to get them interested in was very hit-and-miss, and most of it's hit the waste-bin since then. Anyway, the short answer is I've not published anything since (I think) Firebird 3, which had a couple of pieces in it. That's a long time back.

Now the kind of things I write (and I've certainly gone on writing -- it's probably some form of medical condition, high-performance Asberger's my wife says) are not going to tickle the taste-buds of the time. I sometimes think that maybe the Faber & Faber of the 1950s would have looked at them or the Calder of the 1960s, but what is there now? And they probably wouldn't have either, to be honest.

Other than that I work on the fringes of publishing - copy-editing academic books - read, nag the family, and walk the dog.

So there you are... The only thing is, I'm not very keen about appearing in the book you mention, unless I could be slipped in anonymously ('one author I contacted confessed to being terminally unpublishable...') or if I could make something up ('In the 1990s, faced with a large tax demand and having mistakenly taken a bag of money belonging to a Mexican drug baron, he changed his name to J. K. Rowling and began...'). Otherwise, I don't think so.


How have things gone for you since then, and how did you come to get this commission? And who's it for? I'm afraid I don't remember much about the two launch parties I went to, my strategy being to drink a lot of free wine and leave as quickly as possible. I didn't meet Allan Massie, or anyone else I can recall. Nope, just stood there looking awkward, and swaying slightly.

Well, as I say, your letter was a pleasant surprise (not as good as a tax rebate, but a lot better than a summons for jury duty). Do get back to me, as I'd like to hear more about your project, however unhelpful my own response is likely to be.

Best wishes, Jeff.

My reaction to this communication is complex. Great that I’ve found ‘William New’. But a great pity if I’m going to have to suppress the evidence of my tracing missing persons’ skills.

A key sentence in Jeff’s email is the comment that his wife reckons he has high-performance Asberger’s. That conflates two medical conditions, Asberger Syndrome and high-functioning autism. But no matter, individuals with either condition have average or above average intelligence but may struggle with issues related to social interaction and communication.

Speaking for myself, I think I’ve always struggled with social integration and communicating through normal channels – conversation. For years I didn’t talk much, except to friends. Eventually, I discovered I could more effectively communicate to people through writing. And so it goes on:

Ah, Jeff, so you still exist. I'm glad.

Have you got rid of those publications that your work appears in? I would have thought that that would be a tough thing to do. The Ambit book and the PEN anthologies are nice objects.

David Almond, editor at
Panurge, remembers the thrill he got on first reading your submission. He would be upset to hear that you'd ditched Panurge 7 with its funky yellow cover! Did you set fire to it? Take it to a charity shop? Drown it? Or is it still somewhere about your house just waiting to be rediscovered?

PEN PALS I'll be describing and analysing some of your published stories and - with your permission - quoting from them. But if you don't want to be linked to them now, yes, we can give you a new identity. Best to stick with the South Shields beginnings and move to Oxfordshire, I think, as that's repeatedly stated in those publications. But perhaps New was the author's mother's maiden name and he is in fact William White? We might also say he moved to Dorset or some other English town or county (Africa or Japan or elsewhere exotic would start to beg other questions).


Given this anonymity you might be willing to say a few words about the competing attractions of writing experimental fiction for your own satisfaction and for no money, as opposed to doing a proper job in order to earn money and raise a child. That particular dilemma hasn't yet come up in the book I'm writing so it interests me.

As for what I've been doing with my adult life, my website might help with that:

The publisher of my last book, about Evelyn Waugh, used to be m.d. at Quartet, who published
PEN New Fiction 2. And he thinks this literary 'What happens to writers? Where are they now?' idea of mine is a good one. So his Harbour Books is going to publish it. Evelyn! has only sold about 500 copies so far, despite very positive broadsheet reviews, so PEN PALS is unlikely to take the world by storm. A flurry of interest in literary circles. Maybe not even that.

Best wishes, Duncan

PS And what have you done with your copy of PEN New Fiction 2? Given it to the dog to play with? Thrown it on the dump that Ray and Triv used to scour? Left it on the roundabout referred to in 'Crossing Demon'? You can tell me anything and I'll believe it.

A reply to this comes back the same day:

Duncan --

You put me to shame -- I'm afraid all my copies have gone, mags and anthologies. I occasionally have clearouts when I can no longer get around my room for all the books stacked on the floor (on the floor, it's come to this), and they've all fallen victim in the course of the last thirty years. Appearing in an Oxfam shop somewhere near you.

The thing is, I don't enjoy modern novels/stories/poetry in general -- I'm sadly lacking in generosity of spirit when it comes to writing. If not exclusively Dead White Males (they don't have to be white or male), the writers I like reading are certainly all well dead. And I certainly didn't want to look over my own past efforts. So off they went.

I think I got the order wrong yesterday,
Firebird 3 being the first book I was in, then the two PENs (and Ambit and Panurge before that). I remember the story about the boys on the dump, which I no longer like (it's been dumped, appropriately enough); the Christopher Smart one, Crossing Demon, now much rewritten; and Two Spirits in the Country Park, that's still OK. I'm afraid the rest have pretty well been revised out of existence. It's odd to think they're still drifting about out there, but no matter. I'm sitting on a book of some 200 stories now, their hair combed, faces washed, and flies buttoned, but they're all dressed up and nowhere to go.


There was another lad from South Shields at one of the launches (
PEN 2?), who I remember talking to briefly. He taught a course in Womens' Writing somewhere and later on had a novel published about life and love and drugs on a South Shields council estate -- maybe he's the guy in prison? And I said something to A. S. Byatt, one of the editors, before she could escape. (Actually she was very pleasant.) The rest's a blur, and I felt grim next day -- I'm a horrible example of a non-smoking vegetarian teetotalitarian by the way, in case you think I'm trying to sound raffish.

About your book, it's a good idea of course, if you can track down enough (willing) victims. While not thrilled at the prospect of appearing as Mr Thirty-Years-and-Still-Can't-Get-Published, I think it would be daft to start playing coy and making your task more of a problem, so forget what I said yesterday and go ahead and write whatever you think best. And of course you can quote from anything that appeared in the anthologies and mags -- once out there they're fair game. As you've noticed, I had trouble at the time settling on a name (New is my proper surname, from my Estonian grandfather; 'Jeffrey' I thought sounded like a hairdresser (sorry Chaucer), 'Jeff' over-familiar; 'J.' too abrupt; 'J. W.' too much like a law firm; 'William' a name I've never used... And I've a nasty memory of trying to be amusing in a short biog I supplied for one of the PENs (shudder).

As you can tell from the length of this email I've enjoyed the chance of gabbing about myself, though thinking back all that time does bring on a certain queasiness. I hope for your book's sake you can dig up a few more promising subjects!

Let me know some time how you're getting on, and in the meantime, good hunting...

Best wishes Jeff.

I’m struck by the generosity of this message. I’m also struck by Jeff’s self-esteem. Though he’s been rejected in no uncertain way by the literary world, he is intact as a person. He remains very confident about his work no matter what anyone else thinks. So much so that he doesn’t even need a drink or a smoke, no chemical aids, to get him through the day. And he certainly doesn’t need to take his frustrations out on animals.


Nevertheless, I need to be sensitive to his delicate position. So here goes:


Last email and then I'll let you get back to your life.

First, thanks for the generous sentiments behind your last. But I'll try and make sure you see a draft of the relevant bits of the book before it goes to print. That is if you want to see them.

You put me to shame with your teetotalism and vegetarianism. I eat meat in the mistaken belief that my life is more important than any other animal's. And I can only get as far as Tuesday without the boost to my self-belief that booze gives.

I didn't know about the
New Writing 4 piece from ‘95 so I've just ordered that with anticipation. A story of mine is in New Writing 6 from ‘97. A.S. Byatt was also the editor that year and I bearded her at the launch. I remember her saying that she took my biographical note to be a cry for help. It contains the lines: 'His second novel, Archie van Gogh, did not interest publishers in the least. His third, Chinese Illustrations of the Path to Immortality, is so clearly unpublishable that he did not bother to submit it.' I think it must be the New Writing volume where you try to be amusing, so I look forward to reading that. Cry for help or humorous iconoclasm - who decides?

All best for now, Duncan

Jeff doesn’t reply to this, but after a few days
New Writing 4 arrives. The biographical note tells the reader that:

Joseph New was born in 1952 in South Shields.

Yes, and Jesus New, star of the New Testament was born in an inn in Jerusalem exactly one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-two years earlier.

The same height and weight as the fossil man recently discovered in West Sussex, this late Spenserian is married with two daughters.

That registers Jeff’s interest in the relatively recent past - Edmund Spenser was Elizabethan - and the more distant past. It was only the tibia of Boxgrove Man that was found, so any estimate of height and weight would have been a joke. Is a joke. Quite funny too.


He lives midway between Oxford, home of the brains, and Witney, home of the blankets. Without blankets we could not sleep; without brains, read. Thus both towns are justified.

He lives midway between Edmund Spenser, who was back and forth to Ireland as his poetry went in and out of favour, and Boxgrove Man, the state of whose shin bone suggests he was either cannibalized by his fellow humans or eaten by a scavenging animal. Thus both forbears are justified.

Looking though all 50-odd biographical notes at the end of the volume, there is not another one that even attempts humour. More typically, the writers list their publications. One boasts that his first novel ‘has been sold into twenty-two translated editions’. No less than three tell the reader that he/she appears on the list of the ‘Twenty Best of Young British Novelists’ in 1993. Another manages to include a sentence which mentions that he has won the Cholmondely Award for Poetry, the Dylan Thomas Award and the Whitbread Prize for poetry and that he has published 19 books. What do I think of this self-aggrandisement? Give me brains and blankets every time.

New Writing 6 is much the same in this respect. I am much too modest to suggest that my biographical note shines out like a beacon of self-deprecation. For do I not hideth my light under a bushel, my bollocks under a blanket?

New Writing series did very well, lasting through 16 annual volumes that began in 1992, not long after the demise of PEN New Fiction, which only managed to stagger into print twice. It seems that The British Council made a better fist of things than the combined resources of P.E.N. and the Arts Council.

Perhaps what worked for
New Writing was to commission work from well-known writers as well as encourage submissions from all. So in the volume that Jeff New appears there is work by Alasdair Gray, A.L.Kennedy, Fay Weldon, Adam Thorpe, William Trevor, Penelope Fitzgerald, Lawrence Norfolk and A.S. Byatt herself. Such a worthy list may attract more readers but the move towards the Granta model (only publish stories by the successful and known) is not a move in a democratic direction. I much prefer the idea of two editors (one male and one female) simply choosing what they prefer from everything that has been submitted.


New Writing series came to a stop in 2007, perhaps because the financial downturn triggered a crisis in funding of the arts. And nothing has risen from the ashes since, perhaps because it’s thought (by PEN, the Arts Council and The British Council) that the web provides enough opportunities for new writers.

So where next in respect of J W New? A trip to Witney has already been booked as it’s where Kate’s 92-year-old mother lives, so why don’t I see if Jeff would be willing to meet me? It turns out that he is.

On the train journey down, I read from D.J. Taylor’s newly published
The Prose Factory. It’s a study of literary life in England since 1918, and by the time we get to Newcastle, Taylor has taken me through to the Second World War via FR Leavis and CS Lewis. When the train stops at Sheffield I am learning about ‘Late Bloomsbury’.

The first thing I say to Jeff, who is not the short, plump man I was expecting, but tall, bearded, with neat glasses and good teeth, is that not one of the
PEN2 contributors is mentioned in David Taylor’s’s 500-page book, at least not according to its 31-page index. Jeff puts that right by, at my request, taking the book from me and signing it.


I apologise to him for not having with me a copy of his privately published book
Little Tongues, a book I only discovered after our previous communications.

“You have a copy of
Little Tongues.”

“I got it from… well, you know… the internet.”

“I’m amazed. I ordered a print run of 100 copies in the early nineties. When the box arrived I was ashamed of what I’d done. Vanity publishing, after all. I managed to send out two or three copies. Literally, two or three copies, and ditched the rest.”


“You’ve inscribed it. ‘To Debbie’, I think it says. Does that ring a bell?”


We talk in a relaxed way for an hour. I haven’t come with an agenda or a list of questions, it’s just a chat. Any point to it? Oh, I think time will answer that.

Back home, I write:

Hi Jeff,

Now I'm back at my desk, I can tell you that I'm the proud owner of a copy of Little Tongues that's inscribed:

'Love to Deirdre from Jeff (this is what comes of sitting in a room reading).'

Given how few of the books you actually distributed, the fact that D didn't hold on to her copy perhaps causes a tinge of disappointment. But given your own equivocal feelings towards the book, I'm sure you won't be too down on your old friend!

Now that I know you went to St John’s, a couple of questions arise. I read Geography at Downing College, Cambridge. But neither of us mentioned our elite education in our PEN2 biographical notes. D.J.Taylor didn't mention his Oxford degree either, though he spends a big chunk of his new book,
The Prose Factory, talking about Oxbridge academics, notably C.S. Lewis and F.R. Leavis (not the same person I now realise). I wonder if this amounted to false modesty on our part, or whether something else was going on. I also wonder if having been a student at Oxford influenced where you settled down to live and work.

As it happens, yet another fellow PEN2 contributor, C.A.R. Hills, currently in Brixton Prison, also went to Oxford. Like me, Charles is from a state school background. What sort of school did you go to, may I ask? I couldn't tell from talking with you. I know our schooldays were a long time ago and in many ways are irrelevant to who we now are, but it would seem odd if you, Charles and I all went to state schools, graduated from Oxbridge and were on the fringe of literary publishing, yet none of us were taken up by a mainstream publisher.

Ach, I don't want to get bogged down in these old class considerations, certainly not! But I'll let the issue stand.

Best wishes, Duncan


To which I get the immediate response:

Dear Duncan

You are a one-man storeful of surprises --

The dedication's 'Deirdre' was in fact my mother-in-law, who sadly died years ago, so I must have sent her a copy of LT more or less in the line of family duty. She was a reader, to be fair, but preserved a tactful silence over my efforts. (Thinking back, I also sent a copy to the
LRB, maybe the TLS, and absurdly enough to George Steiner, who'd written a book I thought I liked.) That's the lot I think, apart from one to my Ma and Pa, which I now have after clearing out my Dad's flat -- and the other copies were all binned. A real collector's item then, clearly the result of a house-clearing long ago. Pity it's not very good...

You've now sold 501 copies of
EVELYN!, which I ordered from Amazon last week, plus your book about the art world -- I'm looking forward to both of these and will send trenchant comments if any occur to me worth sending. Is the Enid Blyton one yours as well? Did she have a secret life? I've happy memories of watching a very good show called NODDY LIVE! on video with my young'uns long ago (the villain was a goblin, 'Wicked Gobbo', who used to have them hiding behind the furniture -- that's what modern theatre lacks!), but otherwise I don't know the woman's work.

Schooling -- I would have thought my Old Etonian background shone through even the scruffy coat... No, no, like yourself and the prisoner Hills I'm a credit to state-school education, South Shields Grammar Technical School for Boys. I don't know why I didn't mention Oxford in the short biogs. other than a feeling that this sort of thing isn't of any real interest to or the business of anyone else -- I read English, quite enjoyed my time there (friends, drinking, reading), and wasted every opportunity (intellectual, career) it might have offered. I'm still in the area because of Juliet's working for OUP when we met up, then me getting copy-editing work from them, plus a sort of inertia.

I'm attaching my book --
SATIRES -- but you may regret saddling yourself with its 400-odd pages (and odd pages). As I mentioned, it's pretty well unseen by human eye. I sent off a half-dozen pieces from part 1 to Ambit a few years ago but they bounced back four months later with the standard 'thank-you-no', and another six to Faber last year -- no without the thank-you -- but the rest are unsullied. I can't imagine what the result of someone reading them in bulk might be... What can I say? I hope you enjoy it.


I thoroughly enjoyed meeting up last week -- all a bit worrying though, this delight in talking about oneself. I don't want to start introspecting at my time of life ...

Best wishes Jeff.

Introspecting at his time of life? Jeff has been introspecting like mad since the word go. I’m as sure of that as I am of anything.

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for telling me about Deirdre. And for buying two of my books. Yes, Looking For Enid is also my work. In the Noddy books the goblins were originally gollies but Blyton has been heavily edited in certain ways, often unnecessarily.

Ah, so Charles, you and I are indeed a triumvirate of state school swots! Brought swiftly to the boil only to be left simmering until the end of time. At the very great risk of landing you with too much McLaren to read, let me introduce you to Charles via the draft of the
PEN PALS chapter he first appears in. As you'll realise from something I say to Charles in a letter, I may have got the two of you mixed up in my recollection of an evening in January 1987. Of course, I'd be very interested to know what you think of the material.

Satires is enticingly sub-titled. I mean I like the contents pages. I think I'm going to enjoy your Monster Book of Misanthropy. I'll let you know in due course.

Cheers, Duncan

One thing to be said about the triumvirate of state school swots is that Charles, Jeff and I all seem to be pretty good at calling on self-satisfaction. I suppose that’s what results from coming at the top of the class (or pretty near it) all through childhood and adolescence. By the time we got to university it had lodged in our minds that we were the bee’s knees:

Charles: ‘I am a very intelligent person.”

Jeff: “Therefore what I write is redolent with intelligence.”

Duncan: “We are The Intelligents.”


“Three little maids from school are we
Pert as a school-girl well can be
Filled to the brim with girlish glee
Three little maids from school.

“Everything is a source of fun
Nobody's safe, for we care for none
Life is a joke that's just begun
Three little maids from school

“Three little maids who, all unwary
Come from a ladies' seminary
Freed from its genius tutelary
Three little maids from school
Three little maids from school.”

Over to Jeff:

Dear me! I was just looking at the first few pages of my epic, trying to imagine your horror and disappointment, when I saw I'd accidentally chopped out a vital word from 'CONCLUSION IN D', thereby spoiling the whole (damn) thing... And me a copy-editor!

Sorry about this. I really will be very surprised if there are any other blips like this, as I've gone through the thing time and again. Could you replace the offending article with the attached version (or just add, right at the end, 'ditch' after 'dead' and before 'Good.' in your copy).

They should put me in a ditch...

Best wishes Jeff.

Perhaps this was just a ruse to get me to read at least one of Jeff’s Satires. In which case the ruse worked:


Conclusion in D

Some people, you cannot tell them anything.

— Friend, what are you doing?
— I am trenching, friend.
— But you can’t trench here, it’s in everybody’s way.
— It is not in my way.
— What need though for a trench?
— To fill up the time.
— You are creating a dangerous opening.
— No fear.


— Could you not maybe spend your time better? Read? Craft? Slim? Sow? Reap?
— I have set my hand to the spade, and how should I turn back?
— It is an obstruction!
— It is a removal.

I’m at a loss.
Is there no law?

— You seem like a reasonable man, come away, have a drink.
— I’m not thirsty.
— It looks thirsty work.
— It is
— But you’re not thirsty?
— I’m busy.

What to do?
What to do?

— Leave off now and look (my treat), we will go see a picture.
— I have seen all the pictures my eyes can stomach.
— Would you like to drive my car?
— I have nowhere to go.
— Let us pray together brother!
— Ix-nay with the ing-pray.
— A bout in the ring?
— I’m a man of peace.
— Enjoy my wife!
— My hands are soiled.
— Then I give up.
— I should. You ought.

I did, and left him whistling while he worked, blithe in six-eight time, careless as a bird.
But it was in his way after all, for come the dawn, as I stepped out early, I found my neighbour dropped in the bottom of the ditch dead.


Having read the above a couple of times I write back to Jeff, most self-deprecating of young maids:

Have just read your ‘Conclusion in D’ and am presently wondering whether it is me lying there in dead ditch. D


The next day Jeff writes again:

Lieber gott! I need to add an amendment to my amendment -- when I said 'add "dead" after "ditch"', by this of course I meant '... before "ditch"'. I fear senility's kicking in. The copy I attached is right.

In my hyper-confident maid mode I have no problem batting this back:

I've taken this latest as a challenge to read the piece again. This time I was the first person protagonist and you were the ditch digger. A very smooth read - punctuated quite beautifully - brought to a catastrophic conclusion by your use of the word 'Good' after the dead, dead ditch. Which should clearly have been 'Bad'. D

Any feeling that this exchange with a fellow Oxbridge grad and PEN contributor was going swimmingly was dispelled by receipt of Jeff’s next missive:

Dear Duncan

I've just read your chapter on C.A.R. Hills. Very absorbing and very well written, BUT WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?:

Part of my fragmented memory is of William, who wasn’t (or should I say ‘isn’t’?) very tall, dressed in a long coat and waving an umbrella, saying: “Verily we will hence forward to a hostelry where the festivities will reach a crescendo.”

The mere idea that I could ever have come out with a hokey, wretched, affected, spine-withering line like that -- 'Verily!...hence forward... hostelry...' Jesus Christ Almighty! I'm near to hiring a hitman myself.


Fortunately, unlike the umbrella-waving goblin (or golliwog) of your recollection I am and was then very tall -- physical proof that you're mixing me up with some other hapless being. Please put something in your chapter to show (no, prove) that this is a mistake, or take out a full-page ad in The Times, or do something. That is just terrible. I go to ONE -- ONE! -- wretched literary evening, 35 years ago, stand about talking to nobody, leave after fifteen minutes, and as a result end up years later being mistaken for Eugene de Ponsonby, Promising Prize Prat and 38 D-cup TIT!

No no no, this won't do at all.

(I don't know why the above came out in big bold letters but I'll let it stand, (a) because I don't know how to fix it; (b) it matches my mood.)

I'll calm down.

I googled the Prisoner Hills yesterday and found an article about his misdeeds. Your chapter filled this out very nicely and gave him a face. I hope he can get back on track when they spring him this year -- he sounds capable and a character of some class (there was a bit in the googled article about him treating himself, with his last bit of cash, to a £40.00 slap-up dinner on the ferry back to England, as a treat in anticipation of his arrest).

But I don't see how I'm going to fit into the kind of literary-world discussion you get into in the rest of the chapter -- it's about as far away from anything I care about as it's possible to be. It's not part of my area of interest -- wasn't back then and isn't now, none of it.


I mean, it's your book and of course you must go ahead and write it the way you want, but I'd like to stress a couple of things here --

First off, I really do not like the expression 'experimental fiction' or 'experimental writing', which you used in one of your previous mails. To me that's art trying to ape its Big Bro Science. Now obviously science is the big thing, while art, it seems to me, is getting very small indeed. But that's OK, as long as it's small and CLEAR, and the artist doesn't make an exhibition of himself pretending to be some sort of white-coated theorist sweating away in the arts lab. There was a lot of that in the 60s (I'm old enough to remember), but like the kipper tie and loon pants, it looks ridiculous now. (Even the late great Boulez and his IRCAM's an example of this.)

There's nothing 'experimental' about my efforts -- I know what I want them to be like, and when I'm lucky and the wind's in the right direction I get a good one written down. To be grand about it, I'm a follower of the Up/Down Aesthetic: you think things Up, and you write them Down. And you try to make something that hasn't been done before, because what's been done before is something we have an awful amount of already. That's it.

You asked about education, Oxford, etc. -- I want to stress that I have no feeling -- at all -- of having been educated by the state then left in a condition of underemployment or neglect or whatever (you mentioned something like this in your email yesterday). I didn't much enjoy school (who does? Pushkin did -- can't think of anyone else though) and dithered about at Oxford, but this was entirely due to my own character and likes and dislikes, and I've NO wish to come across in your book as someone complaining or blaming the System or Society or Modern Culture --

Or even (bless 'em) that grand bunch of lads, Publishers. As I mentioned to you, I am -- genuinely -- relieved that I did not get a book published back then, when so much of what I wrote was clumsy, strained, and affected. True, they're not going to publish what I've written since then either, which isn't clumsy, strained, or affected, but how can I expect them to? They're not going to try and run commercial organizations on the basis of Waiting for Oddball.


Anyway, if I'd wanted to make a career I'd have gone into banking or the law, not writing, or not writing the way I find interesting. What would I do with one though? Careers are Nature's way of producing golfers, and I hate golf.

And to finish off this diatribe -- when it comes to fiction and poetry and all the rest of it, it's sad there's nothing much I like in contemporary work (and this goes for music and art as well -- and I'm saying 'nothing much' to be polite), but that's the truth. Are we going through a bad patch? Is it me? Is it the fault of too much television? Too much sugar in our diet? The Tories? The weather? Who knows?

The fact is -- as I think I told you before --I like my writers long dead (though not necessarily white and male). So that this whole apparatus of launches and publishers and agents and PEN anthologies (even), and little magazines and bigger magazines and that whole shebang is -- fine -- keeps the wheels of industry humming -- but it's not for me and never has been. That's why I left after fifteen minutes.

I hope this doesn't sound too stroppy (especially not now, when you've just undertaken to read my wretched book), but I don't want to give the wrong impression.

And I (God help us all) do not, not, not want to come across like the fella with an umbrella in your chapter. He will haunt my dreams.

Best wishes Jeff.

I suspect that email is written with half an eye on publication. In other words, Jeff means what he says but doesn’t necessarily expect it to be a private communication between us. Though I may be wrong about that. In any case, I think a little halt in proceedings is needed at this point. Accordingly:


Hi Jeff,

Thanks for this. It's very clear about where you're coming from, and where you think I've prodded around in the dark (with or without an umbrella), and I'll take account of every word as I move forward (and edit backward).

It is puzzling about your fifteen minutes of being a small affected bloke. I will have to clarify all that. When I get to Brixton, sitting opposite Charles, I'll size him up and ask him if he could possibly have been responsible for the 'verily... hence forward... hostelry...' lines (or some such) back in January 1987. Perhaps I should quote them at the top of my voice in case it rings a bell for anyone else in the prison waiting room. Step forward: Prendergast, Philbrick, Grimes...

I think I've already clocked that your more recent writing is far from clumsy, strained or affected. For some reason I recall that C.A.R. Hills’ favourite writer was Somerset Maugham, who looked to achieve clarity, simplicity and euphony. (Sounds like the names of three of the Angels that accompanied Mrs Ape in the pages of
Vile Bodies.)

OK back to my Inbox. I'm nervously awaiting what Wendy Brandmark thinks of her chapter. I did feed rather a lot of her own words back to her, indirectly, and she may not go along with the conceit.

Ah, it's a hard life and a quick death. (It is not.)


PS Christ, I'm even butchering Beckett now.

That last email comes close to giving away the fact that this engagement with J W New has gone on for some time. Over two months in fact. I must now get back to January and to some of the conversations and investigations that have been developing in parallel to this one.


But not before registering the following perspective. I suspect Jeff’s big thing is originality. Just as DJ Taylor’s passion is for productivity. Jeff is determined to write something that’s never been written before. The writers that he admires are so extraordinary that hundreds of years separate them. Hence they are all dead. Deep down, Jeff knows he is unlikely to join their exalted rank unless he himself gets published. And that is not going to happen. Not unless someone intervenes on his behalf. Might that person be me?

J.W New is one of the chosen ones. Chosen by himself, first and foremost. Chosen by me, both in 1987 and again in 2016. And if it takes society a hundred years to catch up with that opinion, or if it never does so, then that doesn’t change one thing. Chosen.

Not that Jeff himself would pay much notice to my positive verdict. I have a feeling that in his mind I am still very much the person doing the unlooked for trenching outside his home. The fact that I call it ‘PEN Palling’ is unlikely to cut any ice with him.

PEN - Version 14


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