Thursday, Feb 23rd
A sure sign of Kerry Hadley-Pryce’s growing importance was the cavalcade of Black Country Literary Stars that were out amongst the standing room only crowd at the launch of her new novel, God’s Country, at the fab Voce Bookshop in Digbeth, Birmingham, UK.
Clutching their autographed copies of Kerry’s book, I saw the novelist and poet RM Francis - his own new rock poetry collection The Chain Choral Chorus, due in March. (It rocks and it’s primarily concerned with geology, fool!)
The brilliant Wayne Dean-Richards was there. Wayne has just committed to a project with Outsideleft to work on his 18 poem collection, It’s A Mad World But Funny. Of course, I know Wayne well, sitting next to him for the whole evening, without recognizing him at all. I’ll go with my favourite joke since it’s all so analogous of the elephant one…
Q: What did the man say when he saw the elephants coming over the hill?
A: Here come the elephants.
Q: What did the man say when the elephants came over the hill wearing sunglasses?
A: Nothing, he didn’t recognize them.
Later, quizzing him via email - this is how I am most plausible - I wanted to say his eyes had gone bad, I didn’t recognise him, but Wayne says he’s been wearing glasses since he was 8. Just not in the pictures he sends us to use.
God’s Country is Kerry’s third novel, steeped in Black Country mores and myths and more, more, more. It'se publication been supported with something of an indie media whirlwind blitz which has seen Kerry featuring on radio stations, in newspapers and websites nationwide, and if I was way more together, in Outsideleft too, but we are getting there.
At Voce in Digbeth, Kerry, swathed in escaping silk scarves, set a vibe redolent of those memorable 70s Rolling Stones shots you see of dimly lit motel rooms, silk scarves drifting over lamps, bohos not really reading from their chapbooks. That pervasive sense of greatness and as yet unidentified greats in the room permeates the room. It was in the air. Kerry sat with her back to the store window to read. Outside in the street, a hugely foreboding outscale old factory side stood, a perfectly dark urban backdrop for a dark novel. Cars passing, people occasionally peering in, to a world they have sealed themselves from. For now. Looking out felt a little villagey. Greenwich Villagey before the real money came.
I am such a sucker for anything that doesn’t feel like home.
God’s Country begins with Guy Flood returning to the Black Country with his girlfriend, Alison, to attend his identical twin brother's funeral. The reasons he left will become clear. Just not here on this page. I mean that’s enough right? To know. For now. To get you to the bookstore. To buy.
Kerry’s voice has a timbre that can be listened to all day, delivering the ragged edges of overwhelm with calm elan. Kerry opened her reading with a passage about time spent mainly stuck in traffic on the M5, as our lovers make their miserable return. It wholly resonated. You can’t write that traffic without having lived in it.
I’ve made a similar journey home, not heading home at all, heading away from home, on a transatlantic jetliner. I recall wondering whether, like Dave Eggers in his Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, as he muses about whether people can see that he is recently orphaned, whether people on the plane knew about the death I carried so closely with me, in my case my dad. The passing, as it is more fashionably called now. Does anyone see death anymore? Could the other passengers see it? It’s a long-haul flight when you take all that with you for sure.
Kerry’s characters have the most amazing and perfect names and that is tricky I think getting great names. Flood, Ivan, Alison, and Guy… Oh man, I love them. These names are not merely incidental or accidental. They are portentous telegraphs.
Voce Books is a sub-shoebox sized shop in Digbeth. What’s that matter when it’s like a literary equiv. of E.D. Hirsch’s infamous book, like a Digbeth construct of Literary Literacy. A book shop with 99% of the books that you never wanted anyway taken out, and alls that’s left is precisely everything you ever want. I felt like taking my New Yorker tote and sweeping everything from the shelves for further investigation at home. The curation by Clive and Maria who run the store is nothing short of brilliant. World-class for sure. Only Bear Books does it this well, but Jenny over there is mainly doing it for the kids. Literally actual kids.
So, given their small amount of square feet…Where do Voce put the folks in the big boots for their readings? Why, they simply sidle their way over to The Warehouse Cafe and Bar Cooperative through the side door. It’s perfect. Books, coffee, beer… this would all add up to a fine venue for the currently homeless Outsideleft night out...
Anyway, anyway, anyway. The Kerry Hadley-Pryce God’s Country book launch was perfectly put together. A great night. It’s always wonderful to see a really unique voice in literature get the attention they deserve. I love hearing her talk of rambling around the Black Country, losing herself, getting into the flow and all that, and wondered since I have to stay gauche, whether that would require knowledge of new brands in footwear, outerwear, and base layers. In the Black Country, there is so much to know.
“In God's Country, the Black Country doesn't just operate as background scenery, but as a resonant, ever-present figure, and my characters have to deal with that." - Kerry Hadley-Pryce.