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Laurence Inman’s Blog

TINDAL STREET'S NEXT HIT

27-03-2008

After Catherine O'Flynn's "What Was Lost?" what next for Birmingham publisher Tindal Street Press? Laurence Inman recommends All The Dogs by Daniel Bennett.

I like to think of myself as a writer. I have very much enjoyed thinking this since about 1967, when the only things I had written were long poems which nobody understood but me. That was the point, really. To be thought of as difficult and opaque, like the poems.

No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money said Sam Johnson.

This doesn’t apply to poetry. People (young men, usually) write poetry in order to get other people (young women, for the most part) into bed with them.

If it works once, you’re lost to poetry for the rest of your life.

Since 1967 the money I’ve made from writing poems works out at £4.63 a year. That’s just over 8p a week. Or 1/6d. Mind you, in 1967 1/6d was worth something. You could buy ten Park Drive for that.

Stories and articles bring in a little more. You might get £100 for a piece in a newspaper. Magazines have been known to hand over £50 for a story.

In general, though, you’d have to say that no one except a blockhead these days would write for anything else but personal satisfaction and pride in their workmanship.

In recent years the warmest hum of self-congratulation has come from the fact that I am a Tindal Street author.

This is Laurence, one of our authors, Alan Mahar, or Luke Brown, or Emma Hargrave might say to someone at a Tindal Street gathering. They never have yet, but they could one day, because I am one. I wrote a quarter of Loffing Matters, an anthology of Midlands-based comic writing (£6.99 at all good bookshops.)

Tindal Street is (are?) a publishing phenomenon. They have fewer than forty titles on their list and have earned shed-loads of prizes. Catherine O’Flynn alone has probably had a new mantelpiece fitted in her front room to hold all the pots she’s won for What Was Lost.

I’ve just read one of this season’s crop: All The Dogs, by Daniel Bennett.

When I pick up a book there are three requirements it must meet before I give it more than an hour of my precious time.

First, is it, even in the slightest way, interesting? Do I care about what happens to the characters? Do I really want to read the next page, or even the next sentence?

Second, is it telling me the truth, or is it just a lot of sentimental crap padded out to fill up 250 pages?

Last, has the author taken any care with what the way he or she has written it?

All The Dogs passes all three tests with flying colours.

I read it in two sittings. After two or three pages it became obvious that the author had thought hard about the contribution of every sentence and, probably, every word, to the whole. There is an intensity, compression and clarity about it that you normally find only in poetry.

On the night I went to see him reading at MAC he cited Flannery O’Connor as a writer who had had an effect on him. I wouldn’t know about that (yet) but by chance I’ve recently been reading Alice Munro.

You get the feeling with her that nothing has been left unexamined before being allowed to take its place in the finished product. Seeing how that’s done is, for me, over half the pleasure in reading her and it was the same with All The Dogs.

The story is of a group of people, some transient and others more permanent, who try to sustain a self-sufficient life in and around an abandoned old country house in Shropshire.

Their various sources of income from the land will never be enough, so a few of them set up a lab to make pills, which they sell in the town.

This is the spring of the train of consequences which finally brings the whole project crashing down. There are also plenty of savage power-struggles and sexual tensions to make sure the rural idyll never dissolves into a mere nostalgia-fest.

Tindal Street have got another hit with this fascinating novel.

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