Published by Orenda Books
Available in ebook and paperback (13 December 2018)
I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour to celebrate the publication of West Camel’s debut, Attend, and my thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater of Random Things for the tour invitation and to West for kindly providing the guest post.
My debut novel, Attend, is set almost entirely in Deptford, south-east London. We stray over Deptford Creek occasionally into Greenwich, and even take a couple of trips downstream in a sailing boat, but otherwise the action is played out in an area centred round Deptford High Street.
Why did I choose this small, and these days apparently insignificant corner of inner-city London?
I grew up in Charlton, just a few train stops east of Deptford. Journeys to central London went through Deptford station, and I was always struck by the fact that, in those days – the seventies and eighties – while all the other stations on the line had the modern, sans-serif font, British Rail signs, Deptford’s were the ancient green-and-white enamel ones you only saw on Hornby model trainsets. It was as if the area had been abandoned – for the simple reason that it was, as my grandmother and all those of her generation called it, ‘Dirty Deptford’.
Despite living so close, I visited Deptford only a handful of times over the years. That was until, fresh out of university, a friend moved there, and I had cause to wander down the High Street. I was attracted by the tatty Victorian and Georgian shopfronts, the market, crammed into the narrow street, then spreading messily around the station, and in particular the elegant, white, eighteenth-century church – the ‘pearl’ of Deptford, as John Betjeman dubbed it.
I was looking for a new place to rent at the time, and after a short search, I moved into rooms at 36 Albury Street – a dilapidated Queen Anne house on a cobbled lane off the High Street, with St Paul’s church bell within earshot. If you’ve read Attend already, you’ll know that this house is not only an important location in the book, but also holds some fascinating secrets. It was the discovery of these that sparked my interest in Deptford’s history.
Once ‘bigger than Bristol’, it was an important naval town. Henry VIII built ships there; and 150 years later, Peter the Great stayed in Deptford (at diarist John Evelyn’s house, Sayes Court) while learning how to build ships for his newly formed Russian fleet.
Deptford was also an important industrial centre – the location of the first high-voltage electricity power station in the world, a cattle market, and ship’s rope-, cable- and wire-making factories. There was even a tide mill – a flourmill whose wheels were driven by the tide forcing its way up the creek and out again. The building still stands beside the creek today.
I found traces of Deptford’s past everywhere, nestled in among the acres of social housing that have slowly covered the area over the course of the twentieth century. There was the ‘other’ church, hidden close to the riverside, with memento mori skulls on its gateposts (said to be the inspiration for the skull and cross bones) and playwright Christopher Marlowe buried in its graveyard; the crooked, cobbled alley running from Watergate Street down to Watergate stairs, which leads down into the Thames; the bascule bridge at the mouth of Deptford Creek, once opening regularly to allow barges access to the wharves, now rarely used.
Little wonder then that I found in Deptford a deep well of material for a book. But I didn’t want simply to write a history; rather I wanted to convey the sense that many Londoners have when walking the city’s streets. The feeling that the bones of the past are very near the surface. That while the past couple of decades may have seen London transformed by huge regeneration projects, gentrification, and seismic shifts in its social make-up, traces of the lives of the ordinary people who made the city what it is can be found everywhere you look … if you care to.
You only have to visit Deptford today to see this in action. Even as I was writing the book, locations were changing – wasteland was becoming luxury housing, warehouses were replaced by a school of dance, a new footbridge appeared over the creek.
But Deptford is still itself – it remains dirty. And if you take a walk down Albury Street or look down from a train as you pass over the muddy creek you might see just see my central character, Deborah, there, still going about her business while carrying Deptford’s long history with her.
| About the Book |
When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.
Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.
With echoes of Armistead Maupin, Attend is a beautifully written, darkly funny, mesmerisingly emotive and deliciously told debut novel, rich in finely wrought characters and set against the unmistakable backdrop of Deptford and South London.
At the current time, Attend is available to download from Amazon UK for just 99p
| About the Author |
Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in higher education and business before turning his attention to the arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist, and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press Orenda Books just after its launch. He currently combines his work as editor at Orenda Books with writing and editing a wide range of material for various arts organisations, including ghostwriting a New-Adult novel and editing The Riveter magazine for the European Literature Network. He has also written several short scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres, A highly anticipated debut, blending the magical realism of Angela Carter and the gritty authenticity of Eastenders and was longlisted for the Old Vic’s 12 playwrights project. Attend is his first novel.