Could you briefly tell us about your story?
Glimpses of Floating World opens in 1963, when prescribing heroin and cocaine to addicts was still common practice in the UK, although this operated alongside laws which penalised unlawful possession. Addicts like Ronnie Jarvis, the anti-hero of the story, received a daily supply of heroin and cocaine, but could be prosecuted if found in possession of unauthorised drugs.
Ronnie is arrested for the illicit possession of opium, and after doing a cold turkey in prison, is transferred to a country mental hospital. His experiences in these institutions are brutalising, and reinforce his identity as a junky.
When he is pressured into becoming a police informer, Ronnie deliberately supplies false information, in an attempt to embarrass the police. Unfortunately for him, his information results in the arrest of a van driver, owing to the routine police practice of planting evidence. This triggers a chain of events which ends in murder and mayhem.
What gave you the idea to pen this novel?
Although Glimpses is not intended to be didactic, and hopefully is quite funny in places, the driving force behind the book is anger at the hypocrisy associated with drugs policy, and the nonsense talked about treatment and law enforcement.
Setting the story in the early 1960s provided an opportunity to revisit a recent history that has been thoroughly mythologised. British television documentaries offer the comforting story of Flower Children who wanted ‘love’n’peace’, smoked dope rather than harmful skunk, and stuck flowers in the helmets of policemen.
In reality, the Sixties were far from being an innocent, peaceful time: when the decade began, the death penalty was still in force in England, and youngsters were routinely flogged for offences against prison discipline. English seaside resorts were given over to mass brawls between Mods and Rockers, London gangsters had celebrity status and police corruption was endemic.
In 1962, the cold war reached fever pitch during the Cuban missile crisis, while the Minister for War shared a lover with a KGB operative. It seemed necessary, in Edward Thompson’s words, ‘to rescue the past from the enormous condescension of posterity’.
Do you have any favourite characters in this story? Who and why?
I suppose Ronnie Jarvis: a 17 year old anarchist, lover of comics and registered heroin and cocaine addict, who sees himself as a member of the Beat generation. He struggles to escape the influence of his father, a senior policeman, whom he despises.
Ronnie is not particularly likeable—cowardly, self-centred, an opportunistic thief—but he has more sense of natural justice than the officials he meets. And, perhaps, Jack Fitt, a postman and occasional jazz musician, who introduced Ronnie to anarchism. Jack is a compulsive liar who lives in a fantasy world, although Ronnie needs to believe in him. Jack is Ronnie’s substitute father, part of Ronnie’s attempt to reinvent himself, and become as unlike his biological father as possible.
What were some of the influences that got you into writing?
My early influences were the professors I worked with at the University of Hull, with their passion for accurate and succinct prose. But I was an academic, writing nonfiction as part of my job, and I longed to write for pleasure, to write what I really wanted to write.
So I took early retirement and freed up the space. Because of my preoccupation with lost history, snippets of the story are biographical, a patchwork of people’s lives. For example, Tony Moss, an older junky who shows Ronnie how to sleep at the bottom of a lift shaft, was a real-life character, who died in Brixton prison in 1964.
Jack Fitt is modelled on several people in the London anarchist and direct action circles. Despite this factual basis, the dialogue is often surreal rather than naturalistic: for example, the confrontation with the ex-soldier in the first chapter is intended to have symbolic overtones.
What are some of the advice you could give to aspiring writers/creators?
It’s been said many times before, but you have to have the patience to rewrite, many times over if necessary, until your work is as good as you can make it.
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