Filthy, Hopeful, Brutal, Beautiful London

Craig Taylor is the author of two books, Return to Akenfield and One Million Tiny Plays About Britain, which began life as a column in the Guardian newspaper. Both have been adapted for the stage. He is the editor of the literary magazine, Five Dials. His third book, Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now - As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long for It was published in autumn, 2011. Born in Edmonton, Alberta, he grew up on Vancouver Island. He now lives in London.

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TRANSCRIPT

Craig Taylor: So in terms of process, I did . . . I downloaded all the verbs in English off the Internet and then I took all the verbs that could be applied to the word London, so that would include cutting London, cremating London, dominating London, buying London, selling London.  That's how I went out at first and tried to track down these people, because I wanted people who worked with the stuff of the city.  I mean, you can live sort of on top of London.  If you're super rich, you can live on that sort of fragrant overlay of London.  But I was interested in speaking to the people who were working with it.  So those verbs were very important at the beginning.  

The book is built on difference.  It’s built on this idea that we get into trouble when we try to say all New Yorkers are A and all Parisians are B.  And I’ve been in London for ten years and I certainly have heard a lot of “Londoners are all grumpy,” “Londoners are all survivors,” “Londoners are all people who have ended up there and want to be living in the countryside.”  And so for ages I heard these things, these statements about Londoners, so the book project was to show that any one generality is usually based upon laziness and that if you go out and speak to all these people, this portrait of a very complex nature arises.  So for every Londoner who said “I hate the rain,” there was another Londoner . . . There was a great interviewee from Pakistan, originally, who talked about the cleansing nature of the rain.  He grew up in a desert.  That, for me, summed up the book project, that for every one statement that might be an accepted truth about London, there was another point of view that was expressed. 

This wasn't a book that could be written behind a desk.  I had to go out into the city.  I had to speak to people I wouldn't have normally spoken to.  I had to put myself into situations I wouldn't have normally been in.  You know, that's what it’s all about, that's the great part of doing this kind of research.  And when I look back on my heroes, you know, going all the way back to Mayhew and Dickens, I mean, that's what they did.  They went out into the city, into the streets that they might not ever have a reason to go to.  But you have to.  

I have great memories of going to Ghanaian churches and being the only white person sitting there and being uncomfortable at first and then being incredibly welcomed, you know, pushing into these parts of London that often rewarded.  I mean, there were some times when it was terrifying.  It’s sometimes terrifying to go out and to do this sort of work.  

But, for the most part, once that membrane was broken, once you sort of got past someone’s city face, it was extraordinary who was out there, who was willing to talk.  So I think the evidence is in the book, that I was rewarded again and again by meeting these people who were able to get past whatever walls might have been there if we had just passed each other on the street and have a conversation.  

Directed / Produced by

Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

 


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