This is a very ambitious work, as the title suggests. How long has it taken you to write and why try to tackle such a large project?

It was around 1991 I had the idea. I spent some years on character sketches. From 1998 to 2001, I wrote several earlier versions; bits of these (like the sketches) were published here and there. I wrote a couple more novels (La Rochelle and The Book of the Law – which was never published). August 2009, I returned to British Story. All in all, it’s occupied nearly a quarter century – if you measure such things by years.
If it seems a large project, that’s because I don’t care for miniaturism, or economy in the novel. I’m for the baroque.

It was around 1991 I had the idea. I spent some years on character sketches. From 1998 to 2001, I wrote several earlier versions; bits of these (like the sketches) were published here and there. I wrote a couple more novels (La Rochelle and The Book of the Law – which was never published). August 2009, I returned to British Story. All in all, it’s occupied nearly a quarter century – if you measure such things by years.

If it seems a large project, that’s because I don’t care for miniaturism, or economy in the novel. I’m for the baroque.

There’s a wonderful reference to the first line of Saul Bellow’s Herzog in British Story, ‘Was he losing his mind? All right with Kennedy.’ Which characters most influenced your writing of this book?

Well with Kennedy, there was a touch of Herzog (and maybe a trace of Ramona Donsal in Barbara, come to think of it), also Josef K, the type Woody Allen plays (though Kennedy’s taller), Joe (a hapless kid who lived in a transport cafe), Prufrock, Horace (again, a programme – mentioned in the book), even Prince Hal.

To let you in on a secret (though as a Yorkshireman, you may know already), there was a C19th hopping champion called Kennedy. Now Kennedy was such a fearsome hopper that opponents often bottled out of racing him, so he picked up the purse without having to hop at all – unless he performed a lap or so to please the crowd. The Kennedy in British Story is modelled ironically on that athlete, since he can never get his feet free.

Arthur Mountain is a kind of Falstaff; but at one time, he was also like Jack Carter (of the Ted Lewis novels), and Mark E Smith, along with some people I’ve known; I wonder if anyone will compare him to the Baron de Charlus? Perhaps not.

You’ve called British Story a romance but it is not a typical love story. What does romance mean to you in relation to this novel?

It has the old sense of meaning a story that deals with fantastic or improbable things, a tale of enchantment, questing, shape-shifting. The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser is a kind of force behind the book. Natalie, for example, is something like the lady knight, Britomart.

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