Literary gamekeeper turned poacher, Tim Binding talks to Thom Dibdin about writing his ﬁrst novel after getting the sack.
‘I used to be chief editor at Penguin. l was dis. . . .‘ Tim Binding falters, searching for the apposite description. Deciding: ‘l was ﬁred. it was one of
, those times when the face didn‘t ﬁt.‘ That was three years ago; Binding was 42, and although the experience can hardly have seemed positive at the time, it allowed him to stand back and look at his
life, choose what was to come next.
What arrived was his ﬁrst novel In the Kingdom of Air, ostensibly a strange sort of mystery about the disappearance of a teenage girl. In actuality it turns out to be a study of a heartless, dysfunctional family, their strange inter-relationships and, in particular, the dark bitterness of Giles, the boy implicated in the girl‘s disappearance. Now a self-centred weatherman, he reviews his life, discovering more about himself than the longolost Stella Muchmore, but also ﬁnding that he already knows what happened to her, if he
could only bear to confess it.
it‘s ‘All Gonc‘.
Tim Binding: ‘It is strong meat.’
There is an uncomfortable, soft-pomographic feel to the novel‘s opening. Giles’ life nears misogynistic fantasy, whether he‘s lustfully romping with children‘s TV presenter Fleur in an anonymous hotel- room, playing more pliable games with Monica by the sea, cleaning his car until his hands turn soft pink. or mindlessly fucking the Woman From Spain, until
‘lt is strong meat,‘ admits Binding. ‘I suppose people will think it is wilfully put in to shock, but i don‘t think it is unbelievably bad or shocking. it is there for a purpose, to demonstrate what a really rather unpleasant creature we have before us. He is not a nice man. and i didn‘t want to dress that up, i
wanted that to be fairly stark at the beginning, and l have achieved that.‘
Such deliberate placement epitomises the novel‘s elaborate structure. which makes the reader wonder whether it is a calculated reﬂection of Giles‘ cold existence or a case of an editor sacriﬁcing content in deference to form.
‘Of course i was aware of the need for pace and, more than anything else, the need to carry a story through.‘ Binding explains. ‘But in terms of the book being very structured, which it is. that wasn‘t pan of some big plan. i had one single simple idea, that ot the girl‘s disappearance and that the boy who was happened. ifhe‘d only think about it. All i had to do was to listen to the voice ofthe boy and I would ﬁnd out what was going to happen. I had no idea at the beginning what had happened to her.
‘Once you ﬁnd a voice that rings true, that opens a lot of doors for you. i found that things were tumbling in through his voice, the whole story was broadening out. There is something peculiar about creating a character; the cliche’ that it has a life of its own is very often true. The character does become all and dictate the plot.‘
It‘s a plot which reaches out — like the great English storm of I987 which has its own pivotal role — to rufﬂe more than the sensibilities ofthe easily shockable. A town is left to rot as its major industry deserts it, the families collapsing into self-mutilation. As with all good writing, the novel‘s images stay with you. forcing you to question your own actions and attitudes. The gamekeeper has turned into a most successful poacher: inside the editor there was a decent novelist waiting to burst out.
In The Kingdom anir is published by Jonathan Cape at £14.99
Plus ca change?
Increasing numbers at political commentators are pointing to a groundswell oi ieeling that something is rotten in the state oi Britain, at Western society as a whole. ilardly surprising when you look at the iacts - after more than a decade oi governmental dominance by iree- market champions, poverty, crkne, iarnily breakdown, environmental degradation, intolerance and violence have all rocketed, and continue to increase, along with an insidious, ever more widespread, atmosphere at alienation, impotence and cynicism among Joe and Josephine Public.
it’s this multiiaceted malaise that Trevor Blackwell and Jeremy Seabrook address in their new book The Bevolt Against Change, which probes at the Incomiortable chasm between glarineg obvious wrongs and endemic perceived powerlessness to eiiect change. ‘We’re told to see the market
economy as our salvation, whereas in tact It’s the cause oi so much oi what’s wrong in the world,’ Seabrook says. ‘But this tension is set up by which it you question social evils you iind they’re inextricably bound to the material rewards — you’ve bought an indivisible package. Impotence is what you see most strongly expressed around you today - people lust say, "What can I do? Who’s going to listen to me?” And yet impotence is not what you’re supposed to ieel in the most democratic society the world has ever known.’
Arriving with enthusiastic endorsements lrom John Pilger and Jonathon Porritt, The Revolt Against Change argues that neither maintenance of the status quo nor wholesale transiormation is the answer. The main reason, it contends, that radical reforming change has proved so diiilcult In recent years is the bewildering extent and pace oi social revolution brought about by technology and industrial capitalism over the last two centuries. These upheavals, and the losses which have accompanied material gains - oi older, kinder habits and mores, oi iamily and social cohesion, oi control over our own lives - mean that, when
yet more radical change is presented as the solution to society’s ills, the response is an understandable weary reluctance, even iear.
To counter this, Blackwell and Seabrook propose a ‘conserving radicalism’, a resistance to iurther market-imposed change and a revival oi values and skills which enabled people to survive, even thrive, when most were poorer - thrift, neighbourliness, moderation, resourceiulness and collective responsibility as sources oi satisiaction and pride; ‘security, conviviality, iellowship, constancy. mutuality and social hope’ as priorities alongside material comiort. At the same time, what does require radical change is that which is generally seen as most immutable - the current unbalanced distribution oi wealth and power.
With its direct, urgent, impassioned tone and Its insistence on putting human beings - not taxpayers, consumers, claimants or customers, but human beings - back into the equations by which society is ordered, The Revolt Against change made me ieel more optimistic than any political book I’ve read in a long time. At the least, it alters the beginnings oi an
escape from the painiul stalemate oi current political and social debate and, Seabrook argues, It articulates and builds on stirrings oi resistance which are already apparent.
‘We need to invent new ways oi sharing our human resources which would lessen our dependence on material goods, but we don’t quite know what those are yet,’ he says. ‘But they are emerging all the time, whether it’s credit unions and local exchange schemes, or all those people down at Glastonbury this weekend. Five years ago communism looked like an invincible monolith, yet how easily it iell apart - I think the whole industrial paradigm is just as shaky. That’s why the system’s becoming a lot less tolerant, dissent has become much more marginalised — it’s because it can ieel its own structures creaking, and there’s widespread iear oi the kind oi conilicts which are happening in Eastern Europe. It’s vital that we have other, hopeful initiatives waiting, to show people that it needn’t degenerate into catastrophe and despair, that there can be a transition which is a loyiul liberation.’ (Sue Wilson)
The Bevolt Against Change is published by Vintage at £5.99.
serhe List 2—15 July i993