The book launch of Robert Meadley ‘s first novel, Going to Ost, at & Model follows on from Corridor8’s coverage of the Burroughs at 100 conference at the Anthony Burgess Foundation, Experimental Poetry by artists and writers at The Other Room, the launch of Poor Souls’ Light with a reading by M John Harrison at John Ryland’s Library and more recently Fay Ballard’s House Clearance, her exhibition of drawings also at & Model, which reflected the undisguised literary associations of the work of her late father, J G Ballard. What Meadley, William Burroughs, Harrison and Ballard all have in common is that they were all disparate parts of the short-lived literary-art movement of the mid-1960’s up to the early 1970’s, the New Wave of Science Fiction (Burroughs as guiding inspiration rather than participant).
The ‘New Wave’ movement had as its literary epicenter the art and writing magazine New Worlds, a long-running British traditional SF magazine hijacked for the cause by the young author-editor Michael Moorcock. His (and Ballard’s) premise was that the ‘future’, in the form of such technological feats as the moon landings, the increasing complexity of the media landscape, computers, artificial intelligence and experiments with drugs, had already arrived. It was now more relevant to write about the present rather than the distant future, inner space rather than outer, and to find new forms of writing to express these new concerns.
Mostly under Moorcock’s editorship, New Worlds ran for over 74 issues from 1964 to 1979, but its apogee was the period July 1967 to April 1970 comprising 26 issues (#173-200) when a small Arts Council Grant enabled it to adopt an A4 glossy format and run features on art, and a handful of small press ‘continuations’ in the late 1970s (#212-216),.
The first of these large-size editions had cover art by MC Escher. The second carried an Eduardo Paolozzi cover and a feature on the artist by Christopher Finch, Finch’s first foray into art criticism. With that issue Finch became New Worlds’ Art Editor; in subsequent issues he introduced Richard Hamilton and other visual artists to the literature of the New Wave. After a drunken editorial meeting Paolozzi was made ‘Aeronautics Adviser’.
New Worlds attracted ‘conceptualists’ such as Meadley who enjoyed playing with ideas. Going to Ost reads like a book that doesn’t mind whether it’s a book or not. A slender series of encounters by its protagonist Bukh Tabrolf Terongh makes up the narrative as he journeys from the outposts of Empire where he has made his fortune, to Ost, the city of his birth. Each encounter prompts a tale. The interest lies in the telling of these unlikely episodes, which progressively expose more about the character, and indeed the author, whose sources and obsessions are clearly in evidence – Herman Hesse, the Norse Goddess Hel, Chinese landscapes, board games, music hall, obscure histories and hunting game. However, never enough is revealed, the reader being made to feel like the willing but perpetually enticed donkey, until the narrative abruptly stops.
The novel’s gestation is equally spirited. The first episode was published as a short story in New Worlds. Further parts were commissioned but never appeared due to the magazine folding. The MS then continued in piecemeal fashion. Whenever the author’s wife wanted to know, “What happens next?”, another section was penned. In 1987 Savoy Books, the Manchester publishing company, took an interest and on the offer of publication the manuscript was completed. But the MS went missing before publication could take place. It has only very recently turned up again, and was finally published forty years after its author first began writing.
At Leeds, Ost became an exhibition at which a book was sold. Titled Book Launch and Other Stuff, its brief appearance (it was sub-titled “now you see it, now you don’t”), was the second part of the author’s 3 Works About Time. Of the first, even briefer, work Meadley says: “If you missed it, or saw it without knowing what it was, don’t worry, it won’t be the only thing you’ve missed.” Of the third of the 3 Works he maintains it will “…necessarily be posthumous.”
The exhibition was hung by Harry Meadley, who also assisted in the curation, and comprised four groupings of texts. One of these, ‘Sushi’, consisted of a series of texts randomly selected from Meadley Snr’s current hard drive. ‘Mental Health Warning’ took the form of pages from online magazine speculative fictions, recent collaborations with Gareth Jackson, and included the latter’s striking digital painting ‘TS Samurai/Bikini Girl’. The other three groups were comprised of texts from earlier periods in Meadley’s writing career, and included pages from the later ‘continuation’ editions New Worlds. These later editions published the more visual idiosyncratic and conceptual material left over after the main run of the commercially distributed magazine had come to an end (and included in their contents for instance the first publication of Ballard’s ‘Project for a New Novel’ with its unconventional mixture of typefaces).
Elsewhere the almost redundant ‘launch’ desk was piled high with copies of Ost, adjacent to which the essential ‘eats’ table was heaped with ‘Ost’ delicacies courtesy of art food stylists Sally Bagnall, Rachel Carter and Lucy Evans.
Michael Butterworth is the publisher of Corridor8.
More information about New Worlds can be found here, where copies of Meadley’s book are available for purchase.
Top image: Going to Ost, Robert Meadley, 2015. Cover Design: Dust.