Going Underground: The London Modernist Literary Event at the Cockpit Theatre

Things have changed in the world of publishing and the literary festival is now perhaps the only means by which the industry at large can bridge the ever-widening gap between the writer and his reading public.

To name just a few, there's the Words In The Park Festival in London and the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye alongside the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Then there's Latitude in Suffolk, the Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall and Voewood in Norfolk sandwiched somewhere between Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate and even smaller get-togethers like the Stoke Newington Literary Festival in London.

But the maxim is, if the London Modernist Literary Event is anything to go by: do things for yourself. Today, the reclusiveness and mystery of a writer like JD Salinger no longer makes good business sense. Today a writer must get out there and hawk his wares in person, and in doing so, become empowered and get his voice heard when the mainstream ignores it. He must, he has realised just in time, turn entrepreneurial.

And so to a windswept Saturday afternoon in Marylebone and the convening of underground talent under the banner of the London Modernist Literary Event, a recent literary sitdown that showcased the current work of nine scribes who have cannily identified their own demographic and who now possess growing readerships. And all achieved without the help of mainstream publishing houses.

Terry Rawlings, Stuart Deabill [both pictured, l-r], John Hellier, Mark Baxter, Ian Snowball, Paul 'Smiler' Anderson, Simon Wells, Jason Brummell and main man of the afternoon and original member of The Jam, Rick Buckler, all understand the power of marketing.

Writers such as these are busy documenting themselves in print. Things, it seems, are getting festive. Perhaps it's the creeping sense that in this age of tech and sound bite we all fail to comprehensively communicate with one another, so better to stick to tried and tested methods. Or perhaps the reason for such orchestrated rallies of a literary bent can be better explained and put into context by Milan Kundera's interpretation of graphomania.

But even the mainstream is at, the ranks of well-loved British authors never busier and all too aware of the festival circuit and their readers, those voracious vultures of culture known as the consumer public. And you thought it was only the rock world that bothered with mass sitdowns and attentive listening.

Things have changed in the world of publishing and the literary festival is now perhaps the only means by which the industry at large can bridge the ever-widening gap between the writer and his reading public.

The scribes at the sold out Cockpit Theatre, through their own not inconsiderable efforts, have fictionalised and documented the very British subculture of modernism while simultaneously breathing life into the working class (or social) novel, that popular literary form of the recent past. After all, where would we be without the unflinching gaze of Sillitoe, Collins or MacInnes in novels like Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, London Belongs To Me and Absolute Beginners or in Room At The Top, The People Of The Abyss or Great Expectations?

If literary critic FR Leavis's understanding of literature was that it helps renew one's emotional life and assists in the learning of a new awareness, then it is in the work of marginalised literary voices that a universal morality, borne of forgotten ideals, can often be found.

Mainstream publishers, in perhaps championing less salty chroniclers of the word, are overlooking the autodidactic offerings of men on the ground. Penny-wise and pound-foolish business sense one could call it in so much as business is instead being conducted by the writers themselves, all of whom are enjoying an emboldened cultural health. The mainstream might in turn level the criticism that what they document is esoterica, yet esoterica can be social history, and a type as bona fide as this has proved lucrative. Just ask Paul Weller.

The organisation and cohesive intent of the writers gathered at the Cockpit spoke not of thwarted desire, but rather of literary ambition undiminished despite the odds stacked against them. These are modern writers who found the need to market themselves and banded together to do so because, after all, time waits for no one.

Photo by @JasonAHolmes


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