We met at the Hive Library Worcester after the book reading of his fourth novel ‘Iron Towns’.
Iron Towns follows the live of a fading football star called Liam and three other strong characters. Liam’s return to his home town, the people he left and the beliefs he has in the history tattooed to his body. The novel is a love note to all the changing industrial town in the West Midlands, but especially to Antony’s remembrance of the black country influenced part of Dudley he grew up in.
Cartwright’s previous three books were also about Dudley and the West Midlands area during the Thatcher era. All of Anthony’s books seem to centre on the optimism of community despite changes.
Cartwright is also involved in a collaboration with a Spanish author that will be available before the end of the year, The novel centres around The Heysel Stadium disaster, an Italian and English football incident in 1985.
Cartwright confesses that Dudley was his home town so naturally became the subject he was most familiar with in writing. He strongly emphasises that it is also the perfect backdrop for a working class themed novel. He adds “Some of the towns in Worcestershire are also mentioned. Honest” Which caused the audience to laugh with him.
Really enjoyed listening to Anthony read his opening chapter, is something special about listening to an author speaking their own words. Listening to where they stress and importance or play out a character. Hearing the original accent that the piece was written in, really helped the atmosphere of the book. Cartwright explained to us that it all starts with a phone call and that this was always his inciting incident in the novel, and in the end, he chose to start right there and not waste time.
Cartwright explains that pubs and football grounds in this novel is where most of the story centres around, and this reflects very much the life he remembered in Dudley. He is added in the old legends curses and myths of this area. “I enjoy greatly the weaving of reality and culture into the novel. The something particularly potent about having the everyday lead over the Mystic.” Cartwright achieves this by having the footballer, Liam use lots of mindful projection. In the same way, that quite often people in everyday life will project onto the footballers that they follow.
I asked Anthony if he saw himself as more a history or environmental writer. “I wasn’t overly aware I was very much of either. The history is pretty much obvious, and is required when you write about anyplace in time. And I don’t think it’s strange to consider industrial as environmental. But do explain to me how you feel about the environmental influence?” he laughs noticing my university badge and hoodie. Timidly, I explained that I was currently doing an environmental writing module, and I thought that his description of the area was very much in the pastoral, because it is a celebration of man in his natural environment. Anthony agreed, saying it is very much like listening to someone talk about classical pastoral. But of course this was industrial so maybe we had created a new form of ‘pastoral industry’; which made us both smile. He explained this was because he was very influenced by the artist George Shaw. Shaw was a Tile Hill, Coventry resident. The artist produced landscape paintings of his own natural industrial area, but in all of his landscapes there were no people painted. “His work seems to be populated by ghosts.” Cartwright felt that it was something very special about changing a place, that would have been heavily populated by people, into an absence of people, looking at just their environment. “It’s become almost an obsession for me” he goes on to explain, “people in a barren landscape that influence the area but are absent as if the years had reduced them. You notice it most when the older generation write their letters and have that extra line where it says ‘Advil yards’ and then the county area. People of the towns say they have more concerns than the missing S in their postal address, but it’s still there. Just as Geoffrey of Monmouth did when he was writing ‘History of the Kings of Britain’. ‘GM’ always paid special attention to his hometown and emphasise any links he could to it. He speaks as if Merlin and magic were once real. Very much like his writing, I get my links to myth from him.”
I highlighted that his novels focus a lot on community and that one of the other participants had asked whether he was trying to save communities. Cartwright went over his answer about there being a decline in industrial areas and how hard it was for most of them to make the transition. “I like the geography of it too”. He added that some characters like in the book was ‘sticking it out’, no matter how bad it gets. This is almost always because this place is their home. Although it can sound bleak there is always hope in transition to become transformation.
This lead me to asked about if there was a link between a decline in an area and arise in their literary output because of it. Cartwright explained the Black Country has always been strong in literary and poetry. This is proven by the fact that their dialect is still strong even now. He explained that there are very many layers of history and this fuels areas like the West Midlands because they are really rooted in a mixed culture and never put off by transition. “Most of these places are industrial but they have never been urban.” I questioned if this mixed culture was why there was a build-up of mythology. “There are more decisions you make in your life by instinct and belief than ever of the rational.” Answered Cartwright.
I ended on what I thought was a fairly easy question about research. Querying how much research for each book and when do you know to stop researching and start writing? Cartwright explained that the research never seems to be over but it is best to simply do them side-by-side in his opinion. Yet as it always makes sense to write what you know. This is easier to write and you know your impression of it. It’s something felt rather than seen in what you know well. Facts really add more. More to the feeling and give you that setting you know is true. When he writes although he is concerned about making sure that the facts are right, it’s more about feeling your way through the story, writing what feels right and real to you. It’s always a good idea to check the balance of fact and fiction by looking at other people’s books.
Anthony Cartwright ended by telling us all a little piece of wisdom he learnt. “Tides come and go. However, it is but a cycle.”