Duncan Fallowell





Duncan Fallowell was born in 1948 in London and grew up there and also in the English countryside. He was writing before he could read. At Oxford University he studied Modern History and went down in 1970. He did not enter the family business (his father had a wire factory in the Thames Valley) but at the age of 21 took up the offer of a column from the Spectator magazine. He wrote for it on pop culture, cinema and literature but never joined the staff. He never joined andyone else's either and has been a self-employed writer throughout his career.

In 1974-5 he travelled in India and the Far East and then became involved with the punk glossies Deluxe and Boulevard. He was also experimenting with short fictions and edited a volume of stories (Drug Tales, 1979). It was a wonderful but manic period and he escaped to Florida.

By 1980 Fallowell was an inhabitant of the Herefordshire border with Wales, a part of the world he first discovered on a visit to Hay-on-Wye in 1972. There he wrote the biography of a transsexual (April Ashley's Odyssey, 1982), returned to London, then went to live near Saint Tropez to write his first novel (Satyrday, 1986). His second novel (The Underbelly, 1987) was written largely at the Headland Hotel, Newquay, Cornwall, in a suite whose previous occupants included George V and Queen Mary. Throughout the 80s he spent much time in Sicily and Provence (To Noto, 1989, a travel book) and also flew all over the world meeting curious or celebrated personalities for his collection Twentieth century Characters (1994). After the collapse of Communism he went to live in St Petersburg (One Hot Summer in St Petersburg, 1994).

Over the years he has worked extensively with the avant-garde music group Can whom he first met in Cologne in 1970. It was in St Petersburg that he recently wrote the libretto for the opera Gormenghast, inspired by Mervyn Peake's trilogy, the music for which has been composed by Irmin Schmidt, Can's specialist in keyboard and electronics. They have also written many songs together.

One academic has described Fallowell's writing as 'a bizarre collision of the classical, romantic and modern'. Graham Greene didn't like his novels but thought they belonged to the 21st century. William Burroughs relished his books and Camille Paglia has described them as 'mordant, energetic and outrageous'.

Fallowell is based in London but contimues to travel abroad and spend periods in Herefordshire. He is currently working on his third novel, A History of Facelifting.

Telephone and facsimile: 0044 171 792 1793




The Gormenghast Libretto


By Duncan Fallowell

For a long time I didn't want to write this libretto. I had told Irmin about the Peake books many years previously, and had myself been told about them many years before that - while steaming very slowly into Istanbul Railway Station on the old Orient Express. Looking out of the window I saw a dead person beside the rail track, mostly wrapped in newspaper. But it would be too much to say that an association was formed beween the Titus books and a rotting corpse. Though descriptive of a decadent other-world, the books are of enormous vitality.

But still I didn't want to write that libretto. Afterall, in opera all the glory goes to the composer - and the singers. Irmin however was persistent and said 'You'll do it in the end, I know you will'. He started to work on the dramaturgy. Eventually he passed me a rough scenario. We began talking. I was ensnared. But I was on the point of departing for St Petersburg and thought this would pull me in a direction contrary to that of Peake's very English macabre. How wrong I was! Peter the Great's vast dream city, more Gogolian than ever at the end of the twentieth century, another gorgeous northern nightmare, was Gormenghast's sister. To live there demanded shuddering imaginative leaps on a daily basis. It was rocket fuel for the mind.

Perhaps I should add that my own Englighness, like Peake's, is not invalidated by any of these foreign associations. But one's native identity is one's central beginning, the place you look out from, something you take for granted. Like love for family or old friends. it's not something you want to be too self-conscious about - in fact if you are, it becomes unhealthy, a turning back on oneself or a parody of the self.

So the libretto's first draft was written when I returned to St Petersburg for a second period, during the Russian winter. I took a flat on the Millionaya. When I had lived in this street the previous year it had still gone by its revolutionary name of Ulitsa Khalturina. Now it had reverted to its tsarist-name well, it was more a soubriquet really, meaning 'street of millionaires', grand palaces intimately dishevilled, with the labyrinthine Winter palace hovering spectrally at one end, jeverything crumbling, magnificent, charged with drama. And I wrote in a feverish distraction from the anxiety created by waiting for a friend who often did not turn up. OUtside the snow fell like white fur in the long night. Sometimes the sun shone out of a blue sky on a city of curshed diamond. Always my skin tingled in anticipation of my friend's arrival. He said he would come today. He is two hours late. Maybe he will come. I paced the room, spouting couplets and songs and rhymes and weird snaking phrases, smoking again for the first time in years, underslept, overslept, too sharp, too spaced out, terribly excited, open and alive.

Sometimes my friend did come and I was the happiest I've ever been, suddenly calm and completed inside. But often he didn't and I smoked, pacing, sitting down to write, jumping up, sitting down, perfecting, altering, When I went out it was often with the wrong person and I hoped my fretfulness did not show. Beauty, myth, despair, discovery, insomnia, frustration, and confidence, these things were never more potent than in that time.






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