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September 2021

Not Without a Fight: Ten Steps to Becoming Your Own Champion by Ramla Ali
23rd September 2021

A personal introduction to
Not Without a Fight
by Ramla Ali

Not Without a Fight: Ten Steps to Becoming Your Own Champion by Ramla Ali

Ramla Ali is the absolute total package - humanitarian, model, boxer and now author. Her life inside and outside the ring represents her ruthless refusal to quit and passion to fight for what she believes in. In Not Without a Fight Ramla details ten key fights that have shaped her remarkable rise to date, both in and out of the boxing ring. From her arrival in England as a refugee to being drawn to the energy and spirit of her first boxercise class; from the adrenaline of her first amateur fights to how she often powered on alone, searching for a community of women like her, and her biggest win of all: letting love into her life. Especially for Foyles Ramla has selected a powerful extract from the book which highlights two key moments in her life, and has also written an introduction giving extra insights into her dynamic mindset and her hopes for her first book. 

In my opinion, the influx of immigrants into London over the past 50 years is one of the most beautiful attributes of the capital city. Its fabric as a city and its understanding of other people’s cultures is what makes it such an attractive home for so many. For me, London has always felt like the city at the centre of the world, but you can’t tell the story of this place and its people without highlighting some of its struggles.

The below extract from my new book, Not Without A Fight, highlights two important moments in my life. The misunderstanding of the Muslim community, which for me as a young girl was saddening to see and experience, a decade of misrepresentation and negative connotations plastered across the news as I grew up in my new home after having left Somalia as a child. This negative portrayal of Islam in turn created a culture of ignorance and anger towards those that follow the faith. No different to that of the prejudices faced by the Jewish people and the experiences of the Caribbean and Windrush generation in the 50s.

This part of the book also highlights the experience of my own personal identity as a Somali. We have a unique perspective and outlook. We are often thought of as the poorest of the poor within Africa and subsequently the black community. The idea that we are surrounded only by corruption, war, famine and the idea that its women are suppressed within this patriarchal system.

What I’ve always strived for and – what I hope comes across in the book – is the need to challenge these stereotypes, to educate others through actions first. To portray a Somalia and its people that others can be proud to call their home. The book is as much about me as it is a tool to help readers connect with themselves. My struggle is wholly my own but I do believe that there are shared experiences that everyone can relate to within the book.

The sole purpose I had for writing Not Without A Fight was to ensure that my narrative remained my own. I did not want the reader to feel sorry for me or to pity me. Because they shouldn’t. I have found true purpose in my journey thus far, which has been a blessing. Although I didn’t ask for the hardships, it is my strength and ruthless refusal to quit which is what I want people to take inspiration from and which I’m most proud of. My story is not that of the most talented or the most fortunate. It is one of necessity. A necessity to be the role model and representation that I never saw growing up in England. We now live in a time where social media has connected the world but in the same breath made everyone less social. A culture and generation that now find role models from reality television as opposed to the heroines of our society that are shaping governments, curing diseases and creating the most beautiful art and literature. I wanted this book to tell a part of my story that I believe goes to the notion that you need to embark on a true adventure in order to fill lived. Every chapter has its purpose as it does in life and I believe that we need to publish and portray more stories of people that have lived.



Of all my childhood memories, one stands out the most. I was around eleven years old, walking home from my weekly Quran studies at the local mosque in East Ham, which is where I lived at the time. It was September – the cusp of autumn – but the sky was dark and heavy with rain. I remember walking past the local shops on the high street – the cash and carry and the chemist. The cars on the main road would race through the puddles, sending a gulf of brown water over my shoes and up my ankles. I had walked that route so many times that the previous journeys all seemed to bleed into one; but that day was different. My road, Sibley Grove, was behind East Ham station – and the last five hundred metres of my walk was always filled with commotion, people streaming out the station and passing me by, it was normal. I would work my way through the crowd before turning left onto my road. If someone followed me, I did not think anything of it. On that day, the second I turned onto Sibley Grove, two boys on mountain bikes mounted the pavement in front of me, they braked hard and positioned their bikes to block my path. They did not look that much older than I did; at most, they were in their early teens. They both wore dark and baggy clothing. One of them had the sharpest blue eyes, and slicked-back hair that was damp from the rain, or an excessive amount of hair gel. I was so close to home, I walked on despite them being in my path. When they got off their bikes, my life changed forever.


‘Oi!’ the boy with the slick hair shouted. ‘What are you wearing that for?’ He pointed at my head, covered by my hijab. I did not connect what he meant with what I was wearing. My hijab was a natural part of my attire when I was young; I wore it every day without really thinking about it. Both boys started laughing, which soon turned into an exaggerated cackling that I knew was aimed at me. Before I had time to respond or move out of his way, the boy with the piercing blue eyes marched right up to me. We locked eyes for what can only have been a few seconds – though in that brief moment, time seemed to stretch and we could have been staring at each other for minutes. His next action happened lightning fast: his hand rose up and he ripped my hijab off my head with one forceful grab. He threw it onto the ground and stamped all over it, laughing loudly, his dirty footprints turning my blue scarf black. I could not understand what was happening. My head was instantly cold and my hair was covering my face, but I was too cared to move it out the way. I was motionless as they walked back to their bikes and rode off, taking a left at Browning Road and cycling away. It was only then that I let myself burst into uncontrollable tears. In all that time, no one else had walked down the street and I consoled myself alone, bending down to pick up my wet hijab from the ground.


As I brushed my hair out of my face, I realised I was bleeding. The pin that had been securing my scarf behind my ear had come undone, leaving a stinging pain and a thin trail of blood dripping down my neck. I rubbed at the wound, which only made it worse, and spread a sheer reddish tone across my neck like warpaint. I walked the last few metres home with my other hand covering my eyes – my family and I never talked about our emotions, and I didn’t want to let them see me cry. I did not learn the importance of being able to discuss my feelings with others until much later. For a long time, I would bottle all of my problems up and try to face everything alone, and that is exactly what I did that day.


Back then, I was not old enough to understand what racism and Islamophobia were, but I knew I was not strong enough to face those boys on my own again. I gradually stopped wearing my hijab outside of my home. I did not talk to anyone about what happened, and while Mum would occasionally ask me why I was not wearing it, she never pushed me. I would tell her I took it off for a PE lesson and forgot to put it back on, until, eventually, she stopped asking. I realise now that my emotions from that day had slowly turned from shock to pain and a deep sense of otherness. I was young and I knew I came from a different country. Growing up, all I wanted to do was blend in alongside everybody else. That was the day I realised I could not. I was different, and try as I might I would never be able to fit in. While my hijab has always been a source of pride, in the eyes of those boys it was something they did not understand. A combination of fear and ignorance made them see me as an outcast, someone worthy of ridicule. I thought that if I never wore it, I would fit in, and then I wouldn’t have been attacked; that they did it because I looked different.


School confirmed my suspicions, as it was where I stuck out the most. For one, I was Somali – I did not look like the rest of my classmates who were predominantly South Asian. I was overweight – compared to the thin girls in my year, and I did not have long straight and shiny hair like them either. These popular girls always wore the latest clothes from Topshop and Miss Selfridge, and had boys lining up for them outside the school gates. My family were poor, and could not afford to buy me new clothes. Instead, I mostly wore hand-me-downs from my two older sisters. For a long time growing up, all these things combined to make me feel so sad, small and desperate to fit in. I did not know it then but that horrible day, one of the worst in my memory, would have a positive impact on my life. That moment inspired me to be a fighter.


It would be years before I’d be putting on a pair of boxing gloves and learning how to fight inside the ring. My first unofficial fights started far from the gym: in the many moments in my life where I had to learn to defend myself, be resilient, be patient, and use my silence to my advantage. To stand confidently face to face with an opponent and strategically think about my next move. To transform all the things that made me an outcast into my superpowers. My life has been full of obstacles, but would not have it any other way, because each of these hurdles has taught me something valuable. In the deepest, darkest moments when I have felt the most scared and alone, those are the times that have shaped me more than anything. Through tears, setbacks and heartbreak, I have learned to keep going, and that is how I became the fighter I am today. It is not easy, but sometimes you have to face your fears and turn your vulnerabilities into your advantages; that is how you learn to be your own champion.


Ramla Ali

Ramla Ali is a Somali-born, London-raised professional boxer, model and activist. She took up the sport of boxing aged twelve, training and competing in secret from her family for over ten years. Ramla rose to early prominence as the two-time winner of the National Amateur Championships in England and winning the Great British Championships. With over seventy-five amateur fights under her belt, Ramla made history by becoming the first boxer to have won an international gold medal whilst representing the country of Somalia and the first female to turn professional. Ramla is a Nike Global Athlete and a proud ambassador for UNICEF.



Three Novels by Yuri Herrera
20th September 2021

Three Novels by Yuri Herrera,
and the fine art of jacket design

Three Novels by Yuri Herrera


Ever wondered what the processes are in designing the jacket to a book? In a blog written especially for Foyles, art director and designer Tom Etherington from And Other Stories gives a glimpse into his process when designing the jacket for Three Novels by Yuri Herrerathe 100th title from the publisher, as they celebrate ten years of outstandng publishing. 



A Single Design for Three Novels

Designer Tom Etherington shares his process in giving Yuri Herrera's Three Novels an evocative cover

And Other Stories is celebrating ten years of shamelessly literary publishing. As part of its celebrations, on September 14th the press publishes its 100th title, Three Novels by Yuri Herrera (translated by Lisa Dillman). Herrera's novels were included in many Best-of-Year lists, and one, Signs Preceding the End of the World, was in the Guardian's ‘100 Best Books of the 21st Century’. So naturally, while all three novels had previously been published in paperback by And Other Stories, the press was keen to bring the three titles together in a beautiful object. This was a key part of the brief – to create a covetable hardback cover, and apart from this the brief was quite open.

Creating a cover for a collection of novels has its own unique problems to solve. To illustrate one cover would be unfair on the other two, but illustrating three novels on one cover could easily become confused and chaotic. I felt like the best solution would be an enigmatic cover that tonally reflects Herrera’s writing, rather than illustrating anything specific from any of the novels. Herrera makes modern Mexico into a place of myth, fairytale and the epic. He writes in a unique way about the hardships of his character’s lives, and I wanted to create a cover that conveyed both gritty, dusty daily life, as well as the mythical and surreal. The working title for the trilogy was The Kingdom, The Sun and Death, which sparked a few ideas. 

One idea was to use overlapping pictorial elements that represented the title, so a castle for the Kingdom, lightning for Death and a sun:

Yuri Herrera 1


Another idea was to have a simple, elegant, typographic cover:


Yui Herrera 2

I also tried some more abstract approaches, one of which uses the contour of the Rio Grande to create an overlapping flowing pattern:

Yui Herrera 3

And cover designs where the overlaid fragments of paper created an enigmatic image with warmth and texture to it that evoked dusty roads and desolate landscapes:

Yui Herrera 4

I emailed over a selection of these visuals to the team at And Other Stories, and there was unanimous agreement as to their preference. I tried a few colour variations and tidied up the collage, and the cover was approved:

Yui Herrera 5

The final design had the collage wrap around to the back with a little visual motif of the sun from the front cover setting on the back:

Yui Herrera 6

I’ve been art directing covers for And Other Stories for a few months now and it’s a joy to do so. Publishing can be quite a conservative area of design, the people calling the shots on covers often want something similar to what has come before. And Other Stories publish adventurous literary fiction and trust that their readers are willing to challenge themselves. I hope that the covers will do the same and be truly creative: design that doesn’t pander to genre, markets or what has come before.

The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza
18th September 2021

Compelling, timely and powerful -
The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza

The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza


"Movements are the story of how we come together when we've come apart."

The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza is a powerful, personal memoir, masterfully woven with a necessary blueprint for the future, and is now available in paperback. As we all need to become more invested in change, and tackling the systemic racism that is prevalent throughout our culture and institutions, this is an essential book that should be read far and wide, from one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter Global Network. Here you can read an exclusive extract.



I have traveled across the country talking with aspiring leaders who hope to make change in their communities. I’ll admit I die a little inside when people ask me, “How can I build my platform?”

          Or when they introduce themselves to me as an “influencer.” No joke: A brilliant young Black sister recently handed me a business card that identified her as a “student influencer.”

          My response, sometimes through gritted teeth, is this: “For what and for whom are you building a platform and profile?”

          I still do not believe that Twitter followers and Facebook friends represent the amount of influence you have. My friends who are digital organizers will kill me for saying this, and believe me, I mean no disrespect. If you have a million followers on Twitter, you are influencing something and someone. And yet the question remains: for whom, and for what?

          Black Lives Matter started as a hashtag and then grew into a series of social media pages that connected people online. But it was when masses of people began to move in service of Black Lives Matter that it became effective. Imagine if we merely continued to tweet about our dissatisfaction without taking that displeasure directly to decision makers? Imagine if we had continued to just write about what’s wrong online without showing up at campaign fundraisers and news conferences, without establishing encampments in front of city halls and police stations. What impact would we have had? Would this even be considered a movement?

          Black Lives Matter brought people together online to take action together offline. Solely organizing, educating, or pontificating online was never something that we considered to be effective organizing. But more than that, bringing people together offline requires building the relationships and infrastructure that can help grow the movement. Protests are never enough to build a movement. Protests need planning and preparation. Outreach and attendance. Follow-up. Security and safety plans. Messaging and targets. Demands. Cultural components. All of that requires vehicles that can give people things to be involved in between protests and off-camera.

          For me, the only use for a platform or a profile is in the service of the strategy of a movement. It doesn’t matter how many people follow me on social media if I am not moving them to do something amazing together offline— which is the only hope to achieve the changes we so desperately need and deserve. It doesn’t matter if someone wants to “be like me” but doesn’t want to do the work that I do that makes me me— and that work is situated inside the context of a movement. It is not work that I do in isolation or on my own. Can I move the people who follow me on Twitter into votes that oust problematic decision makers and instill people with vision and a plan? Can I transform my Facebook friends into leagues of democracy defenders in fifty states— people who ensure that every voice is counted? If not, frankly, fuck a platform and fuck a profile. Platforms and profiles are only as useful as what they are in service of.

          I worry that we are encouraging people to build profiles and platforms without a strategy to win the changes we want to see in the world— to think they can change the world according to how many people follow them on social media. I’ve learned we need bases, not brands.


Alicia Garza

Alicia Garza is an innovator, strategist and organizer. She is the Principal at the Black Futures Lab, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter and the Black Lives Matter Global Network, the Director of Strategy and Partnerships at the US National Domestic Workers Association, co-founder of Supermajority and host of the podcast Lady Don't Take No.



The Making of Incarnation by Tom McCarthy
16th September 2021

Audacious and mesmeric -
The Making of Incarnation
by Tom McCarthy

The Making of Incarnation by Tom McCarthy


Bodies in motion. Birds, bees and bobsleighs. What is the force that moves the sun and other stars? Where's our fucking airplane? What's inside Box 808, and why does everybody want it? 

With his dazzling new novel The Making of Incarnation, Tom McCarthy weaves a set of stories one inside the other, rings within rings, a perpetual-motion machine, in which he peers through the screen, or veil, of technological modernity to reveal the underlying historical and symbolic structures of human experience. Especially for the Foyles blog McCarthy has selected an extract from his new work, and written a scene-setting introduction which also explains his fascination with forensic procedure. And don't miss out on our signed bookplate edition!


This exchange, from a chapter titled ‘The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes’, takes place about halfway through the novel, in the offices of Forensis plc. Lucy Diamond’s employer, a motion-capture company, is helping Degree Zero, a visual-effects outfit, produce a detailed CGI render of a staved-in skull for the sci-fi blockbuster-in-progress Incarnation; which is why Forensis (who, as their name suggests, are a state-of-the-art forensics firm) have been roped in.


Forensic procedure has always fascinated me. It’s about the reconstruction of an event — usually a violent one. Its logic lies at the heart of literature, of tragedy especially. Oedipus is forensics. Forensics is about repetition, and trauma, but also about aesthetics: the rendering-visible and -legible of movement, action, bodies acting on other bodies with momentous consequences. It raises questions of agency, and predeterminism or ‘fate’ — questions as relevant in the digital era as they were in Sophocles’. The challenge is to get a multi-POV perspective on it all — kaleido-vision, if you like. It’s either that, or tear your eyes out…


The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes


          ‘This,’ Webster has set the skull down now and moved to a computer, ‘is a PBR, made with our latest toy, a Faro laser scanner, of one of these specimens – the third one from the right, to be precise. We could provide you and your movie people, Double Zero, with . . .’
          ‘It’s Degree Zero,’ she corrects him.
          ‘. . . Degree Zero, with this very scan, or one much like it. It’s made with the same flyover method we use with the Pitt Rivers and British Museums, digitising ethnographic artefacts.’
          ‘Artefacts as in . . . ?’
          ‘Statues, fetishes or handmade bowls, what have you . . .’ he tells her without taking his eyes from the screen or fingers from the glide-pad, moving about which they spin the radiant green cranium around, enabling multiple flyovers, each from a new angle, of its wound-crater, a detailed survey of its pleats and ridges.
          ‘This is more or less exactly what the character does,’ Diamond says.
          ‘She has a Faro scanner too?’
          ‘Version 20.0,’ Diamond smiles back, ‘with screen-independent holographic render . . . Hey, what’s that?’
          She can’t help herself slipping back into ingénue mode: the printouts covering the wall behind the monitor are too intriguing. They seem to depict a kind of urban grid: an irregular one, with arrows indicating various jagging trajectories across it.
          ‘What’s . . . ? Oh, that: Sarajevo,’ answers Webster. ‘Twentyeighth June 1914. It’s the route that Archduke Ferdinand’s car took across the city. Collaboration with the History Department at UCL. Apparently, the century since the assassination has produced a thousand theories as to why the anarchist Princip did it, or why this particular event sparked off the biggest tinderbox in human history – but no one’s ever thought to carry out a basic time-and-motion study.’
          ‘And . . . ?’
          ‘And what?’
          ‘And what has it revealed?’
          ‘It has revealed,’ Webster proudly announces, ‘that it all boils down to a three-point turn.’
          ‘A three-point turn – like in a car?’
          ‘Indeed: not like but actually in a car. The Archduke’s motorcade, driving down Appel Quay, here’ – he’s over at the wall now, pointing out the road in question – ‘turns right toward Franz Josef Street so as to deviate from the back-up route to which it has, as a precaution, switched (a bomb has been thrown earlier, and hit a secondary car; the pages of the speech Franz Ferdinand reads just prior to his assassination are flecked with blood) – a double-deviation, back to its initially announced route. Which isn’t very safe, given the day’s threat level. So, when the security implications of this dawn on the Archduke’s bodyguards, they decide to switch back a second time; which re-rerouting necessitates a three-point turn. Now, think of three-point turns: what do they all, no matter how swiftly or deftly they’re executed, entail?’
          Diamond thinks back to her driving test: angles and distances, protocols and sequences, mirror-signal-manoeuvre . . . ‘Toggling between forward and reverse?’ she tries.
          ‘Well, yes . . . But that dictates another basic quality: that every three-point turn contains, at – as – its pivot-point, a static moment. Here in Appel Quay, this moment takes place right by where Princip is standing. So, naturally, he pulls his pistol out and offs his sitting-duck duke quarry.’
          ‘What are the chances?’ Diamond murmurs.
          ‘Chance,’ says Webster, ‘is a can of worms this project has pried open. The more you look at it, the more you start to see a sort of correspondence – of symmetry almost – not only in the layout of the streets, the doubled routes, the switchbacks and retracings and so on, but also in the larger field of the event’s contingencies. Take just one sample area, for example: the lead actors’ titles. On one side, you’ve got Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke; on the other, Princip, the anarchist. Archduke, like princip, means ‘prince’ – from arc or arche: prime authority, but also curve plotted in space; and dux, or leader, plotter of a route. The Archduke’s people plot a route through space; the anarchists launch their counterplot, a plot against arch order, against structure. But their plotting is defective – as you might expect: they don’t believe in arcs or arches, that’s the whole point. But – here’s the twist, which perhaps isn’t such a twist after all – an arc comes to their aid: a double-arc, embodied in a three-point turn. It’s like a kind of doubling-up, a folding. And the street towards which the Archduke is heading doubles his own name, halfway at least: Franz Josef is his uncle, who’s dispatched him off to Sarajevo – like a double, to die in his place.’
          ‘So are you saying . . . ?’ Diamond begins; but Webster cuts her off:
          ‘I’m not saying anything. Just tracing out a set of lines; a fracture network. That’s all I do. I have a hat in this ring, too.’
          ‘Professionally?’ she asks.
          ‘Titularly. Staying within the same interrogation boundaries, names and their meanings: arc comes from the Greek arkheion, house’ – he opens up his hand to indicate their environs – ‘of records. In Ancient Athens, they had archons, magistrates, guardians and interpreters of the public archive; through their collective analyses and deliberations, the archons oversaw the workings of democracy and justice.’ He pauses for a while, then adds: ‘Archives were held in chest or arks, made of acacia wood.’ His finger gently slides down from the diagrams and route maps and swings back towards the skulls as he continues: ‘Arca can mean coffin too . . .’
          Diamond’s middle name is Sky. It was her mother’s maiden name. Her parents were second-wave hippies, early-nineties flower children. In tribute to the tangerine streets and marmalade skies, the plasticine porters with looking-glass ties of the song – as well (she suspects, reading between the lines of the foundation myth they fondly peddled her) as the fact that they were both tripping when they met – they named her Lucy. Are there arches at work there, too, plotting, from base coordinates of nomenclature, the paths and switchbacks, folds and doublings, assignations both fortuitous and unfortunate, even catastrophic, that her life will follow? Or is it something older, routes laid down prior even to that, some vast mechanism as inevitable as the engine movements of open-top motorcars, or newspaper taxis appearing on the shore, waiting to take you away? Here, in Forensis plc’s back office, one of the many darkened rooms that she now seems to spend the lion’s share of her time in, Diamond finds herself struck by a pervasive sense of powerlessness, of freedom from volition. It’s neither a particularly bad feeling nor a good and liberating one – it just is what it is.


Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy's work has been translated into more than 20 languages and adapted for cinema, theatre and radio. His third novel C was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Walter Scott Prize and the European Literature Prize and his fourth, Satin Island, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Goldsmiths Prize. In 2013 he was awarded the inaugural Windham-Campbell Literature Prize by Yale University. McCarthy is also author of the study Tintin and the Secret of Literature, and of the essay collection Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish. He lives in Berlin.

Author Photo © Nicole Strasser


Tenderness by Alison MacLeod
14th September 2021

Elegant and ambitious -
Tenderness by Alison MacLeod

Tenderness by Alison MacLeod

Tenderness by Alison MacLeod is the spellbinding story of Lady Chatterley's Lover, and the society that put it on trial; the story of a novel and its ripple effects across half a century, and about the transformative and triumphant power of fiction itself. Published with glowing praise from the likes of Elif Shafak, Elizabeth Gilbert and Madeline Miller, Tenderness is the kind of rich, evocative and immersive novel that is perfect for the autumn reading. Especially for Foyles MacLeod has written a blog giving further insight into her glorious novel, which also features a small cameo from our own Christina Foyle.

The Case of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and the Booksellers


In the summer of 1928, in a dark little Florentine bookshop, D. H. Lawrence was overseeing the printing of his latest – and, as it happened, his last – novel.  ‘My cough is as ever.’  His lungs were devastated by TB; the haemorrhaging was getting worse.  He weighed little more than seven or eight stone, and he was luminously pale in the heat of a Tuscan summer.  To Aldous Huxley, he wrote: ‘I’ve got to sell my novel, or I’m a lost soul.’  The price would be two guineas, and his own drawing of a rising phoenix would decorate the hardback’s boards.


In the spring, he’d sent the manuscript off to his publisher, Martin Secker, with a plea: ‘Don’t all in a rush be scared and want to pull whole sections out.’  But Secker, aware of the Obscene Publications Act – with the probability of a steep fine or possibly prison – was not scared. He was clear: he could not publish it.  Lawrence instructed his agent not to bother trying other publishers; he couldn’t bear the hand-wringing and hypocrisy of the replies he anticipated. ‘I’m beat by their psychology,’ he told Huxley. 


Even so, he was ‘embarked.  You must stand by me when the seas rise.’  The plan for private publication was born: ‘If I can carry this thing through, it will be a start for all of us unpopular authors.’


The scandalous novel was of course Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  ‘It is a nice and tender phallic novel,’ Lawrence assured a friend, ‘not a sex novel in the ordinary sense of the word.’ Tenderness had been his previous choice for a title.  ‘And those are the first two things, tenderness and beauty, which will save us from horrors… [I]n my novel I work for them directly, and direct from phallic consciousness, which, you understand, is not the cerebral sex-consciousness, but something really deeper, and the root of poetry, lived or sung.’ 


The notion of tenderness is vital to DHL’s body of work – essential to his vision not only for the full life of the individual, but to the sane progress of the wider world, especially as the world was in the wake of the cataclysm of the first world war: ‘The leader to-day needs tenderness as well as toughness,’ Lawrence argued.


Utterly convinced of the importance of his new manuscript, he was nevertheless relieved to learn that, in Florence, ‘the printer doesn’t know a word of English’, which was convenient given the variety of so-called 4-letter words lovingly spoken by Mellors, Lady Chatterley’s earthy gamekeeper-lover. 


Lawrence predicts, rightly, that ‘some people will want to annihilate me for it.’  He could keenly remember the burning of all 1,011 copies of his 1915 novel, The Rainbow, in London, as well as the penury that followed.  Yet in the summer of ‘28, he was determined to do everything in his power for ‘the full, fine flower’ of his novel.  Why, he asked, ‘should the red flower have its pistil nipped out, before it is allowed to appear?’  Moreover, even when he tried – for a subsequent expurgated edition – he simply couldn’t do it: ‘I might as well try to clip my own nose into shape with scissors. The book bleeds.’


To elude Customs and postal officials, he and his publisher-partner-in-crime, Pino Orioli, resorted to false titles, plain wrappers and secret shipments.  ‘Does me good,’ Lawrence admitted, ’to feel furious about the novel.’ 


More reason for fury was to come.  Many of his thousand precious copies were about to be confiscated in both Britain and America, and the threat of arrest by Scotland Yard was to loom over the self-described ‘outlaw’ until his early death, at the age of 44, just two years later.  He signs off one 1928 letter, ‘Your sincere “traitor and enemy of the human race”’ in a two-finger jibe at the status quo.


But back in England, things were about to get even worse.  Lawrence confided in Aldous Huxley: ‘…the booksellers have hastily written to say we must take back their copies at once, they couldn’t handle the Lady, and I must cancel their orders, and will we remove the offence at once.  That is in all 114 copies we have to fetch back…  Then there are rumours that the police are going to raid the shops.’ 


Lawrence’s beloved Lady C. had become untouchable.  Foyles wrote to Lawrence and Orioli describing it as ‘a book we could not handle in any way’, although at least Foyles had the decency to cover the cost of its own returns.


Thirty years after Lawrence’s death, the spectacle of Regina v Penguin at the Old Bailey was about to grip the nation – and the world’s media.  Penguin, the first British publisher to attempt release of the full, unexpurgated edition of Lawrence’s most controversial novel, was being prosecuted in the autumn of 1960 under the Obscene Publications Act.  An amendment to Act had been introduced in 1959, making some room for a distinction between literature and pornography – but how much room remained the question.  If found guilty, publisher Allen Lane and Penguin would face an unlimited fine – or even the possibility of a 3-year prison sentence for Lane as publisher.


A jury of nine men and three women, plus thirty-six expert witnesses, vindicated Penguin Books, Allen Lane, and Lawrence’s reputation.  Constance Chatterley and her lover Oliver Mellors also walked free that windswept November day.  So did the many readers who immediately queued up in their hundreds around Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus on the day of the verdict to buy the new paperback for 3/6, the cost of just ten cigarettes.  As Larkin famously recollected:


Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.


The Defence papers of Michael Rubinstein, Penguin Solicitor, and the court notebooks, kept by the Defence barristers, make fascinating and, at times, hilarious readingIn the basement of the University of Bristol library, I discovered in their archives – in barrister Richard Du Cann’s impeccable hand – the notes he wrote in pink felt-tip pen in court as the trial advanced.  He noted, for example, the Prosecution’s count of all the ‘rude’ words in the novel.  ‘Balls’, for example, appears thirteen times.  The aim of the Prosecution throughout the six-day trial was to shock and scandalise the jury.  Their efforts failed, and that in itself was, for many, a shock.  Penguin Books triumphed against every odd.


I’m delighted to say that Richard Du Cann’s notes now form the end-papers for the hardback of my novel, Tenderness.  It is the story of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, from inspiration to suppression to liberation.  More even than that, it is my own exploration of what it means to live fully; to have a voice and to use it; to have an imagination and to defend its expression and power in the world.


Among the trial papers, one finds Evelyn Waugh informing Michael Rubinstein that ‘Lawrence had very meagre literary gifts’, Alec Guinness admitting that he ‘cannot honestly say’ that publication of the novel was ‘for the public good’, and a senior of Hatchards Piccadilly declining to take part, as a witness, ‘in what is sure to be a most amusing affair’.


By contrast, the owner of Foyles, the largest bookshop in the world in 1960, went some distance to making up for the return of those six copies to Lawrence in 1928.  Christina Foyle agreed to stand as an expert witness.  She provided a witness statement in preparation for her performance in the stand: ‘I found Lawrence’s style beautiful and impressive, as I expected… I exercise no censorship – any book published by a reputable publisher we sell.  I do not think that Lady Chatterley’s Lover could conceivably deprave or corrupt anyone.’ 


Perhaps, in the end, she was not among the thirty-six called to give testimony because her wit was too unpredictable, too non-conformist – and too enjoyable: ‘In my opinion, the only person who will find the book obscene is the person who is looking for obscenity – the psychopath, the gentleman of inelegant leisure who haunt the medical sections of bookshops.’


Michael Rubinstein, who was possessed of a wonderful wit himself, nevertheless felt obliged to put two lines through each page of her statement.  At the top he wrote, ‘Not to be called’.  Yet, there in the temperature-controlled, hushed basement of Bristol’s Special Collections, I couldn’t help but give a silent cheer for Christina Foyle, for her wickedly good phrasing – and for being on the right side of history.


Alison Macleod

Alison MacLeod is the author of three novels - The Changeling, The Wave Theory of Angels and Unexploded, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013 - and two story collections. She is the joint winner of the Eccles British Library Writer's Award 2016 and was a finalist for the 2017 Governor General's Award. She was Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester until 2018, when she became Visiting Professor to write full-time. She lives in Brighton.

Author Photo © Kate MacLeod




London Clay by Tom Chivers
9th September 2021

What secrets lie beneath a city?
London Clay by Tom Chivers

London Clay by Tom Chivers

London Clay by Tom Chivers is an exploration of the stories that make a city. Written in rich and vivid prose, Chivers leads us on a journey to find the source of his memories, and to discover lost rivers, secret woodlands, the marshes and islands long buried beneath the city he loves. From Roman ruins to a submerged playhouse, from an abandoned Tube station to underground rivers, Chivers leads us on a journey into the depths of the city he loves.

Especially for Foyles, Chivers has selected a an extract to share, and has written an introduction giving extra depth to the piece and his fascinating book. 


I have been exploring the alleyways and edgelands of London since my early teens, when I would take the train up from Herne Hill every weekend to explore the Square Mile or Bankside or the West End on my skateboard. Later, it was London’s ‘lost rivers’ that fired my imagination - former tributaries of the Thames that are now bricked over or contained in Joseph Bazalgette’s vast network of subterranean sewers. In my book London Clay the streams become memory lines, reaching back through the history of the city and through my own past too. Effra. Walbrook. Tyburn. Fleet. Together with the vanished islands and hidden woodlands, these phantom channels have profoundly changed the way I think about the urban landscape, opening my eyes to new ways of thinking about this flawed, complex and beautiful city.

In the chapter from which this excerpt is taken, I follow the elusive river Neckinger from its source in Lambeth Marsh, near Waterloo Station, before tracking its course above ground to the Elephant and Castle. Here I discover a startling geological anomaly - the first of three mysterious ‘drift hollows’ hidden beneath the streets of the capital. Where it passed the Lock Hospital for Lepers on the Old Kent Road, the river was known as the Lock Stream; the unusual name, Neckinger, derives from the gallows - or ‘Devil’s neckerchief - which stood at its mouth. You can still visit the spot, or somewhere near it, by walking east along Tooley Street from Tower Bridge. St Saviour’s Dock is the only visible remains of the Neckinger; it was dug out by the Cluniac brothers of Bermondsey Abbey in the thirteenth century. You can peer into the murky depths from the junction of Tooley Street with Jamaica Road, or cross its entrance on a spindly bridge on the Thames Path. What can you spot, submerged in the mudflats?




A family of mallards is dabbling in the thick yellow silt of St Saviour’s Dock. I stand on a concrete parapet and look over the edge. It’s low tide and the Thames has drawn back its grey- green mantle, retreating more than 300 metres to the main channel, where it laps against mudflats. Surface water pours from a drain set into the embankment beneath me and forms a silver rivulet working its way through the black sediment at the head of the dock. Traffic cones appear, half- submerged, like ancient stelae. Driftwood, road signs, a plastic fork. Someone is watching from a window in one of the tall, converted warehouses that line the waterway – an architect, perhaps, in black- rimmed spectacles.

St Saviours Dock

The mouth of the Neckinger was first dug out by hand to form a dock nine hundred years ago by the monks of Bermondsey, when the stream was still navigable as far as the Abbey, but its character today is distinctively Victorian. A toxic atmosphere seems to rise from the slime of the dock bed, creeping up the tide- stained embankment walls like a fever. I follow Mill Street along the back of the warehouses towards the mouth of the dock. Two women in pencil skirts are sharing a single damp cigarette outside a recruitment agency. The warehouses are adorned with conspicuous signage: Shuters Wharf, St George’s and Scott’s Sufferance; Vogan’s Mill and New Concordia; Butler’s, Reed’s and China Wharf. Fresh paint jobs for a vanished industry.

The final vestige of the Neckinger meets the Thames in a shallow gully wandering through the mudflats. The water is the colour and consistency of potter’s slip; a slurry of claggy, oyster- grey fluid in which a set of faux-rattan garden chairs has found itself upturned and dumped. The intertidal zone is ambiguous territory, neither river nor solid ground – a suitable conclusion to a stream whose very existence is in doubt. I spot a shopping trolley, almost entirely submerged; a bottle of fizz and a circular blade; scaffolding poles and a child’s grey sock. A modern footbridge spans the entrance of the dock and its steel struts remind me of the delicate latticework of a biplane. As I stand there, above the mud that is pockmarked, here and there, with little pools of standing water, I imagine, at that moment, being pulled underneath, as if in quicksand – first a foot, then up to the knee, then the other foot, and an arm, sinking ever deeper the harder I struggle, screaming voiceless cries, until my toes hit the bottom and I’m up to my neck like Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days. ‘Oh no doubt you are dead, like the others, no doubt you have died, or gone away and left me, like the others, it doesn’t matter, you are there.’

‘Form is a straitjacket,’ said the poet Paul Muldoon, ‘in the way that a straitjacket was a straitjacket for Houdini.’ I am starting to think of the lost river as a magic an illusion, and of the Neckinger as the greatest escape artist, mercurial thing. Before the Great Fire, the Neckinger had not drained into St Saviour’s Dock at all but, instead, filled a large mill pond running parallel to the east. Then, by the construction of various tidal ditches, the pond was later formalized into a kind of moat, enclosing an area of notorious slum housing known as Jacob’s Island. When the social reformer Henry Mayhew visited in 1849, he dubbed it ‘pest island’:

"The running brook is changed into a tidal sewer, in whose putrid filth staves [planks] are laid to season; and where the ancient summerhouses stood, nothing but hovels, sties, and muck- heaps are now to be seen."

It is here, on Jacob’s Island, that my journey, and the history of the lost river, concludes. And so I double back along Mill Street, where a figure in an oversized parka is carrying a tray of cupcakes in a Tupperware box. The figure buzzes into a gated apartment complex where once stood the ‘crazy wooden galleries’, ‘dirt- besmeared walls’ and ‘decaying foundations’ described by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist. In an open plan office, a bearded man is tapping at a laptop below a giant display of the company’s brand values: Teamwork, Innovation, Authenticity. ‘The air,’ said Mayhew, ‘has literally the smell of a graveyard, and a feeling of nausea and heaviness comes over any one unaccustomed to imbibe the musty atmosphere.’ Mayhew was not the only observer to identify Jacob’s Island, and its polluted waterways, as a breeding ground for disease. The physician John Snow traced the source of the cholera epidemic of 1853– 54 to a sailor living near by, in Marine Street.

I am walking the line of Folly Ditch along Wolseley Street, between handsome apartment blocks and terraced houses. It is here that Dickens staged the grand finale of Oliver Twist. The murderer Bill Sikes, chased from his hideout to the rooftops of the island, forms a long rope into a noose by which he intends to rappel into the ditch and evade his pursuers; but then, suddenly startled by a vision of his dead lover’s eyes, he loses his balance and falls to his death, killed by his own means of escape.

"The noose was on his neck. It ran up with his weight, tight as a bowstring, and swift as the arrow it speeds. He fell for five- and- thirty feet. There was a sudden jerk, a terrific convulsion of the limbs; and there he hung, with the open knife clenched in his stiffening hand."

Surely the location and method of Sikes’s demise were not coincidental; for it was here, on the north side of Folly Ditch, that the gallows once stood that gave the Neckinger its name. It is marked on a map of 1740 as ‘Devol’s Neckenger’, an ancient place of execution which was later remembered by a public house, the Dead Tree. Dickens returned to Jacob’s Island fifteen years after the publication of Oliver Twist. Folly Ditch had disappeared, filled in and covered over by the ‘Bermondsey Improvement’. The site of the Dead Tree had been inherited by another inn, the Ship Aground, whose name, he wrote, ‘is wonderfully appropriate, for everything seems to have got aground there – never to be got off any more until the whole globe is stopped in its rolling and shivered’.

The rain has stopped by the time I find the pub, tucked between Dockhead Fire Station and Farthing Alley. Four tiny England flags are quivering in the wind. A satellite dish and a CCTV camera are fixed to the wall below a row of wooden shutters and the ship aground in golden lettering. In the windows, a dim light is burning. Posters advertise live sport on TV – Champions League, FA Cup, Six Nations rugby. Happy days: I’ll stop for a pint, another stormy blow- in, then walk the Thames Path home to Rotherhithe. I reach out and grip the door handle. Then something tells me to stop. I turn to face the street. Four long, black vehicles are moving slowly, silently past, on the line of Folly Ditch. A funeral cortège. The floral tribute reads, SISTER.


Tom Chivers

Tom Chivers is a writer, publisher and arts producer. He was born in 1983 in south London. He has released two pamphlets and two collections of poetry, the latest being Dark Islands (Test Centre, 2015). His poems have been anthologized in Dear World & Everything In It and London: A History in Verse. He was shortlisted for the Michael Marks and Edwin Morgan Poetry Awards and received an Eric Gregory Award in 2011. Tom has made perambulatory, site-specific and audio work for organisations including LIFT, Cape Farewell, Humber Mouth and Southbank Centre. He was writer in residence at Bishopsgate Institute and associate artist of the National Centre of Writing. In 2009 he presented a documentary for BBC Radio 4 about the poet Barry MacSweeney. In 2011 an animated film of his poem 'The Event' was broadcast by Channel 4's Random Acts. He lives in Rotherhithe with his wife and daughters.


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