#BlogTour Leaves by John Simmons
@JNSim @UrbaneBooks #LoveBooksTours
by John Simmons
Ophelia Street, 1970. A street like any other, a community that lives and breathes together as people struggle with their commitments and pursue their dreams. It is a world we recognise, a world where class and gender divide, where set roles are acknowledged. But what happens when individuals step outside those roles, when they secretly covet, express desire, pursue ambitions even harm and destroy? An observer in the midst of Ophelia Street watches, writes, imagines, remembers, charting the lives and loves of his neighbours over the course of four seasons. And we see the flimsily disguised underbelly of urban life revealed in all its challenging glory. As the leaves turn from vibrant green to vivid gold, so lives turn and change too, laying bare the truth of the community. Perhaps, ultimately, we all exist on Ophelia Street.
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The right hand side of the street was a shabby row of ten houses which had seen brighter days. Steep steps led up to heavy front doors, behind one of which, in an upstairs flat, I lived for that year. The houses leaned listlessly against one another for support, too old to care about appearances. This row was faced by a pub, three more houses, a shop on the corner of Hamlet Close, a high brick wall; then at the top of the street two grander dwellings sat like mayor and mayoress, although the chains of office had gone a little tawdry. These two houses were detached and identical in structure, but the one on the left had the more imposing air, with its fresh coat of olive green paint and the statue of a black cat which guarded the front gate, peering over the privet. The cat sat at the head of the road, its green eyes fixed straight ahead, staring unblinkingly at every coming and going, monumentally refined, monumentally hostile, monumentally patient. Next door the matching house squatted abandoned, hollow and colourless, like the twin that had been damaged at birth.
The high brick wall between these houses and Hamlet Close was, on closer inspection, the side of a building. The bricks proclaimed spray-painted messages – ‘Arsenal champions’ and ‘Skinheads are great’ – but turning the corner into Hamlet Close, a painted sign, half-obscured by the grime of time, announced another purpose. Like the eyes of a monster peering from its lair: ‘G.A. Fermin & Sons. Manufacturers of Accoutrements and Accessories for Domestic Animals. Established 1886.’
A car comes, an old blue Morris of late 1950s vintage, rounding the corner into Ophelia Street. It drew up outside the shorter row of houses, engine reverberating; like a pebble bouncing on a pond before, with a final plop, settling into the silence. With his briefcase swinging in one hand Keith Russell walked round the front of his car and up the steps of No. 3 where he lived.
Standing at the door, digging in his pocket for a key, he might have been searching for gold. There was an air of frustration and desperation about him, an aggression hardly kept in check. He yelled into the clammy evening.
In other times, other circumstances, this might have seemed usual. Four or five years earlier at university, for example. But this was urban life in the year 1970. The ebullient, optimistic flowering of the previous decade was in regression.
A yell became an intrusion of privacy. Was this a clamouring for entry into houses, or lives? Looking on then, looking back now, I wish I could have been more definite. It might have made me a different, better person, a player not a spectator.
Defiant, he stared down the street at the flutterings of curtains, turning his back on door and doorbell. In any case the bell had been out of action for three months now. He could not be bothered to repair it.
In the street a couple of half-wild dogs scurried about, snarling and snapping at each other. The sodium lamps were changing from red to yellow. A plane droned overhead, with red eyes winking, an eery electronic predator. An unhealthy sallowness washed over all, and in the background a metallic clanging from the factory.
Eventually Keith gained entry to his own house. People streamed out of the factory, and one or two drifted into the pub. Some children were sent out by their mothers to the corner shop to buy forgotten groceries, and raced home through the twilight. Doors were opened, and then closed.
So this was how it was. A neighbourhood did not lightly shed its secrets. Strangers walked the streets. I walked with them.
About the Author
John Simmons is an independent writer and consultant. He runs Writing for design workshops for D&AD and the School of Life as well as Dark Angels workshops. He has written a number of books on the relationship between language and identity, including The Writer’s Trilogy We, me, them & it, The invisible grail and Dark angels. He’s a founder director of 26, the not-for-profit group that champions the cause of better language in business, and has been writer-in-residence for Unilever and Kings Cross tube station. In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of Falmouth in recognition of outstanding contribution to the creative sector. He initiated and participated in the writing of a Dark Angels collective novel Keeping Mum with fifteen writers. It was published by Unbound in 2014. He is on the Campaign Council for Writers Centre Norwich as Norwich becomes the first English City of Literature. John also wrote the compelling novel Leaves, which was published by Urbane in 2015
Spanish Crossings was published in March 2018 and The Good Messenger in September 2018.