About the painter:
Peter Dodd is a native of Alnwick, Northumberland. In addition to his monumental painting of the Famous Writers' Gallery in Barter Books (Alnwick), which consists of 33 life-size figures, Peter has worked on many television productions. These include animated versions of Raymond Briggs's 'The Bear' (shown every Christmas on CH4) and 'The Canterbury Tales - the Squire's Tale' shown on BBC2. (Another film, 'Famous Fred', was the Oscar nominee for Best Animated Short Film for 1996.) He is currently at work on several projects, including his own 10-minute animated version of Aeschylus' 'Prometheus Bound' sponsored by Northern Arts.
About the painting:
The mural consists of thirty-three life-size figures set within a huge triangular space - each figure a convincing portrait of a famous writer - is a stunning achievement and must surely rank as one of the finest such murals in Britain. My part in the mural was simply choosing the writers to be portrayed and I thought you might be interested in reading about those choices.
Just for starters, how often I've heard onlookers, however appreciative, exclaim: "But they're not the writers I would have chosen!" And I can only say that I do understand. They're not all the writers I would have chosen either - and I chose them! But let me go back to the beginning.
One summer day in 1999, I, too, looked up at that huge triangular space (bare, back then) and thought: "What a canvas!" With the theme of an upstairs balcony peopled by famous writers surely a natural subject for our bookshop. Best and luckiest of all, I had been working with Peter Dodd - a talented local artist who I felt confident would be up to the task.
The project was agreed and jobs were assigned. My husband Stuart's job would be to sort out the scaffolding. My job would be the research. Jim Telford, the sign writer, would do all the lettering. John Dodd, Peter's father, would help Peter. And last, and most important, Peter would paint it. All 40' x 17' of it. A job he began on September 17th, 1999 and finished almost exactly two years later - the scaffolding finally coming down on October 8th, 2001, with all of us there truly thrilled to see the newly christened 'Writers' Gallery' complete for the first time, champagne all around!
But back to the subject: choosing the writers. I thought that part of my job would be fun. (Right.) Easy, too. (Wrong.) Having to narrow down an overwhelming number of candidates, I finally decided to limit the choice to English-language fiction writers from 1800 on. From that point, the problem was to juggle personal preference, importance, and (a special plea from the artist) easily identifiable faces - criteria that rarely comfortably overlapped. With the result that many writers, originally high on my list, eventually lost out, while others, less high, won. But long sighs and not too terribly many compromises later, I got there.
This is the list of writers I came up with. If you're at all interested in why I chose a particular writer, please click on the image of the writer in question on the mural panel.
Charlotte Brontë, Toni
Morrison, Salman Rushdie , Angela Carter, Jane Austen, George
Eliot, Virginia Woolf, W. B. Yeats, William Faulkner, Samuel
Beckett, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Mark
Twain, T S Eliot, Robert Louis Stevenson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Emily
Dickinson, Ted Hughes, John Keats, Wilfred Owen, Alan Bennett, George
Bernard Shaw, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, James
Joyce, Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare , Doris Lessing, Charles
Dickens, Edward Lear
And that's my list. One which left me all too painfully aware of the many great writers left out. This is a loss which I have tried to compensate for by having as many of their names as possible commemorated along the lower railing. In this way, the writers up on the gallery are seen to stand or lean (literally and figuratively) on the work of their great predecessors - or else inspire those to come.
"Well, all right", you might say (even if they're still not the writers you would have chosen), "but you have nonetheless left out of your account the two most inexplicable mural choices of all - Spike Milligan and Scarecrow. Please explain yourself!".
Oh dear. You noticed. Ah well, the story here is that I had meant the Writers' Gallery to be the first of a three-mural sequence, the second mural, behind this one, The Children's Mural (Alice, Brer Rabbit, the Selfish Giant, et al). With Scarecrow (a direct lead-in) peeking in to see where Toad, Ratty, Mole, and Badger have gone to. (In fact, Scarecrow is thrilled to discover this other Oz - people with brains, and such brains, too!) Spike is there because, well, he seemed a kind of natural link between adults and children. Then the third mural (far end) would be Characters from World Literature (Robinson Crusoe, Scheherazade, et al). So, what happened? We didn't know how long one mural would take, let alone three - that's what! ("Six weeks!" said Peter; "Two months!", corrected Stuart.) And it took two years. Too long for two more murals. Too long for Peter's career. And too long, alas, for our budget!.
Well, maybe someday someone else will take up the torch and finish the cycle. I hope so. I still think it would be wonderful. And I have my list of characters at the ready, you can bet. (Perhaps, this time, exactly the ones you would have chosen!) On the other hand, if it does happen, I wouldn't envy the artist - up against a master.
WRITERS' NAMES ON THE
I can't begin to thank all those who offered help either in ideas or encouragement (very much including the staff of Barter Books) but among them are: Jane Carroll, Joe Carson, Tad Deans, David Dickinson, Gwyn & Shelby Foote, Bill Gebauer, Richard Grande, Barry & Sheila Hirst, David Hutchings, Julian & Annabel Johnston, Herb & Nell Levy, John & Barbara McNaught, Charles Moore, Susan Palmer, and Simon Smith.
I should also like to acknowledge the help of all at Tagish Ltd in setting up this site
Finally, my best and biggest thanks of all: to Stuart. Who supported me in this, as in all else.
-- Mary Manley