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Rupert Thomson

14th September 2022

As Keith Jones and Rupert Thomson settled into their conversation, Rupert surprised the audience by confiding that he’d last come to Ipswich at the invitation of the police. He then went on to say that he was researching Death of a Murderer (2007) at the time. Rupert was such an interesting speaker and constantly surprising. He said that although his twelve novels are diverse in place and setting, they often begin with something traumatic. The Insult (1996), a book listed as one of David Bowie’s favourites, starts with its main character being blinded by a shooting. Rupert said his books are often about something significant that happens to someone and the ways in which they adapt.

Rupert has lived in many different places, including Amsterdam, Rome and Barcelona, the subject of Barcelona Dreaming (2021). He spent six or seven years there, until eventually the financial crash of 2008 meant he couldn’t stay. He wrote in an office in a convent. He said his heart would sing every time he left his house. He walked home over three hills and would look over the city and see ‘half shade, half sunset’. It still feels burnt into his memory. When he had to leave, he had a terrible melancholy, and it felt cruel, as if the world was taking this place away from him. He had a feeling he would write about it, but had no idea what he would write.

Three novella-length stories came to him in 2010. They took him by surprise and although he’s not superstitious or romantic it felt like the city had agreed to tell him the stories.They were bound together by place and time, all set in that ‘golden age’ before the crash. But although it looks sunlit, he said there is a sense of foreboding. No good time will ever last. There are always shadows coming towards you, and things seem darker when they happen in a bright place. The stories are linked, so the narrator of one story is a character in another. Each story is about an unlikely couple.

Rupert has a new book coming out in 2023, which he said, smiling, he’d hoped to call How to Make a Bomb, but this is being checked out by his publishers’ lawyers. His next book will be partly set in Italy. He’s going to his brother’s palazzo to write, and has had his choice of its many rooms. He unknowingly chose a room where once a disgraced youngest sister of the family who lived there was incarcerated. Her name has sadly been erased – even from the family tomb. Absence is going to be important to this new book. Rupert spoke movingly of how he is hoping, through his writing, to find his mother who died suddenly when he was eight. His memoir, This Party’s Got to Stop (2010), circles her death, and he has realised that although he can remember white polka dots on a pink dress, he cannot remember her being inside it. I hope this time he can come closer to retrieving his memories.

Every book is a journey of discovery for Rupert Thomson. He describes himself as a writer who likes to write into the unknown, and quotes W. H. Auden who said, ‘You don’t know what you know until you write it’. I very much look forward to reading the book which results from Rupert’s next journey.

Tricia Gilbey


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