Duncan Fallowell

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Duncan Fallowell is an English novelist, travel writer and critic. He was born in London September 26, 1948. His family later moved to Somerset and Essex before settling in Berkshire. While at St Paul's School, London, he established a friendship with John Betjeman and, through him, links to literary London. In 1967 he went to Magdalen College, Oxford (B.A., M.A., History) where he was a pupil of Karl Leyser, Hugh Trevor-Roper and Howard Colvin. He was also the focus of an esoteric circle experimenting with LSD. While an undergraduate he became a friend of the trans-sexual April Ashley (whose biography he later wrote) and familiar with the 'Chelsea Set' of Swinging London.

In 1970, at the age of 21, Fallowell was given a pop column in the Spectator. He was subsequently the magazine's film critic and fiction critic. During the 1970s he travelled extensively in Europe, India and the Far East, collaborated on the punk glossies Deluxe and Boulevard, and worked with the avant-garde German group Can. Fallowell is planning a selection of unpublished experimental writing produced during this period, under the title Psychedelic Narratives: 1967-77.

In 1979 he edited a collection of short stories, Drug Tales, and in 1982 published his first book, April Ashley's Odyssey. This was followed by two novels, Satyrday (1986) and The Underbelly (1987). During the 1980s he spent much of his time in the south of France and Sicily, celebrated in the travel book To Noto (1989). His second travel book, One Hot Summer in St Petersburg (1994) was the outcome of an exhilarating but difficult period living in Russia's imperial city, a time when Boris Yeltsin had said to the Russians and to the republics, 'Take as much freedom as you can,' a statement unprecedented in Russian history. Michael Ratcliffe, literary editor of the Observer, in making it his Book of the Year, compared it to Christopher Isherwood's writings on Berlin, and described it as 'an absolute knockout. Brilliant, passionate and very alarming . . . candour of every kind.'

In the March 2008 edition of Prospect magazine, Fallowell admitted to being offered the role of lead singer in Can following the departure of Damo Suzuki in 1973. After a "long dark night of the soul", he decided to turn the invitation down. [1] It was while living in St Petersburg that he wrote the first draft of the libretto for the opera Gormenghast, inspired by Mervyn Peake’s trilogy. With music composed by Irmin Schmidt, this was first staged in 1998 at the Wuppertal Opera (Germany) which had commissioned it. Schmidt was a member of Can and Fallowell had already written the lyrics to two albums of his songs, Musk at Dusk (1987) and Impossible Holidays (1991) This work is also featured in Irmin Schmidt's compilation Villa Wunderbar (2013) and collection Electro Violet (2015).

A third novel, A History of Facelifting (2003), is a rural black comedy. It draws on his experience of the Marches, the border country in Herefordshire and mid-Wales, which Fallowell discovered in 1972 when he first visited Hay-on-Wye at the invitation of Richard Booth. Fallowell has visited the area constantly since then, often staying for long periods in remote cottages. The novel was described by the poet and academic John Fuller as 'a classic of English eccentricity'. A third travel book, Going As Far As I Can (2008), recounted Fallowell's wanderings through New Zealand - it was controversial but widely admired.

Graham Greene did not like his first novel but thought it belonged to the 21st century. William S. Burroughs relished his books and Camille Paglia has described them as ‘mordant, energetic and outrageous’. Jonathan Keates has called Fallowell 'Sebald with laughs,' and Roger Lewis in a recent book dubbed him 'the modern Petronius.'[1][not in citation given] His work is strikingly contemporary for the way it deals with ambivalence and bisexuality.

As a journalist Fallowell identified with the movement known as the New Journalism which advanced a literary form variously taking in reportage, interview, commentary, autobiography, travel, history and criticism. He has only ever worked free-lance. His work has appeared in The Times, The Sunday Times, Observer, Guardian, Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The American Scholar, the Paris Review, Tatler, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, Playboy, Penthouse, Encounter, Tages Anzeiger, The Age, La Repubblica, New Statesman, Vice, and many other publications. He has often contributed to the intellectual monthly Prospect and has had columns in the Spectator, Evening Standard and several online magazines. A collection of interview-profiles, Twentieth Century Characters, was published in 1994.

Fallowell lives in a book-lined flat in London, dreams of acquiring a rural retreat, and escapes regularly to Herefordshire and overseas. He is working on further novels, a memoir of the 1970s, and a new travelogue exploring the classical world and its legacy in modern settings. How To Disappear: A Memoir For Misfits was published in September 2011 in a ground-breaking format by Ditto Press, designed by Nazareno Crea; it was awarded the PEN/Ackerley Prize for memoir in July 2012. Fallowell was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2015.


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