There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh.
The Royal Society of Literature, in partnership with Peninsula Press, have commissioned three writers to respond to the combined might, maps and meaning of two distinctively London-based novels: Mrs. Dalloway by Viriginia Woolf and Love, Leda by Mark Hyatt.
Three writers – Ashleigh Nugent, Oluwaseun Olayiwola and Tice Cin — received copies of Mrs. Dalloway and Love, Leda, as well as a map created by artist Ian Giles: A Guide to Leda’s London. They were tasked with creating responses which nodded to both books – their points of connections and divergence – whilst creating something new, further populating and complicating, not to mention enriching, London’s literary landscape. Creating every moment afresh.
Both novels take us on journeys around the capital, with locations such as Hyde Park and Oxford Street popping up in each. Both employ a stream of consciousness narrative, even while slipping in and out of consciousness. Both novels are named for their protagonists, both present us with class structures, both look at different kinds of love. Whereas Virginia Woolf is one of the most famous writers of the last century, Mark Hyatt’s modest renown as a poet has faded in the years since his death in 1972, and the manuscript for Love, Leda was only discovered in 2019 by Luke Roberts and Sam Ladkin, after they made contact with Mark’s friend Lucy O’Shea, and published beautifully by Peninsula Press soon after. Written around 1965, Love, Leda pre-dates the Sexual Offences Act of 1967. It is a portrait of a lost Soho, as well as an important document of queer, working-class life, from a voice long overlooked.
The Applebox by Oluwaseun Olayiwola
Some poems like people prefer not to be born. Umber. Fallow.
Taupe. All manner of men, silhouetted, blocking, like
sections of philosophy where the living must continue (must atleast
appear to), blocking the club-light’s only fulfillment
_________________________________________to show us
what we know we are, or, in our slowness, being only able
to capture where light has been, were––varnished wood,
one lightskin guy’s arm around another, showing off
his catch (it’s unclear who’s caught)
____________________________amongst the melanin-black
jealousies that fade in the damp ecstasy of sonorousness––sing
along if you have to; you, who is easier to upset
______________________________________than a box
of apples. The perimeter provides the ideal vantage point
to be danced towards, so the real men stand at the edge
to deconstruct, before touching, what might move them––
and what is it? Is it desire lengthening its vermillion tendons
to the ripping point’s precipice. The currency of glances
passed around like an oneiric drug on its last decadent use.
Sweat: drips of soul leeched through the skin to prove simply,
at times, there’s a soul at all
_______________________to be lost. I lose myself
in the dancing, in the dancing, I lose. I win. Lose. Leave
me that, Life. The right to perish in my own body.
The Inner Circle by Ashleigh Nugent
‘You have reached the Outer Circle,’ says the silly girl’s phone.
‘Here we are Mr Smith,’ says the girl unfastening his seatbelt. ‘You stay here while I get the number for parking.’
She bounces down Cumberland Place to the pay and display.
Septimus glances left and raises his eyes to the huge white façade where white and winged figures parade, still, atop Ionic columns. He remembers, still, the first time he ever saw them; how impressed he was. 1948, he thinks. Lifetimes ago. He remembers how they wore white helmets and bore white shields and grasped at white staffs. They come at him, now, through cataract clouds. And yet, he thinks, it is now that I see them clearly.
‘Pardon?’ says the girl, as she taps at her phone.
‘You have reached the Outer Circle,’ says the phone.
‘Stupid thing! Why won’t it stop?’ she asks no one, then says, ‘What was that, Mr Smith?’
‘I see them now,’ says Septimus.
‘OK, Mr Smith. That’s nice. So, where shall we go? Shall we try this road, here? Oh, look, Mr Smith, it’s called Chester Road. We’ve just driven all the way from Chester.’
I know where we’ve come from, thinks Septimus.
‘Shall we see how far we can walk, then?’ says the girl, hooking his arm to raise him up.
And I know how far I can go, thinks Septimus. Exactly as far as the Inner Circle.
‘Did you say something, Mr Smith?’ says the girl, glancing one at a time at his milky eyes.
Did I? thinks Septimus. ‘The Inner Circle,’ says Septimus. He cranes his neck over the car and points.
‘Oh, that’s nice,’ says the girl. ‘I think we’ll just take a little stroll down this path. Is that OK, Mr Smith?’
‘Mr Smith,’ chuckles Septimus. How many names they have called him in this country on the return journey to ‘Mr Smith.’
A shroud of leaden clouds curtains Regent’s Park.
‘Are you sure you want to go on?’
And now this. Mr Smith. Now that he can pay for this jittery white girl to drive him all the way back to London.
‘The Inner Circle!’ spits Septimus.
‘Oh, wait,’ cries the girl. ‘Slow down Mr Smith, you’ll do yourself an injury.’
Already done, thinks Septimus, oak staff beating back the concrete. But there is no time for that now, he thinks. No more anger.
It has taken an age to get along this one path. ‘Shall we head back now, Mr Smith?’ says the concerned girl. ‘We’ve still got to get back to the car.’
Septimus pushes on, drawing energy from reserves beyond himself, knowing that time is fading.
Three giggling girls in hijabs flirt for their cameras.
A white boy with dreadlocks says something about ‘bruv’ into his phone.
How different it is now; here. How much easier, here, to be giggling girls in hijabs, now; a white boy with dreadlocks, here, now. They could have made a life together, she and him, he thinks. Here. Now.
But not then.
‘What was that, Mr Smith.’
But no more regret.
‘What was that?’
‘The Inner Circle,’ says Septimus, powering on.
‘Are you getting confused again, Mr Smith?’
The white boy with dreadlocks smiles at Septimus as if they are kin.
No, thinks Septimus. No more confusion.
How he used to resent those white boys. Those heavy-stepping white boys.
No time for it now, thinks Septimus as they pass under the golden sun disk of the Jubilee Gates.
But, oh, how he used to hate those surefooted white boys with ties like knives and boots like bricks.
‘Oh look,’ says the giddy girl. ‘This sign says Inner Circle. Is that what you meant Mr Smith? When you said “Inner Circle”?’
But there are no more Teddy Boys now.
‘Oh, isn’t this lovely, Mr Smith?’ She unhooks his arm and trots off to take a photograph of herself with the rose garden.
He is nearly there. He can almost hear the zing and clang of a bicycle chain as it swings and claims its victim. He moves to touch the scar on his face. No time for that now, he thinks. There is still some way to go to reach the bridge, and space is closing in.
‘Dream girl,’ says the girl reading the signs in the rose garden. ‘Pink perfection, this one’s called. Timeless . . . Mr Smith!’ she shrieks.
Septimus is out of the rose garden and lunging forward as she grabs his elbow. ‘The bridge,’ he says, too weak to shrug her off.
‘Are you getting upset again, Mr Smith?’
Septimus staggers forward so his fingertips reach the bridge.
No. No more tears, thinks Septimus as he reaches the place he first heard those other words used to name him. Used to name her, for being with him.
‘Mr Smith!’ shrieks the girl. ‘Someone help!’
The first place he ever felt the thud of a brick boot cracking a rib, the thomp of a heavy-footed heal on his head.
Septimus feels the gravel on his cheek, again, in very place he first realised that he would never have a place here; no matter how many of their books he read, no matter how many of their enemies he shot from the sky.
He would never have a place.
And he would never return.
And not to her.
But now he does.
And now he has.
The leaden curtain opens over Regent’s Park.
The veil falls from Septimus Smith’s eyes.
And there she is.
‘He’s saying something,’ says a voice, a voice that reminds him of something, something sweet, something somewhere else – sorrel and syrup? The white boy with dreadlocks looks up from Septimus and into the face of the distraught girl. ‘Fear no more,’ he frowns up into the face of the frightened, kind and beautiful girl. ‘He’s saying no more fear.’
‘You have reached the Inner Circle,’ says the crying girl’s phone.
Opening | me by Tice Cin
I’m having a picnic with a marrying man who tells me he loves me within 20 minutes, would like
to wife me by the end of the bread and the cheese, kids by the end of the köfte wrap I made
him. I’d actually made the köfte for my friends who are about to find us walking towards them
hand in hand, me embarrassed by my stepping within the wrong moment, each foot saying this
is what I decided, and I decided fast before I could think of another. I spend the picnic
distributing the köfte, love is everywhere and we run in catch. We crawl out of the park and it’s
the copse of green again, the smokers who are selling who are telling me that they know this
man I’m with and they know I stand out, stand out a little too wrong and right. Smokers slip
back. You see lovers playing at love behind trees, I see another life that I traded in out of
impatience. A guarantee of a weekend at the seaside and a waiter who lies to say you suit. I
see a kiss I shivered from, a gut instinct I walloped like shhh darling, I’ve got you. This sacrifice
will be a little beautiful. Thank goodness then that I got myself out the park back to the cabbage
leaves in moonlight, always opening themselves to me. I prefer them. Back to my name and not
the mispronounced, the arched back, the stuttered confusion. No more hex codes for the colour
my nails should be done. No more being kicked out of wood panelled bars where I had to hide
in the toilet, resting in the quiet while he thrashed around outside. They ask me have I fallen
asleep in there or something. I know he is outside too, climbing up and down stairs from the
rooftop panorama – so wobbly – with me apologising while the girl on the bar thinks I stand out
too. Didn’t realise that was what he was doing while he was gone. I never knew that. I never
knew that. I could go back there to DJ one day and they won’t remember me, me playing a set
at The Standard with a booth babe and a free cocktail that I can put down and find he hasn’t
vanished away for himself. No more belling my line to see if I’m back in. I see a girl who left me
a five star review and sexy pictures. I protect a girl from a door closing on her in the green room
and she rewards me with a leotard wine. I put money towards a friend’s cab because it’s safety
first. I see the decks on emergency loop but love the place they chose to call back. I fix up. The
embarrassment is refreshingly different, it’s all on me to change this now. Thank goodness then
that I got myself out of the loop, cued up something special that I was waiting to play for you all.
A song from a session with Nammy and M.I.C. These are the tracks that demarcate a type of
pride that you don’t shy from, I am combining into petals, each fallen to say that I have collected
Oluwaseun Olayiwola is a poet, critic, and choreographer living in London. His poems have been published in the Guardian, The Poetry Review, Oxford Poetry, 14poems and elsewhere. In 2023, he placed second in the Ledbury Poetry Competition. He became a Ledbury Poetry Critic in 2021 and since then his criticism has been published in Telegraph, TLS, the Poetry School, and Magma. Oluwaseun was an inaugural member of the Southbank Poetry Collective. He also has an MFA in Choreography from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. His debut collection is forthcoming from Granta.
Ashleigh Nugent was Liverpool City Region’s Artist of the Year in 2022. He has been published in academic journals, poetry anthologies and magazines. Nugent has written for the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool and Live Theatre, Newcastle. He is now a special advisor at the Shakespeare North Playhouse, a theatre built on the site where he had his first pint aged fourteen, opposite the place he was first locked up by racist police, built on the car park where he was once threatened with an axe. Nugent is also a director at RiseUp CiC, where he uses his own life experience to support prisoners and inspire change.
Tice Cin is an interdisciplinary artist from north London. Tice has acted and performed at venues such as Battersea Arts Centre and the Barbican’s Pit Theatre, and has been commissioned by organisations including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Cartier and Edinburgh International Book Festival. She was named one of Complex magazine’s best music journalists of 2021 and 2022, and has written for places such as DJ Mag and Mixmag. Her debut novel, Keeping the House (And Other Stories, 2021) was named one of the Guardian’s Best Books of 2021, and has been featured in The Scotsman, The New York Times and The Washington Post. A DJ and music producer, Tice is preparing to release an accompanying album for Keeping the House with a host of talented features, including members of her creative house/ collective fwrdmtn*, Latekid, Kemanci and Kareem Parkins-Brown. A filmmaker, she is currently writing and co-directing three short films. With her collective Design Yourself, she explores what it means to be human when technology is changing everything.