Russell Hoban and the Six Stacks

Liz Calder

In 1979, shortly after I joined Jonathan Cape as editorial director, I was dispatched by Tom Maschler, the ebullient chairman, to visit Russell Hoban, who was just delivering his new novel, Riddley Walker. Thrilled at the prospect, I set off for his house. Russell ushered me warmly into his sunny study, where we chatted for a while about Riddley Walker and how it had all come about. As we talked, I noticed, lying on the floor against a wall in neat stacks, five or six piles of paper, each a different colour and ending up with the sun-yellow pile I recognised as the one he had just delivered.

Russell explained that these piles were Riddley’s evolutionary cycle, beginning with (let’s say) the green pile, being the first draft in which the story of the “connection man” in this post-apocalyptic hunter-gathering world is told in normal English. Each of the other coloured piles was a further draft. Proceeding from green to red to blue to pink, with each draft the language is gradually broken down until the final yellow draft, which is told in the strange yet familiar voice of the published version.

I was spellbound by the sight of these colour-coded drafts. I had never seen or heard of anything like it.

Russell beamed.

The sun shone.

Some time after that, by a great stroke of luck on my part, and an inexplicable oversight on Tom Maschler’s part, I became Russell’s publisher at Bloomsbury, and have had the infinite pleasure and privilege of publishing the five novels of his extraordinary late output.

These novels — Angelica’s Grotto, Amaryllis Night and Day, The Bat Tattoo, Her Name Was Lola, Come Dance with Me and the forthcoming Linger Awhile — have been delivered for the most part by Russell himself to Bloomsbury’s offices in Soho Square, by means of the Central Line and a black wheelie bag. And always on the sunniest yellow paper.

Liz Calder was Russell Hoban's publisher at Bloomsbury. Amaryllis Night and Day is dedicated to her.

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