Friday, October 14, 2022

Extraordinary Times – Linen Hall Library commit to publishing a chapter a year of Rosemary Jenkinson’s border poll novel for 32 years

Given the political instability in Northern Ireland and the UK, you might well ask when are we not living through ‘extraordinary times’? (I write this as the Tory Chancellor’s plane has just done a U-turn over Surrey as it comes into land at Heathrow … he may well have joined the Former Chancellors WhatsApp group by the time you read this.)

Extraordinary Times is also the title that local author and playwright Rosemary Jenkinson has taken for her new novel set in the fortnight leading up to a future, fictional referendum on Irish unity.

We could be waiting a long time – or maybe not so long, depending on which political tea leaves you read – for an actual border poll to be called. But in the meantime, Jenkinson’s second full-length novel explores how sex interlocking individuals navigate the final throws of campaigning and get caught up in violence to disrupt the poll. And we could be waiting a long time for the final chapter of the story.

In a curious parallel with those who don’t feel that they have a proper home the north-east corner of a partitioned Ireland, Jenkinson finds herself without a home for her full-length novels. The first (A City Like No Other) was going to be printed by Doire Press, but the publisher walked away in the aftermath of Jenkinson’s scathing critique of her writing peers in Fortnight magazine and elsewhere).

Her second novel is going down the Charles Dickens’ route of being published episodically, but, true to form, with a Jenkinson twist. While the finished book is complete, locked and will not be changed, only a single new chapter will be released each year … meaning that the whole story won’t be out until 2054. (In the event of a border poll, the publication of whatever remains of the novel will be brought forward, allowing the real events to be compared with Jenkinson’s 2022 imaginings.)

The Linen Hall Library are taking on the mantle for this novel stunt of slow publishing. The library already hosts Jenkinson’s living archive, including dole letters proving that an author’s lot is not always a well renumerated one. Extraordinary Times is a small part of their digitization project that is properly integrating their digital assets with the library website. Jenkinson says:

“I’ve always chosen posterity over prosperity and am delighted therefore to unleash this living futuristic novel into the world.”

Chapter one has now gone online. In a world with an ever-shrinking attention span, it’s a bold move to eke out a 32-chapter book over such a long time. The characters David and Kyle are introduced in the first installment, so it could be a while before readers are familiar with the whole cast. Let’s hope it’s not a trend that catches on.

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