The initial inspiration for the novel came to me while my wife and I were on our ‘third honeymoon’, a three-week trip to the US. In Newport, Rhode Island, we came across the street of vast houses built in the early 20th century by some of the then-richest families in America, e.g. the Rockefellers, the Gettys. As you go along the street, each house you come to seems bigger than the last, which is probably the intention, each family trying to outdo the other. And I thought to myself, What if families like these didn’t run just one country’s industrial base but the entire world? It was one of those lightning-flash ideas, and the concept grew and flourished almost instantaneously. By the end of the holiday, I had a rough plot in my head and the main character’s name: Provender Gleed.
Why ‘Provender Gleed’, you ask? Beats me. It just sounded right. It had a nice ring. The forename speaks of mercantilism and bountifulness, and the surname … well, I thought it was a nonexistent word I’d made it up, but apparently it’s a real word, meaning a small spark or ember. Which also suited the character well, he being a young man whose zest for life is kindled like a flame during the course of the story.
Anyway, it so happened that Worldstorm was next on the list of novels to write, so I left Provender Gleed to germinate for a while.
Now, here’s the weird bit. Fast forward a year or so from the above ‘third honeymoon’, and my wife and I are on holiday again, this time in the West Country, Somerset to be precise, with a small baby Monty in tow. I’ve finished writing Worldstorm and I’m planning on taking a breather and trying to get to grips with the whole fatherhood thing. Provender Gleed is still bubbling away nicely on the back burner but I have no intention of beginning work on it because I’m pretty exhausted, what with post-first-draft comedown and general new-parent sleep deprivation.
Then, one day, we decide to go for a trip on the Taunton-to-Minehead steam railway. While waiting to board the train, we get chatting with the station master, one of the volunteers who keep the line going, and then I notice something. Blow me down if the name on the man’s lapel badge isn’t ‘P. Gleed’. Spooky, huh? (Turns out his first name is Peter, but then it was hardly likely to be Provender, was it?) So I take this as a sign from above, an omen, a nudge from the gods of coincidence. The world is telling me I need to start writing the book. That very day, I get to work on the plot. Once we’re back home, I launch myself into actual writing. Four months later I have a first draft done, which is record time for me. I can’t remember when I enjoyed writing a book more. I had a laugh throughout. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation.
Provender Gleed is fun, exuberant, comedic, but also with dark overtones, a serious message, and (I think) credible, humane, in some cases loveable characters. It’s also allowed me to indulge my love of wordplay (cf. Days, Gig). I’m immensely proud of it.
- Provender Gleed [Gollancz hbk, September 2005] – ISBN 978-0575076839
- Provender Gleed [Gollancz tpbk, September 2005] – ISBN 978-0575076846
- Provender Gleed [Gollancz pbk, August 2006] – ISBN 978-0575077768
- “A balls out SF adventure, set in a parallel England with murder, chases and comedy detectives. This is ridiculously exciting stuff. Fast paced and amazingly realized.” Dreamwatch
- “Pick up James Lovegrove’s latest novel and you can rest assured that you are in the safe hands of a master craftsman. There a few things sweeter than reading a writer who’s so absolutely in love with the English language, and Lovegrove is clearly head over heels.” SFX
- “There’s lots of fun to be had in Provender Gleed, The latest novel by James Lovegrove, one of the UK’s most brilliant and versatile genre writers. With its imaginative and beautifully rendered setting, its cast of colourful characters and its delicate construction, reminiscent of all that is traditionally best in those robust and traditional British murder mysteries, Provender Gleed is a real treat for readers. It’s a novel with a unique feel and one in which its hugely talented author balances the comedy and the drama perfectly. Highly recommended.” SFRevu.com
- “We start out with an alternate history that satirizes our addiction to celebrity tat and the growing power of globalized big business by presenting a technologically restrained world and a rather archetypal tale of the troubled heir who’s forced to grow up. But Lovegrove keeps ringing the changes. By a third in, you have no doubt who the ‘blackhearts’ are, and then you’re given an insight that entirely sympathizes them. And after that, the entire novel does a hairpin turn as Lovegrove introduces the two Anagrammatic detectives, and starts to indulge in wordplay that would have The Two Ronnies cheering and groaning in equal measure but which is such fun that you forgive the plot device.” Starburst
- “Lovegrove’s concerns are the same as ever; in a sense, he is SF’s Richard Curtis, forever dedicated to Middle England, forever dedicating his books, whatever their apparent subgenres and speculative impulses, to that contemporary muse. Provender Gleed is a genuinely compelling story, a mixture of cliff-hanging political thriller and semantic farce. It is some of its author’s best work thus far. Provender Gleed is not especially valuable as SF, but its satire strikes vigorously home in the end, and its motivating love story is wonderfully conceived and handled.” Locus
- “This is a book about quiet competence — Provender and Isis, his kidnapper’s accomplice, are one of the more charming couples in recent fiction because they are both too smart and able for simple romance.” Time Out
- “Perhaps the best description of Provender Gleed … is an old-fashioned romp. More often than not used as faint praise, in this case it encompasses both the pacing of the plot, as it skids between kidnap, escape, intrigue and discovery, as well as the book’s overall readability. Not high literature, it remains extremely enjoyable. Here’s hoping this won’t be the last heard of Messrs Gleed and the Anagrammatic Detectives.” Edge
- “James Lovegrove’s new novel wears its costumes and disguises with acuity, mischief and skill. […] What starts off as a contemporary comedy of manners … soon morphs into something more dangerous and nourishing, while all the way through the trademark Lovegrovian quirks are easily and brilliantly visible. […] Provender Gleed shows, if more evidence was required, that James Lovegrove is one of the foremost novelists of his generation. His story-telling skill, and more importantly his knack of wrong-footing the reader, are exemplars.” Interzone
- “My favourite book of the year is Provender Gleed by James Lovegrove. It’s a futuristic satire on the class system, beautifully written. Lovegrove is one of the very best SF writers in the land.” — Bradford Telegraph & Argus
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• Filed under Books • 08/09/2005 •