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Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38
Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for The Bus We Loved?
Travis Elborough: I can remember, dimly, reading somewhere that the Routemasters were going to being phased out. At the time I was doing a lot of research at the British Library and hopping on a number 390 Routemaster to St Pancras each morning from Tufnell Park. Initially, I began by taking photographs of them, simply documenting my daily journeys. But it wasn’t long before I found I’d started digging into their history and my desk at home had become littered with rather battered old Dinky toy Routemasters.
By chance I happened to meet the publisher Ian Jack at a party. Somehow the topic of this iconic London bus came up and from there I managed to wrangle a book contract with Granta.
I wasn’t a transport buff as such and I hadn’t grown up in London. My own affair with the Routemaster, as it were, really only began when I moved to the city about ten years ago. I was working at a bookshop on Islington Green, and I used to catch these buses, these wonderful roll-top baths in Guardsman’s red, everywhere. Their routes shaped my earliest impressions of London as a resident. They helped define my ambit, my city. So I wanted to write a book that would both tell its story and act as a kind of fond farewell to a (then) soon-to-be-absent friend from a grateful passenger.
You can also blame The Who, Madness, Colin MacInnes and Melvyn Hayes, if you like.
MT: How long did it take you to write it?
TE: It took me about a year and involved clocking in untold hours on the capital’s bus network, chatting to drivers, conductors, engineers and spotters, visiting garages, depots and bus rallies, riffling through back issues of Buses Illustrated and Meccano Magazine and spending many a day in the London Transport Museum's excellent library.
MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?
TE: I am perennial scribbler, and am rarely without a biro/pencil and Aldwych notebook to hand, but as far as the real business of writing in concerned… I am afraid it’s a G4 I-book all the way.
MT: What do you do when you are not writing?
TE: Listening to vinyl long-players, film-going, lomo photography, babyfoot, monopoly, backgammon, canasta, and cooking fill the wee spare hours.
I’ve retired from bus spotting.
MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?
TE: Not really, though when I started out I was aware that there was no shortage of books about the Routemaster available, many of which are very good. Most of these, however, it has to be said, are written by bus enthusiasts for bus enthusiasts. Which is fine, and it’s entirely a matter of personal taste but my interests are cultural rather than technical. Cataloguing variations in engine types and fleet numbers etc., etc., isn’t my thing at all. So I set out to do something that looked much more broadly at how this bus fitted into London’s history – how it came into being, why we loved it and what it passing might mean for the city. And, erm, sneak in the odd digressive footnote about Reg Varney, The Double Deckers and Roger Moore era James Bond movies.
I guess, my aim was always to try to create an informative and, hopefully, entertaining read for ‘the general reader’- the man or woman on the Clapham omnibus, I suppose.
MT: What are you working on now?
TE: Another work of narrative non-fiction charting the life, times and adventures of the LP.
MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book (s)?
TE: Singling out one favourite author or book is impossible for me. Off the top of my head… here are a handful (or three) of books that over the years I’ve pressed on unsuspecting lovers, friends, relatives and complete strangers at inopportune moments.
Muriel Spark - Loitering with Intent
Penelope Fitzgerald - Offshore
VS Naipaul - A House for Mr. Biswas
Joseph Mitchell – Joe Gould’s Secret
Saul Bellow – Seize the Day
Evelyn Waugh – A Handful of Dust
Anthony Powell – A Dance to the Music of Time
Richard Holmes – Footsteps
George Orwell – Coming Up for Air
Patrick Hamilton – The Slaves of Solitude
Julian Maclaren-Ross – Memoirs of the Forties
Philip Roth – The Zuckerman Unbound Trilogy
Gavin Lambert – The Slide Area
Geoff Dyer – Out of Sheer Rage
Edgar Lewis Wallant - The Tenants of Moonbloom
Dawn Powell - The Locusts Have No King
Bohumil Hrabal - Closely Observed Trains
Richard Yates – Revolutionary Road
Right, I am stopping now, the list could just go on and on and I haven’t even included anything by Hemingway, Chandler or Capote.
MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?
TE: Read everything by Hemingway, Chandler and Capote. Actually just read as much as you can.
MT: Anything else you would like to say?
TE: Thank you. And try, where possibly, to avoid camping anywhere with an autonomous insect population.
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