80! - The Booklet of the Russell Hoban Some-Poasyum

Unforgettable yellow paper

Over the years I had read Russell’s novels, had heard his opera collaboration with Harrison Birtwistle, and then asked him to write some stories for BBC radio.

We were not acquainted but he kindly agreed and wrote three crackers in the time permitting between novels. They were enticingly called Telling Stories, The Ghost Horse of Ghengis Khan and Like A Circle In A Spiral. They were under 3000 words long and succeeded in doing what he has always done for his readers and listeners — conjure up strange and illuminating worlds. You can live in these worlds quite thrillingly.

No, we hadn’t met before the commissions. He invited me round to his house in London, to his study which looked like a higgledy-piggledy nerve-centre. He gave me tips about the actors who might read the stories and asked about the ‘precise wordage’ for each. He delivered on time. He delivered on unforgettable yellow paper.

Very Russell Hoban, I have always thought.

Happy birthday to you, sir, with fondest good wishes. 

Duncan Minshull is Senior Producer for Readings on BBC Radio where he selects and records abridged serialisations for Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime and Book of The Week slots. He has published various anthologies and also writes for a number of newspapers and magazines.

Tom, Orpheus and Harry

I have many memories of our collaboration [on The Second Mrs Kong], which I suppose began by my being first introduced to your wonderful novel Riddley Walker and then to your other novels, some of which contain our leading man and hero, Orpheus. What I cherish most are the simple details of our collaboration: You waiting, waiting at the wrong newsstand at Toulouse railway station, and our time together when I was living in France; the yellow notepaper of your texts; Gundula’s cakes at the far end of your work room, with a stack of videos at the back of my chair. Then, Tom Cairns; I think he was more than just a third party in our team. I have missed him a lot since then. In the end, though, it was you who brought together that disparate band of characters — not just Kong, Orpheus, Pearl, et cetera, but Russell, Tom, and Harry. I shall be forever in your debt for all of this. Wishing you a very happy birthday and many happy returns.


Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s works in contemporary music combine modernist aesthetic with mythic power and emotional impact, inspired by contemporary art and the rituals of classical mythology and pre-history. His recent works include Panic, composed for the Last Night of the BBC Proms and The Shadow of Night, commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra. He has received many honours, including a British knighthood in 1988, the Siemens Prize in 1995, and a British Companion of Honour in 2001.


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