Research Notes · 12/19/2014


Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their research for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Honor Gavin writes about Midland from Penned in the Margins.



I found it nauseous trying to force more characters into the world. There are enough characters already.

I became fixated on photographs of structures captured in the midst of being built, so that if I looked at the photographs while closing my eyes to time, I couldn’t decide if what I was seeing was construction or destruction. Not being able to decide if something is constructive or destructive and not being able to decide if those words are the right words anyway — that’s definitely a question that staggers a path through Midland.

I wear my city on my sleeve. Midland was a way of clambering back into a proleptically grimy and convoluted heartscape, a heartscape that had a real look of Spaghetti Junction about it. But it’s less informed by any personal experience of mine as it is a kind of archive of feeling as if you are not quite experiencing things, as if this road and this mom and this television set and this totally random rag and bone man are not quite what they present themselves to be — an archive of feeling as if the world has momentarily settled on your knuckles like a noncommittal ladybird.

I was always fascinated by the dashes nineteenth-century novels insert in place of place names. Naming something does not necessarily give what is named reality, and reality is not necessarily that which we already have names for.

On the other hand, I can’t believe I omitted to give SNOBS explicit mention.

Once I happened on the idea of writing from the perspective of the city itself, or rather from the perspective of the city’s central cemetery, I really started rolling. That’s the case even though in the end there’s not all that much that takes place from the city’s perspective, or at least not obviously. It matters that the only two first person narrators in the novel are a city with a sinking heart and a young girl called Rita.

Still can’t get enough of this shorthand shit. I asked my Gran how she learned it, and, palm upturned towards me, she told me how she had stabbed herself with a pencil and still had the mark to prove it. There was no mark on her palm as far as I could see.

For me the opposition is not between truth and fiction, but between truth as you know it and what you dare that truth to do. Not what you dare to do with the truth — what you dare the truth to do.


Honor Gavin was born in Birmingham in 1984 to a radio presenter and a retail assistant. To her three older siblings she owes her love of pop and Back to the Future. After her ambition of playing football for Aston Villa was jilted, she went on to study literature at the University of Oxford, where she also formed a band called How Can You. Architecturally, Hertford College’s Bridge of Sighs had nothing on Birmingham’s concrete skyways, prompting a fierce fondness for her home city that later became obsessive. A writer, musician, and academic, Gavin is a founding member of the collective, has written widely on subjects including Samuel Beckett, Buster Keaton, and Brutalism, and has been a contributor to zines such as The Modernist and All That is Common. After a period in Berlin, she currently teaches literature and film at the University of Sussex, and plays piano and guitar in a band called Textual.