Interviewed by Mike, added on 03/12/2007
Badger & a Pickled Partridge with John Andrews
I am not really sure how I came to be standing on the corner of Great Marlborough Street, waiting to meet John Andrews, but here I was. My task was to interview him. So, firstly all the dilemmas; do I go for a formal approach, an informal approach, try & provoke him for some good material. But then how do you define ‘good material’? It turned out I needn’t have done any preparation at all. His natural energy expressing his views on matters just kept rolling along, all I had to do was listen, then hold in my head until later. So, it turned out as a long chat over a couple of pints & a curry; perfect.
This morning, the following morning, before I try to capture last night’s discussion, both in detail & spirit, I spend a little time reflecting. I ring Sally & tell her I felt quite privileged to be at the listening end of the discussion. I felt good, really good. I woke up, even with a muzzy head, feeling positive from the outset. Don’t we just sometimes get fed up with the moaners, groaners & the ‘its all right for you’ fraternity. There’s far too many about too. It is so refreshing to meet a man who not only knows what he wants to do & what direction he wants to take, but to detail it with so much passion. Now I understand why the material he writes, for me, is so absorbing.
OK, so rewind back to last night. John rescues me from the complete early evening mayhem of central London. I was standing at the wrong end of the short street. Initailly I suspect he’s thinking ‘what a plonker’.
“You can not get lost in London, its impossible” he says.
“Every street is named, with an A-Z its impossible to get lost” he backs up.
I am just about to have a John MacEnroe moment. A ‘You cannot be serious!’ moment. I am a country boy & feel totally, completely & absolutely out of place. But with no A-Z under my arm I guess I’m defenceless. Should know better I suppose.
My interviewee seems to slope through the incoming tide of people, I follow behind, lost already. Between the shops there is a pub, a pleasant looking very English pub. We dip inside & things look even better. Proper ale, no loud music blasting out & no blessed TV screens.
At the bar, I see a beer I confess I have never come across previously ‘Pickled Partridge’. So that’s it then, my pint sorted. For John, he orders a pint of Badger. Settled in a quite corner, the story starts unfolding…..
“Initially I wanted to be a journalist, but as it turned out I ended up in the music business and finally at Creation Records, where I worked as their Marketing Manager for five years. In December 1999 Creation Records went bust & the very next day was the start of my writing career. I met up with novelist Henry Sutton. He said write me something down & I’ll tell you if I think you are wasting your time or not. So I did & he said I wasn’t. So I wrote a book.”
It sounds oh so easy, but John follows up by saying that you can spend dedicating two years of your life carrying out such an act. No mean sacrifice.
“I took the book to Natasha Fairweather at AP Watt who was very helpful and instructive but in the end she wanted me to change it and make it more comic, but I wasn’t into that idea as like most writers I wanted the book published as it was. I was then looked after by Victoria Hobbs at AM Heath, who was brilliant – a great agent – she really helped me develop my confidence and ideas. Then when the book was finished she announced she didn’t want to seek a deal for it so I went to another agent – David Smith at Annette Green who sorted me out with my deal at Mainstream & hence the book was published in 2002."
“Where next then?” I ask.
“I started to do some journalism. I wrote for The Field initially, and then Classic Angling, the Idler, Jack Magazine amongst others."
“Any radio programs?” I prod.
“I did some work for the BBC. I was interviewed for Radio 5 & went on to do some short programs for Fish-on-Five with Helen Stiles as producer who was fantastic – very encouraging. Sadly it came to an abrupt end when the BBC made a 20% cut in the Production budget at White City & Fish-on-Five was dropped from the schedule."
Outside the interview I have to intervene here readers. When I am in the UK, I often take a train in the evening/late evening, from Clapham, up through Kensington up towards Eurostar’s North Pole depot. This route goes right past the BBC’s White City office blocks. These are large buildings too, with several floors. So why is it, if our Beeb is short of cash, that this winter, after 18.00hrs, all the lights on every floor are always on but there is not a soul in sight? Just a thought.
“Where are your efforts at the moment John?”
“I write regularly for Classic Angling and Waterlog as you know & the blog with Dexter Petley – ‘Letters From Arcadia’
on the Caught by the River website. Dexter & I have actually been writing to each other, our private correspondence starting back in 2002. We started to put the correspondence on the internet June this year as Letters From Arcadia. This is not written for an audience, this is purely personal correspondence between two writer/anglers”.
John clearly has a great respect for Dexter.
“I think he is a pioneer. He has done what he wanted to do, which could not have been easy. He has his way of life & I think that some people just cannot cope with that. He has created an absolute haven around him.”
I ask him for his views on the current state of angling.
“I’m appalled by a lot of it. We have lost the true spirit of angling. Records, weights & numbers – they’re meaningless. Regarding carp fishing; back in the fifties it must have been so exciting. In between 1979 & 1982 we lost it somewhere, it went all wrong. Suddenly uncatchable carp became easy game for any instant carp angler. No more home made baits, but the boilie. Fishing is about the grey dawns, the golden sunsets, it’s about the purple dusks in winter, its about the beauty, the beauty of everything. The excitement of when the float bobs & will it go under & what will be on the end. Why is it that it is just the minority of anglers who think like this?”
‘So what are your goals when you are writing’, I ask him? John has now become extremely passionate, intense in fact.
“It’s about truth & beauty, recording what really happened & what it really was like. It’s the whole fishing experience. Bernard Venables was a genius in this respect, he wrote about everything involved in day’s angling.”
I ask, ‘Is there a perfect days fishing?’
“No, I don’t think there is. The perfect day is always the next one. There is so much to consider, the environment you’re in, perhaps the company, perhaps you are on your own, the dawn & the dusk, there are the moods, the atmosphere, the fish & the wildlife. It is about unlocking the door & going through, leaving everything else behind, entering another magic room. You pack up at the end of your fishing, go for a pint & pay your respects. Then you come back through that door again”.
I ask about his stall.
“I started dealing at first in cane rods about five years ago now, selling off my small collection to pay for time to write. I dealt at Camden Passage Market in Islington and then three years ago opened the pitch at the Thursday Antiques Market in Spitalfields where I have been ever since.”
Lastly we head for the curry house. As I was pre-warned, the Pickled Partridge is quietly very strong. My eyes are a little fuzzy. You know, when you keep blinking to try & refocus. John tells me about a career as a writer; how it can be solitary, sometimes selfish even, not often financially forthcoming, long hours, big sacrifices. But every now & again, there is absolute classic work. Work you do yourself, or what you discover of others. These are worth it. If you love books, these are worth it.
Street wise John & his lovely wife Deborah quickly & comfortably vanish into the underground, heading home. Me, I’m left on the escalator taking a different route. Oh no, here we go into the abyss again.
John’s Book 'For All Those Left Behind' is available here
Mike and all at PurePiscator would like to thank John for giving his time for this interview.