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Fading Down the River

Have you ever judged a book by its cover? I did once, a long time ago, and it was one of the better decisions in life. Many years later, it led to Fading Down the River, the latest production by myself and Chris Bellamy.

Way back in my teens I was indulging one of my passions – browsing in a bookshop. A thick paperback was on display and I was immediately stopped in my tracks by the picture on the cover. Now, I am not a particular fan of the visual arts, but that picture took me in. It was a golden-glowed view over the water. On the right a sinking sun and on the left two boats moving towards the viewer. In front a small steam tug and behind it a huge square-rigged warship from the days of sail. I picked up the book and learned that the painting was The Fighting Temeraire by JMW Turner. My next move was, with that book in hand, towards the payment counter.

That purchase started off two of my minor interests in life: the fighting ships of the age of sail and the writings of Wilkie Collins. The book was The Moonstone and it was first by that author that I read. It was far from the last. I can recommend it, although I don’t think that these days you will be able to find an edition with the Turner painting on the cover. If you are into audio books, the production by Naxos, with several different readers, is an experience to enjoy. If you do want a book with that painting on the cover, I can recommend The Fighting Temeraire by Sam Willis, which tells the story of the ship. It was required reading for Chris and me before pen was put to paper.

As for the painting, I just had to see the original. Some years later, after I had started working in London, I paid a visit to The National Gallery, where it is housed. I walked through the galleries until I found it and then studied it for a long time. Eventually, I left the Gallery without looking at anything else.

After Last Gambit in Lisbon was completed I suggested several ideas to Chris for future projects. Fading Down the River was one of them and another is being worked on as I write. Chris did all the writing. My role was to review the text and make suggestions. I also found our two lead actors: Jasmine Warwick (who had appeared in Last Gambit) and Andrew Rushworth. Finding an actor with a cockney accent in Sheffield was not that easy, but a plea issued on Twitter was forwarded to Andrew by a friend of his.

Chris and I think that this audio drama is quite original. We admit that the plot is not historically accurate, but we took our cue from Turner’s painting, which also isn’t historically accurate.

The recording was an illuminating experience, despite my then persistent cough forcing a couple of retakes. It really is something special to hear the script one knows so well coming to life. Many thanks to both actors. They did a great job. Thanks also to the actors who played the minor roles. They were found by Peter Beeston of Cornucopia Radio, who also did the recording and all that comes after that. He too did a great job, so many thanks to him also.

The only thing left to explain is the title. I comes from a once-popular poem by Sir Henry Newbolt, which Chris has recorded in full. It, along with the actual play, can be found at Cornucopia Radio.

Finally, thanks are due to whoever it was at Penguin who decided to place that painting on the cover of that book. I’ve always wondered what a ship being tugged to the breaker’s yard has to do with the story of an Indian jewel being stolen. Of course, no answer is required.

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