In front of a low, old house, opposite St Mary Redcliffe and tall business buildings, there sat a thoughtful effigy of Bristol’s best known literary figure, the boy poet Thomas Chatterton. This figure is hidden whilst the house is being repaired but a plaque still helps identify the location.
Feeling disgruntled and under appreciated in his home town of Bristol, Chatterton left for London in 1770. Finding no luck there either his life came to a sad end by the time he was 24.
Since I have not included poets in this tournament, however, I would have had no need to mention him were it not for Emma Marshall.
Marshall, author in 1890 of Bristol Bells, and of over 200 more stories in her lifetime, liked to base her works around a famous figure and in this case it was Chatterton.
The story is also about Bryda, the beautiful and refined granddaughter of a farmer, who wants to follow the sound of the Bristol bells and leave her house in Dundry. When an old debt needs to be repaid she has no choice but to gain employment as a servant in the same house where Chatterton is apprenticed to a lawyer.
Marshall clearly, and fittingly to the story, outlines what is known of Chatterton’s sad and short life. Bristol Bells is a pleasant and short read with two stories running parallel. It is informative of one of the great literary figures of Bristol as she includes bits and pieces of his life and snippets if his poetry along with biographical information.
Much of the story takes place between Corn Street and Dowry Square with ventures to Hot Wells and St Vincent’s Rocks. There is a villain and a love interest, suspense and intrigue and a delightful introduction to the Bristol of 250 years ago.
Power of expression: 6/10
Bristol content: 11/15
Bristol integration: 9/15
Mike Manson’s Where’s My Money, on the other hand, is a classic in contemporary Bristol fiction and as the cover suggests, it will indeed make you laugh out loud.
Max Redcliffe joins the Ministry of Work at the unemployment office on Union Street after having been on the other side of the counter for quite a while. His colleagues include Lee Woods and Ashley Hill and if you don’t recognise a couple of these names then you’re obviously not a Bristolian.
There is a wicked charm to Redcliffe’s story of his adventures in the unemployment office which while failing to deliver much of a narrative arc does provide lots of entertainment and information about the south west city.
From cider to slavery, tobacco to chocolate, the Downs and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, there is so much Bristol in its pages that this story could not have taken place anywhere else and yet the book does not feel overburdened with facts.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge, hanging by a thread across a vertiginous gorge, is one of the world’s most fabulous bridges, and it goes nowhere. There’s nothing on the other side of the bridge apart from a few big houses and a wood. The bridge is an expensive conceit. And rightly so. This golden gateway frames the Avon Gorge – transforming the landscape of grey cliffs and hornbeam woods into a sublime vision of grandeur.
Set in the 70s, it is funny and consistently Bristolian and manages to cover the decade pretty well too. The only thing that seems to have changed in 40 years is that we now have some great places for coffee. Three in fact. Oh and that the Bristol sound is no longer jazz.