When I got a job at Edge Hill University in 2004, I had no real idea where it was – no idea that I’d be moving to Liverpool or that the Bluecoat would become so important to my writing life. It turned out that Merseyside was the birthplace of Malcolm Lowry, the author of Under of the Volcano, and that there were plans to celebrate his centenary in 2009. One of my new colleagues, the poet Robert Sheppard, told me there was some one called Bryan Biggs – ‘Mister Biggs’ – behind it all.
Reading Lowry was a turning point for me when I was learning how to write fiction; he taught me how to fracture time and how to structure a narrative as a collage of images and voices. I contributed a story to the book, Malcolm Lowry: From the Mersey to the World, edited by Bryan Biggs and Helen Tookey, in conjunction with the centenary festival and exhibition that took place at the Bluecoat in 2009. And I became one of the gang of ‘Firminists’ gathering at the Lowry Lounge every year, around the time of the Day of the Dead, the single day at the heart of Lowry’s novel.
2014 was another good session, with, amongst other things, the launch of Lowry’s ‘lost’ novel, In Ballast to the White Sea, and a psychogeographical walk round Liverpool led by Colin Dilnot. That year, Robert Sheppard interviewed Iain Sinclair, whose American Smoke invokes Lowry’s spirit in some of the places he knew. The picture of Sinclair and Robert, taken by Tim Power, captures the good humour and comradeship of our gatherings.
There’s so much more I could say about the Bluecoat; a diary entry from a wet December day ‘when you can never get warm, and everything seems bitter and mean, and I’m trudging through emails, getting dull things done and attempting impossible tasks, and the outside world seems uninviting, but still I go to the opening at the Bluecoat and the Kentridge prints are astounding, a world of black and white and shadows and newsprint and silhouettes and there is more.'