The Dancer and the Drum

The easiest way to give you a flavour of what the book contains is to reproduce the synopsis I prepared for agents, in the days when that route to publication seemed possible. Its main character is my great-great-great grandfather Richard Johns, whose eyes stare out from the top of this page. There is also an extract (see right) which samples my approach and writing style.


Chapter 1 describes my father’s death; confronts how little I knew him; then decides to seek the roots of this estrangement in the more distant past.

Chapters 2 begins to trace my reaction to his death; the family’s Cornish origins take in mining, class warfare and standing up to Napoleon; and a last look round comes to an embarrassing but revelatory conclusion.

Chapter 3 relates a dream whose images recur in everything that follows, then explores the family’s move to London around the turn of the 19th Century.

Chapter 4 deals with my breakdown; the area of London where the Johns lived; and the moral implications of writing about family. It is a tale of rush-hour trains, jerry-building and slum life with name checks for Harry Potter, E. M. Forster and Monty Python.

Chapters 5 & 6 watch me fall apart; describe the life and character of Richard Johns (1789-1865); and visit a Georgian theatre. They argue with Dickens and look at printing, politics, street fighting and portraiture, with appearances on stage and at the Old Bailey.

Chapter 7 sees my recovery begin; digresses to George Johns (1787-1855), whose legacy almost ruined Richard; and discovers a mansion thought lost. The subject matter includes art, madness, prostitution and ordeal by Chancery.

Chapter 8 gives a couch-eye view of therapy; focuses on the struggles of James Johns (1817-65); and finds another house full of ghosts. Victorian childhood, railways and amateur soldiering all feature with nods towards Charles Darwin, Edmund Wilson and the art of farce.

Chapter 9 finds an image for my predicament; relates the demise of Richard, James and the family business; and concludes with a grave that has disappeared. Sickness, death and funerals are faced up to but with a moment of whimsy to lighten the mood.

Chapter 10 ends the book on a positive note. Its theme is coincidence, its message redemption, its hero Henry Miller.

A postscript solves the riddle of the title and provides a trailer for volume two.