Since Ironopolis was published five years ago, there have been many celebratory moments. The author, Glen James Brown, was not only shortlisted for the 2019 Orwell Prize for Political Fiction but also the 2020 Portico Prize for his debut. Additionally, Glen has enjoyed the rather enviable position of Writer in Residence at Gladstone’s Library. This month, there are further celebrations as we launch a new edition of Ironopolis, complete with an exciting new cover.
Aside from some tremendous career highlights for Glen, Ironopolis also garnered rave reviews.
The Bookseller called Ironopolis ‘An edgy and arresting debut novel.’ Meanwhile, in Wales Arts Review, Michelle Deininger said, ‘To find this level of structural and technical brilliance in a debut novel is rare. To find one that speaks to working-class experience with empathy and, at times, aching authenticity is rarer still. This is an author to watch.’
These are sentiments we certainly agree with and if you have read Ironopolis you will understand why. Those who are familiar with the book will have witnessed the incredible job that Brown has managed, as he effortlessly shifts through various narrators within the novel. Glen cleverly achieved this by weaving the characters together through the legend of the mystical and ageless phantom of the feared Peg Powler, who haunts the nearby river of the Burn Council Estate, which is the setting for Ironopolis. It has to be said that the legend of Peg makes a unique and immensely intriguing thread throughout the story. Glen explains how such a mystical figure came about.
“Peg is a real part of the folklore of the area, and there are references to her going back hundreds of years. Ironopolis started out as a piece of realist fiction but I’ve always struggled to write something set entirely in the real world. So, when I learned about Peg, it just felt right to have the incongruous element of a river witch dipping in and out of the social-realist kitchen sink. But I think she serves a few functions in the book, one of which is totemic. As folklore, Peg represents the concept of social continuation and community—the things under threat as the demise of social housing tears the community apart. Peg is the weird, undead heart of the novel.”
Whilst Peg might be the weird, undead heart of the novel, there are also glorious depictions of the more human characters in Ironopolis.
Glen says, “I always intended each character in the novel to function as the protagonist, even the ones who are only on the page for a moment or two. It has to be like that because everyone plays the lead role in their own lives. I also wanted to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to boil Ironopolis down to a ‘Working-Class Novel’. So, I stayed away from those knackered old tropes or took them apart as best as I could.”
Pic: Glen James Brown, author of Ironopolis.
Since the publication of his debut, Glen continues with his creative excellence and says that he is always writing something.
“I wrote another novel after Ironopolis and have just finished a third. From time to time, I think it’s important to be reminded writing and publishing are two very separate things. So, my advice to anyone reading this would be to get swept up in the work each day—in the joy of creation—regardless of who will ever read it. If you have something like writing (or baking, crocheting, etc) that you love, don’t let it go.”
No doubt Glen's ardent readers will be hoping that another of his works gets published soon, especially since he receives so many encouraging messages.
Glen says, “I will always be grateful to Parthian for sticking their neck out for Ironopolis and supporting it all these years. Publishing the book realised a lifelong dream for me, and it has opened so many doors. I am amazed people are still reading it. I get messages all the time from people saying how much they are enjoying it. It is even being published in French this year! All of this is so strange and humbling to me. But it is that old chestnut—once it is out in the world, it is not your book anymore. I am just happy people seem to get what I was going for.”
Pic: The new edition cover of Ironopolis. Out this month.
Something that many writers wish to acquire is the coveted position of Writer in Residence at Gladstone’s Library. Glen was fortunate to achieve this in 2022 and says that it was the most amazing experience of his life.
“All day, every day, for a month, I sat in this hushed cathedral of books and wrote. Then I would wander about in the woods looking for woodpeckers. Everyone was so kind to me, and I got a lot done. The thing I was writing was set in the Middle Ages and concerned with the pre-Reformation church. Gladstone’s is a theological library, so pretty much everything I pulled off the shelves was helpful. For example, my novel contains references to a minor saint—Saint Godric. Even the internet doesn’t have a lot on this guy. But next to my head, one day was a dusty 300-page book on the man. There was a lot of that happening. In a weird way, that library co-wrote the novel I was working on.”
That sounds like a fantastic experience and no doubt Glen will enjoy many more special moments throughout his career. But, apart from the forthcoming new edition of his debut, what could Glen possibly wish for next?
“More than anything, I just want to be a good person to those I love. And to keep writing,” says Glen.
From Glen’s family and friends to his loyal readers, I think everyone will agree that this sounds like a wonderful ambition.
You can order a copy of the new edition of Ironopolis here.