This morning I received my complimentary copy of Oxygen Books’ City Pick St Petersburg, an anthology of writing about St Petersburg. The reason I was sent a free copy was because they have included some passages from my books (one from A Gentle Axe, three from The Cleansing Flames). Until this week I knew nothing about it, as the permissions had been granted by my publisher and no one thought to tell me!
Needless to say, I’m very honoured to be in the book, alongside such writers as Helen Dunmore, Joseph Brodsky, Malcolm Bradbury, J.M. Coetzee, Truman Capote, Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Pushkin and – yes – Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
It’s strange reading the extracts from my books, which seem to have acquired a kind of authority by being included in this anthology. The scenes I describe are totally imaginary. I would even go so far as to say that the city I describe is imaginary too, in the sense that it is my imaginative re-processing of my research into 19th century St Petersburg. I have been to St Petersburg, yes; but I have never been to St Petersburg in 1870, except in the novels of writers like Dostoyevsky. The scenes I describe I only ever saw in my imagination.
Dostoyevsky called St Petersburg the most abstract and premeditated city in the world. The publishers of this book refer to it as a “city of dreams”. Perhaps it’s appropriate that this dream has entered my imagination and my own re-dreaming of it will now go towards forming other peoples’ idea of the city.