David Peace’s Novel ‘Red or Dead’ About Bill Shankly Now Available In US
It is 5:48 on Tuesday, still the early evening, of May 27th. The day that David Peace’s novel Red or Dead had been released in the United States. People are gathering in the match viewing room at the 11th St Bar, a Liverpool supporters hangout. The edges of the tables are chipped. There is a road marker that reads ‘Cratloe Road’ on the wall above the makeshift stage where David Peace is going to read, and hanging on another the wall is a framed and autographed Liverpool jersey, two Liverpool pennants, and a mirror that reminds us not to forget Hillsborough and the 96. This mirror, engraved with the letters H.J.C. and a torch, puts our face there, reminds us of who the 96 were. They were us.
The place and time are very specific. They have to be, because there is something about the conversation with David Peace needs to be set in a concrete way. Something has to be defined because talking with him is so fluid, so wide and free ranging that it makes transcription impossible. David Peace’s mind, and through it his conversation, throws out angles and arcs that are impossible to define. Conversation is a dandelion head that seeds out in a million directions. In his books, we are drawn in as he painstakingly reassembles a broken mirror until we become ‘us’, and as he unfolds the story, that ‘us’ unfolds as well. We remember who we are and what we could be, either through the grace of God, or with the Devils touch.
His early work, The Red Riding quartet, is described as an occult history of the time and place where he grew up, West Yorkshire. He likes the word occult for its double meaning, ‘occluded’ as well as dark, evil. The rhythm and repetition in these books, he says, ‘grew and grew.’ Now with Red or Dead, it is joined by list and minutiae as he creates the book that flows from a quote by Bill Shankly that ‘football is like a river that goes on and on.’ It is a book in two halves that was originally meant to be just the second half, to be about Shankly in retirement.
His book Damned United, also released in the United States earlier this year, is two narratives in one as well but in a different sense. It is the very intense thread of the 44 days that Brian Clough managed Leeds United and a second narrative that defines the man himself.
When David Peace writes a book, it is through immersion, through the films, music, and novels of a period. And that immersion, he says, can be hard. “It is hard to come out. It gets harder.” With Shankly, as he dove into the past and into the life of the man, he realized that the book he had set out to write needed to be this two books in one. Match reports, he says, became obsessions. “I didn’t write it for Liverpool supporters. They know the history. I wrote it for people outside the club and outside the city.”
He had his children in mind as he wrote this book, what he refers to as his ‘first time writing about a good man.’ Selfless is a word that comes up over and over as he describes Bill Shankly. But there is another ‘S’ word that rises in the book Red or Dead — socialism. It is a word that these days is whispered, as governments and individuals disassociate themselves from it. It is a belief that Shankly embraced and embodied.
Bill Shankly is an arch-typical working man who believes not only in what he does, but in why he does it, in the who, how and what of the game. What David Peace believes is that the ‘when’ is not important. He believes that managers like Bill Shankly and Brian Clough could lead as managers even in our era. The book “Damned United” is management as marriage, something that Mr. Peace sees as common to the greats in the game: Clough and Taylor, Shankly and Paisley, Ferguson and his many ‘wives’. The team then is a family.
The game itself is a bloodline. A Huddersfield Town supporter, Mr. Peace talks about an attachment to a club that moved down from his grandfather, to his father, through him and now even into his own son. Shankly, he says, was the greatest gift that Huddersfield gave soccer.
Conversation ranges across the people Shankly influenced, like Clough and Alex Ferguson, to the current state of the Premier League and the Championship, to life in Tokyo and the sport there.
Mr. Peace gets up to get ready to read from Red or Dead, and when he does, the words flow as he emphasizes a word here, a name there. In this book he lists, he repeats, he inventories. He lists in another sense. He creates the firm footing of a character, then subtly shifts that platform, through the details makes the us the character, takes us to the places that are within ourselves when we silence all the noise around us and listen to the voice inside. I, meaning we, you, us, find ourselves in the narrative of his books if we allow the rhythm to take over, if we allow ourselves that uninhibited moment where we truly look at ourselves in the mirror that he creates.
Editor’s note: Listen to our interview with David Peace from October, 2013 on the launch of the book in the United Kingdom.