The Old Spring (published by Tindal Street Press in2010. The paperback was published in 2011, and the novel was also published that year in Mandarin by the People’s Literature Publishing House of Beijing)
Dawn and Frank wake up one wet November morning in the flat above their pub, the Old Spring. A shortfall in their accounts that threatens their future somehow becomes entwined with Dawn’s grief for her long-dead brother and begins to cast a shadow over her relationship with partner Frank. Meanwhile, their cleaner Darren is haunted by the ghost of a past landlord, loses his other job in a cancer shop, and yearns forlornly after Gemma. The pub’s ‘chaplain’, Father Thomas, tries to rediscover his faith under the sceptical scrutiny of his tormentor, Alan. In the local hospital, pub regular Romesh drifts towards death on his magic carpet, while back in the apparently snug snug, the tattooed man faces a life and death crisis of his own. . .
All my life I’ve loved pubs. My non-fiction is concerned with utopian theories and experiments, and pubs can be seen in the same light – they are communities devised to make people feel happy, though of course they don’t necessarily succeed. Neither do utopian communities, and my guess is that pubs have a higher success rate. All in all I’ve devoted a lot of my life to researching both areas.
You open the pub door, walk in, and there are a set of characters with their own stories to tell you. Exactly the same thing happens when you open a novel. Both pubs and novels are public arenas into which you (customer, writer, reader) bring your own perspective and baggage. What particularly interests me is the way in which all the regulars in a pub have their own tales to tell, but in the end these fold into each other and become the history of the pub itself.
Language, culture, and institutions work in the same way. They are there already; we enter, make our own contribution (which interweaves with those of the past, present and future); sooner or later we leave. For someone like me, without a religious faith, it’s a way of realising some kind of connection with a world larger than oneself, a way in which we can all achieve – not immortality, of course, but at least some kind of afterglow, a temporary persistence beyond the grave.
‘Richard Francis’s richly comic new novel.’ (William Palmer, Independent)
‘Raise a glass for Richard Francis,’ (Tom Sutcliffe, Independent)
‘This is a small classic – a slim book of deep but intimate ambition, a record of the beauty and strangeness of small lives on a small island, where there is more than one kind of profit and loss.’ Maggie Gee, Guardian. Maggie Gee’s review can be read in full at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/31/old-spring-richard-francis-review
‘There is a drought of genuinely funny fiction at the moment; The Old Spring joyfully refreshes the parts other comic novels do not reach.’ (Adrian Turpin, Financial Times)
The Old Spring was chosen as the Best Foreign Novel of 2011 (Weishanhu Award) by the Chinese Association of Foreign Literature and a Chinese edition was published by the People’s Literature Publishing House.