Battery’s not included
Author and publisher John King’s latest novel examines the horrors of the meat and dairy industries
13 December, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
WE are surrounded every day by mass terror and mass slaughter of our own making – yet we ignore it. So says novelist John King. And whether we will ever be able to look at animals we share the planet with, and act in a way towards them that shows respect and understanding, are the key philosophical question at the heart of his new novel.
Called Slaughterhouse Prayer, it tackles the idea that if we really understood the way the meat and dairy industries worked, we would demand immediate action.
John, author of nine novels including The Football Factory, is also a publisher. With his colleague Martin Knight he runs London Books – an independent firm that specialises in free thinking, political and alternative literature from across decades.
Irvine Welsh wrote: “One of England’s finest writers, John King, has just written his greatest book. Slaughterhouse Prayer is amazing and totally mental, as well as being passionate and big-hearted. It will blow you away.”
The main protagonist of Slaughterhouse Prayer is Michael Tanner, a man who has been a vegan for much of his life.
“It starts when as a child Micky finds out what is in his pie,” says John. “He discovers that adults are killing and eating animals. It is a shock to him, so he stops eating meat. He believes then that prayers and wishful thinking will help save animals.”
We then follow Tanner as a young man, when he becomes a hunt saboteur.
“He thinks arguments, words and peaceful protests will save animals,” he adds. “But he struggles to turn the other cheek.”
John has been a vegetarian since the early 1980s, and his latest book looks at the way meat is produced. “You know what goes on in a vague way, but I had to really look into the mechanics to write this, really look at how it works,” he says.
“It is horrific. You start to realise certain things. It is all mechanically produced – two cows don’t fall in love in a field – but how do we consider this, if at all?”
In his previous books the use of language is vitally important – how words are manipulated and shaped to mean different things or hide fundamental truths.
“I have always been interested in the use of language and I wanted to see how language can be manipulated in the meat industry. When you look at how it works, you might ask yourself: is artificial insemination actually a form of rape? However, before I have laughed at pieces I write – with Slaughterhouse Prayer, I would find myself crying.”
London Books began by reprinting classic London novels that had often been forgotten or fallen out of print.
“We originally came up with the idea over a few drinks in a pub,” he recalls. “I was often picking up second-hand books. I’d come home through Soho late at night and you’d have these stores where you could pick up some remainder books. I remember buying Night and The City by Gerald Kersh. Then someone lent me a copy of Wide Boys Never Work and The Gilt Kid, by James Curtis.”
Such titles were popular in the 1930s but had fallen out of print – and their authors were part of an important literary movement of the time, that was interrupted by the Second World War.
“We had this idea that there was this rich seam of 1930s novels and I tried some publishers I knew but no one was really interested. Martin was reading them too and we thought: why don’t we do it ourselves?”
The result is a series of books with common themes of working-class life in London during the inter-war period. Some focus on crime and are described as London Noir, others are political, such as May Day, by John Sommerville.
“We did a trilogy by Simon Blumenfield, based on the Jewish East End,” he recalls. “Above all, they are social realism or working-class novels, with some social awareness. Each book is different in their approaches, but they thread together. The idea is to build a library. Most were from the 1930s but we plan to go forward and back from there.”
The books are handsome hardbacks.
“We made decisions at the beginning. The big publishers just knock them out. We thought we would re-set them… we made a rod for our back in way as it is a lot of work. But we thought we’d do them in hardback, with new covers,” adds John.
After researching possible books that would fit the genre, they had to find out which were available to be republished.
“We would try to find a relative of the author,” explains John. “Many are out of copyright but we always track someone down. We have found their children – many now in their 80s – and we have been able to get some more information about the authors .
“A lot of them were really big before the Second World War came along but there is a not a lot of info about them.
“For some reason they are not in the official canon. You have to dig deep and that has been one of the joys – people telling us stories about these characters – and often the authors are more off the wall than the books are.”
• Slaughterhouse Prayer. By John King, London Books, £9.99