“A yell became an intrusion of privacy. Was this a clamouring for entry into houses…or lives? Looking on then, looking back now, I wish I could have been more definite. It might have made me a different, better person, a player not a spectator.”
Ophelia Street, 1970. A street like any other, a community that lives and breathes together as people struggle with their commitments and pursue their dreams. It is a world we recognise, a world where class and gender divide, where set roles are acknowledged.
But what happens when individuals step outside those roles, when they secretly covet, express desire, pursue ambitions – even harm and destroy? An observer in the midst of Ophelia Street watches, writes, imagines, remembers, charting the lives and loves of his neighbours over the course of four seasons. And we see the flimsily disguised underbelly of urban life revealed in all its challenging glory.
As the leaves turn from vibrant green to vivid gold, so lives turn and change too, laying bare the truth of the community. Perhaps, ultimately, we all exist on Ophelia Street.
What they say about John Simmons and Leaves:
‘John’s writing is both precise and lyrical – and he takes us on a compelling journey with the deceptive skill of a master storyteller.’
Rob Williams, screenwriter
‘John Simmons is a wordsmith. In Leaves he casts a forensic eye on a small corner of north London and on the lives that were lived there. It is a memory novel, an excavation of time, place and people that draws the reader irresistibly into the 1970s world of Ophelia Street. His skill is to make the local feel universal in a novel that resonates far beyond the confines of its setting.’ Gary McKeone, former Literature Director, Arts Council England; Chair, Poetry Archive
‘The phrase ‘a writer’s writer’ is overused but in John Simmons’ case it is spot on: his sentences gleam and compel you to follow them.’ John Mitchinson, co-founder QI and Unbound
‘John Simmons is the best writer you think you haven’t read. In fact he’s one of the architects of the language of our daily lives. With his novel Leaves the secret is now out.’ Caroline McCormick, former Director, PEN International
‘As a writer, John Simmons is a unique hybrid … he commands vocabulary with military precision, yet positions every word with care and diligence. Such a treat.’
Martin Clarkson, Chairman, 26 and Storytellers Ltd
‘Here’s a very good book by a very good writer and his many admirers will learn even more about that dark art – writing – by reading this.’ Stuart Delves, co-founder Dark Angels writing programme
‘John Simmons examines the most ordinary of lives with a surgeon’s eye and a lover’s touch.’ Jamie Jauncey, author The Mapmaker
‘In Leaves John Simmons has given us a nuanced and perceptive life study against the backdrop of a London caught in the changing light of a single year. Simmons’ care for the residents of Ophelia Street is matched by his attention to the weight of his words – a beautifully measured achievement.’ Chris Gribble, Director of WCN and Norwich UNESCO City of Literature
‘Years of experience, wisdom and feeling have gone into this unique story.’ Elise Valmorbida, novelist, The Winding Stick
‘Set in Ophelia Street, a down at heel area of North London, this novel is saturated in the sights and smells of 1970s England, charting an end of epoch story with masterful skill and precision. The story moves seamlessly between the lives and inner workings of several key characters, including chapters from a first person narrator, the pressure building page by page, season by season. The characters are rich, fully rounded and complex, from the inverted snob Keith, clinging to a working class ideal of Ophelia Street, to the self imprisoned Selene Fermin and her enigmatic brother, Gerard Fermin, and the deeply unpleasant Robert, spoilt son and border line sociopath. At the heart of the novel is a bombshell moment that delivers the coup de grâce to their world; a moment that will leave anyone who reads this novel reeling.
John Simmons writes beautifully, almost poetically, his use of simile is at times exquisite. The dialogue sometimes takes a backseat role to the inner monologue where the writing style is stronger. I wanted a more definitive conclusion for what was the key moment for me in the story, so was left wondering and deducing. However, this didn’t detract from a sense of satisfaction at the story’s conclusion. “Leaves” is highly recommended for a reader who wants to visit a time and place long disappeared but brought back to life in a well crafted story.’ – R.J.Dearden, author
“John Simmons’ brilliant books have lent a new dimension and great depth to the topic of brand tone of voice. His understanding of the subject is immense and matched by his willingness to share it.”
Kartik Kompella, Editor The Definitive Book of Branding
John Simmons is an independent writer and consultant. He was a director of Newell and Sorrell from 1984 until the merger with Interbrand in 1997. He headed many large brand programmes with companies as diverse as Waterstone’s, Royal Mail, Air Products and the National Theatre. He established Interbrand’s verbal identity team before he left in 2003. His current clients include Allied Irish Banks, Anthony Gold Solicitors and Marks & Spencer.
John runs “Writing for design” workshops for D&AD and the School of Life. He also runs “Dark Angels” workshops, residential courses in remote retreats, which aim to promote more creative writing for business www.dark-angels.org.uk. He has written a number of books on the relationship between language and identity, including “The Dark Angels Trilogy” – We, me, them & it, The invisible grail and Dark angels. His books helped establish the practice of tone of voice as a vital element of branding.
He’s a founder director of 26, the not-for-profit group that champions the cause of better language in business, and has been writer-in-residence for Unilever and King’s Cross tube station. In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of Falmouth in recognition of ‘outstanding contribution to the creative sector’.
His most recent books are 26 ways of looking at a blackberry, about the creative power of constraints, and Room 121: a masterclass in business writing, co-written with Jamie Jauncey as an exchange over 52 weeks. In June 2011 John’s first work of fiction, The angel of the stories, was published by Dark Angels Press, with illustrations by the artist Anita Klein.
He recently initiated and participated in the writing of a Dark Angels collective novel Keeping Mum with fifteen writers – the novel was published by Unbound in 2014. John is on the Campaign Council for Writers’ Centre Norwich as Norwich becomes the first English City of Literature.Read More
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