Anthony Clavane interview: The author behind the book Promised Land

HANKERING AFTER THE SOUND OF SILENCE: Anthony Clavane uses ear plugs to keep out the sound of "idiots on mobile phones."
HANKERING AFTER THE SOUND OF SILENCE: Anthony Clavane uses ear plugs to keep out the sound of "idiots on mobile phones."
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Leeds-born author and sports writer Anthony Clavane this week reveals the stage reinvention of his novel, Promised Land, a love letter to his home city and a reminder of our mixed heritage of industry, immigration and, of course, his beloved team, Leeds United.

Rod McPhee found out more about the man behind the book and his obsession with what makes a Loiner a Loiner.

“My childhood was very happy. I was brought up with my brother Peter by loving parents in north Leeds and I spent all my time watching and playing football, reading books and listening to music. These are still my favourite things to do. Although, when it comes to football, the spirit is willing but the flesh is pathetically weak.

“My first job, before becoming a history teacher, was on the family market stall. It was called ‘Dave’s’ after my grandfather David Saipe. It sold cake decorations and toiletries. I always wanted to sell cake decorations, but the glamorous women – my mum and her sister Hazel – sold them while I stood guard at the dishcloths’ section. My great-grandfather, Solomon Saipe, had set up the stall in Kirkgate Margate at the turn of the twentieth century. According to family legend, it was next to Michael Marks’ trestle table. It could so easily have been Marks and Saipe…

the best thing about Leeds is its distinct Leedsness characterised, I believe, by five things: the people’s warmth, the amazing Victorian architecture, the rich literary heritage, the great fighting spirit and, of course, the football team. I don’t think Leeds gets the credit it deserves for these things. It’s not just the “outside world” who ignore us – we don’t like shouting from the rooftops about our Leedsness. There is a strong Leeds voice in mainstream culture, but often it’s muted or even hidden. My book and the play, Promised Land is really a love letter to Leeds which is inspired by this sense of Leedsness.

“My philosophy on life is simply that life will always be full of contradictions, particularly my own life. I am a Jewish atheist, a socialist Labour Party supporter, a lover of punk who hates loud music, a Leeds chauvinist who lives down south. One day I’ll work out what I really think.

the one thing I couldn’t live without now is my ear plugs. As I have got older I have become increasingly noise-intolerant. I hate things that invade my ear-space, like unnecessary announcements on trains – I really don’t need to know the names of all the staff and every stop on the journey and how to familiarise myself with all the safety requirements, thank you, I just want to read in peace – hissing iPods, muzak in all public places, pub quizzes, self-important idiots on mobile phones. I don’t hate noise per se; there’s no finer sound than Leeds United fans singing Marching on Together – and the play features lots of Leeds United songs as well as ballads, tangos and gospel songs – but whatever happened to good, old-fashioned silence? Am I right or am I right?

the best piece of advice I ever received came from Bob Dylan in his astonishing song It’s Alright, Ma: “Don’t follow leaders, watch your parking meters.”

“The person I would most like to be would be the famous Marxist, Rosa Luxemburg. To say thank you for being so brave, so insightful, so principled – and for showing me the way.

my most embarrassing moment was when I was a reporter on a local newspaper and I had to pose naked for a life-drawing class as part of a “Challenge Clavane” series. Readers would send in suggestions and my editor, possibly a fan of those John Noakes, Challenge Anneka things, used to enjoy humiliating me on a weekly basis.

The last time I cried was watching the brilliant cast of Promised Land sing a song called The Sweat of Strangers. That song, which I wrote with Nick Stimson – and which has been arranged beautifully by Beccy Owen – sums up my feelings about Leeds. They performed it at “flash mobs” at various places like the Merrion Centre, the White Rose Centre and Sainsbury’s in Moortown. To see this passionate and committed 35-strong cast, all from Leeds, all from different backgrounds and cultures, singing about the city and its history – celebrating it as a city built on the sweat of strangers – was very moving. I think we need an anthem for the city and LUFC – it would be great if the kop started singing it.

“The biggest regret of my life was that I wasn’t approached by Don Revie to play for Leeds United. This might have had something to do with the fact that I wasn’t good enough.

Something that might surprise other people about me is that I once went to prison for a week because I handed out leaflets outside the South African Embassy in London calling for Nelson Mandela’s release during the apartheid era.

my first love was Julie Christie in Billy Liar and Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment. My first kiss was at a summer camp in Felixstowe. We talked about Leeds United winning the title – it was 1974 – and then had a big snog on the dance floor to When Will I See You Again?. I never saw her again. My first crush was Susan Shapiro. We used to hold each other’s hand at lunch time. We were both seven at the time.

“A joke? Anything from the Woody Allen film Annie Hall – for example: “I was thrown out of university for cheating on my metaphysics final: I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me.”

* Promised Land opens on Friday and runs until June 30 at The Carriageworks theatre, Millennium Square, Leeds, Tel: 0113 2243801 or visit:

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