Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium


Book Details



ISBN (Paperback)




Page Extent


Page Size

156 × 218mm

About The Author

Stephen Lycett

Stephen Lycett

I write because it has never occurred to me not to. My father had a small library; I have been an English teacher throughout my working life; and from early childhood have been surrounded by books. I find it impossible not to emulate what I have read. If it is true that we are what we eat, it is equally true that we write what we have read. My reading habits are wide and indiscriminate. I love diaries and letters, fictions of all periods, but nineteenth century ones especially and Trollope in particular. Among historical novelists I admire Rose Tremain, George Macdonald Fraser, Penelope Fitzgerald and, above all, the now-almost-forgotten Zoe Oldenbourg.

I have written a number of plays, a musical (which has been performed) and a film script (which has been filmed). In recent years I have concentrated on fiction and in particular on trying to revive what I call ‘portfolio fiction’ – a form which probably began with the Odyssey –  in which a long narrative emerges out of a series of short ones.  Thus Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium is the story of an excursion to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in which all the excursionists tell tales and in so doing create a panorama of the age as well as a large-scale drama in which they all play a part.

For me writing is as much a tactile activity as an imaginative one. I am unusual among authors in that I write with a pen or, more usually, with a pencil. I like to measure my progress in the number of sharpenings: an average day contains four, a good one six. I love the moment when the pencil gets so short you can no longer hold it. Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium consumed a five-pack of Staedtler HBs. In my current project (see Other Projects) I am nearly at the end of my first pencil.

It is 1851. A group of excursionists sets off from Canterbury to see the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. (Do journeyings between Canterbury and London, London and Canterbury ring any bells? Don’t worry if they don’t. You don’t have to know anything about The Canterbury Tales for Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium to make sense.) During the train journey the organiser, Percy Blackwood, invites them to tell stories which he intends to publish anonymously, for unknown to the others he is in serious debt. From the navvy to the lady’s companion, from the bookbinder to the music hall artiste, they all oblige, their stories forming a panorama of Victorian England and offering glimpses into the lives of their tellers. As organiser of the excursion, Percy Blackwood is able to mingle with passengers in the First, Second and Third Class carriages. The tales he collects on his progress through the train reflect the hopes and fears of his fellow travellers and the extent to which they are all changed, for better or worse, by encountering the engineering miracles displayed in the Crystal Palace. As a clergyman remarks as they wait at a red signal on the way home: ‘We went as pilgrims to marvel at the wonders of the age, but we come home as shoppers.’

The book contains ten illustrations (and a cover) by Talya Baldwin who writes: ‘I am an illustrator, originally from London, now living in West Yorkshire. I love Victorian novels and posters, and also remember studying Chaucer’s General Prologue at school, so Mr Blackwood presented an exciting opportunity to revisit a lot of themes I’m interested in. I especially liked the seance scene with Adjective and Lady Milo. I am currently working on a children’s book of my own, and will shortly be starting a doctoral research project looking at how we can use picture books to teach children about ecology and the natural environment.’