Neate, Patrick 1970–
Neate, Patrick 1970–
PERSONAL: Born 1970, in Putney, London, England. Education: Earned a degree at Cambridge University; attended City University, London.
ADDRESSES: Home—Hammersmith, England. Agent—Simon Trewin, PFD, Ltd., Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.
CAREER: Disc jockey and novelist. Worked as a teacher in Zimbabwe; founder of an Internet company; freelance journalist in England. Participant in conference on ethical tourism, 2001.
AWARDS, HONORS: Betty Trask Award, 2001, for Musungo Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko; Whitbread Novel Award, 2001, for Twelve Bar Blues; National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, 2004, for Where You're At: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet.
Musungo Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko, Penguin (London, England), 2000.
Twelve Bar Blues, Penguin (London, England), 2001.
The London Pigeon Wars, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
Where You're At: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2004.
City of Tiny Lights (mystery novel), Viking (New York, NY) 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Washington Post, The Face, Tatler, Fabric Magazine, Quintessentially Magazine, Mixmag, Q, Guardian (London), Harper's Magazine, Sunday Tribune, Standard, Tatler, Time Out, Hospital Doctor, Times (London), Telegraph (London), Sky, and Marie-Claire.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A book on hip-hop for Bloomsbury; a novel for Penguin; a screenplay adaptation of The Tesseract by Alex Garland.
SIDELIGHTS: British journalist and part-time disc jockey Patrick Neate reacted with surprise to the announcement that he had won his country's coveted Whitbread Novel Award for his second novel, Twelve Bar Blues. In fact, he expressed astonishment that he was even considered for the prestigious award, especially with noted British novelist Ian McEwan also in the running. "When you're up against Ian McEwan, someone I've read since university and loved and think is incredibly amazing in a way I never will be, you find it incredibly humbling and embarrassing to have won," Neate admitted to Louise Jury in the online Independent. "I was short-listed with a lot of grown-up writers, and then there's little you. When I found I'd won, I thought it was a bit of a joke."
Born in southwest London in 1970, Neate attended St. Paul's School in Barnes, England, before enrolling at Cambridge University, where he majored in social anthropology. As Neate once explained to CA, he "might have got a first if I hadn't been so put off by the tie-dye hippies with dogs on bits of string" then in vogue in British academia. After graduating from university, finding his degree opened no doors to employment, he decided to spend some time teaching in Africa. He spent a year teaching at a small school in Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe, which made a lasting impression on him. Neate would later participate in a national conference on ethical travel in which he discussed being a wealthy westerner in an impoverished country, as a way of helping tourists and other young teachers appreciate and respect cultural and economic differences. Upon returning from Africa, he took a journalism course at City University, London, then set up a dot.com company, made some money, and left the business. Following this foray into the business world, Neate focused on writing about black musical forms such as jazz and hip-hop as a freelance journalist. Working as a part-time disc jockey, Neate also began writing fiction.
Neate published his first novel, Musungo Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko, in 2000. The story features Jim Tulloh, an English teacher in Zambawi, a fictional small postcolonial republic in sub-Saharan Africa. In the midst of the political unrest that is often typical in such African republics, Tulloh becomes involved in a military coup and, through a series of comic convolutions, ends up leading the revolution. Several critics noted the similarity between the fictitious "Zambawi" and the country of Zimbabwe, and found Musungo Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko a political satire of a corrupt postcolonial government.
While his first novel received relatively little attention in the British press, with his second novel, Twelve Bar Blues, Neate suddenly found himself the talk of the literary world. In the Daily Telegraph, Helen Brown commented: "If I could choose one current British writer to tell tall tales around my fantasy campfire, it would be Patrick Neate." Twelve Bar Blues, while not a sequel to Musungo Jim, does include some of the same characters. The story opens in 1790 in Africa, beginning with a "brief tale of music and betrayal," according to Brown. The novel fast-forwards to the Louisiana Bayou of 1899, offering the life story of Fortis "Lick" Holden, history's forgotten man of jazz. Lick is searching for his stepsister in turn-of-the-twentieth-century New Orleans, and eventually Jim Tulloh—the protagonist of Neate's first novel—appears. Jim forms a casual friendship with Sylvia diNapoli, a retired prostitute, while his plane is departing Heathrow for a flight to New York City. James Urquhart, in his review for the Independent, noted that, "by JFK, they are tentative friends," and quoted from the novel: "'What an odd couple they must make,' Sylvia muses as Jim eagerly presses his nose to the Manhattan skyline streaming past the cab's window: 'a pasty-faced kid and a knackered old whore.'" Chief Tongo, another character from Musungo Jim returns as well. "Neate's laconic humor bridges the tongue-in-cheek ribaldry of Tongo's post-colonial chiefdom and the steamy jazz vernacular of Louisiana honky-tonks," commented Urquhart, adding that "thorough research and Neate's delicious dialogue fuse into a compelling genealogy, mostly of jazz musicians and prostitutes, all seeking their destinies."
In The London Pigeon Wars, a bored group of thirty-something London urbanites is reinvigorated after the return of their old friend, Murray, a charming con man and philanderer. His group includes Tom Dare, whom he met at Mass one Sunday; Tom's girlfriend, Karen, who works in the mayor's office; and Tariq Khan and wife Emma, owners of a computer-software firm. As the Khans' business begins to flounder, Murray steps up to organize a plan to keep them from losing their home. Murray's schemes in the past usually led to little more than entertainment, but his new idea is grimly serious, very illegal, and potentially deadly. Still, his charm and persistence sway the others. As Murray puts his plan into operation, the city becomes plagued by a peculiar phenomenon: flocks of killer pigeons sweep through the skies, fighting each other over apparent territorial rights, and routinely swooping down on the helpless human population. No one knows what motivates the birds, but in the end, Murray is involved. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "amusing, and just credible enough to be read straight" without making fantasy or horror-genre allowances for the inexplicable behavior of the birds. "Neate casts his satirical eye on a bleak urban landscape where the search for identity haunts both the earth-bound and the winged," observed Booklist reviewer Allison Block.
Where You're At: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet explores the international influence of hip-hop and how it has become infused in modern musical styles worldwide. Neate chronicles an international trip he took to places around the world where hip-hop music thrives and flourishes, sometimes evolving to suit the local culture. In New York, Japan, South Africa, and Brazil, he notes how hip-hop remains "a powerful voice of protest against the status quo," com-mented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, and how it is critical for hip-hop artists to regain control of their music from the big media and record companies. For Neate, hip-hop represents a different type of globalism, one in which various cultures across the world create their own individual processes. "Black America is assimilated by different cultures on many different continents," commented Booklist critic Carlos Orellana. Neate "displays a sympathy and sensitivity to the musical genre many American critics would be hard-pressed to match," the Publishers Weekly contributor noted. Orellana called the book "a persuasive examination of the worldwide hip-hop phenomenon."
In City of Tiny Lights, Tommy Akhtar is a private investigator in London whose ethnicity is Pakistani, Ugandan, Indian, and British. Many of his clients and cases also involve people who are racially and culturally diverse. Tommy is a rough sort, an amphetamine user and heavy drinker, depressed and using drugs to try to forget his mother's premature death. Early one morning, a black woman, Melody, arrives at Tommy's office. Melody—who says she saw Tommy's ad in the Yellow Pages—is there to hire him to find her missing roommate, a Russian woman named Natasha, who disappeared after a date with a member of parliament who was later found with his skull bashed in. Tommy locates Natasha with little difficulty, but realizes that Melody has not been completely honest with him. Though he is warned off the case, and a vigorous beating by thugs punctuates that warning, Tommy continues, intent on finding out what happened. Eventually his path crosses that of a megalomaniac Saudi Arabian, Azmat al-Dubayan, who plans a series of devastating suicide bombings across London. Tommy's priorities shift as he works to stop al-Dubayan's plans. In the structure of the story, Neate gives each character a distinctive voice, reserving one "like an English version of Raymond Chandler" for Tommy, commented Alaistair Sooke in New Statesman. Because Tommy is a "hard-boiled private dick who hangs out with sleazy lowlife and busty hustlers," his characterization both pays homage to and carries on the tradition of such genre icons as Raymond Chandler. However, Sook observed that Tommy's basic characterization "is constructed from second-hand, faux-American idioms" rather than English traits and mannerisms. Despite this caveat, Sook concluded that the novel is a "diverting thriller."
Neate was quoted on the BBC News Web site: "A good novel should keep you hooked from start to finish and then make you feel a little better about the world we live in at the end." The Whitbread judges may have agreed, as they were quoted in the Guardian as calling Twelve Bar Blues "a sprawling and unusual extravaganza of a novel. The ranginess of the story mirrors the arbitrariness of life," the judges added, "while the electrifying prose brings to life characters whose experiences span one century, several cultures and many colours."
Despite his Whitbread success, Neate spends little time resting on his laurels. He has a screenplay and several book-length works underway. "I write very fast and very prolifically," he told Jury in the Independent interview. "I've got millions of stories I haven't done anything with at home."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2004, Allison Block, review of The London Pigeon Wars, p. 1547; July, 2004, Carlos Orellana, review of Where You're At: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet, p. 1809.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), May 12, 2001, Helen Brown, "A Hephelant Blows Its Nose."
Guardian (London, England), January 4, 2002, Fiachra Gibbons, "Whitbread Winner's Ring of Absolute Truth"; January 7, 2002, "Justine Jordon on Books."
Independent (London, England), May 13, 2001, James Urquhart, review of Twelve Bar Blues, p. 45.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2004, review of The London Pigeon Wars, p. 292.
New Statesman, July 11, 2005, Alastaire Sooke, review of The City of Tiny Lights, p. 55.
Newsweek International, July 25, 2005, Shailaja Neelakantan, review of The City of Tiny Lights, p. 87.
New York Times, January 3, 2002, "Novel with All That Jazz Takes Whitbread Prize."
Observer (London, England), December 23, 2001, Clover Hughes, review of Musungo Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, July 5, 2004, review of Where You're At, p. 47.
Times (London, England), December 12, 2001, Anthea Lawson, review of Twelve Bar Blues, p. 12; January 4, 2002, Dalya Alberge, "Writer Is a Winner in Black and White."
BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (January 4, 2002), "Surprise Winner for Whitbread Novel" and "Patrick Neate: All That Jazz."
Independent Digital, http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/ (January 4, 2002), Louise Jury, "McEwan Loses Again as Jazz Novel Claims Top Prize."
Patrick Neate Home Page, http://www.patrickneate.com (October 31, 2005).
Varsityonline, http://www.varsity.cam.ac.uk/ (April 27, 2000), James Knight, "A Neate Touch."