‘People of the Tor’, the Art World and a bloke called Dave

An interview with Glastonbury based writer Guy Kennaway on The Accidental Collector, his book about a penniless Glastonbury hippy who gets mistaken for a billionaire art collector. 

I have a, perhaps unlikely, friendship with writer Guy Kennaway who has just published his latest comic novel ‘The Accidental Collector’. In this caper, the action swings from the ski resort hangouts of super wealthy Modern Art collectors in Switzerland, to the caravan home of a penniless hippy, on a yard tucked away on the wetlands of the Somerset levels. 

I first met Guy in the queue at a backstage bar at Glastonbury Festival in 2009, when a close packed crowd of drinkers pushed me uncomfortably close to this stranger in a white linen suit.  I wondered why this posh bloke was doing there amongst all the mud and music.   When he turned up where I lived in a caravan at the yard outside town, we became friends and formed a group with other local writers. Guy has hugely encouraged my writing and I’ve given him feedback on early drafts of his books. 

I’ve just read a preview copy of Guy’s latest work, so we arranged to have a chat about Modern Art, the joys of life in Glastonbury, and a bloke called Dave.

Guy Kennaway

Vicki  
How did you come to live here?

Guy  
Everyone has a different reason to come to Glastonbury but mine was because my kids were at Millfield so I came in, in a way, through a back exit. I was in a materialistic and quite fast sophisticated scene in London. But it was a time in my life when I was ready for a change. Suddenly, in front of me was laid out this whole new society, this whole culture, that I didn’t know anything about. It was amazing to see the way people lived a completely different life to mine. I was in awe of it and in thrall to it. 

Vicki  
What are your favourite things about this part of the country?

Guy  
I love the fact that people live so much outdoors, are not afraid of the weather or landowners, and I adore that they are genuinely not materialistic (give or take a few bitcoin addicts) plus that they never read the newspapers! I was reading a paper in front of a friend when I first came here, she told me “You shouldn’t believe what you read in the newspaper. I said ‘What, even the football results?’ I loved it.

Vicki  
Yeah, I did feel that, for me, a central theme of the book was about authenticity, because it seemed to me that the wealthy characters didn’t get to live authentic lives. 

Guy  
That was very much me when I turned up here. I had gone as far as you could go in that direction. I was looking to find some values that are actually really worthwhile. I’m not saying all people and all values in Glastonbury are irreproachable and authentic, because here we also have our flaws.  But I wanted a bit of what was on offer, like so many who tip up in town.

Vicki
You used to visit people at the little traveller community who lived in a yard on the Levels, that I wrote about in ‘A Shed of My Own’, how did you find that?

Guy
I was led there by my new friends.  I am so grateful for that.  It was there I sat outside round a fire all night, I’d never done that before.  I was amazed how tolerant everyone was.  For instance, I’d never really encountered mental illness, it was always shoved to the side, or dealt with by antidepressants. Here it’s allowed and accepted. I kept quiet at the time, but I thought ‘These people have more love”. They taught me a lot. Yeah, it was great, I felt like a child, I thought this cannot be true, but it is true it’s lovely, Glastonbury has given me so much in that way.

Vicki  
It seemed to me that you felt you were going to be judged harshly and disliked for who you were, you often spoke about that, you assumed that you were going to be seen in a dim light.

Guy  
But I was very different, I was an outsider. Most people come to Glastonbury because they feel drawn by the values, I came totally accidentally. I kind of backed onto the stage, as opposed to walking onto it as part of a plan. Of course I’m insecure and I wanted to be accepted. I thought “God, I’m going to be a bit of a bit of a challenge for this lot.” Then just as I get accepted I perpetrate an outrage.  I have to be myself, and I do get into trouble. Certainly in this book, Herman, he gets himself into a lot of trouble. And that’s me. I do stupid things. And I love to laugh about them.  A life lived without mistakes is not a life fully lived.   And I like to try and get all my mistakes down in stories that make people smile.

Accidental Collector

Vicki
Yes, you do like trouble.

Guy  
Why do you never get into trouble?

Vicki  
Oh I do too sometimes.

Guy  
Yeah, you do.

Vicki  
I do feel that the alternative community in Glastonbury gets off really lightly in your book, compared to the characters from the art world who are almost all vacuous and self serving.

Guy  
I actually think the high end art world is basically vacuous and self serving.  I certainly think that the art world has got too big. Artists used to be right on the edge of culture. Look at Van Gogh – a man totally maligned and distanced and given no encouragement whatsoever.   Nowadays artists shoulder their way into mainstream culture and mainstream life and become these kind of modern gods. 

Vicki  
How do you feel about the Art World’s inroads into Somerset work in the form of big contemporary galleries?

Guy  
Well there’s art galleries like Julian’s Heart of the Tribe Art Gallery in Glastonbury, which is really genuinely concerned with trying to find the art and the culture around here. Then there are other art galleries, which are importing German and American artists into Somerset and they’re putting a lot of money behind them.   Somerset has its own culture, of festivals and slightly sloppy dressing and sloppy art, and taking drugs and singing, you know, with a guitar around campfires. Drinking cider and slacking, that’s a beautiful culture. And I think that it is slightly under threat from a very powerful very well funded ambitious international art scene.  I wanted to write a book that defended this culture, and point out it is not to be just completely trampled over.  I glorify it. 

Vicki  
So that’s interesting because I suspect from the Glastonbury ‘born and bred’ perspective, the people living on the outskirts of town in caravans are seen as the interlopers

Guy  
The born and bred people are important, but I don’t know them.   I only write of what I know.  I see a lot of people looking at contemporary art and I wonder what’s going through their heads.  I suspect they go home and go oh no, I’ve got the wrong art.

Vicki  
I think they’re going home and they’re going. “God that was a load of old crap, why would anybody pay 30,000 quid for that rubbish?” 

Guy
I love that Vicki, but you have a lot of confidence.   If you show many people a bit of art and they don’t ‘get’ it, they think the fault is with them and not the Art. Somehow the Art industry has given this brilliantly marketed idea that if you don’t understand it, it’s your problem.  Not enough people walk into galleries, with the confidence to say, “yeah, look at this. It’s total shite”. They go in there and they think that, but they say “Oh, I don’t really understand it, I need to go home and read a book on, or listen to someone tell me why it’s good”. There’s loads of chancers in the art industry. 

Vicki  
The Accidental Collector character is, at least physically, based on a real person isn’t he? Dave, who was my neighbour at the yard?

Guy  
Yeah, I would love it to be Dave, but no one can capture Dave.   If it was Dave, the book would have to be 2000 pages long  and I only had 200.  But when I met Dave, I immediately loved him because he really did have all of those values that I’m talking about – of openness, of a kind of bonkers acceptance and belief, belief in me, belief in everyone around him. Whatever bad thing would happen, Dave would find, what seemed to me, a totally insane way, of spinning it as a wonderful thing.  But some of it was such wisdom.  I have tried to get that into the book.

When I first went to the yard I felt like I’d walked through a wardrobe. It’s like I came into Narnia, but it wasn’t a frozen Narnia, it was a Summery Narnia. There were even people who looked like Mr. Tumnas.   There was a whole different way of dealing with each other. That’s what I wanted to do in this book, to say ‘this is what’s on the other side’ and then keep the door open so they could go back and forth. 

Vicki  
What do you think Somerset has to show people who are stuck in that sort of fast city vibe?

Guy  
Tolerance, family, friendship and how to forget your cares, get high, laugh and dance. It is also kind of quite piratical isn’t it? Like we’re all against the law here, we’re all doing something naughty, but we’re all looking after each other. Obviously, some of us are bitching about each other too but that’s as it should be. 

The amount of time spent outside is lovely as well, the enjoyment of summer. And at the centre of it, the Tor. This thing that we all go to from time to time. I don’t know what it means, but it’s there, it’s absolutely undeniable. There’s this powerful, non-Christian,  non-denominational, highly mystical source, that all of us who live near it know “We are the people of the Tor”. I learnt a lot about love in Somerset, and I wanted to put that into the book.


Accidental Collector Book Cover
Accidental Collector Cover

The Accidental Collector – A Caper by Guy Kennaway, published in Hardback on the 11th of March 2021 by Mensch Publishing, also available as a Kindle edition on Amazon.

“Set in the world of contemporary art, Guy Kennaway’s new novel delivers his trademark absurdities and laugh out loud moments. As the globe’s most successful super-dealer, Herman Gertsch spent his charmed life jetting between his galleries in Zurich, London and New York, fawned over by artists, curators, politicians and the uber-rich.

As Herman’s empire grew, nothing seemed to get in his way, until he made the calamitous decision to open a gallery in a rural English backwater. Here, Herman encountered John ‘Brother’ Burn, a penniless hippy known as the slipperiest man in south Somerset, and therefore the western hemisphere.

In the riotous comedy of errors that follows, Kennaway pours mistaken identity, Amazonian tribesmen, Swiss food, DMT, Arab Royalty, million dollar paintings and worthless tat onto a spin painting of a story that dazzles with surprises and leaves you feeling reassuringly warm about art and life.”

I’ve enjoyed Guy’s other books too, like Bird Brain and Time To Go. This article was kindly sponsored by Guy. I also receive a small commission if you buy a book from the links on this page. Guy interviewed me when I published ‘Normal For Glastonbury, you can read it here:

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