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    Dear Jonathan

    It’s been a long while since I came here and I’m so glad to see that your long-awaited next novel will be published in September. And it’s about Belgium!

    I am very much looking forward to your novel, and I’m wondering whether there will be any big event coming up in Brussels because of the release of it. I certainly cannot miss out on that.

    I’m very curious about what great storyworld you have evoked about my country and this strange, bombastic monument of ours: the Atomium. And I’m wondering about your connection to Belgium, apart from having writing a big part of your previous novel in the Flemish Ardennes, if I remember well.

    Apart from that I hope you’re doing well, and I’m looking forward to read something from you again. The brand new short story might be a good start!

    Greetings from Antwerp

    Gert Vanlerberghe


    Hi Gert, it’s good to hear from you again.

    Just to clarify, although Expo 58 is mainly set in Belgium, it’s not ‘about’ Belgium. The setting is The Britannia, a fake pub which was at the heart of the British pavilion at the Expo. As such it might be my most purely ‘British’ novel yet. The plot is also driven by the fact that the Belgians chose, at the height of the Cold War, to put the Soviet and American pavilions right next to each other. So there is an espionage theme as well. But not much about Belgium, although the hero does have a romance with a hostess from Londerzeel.

    The Dutch edition will be published in autumn 2013 and I too hope there will be a launch event in Brussels – and, if there is, that you can come along. The final chapter of the book takes place in your home city, by the way, which I visited last year in search of buildings left over from the Expo. (Not surprisingly, I found them in Atomiumslaan …)

    Happy New Year!



    I’m most certainly looking forward to any such an event and more so to the novel itself. And glad to read that the final part of the novel takes place in Antwerp, if that is indeed the city you remember I live in.

    Putting the American and Russian pavillions one next to the other in the 50s was indeed not the most clever idea we had. Although I visited the Atomium for the first time in February last year, I didn’t know about that fact yet.

    Happy New Year to you too!


    Hi Jonathan,
    I was interested to see the interview with you in the Observer today and your mention of James Gardner. My partner Barry Evans, as one half of the twosome Kempster and Evans, had several murals in the British pavilion, including, he says, one of the universe painted in fluorescent paint. He did quite a lot of work with James Gardner. Kempster and Evans also had murals at the Festival of Britain which you mention. I just thought that you might like to know. I am writing this on Barry’s behalf as he is now blind unfortunately (and 90), so no more painting. I will definitely buy the book when it comes out.


    Hi Jonathan, I am new to you and your books but felt compelled to contact you after just reading about your latest book, Expo 58, in last Saturday’s edition of The Times. I have now ordered the book and eagerly await its arrival and my subsequent reading of it.

    I should be very interested to learn about your research into The Britannia, if possible. In the meantime, I thought you would be interested to know that I own the double-sided inn sign of The Britannia which hung within the frame atop the post outside the pub at Expo 58. Being a modest collector of Whitbread ‘breweriana’, I also have a few other items from and about the pub, but the sign has pride of place in my collection. I bought the sign just a few years ago from a chap who lived about 20 miles outside Brussels. It has suffered some minor damage since 1958 but nevertheless retains its original bright enamel paintwork. Perhaps you would like to see it sometime? (I live in Maidstone).


    Hi Jonathan,
    I have just finished Expo 58, of which I own a signed copy that I got from Waterstones @ Charing Cross on a two-day trip in London. I’ll have to cover the signature if I’m lucky enough to see you in Italy again (unfortunately your recent Italian events were too far for me).
    I did enjoy reading it but I found it very different from all your other stories and I still have to try and make out why. There are also questions I’d like to ask but that I still have to focus. So this is mostrly to say hello, thanks for another enjoyable few days’ reading and … sorry for forgetting your birthday last month! 🙂



    Many thanks for your post and I’m fascinated to know that the pub sign for The Britannia still exists! I’d love to see it some time. Maybe you could get in touch with me directly via my agent, tony@tonypeake.com?

    Thanks also to Ruth for the information about Barry Evans. I’m sorry to hear that he has lost his sight but it’s great that his work at Expo 58 is still remembered. If nothing else I hope that my book will create a tiny revival of interest in the British contribution to that wonderful event.

    And Claudia, good to hear from you again! My aim is to make all my books different from each other, of course. But maybe you are politely trying to say that you didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the others, in which case I can only apologise …


    Also finished Expo 58. Enjoyed on many levels. A deceptively light look (which I liked) at how Britain has changed, an enjoyable yarn, a very affecting love story and an insightful glimpse into infidelity.
    Most importantly the book has stayed in my mind.
    Keep trying different things. Musicians often get flack from their guardians (fans) if they change tack (akin to exhibiting a lack of ‘purity’); but they’re just having fun, exploring new avenues.
    Did you ever get round to reading Confessions of a Justified Sinner (a ‘suggestion’ I made yonks ago)? A non reply or a ‘no’ is allowed 😉


    Hello again, and sorry for not responding earlier, it’s been a tough month… Jonathan, I did not mean to say i did not enjoy the book, I did; nor was I implying the previous ones had been all the same sort and only this one was different. I suppose what I meant is just the feeling it gave me of a more … serene writer behind it. One that still has the same insight, the same ability to speak in different voices and tackle experiences of all sorts, but who is smiling more while doing it. I could be completely mistaken, as you may have noticed i’m not much of a psychologist or literary critic, I read and judge "by the feeling".
    I was also wondering whether the ending is an attempt to pacify the readers who resented the end of Maxwell sim. 🙂


    Hiya Jonathan,

    I very much enjoyed your talk with Dominic Sandbrook at the Cheltenham Festival. Being the ponderer that I am, almost three weeks on I was still thinking about what you said about the word ‘weirdo’ being used and whether that was historically correct. I took it upon myself today to look it up in the OED, and it would appear that the first recorded use of weirdo (admittedly, spelt with a hyphen: weird-o) was 1955. So you’ve probably just about got away with it!

    Loved the novel, by the way:)

    Lucy Knight, 17
    Aspiring English undergrad.


    I’m only half way through Expo58 and very much enjoying it (I bought it for myself and saved it for Christmas.). However I have one niggling (pedantic) complaint regarding Salt ‘n’ Shake Crisps. In the late 50s they would have had a small twisted paper bag of salt rather that the ‘envelope’ sachet which appeared in the late 70s relaunch of the product. It was not unusual to get two or more bags of salt in each bag or even none at all. That having said, you probably reached crisp eating age after the launch of ‘Ready-Salted’ crisps so I’ll let you off.



    I wonder if the names and perhaps the characters of Carter and Wilkins were inspired by the teachers in Anthony Buckeridge’s ‘Jennings’ stories? The naming of the head teacher in ‘Pentatonic’ as Pemberton makes me think there is indeed a Jennings theme going on. If so I wonder if you share my belief that Anthony Buckeridge’s talents are much neglected, falling in or between not one but two forms disregarded for their literary merit, the comic novel and the children’s novel?

    Noting that two incidental acquaintances of Thomas Foley in the COI are named Windrush and Carleton-Browne, I wonder if you picture Foley as being played by one of the comic actors of the 1950s, perhaps Ian Carmichael – but a shade too posh, I think?


    Rob T


    Dear Jonathan,

    I am a Paris-based Swiss composer who lived in London for seven years where I discovered your amazing books. I have read all of them and admire your work ! You have a very distinctive style and I like your original way of construction, every time unique in the way chapters are organised, which I find very ‘musical’ (the kind of thing I try to do with musical forms, not going from A to Z but playing with time and space, i.e. flashbacks, zooms, superimposition of narration etc. a bit like cinema techniques).

    Talking about Expo 58, which I just finished, I am happy that you seem to enjoy the music of Arthur Honegger, one of my co-patriot heroes ! I shall let his daughter Pascale know the nice words Emily said about Pastorale d’été ! She is a wonderful person, full of life and energy at 82 who does a lot for the promotion (or ‘survival’ nowadays) of the music of her father. When you come to Paris one day, (and if you like that sort of spooky things) I’ll explain you where is Arthur’s grave in a very little cemetery in Montmartre.

    I like Chersky very much, having a great passion for Russian culture (my wife is Russian and my daughter is by deduction half-Russian) it is obvious you know Russians pretty well too (and the language … very true about на здорове and toasts in general, молодец!) which is nice in these troubled times, when the East is being diabolized again by Western tv and newspapers (yes, Chersky is right, this is propaganda !) it is amazing the piles of bullshit I hear about Russia these days.

    I was eager to find films on the Expo and found this French documentary (but I suppose you have seen it already ?) where you can see a good deal of the British things http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_USRYSri48A
    at 19mn50 and so forth, and the table dancing in the Bavarian tavern at 29mn. Your description wasn’t exaggerated. Alas, no films on the Britannia 🙁 I keep searching.
    Best regards

    Richard Dubugnon


    Dear Jonathan and fellow Expo 58 enthusiasts,

    The fact that I adore this novel is a given and coming back to it over this summer has been a joy. The depiction of The Britannia is my highlight and as someone who lives in Kent I thought I would share with you that the pub lived on beyond the diegesis of the novel.

    In many ways there is so much potential for a ‘The Closed Circle’ style development of Expo 58, but in reality I’d say it would be almost impossible to create more comic pathos than what is presented in the following narrative:

    http://www.dover-kent.com/Britannia-Tow … treet.html

    From the shiny optimism of the shadow of The Atomium to a 24 hour drinking, ‘erotic’ bar in Dover. Pick the symbolic bones out of that!

    Paul O’Neill

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