Rosemary Tonks features in The Telegraph, Times & on BBC Radio 4

Rosemary Tonks features in The Telegraph, Times & on BBC Radio 4

Above: Athena Kugblenu, presenter of BBC Radio 4's The Exploding Library: The Bloater, pictured in The Coffee Cup, Hampstead, where Rosemary Tonks was photographed by Jane Brown in the 1960s.


The “disappearance” of the writer Rosemary Tonks in the 1970s was one of the literary world’s most tantalising mysteries – the subject of a BBC feature in 2009 called The Poet Who Vanished.  After publishing two extraordinary poetry collections – and six satirical novels – she turned her back on the literary world after a series of personal tragedies and medical crises which made her question the value of literature and embark on a restless, self-torturing spiritual quest. This involved totally renouncing poetry, and suppressing her own books.

All her published poetry was made available for the first time in over 40 years in Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems & Selected Prose, published by Bloodaxe Books in October 2014. This edition also includes a small selection of her prose. 

In the introduction to Bedouin of the London Evening (up-dated with new information in the second edition) Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley recounts the extraordinary story of Rosemary Tonks's 'disappearance', and of how he came to discover where she was living. After her death in 2014, her family gave Bloodaxe permission to republish her poetry.   The expanded introduction to the second edition of Bedouin of the London Evening remains the most authoritative account of Tonks's life and work, including a number of details substantially different from what was known when Neil Astley published pieces on Rosemary Tonks in The Guardian. That second edition is now the one available from Bloodaxe.

Rosemary Tonks' long-unavailable novel The Bloater was republished by Vintage Classics in May 2022, and this has led to a number of features about Tonks' work as a whole, all of them crediting Neil Astley's role in making her work available again from 2014.


The Exploding Library: The Bloater by Rosemary Tonks, BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 29 November 2022, 11.30am

A fascintating half-hour documentary The Exploding Library, exploring the novel The Bloater and the life of its author Rosemary Tonks, presented by comedian and writer Athena Kugblenu, was broadcast on 29 November 2022 on BBC Radio 4.

The programme featured contributions throughout from Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley, who first republished Tonks’ work in Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems & Selected Prose in 2014.  He spoke about her troubled life, and about how he discovered Rosemary Tonks’s whereabouts after she had ‘disappeared’. The full story can be read in the introduction to the expanded edition of in Bedouin of the London Evening, which was published by Bloodaxe in 2016.  

Another interviewee was Jennifer Hodgson, who contributed to the Backlisted podcast on Rosemary Tonks’ long-available The Bloater which led to the republication of the novel by Vintage Classics in May 2022. Andy Miller of Backlisted had previously recommended Bedouin of the London Evening on the podcast in July 2017. Jennifer's excellent piece on Tonks in New Left Review is linked to below.

The poet Brian Patten, who knew Rosemary Tonks and who presented the 2009 BBC Radio 4 featureThe Poet Who Vanished, was also interviewed.

‘Comedian and writer Athena Kugblenu searches for Rosemary Tonks, a poet and writer who "vanished like the Cheshire Cat" shortly after the height of her fame in the late 1960s. Changing her name and embracing a very specific form of Christianity, Tonks disavowed her previous literary life - to the point that she would visit libraries and bookshops and attempt to destroy her work.  How does Tonks' surreal, brittle, jet-black social satire The Bloater capture her world - and give us a hint of what might have precipitated her strange disappearance? More than that - can anyone ever really retract the tendrils of their creative life - even if they want to?  Featuring contributions from poet Brian Patten, editor and champion of Tonks's work Neil Astley, writer and Tonks fan Jennifer Hodgson, and New York Times religion correspondent Ruth Graham.’

With readings from The Bloater by Beth Eyre and archive recordings of interviews with Rosemary Tonks.

Listen via BBC Sounds here.



New Left Review, online 31 May 2022

The new edition of the long-unavailable novel The Bloater (Vintage Classics, May 2022) was reviewed by Jennifer Hodgson as part of an in-depth piece on the work of Rosemary Tonks. The piece began with Tonks’ disappearance, and the later discovery of her whereabouts by Neil Astley, who went on to republish her poetry in Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems & Selected Prose.

‘In The Bloater, a shift in the light can render London more like Paris or St Petersburg. It’s a less pronounced version of an effect of her poetry, where a familiar London flickers in and out, becoming Egypt or the Baltic Sea. The equator might well run through Chelsea; Covent Garden is full of souks. But she’s not invoking other places as metaphors for some exotic, faraway imaginary. For Tonks, elsewhere is right here, bathed in the same brown light.’ – Jennifer Hodgson, New Left Review

Read in full here:

Jennifer Hodgson discussed Rosemary Tonks’ 1968 novel The Bloater on episode 129 of Backlisted Podcast in January 2021, alongside comedian Stewart Lee and fellow hosts Andy Miller and John Mitchinson. This episode led to the republication of The Bloater.  Details below.  Listen here.



The Times, online 26 April 2022, in print Saturday 30 April 2022

Novelist William Boyd wrote a piece for The Times’ Rereading feature about Rosemary Tonks, pegged to the re-publication of her long-unavailable novel The Bloater (Vintage Classics).  William Boyd writes that he was drawn to Rosemary Tonks’ novels after having read Bloodaxe’s Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems & Selected Prose.

‘We know the details of her disappearance thanks to the expert sleuthing of the poet and publisher Neil Astley, who recounts his rediscovery of Tonks in his long introduction to a reissued edition of her poetry, Bedouin of the London Evening, published by Bloodaxe in 2014. For anyone curious about the fascinating details of Tonks’s self-erasure, or self-obliteration, as Astley describes it, that is the place to go.’ – William Boyd, The Times

Available online in full by subscription. Register to read a few articles for free.  Read here.

The Daily Telegraph, Saturday 16 April 2022

An essay on Rosemary Tonks ran as a full-page feature in the Review section of The Telegraph of 16 April.  The piece was tagged to the republication of her long-unavailable novel The Bloater, forthcoming from Vintage Classics on 5 May 2022, but also covered Rosemary Tonks’s poetry. 

The writer Jake Kerridge spoke to Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley, who tracked down Rosemary Tonks after she had withdrawn from public life.  Bloodaxe’s 2014 Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems & Selected Prose made Rosemary Tonks’ work available again for the first time in over 40 years. Neil Astley’s introduction tells the story of her ‘disappearance’.

Read the article here. Available in full by subscription. Register to read a few articles for free.

The Bloater is being republished thanks to episode 129 of Backlisted podcast from January 2021 in which author and critic Jennifer Hodgson and comedian Stewart Lee joined John Mitchinson and Andy Miller to discuss Rosemary Tonks’ long-unavailable novel. In his introduction to the new edition of The Bloater, Stewart Lee acknowledges that Neil Astley was the person who rediscovered Rosemary Tonks and first republished her work in Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems & Selected Prose.

Both episode 129 and episode 45 from 2017 in which Rosemary Tonks’ poetry is discussed on Backlisted are still available.

Backlisted podcast, Episode 129, online 18 January 2021

Andy Miller and John Mitchinson discussed Rosemary Tonks’s 1968 novel The Bloater in this episode of Backlisted podcast.   They and their two guests discussed her poetry as well at various points in this hour-long podcast.  They spoke about Rosemary Tonks’s mysterious ‘disappearance’ from public life, and about how she destroyed much of her work.  A full account of this is given in Neil Astley’s introduction to Bedouin of the London Evening.   

‘For this discussion of Rosemary Tonks fascinating third novel, The Bloater - first published by the Bodley Head in 1968 - Andy and John are joined by two enthusiastic fans of Tonks’s writing: the author and critic Jennifer Hodgson (who appeared on episode 61 to discuss Berg by Ann Quin) and the comedian, Stewart Lee. The Bloater is long out of print, unfortunately, but the discussion also covers Tonks’s remarkable poetry, her friendship with Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, her eccentric career in fiction, radio and theatre, and her gradual retreat from the world.’

Rosemary Tonks was discussed from 7:20 and again from 23:40. An archive recording of Tonks reading ‘Badly Chosen Lover’ featured at 56:15. Archive interview clips were also played.

Listen here.  This episode has led to the republication of The Bloater - published by Vintage Classics on 5 May 2022.

When introducing Rosemary Tonks, presenter Andy Miller referred to episode 45 of the Backlisted Podcast of 24 July 2017, in which he had recommended Bedouin of the London Evening.

Backlisted podcast, online Monday 24 July 2017

One of the books recommended on the Backlisted Podcast of 24 July 2017 was Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems & Selected Prose by Rosemary Tonks. Andy Miller talked about the book, and read the poems ‘Dressing-gown Olympian’ and the ‘spectacularly good’ ‘Story of a Hotel Room’ from it.  Andy recounted the story of Rosemary Tonks’ disappearance, and of how Bloodaxe’s editor Neil Astley discovered her whereabouts and persuaded her family to allow the republication of her work after her death.

‘I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.  Half the poems here made my hair curl, and the other half I didn’t understand – always the best combination!’ – Andy Miller, Backlisted

Bedouin of the London Evening is discussed from 12.40:

Listen on SoundCloud here.


A fascinating hour-long talk about the life and work of poet and novelist, Rosemary Desmond Boswell Tonks held at Gillingham Library on 24 May 2022.  Gillingham in Kent was the birthplace of Rosemary Tonks.  With extracts from the new edition of The Bloater as well as poems from Bedouin of the London Evening.

Watch on YouTube here. The video has been divided into chapters so you can watch any of the five sections separately.



London Review of Books, Thursday 2 July 2015

A full page feature review of Bedouin of the London Evening ran in the LRB of 2 July under the title ‘On Rosemary Tonks’.

‘Her reappearance in this important and well-documented book, which includes two penetrating reviews, a short story and an interview, is the best sort of rediscovery: one that disrupts our sense of poetic continuity even as it restores it.’ – Patrick McGuinness, London Review of Books

Click here to read.  One free article available to view.

The Observer, Poetry Book of the Month, Sunday 26 October 2014

Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems by Rosemary Tonks was the Observer’s Poetry Book of the Month 26 October 2014.  This half-page feature ran under the title ‘Snatched from the flames’.  Kate Kellaway’s piece was illustrated with the photograph by Jane Brown that is used on the book cover, taken in 1956 for the Observer Magazine.  Rosemary Tonks’ poem ‘Done for!’ accompanied the review both in the paper and online. The piece covers ‘the extraordinary, disturbing and melancholy tale’ of her disappearance.  The review ends with a note that archive recordings of Rosemary Tonks are available on the Bloodaxe website.

‘Forty years after her disappearance, this fascinating collection of her work returns her to us… this writing has unmistakable flair.  It is bohemian, ardent, sensual and of its time.’ – Kate Kellaway, The Observer

Click here to read.

[20 January 2021]

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