‘Ssshh – you’ll scare them away’

millarBen Myers is waiting for the great British Gypsy novel. His point is that Gypsies and Travellers are generally portrayed as either romantic outsiders or freeloading scum. The problem is that not enough is known to shake people’s preconceptions. I know that the people we call ‘Gypsies’ are made up of old-school Gypsies, Irish Travellers, ravers and Show People, but no more than that.

From Myers’s piece:

Despite often making for the most memorable fictional characters, past fictional portraits of Gypsy culture have relied on speculation and urban myth as source material and suffered from cliché and stereotyping as a result.

For Myers, ‘there is a great British Gypsy novel still to be written’. There is already one out there – Martin Millar’s Love and Peace with Melody Paradise. 

The book follows an attempt by the eponymous traveller heroine to set up a free festival that will unite seven feuding road clans. Every style and shape of traveller life is there, from militant activists to unicorn hunters. The novel is set in the mid-nineties, in the wake of CJA ’94, when the government really started cracking down on people trying to have a good time. One of the characters shows a film of police beating harmless demonstrators into the churning mud.

But this is all strictly background. Millar’s influences are Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and the story is really a romantic social comedy transported to the underground. Melody Paradise is Millar’s Emma Thompson, a beautiful romantic who just wants everyone to be as happy as she is. It’s out of print, unbelievably, but you can still get secondhand copies.

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