Geoff Nicholson is the author of sixteen novels. His debut, Street Sleeper, was short-listed for the Yorkshire Post First Work Award; Bleeding London was short-listed for the Whitbread Prize; and Bedlam Burning was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year. His nonfiction titles include Sex Collectors and The Lost Art of Walking, and his journalism has appeared in, among other publications, The New York Times, Bookforum, Gastronomica, ArtReview, Black Clock, The Believer, McSweeney's, The Los Angeles Times and Custom Car. He is a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Review of Books. He was born in Sheffield, England, and currently lives in Los Angeles.
THE CITY UNDER THE SKIN (2014)
A cartographic thriller with so many twists and turns it requires its own map: a cartography-obsessed misfit clerk from an antique map store in a district that's not quite trendy yet. A bold young woman chasing the answer to a question she can't quite formulate. A petty criminal hoping the parking lot he's just purchased is the ticket to a new life of respectability with his school-age daughter. A ruthless but vulnerable killer and his disgruntled accomplice. In The City Under the Skin, it's not fate that will bind these characters together but something more concrete and sinister: the appearance of a group of mysterious women, their backs crudely and extensively tattooed with maps.
They have been kidnapped, marked, and released, otherwise unharmed. When one turns up on the doorstep of the map shop and abruptly bares her back, only to be hustled away by a man in a beat-up blue Cadillac, it's the misfit clerk Zak, pushed by his curious new friend Marilyn, who finds himself reluctantly entering a criminal underworld whose existence he'd prefer to ignore.
In this haunting literary thriller, Geoff Nicholson paints a deft portrait of a city in transition. His sharply drawn characters are people desperate to know where they are but scared of being truly seen. A meditation on obsession and revenge, a hymn to the joys of urban exploration, The City Under the Skin is a wholly original novel about the indelible scars we both live with and inflict on others.
“Geoff Nicholson's new crime novel, The City Under the Skin . . . compels the way a good crime novel should: by making you turn the pages at a clip . . . Nicholson prefers the hard-boiled to the philosophical. His characters truck in dialogue that is so stylized, so noirish, it's pretty fun to read. Everyone's got a zinger at the ready.”―Fiona Maazel, The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)
“In Nicholson's atmospheric chiller, his sixteenth novel, he continues to focus on the obsessed outsiders who make his work both entertaining and compelling. Cartography expert Zak runs a map store in a verging-on-trendy neighborhood. When a young woman stumbles into his shop and shows him the crude tattoo on her back, he recognizes the outlines of an inexpertly drawn map. Before he can decipher the location depicted, she is whisked away by a tough guy driving a beat-up blue Cadillac. The only other witness, a feisty young woman outfitted in thrift-store clothes, determines that the two should investigate. And that investigation takes them to some scary places, including the rambling, industrial-looking digs of the obese and powerful local crime lord, Wrobleski. It seems that there are more women who have been extensively tattooed with crude maps. Can a nerdy, map-obsessed urban explorer take down the hard-core thugs who seem to be running a criminal underworld? Let's hope so. With its fast-paced, dryly witty dialogue; looming, darkened cityscapes; wonderfully offbeat characters, including an enforcer with childcare problems; and metaphoric riffs on disorientation, this is a hugely entertaining crime novel.”―Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist (starred review)
“Geoff Nicholson's taut thriller The City Under the Skin, wastes no time in establishing its tone, with a sneering, sarcastic conversation between two men that ends with one of them crushed in the trunk of a car . . . Nicholson works within the boundaries of a thriller framework and moves the story forward accordingly, but he does it in a way that manages to subvert any expectations you might have of where the story will lead . . . Nicholson's writing is controlled enough to contain the revelations for longer than one has any right to expect, and the result is a superb reckoning.” ―Matthew Tiffany, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Take a deep two-hundred-page breath before you start: Geoff Nicholson's The City Under the Skin is really less about what can be mapped than what can't, his typically unhinged topography alive with his typically memorable characters, scrambling madly for new coordinates and dragging their latitudes and longitudes behind them. Irresistible, singular, laced with the black wit that dares you to laugh and dares you not to, teetering among the horrors you try to banish from your dreams before inviting them back.” ―Steve Erickson, author of Zeroville and These Dreams of You
“An excursion through a city of secrets, scars, facades, hidden depths, ‘images' that may or may not be authentic, and people with their own traces and ruins left within it. If ‘cartographic noir' can be considered a genre, Nicholson may well have established it.”―Anthony Miller, Los Angeles Magazine
“The pleasure here is as much in the enjoyment of the text, chapter by chapter, as it is in the larger story: what Nicholson excels at is the smaller exchanges, the quirky details, the incidental events. His familiar themes of obsession and obsessiveness are found here, nicely handled, and the mapping-idea works well, as Nicholson also plays with varieties of tattooing (and tattoos-as-forms-of-maps), including the neat one of dermatographia . . . a very enjoyable read.” ―M.A. Orthofer, The Complete Review
Rights: FSG, World
Territories sold to date: Croatia, Italy, Russia, Netherlands
WALKING WOUNDED (2018)
In his previous life, Joe worked for a clandestine government organization specializing in enhanced interrogation techniques. Torture. But he was one of the good guys. His job was to better prepare someone entering a high-risk situation in a dangerous part of the world, where the torture might be real. But the line between real and pretend blurs when you’ve been forced into a stress- position, and Joe always feared that it was possible, likely even, that one day someone might come to repay the favor.
Now, recently divorced and reclusive, Joe plots an eccentric course of circles around his garden that will, once he’s completed the circuit, equal in distance a trip around the globe. What isn’t immediately clear to his curious neighbors, however, is that perhaps Joe isn’t walking towards a goal, but rather away from his past.
This genre-bending literary suspense is about dualities: the nightmare of excruciating pain, and the restorative power found in the quiet solitude of a long walk.
Rights: Unnamed Press, North American
WALKING IN RUINS (2013)
Geoff Nicholson has long been a relentless (some would say obsessive) walker, and has written extensively about it. But increasingly he finds himself avoiding beautiful landscapes and fine cities, preferring to walk through wastelands, junkyards, disused factories, abandoned neighborhoods. In Walking in Ruins, he explores his own, and the world’s, fascination with ruin, from the magnificence of Stonehenge and the Pyramids all the way through to wrecked shacks in the deserts of the United States and Australia. He investigates how ruins tell us about the present as much as the past, and also contain lessons for the future. As he walks, he also reflects on mortality, the imperfections of the human body, and the ways in which we all ultimately become walking ruins.
"Geoff Nicholson is the Maharajah of Melancholy... He savours the comfort to be gained from accepting decay as an inevitable part of life."—The Spectator
Rights: Harbour, UK
All other rights: Union Literary
THE LOST ART OF WALKING (2008)
How we walk, where we walk, why we walk tells the world who and what we are. Whether it's once a day to the car, or for long weekend hikes, or as competition, or as art, walking is a profoundly universal aspect of what makes us humans, social creatures, and engaged with the world. Cultural commentator, Whitbread Prize winner, and author of Sex Collectors Geoff Nicholson offers his fascinating, definitive, and personal ruminations on the literature, science, philosophy, art, and history of walking.
Nicholson finds people who walk only at night, or naked, or in the shape of a cross or a circle, or for thousands of miles at a time, in costume, for causes, or for no reason whatsoever. He examines the history and traditions of walking and its role as inspiration to artists, musicians, and writers like Bob Dylan, Charles Dickens, and Buster Keaton. In The Lost Art of Walking, he brings curiosity, imagination, and genuine insight to a subject that often strides, shuffles, struts, or lopes right by us.
"A leisurely, entirely delightful ramble through the history and lore of walking."—Washington Post Book Review
"This book is no mere miscellany, but the story of a man's love affair with the oldest means of locomotion: one foot in front of the other..."—The Economist
"Perfect for the armchair walker."—The New York Times Book Review
"Anyone who enjoys excellent nonfiction should enjoy." —Chicago Sun-Times
Rights: Riverhead, US; Harbour, UK; Graf & Book, Korea
SEX COLLECTORS (2006)
Though you might not encounter the subject in Artforum or stumble across it at Sotheby's, the thriving business of erotica is a mixture of sophistication and seduction, an underground world of eccentric artists and serious collectors.
In Sex Collectors, Geoff Nicholson hunts down an assortment of these obsessives around the world. From the Florida grandma with five million dollars' worth of sexual collectibles to Third Eye Blind's manager, who owns more than eighty thousand men's magazines, Nicholson celebrates these collectors and the occasionally beautiful, frequently bizarre, and always fascinating objects they have amassed.
He accompanies Linda Lovelace, the star of Deep Throat, as she is taken on a tour of a collection devoted to her. Days spent in the Kinsey archives reveal the cultural artifacts resulting from the sexual awakening of public America, as well as boxes with labels such as "Phallus with Agricultural Tools" and "Scarf Trick when Folded." Nicholson journeys to Germany to visit with the legendary Karl-Ludwig Leonhardt, sex collector extraordinaire of first edition volumes such as Flagellation pour couples pervertis and Tender Bottoms, erotic Picassos, and notes handwritten by the Marquis de Sade.
Throughout his exploration of some of the wildest collections in the world, Nicholson's discussion of collecting as an expression of self and psychology goes hand in hand with his gleeful discovery of the seventh giant phallus used in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, Hitler's creepily erotic personalized bookplate, and a woman who has a plaster cast of Jimi Hendrix's penis. Sex Collectors is a winning story of one man's attempt to collect collectors, to reveal the neuroses that drive some people to collect, and to have good, dirty, high-minded fun while doing it.
Rights: Simon & Schuster, US
THE HOLLYWOOD DODO (2004)
Following the death of his wife, Henry Cadwallader, an English doctor, insists on accompanying his aspiring actress daughter, Dorothy, on a trip to Hollywood. He fears she will fall prey to corruption and sleaze, but finds that it is actually he who is being corrupted at every turn.
On the flight to LA, they meet 'auteur of the future' Rick McCartney. Rick's trying to get the backing to make a costume drama set in seventeenth-century England about a man who owns what he fears is the last dodo on earth.
Dorothy Cadwallader's quest for fame begins badly and goes downhill from there. Meanwhile Henry becomes involved with a former actress turned estate agent. The lives of Henry and Dorothy once again intersect with that of Rick McCartney to dramatic effect as the characters find themselves drawn to the brink, where dreams die and extinction threatens.
Sharp humor and keen observation drive Geoff Nicholson's satisfyingly oblique look at America's obsession with stardom.
"With carefully understated yet scathingly observant humor, Nicholson seamlessly weaves three distinctly disparate stories into one kaleidoscopic spoof of the entertainment industry, the medical establishment, and wacky Hollywood lifestyles, for a wickedly riotous read."—Booklist
Rights: Simon & Schuster, US; Serpent’s Tale, UK; Rebis, Poland
BEDLAM BURNING (2003)
In Bedlam Burning, Geoff Nicholson takes deadly satiric aim at the ivy-covered walls of academia and the rubber rooms of insane asylums.
When the debut novel of Gregory Collins is accepted by a publisher he seems set on a course for literary stardom. There's just one problem: he doesn't quite have the looks to match his talent, and his publisher wants a photo to put on the book jacket. He asks his handsome (but dim) college classmate, Mike Smith, to take his place.
Consequently it is Smith rather than Collins who receives the offer to be writer-in-residence at an asylum where therapy is centered on the soothing powers of literature. It's not long before the boundaries between inmate and observer are blurred in this literary cuckoo's nest and this comedy of errors verges on tragedy.
"The English comic tradition has always shown a fine weakness for a little lunacy, and Nicholson's 13th novel (after Bleeding London, a Whitbread Prize finalist) is the latest variation on that theme… Nicholson's book, like a Fawlty Towers episode, delightfully stretches sanity to its farcical breaking point. "—Publishers Weekly
"Donald Westlake meets Ken Kesey in this 13th novel by British author Nicholson (Bleeding London), about an author impersonation at a lunatic asylum... A compulsively good read from start to finish..."—Library Journal
Rights: Overlook, US; Moskva, Russia
FEMALE RUINS (1999)
Female Ruins is a dazzling hybrid of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Evelyn Waugh’s The Decline and Fall.
Geoff Nicholson’s novel tells the story of Christopher Howell, a cult architect who allegedly built just one building, and the search for that fabled building—reputedly a wild, willful amalgam of styles ranging from 11th century Norman to 20th century Neutra. Ingeniously built into the narrative are bits of Howell's essays which celebrate the idea of the “Cardboard House” and the architecture of impermanence. When Howell's daughter—and keeper of his flame—Kelly and a Howell groupie named Jack Dexter hook up in a free-falling love affair, the search for this apocryphal building becomes a search for a lost past. Brilliantly funny and seriously obsessive, Female Ruins shows how the castles we build are often symbols of our owns needs, follies, and magnificent obsessions.
"This 12th novel by the popular British author is a meditative tale of a physical and psychological homecoming that builds its quiet and riveting plot through the dreams, achievements and theories of a dead architect with a mysterious legacy... Nicholson eschews the sarcastic bite,... unraveling a complex, subtle story with equally intricate and modulated characters. This restraint, which artfully leads the reader to the poignant yet satisfying denouement, gives the novel special appeal."—Library Journal
Rights: Overlook, US
OTHER TITLES BY GEOFF NICHOLSON
GRAVITY’S VOLKSWAGEN (2009)
Rights: Harbour, UK
FLESH GUITAR (1998)
Rights: Overlook, US
BLEEDING LONDON (1995)
Rights: Overlook, US; LEDA, Romania
Rights: Overlook, US; Marco Tropea, Italy; Laffont Fixot, France
STILL LIFE WITH VOLKSWAGEN (1994)
Rights: Overlook, US
THE ERROL FLYNN NOVEL (1993)
Rights: Overlook, US
THE FOOD CHAIN (1992)
Rights: Overlook, US; Tempos Modernos, Spain; Riverside Press, Japan
HUNTERS AND GATHERERS (1991)
Rights: Overlook, US
WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS (1990)
Rights: Laffont Fixot, France