Interview with Kenneth Tindall: From Bellevue to Lynæs. An Interview by Lars Movin

(First published in “Maskinfabrikken,” Copenhagen)

Kenneth Tindall (b. 1937) is a well-kept literary secret. He first appeared in 1967 with Vindharpen, a novel about Copenhagen in the sixties, and has in all written five novels (of which three are unpublished). They are books which draw their material from a long life’s incredible journey: from Los Angeles in the nineteen thirties, to New Jersey in the fifties and the U.S. Navy during the height of McCarthyism, to voluntary exile in a cottage on the west coast of Ireland, to the Beat Hotel in Paris and friendship with Beat luminaries like Gregory Corso and William S. Burroughs around 1960, to Copenhagen in the glad (and not so glad) sixties, with a period as homeless and in Bellevue in New York City, and finally to family life and literary production in Denmark. Today Tindall lives with his family in Lynæs (Shelter Point), a fishing village two hours north of Copenhagen. He is sixty-eight years old. The following is his first interview.

By Lars Movin

Europe in the mid-nineteen sixties: ” Billyclub crackdowns in Amsterdam. Protopopoff’s closed in Paris and neo-fascists cornering shaggies on the quays and cutting their hair and beating them up.” And in Copenhagen: “Mass arrests, the Stork Fountain off limits within a radius of sixty-seven meters and an expensive new layer of coarse-grained asphalt on Strøget to discourage the chalk artists.” This is how the American author Kenneth Tindall describes the spirit of the times in the novel Vindharpen, published in Danish in 1967 by Hans Reitzels Forlag. Today the Danish edition is by and large unobtainable, but in 1969 the novel was published in New York by Barney Rosset’s Grove Press under the title Great Heads, and this edition has now been reissued by the small publishing house Pomegranate Crown Press.

Vindharpen is one of the rare examples of a non-Danish writer in an entire novel looking with fresh eyes at life in Copenhagen. In this case life as was it was played out during a few years in the mid sixties around a few bars and music cafés in the Copenhagen inner city, especially Café Fælleshobby (Café Pilegaarden). It is a time of cultural breakup, confrontation, folk music, free sex and practically unimpeded access to every variety of intoxicant. The gallery of characters is a mix of American expatriates, and Danes with a longing to be somewhere else. It is a milieu of musicians, bohemians, students, tourists, hash heads, whores, dope dealers and world youth taking part in the Great Adventure. Black and white. Gays, lesbians and heterosexuals. Most of the characters are in a state of letting go and drifting with the current, going to parties and jazz clubs, drinking Copenhagen Manhattans (snaps and vermouth), smoking cannabis, playing folk music, and enjoying the whole hopscotch of free sex. It is a portrait of the Beat Generation’s younger siblings, in reality the first flower children. The novel is written in a “flipped-out” and fantasticated style, in an effort to capture in language the energy and disintegration of values in the period.

At the novel’s start the main character, the American Robert Gemshorn, rolls across the border from Germany to Denmark in his Volkswagen beetle and continues up through Jutland and ends up in Copenhagen. Here he looks up an old friend of his youth, the Danish married blind organist Chester Flynn, with his wife Birgit’s words “one of the few Americans who didn’t come to this country in order to get a new moral outlook.” And from there the journey goes on through an ever more motley gallery of characters, while the text disintegrates as sex orgies and drugs begin to predominate.

“For me the book deals with a person who has great love for America but who can’t live there,” says Kenneth Tindall—and so has already drawn the outline of a self-portrait.

“And therefore he stays hung up in Copenhagen and becomes involved in drug dealing and that kind of activity. I have actually known people like that, American soldiers and sailors who hung out in Copenhagen and smoked hashish and cultivated the free sex life. Some of them could handle it, others didn’t. It could be especially hard for the some of the young American women who came to Denmark then. They wanted to be virtuous and faithful to their sweethearts home in America, but at the same time they are were attracted by the liberal sexual mores in this country and the whole left-wing bohemian milieu. And so they became prostitutes. And their pimps were black American G.I.s who were stationed in Germany and came up here on thirty-day rotation and kept an eye on them. The girls couldn’t manage the freedom. Suddenly it dawns on you that you are free, and then you can’t handle it.”

Vindharpen got many reviews when it was published in Denmark, but the book didn’t sell.

“It was too high-priced, and Hans Reitzel, the publisher, said that it was too advanced, it was ahead of its time, which I agree with him in. But I think it succeeds as a depiction of the Danes seen in the light of the cultural conflict which arises with the Americans who come and take up residence here. Danes and Americans don’t really fit together, and it is first and foremost a matter of the sexual morality. In that regard we come from very different backgrounds. If we take the American girl in the book, Linda Woodruff, she wants to stay a virgin until marriage, while the Danish girls ball from age fifteen or earlier. There was a free sexual morality in Denmark which was completely unknown in America. Since then things have naturally changed, but now it looks as if George W. Bush is busy refitting virginities in all the places they were missing.”

It’s the American puritanism …
“And the American hypocrisy.”

Kenneth Tindall - Great Heads Kenneth Tindall was born in Los Angeles in 1937 and grew up partly in California and in and around New York City. After a few years’ stay on the west coast of Ireland and in Paris he came to Denmark in the early sixties together with his first Danish wife, Tove, who he had met while living at the Beat Hotel in Paris. At that point in time he already had one manuscript in his baggage, the still unpublished road novel The Arboretum, written in Ireland and Paris in the late fifties. Since then he has written two novels based on his life’s down trip, the period as a homeless person and in Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in New York: The Banks of the Sea (1987) and the brand new and still unpublished Body Only. Finally, he has written still another novel set in Denmark, Pignon, a portrayal of some characters in the Nørrebro slum in Copenhagen in the late seventies (publication planned for 2006).

It all began with a feeling of the impossibility of adjusting to life in the U.S.A.:

“I was a very rebellious young man. During the last year of high school we lived in Newark, New Jersey. I had a buddy there, Tony Cowan, and together we took over the student body government. We sat up for a whole night talking and decided that we were dissatisfied with the political situation at West Side High. Since I was editor of The Westonian, the school newspaper, we succeeded in introducing party politics in the Newark City Schools. That was in 1954 and I was seventeen. It was at the height of the McCarthy period, and after school I would come home and turn on the TV and watch the Army-McCarthy hearings. I had never experienced anything as un-American as Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohen. It was disgusting. And suddenly it got a little too close for comfort when the school principal, Mr. Francis B. Snavely, reported me to the FBI. He regarded us as subversives. It was ten or fifteen years before the youth revolution, and we were a kind of precursor of it.”

After graduating from high school Tindall joined the U.S. Navy. There he came to work with electronics (just like his father, who worked at Lockheed during the War installing radio equipment in P-38s). It was during his navy years that Tindall began reading serious literature in earnest, while at the same time writing poetry and science fiction stories (even though it was frowned on aboard the carrier. as he remarks). And it was also in those years that he became acquainted with the Beat Generation. It was during a weekend liberty in Seattle in 1956.

“I usually spent my weekends in Seattle and had rented a room from the landlady of a rooming house. It was a tiny attic room with a wood stove, and so I went to the Seattle Public Library and borrowed books I wanted to read. It was a happy time. I had a roof over my head, I could read and write undisturbed, and I could make cheap meals on the wood stove. It was the way I wanted to live.”

“One evening I went to a Pete Seeger concert — he was my hero — and during the intermission I picked up a girl who was ten years older than me and was a painter. Her name was Florence Cochrane and came from Newton, Massachusetts, and had gone to Museum School at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Now she was studying art at the University of Washington, and she invited me to shack up with her, which I did for a couple of weekends until she threw me out. It turned out that she had gone with Allen Ginsberg, while he was still bisexual, and she showed me a painting she had made of him and told me about him. Then she showed me Howl and Other Poems [1956], which had just been published. It was fantastic to read it—and it was like a thunderclap to discover that those people and that movement existed in America. Even the way the poem “Howl” was written, one outburst after another like a series of accusations, really said something to me. You have to remember that during the McCarthy period I myself had been subject to some of the same things which also Ginsberg and his family had been subjected to.”

Kenneth Tindall has written about the episode with Florence Cochrane in his first (unpublished) novel The Arboretum, in which she is portrayed as Flo Corcoran. The novel is a typical road novel from the nineteen fifties, where the young protagonist, the navy sailor Aaron Ainsworth, during leaves and weekend liberties drifts around on the American continent and tries to find a fixed point in his life and a meaning with his existence. He becomes infatuated with a friend’s girlfriend, the slightly older Rachel, but can’t figure out how to realize the relationship because he still lacks experience with women. An important interlude is the encounter with the older Flo in Seattle. She is a practicing artist and introduces the young man to Charlie Parker and Allen Ginsberg, while at the same time giving him sexual schooling. Afterwards she throws him out, and he lands once more alone in a small rented room like a piece of human flotsam on the vast American continent:

“For a buck a night opulently clean sheets and the toilet’s down the hall. Even a padlock that works, the other key retained by the landlady. Lonely fugitives and the lonelier ones robbed by the system. Abandoned persons, yes, Bureau of Abandoned Persons whom even the rats leave drowning in their own body fluids, the walls were full of their odor. The odor of the American nomadism.”

At the novel’s conclusion Aaron sits in a lonely beach bungalow on Fire Island and rages at his life—exactly as the author did when he started writing the novel. In 1957 Tindall was finished with the navy, and after having been turned down by Harvard he decided to travel out into the world. The choice of destination fell on Ireland, primarily for literary reasons—while in the navy Tindall had devoured volume after volume of Irish literature, especially James Joyce and William Butler Yeats. And after having worked all summer at the American Can Company in Jersey City, in August 1957 he bought passage aboard a small Irish cargo steamer, Irish Oak, which was sailing from Hoboken, New Jersey.

“Navy life had been a fantastic experience. I was a firecontrol technician on board the aircraft carrier Princeton. We were the first American capital ship to visit Bangkok since World War II. But I also experienced a lot of harassment on account of having been reported to the FBI while in high school. The Investigators kept me under surveillance, opened my mail, and instructed my division buddies and the officers to keep note of which books I read, my opinions about politics and religion. And what I said about sex—that was very important. They also interviewed my father in his home. I was eighteen years old! That was one of the things which made me decide there was no future for me in the USA.”

“When the Irish Oak arrived in Cork, the first thing passengers and some of the officers did was to get drunk, then we took a couple of taxis out to Blarney Castle and kissed the Blarney Stone. Then I took the train up to Dublin and was there for a week waiting for a check at American Express. When the money came I took the train to Galway and from there a bus out to a tiny fishing village called Roundstone, where I had been given the address of some people who could help me find a place to live. I ended up renting a small dwelling, Glawn Cottage, all the way out on the Connemara coast. The rent was fifteen dollars a month, and from my bedroom window I had a view of the Aran Islands. It was there I began writing The Arboretum.”

Tindall lived on the west coast of Ireland for eleven months. Then his buddy Tony showed up, and together they hitchhiked via London to Paris.

“I was so poor you can’t imagine it. I slept under bridges and on park benches, and in the flower market. One day I was standing in the mail line at American Express and there was a letter for me, with a check for a small amount from an insurance policy my Grandpa Tindall had drawn for me and my sister, and in the line were some acquaintances from the States. Tony was there, and he introduced me to Piero Heliczer, who I became good friends with.”

That would become a decisive meeting. Poet Piero Heliczer lived with his girlfriend, Olivia d’Hauleville, right beside Place Saint Sulpice, and Tindall had at that time found a good bench down in front where he usually slept.

“One evening when I had settled down for the night I was awakened by Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. They had been visiting up at Piero and Olivia’s, who had apparently told them that I was sleeping down on a bench.

They were very friendly and gave me good advice. Gregory said: “Be careful of strangers and ugly people.” And then they gave me five hundred francs. Just like that. They didn’t have much money themselves.”

Via Piero Heliczer Tindall came in contact with Nelson Aldrich, the wealthy Paris manager of the renowned The Paris Review. Aldrich suggested that they go out and sell back numbers of The Paris Review to American tourists, and it worked, the magazines sold like hotcakes. Soon Tindall had enough money to rent a room in the disreputable hotel 9 rue Gît-le-Coeur. The hotel was run by the kindly madame Rachou and didn’t even have a name, but among the American artists, writers and bohemians who during the late fifties had begun to gravitate there it was known as the Beat Hotel. The name was Gregory Corso’s idea. Now Tindall had a roof over his head and could go on writing The Arboretum. The year was 1958.

“I was still often together with Piero and Olivia, and one day we wanted to make some stew on the gas ring in my room. The only thing we needed was meat, so I went down in Rue de Seine and spotted a girl I had seen a few days before from a bus on Place de l’Opéra. She was a Danish girl, Tove, and she became my first wife. I felt as if we already knew each other, so I went over to her and asked: “Pardon Mamsel, would you like to share a meal with us?” Lo and behold, she bought a pound of bifteak for the marvelous stew we were cooking in my room. That Christmas we went to Copenhagen and got married, and that really caused a stir at the hotel. We were the only married couple.”

Another American writer at the hotel with a Danish connection was William S. Burroughs, who was just completing the cut-up novel Naked Lunch (1959), one of the principal works of Beat literature. Burroughs had not yet come to Paris from Tangier, when Tindall moved into the Beat Hotel, but when he arrived in 1958, he took over the Tindall couple’s room, after they had moved into a larger room with a double bed. For a time before this (in July-August 1957) Burroughs had been on a trip to Denmark to visit his boyhood friend Kells Elvins, who was now married with the Danish actress Mimi Heinrich. It was that visit which had inspired Burroughs to write the “Freeland” zone sections in Naked Lunch.

“I was a little amazed at having access to talk with Burroughs, even though I myself had not yet read any of his books. Naked Lunch was published while I was living at the hotel. I felt that we were on good terms with each other. I ran into him on the stairs nearly every day, and I would often sit in his room and we talked in detail about our views of the States, which in very many respects were in agreement. He never came into our room; we were a married couple. Later it dawned on me that my access to him might have something to do with the fact that I had a Danish wife, just like his best friend Kells Elvins.”

Did you talk about his literary experiments?

“I knew what he was doing, but inasmuch as I was developing my own writing I didn’t want to be influenced by him, so I tried to avoid getting too close. I was still working on The Arboretum. I had left my mother’s old Hermes Baby typewriter in Connemara, because I couldn’t have it with me when I was hitchhiking. But I knew an American girl in Paris, Suzy Shawn—daughter of the painter Ben Shawn—who gave me her Olivetti portable.”

Other of the inhabitants of the Beat Hotel found that Burroughs had a frightening aura, maybe because he was still on junk …

“That wasn’t my experience of him. I experienced first and foremost a man who made use of unorthodox techniques to write his novels. Among other things he used a tape recorder, which he had bought at the fleamarket. And I experienced an unhappy person, but everybody knew that. Not that he didn’t have a love life. He liked the young male hustlers on the Boulevard Saint Germain. But it mustn’t be forgotten that he was a very cultured and articulate man. He had gone to Harvard.”

How did you and Gregory Corso get on?

“Corso and I hit it off great together, we became friends—maybe because he was unequivocally heterosexual, at least as far as I know. I can tell you that the neighboring building was another hotel, where a whole turnaround of American girls stayed, and you could hear them call: “Gregoryyy … Gregoryyy …” I don’t think he went out with them, at least not with all of them, but the possibility definitely existed. And I really admired his poetry. He sat on the floor in his tiny garret room and wrote “Bomb” [The Happy Birthday of Death, 1960], a very fine poem .”

“It was also Corso who introduced Tove and me to pot, for which we were very grateful to him. But it was Burroughs who helped us score. One day we asked him if he knew where you could get some kif. “Well, maybe I do …” When he talked he sounded just like my grandpa from Kansas. “You go over to the Arab café in back of the Hôtel de Ville, and just say that Burroughs sent you. ” We walked in, and there were all these Moroccans and Algerians, and to be honest we didn’t feel very comfortable, but we sat down and ordered a cup of coffee. Then in came this American gay with white tight pants, white tennis shoes and turtleneck sweater—he came sashaying in and plunked a little plastic bag on the table in front of us, and we gave him the amount agreed on, and that was that. Man, I tell you … the types Burroughs knew!”

“Tove and I had our own set of friends, for the most part other couples. For example, we were frequently with James and Gloria Jones. Jim had made a lot of money on From Here to Eternity and had settled in Paris not far from the Beat Hotel, where he was working on a new novel, The Thin Red Line [1962]. He encouraged me to read to him from The Arboretum, which I was naturally very honored by. He was a fine person. At one point he and Gloria bought two apartments on Île Saint Louis and connected them into one big apartment. The bathroom had a huge tub with an electric water heater. Gloria explained that while he was writing From Here to Eternity Jim lived in a trailer and never had enough hot water. He also bought an expensive car, a Mercedes 300 SL, which he crashed.”

“One reason why Tove and I were selective about who we hung out with was that at one point certain people at the hotel became very interested in the occult. There was a shop on Place de l’Odéon where you could buy pendulums, crystal balls and that sort of thing; it was probably Burroughs who discovered it. So they started having seances at night where they wanted to conjure spirits. I knew what was going on because I recognized some inscriptions on Burroughs’s wall as devils’ signatures. As the night wore on strange sounds and exclamations could be heard from Burroughs’s room, and the pot smoke seeped out under the door. Tove was pregnant, and we didn’t want any part of that scene.”

In March 1960 Tove gave birth to the couple’s son, Seth, at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine. At that time they had moved to an apartment in the suburb of Bois Colombes. A few months later they pulled up stakes again and traveled to Denmark, where Tindall got work as a farmhand on the island of Funen, and then became feedmaster-farmhand in the village of Drengsted in South Jutland. After more than half a year of hard physical labor—the farmer was sick and couldn’t give a hand with the work, and he didn’t have a tractor but only horses—Tindall moved to Copenhagen and got a job in a can factory, Nobi Emballage, in Brønshøj. By that time the marriage was on the rocks.

“Tove came from a pietistic milieu. That hadn’t been a problem in France, but it was a different matter when we came to Denmark. Her father was a lay preacher connected with Bethesda, the Home Mission chapel beside the vegetable market in Copenhagen—he was the one who organized the messenger boys’ yearly bicycle race on Israel Square—and Tove was under his sway. He made her do everything she could to discourage me from writing. She systematically burned my notes and letters, until finally I wouldn’t take it any longer.”

After a few experimental efforts Tindall started translating Danish texts on a serious basis, which in turn led to a job as editorial secretary at Wilhelm Hansen Music Publishers, where he worked for the next three and a half years. One morning on the train to work he started talking with a young woman who was also commuting to work. Her name was Janne (Marianne), and she was a silversmith. Shortly afterwards she became his second Danish wife. During the same period Tindall became involved in the folk music scene in Copenhagen, and together the couple frequented such places as Montmartre, Café Las Vegas and the Purple Door, where Tindall would perform on the penny whistle along with folk musicians like Cæsar, Povl Dissing, Egon Aagaard, and the trio Cy, Maia and Robert. Hashish was smoked and LSD was ingested, and the drug vocabulary found its way into the novel which was published as Vindharpen.

“The manuscript, with the working title Job of Journeywork, was translated into Danish by Finn Holten Hansen. It was also Finn Holten Hansen who that same year (1967) had translated Naked Lunch. Hans Reitzel sent the manuscript to Grove Press in New York.

Shortly after the publication of Vindharpen in 1967 Kenneth Tindall received word from his grandfather saying that both of his parents had died.

“My father was a typical overstressed executive, and he died from a stroke on the floor of a hotel bathroom in Atlanta, Georgia. My parents had at that time been divorced for a number of years, but when my mother learned of his death she took her own life. Whew… At the same time, my marriage with Janne had broken up, so the whole thing was pretty traumatic.”

A gleam of light in the darkness was that a film producer, Mogens Skot-Hansen of Laterna Films, had bought the film rights to Vindharpen. For the money the sale brought in, Tindall went back to California in order to be with his family and settle affairs there. It was the intention that he would quickly return to Denmark, but on the way back he met a woman, Julia, in New York and stayed on. It was right in the period where the dark side of the sixties began to overshadow the hippies’ optimism. While Tindall was living in New York first Martin Luther King Jr. was shot (4.4.68), and soon after that Robert Kennedy (6.6.68) was killed. The paranoia of the time—together with Tindall’s personal déroute, permeated the manuscript which became The Banks of the Sea (1987).

“A week after Robert Kennedy was assassinated Julia, the woman I was living with, threw me out, and suddenly I found myself on the street in New York. Of course I had some friends where occasionally I could get meals and a place to sleep, but I was suffering from a severe depression and thought I would never see my son Seth again. Later I understood that I suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, resulting from all the misfortunes which I had been hit in the head with in a short space of time. One morning on the street I went out on the Williamsburg Bridge and sat on the railing looking down at the water. It was the morning rush hour and a black police officer stopped his car, opened the door and said: “Hop in.”I did, and he took me down to the precinct headquarters, just on the Manhattan side of the bridge. From there an ambulance took me to Bellevue.”

Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, where many of “the best minds” from Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” had passed through, appears both in The Banks of the Sea and in Tindall’s latest manuscript, the unpublished Body Only. In The Banks of the Sea, where Navy veteran Carol Gamewell lands among junkies, acid freaks and dropouts in the sixties Lower East Side, it is the shadow from the Vietnam War which leans ominously in over the setting, while the characters are entangled in murky intrigues and frantically search for the vestiges of a long-vanished America, The Peaceable Kingdom:

“America was a land of secret societies, interlocking signals passed like a perfumed handshake, the Three Kings of Orient R and Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice. Rigmarole and deadpan tomfoolery in the copes and chasubles of wizards, ceremonial aprons, kilts, satin jellabas and hairdresser’s sanbenitos. The opiate of the American people may be the church but their religion was the lodge. Politics was conducted not in smoke-filled rooms but from hermetic chambers and the freedoms of the open society were but the hoopla of a Shriners’ circus.”

And in the experimental and shifting-viewpoint Body Only it is again a rootless drifter, Steve Chalaza, who sinks to the bottom in New York’s sedimentary layer, a morass of degradation and survival instincts where everybody fucks everybody—literally and figuratively—while the main character fades further and further into hunger hallucinations and mental illness, until he finally hits bottom with a thud: “Jesus Christ, he looks like he came from Auschwitz.”

The action in the two novels Kenneth Tindall knows only too well from his own time in New York:

“After two weeks in Bellevue I was released onto the street and then wandered around and lost weight. You lose weight fast when you’re living on the street constantly on the move. My depression came flooding back, and so I jumped in the East River, was fished out by the Coast Guard and taken back to Bellevue. I put on weight again. The food is pretty good in Bellevue, all things considered, and you can eat all you want. And I should say that the conversation therapy with the clinicians was really helpful. Luckily I was never given electroshock.”

“That period was probably the lowest point in my life. I saw a lot of things and got to know a lot of people, but I also got more afraid than I have ever been, either before or since. Just consider the descriptions from Coney Island in Body Only—everything that happens out at Far Rockaway and on down the coast to Hotel Ocean Crest, the abandoned Jewish hotel, is something I myself have experienced. I have also tried to drown myself in Gravesend Bay. I waded out and treaded water for a couple of hours, until I saw the lights go on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and I thought of my father and swam back to shore on my back and lay on the stones for a long time, completely exhausted.”

By an odd coincidence Kenneth Tindall, during the stay at Bellevue, gets the impulse to phone Grove Press to hear whether they had finally decided to take on Job of Journeywork (Vindharpen)—or Great Heads, as the book is titled in America.

“The other patients in the ward had elected me trusty, which meant that I was allowed to go out to the newsstand in the hospital lobby and fill their orders for cigarettes, coffee, hamburgers and candy. The tips I got made it possible for me to buy my own cigarettes, and to use the ward’s pay phone. I remembered Grove Press’s phone number and called up and got hold of Barney Rosset’s secretary. She told me that Grove had decided to publish the book. With the advance I bought a plane ticket to Copenhagen. But I was skinny and ragged and misanthropic and couldn’t talk to people. But after a while, and with a little help from my Danish friends, I was once again able to function in human company. Great Heads was published, and this stimulated me to go to the U.S. Consulate and ask to be repatriated. They gave me a one-way plane ticket to New York, and so I left for the States in order to finish writing The Banks of the Sea.”

This time Kenneth Tindall stayed in the USA for five years, from 1970 til ’74. During the last three and a half years of this period he worked for the U.S. Postal Service, where one of his jobs was delivering letters up in the south tower of the World Trade Center. One place in The Banks of the Sea the main character stands in Washington Square Park and looks down towards the south end of Manhattan, where “the twin towers of the World Trade Center [are] sticking up like the tines of a tuning fork.”The steadily growing manuscript of the novel—ultimately some 400 pages—Tindall kept in a safe deposit box in the Chase Manhattan Bank in the concourse beneath the Twin Towers.

Tindall had by this time come to terms with America, so much so that he considered staying and taking a University degree. But then word reached him from Denmark that his son Seth was hit by a car and had been in a coma. Once more Tindall crossed the Atlantic, this time aboard the Swedish passenger liner Kungsholm, and never to return to the USA.

In Denmark he again had more or less intermittent jobs, until in the late seventies he got employment as a Manpower temporary in the securities department of a Copenhagen central bank. There he met Birgit, who became his wife and with whom he has two teenage sons. Simultaneously, he wanted to settle in Denmark and acquired Danish citizenship.

This period is documented in the novel Pignon, which is planned for publication by Pomegranate Crown Press in 2006. Once again the main character is an American in Copenhagen, Rollie Arkwright, a wealthy and entirely unscrupulous opportunist with a hankering for underage girls. The setting is the Nørrebro (Northbridge) slum neighborhood, and this time the air is alive with urban renewal and child pornography.

“With this experimental novel I want to document some of the things I experienced in the late nineteen seventies. I lived in Nørrebro, and child pornography had not yet been made illegal. It was a festering time and a festering milieu. The huge urban renewal program had just gotten started, but porno factories and porno shops were all over the place, and here and there in the streets you could recognize some of the neighborhood’s young girls from the pictures in the porno magazines. A certain category of the girls slipped almost automatically into prostitution. I lived in an abandoned dairy store on the ground floor, and I would often be visited by the children who lived nearby, and I felt almost lucky that I didn’t get seduced or raped by some of the young girls. They were so sex-obsessed, and I felt sorry for them. What I did instead was to take them to the nearby parish church, Holy Cross Church. I had contact especially with a particular family, where the father drove a taxi at night and the mother worked in a factory. Their girl, Winnie, and a few of her younger siblings often visited me, and we kept the contact for many years after Birgit and I had moved out to Hundested.”

“Another background for Pignon was an American businessman living in Copenhagen, who worked for a Los Angeles porno ring, and who in Denmark was responsible for the production and distribution of child pornography in the seventies. He was a well-known figure in Copenhagen night life. Raymond Limbach, was his name. Arkwright is to some extent a portrait of Ray Limbach, but in an idealized version. Arkwright is practically a hero alongside Limbach, a John Wayne figure, that is if you can imagine a somewhat pedophile John Wayne!”

Today Kenneth Tindall lives with his Danish wife Birgit and their two half-grown sons in idyllic surroundings in Lynæs, a small fishing village north of Copenhagen. Apart from a series of distinguished translations he has never really been counted in the Danish literary milieu. For a period of years he has more or less kept a low profile as a writer of fiction, except for some shorter items, memoirs, short stories and poetry—especially on his own web site. But Tindall has the whole time been involved in writing novels, and with the current interest from the new American publisher Pomegranate Crown Press, which recently reissued Great Heads, and which plans to publish Pignon, it looks as if the authorship is finally getting some attention. It is deserved and high time.

Novels by Kenneth Tindall:

  • The Arboretum (unpublished, written 1957-60).
  • Vindharpen (Hans Reitzels Forlag, 1967) (American edition: Great Heads, Grove Press, 1969; reissued by Pomegranate Crown Press, 2005).
  • The Banks of the Sea (Dalkey Archive Press, 1987).
  • Body Only (unpublished, written 2001-04).
  • Pignon (unpublished, written 1987, planned for publication by Pomegranate Crown Press, 2006).


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About Kenneth Tindall

Kenneth Tindall lives with his wife & sons in Lynæs, a small fishing village north of Copenhagen. He is the author of five novels, including Great Heads and The Banks of the Sea. Visit Kenneth Tindall's web site.