Clive V L James set about building his website in 2004, after obtaining the rights to the domain name clivejames.com (indirectly) from Colorado-based jet-ski racer Clive M B James. With the assistance of a small but dedicated team of cultural and literary, administrative and technological assistants, including (among others) Cécile Menon, Dawn Mancer, Dominic Cellier, John Bryan, Nicholas Watts and Simon Larcey, Clive assembled over the following years a virtual Library of Babel, to include copies and excerpts from hundreds of essays, poetic and prose works, blogs, books, artworks, radio and TV programs and podcasts, YouTube videos and Web links. At first his intention was to provide a showcase for his own best work, but he soon expanded this to include selected guest writers. He made the decision to eschew all those distracting website tricks, tropes and gimmicks, so his pages are static in style, devoid of annoying pop-ups and animations, though arguably at some detriment to their intuitive navigability.
With the onset of illness in 2010, Clive's available time for developing the site inevitably became restricted, and the accession rate of new material declined. Also around this time the content's error rate increased, with an accumulation of broken links, layout, typographical and OCR errors, plus some ungainly and in places malfunctioning HTML code (I found earlier and later styles coexisting uncomfortably on some pages), the latter possibly related to the introduction of a CMS (the Drupal content management system) aimed at eliminating the coding drudgery demanded by an editable website.
Then, some time in 2018, clivejames.com disappeared. Page requests to the URL were met by an error message: "This site can't be reached". The domain name referenced a Sheffield-based hosting service (serversure.net) which was apparently no longer hosting the site. No regretful apology for closure, no redirection nothing! In Pete Atkin's words, it seemed to have "fallen off the edge of the table".
Clive may have had his reasons for discontinuing the website, a venture he was so proud of at the start. But for that wealth of material to just vanish without some official public archive would be a tragic loss of potential inspiration as well as a waste of Clive's effort. Lacking any word of his intentions and without access to the original files, I decided at the beginning of August 2019 to collect such material as I could from sources various across the Web (including the remarkable Wayback Machine), and assemble a fair copy of the site here on my own peteatkin.com server, to act at least as an unofficial backup in case the original content became, or indeed was, irretrievably lost. Rightly or wrongly I decided to hold true to the spirit of Clive's vision, eschewing fancy effects and retaining the look and feel of the original in its most recent version, complete with rudimentary fonts, breadcrumbs and static navigation tree, adding just a little colour and mouseover highlighting to aid negotiation of the menus. I might yet swap all that out for a dynamic expandable vertical menu listing in the left-hand pane, and revise some of the small, low-resolution images. But I won't go too far; we'll see.
I've repaired such dysfunctional code and transcription errors as I've spotted, and where possible the broken links — Australian periodicals seem to be particularly careless with their archives — though with some articles (especially those from publications with 'Times' somewhere in the name) access is hindered by paywalls erected since Clive originally selected them for inclusion. Irreconcilable links (some material is no longer to be found anywhere on the Internet) I have disabled, but retained as greyed-out titles for reference. Much of the audio content may not be recoverable unless I can gain access to Clive's files. I've also smoothed the blocky top-menu title fonts and removed the RSS feed, the Google ads, the commercial aspect (the online shop) and most of the Drupal-related bloat from the page code, so things should load in noticeably snappier fashion. And today, with clivejames.com still MIA, I decided to make this part-finished archive available on the Web.
The following I hope will be understood without my needing to state it; but I will anyway, for hope isn't as strong as trust: the opinions expressed in the pages of this archive are those of Clive James and, where appropriate, his guest writers. All text displayed without byline, signature, credit or other attribution is the work of Clive himself. Nothing here should be taken to imply endorsement of, agreement or otherwise with, or support for or against these views, either by myself or by Pete Atkin, the titular subject of the website hosting this archive. Almost everything is covered by copyright, either Clive's or that of others, permissions for the use of which I'm taking to have already been granted.
Continuation of this venture is necessarily dependent on Clive's blessing. Should he request that it be taken down, I shall comply; equally if the original site returns, this one will not attempt to conflict or compete with it. Meanwhile I will keep adding more of the original material. Inevitably, restoring all the pages will be a slow process (this is after all a very-much-part-time 'labour of love'), and for a good while you will continue to see 'not found' errors from menu clicks in some regions of the archive. Please keep checking back for updates.
— Stephen J Birkill, Webmaster peteatkin.com, August 12th 2019.
02.09.19 - First two sections, 'ESSAYS' and 'POETRY', completed, about 400 local pages plus another 50 external links. Most '404' errors now reference pages under 'BOOKS'. Archive announced to 'Midnight Voices'. Much still to do...
03.09.19 - The official site, at www.clivejames.com has reappeared, after many months absence and, coincidentally, just as I announced this archive! It's the work of Dawn Mancer, it uses editmysite.com at weebly.com and has a whole new Wordpress-y look: trendily sparse, with plenty of white space and some animated fly-out menus — not quite, I think, in line with Clive's original vision for the site. Rather like Clive's fond image of swans, there's a lot of non-displaying code chuntering away just below the surface, but it doesn't seem to slow things down excessively. And much of the old content is there and more is being added. Anyway, this means I can immediately cease development of the archive and delete all links to it. This page, linked from MV, will remain for a while to tell the story.
03.10.19 - As you were! At the invitation of Clive's daughter Claerwen, and together with Pete Atkin, I met with Clive in the book-lined kitchen/study of his at his home in Cambridge to discuss the future of clivejames.com. It was agreed that Dawn Mancer should continue to develop the revived site at the official address of www.clivejames.com, whilst I work to complete this archive, hosted temporarily at the subdomain https://clivejames.peteatkin.com but with the intention of relocation when complete to a new address, possibly at https://archive.clivejames.com. I immediately commenced rebuilding the archive off line, including subtle changes to enhance the user interface and enable more rapid access and updating. Anticipate completion late December 2019.
24.11.19 - Clive gave up the struggle, dying peacefully at home. His funeral was held at Pembroke College on 27th November, after which his death was announced on his website at clivejames.com. Read his self-penned obituary notice here.
31.12.19 - Developing the code to enhance browsing and search-engine optimisation while cutting page access time (and a lot more tidying-up!) has taken me rather longer than expected. The "Essays" section served as guinea-pig and is now complete, and I'm currently editing the "Home", "About" and section-header pages. Adding static data in "Poetry", "Books", "Gallery" and "Author" should now proceed apace, but I'm reluctant to risk a new ETA; I will publish the new archive in place of the current version as soon as I've completed the "Poetry" section, at which point the new will begin to overtake the old.
02.02.20 - A month on, and I'm realising the magnitute of the task I've assumed in assembling this archive. I'm to blame for much of it, as I keep seeing opportunities for improvement while I continue to add material – a design process an acquaintance of mine referred to as "creeping elegance", and which should always cease at launch date! – all of which requires blocks of new code to be developed and in some cases added to already-completed pages. Much of this has to do with improving navigation without losing the menu-driven structure. You'll see. I'm back to the 500-page mark now, and I guess there's about the same number still to build.