Friday, September 27, 2013

A reading and belated launch in Oxford

OPEN DAY for Oxford Continuing Education Dept, 26th September.

I was  one of three reading from their new novels at an event in Oxford, in connection with the Creative Writing School at the University, which I attended some years ago, and on which I first began writing A Conscious Englishman.
The Continuing Education Dept holds an Open Day  and we were  part of that.

Rewley House, Continuing Education Centre, Oxford.

16.00-16.45 - Reading: three authors, new fiction
Creative Writing - Newly published work from our Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing

Newly published work from our Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing
Three authors will read from their newly published work at this book launch and wine reception.
Course alumni Elisabeth Gifford and Margaret Keeping will read from their novels Secrets of the Sea House and A Conscious Englishman, both published this year; and Diploma fiction tutor Jeremy Hughes will read from his upcoming second novel Wingspan, which will be released this November.
 Please join us to celebrate their achievements. (Please note: the readings will fit into a 45 minute time frame to allow those who have booked into a session at 5pm to leave; the overall reception will last 90 minutes to allow those who remain time to socialise with the authors and ask questions about their work.)       


I met beforehand with my publisher Frank Egerton and after discussion decided to focus on Edward's interiority rather than include all the main characters. Helen had only a brief appearance in her memoir.

Liz Gifford and I were of the same year and have kept in touch, as have quite a few of  us, with at least an annual reunion and sometimes our own 'workshops'.. Her novel, set in the present and Victorian times, with the Hebridean belief in seal-people a core theme, sounds very intriguing.

A friend and I went to two sessions with Jeremy Hughes during the day. He is an excellent, often very amusing, teacher.
Questions to me were:
How did you find it writing in a man's voice? Actually I was only writing Edward through interior monologue other than in dialogue passages, unlike Helen  for whom I used the first person. I answered that I was so steeped in the poetry, prose and letters of Edward that it came unconsciously. I didn't add that I found Helen more difficult - how to convey her rather effusive nature without alienating the reader from her.
Another question was around the necessity of knowing thoroughly and in detail the subject of your writing- I certainly endorse that.
Other questions were chiefly about the Creative Writing Diploma course at Oxford and Liz and I  spoke enthusiastically about it - it really was an excellent two years and I rather wish I could do it all over again.

Here is the section I opened with :

That afternoon Edward wanted to walk again and he decided to take Myfanwy. She  rode on his shoulders, excited by the privilege of time alone with her father. She sang what she could remember of  ‘D’ye ken John Peel’, jigging up and down and working her chubby little legs to make him go faster. He listened, fascinated, as she kept the music and cadences true but completely jumbled the words or invented her own.

‘D’ye ken John Peel from far far away

Do’ye ken John Peel every single day

D’ye ken John Peeeeeeel in his coat so gay

and his hounds that get up every morn-ing’

And so on, with variations ever more numerous and inventive. But always the cadences were true to the original. Better than the original in fact, Edward thought. He tried joining in but was told firmly,

‘No Daddy. My song.’ And so it was, her song that was rooted in something else, in sound, pure sound.

They travelled so speedily that they reached a place they’d never visited, where a stony track forded the Preston Brook. Myfanwy paddled. Edward sat still on the bank by the glinting, murmuring stream. A dragonfly suddenly landed on a large stone by the water’s edge and warmed itself, taking heat from the stone and sun together. There it stayed motionless and timeless, as he felt himself to be, sitting still in the sun.

 A trickle from a smaller stream entered Preston Brook. White chickens pecked among the roots of an ash tree; they squeezed through the hedge from a farmhouse he could just see through the elms. The hedge was blackthorn skilfully laid, the clean scars of the labourer’s hook still visible.  He listened. The only sounds were of the stream, the birds and the trees – their own pure and individual languages, never straining for effect, never false. He thought about the many languages, man’s one among many. Was it possible that a man’s words could have that kind of truthfulness?

He sat on the short turf of the stream bank listening and thinking..

What it would be to find those words, to try to express the thoughts that arose from what he was seeing, whether in prose or verse! To write what it meant to feel a oneness with nature, with the kind of quiet ecstasy moments like these could bring. He knew there was so much that could never be fully expressed, or could only be expressed through absences and negatives. But perhaps the goal was to try, and at least not to betray the language in trying.

I didn't after all use the poem, Beauty, but hope I conveyed its spirit with enough to show Edward Thomas's complex nature and the crucial role of the natural world in his life.


WHAT does it mean? Tired, angry, and ill at ease,
No man, woman, or child alive could please
Me now. And yet I almost dare to laugh
Because I sit and frame an epitaph--
"Here lies all that no one loved of him
And that loved no one." Then in a trice that whim
Has wearied. But, though I am like a river
At fall of evening when it seems that never
Has the sun lighted it or warmed it, while
Cross breezes cut the surface to a file,
This heart, some fraction of me, happily
Floats through a window even now to a tree
Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale;
Not like a pewit that returns to wail
For something it has lost, but like a dove
That slants unanswering to its home and love.
There I find my rest, and through the dusk air
Flies what yet lives in me. Beauty is there

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