May 2013: I’m back to this site after too long an absence – I have been neglectful; sorry, all. But I have just finished the third of the Love and Inheritance trilogy – my first attempt at a historical novel, multiplied by three – and am able to pay attention to other things than fiction. I must say having lifted my head from the page after so long, the world looks pretty good – so long as one avoids the news.
It’s May, Spring is here. It’s almost warm, one can stop huddling. In the winter I have to go down to the basement and work there on my laptop: it can get so cold in this hill-top house with its lovely views, it’s better to look up from ground level onto a soggy lawn and a few dank leaves – and this year winter seemed to go on for ever and ever. But now I am upstairs again, looking out at passers-by and the Gilbert Scott church opposite – and our new young beech tree has grown so much due to the wet winter that it now obscures the new metal windows. At least late Springs reward you for your wait. Everything happens at once. The cherry tree is in full and wondrous blossom, the apples trees in the back in plentiful bud, the rhubarb is so energetic you can almost see it growing, the primulas have spread and now make a carpet down the garden path: though the ash, I see, rather to my dismay, is in new leaf, but the oak not,
‘If the ash be out before the oak,
We shall have a soak.
Of the oak be out before the ash,
We shall have a splash.’
‘Old country saying’ as Lily the lady’s maid in Love and Inheritance is fond of saying. She likes a fancy phrase. ‘Those who change the sheets know the truth,’ she asserts. Rather a stopper in the faux-genteel environs of the Servants’ Hall at my invented Dilberne Court. I am reminded of the ‘garbologists’ of the sixties, sociologists who maintained that the only way to be sure consumers were telling the truth about their consuming habits was to sort through their dustbins. How many times a week? Only the sheets will tell. I am going to miss Lily, but I daresay I have imbued her with enough life to wind her up and set her going, leave her to her own devices, not mine, off into that shady half world where fictional characters go when their writers have finished with them.
I emerge into a world not just of flowering cherries, but one now convinced of the existence of the Higgs Bosun, stuck on quantums, talking of alternative universes, prepared to abandon the laws of physics as once we knew them. Suits me. But how quickly views change. I no longer feel the need to aplogise for the ghosts in my basement as I did in my 2011 book Kehua! And rather gratified that Arthur Balfour, PM., features so large in the trilogy. He’s a real life character walking amongst the fictional. Arthur Balfour, ‘the cleverest man in England’, frequented séances and believed in the After Life, the Other Side, and no doubt now inhabits it.
They have their fictional equivalent, I stoutly maintain, in a fictional after-life. Believe in one alterative universe, believe in them all. (As Chesterton said ‘When a man gives up believing in God, he’ll believe in anything at all.’) I take as evidence my own story Lily Bart’s Hat Shop, where The House of Mirth’s Lily Bart doesn’t die but now, together with the Dolls House’s Nora, employs, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (who changed her mind about the train) in her hatshop, as she does other refuseniks – Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Fontane’s Effie Briest – all of whom only really needed jobs as an alternative to suicide to be able to escape their punitive authors and find more satisfactory lovers. Jane Eyre comes in search of a hat to please Rochester and Lily, Nora, Anna, Emma and Effie try to reform her, but I think fail.
Anyway there’s a clear space ahead. I do miss writing drama after so much prose. I could do Lily Bart’s Hatshop as a stage play, but I’m much taken by the idea of Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer. I have always loved the book – overtones of Philip K Dick – fantastical sci-fi plot plus philosophical overtones. Easy enough to do; just five characters on a stage, coming and going, mixing and mingling, with a filmed backdrop of thirties’ California. The Hatshop idea would be an awful lot of work. Anyone who wants the idea can have it. In an adaptation someone else has done all the real work of idea and invention and you’re just left with the pleasure of handling words. But who in the real world is still interested in Huxley? You never know. It’s spring out there and looking pretty good, and June with its hurricane season is coming along.
More about hurricanes next instalment.