The quotations below encapsulate many of the reasons I chose the novel form for the Berkeley Series.
There is no doubt that fiction makes a better job of the truth.
Nothing factual that I write or say will be as truthful as my fiction.
Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.Mark Twain
Like many rich men, he thought in anecdotes; like many simple women, she thought in terms of biography.Anita Brookner
Biography lends to death a new terror.
Discretion is not the better part of biography.
I had to do the book because there was an unauthorised biography which didn't tell it like it was.
Just how difficult it is to write biography can be reckoned by anybody who sits down and considers just how many people know the real truth about his or her love affairs.Rebecca West
One good anecdote is worth a volume of biography.
William Ellery Channing
People think that because a novel's invented, it isn't true.
Exactly the reverse is the case. Biography and memoirs can never be
wholly true, since they cannot include every conceivable circumstance of
what happened. The novel can do that.
There is no psychology; there is only biography and autobiography.
There is properly no history, only biography.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Biography is the only true history.
I can find my biography in every fable that I read.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Almost any biographer, if he respects facts, can give us much more than another fact to add to our collection. He can give us the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders.
When THE WOLF AND THE LAMB was a Work in Progress, I described
it as a biographical novel, a recognised genre in those days. Several months after
publication, the tag was changed to 'novelised biography'. This doesn't
fit under a ready-made heading, but more accurately describes what's
going on. To me, and it seems to readers, 'biographical novel' is
opaque, whereas 'novelised biography' sparks curiosity. Who? When?
Where? How? Why?
The subtle shift in emphasis has aroused a more focused interest.
Why not just write a biography? (It might have been easier!)
Firstly, because the story begged to live in 3-D. It needed to be a product of the social, cultural, economic, religious and political conflict of the times. The late Georgian era was one of dynamic change to landscape and livelihood and the beginning of a revolution that is still going on. Then there was Bonaparte, the Corsican Monster, on the doorstep. I wanted to make a psychological journey into Mary Cole's life and try to discover how it was for her, how she forced the locks of the oubliette that was the female universe, whilst keeping the reputation lost to her ambitious sisters. There is no doubt that she identified with many of Mary Wollstonecraft's beliefs, but never resorted to aggressive, or even assertive, feminism.
The second reason, and this is bound up with #1, is because I can tell you what appears to be true, but it may not convey the truth about this remarkable lady. Yes, mine is an imaginative reconstruction and it's possible that there are places I've joined up the dots wrongly. But from ranging wide and delving deep into research documents, trawling through thousands and thousands of records, checking and cross-referencing, this is how I believe it happened. It proves nothing if not the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.
As a young novelist, I rifled through less well-known figures of history in a bid to find a subject that snagged attention but hadn't been tackled. On an arts course based in Bath, a visit to Berkeley Castle brought the quest to an end. There, in the drawing-room, flanking one side of the fireplace wall, was the Hoppner painting above. It brought a tingle to the nape. I knew that woman. In spite of her Jane Austen clothes, Mary Cole struck me as modern, a woman whose strength of character shone through her beauty. There is in her a wistfulness, a touch of injury and a resolve not to be defeated by circumstance. She had plenty of confidence, instilled by a mother who saw status as an accident of birth, and a father who strove to provide an education for his daughters, albeit modest, in a local academy.
They were all women of destiny.
The sisters, Ann and Susan, made themselves available among the aristocracy and eventually married well, emigrating to the New World where they daily played out their roles among prosperous merchant bankers and the founders of the American Constitution. Mary, the youngest, was demure, and from the moment the feckless Lord Berkeley spotted her sitting in a bow window in Gloucester with her needlework, he hounded her from every hiding-place, finally resorting to kidnap.
She consorted with all the movers and shakers of her day, including royalty, some of whom were antagonistic and some who genuinely loved her.
Her story has been with me for thirty years. I do hope readers will enjoy it, but whatever they make of it, this is my magnum opus. Into Book Three, the story is still evolving and there are more scintillating dots to join up which cast a trenchant light upon the earlier decades and present a whole new tier of consequences. One thing is certain, old enemies die hard and scandal has a life of its own.
It is a fascinating journey which has enriched my life beyond telling.
A Berkeley Castle window through which Mary might have looked out upon her beloved Vale
A Poem for the Feast of Pentecost
They don't know what comes next.
They are trembling,
assembled together for comfort,
confused, bereft, vulnerable,
exposed to hostile forces,
on the edge of unbeing.
They've nothing to bless themselves with
and their manifesto looks dumb
without a party leader.
Where are they to go from here?
It was safe in his company,
despite the witchhunt.
The suffering had a purpose.
They trusted what he was about,
dimly grasping that the 'whited sepulchre'
must be blasted to shards.
To Regain Paradise by dint of law
and the redistribution of wealth
was both illusion and travesty
that cost blood anyway.
He had come to weigh himself
in the balance,
the fulcrum of those scales
unhinged by Adam for all time,
without some Mighty Advocate
intervene with a case
of special pleading and turn the tables
on the wealth-and-muscle hungry,
those with intellectual pretensions
and stiff-necked arrogance.
But why abandon his own,
just when the tide seems
to be turning? The corporate
wounds, defiantly repairing, are now
incorporeal. His mother, the chamber
of his incarnation, the only shrine
and single point of focus, holding it
all together: they could scavenge
with their eyes of dust until eternity,
the vision fumed with nostalgia.
But hark! This rushing wind fans
embers into conflagration.
He's here! In cloistered space!
Mary's haloed head peers heavenward
and hands are linked in concord.
Atomic Courage! Immortal Inspiration!
Babel rased to debris! Love reigns!
No power on earth can quench
Shekhinah's fire! Go, tell the world
and dare to live as if...
From JERICHO ROSE, Songs from the Wilderness (Collection in preparation.)
New Eve Publishing 2011 Available here
A children's play about Mary Jones, a Welsh girl of Georgian times who saved for six long years and walked 25 miles barefoot to obtain a rare copy of the Bible in Welsh. Her amazing story saw the British & Foreign Bible Society launched in 1804. This edition launched to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
This is a one-act/4 scenes play for 8-11 years and has been successfully performed in the UK and New Zealand. It runs for approximately 30 minutes and is especially designed as a children's presentation within an act of worship.
The play can also be read as a story.
It was autumn of the year 1792. Across the Channel, Revolution was rife and King Louis XVI had only months to live. In Britain, John Wesley was at rest in his grave after a lifetime of service to his Lord. His zeal for the gospel had fired all parts of the country and had helped to stem a crisis of the kind in France. Everywhere, chapels were springing up. The Methodist mission hall in the village of Llanfihangel in North Wales was well-attended and one of its most enthusiastic worshippers was a young girl of eight. Her name was Mary and she was the daughter of Jacob Jones, an ailing cottage weaver, and his wife, Molly, who made ends meet with a patch of land and their loom and spinning wheel. Mary loved nothing better than to sing the Lord's praise and to listen to the spellbinding tales of olden times from the Bible.
One evening, after a bright and blustery day, when folk had deserted the market in Abergynolwyn and gone home to supper...
Fire And WineA poem for the Feast of Pentecost
And then it happened...
We hung around for safety
above ground level
the clamouring souls outside
a packed embolus
fain clutching our feet
as if they craved live contact
and sought a fragment of him
we could not furnish
that desert instant
the Word became illumined
sparks ran among the
stubble of our deadlocked heart
We recalled the phrase
God is a consuming fire
We had thought it meant
wrath; titanic sacrifice
on our part, not his
Holocausts were done!
The quality of mercy
much spoken of was
now eternally unstrained
its current flowing
This was the God of
Shadrach and his noble breed
passing through furnace
defying wild destruction
unseared and annealed
It was the God of
Moses and the burning bush
bridling lakes of fire
of brimstone and Gehenna
passionate in peace
filling us with sentience!
We rose up as one
the livid fear doused and gone
We had to tell it!
So high on rapture
we gave the false impression
the wine of Bacchus
irrigated our parched veins