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Still Joining Up The Sparkling Dots



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.

Doris Lessing


Nothing factual that I write or say will be as truthful as my fiction.

Nadine Gordimer


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.

Oscar Wilde


Discretion is not the better part of biography.

Lytton Strachey


I had to do the book because there was an unauthorised biography which didn't tell it like it was.

Cilla Black


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.

Anthony Powell


There is no psychology; there is only biography and autobiography.

Thomas Szasz


There is properly no history, only biography.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Biography is the only true history.

Thomas Carlyle


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.

Virginia Woolf



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



Not By The Wayside


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.

Excerpt:


Narrator (1)

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...












Mistaken Vintage!

 


Fire And Wine

A 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

with celebrity

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

bursting occlusion


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


Divine transfusion

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

Mistaken vintage!



On The Edge Of Unbeing


Incandescence

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.)


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This Book - Some thoughts on the Baileys Prize




'I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.'

Virginia Woolf


On June 4, the Baileys Prize for women's fiction will be announced. Under the hashtag #thisbook, the organisers have been asking readers to name the inspirational work that has made the most impact on them. This is a tall order and a very particular one. The temptation to name novels we consider great literature does need to be resisted in favour of any that have been a strong catalyst in the way we approach our lives.

Age must come into this equation. Maturer readers, while they may relish new discoveries in a variety of genres, are perhaps not so amenable to having their preconceptions overturned, or being startled by the breaching of what was once off-limits. Their choices are likely to be retrospective and at least partially influenced by stories with a universal and timeless appeal, as is evidenced by the list below of titles submitted by well-known personalities, together with the six shortlisted finalists.

If I had to choose one book from the whole canon of my reading to date which has impinged the deepest and provided a platform for mining the treasures of subtext and the dynamic irrelevancies of stream-of-consciousness, it has to be Virginia Woolf's The Waves. 'I wish you could live in my brain for a week. It's washed with the most violent waves of emotion.'

We are submerged in a Darwinian sea with its hypnotic rhythms. We yield to its undertow and the silent, darting interplay of light and shadow. The boundaries between the characters are not flesh and blood and space. They share a seamless unconscious that roams free through Time and Creation. Only momentary impressions distinguish them from each other. They are modified, qualified, enlarged, enhanced, overcast, by their fleeting proximity to each other and the way a random universe has assorted them, forcing them through the hoops of daily role-playing required to function in a mortal sphere.

These characters are turned inside out, yet miraculously distinct, as they unreel their surface monologues and unveil their uniqueness.

Like a pioneering cartographer, this book offers a map of the human psyche when the mist has been wiped from the lens. Such revelation means you can never look at the world in the same way again.

To have understood this, to be so the thing itself, is surely genius.

There are other women writers who have exerted no less an influence, though the reasons, by comparison, are fairly mundane. What period novelist could discount the energetic prose of Jane Austen, witty and worldly, wicked, wise and wonderful, capturing in vivid relief the social customs and atmosphere of the late Georgian era?

Georgette Heyer, a great entertainer, had the knack of mimicking Austen's verve against a background of meticulous research and a facility with language she did not have to hide. She claimed that if she were cast away on a desert island, she would sooner have Austen's work than any other. I loved Heyer when I set out on my writing career. That tempo, those idioms, plus all the colourful detail of the times, supplied the courage to turn up the vacant page in the typewriter.

Having said this, the writer whose method, vitality and insights, have become almost ingrained and have helped to inform the Berkeley Series, is Helen Ashton, a respected novelist, who appeared not to achieve the recognition she deserved. In her day, there was less emphasis on fame and more on the virtues of steady industry as representing success. She possessed a gift, largely lost nowadays, which is the ability to engage dialogue within the spellbinding narrative of legendary storytelling.  She has written with dashing elegance of William and Dorothy (Wordsworth), of Parson Austen's Daughter, The Swan of Usk (Henry Vaughan) and of life in the household of the Prince Regent at Brighton Pavilion from the perspective of a footman.

 Finally, to jump forward a few decades, I can't omit Susan Hill whose earlier stories touched many raw nerves. Her sentences are often composed of idiosyncratic, intersecting clauses that are natural as running water and soak into the skin. With effortless fluency and an inadvertent eye, she unpacks the menace beneath the apparently innocent, not the Machiavellian, nor the malevolent, but the sinister in everyday exchanges loaded with unprocessed grief and emotion. How did she know about the instructions written in carpenter's pencil, on torn-off scraps of greaseproof paper, with which an embittered mother sends her son to buy fish, stressing what she will and won't pay for, and to go to the beach for it, not the fishmonger? It's like reading a leaf from your past.

In this general vicinity, I might sneak in Margaret Drabble, Rose Tremain, Kate Atkinson, Salley Vickers, all for different reasons. I wish the list was more contemporary and less seemingly xenophobic when I've enjoyed the writings of other cultures and landscapes. (The brief here is gender specific, too.) And I wish there were expanses of leisure time to explore!

Would I have discovered these authors without a literary fanfare? Was it easier for the cream to rise in the days when publishing had integrity and writers had a clearer sight of their goals? I don't know. The old maxim that youth is a gift of nature and age a work of art may have just a little to do with it. Who knows what may emerge when the present writing generations come into their own?

But what all the authors mentioned have in spades is Voice. Cadence. Style. Empathy. Instinctive gifts they have developed through practice. Because of it, their images lodge in the shadows of the mind, unforgettable as ancient poetry.

Short List
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah
Hannah Kent - Burial Rites
Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland
Audrey Magee - The Undertaking
Eimear McBride - A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch

Some celebrity favourites

Baroness Valerie Amos: Beloved by Toni Morrison
Zawe Ashton: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Mary Beard:  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Edith Bowman: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Saffron Burrows: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Shami Chakrabarti: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Gwendoline Christie:  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Grace Dent:The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Katherine Grainger: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
Martha Lane Fox: Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
Caitlin Moran: Two Pence to Cross the Mersey by Helen Forrester
Kate Mosse: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Dawn O’Porter: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Susanna Reid: We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Jennifer Saunders: Dust by Patricia Cornwell
Sharleen Spiteri: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Tanni Grey-Thompson: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Sandi Toksvig: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Joanna Trollope: The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

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