Aren’t I lucky to live here!
Can I tell you a bit about myself? Perhaps I’ll start by working backwards: I live in beautiful Mid Wales in the midst of hills, sheep, dams, trees and flowers, (or at least in the Summer; in the Winter flowers are replaced by mud ; went to the Hay Festival a couple of weeks ago, well, there was mud, the sort they keep specially for festivals!) I live an uneventful – could this be a euphemism for boring (?) life, reading, writing and cooking (made a wonderful bread pudding the other day, solid, stolid and fattening, delicious). I increasingly reflect on the past. Is this healthy? I don’t know, but as one gets older, the past seems infinitely more interesting than the future! Well, what were all these excitements then? A grammar school education, girls only, of course, all hockey sticks and felt hats. Then Bristol Uni to do Classics. I didn’t make the most of my university years (does anyone?). I have this theory that nobody should go to uni until they are at least 50 because then they’ll know what they’re interested in and want to make the best of it. Anyway I got interested in Classics in the end. I mean what an embaras de richesse, all life is there – and death and sex and violence and love and hate. I came back to it after leaving uni and working for Rolls Royce for a year which I HATED. Aero engines and I didn’t have a lot in common. Started teaching; liked pupils more than the staff. Marriage and motherhood, loved my babies, all five of them, and I still do even though they are now grown up – much more grown up than me. Years passed – ah, where did they go? Anyway I started writing novels: the first was called ‘A Latin Unseen’; it was inspired by a Classics Teachers course I had been on Italy when I realised that interesting as ll the sites we visited were – Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ischia etc. etc., even more interesting was the collection of completely disparate people and the extraordinary ways (comic usually) in which they interacted with each other. There must be material here, I thought! Of course I didn’t use any of the people I met when I wrote the novel, but invented a set of typically peculiar folk. I meant the book to be funny and perhaps a bit sad too because that’s what life is like, isn’t it, a mixture of the sad and comic in different proportions?
The next novel was very different. I don’t know how it came about, but I kept meeting and becoming friendly with various gay men (I hope I’m not a fag hag) and I wanted to use a gay relationship to explore the theme I’d become interested in when writing ‘Latin Unseen’: what happens when totally disparate people are brought together? In LU the bringing-together agency was the course for Classics teachers in Italy, this time it would be an obsessive mutual interest in a Victorian poet that would bring about a disastrous gay relationship between a staid Oxford don, Julian and his beautiful and wholly amoral student, Sebastian. Again, I intended the book to be very funny and very tragic. LU did not bring me many readers, but ‘Sebastian’s Tangibles’ did! Interestingly one guy wrote that although the blurb on the back claimed the book was written by a woman with 5 children, he knew better! The next novel published last year was ‘Digby Sherwood’, the same theme: disparate people forced into close contact. This time the bringing-together was a public school in the eighties: boys with little in common, staff with little in common, either with each other or with their pupils, but the central focus was on the headmaster and his new, totally unsuitable second wife; sex has brought them together and sex will destroy them. Again, funny and sad.
The latest novel ‘Dreams of Impossible Pangs’ is about the scandalous poet of the 1860s, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and this contains almost nothing but disparate and possibly mad characters: Swinburne himself dwarfish with a mop of flaming red hair, Simeon Solomon incredibly beautiful and dissolute Pre-Raphaelite artist, the knife-scarred adventurer Richard Burton, Lord Houighton owner of the largest library of pornography in Europe, Theodore Watts-Dunton, creepy lawyer and kidnapper of Swinburne, his prudish (or is she?) sister; Mary Gordon, Swinburne’s cross-dressing cousin obsessed with flagellation, George Powell and his monkey mistress and so on. Read to find out more! The thing about the Victorians was that they were great ‘sweepers under the carpet’, appear normal and respectable on the surface, but do what you like beneath! Is there something to be said for this attitude? Let me know what you think!
What else can I tell you? I am wary of this because facts about other people’s lives – unless you are a fan or in love with them or something – are very boring. Think of those terrible circular Christmas letters telling you Julia has just passed Grade 3 Violin with distinction, and they have put double glazing in the conservatory! So I have a PhD. on Swinburne’s Sapphic persona! Well, there’s a conversation stopper! I lived in Leamington Spa for 30 years, never liked the place, but it was a good place to bring up children; and now I live in mid – Wales. It’s fantastically beautiful here- I wish you could look out of my window with me, look over my garden: oodles of grass, trees and roses; then nothing but misty hills and sky. And it doesn’t always rain in Wales, just a lot of the time!
My new novel ‘Dear Absent Friends’ is just out. It’s a bit different from the others: murder among the bridge tables!
When the odious Lady Prettyman is discovered dead, John and Mark, an endearing gay couple, turn detective and try to discover the truth. It soon becomes apparent that these nice ordinary fellow bridge players have all sorts of dark secrets, but who is the one capable of murder? As they try to unravel the truth their own relationship comes under scrutiny. Will it survive and will the murderer be brought to justice? This light heated whodunit should appeal to anyone with an interest in bridge, crime, and the quirkiness of human nature.
In this novel and in my previous novels (Sebastian’s Tangibles’; ‘Digby Sherwood’; ‘Dreams of Impossible Pangs’.)There is a similar theme: the comic and sometimes tragic efforts we make to try to forge relationships with people totally different from ourselves.