This passage was originally for Authors Electric in 2013 and celebrates when Kay Jamieson and I 'eloped' to Gretna Green to get married.
Lines Written For an Auspicious Occasion
The summons having woken me, I hied,
Caring no whit for time or even tide,
Toward the north, where Solway runs its course Through Scotia's windy plains where lies its source, Where Devil's Porridge boils, where fields are bleak And Burns the ploughman makes his rough verse speak. My spirits droop as further still I tread,
When suddenly, like Lazarus from his bed, They rise, as Gretna's purlieus do me face.
For here a miracle I see, a blessed place,
A sanctuary, alive with tree and flower,
With many a bubbling stream and bosky bower, Colourful, lush, abundant, leafy, ferny,
Another Hidcote, Sissinghurst, Giverny.
Nature and man together made this scene.
What beauty now? What barb'rousness has been?
But soft. Figures approach. What is their quest? Do they mean harm or are they for the best?
A ministrant? Who to? What does she carry?
A book? A register of those who marry?
Are those her acolytes who shyly pace
And in the tiny belvedere take their place? And why so quiet? Breathlessly they stand. Surely some revelation is at hand?
Yes. Two I had not thought to see draw near
To start a journey set for many a year.
For sure, there's something rakish in their mien. Have they eloped? To here? To Gretna Green? Their tryst is secret. Is it racked with guilt?
Are heirs disowned? Are families split? Blood spilt? Not so. They glory in their escapade,
Proceeding joyfully once their choice was made.
The bride is beautiful in royal blue.
The birds are hushed in awe; the squirrels too Pause in their business as she passes by.
"Did you not see my lady," is their cry,
"Go down the garden smiling?" As her swain, Faithful and loving, free from every strain, Beside her walks, engarbed in sober grey, Savouring this moment, knowing it will stay, The sea doth murmur and the very tide.
On Solway's firth doth turn and softly glide Towards the land to hear the rite, the vow Confirming that, oh yes! they're married now. The ceremony is short. The ministrant's soft, Mellifluous voice sends loving thoughts aloft. Hymen, the god, and Cupid, meddlesome boy, Hasten to Earth to join in all this joy,
To make a fitting end to this great day
And wish all happiness to Dennis and Kay.
NEW BOOK RELEASE
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poet who changed the way poetry should be read. A revolution in how it is understood. It has been said that his theory of the imagination has led to the establishment of English as an academic subject for university study, and I am inclined to believe this. Yet his life was chaotic. He was an opium-sodden wretch, he was deeply selfish, he deserted his wife. A multi-layered character. Greatness mixed with degradation.
You can’t just write about him. I composed a sort of riff about his life. This was a real pleasure for me. The starting point was a strange, ambiguous comment scrawled in a copy of “Kubla Khan” in the Old Library of Jesus College, Cambridge, his college and mine.
Who wrote it? A mystery. We meet two fictional characters, one searching for Coleridge, the other for himself. There is a touch of the supernatural in this, reflecting both his poetry and his life.
The book is published by Fairlight Books.
BUY NOW from all books shops - WATERSTONES
Things aren’t untrue just because they never happened
These books were published as children’s books and children remain their primary intended audience. But is it still a relevant one? Can present-day children identify with these fictional children living in a sort of vanished Neverland, with their unfashionable names and their eighties, smartphoneless preoccupations? I don’t know. And perhaps it doesn’t matter so much. Because I always had a different purpose. These are books for children. But they are also books about children. The difference is significant. They become books for adults as well.
They are also about something else, which provides the whole impetus of the trilogy. They are about stories: how they work, how they are composed, how their composition embodies the whole creative process, what they mean, what they are for. And even more importantly, what sort of truth do they embody?
The three stories together can be seen as a meditation on the nature of truth. ‘Things aren’t untrue just because they never happened’, the overseer tells Hare after she is dead. Elsewhere, I have described my first example for this. Let us take a place which many people know about and have marvelled at – the Cob at Lyme Regis, that probably medieval stone harboiur quay which juts out of Lyme Bay and gives marvellous views of the Jurassic Coast. In all the centuries of harbour activity there, what do we really know about it? What actually happened on it? Unless we’re long-term natives of Lyme or local historians, we have no idea. But we all know of two ‘facts’ about it. First. a girl called Louisa once fell off it. Second, another girl called Sara Woodruff once stood at the end day after day looking olut to sea waiting for her lover to return. But they never happened. I need hardly say that the first is from Jane Austen’s Persuasion and the second from John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman. But they stand in our minds like myth, with a real sense of actuality and significance. So though they never happened, to us they are in a real sense true and we can have real-seemimg memories of. And yet Sara Woodruff’s long wait is founded ironically on a lie – so that subtilizes this concept of truth even further.
I have considered this concept now for many years. And now I found a way of examining it properly. Hare’s Choice is about children in a school making a story about a dead hare found by the road. In their story, the hare is personified, lives, performs great deeds. And in the afterlife she is presented with a choice. Does she enter the limitless place where all living creatures, from insects to eagles, go after death – or is she admitted to a tiny exclusive Heaven inhabited by story characters – Peter Rabbit, Hazel, Fiver, Mr Toad? She has had two lives, one as a real hare, one as a Story Hare. Which is she to choose?
You can have no idea what a relief final publication of this book is to me. These three short children’s books were published in 1988, 1992 and 1993 respectively. The long gap between Hare and Badger is significant. When I wrote Hare’s Choice I intended it to be a stand-alone. Hare makes her choice but I could not, would not, even attempt to say what it was because I couldn’t presume to speak on behalf of this wonderful, inscrutable animal. For three years, I stubbornly refused even to speculate on it whenever I was asked.
Then two things happened. A primary school head wrote to me saying her pupils loved the book but were ‘very distressed’ not to know where Hare went. There was more than a hint in the letter that to tell them was my duty. Then, the wonderful and much-lamented Meg Rutherford, who did the marvellous illustrations, rang me to say that there were badgers digging in her garden and she wanted to draw them I said ‘Great, can I have one of the pictures?’ and she said ‘No, I want you to write about them so I can make an illustration.’
But it made me realise that a Hare sequel was necessary because a different possibility in the nature of the Choice had occurred to me and perhaps I might eventually have some idea of what it really meant. Meg had given me a clue: I had to consider what the Choice involved for different creatures and what stories involved for the people who heard them and composed them. This new book would have to be about Badgers, animals which have fascinated me for many years, almost as much as hares have.
So I set about writing Badger’s Fate. This is a much darker book than Hare’s Choice. The first book is about the ‘truth’ of stories. The second deals with the paradox that if stories have ‘truth’ which is validated by our own experience and empathy then it follows that they must be true to themselves, even if what we find out when their logic is unveiled is not what we want to hear – or even think about.
Which led to another consideration of the nature and necessity of stories. In Badger’s Fate, Derek and Kirsty both provide their own endings. One, more typical of boys, leads to a fightback by the animals armed to the teeth and the death by heat-seeking missile of the evil leader of the human invaders. The other had a more obviously feminine emphasis. The badgers escape and find safety beyond the range of the humans. Then each child points out the fatal flaw in the other’s version. One ending has had the class standing up and cheering, the other brought out sighs of relief and satisfaction. But we know that neither is sufficient for logic or truth. Emma alone is the truthteller.
But under what circumstances can all the children be the truthtellers? This leads on to another aspect of stories: why can they be not so much important as necessary for people? Perhaps it is when the subject is close – even vital - to the tellers and they have to work the ending out for themselves in an intimate and personal way – in the face of a crisis, perhaps, involving the closure of their little school and the break-up of a little society, self-renewing each year, which stood almost like a collective character in its own right?
Well these stories sprang from real-life situations in schools in which I was closely involved. I wrote them soon after I was, as County English Adviser for Hertfordshire, taking part in an inspection of all the really small primary schools in the county. Those who don’t know Hertfordshire tend to think of it as an extension of London, full of motorways and railways and far too many people. Not so. After all, it stretches from London’s suburbs in the south to Cambridgeshire and nearly to the Fens in the north. There are great tracts of countryside full of lovely villages, farms and gentle yet sometimes almost spectacular, scenery. And nestling in between them are, or were, dozens of tiny schools. In 1984, their future, in an atmosphere of value for money and economy of scale, was being questioned. Our task was to test if they really justified their continuing existence.
Our answer was pretty well unanimous. We felt they offered pupils a unique and precious experience, which was not necessarily qualitatively different from children’s normal experience in schools, but certainly unique, different and worthy to be perpetuated. And, in those now far-off days of wisdom in education, our opinion was accepted. Later on, after I had left the County, a colder wind was blowing and, one by one, the little schools were being closed and their organic, self-sufficient groups were being scattered to the winds
Now I realised where my stories should be set. One such tiny school with barely fifty children on the roll, with just two teachers and the whole natural world round them as a constant stimulus.
The stories have a similar form and structure. I didn’t have to work this out; it was there already in the very concept. I didn’t have formal plans before I started. I knew the sequence of events but their consequences and implications almost formed themselves. I don’t think I have ever felt such satisfaction in writing as I did with these.
So the end of the trilogy is the end of the school. And the children’s group story is about the possible destruction of the animals’ home and their escape to a new home – which means adaptation and, if possible, acceptance. So in this story, Hawk’s Vision, the main creature, in this case a hawk, is not the victim but the enabler and is still flying at the end. Shiva, both creator and destroyer. The class itself is now the main character and the actual destroyer and creator are both embedded within it and between them provide the story’s central conflict.
So there we were. Three separate but linked novels, published in 1988, 1992 and 1993 respectively. And I longed for an omnibus edition. But four years had elapsed between Hare and Badger and by then Hare, which had caused quite a stir in its first year or so, and picked up an American publisher and even a translation into Spanish, had lost its immediate audience who would have expected sequels. Scholastic did say they would publish a single-volume version – but it was pulled because of some rigmarole which seemed to involve money in some form or another! When Hare was republished by Barn Owl my hopes were renewed – but Ann Jungman’s Barn Owl was a tiny, though influential, publisher and did a beautiful reissue of Hare in 2006, but couldn’t begin even to think about an omnibus.
So my ambition seemed gone for ever. Until of course Createspace and then KDP came along. But there were obviously two main obstacles. Getting Meg’s beautiful illustrations in was not going to be easy. But worse than that, there were no digital versions of the books. Hare was typed out laboriously on a fairly antique electric typewriter and the finished MS had pages which were like thin solid slabs of white slate because of the layers of Tipp-ex - and is anyway now in the archives of Seven Stories in Newcastle. The other two were done on an ancient Atari computer given to me by my son after his university paid half the cost of an Apple Mac for all its graduate students, using a long -defunct word processing program onto floppy disks which I’ve lost anyway. So I needed the books digitised. Who by? I asked around, and David Penney of ALLI gave me the answer. Digitise my Books (www.digitisemybooks.co.uk). Marvellous. I contacted Philip, who provided me with Word docs and PDFs out of original editions of all three books separately and then as an omnibus, very quickly and far more cheaply than I had expected.
So shouldn’t everything now be easy? I soon found that trying to bond pictures and text in a publishable form was as elusive and slippery as trying to write with mercury as ink. Months passed and I was still no nearer. I nearly gave up and turned to professional help. But this was a labour of love and a matter of pride and I had to do it myself. One last effort. And in the end I managed it. The paperback was published in September.
Even so, I had doubts. To publish books, which first appeared thirty years ago, set in an obsolete situation could be damningly interpreted as VANITY PROJECT! However, a critical remark I’ve always cherished, first said, I think, by WH Auden in respect of Thomas Hardy’s poetry – ‘If you think you have found a work’s greatest weakness, please consider for a moment that it may instead be its greatest strength.’ And the more I thought about it, the more sure I was that this very obsolescence was the best reason of all to republish the books.
In his School Librarian review of the 2006 reissue of Hare, Chris Brown, himself a former primary head teacher, wrote ‘…it is a timely testimony to the power and possibilities of a curriculum driven entirely by empathetic encouragement and above all from first-hand stimuli.’ Perfectly put. And in his article on the Hare trilogy in The Cambridge Guide to Children’s Books in English, Victor Watson says ‘For adult readers aware of recent changes in British primary schools , the trilogy will read a little like an elegy.’ Dead right again, because I realized that this wasn’t just a reissue of three little books. It was a howl of rage at what has been allowed – nay, forced - to happen in primary schools: a rigid, top-down tick-box mentality which values only memory to recall disparate pieces of sometimes doubtful knowledge which won’t help anyone to live a more fulfilled life (’fronted adverbials’, anybody?). There is no particular educational rationale behind it, being mainly intended, so it would seem, to determine school league-table placings.
And I realized that reissuing these books might be a tiny broadside against the mighty oaken hulls of these monstrous leviathans, so that whole generations of children are not stunted by having their creative and imaginative qualities developed or even recognized.
And in that spirit I offer them again.
As I was writing this, I read Sue Price’s marvellous review of the trilogy in her Christmas Day blog. Thanks so much, Sue. And thank you, Bill Kirton, for your lovely Hare review back in 2017 on Eclectic Electric.
These books are published under my Joslin Books imprint for my own books, with its companion list, Joslin Specials, for books by writers I have mentored and edited, mainly for The Oxford Editors. They are at present only on Amazon, though I intend to put them with Ingram Spark as well, for wider availability –when I find out how to do it!
Not yet an ebook. More trouble with pictures. Soon, I hope.
I‘ve also printed a booklet, About the Hare Trilogy, which ends with an angry rant about present-day education. If you’d like a printed copy, send me your address (to firstname.lastname@example.org) and it’s yours for £1 and £1 postage. Or you can have a pdf for nothing!
all six volumes of The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay
all in paperback and also on Kindle.
LiterArties Kay Jamieson and Dennis Hamley are an artist, author partnership. The beauty of Lake Hayes, Queenstown, New Zealand, inspired Kay to paint her tranquil artwork that, in turn, inspired Dennis to pen a poem.
By Lake Hayes
The sun makes soft shadows on the mountains
Beyond the opposite shore.
Far to our left, beyond the trees, past the town
And across mighty Wakatipu, the shadows are
Sharper, darker and the sun glares
On the jagged Remarkables.
But this is a gentler lake.
Far out on the blue Aotearoan water
A racing four, your granddaughter
Rowing at stroke, practices.
Only the soothing cry of a solitary bell-bird breaks the silence
As we sit companionably together
Under the trees which fringe the water’s edge.
I write and you sketch.
Wooden walkways snake towards us, pause,
Then slide away back into the bush.
Yes, people come here.
But, though a faint roar from far behind us
Says that plane after plane is making
Its approach through the gap in the mountains
Bringing yet more to the honeypot town,
They are not here today.
This scene is archetypal, permanent.
We and the rowers are impertinent intruders.
The lake is for ever.
We are not.
Yet what you and I do as we sketch and write
Will have outcomes.
Fledgling words will seek form,
Questing lines and shapes will strive for unity,
Until they are both complete and satisfying.
So, even if nobody reads them,
Nobody sees them,
They will be for ever too.
Capturing our Creativity
So often a painting will resonate so much with us that it will inspire poetry to flow! It seems this happens frequently.
This blog was initiated as a result of meeting author Sylvia Veta at a recent Writers in Oxford Social (held jointly with the Society of Authors). Sylvia is a freelance writer on art, antiquities and history. She was showing us her latest project, An Anthology of Poems Inspired by Art. Syvia had approached some, mostly Oxford based, poets to contribute to this anthology. The idea is that all proceeds from direct sales will go to Standing Voice for the art summer school they run on the island of Ukerewe in the training centre built by Standing Voice.
Sylvia's latest book also has an artistic theme to it. Called Brushstrokes in Time it is a fictional memoir of a Chinese artist.
Dennis Hamley's Anthology
From his wide ranging and inspirational selection here are three examples. The first is about the experience of visiting the Tate Gallery:
Leaving the Tate
"When the Author Was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel”
'Being Seen and Known' by Karen L French
I dropped the façade,
LiterArties, people who embrace, explore and capture their creativity in many ways.
Capturing Our Creativity
Karen L French
The Hare Trilogy
Wise Dog Next Door
Writers In Oxford
Writing For Children