Love in the Head: Ford Madox Ford and Parade’s End

I’m pleased to welcome a guest writer to my blog today with some insights into the writing of Ford Madox Ford.

Actor, writer and teacher, Michael Murray was born in Stepney, East London.
He trained for the stage at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Under his Equity name, Michael worked for many years as an actor and voice-over artist. His career also encompassed teaching, writing and directing. Michael is a Drama in Education specialist and holds an advanced qualification in the teaching of drama: the A.D.B. (Ed). He also has an M.A. in Education. Michael now writes full-time. His latest novel, ‘Leefdale’, was published earlier in 2018.

Michael is the author of:
Magnificent Britain 2012
Julia’s Room 2012
Learning Lines? (A Practical Guide for Drama Students and Aspiring Actors) 2014
A Single To Filey (A DCI Tony Forward Novel) (Amazon Bestseller 2015)
Leefdale 2018. Michael is also my other half and I’m delighted he’s agreed to my posting this fascinating article.

I downloaded onto my Kindle Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy of novels collectively titled “Parade’s End” (Some Do Not; No More Parades; A Man Could Stand Up and The Last Post). I resolved to read the original work after watching Tom Stoppard’s compelling T.V. adaptation of it for the BBC, which provided several superb performances, particularly Adelaide Clemens’ luminous portrayal of Valentine Wannop.

I’d never previously read any of Ford’s novels: all I knew about him was that he’d been involved in a ménage a trois with his common law wife and the writer, Jean Rhys, and that Rhys had drawn upon this experience for her magnificent novel “Quartet”.

Interestingly, there is a ménage a trois at the heart of “Parade’s End” but it is of an entirely different character to the one depicted by Jean Rhys: the parties to it are either estranged or separated by distance for much of the time and they have very little sex.

The triangle involves Christopher Tietjens, an intellectually brilliant, High Tory who is a member of North Yorkshire’s titled, land owning class; Christopher’s beautiful, bored and philandering wife Sylvia, who is a lost Catholic with a vengeful, sadistic streak; and Valentine Wannop, a principled suffragette, precise Latinist and admirer of frugality.

Like Tietjens, Valentine exists for the world of ideas and the life of the mind. She also shares something else in common with Christopher besides a fondness for Latin: the capacity for making sacrifices on behalf of others. After her father’s death — he was an academic — Valentine provided for her brother and her grief stricken and impoverished mother by working as a general drudge in a house in Ealing. At the time when Valentine meets Christopher she is painstakingly absorbed in typing out her mother’s novels which provide their only source of income. Eventually she undertakes a teaching post in order to keep a roof over her and her mother’s head. Christopher Tietjens’ selflessness is revealed in different ways: he accepts that his son is possibly not his own and that Sylvia was probably carrying the child when she seduced him in a railway carriage.

Nevertheless, he resolves to bring the child up as a Tietjens. Christopher is unguardedly generous and people often sponge off him or take advantage of his good nature, yet for reasons of conscience he will not accept what is due to him under his inheritance.

During the war, he is brought close to exhaustion as he tirelessly strives to improve the conditions of the men serving under him; and he almost loses his mind after risking his own life to save one of his wounded subordinates. These acts of self sacrifice give Valentine and Christopher the whiff of sanctity, an odour which makes certain kinds of people, such as Sylvia, feel distinctly uncomfortable.

Sex and its consequences seem to bring everybody low in this novel: even the most minor characters find themselves in some sexual bind. Malicious rumours about women conceiving out of wedlock abound. I’ve already mentioned that it is thought that Sylvia presented Christopher with another man’s child; it is also rumoured that Valentine is pregnant with Tietjens’ child and that her former friend, Lady Macmaster, conceived a child as a result of her affair with Macmaster before she married him. There is even a suggestion that Valentine is the child of Christopher’s father which would make her relationship with Christopher incestuous. Even the servicemen under Christopher’s command in the First World War have incredible difficulties caused by their complex sex lives.

However, as I’ve said, the ménage involving Christopher, Sylvia and Valentine is largely sustained without sex. Christopher, having been cuckolded, refuses to share Sylvia’s bed but as he is of the class that regards divorce by the husband as ungentlemanly refuses to divorce Sylvia. She, for her part, is Catholic and therefore cannot divorce him. Thus they remain uncomfortably yoked together, although we discover at the beginning of the first novel that Sylvia has slipped her harness and has bolted, having taken up with yet another man. (The equine analogy is appropriate as Christopher Tietjens is enormously good with horses). It is in these circumstances, in the period prior to the First World War, that Christopher meets Valentine and becomes deeply attracted to her. The difficulty for the still married Christopher is that Valentine is the daughter of his father’s oldest friend and, being chivalric and something of an Anglican saint, he is unwilling to compromise Valentine and expose her to scandal. For years, therefore, Christopher’s relationship with Valentine remains platonic. Even when he asks her to become his Mistress on the eve of his departure for the Western Front a series of banal circumstances prevent the physical consummation of their passion. (They eventually achieve this on Armistice Night in 1918 and even then Sylvia does her best to prevent it). However, it is sometimes said that the best sex is found in the head and for that reason “Parade’s End” is one of the most passionate and curiously sensual novel sequences I have read. Indeed, it is unusual to find in a novel of this period the frank and adult acknowledgement that human beings have sexual lives. Christopher and Valentine’s obsession for each other endures over many celibate years and is conveyed with astonishing intensity through a series of internal narratives which vividly explore the force and power of their passionate yearning and the acute despair that attends their unsatisfied longing. The separation imposed upon them by society’s hypocritical rules of sexual conduct and the brakes of their own conscience continues throughout the course of the Great War and it only intensifies Christopher and Valentine’s passionate and speculative reflections about each other in the isolation of their own heads: reflections which, inevitably force them to confront the probability that despite all their hopes they may never see each other again. This inevitably leads them to despair and to the brink of mental breakdown.

It only requires the addition of Sylvia’s unexpected jealousy and vindictiveness to this highly charged and overwrought situation, combined with her determination to reclaim Christopher, and the novel’s pervading sense of neurasthenia is complete. Sylvia Tietjens is one of those unreasonable women who, whilst she has no scruple about making her husband a cuckold many times over, and professes to have no use for Christopher — she likens his physique to meal-sacks and describes him in bovine and other grossly unflattering terms — is nevertheless determined that no other woman shall have him. She has an almost pathological animosity towards Valentine whom she dismisses as a ‘girl guide’. It might be assumed that as Sylvia is an adulteress and has abandoned Christopher her jealous response to Valentine’s appearance on the scene is something of an over-reaction. This would be too simplistic. Sylvia is dissatisfied with the nature of her philandering life; she compares each man that she starts an affair with to a book she has forgotten she has read: and once she realizes she is familiar with the book, ennui quickly sets in. The problem, as she freely admits, is that compared to the brilliant, honourable and reliable Christopher, the men she takes up with appear insufficiently grown up. At bottom she admires and respects Christopher for his erudition, goodness and saintliness yet conversely finds these very qualities in him tiresome and unattractive. Sylvia’s intense attraction and repulsion for Christopher finds expression in acts of extraordinary vindictiveness calculated to destroy his reputation. She even pursues him to the Western Front causing a great stir that brings Christopher only humiliation and distress. Yet these malevolent acts are really a perverse expression of her need for him. She rediscovers this need when Christopher falls in love with Valentine and Sylvia realizes that despite her abundant beauty, which can deliver into her bed any man she wishes, (and many she doesn’t), she is powerless to remove from Christopher’s head his preoccupation with the young suffragette. Ford brilliantly conveys the anguished mortification that accompanies jealousy: the brutal, self-extinguishing awareness that it is your rival who now unassailably occupies the supreme place in your beloved’s consciousness and not you. At times Ford depicts Sylvia as a poised and hating snake, coiled, head raised and about to strike which suggests perfectly her mesmeric beauty and poisonous nature.

It is Sylvia’s jealousy and her motivation not only to reclaim Christopher but torture him as well, combined with Christopher and Valentine’s determination to dedicate themselves to one another, albeit platonically, that gives the novel its forward drive despite its mainly stream of consciousness technique. Much of the back-story and subtext of the novel is conveyed indirectly and haphazardly through internal narrative and the recollections, musings, reflections, apprehensions and expectations of the three central characters. However, Ford is not afraid to abandon the stream of consciousness technique in order to advance the action and this makes “Parade’s End” much stronger on plot than most stream of consciousness novels. I know that this is a great work because having finished it I want to read it all over again, not least for the pleasure of analyzing Ford’s extraordinary method which generally eschews linear progression and conventional chronology and presents events not in the order in which they happened but in the random, haphazard and arbitrary manner that they occur to consciousness in reality. Unfortunately, the unashamed anti-semitism which is espoused by so many of the principal characters makes me baulk at reading the novel again, which is a huge pity. I know that anti-semitism and other abhorrent attitudes were endemic in the society and class that Ford was writing about but the anti-semitism in this novel seems completely disproportionate, and occurs so naturally and extensively it becomes deeply offensive. It is almost as though the writer was delighting in it and approved of anti-semitism so heartily he had to put it into the mouths of virtually every major character without challenge. I know that great literature is full of characters one would never invite to one’s dining table but there is a limit to what one’s stomach can stand. Which is a shame, because in “Parade’s End” Ford creates a compelling emotional triangle which involves the reader intimately and makes them feel that they have an experience of the Sylvia/Christopher/Valentine entanglement that is even more intense than that felt by the participants. It is an extraordinary achievement and a demonstration of the intensity of experience that only a truly great stream of consciousness novel in the tradition of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf can provide.

Thanks for reading 3sixtyfiveblog today.

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News of a FREE Kindle ebook

The likelihood of you finding “Magnificent Britain” by Michael Murray from a random search of the Kindle Store isn’t great. So I’ve written this post to help you because “Magnificent Britain”  will be FREE to download from June 25 – 29 (incl.) and I don’t want you to miss it!

“Magnificent Britain” was the first ebook Michael (my husband) and I self-published with Kindle Direct and that was back in 2012 at the start of the ebook publishing revolution.

“Magnificent Britain” is a long novel which is ideal if you’re going on holiday and want something to immerse yourself in while you’re soaking up the sun. It’s a very readable novel but it’s not easy-reading. The themes are complex and challenging and the main protagonists are not the nicest people you’ve ever met.

If you look at the reviews you’ll see that some readers love “Magnificent Britain” and others really don’t! Here are a few comments from readers who enjoyed the book.

review 3

 

review

 

review 2

Why don’t you take advantage of the free offer from June 25 – 29 to try the novel for yourself? The Buy on Amazon button below will take you straight to the “Magnificent Britain” book page from which you can download your free copy. And if you do, I hope you enjoy the novel.

(If you don’t have a Kindle there are free apps for phone, tablet, laptop etc which work just as well. Click this link for more details.)

Thanks for visiting my blog and hope you have a great day.

All best wishes,

Cathy Murray

 

Novelists or Dentists

E M Forster

I’m pleased to welcome a guest writer to my blog today with some insights into the writing of E. M. Forster. Actor, writer and teacher, Michael Murray was born in Stepney, East London. He trained for the stage at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Under his Equity name, Michael worked for many years as an actor and voice-over artist. His career also encompassed teaching, writing and directing. Michael is a Drama in Education specialist and holds an advanced qualification in the teaching of drama: the A.D.B. (Ed). He also has an M.A. in Education. Michael now writes full-time. His latest novel, ‘Leefdale’, was published earlier in 2018.
Michael is the author of:
Magnificent Britain 2012
Julia’s Room 2012
Learning Lines? (A Practical Guide for Drama Students and Aspiring Actors) 2014
A Single To Filey (A DCI Tony Forward Novel) (Amazon Bestseller 2015)
Leefdale 2018. Michael is also my other half and I’m delighted he agreed to my posting this fascinating article.

I once had a fractured tooth which became infected and the infection spread to half of my face. Various attempts were made to save the tooth but they failed and it was eventually extracted. Afterwards, instead of healing normally the site of the extraction developed an agonizing condition known as “dry socket” which painfully protracted the healing process for several weeks.

When the pain of my infected tooth was at its most intense and I was desperate for it to be extracted, I had the fairly commonplace (and understandable) thought that one dentist was worth more to me than all the novelists who had ever written. Assertions similar to this have often been advanced to confute the value of a literary career in favour of the acquisition of a more practical or “useful” occupation: or, indeed, to repudiate the contribution of the arts in general. “Yes, but when are you going to get a proper job?” and so on. A brief reflection will reveal that the observation made when I was in extremis was fallacious. You only have to substitute other jobs or professions for novelists and you will see that the proposition is ludicrous. My only excuse is that I was in appalling pain, was half delirious and needed a dentist to pull my tooth. No-one else would do.

Appropriately, it was after my tooth had been extracted and I no longer needed the services of a dentist that Literature was able to fulfil its indispensable role in my existence and make its contribution to my recovery. In my period of recuperation I felt the need for something soothing and familiar: the literary equivalent of comfort food. And so, I turned to E M Forster’s Howards End. My paperback copy was decades old and fell to pieces in my hands. I downloaded a new one right away with the immediacy of my Kindle.

How delightful it was to renew my acquaintance with the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes: two families representing the opposing sides of Forster’s sublime dialectic; and also Leonard Bast, autodidact and aspiring bibliophile, who, in his unwitting way, is responsible for so much of the development of the novel’s plot. With perfectly judged symbolism, Leonard dies when a bookcase falls on him and buries him in a pile of books. (Forster’s novels often have a high mortality rate).

I first read Howards End when I was in my early twenties, and, at that time, probably understood half of it. I specifically failed to appreciate the subtle synthesis by which Forster resolves his own dialectic.

In my forties, I read the novel again. I comprehended more but had grown intolerant (one of the great sins in a Forsterian universe). I now felt justified, along with various Marxist critics, in dismissing the Schlegels as no more than champagne socialists and bourgeoise reactionaries who, being uncomfortable with their privilege and wealth, sought to deflect criticism from the proletariat by espousing socialism and “doing good”. After all, none of them really suffered, did they? Forster, I decided, just wanted Capitalism with a human face.

My latest reading of Howards End has occasioned one criticism and provided me with a fascinating discovery. First the criticism, which is that the dialogue between Leonard Bast and Jacky now seems embarrassingly contrived and false. It is as though the author had never met anyone from the Basts’ class and was relying on third hand accounts of what such people would say. The result is that Forster, unusually, appears out of his depth and the relationship between Jacky and Leonard is unconvincing. Part of the difficulty is that Jacky is essentially a “flat” character and yet she has to engage domestically with Leonard who is much more in the round. Another quibble: the past relationship between Jacky and Mr Wilcox also seems too coincidental to be believable even though it is vital for the advancement of the plot.

Now the discovery. In a previous post I described at some length Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory or Theory of Omissions. Well, it now seems to me that Forster pre-dated Hemingway in this respect by a decade. In Howards End, there is an oblique suggestion, through the agency of Mrs Avery, that before Mrs Wilcox had met Mr Wilcox, she had been betrothed to a soldier who had been killed in action. The man, according to Mrs Avery, was a better man than Mr Wilcox. There seems no reason for Forster to allude to this unless he is hinting that perhaps Wilcox’s eldest son is the child of another man, which would certainly add an extra dimension to Mrs Wilcox, whom Mr Wilcox regarded as entirely innocent and virtuous. It would also parallel Helen’s pregnancy by Leonard Bast out of wedlock.

Until this reading of Howards End I had never appreciated how much England and the English countryside is foregrounded in the novel. Sometimes sociologically; sometimes scenically; sometimes mystically. It is always there, like another character, involved in the action yet detached from it; often accompanied by Forster’s dire warning that its survival is under threat from building and modern development.

Above all, however, it is Forster’s literary technique, that I shall take away from my most recent reading of Howards End. For example, the dexterity with which he changes viewpoint within a single scene, so that often within the course of just one or two sentences we are privy to Margaret Schlegel’s consciousness and then we are seamlessly segueing into Helen’s thoughts or those of Mr Wilcox or Leonard Bast. At times we may also find ourselves being addressed by the omniscient narrator, the voice of Forster himself, viewing his characters objectively, or from the perspective of the mystical and the “unseen”: making a synthesis of all humanity and reducing their huge differences (such as exist between the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels) to barely perceptible bumps in the great fabric: reminding us that the world needs Schlegels and Wilcoxes just as much as it needs novelists and dentists.

Thanks for visiting my blog today.

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Stuck for a Plot? Try reading Machiavelli

Miniatures with a huge perspective

Get more details of Michael’s books on his Amazon Author Page

or take a look at his latest novel.

 

Hypocrisy, Secrets and Lies

There are now thousands of Kindle titles available on Amazon. More books are added everyday by publishers and self-publishers and it’s impossible to keep up with the sheer volume and variety of titles available.

The likelihood of you finding “Magnificent Britain” by Michael Murray from a random search of the Kindle Store isn’t great. So I’ve written this post to help you because “Magnificent Britain”  will be free to download from June 25 – 29 (incl.) and I don’t want you to miss it!

“Magnificent Britain” was the first ebook Michael and I self-published with Kindle Direct and that was back in 2012 at the start of the ebook publishing revolution.

“Magnificent Britain” is a long novel which is ideal if you’re going on holiday and want something to immerse yourself in while you’re soaking up the sun. It’s a very readable novel but it’s not easy-reading. The themes are complex and challenging and the main protagonists are not the nicest people you’ve ever met.

review 3

One reviewer of “Magnificent Britain” wrote:

Warning! This book is seriously addictive! Sir Maurice Brearley, founder and sponsor of the Magnificent Britain gardening competition, is a man with secrets. Biographer Nigel Lush has been commissioned to tell Sir Maurice’s life story. He, too, has secrets. Lady Brearley insists, together with the publisher, that the biography must show what a wonderful man her husband is, but Lush receives a letter from someone whose dying father has a different story to tell. The old man says he knows Brearley from their time fighting together in World War One. Lush wants to add a postscript to his book but is unable to tell what he now believes is the true story. Later, we read the personal testament of Sir Maurice, hidden until after his death, which tells his version of their relationship and the story behind his honourable discharge with crippling injuries. Will the true story ever be told? Not if Lady Brearley’s MI5 brother can help it.

This book is convincingly told and brilliantly manipulates the beliefs of the reader. We are told of cowardice under fire, punishable by execution if confirmed. We read of sexual entrapment to prevent a homosexual writer from telling what he knows. The story moves back and forth from the late 1960s to the First World War to the 1930s and finally to the early years of this century and very believably sets the historic scene with its class divisions and the illegal status of homosexuals in those days. It’s a most compelling story and a great study of the complex trap we set for ourselves with lies and deceit, even if originally well-intentioned. An excellent read and thoroughly recommended.

review

Another reviewer said:

I had previously enjoyed Michael Murray’s very good novella, ‘Julia’s Room’, about a Fleet Street reporter. Here is a book which is considerably longer, epic in nature, and still impeccably written. The story builds with a dazzling complexity but is so well-written and so gripping that ‘Magnificent Britain’ is never less than compulsively readable.

The story is in three parts with time changes between each part. This device lends the book its epic feel. The reader witnesses changing times, changing attitudes, and entire lives that are shattered with secrets and deceit. The book opens with Nigel Lush, a biographer who seemingly has it all, but in fact is missing the one thing that he so desperately wants and needs. In a time when homosexuality is heavily restricted to the point of illegality, Nigel is unable to be who he wants to be, particularly because he is in the public eye as a famous biographer. If he comes out, his career will be in tatters. This issue of sexuality still resonates today.

Nigel also craves some respect from his critics, who look down upon him writing standard pop and film star biographies. His chance to impress comes while working on the biography of Maurice Brearley, a distinguished man awarded in World War I and responsible for setting up the annual Magnificent Britain garden competition. What at first appears to be a dull biography, where everything in Brearley’s life is normal and praiseworthy, turns out to be a hotbed of secrets and lies all connected with the rumoured scandal that Brearley deliberately shot himself in the foot to escape the trenches. This single incident has devastating repercussions that travel through generations and families. To say more about the plot would be to spoil the book.

Author Michael Murray packs an incredible amount into this book. Along with a racing plot, he explores such wide-ranging issues as repressed homosexuality, the class system, the truth and art of writing, and the challenges in faithfully producing someone’s life story. All the principal characters are drawn with impressive detail, so you feel for them all at different times, depending on the circumstances. More powerful than anything in this book is the suffocating intensity of a group of people not being who they really are because of those around them. It is precisely because of this ability not to be honest with themselves and others that causes such tragedy in their lives.

The plot is expertly put together. Time and time again, we see the same incidents described from different points of view. Who is right and who is wrong? And just when you think you have it all figured out, the whole book is turned on its head in a series of revelations that left me reeling and re-evaluating characters and their motives. It is a rare gift that gives the author the ability to profoundly move the reader with a character that was previously portrayed as loathsome and cowardly. Right until the very end, everything is not as it seems. By taking one incident and having different people describe it selectively or with a different slant, the author shows how it is perfectly possible to distort the truth, whether willingly or not. The manner in which this is done is nothing short of stunning.

‘Magnificent Britain’ is a book which deserves to be read and discussed over and over. The quality of the writing is top-notch, the sense of time and place superb – the passages set in the trenches rival those of Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Birdsong’. The way the three parts of the book slot together works very well indeed and the final Post Script (so aptly titled) is moving, satisfying and ultimately chilling. I am rarely this blown away by a book; I just loved it. Read it. You’ll never fully trust a biography again!

I’ll finish this review with a quote from the book. It’s taken from the trench sequence but the description can easily be extended to other parts of the book. “To stand in no man’s land for the first time is to know the deepest loneliness it is possible for a human being to feel.”

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Many thanks to these and other reviewers who’ve found the time to write positively about the novel. Not all the reviews are so enthusiastic but c’est la  vie! Why don’t you take advantage of the free offer from June 25 – 29 to read the novel for yourself? The Buy on Amazon button below will take you straight to the “Magnificent Britain” bookpage in the Amazon Kindle Store.

Thanks for visiting my blog and hope you have a great day.

All best wishes,

Cathy 🙂

 

Sunday Serial #2

lawn mower

Last week I started the serialisation of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray.

If you missed the first instalment you can find it here.

Now read on……..

THE LEEFLET
The Newsletter of The Leefdale Parish Council
April 2001
Pages 3-4
In the Garden with “The Major”

I was chatting to one of our new neighbours the other day, when he said, “Come on, Major. You’ve gardened in this chalky soil around here long enough to know a thing or two. Tell me, which shrubs do best in it?”

I made one or two suggestions and then we moved on to other topics. But his question set me thinking. Over the past twelve months we’ve welcomed several new residents to our little community here in Leefdale. (And standards of horticulture have certainly not declined as a consequence, let me say that at once!) But if we are to surpass ourselves yet again and win the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for an unprecedented fifth year running, then it is essential that all newcomers should be made aware of the plants that really thrive in our chalk soil; particularly those which are at their best in late July when the Magnificent Britain contest is judged.

Roses are an obvious example. Of course, people say that roses do not like alkaline soils, especially chalk. But I say not so! I have found that if the ground is properly prepared with plenty of humous and the plants are carefully nurtured, there are many roses that will grow well in chalk. If anyone is in doubt, take a look at my own front garden.

By contrast, Buddleia Davidii requires no attention at all, save some hard autumnal pruning, and is happiest in well drained soils, which, of course, makes it ideal for chalk. An added bonus of the buddleia is its attractiveness to butterflies. Indeed, colloquially speaking, it is known as the butterfly bush.

Another shrub which is irresistible to insects is Lavatera Olbia. It will grow up to five feet high in a single season and displays its deep pink flowers month after month. Lavatera is found in abundance in the gardens of our lovely village and bees love it.

Hypericum Hidcote (St John’s Wort) also adapts well to our soil and from July to October never fails to delight us with its large, golden flowers. Try too Abelia Grandiflora which eventually reaches six feet high and also flowers in July.

Other suggestions for plants that succeed well on chalk: Spiraea Anthony Waterer and Cistus Silver Pink. Finally, don’t forget lavender, one of our most popular shrubs — my own favourite — is Lavandula Hidcote.

Of course, there are some plants, just like some people, who never thrive when planted here and never become established. It is often stoutly maintained that one such species is the hydrangea. Certainly, it is very hard to grow certain hydrangeas on chalk and high pH soils but with nurturing and perseverance it can be done. (A moral there, I think!)

Well, happy planting everyone. Next month I shall be suggesting suitable climbing plants.
The Major.
(Howard Roberts)

****

Howard was on the ride-on mower cutting remarkably straight stripes in The Old Rectory’s front lawn. He looked up, his eye arrested by a movement opposite in the drive of his own house, Rooks Nest. Isobel was passing through the front gate and was carrying a large mug of something that he assumed must be tea. She crossed Church Lane, which separated the two houses, and strode towards him across the rectory’s lawn. Howard continued on until he’d completed the stripe then cut the mower’s engine. He stayed sitting on the machine watching her approach, all the while noting the pinched, anxious look she’d acquired of late.

She handed him the mug. He was pleased to see that it did, in fact, contain tea.

‘Thanks.’

Isobel nodded at the ground. ‘Finished?’

‘Not quite. I need to dig out those borders.’

‘What on earth for?’

‘Because I want to!’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake!’

‘It won’t take a moment.’

‘Can’t you leave the bloody place alone for a minute?’

‘It can’t be neglected. Particularly with the competition coming up.’

‘Oh yes. The competition!’

He raked a hand through his greying, sandy coloured hair. ‘What’s wrong now?’

‘Nothing. Absolutely nothing!’ She started to go then turned back. ‘If you’re not ready in half an hour I’m leaving without you. This is so unfair. You know how I hate to be late. You’re such a selfish bastard!’

He watched her retreating back and felt a profound despair. Recently it seemed every small difference of opinion between them was inflated by her into a major incident.

Every conversation became an engagement with the enemy. For heaven’s sake, where had her kindness gone? She’d once had such immense capacity for kindness. It was kindness, more than anything, he needed now.

He switched on the mower and began cutting the next stripe.

****

Sharon had no appointments that morning so it was convenient for her to take the motorcyclist, whose name she’d now learnt was Dylan Bourne, to view The Old Rectory.

They left Parker and Lund’s office together and stood next to Dylan’s motorcycle. It had a distinctive red petrol tank and no passenger seat. Even Sharon, who knew nothing about motorbikes, could see that it was something special.

‘That’s an unusual bike,’ she said.

‘Yes. It’s an Ariel Red Hunter.’

‘It looks old.’

‘It was built in 1939.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

Her shrewd hazel eyes seemed to be inviting an explanation.

‘I’ve a passion for collecting antique bikes. I’ve inherited it from my father.’

‘You inherited the bike from your dad?’

He held her eyes in a long, penetrating look. ‘No, not the bike, my passion.’

Sharon blushed.

Dylan eased himself astride the Ariel. ‘Sorry I can’t offer you a lift to Leefdale but as you can see it’s only built for one.’

‘That’s all right. I hate motor bikes anyway.’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t know. I always have.’

His gaze became slightly solicitous. ‘You know, sometimes, if you draw a picture of the thing you’re afraid of it can make it less terrifying.’

Oh God, she thought. How disappointing. He’s one of those.

Dylan wondered how old she was. Twenty seven? Twenty eight?

‘Leefdale’s about ten miles away,’ said Sharon, slightly unnerved by his stare. ‘Directions to the property are in the details. Or you can follow me, but I must warn you, I don’t do more than fifty.’

‘That’s OK.’

‘All right, let’s go.’

Dylan hesitated. The Ariel Red Hunter suddenly seemed a poor consolation for the loss of Sharon’s presence.

‘Hang on,’ he said, smoothly sliding off the bike. ‘On second thoughts I’ll go with you.’

Now why’s he done that? Sharon wondered.

‘You can fill me in on the property as we go along,’ he said, removing his crash helmet.

****

‘Presumably you’re not a first-time buyer,’ said Sharon.

Dylan stole a discreet glance at her knees as she changed up to fifth. They had left

Luffield well behind now and the road was running between the green slopes of a secluded valley dotted with sheep.

‘No. I’m not a first-time buyer.’

‘We have our own mortgage advisor back at the office. Would you like a word with her afterwards?’

‘It’s not necessary, I’ll be paying cash.’

‘I see.’

Dylan had the impression that Sharon was looking at him approvingly; and so she was: she was working out her commission. The new dining room suite was becoming a feasibility.

Her eyes returned to the road. ‘So there’s no chain?’ she said, mentally listing all the other £500,000 plus properties on Parker and Lund’s books she could recommend should The Old Rectory fail to interest him.

‘Chain? No.’

‘Have you just sold a property?’

‘No, I’m renting at the moment.’

She slowed for a cattle grid. Strange. He hadn’t sold anything and didn’t need a mortgage so where had he got £500,000? ‘I see. Are you looking for a second home or are you intending to re-locate?’

‘At the moment I live in London but I thought the country might be a pleasanter place to work. I’m an artist.’

An artist! Sharon, whose brain had been made dizzy with speculations about the source of his income, was re-assured. So that’s why he’d suggested she should draw pictures of motorbikes!

‘Well, you’re in luck. We have lots of excellent rural properties.’

‘So I saw. But I’m hoping The Old Rectory will be OK.’

‘It’s certainly a beautiful house.’

The next question was obvious. But Sharon had never been deterred by the obvious.

‘You said you’re an artist. Are you famous?’

Dylan laughed and looked thoughtful. ‘If I were, you wouldn’t have to ask.’

She affected a faux cringe. ‘Sorry, I’m completely ignorant about Art. I’ve heard of Van Gogh and Picasso, of course. What I mean is, are you well known in the art world?’

‘I have a certain reputation.’

‘What sort of things do you paint?’

‘All sorts.’

‘Oh. Do you do modern art?’

‘That description’s as good as any.’

‘Do you throw paint around and that sort of thing? Chuck a load of junk together and call it something?’

‘Neither, I hope. Ever heard of a painter called Mondrian?’

‘No.’

‘Some of my work is a bit like his.’

‘Oh.’
PARKER AND LUND

THE OLD RECTORY, CHURCH LANE, LEEFDALE, EAST YORKSHIRE

A magnificent Grade II listed property built in 1780, lovingly restored, full of character and charm, yet offering all the benefits associated with modern day living and set in the lovely village of Leefdale, in the heart of the Yorkshire Wolds. The coastal towns of Sandleton and Scarborough are less than twenty miles distant. The cities of York and Hull are easily commutable.

The property offers an oil central heating system and accommodation comprising entrance hall, drawing room, dining room, study, sitting room, shower room, dining-kitchen, utility room, cellar, conservatory, seven bedrooms and a bathroom/wc.
The property has extensive gardens to the front and rear occupying an area of approximately one and a half acres.

OFFERS IN THE REGION OF £500,000

DIRECTIONS
From Luffield follow the Malton road for approximately eight miles then turn left onto the single track, passing place road towards Oxenholme for approximately two miles. On your left you will see a sign for Leefdale. Follow the road for another half a mile and you will come to the village. As you enter Leefdale, take the first right into Church Lane. The Old Rectory is set back from the road on the left.

EXTERNALLY
The property offers a wide road frontage to Church Lane, enjoying a slightly elevated location close to the village church. The property is fronted by a north facing garden area of approximately half an acre which is extensively lawned, hedged with privet and contains a number of mature shrubs and trees. There is a front boundary wall together with a gated drive access. Contained within this front garden area is the brick and tile garaging 27′ 3″ x 14′ 6″ with optional remote controlled electric garage door, two exposed roof trusses and with power supply connected. In addition, there is convenient parking in the gravelled courtyard area adjacent to the main front door.

To the rear of the property is a south facing garden area of approximately one acre, extensively laid to lawn. The rear boundary is hedged with privet and there are a number of mature shrubs and trees including flowering cherries, plum trees, apple trees, ash, silver birch and willows. The superb gardens which have been lovingly tended by the present owners have helped Leefdale secure first prize for four consecutive years in the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition.

ACCOMMODATION
All measurements are approximate.
ENTRANCE HALL
Staircase to the first floor accommodation with under stairs storage cupboard. Parquet flooring, radiator and doors leading into:
DRAWING ROOM
23′ 4″ x 21′ 6″ max
Open fire period fireplace with basket grate set within a Palladian style marble fire surround, parquet flooring, wooden panelling, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, two radiators, windows to the front elevation.
DINING ROOM
23′ 4″ x 21′ 6″ max
Open fire period fireplace with basket grate set within a Palladian style marble fire surround, fitted shelving to recess, dado rail, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, two radiators, windows to the front elevation.
SITTING ROOM
21′ 6″ x 15′ max
Open fire set within an Adam style wooden fire surround, wooden panelling, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, two radiators. Window to side elevation.
STUDY
16′ 6″ x 15′ max
Open fire set within an Adam style wooden fire surround, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, single radiator. Window to side elevation. Built in bookcases.
DINING-KITCHEN
39′ 6″ x 15′ 3″
This spacious kitchen is partially tiled and fitted with a range of solid wood wall and base units incorporating drawers, wine rack and preparation surfaces. Inset sink unit, tiled splash backs, integrated dishwasher. Aga with tiled surround, tiled flooring and window to the rear elevation. Doors giving access to the shower room, utility room and conservatory.
SHOWER ROOM
Comprising shower cubicle, housing Mira power shower, pedestal wash basin, bidet,
w/c, extractor fan, radiator, tiled flooring and window to the side elevation.
UTILITY ROOM
The partially tiled utility is fitted with a range of solid wood wall and base units incorporating drawers and work surfaces and plumbed for an automatic washing machine. Belfast sink, tiled flooring and window to the rear elevation. Grandee central heating boiler. A trap door is set into the floor giving access to the cellar.
CELLAR 21′ 6″ x 12′ 7″
Tiled throughout and fitted with a range of built-in storage units.
CONSERVATORY
20′ 2″ x 15′ 5″
Radiator, tiled flooring and double doors giving access to the rear garden.
LANDING
Split level landing with staircase to the second floor, airing cupboard containing cylinder immersion heater, radiator, windows to the front and rear elevation and doors off passage leading into
MASTER BEDROOM
20′ 6″ x 20′ max
Built in wardrobe, built in cupboard providing storage, radiator, windows to the front elevation.

Dylan’s eyes glazed over at the prospect of reading the description of the six remaining bedrooms. He folded the property details, placed them on his lap and turned his attention to Sharon’s lovely presence beside him. Much more diverting.

Continue reading Leefdale with the Look Inside feature at http://amzn.eu/hdGUjB4

Hemingway’s Icebergs

Ernest Hemingway

I’m pleased to welcome a guest writer to my blog today with some insights into the writing of Ernest Hemingway.

Actor, writer and teacher, Michael Murray was born in Stepney, East London.
He trained for the stage at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Under his Equity name, Michael worked for many years as an actor and voice-over artist. His career also encompassed teaching, writing and directing. Michael is a Drama in Education specialist and holds an advanced qualification in the teaching of drama: the A.D.B. (Ed). He also has an M.A. in Education. Michael now writes full-time. His latest novel, ‘Leefdale’, was published earlier in 2018.
Michael is the author of:
Magnificent Britain 2012
Julia’s Room 2012
Learning Lines? (A Practical Guide for Drama Students and Aspiring Actors) 2014
A Single To Filey (A DCI Tony Forward Novel) (Amazon Bestseller 2015)
Leefdale 2018. Michael is also my other half and I’m delighted he agreed to my posting this fascinating article.

A couple of years ago, my novella Julia’s Room was on a Kindle free offer and it occupied 19th position in the Amazon.com Free Short Story rankings alongside Hemingway’s Complete Short Stories in the Paid rankings. So the covers of the two books were, for a time, displayed side by side.

I was delighted because of the enormous admiration I have for Hemingway’s talent and his technique. I am in awe of his masterful economy and the way that he presents complexity so simply; the addictiveness of his rhythms; his spare, understated and totally believable dialogue; the realism which pervades his novels; the singularity of his characters and the credibility of their relationships; but, above all, I admire his theory of omissions.

Stated simply, Hemingway believed that as long as an author was completely aware of the back-story to his work and was in control of it he could omit important information and yet the reader would still, through inference, be aware of what was going on emotionally and intellectually below the level of the text as fully as if the writer hadn’t left anything out at all.

At first sight this seems just like plain old sub-text. Actors have to know what the sub-text of a scene is in order to act truly. Sub-text is what is really going on in the scene as distinct from the utterances actually made.

For example, if, as an actor, you are called upon to say “Good morning” to someone in a scene there are dozens of ways you might do it, determined by your emotional and intellectual relationship to the other character; the situation you are in; what has occurred between you previously; your character’s mood; what you are anticipating will happen and so on. Each of these influences will determine the tone and colour you will give to “Good morning” and along with other indicators, such as your physical attitude and body language, will communicate to the audience what your character is really thinking when your character is simply saying “Good morning”.

Another example might be a conversation about the weather between a man and a woman who fancy each other. It will be a totally different conversation if, despite their physical attraction, they mutually loathe one another; or if they have great regard for each other but one finds the other more attractive and so on. The words uttered will remain the same and will be about the weather but the tones, colours and emphasis will subtly differ, depending on the subtext.

What on earth, you may be saying, has all this got to do with Hemingway’s theory of omissions? Well, in novels we don’t have the luxury of the actor’s voice and body to guide us. Sub-text is inextricably connected to information, i.e., who knows what about whom. What does the reader know that the characters don’t? What do some characters know that other characters do not? Does one character know something that no-one else does? Has one character gained a false impression of another?

For sub-text to work effectively in a novel the reader has to be provided with information in advance. A great deal of exposition is therefore required at the beginning of the work in order to inform us of what is going on so that we can appreciate the delights and ironies of the subtext at the appropriate point when the characters interact and come into collision.

For example, early in Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” we are told comprehensively about the circumstances surrounding Anne Elliot’s rejection of Captain Wentworth. When Anne meets Captain Wentworth again, some years after her rejection of him, we can therefore appreciate the torment and unhappiness that is going on below the level of their banal remarks. We can only do so because Austen has already prepared the ground: we have been told directly about the circumstances of Wentworth’s rejection, of Lady Russell’s involvement in it and Anne’s deep regret that she had allowed herself to be persuaded against Wentworth by Lady Russell.

Hemingway’s theory of omissions eschews this expositional approach. Of course, he has to give us some information, otherwise there would be no novel, but he places that information before us so subtly that we are not aware of it as crude “exposition”. He omits much important information and yet because of his oblique references, nuances and inferences manages to nudge us towards a subliminal understanding of what is going on beneath the superficial surface of the text. The characters allude obliquely to the important, omitted information, the way people do in real life and we, as readers, infer.

That is why Hemingway, the novelist is so much like Chekhov, the dramatist, who also employs the oblique, impressionistic approach when it comes to exposition.

For example, in Hemingway’s “Fiesta” we are aware that Jake Barnes has problems of a sexual nature and that he and Brett Ashley would probably have been together if it hadn’t been for those problems. Nothing about this is stated specifically, only hinted at, and we have to go a long way into the novel before the word “impotent” is actually mentioned by Jake’s friend, Bill.

Even then it is introduced into the conversation in the form of an unwittingly insensitive joke which Jake is forced to reflect on briefly for the reader’s benefit by way of internal narrative and then respond to light-heartedly. The banter continues and from it we get some nebulous idea that there’d been an accident connected with a plane. And that’s all. In this way nothing feels artificial or “forced”.

Hemingway keeps our attention and makes us speculate about a mysterious and possibly tragic aspect of someone’s character without sentimentality or melodrama: exactly the response we should have had in life if we had ever come across Jake Barnes. The subject of Jake’s impotence is barely alluded to throughout the rest of the novel, and then only obliquely; and yet Hemingway’s technique constantly keeps it before us.

Jake’s impotence pervades so many scenes, none more poignantly than when he is with Brett, and yet, because of Hemingway’s technique there is no suggestion that Jake is full of self pity. He appears to us as maimed, slightly mysterious and yet not at all melodramatic: just like anyone in his situation that we might encounter in actuality and this is because the author is not telling us directly what we ought to feel about him.

That is why Hemingway’s work repays re-reading; and every time we re-read it we gain more and more insight into the situation via the clues Hemingway has provided for us. It is also why re-reading his work is such a pleasure.

I must have read “Fiesta” nine or ten times now and I always find something new or unexpected in it because, in essence, the book is reading me as much as I am reading the book.

Similarly, in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” the reader gleans from the generally oppressive atmosphere and the conversation between Macomber, his wife and Wilson, the white hunter, that Macomber has recently been involved in something shameful whilst hunting a lion, although, for some time, we are told nothing specific.

Hemingway makes the reader fill in the gaps left by the author’s omissions. He actively engages the reader and makes us feel that the book is, in some way, actually stimulating our own imaginations and we are partaking in the writing of it; that we, with our emotions and intuitions, are completing the empty spaces that Hemingway has deliberately created.

The implementation of the omissions theory causes us to connect with the text in a way that is denied to us if we are told everything at once. Hemingway is the father of the modern approach to exposition, which, of course, is why his work seems so “modern”.

Hemingway provides an excellent account of his theory of omissions at the end of chapter 16 of “Death in the Afternoon”. In it he warns that if a writer leaves things out only because he doesn’t know them then there will only be empty spaces in his book.

That’s why, when writing Magnificent Britain I had to know everything that happened to Sir Maurice and Leonard Stidges during the First World War before I could apply Hemingway’s omissions theory to the scene where Leonard, as an old man, is interviewed by Nigel Lush. Similarly, I had to know everything about the characters and what had happened to them before I could implement Hemingway’s theory in Julia’s Room.

The theory of omissions is also known as the “iceberg” theory, presumably because an iceberg attains its strength and beauty from the seven eighths of it that cannot be seen but, nevertheless, is still there. I can’t think of a more appropriate image for Hemingway’s major novels.

A word of warning for writers: there’s an old joke that half the writers in the world are trying hard to write like Hemingway and the other half are trying hard not to. Hemingway’s rhythms and stylistic devices are so captivating they enter your bloodstream unnoticed and, once possessed by them, you find yourself writing dreadful Hemingway pastiche every time you write. That’s why, when I’m writing a novel I never read anything by Hemingway.

Details of all Michael’s books are on his Amazon Author Page.

 

Publication Day in 1925 for The Great Gatsby

the great gatsby

First published by Scribner’s in April 1925, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald received mixed reviews and sold poorly; in its first year, the book sold only 20,000 copies.

Fitzgerald died in 1940, believing himself to be a failure and his work forgotten.

However, the novel experienced a revival during World War II, and became a part of American high school curricula. It is now widely considered to be a literary classic and a contender for the title “Great American Novel.”

The cover of the first printing of The Great Gatsby is among the most celebrated pieces of art in American literature. A little-known artist named Francis Cugat was commissioned to illustrate the book while Fitzgerald was in the midst of writing it.

the great gatsby
imaBy Musée Annam [Public domain or CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commonsge credit:
The cover was completed before the novel; Fitzgerald was so enamored with it that he told his publisher he had “written it into” the novel.

Fitzgerald’s remarks about incorporating the painting into the novel led to the interpretation that the eyes are reminiscent of those of fictional optometrist Dr. T. J. Eckleburg (depicted on a faded commercial billboard near George Wilson’s auto repair shop) which Fitzgerald described as “blue and gigantic – their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.”

Although this passage has some resemblance to the painting, a closer explanation can be found in the description of Daisy Buchanan as the “girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs.”

the great gatsby
image credit: By Paramount Pictures (Beineke Library, Yale University) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The 1926 American silent drama film directed by Herbert Brenon was the first of many film and stage adaptations of the novel.

Warner Baxter played Jay Gatsby and Lois Wilson was Daisy Buchanan.

The film was produced by Famous Players-Lasky, and distributed by Paramount Pictures. Unfortunately this version of The Great Gatsby is now considered lost.

In the 1949 film of The Great Gatsby, Alan Ladd played Jay Gatsby and Betty Field was Daisy Buchanan.

The 1974 film had Robert Redford as Jay and Mia Farrow as Daisy.

And the 2013 version starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay and Carey Mulligan as Daisy.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

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Book Promotion

Leefdale
Leefdale by Michael Murray http://amzn.eu/dhYOHmW Special launch price of 99p / 99c until April 15th 2018.