An afternoon spent in this new fresh sunshine by the sea yesterday, full of salty hair, snotty children and fish and chips. It’s official: my book comes out in July 2012. I have a deadline for the second book and a plan (not a plan for the book, more a plan for life) though it doesn’t resemble much of a normal plan.
I am switching between The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen (England, London, the Kent Coast, unbearable sadness, taut psychological shadows) and a novel by Soraya Antonius, Grand-daughter of Amy Nimr, the Egyptian painter which begins – brilliantly – this way:
“Jaffa at the turn of the century. Nothing really, not even the simple, cheap and good life that grew to seem so full of essence, of sweetness like pomegranates, when one looks at it from the thin false comfort of internation strings of hotels and convenience goods.”
Bridging these stories, it’s rather like spinning an endless web across the sea; it makes me dizzy, but I can’t stop it.
“On from Seale towards Southstone, the forcible concrete sea wall, with tarmac top, stretches empty for two miles. The fields the sea wall protects drop away from it, unpeopled and salty, on the inland side. The abstract loneliness of the dike ends where the Seale-Southstone road comes out to run by the sea. “
Elizabeth Bowen ‘The Death of the Heart’
The history of Western travel writing, up to the middle of the 20th century, could be described as largely a history of Europeans writing about the rest of the world, especially the countries they colonized. The travel writing of the indigenous people of the colonies has been largely ignored or suppressed. The effective silencing of the colonial ‘other’ in Western travel writing bears similarities with the silencing of women’s voices in the genre. Both women and colonized were restricted in the journeys they could make, and if they did travel, their travel experiences would be considered secondary to the primary experience of (white) masculine exploration and discovery. Women and native peoples tend to be the objects of travel writing, rarely the subjects.
Some ladies in bicycle bloomers to celebrate my happy news: my long-slogged over book will be published by Bloomsbury next year. Information will follow later. Happy Cycling!
this is simiply an effect of one’s own strangeness; there is nothing really sinsiter about these people. But a life of which one knows nothing, seeing only the surface, does suggest something cabalistic and latent. One is so ignorant oneself, where they move with so close a familiarity. To us they are all anonymous, for one thing; but to one another they are named, their fathers are known, they are inter-related; that door in the wall admist you into the house of Hoseein the leather merchant, and in the next street lives his brother; their houses are back to back, and in the evening their women meet to gossip on the flat mud roofs. How curious a fact it is, that in a strange country, and more especially in the east, one should be so much concerned with common people; at home one does not (except for more serious purposesP speculate about the secrets of the slums.
Such a desultory life I lead, and the life of England falls away or remains only as an image seen in an enchanted mirror, little separate images over which I pore, learning more from them than ever I learnt from the reality. I lead, in fact, two lives; an unfair advantage. This roof of the world, blowing with yellow tulips; these dark bazaars, crawling with a mazy life; that tiny, far-off England; and what am I? and where am I? That is the problem: and where is my heart, home-sick at one moment, excited beyond reason the next? But at least I live, I feel, I endure the agonies of constancy and inconstancy; it is better to be alive and sentient, than dead and stagnant. “Let us”, I sai, as we emerged from the bazaars, “go to Isfahan”.
Vita Sackville-West Passenger to Teheran
A friend has been texting me from Erbil today. You’ll be forgiven for not knowing where it is: Iraqi Kurdistan. I was supposed to be there with her, working on a literature festival, but the arrival of little baby S has grounded me (not that I mind – incidentally, she is clearly a genius, today she whacked two spoons together to the theme tune of the Archers) but it was hard not to have a twitch in my left eye.
But that’s ok! I’m doing travelling of a different kind. After a heady week I’m back down to earth trying to calm my nerves by working on Project 2. Today’s research has taken me to both near and far-off shores:
- Flying Squadrons WW1
- Shoreham Cemetery
- May Ziade (a picture of May below).
and I discovered (via Alexandra Harris’ excellent Romantic Moderns) that Virginia Woolf loved cooking: ‘I have only one passion in my life – cooking’ – she wrote in 1929.
‘Graffiti has started to appear on walls in the streets and in different rural areas around Damascus. Some slogans demanded the overthrow of the Syrian president, although the Security forces quickly made use of paint buckets to cover up that particular graffiti wherever they found it.’
Happiness. I recently found this marvellousness in a charity shop in Worthing: Golden Sunbeams, a collection of church missionary magazines for children from 1912.
Look at this English gentleman’s officious body language and the ‘ South American Natives’ placed around him
Aunt Celia and your scrapbook, I can picture you clearly: standing in front of me in your ludicrous English floppy hat with your purple skin that hates the sun.
WHAT MURIEL LENTON PENNIES DID. What a title.
I’m endlessly fascinated by Englishness situated within an international context (global, I suppose we’d now say). What a find (though at £8 a bit steep, I say).
I had a very pleasant afternoon yesterday showing Iain Sinclair around Shoreham airport and environs. Unfazed by the bleak weather (I think he rather liked it) and impressed by the archives, the low-tide river, and my tales of the 1912 UK-version of Hollywood that was built in what was then called Bungalow Town, now called Shoreham Beach, he grew more and more excited. The link between the burgeoning film industry, the glamour of the silent movie stars and the military personnel based at the aerodrome is an enticing one.
I have booked him and Chris Petit to run a workshop on creative writing and a sense of place, using Shoreham Airport as a point of inspiration. The spaces are limited, I know it’s going to be very VERY popular. I’ll be shoo-ing wannabe participants away at the doors, alas.
After our walking and talking he has decided that he wants to interview ME to talk about how I have engaged with the airport, gained access to these research materials and information, and how this infuses my writing. These poor people who want to see Mr Sinclair but get me, they’ll probably start hurling water bottles and rotten tomatoes at my head.
Recently, I made a discovery in the archives that made my hair almost drop out with excitement. A character that I am in the process of conjuring into being in my mind was there; or rather, I found him. Or he found me. A ghost from the past – a gift – like a haunted story that wants to be whispered through me.
I discussed with Iain Sinclair the peculiar nature of, to use his word, channelling stories. He insisted that when the flow is there, the story ripe to be told, the stars in line and so on, then it is as if the universe throws up everything one needs. This is certainly my experience. It’s eery, and a part of the writing process that I love the best, but also it unnerves me.
What’s that Goethe quote? … just googling it: oh yes, ‘at the moment of commitment, the entire universe conspires to assist you’.
“Elizabeth sometimes came out to Alexandria to see Durrell on Ministry of Information business and he would ask her to stay overnight at the villa. As to Eva, Elizabeth did not regard her as existing in the same social orbit as herself. She may have apparently rejected England, but her preconceptions remained for all that patrician English, amounting at times to a failure of imagination and an intellectual and social complacency.”
Elizabeth David (food writer) at her desk at the Ministry of Information in Cairo in 1943. “Note cigarette in hand and the glasses – always removed for photographs” (Elizabeth David by Lisa Cheney)