With the help of my friend, I’m still finding out more about Mr Bruce and his relations, but I’ll get back to this research later.
(If you’re new to this blog, and you’d like to find out what this is all about, it’ll probably help you to scroll down to the first post about the Mystery Challenge,in which I’m asking readers to help me find out more about the love letters from 1920’s China.)
In a previous post I mentioned that Bessie had written two more letters to Douglas Bruce after she had told herself that she would not contact him again, so here is the first page of the handwritten version. It does seem that their ‘affair’ had not gone further than the kisses she refers to. The full transcript shows that her marriage to Jimmy had not been entirely happy even before she had met Mr Bruce.
One of the details that I’ve tried to research, is the ‘monastery tower’ she had visited with him – and declared her feelings for him. I came across a site which shows a beautiful porcelain dish with significant landmarks of the old city of Canton.
Bessie’s tower might possibly have been the Zhenhai Tower, which, according to this site, “is a bit of a hassle for a westerner if you don’t do this within a tour that stops right outside”
Here is my transcript of the complete letter.
There isn’t much point in my writing you, but I think I shall feel better if I do. I can’t tell you how sorry I am to have brought you into this mess. Now that Jimmy and I have had it out and he is convinced that I am not absolutely rotten (of course I had to lie to convince him – I said you had kissed me only once – so
I’ve got the seven or eight other times to remember, all to myself) he is doing all he can to make up for his past behaviour and I should be happy – but my dear, dear I’m not. Every time he kisses me I can scarcely keep back my cries to you. I’m not going to see you anymore and I can’t bear to think of it. There is a great hole in my heart – you have the piece that was dug out whether you want it or not.
Of course I had no idea that I cared this much and it surprises me all the time that I do, and I don’t want you to think that I want or expect you to do anything about it. I’ve chosen this way and I’m sure I’m right in doing so. I’ve made you out as a noble person as I could, because you have been so darned decent through it all. Of course it wouldn’t make any difference to you what he thought about you but I wanted him to know that it was fully as much my fault as yours, and I did my best to make him believe it.
Margaret gave me your note yesterday but of course you had Jimmy’s letter by the time I got yours so there was no need for me to do anything about it.
Poor Jimmy.I am much sorrier for him than for myself and you of course will forget all about it soon I hope. If I could just get you out of my mind everything would be all right but I’m not in the least ashamed to say that what I said in the monastery tower I meant.
Write me just one letter Bruce because you’ve never said very much to me and I’d like just a little something to put in that hole if I can be sure that you mean it. Please don’t say anything more than you mean. I don’t need your love, just some liking and forgiveness for bringing you into my messy life this way.
Good-bye, dear person.
There was no use telling Jimmy that I care for you when I had chosen to stay with him, was there? It would only be worse for all three of us, and I did so hope I could keep him from writing that letter to you if I could persuade him that for the last few times we had seen each other there had been nothing between us. Besides, I’m a coward, so don’t like me if you don’t want to.
As you will see if you peer closely at the first handwritten page above, you’ll see that this transcript was written as an afterthought at the top of the first page. Although I know that the man in the picture above is indeed Douglas Bruce, I can’t guarantee that the woman leaning towards him is Bessie.
A BRIEF DIGRESSION from My Mystery Challenge!
Yes, I do have other things to think about - among these, a brief visit to London to catch up with my writing friends, Crysse Morrison - who took this photo (take a look at her blog to find out more).
and Roger Jinkinson (You can read about his own books and his passion for the research into the fascinating real-life story that led to his latest book, American Ikaros) Before meeting up with Crysse on the South Bank, I had time to browse through Poetry books and magazines at the wonderful Saison Poetry Library on Level 5 of the Festival Hall. The reference section seems to have a copy of every poetry book published in Britain since 1912. Without really expecting it, I was amazed to find that my own very slim volume, Single Travellers (Flarestack 2004) was squeezed in on the ‘C’ shelf.
Last week (Wednesday February 17, 2011) I was delighted to receive this praise from writer, Sally Jenkins for my professional publication of Paper Lanterns – and some nice comments about the contents, too! -
This will be my shortest ever post – I just wanted to say ‘HAPPY CHRISTMAS’ to my regular visitors and to anyone who has landed here by chance. The picture above is a small detail of the traditional decorations on my tree.
This one is one I took last Sunday, before a heavier fall of snow on Monday threatened to prevent my sister and family from Cornwall arriving to spend the night with us en route to their destination in snowy Scotland.
I also want to alert you to my new challenge for the start of 2011.
Frequent visitors will already know that the middle part of the novel is set in 1930 in Hong Kong, and that this section was inspired by the discovery of a cache of love letters. The story of that find was so interesting in itself, that the Birmingham Sunday paper published a two-page spread about the find, and included some of the original photographs.
I shall be posting more pictures of the real-life characters involved, as well as some of the handwritten letters, because my big challenge for the new year is to see if I can find any of their descendents.
All will be explained in my next post,
so keep an eye open.
You might know someone
who just happens to know someone who used to go to school
with someone whose grandmother used to know
the daughter of
someone who …..
HAVE A VERY HAPPY
IN THE WORLD
(I saw this swan in my local park - it made me laugh!
It’s been another busy period juggling work and family matters with little time left for Writing Matters (though, thanks to audio books, I’ve had plenty of time for ‘reading’). I seem to have been living in my car on motorways, driving through gales and cloudbursts – first from my home in Sutton Coldfield to my brother’s beautiful but windswept, cliff-top house in South Wales, then setting out the next morning for the M4, M25, M23, A 23, A27, finally arriving at my mother’s house. Two days later, it was back to motorways again in gales and torrents, all the way home.
My book on these journeys was ‘Deaf Sentence’ by David Lodge. As well as its intriguing plot, it’s an eye-opener* for anyone with friends or family members who are going deaf (*The narrator refers several times to the predominance of sight-related metaphors, compared to hearing ones – wouldn’t it sound strange to say ‘ear-opener’?). If you’ve ever been somewhat less than patient with a friend or relation after your 5th repetition of the punch line of your hilarious joke, you might feel a twinge of shame. This book is also uncomfortably acute in its depiction of family relationships. But don’t let that put you off – it’s also very funny.
Back to what I was saying in my previous post – last Tuesday my house was invaded by the BBC. Yes, that is an exaggeration – it was only a team of three with a few hefty bits of gear.
Anyone who’s followed this blog from its early days and/or has read my accounts of both of my book launches, will know that Clarissa Dickson Wright and I have been close friends since we met at boarding school. Anyone who’s read her autobiographyor seen her talking about herself on TV, will know something about the extreme ups and downs of her life, and won’t be too surprised to hear that the BBC will be showing an hour-long programme about her. As with other programmes, they’ll be interspersing Clarissa’s interview with snippets of comments made by people who have known her. As her friend since childhood, I was asked to make a contribution.
I’ll be very interested to see which sound bites are selected from my one and a half hours of interview, and which of the photos from school days they show, along with the ones of Clarissa holding my daughter as a baby, her god daughter.Clarissa’s interview is the first of four programmes in a series that has been timetabled for advent, the Sundays leading up to Christmas. Considering the time-slot, I can see why this series will have a focus on the ways that spirituality and religion have influenced the lives of the chosen four.
The whole experience was fascinating, but also exhausting – all that concentration! I enjoyed the novelty of it, but don’t envy celebrities and public figures who have to do this type of thing on a regular basis. Even the cat was exhausted by the end of it!
The last few days have been like another world! The only time I’ve picked up a pen to write anything in a book was on Saturday when I was one of the witnesses to sign the register at St Nicholas Church
in Chiswick at my daughter’s wedding.
I know that many other proud mothers and fathers of the bride will have experienced similar emotions to mine, but I doubt that any can have had quite such a wonderful day as we all did! OK, OK, so you disagree! But I think there’s something about this type of occasion that places it on a higher plane altogether – some kind of parallel universe that we can stumble into for a brief section of time. Once we’re back in our real lives we can store those memories and value them for what they were, rather than cling to them as a bench-mark against which we measure our happiness quotient!
One way of extending the pleasures of a very special event for a little longer, is to meet up with close friends and family the following day and share perceptions of the event, so I felt doubly lucky to have been invited to lunch by Clarissa, my friend and my daughter’s godmother, for a birthday treat at the Goring Hotel together with my husband, my son and his new girlfriend. His presence was an extra treat as, like my daughter, he lives in London. (If you want to read more about this fabulously opulent place, and see a poem I wrote after my first visit there, click here).
Back to the wedding itself: my daughter, Sara and her (now) husband, had organized every detail of the entire event, so all I had to do during the months of preparation was to offer verbal support over the phone and carry out one or two minor tasks. When she showed me the draft of the order of service, and asked if I might be able to write a poem to be placed on the back page, I agreed to try. As you might imagine, this was a huge challenge, so I was very relieved when the creative juices began to flow in the right direction! You can judge for yourselves below.
Sara and Ric met at the Corinthians sailing club,
and they had arranged for the bride’s wedding party to go in a boat, a minute’s walk from their home,to be taken to the beautiful old church further down the river. As mother of the bride, I didn’t take my own camera with me – for one thing, it didn’t fit into my small handbag and anyway, I realised that photographer wasn’t included in my role. I’ll post a few pics in a few days.
The reception was at the club house, an ideal venue for the happy couple!
And here’s the poem:
The Wedding Day
For Sara and Ric
Although the day itself seems magical,
the slow unfolding of a fairytale
in which the princess in a silken gown
glides down the river in the bridal barque,
her radiance out-dazzling the white wings
of her attendant swans, it’s merely
a bright exclamation mark in the elusive
book of chance that led them here.
Now they’ll set out as man and wife in the same
boat, the frail vessel of their hopes and dreams,
but they both know their love, if nurtured,
will be strong enough to anchor them
in times of harsh reality, and light enough
to harness all the winds of happiness.
I posted the fifth and final question of my Virtual Treasure Hunt last week, and copies of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society have been sent to a winner in Italy and one in Scotland, while three copies of Paper Lanterns should now have arrived at their new homes in the Midlands and the South West.
Many congratulations to the winners (to be honest, there were only five people who managed to find all five answers, though several others came up with two or three. I’ve just had to go through these questions and their accompanying hints myself, and even I found some of the a bit tricky to track down!
For anyone who didn’t manage to find all five answers, here are the links to the relevant questions and these are the answers.
Question 1 ANSWER “So near, and yet …”
Q 2ANSWER “Sunday, 10 January 2010″Q 3 ANSWER “that was not there a little while ago”Q 4 ANSWER a mountain climbing Guinness drinker
Q5 ANSWER “The craft of writing a book can be learned” and “Jeffrey Archer”
I won’t ask you to detect the link between Hens and this picture. Yes, those small creatures on the bottom left of the picture do have feathers and wings and they also lay eggs, but have you ever seen hens swimming with their chicks paddling in their wake?
I don’t think this next picture will be much of a clue,
though astute followers of this blog might remember a post I’d made last August in which I’d mentioned that Kew Gardens was within walking distance of the house which my daughter and her boyfriend had just bought. This picture of Kew Pier was taken last Saturday afternoon from a pleasure boat trip that had been organised by my daughter’s friends as part of the celebrations for her Hen weekend.
They couldn’t have dreamed up a better activity for a day when the temperature reached 30 degrees – the main point of it being its lack of any activity more strenuous than climbing a short flight of steps up into the bright sunshine or down into the shade. It was lucky that the original plan for a seven-mile circular walk from Box Hill had undergone a radical change. The bride-to-be (not to speak of her mother and future mother-in-law) might have collapsed with heat-stroke. As it was, we had the cooling breezes through wide open windows below deck where we unpacked a sumptuous feast and drank pink fizz.
We were heading for Hampton Court, but this was one of those occasions when the journey was more significant than the destination. We wouldn’t had had time to visit the flower show, so we strolled through the walled gardens and breathed in the scent of a thousand roses.
On the way back I was fascinated by the sight of two boys in their canoes, using a kneeling technique that looked incredibly unstable, but was obviously a powerful way of gaining speed. I suppose that the theme of Desert Island Reads can be loosely linked to this watery picture, but more to the point, it relates to an event I’ll be taking part in this Thursday as part of Frome Festival. Scroll down a bit when you reach this link and you’ll see what I’ll be up to.
I’m really looking forward to this, and have just about made up my mind about my own Desert Island Read. I’ll let you know more about the causes of my indecision later.
I’m pleased to say that there are several Treasure Hunters out there who are on the way to winning one of the free five books on offer. You’ll find the fourth question below. The fifth and final one will be posted next week.
Each of the posts with a Treasure Hunt question will take you back to the previous one, so for number 3, click here (or just scroll down). This will make it easier for newcomers to join in, and have the same chance of winning, as answers can be sent in one by one, or all at once with the correct answer to question 5
What were the words that Dave Reeves used to introduce me on his radio show?
(HINT) This group give great PERFORMANCES. Once you’ve found them, you’re just one click away from the post that holds the answer.
And now for a few totally irrelevant photos –Well, they are relevant to my life at the moment, but not to my writing activities.
I’ve mentioned Gardening Husband in some previous posts, and one of those links him with poetry though he’s as much of a poet as I am a gardener – in other words, not at all!
However, he has made a significant contribution to the content of Paper Lanterns, my latest novel, as you can see here and here.
These pictures show where he spends a great deal of his time.
In the last few weeks
we’ve been devouring:
baby broad beans,
and, just recently
some of the new crop
Eaten within a couple of hours from being wrenched from the earth, they are the best you could possibly ask for.
The taste of them is as near to the irradiated, several-months-old spuds from supermarkets
as our Earth is from the moon!These are the first digging of Jersey Royals.
The sight of these is a poem in itself!
Is it ever acceptable to read other people’s personal letters? ( This isn’t Question Three in my Virtual Treasure Hunt, you’ll find that further down the page.) I’ll get back to those letters in a minute or two.
Meanwhile, I want to mention that more correct answers to my Virtual Treasure Hunt are still arriving in my in-box, and it’s not too late to join in. For those of you who haven’t yet entered the TREASURE HUNT, you’ll find Question Two here
You’ll find the THIRD QUESTION below, and I’ll be posting a few more over the next couple of weeks. The first five people to contact me with all the correct answers will receive a free copy of either Paper Lanterns or The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society.
It’s exactly a year since I posted this picture of a Greek Island – If you didn’t read that post, you’d probably wonder what possible connection there could be between a course on Novel Writing in that idyllic setting and the terrible Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001. (There’s more than one HINT in this paragraph that will lead you to the answer to this question – via a link to another post)
What was the last line of the poem which won me a cheque for £100?
As for other people’s letters, I wouldn’t dream of reading something personal that wasn’t meant for me. However, when the letters were written nearly one hundred years ago, it’s a different matter. Though, as I explained in an earlier post, it is still a very strange and moving experience.
Here is one that was written in 1916 by a young Chinese woman. You’ll need to read Paper Lanterns to see how I’ve woven this into the novel, which is set mainly in Hong Kong.
When I saw you, my love began. Many thanks for your kind treatments to me, therefore I was able to get more to you and as I found you were really love me therefore I greatly pleased allowed you to have my room prepared for you. I hate that it (mean heavens) could not give us a favour of a long time for you to stay here, and so each now is on his way.
If I could I would cut the big mountain down and make the rivers as dry level lands in order to see you easily even in a far distance and to come quickly to you. But these are all in vain.
If I try to remember the words you were talking to me, my heart suffers a great deal. (Chinese words really means my stomach breaks).
I cry to say I was not born in a rich family and therefore I am obliged to live on such business.
Oh, heaven! If there is any one who can pick me up from such dark valley, my world is once again bright.
Herewith I enclose my photo as a remembrance and hope you will let me know when you have got it.
I should be much pleased by an answer and don’t let me suffer more.
Congratulations to the six readers who have already contacted me with the correct answer to the first of my questions in the Virtual Treasure Hunt.
If you get this one right, and the others that I’ll posting over the next couple of weeks, the first five people to contact me with all the correct answers will receive a free copy of either Paper Lanterns or The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society.
For those of you who haven’t yet entered the TREASURE HUNT, you’ll find Question One here
I’ll give plenty of notice when I’m about to post the final question, and will let you know the latest date for submitting your answers.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about writing this blog is the opportunity to use some of my own snapshots – I make no pretence to be a photographer – all I do is point the camera and press the button. I’m always amazed when I see the picture on my monitor with details that I hadn’t noticed at the time. Hurray for digital cameras!
My TREASURE HUNT is giving me an excuse to display photos a second time – This is one that I’m quite proud of!.
Here’s PART TWO: with just one question. This will involve scrolling down through some previous posts – and the Peacock is the first HINT.
Once you’ve landed on the correct post, you’ll need to follow ANOTHER LINK to find the answer to this question:
What was the date of Nicola Morgan’s ‘Party’ for her blog’s first Birthday?
Do I speak Romanian? No. Can I read Romanian? No. Am I a fraud? I hope not.
Then why has EgoPHobia, a Romanian cultural e-journal posted my name under the name of a Romanian writer of a short story called Hell and Blood?
Here it is – see?
“by Cristina Nemerovschi (Morgothya) (Romania)
Translation from Romanian by Christine Coleman and Mircea Filimon, MTTLC student
edited by Robert Fenhagen”
And here is the lively opening of a story that I appear to have translated into English from a language I know nothing about (apart from its links to Latin and Italian)
“Today I started spitting blood.
The first thing that I thought was that I might have tuberculosis, which, actually, made me feel alright, because after all, it’s a disease which sounds good; it kind of gives out a romantic aura: tuberculosis; mononucleosis, well, at least, I think so, and I don’t die too quickly— the worst case scenario, I have a few months to live, which is plenty of time for me to write a novel, or a really good short story, or, at least, some poetry, or, at the very least, an essay–something that will be found after I croak, of which people will say, “He was a prolific writer; we’ll miss him. He died of tuberculosis, you know.” And the other person will say, “Oh my, I had no idea.”
So how did I get involved in the first place?
It was thanks to Anne Stewart, the talented and energetic founder of poetrypf, ”a growing showcase of poets writing in English, some fully accomplished with several published collections, others at the start of their poetic careers.” Anne agreed to collaborate in the translation project set up by Lidia Vianu, Professor of contemporary British literature at the English Department of Bucharest University.
This project began in February 08 with translations of poetry into Romanian and publication online at the Translation Café, along with a programme of broadcasts by the Romanian National Broadcasting Corporation. Anne asked for poets to volunteer some of their own poems for this project, and in early December 08 I had the surreal experience of hearing my own brief biography, and then my poems, read in Romanian.
When you’re on the site, click on: ‘The Poets’ on the top right of the page. Then scroll down the alphabetical list till you reach my name and that of the translator, and click on ‘Listen’, to hear my poems being read first in Romanian, and then in English
Follow the poetrypf link again and scroll down to find out more about this project, including the CD, the anthology and the international tour. I didn’t take part in the tour, but one of my poems, Something Like a Stone, is on the CD in both languages. Read more about my first ever prize-winning poem, here
But that wasn’t the end of the Romanian connection for me. Towards the end of February, I received an email from Anne, “am I right in thinking that you were interested in ‘polishing’ translation from Romanian? We have a short story translated by one of Lidia’s students that needs polishing to publishable standard.”
I tend to try anything once, when an opportunity arises for a new experience, so I agreed. Almost by return, the organiser of this project, Silvia Bratu, sent me the story.
And now for the tricky part: when you can’t understand the original language, how can you be sure of the author’s intentions? Was that slightly clumsy phrasing a deliberate representation of the narrator’s own lively speech patterns? Or was it just ‘bad English’? How far should I go in imposing my own personal views on another writer’s work?
I’d enjoyed reading this story as it had a fresh and quirky style with some highly original images – I particularly liked the narrator’s musing about the moment of death:
“ If…you keep your soul after death, then you need to mark it very clearly so you don’t mistake it for someone else’s. Because there should be some sort of little border to cross, a tiny rupture, during which you and your soul are separated for a short time. It’s like putting it on a plate while you go through the metal detector.”
When I followed this link and read the final version, I was glad to see that the editor had tightened a few of the passages that I didn’t feel a ‘translator’ had the right to do.
I never know quite what I’m going to stumble across when scanning the headlines of the Morning Updates from The Bookseller that accumulate in my Gmail Inbox. Most of these are clearly more relevant to well-established publishing houses than to individual book readers, (or to brand new, very small publishers like my own Novel Press) but the Feed Reader comes up with more variety – the one that caught my eye is from last Thursday’s update, with the heading: A week without books, from The Guardian World News.
Bibi van der Zee is a bookaholic who was going cold turkey for a week. She gives an amusing account of how she copes with the deprivation, but I was more interested in the wider questions that she raises when she wonders if her reading habit is ‘actually is some kind of drug’
I was aware that ‘that our brain experiences what the characters we are reading about experience’ and it was no surprise to learn about a piece of research where scientists got people to read while they were in a brain scanner. ” When readers were engaged in a story, the researchers found that, at the points in which the story said a protagonist undertook an action, the part of the brain which was activated was the part which the reader himself or herself would use to undertake the action”
What I hadn’t really taken on board was the fact that, ‘For most of our history, reading has been done by just a few specialists, and aloud.‘ In the fifth century, Saint Augustine was famously perplexed by the weird habits of Saint Ambrose: ” When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.”
We take it for granted now that fluent readers don’t have to sound out each word. Take a look at this article and remind yourself how novels have changed our attitudes to reading, using them as recreation and an escape from stress.
Reading is such a part of our lives it’s hard to imagine a time when a reader like Ambrose was able to astonish onlookers with his eyes scanning the page. I love the way that this was expressed – especially ‘his heart sought out the meaning ‘.
I don’t read anything like as much as I used to – maybe only one or two novels a month. I feel a pang when I visit some readers’ blogs and read their enticing reviews, adding them to my mental t.b.r pile - but what with my money-earning job, my own writing, and now my publishing venture, Novel Press, there really isn’t much time left over.
At least I know I can last a week without reading. It’s almost a year since I wrote any poetry and I do miss that.
Would you find it hard to give up reading for a week? If not, what would you miss most?