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! -
One of the benefits of writing a book, and better still, of getting published, is the way it opens doors to lots of other writerly activities, such as giving talks, running workshops, and attending Literary Festivals as a performer, as well as being a member of the audience. Another enjoyable aspect of being a writer (with or without being published) is making friends with other writers.
Last Thursday I was able to combine a visit to my writing friend, Crysse Morrison, with an opportunity to be one of eight castaways in an event listed in the Frome Festival Programme as Desert Island Reads. Crysse herself had to step in at the last minute to take the place of a performer who was unable to attend. You can read more about the event on her blog.
I’d left my own camera in her house so thanks are due to Crysse’s camera and to Wendy, one of the festival organisers, who took this picture, which features, from left to right:
Me, Kevan Manwaring,Keely Beresford,
Crysse, David Johnson, Philip de Glanville and Adrian Tinniswood
Desert Island Reads was described as “eight local celebrities share a favourite literary extract and tell us why they chose it.” I felt a bit of a fraud as I was neither “local”, not a “celebrity” but no one seemed to notice. When Crysse had first invited me to take part, I’d thought about including some real-life letters, because of the role that real-life letters had played in my novel Paper Lanterns, but it was proving quite difficult to find something that not only had inspired me in the past, but still lived up to the memories of it.
After searching my bookshelves I found an edition of the letters and poems of John Keats and was relieved to find that the he could still work his magic on me. I’ll quote some of the extracts that I read in a future post. Take a look at the on-line programme for the ten-day Festival and you’ll be amazed by the wide variety of all the events.
Crysse was heavily involved in the organisation of several events, but she’d booked tickets for us both so that she could relax with me for the evening at ‘Cabaret Sans Frontiers’, a totally surreal and highly entertaining event –
and here I quote from her own blog: “the eccentric energy of Cabaret sans Frontieres, this year offering its macabre and madcap medley from a ship bound for ‘the edge of the edge of possibilities, and beyond.’ “
Here are a few more photos of the music
and strange exhibits that we were encouraged to inspect during the interval, such as this ’spider’ appearing to rest on the top of a cabinet, to whom I offered a sip of my white wine spritzer.
The next morning, before I set off for Sussex to visit my mother for the weekend, Crysse insisted on taking me to an amazing exhibition featuring the intricate, imaginative, and brilliantly bizarre constructions and sketches of Ralph Steadman.
If you’re anywhere near Frome, make sure you take a look.
There were no signs anywhere asking people not to take photos of the exhibits, so I’m hoping that no one will object to these.
On my return from Sussex
I was greeted by the sight of multiple copies of The Birmingham Sunday Mercury that Gardening Husband had bought for me to use as marketing material for my novel, Paper Lanterns.
I’d been told that it would be published today, and I was delighted with the double page spread, giving the story of the cache of real life letters that inspired the middle section of the book.
Here’s a photo of the man on the receiving end of the love letters from two different women,
and here’s the young Chinese girl, with a small selection of the letters behind her. It’s fascinating stuff, and anyone who’s read the book is likely to enjoy seeing the originals of the letters that I have adapted for the novel.
How can it be March already? Maybe there’s a mathematical formula that can explain the correlation between my own advancing years and the increasing speed with which each brand new year hurtles towards its middle age.
March is a significant month for Paper Lanterns – its formal publication date falls on 15th of March, but the copies themselves have now been delivered to Novel Press and are ready to find themselves new homes on other people’s bookshelves. Look to your right, scroll down a little bit, and you’ll see how easy it is to get your copy! I’m also hoping that some of these might land in temporary accommodation in Hong Kong bookshops, as well as some Independent booksellers in the UK.
As I’ve said below, there have been hopeful signs of interest, and a couple of days ago I was delighted to open an email from the editor of the online Lamma-zine, wanting to know where he could buy a copy of my new novel so that he or one of his team could write a review. At first I’d assumed that he must have heard about my book from my sister or one of her friends, but no, it was Google Alerts which had led him to this site. Hurray for Google!
Other March events include the latest copy of Writing Magazine, inside which, on pages 30 and 31, is an article entitled “Make your book unputdownable’” by Crysse Morrison in her regular ‘Good Practice’ slot. This series of articles is well worth reading, but that’s not all – the sub title is, “Hook your reader with a glimpse of the action and conflict to come”, and its main focus for the examples it gives is the novel, Telling Liddy, by Anne Fine, the award winning author of numerous books for children and eight for adults, and my second novel, Paper Lanterns. How’s that for company for unknown author!
I was delighted when Crysse told me that she wanted to use some quotations from Paper Lanterns for this article. There they are, under the subheading, ‘Enticing trailers’. There are three intertwined story lines in my novel, and three key dates. The main action of the book is set in the present, but both 1971 and 1930 are highly significant as well. I’d changed the opening chapters several times before I settled on a short prologue set in 1971, giving hints of what will unfold later in the book.
I gradually realised that I needed another, earlier, clue to the events of 1930, and Crysse goes on to say: “But the initial hook of this novel is an atmospheric fragment of oriental mystery from a later chapter when Ann (the main character) begins to uncover family secrets that will slowly burn away all the previous certainties of her life:
Friday 8th April, 1930, Hong Kong
“…and I had the oddest sensation – as though my soul – my very self – was a bright flame that now was shrinking, leaning away from him as from a gust of wind. And into my mind came the image of how the Chinese protect a small flame of light from being extinguished and at the same time, beautify it, with a delicate construction of coloured paper.”
A March event that I’m particularly looking forward to, and involves my new baby (Paper Lanterns, of course!) will take place in a coffee shop in the middle of Birmingham on the last Tuesday of the month. But more of that later.
Why would anyone want to spend an hour with a self-declared ‘Foppish Buffoon’ in a darkened upstairs room in a pub in Islington on a rainy Thursday evening? Even if he is poet-in-residence on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live. Read on to find out why each of the 60 minutes added up to excellent value for the entrance fee.
My feelings about London are usually distinctly hostile. For me, on my frequent car journeys down to Sussex, it’s a blot on the landscape, the monster that spawned the nightmare of the M. 25. But last Thursday, on one of my occasional jaunts into its heart, I was reminded of how much I enjoy its variety, once I’m there.
As soon as I emerged from the bowels of the earth and climbed the steps to Hungerford Bridge, I breathed in the tang of the sea, the only thing I miss since moving to the Midlands. Then into the Festival Hall to meet my writer friend Crysse Morrison for a catch-up chat, lunch at Waggamamas, and a peaceful hour in the National Gallery relaxing in front of her current favourite, Seurat’s The Bathers. Like most people, I was familiar with the card-sized version of this picture, but I was stunned to see it taking up almost half the wall ( actually about 2 metres by 3). We sat for a long time, enjoying the calming scene and wondering about the lives of those boys.
The highlight of my day took place in the Red Lion in Islington, where our other writing friend, Roger Jinkinson joined us, and, best of all, my son. I had no idea what to expect of The Petty Concerns of Luke Wright, apart from this, taken from his website:
“Featuring some nipple-tweekingly awful teenage lyrics; sarcastic cricket commentators and the death of a very tight pair of jeans. Luke effortlessly mixes comedy and poetry as he tries to look past his own inflated ego and find out what really matters.”
He’s a whirlwind of energy, and I found his self-deprecating delivery hilarious and touching, both the preambles and the poems themselves. These were clearly differentiated by the use of a huge screen, letting us know that the monologue had morphed into the poem it was introducing, by the simple technique of displaying the poem’s title.
To get a feel of what the show was like, you’ll have to check out where it’s going to be performed next, and book your ticket. If you can’t do that, then buy the book. I was delighted to be able to do this, and extend my enjoyment of the evening by reading the poems on the train home.
As it says in the blurb on the cover of his book, “High Performance “ brings Luke Wright’s acerbic wit and high-energy performance style to the page, revealing the formal discipline underpinning much of his verse.
It was enlightening to see what the stream of words looked like on the page, and identify the internal and end-rhymes and half-rhymes. It confirms the importance of the visual aspect of poetry, and how this affects the way the poem works in the reader’s head, presenting more layers of meaning and understanding.
One of my favourites from the book is Family Funeral, with its precise choice of metaphors to pin down nostalgic memories and complex emotions:
“And so, as sure as seasons, they arrive -
relations last seen heavy as trifle
at some mid-childhood Sunday lunch …”
Take a look, and buy the book.
Friday 20th November UPDATE for my COVER DESIGN CHALLENGE!
(Lots of interesting responses so far - these are sent straight to my email and don’t show up on this site. CLOSING DATE: 31st December)
START of the orignal post from Tuesday 18th Nov
At long last I’ve managed to upload the seven versions of the front cover for Paper Lanterns,thanks to my sister, Jo.(Scroll down to the end of this post to see why!)
Enter this Challenge and you could win one of the FIVE FREE copies of this novel. All you need to do to, is answer this question:
WHICH OF THESE POSSIBLE COVERS DO YOU THINK THE AUTHOR LIKES BEST?
• Scroll down to see the information which I sent to the designer to let him know the kind of thing I wanted ( Ideas for the Designer)
CLICK HERE to see THE ‘THUMBNAIL’ SIZE PICTURES OF THE SEVEN COVERS. (To see slightly larger versions of each individual cover*, click on each one, OR click the small box on the top left where it says, Slide Show.)
• When you have selected the cover, you think I like best, CLICK HERE to tell me your decision (this will be sent direct to my email)
Please write ‘Cover Design’ in the ‘subject’ box.
In the ‘your Message’ box, state the number of the cover you’ve chosen and make any comments - Although I’ve got my favourite, I might need to think again if enough people choose a different version!
(*The text on the cover says:
“Certainties are shattered as past and present inexorably unfold –
a deeply moving and unusual novel”Crysse Morrison, author of Frozen Summer and Sleeping in Sand)
Ideas sent to Designer,(Ian Hughes at Mousemat Design) for the front cover design for Paper Lanterns:
“I’d like it to convey that the overall mood of the book is largely optimistic, in spite of the fact that each of the three main characters have suffered loss and disappointment in their lives. I’d want there to be a hint of darkness/sadness -maybe darker green+ brown, but moving towards much lighter greens and blues.
Although the majority of the ‘real time’ action takes part in contemporary Hong Kong, I don’t want the cover to give the impression that it’s about the Chinese – as the main characters are all British, with attitudes and lifestyles to suit.
On the other hand, as I indicate in the blurb, HK itself is an important element in the story – both the contemporary one, and her grandmother’s love story from the 1930s.
Because of the book’s title, it could be easy just to plump for some images of paper lanterns, but if possible I’d like something (either abstract or representational) which can also refer back to, or hint at a key event in Ann’s life (aged 15/16) that led to the break-up of the family. The nearby woodland/park , and English trees in general, are quite significant in this particular story line.”
To find out more about my publishing venture, NOVEL PRESS, scroll down to read the previous post, Judging a Cover by its Book
Why I’m grateful to my sister, Jo
I was at my mother’s house in Sussex last weekend, and Jo, who lives on an organic farm in Cornwall, was there at the same time. We don’t see each other very often, so it was lovely to catch up on all our news. We stayed up late on Saturday night and she very patiently showed me how to use to Picasa, a user-friendly photo management site.
I had a fabulous day in London yesterday, offering pre-event support to my friend, Crysse Morrison who gave a wonderful hour of poetry from the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square from 4.00 to 5.00 pm. She has her own regular blog, so click here for her own account of the event.(Scroll down to Sunday, July 19th 09)
Now it’s Sunday again, and while I was browsing through my file of fairly recent work, wondering which poem to post as my Poem of the Week, I came across this one, which was set in a hotel not very far from where I was yesterday:
In the Garden of the Goring Hotel
Thickets of laurel and rhododendron cushion the wall
lulling the background of car horns and engines
almost to silence, until a sudden hiss of exhalation –
a bus, maybe, pulling away from the grimy kerb
dropping young travellers from Poland or Estonia
to pan for gold. In the shrubbery, a five-year old
plays among the twigs and beetle tracks. The scent
of box-leaves hasn’t altered, all these years; dark-red
pansies, yellow ones and indigo, display the same face.
Moss has homed in on the cracks in the crazy paving
that leads to the dark fence and the tall pines.
On the edge of this echo of forest, a running girl
almost breaks free from the dappled shade.
The bronze sole of her bronze foot holds her still.
I wrote the first of several versions of this poem in May 08, after staying in this friendly and luxurious hotel for a couple of days, thanks to the generosity of Clarissa, my best friend from school days (scroll down to the 2nd paragraph of this post)for the story of how we met.
Being unaccustomed to staying in any hotel, let alone an upmarket one in central London, a mere stone’s throw from Victoria Station, I was fascinated by the contrasts, not only between the oasis of calm in the beautiful, enclosed garden, and my occasional awareness of the noisy streets beyond the high walls, but also between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of this city.
The strongest memory that I took from that visit, was the image of the beautiful bronze girl, held in perpetual motion under the trees.
As usual, I tried to cram too many details of thoughts, sights and sounds into the poem. When I was on a poetry writing course in Crete in June 08, run by Mimi Khalvati she unerringly focussed on what was, in fact, the real heart of the poem.
This final version has now been reduced from 20-something to 14 lines which seem to have shaped themselves into a sonnet and I’m much happier with it as a result. (Thank you, Mimi!)