We’ve just got back from Dorset. My uncle, my dad’s brother, has put up a memorial bench for my dad in the seaside town they were evacuated to during the war. The bench overlooks the sea, and I feel like my dad was with us the whole time. The weather was glorious.
My uncle and aunt were staying at an old cottage with an incredibly steep wooden staircase, and our room was at the top of the house. There were wooden beams in every ceiling, and the cottage owners had filled it with some valuable-looking antiques. I was taking photographs of everything.
Out the windows, we could see the sea again, and the Norman church. Seagulls flew over our room the whole time.
I got to meet one of my dad’s school friends, and heard a lot about his childhood. I also got to see the place where my nan, my dad, his brother and his sister, lived in- it’s a wooden holiday cottage, the size of two bathing huts welded together, and during the time the family lived there, it didn’t have electricity or running water, only a pot-bellied stove which had to be fed with driftwood. These days, you’re not allowed to live in it during winter.
Whenever my dad told me anything about his childhood, I switched off; but in any case, he didn’t tell me the half of it. He never really complained, but he was dealt some awful hands during his lifetime. Since he died, a couple of years ago, a lot has fallen into place, and I realize now what he was putting up with.
I feel guilty about all the arguments we had as I hit puberty. And about a decade or so when we didn’t really communicate, and neither of us understood each other. I’m glad, though, that we reached a sort of truce before the end. A lot of that was due to my wife, who was fond of him, and brought him out of his shell.
Before heading back to London, we stayed a night in Dorchester, and visited Max Gate, Thomas Hardy’s house, a mile or so outside the town. My wife is a lifelong Hardy fan, and she got me to read Tess Of The Durbervilles and The Mayor Of Casterbridge. They’re magnificent, and I’m determined to read more of his work.
You got a real sense of the man and his world as you moved around the house and gardens. Funniest were the accounts of the famous people who met him, and especially the stories of Wessex, his beloved dog, who attacked everybody except T.E. Lawrence. But there was a sadness, too. His first wife, Emma, stopped speaking to him in the last years of her life, and lived in two rooms at the top of the house. When she died, he was overcome with remorse, which found its way into his poetry.
I found this quotation from Thomas Hardy in Max Gate, which I thought was profound:
A writer should express the emotion of all ages and the thought of his own.
We’ve got our Kindles up and running, finally, and we were reading them at nights and on the train journeys there and back. I’m reading Madam Crowl’s Ghost and other stories by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, an anthology put together by M.R. James, who was a fan. I can see now some of the influence Le Fanu had on James. They both use stories-within-stories to heighten the mood; they both have supernatural menaces which are borderline vampires; and they both wrote stories featuring curses-which-span-generations.
As a result, I’ve fallen back in love with horror fiction. Microhorror is up and running again, and I’ve sent off a flash fiction for them to consider. It’s one I had ready, though. I haven’t written anything new in a while.
The truth is, I’m stuck. I need to climb back in the saddle again. To come up with a story.