notebook entry 1990
That afternoon the whole of Lambeth–street after street spread out in the sun–smelled of roasting coffee. I sat on a bench outside St Mary’s, surrounded by the continual groan and thud of traffic at the Lambeth Bridge junction, listening to a thrush as it shaped and defended its territory among the ornamental shrubs. Daisies and dandelions were already out in the grass. At the edge of the path grew lesser celandines, yellow, star-shaped flowers like flat buttercups with eight pointed petals. I had cycled across from Peckham to see the garden at St Mary’s, but it was shut. The light falling across the south flank of the church was almost enough to make up for that; the faint shadows of the plane trees were like the shadows traced on a limestone cliff on a warm winter day. Water the colour of milk chocolate roiling under Lambeth Bridge in the strong sunlight. Tourists blink and laugh. A women on her own stares down over the parapet. They photograph the barges: THAMES & GENERAL LIGHTERAGE COMPANY.
Sybille Bedford, JIGSAW: “To say that Jules, the Julius von Felden of the novel [A Legacy], was my father would be as misleading as to say that he was not. Jules is like my father and unlike; to what degree of either I do not know. My intention was to draw a character in fiction; I used facts and memories when they served and discarded them when they did not.” [p18, my insert in squares.] This is a very adequate description of what went on in Climbers. Bedford clearly feels no guilt. Neither does she feel that definitions–of fiction or autobiography–have been strained. In this she resembles Colette or Pritchett rather than Isherwood, who felt he had to apologise for “lying”; or Edward Upward, who as a young man allowed his identity to become fatally intricated with his own imaginative product, and who to counter this spent the rest of his life transcribing his life like a book-keeper. What is the difference between these two kinds of writer?
Can you please tell me what book the opening paragraph comes from? It is very beautiful writing.
Hi Joe Holder. It’s an entry in my 1990 journal. A couple of sentences from it may have found their way into The Course of the Heart (Gollancz, 1992). At this distance I can’t be sure.
heh heh – I’ve just been searching Sybille Bedford books and Climbers using Amazon’s ‘search inside’ to try and locate that passage – so I could by the rest of whatever book it came from! So far the only books of yours I’ve read are Light, Nova Space and Empty Space which I enjoyed very much but you can perhaps understand that it wasn’t immediately obvious the entry above was the same author. I also read it as ‘1890’ instead of ‘1990’ for some reason, which it why I thought it was from ‘A Legacy’. (Maybe because I’m not used to the 21st Century yet). Also I’m reading Pepys diary at the moment another great journal…But thanks for the lovely writing – it really captures something of the place and the evening air you get there – now, in 1890 or in Pepys’ time I expect. And thanks for putting me on to Sybille Bedford who I hadn’t heard of before..
“…you can perhaps understand that it wasn’t immediately obvious the entry above was the same author.”
I can see what you mean. There’s a good deal of writing of that kind in Climbers, The Course of the Heart , Signs of Life and my collected short stories, Things That Never Happen. I’m hoping that Gollancz can be persuaded to keep that side of my output in print for readers who still like something they can put on a shelf. As of May 2013 there’ll be a new print edition of Climbers; but so far the others will be available only as eBooks. Of course, there are probably thousands of used copies around. (Hope you enjoy Sybille Bedford, by the way.)
I’ll certainly read those books of yours once I’m finished with Pepys, I’ll be interested to compare with your Science Fiction. I’ll also read some Sybille Bedford too. BTW when I was hunting through Sybille Bedford stuff just now I found a funny quote from her when she said that one of the side-effects from writing is that it generates correspondence and in particular how readers write in concerning tiny details in ones books. Well on that note – my parents are from Barnes, I grew up in East Sheen/Mortlake and I lived in Putney for many years and now live in Kingston – so I was pleased to see many of these places referenced in Light and Empty Space – but one question just won’t go away – where exactly did you mean by ‘the Mortlake roundabout’? (Even more coincidentally my aunt lives in Barcombe which of course is where Anna washes up in Empty Space…)
I meant the roundabout at the junction of Mortlake High St, Sheen Lane & Lower Richmond Rd–you have to imagine that Dr Alpert has decided to drive home along the Barnes side of the river, turning right on to Lonsdale Rd after crossing Hammersmith Bridge…
As to Barcombe: I was carefully vague when placing Anna’s village (“Wyndlesham”). It’s described as being under the South Downs, not far from Streat, Westmeston and St John’s Without (I think Plumpton Agricultural College is referenced, too); but it also seems to have a river that connects to the Ouse at Barcombe–fiction as far as I know. When Anna walks on the Downs, it’s along that stretch between Ditchling Beacon & Plumpton Bostall; but the river, the weir and the hunt stable bothy, are all based on locations I knew in Warwickshire in the 1950s .
Whenever necessary all these locations–including Carshalton–were slaughtered on the altar of convenience.
I once had a note from a reader who lived in a street the name of which I used in Light. He owned a Lancia Integrale (lucky man), which was often parked there, and assumed, with perfect logic, that I had based Kearney’s car on his. In fact I’ve never been in that street in my life… Pretty eerie coincidence.
I considered that junction was possibly what you referred to – but I rated it only as a ‘mini-roundabout’ – so I thought maybe you meant the confusing multi-light crossroads at Chalkers Corner. Not that it matters, jeez!
I’ve been a postman over Christmas in the Carshalton Beeches area and I must say you certainly captured it’s spooky, ‘left behind’ atmosphere…
I know this isn’t anything to do with the point you’re making or showing Mike, but it struck me that Sybille Bedford couldn’t do the same thing, keep that detached distance, when writing about her mother in Jigsaw or any of the other novels in which the beautiful heroin addict as mother and best friend takes centre stage. She didn’t have the same power of choice there. The portrait of the mother is intriguing but a failure in some ways, so much unresolved and nothing really ‘fictionalised’.