In the Land of the Great Grey Cloud

Well . . . that’s what England seems to be at the moment - it’s been non-stop rain (the odd sunny interval yesterday, billed as the Best Day of the Week) and grey gloom.  The temperatures are low - 8 degrees overnight rising to a balmy 13 or 14 during the day.  I’m told sales of St John’s Wort have spiraled since everyone’s suffering from Summer SAD syndrome.

Not that I’ve been outside much since I got off the plane. I’ve been very busy raiding my bookcases in order to re-write and update a small book I wrote for the Arts Council a few years ago - ‘Margaret Forster: an introduction to her life and work’.  Margaret has very generously given me the permission to update and re-publish.   It was an interesting project at the time; one Cumbrian author writing about another.  But we’re very different and our lives have followed different trajectories.  Margaret was born in a city, before the war, won scholarships and went to Oxford; I was born in the wilds of the Cumbrian fells, after the war, and left school 3 weeks before my 16th birthday.  Margaret went to London and began writing; I made a teenage marriage and traveled the world like a nomad.  Margaret’s made a considerable name for herself, while I’ve plodded on at the bottom of the mid-list.   But under the differences are common threads - we both come from families usually designated ‘working class’ and we’re rooted in northern culture.  We’re both driven, and we care about writing very deeply.

Margaret’s life and her approach to writing and publication are fascinating - I’m always interested in the process of writing - the transformation of facts through the imagination into fiction - everything that happens before the finished product.  And Margaret’s success is interesting to analyse since she has always refused to do any of the ‘performing author’ events that publishers insist you do to sell books (but she still sells shed-loads!).  She has told me that once a book is published and out in the world she forgets about it and simply begins writing the next, putting all the others out of her mind completely.  It sounds ideal, but for most of us, we’re tied into the exigencies of the publisher’s contract.

It’s a strange experience writing about a contemporary, particularly this blend of biography and litcrit.  I’m thoroughly enjoying re-visiting her novels from the last few years, including the Orange listed ‘Over’, and hoping that the book will be available on Kindle and Smashwords around the beginning of September.  Neil’s designing a really good cover.  Watch this space!


  1. what an exciting project!

    Your summer doesn't sound that much better than our winter. Yuk!

  2. I think our summer and your winter are about on a par Al!

  3. The very interesting parallels here should make this a fascinating and insightful study. I also sense some parallels to my own writing/lived life though on the other side of the Pennines. I look forward to reading it. Margaret Forster is a favourite of mine generally because of her idiosyncratic approach to fiction but mostly because of her biography of Daphne du Maurier (another favourite of mine) which I think it definitive.

    I had the thought that you should write your own memoir....


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