I went to the 70th birthday party of a friend recently. Since she has friends who are older than herself as well as friends who are younger, I was among the younger people there, but I’ll be 66 at Christmas, so I was very definitely part of the same generation as the people there in their seventies. I was in a group of old people with white hair, and brittle skin, and stiff limbs, and I was one of them.
It is a cliche, and only partly true, to say that I don’t feel old. In some respects I certainly do feel old. I have arthritis. I have health conditions which I’m now stuck with. I ache in the mornings. I have to pee at least three times every night. I have to make a effort to stand up from a sitting position. I am a granddad.
It’s not all bad, and that last is definitely one of the nice parts.
Another thing: my parents are dead, and have been for several years, which to be honest is also one of the nice parts. They were not bad people, and I felt affection for them, but all my life their neediness felt like a ball and chain which I had to drag around behind me . Latterly, neither of them wanted to carry on living and both of them deliberately hastened their own deaths. The fact that they no longer wanted to live was part of the burden, and now I’m free of it.
Another freedom I have now comes from having a pension. I don’t have to work unless I want to. This is obviously also a nice part (and perhaps especially so for a writer). I well remember, a few months after finally retiring from my last part-time day job as a university lecturer, suddenly realising how lucky I was to have an income until the day I die (not particularly high, but perfectly livable), and giving a little whoop of relief and delight at this new freedom which I have, whether or not I deserve it. The only downside is that it’s a reminder that I’m in the last part of my life, I am in the part of my life where society no longer demands anything of me.
The sense in which I don’t feel old – and I remember my mother saying the same thing- is that it feels like the same me looking out through my eyes as looked out through those eyes when I was 21, still grappling with essentially the same things.
Continue reading “Old”
My new book Tomorrow came out a month ago. Normally, I’d have another book well on the way by this stage, but I haven’t. Plenty of ideas, plenty of scenarios and first chapters, but nothing that seems to want to crystallize into a book.
This is more of less the situation of the narrator of Tomorrow, a would-be novelist who can’t seem to get started on a book. It worked well for me when I wrote that book, the story just flowed out of me, but it’s not something I can hope to pull off more than once.
I can’t find the exact quote but the poet Ted Hughes said something about having to find a way to evade his mental policeman in order to write. Sounds right to me. You can’t keep using the same trick because the policeman gets wise to it. You have to find another.
Interview here with Chris Gregory, at Alternative Stories, interspersed with readings by actors from my books (Including preview of my next novel, Tomorrow.)
Here’s an audio drama put together by Chris Gregory for his Alternative Stories and Fake Realities podcast, based on an extract from Two Tribes. You’ll see the names of the actors when you click the link. What makes this a exceptional feat is that the actors were not together in the same room, each one recorded their lines separately – or rather several versions of each line- and Chris G selected the delivery he thought worked best, spliced them together, and added sound effects. It’s constructed around a central scene in the book where Harry and Michelle, meeting for the third time, go together to the Tate Modern in London, where they have their first big row.
Although told from 250 years in the future, the main part of this book deals with a Cambridge-educated North London architect (Harry), and his relationship with a hairdresser from a small town in Norfolk who left school at 16 (Michelle).
When I described this to my friend Ian, his immediate reaction was ‘well, that would never happen’. You’d need to read the book to judge whether he was necessarily right, but it’s interesting, I think, that such a relationship seems so unlikely. I’m sure he wouldn’t have reacted in that way, if for example, I’d said the book was about a relationship between Harry and another architect who had, say, an Indian Hindu background. Nothing particularly unlikely about that. Which suggests to me that the cultural gap between different ‘cultures’ is actually smaller than the cultural gap between different classes.
Over much of my lifetime there was a kind of alliance between Harry’s class (which is also my own) -the liberal professional class- and the working class, both of which tended to vote Labour (just as both tended to vote Democrat in the US). In recent years, and notably in the Brexit vote, that alliance has fallen apart. Isn’t that what we really mean by the rise of ‘populism’? And that was the background against which I wanted to foreground Michelle and Harry’s relationship.
Two Tribes on Hive.
Two Tribes on Amazon
Two Tribes is out in paperback this week, so here’s a short post to celebrate. (More info about the book here.)
This is a book with a simple moral, which (adapting Solzhenistyn) could be summed up as ‘The line between good and evil does not pass between those who like the European Union and those who don’t.’
Or: ‘It’s a mistake to assume you’re one of the good guys, just because you and your friends think you are. Pretty much everyone thinks their lot are the good guys.’
Or: ‘Just because someone doesn’t agree with you about politics, doesn’t make them a monster.’
Although mainly set in the aftermath of Brexit, it isn’t really about Brexit. It’s about social class, and specifically about the complicated relationship between the liberal middle classes and the working classes in Britain, and the way that relationship is changing.
I’m very proud of it.
Here’s another moral. ‘When there is more than one elite, each elite condemns the elitism of the others, but denies its own.’
Two Tribes on Hive.
Two Tribes on Amazon
The unusual format of this podcast is that I and the two interviewers (Ben and Nick) had each written a mini-story with the same title (‘I’m alone’) and we began by reading these.
Here’s me talking to Sam Ruddock, on behalf of National Centre for Writing, about dialogue among other things. Many thanks to Sam and to NCW for having me.