Finally the children succumb to sleep, and their gentle snoring provides the backdrop for the sounds of evening: the pad of the cats as they emerge from their hiding places, the hum of the ancient boiler, a radio turned-down low somewhere, a skirmish on the stairs. This is the best time of day—the perfect time to retrieve the editing project and escape into the rhythm and shape of the words on the page.
The collection recalls growing up in a town in rural Suffolk during the ’40s and ’50s, adventures in faraway lands while in the army, working as a young man in London, and coming full circle back to East Anglia, where the writer now lives.
Luckily for me, the writer is talented, his words and images evocative, sensual, poignant. Seductive. Stationed in Libya, he dreams of ‘soft-skinned British girls with roses in their cheeks, cool breasts and thighs; hot mouths’. Back home, two beauties catch the writer’s eye at the open-air swimming pool. ‘One is in repose, her relaxed, dreamy state reminiscent of Ingres’ odalisques in his painting Le Bain Turc; the other is feline, body turning in contraposto, eager to engage the camera’s eye, dark hair tousled, eyes and mouth sensuously aware’.
I read for the hundredth time my favourite passage, a description of the Carlton Hotel which stood in Newmarket, recalled amid the heat and homesickness of stints in Libya and Cyprus: ‘…a clean coolness in the marble-floored foyer freighted with the smells of fresh beer and wax polish from the bars and the Winter Garden’s airy brightness contrasting with the deep shadows and filtered light of the wood-panelled billiard room, the snooker balls set resplendent on the brushed green cloth of the two tables’.
Then the writing takes you by surprise, changing from sinuous to staccato in a scene describing soldiers waiting at Benghazi Docks in 1958: ‘Daubs of khaki on the sunwhite quayside…Flies buzz. The sun blazes. The sea glitters. The soldiers wait’.
The skill is not just in the manipulation of the writing but in the presentation of a vignette, a snapshot in time. Recalling his time working in London in the early ’60s, the writer says, ‘In November the Kennedy assassination halts trading in the city, the news striking like a blunt instrument. The next day, the 23rd, a man on the tube attempts to articulate and communicate his disbelief and sorrow: “They killed him...shot him...he’s dead...did you see it?” There is no response. All strangers, we are embarrassed, our eyes averting to newspapers or the advertisements, or gaze fixedly into space’.
The ability to transliterate historic, dramatic events into the everyday is an impressive feat. Shared stories unite, reactions help explain our puzzling humanity. Maybe we are not so alone.
The description of atmosphere is precise and resonates deep inside. The writer describes his father’s regular dawn walks through awakening Indian villages while serving as a soldier: ‘…the sounds of barking dogs, birdsong, the cries of children, the smells of charcoal fires and the earth and vegetation; the new day’s sky a pale lavender shot with apricot and peach’. I am there.
It’s not just the weight and the pace of the words that make up this physical, sensual experience but the scent of the ink-and-paper, and the feel of the neatly-typed sheaf as I stack the pages back together, and bind them with rubber bands, hiding the work away for another night.
It’s late now and quiet and I remember that I’m here in this room, my bare feet cold as they press against the floorboards. I’m for bed now. There’s no winding-down time for me: words are my love and my life and this evening they’ve soothed me and will sustain a night of dreams.
I’ve been editing a collection of writing by Vintage Script writer Edward Clark, from Newmarket in Suffolk. I hope to be able to announce continued success with his writing career soon!