The hanging man

Here is an excerpt from my novel, Night Vision, which I published as an e-book in  2013; this is how the blurb describes it: “Beulah and Neil Cameron return to his childhood home of Easthope to try and repair their damaged marriage. Neil is profoundly and wrongly jealous of Beulah’s best friend; however Beulah discovers that Neil has his own secrets which may damage their marriage more permanently. The disappearance of his fifteen year-old brother Patrick thirty years ago, casts a long shadow, and despite Neil’s opposition, Beulah is determined to find out what happened to him.”

In this except from near the beginning, Neil and Beulah have had a terrible row and she is wandering alone in Camel Wood:

She wandered on, climbing slightly and hit a track and followed it until it disappeared and she was wandering aimlessly once more. The trees were in full leaf, but a sombre and dreary green in the grey afternoon light. There was no wind and fancifully it seemed to Beulah that she was watched. She had no notion of time, and didn’t care.

There were rocky outcrops now as she walked into an ancient and long abandoned quarry, and it was here she saw the tree, the tree she was moved to climb. It had branches at just the right inviting height and she smiled to herself as she reached to catch hold and pull herself up.

She had a rush of excitement, a sort of thrill she hadn’t had for so long that it seemed it was when she was young. But I’m not old! her inner child cried, forty-seven, that’s old, her real self replied.

It was a wonderful tree to climb and soon she was eight foot off the ground and she stopped and smiled and wondered when she’d last done that. She could see the rocky walls of the quarry more clearly, covered with ivy and unfurling ferns and long trails of some sort of vine.

Beulah began to climb again, not looking up, enjoying the feel of the bark, the smell of the leaves. Sun shafted through the branches, the weather clearing at last and she glanced over at the cliff and then back again in disbelief.

There was a sculpture of a hanging man suspended on the rock in an impossible place. It was carved out of wood but she couldn’t quite see it because a branch hung down. It was difficult to climb higher but she had to get a better look at the figure on the rocks.

Beulah reached for the next bough and had to stretch for it, a broken off stump protruding awkwardly. She still couldn’t see the carving and lacing her fingers together, pulled herself up awkwardly, bumping her breast and grazing her face. The discomfort made her feel alive and she smiled as she wedged her foot on the broken stump and pulled herself onto the next branch, swung her legs over and sat peering at the figure.

It was not a carving at all; it was a stunted trunk of a tree growing out of the side of the quarry, she could see that now, but its natural provenance made it even more remarkable. It still looked exactly like a hanging man, the rounded chest straining above the concave belly; a swelling of some canker round the hips suggested he was swathed in cloth, or wearing britches, or as if he had a satyr’s fleecy legs or was Pan himself.

A grooved channel running down the lower part of the twisted trunk marked his legs pressed together and then a splay of aerial roots gave the impression of cords binding the ankles and hiding the feet or cloven hooves.

Above the swelling chest, the head lolled forward, the top of the tree pollarded or deformed by some growth.  The face was hidden but the sun highlighted a bent nose, parted lips and the line of the brow; gnarled protuberances, lumpy and knotted looked like curls of shaggy hair. On either side, twisting branches, like bent arms, came together as if the wrists had been bound, and tangled vines of ivy hid the hands.

It was the most amazing thing and Beulah stared at it, mesmerised. It was strangely moving, a primitive god unexpectedly revealed, sacrificed for some dark magical mystical reason. She looked down; she was nearly thirty foot above the ground. From below the hanging man would look like a twisted and deformed tree, growing out of the rock face. Only from here was the mystery revealed.

© Lois Elsden 2017

More thoughts about pathetic fallacy

I was probably studying Thomas hardy when I first came across the notion of pathetic fallacy; when I was teaching French literature to A-level students, the head of department who taught the language side, asked me what on earth it was because the students were forever going on about it! It’s a literary device where the weather (or sometimes the landscape) reflect the mood, actions, inner thoughts, situation of the characters in the narrative. There are some wonderful and famous examples…

Macbeth

“The night has been unruly. Where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’ th’ air, strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatched to the woeful time. The obscure bird
Clamored the livelong night. Some say the Earth
Was feverous and did shake.”

Shakespeare


Frankenstein

The clouds swept across [the moon] swifter than the flight of the vulture and dimmed her rays, while the lake reflected the scene of the busy heavens, rendered still busier by the restless waves…
The storm appeared to approach rapidly… the heavens were clouded, and I soon felt the rain coming slowly in large drops, but its violence quickly increased… the darkness and storm increased every minute, and the thunder burst with a terrific crash over my head. …vivid flashes of lightning dazzled my eyes, illuminating the lake, making it appear like a vast sheet of fire; then for an instant everything seemed of a pitchy darkness…
This noble war in the sky elevated my spirits… I perceived in the gloom a figure… A flash of lightning illuminated the object, and discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy daemon…

Mary Shelley 1818

Wuthering Heights

There was no sound through the house but the moaning wind, which shook the windows every now and then On the morrow one could hardly imagine that there had been three weeks of summer: the primroses and crocuses were hidden under wintry drifts; the larks were silent, the young leaves of the early trees smitten and blackened.
About midnight, while we still sat up, the storm came rattling over the Heights in full fury. There was a violent wind, as well as thunder, and either one or the other split a tree off at the corner of the building: a huge bough fell across the roof, and knocked down a portion of the east chimney-stack, sending a clatter of stones and soot into the kitchen-fire. We thought a bolt had fallen in the middle of us.

Emily Bronte 1847

Bleak House

Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers… Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city … people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

1853

Great Expectations

Day after day, a vast heavy veil had been driving over London from the East, and it drove still, as if in the East there were an Eternity of cloud and wind. So furious had been the gusts, that high buildings in town had had the lead stripped off their roofs; and in the country, trees had been torn up, and sails of windmills carried away; and gloomy accounts had come in from the coast, of shipwreck and death. Violent blasts of rain had accompanied these rages of wind, and the day just closed as I sat down to read had been the worst of all.”

Charles Dickens 1861

 The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

The fog still slept on the wing above the drowned city, where the lamps glimmered like carbuncles [jewels]; and through the muffle and smother of these fallen clouds, the procession of the town’s life was still rolling in through the great arteries with a sound as of a mighty wind. But the room was gay with firelight.  It was by this time about nine in the morning, and the first fog of the season.
A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these embattled vapours; so that as the cab crawled from street to street, Mr. Utterson beheld a marvellous number of degrees and hues of twilight; for here it would be dark like the back-end of evening; and there would be a glow of a rich, lurid brown, like the light of some strange conflagration; and here, for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths… like a district of some city in a nightmare. The thoughts of his mind, besides, were of the gloomiest dye

Robert Louis Stevenson 1886

I’m not for one moment comparing myself to these masters, but like most writers, I do use pathetic fallacy; I guess the best example is from my novel Night Vision; The main character Beualh is struggling to persuade her unreasonably jealous husband, that his belief that she has been unfaithful is totally groundless, she is completely innocent. They arrange to go out for a romantic meal, but on the way home from work he diverts to the rugby club and ‘accidentally’ gets drunk. When she comes to find him, a humiliating scene ensues, and she rushes out and jumps into her car and drives away:

Beulah drove at random, tears streaming down her face as the rain streamed down the windscreen. An oncoming vehicle flashed its lights aggressively and Beulah went to lower hers only to realise that she hadn’t even turned them on. She pulled over to the side of the road and wept, embarrassed, mortified, humiliated.
How could you, Neil, how could you? She wanted to run away, but where to? Her friends were all in Manchester… thank God the boys were thousands of miles away. She wouldn’t go back to the flat, Austin and Annie might see her arrive alone and wonder what was wrong, come to be kind…. She couldn’t face them.
She wiped her face, smearing her carefully applied make-up. She couldn’t help but think of her excitement and anticipation, her optimism and hope. It was an insult, an affront. Bad enough for anyone to do something like that, but for her own husband to make a mockery of her love for him… She was sobbing now, utterly miserable, the future absolutely black, no hope of ever regaining the relationship she’d had with Neil.
How could she ever trust him again? Their problems all came from him. When his jealousy exploded in his attack on Rafi she could honestly say that she was innocent. She blew her nose and got out of the car and walked up and down in the teeming rain. Her feet were wet in her slender strapped sandals, the soles so thin the water pooling on the pavement ran between her toes.
Back in the car, cold, very wet and more controlled but no calmer, she looked at her phone. Nothing from Neil. Should she ring him but what could she possibly say? Even if he’d been sober enough to understand what she meant, what could she say?
Beulah was shivering, as much with emotional trauma as with cold. She needed time to think… or not to think. She drove out of Easthope and through Strand, she didn’t want Neil finding her, even if he came looking. Her phone was on the seat beside her, its silence telling her that he didn’t care.
She pulled into a lay-by as a fresh wave of emotion and despair engulfed her…. but she couldn’t sit snivelling and sorry for herself, alone and lonely; she walked around again, the rain coming down even more heavily. She set off again, crawling along, the rain lashing down so heavily her wipers couldn’t clear the screen. Even with her lights full on she could hardly see where she was going until there was an illuminating blaze of lightning arcing above showing the flooded road, water running like a river. There was a sign to Westope and she drove down to the boatyard and parked against the fence.
The storm unleashed its torrential worst. She had some gloomy satisfaction in the sound of the roaring wind which buffeted the car, screaming and whistling through the boats’ rigging. Deafening thunder cracked and rolled above her and the sheets of viridian lightning matched her despair. She tried to remember Lear’s rage, tried to recall his anguished words, to block out her own thoughts.
The night was full of strange and deafening noises, crashes and bangs as invisible things were tossed about in the boat yard. She should have been frightened but she was beyond fear. She had no idea of the time, didn’t care, it didn’t matter.
She slept.

© Lois Elsden 2017

If you want to find out what led up to this, and to what happened next, here is a link to my boo, Night Vision:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/night-vision-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B00BMZ6UWY/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1500384431&sr=8-8&keywords=lois+elsden

 

When nothing happens

Like many people I’m on Linkedin (which for a quite a while, for no reason, I thought was called Lindlekin ) I rarely use it at all but occasionally I get notifications and today it was from a writing group, and it was a question “When nothing happens – Do you like stories that have ambiguous endings or stories in which not much happens? For example, instead of being plot-driven, a story can be character-driven?”

Now that’s a very good question! I actually don’t like stories where nothing much happens… I’ve written before about my reading habits, and how I think in some ways I am not as good a reader as I used to be – although recently I’ve had string of successful ‘reads’, so maybe I’m improving! I used to be able to wade through anything and persevere to the end… now ‘when nothing happens‘ I tend to give up! A friend in our reading group loves beautifully written books, loves the language of them… but I’m afraid I want some story line, I want some sort of action! I don’t mean that there has to be a punch up on every page or a chase or a romantic development, but I want to feel as if there is some sort of progression.

It’s the same in my writing, I like to have some sort of progression, people change, relationships begin or end, events occur – unexpected, unlooked-for, sometimes unwanted! I guess I like plots! Characters are everything, and setting, but there must be a plot… and endings… satisfactory endings are vital! A satisfactory ending is not necessarily a closed, completed ending, it can be open or ambiguous – but it must conclude the proceedings! I have a very good friend who very kindly tells me honestly what she thinks of my stories, and I always take great heed of her suggestions and advice; on one occasion she commented that an ending (of Flipside) was too brief – everything was wrapped up and concluded too hastily and although the mystery was solved, the characters were left sort of hanging about! So in the next book I worked very hard on the ending – and I’m delighted to say she approved!

Just to briefly look at the endings of my novels…

  • Farholm – the puzzle is solved, the mystery revealed, but for the characters there will continue to be difficulties after the conclusion – grieving will continue, an unhappy relationship struggles on, and another relationship will never even start
  • The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – the stalker is revealed, but  a new relationship based on a rather precarious foundation begins on almost the last page
  • Loving Judah – a resolved ending, but I hope I have pointed the reader towards realising there will be a rocky road ahead for two of the characters
  • The Double Act – a complete conclusion – but when I came to do the final edit, I had to add an extra bit – an epilogue I guess you could call it. The dramatic action had ended in a flourish, but the reader needed a come-down, so I added a final piece when the two main characters are visited by the investigating police officer some months later; readers can imagine an optimistic onward journey, I hope
  • night vision – all the secrets are revealed, and the main character is overwhelmed with happiness and relief, but I hope the reader will see that in actual fact, her optimism might be misguided
  • Lucky Portbraddon – for some of the Portbraddon family, their lives seem settled and hopeful at the end of the book; for others there are unresolved issues, but I hope it is a satisfactory ending since the characters all seem in a position to deal with an unsettled future
  • The Radwinter stories – the first novel, Radwinter, was supposed to be a stand-alone story with a complete conclusion and a short epilogue to pull everything together; it could have remained like that but I realised only half the story was told, and so a sequel appeared… and then it seemed somehow a series emerged. I hope each one is also stand-alone, and I try to tie up the different narrative strands satisfactorily

So to answer the original question – I don’t like books where nothing happens, I don’t mind an ambiguous ending, but it must be a satisfactory ending!

Here is a link to my books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

Promoting my stuff

If you’re just an ordinary person, bragging about yourself is totally alien… If you’re an ordinary British person, it’s even more so. We’re not good at receiving compliments, modesty and self-deprecation are qualities ingrained, so now for me, when I want to reach an audience for my books, it’s tricky to balance overcome my natural unwillingness to blow my own trumpet. I guess that’s where agents come in, agents can promote work, and get it out there in an expert way. However, I don’t have an agent, and in a funny sort of way, now I have been self-publishing and self-promoting for five years, I sort of like it – every success is down to me! Oops, am I blowing my own trumpet?

Why do I want people to read my stories? Why do musicians want an audience? Why do artists want the world to see their work? Why do actors get up on a stage rather than prancing around in front of a mirror? For me, being a story-teller is natural, it’s what I am, in my every day life I’m for ever going on about something or another, something that happened to me, something I saw/did/heard/learnt/took part in. When I was a professional teacher, the kids would always say ‘oh no, not another story’, when I launched into something – I think (hope) they actually liked my ramblings… I did it almost without thought, my mind leaping from the subject in hand to something which happened to me or a friend or a cousin, or something I just randomly made up to entertain.

An example of the ‘made-up’ stories I told my students, apart from ‘the ghost of the fourth floor’ which became a college legend, was about my teaching assistant, Sally. I can’t even now remember how I got onto talking about what we had done in our lives apart from working in schools, when I went into a lengthy description of Sally’s past life growing up in a circus, being a trapeze artist with spangly tights and revealing costume, how in her free time she was exceedingly modest ad wore long dresses, and her future husband fell in love with her when she was looking after the coconut shy and he caught a glimpse of her ankle as she bent down to pick up a fallen coconut…

So back to my trumpet blowing… Yes, I want people to read my stories! yes I actually think they are not too bad – self-deprecation alert – they are quite good! So… if you haven’t read any yet – here is a really brief fanfare for each:

  • Radwinter – Thomas finds out more about himself and his own family than about his ancestors… who actually had quite a dramatic time, fleeing 1830’s war-torn Warsaw and jumping ship in Harwich
  • Magick (Radwinter 2) – the rather terrifying father of Thomas’s step-son comes in search of ‘his boy’
  • Raddy and Syl (Radwinter 3) – mysterious Moroccans preying on an old woman, a disappeared woman who may not have even existed, and shocking truths about his own family – Thomas has quite a difficult series of event to deal with
  • Beyond Hope (Radwinter 4) – Thomas meets a dangerous psychopath, and somehow gets involved in people smuggling
  • Earthquake -(Radwinter 5) – a haunted hotel, an eighty year old mystery which brings danger to the present… Thomas is really under pressure
  • Farholm – who  killed young girls on the island of Farholm? Is he still on the loose, or was a recently widowed woman’s dead husband responsible?
  • The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – who stalked Rosa to her death… and has s/he moved on to a new victim?
  • Loving Judah – can Aislin and her husband Peter ever get over the death of his son Judah?
  • night vision – a thirty year old murder is discovered
  • Flipside – is a war damaged veteran responsible for a series of dreadful murders… or is he a victim pf more than his war service?
  • The Double Act – Don’t think this novel is a romance, this may be a love story… but the other side of love is dark love
  • Lucky Portbraddon – perhaps the Portbraddons are not so lucky, murder, drugs, madness, modern slavery… but also unexpected love

Are you tempted? They are all available as e-readers, Radwinter is also available as a paperback

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=a9_sc_1?rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Alois+elsden&keywords=lois+elsden&ie=UTF8&qid=1499501921

 

Anything is possible

Anything, literally anything is possible… when you write!! In your writing you can be anything you want to be, an astronaut, a channel swimmer, the head of a royal family, a maintenance worker on the Forth Road Bridge – you can go back in time and be a housecarl fighting in the battle of Hastings, or a Roman wife on Hadrian’s Wall inviting her friends to a dinner party, a sweeper on the streets of nineteenth century London, or you can go forward in time, or travel to distant places, travel beyond our solar system beyond our galaxy – you can be anything, be anywhere, do whatever you want… when you write!

You can be more modest and write about a different life in today’s world, but even then you can change your age, your gender, your talents and abilities, your character – you can make yourself ‘better’ than you are, or infinitely worse!

My characters in my books are just ordinary people who just live pretty ordinary lives. Although i don’t write in the first person for all my novels, I do try and ‘become my characters to properly understand why they do and say the things they do and say. I write far more than ever appears in my stories because I’m filling in these people’s lives so they are there as rounded characters and I hope believable characters before they ever land there on the page!

For example, in ‘night vision’, the story of a couple whose marriage is on the brink of disaster, some of the husband’s actions and behaviour seems inexplicable (as it does with real people in real life) but I know why he is as he is, and even though by the end when I hope the reader will accept him as believable, and even though not all his behaviours have been explained, I will know in my omniscient author way! We met people in real life and don’t know why they are as they are, do as they do, say what they say, so I want it to be the same in my books (without being frustrating r annoying!!)

So going back to my original thought of being able to be whatever and whoever you like when you write, I guess the most extreme example for me might be Rudi in ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’, and of course Thomas Radwinter, whose life and adventures I’ve chronicled over several books!

Here are links to my e-books:

night vision – https://www.amazon.co.uk/night-vision-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B00BMZ6UWY/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1498298842&sr=8-8&keywords=lois+elsden

The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – https://www.amazon.co.uk/STALKING-ROSA-CZEKOV-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B008D29O5Y/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1498298842&sr=8-11&keywords=lois+elsden

The Radwinter stories – https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1498298842&sr=8-7&keywords=lois+elsden

and my first paperback so far, Radwinter – https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-x/dp/1521415196/ref=sr_1_2_twi_pap_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1498298842&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

Piecing it together

I guess each writer has their own way of working, and what seems the most obvious and straightforward and sensible thing to do for one person, seems eccentric to say the least for someone else. Some people like lists  and flow charts, tick sheets and filing cards and have planned the whole thing meticulously before they even start writing the introduction, others just plunge in completely randomly and make it up as they go along… I am not exactly a plunge right in at random person – but neither am I a plans and lists person.

I guess I do a lot of planning before I actually start (most of the time – but there have been stories which I just randomly started writing!)  but my planning is mental, I spend car journeys, or waiting in queues, or pondering as I drift into sleep, I think of characters, and situations, and puzzles and coincidences, and weird things which happen to ordinary people. During this period I might do a little bit of prospective writing, maybe a few pages, maybe a few chapters; usually these embryonic starts are abandoned, sometimes they get rewritten, sometimes they become something else completely, sometimes they are included almost as they were first written.

As my writing proceeds I do occasionally do jottings on paper – when I wrote my first Radwinter novel I had huge sheets of paper with family trees, because it was so complicated – for me, not the reader, I hope! I had tried to follow the pattern of a lot of families, with recurring names – names from parents, grandparents, ancestral and maternal surnames included, but I had to make sure it was clear in my mind, in order for it to be clear to the reader!

In the sequel to ‘Radwinter’, ‘Magick’ – the maternal line of the family, I also had mighty sheets of paper with family trees, because at one point a family changed its name, there were several branches of the family which interwove, there were all sorts of complications – for me – once again, I hoped the story was clear and uncomplicated for people reading it!

In the new, as yet untitled Radwinter novel, which I’m getting into, there is a genealogical investigation, but it is quite linear and so not too complicated (although there are mysteries, of course!) but I have another task which needs to be sorted out before I get full-on with the actual writing. You see, in my previous book in the series, ‘Earthquake’, there were as usual several story lines – but a couple too many! I had done a lot of writing, so, with the wonders of modern technology, I was able to cut out the extra storylines, and save them for another time.

This is what Earthquake was originally:

  • a family tree/history/genealogy
  • the mystery of a school girl who died in 1931, and her twelve classmates
  • an earthquake (of course, since it’s the title of the novel!)
  • a new arrival in the Radwinter family, a new arrival who has an unhappy history
  • two of the four Radwinter brothers struggling in different ways with what I guess you could call ‘personal issues’
  • a young woman with amnesia
  • a haunted hotel
  • the everyday story of Thomas Radwinter and his family
  • an old cake-making gentleman

… so you can see it would have been far too long and far too complicated! The main stories I cut out were the family history  story, and the girl who had lost her memory. I had written nearly forty thousand words on these, so you can see it would have been a very long book indeed.

Now, in my new Radwinter story, there is plenty of room, to use these story-lines, much slimmed down I have to say, but there are also other new ‘adventures’ too!

  • one, if not two stalkers (of different characters)
  • house-hunting
  • obsessive jealousy/possessiveness

Because most of my stories are set in the small imaginary seaside town of Easthope, it has struck me that characters from different novels must ‘know’ each other. The manager of the bookshop (owned by a character from ‘The Double Act’) in the town, must know or at least know of, the most famous local writer who was a main character in my 2016 novel, ‘Lucky Portbraddon’… and somehow in this new novel, characters from ‘Night Vision’ have started to appear! I don’t know how they sneaked in!!

So… back to my weaving!

Here are links to my books:

Radwinter:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1496132827&sr=8-3&keywords=lois+elsden

Magick:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00OHV4MR0/ref=series_rw_dp_sw

night vision:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/night-vision-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B00BMZ6UWY/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1496132827&sr=8-5&keywords=lois+elsden

The Double Act

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Double-Act-think-romance-story-ebook/dp/B01349UBHA/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1496132827&sr=8-7&keywords=lois+elsden

Lucky Portbraddon

https://www.amazon.co.uk/LUCKY-PORTBRADDON-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B01LWTVURP/ref=pd_sim_351_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=H7BX6ANG1G2CJJHPG62N

…and all my stories:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

 

 

Back to the Far Distant Oxus

I’d forgotten about this book, and this poem:

As a child I was a great reader, and as a child I was a great story-teller, even before I could write any of my tales down. I haunted the library, reading my way through all the books in the children’s section before borrowing my mum’s ticket and starting on the adult books. I was often influenced by what I read and would try to write similar stories.

I came across a book called ‘The Far Distant Oxus’ and was immediately struck by the title – I have a feeling it was recommended to me, either by my friend Frankie,or my cousin Gill, but I borrowed it from the library. The title comes from the poem ‘Sohrab and Rustum’ by Matthew Arnold; it was a poem I had read many times, marvelling at the terrible story of a father’s unwitting slaying of his son:

And he saw that Youth,
Of age and looks to be his own dear so
Piteous and lovely, lying on the sand,
Like some rich hyacinth, which by the scythe
Of an unskillful gardener has been cut,
Mowing the garden grass-plots near its bed,
And lies, a fragrant tower of purple bloom,
On the mown, dying grass; — so Sohrab lay,
Lovely in death, upon the common sand.
And Rustum gazed on him with grief

The idea of hidden identity fascinates me, and emerges in some of my novels now, it is central to ‘Farholm’ and is an important theme in ‘Night Vision’. (Reading Arnold’s poem I always giggled at the thought of this boy looking like a hyacinth, even though I was moved by the tragedy!)

Back to ‘The Far Distant Oxus’; when I read it I certainly enjoyed it but when I discovered that the authors, Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock were only fourteen and fifteen I was struck with a mixture of amazement, admiration and envy. The two girls who were only slightly older than I was when I read it, had met in an almost fictitious way – sheltering during a storm, becoming friends through their love of books and ponies. Their favourite author was Arthur Ransome, who wrote ‘Swallows and Amazons’, their favourite book. They decided to write a story together which they did, writing alternate chapters about girls and ponies and Exmoor. They sent the finished story to Ransome who was so impressed that he had it published, illustrated by Pamela. It was published in 1937, by which time, Katharine was sixteen and Pamela seventeen. How excited and thrilled they must have been! What a wonderful thing for two young girls! I might have been envious of them at the time, but now I can look at their success and be delighted for them.

They went on to write other books, ‘Escape to Persia’ published the following year, ‘The Oxus in Summer’ published the year after that, and finally ‘Crowns’ published after the war in 1947. Katherine wrote some short stories but I don’t think Pamela pursued her early love of writing, or if she did maybe nothing was published. Sadly they both died relatively young, Katharine when she was fifty-six, and Pamela six years later when she was sixty-two.

Here’s a link to ‘Farholm’ and ‘Night Vision’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/FARHOLM-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B007JMDAFO/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1495217119&sr=8-6&keywords=lois+elsden

https://www.amazon.co.uk/night-vision-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B00BMZ6UWY/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1495217119&sr=8-10&keywords=lois+elsden