Welcome to the monthly newsletter of author Tim Walker. This month he has no news, and so will handover to two excellent guests…
Welcome guest author, Michael Pearcy – Mike has been a fan of George Orwell for many years. He has just completed a play called Mrs Orwell which was long listed for in the Kenneth Branagh Playwriting awards. He is working on a one-man show which will explore significant moments in Orwell’s life.
Mike’s plays have been performed in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Gibraltar and Singapore. There have been many performances in the UK including The Union Theatre in Southwark where The Gatekeeper’s True Religion was described by Time Out magazine as ‘…a unique gem’.
His short stories have won awards in various festivals and competitions including the Berkshire Arts Festival and the Woman’s Own short story competition.
As a journalist Mike has covered many and varied subjects ranging from Charles Dickens living in Slough with his young lover, to the story behind the making of the film The King’s Speech. In his non-fiction writing he is able to combine his experience as a professional photographer with his writing. Mike is a member of Slough Writers’ Group – check his WEBSITE for more information.
Nineteen Eight-Four – The Novel That Killed George Orwell
By Michael Pearcy
This year is the seventieth anniversary of Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s landmark dystopian novel which hit the bookshops on 8th June 1949 – only seven months before he died from tuberculosis, a disease which had haunted him most of his adult life.
No one can say for sure when he contracted TB but the research he undertook for two of his early books put him in regular contact with the highly infectious disease – tuberculosis killed one in seven people before a successful treatment using streptomycin was developed shortly after Orwell died in 1950.
In fact, Orwell’s close friend David Astor, a friend and editor of The Observer, had the drug flown in from America especially for Orwell, but although he made a temporary recovery, the side effects of this early version of the drug prevented further use.
Although Orwell went to Eton on a scholarship, when he finished there he was not considered bright enough to justify the cost of Oxford or Cambridge which would have been the usual route for someone from his background.
Instead he signed up as an officer with the Imperial Police and selected a posting to Burma where he had lived for the first year of his life. This decision may have been prompted by his father who had been in the Indian Civil Service in the Opium Department.
He resigned after five years and settled in London where he intended to become a writer. Influenced by the author Jack London he decided to investigate the living conditions of the poor in East London which led to his first published Essay The Spike (New Adelphi magazine 1931).
Following this theme, he lived for periods as a homeless man and claimed to have perfected a working-class accent which, apparently, his new companions accepted. In this way he was able to live with tramps (homeless people) in what were known as Spikes (homeless shelters). He also spent time living rough with a group of tramps on their journey to get paid work picking hops in Kent.
After a further period living on the margins of society in Paris he had collected enough material for his first published book: Down and Out In Paris and London published in 1933 by Victor Gollancz.
This success led to publication of Orwell’s Burmese Days (Harper & Brothers 1934) which gave a frank and critical view of the Empire’s oppression and exploitation of the peoples of Burma. He was beginning to carve out a niche for himself as a young writer.
From his very first night in a Spike, Orwell would have known the risks he was taking in exposing himself to tuberculosis. But the only way he could write the truth was to first live that truth. And perhaps this was also the beginning of his personal journey as a socialist.
His dedication to research continued when he lived with coal miners and their families in North-East England in order to write The Road to Wigan Pier (Victor Gollancz 1937)first published in 1937. The first half of the book documents the bleak living conditions amongst the working class in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the terrible working conditions of the men who essentially provided the fuel which powered the nation – coal.
In the second half of the book Orwell discusses the failures of socialism to rescue workers from the worst forms of exploitation. In this passage he declares himself in favour of socialism. This leads him to question British attitudes towards socialism and attack middle class socialists: ‘In addition to this there is the horrible — the really disquieting — prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words “Socialism” and “Communism” draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, “Nature Cure” quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.’
In 1936 he volunteered to fight with the anti-fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War. As a writer he could have observed the war from a safe hotel in Barcelona with the rest of the press corps. But Orwell went to the front-line trenches and took part in hand to hand combat as a member of the POUM anarchist militia. He meant to join the International Brigade but joined the POUM almost by accident.
This accident was to earn him the experience of living for a period in what he saw as a microcosm of a socialist society where there was no hierarchy, no deference to class and everything was achieved through agreement.
Wanting to be in the thick of it earnt him a fascist bullet in the throat which came within a few millimetres of ending his life. His experiences in Spain equipped him to write Homage to Catalonia (Secker and Warburg) published in 1938.
In Spain he also experienced the dark side of socialism as practised by the communist groups in their suppression of any alternative socialist parties. This reflects what became his major and possibly his over-riding opposition to all forms of totalitarianism expressed through any aspect of political ideology – left, right or centre.
By the beginning of World War Two, at the age of thirty-six, Orwell had established himself as a brave socio/political writer with the publication of four ground-breaking non-fiction books. He had also tried his hand at fiction with three novels – A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935), Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) and Coming Up for Air (1939) all published by Victor Gollancz.
Towards the end of his life Orwell instructed that the first two of these novels should not be reprinted which is harsh self-criticism luckily ignored by his literary executors. But a salient fact of life for Orwell was that his writing, despite growing recognition in literary circles, was not earning a decent living for him. His income came mainly from constant article writing for left-wing magazines and newspapers.
Orwell married Eileen O’Shaughnessy on June 9th 1936 and they lived a frugal life until the publication of Animal Farm (Secker and Warburg)in 1945. This was a thinly disguised critique of Russian communism made at a time when the post-war world was ready for it, especially in America where the novel was a storming success. Orwell had finally earned himself space and time to write and he could afford to put a stop to all the time-consuming political articles and essays.
He turned his attention to what was to become his defining work – Nineteen Eighty-Four (Secker and Warburg). This was to be the full expression of his life-long opposition to any totalitarian regime. If Animal Farm can be said to show the dangers in the Russian communist version of socialism, Nineteen Eighty-Four explores the dangers of world divisions and an extreme totalitarian society.
Although this period was to be the peak of Orwell the writer, it was also a sad time for Orwell personally. In 1945 his wife Eileen died during an operation to remove cancer tumours.
And his constant companion, the old enemy tuberculosis was standing by to claim him as another victim.
Animal Farm had been a struggle to write and a bigger struggle to publish partly because Russia was a wartime ally and the government wanted Orwell silenced. Mainstream publishers were either scared of such a radical project or simply failed to understand it. At one point, Orwell was making plans to self-publish until Secker and Warburg finally took on the challenge.
Now Orwell was ready to tackle Nineteen Eighty-Four. But his health was failing fast. The stress of publishing Animal Farm followed by the loss of Eileen just a few months after they had adopted Richard, their only child, left George weakened and vulnerable.
After several months in a sanatorium he decided to give up his London life and move to a cottage in Scotland – Barnhill on the remote island of Jura, twenty-five miles from the nearest telephone. He felt this would give him fresh air, ward off TB and the solitude he needed to complete Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The original plan was to go to Jura with Eileen and she had done much of the planning that made the move possible. In the event, Orwell was accompanied by his son Richard, then four years old, his sister Avril Blair as housekeeper and Bill Dunn who would run the smallholding that would produce some of their food.
Now Orwell was able to focus on his novel. Life on Jura was hard especially in the post-war era of food shortages. And Orwell would not let the threat of TB stop him from enjoying time with Richard – even to the point where they both nearly drowned on one of their regular fishing outings.
It was a race to finish the manuscript before Orwell was forced to give in to the effects of his TB. He was struggling with the disease as he worked to type up his final manuscript. In the isolation of Jura it was not possible to employ a typist but even if it had been, Orwell was the only person who could interpret his countless corrections, except of course for Eileen.
By the time the MS was with the publisher, Secker and Warburg, George Orwell was exhausted. He went first to a hospital near Glasgow but eventually moved to Cranham Sanatorium in Gloucestershire.
Orwell received his first copy of his novel in June 1949. Shortly after this he was moved to University College Hospital in London where he died at the end of January 1950. Despite his valiant efforts he could do no more than make plans for another book but no notes exist of what this could have been.
George Orwell could not have guessed that his final work would come to be such a world-wide success but maybe something in him knew that writing it was worth risking his life. When he should have been in hospital fighting TB he stayed at his keyboard dedicated to completing his novel.
Eileen had been a vital contributor to Orwell’s work. During the planning and writing of Animal Farm she collaborated closely and even acquired the nickname Pig presumably after Napoleon the pig who emerges as the leader at Animal Farm after the rebellion; Eileen’s attributes that led to her being associated with a character based on Joseph Stalin can only be guessed.
In her youth, Eileen wrote a poem called 1984 and it has been suggested that her dystopian view of the future resonated with George Orwell and that the book’s title is in memory of Eileen. The original draft title was Last Man In Europe and the general consensus is that the final title is a reversal of 1948 the year when the book was first completed.
Maybe so, but the idea that Eileen as loving wife and collaborator is commemorated in the title of her husband’s greatest work is very appealing.
George Orwell – A life by Bernard Crick (Secker and Warburg)
The Girl From The Fiction Department – A Portrait of Sonia Orwell by Hilary Spurling (Hamish Hamilton)
The Lost Orwell by Peter Davison (Timewell Press)
George Orwell English Rebel by Robert Colls (Oxford University Press)
Churchill and Orwell – The Fight For Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks (Duckworth Overlook).
Welcome to Poet’s Corner, Joseph Campling. – He moved from the New Town of Bracknell to the famous town of Slough to train as a nurse in the mid 1980’s. During that period, he had to mature from one of life’s innocents into the man he is now (whatever that is!!) Having worked initially within an operating theatre as a scrub nurse, he then re-qualified as a mental health nurse and has worked in various roles ranging from older people with dementia to younger people with serious mental health issues. Whilst undertaking his BSc, he was one of three co-authors of an article which was published in a professional journal in 2007.
As a child he was a voracious reader and started writing poems at the age of nine – one about scarecrows and another about a woman being swallowed by a crocodile while still having her handbag on her arm. He developed a love of English language and literature at school and continued to write poems as ideas came to him.
From 2010 he found himself scribbling his thoughts down on bits of paper, envelopes, mobile phone which thanks to ‘new technology’ he was able to keep safe. At the age of 50, he discovered open mic, but due to having the singing voice of a frog being strangled and the guitar skills to match, he resorted to reading out some of this saved work.
In May 2017 he self- published “Mild Musings May Mitigate My Mentality” which was his first collection of poems and having learned from the process has published another volume of ‘words’ “Merring or is it Mrs Gren.” The title came from a conversation which the author had with his daughter about a mnemonic to remember the seven signs of life.
Outside writing and performing, his interests include history, watching live music, trying to play the guitar (still project in progress) and quizzing. He also likes to watch TV; mostly factual documentaries, comedy and quiz shows. He also ‘hangs out’ with members of the local drama club which is his children and wife’s passion, although he has no plans to act .He also needs to read more and swears that he will do so very soon as he has a pile of books to read. He follows rugby and can sometimes be found cheering his team on (London Irish) whether they win or lose. He also has a passion for Liverpool Football Club.
BUY LINK – Merring or Is it Mrs Gren?
BUY LINK – Mild Musings May Mitigate Mentality
REAL LIFE SOAP
The vast opera of my life explodes
As the prima donna wants to take the stage
She is projected as some blond Valkyrie
Expounding Wagnerian hymns and arias
I mentality hear the words “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings”
Well from now on I’m on a diet
I need to keep away from the slippery slope
That my love is sliding over
The fantasy that I can change is false
I played the role that I was given
I remember the audition the casting couch
Now I feel that I don’t know the words or the actions
No direction no script
I could hide in plain sight like a chameleon
Some know I am there, but I believe that I am invisible
You can walk on by -get on with life
You still do not see it right before your eyes
Even if you looked you would stop caring
You ignore the chaos left like the running of metaphorical bulls
Be careful as the two worlds which you inhabit collide
As you explore all my vocal expressions through the din
Lies you say- lies!! As the tapestry of my being is ripped to shreds
I need my daily fix- I cannot survive
I don’t know what I’m going to do- it makes me feel alive
I open the foil and inhale the odours
To check on the quality that the guy had sold us
I turn on the heat- get out the spoon
Check the time is opportune
I look around to check I’m alone
As for this transgression I’ll have to atone
The wife says I’ve got no willpower
I’ll not last more than a few hours
It’ll involve trawling the streets
To score some of my favourite treats
I have tried to go cold turkey
Giving up has made my thoughts murky
I think of the positives of being abstinent
From this body contaminant
I set up the paraphernalia
A reminder of my abject failure
To kick the habit of this stuff
I know that I am finding it tough
I had to go to a dealer on a street corner
Was this the produce of some foreign farmer?
It was imported for the British market
Advertised as one of their best harvests
I measure out the right amount
It been so long to do without
Some brown sugar for you and me
The best way to enjoy coffee