This piece is by Tessa Thomson and tells of her love for a favourite book.
After my mother died, when I was about 3 years old, I was discharged from the hospital where I had been since contracting septicemia at 9 months. I was taken to live with my grandparents. When I was about 8, I was introduced for the first time to my two half-sisters, Margaret and Anne, who were twins and had been living up to that time in a children’s home. They had reached 16 and their time at the home had come to an end, and they were now to fend for themselves. They stayed with my grandparents for a very short time but both were quite wild and wanted to be up and away to the bright lights of London. From photographs that I have found over the years, it seems that the twins did visit my grandparents during their time at the children’s home and the group photos show me to be about 4 or 5.
I had no more contact with my sisters until I was about 12 when Margaret came to see my grandparents. Margaret, by now 20 was living and working in London although I have no idea at what. But amazingly she bought me a book. It was called Trilby and was written by George Du Maurier. My grandparents home was devoid of books unless you count my grandfather’s Zane Gray western paperbacks.
It was a substantial book for a 12-year-old and it took some years before I appreciated its dark overtones. The cover of the book was a luscious green and the pages were edged in gold. It had a few illustrations. One I remember to this day was of Svengali, the one character in the book that stirred my young imagination the most.
Trilby was one of the most popular novels of its time. It was originally published serially in Harper’s Monthly from January to August 1894, then in book form from 1895. It sold 200,000 copies in the United States alone.
The book is set in the 1850s in an idyllic bohemian Paris. Though the book features the stories of two English artists and a Scottish artist, one of the most memorable characters is Svengali, a rogue, masterful musician and hypnotist.
Trilby O’Ferrall, the novel’s heroine, is a half-Irish girl working in Paris as an artists’ model and laundress; all the men in the novel are in love with her. The relationship between Trilby and Svengali forms only a small, though a crucial, portion of the novel.
The novel has been adapted to the stage several times; one of these featured the lead actress wearing a distinctive short-brimmed hat with a sharp snap to the back of the brim. The hat became known as the trilby and went on to become a popular men’s clothing item in the United Kingdom throughout various parts of the 20th century.
The book became my constant companion. Every few months I would dip into its pages. When I was older Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier became another treasured book and my favourite film. Asked by my family what I wanted for my 70th birthday, I remembered seeing an advertisement for a watch called Rebecca made and styled by Ben Du Maurier, George’s great-grandson.
We are a diverse group of writers shaped by our experiences, this is another autobiographical piece from one of our U3A writing group members. Tessa writes about her mother, the mother she never had a chance to know.
My mother died at the age of 31. She had been a young bride, an abused wife, a mother of four, a WAAF, a lover of some, a prisoner, and at the end, a consumptive. I never knew my mother; I was three and a half when she died but her life had an enormous impact on her four surviving children. The consequences for us all were huge. The expression most used about my mother when I was growing up was “spirited”.
My mother was born on October 6th 1917 in Limerick, southern Ireland. She was christened Teresa although when it suited her she could and did, change her name. She was the eldest child of six children. A seventh child died in infancy. My grandfather was with the Royal Engineers based in Ireland at the time of my mother’s birth. My grandmother helped her mother at a guest house near the camp. My grandparents had a long and happy marriage mainly because my grandfather agreed on everything with my grandmother. There was one exception to this however, my mother. Despite her many failings, and indiscretions, my mother was without doubt my grandfather’s favourite child, something that would be tested many times.
My mother enjoyed the freedom of the large encampment and in particular the dances. She loved the dances. Actually my grandfather forbade her to go to them and her younger sister was supposed to ensure she was at home on the dance nights. But my mother always managed to sneak out and stand by the door of the dance hall. She was rarely caught and frequently managed a dance.
My mother and the family moved to England and to Welwyn Garden City sometime around 1932. She would have been about 15. In 1938 aged just twenty, and three months pregnant she married. She gave birth that year to twin girls. I cannot say if this was an unhappy marriage from the start. I do know from things I have learned as an adult that her husband was a violent man whose drinking would frequently result in abuse, both verbal and physical towards my mother. In 1940 she gave birth to a boy. With her husband away in the army I think my mother; young as she was must have found life very tough and lonely. She must have yearned for the freedom her sisters enjoyed, as they were yet to marry.
That freedom came with the soldiers on leave, looking for relief from the fighting. In Welwyn Garden City at that time was a large pub with an even larger ballroom. Dances were held several times a week. My mother would frequently leave the children in their cots, with glass bottle feeders and a roaring fire in the grate, and go dancing. It was reckless but it’s hard for me to condemn her. I have some sympathy for a young woman in uncertain times wanting to have some fun. It was usually left to my grandmother to respond when the neighbours heard the children crying in the house.
Sometime in 1942 my mother left her three children in the care of her husband’s sister and joined the WAAF band as a girl drummer based in Chivenham in Devon. How she was able to do this, with a family left at home I don’t know but I imagine during war time anything is possible. My mother’s life must have changed dramatically. She was in uniform; she had many friends, though most seemed to be men. She came home on leave with stories of the great time she was having. My grandmother kept in touch with the children but at some point, and I am unclear as to when, my mother’s husband placed the twins in to an orphanage, and the boy he gave to friends who later adopted him. During this time my mother changed her forename and linked it with her married surname, gave her status as single and dropped her age by five years. She had a number of affairs judging by the number of young Americans in particular, who came to my grandmother’s house asking for her.
In July 1944 at The Parish church of Emmanuel, Compton Gifford near Plymouth she married a 22 year old Leading Airman in the RAF. He was one of triplets, and was known to my family. Of course my mother was still married. On the front page of the Western Evening Herald dated Monday July 24th is a picture of the happy couple with a guard of honour of airmen and women. Had my mother lost her mind? The wedding certificate states that she was a spinster, aged 22 and single. She had to alter her father’s name to bring it in line with her own and gave his employment as a Company Sergeant Major in the Royal Corps of Signals. I’m sure my grandfather would have been tickled pink by that.
Whatever happiness she may have felt at this time, was soon dispelled. Her real husband was told of the marriage and informed the police. On leave, and visiting home she realised the game was up and went on the run. She appears to have been AWOL for at least 8 or 9 months during which time she must have had a relationship with someone as I was born in December 1945. Whether my mother gave herself up or was caught I don’t know. Where she was during that time is also unknown. But at sometime during the summer of 1945 she faced trial for bigamy at the Old Bailey. My grandparents both attended the trial which, with the journey alone must have been quite a trial for them as well. She was sentenced to nine months imprisonment deferred until after I was born. By the beginning of January 1946 my mother’s sentence began at Holloway Prison. My mother never saw me again.
She left prison sometime in late 1946. I’m not sure exactly when or whether she had time off for good behaviour. But whilst in prison she contracted tuberculosis. Meanwhile I was in hospital suffering from septicaemia. Because of my mother’s illness I had an extended stay in hospital and didn’t leave until she died in May 1949.
The twins stayed in an orphanage until they were 16. Their lives were severely blighted by that experience and neither of them lived happily. The boy was adopted by people who were unkind and at times cruel. I met him for the first time a few years ago and we keep in touch. As for me, well my life has had many tragic moments and times I would rather forget. Most of my childhood is blocked from my memory, and that which I can remember I would rather not. As to my father, who knows? My mother did of course and asked my grandmother if she wanted to know. But she said no.
This piece is by Tessa Thomson, a member of our group who’s poetry is truly outstanding.
Inspiration (noun; the act of inspiring; stimulation by a divinity; a genius, idea or a passion).
A writer finds inspiration everywhere. Putting it down on paper is the difficulty. Sometimes I hear a phrase, maybe a couple of people chatting will say something I can use, or just being out in the garden can give inspiration for a piece of work.
Usually, inspiration comes during waking hours at night. That’s when I remember that I forgot to put the notebook and pen back beside the bed. But then a friend recently said she was frightened of being sent by the well-meaning family into a nursing home. Inspiration!
I’m frightened did I hear you say, of being all alone
Of being sent so far away to someone else’s home
To some grand house to sit around with others of your age
Like gilded birds of paradise inside a gilded cage
Recently I was watching my husband working in the garden, getting it ready for winter. Inspiration!
I’ve cleared all the leaves from the garden,
I’ve planted some bulbs in the beds.
I’ve rescued the tenderest flowers,
And cut off the dead flowering heads.
Our own memories probably provide the best inspiration but can sometimes provide the saddest.
My own poems can be very dark, but they are my stories. In the end, whether it’s a story or a poem, how it’s told and how it touches the individual is what makes good writing. Inspiration is the starting point; it’s what happens next that takes the reader beyond the imagination.
Recently someone wrote in a thank you note to me “our shared love of your daughter will ensure we meet again very soon”. Whilst I found the sentiment unsettling it did provide inspiration.
You say you seek a shared love with someone I hold dear
But how can that be possible; the obstacles are clear
The love I have is borne of pain; of risk and much besides
Of waking nights; of memories; of tears, I always hide.
My love is tough and gentle too but never harsh to bear
It’s that which gives such grace and joy and content to my heir
By this great love, her life is traced from childhood up to now
But you would seek to feel that love; to harness it somehow.
As Samuel Johnson remarked in 1799
What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure
This post is by Tessa a wonderful poet and a member of our Whittlesey Wordsmiths writing group, look out for her work it is outstanding.
I love words. I love how they sound most of all. I was born too soon for children’s stories on tapes but when my daughter came along we would sit in bed with an ear piece each and listen to books read mostly by actors. I love the timbre of the words. How different they sound depending on who is reading them. Some stories I prefer to have read by the author, some not. I love how single phrases said by different people can have a different inference. “I need you now”; can sound demanding, romantic or just plain whiney depending on who is saying it.
Most of all I love words that rhyme. Poems are my favourite thing. Writing them sometimes seems trivial because the words come easily. But then I can get stuck on a single word and change several lines and make new rhymes.
The spoken word only becomes harsh to me when spoken not in an accent but irreverently. English is glorious when spoken well. I hate slang, I hate don’t, didn’t, whatever. I hate “did yourself know that” Who are these people who think it is fine to change the English language.
My grandmother always said you could tell the quality of a person by the shoes on their feet and the words in their head. My grandmother knew a thing or two.