The gist of this formed my monthly post on the Association of Christian Writers website, More Than Writers, but it is essentially a book review of a very unusual author, writing about other authors, musicians and artists, and life in Suffolk (England).
The Time by the Sea is an account of how, in the nineteen fifties, author, Ronald Blythe, holed himself up in a so-called winter cottage in Thorpeness, Suffolk. By morning, he wrote his novel (which never saw the light of day) and, in the afternoons, he took bracing walks along the shingle, battling against blustery North Sea winds. On the Suffolk Coast, he encountered Ben(jamin Britten), Imo(gen Holst), Morgan (E M Forster) and Mervyn Peake, plus many other writers, painters and musicians unknown to me. His appetite for the arts was all-consuming. Blythe’s idea of heaven was to sit beside the grave of Edward Fitzgerald who edited and translated the Rubaiyat of Umar Khayyam, and read it.
Would our friends and families permit us to live as impoverished-writers-in-garrets now? Would we allow our sons and daughters to do it? The pressure to get a proper job nowadays is overarching. Yet, Ronald Blythe got by, with occasional articles and stories being published, and working alongside the administrator for the Aldborough Festival – a general Festival dogsbody. Snape Maltings has been destroyed by fire, so we need an alternative concert venue, in three weeks’ time. Blytheborough Church would do, but maybe the vicar wouldn’t like it. Send Ronnie in to talk to him. (Ronnie did and ended up joining Blytheborough PCC. On another occasion, he got roped into becoming a churchwarden, when begging favours for the Festival.) Millet paintings acquired on loan for the Festival, on the proviso that someone was in the room with them constantly? Ronnie will do it. Ronnie slept in a campbed in the Moot Hall at Aldborough for several weeks.) Much later, Blythe would get a proper job, when he became ordained as a priest in the Church of England.
The Aldeborough Festival set were Labour, immersed in nature and East Anglia, many of them gay, and ardent Rationalists (for that, read devout atheists). That Blythe was understatedly Anglican, bewildered them. Later, he would write Akenfield, a description of a fictional Suffolk village, a synthesis of his experience of all Suffolk villages. Akenfield would be adapted for television, by Peter Hall, in 1974. Although he has published fifty-two other books, Akenfield remains Blythe’s only commercial success, although he was writing The Word from Wormingford, part-devotional, part nature and history, for The Church Times until quite recently. (This has now been purchased by The Canterbury Press. It has no reviews on Google Books website.)
I became interested in Ronald Blythe when he led Evensong, based on George Herbert’s hymns and poetry, in one of the churches in our team, and because he lives in Wormingford (two villages from us). He’s on the electoral roll of the polling station where I’m poll clerk, but, although he’s seen around and about, he’s never been in to vote. He is in his mid-nineties now. A writer’s life well lived? Or what a waste of a man?