Tag Archives: writers’ earnings

‘The Time by the Sea’ by Ronald Blythe

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).  shingle2_300

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 PCCOn 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.

shinglebeach300The 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?

Review of 'A Place in the World' by Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon

Available from Virtual Bookworm.  The author also has a WordPress blog.

Born to American parents working in the diplomatic service, Alicia Collier had never felt sufficiently settled in any one place to call it home.  The nearest she came to it was when attending high school in Bogota, Columbia, and, when she was required to move back to the US, to university in Virginia, she fell for the only Latino around, Jorge Carvallo.  At the first opportunity, Alicia rushed back to Columbia, believing Jorge’s vague promise of a job in tropical biology at Bogota University, only to find that no such post existed and that in Latin America women’s careers were considered not to be important.  Soon, Alicia and Jorge, now married and expecting a baby, moved to the remote coffee plantation, Las Nubes, on the edge of the rainforest.   At first all was well, but with volcanic ash (ceniza) suffocating the coffee plants and family profitability and the strain of parenthood, Jorge started to feel restless, wanting to do a Che Guevera on his motorbike, whereas Alicia couldn’t bear to leave the coffee plantation, because at last she’d found somewhere she belonged.

The story arc for A Place in the World is straightforward, albeit understated against a backdrop of volcanic eruptions, bandits, narcos, wild animals and, above all, the ever present danger of getting lost in the rainforest.  Many things might have happened yet didn’t.  This is a very honest novel, which seeks to chronicle a young woman’s battle with old fashioned social attitudes and male waywardness, her battle to keep the plantation going, against the elements and accepted ways of working which went against what she understood about ecology.   The author, who is herself an American environmental scientist, did not go in for hype or thrills.  Viewed negatively, you could say that this is a story about an American woman who came to sort out the backward Latinos, but this would have to be balanced against Alicia’s love of all things South American and her accepting attitude towards the indigenous people.

Hut in village in Amazon

Hut in village in Amazon

Kitchen in hut in Amazonian village

Kitchen in hut in Amazonian village

I was persuaded to download A Place in the World after reading about it on Hilary Custance Green’s  blog, Green Writing Room, at a time when I was feeling somewhat fragile because my own son had just departed for several months in Ecuador and that part of the world generally.  I suppose I was seeking out a ‘feel’ of Latin America and I certainly got it, the terrain, the climate, the people and the attitudes.  He is still there and to the right are a couple of photos of what it is like in the rainforest further south, beyond a town called Pulo.

On another topic, an article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday (Monday, 21 April 2015) about writers confirmed my worst fears.  According to a study carried out Queen Mary College, University of London, only ten per cent of writers are able to live on their writing alone and seventeen per cent of us earn nothing at all.   Do read the article.