Thursday, 10 May 2012

Let Other Pens Dwell on Guilt and Misery

Alexander Rikowski, our eldest son, has just bought the complete set of the BBC Productions of Jane Austen's novels. How wonderful!

This is someone that does not read much fiction and has not studied English Literature, but is starting to love and appreciate the classics more and more. He has noted, in particular, the increasing popularity of Jane Austen, which in one sense is quite bizarre (given how different are the times that we live in today). But in another sense, it makes perfect sense. Life today, in many ways, is too fast, surface and consumerist. To counteract this, to bring meaning back into our lives, to relate to each other with some depth and feeling, to have a sense of well-being and calm, the classics becoming ever more important. A good alternative to a religious road which can give one false hopes!

Anyway, I was prompted to write this blog, because of the great quote by Jane Austen that is on the back of this wonderful DVD set.

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort and to have done with all the rest."

What more can I say? This says so much about what it is about Jane Austen's work that is just so perfect!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Walk and Rally for Greenwich Public Libraries


5th MAY 2012








Information from UNITE

" Greenwich UNITE,  Old Town Hall, Polytechnic Street, Woolwich, SE18 6PN













“We may not be the cheapest in raw price terms, but if accountants were able to properly quantify the ‘social added value’ of our work we are confident we would always offer best value. Social Enterprise can provide more sustainable solutions in a stormy financial climate for Libraries, Parks, Play and a whole host of services. There are real opportunities for enhanced services at reduced costs.” – M Sesnan GLL Managing Director


Write to the Chief Executive – Mary Ney, Royal Borough of Greenwich, Town Hall, Wellington Street, Woolwich, SE18 6HQ

Write to the Leader of the Council – Cllr Chris Roberts, Royal Borough of Greenwich, Town Hall, Wellington Street, Woolwich, SE18 6HQ

Send a Message of support to the strikers – C/o Greenwich UNITE, Old Town Hall, Polytechnic Street, Woolwich, SE18 6PN

Make a donation to the campaign – Cheques payable to Greenwich Unite, Old Town Hall, Polytechnic Street, Woolwich, SE18 6PN

Join The Walk To Save Your Library Service "

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Jane Austen and Douglas Kennedy


Putting Jane Austen (1775 - 1817) and Douglas Kennedy (1955 - ) together on one blog. Whatever is going on? How can this make any sense - putting an 18th century classical novelist alongside a contemporary best-selling novelist (even if he does aim to be serious as well as popular)?

That would be most peoples reaction, I feel sure.

So, what is all this about?

Well, this demonstrates something about my thought processes at the moment. My thought processes as I write my novel; which has turned out to be much more of an epic than I ever originally intended it to be! My levels of absorption deepen and widen. We continue.

Now, I have always rather literally believed this blurb that they put on fiction books:

"All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental."

I somehow thought that many fiction writers simply thought up stories out of thin air, as it were. Not that I thought that all novelists operated that way; D. H. Lawrence, for example, clearly did not. No, I was not that naïve. But I certainly thought that quite a lot did. But now I am questioning that a bit.

Rather, novels are often based on peoples’ real life experiences of course; this is what authors so often draw upon. But more than that – novels can be so closely interwoven with the novelists own lives; with their own experiences; and the stories are then made up out of this; building on from this and it can be an ongoing process. That is the main development in my thinking.

So, the whole body of work of some novelists can be seen in this light. This has become transparently clear to me through the works of Jane Austen and Douglas Kennedy. Really? How comes, you might well ask?

Why do I say all of this with such conviction? Well, I have read most of the works of these 2 novelists, so I think I know what I am talking about here! I have learnt and discovered a thing or two, as they say.

I have read all 6 of Jane Austen's books (although not her unpublished works, such as 'Lady Susan', it has to be said). I have also watched films and BBC and ITV Series based on the novels many times. And I particularly love the BBC dramatisation of 'Pride and Prejudice' starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle - but I am definitely not alone there of course! I also love the BBC series of ‘Emma’, starring Doran Goodwin and John Carson. Rather interestingly, and in passing, I went to Ham House in Richmond with one of my sons (organised by CILIP in London) a couple of years ago and discovered that 'Sense and Sensibility' had been filmed there. I have also visited the Jane Austen Centre in Bath.

My favourite Jane Austen novel is 'Pride and Prejudice', followed by 'Emma' and 'Sense and Sensibility' (joint second), followed by 'Northanger Abbey', 'Mansfield Park' and 'Persuasion' (about joint third). I have copies of all of Jane Austen’s novels (and for some have more than one copy) - they all sit nicely on my shelf.

I have also watched (and have the DVDs of) 'Becoming Jane' (about Jane Austen's early life) and 'Miss Austen Regrets' (about Jane Austen's later life) - both very well acted. In addition, I have read 2 biographies about her: 'Jane Austen: a life' by Claire Tomalin (Penguin 2000) and 'Brief Lives: Jane Austen' by Fiona Stafford (Hesperus Press, 2008) and have read some other material about her on the internet. How sad it is that Jane Austen died at just 41 years old and how many more great novels could have been produced if she had lived longer. Still, we must appreciate what we have!

I find the atmosphere that Jane Austen creates in her novels just so wonderful; so powerful; so compelling. It is all something that I can easily relax into and enjoy. They represent a world that a part of me would like to be drawn into; that I would love to be a part of. I love the poise, the good manners, the elegance, the charm, the good breeding, the dancing, the music, the clothes, the characterisations, the stories, the plots, the countryside, the simplicity coupled with the multi-layers, the intrigues, the emotions, the overall atmosphere etc. etc. I also love the language/the style of language - it is almost poetic, in parts. How much more satisfying and artistically pleasing to say "I am seriously displeased", than to say something like "I am really fed-up with you", or some other, crude, less elegant turn of phrase. Her characters are very real; they have real depth and are very genuine and believable (unlike characters in Soaps, at the other extreme). I also like the pace of the novels; they build up slowly and have important messages to convey, such as the power of persuasion and the power of novel reading. What more can I say? They put one into another dimension; into another time frame.

Jane Austen looks at so many of our deepest emotions and really draws us in. She also writes artistically and beautifully, and has this amazing ability to be able to create something beautiful and wonderful out of much of which is quite ordinary in every day life; creating wonderment out of many mundane happenings. I admire her ability, for example, to be able to make tiresome, silly and annoying people (e.g. Mrs Bennett, Miss Bates, Harriet Smith) seem quite amusing, even lovable in some way and certainly artistically pleasing. How much better that, than to have such people drive one round the bend! But she also wrote beautifully about lovely things of course – especially love and romance. She wrote in a way that recrafts life and turns it into something somehow seamless; something that despite the imperfections of the characters and their happenings and the society that they live in, yet somehow seems perfect in some way. A form of pure magic; a form of perfection!

I also have 2 entries on Jane Austen on my ‘Serendipitous Moments’ blog. These are:

‘Pride and Prejudice’

‘Northanger Abbey’

Douglas Kennedy in contrast? Well, I have read all 10 of his best-selling novels, apart from one. The other one, his first, 'The Dead Heart' I tried but couldn't get on with too well. 'The Job' (about a salesman) his 2nd, I read but didn't really enjoy all that much, but the other 8 I loved. Initially, I was particularly drawn to the 4 where he writes as a woman in the first person. As I have said before on this blog, Douglas Kennedy has this amazing ability to be able to get into the minds of educated, intelligent, stylish but troubled women.

The 4 novels where Kennedy writes as a woman in the first person are: 'A Special Relationship' (Arrow 2004), ‘The Pursuit of Happiness' (Arrow, 2002), ‘State of the Union' (Arrow Books, 2006)’ and 'Leaving the World' (Apr 2010)'. The other 4 are: 'The Big Picture' (Abacus 2003)', 'Temptation' (Arrow 2010)', 'The Woman in the Fifth' (Arrow 2008)' and 'The Moment' (Hutchinson 2011)'. I have purchased copies of all of these books, and they also all sit very nicely on my shelf and I have read and re-read most of them many times. Having said this, about these 8 novels, I only got to really enjoy 'The Woman in the Fifth' once I had watched the film version of it (but more about that shortly). I have also recently read one of Kennedy’s non-fiction books, ‘Chasing Mammon’ (Abacus, 1979)

In general, though, Douglas Kennedy’s novels are real page-turners; they keep one gripped; they keep you sitting up half the night (which is what he wanted them to do). They deal with many different issues that so many of us face today – e.g. romance, identity, chance, the moment, success and failure, emotional turmoils, political dilemmas, mental stability issues, separation, post-natal depression, escapism etc. etc. The plots are both complex and intriguing.

In addition, I have watched videos with Douglas Kennedy being interviewed on YouTube - those that are in English (there are also many in French). I have also read some other interviews with him on the internet and was pleased to connect up with a couple of his fans recently through this blog (one of which kindly told me about the YouTube videos). The same fan was privileged and fortunate enough to interview him herself - and this interview (in words) is on her blog – see  Interestingly, I discovered from this, that Douglas Kennedy learnt French at evening class, whilst he was starting out as a writer and that he was very determined to learn French so that he could speak it in every day conversation. In 2006 he was also awarded the French decoration of Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. We also see him embroiled in a big book signing session in France in one interview, with him speaking French on YouTube.

Furthermore, I recently bought and watched the DVD of 'The Big Picture'. Yes, the book was made into a film in French (with English sub-titles) in 2010. I enjoyed the film, although the ending was changed, which I thought was unfortunate, but I guess the thinking was that 2 changes of identity would be too much for the viewer to take!

Finally, I have written several blogs about Douglas Kennedy and his novels, on this ‘Serendipitous Moments’ blog. These are:

Douglas Kennedy: a best-selling novelist

‘The Big Picture’

‘The Woman in the Fifth'

‘The Moment’

And here are the links to the YouTube interviews with Kennedy, in English:

"Douglas Kennedy Talks about The Moment"

"Douglas Kennedy talks about themes in 'The Moment' "

'Douglas Kennedy talks about Berlin in 'The Moment' "

"Douglas Kennedy talks about his writing"

Now, one of the things that I have pieced together from all of this is that I think that Douglas Kennedy gave himself a clear goal when he started out as a writer - and this was to make money. 'Chasing Mammon' is all about Kennedy's travels around the world, talking to various people in the financial markets, 'the wheelers and the dealers in the international marketplace' and how they went about making money. The topic clearly fascinated him. At the end of the book he says:

"If my time amongst the dealers had taught me anything, it was this: the pursuit of money is a traumatizing experience. Yet, that trauma isn't really bound up in the trauma of the marketplace. Rather, it stems from the way money has become the way we validate our time on the planet, and try to live up to the expectations of our own society....

'Is that all you learned after 12 months in all those markets?' Stephen White asked me.
'No, I learned one other thing.'
'What was that?'
'Everybody has an 18.50 to catch.'
'Quite right', he said, and headed out to make his train." (p. 207)

Now, this is intriguing, and coupled with Kennedy's passion for learning French and his fairly recent divorce, says something, I think - that whilst Kennedy realised that money dominates our society in so many ways and is a traumatising experience, in order to function and succeed one has to make money – i.e. one has to catch the train! And so I think that he decided he was going to be a success in this money-making world. He would make money for himself and do this through writing novels that would sell. And of course, that was what he achieved. So, he wrote novels that he thought would appeal to many different people; whilst also writing material that was close to his own heart in some way or other; topics that he thought were important. He comes across as being on the soft-left politically, for example. He did not write purely just to make money; instead, he found a winning combination. And that, I think, is why his novels are so powerful for so many. Jane Austen, in contrast, could not have money as her main goal of course – indeed, it was considered quite unladylike for a woman to be earning money at all in her day.

Douglas Kennedy had a very privileged education, going to Bowdoin College, USA (a highly selective school, educating leaders) and Trinity College, Dublin. But rather than going into a conventional money-making career he decided to be more creative and to make it work for him in a different way. Going to Trinity College, Dublin, probably helped here. I was not so privileged and so fortunate, and so I still find myself struggling (and I am about the same age as Kennedy). It is impossible for me to have a simple winning best-selling formula uppermost in my mind – I have too much stuff to get off my chest! But on the other hand, this certainly makes my work unique. I sure am determined to break through in my own way. Indeed, I have made tremendous breakthroughs, since I started getting my writing published 12 years ago. But that was in non-fiction; now, the fiction world beckons. Jane Austen was also fortunate in that her family, particularly her father and brother rated her work and were very supportive when it came to her novel writing. They sent her manuscripts off to publishers, on her behalf. So all this obviously helped her to become a successful novelist.

In addition, I suspect that Kennedy worked out that breaking into the French market would be a smart thing to do; that the French would probably be more interested in his writing than other nationalities were likely to be. That was why he learnt French, I think, so that he could more easily become a best-seller there and make money. And I can see why - his work has a critical edge, but within limits. The critical edge (especially the political critical edge) would probably not appeal to the USA market so much, which is so pro-capitalist on the whole (even though on one level would seem to be his 'natural' market as he is American). The English are, perhaps, also a bit too conformist and don’t immediately relate to artists so well (all the main characters in his novels are some kind of artist). So the French market, with its cultural background, would seem to be about right. Kennedy engages with many different people on many different levels (particularly in France) – the ‘ordinary’ (whatever that is) person, the academics, the writers, the artists etc – this came out in the interview with him on ‘The Girl Who Reads’ blog. Altogether, Kennedy’s work has been translated into 16 different languages.

Now, in regard to both Jane Austen and Douglas Kennedy, I realise the extent to which they put their personalities and their backgrounds and experiences into their novels. I mean, for example, how many times is Bath mentioned in Jane Austen's novels? The place clearly had a big effect on her, even though she did not like it and could not write whilst living there. And Douglas Kennedy novels are set in cities, such as Maine, Berlin, Paris, London - all places that he has lived in. These are very small examples of the personal input.

But more importantly I got to know these authors personalities so well through their novels. And their writing, no doubt, helped to clarify things for them as well, and helped them to get to know themselves better. So, in one sense, we are actually living the life of these novelists, through their novels. This was not something that I had ever really thought about very much before. And I am only thinking about it now, whilst I am engaged in novel-writing. Yes, another mistake I made was to see novels by one particular novelist as separate entities. Now, I realise that they might well be following the life experiences of the actual author. So, Kennedy’s 2nd novel is about a salesman out to try to make money, and this I suspect is because, at the time, how to make money was probably very much on Kennedy’s mind. Then, he writes books where he is writing as a female in the first person, which I think is probably related to his own experiences and his marriage etc. And being so determined to become successful must have taken its toll on his marriage. Then, ‘Temptation’ is about a script writer who thinks he is being given a lucky break, but it is all a con – this probably reflects some of the traumas that Kennedy went through on his road to success etc.

Whilst ‘Northanger Abbey’, for example, conveys something about the attitudes at the time to novel-reading, with some thinking that it was harmful. Jane Austen articulates some of these concerns very eloquently (which she must also have felt keenly herself). Through the heroine Catherine Morland's vivid imagination (which came from all her reading of Gothic novels), she mistakenly thought that a murder had taken place. This nearly caused her to lose out romantically, but all came good in the end. Similarly, Jane Austen must have sometimes asked herself whether her novel-reading was harming her in any way, but then concluded that basically, it wasn't. Likewise, when I was a child, I frequently had my head in a book, and people would sometimes say things to discourage me, such as 'too much reading is bad for your eyes'. Now, I wore glasses and had weak eyes, so that was quite a mean thing to say really. But so be it. Then, in ‘Mansfield Park’ the heroine, Fanny Price, is sent away from her family as a child, to stay with her aunt and uncle at Mansfield Park. And as a child Jane Austen (and her siblings) were sent away when they were very young and were not raised by their parents in these formative years. This was quite a common practise at the time, apparently, and her father was a clergyman, so must have had many demands on his time. And romance and marriage plays a big part in Jane Austen’s novels of course; and this, along with the associated dilemmas (particularly the importance of finding a man with money) obviously played a big part in Jane Austen’s own life. All 6 of her novels involve heroines that marry, and marry for love, rather than just for money, which obviously would have been something that Jane Austen would have wanted. If she couldn’t marry for love, then she wouldn’t marry at all – and of course, she didn’t. But for most women at that time, that would have been a disastrous decision, as then, women were just so financially dependent on men. So, Jane Austen was fortunate in that way, in that her family were able to financially support her in some fashion; they let her write, and did not insist that she married for money. Of course, she should have been able to make a lot of money from her novels, but that was not the way of the world at that time. On her gravestone, it does not even state that she was an authoress! Dear oh dear!

In addition, 'The Woman in the Fifth' by Kennedy, I found to be particularly striking because after having watched the film recently in the cinema (yes, it is good to see that a couple of his books have been made into films), I started to understand the book more and more about Kennedy’s personality (see my blog entry about this) and upon re-reading the book I realised that I had got this right. The end of the film/book looked at the topic of schizophrenia (thanks to the film critics for pointing this out), but I did not understand that at first. This part of the plot seemed non-sensical to me. But this was Kennedy trying to deal with various difficult issues leading on from his divorce, I now feel sure; issues which lead to him feeling that he was perhaps going crazy at times (i.e. schizophrenic).

Yes, Kennedy’s novels very much reflect his personality, in many ways and what is particularly important is that all the main characters in his novels are some kind of artist, going through many and varied different experiences – e.g. writers, editors, photographers, painters. He clearly has a real affinity with such people. He is also intrigued about the life of the academic and how it can nurture false hopes – this comes out clearly in ‘Leaving the World’. Take this quote, for example:

“Anytime you ever think about taking a teaching post, always remember that most time-honored of clichés: the reason everyone is so bitchy in academia is because the stakes are so low.” (p. 56)

How funny and true is that!

And then, much later on in the book, this:

“But here’s the thing, Professor. I may concur with you, but I am, at heart, a manager, not an academic. I was brought in here to manage a third-tier university that is trying to become second-tier and simultaneously to up its national profile and its endowment base. So far, I’ve increased our overall profile and its endowment by twenty-seven million dollars in just under nineteen months.” (p. 144)

Also, Kennedy writes in a fast-pace way, as any American probably would. He writes intelligently and with suave and sophistication. They are modern novels and includes references to stuff such as emails etc. On one level, they can appear to be quite surface (because of the fast pace) but on another level they really have such depth. They really draw the reader in.

Returning to Jane Austen, it is a well-known fact that some of her heroines represent different sides of her personality: 'Lizzy' in 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Emma' in 'Emma' and Marianne and Elinor Dashwood in 'Sense and Sensibility'. Jane Austen was an intelligent but also a romantic woman. How did she marry all that up? It could not have been easy. Lizzy using her brains to look at life in a certain way, to be polite and sophisticated, whilst at the same time wanting a certain type of man and wanting romance (and not just marrying for money); Emma using her brains, again, to make her life interesting, but being rather forceful and indeed, cheeky, in the process sometimes, with her match-making, but also having an element of romance about her. And the 2 sisters, Elinor and Marianne partially representing 2 sides of Jane Austen's character: the rational versus the emotional. This can also be tied up with the topic of spontaneity versus rationality (a dilemma which has plagued me since my late teens). Douglas Kennedy in 'The Moment' also addresses this topic - is it good to live in 'the moment' or can it get us into trouble? And are we ever really free of 'the moment'. As he says:

“The moment that can change everything. The moment that can change nothing. The moment that lies to us. Or the moment that tells us who we are, what we search for, what we so want to unearth...and possibly never will.” (p. 488)

Also, the two sisters in ‘Sense and Sensibility’ are very close; likewise, Jane Austen was very close to her sister Cassandra. Fiona Stafford says that:

"...Cassandra, Jane's only sister, remained a constant, vital source of stability throughout her life. The sisters shared a bedroom, a sense of humour, and a mutual understanding that sustained them throughout their lives. Though rarely apart even as adults, on occasions when they were staying in different places each wrote frequent letters to the other, as if to deny any thought of separation. From their earliest days, Cassandra was Jane's guide and confidante. As all the family recognised, the girls were everything to each other." (p. 21-22)

Similarly, Lizzy and Jane in 'Pride and Prejudice' are also very close.

But for Jane Austen, a highly intelligent woman, who has been born into this rather limited and confining world, she has to try to find a way to make it all more tolerable and interesting. So, she read and she wrote. There were many books in her home, and she read ferociously from a young child. And she would want to do the types of things that Lizzie and Emma did. We know, for example, that she advised her niece about marriage (in ‘Miss Austen Regrets’), and in a way that Emma might well have done. Also, the heroines in Jane Austen’s novels have clear minds of their own. And incidentally, like me, she also loved to dance. Fiona Stafford points out (p.37) that Jane Austen wrote on Christmas Eve, 1798, that:

'I fancy I could just as well dance for a week together as for half an hour.'

I know what she means - I seem to have endless energy when it comes to dancing, but not necessarily so for various other activities!

It was actually Fiona Stafford in 'Brief Lives: Jane Austen’ (Hesperus Press, 2008) that helped me to realise that Mariana and Elinor represented 2 sides of Jane Austen's character in this way, focusing on the issue of the rational versus the idealistic and the emotional. Here is what Stafford says:

"For a creative writer, the thought that the idealistic or imaginative must inevitably be crushed by the rational and known, was not necessarily something to celebrate. Even less welcome was the possibility that the bright gleam of originality invariably faded into the light of common day." (p. 66)

Yes, the danger of stifling creativity. That is a topic that has plagued me.


"As her writing developed, Jane Austen recognised that there were different ways of creating original works of art, and that the skills acquired from experience and experimentation were ultimately as important as the initial sparks of inspiration behind the story. In Sense and Sensibility, however, the different elements that fuse with such powerful results in her mature fiction are seen as conflicting tendencies. Was imagination invariably at odds with reason? Impulsiveness with restraint? Sense with sensibility?" (p.66)

Yes, indeed, these are serious dilemmas. And:

"The creation of an all-knowing narrator meant...that Jane Austen's own personality could wear a number of different masks in her fiction, and though both the Dashwood sisters may be self-portraits, they also work as independent creations and convincingly individual characters. The obvious contrast between them may derive from Jane Austen's own complicated internal divisions, but it also serves as a means to explore ideas from different angles, and to reveal underlying unities in the face of more serious opposition." (p.68)

Yes, that is the power of the novel; its ability to explore various issues and ideas from different angles, without facing accusations about poor thinking/poor writing, as one would be liable to get in the non-fiction writing and publishing world.

And finally:

"Despite the humorous surface, there is an underlying current of anger running through the scenes in which the open feelings of a healthy seventeen-year-old girl are condemned as rude or unacceptable. Jane Austen's frustration over the suffering of young women at the hands of their friends and relations is nowhere more apparent than in Sense and Sensibility, even though the novel carries an overt warning against unguarded emotional confessions. Elionr's inclination to conceal the truth may prove to be wise counsel, but only because the Dashwood sisters are surrounded by self-seeking or insensitive characters who abuse their trust." (p. 69)

Yes, one has to guard against too many free-flowing emotions in order to protect oneself, apart from anything else.

When to be rash and when to be rational: it is all very difficult. And these are issues that also fascinate Douglas Kennedy. In particular, he thinks that chance plays a big part in our lives, and that our lives can be turned upside down, and turned around in a moment. A chance happening can change everything. And romance also plays a very big part in both the Kennedy and the Austen novels, of course.

And so anyway let's try to summarise this and piece it all together.

What I am really simply saying is that, having followed these 2 authors so closely - both in terms of reading their novels and finding out much about their lives, their personalities and how they live/lived I now realise that their novels basically represent in many ways various aspects of their own lives, their own personalities and their own thoughts and feelings. They took this basic formula, this basic ingredient and wove complex and intriguing plots and stories out of it all. This must have been fascinating, therapeutic and liberating for them, and indeed, must have made their lives very rich indeed. Although it would also have been quite difficult and challenging, of course. But in this process, they have also helped to make other peoples lives rich - which, I feel sure, is why they have been so successful. So many others can engage with them and the worlds that they create; with the emotions they deal with and with many of the various trials and tribulations, as well as joy and delights that we all go through.

So, the different novels that one novelist writes do not have to be disjointed, and many probably aren’t. Instead, they can be pieces that all make up the jigsaw – the jigsaw of the novelists life.

Yes, both Jane Austen and Douglas Kennedy highlight and explore many of the problems, issues, dilemmas, thoughts, passions and experiences that just so many of us go through. These include topics such as spontaneity versus rationality, love and romance (of course), hate and betrayal, politics, gay issues, art, motherhood, the power of the emotions (e.g. persuasion), ambition, novel reading and writing, loss and bereavement, the mundane life versus the exciting life, identity, chance, mental stability issues, wealth, success and failure (although not so much with poverty - but then again these 2 authors both came from comfortable backgrounds so this would not be something that they could so easily relate to), annoying and boring people, religion (although this is not so powerful - the clergy in Jane Austen's novels tend to be rather ridiculed, when all is said and done - take Mr Collins in 'Pride and Prejudice' for example) and escapism (e.g. ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Leaving the World’). They also reflect the times they are/were living in; with the Jane Austen world going at quite a slow pace, whilst the Douglas Kennedy world speeds along.

In sum, the more I think about it, the more I celebrate the power and the brilliance of the novel. It really is very much a part of our lives; a part of the very fabric of society and is not just pure escapism (as opposed to something like the TV Soaps). At its best, it helps us to deal with and make sense of, much of what life throws at us; and much of which is so very contradictory. The novel can easily deal with contradictions; it can deal with them in a way that is completely impossible in non-fiction. And in this way it can help us to deal with our own, and with lifes, contradictions. It can tap into our emotions; it can help us to deal effectively with our emotions; it can help us to live both in the here and now and in the beyond; it can help us to think about the depth of the human soul; it can help us to celebrate the wonderful essence of what it is to be human. Long live the novel!!

N.B. Douglas Kennedy’s next novel is entitled ‘Five Days’ and is due to be published in June 2012.

Final Note: What I have identified here is something that specifically applies to these, what are for me, 2 very special authors. But it certainly does not, of course, apply to all authors. However, I have not considered the whole works of a particular author and related it to their personal lives, so closely before. It has been a fascinating journey for me.

In contrast, Dorothy L. Sayers (whose work I have also followed quite, although not as closely, as Kennedy and Austen), wrote many novels, for example, and there was something of her personality in them, but she did not do it in the all-encompassing way that these 2 novelists do. She was too caught up with the money-making mentality (the Lord Peter Wimsey novels made her a lot of money), had too many hang-ups herself, I think, and was not prepared to take the necessary risks. She had a secret illegitimate child, for example, and that very much remained a secret, and was not material for her novel-writing.

Further consideration about different types of novels and novelists, what motivates them to write, and whether and what experiences they draw on, will perhaps be something that I will consider more in the future. Terry Pratchett clearly, for example, does not fall into any of the categories outlined in this piece. We will have to wait and see.

However, if I continue to write novels, I would want to go down a similar path to Jane Austen and Douglas Kennedy, I think, making the material from life work for me and for others, to deepen our understanding, to help us to cope with our emotions and the contradictions of life, and to hopefully help to benefit us, as well as to make our life interesting and artistic, in a lasting way.

Yes, viva the novel!

1st May 2012