I'm sure A.N.Wilson didn't lose any sleep over my failings with Winnie and Wolf, probably lost far more over being told in error by his publisher that he'd made the Booker short list when he hadn't, but anyway I'm delighted to find that he and I are completely in step over another recent publication so perhaps we can be friends after all.
Letters of Ted Hughes has arrived and the clocks must stop, the world must stand still, which here means the kitchen floor must go unwashed and the washing is many days in arrears.
A.N.Wilson was so engrossed he missed his bus stop.
It's a quiet and closely guarded secret no more that I adore anything remotely connected to the late and much lamented Poet Laureate Ted Hughes.It all started one very late night back in 2000 when I was sitting writing an OU assignment to this rubric
"Nostalgia for an imperial past may be mediated in a very oblique way in literature, oblique not only in subject matter but in the form and style that is its embodiment" Discuss this statement with reference to the work of any two writers.
Never let anyone suggest that six years of studying with the Open University is an easy route to a degree.
I'd flogged my way through a day of home visits and a never-ending baby clinic, come home to the family, done the usual evening things with them and they had all headed off to bed, leaving me sweating blood over my now seemingly unwise decision to try and use the poetry of Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes in response.
It was late and getting later and a vast and disparate amount of information was not flowing creatively and intelligently into an essay worthy of submission, in fact it was all a congealed heap.
In desperation I switched on a tape Ted Hughes Reading his poetry.
I'd never heard his voice before, but having got me into this mess perhaps the man himself could inspire 3000 words?
I jumped a mile because, completely unexpectedly, out poured this deeply resonant Yorkshire bass voice, wrapping itself immaculately around the words of The Thought Fox.
I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock's loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.
Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:
It all echoed and disappeared into the dark silence of a Tamar Valley night, and I was done for.
Since then I have acquired, in that bibliomanic fashion I can be prone to, just about every book ever written, by or about Ted Hughes and so when Letters of Ted Hughes selected and edited by Christopher Reid and published by Faber arrived from Amazon this week I was beyond a little over-excited.
The book was already on its way when I read A.N.Wilson's review in the Daily Mail last week but I loved the man for admitting,
"he comes before us in his prose letters, stretching across his entire writing life and he emerges as an overpoweringly interesting and impressive person...I was transported instantaneously into a vision of life which was so much more interesting than my own."
There's the essence of this book, because you don't need to be an admirer of the poetry of Ted Hughes to discover the man beneath and it is all revealed in this utterly readable volume. Through his mountains of correspondence shines the figure so cruelly and unfairly vilified throughout his life and there are moments of huge emotion lurking therein.
Ted Hughes was an old-fashioned letter writer, perhaps one of the last of the breed, but he considered a hand-written letter as worthy of literary excellence as any poetry or prose for publication, making this volume one great big reading treat.Be prepared to weep early on over something as simple as his account of a hedgehog trapped indoors because in the words of Ted Hughes it becomes so much more, as does everything he turns his eye and then his pen to.
Unusually I started at page one and have carried on in this fashion because I can't bear to miss a word. Looking ahead for a sneak preview I've read one of the most moving letters a father could ever write to help a son whose mother has so famously commited suicide.The revelations around the cathartic publication of Birthday Letters make for very emotional reading indeed. I don't know if A.N.Wilson cried on the bus but I'd have been blubbing enough to close the Thames Barrier.
And what of that essay?
Well it seemed to write itself in the end thanks to that voice and this gift of a quote from Ted Hughes which I used for the final lines. It had cleverly pointed me in the right direction from the start and two poems, The Horses and Wodwo then served me well,
"Maybe all poetry...is revealing of something that the writer doesn't actually want to say, but desperately needs to communicate, to be delivered of. The writer daren't actually put it into words, so it leaks out obliquely, smuggled through analogies".
That and so much more is communicated and delivered in this volume of selected letters and in the end Ted and I earned a respectable 88%, but this book is worth far far more, in fact impossible to place a value on it and I will treasure my copy forever.