Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Ideal Life of John Wyndham

There was interesting TV biography on the life of John Wyndham (full name John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris) last night. It was a reassuring tale for late starters. Although he had had literary success in the form of published short stories his breakthrough only came at the age of 48 with THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. His work was based on the main scientific concerns of the day (luckily for him it was a time of extraordinary scientific discovery). The triffids tale was initiated by reports of a Russian scientist experimenting with mutations in plants; TROUBLE WITH LICHEN was probably inspired by Flemings's discovery of penicillin; THE KRAKEN WAKES was written in the wake of series of devastating floods in England; and THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS was written during a time of international interest in the sightings of UFOs.

His life, it seemed, was not extraordinary - his main traumas coming from two events: when his parents separated when he was a child and when the daughter of a family friend decided to become a nun!

However one aspect of John Wyndham's life was very interesting to me in a quiet way - and this is in the way he chose to live. For about thirty years he chose to live in a place called THE PENN CLUB in London. This, apparently, was an austerely decorated place (although it looked quite fine to me). He shared a bathroom and ate in the communal dining room. The love of his life, Grace Wilson, for some time lived in the next door room and then departed to teach literature in a girls school. She was a career woman - in those days only single women were expected to work, and indeed upon marriage women teachers took a drop in salary. John and Grace eventually married only when she retired aged 60 and went to live in a house furnished throughout by Harrrods. After that it seems that John Wyndham had very little published again - devoting himself to househusbandry.

The moral of this tale I think is that writing and housework do not mix - in fact complete isolation in a place like a shed (Roald Dahl and many others), a monk's cell or a prison cell is good because you don't feel obliged to do any. In comparison to these alternatives THE PENN CLUB seems like luxurious writers accommodation to me, no matter how austere the decoration - as long as they have broadband connection and NO APPLEWORKS software.


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