Published by TSL Publications
Paperback : 1 December 2016
I’d like to welcome Leslie Tate to My Reading Corner. Heaven’s Rage was published yesterday and described to me by the author as “part-novel, part-essay, Heaven’s Rage uses stories, dialogues, poems and scientific theories to write lyrically about childhood dreams, cross-dressing, alcoholism and late-life illness. The aim is to explore the question ‘What makes us creative – and human?”. I was introduced to Leslie via Linda Hill of Linda’s Bookbag, where you can find Linda’s review of one of the other chapters of Heaven’s Rage together with a guest post from Leslie on his book ‘Blue‘.
For the Heaven’s Rage blog tour, Leslie has provided a guest post below, and I also have an extract below from the ‘Childhood’ chapter which I chose to read. I haven’t read any other section but I was very taken with the excellent quality of Leslie’s writing. He writes beautifully and with poignancy but without self pity. Childhood is such an honest and open piece of writing and there were parts that resonated with me, particularly when he referred to being an only child.
HEAVEN’S RAGE: THE INSIDE STORY
by Leslie Tate
The subtitle for Heaven’s Rage, my collection of autobiographical pieces, is Childhood, Survival and Crossing the Gender Line.
I chose the word Childhood because that’s where it began, writing reflectively about the crazy powers of the untrained mind. I wanted to capture the childhood world I’d lived in – a place full of mystery and repression where unspoken meanings pushed in from all sides. The word Survival refers to the sections in the book about alcoholism and illness, but also to the writing about cross-dressing. In all these sections the ‘rogue condition’ that sets the person apart from society becomes a source of strength. The final phrase, Crossing the Gender Line, echoes the 180 Degree Rule in film-making(1) i.e. switching gender roles may be confusing, but it’s fun – and can be enlightening – when you get used to it!
Writing about such intimate experiences raises technical and moral questions. Technically, it runs the danger of being samey because of the single, subjective viewpoint, so I used different approaches – including novelistic writing, psychological theories, dialogues and poetry – and brought in other voices questioning my experience and motives. The main moral issue was how to write about my parents. In fiction I often start with snippets taken from life which change and develop to fit the story. The danger of writing anything directly autobiographical was that any changes, however necessary, might amount to falsification. At best they might lack distance; at worst they might misrepresent my parents completely. Fortunately my mother has never read my writing, but even so it wasn’t until Robin Gregory asked me in an interview, ’Can you tell us a little about your family?’ that I wrote explicitly about how I saw them. What I discovered in the process was that being misunderstood and steered away from writing by my parents had some surprising benefits. So while my wife Sue Hampton was encouraged, which has made her prolific, the line my parents delivered – that writing ‘wasn’t realistic’ – has helped me to understand the false expectations and projections families can place on each other. It has also taught me to hold out against discouragement – always a useful trait in the book world – and added hidden toughness to my characterisations.
If they were reading this my parents would say ‘We told you so’ – meaning, perhaps, that it was right and proper that I had to reach full maturity before I could make the choice to write. But I was blocked inside, which may have contributed to my drink problem. And writing takes many years to mature. So another voice inside me complains, less generously, about the time lost when I could have been writing from the age of twenty…
We all have these impossible dialogues in the head. Being a child while living as an adult was a condition I aimed to recapture in Heaven’s Rage. Other fantasies such as playing Liszt at The Proms, composing odes while walking in the fields and vaguely-defined spiritual longings, were all part of the secret-but-oh-so-human experiences that I wanted to share. Because if my book has a lesson to offer it is that we all have our personal fables and imaginary audiences(2). The purpose of Heaven’s Rage was to own up to these obsessions and to celebrate, with a slightly ironic nod, the stories we all hide in the back of our heads but hesitate to acknowledge…
(1) The 180 Degree Rule for films states that two characters in a scene should always have the same left/right relationship to each other. Crossing the line happens when the camera moves to the other side of the two characters, reversing their left/right relationship and disorientating the audience.
(2) The personal fable is the secret story an adolescent invents, casting him/herself as misunderstood hero, with completely unique thoughts and feelings. At the same time, the adolescent believes that everyone else (the imaginary audience) shares the same fascination with her or him as she/he does. Elkind, D (1967). ‘Egocentrism in adolescence’.
EXTRACT OF CHILDHOOD CHAPTER
1. THE PAST IS ANOTHER COUNTRY
I felt the solidity of my adult life compared to the transparency of childhood. It was as if I’d glimpsed myself as another person in another time and place.
Have you ever taken the nostalgia trip to where you used to live? Maybe to your old house, a school, a street or a childhood play space? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably thought about it. So what’s it like? And what does it tell us, if anything, about ourselves? I imagined it would bring back memories and plug me in more directly to childhood. I also hoped it would tell me more about myself and start me off writing. But the experience wasn’t quite what I’d expected.
My return to my first home in North London made realise how much I had changed. Suddenly the house, which had seemed like a castle, was an average semi-D with a short front garden and a narrow side alley. Instead of looking up at the concrete front steps I faced it on the level. It was measured, suburban and unremarkable. My memories contained scenes of adventure climbing fences and imaginary escapes over roofs and chimney pots. Certainly, being there was emotional in a quiet way, but there wasn’t the drama and magic I’d remembered. I was surprised that I’d lived in this ordinary place and found it so grand and exciting. I felt the solidity of my adult life compared to the transparency of childhood. It was as if I’d glimpsed myself as another person in another time and place.
While I was there I retraced the walk I took to school. The route was marked by cinema-like images of the overgrown wasteland with its hidden stalkers, the clinic where the nurse counted slowly with a needle in my arm and the back alley detours I took to avoid being followed. Painful memories which I can see as I write. Of course the route looked different but the new-build and the fences couldn’t change the memories. The past remains inside us, in tight fists of feeling. It’s a picture I find myself painting when, like now, I select from all those memories and take a point of view. What we choose to remember, and how we shape it, is who we are.
My next trip was to my old school in Northumberland. Again it was the painful memories that stood out: the cross-country runs with snow on the ground, the bullying, the boredom, the note-taking and tests. The school was the same – grey slate and blackened stone with muddy playing fields – but what it brought to mind was how much I’d wanted out. Behind the ordinary façade I could still feel the kick in the shins, the punch on the neck and the rubber-tube beating by my Maths teacher. The trip didn’t change things because those memories are fixed inside, like blown-up photos taken at the scene of a crime. But instead of being the victim, I was the inspector checking through the evidence, able to see myself at a distance.
The last trip was to the seaside town where my grandparents lived. The memories here were of watching ten-foot waves breaking on concrete and all-day games playing on the beach. The adult eye saw an empty town with boarded-up amusements and abandoned buildings. But standing on the front I felt again that ridiculous, straining desire to escape. It’s what’s called the oceanic feeling. In trying to be a poet I trained myself to look at the clouds, reciting Shelley and working on my sense of aloneness. Perhaps I’d understood that spiritual elevation, like anything else, can be increased through training. But being there again made me think that my boyhood afflatus wasn’t so silly after all. Without it I couldn’t have that feeling of oneness with nature or know that what we call the ‘poetic’ may begin from being forced. The boy I’d connected with hadn’t really changed, but now I accepted him.
As an author, returning to childhood seems to me now like proofing your own work. You’ve been over it so often you know what’s coming. So mostly what you see is what you think happened. But every so often something jumps out, you get a fresh perspective and the story changes. And, of course, the place called Longsands in my novel Purple owes a lot to my wild-child walks on the beach…
Leslie wrote his Lavender Blues trilogy while attending a University of East Anglia Creative Writing Course. He is a novelist, poet and teacher, with an MA in Creative Writing, whose stories are driven by language and character. Leslie admires Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Carol Shields, Marilynne Robinson and Michael Ondaatje. He runs mixed-arts shows, a poetry reading group and a comedy club, and has led writing workshops at universities, libraries and festivals. He uses music and art as part of his performances which offer surprising insights into prose and how authors ‘reread the world’. He often performs with his wife, author Sue Hampton. Calling themselves ‘Authors in Love’, they live together in Hertfordshire
To order Heaven’s Rage go to http://www.lulu.com/shop/leslie-tate/heavens-rage/paperback/product-22943294.html
The first novel in Leslie’s trilogy, Purple, is available at http://leslietate.com/shop/purple
The second novel in Leslie’s trilogy, Blue, is available at http://leslietate.com/shop/blue/
The third part of the trilogy, Violet, will be published in 2017.
On Leslie’s website www.leslietate.com you will find weekly interviews and guest blogs by writers/artists/musicians, as well as Leslie’s own writings. You can contact him on Facebook at Leslie Stuart Tate (personal) and Leslie Tate (author page). His Twitter handle is @LSTateAuthor.