Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Opening of the William Golding Display at the Bodleian, Oxford.

The William Golding display – entitled ‘Lord of the Flies and beyond’ – at the Bodleian Library opened on 4th November and I was invited to an event to launch the exhibition the previous evening.  This was held in the strikingly beautiful and ethereal Divinity Hall, recently made famous as the location for the Hogwarts’ Infirmary in the Harry Potter movies.  [see picture]. 
            Speakers at the event included Judy Carver, daughter of Golding, who curated the exhibition, and Brian Aldiss OBE, a friend of Golding and another Faber author.  Brilliantly, during the speeches, a conch was passed around allowing the next presenter to speak! Judy talked about the process of selecting items for the display and said that she hoped it would inspire visitors to read a Golding novel other than Lord of the Flies.  Brian Aldiss, perhaps most well known as a science fiction writer, discussed his friendship with Golding; recalling that he and Golding were both Faber ‘new boys’ in the 1950s.  He paid tribute to Charles Monteith, who had been both Aldiss’s and Golding’s editor at Faber, and who famously rescued the manuscript of Lord of the Flies from the slush pile.
            The Golding display centres around Lord of the Flies and there are some stunning treasures on show.  The highlights are the original manuscript and typescript of Lord of the Flies which have never been on public display.  The hand-written version is covered in Golding’s tiny writing and seems almost incomprehensible.  Golding wrote much of the novel whilst he was a teacher in Salisbury and it is clear that the draft has been written in a school notebook!  The typescript (with added corrections in pen) lies open at one of the key incidents in the book: Simon’s encounter with the pig’s head.
            Also featured is Golding’s original submission letter to Faber and Faber on which Faber’s reader has scrawled ‘Rubbish & dull.  Pointless’.  This letter was my favourite item and its inclusion is deliciously ironic in an exhibition which celebrates a Nobel-prize winning author, who is most famous for this ‘pointless’ novel.  Charles Monteith rescued the manuscript from the rejection pile at Faber and letters between him and Golding are also on display, as is Golding’s Nobel medal.  All of his novels are featured in their original editions and I share Judy Carver’s hope that visitors will be inspired to explore some of these other works.
            Bristol Museum have loaned a conch to the Bodleian for the duration of the exhibition and excitingly, Golding may have actually seen this conch on trips to the Museum as a child.  Could this very object have inspired one of the most memorable symbols in English Literature?  It certainly is a tantalising prospect.

‘William Golding: Lord of the Flies and Beyond’ will be on display until 23rd December at the Proscholium, Bodleian Library.
Clive Hurst, Head of Rare Books at the Bodleian and Judy Carver.
Portrait of William Golding Copyright Estate of Michael Ayrton

Conch shell, Charonia tritonis from the Indo-Pacific Ocean, kindly loaned by Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Digital Animation Competition extended until the end of December!

William Golding Ltd have extended the deadline for entries into the Digital Animation Competition until the end of December.  Further details may be found here:

Good luck!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Judy Golding, The Children of Lovers (Faber, 2011) – review

2011 is the centenary of the birth of the Nobel-prize-winning author William Golding and as such, this year sees a number of events and publications to celebrate the writer.  Perhaps the most welcome of these is Judy Golding’s The Children of Lovers, subtitled ‘A memoir of William Golding by his daughter’.
            To avoid confusion, and with apologies for what seems like over-familiarity, I will be referring to Judy Golding as ‘Judy’ and William Golding as ‘Golding’ throughout this review.  Strangely though, while reading the memoir, one finds oneself so closely enmeshed in Judy’s world, it feels as if you really do know her.
            Despite the categorisation of the book as a memoir, it opens with a terrifying scene – almost like the beginning of novel.  The Goldings are sailing in their boat Tenace when they collide with a huge ship which appears as a ‘sharp, grey triangle’ then becomes ‘a cliff… fifty, sixty, seventy feet above’ them (2).  Fortunately, as Tenace begins to sink, the ship returns to rescue them.  Golding insists on being the last one to climb the ladder to safety and Judy remembers shrieking ‘Daddy’ as he initially missed his footing. During the panic of the collision, Judy writes that she has never seen her father cry: ‘his face reverted to composure, another lifetime habit’ (4).  Back on dry land, in what she describes as a ‘moment of great stupidity’ (6), Judy gives her father a coil of rope she had saved from the family’s beloved boat.  This prompts Golding to burst into tears in front of the predatory journalists that are photographing the family.  Thus the reader can understand her guilt at provoking this most public breakdown.
            The book then continues in a roughly chronological order beginning with Judy’s earliest memories of her father and providing a background to her parents’ marriage.  As Judy describes it: ‘they were always by far the most important people in the world to each other, bar none, absolutely none: friends, lovers, children, grandchildren’ (7).   The title of the memoir is taken from a proverb – ‘the children of lovers are orphans’ – and Judy and her brother David were often sent to their paternal grandparents to stay (although because of their fierce arguing could not go at the same time).  Judy recognised that she was sent to Marlborough, home to her grandparents, ‘to be out of the way’ as her parents were ‘busy…they wanted to get on with things’ (49).    Shockingly, at the age of five, Judy took the bus to Marlborough by herself; the bus ride lasted for an hour and a half.  Her grandfather, Alec, did not let her travel back by herself and escorted her back to the family home.
            The relationship between the Golding family was complex.  Judy hero-worshipped her father but her feelings towards her mother were more ambivalent. At one point, she writes: ‘it was a bit like having a stepmother – not a wicked one, just someone who was naturally more interested in her relationship with her husband than she had with his children – or, at any rate, with his daughter.  I think she really was fond of David’ (27).  Despite this, David had a very difficult relationship with his father and Judy describes how unkind Golding could be at times – both to her brother and to herself.  As an adult writing this memoir, she stresses how difficult it is to reconcile the dichotomous nature of her father.  She writes: ‘I need to make these two men one – the warm embracing man I adored, and the indifferent, sometimes self-centred, occasionally cruel man, who could drink too much, could be crushing, contemptuous, defeating, deadening’ (75).  Judy’s memories of her brother’s difficulties are deeply touching, and filled with guilt that she didn’t do more to support him.  Even when she has what she calls a ‘perfect ending’ with Golding, she acknowledges that this did not happen for David (241).
            One of the most compelling aspects of the memoir is Judy’s discussion of Golding’s novels.  In 2009, John Carey published a biography entitled William Golding: The Man who wrote Lord of the Flies (Faber), which took a detached and balanced view of the subject and included exemplary, often academic readings Golding’s work.  What is so interesting about The Children of Lovers is Judy’s personal recollection of events that inspired Golding’s writing or ‘real-life’ people who ended up as characters.  Judy recalls a friend of her brother making a bonfire in their garden on which he placed her ‘nice new dolls’ pram’.  She describes Golding as being ‘darkly furious, all the more because little could be done’ (85).  Judy imagines that he ‘brooded over memories of that bonfire, with its shouting, fire-lit boys and exuberant destruction’ (85).  The boy’s name was used in Lord of the Flies and is perhaps the most sinister character – Roger.  Elsewhere, we learn that the rock in Pincher Martin is based on a tooth Golding had removed by a dentist in Fowey, Cornwall and that the character of Nick Shales in Free Fall is based on Alec, Judy’s beloved grandfather.
            There are two slightly disappointing elements in The Children of Lovers although the second of these is actually due to the brilliance of the book.  First, the photographs are fascinating but they are reproduced at the end of each chapter, rather than printed on glossy paper in the middle of the book as is more usual.  They are quite small and sometimes a little blurry; of course this may be due to the original quality.
            Second, Judy Golding writes in the acknowledgments that she ‘could have written three times as much’ – and I really wish she had.  This is to the writer’s great credit as she sweeps up along on such a poignant and engaging story.  For instance, in Chapter 15, Judy meets her father on the street in London and tells him she has been burgled; Golding turns ‘white’ with shock (213).  Judy doesn’t give us any further details about the burglary and as a reader, I wanted to ask: ‘What happened?’, ‘What was stolen?’, ‘Were the burglars ever caught?’.  But of course, this is a memoir, not an autobiography!  Although the vast majority of people will read this book because of their interest in William Golding and his writing, Judy writes with such insight and at times, in a beautifully poetic style, that the reader cannot help but be fascinated with Judy’s own story, in addition to that of her father.
            The memoir begins to come to an end at the death of Golding and Judy recollects the final evening spent with her father.  A family friend asks Golding what he would say to Judy if he knew he would never see her again. Golding’s response is to rub Judy’s neck and say ‘Love…Just love’. (241).  During that night Golding dies.  At the very end of the book, Judy’s mother tells her: ‘I did love you.  I just couldn’t show it’.  A poignant and touching end to a superbly written memoir.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Lord of the Flies at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre - Review

Lord of the Flies at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

19 May–18 June, Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park.

I’ve never seen a dramatic adaptation of Lord of the Flies so I was really looking forward to watching this performance.  It was even more exciting because of the location; the Open Air theatre in Regent’s Park is such an ideal place to stage Lord of the Flies with its natural surroundings – the trees and foliage around the stage were used to such great effect and were very much a part of the show.  Despite fears of bad weather, the matinee performance on 9th June began in blazing sunshine but inexplicably, as the plot darkened, so did the weather with heavy rain accompanying the killing of Simon.  All of which, of course, enhanced the electrifying atmosphere.
The stage itself was really rather impressive, comprising a sandy beach and a crashed plane segment with oxygen masks deployed (later used to great effect) – reminiscent of the drama series Lost.  The ‘beach’ was littered with suitcases and their contents, clearly identifiable as children’s belongings.  Clothing was haphazardly strewn in the trees and the bushes.    Throughout the play, the stage was used superbly; the top of the plane provided a means to get to the ‘hill’ where poor Piggy would later meet his fate, Perceval first appeared from the bushes as if from another part of the island and a piece of plane debris provided a useful slope for various pursuits and a resting place for the Lord of the Flies himself, the severed pig’s head.
Nigel Williams wrote this authorised adaptation of Lord of the Flies and although it can’t possibly recreate a story as complex and loaded with symbolism as Golding’s novel, it comes pretty close.  There are a few changes from the novel in which the action is necessarily condensed and simplified – for instance, the forest fire that kills one of the ‘littluns’ does occur in the play but isn’t fatal, although staged extremely well; and the number of boys in the main narrative are reduced to eleven, however, Ralph and the others frequently refer to another group of small boys on the island that they can see.  There is an attempt to bring the story into a modern setting.  One of the boys, (Bill, I think) fiddles with a mobile phone near the beginning before flinging it into the bushes, Roger appears wearing headphones and Perceval carries a Ben 10 rucksack.  This hint of the contemporary is very subtle and not reflected in the dialogue.  It isn’t distracting for those familiar with the novel; indeed, I would suggest it elucidates the timeless power that Lord of the Flies possesses.
The performances of the young actors are extraordinary.  As an ensemble, they are all very strong, inhabiting these familiar roles with ease.  Perceval is played in rotation by three boys; on this occasion, Spike White was in the role and appears younger than his ten years, displaying vulnerability and is at times, unbearably cute and funny, which helps to break up the overriding pessimism.  He also unwittingly points Jack in Ralph’s direction during the final climatic chase.  It is very difficult to select one of the actors as a ‘stand-out’ from the others, for many of them this production is their first professional theatre performance.  A number of other reviewers have highlighted George Bukhari’s portrayal of Piggy as particularly excellent and I wouldn’t disagree with this assessment.  He is able to elicit both pity and mockery from the audience – which is exactly how we’re supposed to feel about Piggy.  I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about the character of Roger, and how he was poorly used in the two film adaptations.  Roger is the most terrifying character in the book, far more so than Jack, and in this production, Roger’s cruelty (and probable inherent ‘badness’) is displayed to full effect by Matt Ingram’s superb performance.  When Roger first appears skulking in the plane fragment, separating himself from the others with headphones, we begin to get a sense that all is not well with this young man.  As the narrative moves to the bloodier events, Roger becomes out of control with Ingram leaping around the stage like an animal, seemingly having lost almost every shred of humanity.
As the stage couldn’t disappear behind a curtain for set changes, and as it really wasn’t big enough to show two parts of the island once the group had split into two camps, director Timothy Sheader had to come up with an innovative method for conveying the sense of two disparate gangs in two different places.  And it is a triumph.  While Jack and his hunters are chasing pigs and daubing themselves with blood, Ralph, Piggy, Sam, Eric and Simon freeze on the stage in their positions.  This is reversed time and time again and effectively juxtaposes the ‘good’ and the ‘evil’.  Piggy worries about what Jack is capable of whilst we are looking at a freeze frame of spears and violence.  The choreography is spectacular; in particular the murder of Simon which is genuinely frightening.  The boys often move in slow motion, backed by a specially commissioned musical score, heightening the tension.  The set is utilised to great effect in the final chase scene.
The one minor disappointment is the final scene, when the Military Officer arrives to bring a halt to Jack’s pursuit of Ralph.  It lacks the power of Golding’s conclusion in which Ralph ‘wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy’ (223).  It is perhaps difficult to convey this on stage with its sparse dialogue.
There were a large number of school pupils watching this performance and it is testament to the brilliance of the play that the audience was completely silent and absorbed in the events unfolding on stage.  It is also evidence that Golding’s novel, written over fifty years ago, is still as relevant and shocking today.
It’s only on for a few more days, so if you haven’t seen it yet, buy your tickets now!  Absolutely spectacular.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Live tweets from Judy Golding's talk at the Salisbury Festival

 William Golding