Dan Corry
Suzi Robinson,
Alex McAdam Clark, Peter Parker

Shit, I feel guilty. What about? About another bit of simple arithmetic. By writing the last chapter on Peter Parker, it means I’ll have written chapters on twelve male contributors to
PEN New Fiction 2. Whereas, as I keep reminding myself, so far only three women (Wendy Brandmark, Connie Bensley and Elaine Feinstein) have been covered at such length.

Now, I can’t do anything about Margaret Browne, Edith Cope, Kara Lind and Mary Haddingham, who don’t seem to have published after 1987 and who I can’t trace to the 21st century, so let me add them back, taking the figure to a notional seven women.

What would just about even things up, gender-wise, would be if the ‘marginal’ writers had a chapter each. By ‘marginal’ I mean contributors I’ve been able to trace to the present day but who have published little or nothing since 1987. Dan Corry has been given a chapter, yet Carol Barker, Elsa Corbluth, Suzi Robinson and Sandra McAdam Clark are dealt with in sub-chapters. Why the difference?

(If you can’t recall Dan Corry’s chapter, don’t worry, an update on that situation will be coming soon.)


I particularly like 'marginal' Dan’s story. So maybe that’s it. But then I particularly like Carol Barker’s and Suzi Robinson’s stories. And McAdam Clark’s? Well, I don’t feel I have such a strong handle on ‘The Foreigner’ but that may be because I haven’t dug into it sufficiently.

Carol Barker wrote about Mr Nugent, the married man and accountant who retreated to the branches of a tree. It took a long time for me to trace Carol, by which time I was committed to the ‘missing women’ chapter. In other words, the chapter about five missing women became a lot stronger when one of the women was triumphantly found.

If I’d located Carol Barker earlier, then I’ve a feeling that a look back into women’s fiction in the eighteenth century, concentrating on the novels of Fanny Burney, the topic of Barker’s MA dissertation, would have given me material for a chapter-length exploration. I did tentatively ask if I might read Barker’s PhD thesis, but she didn’t answer. The thesis may have allowed me to study how things had changed for women writers from the eighteenth century to the late twentieth century. My sample women would have been all those studied by Carol Barker in her thesis plus the 16 women of
PEN New Fiction 2. A lost opportunity? Possibly. I don’t feel I can go there now as I’ve written to her twice without receiving a reply.

What about Suzi Robinson? I gave her a report on how useful her signed copy of
PEN New Fiction 2 had been. She did not reply to this. I know from looking at her Facebook page she’s been ill, so have not bothered her again. But really that is no excuse. Why shouldn’t Suzi’s career in advertising have given rise to as much interest as Dan Corry’s in economics?

So I write again to Suzi Robinson. In her reply she tells me that she is much better (great!). She adds that her attempt to launch
The Best Ever Cat Food Formula via Amazon didn’t succeed because she did nothing to promote it. As for her career, she tells me: ‘I've thoroughly enjoyed my adventures in advertising in the last century and consider myself very lucky that I can use both skills and experience to adapt, survive and embark on new adventures in the digital era.  I am so glad I lived to see it.’


Fine. Suzi has popped up several times in this book and I feel she is covered. I don’t feel I can say much more about her writing. Moving on to Sandra McAdam Clark, I’m almost fearful what my analysis will uncover. The fact that she signed her name ‘A McAdam Clark’ alerted me to the fact I might trace her via ‘Alexandra’, proved correct. That was in January. Alex replied to my email as I report in chapter ten. Looking back at that now, I see she contributed to an anthology of lesbian writing. Why didn’t I follow that up?

Actually, I did send her a follow up email, which wasn’t answered. What did I say again?

‘By the way, Dan Corry, another fellow contributor, was Head of Policy for the Labour Government between 2007 and 2010. Now he is C.E.O.. of a company that advises charities. His is a very humane story ('In a Way - It Hurts') and it's good to know that someone who has been in such influential positions is so grounded in positive values. ‘

In writing that to Alex, my intention was to introduce her to another PEN Pal, encouraging her to write to me about her union experience. Perhaps it would have been more productive to ask her directly about that. She’d said in her single email that she’s led five trade unions, so really it was up to me to ask her which unions and what had been her experiences at each one. Opportunity missed.

In her email she talked about becoming self-employed, giving her more time to write, and that it was her intention to start writing again. And how did I respond?

‘How exciting that you're going to resume writing. Have you a subject/theme in mind? Short stories, a novel or non-fiction?’

Was that a bit glib? I didn’t get an answer. And I didn’t follow it up. Perhaps there is still time to do something about that. So I write to her. And quickly get this in return:

Hello again Duncan,
Looks like you are moving forward with your project. Excellent!


I published some stories in the 80’s in magazines and probably my favourite called ‘Distance’ in a book by the Women’s Press edited by Jan Bradshaw and Mary Hemming called ‘Girls next Door’. A lot of the background to my fiction was my mother’s story: she was French and active in the resistance, helping airmen who were shot down in France to escape out of France (the route was over the Pyrenees in the Basque country) and back to the UK. She was arrested along with others and sentenced to death and deported to Ravensbruck the only all women's concentration camp in Germany. She survived to return to France, married my father, a Scot who was a diplomat . She wrote two books and also gave a lot of talks about what it was like to live in a country that was occupied, to resist and to survive.
My politics were and remain socialist feminist although of course you mellow with age hopefully!

I haven’t got round to starting to write again but I am determined to and I aim to start off with a Flash fiction competition!

This year I will try to remember the words of a famous French resister Martine Aubry , who said ‘resistance is a state of mind’.
I order Girls Next Door and soon it arrives. Alex’s biographical note is more forthcoming than her PEN one. It reads:

‘I write to change the world we live in.’

She has a sense of mission then.

‘As a lesbian feminist, a trade union activist, also active in the Women and El Salvador Group, I write as part of a minority, although my class and colour give me enormous privileges.’

That is a very clear statement.

‘I would like to dedicate ‘Distance’ to Lesley, my comrade and lover.’


In ‘Distance’, a woman is waiting at the Gare Du Nord for the return of her lover who has been on a mission in Britain. The political situation is kept vague: there is some kind of crisis going on, to do with ‘minority’ rights and their suppression. There is a crisis too in the relationship between the lovers and that is handled with delicacy and mutual respect.

I go straight from the Women’s Press paperback to my computer:

Hi Alex,

Girls Next Door arrived this morning. I've read your story, the introduction and biographical notes, and it's all so interesting that I'm writing to you straightaway to raise a few points.

There is a lovely ambiguity about your characters' cause. But just a little less ambiguity than in The Foreigner. So when I go back to the PEN story and read the line 'There are other wars now' I'm not thinking of conventional wars between patriarchal nation-states any more!

The feminist fight goes on, though the f word doesn't get used so much these days. My own partner is an artist and you might be interested in what she's doing. Kate's contribution to the Dangerous Women's project is online.

Kate is in bed just now with a cold. I've given her Girls Next Door to read until I'm ready to look at more of its stories (perhaps guided by her or by you). She tells me she will definitely have read that book when it came out in the mid-eighties and she smiles at my naivety concerning feminist and lesbian issues, which have been central to her life, on and off. 

I suspect if you'd been any more explicit about your feminism/socialism you may not have got your story accepted by Allan Massie. Perhaps that's not fair, not least because he did select the stories of three gay men. But I have thought that some of the stories selected by women are a bit tame, and I can well imagine that a number of the contributors to
Girls Next Door had their stories rejected for being too alternative, too out there. I am now very curious as to what you made of the chapter (11) that I sent you. Hopefully, this email will give you the confidence to tell me...


I'm curious also as to what an editor would make of 'Distance' if you submitted it to him/her today. A Europe in turmoil is an extremely topical setting. Anxiously awaiting the arrival of someone travelling between the UK and Europe! The mention of tanks briefly strikes a dated tone (a conscious reference to your mother’s story?), and the absence of mobiles seems odd from today's perspective. But apart from that, it all seems very contemporary. You could conceivably tweak ‘Distance’ for a book of short stories today!

I like many of the potted biographies in Girls Next Door, including yours. Much more political than the rather conventional ones at the back of PEN New Fiction 2. Yours touchingly mentions your partner. Would Lesley (or someone else) have been with you at the launch of PEN New Fiction 2? Was she by your side as you signed your name in Suzi's book? Of course, if you tell me, I'll be looking to feed it into PEN Pals. However, I'll try to do this in a sensitive and positive way and I'll let you see what I've written so that you can suggest changes if you want.

All best, Duncan

I’m in the middle of hoping that Alex will write back when she does exactly that.

Gosh (if that doesn't sound too dated or pre-dating even me)!! What a lot to think about.‎ Will definitely look up your partner's work as sounds really interesting. I agree that some of the story is dated (no atm's either!) but the flash fiction is a great idea. I am working on one but with specific topic though could tweak it. Will definitely get back to you about your chapter. And yes Lesley was there and we are still together 30 years later.

In ‘Distance’, when the protagonist’s lover, Susan, returns to Paris, she tells the protagonist that she is having an affair with someone else, Sophie. The protagonist is jealous and upset, but she pulls herself together and accepts the situation when Susan returns to London to find Sophie. Weeks later, the protagonist meets Susan again at the Gare Du Nord. Susan is very upset because Sophie has had to flee to Mexico with someone else as part of the fight against oppression. The protagonist empathizes with Susan’s pain and consoles her. The last line of the story reads: ‘We arrived home and sat at our table, closed the curtains and you had been away and were back.’


Alex’s email ends:

‘Lesley sends her good wishes. She is west of Scotland born and bred though has been down south for many years. We embarrass people driving around with saltires fluttering from our car at every Andy Murray victory ‎! Regards to Kate and hope she recovers soon. Alex.’

What with the Andy Murray and saltires reference, I wonder if Lesley is proudly ‘working class’. It’s a phrase that comes up several times in the biographies of Girls Next Door.


I’ve just done something a bit controversial. I’ve removed the chapter on Dan Corry and am replacing it with this mere sub-section of a chapter. Why? In the interests of gender balance.

Shame, in a way, because Dan’s story about a boy who had learning difficulties is a moving one. And Dan’s subsequent business career, which culminated in him becoming economics advisor to Gordon Brown, when Brown was Prime Minister, is fascinating. But that same business career took him away from creative writing and it’s ‘What Happens to Writers’ that this book is concerned with.

As I told Alex, Dan Corry now heads up a company that advises charities. Recently he’s written articles in
The Guardian and in the Huffington Post, focusing on what charities can and can’t do. How they can and should maximize their potential for helping vulnerable groups in society.

When I got in touch with him in December, 2015, he asked me to liaise with his secretary to set up a Skype call. So I got to ask Dan how seriously he took his writing back in 1987. He told me that he did take it seriously and has several short stories and one long short story on file from the eighties. But it was a spare time activity and when he got busier at work he neglected his fiction. Which puts him, I would suggest, in the category of Suzi Robinson, Alex McAdam Clark and Carol Barker.


Dan got married and his first child was born in 1990. From then on family responsibilities plus work commitments meant that writing fiction was completely on hold. He had quite a complicated and high-powered working life. It was only in 2010, when David Cameron’s Tories won the election and the Labour administration dissolved, that Dan found he had more time on his hands.

At that point, he resumed writing fiction. Not altogether successfully. He had an advisor, a friend, who said that he wasn’t very good at painting a picture for the reader and that he had a tendency to take too much for granted. His sister-in-law persuaded Dan to go on a one-day course focusing on how to write a novel, an experience he very much enjoyed. But then he was appointed head of NPC – New Philanthropy Capital, a think-tank with eight trustees and forty-odd members of staff – a job that pays a salary of over £100,000. And, of course, that job swiftly took up the majority of his time and energies.

I asked Dan Corry what Gordon Brown would have made of Dan’s PEN story. Well, the first thing to be said about Gordon Brown, Dan told me, was that he was very strong on social justice. And he did have the habit of digging for case studies that could inspire himself, the Labour party and the electorate. In other words, I surmised, Gordon Brown would have loved Dan’s story, in which a vulnerable human being is ultimately helped by other people, much to the relief of the story’s onlooker protagonist.

That now deleted chapter of
PEN PALS ended with me recalling that Ian Rankin and Gordon Brown were friends. Rankin mentions Brown in the Rebus novel, The Naming of the Dead. Moreover, Rankin interviewed Brown for an hour at the Edinburgh Festival when the PM had a book on his personal/political heroes come out.

Dan’s chapter slotted in between the present chapters four and five of
PEN PALS, where ‘success’ is investigated and Ian Rankin is a touchstone of that investigation. Perhaps I’m wrong to have pulled it. As I say, the decision is in the interests of gender parity, something that I assume was a high priority of Labour’s policy unit when Dan Corry was heading it up.



From ‘men in power’ back to Girls Next Door.

I email Alison Hennegan, who wrote the introduction to
GND and who is now an academic at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. After introducing my project, I say:

Partly I am writing this email because you, like Allan Massie, provided an introduction to one of those anthologies. All the writers (24 of 32) I have been able to contact re the PEN book have written back to me, but he has not, and so I am denied access to all the inside knowledge that he surely has about the editorial process. Perhaps you will be interested in this, at least that's what I infer from your words on the Cambridge University English Faculty website: 'So much first-hand experience of how and why words get into print (or fail to) informs my teaching and research.' I would dearly love to know how many of the sparky writers that contributed to Girls Next Door had stories rejected for PEN New Fiction 2. But I appreciate you won't have the answer to that, or be able to ascertain it.

Bit of a red herring that. I’ve already been in touch with a few of the Girls Next Door contributors. Rosemary Auchmuty, now a Professor of Law with a special interest in gender and sexuality issues, told me she hadn’t submitted. Gill Hanscombe also said she didn’t submit. While Lucy Whitman tells me she would definitely remember if she’d submitted anything, and she can’t. That’s as far as I’ll take my own enquiries. When does a case study stop being a case study? When it starts to concern itself with individuals outside the population under investigation. Anyway, back to my email to Alison Hennegan:

Allan Massie was educated at Glenalmond College and Cambridge University. He chose 16 men and 16 women for the PEN anthology, which was a good start. All the men were middle class. I can't say that about the women because several of them have disappeared without trace. If he'd chosen more writers who'd written from a feminist perspective perhaps they would have had greater longevity.


Three of the male contributors (including myself) went from state school to Oxbridge, but none of them have gone on to have successful writing careers despite the promise shown by their contributions to PEN New Fiction 2. (One has spent five years in prison, one is sitting on a brilliant but unpublishable 450-page tome called Satires, and the other is writing you this quirky email.) This suggests that the all-important networking facility may be picked up at school. Speaking personally, I felt about a million miles from being able to function socially while reading Geography at Downing! Two of the public school educated men that Allan Massie chose for the anthology were DJ Taylor (who you no doubt know has written several books about 20th Century Eng Lit and hundreds of reviews of contemporary novels), and Peter Parker (who edited The Reader's Companion to 20th Century Novels and The Readers's Companion to 20th Century Writers and wrote books on J.R. Ackerley, Christopher Isherwood and, most recently, A.E. Housman). I can't help feeling that their background gave them a sense of entitlement in their chosen profession.

I wonder if any of this rings bells for you. Or whether your own extensive experience leads to different conclusions as to who gets published and why. My project is only a case study, and in that lies limitations as well as, I hope, fascination.

I’m tempted to write more, but it’s already a long email. In a remarkably short time I receive an even longer reply, which I break down into digestible chunks.

Alison Hennegan starts by telling me that hers will probably be a bitty and incoherent reply as it’s been a long day and her tummy is rumbling. However, bitty and incoherent are the last things her reply is.

She tells me that it’s a while since she’s been actively concerned with the travails of aspiring and established writers and so would need longer to think about the part played by class and schooling in the success rate of promising authors.

Oh God, am I still asking people about class and schooling? I thought I was going to take advice and pipe down about that.


Hennegan goes on to say that as far as women are concerned, she suspects that feminist networking in the 1980s helped overcome some of the possible obstacles of disadvantaged educational or social origins. In other words, activism allowed working class female voices in particular to get into print. In the feminist presses, editors shared a sense of why women’s voices mattered and knew that it was hard to get those voices heard, particularly in a way that hadn’t been ‘grossly interfered with’ by anti-feminist male editors.

This confirms to me the reasons for the high quality (resonance and relevance) of the writing in Girls Next Door. And it supplies some reasons why the writing by women in PEN New Fiction 2 may not be as strong. That is, the writing by women may have been ‘interfered with editorially’, in that Allan Massie would seem to have disregarded the feminist/activist/working class/lesbian stuff. He might even have made a bonfire of it all! That might help to explain that letter he sent out apologising for lost contributions.

When turning to the ‘where did they go to’ aspect of women writers, Hennegan makes the point that much of the writing was important at the time but wasn’t necessarily ‘good’. So that once the feminist/lesbian message was put across, the job may have been considered done, and individual women might have felt free to get on with other aspects of their lives.

I think Hennegan is talking here about the women who contributed to the likes of Girls Next Door rather than PEN New Fiction 2. But her analysis is still relevant, still of considerable interest to my own project.

She then turns to the two PEN authors that I mention, and tells me that Peter Parker is a close friend of hers. She’s been aware of the struggle it’s been for him to keep afloat materially and the large amount of freelance journalism that underpins the ‘real’ writing. She tells me she’s aware of another type of exclusion based on a different kind of ‘class war’. That is, the difficulty that non-academic writers face when they are seen to venture into areas in which they are not specialists. In particular, she means the First World War, about which Peter Parker has written two books.


What a switch! There we were discussing the difficulties of feminist women writers getting into print and staying there, when suddenly Alison tells me that an individual who I’d been feeling had had it made as far as a literary career is concerned (public school providing network and platform; gayness giving him motive and message; partner a publisher) in fact has had a tough time negotiating a particular side of the literary world.

Alison concludes by suggesting that the workings of exclusion and obstruction in the world of publishing are complex. She hopes she is not underestimating my main point, about the importance of certain social or educational benefits in ensuring visibility and voice. And she mentions that she is a lower middle class girl who went from grammar school to Cambridge. She suggests that our shared background trumps Peter’s, who was privately educated but did not go to Oxbridge.

My background re the literary world trumps Peter’s? I don’t think so. But let that pass for the moment.

Alison Hennegan finishes by saying that writing can be a clumsy form of communication (not in her hands) and that if I live near to Cambridge, or will be passing through the town, and want to talk face to face about these issues then I should let her know.

For all my breaking her email into digestible chunks, it’s taken me days to get my head round the fundamental challenges of this communication. What do I mean? I mean several inter-related things:

First, I have been trying to get Allan Massie to respond to my enquiries for months and have drawn a blank. Yet just a couple of hours after first contacting Alison Hennegan she gives me the benefit of her considerable wisdom re ‘what happens to writers’ in the form of a 1000-word email. Thank-you, Alison Hennegan. Thank-you for nothing since 1987, Allan Massie. Right now I know which one feels like the true PEN pal.

Second, everything about this email confirms what I’ve been thinking about the lack of representation of working class and feminist voices in
PEN New Fiction 2. Girls Next Door was a timely, bold publication and probably deserves a PEN Pals type tribute more than PEN New Fiction 2 does. What are those strong women of vision and firm moral compass up to these days? A question I hope someone is in the process of answering.


Third, Alison Hennegan is a close friend of Peter Parker. I can’t believe it! From outlining the difficulties that women – all women, but especially feminists - have faced in getting published, suddenly the world is stood on its head and Alison is telling me it’s been tough for Peter Parker too. I almost feel as sorry for Peter Parker as I did for Peter Rabbit when vulgar Mr McGregor was out to turn him into rabbit pie.

Fourth, the outpouring of words that this email represents, reminds me of the impact that the fulsome communications of both C.A.R Hills and Jeff New made on me. Join the triumvirate of state school to Oxbridge swots, Alison! Indeed let’s go straight to the initiation ceremony:

Four little maids who, all unwary
Come from a ladies'
Freed from its genius
Four little maids from school
Four little maids from school

So where does my sense of amaze leave me? Uptight, upright, upside down.

No worries though. I’ll sort myself out soon enough.


A splendid object called Housman Country arrived in the post this morning. Lovely cover and endpaper design. At 446 pages it’s a big chunk of the world, even more so because it has a batch of unnumbered pages at the back, being the 63 long-out-of-copyright poems of A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman.


I’ve only dipped a toe into Peter Parker’s previous books, so I throw myself into this one wholeheartedly. The first chapter is ‘England in Your Pocket’ and it amounts to the publishing history of A Shropshire Lad. The book was first published in 1896. It didn’t become popular until the enthusiasm of a gent called Grant Richards produced a stream of further editions of the book. The collection gradually made more and more of an impression. It was particularly popular during the First World War and it has never been out of print since its first appearance.

The second chapter, ‘The Man and His Book’ is the longest in
Housman Country, and is sensitive biography, placing emphasis on the life events that fed into the writing of those ever-popular poems. Basically, Housman wrote about landscape (Shropshire, which lies to the west of the Worcestershire the poet grew up in) and mortality. (English lads are liable to drop down dead in Housman’s poetry, and other English lads lament their passing.)

Subsequent chapters are called ‘English Landscape’, ‘English Music’, ‘English Soldiers’ and ‘The Rediscovery of England’ so Parker puts much effort into linking the poet to the land and the people he emerged from. Housman was a classical scholar, who fell in love with another man (Moses Jackson) while an undergraduate at Oxford. They shared rooms together for several years both at college and afterwards in London. In his mid-thirties, long after Jackson had married and emigrated, Housman expressed the unrequited love of his life in a series of poems, but he spent the rest of that life leading a solitary, private and reserved existence, which allowed little intrusion. Did Housman have an active sex life at any point? Peter Parker accepts that the question is relevant but doesn’t over-exert himself to answer it. Which is fair enough.

The final chapter is called ‘Aftermaths’ and it explores how
A Shropshire Lad has continued to have influence. There are many examples of this. For instance, Colin Dexter, the creator of Morse, was an ardent admirer, and he passed on this attribute to his Oxford-based detective. Also, Morrissey, the lead singer of The Smiths before he embarked on a successful solo career, has admitted his debt to the creator of A Shropshire Lad. Morrissey drew on Housman’s sense of lovestruck melancholy when writing his own songs. In the entry on Housman in The Reader’s Guide to Twentieth Century Writers, Parker describes Housman as ‘combining stoic bitterness with passionate lyricism’, which could - I think it’s safe to say - also be said of Morrissey.


If Morrissey has been influenced by Housman, as amply demonstrated by Peter Parker, I’m tempted to explore the influence that Housman might have had on that other bitter stoic and passionate lyricist, fellow PEN2 contributor, Jeff New. As it happens, Jeff read English at St John’s College, Oxford, where Housman was an outstanding Classics scholar a century before him. So if Jeff didn’t know about A.E. Housman when he was growing up in Northumberland, he would surely have come across him at St John’s. The library there has a collection of 300 books and pamphlets that have been annotated by Housman. For instance, there is a book on Sophocles, where Housman has underlined a sentence and commented caustically in the margin of it. Caustic commentary is something that comes second nature to the Jeff New I know.

Although Housman is remembered as a poet, he only published two slim volumes in his lifetime and not much posthumously. What he devoted his life to was classical scholarship for its own sake. His edition of Marcus Manilius, an inferior Roman poet and a not particularly good scientist of the first century A.D., runs to five volumes, all of it in Latin except for an introduction in English. Housman also translated and introduced an edition of ‘Juvenal’, a Roman poet active in the late 1st and early 2nd century AD. Juvenal wrote
Satires, amounting to 16 long poems spread over five books, while the manuscript that Jeff New has sent me, Satires, amounts to a couple of hundred pieces spread over two books.

I’m certain Jeff New will be familiar with Juvenal’s
Satires. And I would bet my right arm that he is familiar with the classical scholarship, and the poetry, of A.E. Housman. He may even have used the example of Housman’s own jump from classical scholarship to bittersweet poetry to inspire his own creativity. And I mustn’t forget that Jeff introduced himself to me as an admirer of the writings of men long dead. You could even say that as a copy editor, Jeff has the same kind of day job that Housman had: both in the business of removing human error from texts that are all too full of a different kind of ‘error’ in the first place.


Five of the many Oxford University Press books in which Jeff New is thanked for his copy-editing rigour are: George Orwell: English Rebel by Robert Colls; Ethics and Dialogue: in the Works of Levinas, Bakhtin, Mandel’shtam, and Celan by Michael Eskin; Stand in the Trench, Achilles by Elizabeth Vandiver; Monumentality and the Roman Empire: Architecture in the Antonine Age by Edmund Thomas; and An Apprenticeship of Arms: The Origins of the British Army 1585-1702, by Roger B. Manning. In each of these books, objective truth will no doubt vie with subjective opinion. Jeff’s job being limited to clarifying what the author is actually trying to say.

The last poem in particular in
A Shropshire Lad brings to mind Jeff New. For is Jeff as author of Satires not the creator of flowers of the mind that are not in fashion? And does he not show a fondness for the verb ‘to trench’ in his Satire that I quote in chapter eight?

Jeff New:

“Friend, what are you doing?”
“I am trenching, friend.”
“But you can’t trench here, it’s in everybody’s way.”
“It’s not in my way.”
“What need though for a trench?”
“To fill up the time.”

A.E. Housman:

I hoed and trenched and weeded,
And took the flowers to fair:
I brought them home unheeded;
The hue was not the wear.

So up and down I sow them
For lads like me to find,
When I shall lie below them,
A dead man out of mind.

Some seed the birds devour,
And some the season mars,

But here and there will flower,
The solitary stars,


And fields will yearly bear them
As light-leaved spring comes on,
And luckless lads will wear them
When I am dead and gone.

I don’t think Jeff is of the opinion that he is writing for ‘luckless lads’ like him. He is not a luckless lad, but a married man with adult children, who neither feels the need to eat meat nor drink alcohol. But I am of the opinion that he is a luckless lad in that his writing is not designed to appeal to an undiscerning reader, and that if he does reach any audience at all it may not be for another hundred years.

As his popularity suggests, just about anyone can take inspiration from Housman. Here is an adaptation of a
Shropshire Lad poem that seems appropriate for me in particular. I should say that both my parents lived to their 90th year. Also, I was a few months short of 30-years-old when PEN New Fiction 2 came out, and a further thirty years have passed since then. By the time this book is published I will be 60. Yes, the number sequence 30/60/90 obsesses me these days. Which surely qualifies me to recite with feeling:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my four score years and ten,
Sixty will not come again,
And take from ninety springs three score,
It only leaves me thirty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Thirty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.


That tells you exactly what I’ll be doing with myself for the rest of my years - winter, spring, summer and autumn - once I’ve finished writing and editing PEN PALS. But, come to think of it, I feel the above verses might be equally applicable to many of us who were young and thirtyish back in 1987. That’s to say, Wendy Brandmark, D.J. Taylor, Ian Rankin, Peter Parker, Suzi Robinson, Jeff New, Dan Corry, C.A.R.Hills and Gary Armitage, to mention just a few.

Actually, ‘Loveliest of Trees’ is the second poem in
A Shropshire Lad. The second-last is a poem that comes to mind in connection with a touchstone of my present project. Here is the poem’s closing verse, with only a proper name (Mithridates, an Anatolian King who reigned from 120 to 63BC)) in the last line changed:

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
--I tell the tale that I heard told.
C.A.R. Hills, he died old.

Oh my God, what has happened to this chapter? It starts by lamenting that only three women from PEN New Fiction 2 have chapters in PEN PALS compared to twelve men. And it ends by using my current interest in Peter Parker’s lucid tribute to AE Housman to further my fascination with two of the male writers who already have been given more than their fair share of attention. Those oh-so-clever boys who went from state school to Oxford colleges previously graced by Evelyn Waugh and A.E. Housman.


On reflection, that’s all right. It’s still possible to get this chapter back on track.


Below is my third email to Alison Hennegan. No reply to my second email to her, I’ve just heard from Hennegan once, two months ago now.

Hi Alison,

I hope you got my email of Feb 28.

Peter Parker has been in touch since then. He has some understandable concerns about what I've written about him in my chapters 15 and 16, which I'm trying to respond to positively. I expect he's already told you that he wouldn't be very happy to read in print the paragraph concerning him that you kindly sent me. I wonder if you'd be willing to look at that again (in the light of his concerns?) and rephrase things a bit. 

Apologies if I have come in any way between yourself and your friend. 

One big reason that I wish to quote your email (edited for the above point) rather than paraphrase it myself, is the confident, individual and precise way you express yourself. Several of the male contributors to
PEN New Fiction 2 contribute hyper-confident emails that I've been able to quote, but very few of the 16 women contributors to the anthology have expressed themselves quite as fulsomely. As I've implied, I think this is in part down to the male editor not having included certain kinds of voice. And by including your Girls Next Door voice, that will help to remind the reader of PEN PALS that any apparent difference in male/female articulacy from this 1987 sample of writers is not a simple matter.

I do hope you are able to get back to me on this. 

Best wishes, Duncan


Well, Alison Hennegan hasn’t got back to me. Which is disappointing for exactly the reason expressed in my email. So let me just say the following.

In the eleven paragraphs of Alison’s long email, which she wrote in immediate reply to my first to her, she makes use of brackets 18 times. The use of brackets being one way to get more precision and equivocation into one’s meaning. She also uses single quotation marks - to draw attention to a word or phrase - no less than 32 times, which is another way of simultaneously being more precise yet more equivocal. Result: a free-flowing river of words, pooling up occasionally, with lots of lades leading off from the main stream, to be followed up, if the reader is inclined to do so.

And then what happens? Well, I hypothesise, but she realises that her words have caused her male friend some unease, decides to withdraw them
en masse, and suddenly all a particular woman’s precision and equivocation are wiped out. How annoying.

Or not. Because all I’m trying to do is tell the ‘true’ (always subjective!) story of what happens to writers. And in particular what happens to one writer when he writes to a set of fellow writers that he feels joined at the hip with. And if not at the hip, then the neck.

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