Monthly Archives: September 2012

Can’t Get Enough of It

In his fictional account of Queen Elizabeth II becoming addicted to reading, the masterful Alan Bennett describes the allure of the written word thusly:

…she felt about reading what some writers felt about writing: that it was impossible not to do it and that at this late stage of her life she had been chosen to read as others were chosen to write.

“The Uncommon Reader” is a jewel of a novella in which Bennett imagines the private life of the monarch behind the pomp and circumstance, away from the responsibilities and receptions. In this behind-the-curtain glimpse, we find Elizabeth estranging herself from her onerous role and secluding herself increasingly in books. But it’s not escapism for her as much as the unexpected unveiling of the many worlds of the head and the heart which writers have created both fictional and non-fictional versions.

In an endearing touch, Alan Bennett places a young gay man as the conduit for the Queen’s marvelous discovery of the joy of reading.

And back to Bennett’s point about the sense of calling—there is indeed pleasure that Elizabeth derives from her newly found passion but it is overlaid with a thirst or a need that can only be met as she sits quietly, book in hand, lost in the words.

I resonate with this sense of compulsion.

As an author, I felt compelled to write a memoir “August Farewell” and then a novel “Searching for Gilead” as a way to help make sense of my world that had been shattered by a series of tragedies. I had to write. I could do nothing else. And I wrote almost non-stop for eighteen months until both books were finished.

Now, I feel the same compulsion to read. It’s as if the intense writing period left me parched with an insatiable thirst that can only be slaked by immersing myself in other people’s writings.

What a joyful imperative to envelop ourselves in the brilliantly crafted stories of talented writers, like those of a certain Alan Bennett.

I commend “The Uncommon Reader” to those who create books and those who consume them.

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For information on Alan Bennett’s “The Uncommon Reader” see:

For information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead”, see my website:



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David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” – the miracle of imagination

What was going on in David Mitchell’s head while he was writing his stunning novel “Cloud Atlas”? 

Brain scientists could probably have mapped the electrical and chemical activity. His wife would have been able to detail his distractedness from the day-to-day demands of family life in their home in Ireland.

None of that technical or domestic information would give us much of a clue about how Mitchell conceived of a 19th century notary by the name of Adam Ewing writing a journal in the Pacific that gets discovered in 1931 by a frustrated composer Robert Frobisher working in Belgium who writes letters to his friend (and apparent lover) Rufus Sixsmith who becomes involved in a 1975 case of corruption involving a California nuclear power plant which is investigated by journalist Luisa Rey and then turned into a novel that falls into the hands in the early 21st century of a British publisher Timothy Cavendish imprisoned against his will in an eccentric nursing home a movie of which is watched by Somni~451 a futuristic clone rebelling against her totalitarian state which itself becomes the subject of a holographic projection viewed by primitive tribesman Zachry in a far off post-apocalyptic future which turns out to be the apex of the novel that then rewinds chronologically revisiting and picking up the story from where it left off earlier involving Somni~451, Timothy Cavendish, Luisa Rey, Rufus Sixsmith, Robert Frobisher, and Adam Ewing.

Are you still with me?

David Mitchell’s imagination somehow came up with this gargantuan story line and then committed it to prose that ranges from lyrically beautiful phrasing to ancient and futuristic dialects that, I presume, are at least in part of Mitchell’s creation.

I’m in awe of the miracle of the imagination, not just the exemplary case-in-point of David Mitchell’s, but of all creative artists.

I’ve had some first-hand experience watching the imagination at work and am as confounded by the process close-up as I am when appreciating the product of someone else’s mind.

I’ve recently written a memoir “August Farewell” and a novel “Searching for Gilead.” The memoir is based on my life with and the death of my long-term gay partner and hence is biographical. But how did I conceive of the structure of integrating vignettes of our thirty-three-year relationship into the day-by-day chronology of the two weeks between his cancer diagnosis and his death? The novel writing is even more of a mystery to me. I knew the general storyline that I wanted to produce but when I would begin a new chapter I often had no idea how it would progress. Like an out-of-body experience, I watched the characters take on a life of their own as they interacted, argued, made love, conspired against one another, and reconciled. It was all coming out of my head, my imagination, but how it evolved seemed only partially a matter of my conscious will and very largely a volatile creative force for which I felt I was not much more than the channel.

Thank goodness for the imagination – one of the miracles of life.

See it on full display in David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”.

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For information on David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”, see:

For information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” including short YouTube book trailers, see my website at


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