Judy Golding heads home to Marlborough to celebrate her famed father's centenary

Written by Gerald Isaaman on .

He is your father, a Marlborough schoolmaster who can be strict and stern, but a dad nevertheless who takes you on wild adventures on his beaten up boat and introduces excitement into your life.

At the same time, he is an author, who scribbles away at every chance – and suddenly enjoys world-wide fame, is heaped with praise, wins the Nobel Prize for literature and is knighted by the Queen.

Judy Carver has had a difficult time coming to terms with the death of Sir William Golding, famed author of Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors, and when he died in 1993 was asked by his publishers Faber to consider writing a memoir.

And only now – next week in fact – The Children of Lovers, her poignant tribute to her father in the centenary year of his birth, finally appears.

"I’d often wondered, even before my father’s death, if I would be able to write anything about him,” she tells me. “I spent years, probably six or seven, writing and rewriting, and doing research into his life, as well as talking to people who knew him.  Eventually, I realised that I was trying to write a biography of him, and this task was something that should be done by someone else.  John Carey agreed to undertake the biography and has of course produced a brilliant one."

“We are tremendously lucky.  I was lucky in particular, because I realised that once there was a biography I was free to write my own more personal account, one not tied to a chronological frame."

“I did indeed want to provide a family perspective, and to come to terms with the past.  I also wanted to tell the story of my brother David and myself, and David was generous in letting me do that."

“After my father’s death, there was a large amount of management connected with his works and with my parents’ wills.  All of that distracted me, but it also meant I was relieved to get to actual writing, which of course is not always the case.”

Then, almost emulating her father, she reveals: “I did it when I could, any time of day and in any place.  There are many cafés in which I’ve written it, many trains – even buses.”

Returning to Marlborough – she now lives in Bristol – helped revive her memories of the family house at No 29 The Green, which her father described as “three slumped storeys’ of lath and plaster, with a crazily gabled porch”, which is now adorned with a commemorative plaque.

"I’ve always loved coming back to Marlborough,” she says.  “As soon as I had a car of my own, I would make sure my trips between home and Oxford included Marlborough, together with a nostalgic wander round familiar landmarks."

“I climbed into St Mary’s Churchyard once with my brother, and we gazed over the wall into the garden of 29 The Green.”  Some critics claim that her father had a dark side that made him a difficult man who argued too much, but she doesn’t totally accept that. Indeed, John Carey’s biography painted him as a many-sided figure, a family man, a reclusive depressive who suffered from fears and phobias and considered himself 'a monster'.  However, some of the press coverage did have a very particular emphasis.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that some people have rather harped n his darker side,” she admits. “People are complicated – and I have tried to give an honest and therefore complicated picture of him."

“But part of that picture is his kindness and generosity, and his humour. I wish that could be given as much prominence as the darker aspects."

“But it’s human nature to want people to be all one thing or all the other, all sweet or all sour. My father himself, in his writing, tried over and over again to show how we are a mixture.”

And while some claim that Marlborough has truly recognised the genius in its midst, Judy is content.

“Marlborough has done several things to commemorate my father,” she points out.  “There is the lovely plaque on the wall of No 29. There is also a Golding Avenue among some newish roads off the Bath Road."

“And he was asked back to St John’s Comprehensive.  I think they asked him to give prizes or possibly a speech". St John’s was formerly Marlborough Grammar School, his old school, as well as the one his father taught at.  

“It’s true that not all of my father’s memories of his home town were happy – I expect that’s true for most people – and I noticed he was curiously unwilling to revisit it."

“His past was very powerful to him and very present in his mind, and I expect he was unwilling to re-experience many of his memories, or even perhaps to risk blunting those memories with newer ones.  He felt the deaths of his parents very deeply.  He told me it had taken him thirty years to get over those deaths.”

Now Judy is enjoying a new experience, talking at literary festivals about her memoir, as she did at the Oxford festival alongside biographer John Carey, John Gray and Penelope Lively.

And she will repeating the “extraordinary experience” at the forthcoming Marlborough Festival of Literature, which runs from September 22 to 25.

“I found it all fascinating,” she says.  “We had a wonderful audience, very responsive and tremendously well-informed. Interestingly, given that many people think of Golding as quite a dark novelist, there was a lot of laughter.  

“He would have been pleased about that – he was actually a very funny man."   The Golding event involved showing parts of two BBC documentaries about him – and I did find that both strange and acutely moving, seeing my relatively young father striding across Salisbury Cathedral Close or Old Sarum.  

“And there were some lovely shots of our boat Wild Rose, which I was delighted to see.”

See www.marlboroughlitfest.org