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Charles Dickens’ love for his Queen revealed amid the class war clash still with us today

Charles Dickens fell madly in love with Queen Victoria.  And on her honeymoon night with Prince Albert he went to Windsor Castle and rolled in the mud in dire protest of what was happening in her bedroom above.

It’s a true story of Dickens, the rebellious republican writer, protector of the poor and his passion for his adored young Queen who ruled Britain at its most powerful period that was revealed at the Marlborough Lit Fest on Saturday.

And unveiling the saga, Claire Tomalin, Dickens’ award-winning biographer, provided a poignant echo of the Victorian  political clash of the classes still remaining in austerity-hit Britain today.

She quoted Queen’s Victoria’s personal farewell to Dickens written after his remarkable and relentless refusal to present himself to his sovereign over a period of 30 years in what was an unprecedented rejection of royal commands.

But the two most famous people of the age finally met at Windsor Castle -- when Victoria was 51 and Dickens 58. It was March, 1870, and within weeks the creator of of Oliver Twist, Mr Pickwick, David Copperfield, Scrooge and Little Dorrit was dead.

But undoubtedly not forgotten.

In her journal Queen Victoria wrote: “He had a large loving mind and the strongest sympathy for the poorest classes. He felt sure that a better feeling and greater union of the classes would take place in time.

“And I pray earnestly that it may...”

Claire TomalinClaire TomalinAs Claire, 80-year-old biographer of Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys and Thomas Hardy told the packed Town Hall audience at the start: “The story I have to tell is quite special about Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria – writers and royals”.

She explained how Sir Arthur Helps, clerk to the Privy Council and adviser to the Queen, repeatedly tried to bring the pair together. He saw that the names of Dickens and Queen Victoria were going to become iconic – “And he was right,” she declared.

Dickens was a man of super-human energy and productivity who had raised himself from obscurity to world fame in an era of poverty and hypocrisy while the Queen won the love of her subjects by her longevity, representing stability as the nation’s economy and political power triumphed.

But what Helps didn’t know was what Dickens was up to when Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840 and how he went to Windsor Castle for their honeymoon night.

“Dickens, who was married with young children, suddenly realised he was passionately in love with the young Queen,” she revealed.  “He had one of those extraordinary fits of hysterical passionate feeling that overcame him at various times in his life.

“He and an artist friend, Daniel Maclise, on the evening of the wedding went up to Windsor together.  They went into the park and walked beneath the lighted windows where they assumed the young Queen and her husband were.

“And Dickens laid down in the mud and rolled in agony at the thought of this and how it couldn’t be reversed. Passing people were quite surprised to see this happening.”

Dickens went to write letters to friends exposing the torture he was undergoing, in one to his best friend John Forster he announced:  “I am utterly lost in misery and can do nothing.  My heart is in Windsor, my heart isn’t here.

“The presence of my wife aggravates me. I detest this house.  I begin to have thoughts of the Serpentine or the Regent’s Canal or the razors upstairs, of poisoning myself, of hanging myself, of abstaining from food to starve myself to death.”

Yet Dickens spurned all the royal invitations to Buckingham Palace in the following years, refused to perform one or more of his public readings for her or present one of his celebrated charity stage plays for the Queen, giving a variety of regretful reasons and excuses.

Her Majesty, who is known to have read Oliver Twist and dipped into the Pickwick Papers, countered in 1857 by taking a royal party to the Gallery in Regent’s Street, where Dickens was performing his latest play.

She wrote in her diary that it was “most touching, admirably acted by Charles Dickens,” the production being full of “reckless suspense” aided by charming scenery with additional music.

She returned home at half past midnight, and an equerry subsequently told Dickens:  “The Queen and the Prince were delighted with the dramatic treat last night.  I’ve hardly ever seen Her Majesty and HRH so much pleased.”

Claire Tomalin pointed out: “When the Queen sends for you, you don’t say No.  It is absolutely extraordinary that a writer should refuse invitations to go and see her.”

But Dickens went further, rejecting too an offer from the Queen of an honour and even refusing to help raise funds for the Albert Memorial after the Consort died in 1861.

When they eventually met he was white-haired and stooping, deaf and, though etiquette required him to stand, the Queen relented and they sat on a sofa together for half an hour discussing a variety of subjects.

The Queen especially want to know “why it is no longer possible to find good servants” and Dickens suggesting “the education system might be unhelpful”.

Claire added: “I can’t help wondering whether he recalled rolling in the mud outside her bedroom 30 years before.  Perhaps not.

“He knew what made him great was his writing and that was what he wanted to be remembered for.  Yet he was puzzled by the Queen’s evident wish to show her respect for him.

“And he would have been pleased if he could have known what Queen Victoria wrote in her journal when she heard of his death very shortly after.”

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Fay Weldon reveals that the speed of life itself is just one of the problems writers face

Fay WeldonFay WeldonLife today moves so fast that authors find their novels out of date if they take up to three years to create one, Fay Weldon, the doyenne feminist author of more than 30 novels, revealed at theMarlborough Literary Festival last night (Friday).

She warned too that authors had a difficult time making money, claiming that some publishers’ contracts restrict earnings, a cause she has joined union action to fight against.

And she added that Amazon now filled its warehouse with remainder copies and books bought from library shelves, selling them for a penny a time but making a profit on the postage and packaging.

Still writing at 82 – she has also produced five stage plays and TV adaptations of her novels The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil, The Cloning of Joanna May, as well as Upstairs, Downstairs --  Fay was in reflective mood talking to journalist and biographer Valerie Grove.

After references had been made about Downton Abbey, she said:  “Writing about the past is a kind of cowardice in a way.  “That’s because of the difficulty in writing about the present now, as times change so fast, attitudes change so fast, what is important one day is not important the next.

“I’m a fast writer but for many writers that by the time you have got a commission to write a novel that suits the person who writes the blurb and the one who designs the jacket, which for some people can take three years.

“By the time this happened your novel has no relevance to what is going on today.  And so you will find that today a lot of writers are writing about the past, or the recent past or going into the future.”

She explained her own prolific career due to the fact that after her first novel was published she was offered three-year contracts demanding a novel a year, even a six-year contract on the same basis.

“It didn’t occur to me that you didn’t have to do this – I just did,” she said, adding  that she would have written anyway, though not necessarily in the same pattern.

“And I’m still doing a book a year, this present contract three books in two years,” said Fay, now Professor of Creative Writing at Bath University.

As to the payments writers received, she revealed:  “I have been involved in union activities when writers were getting a very hard time from the publishers, who were refusing to pay for this, that and the other.

“They were getting contracts which looked normal but which actually were done to make sure the writer would never get any money from writing their books -- or so it seemed to me.”

A questioner said it was a “real insult” that Amazon was selling books at a penny a time.

Fay pointed out that these could be a remaindered book or those Amazon had bought from shelves of current and closed libraries, which now filled their warehouse.

“They get rid of them at a penny a time making their money from the cost of postage and packing,” she said.  “You can look inside some of them and see library stamps and see how often they were borrowed.

“And then you could find your books on Amazon at a penny after about three months.  But you can’t worry about these things too much.  You just have to put up with it.

“There is a much deal with e-books where you will get 25 per cent of whatever they cost.”

Cold comfort having dinner with Prince Charles

Fay told one amazing story of how she was invited to dinner with Prince Charles at St James’ Palace after she had given £5,000 to his charity, The Prince’s Trust.

The money had come from the Daily Mail after it published what she described as a manipulated an article she had written and  reproduced quotes she never made under the headline My Facelift Saved My Marriage.

“Then I had a letter from Charles saying, ‘What can you have done to get money out of that vile newspaper?’  He invited us to dinner in St James’s Palace.  It was so cold.

“It was snowing outside and all the windows were wide open.  And one was wearing all one’s silks, not woollies, which was a great mistake.  There was not even a single bar electric fire.”

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Literary Festival launch reveals top ticket sales for a fourth weekend of success

Mavis Cheek and Sir John Sykes raise a glass to the success of this year's LitFestMavis Cheek and Sir John Sykes raise a glass to the success of this year's LitFestThe great and the good packed into town hall last night (Friday) as guests at the launch party for the fourth Marlborough Literary Festival, which is already running ahead of last year’s ticket sales.

Novelist Mavis Cheek, who chairs the festival, was there to greet them, in particular Fay Weldon, the feminist novelist who inspired many women to write and is now Professor of Creative Writing at Bath University.

Mayor Councillor Guy Loosmore with Robert HiscoxMayor Councillor Guy Loosmore with Robert HiscoxMarlborough’s mayor, Councillor Guy Loosmore, wore his great chain for the occasion, alongside his mayor wife, Fiona, as they mingled with guests, among them directors from major sponsors Brewin Dolphin and Robert Hiscox, of the leading insurance company that bears his name.

Former mayors Nick Fogg and his wife Edwina joined the throng together with Shirley Pryor, newly-elected chair of Transition Marlborough.

Introduced by Sir John Sykes, a committee colleague, Mavis Cheek profusely thanked all the sponsors of the festival – “This wouldn’t be possible without your money,” she said – plus her formidable committee and army of volunteers on duty at more than 20 events.

“The team that runs this festival is fantastic,” declared Mavis.  “None of us gets paid a groat and though sometimes we have the odd tipple.

“Already this year our ticket sales are 10 per cent ahead and that is a very good thing to be able to announce.  Thank you all for coming.  Now go out and tell the world about us.”

Fay WeldonFay WeldonMavis CheekMavis Cheek

Fay Weldon with the Mayor, Councillor Guy LoosmoreFay Weldon with the Mayor, Councillor Guy LoosmoreOrwell authority Prof Peter Davison with his wifeOrwell authority Prof Peter Davison with his wifeLast year's Mayor Edwina Fogg flanked by local author Sorrel Pitts (r) and  Gerald IsaamanLast year's Mayor Edwina Fogg flanked by local author Sorrel Pitts (r) and Gerald Isaaman

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Slashing arts funding is like burning the Mona Lisa warns the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy

Carol Ann DuffyCarol Ann DuffyDamaging cuts to arts funding by the government have been described as “totally barbaric” by Carol Ann Duffy, the 57-year-old first female Poet Laureate who is a star performer at Marlborough’s literary festival on Sunday.

In the swirl of the political party conferences, it is perhaps inevitable that someone born in Glasgow’s Gorbals who describes her upbringing as "left-wing, Catholic, working class", has warned of the danger of slashing grants to arts organisations.

“Not to actively support culture by at the very least giving money to it is the equivalent to burning the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, ”Duffy declared when presenting the 2013 Society of Authors Awards.

In comments that received little publicity as part of the austerity agenda, she said the government appeared “younger and more sassy, with a Prime Minister who plays The Smiths”, but it was proving to be even more damage to the country’s culture than the Tories of the 1980s.

Tourists, she pointed out, knew they were visiting the country of Shakespeare, Wordsworth and JK Rowling” when they came here and, she added: “I think the arts are who we are in Britain.”

Presenting £70,000 to writers in grants from £1,500 to £8,000, the Poet Laureate, who was appointed to the post in 2009 and wrote her first poem tackling the scandal of MPs’ expenses, said these were tiny sums of money.

“But the sense of being valued and cared for can be the difference between the books being written or not,” she added.

Culture was a huge contributor to the country’s economy and ought to be safeguarded rather than cut by Culture Secretary Maria Miller. “If not we will have a country full of Tescos and not theatres,” she protested.

Duffy, who believes that poetry is “our national art” and “the music of being human”, was herself the winner of a Scottish Arts Council award for her collection Standing Female Nude in 1985.

Since then she has won the Somerset Maugham Award, the Whitbread Poetry Award, the T.S Eliot Prize, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and been honoured with a CBE.

Her poems are studied in British schools at GCSE, A-level, and Higher levels. In August 2008, her Education for Leisure, a poem about violence, was removed from the AQA examination board's GCSE poetry anthology, following a complaint about its references to knife crime and a goldfish being flushed down a toilet.

The poem begins, "Today I am going to kill something.  Anything.  /I have had enough of being ignored and today/I am going to play God."  The protagonist kills a fly, then a goldfish.  The budgie panics and the cat hides. It ends with him, or her, leaving the house with a knife. "The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm."

Schools were urged to destroy copies of the unedited anthology, according to newspaper reports, though this was later denied by AQA.

Duffy described the decision ridiculous, insisting: "It's an anti-violence poem.  It is a plea for education rather than violence."

Carol Ann Duffy is appearing at the Literary Festival, sponsored by Brewin Dolphin, at Marlborough College on Sunday (7.30pm).

For tickets phone 01249 701628.

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New fanfares for Claire Tomalin’s invisible woman ahead of her arrival at Marlborough’s lit festival

Claire TomalinClaire Tomalin

More plaudits at 80 – that’s not bad going after a lifetime of winning acclaim and awards for a remarkable series of biographies that have, notably, included Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and Samuel Pepys.

And Claire Tomalin, who is coming to the Marlborough Literary Festival at the end of the month to talk about her bi-centenary tribute to Dickens, will no doubt find a moment to mention her early 1990 biography entitled The Invisible Woman.

This told the remarkable story of Dickens secret love affair with the actress Ellen ‘Nelly’ Ternan when he was a married man of 45 with 10 children and she was just 18.

And a new film version of the saga, retaining The Invisible Woman title, directed and starring Ralph Fiennes as the author of Great Expectations – Dickens was writing it when he fell in love – has just had its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

Modest as ever, Claire is nevertheless enamoured with the end result but told Marlborough News Online:  “A triumph at 80? I think not.  They still make films about Shakespeare.”

She was approached three years ago by Ralph Fiennes after numerous attempts to film The Invisible Woman fell by the wayside, but this time she played a consultancy role in its production and has already seen the end result several times.

“Ralph is wonderful, a perfect Dickens,” she declared.  “He was born to play Dickens and was so determined to make it work.

“The whole thing is beautifully done.  Felicity Jones is marvellous as Nelly and the film has had such generous reviews.  They have all done a terrific job.”

The movie, unlike Claire’s biography, provides a part for Dickens’ friend Wilkie Collins, played by Tom Hollander, at an appropriate moment as a major new biography by Andrew Lycett of the author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone was published last week.

“Of course Wilkie was there and it is perfectly legitimate for them to do so,” said Claire.  "He went off on trips to Paris with Dickens."

Scriptwriter Abi Morgan continually consulted Claire, who revealed:  “I was allowed to criticise as she went along.  At one stage I was asked to help her write it.  But that was not for me.

“Writing a film is very different to a biography.  A film is fiction.  What I wrote is fact.”

Meanwhile she is looking forward to the Marlborough Lit Festival.  “I’m a bit worn out at the moment,” she admitted.  “But I shall enjoy coming to Marlborough.  Everyone there is so nice.”

Although the UK release date for the movie is not until next year, the film has already enjoyed critical approval, the Telegraph’s Tim Robey declaring: “Fluid, handsome and confidently contained, it benefits from the actor-manager air of Fiennes's presence as Charles Dickens, which is bustling and authoritative but frequently offstage.

“The film's main character is the altogether sadder Nelly Ternan, the young, aspiring actress whose affair with Dickens in his later years Claire Tomalin handled in her book of the same name.

“Felicity Jones takes the role, and very accomplished she is too.  Abi Morgan's script – better, for my money, than her work on either Shame or The Iron Lady – elegantly straddles two timelines to illuminate a deliberately obscured life, opening the book at both ends on this other woman and her divided state of being.”

Tobey adds: “Dickens's relationship to the theatre world, rarely explored on screen, is a major asset here, giving Oscar-winning costume designer Michael O'Connor (The Duchess) plenty of scope to flex his imagination.

“The milieu plays to Fiennes's strengths, too – his film's splendid on both the shonky, hurried artifice of period staging and the evanescent magic that's still capable of bursting through.

“There's dry comedy in these scenes, thanks to a reliably mischievous Tom Hollander cameo as the floppy-haired Wilkie Collins, but it's also, exactly as any portrait of the performing arts should be - a world of tactful phoniness, smiling lies….

“The film's tough enough to ponder the irony of a famously compassionate novelist turning a blind eye to the upsets his own life caused – on top of its overall class, this gives it a needed edge of controversy, too.”

Claire Tomalin will be appearing at the Marlborough Literary Festival, sponsored by Brewin Dolphin, on Saturday, September 28.

For tickets phone 01249 701628.

How Dickens was torn between love and social suicide

Ralph Fiennes has presented his own very different – and disturbing -- view of the remarkable Charles Dickens in the new movie The Invisible Woman, in an interview he gave at the Toronto Film Festival.

"Dickens was tormented, he had huge extremes of emotion,” he said.  “We tend to get the sort of Christmas card Dickens – the smiling, jolly father-figure, entertaining the family.  But when you read about him, you can identify this very disturbed man: a man in anguish."

He sees him as a complex character torn between love and social suicide, which has reverberations in the novelist's work, and added:  “Great Expectations was written when we know he was involved with Ellen Ternan (played by Felicity Jones).

“And Felicity and I had a lot of conversations about the degree to which Estella might be inspired by Nelly.  It's very interesting the extent to which you can identify elements of Nelly in many of his female characters, especially in his later books.”

Though Claire Tomalin's biography stops short of declaring the couple definitely suffered a miscarriage, 50-year-old Fiennes is confident in his film's changed version of events between him and Ellen Ternan.

"Claire argues that although there is no absolute proof, she believes there was certainly consummation,” he revealed.  “And absolutely she believes there was a child, even possibly two.  Other biographers have started to acknowledge that this is probably the best bet."

The couple also spent time in France, and great chunks of time are unaccounted for in Dickens's diaries.  "France was the place people went to in England when they had to deal with illegitimate births,” Fiennes explains.  “So I just followed the hints and the leads that Claire writes."

But Fiennes also felt it was important not to sensationalise the story of passion and infidelity.

"I was wary of the quick leap to judgment – 'Dickens was a scoundrel.'  An Irish friend of mine said, 'Oh he was a bit of a bollocks, wasn't he.'

“But there's a whole spectrum of Dickens.  He was very loyal to his friends, incredibly generous, devoted to social causes that he really delivered on, wrote these amazing books, and then at home possibly was a very difficult father figure."

Fiennes in fact had barely any contact with the immortalised novelist until he started work on the film.

"It's true that I was pretty ignorant about Dickens,” he admitted.  “I'd read Little Dorritt and seen some films, but Dickens had never been prescribed to me and I had never chosen to go through the canon of his work.

“And in a way that may have been a plus, I came open, and became completely fascinated."





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Thursday is date for literature lovers' diaries as Marlborough LitFest tickets go on sale

Jackie KayJackie KaySome of the biggest names in literature will be descending on Marlborough in September... and we'll find out who when the programme is confirmed and tickets go on general sale this week.

The Marlborough Lit Fest will be opening its box office on Thursday (July 4) to sell tickets for the 22 events that will be held over a three-day period between September 27 and 29.

Some big names have already been confirmed. This year’s Golding Speaker – performing at an event named in honour of local author William Golding – will be acclaimed author and playwright, Fay Weldon, who is known for her trademark joie de vivre style and feminist slant as well as discussing the war between the sexes. 

Awarded a CBE in 2001 for services to literature, she has been writing fiction for 50 years, spanning 34 novels, numerous TV dramas, including the pilot episode of Upstairs Downstairs, several radio plays, five stage plays, five collections of short stories and currently teaches creative writing at the University of Brunel. 

Fay will be discussing her latest novel, Long Live The King – the second in her Love And Inheritance trilogy. Set in 1901 London as the coronation of Edward VII approaches, it continues the lives and loves, morals, manners and misbehaviour of the aristocratic Dilberne family and their servants below stairs.

Fay will be opening the LitFest at 7.30pm on Friday, September 27at the Town Hall.

Headlining Saturday's lineup, Claire Tomalin is one of the UK’s most respected literary biographers and her work includes books on Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys and Thomas Hardy.

Her most recent book, Charles Dickens - A Life, vividly portrays the energy, complexity and contradictions of the 19th century novelist, as well as historical detail of the time he was writing. 

Claire was Literary Editor of The New Statesman and The Sunday Times and is married to novelist and playwright Michael Frayn, who appeared at the LitFest last year. Claire will be appearing at 7.30pm on Saturday 28 September at the Town Hall.

And a big LitFest welcome will be reserved for Carol Ann Duffy, who will be closing the festival on Sunday, September 29. 

The UK’s current poet laureate and the first woman to be awarded the position, her poetry has won many awards, including the Whitbread Prize.

She has written for both children and adults, addressing issues such as oppression, gender and violence in an accessible language which has made her writing popular in schools.

Carol Ann’s poetry is now part of the National Curriculum for both GCSE and A Level English. Carol Ann will be performing from 7.30pm at Marlborough College.

Other festival attractions include The LitFest Café, which will be open all weekend in the Town Hall, providing a welcome refreshment stop for visitors between author talks.

And in The Marlborough Big Town Read – a new initiative for 2013 – organisers are encouraging fiction fans to pick up a copy of Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay. The author will be at the Assembly Rooms from 4pm on Sunday, September 29 to give a talk and answer questions about her work, and White Horse Bookshop is offering the title at a discount. 

Red Dust Road was the selected read for World Book Night earlier this year, and non-regular readers were offered free copies of the book through Wiltshire Libraries. 

Mavis Cheek, founder patron of the festival, said: “The LitFest puts the very best of writing first, we don't invite celebrities, and two of our previous guests are on the Granta list for the 20 top young writers. 

“We are thrilled with this year’s attendees and look forward to another successful year.”

Tickets will be available from the LitFest website at or directly from the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough from Thursday.

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Author AN Wilson to reveal his own dynasty as he gives thanks for the birth of Prince George

AN Wilson, pic: Magali DelporteAN Wilson, pic: Magali DelporteControversial author and columnist AN Wilson will not doubt enjoy his visit to the Marlborough Literary Festival at the end of the month -- because he is a true monarchist and admirer of the Duchess of Cambridge, who was educated at Marlborough College.

And so too was the late Poet Laureate John Betjeman, the subject of one of Wilson’s admired biographies.

Wilson will be revealing his own surprising antecedents, exposed in his first novel for five years, called The Potter’s Hand, in which he explains that his father was managing director of the famed Wedgwood factory, and that his grandfather too was a master potter.

But very much the historian, his interest in the royal dynasty is linked to the birth of Prince George since, at 62, Wilson has had his own “awe-inspiring experience” and the thrill of becoming a grandfather – he has six grandchildren of his own.

“How much more must this be the case with the birth of a great-grandchild,” he writes.  “And with a royal great-grandchild, the feelings are shared by everyone who has an interest in the future of the monarchy and of our country.

“The great-grandmother in this story has not been a passive observer.  Now the Duchess of Cambridge has had her son, the Queen will know that she has secured her dynasty, and the monarchy, up to three generations into the future — perhaps into the 22nd century.

“The Queen will know that she has secured her dynasty.  This is not something purely accidental.  It is something in which, discreetly, she has been more involved than many people would think.”

Writing in the Daily Mail, Wilson praises Her Majesty or steering the monarchy out of trouble waters, something she has been able to do because she gets on so well with Prince William with whom – since the death of his mother Princess Diana – she has enjoyed a warm relationship.

And she realises too that the best hope for the future of the Crown was for Prince William to marry for love.

“Republicans like Tony Benn have always reiterated that the monarchy is just the apex of a pyramid of privilege from which ‘ordinary people’ are shut out,” adds Wilson.

“The Queen’s extraordinary  triumph — and the single  most valuable gift she bequeaths to her new great-grandchild — is to have made those  arguments seem oddly quaint and irrelevant…

“In spite of her diffidence and her innately small-c conservative nature, this is the woman who has transformed the British monarchy.”

AN Wilson will be appearing at the Marlborough Literary Festival, sponsored by Brewin Dolphin, on Saturday, September 28.

For tickets phone 01249 701628.

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Once you are 80 you have the advantage to babble on at parties says Marlborough Litfest star Fay Weldon

Fay WeldonFay WeldonOld age has its advantages, according to Fay Weldon, at 81 the author of more than 30 novels, who has been given the honour of being Golding Author at the forthcoming Marlborough LitFest in September.

The title celebrates Marlborough’s link with William Golding, the Nobel Laureate and Booker Prize winner, who grew up in Marlborough and taught at its original grammar school.

Fay’s 34 provocative novels include The Fat Woman's Joke, Growing Rich and What Makes Women Happy, and her work for film and TV includes the original Upstairs, Downstairs series, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil and Pride and Prejudice.

And interviewed in the June edition of The Oldie magazine, Fay, now living with her third husband in Dorset, is asked whether wisdom comes with age?

“Yes, if only because you know what’s going to happen next inasmuch as something like it has happened before,” she replies.  “Some people think it makes you cynical, but you’re not.”

Before you reach 80, you pretend you’re younger, but when you’re 80 you realise there are advantages to age, she insists.

“You can babble on at parties.  Once upon a time you’d go away thinking, ‘Oh my God, did I make any sense?’

“Nowadays you know it doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t matter.  I don’t feel any different but the world looks at you differently.

“The natural thing is for the young to wish the old to be dead.  But more and more we just won’t die.  So many of us.”

Indeed, Fay, whose latest historical novel, Long Live the King, was published last month, worries about attitudes today compared with the world in which she grew up.

“One only knows one’s own little pocket of the world,” she says.  “Mine seems in a worse state then when I arrived (from New Zealand) in 1946.

“There was a feeling, then, of building things, of hope and change, and people working together to survive, far more than there is now.

“The world looks very gloomy to younger generations.  We had the best of it.”

Once an icon for feminists whom she has also outraged, Fay is asked where she stands now.

“I didn’t set out to preach,” she explains.  “I was writing novels in which there was a view of the world around me dictated by the society we were living in.

“Life was grossly unfair and insulting to women in the 1970s.  You think everybody must think the same as you but they don’t.  Later on I realised I was a middle-class woman trying to impose my opinions on women who really just wanted to get on and have babies.

“I think the vast majority would rather stay at home and be kept by a man and chatter to the neighbours than go to work.  If I didn’t have a particular sort of work that’s probably what I’d do.”

Fay will be interviewed by Valerie Grove when she takes part in the Martlborough LitFest.

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  • D812668
  • Silbury-Sunset---10-06-08-----07-2
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  • Marlborough-2013-04-18 St Peters-2
  • Town-Hall-2011-05-03 08-2
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  • IMG 9097-2
  • TdB-Pewsey 044
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  • IMG 8472-2
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  • Mop-Fair---10-10-09------08
  • Jazz Fest Sat 572
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