The fault lines of Marlborough that created its great writer William Golding
He lived on a fault line split between reality and fantasy that ran through the heart of Marlborough. Though he tried to escape, it was the fault line that provided the inspiration and the energy for his magnificent writing.
It was born out of his childhood fear of the dark, his belief there was something spooky lurking among the Saxon bricks in the cellar, and the demons and dragons he encountered walking in Savernake forest.
And William Golding, Nobel laureate of literature, knight of the realm, Booker Prize winner and author of the acclaimed novels Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors, was still afraid of the dark when he was approaching 60.
His daughter, Judy Carver, revealed the surprising past when she returned home to Marlborough on Sunday to talk about her family memoir, The Children of Lovers, at the Marlborough Literary Festival.
That too was a surprise. For though she was conceived in the house nearby on The Green, and grew up in Marlborough, it was the first time she had entered the town hall, which she recognised as depicted in her father’s novel, The Pyramids.
“Marlborough meant different things to my father to what it meant to me,” she told the packed audience. “He grew up here, he loved it but he also felt he needed to escape. People do need to escape from their home town, the place where their parents are and where expectations shape them.”
“For me, I love coming here because of my grandparents, my adored grandfather, who taught at the grammar school and was so wonderful.”
“When he died, my grandparents gave up the old house on The Green. It was like being exiled from the place I loved. And I have never quite recovered from that feeling.”
But she still offered to show people the room where she was conceived in her grandparents’ great brass bed after they generously gave up their bedroom to her parents during World War II.
“Marlborough I think, and this is probably contentious in many people’s views, was really crucial in developing my father as a writer, partly because of his desire to escape, as we all do into fantasy and, into his case, it became books,” she pointed out.
The raw material, the important images Marlborough provided, came from the spooky cellar of the house on The Green, possibly once part of the cemetery, old bones being found there.
“It was a place where he said coffins crashed into the cellar walls and a dreadful old crone lived there. It was quite a frightening house, and that is one of the essential elements in my father’s life,” she explained.
“It’s like an intellectual and spiritual fault line which runs for him right through Marlborough…All his life he was frightened of the dark. And there was a lot of dark at 29 The Green in those days.”
“When he was a child there was no electric light upstairs. He describes going to bed in the dark and pleading with his mother for a candle. She threw him a candlestick, a candle and an old box of matches.”
“And obviously to be frightened of the dark and then frightened of your mother isn’t welcome…Even when he was nearly 60 he was still capable real fear.”
He suffered experiences too walking in Savernake Forest as a child. On one occasion, at winter dusk, they apparently disappeared from view after he had whined asking to be carried.
“And this tiny tot thought he was lost in the great dark forest,” said Judy. “At one point he saw over a patch of bracken the enormous head of a stag, staring at him with terrible indifference. That sense of the forest as a place of darkness and a threat stayed with him all his life.”
It was his fears and his imagination that created the energy for his writing. “He knew that for him Marlborough was this fantastic resource and he needed really to keep it that way as a place of imagination. So though he left Marlborough, I don’t think Marlborough ever left him.”
She then read an extract of unpublished early writing by her father describing a walk they went on together that was overwhelmed by thousands of migrating starlings – an event that former mayor Nick Fogg, who introduced the talk, described as a world exclusive.”
More intimate details of her bitter-sweet memories followed during question time, Judy revealing how her parents focused their lives on each other and how she and her brother felt excluded, the title of her memoir taken from the quotation, The children of lovers are orphans.
“feel rather ashamed, that this is rather extreme because we weren’t the children of orphans,” she confessed. “The answer is that perhaps sometimes we were not well loved – and I even feel terrible saying it.”
“I always felt that we weren’t that important. Children should feel they are the most important people in the world. To be honest, I think it was because my father was a writer and you could feel him sometimes just drift away.”
“He was a wonderful man to be around. He was fascinating, informed, stimulating, played the piano, did everything. But it hard to be hard to be the hero of your own life when your parents are like that, I’m afraid.”
And she added: “There was a tremendous amount of benefit by being his daughter because of who he was. It was not until I got to university that I began to realise that people looked at me slightly strangely.”
“At that age you think people look at your strangely all the time. The honest answer is that everyone thinks their parents are a bit odd.”