A Flat Head? EJ Howard, writing and the waterways…

3 Jan

One of our local librarians managed to push aside the fear of her own redundancy in order to try and engage with me. There I was.  Wild eyed and raddled mother of second, newborn baby. Desperate for something both entertaining and intelligent to get me through the wee small hours of brain and boobie-overdrive boredom…

Without Anon Librarian-Lady, I would never have heard of Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Or the Cazalet chronicles. Without Unknown Kirklees Library-Lass, I would never have ended up corresponding with E J Howard herself.

All it took was a certain librarian making a certain recommendation (sans Amazon, sans Kindle estimates of previous-purchases help…) “Oh – judging from your returned books – I think that you will like EJ Howard and the Cazalet chronicles – we don’t lend them out enough these days. A real shame!”

And this was…what? Some FOUR years before BBC Radio 4 decided to credit Elizabeth J Howard for her societal, spiritual, humanitarian and yes – beautiful prose, dialogue and character-observation.

Oh, dearest BBC Radio 4 commissioners I hate to say this, but yes. I really want to say ‘I told you so.’ Elizabeth’s writing was and is amazing.  Tasty, profound, political – without being preachy. Even though many of her contemporaries – and especially the Literahti – perceive her to be ‘domestic, upper class. old fashioned commercial women’s fiction’

Cobblers, my fellas. Just read her stuff.

And yes, how I wish that Radio 4 had re-discovered her before the very recent time where her Cazalet Chronicles were snatched up as new fodder for a Radio 4 audience who had enjoyed ‘Downton Abbey’ etc… But hey. Better now, than never.

I was fortunate to have been able to correspond with her directly.  She was an exceptionally rare person. A woman able to disreguard the birth prejudices of all of us in terms of economic family of origin.  A fellow ‘starting writer in heart’ even though she soared above us all.  She adored books, grassroots, off-the-wall, boho society. She admired socialism, quakerism and pacifist thought. She venerated books and the ‘simple life’. Here was a woman who ‘way back when’ had braved the infamous Standedge Tunnel and who still admired those crazies of us, who still square ourselves up for that all too rare  200 years old tunnel experience right here and now on the waterways today.

And poignantly, she admired and priorised the extended family. She was a subtle reminder to us all that ‘love affairs’ of the heart can and do change but that actually ‘being a parent’ has nothing to do with whether you have actually given birth or not.That parenting per se goes far beyond biology, paperwork and gushing sentiment…

As for me, I will never forget her kind responses and encouragements to my yearning to write whilst being a mother to small children. And that particular encouragement as to how parking the mammoth Cazalet chronicles on the noggin of child number two might not simply lead to a ‘peculiarly shaped, flat-head’…. but also might lead to a life-long love of books and learning…

ej howard

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