Thursday, October 14, 2010
Three Men in a Boat
Here is the image of the front cover of a new novel. It is also part of a tale of synchronicity. Three or four decades ago (my mind is sharp on image and blurry on time) you would have found three men with a modicum of middle age adorning their skin, sitting in an old attic, like the upturned hull of a barge and reading poetry and prose to each other. As I recall, it was a ripening experience. All three of us went on to write, in our various media. One was Mike Mackmin and one was Lindsay Clarke. The other day he sent me this poem:
THE STILLNESS OF THE FOREST
Ghana. Dry season. Nineteen Sixty-Three.
the heat was dropsical, and if we felt
the need to swim we’d drive for hours along
the road the JCBs had opened through
two hundred humid miles of forest
till we reached the coast at Winneba
where palm fronds rattled in the breeze
and lush Atlantic combers surfed the beach.
I can smell the stillness of that forest now –
the steam already rising off the bush
at dawn, the grey, high-buttressed trunks
of Odum trees, a hot mist sauntering
across the canopy, the cobwebs strung
from branch to bough, green strobes of sunlight
shuttered by the leaves. And if you took away
the road, the world had always been like this.
So I remember the relief of breaking out
on to the coastal plain – that breathing space
of scrubby grass and sand abased beneath
unshaded sun. And if you’d told me then
that long before I came to write this poem
those close-packed multitudes of trees would all
be gone, I would have called you fanciful,
and had my swim; then turned back for the long drive home.
He spent three years in Ghana but his memories of it remain powerful and are still helping to form him. His first novel was called Sunday Whiteman which leant more than a little upon his time here.
Meanwhile, across the road in a terraced house in Norwich, I met a white woman who had lived in Ghana. She had had some success with a children’s novel called Ashanti Boy.
Fast forward our lives and here I am, beyond prediction, in Ghana, living, writing.… Meanwhile, no less in this country, though physically in the softer climes of Somerset, England, Lindsay has just published The Water Theatre. Ghana permeates it. The pull of this country does not end.
So, this blog is a preview of his new book, as I await its arrival here in Accra. I am certain it is a fine novel and a testament to Ghana’s capacity to seduce and stimulate. The reviews suggest as much. To have kept the forest fires of West African experience alive and then to have tempered them in literary steel, is
a gift from the ancient gods…
Read it. I shall.