William Golding was the only writer I have ever pursued. An Angry Young novel I wrote in three weeks when up at Cambridge, The Breaking of Bumbo, outsold Lord of the Flies that year for Faber & Faber. This was ludicrous, but it was followed by Golding’s kindness when I wrote to him. He sent me an open invitation to visit him by the watercress beds at Bowerchalke, halfway between Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge –midway between the new and the ancient faiths.
Not long afterwards I was walking from Glastonbury to Canterbury along the Hard Way near Avebury with only a pound in my pocket, when the deluge from the heavens became too much, even for one trying to write a novel about the myths of Britain. Towards dinner and sodden, I knocked on Bill and Anne Golding’s door and they let me in and dried me out. Two bottles of red wine and chess with Bill followed, and then he played his gifted Liszt on the piano. Next morning he drove me back to the hill forts on the downs to complete my journey, sleeping out and hardly eating, trying to change my perceptions.
Bill liked the resulting novel, Gog, for its passion about the matter of Britain: ‘“The lie of the land” does give it an organic quality, which I think is what you were after, organic in a Goggish kind of way, ungainly, thumping, outrageous, arcane, savaging, the land’s history seen – there’s no help for it, I have to purloin Hazlitt or is it Kean’s Lear? – by flashes of lightning!’
I had learned the feel of the land from him, the harshness of place, the ravage of time. Yet his own obsession had more to do with the sea than with the earth. A teacher of Classics and a seeker after God, he found in the struggle of men against the deep his Odysseys and his Leviathans. ‘I was born by it,’ he said. ‘I’ve sailed on it, fought on it, swum in it, photographed under it, been frightened by it and done most things you can do apart from drowni
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