The words on Alan Ross’s gravestone could hardly be simpler: ‘Writer, poet and editor’. They could scarcely be more accurate either, although one wonders whether their subject might have given his commitment to poetry pride of place. Alan is buried in the churchyard in Clayton, the Sussex village where he lived for twenty-five years and where he knew great happiness. That happiness was particularly precious to a man who also experienced the fathomless miseries of depression. In Coastwise Lights (1988), his second volume of autobiography, Alan writes,
Our house, which in its day had been successively Roman villa, farm and, more recently, rectory, looked westwards through an orchard, past Clayton church and farm, towards the great hump of Wolstonebury, whose slopes were rusted with beech woods. Sheer to the south the sky was bisected by the line of the Downs, crowding in and falling away as far as the eye could see.
Chelsea was another of Alan’s haunts and his life in literary London also features prominently in the book; he lived in an Elm Park Gardens flat immediately after the war and died in a cottage in Elm Park Lane in 2001. This metropolitan base was essential for work: Alan was the editor of London Magazine for forty years, during which time he offered encouragement and hope to very many aspiring writers who wondered doubtfully whether a literary life was for them. Such blessings are still available to those who read his four volumes of autobiography or his other prose about travel, cricket and India. Poetry, though, lies at the heart of all his work.
Coastwise Lights begins roughly where Blindfold Games, Alan’s first volume of autobiography, ends. Having recently left the navy, we find him in the post-war world attempting to make a living by writing. Yet even more than its predecessor, the second book tries to marry a broad linear narrative with a detailed account of episodes
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