Victoria Clayton
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Victoria Clayton

I was a morbidly sensitive child, prone to tears and nightmares but a term at boarding school changed all that. It was do or die so I became as sarcastic and puncturing as I knew how. We were taught nothing later than T.S.Eliot so I read Becket, Pinter, Ionesco, Wesker, and Corso. Anyone in fact who I felt was persona non grata. It was tough going and I'm glad to say I've never had to read them since. After four years I was asked to leave for subversive behaviour, (a mystery to this day - there seemed no scope for anything so enticing). I went to Cambridge Tech. to do my A levels and began to read in earnest.

Then began a life-long love affair with Charles Dickens. I don't mind the extravagant names or the droopy heroines or the sequential episodes. Because he wrote them I love them. I suspend disbelief as one must with friends, children, husbands or any of one's loves. George Eliot takes second place. Anthony Trollope is prolix, thank God. Tolstoy's novels are deliciously fat. Jane Austen, naturally, Mrs Gaskell and George Meredith, less obviously, have a place in my affections. I've been dragged through the heather countless times by the Bronte sisters. Richardson is a strange but undeniable treat, attenuated to breaking point, but compulsive.

I moved to London and tried myself out as a urbanite. I continued to rebel as much as I could but it never seemed to amount to very much. I'm sorry to have to acknowledge that, from the moment of leaving school, men had a disproportionate effect on my feelings, decisions and orientations. If I confess that I always liked good-looking men rather than kind ones the alert reader of this autobiography will be able to imagine for themselves the frequent troughs of my existence. I am grateful now to find that all that unhappiness was not after all a waste of time and that those disaffinities are useful material for novels. Unfortunately a paralysis of ideas occurs whenever I try to write about people or places I actually know. Experience has to be dissolved in imagination and reproduced as fiction so the sweetness of revenge will never be tasted by me.

Sickening of town life I moved to Wales and tried the rural idyll. I had some masochistic aim of testing my powers of endurance. I know now that they are exceedingly limited. I bought a hill farm of 365 acres with forty cows and two hundred sheep. There was no electricity and no plumbing. It was a return to eighteenth century life but without the appropriate world-view. I've never ceased to be grateful for the electric light switch and the tap since then. There were days of enormous pleasure - sheep-shearing, hay-making, butter-making, rearing chicks and so forth - but generally farming is a matter of moving from crisis to crisis. The machinery won't work, animals wander into bogs or fall victim to epidemics. The bitter fact of farming is that something is being exploited for exclusively human benefit. It was so very bloody and muddy that after three years of reading by candlelight and squeezing my fingers into my ears every time some hapless creature had its life tortured out of it I threw away any notion of loving my brothers and sisters and getting to Nirvana and went to live on my own on Skye. By this time I had written two novels for children which were published and were reasonably well received.*

After six months wintering on Skye in a picturesque game-keeper's cottage I found out, once and for all that scenery does not make up for the most basic human interaction. I went to Cambridge to read English as a mature student. Now my reading was properly broadened to include Spenser, Milton, Dryden, Hume, Coleridge, and many others it would be tedious to list. At long last I had made a step in the right direction. I married straight after finals and entered a golden period of domesticity, with children, house and garden in the country, animals and hens. It is, I suppose, another fantasy life but one actually enjoyable in the living.

I tried to go on writing for children but I had grown up, finally, and could no longer remember just how it feels to be a child. Jane Wood, Publishing Director of Orion, encouraged me to try my hand at writing for adults. I had written such stories in my head during lacunae in my life, waiting for babies and aeroplanes, and Out of Love (my first novel, 1997) was there already in essence. It's my idea of how life ought to be, with the unattractive elements of life excised. Diana has all the pleasure of tidying up other people's messes which tact generally prohibits. I've always been interested in style, both literary and domestic. As far as the former is concerned I have tried only to convey a sense of place and character, without adornment, eschewing temptation to poetry or oratory. The times are kinder to a fascination with domestic style. The liberal revolution of the late twentieth century has robbed novelists of all the good plots - honour, illegitimacy, sinful loves, fine shades of behaviour - but there is still an interest in the day to day details of other people's lives. In the past the human race, heroes and heroines anyway, struggled for spiritual purity, to win a place in Heaven. Now we want exclusive clothes, superior olive oil, lean bodies, satisfactory sex.

My idea of a small good novel is The Nebuly Coat by J Meade Faulkner. I should like, one day to achieve something approaching that. The great nineteenth century novels were spawned by the age as well as individual talent. They were novels with fat on them. Readers had time and inclination for divagation. Nowadays novels must be stripped to the sinews. The ground-breaking novels of the twentieth century, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, David Jones, William Burroughs, D H Lawrence etc are beyond my reach. I shudder at the idea of depressing myself or anyone else. I am more than happy if my novels give their readers a few hours whole-hearted entertainment.

Victoria Clayton

Work in progress:
My latest novel 'Stormy Weather' is now published as a Kindle e-book. Follow this link .

I have started work on another one in a different genre. More news on that in due course.

I am reissuing my early novels as e-books. 'Out of Love', 'Past Mischief', 'Dance with Me' and 'Running Wild' will all be available in the Amazon Kindle Store by Christmas 2012. The short stories which used to be available here are now collected into a Kindle book which will be free to download.

I started a weblog a while ago as somewhere to jot down my thoughts about the things that interest me day to day and occupy my thoughts when not writing a novel. A year on it developed beyond the first entry. Two years on, a few more. You can visit it here.