Saturday, March 1, 2014

The words that I needed

The Poldark saga came to PBS' Masterpiece Theatre in 1976.   In rural Indiana in those days, our television reception wasn't the best from either Fort Wayne or South Bend, but each Sunday evening I somehow managed to watch an episode of Poldark.  I was awaiting the birth of my first child -- she'll be 38 this coming week -- and hoped I wouldn't be in the hospital on a Sunday.  I wasn't.  (And she escaped being born on 29 February, which was her original due date!)

Just a couple of weeks ago, one of my online friends announced that her library had acquired copies of some of Winston Graham's "Poldark" books and wondered if the series was good.   I told her she would love them.  I owned the first seven volumes, had read three subsequent books, but had never got around to the last two.  I determined that evening to acquire the rest of the books, and immediately ordered used copies from . . . various places.  The last of them arrived just this past Tuesday.  I haven't had time to read them yet, but that's high on my priority list for what looks to be a fairly lazy, very rainy week-end.

But by 1976 I'd been a devourer of historical romances for 15 years or more; Graham's novels were not my introduction to the genre.  The post-Woodiwiss boom was in full flower, and I had already written a couple of novels myself.  Whether my exposure to Poldark sealed my fate or not, I'll never know, but I would certainly not deny it.

My daughter was born in March of 1976, my son in July 1977, so I had my hands full for the next few years.  But in spare moments here and there I found the time to flesh out a slightly gothicky, slightly swashbuckling novel that had been percolating in my brain for a while.  It's never been published, and probably won't be, though I suppose it has potential.  Through that experience, however, I studied and practiced the various aspects of the art of writing, so that by the time I started Legacy of Honor in 1980, I felt more confident that I'd created a story worth sharing.

Legacy was, of course, the child of many parents, including Frank Yerby, Samuel Shellabarger, Leslie Turner White, Rafael Sabatini . . . and Winston Graham.  My writing was also influenced by my visual experience of movies and television.  I wrote as I "saw" the scenes in my mind, as if they were played out on a big screen in a theatre or a little screen in my living room.  And so I "heard" the voices of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone and Olivia de Havilland . . . and Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees.

(Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive)

Legacy of Honor begins in Paris, adventures through Russia, and ends in Cornwall.  I've never been to Cornwall (or Russia, for that matter), but in writing the scenes I drew upon Daphne du Maurier's novels and her non-fiction Vanishing Cornwall, and upon what I remembered of the BBC Poldark series.  We had no internet then, no world wide web and Google with its millions upon millions of photographs and videos.  I built up a small but very precious personal library of books on Cornwall, and did the best I could.

The past couple of years, since I began republishing some of my novels including Legacy of Honor, I've struggled to find the time to write new stories.  Though my children are now grown and on their own, other responsibilities demand my time and attention.  As much as I want to write, as many stories are still bubbling and simmering in my brain, I never seem to find the time.

Then the process of editing Legacy last summer and getting it ready for digital publication really brought back the marvelous, indescribable pleasure I always got from writing.  I knew I needed to get back to it.

A few weeks ago, right around the same time I decided to order the final five volume of the Poldark saga, I resolved to take concrete steps to make more writing time.  I won't bore you with the details of that, but I feel more determined than ever to get back to doing what I love instead of just what I feel obligated to do.  It's not going to be easy, but I've actually made some progress in that direction.

What prompted all this?  I don't know.  Maybe it was that friend's comment that turned me back in the direction of Winston Graham and the Poldark books.  Maybe, maybe.

I not only purchased the last five books in the series; I also ordered the companion book Graham wrote, Poldark's Cornwall.  I've only had a few minutes to skim through it, not read anything, yet it sits here beside me, a temptation I have to resist if I'm going to take care of the day job, the dogs, the house, the everything that commands my time and energy.

With one of my other online friends I tease that it's been a series of "omens" that has been slowly propelling me back to writing, away from the frustrations of the day job that barely meets my financial needs.  From a friend's chance mention of a former publisher's obituary to a chance encounter with an old writing friend online, I laugh and say they aren't really omens and I'm not really superstitious (I'm not), but yeah, there's always that little bit of doubt, that little bit of . . . maybe.  Maybe.

My budget doesn't allow for many extravagances, but as I eased back into writing and reading and publishing, building up a library of digital editions of both old and new books, I splurged on another Poldark-related book, actor Robin Ellis's brief memoir Making Poldark.  Part of it was to recapture that visual sense, that ability to write, as someone put it, cinematographically.   And part of it was to reconnect with the sense of adventure and romance.

A year or so later, I splurged on another luxury, this time the expanded version of Ellis's memoir.  And I subscribed to his blog, admittedly out of silly romanticism while I tried to find my writing stride again, but also because there had been some other odd omens ... which of course aren't omens because I don't believe in them.

Today I woke up to a day of threatening rain.  We desperately need rain in our Arizona deserts, but that's always the case.  I had hoped maybe if it rained and I couldn't do anything else, I'd find some time to curl up with all those new (to me, at least) Poldark books.  All the obligations and responsibilities remain, of course.  They don't go away just because it's raining or because I want to read.  I still have three art shows coming up in the next few weeks that I'm not ready for.  I still have a house that needs cleaning.  I still have the day job, waiting as always.

But today there is another omen, another reminder from the cosmos or karma or fate or whatever, that what I really want to do, more than anything, is write.

The BBC is going to remake Poldark.


  1. Do you remember the Angelique stories? By Serge and ???, I think Colon? They were brilliantly sappy and wonderful!

    1. I do remember them! In fact, I have the complete set, by Serge and Anne Golon -- which became "Sergeanne Golon" for the last few. Ah, another stack of books to read . . . .