2. Angela Brazil
She insists on us going for a walk. “It will do you good,” she says. “Physical exercise isn’t something to be shirked from. Consider it part of your duty towards yourself.”
“Sure,” I say.
“That’s an imprecise statement.”
“Well,” I say, “Yes. But-”
“Is that how everyone talks where you’re from?”
“A sample of one isn’t particularly representative.”
“You read me.”
“Yes,” I say, “Well, but-”
“That’s just your sentence rearranged.” She looks appalled. She’s the sort of woman who does appalled very well. I suspect she would be appalled easily and then move on; a sort of torrent of disapproval that never quite stops long enough in one space for the disapproval to make sense. “At least try to find something else to say, or at the least this will prove to be a very redundant exercise and the interview will be appalling.”
I resist the urge to smile. “Well,” I say, and then when I catch her eye, I apologise. “Sorry. Okay. Maybe we start there, with language? Your language is so distinctive.”
“Yes,” she says, and she’s already striding off in front of me. “It’s theatrical, really, heightened for literary effect, but I really do pride myself on being able to write how girls speak. I mean, they don’t speak like that normally, I suspect, and especially not today, but my girls do.”
That note of possessiveness interests me. “Who’s your girl?”
She spins around. “My girl,” she says, in a way that makes me think she’s been waiting for this question, “She’s an individual. Through and through. Does the best she can in whatever the circumstances. Puts her friends and family first. Plays up, and plays the game.”
I know I’m going to regret my reply. I do it anyway. She’s having that affect on me. “Isn’t that – a bit – self-sacrificing?” And for the first time since I got here, I feel her start to pay attention to me.
“No,” she says. “Is that what you think?”
“No,” I say with equal frankness, “But I can see it being a reading of your work when it’s presented in a certain way.”
“Can’t anything be presented in a certain way when you present it?” She’s not moved. There’s a half-opened gate between us. The country code being flouted with every breath we take. In the distance, sheep pretend to not notice us.
I nod, and step through the gate. “Fair point,” I say, “But defend yourself from such an allegation.” Please defend yourself, I think.
She shrugs. “I don’t see why I should,” and closes the gate behind us. But she doesn’t move, just stands there in her crisp and sharp tweed and sensible shoes, and when she looks back in my direction, I start to realise she’s looking past me. I’m not here at all.
“Sometimes,” she says eventually, “I wonder as to why people have this urge to denigrate things. It seems to be such a peculiarly human instinct, this need to critique and pull down things created by another. And it is such a simple, pure thing, this act of creation, this act of doing, and yet, you have people who deny you your voice because you have not made the thing that they wanted you to make.”
And I think of the denial of her work, of her impact, and I can do nothing but lean back onto the fence and let her speak.
“I bought land, you know, to save it from development. It was not that I did not wish it be developed, but rather that I wanted to have it understood as land. Does that make sense? I wonder if it does. I wanted it to be understood not as a blank canvas, but rather somewhere with a soul. A spirit. The voice of the earth, as it were.My girls understand the natural world. They respect it. And I have always felt sad that this attitude is not so easily replicated in the waking world.”
She falls silent, and so I dare to speak, in this still and precise Rothko-bright landscape. “The waking world?”
“Fairies,” she says, brief and cursory, “Magic. It’s all real, we’re just too foolish to see it.”
It’s a note that might surprise me from somebody else, but I sort of expected it from her. The only problem is that now, having said that, she’s halfway across the field and about to disappear into the treeline. She doesn’t stop. There’s an air of urgency about her, as though she has to be somewhere and do something before it gets done by somebody else. No, that’s a poor way to express it. This isn’t about interfering, or bossiness, but rather a sense of responsibility. Whether it’s right or wrong, I don’t know, but that’s what it is.
I catch up to her at the edge of the field, and she’s looking up and down the trees. She’s lost. I gesture towards the right. “We head towards the top,” I say, “There should be a gate and then we can start to double back.”
“Past the sheep?”
I nod. “Past the sheep.”
“Excellent,” she says. “Do try to keep up.”
(You can read my prior conversation with Enid Blyton here...)