Another amazing find
It was just two weeks after the discovery . of the Byron letters in the Pall Mall branch of Barclays Bank that I made my own startling find. There in a carrier bag, stuffed under my bed, [found a wodge of letters written to me during the past three years. They have yet to be edited, but a random selection gives some idea of the richness of thefind, whose value has already been estimated at three pounds.
A brief note that I can find time to write while Paddy is out at the pub getting some money back on the empties, Jesus and Mary, mother of God, how I wish I'd never come to this country in the first place. Not that I'd change the knowing of you for all the agonies of my own childhood, or at least the memory of it, by returning to the arid hell of the Connemara hills and all they meant to me and my mother as well and the grey pain of all the unfulfilment in Dublin itself; no, it's not that, my treasure, and I can call you that knowing that you love Doris Lessing more than I, it's simply—or is it perhaps difficultly—that the surfeit of everything black and sad about Dublin and that was lacking there for me, at any rate, is stifling my love for you and the gigantic desire that I have to write another bestseller. We will, I know, meet at another publisher's cocktail party soon. Until then, my Celtic love to you and hush your guilt.
Love, Edna That letter from Edna O'Brien is fairly typical of the sort of missile I was receiving after my divorce four years ago. But my first post-marital correspondents were by no means all women, as this letter from my psychiatrist, Dr Benno Brendel, proves.
Dear Mr Bernard
It is with regret that I notice that you have cancelled or failed to turn up for your last six appointments. I am beginning to wonder, are you confusing love with money? The last time you were here, you may remember that we discussed, at some length, your attitude towards women and your reluctance to pay for your mother's funeral which, I believe I am right in saying, took place some thirty years ago. '
You now owe me sixty pounds and while I am fully aware that your guilt was the problem we were working on I learn from another patient of mine, a charming gentleman from North London, that you owe your bookmaker no less than £564. Is your guilt, perhaps, an enormous fantasy ? Deliberate on this, write down all your anxiety dreams and please come and see me next Tuesday at 11 a.m.
Yours sincerely, Benno Brendel It was shortly after I received that letter that I was plunged into the depths of despair by the death of my dog Coxswain. Returning to my club, the Colony Room in Dean Street, after the funeral at Six Yard Bottom, I was to learn, much to my joy, that I had at least one friend.
Intrinsically, you don't have to tell me. Basically, I was brought up with animals. I know, and with regard to this one I really mean it, what it's like to lose something steeped in clay—you could call it the earth—
that's to say something that evokes childhood and all that's natural and simple and good. What I'm trying to say, and it probably isn't going to help, is if it would relieve the pain in any way, would you like to come on my new programme, 'Read Any Good Books Latterly?' The Beeb are giving me £700 a week for doing it and we're paying guests on the show two pounds an appearance. Think about it and if you fancy the idea, do come along.
Yours, Melvyn Only two days passed after that reassuring letter from Melvyn Bragg when I was brought sharply and painfully down to earth again.
Dear Mr Bernard It is with some regret that the AustroAnglian Laundry learn that you have omitted to pay your bills for the past six months. Your account at the moment stands at forty-three pounds and seventysix pence. Remittance would oblige.
Yours faithfully, [signature illegible]
I include this trivial and banal letter simply because it marked a turning point in my life. It was, you. might say, the last straw. It made me more determined than ever to go into voluntary exile or, if you prefer it, to change address to avoid my creditors. The next day I bade farewell to my old friends Margaret Drabble, Andre Previn, Antonia Fraser and Russell Harty and moved to Marylebone High Street. It was there that [was to suffer the first postai heartache of my self-imposed exile.
Dear Jeffrey It was madness from the start. You must
have known as well as I that it could never work. Why on earth did we ever start it ? Your moods crushed me. I put out a hand, but you never took it. Well, you did take. My God, that's all you ever did. Take, take, take. You say you like women, but I reallY think you hate them. Not once did you ever listen to me when I talked about me.Yo°, were just waiting for me to stop talking and get my clothes off. Then, in the Chinese restaurant in Gerrard Street, you finally did it. You insulted everything I hold sacred. The family unit, Carshalton Beeches, Cosmopolitan and money. No, I'm sorry, it's all over. I hope you find true happiness, as I have with a property developer fronl Mayfair.
Blinded by tears and fury I embarked on a series of unsatisfactory and enviable on night stands. After six months of this mode of life, made even more harsh by a self' imposed diet of Pernod and digestive biscuits, I struck up a correspondence with one of the most brilliant novelists of her daY' Andrea Newman.
We're so busy rehearsing my new ser1e,...5 I've had to snatch a moment in the 1313' canteen to write to you. The first fill, episodes of 'Life is a bunch of Landmines,, have gone down frightfully well and there a chance they'll be serialised by But that's not why I'm writing to you. I
writing to enclose something that came to me in the middle of the night when I turned to find you gone.
There are some who say you're a shit But I know that that's just a little bit Of what makes the world go round. That's love and not the falling pound. I know that life is not a bowl of cherries But one long case of clap and Beri-beris. So give it one more chance my love And come and live with me in Hove.
Love, Andrea Needless to say, there are hundreds of Other letters, notes and bills, but to give You some idea of the harshness of the life of a writer in exile I reproduce a letter that,
for me, sums up the agony that was yesteryear. I had just completed the seventy-sixth verse of my epic canto 'Casanova' when this came tumbling through the letter box: Dear Mr Bernard
I read with interest your letter in the New Statesman asking for details of your whereabouts between 1964 and 1972.
On a certain night in September 1969 you telephoned my mother to inform her that you were going to murder her only son.
I can put you in touch with several other people who have had similar bizarre and interesting experiences in your company.
Yours faithfully, Michael Molloy Editor, Daily Mirror, London EC4