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Kicking dogs and innocent children . . .

I have been nominated for an International Peace Prize!

This startling information has certainly helped to get the New Year off to a lively start but in a way it’s not quite as unlikely as it seems. The news came from an American organisation calling itself the United Cultural Convention of Raleigh, North Carolina. On closer inspection it seems that I have not only been nominated for this amazing prize but have already won it. All I have to do is to send them $295 and in return they will send me a special plaque saying that I have been awarded the 2005 International Peace Prize “For Outstanding Personal Achievements to the Good of Society as a Whole”. You will glad to know that “Rich in several colors the award features a Dove of Peace in flight and is preserved on exquisite wood, ready to hang”. What’s more it’s signed by “The General-in-Residence” (whoever he may be!). Oh I see it’s someone called J.M.Evans.

I don’t know how many other people have had one of these letters from North Carolina nor how many people actually hand over their $295 but it’s a bizarre phenomenon and I can only imagine that someone is doing very well out of it. It’s all part of something called the American Biographical Institute who seem to publish highly priced reference books full of people I’ve not usually heard of. 

On a more down-to-earth note I did actually make it into our own Who’s Who and was listed in the Times as having done so. The effect was slightly spoiled by being down as “an Established Name” rather than a “High Flier”.Actually the “Established Names” seemed more interesting than the “High Fliers” and it was only on reading the small print that I realised that to qualify for the latter category you only had to be under 46. Other first-time entrants included Eric Clapton, Alan Price, Georgie Fame and Alan Shearer so I felt rather pleased with myself until I actually got the book and found out who some of the other entrants were. This immediately induced an attack of the Grouchos and I found myself feeling that perhaps it was more distinguished to be out rather than in. Did I really want to be in a book which included so-and-so or such-and-such? Actually I have been boring on for years about not making the cut to such an extent that one year my children gave me a copy with a cod entry pasted in under my name. It was much funnier than the real one listing my recreations as “Kicking dogs and innocent children” and my age as simply “Old”. A week or so after the novelty has worn off I find myself thinking rather grumpily that the last judgement is the right one and that inclusion simply signifies that one has reached a certain age and one’s life is effectively over.

But no, no I have a new crime novel out on March 31st and we’ll be launching it with a party at the Marina Hotel here in Fowey, in tandem with the team from the du Maurier Festival who will be unveiling this year’s programme to an astonished world. Order “Death and the D’Urbervilles” from all good bookshops (well, some good bookshops!) now in order to avoid disappointment. Seriously. Bear in mind that the first in this series sold out within a few weeks and was’t reprinted. There is a large- print version in the offing as well as an audio-book but the conventional hard-back of “Death and the Visiting Fellow” is a rare book already.

I know the received wisdom is that January is a bleak and depressing month but I usually quite enjoy it, not least perhaps because it includes my birthday (on the 28th) so there always an excuse for a party. I was in Windsor and London earlier that day, came home on First Great Western – only an hour late due to an oil leak and consequent change of train. Penny cooked a duck and produced an amazing bottle of wine from the Adelaide Hills as well as giving me a telescope, the better for observing life in and around the harbour. The following day I went with my friend the Brigadier to see a terrific rugby match between Penzance and Exeter – Exeter won but only just. Both sides were extraordinarily polyglot as is now nearly always the case. The days of local boys slugging it out in local derbies are long gone and most of the players seem to have names such as Fatialofa or Johannisberger. They’re scarily good though. Penzance’s Rob Thirlby, who is a star of the England International Sevens team was on the bench and stayed there all match.

Top, or almost top, rugby is one of the many attractions of this part of the world, but what we can’t do, except just occasionally at the du Maurier Festival, is the sort of event I went to at the Courtauld Institute in London where the Royal Society of Literature staged an evening presided over by Michael Holroyd in which Ronnie Harwood and Tom Stoppard chatted away about screenwriting. Two Oscar-winners on a single platform. Actually Michael and Ronnie HAVE both been to the Festival, both twice in fact. Tom Stoppard has yet to honour us – hint, hint!

I had a productive week in the Royal Archive researching Princess Margaret in the sixties but I’m suddenly aware of how careful I must be not to say too much about this. I was talking to the Keeper of the Royal Archive and told her that I sent all my old notes and papers to the archives at Boston University. She asked, rather sharply, what I would eventually do with the notes I was taking at Windsor. When I said I hadn’t really thought she observed that as the material in the Castle was privileged and confidential the notes should eventually be sent back to the Royal Archive or destroyed. I confess I hadn’t really thought about this but it raises interesting points – one of which is that I really must make a serious will including things like copyright and PLR.

Earlier in the month we spent a week in a rented “Rural Retreat” in Burton Bradstock, researching Palmers’ pubs so that I can help the family brewery with their forthcoming company history. I also managed two rather disastrous games of Real Tennis at the Walditch Club and also trained up to London for an Old Shirburnian Society ex-presidents’ lunch organised by Adrian Watney who was instrumental in restoring the fabulous Robert Adam house in Portman Square which is now a club called Home House. We ate in the library and felt disgustingly privileged.

I hope that the rest of this month can be devoted to writing and research and that I won’t have to travel East of the Tamar until a significant anniversary party given by my old PR friend Jeffrey Rayner. One looming highlight is an “offal dinner”. Penny is going briefly to London for galleries and Chinese New Year and as a treat I am being allowed to cook things like hearts, kidneys and liver which she hates. It will be an all-male affair and we shall also drink port and smoke cigars. I have half a mind to make it a black-tie occasion but I do concede that one can carry political incorrectness only so far. I thought we might kick off with some of Richard Kittow’s delicious hog’s pudding.

When I was in London I met a farmer’s wife from Devon who was also compiling a blog. A hawk-eyed publisher had noticed it and was in the process of making an offer. I have already suggested to Michael Motley, my wonderful agent, that a collection of mine might be publishable. He has told me not to be ridiculous and to stick to writing proper books. I’m not so sure. What I AM certain about of is that before long someone is going to translate a website blog into an old-fashioned best-selling book. I have bet Michael a serious lunch that this will happen sooner rather than later. But not alas to me.

However I do know that these words are being read by all sorts of different people and the feedback is both revealing and rewarding. I dare say Michael is right and blogging shouldn’t interfere with “real” writing. All the same it has its pleasures and its uses and I’m sure that one should try to make the most of the new technology even if one sometimes falls flat on one’s face. I don’t believe it threatens the future of the book but I’m sure it’s already a communications tool of real significance.

So I shall keep on trying!

Tim Heald

Report Number 24   FEBRUARY 2005                                                                               Return to Homepage

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