Ah, how lovely to meet you – though I confess I am feeling a little bit anxious, as I so often do in social situations.
I am Ali. Well, to be perfectly honest, I am Alienora Taylor (nee Browning) – but, you see, my name is so unusual that few people have heard of it and even fewer can spell it, let alone pronounce it. ‘Ali’ is easier.
You want me to tell you how it sounds?
Oh, all right! It is made up of five syllables – and the sound (phonetically) is Ali – u – nora.
I love my name now, but it has provoked dreadful nervous tension in the past.
Why? Yes, you have a point: with my orange hair, colourful clothes, apparently loud personality and air of confidence, anxiety seems a very strange claim indeed, does it not?
But, you see, I am naturally very shy – more introvert than extravert – and have always been torn between the delighted excitement of meeting new people, and utter terror.
Your comments on my clothes have touched me deeply, and, if I blush, which I am sure I do – being so pale-skinned – please see that for the compliment it truly is.
Do you know what? I feel that you and I could well have much in common – and I don’t just mean the fact that we both write; I feel something emanating from your spirit which chimes with my own inner self, and feel calmed and reassured as a result. Believe me when I tell you that this is very unusual. I trust people rarely, and hold much of myself back – although the dam breaks and water floods the plains of my emotional dryness when I take pen in hand and write.
You get that too? Oh, how comforting and warming. I could weep for the sheer relief of it, new friend.
I was a very quiet, emotionally withdrawn little girl – and yet, I can recall, oh-so-clearly, the sheer wonder of seeing the five letters of my baby-name – BAMBI – written, by me, for the first time and realising, aged four, that those five symbols meant ME!
I always responded to music and listened to my parents’ record collection (hmmm, giving my age away a bit there! Not that I mind!) regularly, choosing special favourites which would plunge me into the wonderful world of the imagination. Whilst in this world, stories would visit me in all their splendour, and terror, and delight, and I would emerge in some way changed.
I read avidly from an early age – and can remember vividly my frequent visits to Bury Knowle Library, in Headington (the suburb of Oxford where I lived until I went to university) – and the excitement of browsing through the books of fairy tales (remember them?) before making my choice. Dipping in, reading that first story – well, for me, it was even better than sucking sweets!
I still read all the time, always have at least two books on the go; I also remain a music-lover – and spend much of my writing time listening to either CDs, favourites on YouTube or – on days when Audacity and my laptop are on speaking terms – my vinyl records, many of them inherited from my parents.
I also play piano, spinet, all the recorders and the fiddle. I would not say I am hugely proficient at any of them – started too late, did not do any grades, can barely read music, play mainly by ear – but I adore the way an apparently inert piece of wood, or plastic, can be animated with song by the application (skilful or otherwise) of fingers; to me, this is a miracle I have never grown out of.
Have I ever played in an orchestra, you ask? Oh, golly, no: I’d never cope; I’d be in tears by the end of the first bar! But I do play my beloved fiddle in a local band. We call ourselves Ghost Weed.
Tell you the story of our name? No, I’d better not, this being a family-friendly blog page. Not that it is rude or violent, but it might upset/offend some readers – and that’s the very last thing I’d wish to do.
Sorry, I do go on, don’t I? I shouldn’t have had quite such a large glass of wine! Now I feel quite tipsy. I do envy you your experience playing your flute in a Concert Band, however, and am in awe of your sight-reading skills. Perhaps you could give me some handy hints at the end of the party.
Your novel sounds absolutely marvellous. Blackwells, did you say? Oh, yes, I know it well. It’s at the corner of the Broad, near the Sheldonian Theatre. I’d love to come to your book signing there. It would be fantastic to see Oxford again – and a treat to attend a signing in such an august setting.
I told you, didn’t I, that I have self-published five books? Yes, of course I did: forget my own name next! Why did I write them? Funny you should ask, because this question has preoccupied me of late too.
I hope you don’t mind my being a tad lateral in my answer. Going back to the little me: Speaking came hard. I don’t mean the nuts and bolts part; I refer more to the tiny person who was curled up inside and too frightened to let a syllable out part of the equation – the child who, still in residence (very much so), causes the adult to gulp over-enthusiastically upon the product of grape and grain during any social event.
To put it bluntly, I had to find a way of communicating with the world; it was that or declare myself a Mute at the age of five, something I was loathe to do! Writing opened the gate to expression for me – and, from age eight onwards, I have wanted to be a writer. Of course, I didn’t realise back then (in 1966) that I already was!
Did I have a job? Oh, yes, for I was the oldest of five children, my parents were not well-off – and I always knew, and accepted, that I would have to make my own way in the world financially. I learned early that I could not depend upon the writing dream to sustain me in the real world – and, at twenty-three, became an English teacher.
Where? In Weston-super-Mare! Thirty years, man and boy, I did in that school. Taught thousands; in fact, I was just beginning to teach the children of kids I had taught back in the eighties and nineties when I decided to take early retirement three years ago.
The frustrating part of that three decade stint down the Chalk Mines was that I had little time, or energy, for writing: although I did continue the journal started in January 1972, and wrote three novels, I did not have the oomph to really push for publication. In retrospect, I can see that I gave up too easily, and allowed the rejection letters to devastate me more than they, perhaps, should have done.
Once I launched myself as a writer in June 2012, however, I was like Akhet, the Nile Inundation – only my flood was not a year’s worth of water; it was thirty years of poetry and prose, polemic and parody all gushing out over the black sands of Egypt.
The five books were, in most respects, just waiting for a chance to escape! Two of them – ‘Riding at the Gates of Sixty’ and ‘Long-Leggety Beasties’ – have already been written, the former in 1983, and needed editing and rewriting, but were basically good to go.
The other three books – ‘Come Laughing!’ ‘My Esoteric Journey, Volume 1’ and ‘The Lyre of Logres’ – were born partly from blog posts, partly from forty three years of journal writing and partly from my huge need to get certain strong opinions out of my head and onto the printed page.
I wrote them because I had to. I think I would have burst, and found myself laminated on the nearest wall, had I not picked up my Waterman pen (a parting gift from the school where I taught for so long) and made that first mark on a sheet of paper!
They vary hugely in terms of subject matter and style. Two are funny; two are more lyrical and spiritual and the fifth is all about the death and life of writer Virginia Woolf.
Tell you a bit more about them? Why, by all means; It would be my pleasure.
‘Long-Leggety Beasties’ is a humorous novel set in a fictional Cornish school. Its narrator is a red-headed English teacher – so, I will confess that the book is semi-autobiographical, though much exaggerated for comic effect. Anyone who has ever taught in the UK, or had any dealings with the British Educational System, will recognise the deep seam of truth beneath the comedy.
‘Come Laughing!’ is a humorous look at human sexuality – but, since some parts of it are decidedly unsuitable for under-sixteens, I shall say no more on this one.
‘Riding at the Gates of Sixty’ – ‘narrated’ by Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf herself and her sister, Vanessa Bell – starts with VW’s death, travels back to trace key parts of her life and ends back where it started, on the day of her disappearance and drowning.
‘My Esoteric Journey, Volume 1’ – is a series of short pieces, all of which deal in some way with the Western Mystery Tradition. Many of the stories are written through an alter ego.
‘The Lyre of Logres’ – this book has, at its centre, an unspoken metaphor: the land as a lyre. Logres is the name given to Britain’s Inner Landscape – and, one night in a dream, I saw our land as a vast and beautiful lyre, and realised that we humans make its strings vibrate by our thoughts, emotions and deeds. I also realised that we can, therefore, create the most sublime music – and the most harrowingly dreadful cacophony – depending upon the way we treat the delicate lyre strings of Logres.
The stories in this collection all relate to the landscape and our relationship with it.
Yes, good question! No, I am not a member of either a mainstream religious faith or, for that matter, a cult. I am a student of the Western Mystery Tradition and trained in Ritual Magic. Both of my latest two books touch on this.
Gosh, I have rattled on, haven’t I? Most unlike me, I hasten to add!
How to get hold of my books? Ah, yes! Unfortunately, they cannot, as yet, be picked up in book shops – though I hope that, one day, there will be an Alienora volume in every well-known Tome-Emporium in our fair land! Nay, Lass, why set thy sights so small? In shops all over the world, I should say!
As I was unable to get a traditional publisher interested, I opted in the end for the free service offered by CREATESPACE. All five books have been published as paperbacks through CreateSpace – and have then been put onto Amazon Kindle as e-books.
Would you like to see what they look like?
Here is a photo, taken on Saturday 9th May 2015, of me!
Now, during the past three years, I have leapt upon various Social sites, writing platforms and, twice in the past three days, the YouTube stage. This, I have to say, marks one of the many inconsistencies in my character: I can quite happily stand in front of a class of thirty adolescents, or sit in front of a camera and broadcast myself out to the world – and yet, give me a large group of people, a party or other social event and I will become so terrified that I will drink too much, make a scene or hide/leave early!
Here, then, are the links to my various social outlets:
Plans for the rest of this year? I have at least two more novels to be published eventually – but am going to take a break from that so that I can record myself reading all five books already published – and release them as audiobooks!
I am not sure how long this is going to take, or, indeed, whether I will be able to understand, and cope with, the technological demands of such a venture.
Still, ‘…a man’s reach should exceed his grasp‘, or, ‘what’s a heaven for?’ as Robert Browning (who is on the family tree somewhere – or so I am told!) said so famously in his poem, ‘Andrea del Sarto’.
Oh, how my colleagues at school would laugh – fondly, I hope! – at the news of my impending Audiobook Adventure:
“Ali? Creating an Audiobook? Good God, the woman could barely log on to a computer three years ago!”
Not bad for a Crone of fifty-seven, eh?!
Now, let me bid you a fond farewell and leave you with the sincere hope that we will meet again ‘ere long!