Well, if you have been following the tragic thrills and spills of Phoenix Ark Press, here’s another for the x-author files! This year I turned for help to the Royal Literary Fund, and after winning brownie points for literary merit, was awarded a small grant. I had to wait far longer than normal too, because everyone was swanning off on their summer hols. The fund does not have Royal connections exactly, even if I did once think about sending Fire Bringer to Prince Charles, but was founded in the 18th century by a group of noble patrons with a taste for the rounded phrase. Nowadays it has not an inconsiderable income thanks to the estates of writers like Somerset Maugham and, highly appropriate you would of thought to a children’s or young adult author, AA Milne.
However, I asked if the grant could be paid in a different way, to really help in a very difficult situation, and then very much objected to the way any real hearing was resisted. Then, of course, yours truly went off on one, much about the spirit writer’s need, or what is happening nowadays, perhaps with a touch of ‘madness’ out of the trauma of America or my own temperament. I also invited them to look at all the very valuable work done on Edmund Shakespeare and shared one of Phoenix Ark’s finest poems, Pollopigglepuggar, called a work of ‘genius’ by no less a generous and august personage than the recent biographer of that fine gallant of children’s stories, Roald Dahl.
It was a little crazy to invoke the spirit of Dickens, another patron, even in returning Dickensian times, but lo and behold, I was then dismissed out of court by no less a literary giant than Sir Ronald Harwood, who misrepresented everything I had said, in a two line letter. ‘The Committee had sat’. Better not to take charity, but better too to fight against a quite dreadful spirit in a world where publishing and the protection of committed writers (not yet to Bedlam) is in free fall. I asked them for a generous spirit, and one in the vital moment too, to really turn things around. Instead I got the pomposity of ‘Sir’, in Harwood’s great play The Dresser, telling me effectively to get on a train. Thanks, your immenseness. How often I have seen evidence of those ‘Lords of Poverty’ who talk aid or charity yet think it a crime any human being should believe they might have some tiny little entitlement. But then don’t they know that smiling Buddhist priests believe it is actually a kind of gift to beg, as long as you don’t look like a tramp?
I have no desire to bring the fund into disrepute. I have no idea what good they have done elsewhere. I also said I would support the work they do, if truly supported, or treated like both a skilled author and a human being, or if they could really hear something. Instead, when I speak of it, friends look aghast that anyone could be so foolish. But I will stick to my position, that my work and Phoenix are closer to the spirit of people who left the fund its capital, than anything I experienced, during a process that was itself humiliating. What can you do? Well, there are things, but in the meantime it’s best to invoke the spirit of Pooh and sing sadly, ‘nobody knows, tiddleepom, how cold my toes, tiddleepom, how cold my toes, are growing’.