This is the first time that I have written a piece for this blog in several years. The reason is simple: I am too old to have the time and energy to do any serious work: 82 last May. In particular, I have been diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease, which is a form of dementia. The chief effect that this disease has on an Alzheimer's patient is that he, or she, loses his memory. What happens, I'm told, is that the brain actually shrinks, and you can see the effect on a brain scan. There are some drugs which reportedly slow down the shrinkage, and I'm on one, but they do not reverse it. Despite this diagnosis, I remain fairly cheerful -- probably because I do not understand the full implications of the situation.
However, be that as it may, there is one side effect of Alzheimer's which is particularly interesting to a writer, and that is that I can look at a shelf full of various editions of my own books, stretching back nearly sixty years, and realise that I have only the broadest idea of what they are about. For instance, I once wrote a novel entitled Spence in Petal Park (1977). Without even opening it, I know that this is a police procedural of sorts, an old-fashioned English whodunit featuring a certain Superintendent Spence. But that's about all I know. I can't really remember where it's set, who the characters are, who actually dunit, et cetera.
Not that this failure of memory matters very much, but it does have a curious effect: it means that I can read one of my own books pretty much as if I had never even read it before, much less written it. Which is odd.
Bear in mind this background when I tell you that I recently read a "book" of mine entitled Mr Fenman's Farewell to His Readers. I put the word book in inverted commas because it's about 80 pages long in the printed edition, so it's more of a pamphlet really: a long short story perhaps. In any event it's no longer available in print (so far as I can discover) but it is available as a Kindle ebook.
Mr Fenman was written in 2007, and self-published that year. It is fiction, for the most part, though in it I claim at the outset that I bought Mr Fenman's first-person tale in manuscript form from a book dealer. The bulk of the story purports to be told by Mr Fenman himself, and he was, he declares, a writer of over 100 novels, during a long working life. He was born in 1761 and died in 1837. And in this autobiographical sketch he tells how, in 1786, he visited Venice for the first time. There he met a mysterious lady, Madame de Mentou, who taught him how to write fiction. She also had other pupils, in other arts: such as a tenor, and a young lady violinist. In 1836, near the end of his life, Mr Fenman goes back to Venice and meets Madame de Mentou again. Or does he? Or is he, perhaps, confusing her with someone else?
I think that's quite enough to give you a taste of what my little story is about. But at the end of my tale, Mr Fenman himself seems unsure whether the story of his life is true, or a tissue of lies. Perhaps, he admits, he is a liar. For all fiction writers are liars.
But then, he adds, there is another possibility. "There is the spectre of madness..." Is this story of his true, or is it another of his fictions? Or is he just confused? "What could be more horrible," he asks the reader, "than to be alone in a foreign city, and to lose control of one's senses, to have one's memories fragment and grow faint? These may be the last semi-coherent jottings of a now deranged scribbler who soon will not even know his own face in the glass."
And so, it seems, in 2007, and through the persona of Mr Fenman, I was anticipating what may, in due course, be the final shape of my own writing life.
You might, perhaps, be tempted to read about Mr Fenman yourself. If so, the story is still available on Kindle -- it might even be free if you understand how to use the various versions of Kindle (I don't). I used to have a Kindle book reader myself, but I haven't used it for some years. For a link, try entering "Mr Fenman's Farewell to His Readers" in Google, and follow the link to your local Amazon. But beware: if you follow the link to goodreads.com, you will find that the book is credited to a quite different sort of person -- a professor of Theology no less! No, I don't understand it either, and I am long past sorting it out.
I used to have a Kindle ebook reader, but I haven't used it for some time. I have no doubt stored it in a safe place in my office; but, as with so much else, I have forgotten where it is.