AN EXTRACT WAS ALL that was ever published. This was 35 years ago in a magazine which presented it as a novel in progress. The title was given there as For Sadie. A later manuscript changed this to Für Sadie, playing on a thematic link with Beethoven’s sonatina Für Elise, because it is a story about a Glasgow woman who decides to learn the piano.
After it became a lost novel if anyone remembered it they would refer to Fur Sadie, pronouncing it as Glasgow patois. Only one person knows what happened to it, and he has refused to talk about the book for a decade. He is its author. His name is Archie Hind.
My quest to discover the story behind Hind’s lost novel has an unlikely prelude.
November, 1976: I am the newest reporter on the Evening Express in Aberdeen and I get an appropriately low status assignment. Cover a meeting to be addressed by a local MP. File a dozen paragraphs to catch the city edition.
“Aw, son!” pleads the voice at the other end when I dive into a phone box to dictate my copy. He is in hysterics. I can’t get out more than eight words of quotes from the MP before he starts cracking up again. He thinks it’s priceless.
An embarrassing chore on edition day at the weekly paper I had worked on previously had been to dictate acres of our dire agency copy to every newspaper in the country, so I already had painful experience of Fleet Street copy takers (“Is there much more of this to come?”), bored copy takers at the Glasgow papers sighing “Uh-hu” above the keyboard rattle and snooty Edinburgh copy takers (“You do realise this is the Scotsman you’re sending this stuff to?”) But I had never before been put through to a copy taker who was rolling about the news floor with an uncontrollable fit of giggles flooding his mouthpiece.
It is infectious. I can hardly continue deciphering the mixture of scribbles and shorthand outlines in my notebook without shaking with laughter. It is the MP’s quotes which are causing the hilarity. Iain Sproat is the right-wing Tory who defeated Donald Dewar to win the Aberdeen South constituency from Labour. His speech I have been sent to report is an anti-trade unionist diatribe. Once you share the copy taker’s view of it, as a frothing self-parody, it becomes increasingly funny. So we laugh our way through the dozen pars.
Back at the office in Lang Stracht I ask one of the reporters if they know who the giggling copy taker is. She nods across to a man in his late 40s who looks a little like a throwback to an officer from the confederate army with his wedge of greying, frizzy hair and a straggling goatee beard. His face tilts upwards at an expectant angle, but there is also a haunted look in his eyes. He is feeding sheets of paper with two carbons into his typewriter and adjusting a set of headphones on his head.
“That’s him – Archie Hind,” says the reporter.
“Archie Hind the novelist?” I ask. “The man who wrote Dear Green Place. What’s he doing here working with hacks like us?”
Alasdair Gray remembers the room and kitchen flat in Govan where friends gathered in 1958 to discuss current ideas in theatre or to listen to music. Artist Fred Pollock was a guest. The short story writer and dramatist Betty Clark, who wrote under the name Joan Ure, was a regular.
It suited Archie Hind and his wife Eleanor to act as hosts for these Friday night gatherings because it was easier to meet their social circle at home. They were childhood sweethearts who eloped to marry in 1952. Now they had four young children. Gray recalls the discussions shifting from Beckett and Osborne to Archie’s love of German literature, particularly Thomas Mann, or he would play records from his eclectic collection of jazz, French chanson, opera and the classical repertoire. They listened to Piaf, Sidney Bechet, Elisabeth Schumann, Caruso, Chaliapin and Tauber.
“Archie was a left-wing thinker,” says Gray. “Eleanor had joined the Govan branch of the Society of Women Against the Bomb. After we became friends I discovered that Archie and I were both writing novels about Glasgow. Archie showed me some early chapters of The Dear Green Place after I let him see some of my chapters from Lanark.
“I liked what I read. I may be wrong about what I read later when The Dear Green Place was published but I don’t remember the chapters having changed much from what Archie first showed me. I was glad that our novels were not in the same territory. Archie had already worked out his own style. He was not a glib writer. He took his time over it.
“But he also had to earn a living to support his family. So he would have periods off the writing to take on a job. One of the jobs I remember him doing around that time was as a clerk in a social security office, and at an another time he was working on the buses.”
The tension between artistic ambitions, negative social pressures and guilt emerge as personal conflicts which threaten to tear apart the central character in The Dear Green Place. Mat Craig, an aspiring writer, struggles on an elusive search to find the moral courage, the style, the syntax, the voice, the material and, above all, the self-belief to be able to create “the best novel ever to be written in Glasgow”. He is afflicted by self-disgust over his literary pretensions, his artistic neuroses, his persistent writer’s block and what he considers his betrayal of his responsibilities as a breadwinner for his family. There is a famous scene towards the end of the novel where Mat destroys his manuscript and is brought to his knees in a vomiting attack.
It is a novel which agonises over the paradoxes of what it means to become a writer. Mat Craig sits up into the small hours with his manuscripts and notes, but turns upon himself as “the writer who couldn’t write”. He anticipates the sneering if his work is ever read, and wonders if this fear is a product of life mocking art, or art mocking life. A “lip-service Marxist”, he rationalises that to become a published writer is to agree to being exploited as a marketable commodity. He thinks there is something “immoral” about earning money from writing “when it was not really working”. He claims to his father that he doesn’t want to be seen as a successful writer. “I want to be a writer who hasn’t got on, see?” he tries to explain.
Yet he also recognises that the other side of the risk of failure is an expectation of success. He believes the public role of the writer should be to make things happen in the world by disturbing the peace. He dreams again of being published and of critics praising his novel: “Mr Craig has put forward a secular notion of divine grace. Worked through the texture of a vividly apprehended life we have the brilliant idea finally emerging….” Then he returns to bitter despair: “Writers are always other people.”
“We are usually supposed to be cautious about seeing autobiography in fiction,” says Professor Douglas Gifford of the chair of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University. “But with Dear Green Place you have to say, ‘That’s Archie Hind.’ There are too many clues that Mat Craig is him. But it is also a triumph – a self-referential novel about writing a novel, and the difficulty of writing a novel, yet doing it! Because Archie Hind succeeded in finishing his great, poetic novel.” advertising,” says Eleanor. “The slogan was Dear Green Place. Not the book, but the name that Archie had found in his research for the book. The bank had adopted the slogan for free but Archie couldn’t pay for our coal.
“After Giles Gordon left Hutchinson they gave Archie an advance of £12 a week to start work on Für Sadie. But this arrangement only lasted for six months and I don’t think they had any idea of real life. It just wasn’t enough for us to live on with five children. It was just ridiculous.”
“It was a lack of support,” says Jim Kelman. “Maybe the literary artist doesn’t want to be alone, or can’t stand being alone, or can’t come to terms with being a literary artist. Or maybe the team is not there to help him get the thing out.
“There was no community of writers for Archie Hind. The culture was not welcoming for writers unless they were playing the mainstream game. I think a writer of Archie Hind’s generation would have suffered the same marginalisation and disdain that later Glasgow writers got.
“What would make it harder for Archie Hind was his domestic situation. He had a family depending on his ability to earn a living. You have a book published, and even if it is accorded the proper acknowledgement, you also have to earn a living.”
Alasdair Gray tells a story about Archie having to sign on at the local social security office. A review of his many and various former employments is discussed with him. “You know what this means,” comments the clerk after running through the list of Archie’s previous jobs. “This means you are trying to evade reality.”
The reality in 1967 was that Archie had to suspend the writing to take on a job as a copy taker at the Scottish Daily Mail, then based at Canonmills in Edinburgh. He had learned to touch type in the army. Eleanor remembers him rattling off some typing as a test in the house with all the lights off. There was not a single typographical error. In a busy daily newspaper office Archie enjoyed the banter and the gregarious atmosphere, but it would be another six years before he was ready to produce his extract of Für Sadie as a work in progress.
Frankfurt-based lecturer and translator Martin Hind remembers the date when his father became an overnight celebrity. February 14, 1966: The Dear Green Place was published. The publicity machine of the London publishing firm of Hutchin-son was working overtime, but Martin believes it was the energy and influence of the novel’s editor, Giles Gordon, later to become one of the most successful agents on the British literary scene, who used his contacts to get almost unprecedented television coverage for the launch. The Hind family were living near Dalkeith where Archie was working as a computer technician with Fer-ranti. Their television was tuned to STV for the news and the family watched Archie being interviewed live by Bill Tennant. They switched over for the BBC Scottish news to watch a recording of Archie being interviewed in the studio by Mary Marquis.
“For the next week at school it was a case of all the kids coming up and saying, ‘Your dad’s famous’, Martin recalls.
The family was immensely proud. There were the boys, Callum, Gavin and Martin, then aged between 13 and ten, and the two younger girls, eight-year-old Helen and three-year-old Sheila. For Eleanor it was a moment which rewarded over fifteen years of sustained faith in her husband. Alasdair Gray believes that Eleanor more than any other person deserves the credit for Archie being able to complete his novel, and she received the book’s dedication.
The critical praise surpassed anything Mat Craig could have imagined in his spasmodically optimistic dreams. “Wonderfully authentic and very searching,” wrote Chris Grieve under his literary pseudonym of Hugh MacDiarmid. “It skilfully blends aspiration and disappointment, comedy and tragedy.” The awards followed: Guardian First Novel Prize and the Yorkshire Post Best Fiction of the Year.
Some have wondered in retrospect if this summit of unqualified success for a first novel also created future, possibly insurmountable, difficulties for Hind. “Dear Green Place was such a phenomenon,” reflects Peter Kravitz, who published a later edition of the novel at Polygon. “It was the only thing up until then that had been written in Glasgow of that literary quality. It was always going to be difficult for Archie to follow a novel which received that level of critical praise.” Glasgow writer Tom Leonard says he remains an admirer of The Dear Green Place and has used it with student writing classes, presenting its slaughter house section alongside those in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, set in the scandalous Chicago meat market of the 1920s, but he still worries about the closing passages in Hind’s novel. Leonard confides: “I always thought that it would be difficult for anyone to write a second novel if they believed the ideas on language which appear in those concluding lines.”
Leonard is referring to a contentious and often debated passage where Mat Craig asks himself if his failure as a writer can be attributed to the “gutter patois” into which his tongue falls naturally when he is moved to strong feeling. He rants about “this self-protective, fobbing off language which was not made to range, or explore, or express; a language cast out of the absence of possibility; a language cast out of a certain set of feelings – from poverties, dust, drunkenness, tenements, endurance, hard physical labour; a reductive, cowardly, timid, snivelling language cast out of jeers and violence and diffidence; a language of vulgar keelie scepticism.”
This reflects Mat Craig as he wallows in despair and self-loathing, but there is also a less frequently quoted passage in the final section of the novel which offers a positive alternative. Mat’s thoughts rise to an “arrogant pitch” when he places a conditional construction on his fear of failure. He will fail….unless. What are the terms of this “unless”? Mat concludes that his efforts to write will be wasted and meaningless “unless he were to write in a key in which the rapturous, the hopeful, the exploratory, the courageous, were possible.” He wants to create “a backcloth against which the great opera of human creativeness and possibility could be sung. The unquestioned high C, the bravura, the strut, the wilful cadenza, the unnecessary aria. Sung at concert pitch.”
The novel in which Hind hoped to achieve this musical affirmation was going to be Für Sadie.
In the National Library of Scotland you can order up the complete run of the magazine from 1968 to 1974. It is brought from a reserve collection in four blue-bound volumes. The magazine is Scottish International. You leaf through the pages and discover its energy and range, a Rolling Stone magazine for Scotland. Vigourous journalism appears alongside a coverage of the arts and literature which displays keen foresight. Here are to be found the first published extracts of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark a dozen years before the book appeared, and the first stories of what would become Alan Spence’s collection Its Colours They Are Fine.
A typed index has been added to one of the volumes and you look up Hind, Archie. He was a regular contributor. He wrote a column on Glasgow life and events. He reported on the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in led by Reid and Airlie. A piece on the Orange Order in Scotland. An accomplished experiment in New Journalism has Hind talking to people in the Catholic communities of Belfast and Derry during the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday.
A final index entry for Hind provides the August 1973 issue, pages 18 to 23, as the reference for the extract from the novel given the title of For Sadie. You turn to the appropriate volume and the extract is found, accompanied by a cartoon graphic of a grand piano shaped as a love heart and pierced by a cupid’s arrow.
A playful blurb introduces the extract of the novel: “For Sadie is the story of a middle-aged, working class woman from Parkhead who decides to learn the piano. She had genuine musical talent as a child which has been Eind’s early biography reflects broad consistency with the details we learn in the novel about Mat Craig. He was born in June 1928 in Dalmarnock in the Glasgow East End. His father worked for 41 years on the railways as a stoker after serving in the
First World War. Hind confided to Alasdair Gray that the character of Mat’s father in the novel was drawn from a “decent” uncle, because his own father, Archie senior, was a domestically violent man who gave regular beatings to his wife and children. Young Archie used to enjoy swimming but was afraid to go to the swimming baths in case anyone noticed the bruises on his body.
When his parents split up, Archie was brought to stay at the home of relatives in Carntyne. It was only years later that he and his older brother John persuaded their parents to get back together. The old man proved to be a physical coward who never again dared to lay a hand on their mother because he had come to fear the consequences from his two boys. Young Archie is remembered as a handy junior boxer who used to represent a team run by the Glasgow butcher trade.
John was a “blood boy” in the Glasgow slaughter house. When Archie reached the age of 14 his father wanted him to leave school, despite an academic potential worthy of seeking Glasgow Corporation grants to aim towards university. His first job was as a junior clerk in the Beardsmore works, filing records on the progress of plant from the forge to the turning shed. When the opportunity of an engineering apprenticeship was offered, Archie Hind senior was too “mean spirited” to support this, just as he refused to provide his signature to allow Archie to join the merchant navy, and he preferred that his son move on to work with a wholesaler supplying flour and sugar to bakers. At some stage, Archie joined his brother to work at the slaughter house, an experience which would supply the graphic material for an unforgettable section of The Dear Green Place.
It was only after being demobbed following two years of conscripted army service in the medical corps in Singapore and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), that Hind refused to allow his father to continue obstructing his path. He was now aged 18 and he wanted to become a writer. His first encouragement came from Jack Rillie when Hind attended Workers’ Educational Association writing classes. He went on as a student to the newly reopened New-battle Abbey College. The poet Edwin Muir was the warden. His wife Willa, novelist and translator, was an inspirational teacher. George Mackay Brown was among the early students drawn from every walk of life – clerks, fitters, turners, tube-makers, railwaymen, typists, journalists, teachers and civil servants. “They were more eager and more intelligent than I had ever dreamed they could be,” wrote Muir in his autobiography. He boasted that Newbattle was the best university in Scotland because its people were there only out of genuine interest, each driven by an inner light.
After he left Newbattle in 1951, Archie Hind began the long personal and artistic struggle to exorcise himself as the character Mat Craig.
Eleanor Hind remembers that within a year of the success of The Dear Green Place the family were low on funds. Two cheques bounced. One was for £3 to pay for coal. Archie had to go to the local branch of the National Commercial Bank to try to sort things out.
“He saw they were using a slogan for their allowed to atrophy in a conventionally harsh married life. This particular extract is from an early, slow section of the novel. It should be read ‘andante, molto cantabile ed expressivo’. There are no metronomic markings.” Archie Hind is identified as the “composer” of the novel.
“Archie thought of the book as having musical movements rather than chapters,” explains Bob Tait, co-founder and editor of Scottish International. “It was a novel which would replicate the musical structure of Beethoven’s Für Elise. It was conceived by Archie as a literary mimesis of music.”
The extract contains a scene between Sadie and her music teacher, an abrasive Govan man called Mackay, a didactic and demanding instructor who softens when he begins to recognise Sadie’s rare gift for perfect pitch and her intuitive talent. He sees music as a potential to liberate her from a life of imposed denials, restraints and social purdah.
Tait says: “Archie was a smashing contributor to the magazine, but it was sometimes difficult to get copy from him on time. He would be mulling over a piece and more than once I had to go down to Glasgow and rip a page from his typewriter to get it for the edition.”
“Writing never came easy to Archie. It was ironic, because he was such a wonderful raconteur and you always imagined that he would convert that with relative ease to his writing, but he struggled so much that it would drive you mad. He was such a perfectionist.
“I am wary of speculating, but it was almost as though Archie was afraid to complete Für Sadie. I suspect this was because he needed it to be as good if not better than Dear Green Place. It had to be up to the mark, but he could not bring himself to finish it.”
In October 1973 Archie Hind took up a two-year Scottish Arts Council post as writer in residence in Aberdeen. Billy Connolly would lose one of his most devoted fans, Sheila Hind, the youngest of the family, when she read his book where he made a reference to “Archie Hynds [sic] wasting his talent” as a writer in residence in Aberdeen.
Artist Jim Hardie became a neighbour and friend of the Hind family when they moved to a cottage in Skene, outside of Aberdeen. “Archie used to say that he didn’t believe he had an audience in Scotland. He could be quite bitter about this, which was unusual for Archie, because he normally had this immense warmth of humanitarianism and he was such a wonderful story teller. I used to think he was suffering a fear of success, which I believe was really a fear of rejection.”
The Archie Hind I first met in November 1976 at the Aberdeen Evening Express had been wounded by an appalling personal tragedy. The story came out gradually as we sat talking during quiet spells in the office. It had been on September 9 that same year. His second oldest son Gavin was almost the same age as me. He had shown great talent as an artist. It happened when he went to North Wales on a project to restore a water mill. The car he was driving was hit head on by a German tourist bus which had crossed over the double white lines on a bend in the road. Gavin was killed instantly.
Archie had begun his job as a copy taker just a fortnight after the funeral. When he told me about Gavin I thought back to the semi-hysterical laughter down the phone when I dictated my copy. It was only with a supreme effort of self-control that Archie had been concealing his emotions day to day in the office. He told me frankly that he had writer’s block. He talked about his writing only in the past tense.
It was the same when he talked about his work for the theatre. In the early 1970s Archie wrote five revues for the Citizens Theatre and its sister operation at the Close. It was a run of smash hits with casts that included Johnny Beattie, Peter Kelly and David Hayman. Perhaps this was an earlier case of Archie laughing through personal distress, because these shows followed a medical blunder at the end of 1969 which left Helen (the daughter Archie has always called Nellie-Meg) severely physically and mentally handicapped in a wheelchair. She still lives in the care of her parents. Archie’s fifth revue was in rehearsal when the Close Theatre burned down in May 1973. It was never performed.
It may be a harsh observation, but I formed the impression that Archie regarded the Close Theatre fire as a deus ex machina which confirmed that he would continue to be cursed with bad luck over anything he tried to do as a writer in the future.
Peter Kravitz remembers Alasdair Gray and Jim Kelman making an entreaty that it was “crazy” that The Dear Green
Place had been allowed to fall out of print for many years. Kravitz agreed to bring out a new edition of the novel with Polygon in April 1984.
“Everything moved slowly with Archie,” says Kravitz. “I have a memory that Für Sadie was also discussed at that time and if he had finished it we would have published it because there was enough indication that there were readers who would want to see this second novel. But Archie had suffered writer’s block for decades and he could not get back into it.”
Neville Moir, then an editor at Polygon, confirms that Für Sadie was discussed. “There was hope that someone could persuade Archie Hind to write another book,” says Moir. “I don’t have an answer for why he never completed Für Sadie. We pressed him for more material. But maybe this was too late – 18 years after The Dear Green Place was first published. I think Archie had given up on writing fiction by 1984.”
Or had he?
I reviewed the Polygon edition of The Dear Green Place for the Herald. Archie signed my copy: “To John with thanks for a lovely notice
– I’ll pay you more for the next one.” The next one? After I became literary editor of the Herald I commissioned book reviews from Archie. They were always considered, well turned and delivered to deadline. Some time around 1992 Archie gave me a manuscript of 90 pages. It was a photocopy of his original typescript. There was no title or chapters. Someone had added in pen on the brown internal mail envelope which contained the typescript: “Für Sadie by Archie Hind”.
Martin Hind saw what may have been the original manuscript of Für Sadie in the 1980s. He says: “My father said he was definitely going to finish it and have it published. I am not sure, but I think what I saw was a complete manuscript. The pages had turned yellow and I remember seeing Für Sadie on the front. It had rarely been discussed in the family, Minimally discussed. We knew it was a touchy subject so we never brought it up.”
This is confirmed by Eleanor Hind: “Archie always said that it would only need three weeks’ work to finish it. This was ten or a dozen years ago, between 1996 and 1998. I said, ‘For Christ’s sake, Archie, why don’t you finish it? It’s not fair that you have this book that you won’t finish.’ He would become upset. He said, ‘I can’t. I don’t have it any more.’
“I think he must have lost the original manuscript which he wrote in hand. Something hellish happened to the manuscript that hurt him really badly. He wouldn’t tell me.”
Was Archie Hind capable of destroying his own manuscript of Für Sadie?
“I think it’s possible,” admits Martin Hind. “He could have destroyed it out of temper or depression. He has always been an over-perfectionist.”
I always thought it would be a rather nice idea to bring out an edition of The Complete Works of Archie Hind,” suggests Alasdair Gray. He is only being semi-jocular because he immediately begins listing Hind’s work for the theatre, adding pieces commissioned by Borderline, Theatre Around Glasgow and an adaptation of Tressell’sThe Ragged Trousered Philanthropists staged by 7:84 Scotland.
Gray explains that he has now reached a compromise by persuading Birlinn to bring out a new edition of The Dear Green Place which will include material from Für Sadie. Gray is writing a foreword and publication is planned for the spring.
“But when I asked Archie he told me that he no longer had a manuscript of Für Sadie,” Gray continues. “He says he has lost all copies of it.”
This conversation was in December. I was appalled to learn that I appeared to be in possession of the only surviving manuscript of Für Sadie in the photocopy typescript Archie Hind gave me 16 years ago. I sent a copy of it by courier to Gray. He had already asked Birlinn to obtain a copy of the extract in the August 1973 issue of Scottish International because he believed this was the only fragment of the novel to remain in existence. A composite produced a fuller text because there were six pages missing from the typescript I was given and, fortunately, the omitted passage appeared in the extract. However, this salvage operation could only restore a text which could represent no more than half the planned novel, and it ends literally in mid-sentence. “She found herself after a while sitting…”
When this typescript was shown to Archie Hind at his home he declined to look at it. “What’s the point?” he asked Gray. “I have no critical or creative imagination left.”
January 12, 2008: a drizzling Saturday night in Glasgow. Alasdair Gray is the navigator as we cross the Kingston Bridge.
For a man who usually relies on taxis to make this journey Gray is remarkably precise with the exits and turns we will need to take for the south side. He issues directions between his running impersonation of Tony Hancock in the Blood Donor. “A half pint of blood!” exclaims Gray in an offended cockney accent. “Eh, sorry, and a right coming up on to the Kilmarnock Road.” We are heading for Archie Hind’s place.
We discuss the text of Für Sadie which Alasdair is having typed up from the composite of typescript and the Scottish International extract for the Birlinn edition which is being prepared. Alasdair says he is delighted with the quality of the unfinished novel, particularly its tour de force handling of Sadie’s rhythmic perceptions which translate complicated musical notation for the reader. We share our enjoyment of the novel’s opening scene, a gentle comedy which borrows from the famous Laurel and Hardy two-reeler improvised around the delivery of a piano, adapted brilliantly by Archie to the difficulties of manoeuvring Sadie’s piano for delivery in the narrow close stair of a Parkhead tenement. The scene has led by association to vintage comedy, and hence to the Hancock radio routines which Alasdair recreates from memory.
Eleanor greets us at the door of the ground floor tenement flat and shows us through to Archie. He is sitting on a couch by a coal effect gas fire. Spread on his lap are copies of New Statesman, the Evening Times and the Guardian. He shuffles them aside with a comment that reading is too tiring for him these days, but within minutes he is repeating a phrase he has seen in an article. “My relationship with novels took a slow puncture,” he quotes with a light wheezing laugh more like an extended grin.
Eight years ago Archie had an operation to remove part of his tongue. When the consultant later visited his bedside at the Victoria Hospital he asked Archie how he felt. Archie responded: “Fine, except I’m having a wee bit of trouble with my alveolar fricatives.” His diction remains slightly blurred and his voice has now become very faint, but he remains defiantly animated and cheerful. He has recently returned home after a series of hospital tests and is delighted to report he has since put on two pounds in weight. A walking stick is propped by the sofa. Nellie Meg sits in her wheelchair beside the television and she yells with joy when she sees Alasdair come into the room. He is her favourite among the regular visitors to the house and she can say his name. She tears open the wrapping of the gift he has brought. It is like another birthday surprise. Her fiftieth was celebrated just last month.
“If I could tell you why I didn’t finish Für Sadie it would be self-congratulatory,” says Archie. “It would just be making excuses. I could say that I didn’t do it because some objective situation made it difficult, but it was a personal failure of some kind. I can’t explain it.
Trying to maintain a faith with the book was too exhaustive. There was also a lack of encouragement. Nothing came back from it.”
He says he can’t remember if he ever showed it to publishers. He has no idea if he showed it to Polygon when they published the edition of The Dear Green Place in 1984.
“You are asking all these questions but maybe I just don’t want to answer them,” says Archie. “The most important part of it is my sense of failure. I feel ashamed. No, I don’t just feel ashamed, I feel black affronted with myself.”
We go through for a fine dinner which Eleanor has prepared. Turkey soup, ham with glazed carrots, green beans and creamed mashed potatoes, and apple pie. Archie asks for more custard on his apple pie and sips from his glass of red wine. Eleanor talks about the piano lessons she started when she was fourteen – a little to late to survive the distractions of adolescence. Archie protests when she tells how he started serious study of the piano in his thirties. He prefers us to think that he was happiest playing Scott Joplin rags on a pub joanna, but Eleanor insists that he achieved an accomplished level in the classical repertoire.
“I never wanted to work on dramatic material,” Archie reflects. “My writing was more about self-examination.”
Had he planned how the story of Sadie should be concluded, after her piano lessons. He is receptive to the possibility that she might go her own way in life, but suggests this was just one of several “possibilities” he never resolved.
Alasdair comments: “I have a theory that Für Sadie could never be finished. It reminds me of Brecht’s Good Woman of Setzuan where a situation is established in which the heroine reaches a juncture in her affairs. She can be generous and give away everything, or she can be mean and the gods will take away all her riches. At the end of the play Brecht puts the responsibility for finding an ending on the audience. He seems to say, ‘If you want an ending, you will have to change the world’.”
“I never thought of that,” muses Archie when another interpretation comes up in the conversation. Later, he repeats a story in which the French composer Saint-Säens turns up at a performance of Ravel’sBolero. “But, maestro, you have missed the start of the performance,” they tell him at the door of the concert hall. “It’s okay,” he responds. “I only wanted to hear the modulation.” Archie explains the modulation in Bolero, the passage where a key change extends the piece when it appears to be heading for an inevitable conclusion. “But how strange the change – from major to minor,” Eleanor sings, in an Ella Fitzgerald modulation from ‘Every Time We say Goodbye.’
I volunteer to make the coffee. On my way to the kitchen I look at a pinboard in the hall. There is a publisher’s flyer for The Dear Green Place and Archie’s royalties statement which Eleanor had previously quoted me over the phone. It is for the previous year. The total is £68.15. The idea of modulation keeps turning in my head as the answer to my quest for what happened to Für Sadie. Had Archie searched in vain for the key change which would bring his story to a triumphant conclusion? Or had he found it and, like Saint-Säens, ended up considering that the rest of the piece was no longer necessary?
Another of Archie’s phrases comes back to me. It was his only comment when he handed over the copy of the typescript. “I never had any luck with that book,” he said.