I read quite a log of blogs. I regard Sue Vincent’s as up among the very best – both in the subjects she deals with and in the quality of her own writing. So to have been offered a small part in it like this is very rewarding. Thank you, Sue. It’s the first guest post I’ve ever done, so I’m not at all sure what’s going to emerge. I’ll just put virtual pen to virtual paper and see.
When I was about ten, I confided in a boy at school that, “When I grow up, I’m going to write.” “Ugh!” he replied, pulling a face. “Why d’you want to do that? Writing’s just so boring!” But like many embryonic writers I’d been scribbling things down as far back as I could remember even in those early days. A year or two prior to that, I’d taken to school a poem I’d written. I was really pleased it and wanted to show it to our teacher, a lady with rather grandiose pretensions by the name of Miss Marks – quite a name for a teacher. I remember that poem well –
“’Two Years Before the Mast’,
The film that had so great a cast.
It drew an audience from far and wide
To see its actors side by side.”
I handed it to Miss Marks. To my delight, she read it out to the class. Then turned to me and asked me where it had come from. “I wrote it, Miss,” I announced. She frowned, handed it back to me and declared that clearly, that was not the case, and I had not. Staggered by the injustice, I spluttered and protested. But she was adamant – it clearly wasn’t my work – though she wouldn’t say why, and she hazarded no guesses as to whose work it might have been. It was my first rejection. There would be others.
I knew also that I wanted to make films. That realization however came much later. One Saturday afternoon, in my mid teens, I took myself to the Regal cinema in Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, a few miles from where we lived. The main feature was some big-time US movie, the title of which entirely escapes me. But in those days, in addition to the main film, there was usually a supporting feature. The supporting feature that Saturday was a French film, ‘Le Salaire de la Peur’ (‘The Wages of Fear’), directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Now a classic of world cinema, I knew nothing in those days of either the film or of him. It was a revelation; it stunned me. I sat through it a second time. I had never seen anything so powerfully realistic, gripping, and so utterly absorbing. I came out of the cinema knowing that making films had to be added to writing as the path I had to take – ‘when I grew up’.
And when I grew up I did indeed make a living in both those ways. I spent some years directing TV and cinema commercials in London – and on an infrequent but regular basis in Hong Kong. From the world of commercials – a constant challenge to one’s conscience – I moved on to write and direct mostly drama-documentaries for commercial organisations and occasionally for ITV and BBC. I did well – I won international awards, especially in the UK and US. Everything in the garden of work was rosy.
It wasn’t to last.
The UK economy nose-dived. And did so in spectacular fashion, ushering in a depression which, almost overnight, pulled the floor out from under the area of the business I was working in. Within six months I went from earning serious money on a drama project for the BBC to receiving a real pittance on welfare. My savings had gone, money set aside for tax had gone. There was no way I could continue to pay my mortgage. I was left with – almost literally – nothing. Apart from having agreed to house-sit for some friends for three weeks, where I was going to live and what I was going to do henceforth with my life I had no idea. I remember sitting down on the floor in the house I had lived in for ten years, and which was soon to be repossessed, taking stock of my situation and wondering whether I should laugh or cry. My two youngest boys with whom, in that house, I had spent countless wonderful weekends in those years, were devastated. The edge of the cliff was not far away.
And yet. A voice in the silence said – this is how it has to be; and it’ll be alright. And it was. And is.
Later, I came to see that the total overturning of everything I’d ever worked for was in fact the pulling apart of a jigsaw in which many of the pieces had been missing, had been the wrong way up, or in the wrong place. This was the opportunity to put them back where they should be, slowly, slowly and bit by bit.
For some years after that I lived – officially – in empty vicarages in the Diocese of Southwark – a story in itself. I went on to discover the lovely flat in South London where I live now. I met the woman, Anita with whom I’ve been ever since – and will be with. Along with my own four children – one girl and three boys – I have two great step-sons. I taught myself how to build computers and service other people’s (I’m sort of addicted to gadgets) and I found whatever is necessary inside me to start writing seriously and writing the things I want to write. I write for three hours in the morning, and usually another hour in the afternoon. The first result of that is ‘Albatross – the scent of honeysuckle’ published last year on Amazon.
It is a book inspired by my father. Of him, I have only the vaguest of dim memories – he and my mother broke up when I was about three years old. I was never to see him ever again. I know, even so, that the greater part of the love and nurturing I received in those very early days came from him. His departure from my life was incomprehensible and devastating; the echoes reverberate through my life even now.
‘Albatross’ is about him – or at least it’s about how I think leaving your child in those very early years, never to see that child again, could subsequently play out in your psyche. The main character in ‘Albatross’ is a successful, slightly maverick politician Barney Marechal. As a young man, after the break up of his marriage, and on the screwed financial advice of his parents, he had agreed to walk away from his soon-to-be ex-wife and only child, a boy of three. In later years, the reality catches up with him – he senses he has transgressed against some fundamental law of nature. In response to that, he turns matters on their head – abandons his successful career and the life he’d created for himself in all its aspects, and devotes his life henceforth to a search for that son.
I’m working now on a second novel which takes place in the UK and Queensland, Australia. It will probably take me about another two years to complete. In addition, I’ve been working for a long time on and off, on a book of what I call – for want of a better word – ‘meditations’. Perhaps just ‘thoughts on life and living’ would be a better description. I’ve published some of them on my blog.
Click and scroll down to read one of Jeff’s meditations.
I’m also a serious photographer and have amassed a fairly huge collection of images. I have this rather vague idea of staging an exhibition sometime, somewhere. But as I spend so much of my time writing, I’m not quite sure how I’m going to manage that.
My abiding interest is people – they and the intimacies of their lives are the inspiration for all my writing and for a lot of my photography. The two years which I spent in my early adult life as a humble NCO doing my National Service as an army drill and weapons-training instructor (!) at a notorious basic training camp, followed immediately by three years as a student at Oxford University brought me into close contact with what seemed at first to be wildly irreconcilable strands of society. But those years opened my eyes. I began to perceive that when you strip away the acquired trappings of birth, money and upbringing, we are all, in essence, one.
So – once again Sue, thank you. It’s good to get some of these things out there. Left to my own devices, I’m a pretty poor self-publicist. I can never entirely dislodge from my mind a conviction that time spent in promotion is time I could better spend actually writing – something I can justify only by saying that’s how it always appears to me. And then, only the other day, I came across these wonderful lines from the Tao Te Ching, and I thought – OK, I am where I am.
“A good traveller has no fixed plans
And is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
Lead him wherever it wants.”
You can also watch one of Jeff’s iconic public information films on YouTube.
About the Author
Jeff B Grant Born in the city of Leicester in the UK, Jeff was educated at Bedford Modern School, and Strode’s Grammar School in the county of Surrey – then subsequently at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford where he studied English Language and Literature. After graduating, he worked for several years as a Producer and then Director of television and cinema commercials in London. One of his early directing credits, the 1973 Public Information Film, “Dark and Lonely Water”, is still garnering comments on YouTube today as the scariest of all Public Information Films broadcast on UK television. Jeff then moved on to writing and directing films for organisations such as the Rank Organisation, the Ford Motor Company, the BBC, Central Television, British Oxygen Company etc. He has worked all over the UK and mainland Europe, in several African countries, India, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, the USA and the Caribbean. He received many international awards for both directing and writing. Jeff left the film industry during the recession of the mid-nineties, moved out of London into the country and took a long look at himself and at life. He eventually moved back to London where he now lives. When not writing, he plays piano, tinkers with computers, watches films and birds, takes photographs of the world around him, practises yoga, spends time with his partner, family and friends, and eats hot Indian food.
Jeff B. Grant
“I take up the little dog-eared, black and white photograph and gaze at it yet again. He could be anybody: but I know he’s of me, mine. As I put it down again on the rough table by the bed, lines from a Chinese poem are in my mind – ‘Let me go down next year with the spring waters And search for you to the end of the white clouds in the east.'” Barnaby Marechal knows he has a choice: search for the son he abandoned as an infant many years ago, or risk psychological meltdown under the burden of an unpaid moral debt.
Click the image or the title to go to Amazon
You can read a review of Albatross on Sally Cronin’s Five Star Treatment.
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