The Michael King Memorial Lecture

A modest crowd heard John Carey deliver the Michael King Memorial Lecture today. Carey talked about the influencesCover of Being Pakeha Now that shaped William Golding the novelist.

Golding was a complex man – a scientist who could talk knowledgeably with James Lovelock about the latest NASA rockets, a fine musician, a man free from conventional opinions, a deeply religious man, a socialist with a strong sense of class inferiority, a brave man in wartime who was deeply fearful in everyday life and a teacher who incited the boys in his class to violence as a psychological experiment.

Do only complex people write novels?

John Carey has been involved in some spirited argument during the festival. He believes in the accessibility of art to everyone and the clarity of his writing and his speaking certainly work to that point.

Michael King was another writer who as Rick Gekoski said introducing the lecture took “complex and culturally important things and made them available to everyone”. There is now the Michael King Writers’ Centre on the North Shore. It is a writer’s residence, offers short stay accommodation and runs a community outreach programme of public literary events, writing workshops and master classes.

John Carey Bookman

cover of William Golding the man who wrote Lord of the FliesTwenty-two years, 1000 words a day, 2.5 million words, two unpublished autobiographies and an unpublished autobiographical novel, many early drafts of novels – that was the mountain of papers John Carey had to climb to write his biography of William Golding. He felt he really knew his man at the end and he could literally see the author working out his books on the pages in front of him.   William Golding: the Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies reveals a complex man with two sides – a loving husband and father, brave naval officer and valued teacher who  “saw the seeds of all evil in his own heart”.

Carey’s own reaction to Lord of the Flies when he first read it involved the impact of the language. “I look for that feeling that poetry is happening” he said and he spoke strongly about that aspect of Golding to the hundreds of students he talked to earlier in the day.

A book reviewer for the Sunday Times over many years he collected many of his reviews into a book called Pure Pleasure where he had what was obviously the pleasure of walking around his bookshelves and pulling down things he remembered liking. A reader to his fingertips, he often remembers books  by where he read them. At the moment Ian McEwen’s Solar is on the go, and he is about to start Robert Harris’s Lustrum. He loves a good thriller and recommends the Swedish duo of  Sjowal and Wahloo.

He really values libraries. “I learned in libraries” he says about his  teenage experience of using the Hammersmith Library to explore the world of books. “Being alone with a book seems to me an experience that has to do with knowing yourself and being with yourself and understanding yourself and inspecting your own mind”

Hear what John Carey has to say about books and reading:

Carey sure knows a lot about Golding

CoverWilliam Golding’s Lord of the Flies is one of those books that has always filled me with a deep disquiet.  If I tell you I don’t like it, you will assume I think it isn’t any good.  But that’s not true – I think it’s brilliant.  It’s just not very nice.

It is, however, pivotal in the work of many of today’s most famous pop culture writers and creative artists:  with everything from Stephen King, to Lost, to Terminator, Mad Max and Zombieland being descendents of Lord of the Flies, it can be argued that in some ways all modern post-apocalyptic writing and cinema has derived from Golding’s dark view of humanity. 

John Carey, author of  the recently published William Golding: the man who wrote Lord of the Flies: a life, is an accomplished speaker, and despite the fact that he began quietly, in an auditorium overflowing with rambunctious teens, he had them mesmerised within minutes.  Much of the information should be familiar to those who have even a passing acquaintance with the book and the author, but there were a few surprises even for Carey, he said, as he began to research using Golding’s extensive collection of diaries and papers.  Marion got to have a chat with him this afternoon, and no doubt she will shed much light on both Carey and Golding, but there were one or two things that stood out for me from this morning’s session.

Firstly, that as a teacher, Golding would use what he described as a “measure of experimental science” in his teaching, in essence using the students as illustrations of his own theories about the nature of humanity and the darkness within.  Carey described a particular incident where Golding packed up all the boys and carted them all out to a local landmark, and basically set them against each other in a war-strategy type of situation, only intervening eventually when it became clear that someone was going to be killed.  He also apparently would frequently stir up his classes and deliberately antagonise them so as to observe their behaviour.

The other point I hadn’t heard before was that Golding’s final published work differs significantly from his initial submitted manuscript; this due to his fiercely agnostic editor, who insisted on removing all obvious traces of religious symbolism and deeper spiritual meaning.  From being a quite clear tale of hope and spiritual strength in the face of adversity, it was transformed into a book whose message was that ignorance and terror invent religion, and that only bad can come of anything spiritual.  Later in his life, Golding very much regretted ‘giving in’ to Monteith’s demands, but Carey makes the argument that without this interference, Lord of the Flies would not have become the enduring piece of literary success that it is today.

A fascinating session, and I am very much looking forward both to reading Marion’s interview, and to the Michael King Memorial Lecture on Sunday, which promises an adult slant on Golding’s life and work.