Transcript: D.M. Thomas | Jan 03, 1989

(violin music plays)

In animation, a marble entrance with two columns floating on misty mountains opens up to reveal a small bookshelf. Book covers from the collection flash by, including Cat’s eye by Margaret Atwood and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
The title of the show appears as a book cover with a picture of the marble entrance: “Authors at Harbourfront.”

The screen turns as if it were a book page and a male narrator speaks as clips of different authors speaking at Harbourfront flash by.

The Narrator says THE FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS AT
TORONTO'S HARBOURFRONT IS ONE
OF THE WORLD'S FOREMOST
LITERARY EVENTS.
NOW ENTERING ITS TENTH YEAR,
THE FESTIVAL ANNUALLY ATTRACTS
50 OF THE WORLD'S BEST AUTHORS
TO THE STAGE, TO READ FROM
THEIR WORKS AND PARTICIPATE
IN INTERVIEWS AND DISCUSSIONS
WITH THEIR PEERS.

Clip extracts featuring men and women giving lectures pass by with a city skyline by the sea in the background.

The Narrator continues D.M. THOMAS IS FROM CORNWALL,
IN THE SOUTH OF ENGLAND.
HE SPENT SEVERAL YEARS AS A
TRANSLATOR OF WORK SUCH AS
PUSHKIN AND AKHMATOVA.
IT WAS THE RELEASE OF
HIS OWN FIRST NOVEL,
THE WHITE HOTEL, THAT BROUGHT
THOMAS TO THE FOREFRONT
OF THE LITERARY WORLD.
THIS UNCONVENTIONAL NOVEL
DEALT WITH FREUDIAN ANALYSIS
AND THE NAZI MASSACRE
OF JEWS AT BABI YAR.

A bluish book cover features a burning naked woman facing the sea. The cover reads “The White Hotel. D.M. Thomas.”

The Narrator continues ITS RELEASE PROMPTED
ACCUSATIONS OF PLAGIARISM
AND THE EXPLOITATION OF WOMEN.
A CONTROVERSY THAT
SURROUNDS HIM STILL.
HOWEVER, HE HAS CONTINUED TO
RECEIVE STRONG REVIEWS FOR HIS
SUBSEQUENT NOVELS:
IN THIS PROGRAM, D.M. THOMAS
LAUNCHES HIS LATEST WORK,
A VERY UNCONVENTIONAL
BIOGRAPHY ENTITLED:
IN IT, THOMAS PRESENTS
THOUGHTS AND MEMORIES
DISCOVERED THROUGH
PSYCHOANALYTIC SESSIONS.

The author’s five books appear one next to the other. A caption reads “D.M. Thomas. UK.” On the top right corner of the screen, a paused clip featuring Thomas zooms out.

D.M. Thomas is in his sixties, with receding white hair. He’s wearing a brown jacket and an open-necked white shirt.

Thomas says THERE IS A CHARACTER WHO
HAD TO CALL HIMSELF
D.M. THOMAS BECAUSE THERE WAS
ANOTHER WRITER CALLED DONALD
THOMAS WHO GOT IN FIRST WITH
A BOOK, WHICH FORCED ME
TO USE MY INITIALS.
IT'S NOT SOME KIND OF
PRETENSION, YOU KNOW,
ECHOING T.S. ELIOT
OR W.B. YEATS.
THERE IS A SEPARATE D.M.
THOMAS WHO I'M AWARE OF
SITTING ON STAGE
NOW TALKING TO YOU.
WHO HAS BEEN INTERVIEWED
BY VARIOUS NEWSPAPERS.

A Female Interviewer says THAT'S HONEST.

Thomas says THAT'S SEPARATE.
BECAUSE YOU'RE THE WRITER ON
SHOW, AND I FEEL SLIGHTLY
UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THAT.

A male host says PLEASE WELCOME, FROM
THE UNITED KINGDOM...
D.M. THOMAS.
[applause]

Thomas comes to the stage and says THANK YOU.
I'D LIKE TO READ
SOME EXTRACTS FROM
MEMORIES AND HALLUCINATIONS.
THIS BOOK IS AN EXPLORATION
OF MY PAST, AND IT'S IN THE
CONTEXT OF A FREUDIAN ANALYSIS
I WAS TAKING A YEAR OR TWO AGO.
LIKE ALL ANALYSIS, IT CONFUSED
ME AS MUCH AS IT ENLIGHTENED ME.
I'LL START WITH CHILDHOOD,
WHICH WAS IN CORNWALL, ENGLAND.
“WAR BROUGHT WITH HIM
HIS CAMP FOLLOWER, LOVE.
ONCE THE FEAR OF INVASION
HAD PAST, AT FIVE YEARS OLD,
IT MEANT LITTLE TO ME.
I WAS CAUGHT UP IN MY SISTER'S
INTENSE ROMANTIC EXCITEMENT.
OUR SLEEPY TOWN WAS INVADED
NIGHTLY BY BATTLE OF BRITAIN
AIRMAN, LATER BY YANKS
FROM D-DAY TRAINING CAMPS.
THEIR ADVANCE PARTIES CAME,
JUST AS LOIS, VIVACIOUS,
FRECKLED, RED-HEADED,
WAS LEAVING SCHOOL.
IT ALMOST SEEMED AS IF
HITLER HAD CONSULTED HER.
SHE RUSHED HOME FROM HER
OFFICE JOB, ATE HER TEA
STANDING, CHANGED HER CLOTHES
AND REFRESHED HER MAKE-UP
ON THE RUN.
A DIFFERENT GUY BROUGHT HER
HOME FROM THE DANCE OR CINEMA
EVERY NIGHT.
IT'S STRANGE HOW SHE AFFECTED
ME SO MUCH, FOR SHE NEVER
TOOK THE SLIGHTEST NOTICE OF
ME, NOR I OF HER ON THE MORE
MUNDANE LEVEL.
SHE WAS A VIVID FLAME, WARMING
THE HOUSE MORE THAN THE
CORNISH RANGE OR
THE COAL FIRE.
WHEN I RECALL THE SLENDER
SEARCHLIGHTS INTERWEAVING IN
THE BLACK SKY, I THINK
OF HER FRANTIC DRESSINGS.
WHEN I RECALL THE MIDNIGHT
GLOW ON THE HORIZON, AS THE
OIL DUMPS OF SWANPOOL BURNED,
I THINK OF THE AUBURN HAIR
SHE INHERITED FROM MY FATHER.
I CAN NEVER SEE PASSIONATE
EMBRACES IN THE LONDON BLITZ
IN SOME FILM WITHOUT
REMEMBERING, IN A STRANGE,
VICARIOUS WAY, THE PRESS OF
MY SISTER'S LIPS AGAINST THE
MOUTH OF SOME AIRMAN, PERHAPS
ONLY NIGHTS AWAY FROM DEATH.
I'M SURE MY FATHER FELT
THE GLAMOUR OF IT, TOO.
HER BEDROOM DOOR OPEN, HE
WOULD TRY TO PRESS CLUMSY
KISSES ON HER.
AND SHE WOULD PUSH HIM AWAY,
PROTESTING, WHILE MY MOTHER,
FROM THE KITCHEN, SCOLDED HER
FOR NOT BEING AFFECTIONATE.
THE BOYS IN BLUE, AND LATER
THE JAUNTY G.I.s NEVER GOT
VERY FAR WITH HER, I'M SURE.
NO FURTHER THAN THE
HOLLYWOOD HEROES
IN THE FILMS
SHE DEVOURED.
WALTER PIGEON HAD ONCE PATTED
HER ON THE HEAD, WHEN FATHER,
A STUDIO WORKMAN IN LOS ANGELES,
BROUGHT ALONG HIS BABY DAUGHTER.
18 WHEN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
ENDED, 39 WHEN THE SECOND
BEGAN, TOO YOUNG, OR TOO OLD,
FATHER WAS LUCKY IN WAR.
I THINK HE WAS
LUCKY IN LOVE, TOO.
THOUGH THERE MAY HAVE BEEN
MOMENTS WHEN HE DOUBTED IT.
I'M SURE HE HAD
STRONG PASSIONS.
MY MOTHER SAID AS
MUCH, AFTER HIS DEATH.
AND SAID THAT SHE
WASN'T SO KEEN ON SEX.
LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER,
LOIS WOULD ADMIT WITH A
CHUCKLE, REALLY SHE PREFERRED
A BAR OF CADBURY'S.
[laughter]
BUT SHE LOVED THE ROMANCE,
THE GLAMOUR, THE CHASE
AND ESCAPE.
AT LEAST THAT'S HOW IT
STRUCK MY CHILDISH SENSES.
MY LIFE SEEMED, IN
COMPARISON, UNEVENTFUL.
MOTHER WOULDN'T LET
ME PLAY ROUGH GAMES.
AS A RESULT, WHEN SHE DID LET
ME GO OFF AND PLAY WITH AN
OLDER BOY ONCE, I PANICKED AND
ALMOST FELL TO MY DEATH IN
SOME OLD MINE WORKINGS.
I COULD EITHER RISK A SIX-FOOT
DROP INTO A DARK HOLE, BY
JUMPING, AS THE OTHER BOY DID,
OR GO AROUND THE SIDE AND
RISK A HUNDRED-FOOT DROP.
I CHOSE THE LATTER SINCE I
WAS FRIGHTENED OF THE DARK.
I WAS FRIGHTENED OF THE NIGHT.
AFTER THE LIGHTS HAD BEEN
TURNED OFF IN OUR BUNGALOW, I
TOOK TO CALLING OUT THAT I
COULD SEE A GHOST STANDING
IN THE FRONT DOORWAY.
MY PARENTS KNEW YOU COULDN'T
SEE THE FRONT DOORWAY
FROM MY TINY BEDROOM.
THEY GRUMBLED, BUT ALWAYS, IN
THE END, THEY LET ME COME TO
THEIR BEDROOM, AND MOTHER
WOULD LEAVE THEIR BED FOR MINE.
I WOULD SNUGGLE, HAPPILY,
AGAINST MY FATHER'S HOT,
TANGY SKIN.
SKIN SEEMS THE RIGHT WORD,
EVEN THOUGH HE WORE PAJAMAS.
I COULD SEE HIS HAIRY CHEST.
AND I WOULD BEG
HIM FOR A STORY.
I RECALL A STORY ABOUT
A VOYAGE TO AMERICA
LULLING ME ASLEEP.
LAWRENCE TALKS ABOUT
THE BLISS OF SLEEPING
WITH ONE'S MOTHER.
AND THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN
JUST AS BLISSFUL, I SUPPOSE,
BUT IT DIDN'T HAPPEN.
HE WORKED VERY HARD.
THE LINES TRENCHED IN
HIS GAUNT, KIND FACE.
HE WAS ALSO IN
THE HOME GUARD.
I DON'T THINK HE WOULD HAVE
HELD UP THE STORM TROOPERS
FOR LONG, BUT HE WOULD
HAVE DIED FOR US.
IT WAS A FRIENDLY HOUSE.
FRIENDS WERE ALWAYS DROPPING
IN OF AN EVENING AFTER OUR
SUPPER AROUND THE FIRE.
MOTHER WAS IN THE KITCHEN
MAKING SANDWICHES FOR SOME
CALLERS, WHEN ANOTHER
MAN, OLD AND BALD ARRIVED.
SHE TOOK HIM INTO THE KITCHEN.
OPENING THE HATCH,
SHE WHISPERED AT US,
'IT'S HAROLD'S COUSIN BERTIE.
HE'S DEAF AND DUMB'.
AFTER A MOMENT'S SILENCE,
FATHER SAID, THEN WHAT THE
HELL ARE YOU WHISPERING FOR?
EVERYONE ROARED WITH LAUGHTER.
MY FATHER'S LAUGH WAS FAMOUS.
FOUR DESCENDING NOTES,
REPEATED AT A HIGHER PITCH,
THEN STILL HIGHER.
WORK MATES WOULD SAY, 'HEARD
YOU IN THE PICTURES ON
SATURDAY, HAROLD.
WHAT'D YOU THINK OF IT'?
[laughter]
HE LOVED COMING HOME WITH
DROLL STORIES OF HIS WORK MATES.
Mr. PRISS CALLED AROUND.
STARTED TALKING ABOUT
HIS LIFE IN INDIA.
HE SAID YOU HAD TO
BE VERY CAREFUL.
IF THE CHILDREN WENT OUT WITH
THEIR NANNY FOR THE DAY,
YOU HAD TO MAKE SURE
THE WATER WAS BOILED.
WHEN HE'D GONE, FREDDIE TURNED
TO ME AND SAID, WHAT A BLOODY
MAN, INNIT, HAROLD,
SENDING HIS CHILDREN OUT
WITH A BLOODY GOAT.
[laughter]
AND HIS LAUGHTER
WOULD RING OUT.
I WOULD SAY THERE WAS A LOT OF
FAIRLY LOW-KEYED UNHAPPINESS,
SHE MURMURS BEHIND MY HEAD.
'NO, NO, WE WERE VERY HAPPY'.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY
A PART OF THE FAMILY.
YOU WERE AT THE PERIPHERY.
PERHAPS YOUR MOTHER DIDN'T
ALTOGETHER WANT TO HAVE YOU.
SO SHE COMPENSATED
BY FUSSING YOU.
BUT THE GUILT IN SUCH
SITUATIONS ALWAYS
NAGS UNCONSCIOUSLY.
I ROLL MY TONGUE OVER
A TROUBLESOME TOOTH.
MY WHOLE BODY IS OUT OF ORDER,
OUT OF SYNC WITH MY MIND.
THINK ABOUT IT, SHE CONTINUES.
YOU HAVE A DREAM OF A DREAM.
YOUR FANTASIES GO BACK TO
THEIR CALIFORNIA EPISODE,
LONG BEFORE YOU WERE BORN.
BECAUSE YOU THINK
THEN THEY WERE HAPPY.
SHE PAUSES.
I SAY NOTHING.
I GET A SENSE OF IMMENSE
LONELINESS, SHE SAYS.
SUDDENLY, I FEEL
IMMENSELY LONELY.
MY MOUTH EMITS A
STRANGLED SIGH.
IT'S VERY PAINFUL, BUT YOU
MUST CONFRONT YOUR FEELINGS,
OTHERWISE...
SHE LEAVES THE
WARNING IN MIDAIR.
GOD, DO I HAVE TO HATE THEM?
A HESITATION.
YOU HAVE USED THE WORD.
THOU HAS SAID.
ON THE DRIVE BACK, I PULL IN
BESIDE THE VILLAGE SCHOOL
WHERE ROSS IS A PUPIL.
AS I SEE MY SCRUFFY SON
LEAVE THE SCHOOL, DRAGGING A
BAG AND CELLO CASE, I FEEL A
TUG OF TENDERNESS, SO SMALL,
SO VULNERABLE, A VICTIM
OF ALL OUR CHANGES.
WELL, DID YOU HAVE
A GOOD DAY?
ALL RIGHT.
WONDERING WHAT ELSE I
CAN SAY, I DRIVE OFF.
I DIDN'T WANT ANOTHER CHILD,
YET HE IS VERY PRECIOUS TO ME,
LIKE ALL MY CHILDREN.
I HAVE A PROBLEM COMMUNICATING
WITH HIM, AND I'M EATEN UP
GUILT ABOUT IT.
FROM THE BACK SEAT, HEY, DON,
CAN WE STOP AT FOUR BOYS?
WHY?
TO BUY A COMIC.
OKAY.
WE FALL SILENT AGAIN.
PERHAPS MY SHRINK IS RIGHT,
AND EVERYTHING IN MY CHILDHOOD
IS CONTRARY TO
WHAT I REMEMBER.
I'M WILLING TO BELIEVE IT
IF IT WILL GET ME BETTER.
IT'S EASY ENOUGH TO RECALL MY
TERRIBLE SHYNESS, THE ABSENCE
OF ANY PLAYMATES IN THE HOUSE.
WHICH IS THE TRUE FANTASY,
MINE OR MY ANALYST'S?
[laughter]
OR ARE BOTH FALSE, BOTH TRUE?
IT'S TOO FAR AWAY
FOR ME TO TELL.
WHEN I LOOK AT THE CHILDHOOD
SNAPS OF ME TAKEN WITH MY
FATHER'S BOX CAMERA, I FEEL
BOTH CLOSE TO THAT CHILD
AND DISTANT.
HE'S I, BUT ALSO
SOMEONE ELSE.
SOMEONE FOR WHOM I FEEL
IMMEASURABLE TENDERNESS
AND COMPASSION.
I SEE HIM, MUCH AS I SEE
ROSS, WHO COMES RUNNING
WITH HIS COMIC.”

(classical music plays)

Back in the interview, Thomas says THERE ARE PROBLEMS ABOUT
WRITING A MEMOIR WHEN PEOPLE
ARE VERY MUCH ALIVE
AND IN YOUR OWN FAMILY.
I MEAN, IT WAS QUITE
DELIBERATE, ON MY PART, TO SAY
AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE ABOUT MY
CHILDREN, MY PARTNERS, OUT OF
SHEER TACT, AND NOT WISHING
TO INTRUDE INTO THEIR PRIVACY
TOO MUCH.
AND WHAT I DID SAY
SHOULD BE NICE.
BUT THE RESULT OF THAT CAN
EASILY BE SEEN AS A SORT OF
INDIFFERENCE TO
THEM OR COLDNESS.
WHICH THEY KNOW IS ABSOLUTELY
NOT TRUE, AND HAVE GOT VERY
ANGRY WITH SOME OF
THE REACTIONS TO IT
FOR THAT REASON.
SO I DECIDED TO BE QUITE HARD
ON MYSELF, BUT TO GO EASY
ON OTHERS.
I THINK A WRITER IS ALWAYS
AN OUTSIDER TO SOME EXTENT.
AN OBSERVER.

The audience listens carefully.

He continues AND ONE OF THE THINGS I TRIED
TO EXPRESS IN THE MEMOIR WAS
HOW, THIS GROWING UP IN A
LOVING, WORKING CLASS HOME,
AND WANTING TO BELONG TO IT,
BUT SOMETHING SAYING YOU ARE
AN OBSERVER, YOU ARE
A LITTLE BIT OUTSIDE.
I DON'T KNOW WHICH IS THE
CHICKEN, WHICH IS THE EGG.
BECAUSE I WAS LIKE THAT,
DID I LATER BECOME A WRITER?
OR WAS I ALWAYS MEANT TO BE A
WRITER, AND THEREFORE DID I
STAND A LITTLE BIT APART?

[applause]

Standing on the stage, Thomas says MY SISTER BECAME AN
AUSTRALIAN'S WAR BRIDE, AND AT
THE AGE OF 14, I EMIGRATED
WITH MY PARENTS, WE FOLLOWED,
THINKING WE MIGHT STAY
FOREVER IN AUSTRALIA.
AN IMMENSE MONTH-LONG
VOYAGE ACROSS THE GLOBE.
AND PERHAPS, NOT
SURPRISINGLY, IT BROUGHT
ON PUBERTY.
He reads “GREY DUNES OF OCEAN.
MY BODY AND SOUL STAGGERING
ABOVE AN AWFUL EMPTINESS.
SEASICKNESS, HOMESICKNESS,
MULLIGATAWNY SOUP AND VOMIT.
I GRADUALLY GOT MY SEA LEGS,
BUT MY SOUL NEVER LOST
ITS SEASICKNESS.
IN THE MIDST OF TAKING A BATH,
AS MY MOTHER CAME IN WITH
FRESH UNDERWEAR TO PUT
ON, I BURST INTO TEARS.
I WAS WEEPING FOR OUR CAT.
IT WOULD BE MISSING US.
MISSING ITS HOME, AND
IT WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND.
YOU COULDN'T EXPLAIN TO A PET.
YOU COULDN'T SEND IT LETTERS.
IT WOULD SIMPLY, I WAS
SURE, BE FEELING LOST
AND GRIEF STRICKEN.
SO I WEPT IN THE BATH, AND
MOTHER TRIED TO CHEER ME UP.
SMALL BOATS CLUSTERING AROUND
US AT MALTA, PORT SIDE.
THE GLOW OF FRESH FRUIT,
YELLOWS, ORANGES, THE SHOUTS
OF BARTER.
BASKETS HAULED UP ON LINES,
AND COINS PAST DOWN.
SUN, WATERS DAZZLE, NATIVES
LEANING ON HOES, WATCHING US
AS WE NOSED THROUGH THE SUEZ
CANAL, ADEN, BROILED UNDER THE
ARID RED ROCK.
THE CABIN BENEATH THE WATER
LINE, FATHER AND I SHARED IT
WITH SIX MEN,
AIRLESS, BREATHLESS.
THE IMMENSE GLAZE
OF THE INDIAN OCEAN.
DOLPHINS LEAPING.
ICE CREAM ON DECK
AT MID-MORNING.
PING-PONG IN THE GAMES' ROOM.
AT NIGHT, WE SLEPT ON
THE BOAT DECK TO BREATHE.
THE SEA ALIVE WITH
PHOSPHORESCENCE.
THE SKY HELD MORE STARS THAN
DARKNESS, AND THEY WERE
BRILLIANT AND NEW.
I DESCRIBED IT ALL IN
MY FIRST LOST JOURNAL.
TO MY HOMESICKNESS WAS ADDED
ANOTHER EMOTIONAL TURBULENCE,
SO INTENSE I HARDLY KNEW IF
IT WAS DELIGHT OR SORROW.
IN THE TINY LIBRARY BELOW THE
GAMES' ROOM, THERE WERE NO
CHILDREN'S BOOKS.
I WAS FORCED TO
READ SOME ADULT BOOKS.
AND ONE DAY, SOMEWHERE IN THE
MIDDLE OF THE INDIAN OCEAN,
I STUMBLED ON A SHY YOUNG WOMAN
WHO ALLOWED A MAN TO PULL
THE CORD OF HER DRESSING GOWN,
AND HER BREASTS TUMBLED OUT
TO HIS HANDS.
HER BREASTS, SHAPELY
AND BLUSHED WITH PINK,
SPILLED OUT OF THE
DRESSING GOWN.
HE REACHED FOR THEM.
SHE SMILED.
THE SHY YOUNG WOMAN SMILED AND
LAUGHED AND WAS AT EASE
WITH HIM.
AND WHATEVER NOTHING WAS
BETWEEN HER THIGHS, THERE
WHERE MY HAIR WAS ALSO
GROWING, LAY OPEN TO HIM...
REVEALED.
AS HER BREASTS SPILLED OUT, I
FELT A SURGE AT MY GROIN, A
HEAVY, THICK, SWEET, ACHING
PRESSURE AGAINST MY SHORTS.
IT WAS AS IF MY COCK WAS
STRAINING TO GET UP TO THE
DAZZLING SUN AND THE
BRILLIANT STARS.
THIS WAS NOTHING LIKE
MY UNCLE'S DIAGRAMS.
[laughter]
THE HEAT GREW
STILL MORE INTENSE.
SEVERAL OF THE PASSENGERS
DIDN'T MIND BEING DOWSED IN
WATER TO MARK THE
CROSSING OF THE EQUATOR.
BY NIGHT, THE SOUTHERN
CROSS WAS ABLAZE NOW.
MY PARENTS SANG,
WANTING
YOU,
AND
WE'LL GATHER LILACS
IN THE SHIP'S CONCERT.
I CAN SEE THEM NOW, HALF
TURNED TO EACH OTHER, MY
FATHER'S ADAM'S APPLE ABOVE
THE BROWN SUIT WHICH DIDN'T
QUITE FIT.
HIS WAVY AUBURN HAIR.
MOTHER, SMALL, PLUMP,
SMILING, WHITE HAIRED.
HER HAIR HAD TURNED FROM
BLACK TO WHITE VERY EARLY.
I THINK OF HER
SOUL AS SILVER.
I THINK OF MY
FATHER'S AS BRONZE.
THEY LOVED SINGING TOGETHER.
SOPRANO AGAINST BARITONE.
AND THEY LIKED
SPREADING ENJOYMENT.
THE CAPTAIN OF
THE OSTERA
SIGNED THEIR PROGRAM.
THE MAN PULLED AT THE BELT
OF THE SHY YOUNG WOMAN'S
DRESSING GOWN, AND HER
BREASTS, AS ROUND AND ROSY
AS THE FRUIT ON THE BOATS IN
MALTA AT PORT SIDE, SPILLED
OUT TO HIS HANDS
FOR HIS DELIGHT.
AND THAT NOTHING
BETWEEN HER THIGHS.
ANOTHER COUPLE, IN ANOTHER
NOVEL, BOUNCED ON
MATTRESS SPRINGS.
I POINTED THEM
OUT TO MY FATHER.
ASKING WHAT IT MEANT.
AND HE LOOKED EMBARRASSED AND
DIDN'T ANSWER ME CLEARLY.
THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN
BITE STORMY.
BUT I HAD MY SEA LEGS NOW.
MY BODY, NOT MY SOUL.
THAT WAS STILL STAGGERING
ABOVE A CHASM.
THEN LOIS AND RAY, RUSHING
ONTO THE SHIP, ALMOST BEFORE
WE HAD DOCKED AT MELBOURNE.
EMBRACES, TEARS, GIGGLES.
A BEWILDERING TAXI RIDE.
A HUGE, GLOWING,
PINEAPPLE SPIKY MEAL.
I COULDN'T EAT FOR GRIEF.”

(classical music plays)

Thomas says I THINK SEX IS IMPORTANT.
WE FEEL, MOST PEOPLE FEEL
UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT BECAUSE
OF ITS PRIMITIVE
UNCONTROLLABLE ENERGY.
AND MOST PEOPLE THEREFORE,
LIKE TO TAME IT IN SOME WAY.
EITHER BY TURNING IT INTO
RECREATION, OR TURNING IT INTO
AN EXPRESSION OF MARITAL
AFFECTION OR SOMETHING.
BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT
THIS IS A DYNAMIC POWER.
AND IF I CAN QUOTE FREUD, HE
SAID SEX IS WHERE THE HIGHEST
AND THE LOWEST ARE
CLOSEST TOGETHER.
FROM HEAVEN, ACROSS
THE WORLD, TO HELL.
WHERE HE WAS QUOTING GOETHE.
THIS MAKES SEX A VERY
DIFFICULT FORCE,
BUT A VITAL ONE, I THINK,
FOR THREE REASONS.
IN THE BIBLE, IT'S
CALLED CARNAL KNOWLEDGE.
AND I THINK THERE IS SOMETHING
ABOUT THIS ENERGY WHICH DOES
REVEAL PEOPLE IN THEIR
NAKEDNESS, WHICH ISN'T
AVAILABLE IN THEIR
SOCIAL INTERCOURSE.
I THINK, SECONDLY, IT IS A
WEAK ATTEMPT BY HUMANITY
TO RECONNECT THE DIVIDED
SUBSTANCE OF LIFE.
THE YOLK AND THE WHITE OF THE
SAME SHELL, AS YEATS PUT IT
SO WHEN A MAN AND A WOMAN
MAKE LOVE, THAT IS SOME
ATTEMPT TO DO THAT.
AND ALSO, IT IS, AGAIN,
A WEAK IMITATION OF
THE UNIVERSAL ENERGY.
SO I MEAN, IT IS A
TERRIFIC SUBJECT.
THE FACT THAT I ALSO ENJOY
IT PROBABLY HAS AN AFFECT,
AS WELL.
[laughter]

On the stage, Thomas continues reading “I FELL HOPELESSLY IN LOVE
AT MY HIGH SCHOOL WITH A
GRACEFUL, SLIM, LIGHT-FOOTED
GIRL CALLED SARAH.
SHE APPEARED IN ONLY TWO OR
THREE OF MY CLASSES EACH DAY,
WAS OFTEN ABSENT
THROUGH SICKNESS,
AND SPOKE TO ME ONLY TWO OR
THREE TIMES DURING THOSE
LAST FEW WEEKS.”
I MOVED ON ALMOST TWO
YEARS, I SHOULD HAVE SAID.
“TO ASK IF SHE COULD BORROW
MY BIOLOGY NOTEBOOK TO COPY
NOTES SHE HAD MISSED, AND TO
THANK ME ON RETURNING IT.
BUT HER SHAPELY, ANIMATED
FACE, HER GAY SMILE, HER STEP
WHICH DID NOT SEEM TO TOUCH
THE GROUND, FILLED MY DAYS
AND NIGHTS.

Fast clips show women in the audience.

He continues IF SHE HAPPENED TO SIT IN
FRONT OF ME, THE SIGHT OF HER
SHORT, BLACK HAIR, CONVERGING
TO A POINT ON HER SLIM NAPE
MADE ME FEEL WEAK.
I COULD HARDLY GUIDE
MY PEN OVER THE PAPER.
DURING THE ARID CLASSES WE DID
NOT SHARE, THERE WERE MOMENTS
OF PURE GRACE WHEN SHE
APPEARED UNEXPECTEDLY, WALKING
ALONG THE WINDOWED CORRIDOR.
I WAS BLIND TO EVERYONE
ELSE'S EMOTIONS.
I BURST INTO TEARS OVER THE
PASSION FRUIT ONE EVENING,
AND SAID I'D CHANGED MY
MIND ABOUT GOING HOME.
I WANTED TO STAY.
THEY COULD LEAVE ME THERE.
ON MY LAST DAY AT SCHOOL, I
SUMMONED UP ENOUGH COURAGE TO
SPEAK TO SARAH, SAYING I
WAS GOING BACK TO ENGLAND.
WE SHOOK HANDS, POLITELY,
WHILE MY HEART WAS BREAKING.
I THOUGHT TO ASK IF SHE WOULD
MIND MY WRITING TO HER,
BUT WAS TOO SHY.”

(music plays)

In the interview, Thomas says AS A NOVELIST, LET'S
LOOK AT MY LIFE.
THIS IS YOUR LIFE,
D.M. THOMAS.
DON THOMAS, DONALD THOMAS.
DOES IT MAKE ANY
KIND OF SHAPE?
DOES IT MAKE ANY KIND OF --
HAS IT ANY KIND OF MEANING?
AND THAT'S WHAT I TRY TO DO.
THERE IS, I SUPPOSE, THE
VANITY OF A WRITER, THAT IF
YOU WRITE SOMETHING, YOU
WANT TO SEE IT IN PRINT.
I THOUGHT IT SAID SOME
INTERESTING THINGS, I HOPED,
ABOUT MEMORY, AND ABOUT
THE PROCESS OF WRITING.
A LOT OF IT IS ABOUT HOW MY
OWN LIFE BLENDED IN WITH
THE FICTIONS I WAS WRITING.
HOW THE LIFE OF THE WRITER
AND HIS FICTION INTERACT.
THIS, I THINK, IS PERHAPS
IRRELEVANT, AND IT IS
IRRELEVANT FROM A PURE POINT
OF VIEW, BUT WHEN WE SEE THAT
THERE IS A NEW NOVEL BY EDNA
O'BRIEN, WE DON'T THINK,
WHAT'S HAPPENING TO EDNA
O'BRIEN AT THE MOMENT.
BUT, IN FACT, AS YOU ARE
WRITING A NOVEL, THERE ARE
ALL SORTS OF TURBULENT
THINGS GOING ON.
AND I FIND THAT INTERESTING.
SO I THOUGHT, I'LL JUST SHOW
FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF ONE
WRITER, SOME OF THE TURBULENT
THINGS THAT WERE GOING ON IN
MY LIFE, AS I WROTE
ARARAT
OR
SPHINX
OR SOMETHING.
WHETHER I SHOULD HAVE
PUBLISHED IT, I DON'T KNOW.
QUITE A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE
SUGGESTING THAT PERHAPS I
SHOULDN'T HAVE.
BUT IT'S TOO LATE.

He smiles.

Before continuing with the reading, Thomas says MOVING ON AGAIN,
OH... TWENTY YEARS.
FOUR YEARS AGO, I MADE MY
FIRST RETURN TO AUSTRALIA
SINCE THOSE ADOLESCENT YEARS.
THE ADELAIDE FESTIVAL,
A FESTIVAL WHICH IS ALMOST
AS GOOD AS TORONTO'S,
THOUGH NOT QUITE.
[laughter]
Now, he reads “HI, THIS IS SARAH.
SARAH?
GOOD HEAVENS, HELLO.
WELCOME TO AUSSIE.
HER VOICE SOUNDS MUCH MORE
STRIDENTLY AUSTRALIAN
THAN IT DID 33 YEARS AGO.
OR RATHER I DON'T RECALL HER
VOICE, ONLY HER GRACEFUL FACE
AND FORM, HER DANCING BLACK
EYES AND STEPS THAT GLIDED
ON ASPHALT.
INTRIGUED BY A POEM I'D
WRITTEN ABOUT HER, A MELBOURNE
EDITOR HAD LOOKED UP SARAH'S
UNCOMMON MAIDEN NAME IN THE
DIRECTORY AND
SPOKEN TO HER MOTHER.
PUT IN TOUCH WITH SARAH, I HAD
WRITTEN, AND SHE'D REPLIED
WITH A PHOTO.
SHE WAS STILL RECOGNIZABLE,
STILL ATTRACTIVE.
BUT SHE DIDN'T
REMEMBER ME AT ALL.
[laughter]
NOW, SHE WAS ON THE LINE
TO MY ADELAIDE HOTEL.
I SAW IN THE A YOU
WERE AT THE FESTIVAL.
YOU MUST COME AND HAVE
DINNER WITH US WHEN YOU ARE
IN MELBOURNE.
MY DAUGHTER WOULD BE THRILLED.
SHE'S READ YOUR BOOK.
I'D LIKE THAT.
I'D LOVE TO SEE YOU.
YES, IT WOULD BE BEAUT.
[laughter]
I'LL RING YOU WHEN I KNOW WHAT
MY PUBLISHERS HAVE GOT LINED
UP FOR ME IN MELBOURNE.
I'LL ONLY BE THERE
A COUPLE OF DAYS.
THOUGH I'VE DREAMED OF SARAH
FOR 33 YEARS, ALREADY I'M
PREPARING THE GROUND
FOR A WITHDRAWAL.
[laughter]
IT'S THE WORD BEAUT WHICH
PUTS ME OFF, MAKES ME --
[laughter]
MAKES ME REALIZE THE MEMORY
OF HER EARLY IMAGE IS TOO
PRECIOUS TO RISK LOSING.
IT WOULD BE TERRIBLE IF
I FELL FOR HER DAUGHTER.
[laughter]
He pauses and continues I FELT I WOULD BE MET IN
MELBOURNE BY A KIND OF TWIN,
MORE BRONZED AND LEATHERY THAN
I, AND WITH A COLONIAL TWANG.
HE WOULD INTRODUCE ME TO HIS
CHARMING, CULTURED WIFE,
PERHAPS A GREEK, AND
CHARMING CHILDREN.
THEY WOULD TAKE ME TO A NICE
BUNGALOW IN MOORABBIN, OR
IVANHOE.
HE IS, PERHAPS, UNIVERSITY
LECTURER, AND HE WRITES.
HIS WIFE HAS TAUGHT HIM
SOME GREEK, AND HE HAS
TRANSLATED CAVAFY.
HAS HE WRITTEN A NOVEL
CALLED 'THE BLUE MOTEL'?
OVER A MIDNIGHT DRINK, WHEN
OUR POLITE CONVERSATION IS
ALREADY DRAGGING, HE HINTS,
JOKINGLY, UNEASILY, OF
COMPLICATIONS IN HIS LIFE.
FOR HE GREW UP IN THE SAME
ATMOSPHERE OF INTIMATE
DISTANCE, CAUTIOUS INTIMACY.
AFRAID OF GHOSTS AND SPIDERS,
HE STILL FEARS AND
LOATHES TARANTULAS.
HE SLEPT WITH HIS FATHER.
HE WATCHED OUR SISTER KICK
HIGH FROM THE LOUNGE FLOOR.
SEXUALLY, WE FIND AS THE
CONVERSATION WARMS UP,
WE ARE QUITE ALIKE.
HE DOESN'T KNOW RUSSIAN.
HAS NEVER READ PUSHKIN OR
AKHMATOVA IN TRANSLATION.”
AND, FINALLY, ANOTHER TRIP.
“I WENT EAST TO BULGARIA
ON AN OFFICIAL TRIP FOR
THE BRITISH COUNCIL.
I WAS THE FIRST AUTHOR TO GO
THERE FOLLOWING THE APPEARANCE
OF MALCOLM BRADBURY'S
RATES OF EXCHANGE.
IN WHICH THE HERO IS ADVISED
BY A REFINED COUNCIL LADY ON
NO ACCOUNT TO COMMIT BUGGERY.
I WOULD BE SAFE, I KNEW, FROM
THAT TEMPTATION, BUT SLACKER
BULGARIA SOUNDED HAZARDOUS.
A REFINED BRITISH COUNCIL LADY
ADVISED ME, ON NO ACCOUNT,
TO MENTION BRADBURY'S NOVEL.
[laughter]
ARRIVING AT SOFIA'S AIRPORT,
I WAS WELCOMED BY A NERVOUS
EMBASSY OFFICIAL.

A view of the auditorium appears.

He continues A SUAVE OFFICIAL OF THE
WRITERS' UNION, AND A PALE,
GAUNT, BLONDE, WHO SAID,
'MISTER THOMAS, I WILL BE YOUR
GUARDIAN ANGEL'.
HER NAME WAS NELLY, AND
SHE DID TRULY BECOME MY
GUARDIAN ANGEL.
STAYING WITH ME EACH EVENING
FOR A WEEK, FAR BEYOND HER
HOURS OF DUTY, SHE SAVED
ME NOT ONLY FROM BUGGERY,
BUT FROM EVERY POSSIBLE
SEXUAL TEMPTATION.”

(violin music plays)

Thomas says I DON'T ENJOY READING
ALL THAT MANY NOVELS.
WHAT I GET BORED WITH IS THE
PURELY FICTIVE FORM OF TAKING
A FEW CHARACTERS AND SEEING
WHAT HAPPENS TO THEM.
I'M ALWAYS LOOKING, I ADMIT,
FOR SOME KIND OF POETIC
SYMBOLISM TO BE GOING ON,
SOME KIND OF DENSITY
IN THE TEXT, WHICH PROBABLY GOES
BACK TO WHAT BRADBURY SAID.
I THINK
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO
WAS A
GREAT EXAMPLE OF THIS, WHERE
EVEN SIMPLE EVENTS LIKE
PAUSING BETWEEN THE CORNER OF
SILVER STREET AND SILENT
STREET, AS HAPPENS IN ONE
POINT, IN MOSCOW, IS ACTUALLY
A REFERENCE TO WHEN THE
SILVER AGE, IN RUSSIAN
LITERATURE, MET THE SILENT
AGE, WHICH WAS THE
STALINIST TERROR.
AND YOU'RE GETTING A JOLT
THERE, FAR MORE THAN JUST
THE FICTIONAL ELEMENT.
IT'S NOT LIKE SAYING HE
STOPPED BETWEEN THE CORNER
OF ELLSWORTHY AVENUE AND
FINCH STREET OR SOMETHING.
YOU KNOW, IT'S SOMETHING MORE.
AND THAT IS WHAT
I REALLY LIKE.

[applause]

Thomas reads “WOMEN'S WEEK WAS ON.
THE RESTAURANTS WERE PACKED
WITH FACTORY PARTIES.
'MEN THANKING WOMEN FOR BEING
THEIR SLAVES THE REST OF THE
YEAR', NELLY EXPLAINED.
[laughter]
A FERVENT COMMUNIST, A
KOMSOMOL LEADER, SHE STORMED
AT HEAD WAITERS TO
FIND US A TABLE.
AND IF ANGER FAILED TO WORK,
SHE RESORTED SHAMELESSLY
TO TEARS.
ALWAYS, WE GOT A TABLE.
SHE WAS THE ONLY WOMAN I'VE
MET WHO SMOKED MORE THAN I.
PAUSING TO SMOKE, NOT
MERELY BETWEEN COURSES,
BUT BETWEEN MOUTHFULS.
HER FACE AND HANDS TREMBLED
CONSTANTLY WITH NERVES, AS
THOUGH BENEATH HER PALE, TAUNT
SKIN, WAS A SWARM OF BEES.
WE ARGUED ALL DAY ABOUT
COMMUNISM, AND I CAME TO RELY
ON HER LIKE A MOTHER.
SUNK DEEP IN A LEATHER
SOFA AT THE WRITERS' UNION
HEADQUARTERS, LIBERALLY PLIED
WITH BRANDY, I LISTENED TO A
RUGGED, GREY-HAIRED SECRETARY
TO CLAIM ON THE NEED FOR
WRITERS TO BAND TOGETHER IN THE
INTERESTS OF THE PROLETARIAT.
I REMINDED HIM THAT HIS
COUNTRY'S FIRST POET WAS
ORPHEUS, WHO BANDED WITH NO
ONE, EXCEPT STONES AND TREES.
STILL, THE AMOUNT OF WESTERN
LITERATURE PUBLISHED IN
BULGARIA WAS IMPRESSIVE.
WITH NELLY AS MY SHADOW, I SAT
IN AN OFFICE OF THE LARGEST
PUBLISHERS OF FOREIGN
LITERATURE, CONVERSING WITH
THREE, STIFF-BACKED LADIES
IN BLACK, WHO LOOKED LIKE
THE THREE FEINTS.
GESTURING TOWARDS SHELVES
FULL OF ENGLISH FICTION,
THEY HANDED ME THEIR
LATEST FAY WELDON.
BUT THEIR PROBLEM, THEY SAID
SEVERELY, WAS THAT MY COUNTRY
PRODUCED SO FEW NOVELS
THAT WERE WORTH TRANSLATING.
'Mr. THOMAS IS A NOVELIST',
SAID NELLY INDIGNANTLY.
'WE KNOW'.
[laughter]
I INQUIRED ABOUT SOVIET
LITERATURE -- FOR
INSTANCE, PASTERNAK.
YES, THEY HAD PUBLISHED
TRANSLATIONS OF ALMOST
ALL HIS WORK.
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO?
'NO, NOT THAT ONE BECAUSE
IT IS RATHER POOR'.
'THAT MAY BE SO' I SAID, 'BUT
ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT A GOOD
NOVEL BY FAY WELDON IS MORE
WORTHY OF PUBLICATION THAN
A BAD NOVEL BY PASTERNAK,
WHO IS A GREAT GENIUS'?
THREE SHRUGS.
'PERHAPS NOT, BUT JUST BECAUSE
HE IS A GENIUS, WE THINK IT
WOULD BE UNFAIR TO HIM
TO LET OUR PEOPLE READ
SUCH A POOR NOVEL'.
[laughter]
I TOOK MY LEAVE,
RATHER ABRUPTLY.
OUTSIDE, NELLY RAGED
AGAINST THEIR RUDENESS.
IT DIDN'T MATTER,
I ASSURED HER.
IT WAS OUR LAST
EVENING TOGETHER.
SHE WANTED TO TAKE ME TO THE
BEST HOTEL RESTAURANT IN SOFIA.
AGAIN, IT WAS FULL,
AGAIN SHE STORMED
AND WHEN THAT FAILED, WEPT.
THE WAITERS MADE US UP
A LITTLE TABLE ALMOST
TOUCHING THE PIANO.
TO THE THUNDER OF A JAZZ
PIANIST IN ROLL-NECK SWEATER,
WE DRANK AND SMOKED AND
CHATTED SENTIMENTALLY.
IT HAD BEEN FUN, WE AGREED.
THE PIANIST GLIDED INTO A
SELECTION FROM HOLLYWOOD FILMS
AND BROADWAY.
I MURMURED, PLAY
IT AGAIN, SAM.
AND WITH A SMILE, SAM
SWUNG INTO THE THEME FROM
CASABLANCA.
LEANING ACROSS THE TABLE I
CROONED, YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS.
NELLY, FLUSHED, CONFUSED,
DRAGGED NERVOUSLY
AT HER CIGARETTE.
COME UP FOR A NIGHT
CAP, I BEGGED HER.
NO, I MUST GO HOME.
POLITELY, WE SHOOK HANDS.
NEXT MORNING, AT THE AIRPORT,
JUST AS I WAS MOVING INTO
PASSPORT CONTROL, SHE PUSHED
PAST THE SUAVE, WRITERS' UNION
OFFICIAL, THREW HERSELF
INTO MY ARMS, GIVING ME
A PASSIONATE KISSED.
'I'VE BEEN SO
SILLY', SHE GASPED.
'COME BACK.
PLEASE COME BACK'.
[laughter]
SHE KNEW I WOULD
NEVER COME BACK.
OR IF I DID, SHE OR I WOULD
NO LONGER BE THE SAME.
SUCH PASSIONATE EMBRACES
ARE FOR PASSPORT CONTROL.”
THANK YOU.

[applause]

(classical music plays)

The end credits roll.

Produced and Directed by Tracey Fisher.

Executive Producer, Michael Vaughan.

A Production of TV Ontario.

Copyright The Ontario Educational Communications Authority 1988.

Watch: D.M. Thomas