Author Patrick Gale spoke to a packed Assembly Room about his novel Mother’s Boy for the final session of Marlborough LitFest 2022. Mother’s Boy, Gale’s seventeenth novel, is a fictionalised account of the life of Cornish poet, Charles Causley(1917-2003) a poet who, Gale believes, does not receive the recognition he deserves.
After reciting one of Causley’s most well-known poems, Timothy Winters, Gale said, “Causley was really one of our great war poets and he should be back on the National Curriculum. He was self-taught, left school at 15 and the voice in his poems is conversational, accessible and entirely his own.”
Causley was born in Launceston in 1917. His father came home from WW1 with TB and died soon after. His mother brought Causley up, recognised his intelligence, encouraged him to go to the library and despite the fact they were poor provided him with piano lessons. After grammar school he published several short plays and then served in the navy as a coder in WW2. The trauma of the war made him change direction and he suffered, Gale says, “with survivor’s guilt.” Encouraged by Sassoon he started writing poetry. After the war he became a primary school teacher in Launceston as well as publishing poems for children and adults.
Gale told the audience, “Causley is the least sexy of all British poets and after WW2 returns to Launceston to live with his mother. He created a public persona for himself as Mr Causley, the teacher and only on a secondary level is he Mr Causley, the poet. He was basically gay, never comfortable with his sexuality and remained an untouchable unapproachable figure.”
Gale has set out to bring Causley back to life. “It is crucial to dig deep into his private life in order to let his poems come to life. Once you get to the facts he was trying to hide then you can go back to the poems and see new meanings.”
Gale has carried out extensive research in order to write the book and many have wondered why he didn’t write a scholarly biography rather than a fictionalised account. Gale’s comment was that in a biography, “You can’t push open the bedroom door.”
There is, however, says Gale, “nothing in the book for which there is not proof in Causley’s archive. The real adventure was piecing together facts about his mother.” In this he was helped by the brief appointment style diaries that Causley kept for years. Also in Causley’s archive was a ‘Dear John’ letter revealing a war-time relationship and his sexuality. “Maybe a little part of Causley wanted his story to be mapped out one day. Laura and Charles are as real to me as any of my other characters. The book has worked if it gets people going back to Causley’s poems.”
Gale is currently working on a sequel to A Place Called Winter where all the characters are relatives of his. This he says is “very inhibiting on one level and on another enormous fun.”
He is also one of two patrons (Andrew Motion is the other) of the Causley Trust and he judges a children’s poetry competition held in Causley’s name each year. This he says is an appropriate and exciting legacy.