ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND by Ann Evans
ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND by Ann Evans
Whenever I'm doing a talk or school visit, I'm often asked which books and authors inspired me to write when I was younger. I always tell people that although I had no aspirations of being a writer when I was little, I always loved books and the weekly visit to my local Canley Library with my mum and brothers was an event I always looked forward to. As a little girl I was totally entranced by all those shelves crammed full of books.
The story that I always tell children is that one book which I vividly recall as having grabbed my attention as a child was Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventure in Wonderland. Not because of the fantastic story or the imaginative illustrations, but the very fact that his surname was the same as mine.
My maiden name was Carroll, and as a kid of about eight years old I was stunned to see that a book in the library had been written by someone with my name! I was so impressed that I had to take the book out, and I'm sure I read it over and over again, loving the amazing tale (although probably not understanding it), and totally impressed that a real live author (okay dead author) actually had the same name as me.
Years later, when I first got the urge to write, I admit my first attempt was a bit like Alice's Adventures, only I had a puppy chasing a ball down a rabbit hole into a weird and wonderful world. So Lewis Carroll had definitely made an impression on me even though I hadn't realised it at the time. The story never actually got finished, but it was my shaky start into the world of writing.
It was many years later that I discovered that Lewis Carroll had actually been born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and as well as being an author and poet he had been a mathematician and deacon in Oxford. I read that he had invented his pen name by translating his first two names into Latin – Carolus Lodovicus and then anglicized it into Lewis Carroll. Personally I couldn't see how he came to adopt the name going by that explanation but who am I to even offer an opinion? But sadly my connection with Lewis Carroll was suddenly severed.
Nevertheless, I was glad that the name of this author had inspired me to pick out his magical book years earlier. However, there's a little twist in the tale which, many years on, hit me with such force, I was once again that little eight year old back in Canley Library, staring up at the books on the shelves.
I could not believe my eyes – or what I was reading...
About two years ago I was researching my family history. Both parents were born and bred in Southwick, Sunderland, Durham. My dad, Edward Carroll comes from a long line of Edward Carrolls. Looking at life in the 1800 and 1900s through local history websites, I discovered a local church where possibly my ancestors would have gone and may even be buried. This was Holy Trinity Church, Southwick. And the link... there in black and white the fact that author Lewis Carroll often spent his holidays staying with his relations in the area including visiting his sister Mary, wife of the Rector of Southwick, the Rev Charles Collingwood, at Holy Trinity Church.
|Lewis Carroll's statue in|
Whitburn Library, Sunderland.
Having come across this snippet of information by chance, I looked further into it, and found that it's well known by Lewis Carroll fans (and probably anyone educated) that The Walrus and the Carpenter was inspired by his walks along Whitburn beach, and that his walks along the cliffs and in the parks may have helped him to come up with other wonderful tales, characters and thoughts.
My own thought – fantastical though it may be, is that during an early walk around the graveyards of the churches in Southwick – maybe Holy Trinity itself, he glanced down at the gravestones, looking for inspiration as a pen name. And amongst those names carved into the granite tombstones was the name Carroll....
I know I'm sinking into the realms of fantasy here, but hey, a girl can dream!
So which authors or books to you feel a real connection with?
There are several authors I feel a deep affinity with. Virginia Woolf and Colette I think because I grew up immersed in their worlds because of my mother. More recently Patti Smith, whose Just Kids is the best memoir in many years - reading her sense of being part of but not part of the tail end of both The Factory and The Beat and the beginning of punk felt like I was reading someone who'd transcribed my thoughts, and her heartbreaking descriptions of the way she spent years desperately trailing around supporting Mapplethorpe and trying to use art to steer him away from self-destruction touched so many nerves. Through Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, William Burroughs, CBGB, she was at the creative heart of New York whilst always feeling an outsider in the lifestyle that went those movements. Whilst, ahem, our pasts are hardly virgin snowfields, many of my closest collaborators are teetotal (although my love for pudding wine and ancient rioja means I have a glass 2 or 3 times a year) yet everywhere we go on teh performance circuit the lifestyle seems, superficially, to be more important than the art and many's the time we've felt like a bunch of rather square schoolkids hanging around awkwardly on the edges while the frat boys and sorority girls play drinking games in the middle. That's exactly what comes across with Patti.
When I was trying to come up with one for yet another ill-fated attempt to find a new publisher for my - ahem - "debut" novel (my fourth actually), I was contemplating "Harriet Crawford". Visiting Stratford, I sat down to rest in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church and for some reason, turned round to read the gravestone behind me. It was worn and rather hard to read, but it definitely said "Harriet Crawford".
Btw on Christmas Day at lunchtime there's a ballet version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND on TV. As a passionate lover of ALICE I was sceptical, but I recommend it wholeheartedly. Wonderful family entertainment.
Karen - One day I'll get up to Sunderland a take a walk around the churchyard, to see if there are any Carrolls buried there. That'll definitely clinch it!
And Marianne, how lovely to see your book there with Shirley Jacksons as staff Christmas read.
Thank you all for your comments.