THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


THE WRITER OF RAVENSDALE

by by Gillian Brassil

illustration by by Laura Armstrong

Nicholas Mosley is a novelist hailing from London, England. Born into the British upper crust--he carries the title of 3rd Baron Ravensdale--and educated at Eton and Oxford, he took a different path from his family in deciding to be a writer. His father, Sir Oswald Mosley, was active in politics and renowned for his oratory as a member of Parliament. In 1932, Oswald--an open supporter of Hitler and Mussolini--formed a Fascist political party. Nicholas, though, has criticized his father's politics and remained apolitical himself. He has written eleven novels, including Accident, Impossible Object and Hopeful Monsters. Hard of hearing, perfectly charming and with a stutter that doesn't hinder his feistiness, Nicholas spoke to the Independent while in Providence to lecture at Brown.

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You published your most recent book, Look at the Dark, in 2005. Are you writing anything right now?
I'm not working on anything at the moment; I just finished something I've been working on for the last six months. It's complicated--partly essays, partly fiction--and it's not sorted out yet.
Would you say it's a drastic departure from your earlier work?
In all my work I'm trying to do something a bit different than what I've done before. I'm trying to describe how odd life is; it's contradictory, it isn't straightforward, and I try to reflect that in my writing. My early novels were too simple, but on the whole as I've gone on writing fiction trying to deal with that sort of thing, my novels have gotten more complex.
When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
Ever since I can remember--well, not ever since I can remember--ever since I was in school, about 15. Up until 14, I read filler, just whatever everyone else my age was reading. But at 15, I started to read what was called 'serious literature': all the things that one is supposed to read. And I found it all to be very interesting, and I wanted to be able to do that.
Did you find that your family's prominence helped you or hindered you?
My family was very difficult for me. My father was head of the British Union of Fascists, you know. And I went straight from school into the Second World War, when I was 18. I was at war from 1942 to 1945, and when I got out and wanted to start writing novels, being called Mosley was difficult. But it really was a double-edged thing--at least people knew who you were.
When my first book was taken to be published, I was asked about using a pseudonym. I said look, I've gone through the army, I've gone through the Second World War, there's no point in calling myself something else now.
Primarily my name was a social problem--people rather like looking on writers who come from working-class backgrounds. Of course, I had been through the war, I'd been a private and then a noncommissioned officer, so I had been through it all.
How has your family background influenced your writing?
Certainly my father has made me nonpolitical, anti-politics really. As a young boy, as a bright young boy, the politics around me were crazy, so I've never wanted to do any straightforward work about politics.
I've written things about the individual loner--
Do you consider yourself to be a loner, an outsider?
Yes, I do consider myself to be an outsider. Coming from my background, I was an outsider from the ordinary, straightforward world. But I was also a rebel in my family. I was close to my father, though, especially when he was locked up. He was out of politics then, because he was in prison, and it was easy to get on with him then.
When he was in politics, he was crazy. But when he was at home when I was a child, he was completely different, he was reasonable. He was the most reasonable grown-up I knew as a child. He'd talk about books, ideas, history, he answered my questions--he really was a very good father. But after the war, he started up in politics again and I had to cut myself off. We actually had a strong row once and didn't talk for seven years.
What sorts of things inspire the content of your novels?
My first novels, written after I returned from the war, were rather conventional: they were about a young man coming home from war who found it hard to settle down. They were very gloomy, he's unable to settle, life is difficult, blah, blah, blah. After I got married and had two sons, I looked at my work, and I wasn't going through gloom and doom, and I thought, "Why am I writing about people who are unhappy when I'm not?" So then I took a break, wrote a travel book, did some writing for magazines. I had to get away from those easy-to-write novels.
I started writing about people making choices, and sometimes those choices are hard because you don't even know what to choose, you have to find what to choose. I also started writing in a different style, not all gloomy anymore but also not all farce. It's about trying to find what's true; human beings aren't always absurd or tragic.
If you had to characterize your work's genre, what would you call it?
I don't know! I've always tried to be a loner, always tried to be different. But the choice thing is definitely an elemental part of it. My first great love was William Faulkner, which is quite a strange thing, since he's a chronicler of the South or that sort of business, but he wrote about characters who were conscious of being able to make choices, and who have to work out what the right choice is.
I've read that you say that fiction is 100 years behind all other art forms.
Behind other art forms? Well, ah, I think the trouble is that there's been all this tradition of fine art, work in the classical ages and the Age of Enlightenment, and one really can't do better than Michelangelo. So fine art has become this awful muddle, because it knows it can't go on forever. It goes into any old thing; it's been plunging about.
And in fiction people have tried to do that, like William Burroughs and James Joyce with Finnegan's Wake and Ulysses. They tried to find new styles but it wasn't all that interesting. I thought all that was rather silly. I think fiction has gotten a bit stuck. Fiction isn't plunging about into crazy things, but it is stuck.
Are there any contemporary writers whose work you like to read?
At the moment I'm in rather a bad mood about contemporary writers. I was just complaining to my wife before I went on this trip, I was trying to find what books to take and there are so few modern books that I like.
I don't have any great heroes in the modern world. I think it's that I spent so much time working out my own style based on authors 60 years ago: Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Hemingway generation--which I think is absolutely wonderful. From then on, I just haven't been impressed. When one's young, one falls in love. When one's older, I don't know.

GILLIAN BRASSIL B'12, chronicler of College Hill.