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Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess

‘In dust laden haphazard grocer’s boxes there are typescripts of films never made and TV series rejected; yellowing sets of first-pass galleys, a typescript of his long-neglected musical Cyrano.’

Will anyone take an interest in my files?

Everything I ever wrote? Will they find it on Amstrad discs, on Betamax tapes? Will they bother? Will it be burned? These papers depend on success elsewhere. I need a publishing success in order for everything else to receive the ‘hook of interest,’ that desire to delve into another man’s thinking. To expose the contents of my brain. Was it worth preserving?

‘Among the odd notes, never intended for publication, Burgess comes alive in a way he never did in his novels and autobiographical writings.’

‘Never intended for publication.’

Yet they have been. I can understand why an author or artist might destroy all their old work. I can understand why Picasso for example destroyed all the drawings he did as a child and teenagers – he didn’t like others to see that he was mortal, to understand that others had the potential to achieve what he did – the vanity of the successful artist who must maintain the image of a genius and so destroy anything that suggests otherwise.

‘No serious diarist, Burgess had a habit of starting a journal on January 1st and stopping a week later, giving the remaining pages over to working notes – plots for short stories, titles for books, titles for books, scraps of poetry, and odd memoranda, for example the precise symptoms of syphilis: “incubation … secondary … tertiary …” Or attempts at poetic conceit: “The clouds took the sun like a pill. It wouldn’t digest though.”

How many diarists online start in January only to give up soon afterwards? Only after thirty years have I started to keep an ‘Academic Diary.’ It feels more appropriate with school-age children; our year ends with the Summer Holidays and begins with the New Academic Year in September. It is THIS year that dictates or routine: timetables, weekends, after school clubs, friends over, parties, Parent Teacher Association, School Events, the School Run, weekend activities, half-term, INSET days and sick days.

I have my lists. I have short stories.

Worked and reworked. I have a hard backed notebook in which there is a new title for a story on every page. I did this over a few weeks, trying to keep up, trying to write ideas out while generating new stories that were reduced to a title. The titles have since failed to stimulate the grey matter – I haven’t a clue what I intended. That’ll teach me, better to add some notes, to paste something in, to do a sketch – anything to act as a catalyst to get me back into the ‘instant story’ that can come to you at the most inopportune moment.

The income and expenditure for Anthony Burgess 1966.

I’ve worked out that a simple way to adjust these figures for 2005 is to multiply by ten. i.e. the gross income of Anthony Burgess in for the year end April1966 was close to the equivalent in 2005 of a quarter million pounds £250,000 and he spent £13,510 on travelling abroad and the equivalent of £2,600 on reference books!

Pounds, shillings and pence (in ‘old’ money)

(Were there 12 shillings to the pound and 12 pence to the shilling? Sixpence was half a shilling? A ‘ten bob’ note was half a pound. Were there twenty shillings to the pound? Confused. I am. I was taught this system age 5,6,7,8 only to have everything turn Decimal).

Gross Income £23,004 0s 7d

Less Expenses (Pounds, Shilling, Pence)

Agents Commission 1,574 2 5
Rates, lighting & heating 128 3 5
Postage & stationery 693 0 6
Telephone 162 15 5
Magazines & Newspapers 122 12 0
Tapes & Records 59 10 0
Reference Books 260 0 0
Travelling & Motor Expenses 575 17 3
Travelling Abroad 1,351 3 4
Professional Visits to
Theatres & Cinemas 250 0 0
Foreign Entertaining 450 0 0
Subscriptions 12 12 5
Research 548 17 6
Bank Charges 4 16 0
Legal Charges 77 9 6
Accountancy 367 10 0
Sundry expenses 7 2 6

TOTAL 6,660 18 2

Excess income over expenditure £16,343 2 5

Anthony Burgess earned before tax about ten times what a secondary schoolteacher could then earn in London.

Secondary school teachers are on about £20,000 today.

My father was earning as much as Anthony Burgess a few years later, by 1972, as I recently learnt. He was the Senior Partner of a Newcastle firm of solicitors and the Chairman and Chief Executive of Ferguson Industrial Holdings PLC. He successfully hid his wealth from my mother when they divorced, giving her the house, income in relation to the upkeep and schooling of each of his children and a modest income. He sold our holiday home, rented a house in Northumberland, bought a ski flat in the French Alps and moved into a flat in London with his girlfriend. Within two years he was living in a 16-bedroom 11th century castle with 32 acres of land, had a yacht in Brighton and a penthouse flat off Birdcage Walk in Central London. (He’d also remarried and divorced again by then).

Bitter. No. Not me.

I’m just the ten year old who was ‘introduced’ to his girlfriend on my first trip to London having not seen my father for a year. I was the 13 year old who this same woman, now my stepmother, told me she had just married my father for his money and had no intention of living with him. From two years of marriage, she got enough to buy a hotel in Scotland and ‘acquired’ a herd of Shetland Ponies my father was keeping on the land that went with Appleby Castle.

See how I get caught up in it.

See why I think there’s a story here. My father was ‘Flashman’ set in the later 20th century, a devious dandy businessman who had children because he thought ‘it was the right thing to do’, then flourished once he got away from us (and got away with it). He lacked self-control. He had to be adored, like a divine King. He was never at fault and couldn’t be questioned or criticised … as soon as a girlfriend or wife failed to do this they were ditched for a ‘fresh’ model. He had to be on a pedestal. Adored, loved and respected without question. He was a fraud. A sad man. A false man. A selfish egotist who hurt everyone who loved him and had been willing to follow him.

Back to Anthony Burgess

There was a period in the 1990s when my expenditure also included reference books, video hire, travel and cinema visits. I was writing, I was developing … I could justify it. On earnings of only £500? Little that I have done has borne fruit; I won’t let it. Better that it rots on the ground than I present it for scrutiny when it is most vulnerable, most tasty and fresh from the printer of my mind.

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