Dennis Hamley is the author of The Second Person from Porlock, a Fairlight Books novel publishing on 4 November 2021. The Second Person from Porlock was inspired by the mystery surrounding Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry collection housed in Jesus College, Cambridge, after a disparaging note was found in the margin of the poem ‘Kubla Khan’. Read this interview with Dennis Hamley to find out more.
How did you start writing?
In my third year of university we had a Wakefield Mystery Play as a set book. I was supply teaching during the vacation and there were no plays available so I decided to turn my university translation into an acting version. I loved writing this and the kids liked it. It became a published book called Three Towneley Plays in 1962. I spent ten years turning these plays into a novel, Pageants of Despair, published by Andre Deutsch, and thus my real writing career started.
If you could describe The Second Person from Porlock in one word, what would it be?
How were you introduced to the story of the annotation of ‘Kubla Khan’, and what inspired you to write a historical novel about this?
I was reading It’s a Don’s Life by Dr Frederick Brittain, Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge (not to be confused with Mary Beard’s book with the same title). Dr Brittain mentions the strange inscription in ‘Kubla Khan’ and I was so interested that I went to Cambridge to see it for myself. I was fascinated and wondered who wrote it. I have a strong feeling that my solution may be right. Whatever, the whole thing was too good not to use in a book, which turned out to be half historical and, a word I do not like, half ‘fantasy’.
What has been the hardest part of The Second Person from Porlock to write?
Getting the levels of reality right, for example, the revenant is plainly a figure of imagination, but he fits Coleridge’s state of mind. Also, purely structurally, melding the stories of Scrivener, Samuele and Coleridge himself.
What do you hope people take away from reading The Second Person from Porlock?
An understanding of the incredible chaos of Coleridge’s life and a sense of his innate selfishness, neither of which stopped him being loved and accepted as a genius by many people. He could see the union of opposites, a unique understanding which caused a change in the way we perceive literature and art.
What inspires your writing?
The need for clarity, a plain style which can be worked on creatively.
What’s a piece of advice you can give to aspiring authors?
Just keep writing!
Read more about The Second Person from Porlock here.
You can find out more about Dennis Hamley here.