08 January 2013

The Secret Life of Jude Morgan

For a start, Jude Morgan isn't his real name. It's Tim Wilson. But I do not know him well enough to dare to refer to him by his real name. He doesn't use email. He doesn't have a web-page, nor a blog. He doesn't do Facebook or Twitter.He is no recluse but, as far as I know, chooses his personal appearances sparingly.

So much for the conventional wisdom that an author needs a platform to sell good books. The fact that he studied at the University of East Anglia under Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter tells me all I need to know.

So far he has so far written and published at least nine novels- click here for his Amazon page - and all have been very well received by critics and readers alike. And I think they're wonderful. I am green with envy.

And yet, thereby, hangs a question. Why aren't Jude Morgan's excellent historical novels winning prizes left right and centre? And would be be better known if he were to embrace public attention? Then again, I don't suppose he cares about such things. I may be wrong but I get the impression he doesn't suffer fools gladly. And I have personal experience of that, yours truly being the fool. Everything I am about to recount is totally my fault.

I made the mistake once of believing I could organise speakers for one year's Historical Novel Society conferences. It didn't run altogether smoothly (understatement) for various reasons, pretty much all of them mine. The wrong books were delivered and the right ones not. And there wasn't enough of anything.  I spent most of the day running like the proverbial decapitated chicken. I think most of the guest speakers I'd invited were happy enough with things.

 But I know one who wasn't. Jude Morgan.

I'd invited him because I had been bowled over by his 2010 novel about the Bronte sisters, A Taste of Sorrow. Not only did I find it a totally believable 'take' on this remarkable family, the language and sensibility made it that I felt I was there, not reading a pastiche of how they might have spoken and behaved.

He wasn't the easiest of speakers to communicate with. All communication had to be through his publisher as I was told he 'doesn't do email.' I'd never seen a photograph or any festival or media appearance. Anyway, 'twas done. And he duly arrived at the venue as expected although he didn't seek me out to announce his arrival. So I met him in the melee after someone pointed him out to me and I rushed over to greet him.

Because of his aversion to social media, I had idiotically assumed I would be faced with an old-fashioned type of aesthete, in a suit and tie perhaps, gaunt and nervous-looking, a sharp nose sneering at the utilitarian d├ęcor of breeze block construction, whitewashed walls and plate-glass windows. But here was a very normal man in jeans and T-shirt. So when I opened my mouth I blurted out something like. 'You;'re not how I imagined you at all.' That was bad enough. Rude, intrusive and stupid and not the way to invite someone who';d made the effort to travel. But if that wasn't bad enough, I then stepped well over the mark by employing an adjective to describe how he did look to me. It wasn't offensive but it was personal and crass. There followed a stunned silence that went on for hours silence from all those within hearing distance. I can't remember how I extricated myself but it was when I finally understood what people mean when they say they wished the ground would open up beneath them and swallow them up.

So, as you  an imagine, my feelings reading a Jude Morgan novel are rather mixed as I struggle to forget something I wish could wipe off my personal hard-drive. but I hear it over and over again and will no doubt for ever more. So it was with mixed feelings I opened a copy of The Secret of William Shakespeare, published in 2012.

I needn't have worried. Like his portrayal of the Brontes, here is an account of the greatest English writer ever, in which the contradictions and impossibilities of how a glovemaker's son from Warwickshire could write poetry to match, if not better, that of his university and well-connected contemporaries and forebears. (Ben Jonson and Kit Marlow also appear.) He creates William as a man who keeps to the shadows, stays out of trouble, a man who is able to divide himself between the busy and popular playwright from the loving but flawed husband and father. His Bard is a man of mystery and huge human understanding.

Again as I was when I was reading about the Brontes, I was immersed in the place and the time. I have never been a fan of Tudor England but now I understand it. His novels are not 'easy reads'. They should be savoured and absorbed slowly. The writing is superb. Here's an early description:

This is Will, as you might see him if you were one of Stratford's two thousand citizens, chandler or seamstress, glancing from panel-dark interior through grid of window to bright summer outside. Master Shakespeare's eldest, mounted - the horse a poor nag but lucky to keep it after those money troubles. William, Will to most, brother of Gilbert, Joan, Richard and Edmund; eighteen years old, bony, back as long as a stoat's. Some of his father's good looks, but not so square and strong: a longish face, clear-cut nose and chin that makes the lips look a little indrawn. A good manner - indeed a gracious youth, as all will agree: it is not only the Puritans in the town, like Master Field, who lament the ways of the swearing, boozing, disrespectful young. The odd lapse, but a credit to his father, all in all; hasn't he bound himself prentice to him, but works hard in the trade. No trouble about him.

       And then, probably, you look away.

Jude Morgan has also written novels about the affair between Berlioz and Harriet Smithson as well as the romantic poets, Keats, Byron and Shelley. (These and others are treats in store for me.) Again, I repeat my surprise that Jude Morgan does not receive all the literary prizes to which his novels are eligible. Maybe he doesn't want them. That wouldn't surprise me from this private, brilliant novelist.


  1. I've not heard of him, but the books sound great and I will certainly look them up.

  2. Enjoyed this immensely Sally, and from what I do know is an entirely self-centered point of view, my first thought on readng the excerpt from Jude Morgan's book is "That should teach me something about writing my own family history" - something I have long wanted to do. And oh how I sympathise with your embarrassment. Thank you.

  3. I've not heard of him, either, but the novels sound good.

    And ahh... this is why I am terrified of social events. It's more than likely that I would put my foot in my mouth, several times. But I guess that's a risk that comes with the greater good of the event! Which is why I respect people who put themselves forward for such things.

  4. I have long been obsessed with Morgan's writing... Best historical writer out there today!

  5. I had the pleasure of knowing Tim Wilson as a child, and later on he signed a copy of one of his books for me. I remember his mother and father with much affection, they were a wonderful couple.
    Good luck to Tim, he has always been extremely talented.

  6. I had the pleasure of knowing Tim Wilson as a child, and later on he signed a copy of one of his books for me. I remember his mother and father with much affection, they were a wonderful couple.
    Good luck to Tim, he has always been extremely talented.

  7. I just finished The Taste of Sorrow, and I believe it one of the finest books I've ever read. Loved that book, also Passion. Ready to read the rest of his works.

  8. Yes indeed why is he not winning awards and getting more attention from literary critics and academics? Totally beats me, his writing is so excellent!

  9. Jude Morgan is indeed a major talent, but from your story he also seems to be a boor. It's possible he's so shy and reclusive that he is uncomfortable in a situation such as you describe, but many a talented person has been confronted by gauche and even unintentionally insulting fans. The gracious response is to laugh and forgive. I'm sure you were feeling overwhelmed by how badly your organization had turned out to be, but you did bring it off, at least to some extent, so you were brave and trying and I admire you for that. Jude Morgan/Tim Wilson should be getting more acknowledgement, but I hope as he develops as a writer, he is also developing as a human being.