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OUR BOOKS > WAINWRIGHTS' MOUNTAIN

Wainwrights’ mountain
Novel
Written by Chester Eagle
Cover designed by Vane Lindesay
DTP by Chris Giacomi
First published 1997 by Trojan Press
Circa 136,800 words
First edition 200 copies
Electronic publication 2006 by Trojan Press
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Here’s what it says on the cover:

In 1957 Chester Eagle began to explore the mountains of eastern Victoria, and discovered a fascinating place, and the events that had happened there: the long development of Wainwrights’ Mountain had begun. In 1991, after decades of brooding, the book unveiled its two stories – one simple in outline, pioneering, somehow fundamental, yet needing explication. The other, the fugal response, takes up the challenge of the Wainwright tale; it begins modestly enough, but picks up the wildness of war and some of the madnesses of the apparently peaceful world that ensues. This second tale, of the Bowdens and Morrises of Melbourne, winds through generations and the interplay of families and strangers, until, in a splendidly ridiculous climax – the book’s self-created peak – the two apparently unrelated stories, which have been edging closer for some time, make their merger on the mountain Wainwright claimed, its snow-grassed peak becomes a metaphor inclusive of everything human beings get up to, and a mood of joyful, if submissive, acceptance is the last gift the book offers its readers.


To read some extracts from the book click here:
Giles, Annie and the trees
Death of Adrian
Annie and the teacher
Death of Bill
Luke and Lily
Juliet and Jesse
Lucy and Bill ride in the ranges
A wave swamps Island Queen
Giles and J.S.Bach
Juliet returns

To read about the writing of this book click here.

Giles, Annie and the trees

That tree knows it’s dying. Listen to it groaning. It’s giving birth to our marriage!

It’s caught, swaying above our tent. Snagged in another tree. You’ll have to climb up and chop it free.

I? One of us, you mean, must scramble up this future half home of ours, with axe and belt, and spring off where the two crowns meet. Then embed the axe in a branch while the belt goes around the standing tree to hold ... you? Me? Which is it to be? You must do something decisive, in this moment, or be dependent, as I plan. Nothing to say? Then let me see your lips shape, in your convent French, your promise of devotion. Nothing less.

Je te promets.

Fear. How strange it is. The day you see fear in me is the day I admit my coming death. Murder, according to you. Well, so be it. I have a tree to shinny up. What a beautiful angle is sixty degrees! From the vertical to the horizontal is all the life of man! Thank you for the axe and belt; you are considerate. Where one lies, there should always be another; isn’t that what marriage means? Placing this monster will be relatively easy. I say ‘relatively’. Give me that promise again.

Je te donne ma promesse.

I had good spikes screwed into these boots. When I come down, I’ll be able to fling them away.

Je te donne ma promesse.

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Death of Adrian

The voice of the Japanese Colonel carried well. ‘You were warned about discipline. The punishment will be another warning.’ His English could be understood. The menace in his Japanese was also clear. He smiled as he gave orders to the Filipino sailors who crewed the boat. There was a delay while they went below, and returned, to the amusement of the Colonel and surprise of the Australians, dragging five wool bales, on which could be seen, stencilled, BOONOKE, DENILIQUIN. Another order in Japanese and the five selected troublemakers were tied to these bales, clad only in knee-length shorts.

‘When we took over this boat in Singapore, we found this wool. Now we find a use for it.’ Another order, and five guards stepped forward with bayonets fixed. The Colonel lifted his sword and said something solemn. The sun was high above the tropical sea. Guards had their rifles directed at the lines of prisoners who, knowing very well what was going to happen, began to sicken. ‘Stand still and don’t show them any feeling,’ said an officer. ‘Our turn’ll come another day.’ The Colonel ordered him to be silent. ‘If you can’t bear to look,’ the officer went on, ‘shut your eyes. But it’s better to look. You’ll know what you have to pay’em back for.’ Most of the Australians looked as five soldiers from a land of ancient warrior codes lunged at their bound and helpless victims, who screamed, and continued to scream, as bayonets ripped into them again and again. A roar of rage came from the mouths of the prisoners, standing stock-still under the guns of the loathed, the hated captors. The bayoneting went on until there was no more screaming, and the hessian bales were saturated with blood.

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Annie and the teacher

Annie’s journal The weakness of my position is that I can understand his position. He tries to live as if he’s not subject to change. How foolish, yet how tempting. In the mornings, my waking glance is to the fire. Then I get water. The springs are as pure as he promised. We toast our bread on the fire, we drink our milk, which we leave outside for the cream to rise. Sometimes it’s frozen. I know the seasons now, the changes; the storms, snow, the lightning fires of summer. When he brought cows I thought they’d wander away, but they stay close to the salt, and he milks them. He makes his deep-chested moan, and they come to him; the sight of them straggling into our clearing makes me feel that our poverty is richness inverted. Having little, our imaginations need no more.

But the loneliness, which I never feel more keenly than when I write in this book. What a subtle means of torture he hit on! Every time I pick it up, I confirm that I’m alone. I’m not even free to go mad; I’ve got George, who runs away, trying to get to the edge of the clearing. When he falls over I have to pick him up. It’s the joke of a tiny person. There’s another inside me, which I think is male again, and there’s the strange imprisonment of my name. When the teacher stopped here on his way to Brookville, he called me Mrs Wainwright. I looked at him blankly, and he said, rather coarsely, as if being a loose woman might make me available, ‘You are married, I take it?’

I said I was, and over the cup of tea that I was giving him, I reflected on the completeness, the perfection, of the trap. Despite the strange dwelling, with its floor of trampled termite mounds, I was a respectable woman. The lust diminished in his eyes. ‘Though I don’t wear a ring,’ I said, ‘because we couldn’t afford it, I am Giles’ lawfully wedded wife.’ At this hint of poverty, his eyes changed again; he’d guessed we had no title to this land. ‘He’s a man,’ I warned him, ‘who doesn’t brook interference.’ And since he was thinking about how he might get the place off us, I said, ‘Giles has often told me how easy it would be to make someone disappear.’ Having got him scared, I went on, ‘There are abandoned diggings where it would be easy to drop a body.’

When he left, I walked sociably with him to the edge of the clearing, carrying George. On the edge of the bush, the burly young man, with a beard almost as big as Giles’, turned to me quite formally. ‘Mrs Wainwright, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. There’s not many educated people in these wilds. If I can ever be of assistance, send a message to one of the settlements I visit.’ I watched him walking up the track to the mountain, and I felt less lonely, not so much for the visit as for the knowledge that there was someone whose loneliness was greater than mine. He was longing for a wife. I wept. I had despaired of my prison until I found someone who wanted to be in it..

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Death of Bill

In Bill’s last moments, the old realist had had a feeling that the procession and bands, the marching soldiers and the civilian acclamation, the speeches half-heard from the great shrine on the hill had to do with his passing - as in a sense they did. The chest pains had been with him for some minutes, but this time he’d not passed out. He saw it as his duty to get himself to the hospital, clearly visible across the boulevard. Even a soldier who’d disowned the army should leave his regiment formally. When he began to stagger - not unusual in that crowd, since others were swaying, and mouthing the debris of what had started the day as thoughts - he sat on the grass, and proceeded in brief slides on his bottom. It hit him, as problems recur in dreams with increasing anxiety and no hope of a solution, that this method would never get him across the road. It was then that he saw four figures smiling at him, women he’d wanted to love but had never shared a bed with. ‘You’ve come for me,’ he said loudly - it was a day of release for everything suppressed in six years of war - ‘I’ll have you one at a time, but you have to get me to Prince Henry’s, that’s the only place we’ll get a bed!’ It seemed to him that they lifted him, desire vanished, and that he beheld himself from a great height, a lonely figure on a grassy slope, surrounded by a city made dowdy by war, but not destroyed, and a populace for whose rejoicing he felt a sharp contempt. Most of them had no idea how foolish it was to rage. The defeated nations would be back, the victors would come undone one day, to be up was to fall ... unless you were aloft on the wings of departure. He took his hands from his chest and lifted them to the sun.

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Luke and Lily

Lily’s arrivals became easier with each visit. Within moments they would be coupling, naked in his bed. Helen and Gus noticed, without feeling they could comment, how often Luke was washing and changing sheets. Lily, no matter how abandoned her lovemaking, always stayed on the side nearest the wall, fearing that Luke might prevent her escape. Sometimes they wrestled for this powerful position, writhing violently, joined at the genitals, tearing at each other’s fears. Once, when he’d dragged her off the bed to pin her on the floor, aggression in every thrust, she pulled his head by the hair so she could hiss in his ear ‘Let me up or you’ll be on the side of the road tomorrow morning with your balls cut off!’ Imagination working hotly, he said ‘I’ve put a note with my will telling the cops who to question if I die suddenly. You can have me shot but I’ll get back at you when I’m gone. I won’t be bested by you Lily, ma bellissima fiordaliso, Signora Giglio!

She flung him off and spat in his ear ‘That’s what he calls me. Giordano! How do you know that?’

‘I’m learning to follow you. I’m learning to overhear you, the way you do everyone else. I want you to get rid of him. Kill him in your room, come here, then we’ll go to my island. We’ll live two thousand miles away. We’ll never see a soul unless we want to.’ Squeezing her in his arms, and pouring kisses on her, he said, ‘There are paradises. I own one. We don’t have to live in fear and danger, hating each other, waiting for the bullet in the neck. The knife in the guts. None of this is necessary. I say to you - believe me, I’m desperate enough to do anything but tell you an untruth - I say to you, slip out of this city with me, come to my island. Live there in a place with beauty to match your own! Lily!’

He went limp, and let her go. She crawled back onto the bed, then pulled gently on his fingers, urging him in the way of lovers, so softly commanding, until he was beside her. ‘This is our island,’ she said. ‘The only one we’ll ever have. It’s not a paradise because it’s spoiled by two desperate people, but it’s the best we’re going to get. Resign yourself, mio apostolo Luca, mio carissimo Luca. I am the great love of your life. You are my escape. We will die together. You hear me? Together. Perhaps you will do it in anger. Perhaps I will do it in hatred. Perhaps I will tell Giordano about you. Perhaps you will get in first, then kill yourself. Neither of us will outlast the other by more than a minute. Embrace me softly now. My embrace is the last you will ever know.’

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Juliet and Jesse

He worked on his boat a few more days, then they went to Cairns to get supplies. They studied charts, and marked where they thought he might be at the end of each day. They got another map of the ocean for her, and they rented some rooms underneath an old Queensland house, perched on piles. The people upstairs had children who became interested in Don, encouraging his efforts to walk. ‘He’ll be walking properly by the time you get back,’ Juliet told her lover.

They went back and crammed all the lockers on Island Queen. Juliet said she’d spend the night on the island after he’d left, then return to Cairns in the morning. Jesse got worried. What if the motor wouldn’t start, or something went wrong? He said he’d prefer her to go first because then he’d know she and Don weren’t trapped on the island, unable to get away.

There was only one solution: they must set off at the same time. So, on a mild morning, and under a cloudless sky, she put Don in The Bulrushes and started the motor, while he took Island Queen a few hundred metres offshore. Quivering with the intensity of her love, but determined to be practical, she took the launch beside the yacht, touching, then held up Don for Jesse’s inspection. He leaned over to kiss the child. He made a signal, but she’d already read his intention, that they should circle the island together. He took the yacht in a graceful loop of the island that had come to them from Luke, whose miracle it had been to bring them together after his own death, while she used the greater speed of the launch to orbit around him as he orbited the island. Then they brought their boats to kiss a last time, held each other for a moment, the child between them, then drew apart, he heading for the horizon and his dream, while she pointed the launch to land. ‘Go for it!’ she called, admiring his handling of the gracious craft. ‘Go for it! You’ve always wanted it, now enjoy it. Go for it, Jesse, go for it!’

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Lucy meets Bill

Lucy’s journal On the day the bus brought me home, the street was crowded. I realised that the spirit people were welcoming me, and that my energy made them more substantial than usual. How pleased I was to give them life! Their eyes were turned to Townsends’ hotel where a man stood with two horses, saddled for the road. I walked towards him, and the spirits began to push me forward, and currents of them occupied my body before being swept away by others crowding in. I felt that some part of the world’s history was giving birth to itself. As if unaware of these swirling spirits, the man spoke.

‘Good afternoon, Lucy. I’m Bill. I’ve got a good horse for you. He’s got the same name as me. You can call us both Bill. Your mother’s expecting you.’

And so the great climb began. Bill told me who lived in the houses, and he greeted the residents we saw with a wave. I knew that gossip would do its work, and was proud to be seen with a man I was starting to love. What fascinated me was that I knew, that for all his simple courtesy, he was teasing me by withholding something. As we rode out of town I could feel the madness of desire throbbing through me, in the form of curiosity. What was he keeping back? The spirit people bunched here and there along the road, but he took no notice, calmly talking about seasons and rivers. At Chinaman’s Bridge, I saw a band of horsemen drawn up, red-coated, with black capes buttoned to their shoulders. They formed a guard of honour as we crossed the humble bridge. Bill rode through as if they didn’t exist, while I was trembling with excitement. When we got to the end of the line, he turned his horse, and we looked back. Making sure that I was watching, he pointed, and said, ‘The plumed troop!’

He saw them too! I gave a shriek of joy, the first, full acceptance of a man I’d ever given. The cavalry waved their swords in the shining air, and shouted. When Bill kissed me, I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, the troop was gone, and we were alone together, on the road to the mountain, Bill and I, Lucy Wainwright.

Mine, mine: and now his. This is your hour, Lucy! Walk in it as if it had no end!

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A wave swamps Island Queen

Juliet and Don got a card from Fiji, and another from New Zealand. ‘A few hairy moments getting near Auckland, but we survived. It’s a great little boat!’ With roughly hatched Xs he sent his love. Juliet looked at the postal date, and her ocean map. He was right on schedule.

Coming up the east coast of Australia, Jesse thought of sending a card from Sydney, but kept going. He’d sleep for a week when he got to Cairns, if Don would let him, but while travelling, he lived on excitement. Darkness was best, sailing under the stars. One night, listening to the radio, he heard a cultivated voice: ‘Everything now in readiness. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Louis Frémaux, in the first work in tonight’s concert, the eighth symphony of Beethoven.’ Jesse smiled. He liked Beethoven. He turned up the volume and the opening phrase - Da, duh-dut, dut-dut dum - aroused the curiosity of the ocean. It crept closer to listen. Beethoven used all his tricks to create tension and decrease it. When he pulled his last and best trick, running the movement down to nothing so he could whisper that opening once more - Da duh-dut, dut-dut dum - the ocean was moved by what it heard. In the beginning was the ending! In the ending was a reminder of the start! With a burst of energy the ocean produced a freak wave, and rolled it over Island Queen. Jesse only had time to look over his shoulder before it swept him away, and the lively jog-jog of the second movement sounded for no more than a bar or two before Island Queen, broken and flooded, was sinking to the bottom.

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Giles and J.S.Bach

The flame women took me to hear the man who plays the tinkling instrument. They hold him in the highest regard. He refuses to be reborn until the world holds a faith big enough; his contempt, which they know is defiance but prefer to disregard, is stronger than my own. I am weakening, my daughter, and I won’t be able to bear watching the pain you are going to go through. I am going to desert you, shameful as it will be. I am only waiting for the moment. I asked the flame women’s permission to show this musician my clearing; it was only when he stood up that I realised that he was blind. I led him through the caverns, the flame women following, to this shaft, and by their magic we were lifted to my clearing. How hollow I felt when I saw those ashes. I tried to explain my despair to the musician, but his ears, sharper than mine, had caught the rippling of water, and he hurried, stumbling occasionally, to our river. He sat by the stream, composing in his head, and I caught, with the ear of my imagination, the wondrous sounds, now rippling, now surging, light as a dragonfly, heavy as rock, that were running through his mind, and I knew that I had wasted my time on earth because I had grasped, instead of sharing. To be rich is to give, not accumulate. To have is to hand on, not to hold. A fortress is insecurity made into a mound. The crossroad, the marketplace, the path anyone can walk, have all the advantage there can ever be. Love well, my daughter. Guard that soul, but share, and be prepared to lose.

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Juliet returns

At Melbourne airport she took a taxi. She sat gloomily through the long drive, resisting the driver's attempts to draw her into conversation. But as they reached the bayside suburb, she came to life. 'Turn down here. I want to see if the bathing boxes are still there.' The driver assured her they were, and cruised slowly past them.

'Stop! I'll get out here. How much is it?'

The driver warned her. ‘There are a lot of homeless people around. Some of them on drugs. Not nice people, believe me. You let me take you to the address you gave me. Sounds like a pretty good place.' Juliet said she knew about homeless people. 'I was one myself. I know what I'm doing.' As he drove away, she saw him glance in his mirror, as if he expected to see attackers scrambling out of hedges.

She walked across the sand to the box where she'd slept the first night of her exile. Plucking up courage, she knocked firmly on its side. No answer. Another, louder series of knocks. No answer. She wriggled under the cabin and tried the floor. It resisted. She turned onto her back on the sand and pressed the floor with her hands, here and there, but nowhere did it yield.

'Good. I just wanted to know.'

She walked through the once-familiar streets, pausing only at the spot where she'd relinquished her dog to hide herself in a garage while it was taken home. Was the vintage car fixed, polished and sold? Or covered with the webs and leaves of the intervening years? What did it matter? She was almost home.

At the house she'd run away from, there was a light in the hall. Reaching for the handle, she knew it would be unlocked. She wanted to tell her taxi driver that not everybody was afraid. Mother and gran's compact to stay true to her, waiting, was greater than the fear bred by stories of intruders. She took off her shoes and slipped inside. She put the small bag which was all she'd bothered to bring at the foot of the stairs so they'd see it in the morning, and she walked upstairs on the soft, thick carpet. Luxury would be hard to get used to. The door of her room was open, and the window was open too, letting the mild autumn air freshen her room. They'd kept their contract and now she was ready to keep hers. She took off her clothes, slipped into bed, and fell asleep after whispering to her pillow, 'Sorry John, you have to wait and see what happens. And if it happens, it'll be a year.'.

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The writing of this book:

For more than thirty years I’d been telling myself I’d write this book one day. It never seemed to get any closer until one morning in 1991, when, under the shower, I could feel words forming in my mind. I had to put them down. Without drying myself I went to the front room, where I’m writing now, and scribbled on paper ‘In the beginning was the need to say there had been a beginning. Beginnings take place in the present. The beginning is always now.’ I looked at the words. I didn’t know what they meant, nor why I’d written them. So I dried myself, got dressed, and went to work.

I went to work for weeks, in fact, before the second revelation came. I was in the car park at my work, locking the car, when it came to me that the three sentences that had come to me under the shower were the motto under which the whole of the Wainwright story would be written. I felt weak at the knees, and put a hand on the car. I’d been saying for years that I’d write it one day, and now it was ready to be written. I felt inadequate, but I knew that only the writing would deliver me from my burden. I would soon be climbing the mountain I’d been looking at for years.
The climb started very slowly. Six months after I began I had only seven or eight pages done. This was unlike me. Had it been a false start? I looked at what I’d written, many times. It seemed fine. Nothing happened. I now think that the book’s fugal form – two family stories intertwining – was evolving in an area of my brain that wasn’t accessible. In December 1991 and January 1992 the thing began to move, at last. From then until the beginning of April 1993 the book wrote itself at the rate of about one chapter per month. The form, as I’ve already said, was a fugue, but the incidents making up the two stories, particularly that of the Bowden and Morris families, based for the most part in Melbourne, my home city, were unpredictable. On most days when I sat down to write I had no idea what would come out, just as I was amazed, rereading what I’d written the previous day before I began the latest additions to the story, at what I found. The flame, or spirit, people hovering about the Wainwrights’ clearing and their lives, and the whacky events of Chapter 9, Love and death (shoot it out in a bungalow), are good examples of the things that were as amazing to the writer as to anyone else.

I well remember a morning when I had left the door open between my writing room and the rest of the house and became aware that Rachel, my daughter’s friend who was living with us at the time, was peeping around a corner to see if I was all right. It occurred to me that I had been laughing riotously as I reread yesterday’s production and that without realising it I was probably laughing a lot as I put down whatever came into my mind. ‘It’s all right Rachel,’ I said. ‘It’s just something funny!’ She seemed reassured and went away; what she told her friends I have no idea. Just something funny! The whole process of writing Wainwrights’ Mountain was a visitation of a long series of moods and ideas over which I exercised no control, only complete obedience. I was working for Victoria College (now part of Deakin University) while I was writing the book, and I was at the end of Chapter 13 when a woman from the Business Faculty whom I’d been working with, called Vona Beiers, came into my room one morning. She’d been to the funeral of a child, the daughter of some friends, and it had affected her deeply. She told me about it and I listened, amazed. I’d brought my book to the point where Don, the child of Juliet Courtney Morris, was about to die, and I, as novelist, would have to arrange a suitable funeral for him. Vona gave it to me. In a few minutes and over a cup of tea she brought me Don’s funeral which I set at a cottage across the road from the Redlynch Hotel, on the edge of Cairns, where I’d been with my daughter on a number of occasions. It could hardly have been easier; the book was writing itself.

The Wainwright story had been told to me many years before by Sid Merlo, a Bairnsdale house painter, and one of the loveliest people I’ve known. When I described him in my first book, Hail & Farewell! I called him Tim. Tim was the name I used for the man who tells the same story to my character Doctor John Grey, whose activities as a young man examining the mountains and whose reaction to the tree house story make him something of a representative for me as a young man. John Grey also gives me an opportunity to show another sort of love from the madness and ecstasy of Luke and Lily in Chapter 9 (see above). John Grey is a long-haul sort of man and it is his steadiness, his judgement and persistence which give Juliet the room she needs to develop. She has left home impulsively, shaken by the story her mother has told her about the death of her father. She’s soon in a brothel and hating it. She goes north with Jesse Bowden and something wonderful – too good, it turns out – appears. He sets off on his great ocean trip and she never sees him again. The following period is awful too, because her son Don is neither dead nor properly alive. This trap is worse by far than the brothel. It’s in this period that she takes on John Grey as her lover, but both of them know that when Don dies her life will move into another phase and how this will affect them they cannot be sure. Terrible as Juliet’s pain is in this period, she is also maturing, and the last chapters of the book are about the development of another sort of vision, contrasting with that of Giles Wainwright, who separated himself from the world so he could look down on it. This isn’t open to Juliet, nor to John, who have to accept everything life brings them, and develop inside themselves so they can deal with it. If I had to choose, this would be, in my mind, the preferable form for vision to take.

Lucy Wainwright, however, gets no choice. She is the first female child of Giles and Annie to survive and she is given the task of keeping the family’s journal. She is their in-house recorder of truth. It’s a heavy burden and she’s relieved to be able to give it up but when she does so she is effectively resigning from life; thereafter she is hardly more than a voice, a memory, a reminder of a life in an earlier time.

In showing her in this way I have to admit that I have drawn on, and greatly exaggerated, the version of Lucy’s life that I gathered from Sid Merlo, my informant years ago. In my early book Hail & Farewell! I described being taken by Sid to Lucy’s cottage in the bush. Neither Sid nor I knew then that the Lucy who lived there was not the Lucy Sid remembered from his childhood in the area, but another Lucy from the next generation. Her story, too, was a distressing tale of isolation but its link to the Giles and Annie Wainwright story was not as direct as Sid and I imagined. Three people with Gippsland connections have been good enough to set me right on this, but a story, once told, refuses to un-tell itself. What happened to Lucy in Sid’s imagination and then in mine is a good example of what the mind does when it gets hold of a story. Stories have lives of their own, and I’ve carried the Wainwright story for many years, allowing it to develop in its own ways. The logic is obviously something to do with the way I see things but I also feel that the story has lived according to an inner logic of its own. You may feel that in saying this I am trying to avoid responsibility for what I’ve written, and I suppose I am. I’ve never felt ‘in control’ of the Wainwright story, merely a ‘carrier’, as with someone carrying germs, or genes, or both.

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