This is a guest article by Marcie Burnett.
This insightful and charming event held in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution on 4th September enabled audience members and online attendees a chance to pose questions directly to Dr Nicola Presley and Judy Golding in relation to William Golding’s wider life and his role as both author and father. The closeness between Judy and Golding was evident within the discussions that followed.
Through a question raised about Golding’s relationship with his publishers throughout his career, it became apparent that the friendship that grew between himself and editor, Charles Monteith (1921–1995) enabled him to trust Faber and Faber entirely with his works. Whilst Golding may have slightly regretted the cuts made to his descriptions of Simon’s visionary experiences in Lord of the Flies, his later novels were published as largely authentic to their earlier drafts – with The Inheritors published almost entirely unedited. Monteith adapted his position from editor to encouraging advisor; however, Nicola did touchingly complement his assistance in reducing Golding’s ‘currents in a loaf’ approach to using commas, as Judy jokingly also praised any corrections that he made to Golding’s potential spelling errors. Following Monteith’s retirement, Golding worked with his successor Matthew Evans and went on to later dedicate The Double Tongue to his close friend Monteith, which was also published by the team at Faber and Faber posthumously in 1995.
Judy continued to provide many endearing insights into Golding’s domestic life, speaking lovingly of him as a father and the presence that he held in her childhood. She admired his ability to ‘switch on his concentration’ to write and mentioned that he felt that there was ‘almost another version of himself that wrote the books’. She reflected upon his eccentricities, his teaching at the WEA and his love of amateur dramatics that he shared with her mother Ann, whom she also affectionately praised as the star of the family – mentioning her flamboyant beauty and warm, charismatic nature.
A following question then prompted a new focus on the adaptations of Golding’s work, in particular Lord of the Flies. Nicola began by centring this discussion around Golding’s personal attachment to the 1964 film version directed by Peter Brooks, but also offered a moment of reflection towards Golding’s later concerns regarding the exposure to the inherent violence of the plot that the young cast replicated when filming. Entries within his personal journals also expressed a distaste for the 1990 film adaptation directed by Harry Hook.
Honouring Golding’s literary legacy, Nicola also drew attention to the inclusion of Lord of the Flies within many school curriculums. Judy emphatically expressed that Golding was highly appreciative of the novel’s prevalence within schools and that its embedded societal commentaries were being analysed by students. However, they also indicated that perhaps he wished this academic attention to be divided across his personally preferred other works. They contemplated the significance of the suggested reading age of Lord of the Flies and again reflected on the violent nature of the text but concluded upon the resounding value of it within both past and present school syllabi.
This then gave way to an enthralling discourse between Nicola and Judy around the sources of inspiration that sat behind Golding’s works. His novels were not frequently research led, but rather they were driven and fuelled by his expansive imagination. He often wrote from his personal experiences or knowledge, but these were embellished by the wonderment and enjoyment he found in his surrounding world. The Spire was inspired by his view of Salisbury Cathedral from his classroom window as he taught, and he derived pleasure from the playful question of ‘how did that get there?’. Nick Shales from Free Fall (and potentially Piggy also) was based on Golding’s father, Alec Golding. His admiration for his father’s love of knowledge and rationalism exudes from these characters although Alec never knew that Shales or Piggy were inspired by him. Judy also cited that Fa and Lok from The Inheritors were recognisable depictions of Ann and Golding himself. She mused that she hoped her mother enjoyed the numerous echos of her beauty, intelligence, wit, and practicality that were evident within many of Golding’s female characters.
Golding’s enduring legacy of adventure, imagination and thought-provoking social commentaries within the literary world was paralleled by Judy’s reminiscing upon her father’s warmth and lasting impact on her personally. Ian drew the evening to a close, emphasising the privilege held by all in the room, and online, to have enjoyed this evening of insight. He encouraged all audience members to move forwards in the spirit of these discussions by perhaps revisiting their own childhoods and youthful studies of Golding and taking the time to rediscover further elements of his charm within his perhaps less touched upon novels.
You can also read Grace Ridley’s review of the event.