Desperate Glory

by Kathy on October 11, 2013

The New Quarterly is one of my favourite literary magazines and  I’m delighted  they’ve included  “Desperate Glory” in the forthcoming  winter issue,   TNQ 128.  Set in 1933, “Desperate Glory” is one of a series of stories which feature my character Harry Miles; this time he is  a boy confronted for the first time with poetry, death, love, loss and the like.  Earlier this year I spent time researching for these stories, several of which are set in London, and was able to visit the  school that inspired this story, Emanuel School in Battersea.   Halfway  down the stairs and towards the end of the visit, I had the strangest feeling of  being simultaneously in an imaginary/historical version of the school, where boys  sat at wooden desks and fought out their differences in the cloakroom, and in the actual co-educational institution it is today, with huge art rooms and  all the benefits of modern technology. The story had become real. Here’s how it begins:

School windowDesperate Glory

He had a window seat, at the front. Morning sun fell across his desk, picking out its fine coating of chalk dust, the marks  of his fingers. Stray tendrils of Virginia creeper, a deep scarlet, framed the wooden sash window,  the  top  arch of  which was   made from four pieces, the careful joints just visible through white paint. He could see the railway lines running to Clapham Junction,  the sports fields, fence, trees and buildings beyond. To his right sat Gorsely, behind him, Fitzgerald. He  had a close-up view of their new teacher, Mr Whitehorse: of the gravelly texture of his skin and the jagged white line that ran from his cheekbone to the corner of his lip.
“Miles,” Whitehorse said as he marked Harry  present, “Do you know what your name signifies?”

 

The title, of course, comes from Wilfrid Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est.

 

Emanuel School

Thanks to Carole Miles (no relation to the character!)  for the picture.

 

 

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