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