DOWN AND OUT IN HAYES

For anyone interested in the lives of quiet desperation that certain writers lead before having their work accepted for publication, the town of Hayes in Middlesex, England, has something to offer.  In a quiet corner of Hayes village, not far from the town centre, stands an old Edwardian-style building that was once the home of a private school.  Today, that  building operates as a  hotel, but, eighty-five years ago, it was known as the Hawthorns High School for Boys, and it was into this establishment in April 1932 that  Eric Arthur Blair arrived to take up the position of Headmaster.  Although Blair had no formal teaching experience, he had been a King’s scholar at Eton and had served for five years with the Imperial Indian Police in Burma.  What he witnessed in Burmain however in terms of the systematic oppression of the Burmese people left Blair thoroughly disillusioned with imperialism so, in 1927, he resigned his post and set out on what was to become his personal odyssey in his search for his voice as a writer.  For the next five years, he drifted between Paris and London living rough amongst the destitute and the down and out in both of these cities while at the same time recording his impressions in a book to which he later gave the working title ‘Days in Paris and London.’  By the time he arrived at the Hawthorns in 1932, Blair was literally on his uppers.  In February of that year he had received the final letter of rejection for his manuscript from the publishers Fabers and with no money, and no prospects, the teaching post at Hayes was a last resort. ‘Hayes,’ he wrote in a letter to a friend at the time ‘is the most godforsaken place I have ever struck.’ Godforsaken or not, he made the best of a bad job.  By all accounts he was an attentive if somewhat aloof Headmaster, prepared to give a good deal of his time both in and out of class to his pupils – boys from lower  middle class families whose parents could not afford to send them to public school – taking them on field trips, teaching them the rudiments of gliding and oil-painting and even writing an end-of-term play for them to perform.  His nights he kept for himself, sitting for long periods in front of his typewriter typing away into the early hours.  Despite having his work rejected, Blair continued to prune and polish his material in the hope of having it accepted elsewhere.  By June, his perseverance had paid off.  The publisher Victor Gollancz, agreed to publish ‘Days in Paris and London’ provided certain cuts were made and expletives removed.  Blair set to work making the emendments. Concern that the contents of the book when published might cause his family some embarassment, Blair looked about for a suitable pseudonym.  Writing to Gollancz he suggested three: Kenneth James, George Orwell and H. Lewis Allways, adding the fateful rider: ‘I rather favour George Orwell.’  Thus, the ‘Orwellian’ legend was born and the book bearing its new title ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ was launched on January 9th, 1933.  The reviews were good and the book was generally well-received – it’s relevance as an important social document did not go unrecognised.  Yet, over a two year period Orwell’s royalty payments would amount to no more than two hundred pounds.  Published he may have been, but poverty  decreed that he carry on teaching. He had been at the Hawthorns some sixteen months when the school ran into financial difficulties and the building had to be sold.  Forced to look elsewhere for employment, Blair took up another teaching post, this time at Uxbridge – four miles west of Hayes.  His stay there was to be short-lived however, for in December of that year while out riding on his motorbike he caught pneumonia and ended up having to be hospitalised.  When he recovered he came to a decision.  He would give up teaching and take his chances as a writer.  Now that his book had been published, regular work as a reviewer was coming in and finally, it seemed, the wheel was beginning to turn in his favour.  Orwell, who would go on to put all of  his prophetic predictions of the world to come into his novels ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ – whose name would become forever synonomous with the term ‘Big Brother’ and the ‘Thought Police’ – died in England on January 21st, 1950, at the age of forty-six, having finally surcumbed to the tuberculosis which had haunted him for most of his adult life.

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About hecubapublishing

Actor/Writer/Director B.A. English Studies, Trinity College, Dublin. M.Phil in Creative Writing, Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College. Trained Actor with the N.A.T.A & and R.I.A.M Dublin, 'Women Playwrights at The Abbey 1904-2004' Hecuba 2009. Short-listed for a Hennessy Award Member of Irish Actor's Equity Member Publishing Ireland
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4 Responses to DOWN AND OUT IN HAYES

  1. Checking if this gets through. Wonderful writing thanks

  2. Wonderful I have something of Hecuba that may interest you when you have time. Email or call me to meet.

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