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READ LOCAL First: Mike Dorrell

Mike DorrellREAD LOCAL First is your glimpse into the working minds and hearts of Utah’s literary writers. Each first Sunday of the month, 15 Bytes offers works-in-progress and / or recently published work by some of the state’s most celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary non-fiction and memoir.

Today, 15 Bytes features Mike Dorrell, playwright, novelist, poet and dramaturg. A native of Wales, Dorrell was most recently featured at the Salt Lake City Library at a reading of his most recent installment in a series of stories about his hometown of Swansea titled Talking Wales. Today he presents an excerpt from his novel manuscript The House of The Raven’s Wing, a novel within a novel. Here, the famous Cornish novelist, Vera Quest, introduces herself, her daughter,and the beginnings of her attempt to understand what happened to her after she was adopted by her lover, the alchemist, Ralph Waters. The adoption happened soon after the daughter, Marina’s, birth in 1948. Vera’s fictional account follows some time later after the discovery of a manuscript by her granddaughter, Emma.

Sunday Blog Read continues to collect a distinguished group of established and emerging Utah writers for your review and enjoyment. So curl up with your favorite cup of joe and enjoy the work of Mike Dorrell!

from The House of The Raven’s Wing

by Mike Dorrell



I dreamed the dream again last night. Even though I have written what I have written it is obviously not quite enough, for the dream returns. I was walking down towards the cove in the afternoon like I always do. I am slower now, of course, because I am old. I am slower but I am still sprightly enough in my own way. I am a practiced walker, I would say that. And of course I am walking down a path which I have known for more than thirty years. A path which reflects my own life: it’ s meanderings, it’s short circuits, and most of all its persistence. In the dream my destination is the same–always. It is the cove, it is the cove that if it is not the cause of my unease, at least it is the reflection of it

In the dream I am walking down the curving path and I reach the exact spot where the path debouches out from the trees into the open air. I leave the shadowed canopy of ash and hazel. I leave behind the dappled green protection of the canopy and I as come out into it, that path that leads to the cove and the sea, I see her. She is hunched against the weather as if she is expecting wind, though there is not wind. She is bunched up with herself, protecting herself. She raises her head when she sees me and then there is the shock of recognition; because what she is, of course, is my younger self.

She is myself as I was over thirty years ago. She stops. She looks at me for a minute but she does not recognize me and then she proceeds back up the path towards the house. It would not be the house that I am living in now, of course. It is over a year since I have moved into the Dower House which is always much smaller in my imagination than it really is. No, the house that she is bound for, my younger self, is Treweran Manor. The house that I bought during the War. The house that possessed me with itself, that marked my declaration of myself to myself. The house that Francis never really liked and the one in which I prepared myself unashamedly for the visits of my lover, Ralph so long ago.

So with her now, I have no choice because of the persistence of this dream, I do have to turn back towards the past and its ancillary choice. Its demeanors and its misdemeanors. Its mistakes and its forgiveness. Its lusts and its cresting of desire like the ebb and flow of the sea which always surrounds me in my imagination.

My vision of my younger self. I hesitate to say my seeing, must lead towards dealing with my daughter and what happened to her. The daughter I lost or who lost me. The daughter that Ralph took. The one that plagued my imagination for years before I even had her. The one I am going to have to be so frank about now. It is not a question of forgiveness. No. It is a question of the story and how I see the story and in a way, if that is not too abstracted, of how the story sees me.

I follow my younger self then. For the moment I go back thirty years. I go back with her up the bending path, under the canopy of trees, past the Dower House which in those day belonged to someone else anyway, until I come to Treweran Manor. The iron gates, the wall, the sympathetic architecture of the chimneys, the graceful weathered stone against the Georgian windows. All this is just a house. In the end. But for me it is the place where I first conceived the struggle of my daughter. Before I even knew who she really was.

Come with me then, back into the shuttered past. Come with me, for the dream will not rest until you do.

SEPTEMBER 14th, 1948

I see her as I have always seen her, standing on a highly polished wood floor, the afternoon light streaming in behind her, her pale face half in sunlight and half in shadow, an alertness about her features. She has been hurt somewhere, I think, because she wants to know too much. Because she pushes beyond the boundaries where she can be contained. It is her tragedy that the very thing that distinguishes her also causes her acute suffering. I see her but I do not even know her name yet. I must wait.

Cornwall. It must be Cornwall because it is there that the past breaks through the landscape into the living present. That is where my characters always come to me. Where what has happened fuses with what it is to happen. And besides, it is my personal proving ground. The place where I have always been happy. Where what is and what is made can come together. I see her, but I cannot write about her yet. I cannot see her exact condition, nor the other people around her. I must wait for clarification.

I do not think my lover will come today, though I have prepared the room. When I looked out of the window earlier, there was a swirl of leaves. Already the autumn is beginning to fall around this house and I will tell Tom Cullen to fetch more wood. I want a brightness and a warmth where we can be naked together. And I will not feel wrong about this now. It is adultery and I am prepared for it.

I was wrong. He did come. He came in the dark evening with the sun going down behind him and the water dripping from the leaves. The MG crunched against the gravel as I was getting ready to light the fire after supper. It crunched and I knew it was him, Ralph. I knew it and I felt a sort of sickening excitement in my stomach, because I wanted everything and I wanted to deny it at the same time.

It has been like this ever since our first meeting in Imogen Peters’s studio in St. Ives when he deliberately brushed his hand against mine even though my husband was less than six feet away. It is as if all my nerve endings are elevated; even the fabric of my red silk scarf becomes too much to touch. I need rest. I crave excitement. I want him and I do not want him. I would like to get back to steady work. Steady work and an income and the kind of productive boredom that first drew me to Francis and persuaded me to marry him even though he was a civil servant and worked in London three hundred miles away from my beloved Cornwall.

Francis has a discreet flat in Little Venice, and these days probably a discreet mistress to go along with it. We never talk about it. We worked out this arrangement long ago, though perhaps worked out is too strong a phrase. We made a series of tacit moves; nods in the direction of propriety. Much of our life is like that. I thought I was happy enough with it. I thought it left me enough room for my own operations: my work; the restoration of this house; the envelopment of me in the landscape and the landscape in me. The trees and the cove and the lawn running down to it, and the explosion of the daffodils in the early spring. I thought that was enough. Until I met Ralph Waters: alchemist, gentleman, charmer, dangerous bastard. I knew he was all of those and I didn’t care.

So Ralph came to me again tonight. He lit the fire and I worked at it with the bellows while he bathed. And the orange and blue and sometimes green flames from the driftwood fire leaped up and when he came into me I was ready.

OCTOBER 14th, 1948

He didn’t come today. He didn’t come and I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad because there was so much to be getting on with and so little time. I need to repair the wall in the outhouse where we store the wood before the weather gets any worse, but Tom Cullen says that all the available cement is very bad and that the Labour Government is keeping all the best stuff to build council houses. He can’t get parts for the Daimler, he says, and no one wants to work anymore for the kind of wages we paid during the War. It’s not that I blame then personally, but I have never been in favor of levelling the classes. I despise those in the middle and envy those with a kind of freedom at the bottom. But at heart, I am a rebel and a natural aristocrat.

So I have to admit it: that is part of what fascinates me about Ralph Waters. He has never seen the necessity of conforming to anything. He never even finished his degree; he left Oxford without a second glance just as he had earlier left the family home in Hampstead. He seemed to have been born fully formed, Ralph. Born with the money and the courage to pursue his own energies and not waste his life conforming to someone else’s idea of happiness.

This is in direct contradiction to my own family, of course. Despite the fact that my mother was an artist there was never anything bohemian about us. My father was a biscuit salesman who won prizes. Executive, I should learn to say executive even if I never respected the fact that he worked his way up through the ranks and ended up owning quite a large detached house in Southall. It was Cornwall that saved me; my mother’s family had always had deep connections here, and the big and ramshackle cottage in Fonen where we spent our holidays was always my pleasure and my deep escape.

Cornwall offered me an alternative way of looking at things; at history and at myself, and I have loved it always. Francis was not a Cornwall man, I knew that from the moment we met. There was always something too contained, too ordered about him. But Ralph, he was different and we both knew it from the start. He was somehow imbued with a searching mentality, and he looked for meaning in the old places and the small fields and the deep undercurrents that run through this place. He found his own interpretation, or course.

Frankly, I know nothing of alchemy and the conjunction of forces with which he fills his imagination. But he loves Cornwall as I do. Loves it and is obsessed with it, and immerses himself in the rocks and stones and trees of this peninsula perhaps even deeper than I.

That makes him powerfully erotic. I think. For there is part of me, of course, that always questions even as I am experiencing. I am myself. I am not his entirely. I keep telling myself that. I must. I am glad he did not come today. Honestly, I am.


Copyright, Michael Dorrell, 2014

Mike Dorrell is originally from Swansea, Wales. He has is the author of over a dozen produced plays, including work for BBC Radio 4 such as Pictures of the Floating World, an examination of the artistic and personal legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright, Burning the Arc, an antidote to Under Milk Wood and Penny Gaffs and Angel Places, a sound portrait of the midlife crisis of Charles Dickens. Plays for the stage include his series of stories about his home town, Talked Wales I, II, III and IV for Utah Contemporary Theatre which is designed for performance in non traditional theatre spaces. In Britain, his plays include Rise of the Cloud for Paines Plough, Sons of Thunder for Theatre Powys and East of Main St. for Avon Touring Company. From 1999-2008 he was Dramaturg for Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) and in that capacity he developed new work by Julie Jensen, J.T. Rogers and others. Since leaving SLAC, he has written The Towering Dead, a play about Dylan Thomas, and three other new plays. In the last few years he has turned to writing literary mysteries and has completed The House of The Raven’s Wing, and The Scrimshaw Skeleton, both currently doing the rounds. In addition, Dorrell’s poetry has been published in small magazines in the UK. Educated at the University of London, where he studied drama, film and television at the University of Bristol, Dorrell also holds an M.A. from the University of Utah where he has taught. He is currently teaching a course in playwriting at Westminster College.

Past featured writers in 15 Bytes’ Sunday Blog Read: Katharine Coles, Michael McLane, Darrell Spencer, Larry Menlove, Christopher Bigelow, Shanan Ballam, Steve Proskauer, April Wilder, Calvin Haul, Lance Larsen, Joel Long, Lynn Kilpatrick, Phyllis Barber, David Hawkins and Nancy Takacs.

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