Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away...

I've been thinking about Dr. David Evans and his recent description of George Mills [right].

"...a very sociable welcoming person."

"...devoted to his sisters Aggie and Vi."

"...but in no way was he dependent on them."

That's good news. As I mentioned in my last entry, I feared that Mills may have become 'damaged' (for lack of a better term) by a string of personal tragedies and illness he'd suffered during the 1940s.

It's good to know that to a physician (and one from a time during which I suppose healers grew to know their patients far more personally), George seemed hale and happy.

Still, the question nags me now just as it did almost a year ago: Why does a fellow write and publish three well-received books during the years 1938 and 1939, and then never publish more than a letter to The Times for the rest of his life—some 32 years?

Backpedaling to the very beginnings of my search for the identity of George Mills, I'll remind you that Heather Lawrence of Peakirk Books in Norfolk opines, "It is possible he just got fed up with writing!"

"Fed up" is a term that I would typically associate with a writer of far less successful tales and far fewer published works. Still, who can say she's wrong?

Another set of words crossed my mind as well. I received a thoughtful and well-considered message from my dear friend, Jennifer, in Philadelphia. Although on a somewhat different topic, it offers a similar line of thinking:

"Maybe [one's] creative life has just run its course. Margaret Mitchell only wrote the one novel... Not every creative person keeps creating until they die. Maybe some people can't sustain that kind of emotional energy. Maybe they don't want to."

That notion of 'not wanting to,' possibly due to being 'fed up,' returns to my mind again and again.

Perhaps while not completely shattering his life, Mills couldn't 'sustain the emotional energy' necessary to write something book length after those tragic events—the death of his wife, a dear friend, his mother, all during a war that left London bleeding and his own health a shambles.

In the words of that noted philosopher, Willie Nelson (seen left, a man who never seems to have lost his muse), "Ain't it funny how time slips away?" Did Mills always mean to write another book? Was his summer term at Ladycross Boys' Catholic Preparatory School in Seaford, Sussex, in 1956 seen as a chance to collect new characters, develop a new setting, and create new stories about prep school boys—a subject he'd once lovingly depicted in such amazingly precise detail? Dr. Tom Houston of the Windlesham House Association describes George thusly: "Mills evidently had a gift for befriending boys and learning their secrets; Meredith & Co. captures the idiom of pupils during the interwar period more accurately than any other novel."

Peakirk's Heather adds: "Meredith & co was 1 of the first prep school stories of its kind, lighthearted & whimsical, a forerunner to the Jennings books of Anthony Buckeridge, in so far as it emphasizes the comical side of school life. However the importance of games & work are not forgotten."

1933's publication of Meredith & Co. by Oxford University Press—a sumptuous, Depression-era book illustrated by the fabled C. C. Brock—speaks volumes about the high regard that was shown by the industry for his manuscript.

Following that with three more books in 1938-1939, had Mills managed so quickly use up all of his stories, his patience, and his passion for writing? And did he ever try to rekindle it all later in life?

Or, despite a nice, little side income from the re-issuing of his schoolboy titles in the 1950s, did the fact that he was an author become something that Mills simply stopped thinking about and ceased discussing with anyone? Were his conversations eventually filled with the weather, bridge strategies, croquet tournaments, and the results of cricket matches at Lord's? Residents of Budleigh's Westfield Road, which ended at the Mills domicile, Grey Friars, today know that another children's author, Charles Warrell, the aged creator of the famed I-Spy books, lived on that very same lane. Why did no one ever seem to realize neighbor George Mills was a children's book author as well?

Michael Downes recently reported: "Budleigh Salterton has a literary festival, and one of the documents produced by our local museum for that event was a list of authors formerly living in the town. George Mills (along with many others) was not on the list, and I have added to it over the years with other names. So George Mills is quite a find for us."

So it seems Mills probably wasn't always 'meaning to get around to it,' as far as writing another book was concerned. Perhaps he was just waiting for inspiration to strike. Still, he certainly didn't let his neighbors and the community at large know of his past, or of any hope he might've had that his literary muse might someday return. Or is it possible he actually had... and no one very much cared?

Jennifer certainly agrees Mills may have been awaiting inspiration and adds: "[But] you can spend the rest of your life sitting around waiting. Tearing things out of one's psyche is an arduous and not always pleasant process. It's easier to say, well, those days are gone. I don't have the energy for that anymore. It's frightening how easy it is to just let your mind sink into its own puddle of lethargy."

Perhaps George Mills was, indeed, 'fed up.' Perhaps he just 'didn't want to' write. Perhaps he faced his own 'puddle of lethargy' and simply never did meet his muse again—even among the prep boys at Seaford in 1956.

For whatever reason, Mills apparently must have spoken so little of his literary career that Budleigh residents never knew they had a popular author in their midst in the person of the very sociable and welcoming George Mills.

Still, I'd love to know: Why?

And I wonder: Is this really all about George Mills?

Or is this really far more about me?

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