So, two days after A’s story of his grandfather Charles Morgan, J comes to collect his kids, and tells me about his father, the writer Nicolas Wollaston. I hadn’t heard of him.
“Was he successful?” I asked.”I mean, did he make a living from it… or did he have a day job?”
J said he’d done nothing but write, and had had some success, but that in his later life he’d fallen out of fashion, and had failed to find a publisher for his last two books. His last published book was the story of his father, Sandy Wollaston, who had been murdered when Nick was four. J told me the story of Sandy Wollaston’s death. He had been a tutor at Kings College Cambridge, and had been shot by an undergraduate.
After J and his kids had gone, I looked Nick Wollaston up.
“But in the 1990s, like other respected novelists, he found that his books were deemed too serious. A novel set in Aids-ravaged Africa and one based on the Dogger Bank incident of 1904 remained unpublished – a fate that he bore with a wry, exasperated stoicism. “On the shelf, it’s called. But the shelf is just where I’d like to be – the one in Waterstone’s and the public library.” When one publisher wrote that she loved the book he had submitted and “defied him to write a dull sentence” yet still rejected it, he contemplated reinventing himself as a young woman or at least writing under an anagram of his own name (“I rather fancied Nacton Skillow or even Onslow Tacklin, who both sound high-class shits, but dismissed them as too improbable. Likewise Niall Swontock and Stan Nollowick.”) ”