I am a great admirer of the work of LESLEY HAYES (sometimes known as Lesley Sky). I had an instant rapport with her writing, as indeed she had with mine: which made ideal ground for a reliable writerly friendship! When I recently decided to create this section of my blog, she was the first to spring to mind.
Lesley Hayes was born in Deptford, in South East London, in 1948, and started writing almost as soon as she could talk. Her first story was published when she won a literary competition at the age of 13. Between 1966 and 1992 she was regularly and prolifically published in literary and women’s magazines, writing stories, serials and articles, and in 1986 had a novel published called ‘Keeping Secrets’.
For the following two years she had a weekly slot on BBC Radio Oxford reading her short stories, and in 1999 a collection of linked stories called Oxford Marmalade was brought out on audiotape, read by the actress Susanna Dawson. Her son and daughter, born respectively in 1969 and 1971, helped her throughout these years to keep her feet on the ground and her sense of humour alive and well and occasionally kicking.
In 1990 she came to the conclusion that continuing to write about the fascinating vagaries of the human condition just wouldn’t be enough, and for the next four years she trained to become an integrative psychotherapist. Her long and successful career as a psychotherapist over the ensuing years took her away from fiction writing, but brought quite different rewards. It was a fork in the road she never once regretted taking, and she was aware of using many of same creative skills and insights.
During the past five years the compelling urge to write fiction has again emerged, and she has given in gracefully to the inevitable return to her first love. Her novels A Field Beyond Time, The Drowned Phoenician Sailor and Round Robin are available on kindle, along with three collections of short stories: Oxford Marmalade (Oct 2014), The Oscar Dossier (May 2014), Without a Safety Net (April 2014) and the aptly named Not Like Other People (Jan 2014). As you might expect, now that the genie has once again escaped from the bottle, more will soon follow.
Here are my five star reviews of her three novels:
This may be the wisest, and most cleverly crafted, book I have ever read. Anyone whose childhood was spent in a house where there was profound unhappiness will identify with every word.
Lesley Hayes was/is a trained psychotherapist, and her profound knowledge of the human psyche informs the deeply insightful portrayal of her characters. With consummate skill she weaves the different strands of this painfully beautiful story into an intricate, complicated and ultimately moving tale.
Never judgemental, she describes the events in childhood that turn each of her protagonists into the adults they become, with their individual, equally tormented struggles to “somehow, eventually, …make sense of it all.” She writes beautifully. I could quote hundreds of examples (I have the highlighted passages in my kindle notes to prove it!) , but will settle for two – just to give you a flavour:
“She had never been deemed to care enough, even though the data about what ‘enough’ might be had never been forthcoming.”
“There was an undeclared dialogue always between them these days – sometimes more audible than the words melting away into silence in the space where intimacy should be.”
Reading this book, we experience the wide range of human responses to mental cruelty: from what Freud described as “ordinary unhappiness” through ‘pathological narcissism’ to utter ‘insanity’, from terrible anger to inexpressible grief, as each character strives to find a peaceful place somewhere on their battlefield of life. What terrible things we do to one another, and how amazing it is in such circumstances that many of us manage to be as ‘sane’ as we are.
I am deliberately not telling the story, but as it unfolded I found myself increasingly unable to put the book down. I so longed for some of these characters to find their redemption in each other, though I knew from painful experience how indifferent the universe is to endings – happy or otherwise.
We cling to hope, and I was so grateful to Lesley Hayes for leaving us with some. So skilful is she, however, in the telling of her tale, that you are never sure – until the very end. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It isn’t merely a good book. It’s a great book – and there aren’t that many of those.
The Drowned Phoenician Sailor shouts quality before one even gets to chapter 1. No other writer (to date) has given me Stevie Smith and T.S. Eliot to get me into the right frame of mind; and then that first paragraph: “…the cat, eyeballing me into subservience” – BLISS, like slipping into a warm jacuzzi, prior to being massaged by words precisely chosen and arranged in just the right order.
This is Lesley Hayes at her best, and a superb best it is: sharply analytical, deeply observant about the vagaries of the human character and reliably lyrical in her use of language. You just know you’re in a very safe pair of well-informed, wittily writerly hands.
The story chronicles an interesting period in the life of Fynn, short for Fiona (the name her controlling, unfaithful father insisted on). She also goes by the name of Kaya – her ‘soul’ name given to her by her now “aging hippie”, very likeable mother. Lesley Hayes has told us in her “Meet My Character” blog (http://bit.ly/WbKT8S ) that “it’s in using her ‘soul name’ that she discovers more of who she really is throughout the course of the novel.”
Fynn/Kaya tells us quite early on, she’d “had a happy childhood. Well, no more miserable than most!” However, in adulthood, particular memories kept returning to ‘haunt her’ – hence the need for her therapist Paul, who “loved life” and “lived love”. His sudden, unexpected death leaves her with unfinished business, and she embarks on a journey towards a kind of happiness: a journey guided in a most intriguing way by an unlikely pair of “ghosts”.
One of the things I love most about Lesley Hayes’ books is the entertaining way in which I learn so much about people and the different ways they find to deal with their experiences of abusive behaviour – some by abusing in their turn and others by incredible feats of forgiveness, reinvention and renewal. In consequence, I feel better able to deal with the vagaries of my own existence having read them, and that is no mean feat.
Fynn’s father was “anything but” a father figure, and her mother was “a fallen angel”. Does that ring any bells for anyone? Fynn says “I always saw in her the absence where someone should have loved her more.” In savouring this book I highlighted hundreds of passages like that, at least one on every page: deep, questioning, thoughtful, perceptive observations in a smooth and cultured prose.
Above all it’s a hopeful book, ending with Fynn/Kaya discovering “what it’s like when you are happy” (it’s all so simple, really); by which time we are acutely aware “how intricate are the strands of connection that the universe weaves.”
I recommend this book without reservation.
This is third book by Lesley Hayes that I have read, and they all have the same qualities: beautifully written, painfully well-observed when it comes to the essentially human capacity for and susceptibility to mental cruelty, and very, very wise. An element of catharsis is inevitable while reading them, because one cannot help identifying some of the behavioural patterns from one’s personal experience of them.
Round Robin is out of the same stable as A Field Beyond Time and The Drowned Phoenician Sailor and every bit as good: sharply analytical, deeply observant about the vagaries of the human character and reliably lyrical in its use of language. You just know you’re in a very safe pair of well-informed, wittily writerly hands.
“Funny old job, life…” We all have to make the best of it, and reading this author’s books will give you lots of clues how to go about doing that, in spite of the degree to which your mum and dad may or may not have done to you what Philip Larkin said they do. Breaking out of those abusive cycles is what adult life is all about, and nobody deals more cogently, imaginatively or sympathetically with that subject than Lesley Hayes.
Round Robin deals with a six week period in the lives of six main characters bound to each other by circumstance and need, all of them scarred and scared, each with their pitiful coping strategies, dealing with perpetual disappointment, holding desperately on to a hope of sorts, yet always being pulled, apparently inexorably, towards the black hole of total despair. Lesley Hayes is an expert on the topography of the edge, and a number of these characters are so close to it that you fear for them: particularly for Robin, the ten year old boy who has to make some sense of life and who he is, surrounded by such adults in varying degrees of meltdown. The action takes place around him; hence the title.
But in case it sounds too painful – and I was afraid at one point late on in the story that it might become too terrible to bear – be reassured that the author is as kind as she is wise, and having helped us to understand the vicious cycle of abuse and damage that blights so many human lives, she leaves us with the hope that all may yet be well, and that between us we can find the strength and will and cause and means to set it right.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Lesley-Hayes/e/B00HR65DES