The Trickster Prince

Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.

Since I left you

Since I left you

I found the world so new


Avalanches, Since I Left You (2001)

I haven’t written about Netley Lucas since Monday 29 September. Fifty-three days and counting since I reduced his lives to a PDF file and emailed them to my publisher. Fifty-three days and counting since I left him, at least for a while

Have I found the world so new? So different. After a year on research leave getting back into the hectic rhythms of teaching and admin in a new institution has been a welcome change of pace. From going days on end in my own company, I now find myself talking to colleagues and students all the time. Solitude has been replaced by sociability; turning inwards by exciting conversations and collaborations. I have had to learn how to talk again. At least, I have had to learn how to talk to real people – people other than Netley Lucas, the impossible subject I lived alone with for so long.

If you have tried to talk to me over the past few weeks, and I have looked confused and vacant, then I am sorry: learning to be in the world again has been a steep learning curve.

I thought I would miss him. I was expecting to feel – viscerally, deep-rooted – a Netley Lucas shaped hole in my life. But that hasn’t happened, and it has surprised me. Perhaps I have had no time to think, or feel. Perhaps it takes time for the absence to register. Perhaps I know that I have not quite left him, or he me, just yet. We will share our lives again through two readers’ reports, the struggle of rewriting, and the precision of page proofs and corrections.

In quiet times my thoughts have come back to him. Scrutinizing a photograph, half-heartedly reading through a chapter, skimming the pages of a manuscript. Why? To reassure myself he might still be there? To remind me of what we shared before I left him? To keep him in mind so coming back together in is not so difficult when it has to happen? I don’t know.

Carolyn Steedman says that ‘If you have made a life for the dead and gone, then they can see you. You, the biographer, are real to them, in their obdurate, irritating individuality (which you have constructed).’ I make no pretence to be a biographer, but I suppose I have made some sort of lives for Netley Lucas over the past few years. I wonder if he can see me now.


5 comments on “Since I left you

  1. Gange
    November 21, 2014

    As one of your colleagues in the new institution it’s been great to have you encouraging our intellectual sociability. You’ve been doing an excellent (and necessary) job of persuading us not to become buried in individual term-time tasks, but to see how we can work better together. With all the wonderful new people we have this term, the department has never (at least not in my time here) felt so sociable and collaborative. Exciting times. Looking forward to seeing who or what becomes the new Netley…

  2. Laura Sefton (@LauraJSefton)
    November 21, 2014

    I’d just add to Gange’s comment: you are also doing an excellent job of supervising your new students!

    • The Trickster Prince
      November 21, 2014

      Ha! I should blog more often if it means I get compliments like this. Thanks Laura!

  3. The Trickster Prince
    November 21, 2014

    Thanks for this David: it’s really kind of you and I very much appreciate it. You’re right that these are exciting times — both intellectually and socially. I’ve never been part of a department that’s had the kind of buzz and energy that we do at the moment.

  4. Pingback: Genealogies; or where a book comes from | The Trickster Prince

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