HIP AUTHOR INTERVIEW Things in Heaven and Earth
By Jane Metcalfe
INTERVIEW BY LUCY BROWN
St Leonards author Jane Metcalfe launched her book Things in Heaven and Earth at the town’s Funky art gallery on Sunday.
A true story told through diary extracts, interviews and letters, Things in Heaven and Earth tells of a couple’s meeting and the extraordinary impact it had on the two – a visible impact so lasting and profound it reached those around them.
What happens between Colin and Dee, a playwright and a famous actress, could variously be described as spiritual, religious, paranormal, or even insane.
It defies definition and Metcalfe’s skill is not to offer one. She presents this compelling story as is, without over-analysis or dissection. Her voice is that of an observer and in writing without sensationalism, the intensity and wonder expressed by the protagonists is only magnified.
She writes with wisdom; Metcalfe is an engaging guide. She makes the indescribable accessible, exciting and deeply thought-provoking without ever losing the essence of mystery and joy at the story’s very core.
Jane took time to answer some questions about her work.
How would you describe Things in Heaven and Earth?
The subtitle gives you a clue as to the broad scope of the book: A Story of Love, Mystery and Transformation. The narrative hinges on an extraordinary meeting that took place in Beverly Hills in 1979 between two strangers, an unknown British playwright and a famous actress. As they shook hands, they were catapulted into an altered state so out of the ordinary that neither they nor anyone else had any idea what had happened. The narrative focuses on this incident, the effect it had on the couple and others in their circle and what came later. Overall it is a love story with an extra dimension, set against a backdrop that moves between the hybrid world of Hollywood and rural Wales.
What prompted you to write the book now?
I can only say that the time was right. I had had the material for some time and talked to quite a few people about it; even made false starts on writing it, but lacked the confidence to continue. The defining moment was when a wise woman I know, author of numerous books, said to me: “Many people say they want to write a book but very few do it.” That was my spur!
The events are described through the protagonists’ accounts, one being your ex-husband. How was it to be in possession of such personal information?
My marriage to Colin had been at such a young age that when I met him again he was an entirely different man. So reading the diaries written by Colin and Dee intimately detailing their five months together touched me on a level that was not reflective of my own time with him. It was like reading about two strangers. Colin had always come across as very pragmatic, both as a younger and older man. You would never have guessed in a million years that he had had this experience!
Did you feel a certain responsibility to Colin and Dee in sharing their words?
In the first part of the book I share how I came to be the keeper of the documents that form the basis of Things in Heaven and Earth. Colin told me he thought I would be a good person to take on a writing project that required thoughtful editing. He shared the bare bones of the meeting between him and the actress, telling me that Dee’s clairvoyant, Naomi, felt that the story should be widely shared, but she had been waiting 25 years for the right person to ‘take on the job’. As it turned out, I was ‘the one’! After the deaths of Colin, Dee and Naomi, I felt a sense of responsibility more to fulfilling Naomi’s wishes, than towards Colin and Dee. That may sound odd, but all this is described much more fully in the book.
You let the experiences stand alone in the book without too much comment or analysis, was it difficult to decide how to present their story?
After many false starts, I decided I would be like an onlooker, commenting as it came to me to do so, but not analysing or positing my own theories. Following the events of 1979, those who simply heard the story found it had a deep effect on them. I wanted to leave that as it stood, to ‘speak’ through the letters, diaries and interviews that form the basis of the book.
Colin and Dee clearly experienced something ‘other’ than the physically accepted expression of a world chopped up into increments of time
What is your understanding of what happened between Colin and Dee?
This is a question that puts me in mind of the poem ‘Days’, by Philip Larkin, which Dee alludes to in her letter to Colin written the day he returned to England. The last two verses sum it up: “Where can we live but Days? Ah, solving that question/Brings the priest and the doctor/In their long coats/Running across the field.”
Colin and Dee clearly experienced something ‘other’ than the physically accepted expression of a world chopped up into increments of time. Haven’t we always been looking for the deeper meaning behind the backdrop? I suppose I see it as ‘proof’ that there is much more to existence than meets the eye!
The experience between the two also affected others around them. In the retelling did you find it affected you or your beliefs?
In the book I start off by sharing a childhood experience that led me to not accepting the tangible world as the only expression of life, or consciousness. Running alongside the story of my life in worldly terms was always this ‘knowing’ and experience of ‘otherness’, which I prefer to call it, rather than give it one of the numerous labels that cannot even hint at an experience beyond the flesh!
What Colin and Dee say, particularly in the interviews, concurs with my own felt sense of existence. I suppose delving into the material and writing the book gave me more assurance in that which, despite my Taurean nature, I have always sensed is far from lodged on earth!
Why do you feel their story should be shared? Do you believe their experiences can affect change on a wider scale?
I believe we are living in particularly difficult times. The world is spinning out of control and the more we destroy the earth with apparent progress, the more people are seeking for meaning. On the one hand there is an ever more mechanistic view, but on the other a feeling of lack and unrest in people is awakening them to a sense of themselves as spiritual beings. This story shares the unity of love that transcends the need for expression only in form but in a greater totality.
Finally, what do you hope an audience would take from the book?
I would hope it will make the reader think, ponder, wonder, explore.
• Things in Heaven and Earth is available from The Bookkeeper, Kings Road, St Leonards and Amazon.
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