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Writing historical fiction: sometime journal of a New York City novelist

remembering my 12 magical days in Oxford

A number of years ago, I won a scholarship through the English Speaking Union to live at Jesus College in Oxford for twelve magical days which became rather an ideal for the rest of my life. I lived in a room on the Quad of this 16th century college and was served kippers and tomatoes at breakfast sitting at one of the long tables in the Elizabethan Hall, overlooked by a picture of Queen Bess herself, who founded the college. There were 37 of us from around the world. Every moment was magical for me from the tea in the gardens of Rhodes House (where I ate heaps of strawberries and cream), the bus trip to Stratford through such tiny village roads where no bus was every meant to go -- to the evening one of the attendees from India sat crosslegged on the high table of the hall and played his sitar. Best of all was meeting my intellectual idol, the Elizabethan and Shakespeare scholar A.L. Rowse. He had written somewhere that he so loved Oxford "because it was there I found my true self." He was then a brilliant and terrifying old man and the very thought that I sat in an Oxford Quad and told him about the books I wanted to write is something that stuns me when I remember it. It was just when I was beginning to write my novels and I also found my true self. It is amazing that something which so transformed me took place in only twelve extraordinary, magical days. I always hoped to go back there to study but life led me elsewhere, so I sent a character (Nicholas Cooke) to Cambridge instead! Eight years later I published my first novel (Nicholas) and Dr. Rowse, then about 90 years old and still writing books himself, gave me a generous blurb for the book jacket.
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