Mother’s Boy (2022)


Patrick’s seventeenth novel is his first fully historical one since A Place Called Winter. It is based around the known facts of the boyhood and youth of the great Cornish poet, Charles Causley and the life of the mother who raised him singlehandedly.

Laura, an impoverished Cornish girl, meets her husband when they are both in service in Teignmouth in 1916. They have a baby, Charles, but Laura’s husband returns home from the trenches a damaged man, already ill with the tuberculosis that will soon leave her a widow. In a small, class-obsessed town she raises her boy alone, working as a laundress, and gradually becomes aware that he is some kind of genius.

As an intensely private young man, Charles signs up for the navy with the new rank of coder.  His escape from the tight, gossipy confines of Launceston to the colour and violence of war sees him blossom as he experiences not only the possibility of death, but the constant danger of a love that is as clandestine as his work.

Mother’s Boy is the story of a man who is among, yet apart from his fellows, in thrall to, yet at a distance from his own mother; a man being shaped for a long, remarkable and revered life spent hiding in plain sight. But it is equally the story of the dauntless mother who will continue to shield him long after the dangers of war are past.

To your copy from Bookshop.org  press here.

To hear the first pages of Patrick’s  recording of the audiobook,  which you can buy complete from Audible, click here. Until the end of July you can catch Tristan Sturrock reading an abridged version of the novel on BBC Book at Bedtime. Just click here or search for Book at Bedtime on the BBC Sounds App.

As a patron of the Charles Causley Trust Patrick was already passionate about Causley’s poems and wanting to get them read by a wider audience but it was only when he started to look more closely into the poet’s life that he hit on the idea of basing a novel on him. “The cliche is for a poet to lead a dissolute life, breaking hearts, wrecking their health and dying young,” he says, “But Causley breaks with that pattern entirely, being neither bad nor mad but an devoted primary school teacher who lived alone with his mother until her death and who went to the grave adjoining hers late in life and without a breath of scandal. In the years since his death, however, I kept hearing people saying that he was gay, or basically gay, though never linking his name to anyone’s. When I began to work my way through the considerable Causley archive at Exeter University, I not only found clear evidence that he was more interested in men than women, but increasingly found I had other common ground with him: in his early, very keen study of the piano and in his early dreams of becoming a playwright. The differences between us were vast, of course, as he was raised in considerable poverty and felt obliged to keep his inner self a secret all his life. He seemed to have laid out the clues in plain sight, like a tantalising breadcrumb trail for me to follow. Whenever he was asked why he never wrote his memoir he would always reply that it was all in the poems so I began to reread the poems more clearly and found one in particular, Angel Hill, which reads like a haunting confession. And then there was his training as one of the first generation of naval coders which handed me the perfect metaphor for a man hiding himself in layers of secrecy as well as the perfect training for him to receive as a poet.

I found I was equally fascinated by Laura, his mother, for her ingenuity and single mindedness in raising a brilliant child alone and unsupported when her own education was pretty limited. She had left so few traces behind her, compared to him, that I had to extrapolate her character from his handful of autobiographical sketches, reminiscences of his friends and from the traces of her influence in his characteristic poetical voice: wryly Cornish, solidly good without being pious, blessed with country wisdom. I had worried at first that, once WW2 broke out and Charles left her side, her story might be lacking in incident, but then I started looking at just what had gone on in Launceston during the war. What with German and Italian POWs and a racially aligned mutiny among black GIs, it came to seem almost as dramatic as the adventures and traumas awaiting her son…”

Publisher: Tinder Press
ISBN: 978-1472257413


Read an extract

Read an extract from Mother’s Boy (Kindle Preview)


Buy Mother’s Boy

Hardback: Amazon.co.uk | Hive | Waterstones

eBook: Amazon Kindle | iBookstore (UK) | Kobo

Audiobook: Audible


Reviews of Mother’s Boy

ALEXANDER LARMAN

A Poet’s Progress

The Cornish poet Charles Causley might be an underappreciated figure today, but his fictionalised representation in Patrick Gale’s new novel should do much to introduce his work to a new audience, assuming that Mother’s Boy enjoys the success of Gale’s previous books A Place Called Winter and Notes from an Exhibition. It certainly deserves to. But this is not simply a fictionalised rendering of Causley’s life. Gale interweaves a Bildungsroman-esque account of his upbringing in 1920s Cornwall (and increasingly troubled realisation of his sexuality) with the story of how his mother, Laura, a former domestic servant, comes to believe that her son is nothing less than a genius.

Gale writes with great sympathy and authority about Causley, whom he refers to, familiarly, as ‘Charles’ throughout. At times, his writing has something of the passion of Lawrence and Hardy in its evocation of untutored promise being steadily brought out into the wider world. The depiction of Laura and

Literary Review


The Cornish poet Charles Causley, born 1917, was known to generations of schoolchildren for his shrewd humour  and mastery of poetic form making him a sta­ple of the English curriculum for decades. In his later years he became a notable literary figure and a friend of Ted Hughes, but unlike the younger poet seemed to lead a life devoid of emotional upheavals. An only child, he never married, had no children and for many years lived alone with his mother, Laura. Basing his latest novel on the formative years of Causley’s seemingly uneventful life, Patrick Gale has delved under the apparently tranquil surface to offer a new perspective on this shy, reclusive writer.

In writing a fictional narrative about a real person, the novelist has to tread carefully. Gale has explained in interviews how alert he is to the sensibilities of surviving relatives, such as descendants of Laura’s siblings. Granted  access  to the poet’s private papers, he has nonetheless crafted an alternative to the bland accepted nar­rative that feels emotionally true.

Her husband Charlie Causley having died of TB after coming back from the first world war, Laura threw herself into bringing up their bespectacled, timid yet gifted son. Gale has clearly done his research into the gruelling labour her life as a washerwoman would have involved. Devout yet pragmatic, she takes in sheets from the local bordello and highly resents a prim parish­ ioner’s interference in the matter.

Meanwhile young Charles is first bullied then befriended by the butcher’s athletic son, the first inkling of his attraction to hardier physical types. As a teenager, more than curiosity is aroused by the regular influx of sailors in the town, though he’s not as bold as his friend Ginger in making a move. Instead, Charles turns his energies to the the­atre, as a wannabe Noel Coward who longs to lounge in silk dressing gowns.

Causley’s time as a riaval coder in the second world war provided much of the subject mat- ter of  his  later  poetry, and Gale thrillingly evokes the dirty, noisy, mas­culine world of fear and camaraderie on board ship, and the brief moments of respite and exhilaration ashore. But Laura is just as much the focus of thisdeeply moving novel, creating a haven for her adored boy while putting her own life on hold, and remembering without rancour her own brief moment of happiness. The portrait of a complex relationship that constricted as much as it sustained is bril­liantly done, as Gale skilfully flows between their two perspectives.

It was Laura’s death that finally freed Causley to become feted beyond the confines of Cornwall, but that’s another story, outside the horizons of this heart-warming and cred­ible portrait of a writer’s youth.

Suzi Feay

The Tablet


Based on a true story. The story about Charles begins a hundred years ago, in a small town in Cornwall in the south west of England. Whilst growing up snd going to school, he understands that he’s different. In Mother’s Boy, by Patrick Gale, we tag a long as WW2 takes him out into the world, as well as into hard battle, but also into the first lustful encounters that need to be kept secret. Extremely beautiful and well-written.

Pekka Heino

QX (Sweden)


Gripping new book imagines life and queer heartbreak of real-life poet Charles Causley

MICHAEL PETRY MAY 13, 2022

Charles Causley, black and white photo

Charles Causley. (Screenshot via Vimeo/Andrew Tebbs)

Patrick Gale’s new fictional biography, Mother’s Boy, fills in the blanks about “Poet of Cornwall” Charles Causley’s life.

Causley was born in 1917 in Launceston, Cornwall. His father died from war wounds, and he grew up in the long shadow of his mother, which he never escaped.

Gale describes their co-dependency – she held to him as tightly as he did to her. But as Charles hit puberty he knew there was something odd about himself. His friend Ginger took him cruising at a local swimming spot but Charles remained chaste.

In 1940, Causley joined the Royal Navy and was posted to HMS Eclipse. His sea sickness never abated and he was given a desk job in Gibraltar.

In Mother’s Boy, Charles experiences a harrowing bombing on the Rock, and takes cover with a former shipmate, Cushty who is on leave.

In the intensity of the moment they have a passionate sexual encounter. But subsequently they are separated, and Cushty’s ship sinks. Charles believes he died.

Charles is promoted to a commission, and falls for a ‘straight’ fellow officer – who likes to sleep with him as often as possible while dreaming of married life after the war. Which is precisely what happens.

Charles Causley never came out as gay – but after reading his diaries and letters, Gale is certain of his sexuality, and that the affair took place.

Gale has written before about war-torn lovers in Man in an Orange Shirt (adapted by the BBC in 2017).

He deals sympathetically but honestly with his subjects, and it’s no wonder the Charles Causley Trust were so supportive of his depiction. Gale helps modern readers understand that it was so very different then, and while much has changed, things can always take a turn (or a return) for the worse.

The book is available to buy from bookshop.org and Amazon.

 

Pink News


Mother’s Boy is a tender, evocative retelling of the life of the poet Charles Causley based, as Patrick Gale tells us in his author’s note, on diaries, papers and poems. Gale writes that he has “shamelessly used fiction and conjecture to fill the gaps in stories that history and discretion had left blank”. The period covered is from 1914, when Causley’s parents meet, to 1948, when the poet returns from wartime service to live with his widowed mother Laura and teach in a local school.

In sections with headings such as “Teignmouth 1914” and “Penny Buns 1921”, the story of Charles’s childhood in Launceston, Cornwall is told as a sequence of life-changing events viewed in close-up, some minor, all important: there is his father’s puzzling death from tuberculosis; the thrill of swimming in the sea for the first time; the embarrassment of wearing the wrong kind of swimming trunks; a knockabout English poetry lesson at school; a nativity play performed in one of the local churches where young Charles is familiar with the “gravy yard” and the statue of “Mary Magda Leeny”. Home life consists of shopping and cooking – oxtail, pig’s liver, rabbit pie – and the endless chores of cleaning and laundry, while Charles plays in the street, does his piano practice and visits the local library. The teenage Charles sees Launceton as “a small-minded interfering place”, but it later becomes the source of longing when he joins the navy in 1941 and familiar things give way to the dangers of life at sea.

War brings new experiences – seasickness, mess room clamour, the noise and smells of air attacks, a constant awareness of death – while Laura, stalwart and fond, suffers rationing, difficult evacuees and the fear of losing her son. Charles’s wartime service ends with the terrible pageant of the Japanese capitulation in 1945, the British troops lined up to witness the Instrument of Surrender signed in fountain pen on a document covered in ornate script. Throughout the novel, train journeys, views from the cliffs of blue skies, sand and sea suggest a wider world. The practicalities of daily life are also contrasted with another realm, of music and poetry. Charles’s “search for his true self” is unfulfilled. He knows that he is different and that his intense feelings for his fearless childhood friend Joe, and then for the fellow sailor Cushty, who saves his life, are part of “this thing he would not name even to himself”. Laura worries that “he didn’t like women very much and that it might be her fault”.

Perspective is important. A fine description of low tide at Polzeath – “The receding tide had left hard little ridges in the sand like the furrows in a field and it was tricky to see how breaking waves could leave behind an effect so delicate and regular” – is reflected in Charles’s feeling of escape when crossing the Tamar, as well as in his view from the decoding room at the top of Signals Tower in Gibraltar. Laura’s difficult evacuees are refugees from the different worlds of Hackney and Limehouse, while the American GI camps on the Cornish coast are racially segregated and sometimes violent, and the POWs part of a new kind of community. Nights with a sexually confident companion in a hotel in Liverpool and a moving production of Twelfth Night at the Playhouse do not have the same force for Charles as his nostalgia for “not home precisely, but for the distinctive smell of boot polish, cheese and apples”. Patrick Gale’s descriptions of the power of ordinary things in two very different lives make Mother’s Boy a moving biographical tribute.

Lindsay Duguid is a freelance writer

TLS


Mother’s Boy is a fictional account of the great poet Charles Causley (1917-2003), perhaps best known for the poem “Eden Rock”, a striking admission of his own impending mortality. Deceptively simple in structure and language, his poems have a clarity and lightness that belies their profundity. He wrote for both adults and children, never differentiating between the two.

A lifelong inhabitant of Launceston, Causley’s poetry continues to be honoured in Cornwall, but his work has fallen out of favour in recent years. Backed with impeccable research, fellow Cornishman Patrick Gale has imagined his life for the reader, from the daily round of existence in a small provincial town to being trapped on the deck of a warship, under terrifying attack in the seething Atlantic Sea.

Gale is the most English of writers, showing acute insight into social codes and a clear-eyed exploration of class and sexuality, such as the unhappy encounters between the fictional Charles and his on-off lover, the loathsome Bucknall. His empathetic feel for the warp and weft of complex, often painful relationships (including his complex symbiosis with his mother, Laura), keeps the reader on their moral mettle and their nose to the very last page. Nor does he flinch from empirical themes, whether it is the casual sexism, misogyny, and snobbery that a working-class woman might experience in the early half of the twentieth century, or the structural racism rife in the American military, where black and white soldiers are segregated into different camps outside Launceston as well as at local pubs and dances.   

Both Causley’s parents were born in the workhouse and went “into service”, his father survived World War I but came home with a mortal case of TB. Brought up single-handedly by his indefatigable mother, Charlie became an owlish child with a musical soul and an incredible ear for the poetry of everyday language.

The novel moves seamlessly between Laura and Charles, the twin consciousnesses of the novel, and Laura’s devotion to her son forms the emotional backbone of the story. While Charles is the creative, uncertain, sometimes unhappy force in the story, Laura finds fulfilment through work and friends. It’s not just Charles who’s dependent on her kindness and certainty – others, too, are drawn to her generosity of spirit, whether its Amos the black soldier or Helmut the refugee, who brings her the surprising gift of twins Terry and Jerry. These relationships see her through the most difficult times.

Clever Charles, on the other hand, is bullied at school and struggles to make friends, his sexuality adding to his sense of difference. We are led through a series of encounters, like pearls on a string, with school friends such as Joe Luke and Ginger; a homo-erotically charged moment at a seaside lido is pivotal in Charles’ journey to self-awareness.

Charles joins the navy in World War II, enduring a traumatic time at sea, both physically and mentally. After becoming a “coder”, he finds recovery and creativity back in Launceston as a teacher and poet. But the emotional crux of the novel relies on Charles’ relationship with Cushty, a fellow seaman, friend and lover – who Causley admitted had inspired his astonishing poem, “Angel Hill”. This is where the novel takes flight before Charles is crushed by events, societal expectations and self-denial. 

I like to think of Patrick Gale writing in his own “bright glass cabin” where, as Causley describes it in ‘The Seasons of North Cornwall’:

“All Cornwall thunders at my door,
And the white ships of winter lie,
In the sea-roads of the moor.”

And to misquote from the novel, how grateful we should be that he has handed us this vivid and powerful version of Causley’s life and story.

Clare Conville

Perspective


Charles Causley was a poet’s poet. Both Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin considered him the finest candidate for the laureateship, which Hughes later won. Now Patrick Gale has made him a novelist’s poet in this richly engaging fictionalised account of his early life.

Mother’s Boy is bookended by two world wars: the first, in which Charles is born, and his father Charlie suffers the injuries that would lead to his premature death; the second, in which Charles, who had written schoolboy verse, ‘although poetry was not really his thing’, discovers his poetic voice while serving as a coder in the navy.

The novel’s main subject is the intense, quasi-incestuous relationship between Charles and his mother Laura, a church-going laundress, who raises him singlehandedly. Charles is born after she instigates a bout of lovemaking with the exhausted Charlie on his brief return from the Front, because she believes a baby to be her due. The ‘flushes of pleasure’ she feels on nursing him are explicitly sexual and, as he grows, Charles replaces Charlie in her affections, which she knows to be ‘a terrible thing, almost a sin, damaging to both of them’.

Laura is fiercely protective of Charles, a bespectacled, bookish, bullied child. She senses that he is not like other boys and, while proud of his achievements, is a little afraid of him. She feels more at ease with Terry and Jerry, twin East End evacuees who are billeted on her. When she watches Charles entertaining them on leave, she ‘saw what a brilliant father he would make’ and is overcome with an inexplicable sadness.

Just as Laura is unable to articulate what sets him apart from his fellows, so Charles hides from it. When a school friend shocks him with a kiss, Charles considers it ‘a sin and against the law’. Navy life confirms his sexual identity as well as his poetic gift, but at the crucial moment he rejects Cushty, a sailor very much in the style of Quentin Crisp’s ‘great dark man’, who both saves his life and takes his virginity.

Gale, an adoptive Cornishman, brilliantly evokes Causley’s native county in the first part of the 20th century – the isolated village communities for whom neighbouring Devon is practically a foreign country and the changes brought about by the influx of strangers, not least America’s racially segregated GIs.

This deeply felt, elegantly written novel will be relished by admirers of both the author and his subject.
Michael Arditti

Spectator


Reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books

In this novel, set during and between the first and second world wars, Patrick Gale addresses the life of the real poet Charles Causley, and that of his mother, Laura.

The novel begins with the ordinary and lovely story of Laura, a young woman in service.

Her parents having both been in the workhouse, Laura is delighted to live and work in a warm house where food is regular. She meets Charlie, a groom to a local family, and the good-natured pair are married.

Reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books

In this novel, set during and between the first and second world wars, Patrick Gale addresses the life of the real poet Charles Causley, and that of his mother, Laura.

The novel begins with the ordinary and lovely story of Laura, a young woman in service.

Her parents having both been in the workhouse, Laura is delighted to live and work in a warm house where food is regular. She meets Charlie, a groom to a local family, and the good-natured pair are married.

World War I breaks out, Laura falls pregnant, Charlie goes to fight, and Charles Causley is born.

This really is a story of events, and it would be easy to fix a timeline on the narrative because the author has based it on real people and pivotal events in their lives. The magic happens though when Gale takes his inspiration from lines of poetry or fragments of Charles’ diary and gives him, and Laura, a rich and poignant life.

Set mostly in Cornwall, we are immersed in Cornish life, set apart from England with practices and a dialect all its own. Fortunately, Gale doesn’t obfuscate the story transcribing accents, the feel of the place and people expressed through conversations and customs instead.

Laura is a washerwoman and her strong arms and work ethic are lively on the page, little Charles with his spectacles and lack of sporting prowess filling her heart with love and worry.

Charles grows, navigates the rough and tumble childhood of Launceston, all the while realising he is not like the other boys. He is quiet and studious, fascinated by the rhythm of language, a writer and musician, disinterested in girls as any more than friends.

As he grows he finds there are other men like him, and his mother instinctually knows, without quite putting her finger on anything, that it is unlikely she will be a grandmother.

There are beautiful vignettes throughout the book. Charles’ friendships and relationships of convenience, the Launceston prisoners of war and evacuees occupying Laura whilst he is at war. Throughout the story, and particularly after Charles’ war, there is the deep bond between mother and son.

Mother’s Boy is a nicely woven, gentle tale of an ordinary life in extraordinary times, a tale of a boy born into hardship with no sense of self-pity, raised by his mother to be who he shall be. It’s quite lovely, and encourages further reading around Causley’s work and life after meeting him in fiction.

Advertise with NZME.

World War I breaks out, Laura falls pregnant, Charlie goes to fight, and Charles Causley is born.

This really is a story of events, and it would be easy to fix a timeline on the narrative because the author has based it on real people and pivotal events in their lives. The magic happens though when Gale takes his inspiration from lines of poetry or fragments of Charles’ diary and gives him, and Laura, a rich and poignant life.

Set mostly in Cornwall, we are immersed in Cornish life, set apart from England with practices and a dialect all its own. Fortunately, Gale doesn’t obfuscate the story transcribing accents, the feel of the place and people expressed through conversations and customs instead.

Laura is a washerwoman and her strong arms and work ethic are lively on the page, little Charles with his spectacles and lack of sporting prowess filling her heart with love and worry.

Charles grows, navigates the rough and tumble childhood of Launceston, all the while realising he is not like the other boys. He is quiet and studious, fascinated by the rhythm of language, a writer and musician, disinterested in girls as any more than friends.

As he grows he finds there are other men like him, and his mother instinctually knows, without quite putting her finger on anything, that it is unlikely she will be a grandmother.

There are beautiful vignettes throughout the book. Charles’ friendships and relationships of convenience, the Launceston prisoners of war and evacuees occupying Laura whilst he is at war. Throughout the story, and particularly after Charles’ war, there is the deep bond between mother and son.

Mother’s Boy is a nicely woven, gentle tale of an ordinary life in extraordinary times, a tale of a boy born into hardship with no sense of self-pity, raised by his mother to be who he shall be. It’s quite lovely, and encourages further reading around Causley’s work and life after meeting him in fiction.

New Zealand Herald


FICTION PICK OF THE WEEK
Mother’s Boy
Patrick Gale, Tinder Press, $32.99

 

Before he became Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes was asked to name the poet he thought best suited to the job. His choice was Charles Causley, whose childhood and coming of age are richly fictionalised in Patrick Gale’s Mother’s Boy. Born during WWI, Causley was raised by a single mother, Laura, with an almost erotic devotion, his father Charlie having succumbed to tuberculosis after returning from the trenches. The complex, near-incestuous bond between mother and son is drawn with sharp-eyed affection, as is the small-town Cornish setting in which Causley grew up. The emergence of his poetic gifts possesses a strange folkloric quality that inhabits some of his verse. His discovery of his homosexuality and the clandestine pursuit of it – as a young coder for the Royal Navy in the Second World War – stands with the best queer literary fiction of a historical bent, illuminated as it is by Gale’s devilish wit and talent for both social observation and intricacies of character.

Sydney Morning Herald


© Headline Publishing Group 2015 - 2022.
Registered in England and Wales with company number 02782638.
Registered address: Carmelite House, 50 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DZ.

Headline