Reading through the catalogue of Rosemary Bailey’s books one might come to the conclusion that it is she who is drawn to the mountains, in particular the Pyrenees, but this would not be the whole story.
Readers no doubt have their particular favourites … for me it is ‘Love and War in the Pyrenees’, the true story of a newly-married couple divided by war with perceptive insights into the suffering of a people living under occupation.
For others it might be the trials and tribulations involved in renovating a monastery in the hills of the Languedoc Roussillon, as related in ‘Life in a Postcard.’
Unfortunately, I have yet to meet ‘The Man Who Married a Mountain’ but following the conversation with Rosemary on Girls Do Coffee (Ex-Pat Radio), I will be hurrying to make his acquaintance in the very near future. Based on the real-life Victorian, Count Henry Russell, the story tells of his relationship with mountains, to the extent of taking a cello up onto the heights in order to play it amongst his beloved peaks. Or sleeping by a glacier in a sheepskin sleeping-bag, smoking a cigar and drinking a rum punch as a thunderstorm raged about him.
Rosemary showed a similar resilience as she battled the technical difficulties of an interview by Skype. Luckily, no cello or sheepskin sleeping-bag was needed, just a large dose of patience.
We felt it was well worth the wait as Rosemary gave us many personal insights into her work as an author, including revealing the huge amount of research required in assembling non-fiction tales such as these, followed by the most difficult task of dismissing much of this information and leaving it ‘on the cutting-room floor’ in order to present a neatly-edited and readable final product. (All writers know that you must, as William Faulkner and Stephen King say, ‘Kill your darlings’)
Rosemary’s soon-to-be-republished work ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ finds her much closer to home. This time it was her brother Simon who could be said to have had a mountain to climb. A priest with Aids could be expected to face extremely challenging times in terms of public and media reaction in the 1990s, and Rosemary’s book recounts not only the difficulties but also the somewhat surprising reaction of the parishioners in the mining village that her brother called home. To read Simon’s story through his sister’s eyes makes it especially poignant.
This is a story that deserves to be re-told, an issue that hasn’t gone away and an audience that may just be even more receptive this time around. The ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ that are worn by many in memory of AIDS sufferers all have a tale to tell and who better to tell this story than Rosemary Bailey?
Note: ‘The mountains are calling and I must go’ is a quote by John Muir (1838 – 1914), Scottish-born naturalist who moved to the US at the age of eleven
Deborah Alexander – www.reflective-writing-group.org