Maurice Rowdon : Author

Maurice began writing as a boy. I remember him saying that the only time he didn't write was during his war experience which silenced him completely. He could not, would not write a word as long as he was a soldier. Once back at Oxford he was writing again, and was hardly ever seen without pen and notebook – and so it was, until the end of his life. He was writing the day before his death.

Maurice started off his career after Oxford in academics. He was invited to Baghdad to become a University lecturer and he thoroughly enjoyed himself there. But he left early on in order to freelance. I once asked him why he left academics--after all, as an academic his most sensitive work would have been more easily received and published. He replied that he needed the insecurity of freedom to produce his best work.

He was such a prolific writer and on so many subjects that his agent and friend, James Mickie, warned him that bouncing about from subject to subject might damage his career. And 'career' then meant quite something different from 'career' now. James told Maurice that he was ranging too wide and too far – his reader couldn't get a proper hook on him, what he was about as a writer. But Maurice, along with most mid-line writers of his generation, belonged to a tradition that has mostly gone out of the publishing world. These literary lions--erudite and cultivated men and women didn't exactly choose writing---rather, writing chose them. They were driven by passions and social questions far beyond their own personal interests and desires. They were able to withstand the arduous solitude that genuine artistry requires and the shocks original work often receives which can reduce the artist very quickly to penury. Being a 'best seller' was not the goal. In fact, among most genuine writers it was looked down upon. It meant you weren't doing particularly original and fine work.

Maurice knew at an early age that his profession was on its way to extinction. But he was a true artist, pushed by curiosity about the world in which he was living, what it really was about instead of what he was supposed to assume it was about. He continued to range widely in his subject matter and finally seemed to find a niche in writing about the cradle of western civilization---this being, Italy and the Italian culture. His commissioned books on that country took off. There, the reader could rely on him for an original, entertaining and intelligent read.

He was also writing his most sensitive work – without commission – and hardly a subject for the latter half of the twentieth century. Only now in this young and unstable twenty-first century has his subject become an urgent concern. As early as the 1950s Maurice was exploring new criteria for human intelligence based on the dire effects of human activity on the planet and all its species, including our own. His subject became quite clear to him in the 80s. He was writing to debunk the human's grandiose 'mythologies' about himself – 'a joyful enterprise', he called it. And so it was that he accumulated extensive archives of books, plays and poetry, many of which were deemed impressive, beautifully crafted – only what the devil he was on about many agents and publishers couldn't get, and, if they could, they said there was simply no market for it. Even now, dethroning the human from inherited notions of his own superiority is not exactly a popular subject in certain circles. But more and more we are forced to admit something has gone wrong within our human species.

Maurice never paused long over rejections – he simply put them into drawers and kept on writing. At first glance it seemed that once he had finished with a book he was done with it and he was off on another, the old work was forgotten. But it wasn't the case. I knew, because he had several clipboards upon which he kept his work. One was for what he was currently on and the second clipboard had pages and pages of handwritten notes, insertions, corrections to put in this book or that play – even works he had done years past. He was constantly revising and refining, determined to make his work more and more simple and immediate, available to the average reader. He did not consider himself an intellectual.

DHA Rowdon

‘There was really no distinction between my fiction and non-fiction books – fiction being a document in which I created the plot, while a non-fiction plot was supplied by history. I therefore wrote history in a highly personal style, as if it were a novel, and my novels as if they were history. I suppose that my life work (if I can be forgiven such a pompous expression) has been a continual involvement with the nature of intelligence, human and animal, and the role of religions and civilizations in trying to help the human contain what would otherwise be an untamed state of dementia’
Maurice Rowdon

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