Get to know… Ralph Levinson

Hello. My name is Ralph Levinson. This is my first ever blog. I’m a semi-retired soon to be wholly retired academic. Writing helps me to mull over the question of purpose. What’s this whole project of living about? I’m finding more and more time to read. At present I’m reading Clarice Lispector, a Ukrainian-Brazilian novelist who died relatively young in 1977. She has such a remarkable original voice. . . . But so difficult . . .

In January 2020 I returned from an academic visit to India, eager to write. I came across Writing Room which was wonderfully local. It was just before the pandemic struck. But I did have a chance to experience the real Room before we all etherized. I had previously attended a few sessions at the City Lit but Writing Room has been a revelation. Love it. Thanks Kate, Alison, Paul, Kiare, all of whose options I’ve enjoyed. And Gio, heard great things about you too – thanks for saving the plane trees down our road – but so far I haven’t tried Life Writing at Writing Room.

Below is the beginning of a story entitled The End of Tears which I wrote years ago. I was working at the Open University, writing a chemistry course, and to occupy myself doing something different, I tried to re-create my infancy and the love of my life at that time in my childhood, a little girl aged 4, who lived two doors away from me. Every draft was disastrous – dull, turgid, lifeless. That would have been both the beginning and end of my fiction writing career. Then one day I was driving back home from Milton Keynes when the garbage I had written took on a different life and the words which began the story streamed through my head as I navigated the M1. I was desperate to get to the service station and write those words down. Then I polished it up. A few weeks later the Bridport Prize was advertised in our local library so I thought I’d give it a shot . . . Maybe to write well you’ve got to write the crap first.

This story is closest to my heart. It won first prize in Bridport, the year after Kate Atkinson, and two years after Helen Dunmore. I didn’t write very much after that. The judge told me to go on and write a novel, which I did but it was very bad and put me off writing for a while. Then I wrote another short story which was shortlisted for the London short story prize. This year my short story, The Laugh, was shortlisted for the Fish publishing prize.

I’m writing a novel. Or rather I’ve written one which I continually edit. I think it’s better than the one I wrote years ago. Writing Room has been valuable in helping me write and revise. Anyway this is the first paragraph of The End of Tears. The action takes place in Hull, an historically republican working class city which produces lots of poets. Hence the use of ‘mam’ rather than ‘mum’. Even after living most of my life in London, Mam makes more sense. My sisters called my mam, Ma, which I took up later in life.

The End of Tears (opening para)

On mornings when the sky swallowed the clouds and the air was full of salt the Princess, the Sad Monkey and I would perch on the church steps at the top of our road and, through the act of sitting, we would travel to Strylia. At first the Princess would push the Sad Monkey and me in the pram because she was the Princess, scraping and clopping in her mam’s high heels, then she said I should push her because she was the Princess. So I would trundle the pram and its load up the road towards the church, and the Princess would push me back again after we had come back from Strylia because I was four and a half and she was only four…