IN THE COURSE of the 35 years in which I taught in universities, a number of people had suggested that I write a campus novel: a novel about the university in the abstract and about the University of Sydney in particular. Ted Wheelwright, the economist and thorn in the side of Sydney’s reactionaries, was particularly pressing. But even in those heady days I retained some instinct for self-preservation. It had not always seemed a terribly good idea while still working in the system. Once I could see early retirement beckoning, however, what was there to stop me? Very little.
I had earlier tried writing a novel set in England in the 1970s. But I couldn’t get the narrative plot to gel. It was set in the time of student protests and security services’ infiltration, but though I attended some of the sit-ins, I didn’t know enough about the covert side of the university to create a convincing narrative. I salvaged the character studies and cut it down to a 12,000-word novella, which I called, nonetheless, “Campus Novel”[i]. Professor Edmonds is based on Terence Spenser, who was Professor of English and director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham where I had taught. Colleagues used to say, surreptitiously and dismissively, that he was mentioned in a novel by Olivia Manning. When I came to read The Balkan Trilogy (1960-65), I found that he was not just mentioned, but was one of the three main characters, Clarence. So much for the love and respect of your colleagues. I had not read the novel at the time I came to write about him, but knowing it had been written gave me a sense of participating in that parallel universe of fictional existence.
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