The Writer's Husband
An historical, biographical novel, told through the lens of nature writing. The Writer’s Husband is the tragic true story of the unconventional novelist Mary Webb (1881-1927) and her husband Henry. Henry could have rivalled Ted Hughes in the worst husband stakes. He became a wealthy man on the back of Mary’s literary success after her death in obscurity at the age of forty-six. Its inspiration was two-fold -- Webb’s own writing (I fell in love with one of her characters as a teenager and never quite shook him off) and Webb’s own life story (which was more tumultuous than the plots of her novels).
Mary Webb was one of the most popular nature writers of the early 20th century. Applauded by Stanley Baldwin, JM Barrie, and Walter de la Mare, her fame as a writer was a phoenix that rose up and burned itself out relatively quickly and very few personal papers survive in the archives. Henry explained that the papers were burned to heat the house when the couple were too poor to pay for fuel. But suppose there was a diary among those papers? Perhaps fifteen volumes were left in the safekeeping of a trusted friend.
The Writer’s Husband begins in July 1939, twelve years after Mary’s death, as Henry reads her diaries for the first time. Henry is living an affluent lifestyle in London with his new young wife, Kathleen, and their two children. He has retired from teaching to write novels, they have a house in France, a yacht moored on the coast, and he drives a Bentley - but something is amiss. Henry spends hours alone in his cork-lined study trying to block out the sound of his young family. He is completing an anthology of Mary’s work for her publisher, a project that they expect to be an effortless money-earner, but his nerves are showing signs of the pressure he is under. Then the lost diaries are delivered to him, and he relives his life with Mary.