Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Oral History

Shirley Norway part 2

Transcript of Questions and Answers - First Period

Male Speaker (MS): Along those lines, in Trustee From The Toolroom he talks about the niece that he's taking care of and so on and making little bits down in the metal shop for her and so on.. Is that you in real life?

Answer (A): Probably, Yes. Yes! (Audience laughter.) I mean the time frame is such - he wrote that book so much later - yes, that was undoubtedly me. We appeared very little in the books and often under such heavy disguises. (Laughter)

MS: Did he ever give you advice or talk with you about becoming a human being or give you any tips for living that you recall?

A: My being reared was more, I think by default (Audience laugh) rather than by direct instruction. He had a fearsome temper, you know, and his instructions to me on growing up were, "You shouldn't have done that." (Audience laugh) Really... God, I remember awful incidents, which I won't go into. (Audience laughter) When I had done something ... I remember, we had some neighbors and they had four daughters and I said to the youngest one, once, when they all came to tea once, (Shirley smiles) I said 'I expect your father wished you were a boy.' I got terrible trouble from Dad afterwards about that. (Audience laughs) Desperate trouble. Partly, I think, because my upbringing was very boylike. He taught me to handle a gun, he taught me to sail a boat. Heather showed aptitude for dolls. And in fact her supreme role, I think, is mothering. Not only her children, but anybody who comes in her orbit. She will mother you. She's a wonderful mother to me. I've lost my train... Where was I?(Conversation off mike)..

Yes, and I used to sit on the jetty with a gun and shoot crabs, (Audience laughter.) when the tide was out. When the tide was in I would sail. Sail and swim. And he tried to bring me up as a boy, because there aren't any more Norways. I'm the last living Norway. The family name dies when I die, unless you incorporate it into Zane's name. (Shirley laughs.)

MS: Often behind every good man there's a good woman - Where's your Mum in all of this?

A: She's a love. She really was. She was ... Where was she? He married her in Yorkshire, where - and she was a Doctor of Medicine- Frances Heaton, Frances Mary Heaton,- where he was known as Dr Heaton's husband.(Audience laughter.) She was one of six children, she also had a brother, Lionel, killed in the First World War. She had a brother, Jack. She came from a missionary family and they went to India, and she was born in India in Nanital in India, and her older brother Jack, he was also a missionary in India, and his family- indeed they had trouble because he was born in India and they were born in India, and they were considered Indians and they were not allowed in England, and I mean they had big trouble with this for a wee while there.

She was brought up largely in North Wales, and I think they both had in common - I've only thought about this in the last few days - of not really being valued by their parents for who they were. With six of them it tended to be, Oh, Frances will never amount to anything. So she became a doctor, just to show them. And, of course, Dad was always overshadowed in his youth by Fred, who was the apple of his parent's eye. Does that answer the question? NO... More about Mum... More about mother.

She was ­ When Dad was angry we ran to Mum. It was Mum who played with us mostly. We played hockey with fir cones and walking sticks on the lawn. And what else ­ ask me the questions...

Female Speaker (FS): I guess I'm interested in Nevil Shute as your father, but also how he was involved in the total family life and how you saw him as your father, and then how your mother was involved in that. If you could just talk about your mother more. I know that's not very clear questions, but (laughs) ... Just talk about your mom.

FS: About your Mom. What I was thinking was, if your mother was a physician, did she continue to practice? And if she did -- as a working mother myself, when I was raising my child, someone else had him as a small child most of the daytime while I was working. Now, how much time? - did she continue to practice medicine? How much time did you actually spend around and with your mother?

A: We spent a lot of time with her. She was a reluctant - I mean she didn't go into medicine for the right reasons at all so as soon as it was possible for her to stop doing that, she did. She was an anesthetist during the war, because the medics had, you know, gone off to the war, so we spent a lot of time around her, and, you know, she was always home. I'm trying to think how to say more about her. She was beautiful. She had those high cheekbones, you know, and big blue eyes, a heavy jaw. I've got the jaw. Neither of us have the eyes or the look, but they're Heaton, and my Heaton cousins do have that sort of look.

She was all heart, really, she should never have gone into medicine because of the scientific aspect, I mean obviously she should from the heart point of view, but not from the scientific aspect. She got very interested later in life in alternative medicine, in the Bachla remedies and things like this.

FS: Well today children put up quite a fuss when mother or father are transferred to another place, so how did you feel when you had to go to Australia?

A: Kicking and screaming. (Audience laughter.) I was 15 years old. I had all my friends. I'd been to a succession of different schools, and I was not at all happy about it. Heather was being primed for entry into Oxford University and she was at a private tutoring place, so she didn't come immediately. She joined us later. I was the one on the ship..., hating it. I really didn't want it, and I'd been in a lot of schools and I'd just settled into a school, Sidkit which was a Quaker school in Sommerset, and I was getting on well. I was doing much better there academically, and really beginning to learn how to learn. At Bedales it was all froth and kind of beastly and you know how children can be beastly and the beastliness wasn't controlled, but at Sitkit they seemed to be much nicer people, probably because they were Quakers and being brought up in Quaker homes. But I wasn't happy about it, and when Great Aunt Grace died and left me some money, I left.

Great Aunt Grace, oh I don't know, she was a Gadston, she was on my father's mother's side. And she told dad that she was dividing her estate into four equal parts one part would go to be split equally between Heather and Shirley. Dad said, you know what will happen, don't you? Heather will save it and look after it and it will be double the size in a couple of years. Shirley will be through it in six months. (Shirley and Audience Laugh) And indeed, I left Australia. I went and studied in Italy and you know, it was OK.

MS: I would like to know how your father regarded himself. Was he satisfied with his life? Was he dissatisfied at things that he did? Did he manifest these in ways in the family?

A: We didn't talk about that sort of thing. You know, we just didn't. Do you know anything about the Enigram? Dad was a 5 on the Enigram, which means that he was in a lot of ways he was really shut off. Fives tend to be... they like to know how things work, and of course this was dad. Engineers are very often fives. But fives are the ones who are quite capable of living alone and often do. And he just wasn't really forthcoming in that sort of way. The other thing you must remember, is that he died when I was 24. I was just becoming of an age where we could relate to each other, sort of one on one, as equals, or as friends anyhow, and so while Heather was his secretary he may have discussed such things with her. I don't recollect him talking about that sort of thing at all with us. English novelists in general, apparently, according to someone I knew quite well in Heinemman, tend to do this. They tend to put all their creative energies, all their loving energies, into their work, into their writing, and to be sort of cold and distant as people. Dad was a bit like that.

MS: (John Henry) I remember the very first note... I think, if it wasn't the very first note it was the second one that you wrote to me... You complained about, maybe complain isn't the right word, but you commented on - that you didn't think your father treated women very well in his novels, and I had never really consciously thought of that, I mean, most men write, obviously, from a man's point of view. We write what we know about. Your father, as I find out more about him, wrote more so about what he knew about than most people, yet I find particularly Jean Paget to be one of the strongest female characters that I can think of in literature, written by man or woman, and if you could tell us a little bit more about what you thought of the women in your father's novels.

A: Dad preferred men. (Audience laugh.) He related better with them, his buddies up in the Melbourne Club; He was buddies with the Prime Minister, with the Foreign Minister Dick Casey, and I remember in our sailing days, he'd have all his sailing buddies over and chat long into the night with them. He related much better and was much happier with men, he lived in a house full of women.

In the books.... my feeling has always been, and indeed this is indeed true, is that the ladies were all like each other to the extent that when I was reading a manuscript, some times the heroine would be called by the name of the girl in the last book. (Audience laughter) You know, they were all one in his mind. And they were all a little idealized, and that's what I was supposed to be. Yes, I think I was supposed to be Jean Paget particularly. (Comment off mic...) (Audience laughter)

No, that's what I was supposed to be, I don't think I turned out like Jean Paget.

MS: Would it be fair, Shirley, to say that perhaps your father wrote about Jean Paget spending her legacy in the way that he wished perhaps you had?

A: Yes! Jean Paget was everything he wished I was and wasn't. (Shirley laughs - joined by audience) Jean Paget was actually written before, before I got the legacy.

FS: Do you know if your father had writer's block, and if you knew that do you know what he did about it?

A: I don't think he had it a lot. I remember him talking once about starting a new book and he would always go into his study in the morning hours. And I remember him talking about just go to work and if you put a blank piece of white paper in front of you on the typewriter, just be there working and even if you don't write anything it doesn't matter. It'll will come in time. He said at the time, I think he was talking to a young writer, he said it doesn't generally take more than two or three days, but then he was real in the flow, you know. Some of us take a little longer.

MS: Your father wrote a couple of screen plays, or at least one, Vinland and so on. Can you tell us about his relationship with the studio system and, you know, the film industry?

A: What can I say about that? He was generally pleased with the movies that were made, almost always, except for On The Beach. The others he loved. He loved No Highway. He liked Pied Piper. Monty Wooley was wonderful. But we've always believed in our family, that On The Beach killed him. The whole point of the two main characters in On The Beach was that their relationship in this terrible crisis - that they rose above themselves and that the relationship did not become sexual. And the movie had the first 360 degree kiss and the relationship became sexual, and this, I mean, this was almost the whole point of the book, that in crisis people triumph and this was not how the movie was portrayed. And... Some of the actors - Fred Astair was lovely. He came to lunch. Sadly at time when I was in the middle of one of my rows with Dad, (Audience laughter) so I wasn't there. I was stamping out of the house when Fred Astair came. Gregory Peck, we could never talk to Gregory Peck. We always had to talk to his people and it was, you know, would Thursday be convenient? No, I don't think so, Mr. Peck is busy on Thursday and what about Friday? Well, we'll let you know. And so Friday morning- Is Mr. Peck coming to lunch? Oh, no, no, no, he's not doing anything like that. Anyhow, this sort of thing went on, until finally one day they called us and said, Mr. Peck can come to lunch with you today, and my mother said, I'm sorry, it's not convenient. So that was the end of that one. So On The Beach was kind of rocky, but the others were lovely.

And that's it. So we have to stop because they have to do things with the tape.

End of First period Q&A

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