14.08.20

Marilyn Duckworth - Memories of Menton

1980 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow, Marilyn Duckworth, recalls her memories of Menton.

"On the first day of May I presented myself at the Mairie, explaining who I was and begging the key, as instructed. They received me sceptically. I had the wrong name on my passport – the surname of my late husband. After some telephoning and buzzing conversation I was approached again, this time with apologies. As the mayor’s secretary let me in he announced that they preferred writing fellows not to live in the room, but that it wasn’t forbidden. I took this as a message that I may occupy the space so long as I drew no attention to the fact. No underwear drying on the bushes, no messy preparation of food. So this was what I did.

I found the room well equipped with three sets of fluorescent lights and a good heater – a comfort while the nights were still cool. There was a desk and glass-fronted bookcase, furnished with a curious collection of books left by previous Fellows. I set up my old Olivetti on the wobbly table. The room was entirely suitable and pleasant but – as I’d been warned – designed simply as a place for a writer to work. The toilet and shower were reached by going through the shrubbery to a hidden doorway. This was fine with me, except when I nearly stepped on a snake in the middle of the night. After that I was careful to stamp my feet on the gravel if I made nightly journeys. It was in this shower room that I hung my few clothes on three cloakroom pegs – and hid my dishes in a green plastic container which also served as my washing up bowl.

I borrowed a few items of furniture – a tea trolley, a small fridge, a hotplate and a low cupboard. This was organised with the help of writer Tony Vogt, whom I’d known in New Zealand and was then living there with his Norwegian wife, Birgitta. Other items I purchased in the town – a feather pillow, a wastepaper basket – very essential for a writer – and a folding rack for drying my clothes. This I concealed behind a small palm tree in the garden. There was also - crucially – a narrow bed with a bolster converting it to a divan. I hid the bolster under the bed. Having so little luggage apart from books I was able to live in absolute tidiness, ready to be looked over by tourists. There were a number of these – mainly German and Dutch, as well as New Zealanders. But there wasn’t a constant stream, for which I was selfishly grateful.

On the edge of sleep I’d imagine Katherine’s ghost pacing on the terrace above. I thought the room smelt faintly funereal, but didn’t mind this. Recently widowed I was myself somewhat absorbed with death. The novel I would complete there concerned near-death experiences at a sleep research laboratory.

For months ahead I would be in charge of my own space and my own time – something I hadn’t known since I was nineteen.

The entry in my diary for May 3rd reads – ‘Moved into the K.M room. Elated.’"

- Marilyn Duckworth

Marilyn Duckworth