Tonbridge has some illustrious literary connections. But there is one writer for whom I feel a particular empathy. Why?

The Tonbridge Connection: E. M. Forster and … me!

E.M. Forster is best-known as the iconic author of A Passage to India, Howard’s End and A Room with a View. But did you know that he was also a pupil at Tonbridge School whose theatre is named after him?

Edward Morgan Forster came to the school in 1893, his widowed mother having moved to Tonbridge; an act of devotion mirrored by many 21st century parents although not, I suspect, prompted by the vagaries of county council boundaries.

Although he won prizes for Latin verse and English essays at school, it was only after Forster left university that he began to demonstrate the characteristics that made him such an unusual, challenging and ground-breaking author.

His novels attack the taboos of his day. For instance, Maurice tackled homosexuality at a time when it was still treated as a crime. In fact, the novel was regarded as so potentially explosive that – although written in 1913 – it was not printed until 1971.

My personal theory is that Forster – like many authors – may have had an innate sense of being an outsider and, because of that he was able to get under the skin of those who also found themselves beyond the pale of social acceptability. It is a theme that is constantly repeated, particularly in his masterpiece A Passage to India.

Forster wrote this novel in the 1920’s when India was still a British colony. But he did not paint a cosy view of the Raj. Quite the opposite. He challenged the prevailing, imperialist view of India. Even now, it is not comfortable reading.

In fact, Forster’s writing frequently defies prejudice, whether it relates to race, sexuality or morals. He was renowned for his humanitarian principles and, fittingly, was appointed first President of the National Council of Civil Liberties.

There are a number of reasons why I feel a particular empathy for Forster. We both studied history at university and we have both written about former British colonies: India was his subject, Ceylon was mine. I have even had the singular honour of having my book, The Devil Dancers, compared to that of Forster by an independent reviewer.

But Forster and I also share another connection: Tonbridge. He studied there and, in a few days, it will be the venue for my literary debut.

On Saturday 23rd June, I will be signing copies of The Devil Dancers at The Word in Tonbridge Castle grounds between 3.15 p.m. to 4.15 p.m.

So please regard this as your invitation to come and meet me and, in the words of E.M. Forster: “Only Connect”.

Acknowledgments:

My thanks to Beverley Matthews and Alan Stratford of Tonbridge School for supplying me with information for this article.

Additional dates for your diary:

(1) Tonbridge Arts Festival will be offering a varied programme of events from 15th - 24th June. Click here for further details.

(2) Pupils of Tonbridge School will be performing Alan Bennett’s popular play The History Boys at the E.M. Forster Theatre on 26th, 27th and 29th June. Tickets are free. Click here, for more information.