Michael Wilcox lives (alone, but not as a recluse) in the hills of Northumberland, where he is the devoted captain of a Haltwhistle village cricket team. He was for ten years an English teacher at schools where his work was seen as "subversive, anarchic and anti-authoritarian" (though he did end up as head of English at a Newcastle comprehensive school). In 1974 he gave up school-teaching and since then has been a playwright, with some score of plays to his name by now, librettist for three operas (the conception of the opera Tornrak - music by John Metcalf - the only libretto he had written at the time the book was written - is especially interesting), and script writer for a number of television dramas. He has edited five volumes of Gay Plays for Methuen, and he writes frankly about his sexual orientation and the prejudices he has encountered. He explains that as a little boy he was once cast as an Outlaw in a Christmas play, and "so indeed it has remained" - presumably he still felt that when the book was published in 1991; and indeed in 1989, when he was commissioned by the BBC and the British Medical Association to write a set of dramatic videos dealing with AIDS, the BBC insisted, for fear of alienating a mass of homophobic General Practitioners in the BMA, that the avowedly homosexual character trying to get a Life Insurance NOT be portrayed as living a normal, healthy, successful and monogamous life. His own siblings are "circumspect" about his life-style and about some of his plays. There is nothing in the book about any specific homosexual long- or short-term relationships of his.
The subtitle "A Writer's Year"(the year being 1989) is a little misleading, because this is really an autobiography, in which, in between describing the events of each month, he reminisces about his earlier life. But, as you might expect, prominent in these pages are the craft of play-writing, the difference between writing for the theatre and writing for television, relations between script writers and those who are translating his script into action (some good pieces of advice there!), the different roles allowed to a playwright by directors in rehearsals, the cavalier treatment he has often experienced at the hands of people who had asked him to produce something for them, sketches of people in the theatre world (well brought to life although few of them are household names), press and tv interviews (he is scathing about these). It may be inevitable these days for writers, especially when up against deadlines, to use a word-processor; but he has interesting things to say about the downside.
There is a good deal about his life at the prep school where his father was headmaster (there is a portrait of the co-headmaster, who seems t have taken a particular dislike to Michael) and then at Malvern College (where I taught him; I am fortunate in not being included among the majority of the staff whom he considered "aggressively disinterested in the arts" - but I still come in for the charge of having been culturally timid!). He realized early that "there was something profoundly wrong with Malvern". There are all the usual criticisms of public schools you find from people who felt that they did not fit in (and, retrospectively, even from some who did!) - but I find it extremely hard to believe that there was any debate about whether the boys should be allowed to read William Golding's "The Lord of the Flies". But he is probably right when he writes that "the true `English disease' is not homosexuality ... [but] sexual immaturity born of single sex boarding schools." (Just a note: Malvern College went fully coeducational in 1992). In any case, he contrasts the stiff, hierarchical, competitive nature of the south of England with the much more democratic, easy-going and cooperative attitudes in northern communities.
Since his childhood he has been passionate about music, and his contributions to the magazine Opera Now and his contacts with people in the music industry receive a good deal of attention in the book. Yet even from Opera Now he received the same cavalier treatment that he had experienced elsewhere. Is there something about him or about the nature of exploitative commissioners?
As you would expect from a successful playwright, this is a very readable book.