My personally signed copy of his debut novel, I Bought a Mountain (published in 1940), is one of my most prized possessions. It chronicles the purchase by Tom and his first wife Esmé of a rugged Welsh farm in Dyffryn Mymbyr in 1933. It is the most beautiful book and it vividly illuminated those rugged Snowdonian hills for me. It was an immediate best seller and has never been out of print. I remember reading it in bed at night and marvelling that the fascinating man who wrote it was lying in the room next door to mine.
Tom was one of life’s great adventurers, someone who took his opportunities as they presented themselves. He’d rallied to the war call, becoming a Lieutenant-Colonel and writing another book about his war experience, I Bought a Star. He told me he’d had a ‘fabulous’ war. I thought of my own poor father, who’d also fought in WW2, surviving the ordeal with dignity but never really overcoming the horrors of six years of battle.
Once, when I was by myself running the hotel, I’d saved a baby House Martin that crash landed on our roof. I learned from the incredibly knowledgeable Spanish that you can revive a baby bird by shoving a peppercorn down its neck – it’s probably a kill or cure thing but, in this instance, it worked. The baby bird which I called Feliz (happy in Spanish) survived for two weeks. I was even teaching it to fly. But then it suddenly keeled over and died. Tom was so compassionate about it. It was only a couple of days earlier that I had been reading about him and Esmé out on the freezing hills trying to find lost lambs.
Sometimes I go through very low times and think will anything I do ever strike a chord with anyone, ever? I do think of Tom a lot and how, although he often seemed very old-fashioned (he totally did leave a message on my answering machine raging ‘infernal machine!’ – I so wish I’d kept it), I would love to think that I’d still be writing to the end of my life as Tom did. Even though he never repeated the great commercial success of his first novel, he just wasn’t bothered by it. He’d had a fabulous life, and so have I.
Cover of I Bought a Star from Barnes and Noble.