Richard Blair spent the first six years of his life in the company of one of the world’s most influential writers: his father, George Orwell. In his appearance at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Blair discusses his father, pivoting around the milestones of his life and illustrating them with his own memories and reflections of the kind of man that Orwell was. He slowly and thoughtfully meanders through Orwell’s 46 years, exuding a tangible fondness and admiration for a father who he was barely able to ever know.
Blair abandons chronology and begins his father’s story at the end, with some of Orwell’s most famous words – the opening excerpt of Nineteen Eighty-Four. He displays an image of the novel’s original working manuscript, an intensely chaotic disarray of notes and ideas – an invitation into Orwell’s mind.
He discusses Orwell’s frequent travels around the globe, always observing and always writing, before finally settling on the Isle of Jura with Blair himself to write Nineteen Eighty-Four. He recounts for us an accident in which a boat carrying himself and his father capsized and nearly killed them before they were saved by a lobster boat. “If that had not happened,” he says, “there would be no Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
At times Blair dwells a moment too long on the historical context of his father’s movements, detailing at length the Spanish Civil War or the Second World War. Although relevant, such clarification has a slightly disjointing effect on his overall narrative, fragmenting his story and disrupting his otherwise compelling flow of speech. However, he is effortlessly able to regain momentum, and his account continues, depicting Orwell as a man characterised by an intense curiosity to see the conditions of life and report them in his lucid prose.
Blair’s discussion of his father is fascinating, slowly unveiling the life behind such significant writing and untangling the complicated narrative that was Orwell’s life. All proceeds from the event were donated to the Orwell Foundation, an organisation that celebrates and encourages honest writing and reporting in a time of uncomfortable truths.
Image: Darcy Moore via Flickr