Things In Heaven And Earth: Interview With Author Jane MetcalfeThings in Heaven and Earth
by Jane Metcalfe is one of the more unusual books I've reviewed. Is it spiritual? Is it a guide to uncovering greater meaning? Is it simply a profound but recognisable love story?
It is all those things. The true story is told by the author using the letters and diaries of her ex-husband Colin; and Dee, a Hollywood actress whose identity is unknown to both the reader and Jane herself.
The book is of their meeting and its lasting, profound and transformational impact.
Though this meeting would more usually be described as a spiritual experience, in Things in Heaven and Earth
Metcalfe presents it so simply that its truth is just there; accessible; available to us all. Though undoubtedly the occurrence is something 'other', it is, in essence profoundly human.
Jane spoke to us about the mystery and the reality of Things in Heaven and Earth
Jane, how would you describe Things in Heaven and Earth?
The subtitle gives you a clue as to the broad scope of the book: A Story of Love, Mystery and Transformation. The narrative hinges on an extraordinary meeting that took place in Beverly Hills in 1979 between two strangers, an unknown British playwright and a famous actress. As they shook hands, they were catapulted into an altered state so out of the ordinary that neither they nor anyone else had any idea what had happened. The narrative focuses on this incident, the effect it had on the couple and others in their circle and what came later.
Overall it is a love story with an extra dimension, set against a backdrop that moves between the hybrid world of Hollywood and rural Wales. The powerful writings of the mysterious actress, and the reserved playwright, as well as the more than strange circumstances by which I came to play my part in it, make for an unusual and thought-provoking book that travels beyond the safety-net of “normal” time.
What prompted you to write the book now?
I can only say that the time was right. I had had the material for some time and talked to quite a few people about it; even made false starts on writing it, but lacked the confidence to continue. The defining moment was when a wise woman I know, author of numerous books, said to me: “Many people say they want to write a book but very few do it.” That was my spur!
The events are described through the protaganists’ accounts, one being your ex husband. How was it to be in possession of such personal information?
My marriage to Colin had been at such a young age that when I met him again he was an entirely different man. So reading the diaries written by Colin and Dee intimately detailing their five months together touched me on a level that was not reflective of my own time with him. It was like reading about two strangers. Colin had always come across as very pragmatic, both as a younger and older man. You would never have guessed in a million years that he had had this experience!
Did you feel a certain responsibility to Colin and Dee in sharing their words?
In the first part of the book I share how I came to be the keeper of the documents that form the basis of Things in Heaven and Earth
. Colin told me he thought I would be a good person to take on a writing project that required thoughtful editing. He shared the bare bones of the meeting between him and the actress, telling me that Dee’s clairvoyant, Naomi, felt that the story should be widely shared, but she had been waiting 25 years for the right person to “take on the job”. As it turned out, I was “the one”! After the deaths of Colin, Dee and Naomi, I felt a sense of responsibility more to fulfilling Naomi’s wishes, than towards Colin and Dee. That may sound odd, but all this is described much more fully in the book.
You let the experiences stand alone in the book without too much comment or analysis, was it difficult to decide how to present their story?
After many false starts, I decided I would be like an onlooker, commenting as it came to me to do so, but not analysing or positing my own theories. Naomi firmly believed that the story itself had a strange way of shifting people’s perspective on the nature of reality. Following the events of 1979, those who simply heard the story found it had a deep affect on them. Naomi was convinced there was what can best be described as an energetic imprint that had the power to affect change in others. I wanted to leave that as it stood, to “speak” through the letters, diaries and interviews that form the basis of the book.
What is your understanding of what happened between Colin and Dee?
This is a question that puts me in mind of the poem “Days”, by Philip Larkin, which Dee alludes to in her letter to Colin written the day he returned to England. The last two verses sum it up:
Where can we live but Days? Ah, solving that question/Brings the priest and the doctor/In their long coats/Running across the field.
Colin and Dee clearly experienced something “other” than the physically accepted expression of a world chopped up into increments of time. Haven’t we always been looking for the deeper meaning behind the backdrop? I suppose I see it as “proof” that there is much more to existence than meets the eye!
So the longer answer is that there is no finite understanding as to what happened to Colin and Dee. It can’t be worked out by the information gathered in the tiny portion of the brain that, as sentient beings, we operate from. I tend to agree with how Colin puts it in his quote on the back cover of the book about parallel lives: if they collide in slow time “... then all sorts of strange things begin to happen.” If you try to “prove” it rationally you simply can’t. I address this briefly in the first section of the book.
The experience between the two also affected others around them. In the retelling did you find it affected you or your beliefs?
In the book I start off by sharing a childhood experience that led me to not accepting the tangible world as the only expression of life, or consciousness. Running alongside the story of my life in worldly terms was always this “knowing” and experience of “otherness”, which I prefer to call it, rather than give it one of the numerous labels that cannot even hint at an experience beyond the flesh! Many have written about spirituality, occultism, mysticism and so forth, and it gets either shunted into a siding, or, almost worse, wheeled out as something “special”, as in enlightenment; a something to strive for.
What Colin and Dee say, particularly in the interviews, concurs with my own felt sense of existence. I suppose delving into the material and writing the book gave me more assurance in that which, despite my Taurean nature, I have always sensed is far from lodged on earth!
Why do you feel their story should be shared ? Do you believe their experiences can affect change on a wider scale?
I believe we are living in particularly difficult times. The world is spinning out of control and the more we destroy the earth with apparent progress, the more people are seeking for meaning. On the one hand there is an ever more mechanistic view, but on the other a feeling of lack and unrest in people is awakening them to a sense of themselves as spiritual beings. This story shares the unity of love that transcends the need for expression only in form but in a greater totality.
What would you hope an audience took from the book?
I would hope it will make the reader think, ponder, wonder, explore.
Finally, writing Things in Heaven and Earth must have been an experience in itself. Do you have plans for further writing yet? What's next for you?
Writing the book was a major focus for me - in the last five years in particular. I have learnt a great deal about how to put a book together and I now have nothing but admiration for anyone who turns out two or more books a year! It was a deep learning curve on all levels, but I am already looking to my next book. There is a seam of richness in the many letters and emails that passed between Colin and me during the time we came to know each other again before his death in 2009. These did not belong in this book, but I believe they would be of interest to many seekers. It shows where Colin was some 30 years after the event, and gives me an opportunity to share more of my own journey, which, in the main, I kept out of Things in Heaven and Earth
And as an afterword -“Dee”, the famous actress is unnamed because she always wished to remain incognito. It is a cause for great curiosity by many, but even I was not told who she was. I should have met her, but everybody died and I was left stranded with just the material as I was given it. Have I guessed who she is? Yes I believe so, but I cannot share this information. I believe it is the material itself that is of more value than the name of the actress, though no doubt it will continue to arouse curiosity!
Things in Heaven and Earth
is available at Amazon.co.uk
Jane can be contacted at www.janemetcalfe.co.uk