Patrick Gale’s new fictional biography, Mother’s Boy, fills in the blanks about “Poet of Cornwall” Charles Causley’s life.
Causley was born in 1917 in Launceston, Cornwall. His father died from war wounds, and he grew up in the long shadow of his mother, which he never escaped.
Gale describes their co-dependency – she held to him as tightly as he did to her. But as Charles hit puberty he knew there was something odd about himself. His friend Ginger took him cruising at a local swimming spot but Charles remained chaste.
In 1940, Causley joined the Royal Navy and was posted to HMS Eclipse. His sea sickness never abated and he was given a desk job in Gibraltar.
In Mother’s Boy, Charles experiences a harrowing bombing on the Rock, and takes cover with a former shipmate, Cushty who is on leave.
In the intensity of the moment they have a passionate sexual encounter. But subsequently they are separated, and Cushty’s ship sinks. Charles believes he died.
Charles is promoted to a commission, and falls for a ‘straight’ fellow officer – who likes to sleep with him as often as possible while dreaming of married life after the war. Which is precisely what happens.
Charles Causley never came out as gay – but after reading his diaries and letters, Gale is certain of his sexuality, and that the affair took place.
Gale has written before about war-torn lovers in Man in an Orange Shirt (adapted by the BBC in 2017).
He deals sympathetically but honestly with his subjects, and it’s no wonder the Charles Causley Trust were so supportive of his depiction. Gale helps modern readers understand that it was so very different then, and while much has changed, things can always take a turn (or a return) for the worse.