JOHN Payne is one of Frome’s best known residents – active in many organisations and a prolific writer on a wide range of subjects, from William Morris to Catalonia to the city of Bath.
His latest book, which he hints may be his last (but writers rarely do retire, it’s a bug that keeps on biting), takes him on a circular but chronologically backward journey, from his home in one of the region’s most culturally diverse and interesting towns via Barcelona, Manchester, Glasgow, London, the Home Counties, North Somerset and Wiltshire, to Bath, where he was born.
A West Country Homecoming, with a lovely front photograph by another well-known Frome resident, Martin Bax, is a book that heads off in lots of directions, diverging from but still following the author’s itinerary.
You could read it straight through, but you can also dip in and out, and along the way discover historic figures such as Hannah More and William Wilberforce, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the medieval Bishop Bekynton, and the mine-owning Moggs (before they added the Rees).
There is a lot of politics – historic and current throughout John’s life – but also health, education and reflections on the various places where he and his wife Sandra have worked and lived with their family. There is also some of his rather good poetry.
So the story becomes both John’s life-so-far and a memoir of his family, a travelogue and a fascinating mix of local and national history. It is highly readable and a delight for those of us who enjoy a non-linear approach.
A West Country Homecoming by John Payne is published by Hobnob Press; ISBN 978-1-906978-93-8