One of the books on Ireland’s shelves was A Tale of Two Worlds. A familiar name on the spine of the book was Frank Carr Nicholson, the composer’s cousin. He co-wrote this epic in 1953 with a British-Canadian friend, Georgina Sime.
It was quite a departure for Frank after his life as a scholar of German medieval literature and librarian at Edinburgh University, part of his new life in retirement in the Lake District, he having returned to the place of his Nicholson roots.
Frank wrote to Ireland in August 1953:
…when one has retired from professional life it is nice to have some congenial employment to which one can apply oneself more or less steadily. Since I came to Keswick I have certainly never found time hang heavily, and one of my main and constant occupations has been to collaborate with an old friend of mine, Miss Sime, in writing of one kind or another. We got a long-an enormously long!- novel published a couple of months ago-I wonder if you would at all care to have a look at it. Probably you have quite eschewed novels long ago ( as I too have done for many years past so far as reading the, is concerned!) but you might possibly like to sample this one in an idle moment, for there is a good deal about music in it that might conceivably entertain you.
The book is certainly interesting, even a compelling read, focused on generations of a Viennese family, some of whom emigrate to Canada to find new lives. Music is a central theme, and the style of the writing is reminiscent of the Australian author Nevil Shute. He was extremely popular at that time, having recently published his bestselling A Town Like Alice. Perhaps the most arresting aspect of A Tale of Two Worlds is the focus on ‘family’, an increasing preoccupation of the composer, who was trying to unearth his own, elusive relatives. It’s also an oddly moving book, ending as it does with a reflection on the human frailties and incomplete stories of the people who constitute families, everyone ‘trying, trying, and none of them ever getting at the truth-at what this particular life on earth means for each of us’ (p.682).
British Library: Letter from Frank Nicholson in John Ireland: Personal Correspondence, MS Mus. 1749/2/10
Nicholson, F. and Sime, G. (1953) A Tale of Two Worlds, Frome and London, Butler and Tanner.