Echoes of a Life is the first novel by a Lord Byron to have been published in nearly 200 years
THE first book in 200 years by a Lord Byron has hit the shelves – penned by the New Forest resident whose ancestor is one of the greatest English Romantic poets.
Robin Byron, who is the 13th Baron Byron and related to the famed George Gordon Byron, spoke to the A&T about his book Echoes of a Life, which features spies, secrets and assisted dying.
“It’s certainly true no other holder of the Lord Byron title has written anything or published anything since Byron died, and that’s nearly 200 years ago!” he said. “I didn’t feel any particular pressure; I simply wanted to see if I could do it and it has not been as easy as you might think.”
The new novel by Robin, who inherited the title when his father died in 1989, takes place in a near-future Britain that has legalised assisted dying – a topic he became interested in after seeing an article on Lord Falconer’s failed attempt to get it written into law.
The plot focuses on heroine Marianne, who is debating the idea of assisted suicide while pining for redemption as she looks back on her life and the disastrous consequences of becoming entangled with an American diplomat and potential spy.
Given how sensitive the issue is, Robin was keen to pack the book with an engaging storyline to keep readers involved. “I try when writing to balance out what is a good story with an idea that is worth talking and thinking about.”
When he started the writing process he was against moves to permit assisted suicide, but now believes it needs to happen in some “restrictive form”.
“But nobody thinks about what our society would be like if there were readily available ways to end your life, with medical supervision, which would give it an aura of respectability.
“It’s a pretty brutal thing to do and very brutal on your family. Imagine if you could just call into a clinic in Lyndhurst or Southampton and make an appointment to pop in and do it!”
He continued: “I do think there are potential downsides and risks of us implementing an institutionalised death scenario. I mean, how would that affect and make people feel when they get to a certain age or have a chronic long-term condition?
“As one of my characters says: ‘while for a few it’s been a blessed relief to be able to choose the timing of their death, for many it’s greatly increased the anxiety of old age. Sometimes it’s easier not to have a choice’.
“So we really need to think very carefully about getting it right and making it quite restrictive; otherwise I think it could be a mistake and put pressure on the old and infirm.”
It has been a long-held dream of Robin’s to pen a book, which he first tentatively explored at Cambridge University where he studied at Trinity College – as his famous ancestor, who wrote classics such as ‘Don Juan’ and ‘She Walks in Beauty’, did.
After graduating, Robin spent three years as a criminal barrister before being enticed into litigation work in the shipping industry. He enjoyed that career for more than three decades, settling disputes, drawing up contracts and investigating insurance matters, such as boat fires.
“Actually I do not think it would have suited me to be a professional writer,” he said. “To have to churn out a book every couple of years is hard, hard work. It takes a toll not only on you but also your family, since you have to be quite selfish and shut yourself away.”
Robin, who for more than two decades has been president of the Byron Society, admits to being an ardent admirer of the work of his ancestor, whom he ranks amongst the best of the English Romantic poets, alongside John Keats. “I think Keats is cited a bit more since he is a more accessible writer; although Byron was the star of his day.
‘’What shocked Byron’s contemporaries – his racy life, bisexuality and radical ideas – often appeals to modern readers; he can also be extremely funny.”
Robin is exploring writing another novel, this time about wartime France.
“I have got some ideas, but won’t reveal too much,” he smiles. “The thing is, it is said that everybody can write one novel, but not everybody can write a second. I would like to prove to myself that I can do it.”