Original Wikipedia entry on Elizabeth Thoms Clark by John Cairns

Elizabeth Thoms Clark nee Carswell, called Betty, was born 22 June 1918 in Wallsend of Scottish parents who moved to Glasgow. She wanted to be a writer & ‘My first adult play was written at 12… – Cendrillon in French!’ for the 4th year to perform, she wrote to her correspondent, John Cairns, 25 October 1963.

Pregnant, she married Jack. She fictionalised all her relationships, including the one meant most, with her daughter, Frances, ‘a tenderer wound I never will know I hope!’ [432] 21 April 1969.

Having been born in England made her self-consciously Scots & this resulted in an ironic refrain throughout her public writing eg ‘Scottish, more or less’ & ‘as Scots as I am’. In correspondence it was ‘I could say I am an Englishman, & spite ’em all.’

The DNB gets her middle name wrong, presuming it derives from her mother’s maiden name, Thomson. It also blunts why she chose the pen-name Ure, which to her sounded more Scottish than any closer to home. The first name commemorated her sister, Joan, who committed suicide. Death by suicide was one of her themes, summed up in the poem, ‘In Memoriam 1971’, published in Scottish International.

DNB omits her poetry, including ‘Signal at Red’, written 1964, published 1966 by EUP in Scottish Poetry 1. It’s addressed to her correspondent, from whom she takes the phrase, ‘signal, red’, & gives reason for not loving him by alluding to the effect of the love of her life, Ian Hamilton Finlay. ‘I’ve been writing you letters for weeks, more than I’ve written to any one person since the 3 weeks, 6 years ago when Ian & I fell in love with each other for whole 3 weeks long,’ she wrote 14 Aug ’63; & tended to date from that singular affair which went on for considerably longer than three weeks. They were putting on plays together at The Falcon Theatre, 1962, hers being ‘Punctuated Rhythms’. He’s the disappointing lover referred to in her short story, Midsummer’s Eve, published in Words 6 in 1978. She claims he was almost the death of her, though she doesn’t specify how & there’s nothing in the correspondence, 1963 – 1971, to suggest she ever proposed leaving dependence on her husband for him. DNB omits any outline of her love theme or reference to who personified love for her.

It is informative on her plays, the best of which is the revue ‘Nothing May Come of It’ which incorporates song & dance. She characterises people she knew eg her correspondent as the lead actress in ‘Nothing May Come of It’ as well as Puck in ‘Seven Characters out of the Dream’. None of her plays were full-length. She explains why not in her correspondence, [261] 8 March 1966. She was short-breathed creatively, as physically, having a TB she would hold on to & which had made her erotically susceptible to ‘the One’ ie Finlay.

She did live close to the edge with death & after having thrown a cup of tea in Alasdair Gray’s face – doing whatever would contribute to the desired end of being a published writer, she knew everybody on the literary scene – she died with dignity in 1978.

Her one major work is her correspondence with John Cairns which supplies a larger structure, a wall for her mosaics that add up to a substantial mural of her life. DNB did not consult it.

Sources are John Cairns, her correspondence with him in the John Cairns Archive, Family Records, Helen Mitchell & the DNB entry. The archive can be contacted, JohnCairnsArchive@hotmail.com; a redaction of the correspondence is available.

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About johnbrucecairns

I'm a retired history teacher who's written for most of his life with a book readied for publication.
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