INTRODUCTION

We know tantalisingly little about James Leslie Mitchell’s experiences in the East, though we know that he was posted during his years in the armed forces both to the Holy Land and to Egypt. Ian Munro, who had access to both papers and recollections from friends, has some hints:

I could live in this country for years, and never even see the pale ghost of
ennui. Do you know what I did last Sunday? Rode across the desert on
a camel to Hebron. It was a day of mist, of writhing ghostly shapes and
the mountains of Moab (the word is a wealth of poetry in itself) loomed
above us like giant breakers of a frozen sea. One might have been dead,
a spirit wandering in a world of void… Right glad I am to be what I
am without a future or a care for it, disreputable, a careless dreamer of
dreams and a maker of songs that will never be sung, desiring always
what I have not, wanderer and vagrant predestined.1

Right glad perhaps. But also driven and unfulfilled, a writer seeking a distinctive voice, a saleable format, a niche in a market he took a long time to break into. But the letter is revealing in its anticipation of the character who is given the narrative heart of The Lost Trumpet – disreputable, vagrant, reaching out for the unfindable. ‘A child of the wanderlust I would be cramped and stifled in one position all my life,’ he wrote to Ray Middleton2 and The Lost Trumpet exorcises that claustrophobia by constructing a tale of wandering, drawing on the memories of Cairo which he found exotic and fascinating. It evokes, too, the emptiness around

-9-

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