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Humans of Frome- by Ciara Nolan- Crysse Morrison

ON the day that I meet Crysse for our chat, we are having a bit of an exchange.  She had contacted me to ask if she might interview me for a book she is working on.  (I won’t divulge here what that is, but, as anyone familiar with Crysse in Frome will know, we can expect something very interesting).

I agreed on condition that she would in return chat with me for Humans of Frome, I’ve been meaning to ask her for ages.

Most people will know her through her literary exploits as published author, poet, Writer in Residence at the Merlin Theatre, various writing workshops, poetry and short story evenings, residential writing courses in Greece and her well-loved Nevertheless Theatre Productions. Alongside all of this, she also is a theatre reviewer and a blogger extraordinaire. Her Frome diary is fantastically vibrant and complete.

Crysse it would seem, gives back to Frome as much as she gets out of it, and shares her insights with those who can’t always get out to enjoy what the town has to offer. I was fascinated to know what makes this woman with seemingly limitless energy, enthusiasm and vitality tick.

Crysse Morrison was a war child, born in the midst of an air raid, she was born in London in a time that few of us could properly comprehend now.  Her banker father was born in the previous century and was one of the unfortunates amongst us to live through not one, but two wars.

Crysse describes her father as one of the most important figures in her life. He was a solitary man who had been deeply affected by the times in which he lived.  Before he died he told his daughter that he had had three friends in all his life, alas World War I took them away from him.  This was the first time that he had opened up properly about the war…he had carried his burden with him all those years. Since the war, he had made no other friends it would seem, apart that is, from his young loving daughter.   

Back in her young past, living in London’s Dulwich, Crysse spent as much time as possible with her father.  He read to her from literary works rarely exposed to children of her age and always treated her as an intellectual equal, he even took his daughter regularly to the theatre.   The theatre was not just an escape for the pair, her father had become a reviewer for ‘Theatre World’.    Crysse, who from the outset had a well developed literary sense, lapped up the attention from him, but it did somewhat set her apart from the other children at school.

An outsider from an early age, Crysse struggled to fit in with her peers, and her home life (where there was a 17 year age gap between her and her siblings) further isolated her.   Her mother, who she describes as ‘very talented at everything’ was a difficult parent who painted, exhibited, wrote and published various works in her lifetime; her relationship with her daughter however was a complex one.   Crysse describes her child self as living in her mother’s shadow, how fortunate then that her father kept his dear daughter where his shadow might fall at all times…right by his side!  She describes their theatre visits with such fondness that it is unsurprising that the theatre continues to feature so strongly in her life today.

At the age of 18 Crysse left home, a brave and final act which not only saw her leave the country, but also changing her identity.  Cutting ties with her old life, she took up residence as the newly emerged and named ‘Crysse’ in Northern Ireland’s, Derry.  In the 1960s British-ruled Northern Ireland was struggling to control Catholic Derry, and they invited British students to their protestant Magee College, with a view to making it the second university.  It was a failed experiment because the students who had been brought there hadn’t the least bit of interest in religion and Protestantism.

Inside that year in Derry, Crysse became completely politicized when she encountered the ‘One man, One Vote’ campaign whose slogan was ‘Vote for Claude the Catholic Prod’, meaning that they could have a Protestant who wasn’t anti-Catholic at the helm.  She completely dis-identified with the politics there and threw herself in with Catholic Derry.  At the end of the year there, Crysse found herself living in Dublin and studying at the prestigious Trinity College.  Happily, by this time she had met her future husband and father of her two wonderful sons,  a Protestant Derryman Mo Robinson who shared his future wife’s liberal views.

The pair left Ireland to travel as soon as they had graduated, Crysse explains that she did well in English literature and philosophy, but not so well in history as she took the exam whilst in the delirium of typhoid fever as a result of her travel inoculations!   Within three months of travel (where her husband made quite a name for himself as a musician in Europe), the newly-married Crysse discovered that she was three months pregnant.  They returned to London where he took up a job as an English teacher.   They moved to Belfast soon after, where he continued his studies at Queens.  Staying there for a number of years they raised their by now two-child family.

Crysse reminisces about how she felt they might make their life there, that is, until the troubles began.  Living in a predominantly Protestant area where she describes the roadsides painted with the red, white and blue of the Union Jack, Crysse stood out in her green velvet cape and with their liberal views, they were seen by others as Catholic sympathisers.  Living upstairs over a shop, she welcomed her friends’ children to a creche of sorts at her house, and they really attempted against the odds to make a good, loving community and safe environment for their children there.  Eventually the threat came…. painted on their wall ‘Get out or be burnt out’.  The family reluctantly left everything they’d built and known behind them.

Their life together continued in Lincoln, a gentle life where they were known as ‘the hippies’ and where they gathered a tribe of like-minded individuals around them.  Crysse and her husband had an open relationship and by the mid 70s, Mo, her husband had departed Lincoln with a new lover.  Crysse, by this time was very much in love with a Liverpool artist named Alex Morrison.  Together they left for London.  He became a lecturer in photography in Harrow, and Crysse, having achieved her PGCE in Lincoln, sought out a job working outside of the normal school system.  She is completely anti-school, although she holds nothing against teachers, but rather believes in a system of supported curiosity and no enforced curriculum.  She had always wanted to work with children who had been refused schooling and secured herself a job in a school for children with behavioural difficulties.   

Mo, Crysse’s first husband lived in Frome and was readying to depart for Ireland, his quaint house on the market at a time that Alex and Crysse were looking to put down roots.  What followed was a serendipitous move that saw the couple buying her ex-husband’s house and Crysse landing the perfect job at Frome College.  Following her educational vocation to work outside of the normal school system, she got a job working in the area of severe learning difficulties in further education, which was exactly what she had just completed her training in. Within two weeks of starting in that job her new boss left, leaving her happily to design all of her own programming and to work in a way in which she really believed in.  Their move to Frome was truly blessed.

Words being a part of Crysse’s DNA, her retirement gave birth to her first novel ‘Frozen Summer’ which was very well received, The Times described her as ‘fresh talent’ and likened her style to Helen Dunmore and called her a superb storyteller!  And thus her retirement turned into one of the busiest periods of her life.   Now the author of poetry, fiction and plays a plenty, there seems to be no end to this woman’s talents and energies.  Now that she is also a theatre reviewer for ‘Plays International’ for the entire South West, her life has rather poignantly come full circle.  I’m sure her father would be immensely proud.

I shall watch this space carefully for future output from the magical world of Crysse Morrison, who knows what might happen next….perhaps these words of her own might give us an insight……

I shall paint my toes scarlet and dance like a harlot,

and when I’m too old to spin straw to gold

I shall start a sanctuary for dragons.

Oh yeah, did I say she read poetry on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth back in 2009, no?  Well she did…..of course.

Check out Crysse’s blog online at…. http://crysse .blogspot.co.uk

Check out her work at www.crysse@crysse.com

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