Well, the proliferation of social media has, for several years now, caused me a few skeletal problems, including lockjaw (from gritting teeth) to aching shoulders (from trying to keep Facebook et al at arms’ length). BUT, for initially, and no longer entirely, selfish reasons, I have begun reading, and enjoying, ‘literary blogs’. It is about time I made an effort to take a step further, and contribute.
I was born and raised in Dudley, in the West Midlands. It used to be part of Worcestershire, which has a famous cricket team. My father (now dead) was mortified when we had to change our address from Dudley, Worcs. to Dudley, W. Mids. W. Mids. still doesn’t have a cricket-team.
From the age of about seven, I enjoyed reading and writing. That was fine, provided I didn’t use too many long words in public. I passed the Eleven Plus and spent seven years at Grammar School, where I liked drawing, painting, writing, and learning French. The rest was troublesome. Unfortunately, many of the teachers of the time (the 1960s) had left the armed forces and drifted into teacher training college, where they treated classrooms as war zones. Only my first English teacher, Jack Sibley, who wrote real novels, had the kind of humour that suggested he might actually enjoy teaching. The second acted as if balancing a column of books on his head, standing in the rain and singing ‘I Am the Walrus’ would be preferable to addressing a class full of adolescents. The third was younger, and took his wife and me to a Bob Dylan concert in Birmingham. As for my Art teacher, he was a proper painter called Paul Rudall, who reinforced in me a love of Art and Art History. I recently found out that he died only a couple of years ago.
My love for words outlasted school, I’m happy to say. I thought I might be a writer, or an artist, until I started travelling. London to India 1969 was the Big One, before which I thought: it’s easier to take a notepad and pen than a set of pencils, brushes, paints, white spirit, linseed oil, palette, easel and a dozen canvases. But when I got back from India, I became a teacher. I’d met my future wife by that time. She had ‘future wife’ embossed on her forehead. We headed for the Channel Isle of Jersey, where she found work in a hospital (as a trained Radiographer) and I managed to get a job at a private school, Moorestown College, which catered for three- to sixteen-year-olds. Being untrained, I shouted a lot. This was the unfortunate imprint resulting from my own experiences at the receiving end of Teachers Who Shouted. It was when the school closed and I found myself redundant that we (my wife and, by now, three children) moved back to England. I enrolled as a ‘mature’ student at Rolle College, in Exmouth. Although this college, too, no longer exists, I did succeed in qualifying. For the next – almost 30 – years I taught English and Drama in Somerset, having learned to shout less. Towards the end, I joined a smaller institution helping youngsters who could not, for reasons physical or psychological, cope with mainstream education. This led to an additional strand: the Virtual Classroom, whereby I would deliver lessons, via an on-line teaching platform, to people stuck at home. All highly enjoyable, as I could get to know, and help, students much more successfully than in a classroom of 30+. And drink coffee whenever I liked. And write.
Although I had written poetry and prose for years, it wasn’t until 2011 that I suddenly received, from who knows where, an idea for a novel. A few hundred jottings later, Zazou and Rebecca, my first ‘proper’ novel (as opposed to a painful attempt handwritten 30 years ago over four school exercise books) began to emerge.
The first draft took just over three years to achieve, and a further three to redraft and proof-read. Fortunately, I’m not a young man trying to forge a long-lasting career: just an ‘oldie’ enjoying the process, particularly when one may not always have deliberate control of one’s writing. I’m sure thousands of writers move forward like this. Once characters are established, they can veer off in their own direction, or a new one pop by and surreptitiously become essential to the plot. Similarly, descriptions sometimes write themselves, and need only a bit of fiddling about to make them effective. Who knows where this stuff comes from? Anyway, I have enjoyed the experience of creating this story so much that I have started making notes for part two, so that I can find out what happens.
So. Despite my former aversion to plunging into the world of Blogs, Vlogs, tweets and ‘Likes’, I do want to publicise my novel. Having sent off a few chapters and an introductory letter to several agents, and having received not a single reply, I decided that I would most probably be dead before I heard back from anyone. My book has therefore been published via CreateSpace, which links conveniently to the Amazon book-store and to Kindle. I would certainly like people to read it, and comment on it, particularly as it reached the long-list of last year’s Bridport Prize for First Novels. But I would also like to blog-share some of the books, articles and poetry I have read, make observations and join in discussions that seem to enrich our quality of life in these strange and shifting and dislocated times. I shall almost certainly not be a daily participant (we retired folk are soooo busy, what with offspring and grandchildren, travelling and Tai Chi classes) but hopefully a ‘regular’, perhaps weekly, one. And the blog is called: belovedalder. I’m still learning the ins and outs of the technical side.
And talking about Tai Chi: it teaches, amongst other things, patience, slowness and stillness. Nobody can do everything, or read everything, or perhaps even tick off all the desires on their ‘bucket list’: wise discrimination is all.
In that regard, I recently came across a phrase I hadn’t heard before, originating in the ‘Black Country’, Dudley-way, and it goes something like: ‘Purra pig’s yed on the wall and lerrit watch the parayde’. It’s good advice in a chaotic world.