Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Assignment


We can't be more than two cups of tea into the first day of our visit before Granddad hesitantly raises the subject. His life as a wartime evacuee, merchant sailor, and rural policeman had generated hours and hours of epic stories shared with everyone who visited his house. For years both his children and we grandchildren have been urging him to write them down. Now he has.

Not all of the stories, mind. The three notebooks and the looseleaf binder in front of me on the dining room table just contain the details of his time with the Norfolk Constabulary as a village copper. There are pages and pages of my Granddad's neat handwriting relating tales of livestock round-ups, poachers, bicycle patrolling, and family life in 1950s and 1960s rural England.

As an oral storyteller Granddad can rivial Scheherazade but as he points out, his formal education was cut short at 14 due to the Second World War and for most of his life he has been an autodictat by force of circumstance. All his life he has been blessed with a sharp memory and an eye for detail but I sense that he feels that his writing skills are not up to snuff. All those years as a policeman means he writes like a policeman; strong on detail but not much description (and certainly no dialogue). And as nice as it is for us as a family to have this treasure trove of stories to pass around in the years to come, Granddad wants more. He wants the stories turned into a book. And according to him, that is where I come in.

I am to flesh out his stories, drawing upon the timeless landscape and characters of the Norfolk we both know so well. I am to have full editorial control as long as I preserve and present the facts of the stories as he has recorded them. If possible, I am to find a publisher willing to take on the manuscript, and we can split the proceeds.

Well of course I said yes. I grew up on these stories (and for a while when my mother and I were living with my grandparents after being evacuated from Cyprus I was lulled to sleep by having them told to my uncomprehending infant brain). The plastic bag holding the notebooks is sitting across the study from me as I type this: part of me wants to get cracking right away while another part is saying "wait until the weekend, get some of your other projects to a place of natural pause or finish them, then start slowly". I know however that before too long I'm going to be sitting down with those notebooks and my laptop on my knees, jotting ideas and playing with the narrative.

I have to admit that I feel a flush of pride everytime I think of what Granddad has asked me to do. I'll also own up to feeling quite daunted by the task I have been set. I hope I manage a decent rendering of his world.

13 comments:

RPS said...

Wow. The long-awaited treasure trove, in hand at last. Congratulations; I'm sure you'll do it justice.

Don't forget to feature his long-time, ever-valuable, ”take a bite out of crime” police dog. (Named Sue? Or was that Johnny Cash's dog?)

weasel said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence; as I'm sure you are already aware I'll be winging drafts to you on a regular basis.

There are indeed Sue the Norfolk Lurcher stories. In fact, there are lots of animal stories, mostly on the theme of "animals I have had punch ups with". He once threw his truncheon at an agressive rooster with al the accuracy of a gaucho with a bolo.

Mondale said...

can't wait!

Margaret Evans Porter said...

What a marvellous project! I'm jealous.

Lurchers--adore them. Norfolk--love it (inclusively, wholeheartedly, so your grandad's bit,whatever it may be, is covered). The rural constabulary--have a very healthy respect for 'em.

RPS said...

He once threw his truncheon at an agressive rooster with all the accuracy of a gaucho with a bolo.

You're making me laugh already (although I know this is a serious project). I happen to know, from personal experience, that producing a book about the rural constabulary can be quite satisfying, and maybe even turn a (modest) profit.

Rikki said...

Quite an honor. Relish!

weasel said...

Thanks for the support, gang. This might be what it takes to get me to actually complete a project longer than 5,000 words- the fact that someone else is expecting it to get done might prove to be the goad I need.

As for the honour thing; of course it is but my cousins, brother, and aunts and uncles are all ferociously intelligent, gifted with English, and unsparing in their honesty so it so it is also slightly terrifying. They all could have done it (and probably were asked) but only I was fool enough to say "yes".

MsDee said...

You should be proud and savor everyone of those words

Wes said...

I can't wait to read the rooster tale. One can never get too much of angry farm animal stories. I imagine this will be like a slapstick, slightly twisted James Herriot book.
Congratulations on a very honored— and honorable— task.

Listmaker said...

sign me up for wanting a signed copy one day.

Weasel's Cuzzen Jim said...

What larks!

I think the honour of this commission is solely yours, though I'm limbering up for future volumes, such as :

'How I won the war by smoking cigs on the deckrail of a ship full of rock phosphate'.

'Artex and Anaglypta - bringing style to SW13'.

'For Goff and die - the life of a new car delivery driver'.

'Dear Prudence - the insurance salesman years'.

and last but not least...

'Mel B from Bo Selecta stole my look'.

Bless him.

weasel said...

Jim, don't forget "Making Pork Brawn, An Illustrated Guide".

Jim said...

Sounds like this could be your "When Towns Had Teams," albeit with a bigger potential audience.

I know we'll be reading soon about that "coastal Maine writer, Dan Bookham."

People identify with stories and it sounds like you have an ample supply.

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