Thursday 22 January 2015
2pm - 4pm
A library is always the hub of any community. All people are welcome. Filled with subdued chatter, it offers a safe space where any number of worlds are labelled on surrounding shelves, enticing us to enter.
Libraries have been a familiar setting to me since my beginnings. Holding tight the hand of my father, we would stroll together down the High Street, passed the shops, and play peep-bo either side of the hedge before heading towards the Common, with the library opposite. My head would peek above the counter at the lady stamping my books. I would wince each time her hand hammered down, feeling the pain of the page, wishing she would treat the book with more respect. But then, I would creep in and down past shelves achingly familiar, seeking out the portal to a world I hadn't yet explored.
Oh, the sense of surprise and adventure! I couldn't wait to get my three precious books home!!
Filey library had once been my second home. I would spend days locked into this safe space, with the freedom to explore, to prize open the memory of those early years, sensing that same excitement, visiting the children's section, before earnestly seeking out new Kingdoms in which to spend my time.
It was here that Tony and I set up the exhibition around RAF 100 Group, a secret WWII Group whose prime objective was to identify and jam enemy radar with new and experimental equipment fitted secretly into aircraft. We had been invited to present a book signing of my latest book: UGLY TRUTH, BEAUTIFUL LIES with the picture of Shrewsbury Tunnel on the front cover, offering a glimpse of the world that waited for readers to explore. The previous book, the first in the series, stood proud at its side: STONE COLD DEAD, the picture of a Lysander set against a full moon brought veterans tripping to the table, sharing their own wartime adventures.
I am passionate about preserving wartime stories and its history. It was a war in which so many families were destroyed. Nothing was ever the same again. Life was snuffed out in a heartbeat. But for those who survived they want these haunting memories to be remembered, to remind us of what war is really all about, and to stop something like that ever happening again.
May those countries at war in the present time somehow find their peace!
Amongst the many books surrounding us, history was being shared ... not through the pages of a book written by some unknown author, but here and now by someone who was right there, in the heat of battle, wanting to tell the way it was. Others gathered to listen, to become part of the essence of that sharing ... which in turn produced discussion amongst strangers who became friends.
It was a small and yet significant miracle!
'What do I need to start writing a book?'
The question came suddenly, as if from out of nowhere. The conversation shifted and shaped into something else.
'I began with pen and paper. You simply need to get used to the idea of writing, of putting your thoughts and feelings on paper, however that comes ... or a computer if you use one.'
'What kind of pen?'
Is that important? The thought flashed across my mind.
'I mean ... do you use a fountain pen, a biro, a pencil ... what?'
'No. To be honest I started off using a biro, but then put alterations in pencil so I could change them again, or in a different colour so they show up. It's the writing that important. What you use are simply tools you are using to create a piece of writing, like crafting something out of wood, or cooking up a meal ...'
'Paper. What kind of paper?'
Whooah! Where are we going with this?
'I used lined paper only because it was simpler for me. A notebook would be ideal to jot down ideas and thoughts you have, and it's small enough to carry around with you ...'
I broke off as the speaker began to share a story he called 'Seascape'. It had shape and form. It had characters which easily came to mind. He paused for breath.
'Sounds like you have a good story. And it's one of local interest. But you need to get it out of your head onto paper ... do you use a computer?'
'No, not really.'
'Okay, then go buy a notebook ... whatever you feel most comfortable with ... and just get used to the idea of writing, putting words on a page. It's an incredible feeling, to know you're creating something unique to you.'
A face peered down at the large A4 sheet I had in front of me, just in case anyone wanted to share their details.
'It doesn't have to be that big, to be honest. A small notebook will do. But if you want that size, there is a shop just around the corner ... or Tesco actually sell them as well as notebooks. Remember, it's your choice. Your story sounds good. Do you think it's a short story, or a book? Whatever, maybe you simply need to just write ... however it comes, that's good.'
'I took a Creative Writing Course, but I left before the final exam. It wasn't a good day for me ...'
'Okay', I said carefully. 'Then you must have written things for the course. Which brings us back to the story you've just shared and the importance of getting it onto paper, and then building it up, working on characters, making them real, and ...'
'It has to be a best seller ... how can you guarantee that? And a film ... I want it to become a film!'
The silence around us deepens. It's as if the library is holding its breath, waiting for the next word to fall.
'Anything is possible. Remember that. But first steps are important. First you need the writing, your story on paper before it can go anywhere. And if you enjoyed the Creative Writing Course why not go back there? It's a good place to start, with people available to help and support you ...'
'You make money out of writing. You've written all these books. They all have your name on. So why write if you're not going to become famous?
My words now dropped to a whisper. They were meant for his ears alone.
'I have been writing ever since I was a little girl. It was like creating my own world. I was in control of it. I could make things happen. But then I could also make nasty things go away. You can't do that in real life. My dream wasn't about becoming famous, or becoming a bestseller ... my dream was simply about writing. It became an everyday habit, like brushing your hair, doing your teeth, washing your hands ...'
I watched his face fall. Oh no, I hadn't meant to shatter his dream. Everyone needs a dream, something to hang on to ...
'The story 'Seascape' is already out there. I'm just borrowing it, and changing it to become mine.'
This was a bold statement, and not said that quietly. Now we were entering a whole different ball game!
'Oh but the writing has to be your own. Maybe you have something that has happened to you in your life you could write about?'
'Okay. It was only an idea. So think about the story you were telling me, that's already out there, how it starts ... can you think of something that happens in everyday life you could use to build a story, something you see or hear about? You need to be writing about things you know. To use your own experience. But as I said before ... it's about getting used to the idea of writing first off, putting pen to paper, however it comes, letting it flow from what's going on inside your head ...'
The guy had wandered off. I thought we were done. But then ...
'I've found it!'
'How to Write a Best Seller!'
'That's okay isn't it? Once I've read this, I'll know all about it, and my writings will get into the bookshops and become a film!'
I shook his hand.
'Remember, the first words are important. They have to come from you ...'
'Yes, yes, yes ... but now I have the answer!'
The answer to Life?!?
Whether it was going to prove to be the answer to Somebody's life only time would tell. For us, it was time to go home. But just as we'd begun packing up, the guy still standing in the background, glancing through the book before placing it carefully on the stand from whence it came, a mother and daughter approached. The mother was a Carer, she spoke of a veteran who had shared with her his story of wartime before passing on. Her daughter and she were obviously very close, very warm, cuddly people. And I couldn't help but give them a parting gift ... a gift of the heart. It wasn't the book I was here to sign, but my mother's wartime story, a very warm, funny, poignant romance. I discovered their names, and dedicated it to them before putting my signature and presenting it to them.
They were in tears. I was in tears. We shared a group hug. Suddenly, the day was so warm, so vital. Everyone around us right then could, I am certain, feeeeel the love, they were so much a part of it, and it was that same love and joy and laughter we carried with us through the doors, back out into reality ... and home, their parting words ringing in our ears ...
'We'll read it together, Mum, at bedtime. Something to share ...'
I was reminded of my own Mum. I miss her. All those years ago, before her death, sharing her wartime story with me, her love for Vic Vinnell who didn't return from war; Jack Fisher his pilot who disappeared 26/27 November 1944 with him in Mosquito DK292 preparing to be their Best Man at their wedding a few days on. Then researching and writing the book together, feeling so much a part of it, stepping through the portal so many times that living in 1944 became a surreal experience and so so familiar. When finally it was published on the 60th Anniversary of the death of Vic and Jack, I felt that not just my dream but also that of my mother's, and of Vic's, had been fulfilled.
A promise kept!
Thanks Maya and Mum (Mrs Hodgson). I hope you enjoy the story every bit as much as I loved writing it. Maybe I'll hear from you again soon.