Touching the books I’ve read
I’ve started my memoir, a touch early, at age 54, but given that it will take me a long time to complete, I may well be elderly and/or close to death when it appears. My first novel, Close of Play, was set in the 1990s and published in 2015. I hadn’t set out to write a historical book, it just took me a long time to finish.
Working title for the memoir is Touching the Books I’ve Read, as it is structured around the stories that have shaped my view of the world, and my understanding of myself, with emphasis on the themes of travel, exploration, moral choice, fear of authority, sex, and family. So, just like any life; also, like any other life, quite unique.
Below is an excerpt from “Chapter 3 1972 — A Fighting Challenge”, in which I recall the culture shock of a nine-year-old Yorkshire lad moving to estuary Kent, hearing a Cockney accent for the first time, at a Catholic junior school at which the headteacher, a nun, used to hit us if we were naughty — or sometimes if we were not — and sometimes very hard. She did encourage us to learn poetry by heart, and our classroom had a library. I was a sporty lad, and I didn’t much care for fantasy tales like the Narnia books; perhaps because of this, I wasn’t seen as ‘bookish’. There were plenty of boys’ tales that I devoured, however; the Adventure stories by Willard Price, the Three Investigators series with the teenage detective ace Jupiter Jones; The Silver Sword, by Ian Serraillier, and B-Flight, by Bruce Carter. I also loved Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge — lively, sensitive, and genuinely funny.
The following excerpt describes how I came upon a non-fiction work called A Fighting Challenge, in the summer of 1972.
“The supply teacher’s name was either Mr Fisher or Mr Wright. Those names aren’t even similar, but I think it was one of those. He was actually very good: kindly, intelligent, unorthodox, he encouraged us to think. At the end of the summer term, he set us a test, I think it was a fun quiz, and I came third. The prize was one of the books he had set out on a table. The first two children to win were dithering with indecision, so I quickly seized the largest, shiniest hardback book on the table, that was clearly, from the cover illustration, an adventure tale. It was called A Fighting Challenge, by Chay Blyth and John Ridgway. I was soon captivated by the story of derring-do — the true-life account of two British paratroopers who had rowed across the Atlantic in the summer of 1966, in a cheap, simple fisherman’s boat, even surviving a hurricane. It was the children’s version of their book A Fighting Chance. I wondered about the material that had been removed before it could be presented to children; details of their letters to their wives, perhaps, that they forwarded via passing ships, or some swear words, and I was mildly piqued at being deprived of those sections, but I loved it, nonetheless. I read it several times.”
· My two novels are Close of Play (2015), and Marching on Together (2017), both by Urbane. More at: www.pjwhiteley.com