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Thursday, 11 October 2012

£4 a week - and I'd never had it so good!

Another shortened week. I’ve been fairly productive, but a chunk of today will be wiped out by my visit to the Podiatry clinic in Durham this morning - and tomorrow we’re setting off at 0630 to catch the train to London and visit friends in darkest Sussex.

However, in between banging out letters and blog posts in support of Carolyn Cassady, I’ve managed to inch my way forward on the workplace memoir, More Jobs Than Birthdays. I’ve polished  - and polished, and polished - two particular items: the 500-word outline, or selling pitch, and the opening chapter, a story entitled “The Human Candle”, set in Rowntrees chocolate factory in the late 1970s. I have also spoken with my agent and he has agreed to take a look at the package I’ve put together. I don’t expect him to come up with a buyer at this stage but I do look forward to some sort of advice. Am I pitching it right? Should I  treat it as a fictional piece, as the romantic novelists suggested last week? Is the basic idea marketable? We shall see.

Having got that out, I turned my attention to a piece that’s been exercising my mind for some years. I was fourteen when I took my first job. It was during the Easter vacation. I was about five feet four inches tall, weighed eight stone (112 pounds), and my voice had yet to break. I worked with a bunch of ancient crones. Ha! They were mostly in their forties and fifties, although Kitty, who smoked a clay pipe and remembered the day the war ended - the Great War - had turned seventy. I’ve never worked as hard in my life as I did then - all for £4 a week. But… it seemed like a fortune for a boy who was getting by on £1.50 for a 13-week term at boarding-school. Like many a working man back then - if you believed the words of the late Prime Minister Harold McMillan -  I’d ‘never had it so good.’

Anyway… I wrote up a story of sorts, based on my early days at the laundry, three, four, maybe ten years ago, and assumed that it would slot neatly into the new book. It didn’t. It was way too contrived, the humour over the top. So, with a huge sigh, I started to dismantle and re-write it.  Not easy. You can’t just tweak a thing like that. In fact, I would go so far as to say that for any proper re-write you need to abandon the original completely. Painful yes; laborious, yes - but necessary. I am now 1600 words into a new version, and am just starting to feel a little happier with it. 

One trouble with this project - which I am going to have to put to one side pretty soon, as I have another Mike Pannett book to start - is that I fear I have set the bar very high with that “Human Candle” story. I am convinced that it’s one of the best short pieces I’ve written. I may be wrong, but that’s the way it seems to me right now; and the trouble is, everything else that comes out seems sub-standard by comparison. Maybe I mean that that story strikes precisely the right tone of voice, and that I am very comfortable with it. Question is, how do I re-capture that tone in subsequent stories?

Maybe a bowl of porridge will stimulate some useful thoughts….


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