|Out now - the memories of Margaret Whitaker, 1929-45, (https://amzn.to/2XLHtg9)|
When I was young and dreaming of being a professional writer, I truly imagined that that's what they did: write. All day. Every day. And rake in the cash. And walk around in cream coloured linen suits pursued by interviewers and camera crews.
I had no idea just how much time, even when I was able to support myself by my craft, I would spend on ancillary projects,
This last month or two, for example, I have had to put aside the novel I was working on and attend to the following:
Preparing a pitch for a book I wrote five years ago for a movie production company who have suddenly noticed it;
Reading a few short stories for a friend;
Reviewing another friend's 90,000-word manuscript and discussing same in a Zoom conference;
Reading and assessing a manuscript for The Literary Consultancy. (I am now in my twentieth year as a non-fiction appraiser for this, the first and probably best such consultancy in the U.K.);
Writing a long poem for my brother's 80th birthday. Okay, nobody held a gun to my head, but what else could I do?
All perfectly enjoyable tasks, but none as delightful as the project illustrated above.
I first met Margaret Whitaker in 1990 or '91, when she showed up at a writing class I ran in South Cave, East Yorkshire. I think she had just retired and was wanting to record her early life. Her tales ranged from the reflective to the wacky to the ribald to the poignant. The day she read 'Thanks for the Mammary; a History of My Breasts Aged 14 to Present Day' a rare male member of the class took off, muttering something about not having come all that way to listen to pornography. (NB: yes, it's in the book.)
Mags generally had the place in uproar with her stories, all based on her rich life experience and viewed through her deeply human eyes. We fell about listening to her 'Confessions of a Lady Organist' and 'The Four Letter Word in the Garage' and listened, spellbound, as she described her early conviction that holding hands in the back seat of the cinema might get her pregnant. (It was about the mating habits of frogs, as revealed to her in a Biology class).
I always wanted to see her work in print, but while Mags cranked out an almost endless stream of vignettes over the next twenty-plus years, she never really had the drive to send things much further than the Yorkshire Post. Of course, we published her in our annual South Cave writing class magazine, and we did get her reading on Radio Humberside, which went down a storm.
Now she is in her nineties. After losing touch for some years I re-established contact a year or two ago and promised that, once I had got on top of things, I would look at her collected writings.
I called by last January and collected five fat Lever Arch files. Remember them? They contained approximately 640 pages of typescript.
I set about putting together those pieces that relate to her childhood and adolescence, 1929 to 1945.
We paid a typist to put it all onto disk, commissioned a cover, paid a formatter, were offered the services of a wonderful copy editor, Joan Deitch (who'd fallen for Mags' stories and worked for nothing) and, after a few glitches, got the book prepared.
I think this collection has everything: humour, tragedy, love and loss. It depicts life in a certain part of Liverpool during the Depression and the War. It reveals Mags' love of music, reading, fun, and boys - especially the ones from Quarry Bank School, who really knew how to kiss. And it shows us a world from a child's point of view, a world in which adults are very much the opposition, if not at times the enemy.
It's available now, from amazon (https://amzn.to/2XLHtg9), and all I can say is, do read it. I doubt you'll be disappointed.