How I came to writing…
This is a muse on how I came to be a writer, where it all started and what influences I have.
It all began long ago on a stormy night… ok not quite, but it was a long time ago for me. When I was only four years old, my mum took me and my brother, three years me senior, into the newsagent, (we called ‘sweetshop’) to choose a comic. I chose the ‘Dandy’ while my brother chose the ‘Buster’ (both, sadly, now defunct).
Only four years old, I was not able to read well, but the fantastic pictures made me want to read, and so, with school, badgering my mum, and my own pig headedness, I learned to read. I grew up without a television, so the ‘Dandy’ and ‘Buster’ were a constant companion for cartoons. In time, my brother decided that the quality of ‘Buster’ was declining and he swapped to ‘Dandy’s sister comic, the ‘Beano.’
For many years, ‘Dandy’ and ‘Beano’ were an obsession, with competing arguments over which was better, but also sharing the two between us brothers. After we read our own, we would swap and read each others. A box at the end of my bed was filled with ‘Dandy’ comics, and the bookshelf filled with annuals that aunties would buy every Christmas, along with other annuals of ‘Beezer’ and ‘Topper’ (also defunct ). While my friends were mad on ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’ I was more interested in the weekly exploits of Korky the Cat or Desperate Dan.
In primary school, I was assessed at my reading level and was judged to be level G. The levels went from A through to O, and G for a starting level was quite good. It was here that I was introduced to Sheila K. McKullagh’s books of ‘Tim and the Hidden People.’ These were about Tim, who finds a key and while he has it, can see a whole collection of people, such as Wind Witches, a cat, called Tobias, Melinda the White Witch and many others. Later, Tim was replaced with Jessica and Arun. The authoress also wrote books about a boy called Nicholas who went into a picture to join some Buccaneers. All of these books I lapped up, reading the entire range. I loved cats at the time (strange, I know, but hey, I had no telly!) and read ‘Pyewacket’ by Rosemary Weir.
During the first year of primary school at aged seven, having been to an infant school, the teacher had us write a story every Monday. I enjoyed this greatly. Sometimes he would bring in an object for us and we would write about it. I remember him bringing in an unusual bottle, but he dropped it, so told us to write a story while he cleaned the broken glass up. Another time, he had a note, deliberately obscure, so we would write a story as if we had received that note and what it meant. The note read; “Bill of Portland Echo Cave Bring gem 1.30 Thursday” Now my taste for writing was beginning, but something magical was about to happen.
I was nine years old, third year Junior School (year five now) and the teacher told us to write a character. Her original idea was to be a little devil, but she then allowed many children, including myself to write other characters. I chose a Gnome. We wrote a profile, such as age, height, weight, eyes, etc – a process I still use when I have new characters to this day. It was from this exercise that Cedric the Gnome was born, He was forty years old and seven centimetres tall, with a green jacket, red hat (with bobble on) and white chinos (yay 80’s fashion!)
Every week we would write a new adventure with our little creature. I loved it so much, I would write more at home, even miss playtimes to write more. While other children wrote stories a few pages long, I would write and write. To this day, I have the stories with fantastic 9 year olds artwork within. Maybe I should scan them into here.
I knew then that I wanted to write books. But things were changing. My main toy had been the castle range of Lego, but then I began to play ‘Hero Quest.’ I had begun to get involved in fantasy. ‘Hero Quest’ led to ‘Advanced Hero Quest,’ to Games Workshop’s ‘Warhammer Fantasy Battle’ and ‘Warhammer Fantasy Rôleplay.’
As my years turned to teens, I read avidly, absorbing any writing on ‘Warhammer’ like a nerdy goblin. I created my own armies and then my own races. At school, I had entered secondary school, and relished the few times we were set stories to write.
We were studying mythology in English in first year (year seven now) and had to write a story about a knight. I made a character who would become a lead character in the fantasy novel that I work on now. Later, another story saw the first appearance of my lead heroine. At home I worked passionately on early plans for my novel. The map I drew in a rough notebook is the same as I use now for the novel, although many more locations have been added and names have been changed as I disliked them.
About the same time, I was playing Bullfrog’s ‘Syndicate’ game, about four agents who carry out special missions in a dystopian future. They are enhanced by cybernetics. A new idea for a novel was forming. One surname they had, I loved, so he became my lead character for the novel.
My writing was simple, influenced by places I had seen, with rough characters and I realised too that I was taking too much influence from the ‘Warhammer’ universe. I began to work on taking my fantasy away and making it my own. Names sounded awkward or just plain rubbish. Some names even sounded like food colouring when they were meant to be names of nations. I worry about names of races and places even now.
At college, I joined a writing group and it was fantastic. I wrote so many short stories that when it came to the end of the year and they put together a collection of the group’s stories they called the book ‘Alan and Co.’ Here I made many advances in my writing, including many restarts of my novels.
The older I got the more I read wider and wider. At about eleven I read Ian Fleming’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,’ then at thirteen I read Tolkien’s ‘Hobbit,’ closely followed by ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Now I will read anything, even material I do not agree with. I like to read wide, especially if it is something that I care about. So I have read news on the ‘Daily Mail’, ‘Sun’, ‘Telegraph’, ‘Guardian’, ‘Mirror’ and BBC. I visit political groups sites as diverse as Sinn Fein or BNP. I read any stories I get hold of, and even as a child would read the stories in ‘My Weekly’ and ‘Bella’. I feel that to read widely is always good, and besides, you never know where the next story will come from.
So over the years, I have tried several times with my Cedric. Once loved, never forgotten. He looks the same, but has changed much. One day I will return and try again with him. My fantasy world has been expanded, more races discovered, the gods written about and I know the characters as well as many people I know in the real world. Yet the basic map and many character names remain. The sci-fi story still has the same basic storyline, although now more developed, and researched. The baddies have changed from enemy agents to Al-Queda to IRA.
I always wanted to write a swashbuckling pirate novel, and in my early twenties began one. Sadly, my computer died on my and it was all lost, along with my background for other novels, short stories and poems. How I cursed the computer. Although I put that novel on a backburner I managed to recover enough to resume my fantasy and sci-fi novels.
Once, while at work, it was late and quiet. I sat down and began a horror novel. I saved it, and e-mailed it to myself, so that when I got home, I would have it. Then the computer died on me! I had an external hard drive in case the computer went wrong, but instead the external hard drive got a virus and so I lost all my writing again. This has thrown my back, and yet again, I am trying to rebuild my novels. Next time I will back the stuff up. I wish I knew more about how computers work.
©Copyright Alan Grace 2014
Life of General the Right Hon. Sir Redvers Buller
By Charles Henderson Melville CMG
There is a statue on the Crediton road on the edge of Exeter of a soldier mounted on his horse, an inscription on the plinth reads; “He saved Natal.” This is Redvers Buller VC, a personal hero of mine who served in the Zulu Way of 1879, one of my favourite periods in history.
‘Life of General the Right Hon. Sir Redvers Buller’ is a biography about the Crediton VC recipient. The book was available only on Print on Demand (POD) by Bibliolife who try to keep old, out of print books alive.
Redvers Buller was a son of a Devonshire squire, who made his way in the army, winning a VC in the Zulu War by saving several men while under fire, was sent to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum, led the army to victory for the Relief of Ladysmith, which subsequently allowed for the final victory in the Second Boer War. In Ireland, he reorganised the police to try to stem the rise of discontent and possibly one of his most important success, was the formation of the Army Service Corp (ASC) which allowed for better supply of weapons and food for the army. This has now become the Royal Logistics Corp and historians say, that without the ASC the Great War would not have been possible.
The book was written in 1923 and the age of the book is its advantage as well as disadvantage; the author interviewed the Buller family, including his wife and sister for information, and tries to use Buller’s letters and notes, and also those of his contemporaries. The downside is that one must remember when reading the biography that so much has not happened. The occasional comparison’s to the ‘modern army’ is in fact an army that has not experienced World War 2, and is the army of the British Empire at it’s most powerful. The events in of the book happened only twenty to seventy years previously.
The language can be difficult and to some reading today, offensive, showing just how much the English language has changed over the last ninety years. There is a use of the ‘N’ word but this is not used to be offensive but used correctly for the time. The spelling of some place names have changed too, such as ‘Kabul’ spelled as ‘Cabul’. The author of the book is an ex-soldier and the vocabulary draws much from the military area, which can be and obstacle for those less militarily minded.
The book is almost a historical source in its own, and written very personally. Originally written by a Brit for the British market, British items are often referred to as ‘ours’ (Our army, our men etc). The author does not state his opinion or judgement on the actions of the time, but does compare them on occasion to his own experience. The use of ‘I’ in many historical books is not common in modern books and in Biographies, only when the author knew the subject.
The biggest complaint of the book must be the ending. Or rather sudden stop. Reaching the end I was at first angry that the publisher had failed to print the whole book and was readying an e-mail of complaint. Searching the internet I found that they had included the book as originally written. The book ends with Buller’s successful reforms in Ireland. However the book fails to continue. After Ireland, Buller served in the Second Boer War, having several defeats before achieving a string of major victories. After that, he had humiliating press coverage and was forced to resign his position. Why the life of Buller does not continue, I do not know. Maybe the author wanted to remove Buller’s humiliation of defeat and resignation. This fails to give a full overview of his life and excludes one of his great victories, that despite defeat he won in the end and the masses loved him, so much so that they erected the statue mentioned earlier and in Crediton church there is a large memorial to him.
For all its foibles, the book does give much detail on Buller’s life that is not available elsewhere. The picture of Buller that is so often seen is a portly gruff looking Victorian soldier. This biography tells a different story. One anecdote tells of his time at the military training school where he got up to pranks that would not look out of place with today’s young or even the ‘Inbetweeners’. His letters tell more of his heart and opinions. It is interesting to see his view of the ‘enemy’. He never hates them and there is no sign of racism. Indeed, he says of the Zulu’s as ‘fine fellows’ despite narrowly avoiding death with them, and he dislikes fighting the Boers as they had served alongside him in the Zulu wars. These views were never made for public consumption as a soldier is expected to do his duty, regardless of personal opinion. Havnig read quite widly on Buller, this level of detail is absent, and other writers only concentrate on his military successes and failures, and there are also very few biographies on Buller alone at all, even in his home town of Crediton.
The other important note that can be drawn from this book is that there are many parallels that can be drawn with modern life. The army held up by dithering politicians, and Egypt, was taken into British ‘protective custody’ but then the British cannot withdraw as Egypt has to have a serviceable army to stop Islamist extremists invading from the south (Afghanistan anybody?). Buller complains about the press coverage and liberal armchair generals who do no know what it is like to be a real soldier. It seems some lessons are never learnt.
So is this book a good read? It is not an easy, casual read, only for a committed reader with an interest in Redvers Buller or Victorian generals. The biography is good, but is let down by the lack of coverage of the last few (but important) years of his life.
Verdict: A hard read, informative but somewhat incomplete.