I have now been actively writing since April. My first attempts were silly poems, mainly aimed at children or those with a leaning toward infantile humour! I have been doing that for years, so it seemed a logical starting block. These I will eventually develop into an anthology and tour primary schools with poetry sessions where I intend to sell the books. I still have many close contacts and friends from my 15 years of touring, and will be using these as a springboard before they move jobs – or die!
Then I really thought I should settle down in front of the laptop and write something serious, something with a tad more gravitas. Short story competitions beckoned and, apart, from the opportunity to learn the science of writing, it would give me the chance to tell a story from my own life. Creativity is a necessity, of course, but, shouted from the pages of the writing magazines that I was devouring came exhortations to plan, ‘show not tell’, ‘every word counts’ etc. Tools were therefore needed. Stories have to be crafted and built, not slung onto the page like incoherent jibber!
They also say ‘write what you know’, and what (or rather, whom) do I know better than my own family, my father especially? Dad is 91 now and, sadly, a victim of Alzheimers Disease, the same degenerative disease which took my dear mother 3 ½ years ago. It seems likely that dad started to succumb to this terrible affliction before mam was taken but he seemed able to ‘keep it all together’, visiting her almost every day whilst looking after himself and the home. This lasted for several years until the day that she left us. After that, his deterioration was dramatic. So, my first short story is about a particular incident that occurred just before we had no choice, for his own safety, to place him in care. In point of fact, by that stage, the Mental Health Act had come into play.
This situation is still ongoing. My story, I hope, reflects both the tragedy and the comedy that it generates on a daily basis. I never did enter it for a competition but still sits on my hard drive. Others have read it and given complimentary comments but, with all due respect to them, I am not yet confident enough to rely upon family and friends to give me an honest appraisal.
And so I moved on, still staying in the region of ‘what I know’. Family history once again but this time on a bigger stage.
On the night of May 3rd 1941, a lone German bomber dropped four bombs on North Shields. One bomb fell in the mud flats of the Tyne; a second hit a railway embankment; a third struck a house, killing the two occupants, and the fourth went through the roof of W A Wilkinson Ltd, Mineral Water Manufacturers, known locally simply as ‘the lemonade factory’. It was three storey building. The bomb exploded at ground floor level, bringing all the heavy bottling machinery crashing into the basement.
The basement of the factory was at the time being used as a public air raid shelter. Within its cramped confines that night were 192 people, of which 107 were killed. Most of them died immediately and others succumbed to their injuries in the days following. 42 of the victims were under the age of 16. Entire families were wiped out.
It proved to be the worst single bomb disaster outside of London during the war in terms of loss of life and yet, with war time censorship, Wilkinson’s was never named in contemporary press reporting of enemy raids and civilian casualties. Moreover, Wilkinson’s does not appear to have featured in the standard histories of the provincial Blitz, Home Front or Civil Defence.
William Arthur Wilkinson, the founder of the company, was my great grandfather and next year sees the 75th anniversary of the raid.
My first ‘magnum opus’ is not the account of the raid. For that, I would suggest nowhere better to find a factual account of the tragedy than the website www.northshields173.org. It has eye witness accounts from survivors, the background to the raid and much more. North Shields 173 was the telephone number of the factory. Rather, mine is the fictional tale of a crime set against the backdrop of the bombing. Although fiction, I have chosen to retain the Wilkinson name in all references to the factory and the business – unless I am subsequently advised to the contrary by those who know!
With the working title of ‘Shelter’, it is a one hour radio drama.
Wife and fellow writer, Sue, and I are going to the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate next week for the 5th time. This time we are attending the radio/TV drama workshops on Creative Thursday, the finale to which is Dragon’s Pen. Anyone brave or foolhardy enough to throw their hat into the ring or – in reality – put their name into that hat, can come up on stage and, in front of the assembled audience, pitch their idea to four industry professionals. Pitch limited to two minutes. If they like the pitch, they then ask to see the first 10 pages of script and then . . . to be honest, I’m not sure. Further deliberation and a meeting, I would imagine. It’s too good a marketing opportunity to miss, so, with 15 years of performance skills and stagecraft behind me (hahaha!), for better or worse, my name is in their hat! Even if I am not drawn out as one of the pitchers, the whole four days is a massive networking jamboree. Fingers crossed! You make your own luck, don’t they say?
Watch this space! I feel I am still on the nursery slopes but perhaps approaching base camp. Harrogate could require an oxygen mask!