Back in August 2020 I was asked if I could help an elderly gentleman sort through his collection of memoir pieces, poetry and paintings and put them together into a collection of some kind. ‘I’d like it done before I die,’ he said matter of factly, (and indeed, with the year we’ve just had, he’s not the only person to have had thoughts along those lines, myself included.)
So I nipped round for a socially-distanced chat to find Tom’s dining room table covered in newspaper cuttings and home-printed sheets of text, photographs of people and paintings and pieces of poetry displayed in several different formats. Tom talked through each item, explaining the story behind it and, most specifically, weaving in the tale of his beginnings as a truanting Braunstone boy supplementing the family’s war rations by foraging the Leicestershire countryside, and on to becoming a captain in the British Army, witnessing key historical events of the post-war world. I wasn’t sure how we were going to sift all this down into the story Tom wants to tell but I said I’d like to try.
Luckily for me, Tom has a good idea of what he’s aiming for with his story (as you might expect from a retired member of the Pioneer Corps and, following that, a town planner.) What he didn’t know was how to go about making that happen – which, luckily for him, is where I come in.
We managed to get in a couple of recorded interviews before additional lockdowns put paid to face-to-face visits, but it turned out Tom was most keen on having his poetry pulled together into a collection and I could work on that with limited input from him by phone. I later dropped the draft version through his letterbox and he decided he’d like his paintings included in it, too.
I was more than a little concerned about having to decide on Tom’s behalf which paintings to place next to which poems, but nevertheless Tom seemed pleased with the book. So much so that he contacted the Leicester Mercury newspaper to tell them about it. And despite initial concerns it might only appear on their website, the article community journalist Asha Patel put together about Tom appeared in the ‘real’ paper yesterday, too.
I’m chuffed to bits for Tom – and so is he. ‘I got a double-page spread!’ he beamed from his doorstep when I took a copy round yesterday afternoon (he’d already had five others dropped off by friends). His determination to get the regional paper to share his story is proof of how important it is to us not only to record our stories, but to have them seen and validated by others. It’s the ultimate ‘you’re okay’ message, and I’m really pleased that Tom is getting lots of affirmation from those in Leicestershire and beyond who have read the article about him. Imagine how he’ll feel when they can read the actual book?*
Thank you, Leicester Mercury, for doing such a grand job and thank you, Tom, for sharing your story with me.
*Work on Tom’s memoirs continues at a good pace and I hope to have the first draft completed by the end of June.
The anthology of his poetry and paintings is available on Amazon here.