I will talk more about this at a later date but I just wanted to tell you a little about my day yesterday.
I had the pleasure of visiting dear old friend Richard Adams and his wife in their Hampshire home.
Richard Adams is best known for Watership Down, although my personal favourite has to be Plague Dogs that I remember well from the first time we met when that was the book he signed to me. I can still recall the inscription word for word even though the book is at home — to Debbie, whose comrade in animal rights I am proud to be. It was signed October 1984.
How did I meet him?
Well in my 4th year at school I decided to launch a campaign against the Canadian seal hunt with friend Mandy, who follows this Blog and who is a great friend to this day. We wrote to various celebrities to ask them to support us and join us on the sponsored walk we were organising. Someone had told me Richard Adams did a lot of campaigning. We found his address in Who’s Who and he wrote right back to us. He said that after hip operations at the then age of 64 he wasn’t up for walking but if we could book a hall he would come and give a talk about the seal hunt and sign his books.
And that’s exactly what we did. One of these days I will dig out some of the photos of back then, me aged 15! Mullet and all!
But it was the beginning of what is now almost a thirty-year friendship. We have visited him many times and of course he penned a new story at the grand age of 90 for the Gentle Footprints book. I smile when I know my graduation photo used to sit on the desk in his library and he tells me he has kept all my letters, as I have his. He says we should publish them!!! It makes me smile because my letters were funny slangy Essex girl chit chatting about all sorts and his were erudite and talked about books and the garden. But he said he loved them and he said once how he ‘must look up this Barry Manilow chap you talk so fondly of.’ I wonder if he ever did? And one time he told me that while he wasn’t into pop music, preferring the classics, he was ‘rather taken with these girls called Atomic Kitten.’
I always wanted to be a writer and so it seems only fitting that I befriended a famous writer! Perhaps it’s only more now I have taken a real interest in process, and how it was working with an editor. I heard long ago the story about how he wrote Watership Down for his girls. He used to make it up at bedtimes and eventually one of his daughters suggested he write it down. What then interested me was how much it changed in that process. He says it was rejected 7 times before it was accepted. Only 7 was my reaction — but then that’s not surprising! He says he never expected it to sell more than 2000 copies which was the idea he had for the first print run. He tells me that even today he ‘could live on’ the royalties from that book alone. Now that’s he position to be in! And to make us aspiring writers even more jealous — it was the first fiction he wrote! Wow.
Richard Adams is the loveliest man, learned, well spoken, articulate and he seems to share the fondness I have for him as he talks to me with a huge smile and likes to hold my hand as we talk. He laughed and said yesterday that what he loves about me is he can sit back and let me do all the talking! What is he trying to say? A chatterbox — me? But he had a big smile when he said it and I saw nothing but affection. He also asked me to explain the concept of ebooks to him (he knows he gets lots of royalties from them but isn’t sure of what it means!) I offered to take my Kindle along on my next visit!
He looked better than he has looked for a while, not bad for almost 93. And what fascinated me was what he was reading. I saw a collection of short stories by Somerset Maugham on his table, Storkie and co by Rudyard Kipling and a contemporary one, Tin Toys Trilogy by Ursula Holden. He asked me if I read and I said of course. “It’s the most important thing for any writer to do,” he told me.
He asked me if I think my novel is a winner. Hard to answer really — he rephrased, did I have confidence in it? I had to say yes, of course but I held his hand and said but I think I can only dream of it enjoying the kind of success Watership Down and indeed his other novels have! But he insisted I send him a signed copy that he said he will pay for! I told him after all the books of his that have plopped on my doormat over the years, signed and with a letter from him, a free copy is my absolute pleasure. He has said many times that if there is anything he can do to help my career I only have to ask. How kind of him. But he has done enough just by being a part of my life. Of course if he loves my novel (although given his affection for classics and real literary writing I’m not sure how he will take to a psychological thriller set in the US) but if he likes it and wants to tell people I will not stop him!
In their late years, with his granddaughter about to get married this summer, Richard Adams and his wife have many things still to look forward to. They now have people who pop in and take care of them, a PA who gets him up and dressed in the mornings. And interestingly, as we met yesterday he now has a chess champion visit him once a week to play chess to keep his mind active. I sneaked a peek at him as he cogitated the next move. He said for the first time he won yesterday and put it down to being St Georges Day and as I added Shakespeare’s birth and death anniversary. How literary is that?
As I left he held my hand again and a big kiss full on the lips. “You will stay in touch won’t you,” he said — after all these years as if I wouldn’t?! And he made me promise to keep him posted about the novel and said he was eagerly awaiting it. So I got to thinking as we left his village and passed the real Watership Down that I could only ever dream of his success. Not sure my little novel will do what his did … but a girl can dream. And last night I dreamed of rabbits. Again.
No Blog tomorrow as I will be traveling back to North Wales so see you on Friday!