I write stories with the hope that part of me will be left behind long after I’ve gone. I will take readers on a journey long after I have shuffled off this mortal coil. Not having children means I leave part of me behind in my writing; the best part I hope. My mind.
So it is with great sadness that I begin 2017’s posts with the passing of the literary legend, Richard Adams, known most for Watership Down although he told me his favourite was always The Girl In A Swing. Now, what a legacy he leaves in his literary works!
I knew Mr Adams from the age of fifteen when I wrote to a number of my heroes asking for their support in my campaign against seal culling. While he declined my offer to take part in a sponsored walk, claiming to be in his sixties and having recently had a hip replacement, he did offer to come to the school for free and talk about the plight of the Canadian harp seals. And boy did he talk with fire and emotion. Not a dry eye in the room! He also signed books to us and the one that I have and hold most dear is Plague Dogs that bears the inscription: To Debbie, whose comrade in animal rights I am proud to be.’
Friend Mandy, Richard Adams, me at fifteen
After that, we attended several talks, marched against the fur trade in London with the likes of Bill Oddie and while Richard was unable to march he did talk. I also visited him in his Whitchurch home many many times over the years. I recall sitting a great number of times in his library with its impressive stained glass window looking at the first edition of the likes of Beatrix Potter in total awe.
Somewhere I have lots of photos that I must dig out! I remember him taking Mandy and I to a bird of prey sanctuary and we took lots of photos.
After that I kept in touch with him and his wife, Elizabeth, and so began a dialogue; letters almost every week at one point, then every month, him telling me his erudite tales of his travels all over the world, me twittering on about Barry Manilow concerts and college. It didn’t matter, it was a dialogue that I will treasure for all the years of advice and fun he brought to those replies. What stood strong was our shared compassion for animals and when we won the first battle against the seal cull he phoned me from Brussels where he was campaigning to tell me the good news. I then went on the radio to talk about it.
He learned of broken hearts in my love life, successes and failures at uni, at work, serious health issues… and more Barry Manilow — who he confessed to not knowing but he would try, although he preferred classical music!
My parents and I have seen Benwell’s his home many times in all the seasons and I have sat with him in his garden admiring the roses more times than I can recall. He told me of the peacock who regularly visited his garden and he asked to read some of my work long before it had been read by anyone else.
When I had my first publishing success he asked for a signed copy, can you imagine! He has sent me many signed copies of his novels over the years! So I sent him Making Changes in which I had the first story and many others followed. He was very complimentary saying that what I did so well was capture voice… and never to give up! Many of these short story collections grace that magnificent library of his, when the people from Oxford University come as he told he had left the collection to them, what will they make of that? My novel is there of course as well and my graduation photo sat on his desk for many years.
When he turned ninety the last thing he wrote for me was a wild animals story for our charity collection for Born Free, Gentle Footprints. I initially asked him for a foreword, thinking that was cheeky, when he peered at me over his glasses and asked, “My dear, you are not going to ask me to write a story for this worthy collection?” Yes!!! Of course, I told him and he did. It’s unusual, almost experimental and it gets into the mindset of a leopard in a unique and interesting way.
I later interviewed him for the book (Virginia McKenna wrote the foreword in the end!) about animal stories that have most inspired him. He did want to attend the launch at Hay in 2010 but mobility issues and being hard of hearing kind of stopped that in the end so Virginia did that (incredibly well!) without him. But I did talk to journalist Paul Blezard and we managed to visit to celebrate his 90th with cake and had this in the Independent On Sunday…
If you want to read his last story and also support a cause dear to his heart, profits to Born Free then here it is… I have a story in here and edited the collection!
Buy me (please note there is not an audio download so do not use that link!)
I continued to visit Richard until a couple of years ago when he was still having chess lessons from some of the champions on a weekly basis and his mind was as astute as ever. But sadly with his mobility issues and his wife’s declining health, she has always cooked for us over the years, a wonderful woman and a ceramics expert, and writer, we realised that us going there was harder for them and while we insisted she did not have to cook, we would just pop in, I think we all knew the last time we went, was probably going to be the last. I did still send the occasional letter, and always a Christmas card but the replies stopped coming, as you might expect.
So it was with great sadness I looked at my phone last Tuesday (December 27th) as we were returning from a day out to see that he has passed away.There was a missed call from the BBC and a request to talk about him on air; which I did gladly. Only a couple of minutes on BBC Radio Wales, but I felt it was right, as someone who had got to know him well over the years.
Here’s a photo we took when we visited on his 90th birthday… God how fat do I look?
Phil (friend and journalist), Richard Adams and me! 2010
I don’t know if I can go to his funeral although I have asked when it might be, but I do know that this man, this wonderful, intelligent, kind, erudite man was an amazing writer and a fearless campaigner for animal rights all of his life… and that for me he will be so dearly missed.
I wonder if he did ever listen to Barry Manilow? Perhaps it’s best we never know.
RIP Richard Adams, 9 May 1920 – 24 December 2016
A dear friend, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, husband…. will be dearly missed.