Monday, 27 February 2012

ABIDE WITH ME Fact and Fiction (1): Christmas

When I first began writing ABIDE WITH ME, all I had to work with was a picture in my head of a young boy laying down in front of the telly watching the 1975 FA Cup Final, and the knowledge that across the road a boy the same age was suffering.  I had no idea how the story would unfold, but I knew from that moment the idea of childhood would play a major part.

For John, the narrator of ABIDE WITH ME, to have any credibility at all, his experiences needed to be based on reality - my reality.  I was born in August 1969.  John was born a few years earlier.  I grew up in Romford, a few miles outside of the heart of East London where John was born.  To this end, we shared similar childhood experiences, though not identical.   My job as a writer was to transpose my experiences onto John's, expanding here, tinkering there, crystalising my experience to their essence.

Almost all the childhood elements in ABIDE WITH ME, therefore, are based, some completely, others loosely, on my own.

For instance, the opening of the Christmas scene in chapter five:

'Every Christmas I get a pillow case at the end of me bed, stuffed full. Nothing much, you know, bars of chocolate, colourin books, socks, 'Roy of the Rovers' annual. Things like that.'

That was mine and Stu's.  Every Christmas.  Fantastic :)
'And Grandad's built a doll's house for Becky out of wood. Roof comes off, front comes open, bits of furniture, everything.'
In reality, my grandad one Christmas built me a castle out of wood with a working drawbridge, all painted up, with proper slits in the turrets, and everything.  And he built Stu a fort complete with an office for Captain Cody - with his name on it - and the whole thing all varnsihed up.  So clever, he was.  My granddad.

 And every Christmas, we'd get up early, open our presents, bacon sarnies cooked by Mum, then it was down me nan and grandad's for the rest of the day.  My aunt and uncle and me cousins all lived across the road, so they'd pile over too.  A whole day of family.  A round of giving out the mountain of presents piled up round Nan and Grandad's Christmas tree, massive Christmas dinner - wallpaper table set up for the kids, the adults at the big table - then we'd all settle down for a lazy afternoon of playing with our toys and having just the best time.  In the evening the tables would be filled up again, this time with ham and chicken and crisps and all sorts of nibbly things.  The drink would be out then, and all us kids would be treated to a sip of a Snowball - with a cherry on top.  Then it was all round the telly for Guns of Navarrone.

Yes.  In my childhood, The Guns of Navarrone really was on every Christmas.

'Christmas Day, with all of us there, Mum, Dad, Becky, me two aunties and Uncle Derek, Nan and Grandad, that was the best Christmas ever'

And in my childhood, Christmas always was.


  1. That bought back some memories. My dad made me a petrol station / garage one year out of wood. I remember the Guns of Navarone too, and unfortunatley, The sound of music.

  2. Yeah, sorry about the Sound of Music memory there, Charlie. Painful, I know. The petrol station sounds great. And it's funny, you can still get castles and forts and petrol stations, but they're all plastic. And contain not an ounce of love. Great days, mate. Cheers for the memory :)

  3. Magic - thanks for the insight, Ian.

    1. No problem, mate. Learning as I go, here. Every time I glance through the book, something else hits me about where it really came from. Like me soul writ bare, mate, completely unintentionally, except all in code, you know :)

  4. If I saw "Fiddler on the roof" once during the christmas holiday I saw it a million of times. My Mother's favourite movie, the only time she'd sit and watch a film each year.

    (still found time to watch a load of soaps tho!)

    1. Could never get through Fiddler on the Roof, Gordon. That Topol bloke used to scare the life out of me. The Great Escape, of course, was always an old favourite. As was Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. Loved that one.