Story-tellers

IMG_0127There’s one big plus to living in the depths of the country: everyone who calls, however routinely, is always ready for a cup of tea and a chat. That’s something I miss now we’ve moved to the city.
There was the friendly local postman who always asked how we were; the dustman— like us, newly a grandparent— whom I found comparing rival child car seats with my husband; the cheerful man who came to read the electricity meter.
But the caller whose visit I welcomed most was John the coalman, with his extraordinary fund of colourful stories, many of them wonderfully indiscreet, involving everyone from local celebrities to members of the criminal fraternity (sometimes these were one and the same person). I’d make us both a cup of coffee and settle down for a good half hour or so of exemplary story-telling. It’s not quite the same when your fuel comes courtesy of British Gas…
One day I spotted a wagon passing along the main road, with ‘Susan G Lee’ blazoned across it. I was fascinated: I’d never seen a woman’s name on a wagon before. Was there a story there, perhaps…? The germ of a novel woke to life, began to fizz in my head. But I knew nothing about the haulage industry. On the other hand I did know someone who certainly would: John knew everybody— including the female haulage contractor concerned. But he could better than that: ‘The one you really want to talk to,’ he said, ‘is Lorna.’ She, it seemed, was a redoubtable woman from Teesdale, who’d been driving wagons for a large chunk of her sixty odd years.
He was quite right. Lorna was amazing, with a life as eventful as the plot of any novel. I even had the privilege of joining her in the cab of a massive wagon while she transported successive loads of stone from a quarry in Northumberland to a building site on Tyneside. FamilyBusiness-frontIt was from her that I learned there had been a tiny handful of female wagon drivers since the Second World War, which gave me the way into the novels that became ‘Family Business’ and ‘Queen of the Road’. QueenOfTheRoad-frontAnd, no, neither of my two heroines is Lorna or anything like her. I don’t put real people into my novels. Lorna and the other haulage contacts recommended by our coalman helped me with the research for my novel, but my characters are not any of these people, and the twists and turns of the plot are only loosely inspired by the stories they had to tell.
But I think, as writers, the stories we hear on our way through life help to shape our writing— and I’m very grateful for oral story-tellers like John and Lorna who have played their part in feeding my imagination.

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One Response to Story-tellers

  1. Julia Lund says:

    It always astonishes me where inspriation comes from, always when it’s not expected and certainly never when it’s sought.

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