When I started thinking about a fourth short story to include in my book, ‘Eavesdropper – Dawlish Tales from Long Ago’, I intended to go back another hundred years to the time when Henry VIII was on the throne and falling out with the Catholic Church. However, information about Dawlish at that time is rather scarce and I was still wanting to inject some measure of truth or realism into the tales. However, a story just wouldn’t start to form in my mind.
No matter, I thought. How about coming forward a hundred years to 1940? That made me think about life in Dawlish during the 2nd World War. The war wouldn’t have impacted on the town compared with, say, Exeter, which suffered horrendously during the Blitz in 1942, but the residents would have been impacted in other ways. As it happened, I was watching a repeat of Dad’s Army on TV and a story started to take shape in my mind.
My way of writing is to have the bare bones of a tale in my mind and then start typing. I always find that the meat of a story starts to flesh out when I’m sitting in front of a keyboard. My typing is quite slow and my mind is usually a few lines ahead of the screen!
I started off knowing that my interaction with the characters had to continue to grow. A complete scene where I was talking to long-dead Dawlish people which, nevertheless, would have some degree of plausibility about it. Thus, the Sea Rescue was conceived.
Sub-consciously, I had become something of a do-gooder in each of the stories and so it turned out once more. I hadn’t actually realised this until I asked my friend, Carolyn Raby, to read the early chapters and pass comment. She is also a proof-reader so was able to point out a few typos and other errors. Her assessment was that she loved the stories but commented that I seemed to be fixated by being a do-gooder, traveling through time like some sort of Super-Hero! That was something I took on board for future stories!
I decided that I wasn’t content with just being restricted to the town all the time, which is why I managed to get to Dawlish Warren after finding a florin on The Lawn and catching a bus. This was when I really started to think how important it was to describe my surroundings so that readers of the book would find it easier to immerse themselves in the period that the story was set. For example, the houses along Exeter Road had only been built a few years before the war, while the Langstone Cliff Hotel was still a private house until 1947. My walk back along the seawall involved a steam train rather than a diesel train.
My encounter with the Home Guard, who were training on the beach, managed to include the rescue of two fishermen, whose boat had sunk, but also some Dad’s Army-type humour. Once again, all was well at the finale. My return to the Lawn gave me another chance to describe what I saw in the town. Is it accurate? I don’t know, but the flavour of the time is captured, I hope.
At this stage, my mind was already thinking where to go next! I decided to go to the other extreme and try to imagine what some of the earliest settlers – The Saxons – would have been up to if I paid them a visit. Not that I can decide in advance where my dreams are going to take me. Rather like Doctor Who, I am at the mercy of my dreams to take me where they want!
This next tale is, of course, complete fantasy but I let my imagination run riot and try to find similarities in the landscape that readers will recognise. I also bring into the story a visit to a religious building on the site of St Gregory’s Church, but pre-dates it by many hundreds of years. It’s a heart-warming tale.
David Force – Author and Historian.
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