I had something else lined up for this month, written and ready to go, but some inner compulsion told me to post up this instead, and as I’ve based much of my writing life around inner compulsions, here goes.
I’ll begin with a story - something that happened a few weeks ago. I was writing at my desk one day when a fight broke out outside my window [my office overlooks a public passageway]. I hoped it would go away, but it doubled in ferocity so I did what's known in my family as my mum-in-old-bat-mode thing and charged out brandishing my phone, threatening to call the police – only to find myself staring into the lens of a camera.
One of my neighbours was making a film. Not in Hollywood or London, but in downtown Shrewsbury. It involved zombies, steampunk and intergalactic Nazis. I swapped a few friendly words with the actors, whose take I’d ruined, and retreated indoors.
A few nights ago, one of that film crew came knocking on my door. He’d heard I was writing a year-long blog based around the life and times of our town and wondered if a] I’d be prepared to let him know if I discovered anything about secret passages, and b] if I’d like to see photographs of him standing on top of some of our town’s most iconic [and tall] buildings.
I won’t give you my visitor’s name. Us journalists have to protect our sources. But having seen the pics, I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is somebody I’ll be writing about over the next few months.
Most people start the new year with a resolution. I started mine with a blog. Over the next year, I told myself, I would paint Shrewsbury red – by which I didn’t mean get it to vote Labour [that might have happened once, but it’s unlikely to again] but I did mean that I intended to write as often as I could manage about a town which is full of life, and which I happen to love.
Shrewsbury has a fascinating history, but it's not all history - it has a thriving contemporary life too. It has a few secrets up its sleeve, including the little-known fact that Shakespeare based a whole play on the town. It has buildings that tourists come and gawp at, and others that people pass every day, and yet nobody has a clue what lies behind their doors. It’s brimming with beauty spots and wild life. It has Darwin. It has H & M and M & S. It has otters. By God, it even has otters! And I haven’t got going on what New York owes to Shrewsbury, or on our conjuring dentists and celebrity-painting hairdressers.
Already I’ve started Open Studios interviews on town artists, and hopefully over the coming year I’ll get round as many Shrewsbury people as possible, from Big Issue girls to town councillors, fire-jugglers to ladies who lunch. The end of it all, I hope, will be some sort of picture of Shrewsbury as it is in 2013.
So, what’s driving me to do all this? Behind My Tonight From Shrewsbury lies the simple fact that life is extraordinary - wherever you happen to live. Of course I think Shrewsbury is special, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it [and certainly not under the heading, ‘Want to Get to the Heart of an English Country Town? Here’s Your Chance’]. But I know Shrewsbury’s typical as well. I could be anybody, writing about anywhere. There are stories on all our rooftops, pavements and behind our locked doors, and everybody around us has a story to tell. It’s just that I’ve decided to spend a year collecting the ones that happen to be around me.
So far I’ve written about the caged beast that is the River Severn [ie. on Shrewsbury under flood], the closure of Shrewsbury Prison [which moved to its current site from my house back in 1785] and my Enid Blyton moment in a carpet shop. I’ve interviewed Chris Quinn, a musician who’s gone from busking Shrewsbury’s main streets to playing the Royal Albert Hall; Des Walker, formerly of Boxfresh, who’s sold a multi-million pound business to open up a small local greengrocer's; and Linda Edwards, the illustrator of the Usborne Children’s Bible. In a year’s time I hope the material I’ll have amassed will be good enough to merit turning into an e-book.
It’s going to be a busy year. After a very long sabbatical I’ve also embarked upon the novel that’s been in waiting for the last, oh, forty years, and though My Tonight From Shrewsbury’s not intended as a nightly blog, I know I’ll still find myself up to my ears in research, planning, writing and interviewing.
But it’s certainly been rewarding so far. In my first twenty days I’ve been astonished to see My Tonight From Shrewsbury receive 2,400+ hits, not only from the UK but across the world. The count now includes the US, China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Poland, Finland, Iceland, France, Spain, Germany – I could go on.
A couple of days ago I set up the My Tonight from Shrewsbury Facebook page. Yesterday I put up the first My Tonight From Shrewsbury Snow Special. A couple of days ago, sadly, I wrote the blog’s first obituary. In the life of a town, people die and are born and over the next year I’m sure I’ll be writing about both.
Well, the reason I’m telling you all this [some of you may be wondering] is that over the year or so of writing for AE I’ve made some good friends, and this venture – for reasons I can’t altogether explain - is important to me and I want to share it. So do take a look at it. If you like it, Like it, Share it, [be]Friend it too. It’s big on hits but not so big on signed up friends - and if I’m to keep it going, it needs those too.
PS. If any of you are interested, I’ll be putting up my other post on the value we put on books [and Project Gutenberg’s new Cloud Library] on www.awfullybigblogadventure.blospot.co.uk on 3rd February.
Three Pauline Fisk novels, now all out on Amazon Kindle