First, thank you for subscribing and welcome to this, my first newsletter.
Chrome Audio, the company that produced the lovely audio-CD of Stranger in the House, which came out last autumn, is about to publish The Colonel of Tamarkan in abridged form. Being abridged felt to me rather like having my hair cut by Edward Scissorhands – unnerving but the result a lovely surprise. Neville Teller is an experienced abridger (he did Stranger too) and he has managed, I think very successfully, to keep the feeling of the book whilst reducing it to fit into three and a half hours of audio. The choice of Anton Lesser to read The Colonel was inspired and from the minute it was suggested I knew it was not only right but perfect.
The story of the Death Railway is at its most poignant when told first hand. During the course of researching The Colonel of Tamarkan I spoke to many former Far Eastern prisoners of war and I was always moved by their personal accounts.
Anton was in the middle of rehearsing for Ibsen’s The Doll’s House and he took time on a precious day off to record the book. I was in Oxford watching the City Bumps in which Simon was rowing but I raced down to London for the lunch-break and to meet Anton at the little studio in Swiss Cottage. He emerged from the recording room with his glasses on a chain around his neck and looking slightly dazed, as I am sure anyone would after four solid hours of reading. It was a thrilling moment to meet this remarkable actor, whom I greatly admire, and to listen to him talking about how he interpreted the words and actions of my grandfather. He said it was easier than recording a Dickens novel as he only had to keep a dozen or so characters in his head rather than scores as he did when he read Great Expectations. He asked me how he thought he should read the last chapter of the book about my grandfather’s death and we decided he should read it straight and without emotion.
When it came to adding a bit of music to the audio she and I discussed what would be appropriate. In the end she decided to commission a whistling of the original 1914 Colonel Bogey march. To our astonishment the musician, Shannon Harris, had a strong link to the FEPOW story – his grandfather was imprisoned by the Japanese in a POW camp in Java. It is a truly wonderful recording and I hope you enjoy it. The audio-CD is out shortly. To pre-order a copy you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the strange things I find about writing is that it is at once a lonely but also intensely social thing to do. Meeting archivists and librarians is one of the great pleasures for me and I thought I would just mention them here. They do an extraordinary job looking after papers, letters, documents, diaries, photographs and they do it day in, day out and often without any thanks. One archive I worked in four years ago was the Baring Archive at ING in central London. Not the place you would expect to find a treasure trove but I can promise you it is. The archivists have kept it in perfect order throughout stormy times, and the amount of detail and colour it brings to the life of a family owned bank in the early twentieth century is wonderful. I have just heard that the Baring Archive has been granted Designated status. It might not change your life but it means that a very important, if tiny, slice of our social history is secure. Bravo to archives and archivists.
I’m always delighted to hear from anyone with feedback or general comments so do please get in touch if you wish, especially as this is a maiden voyage.
18 August, Oxford
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