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The Old Time Paperback – 14 May 2008
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About the Author
I am not important. The book is important. Let me tell you how it came about. I lived for a year in El Salvador when the war broke out into the open, 1989-1990, and one Saturday I went out for a run through the villages on the slopes of the San Salvador volcano. It was a wonderful day and I came back thrilled that I had been out for so long and had had such a good run. I felt so healthy. I had a shower and sat on the sofa. I felt very calm and peaceful. All of a sudden an idea came into my mind about an old man reminiscing to his grandchildren about the wonderful things that had happened to him in his life, and especially his childhood, which bore, I have to say, an uncanny resemblance to my own. I could see the ending where the old man takes the grandchildren down to the bottom of the garden at four o' clock in the morning to see the urban foxes that wandered around at that time, which was an echo of my experience in Birmingham before I had come to Salvador. Luckily there was nobody in the house. I went into my little room where I had an electronic typewriter set up (no computers then) and for four hours without a break I wrote down the old man's story as though it were being dictated to me. Later, I fiddled around with it, blowing up a few sections here and there and adding a few scenes. The story grew. It was getting long for a children's book, but I knew that I could sort that out later. Two years afterwards, back in England again, as I was adding a few early scenes to the old man's life, I suddenly realized that I wasn't writing a children's book at all. It was my book. It was about my childhood, not his, not this imaginary narrator's. It was about the nineteen fifties. It was about the world I had grown up in. There would be no foxes, no grandchildren. No great 'wisdom' would come out of it. Instead there was a much more difficult and demanding task, which was, in effect, to start over and recast everything in another light. That's when the going got rough. The Old Time is the outcome. I commend it to you. Contact the author via email: email@example.com
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A lot of the book is set in school with all the comedy of school-room dramas. Laurie Lee in Cider With Rosie does the best rurual school house chapter that I know but I have not copied him though. My generation had much more fun and by the time we were fifteen we had reached the era of Teddy Boys and fancy haircuts and teenage culture generally. So naturally I write about the whole business of dates and getting fixed up by your mates to meet girls outside the cinema, which suggest the new world that was shortly to come into being.
The book includes the now virtually compulsory description of blackberry picking where the whole of the primary school swept onto Hell Bottom common for an afternoon of madness. It describes school boxing matches. It's full of drama with lots of real dialogue - more like a novel in some ways. It's funny and sad and turns its own pages. My mother was widowed in the war and I grew up an only child, and that gave me an unusual perspective. I commend it to you.
Oh, and by the way, I set the book in 12 point Baskerville type for easy reading, and it measures 8 inches by 5 so it fits in your bag and your pocket and can easily be read in bed.
Comer touches upon it all. It made me stop and recall similar moments in my own childhood. It is an hommage to that but also to his mother. Her grace and care shine through.
Now kids have mobile phones, safety orders, SATs and shopping malls to play in. This book reminds us that there was a time for something else. A time of innocence.
It is a poignant read and all the better for that.