At the age of 10, Paul Wilcox and I decided to write a history of the world. If we wrote alternate chapters it didn’t seem too onerous a task. At that age I was obsessed by the Norman Conquest and not greatly interested in the rest, but felt that I was prepared to put myself out a little for the sake of the fame and publicity. We decided that I would do the first chapter (Stone Age to Celtic Britain), he would cover the Romans and we’d take it from there. Working largely from my father’s School Certificate history textbook, I don’t think we’d clearly distinguished between British and world history. We only had a couple of ruled exercise books to fill so a degree of brevity was taken for granted.
I sat down on a Saturday afternoon and imagined what life was like for a Stone Age family. I felt that a human interest angle would be more meaningful. If I picked the specific family that then discovered bronze I could combine emotional engagement with historical narrative.
When we compared notes on Monday after school I had completed five pages and Paul had only written one. In 55 BC Julius Caesar invaded Britain. In AD 122 Hadrian built a wall. And so on.
You’ve made it up, he said. How do you know that John invented bronze on a sunny day in May? You’ve just copied down a list of dates, I said, no one is going to want to read that. You need to bring history to life through imaginative reconstruction I said. Of course you don’t, he said, it’s dead, that’s the whole bloody point. I’d never heard him swear before. He left without taking his work and before my mother had served the cake.
I felt I had the ability to see it through, but somehow without Paul I couldn’t continue. I kept both exercise books. Interestingly, neither of us had thought about how we’d manage with alternate chapters written in different notepads, although as a way of presenting history that might have been a first.
In his younger days, Nick Bevan published poems in several little magazines in the UK; in middle age he focused on committee reports for internal audiences and articles and reviews in professional journals for a slightly wider readership; most recently he has had a couple of stories published in Every Day Fiction.