When I started writing the first chapter of The Basilwade Chronicles, I had no idea it would eventually be included in a book. It was simply a short story written to present at one of the Basildon Writers’ Group meetings, where once a month, members read a short story or excerpt from a work in progress. Sometimes we set a writing prompt and one particular month, we were asked to write a story about a man who was socially inept and rather tactless.
I tried to think of a situation which might be considered a social minefield which my character could mishandle, and I came up with speed-dating. The name Derek Carruthers popped into my head (apologies to anyone with that name!) as being perfect for my man and I made a start. Not surprisingly, by the end of the story, Derek doesn’t leave with anyone’s contact details However, he does meet a woman – Mary Wilson, who is as disenchanted with him, as he is with her. (A Question of Timing https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2017/09/a-question-of-timing.html ).
I liked Derek and Mary so much, I decided I’d write another story involving them, to read out at the following meeting of the writers’ group. At the end of that story, a new character was introduced, Florrie Fanshawe, who I included in a third story.
Each month after that, I took one or more people from the previous story and wrote them into a new tale. As well as tactless Derek Carruthers, there were characters such as the selfish vicar with a penchant for pickled onions, the ostentatious clairvoyant with mesmerising eyes, the would-be entrepreneur with an unhealthy inclination to bear a grudge and the couple in the retirement home who had traumatised the young cleaner because they were often found in the broom cupboard together.
Each month, after I’d read a story out at the Basildon Writers’ Group meeting, I submitted it to the CaféLit website, and I was thrilled that each one was accepted by Gill. She suggested publishing them as a book, so I decided I needed a way to conclude all the stories and thought I’d write a final chapter where two of the characters, Sidney Jugg and Betty Bentwhistle get married. In that way, I could bring most of the people who’d appeared in the book back for the ceremony in a grand finale. So, I started to write. I then realised that it was much too long for one chapter and eventually, I divided it into three chapters – The Hen Night, The Stag Do and The Perfect Wedding.
I submitted the final three chapters, which were published on the CaféLit site and to my delight, Gill said Chapeltown would publish the manuscript as a Kindle book and paperback.
Because each chapter is a stand-alone story, which has its own title, I hadn’t considered a title for a book. Gill suggested The Basilwade Chronicles, since the tales were set in the fictitious town of Basilwade – a name I’d made up to be similar to Basildon, and the book was published in December 2019.
Jacqui James, chairman of the Basildon Hospital Radio, also presents a show on Basildon’s local radio, Gateway 97.8FM. The Basildon Writers’ Group has links with Jacqui and both radio stations. Throughout 2019, one member of our writers’ group was featured each month in a slot on Jacqui’s show which she called ‘The Book Club’. When The Basilwade Chronicles came out, Jacqui invited me on to the show to talk about it and to read a chapter and after I’d finished reading, she told me she had a regular guest on her show who she thought would be excellent at narrating some of the stories. The guest turned out to be aptly named, John Guest, who, at that time, was the vicar at St Margaret’s Church, Stanford-le-Hope. Jacqui set up a meeting between us so we could discuss John recording several chapters. I checked with Gill and she was happy for them to be recorded for the radio station.
The stories John chose were the three which included the character, Reverend Forbes-Snell, the pickled onion-loving vicar, and he recorded them at the radio studios just before the first lockdown in 2020. Although I was invited to the recording, my family was in isolation so I had to miss it. However, Jacqui sent me the audio files and she was correct, John is excellent at reading in different voices and he brings Reverend Forbes-Snell and the other characters to life.
After John had recorded the first Basilwade story, he asked me if the characters sounded like I’d expected and I realised I hadn’t had any preconceptions about how any of them would sound. In my imagination, I can see the characters acting out their parts in all the stories, and I know what makes them tick, but I hadn’t thought about how they might sound. However, as soon as I heard John’s interpretation of each of the characters, I thought they were perfect and now when I imagine the characters, they speak in the voices John gave them!
The stories read by John were well received and Jacqui was keen to have all the stories read, so after checking with Gill, John recorded all the chapters and either he read them live or the recordings were played on Gateway and Basildon Hospital Radio over nineteen weeks. Having recorded all the stories, we were already half way to making an audio-book and Gill arranged the rest of the process.
Jacqui told me she had a regular listener, Mike, from Tasmania who tuned in to listen to John read the Basilwade stories on her show on Gateway and Basildon Hospital Radio. Apparently, he prefers them to Australian radio programmes!
And also, from the streaming monitors, the stations could see there was someone in Canada who listened regularly.
The stories must have been well received because now The Macaroon Chronicles has been published, John will start reading that book in January on Jacqui’s show, Good Afternoon, on Wednesday at 1pm on Gateway 97.8FM and also on Basildon Hospital Radio – lockdown permitting, of course.
On Gateway and Basildon Hospital Radio, during December and the lead up to Christmas, John was invited to record and read two Christmas stories I ‘d written which include several of the Basilwade characters, Hetty’s Basilwade Christmas https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2020/12/hettys-basilwade-christmas.html and Mr and Mrs Jugg’s First Christmas https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2020/12/mr-and-mrs-juggs-first-christmas.html. If everyone had heard enough from Basilwade, I imagine those stories would not have been broadcast!
John, how did you get the idea for how each character should sound?
First I read through each person to see if there were any clues to how they might sound from what they said, then I checked them out with Dawn to see if she liked them and were how she "visualised" them. The key was that as it is a humorous book the characters need to be fairly comical and so the accents were exaggerated!
Dawn: I rather like Hetty, the sister of the selfish vicar, Wilbur Forbes-Snell. Although at first, she’s downtrodden and unappreciated, Hetty reaches a milestone in her life and realising that if she doesn’t do something soon, she’ll be trapped in the vicarage being the dogsbody forever, she makes plans to escape the drudgery. One of the Christmas stories I wrote carries on with Hetty’s story and we find out what happened when she returned to the vicarage at Christmas (Hetty’s Basilwade Christmas https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2020/12/hettys-basilwade-christmas.html. But as well as feeling sympathy for Hetty, I also loved Mrs McSquirtle, Wilbur’s lazy housekeeper, who does very little other than drink the vicar’s sherry and cause mayhem, especially in her story A Meal of Biblical Proportions, https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2018/08/a-meal-of-biblical-proportions.html when she gets her own back on the vicar by showing him up in front of the bishop! She’s so naughty, I find her quite lovable!
John: If I can cheat and pick two, I'd say Auntie Edie and Florrie Fanshaw. They are strong women who don't suffer fools gladly and both have distinctive voices - one from the north and one from the south. They are quite bossy but know their own minds! They remind me of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg in the Discworld books.
John, how did you come to do this sort of work?
I was "headhunted" by Jacqui James from Gateway
as I had already worked with her for BHR doing inspirational stories for
patients. I had always planned to do some part-time audio work
following retirement as I love to use my voice for reading,
especially with children. I have written several books of stories and
often use them in school assemblies.
John, what are the technical challenges? Now I am also doing the editing of the readings I had to get up to speed very quickly on the best way to do it. I now use a high quality mike and a great sound editing programme called AUDACITY. I am fortunate to have a room in my garage that is naturally sound proofed by having the walls lined with books. I am learning all the time and now offer a full editing service along with my audio reading.
Do you have any other similar projects lined up.
John: Yes - I hope to audio
read Dawn's follow up book The Macaroon Chronicles which has even more
scope for comic voices and accents. I am currently engaged in
an extensive project audio-reading 8 plus books by
an Algarve-based published author called Trevor Holman. It
usually takes two to three hours to prepare and edit one hour of reading.
I am also reading on Gateway radio live once a week on Jacqui's programme.
Dawn: Yes! I have
another set of stories about the gardens of a stately house and the garden
gnomes, marble elves and other garden ornaments who live there. The stories
were written in a similar way to The
Basilwade Chronicles and The Macaroon
Chronicles which is the next book in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’, in that they both started life as one
story and I carried on using characters from that story to write others. I call
the manuscript ‘The Crispin Chronicles’ – Crispin being a marble elf, who is
the main character throughout the stories.
Why do you think audio-books are becoming so
John: Audio books are so convenient and people can listen on
phones/ear-pods etc. whilst doing other things indoors and out. The
important thing is to get a good clear reader who brings the narrative to life.
Audiobooks are inexpensive and highly convenient and can be accessed by
everyone, especially those with special needs.
Dawn: Audio-books are far more widely available now than they used to be and so convenient for people who are on the go. They’re definitely my favourite format for books. I’ve found that spending so much time on my computer means I often get headaches and since I haven’t been able to have an eye test during this pandemic year, I’ve had to limit my screen time and my reading time. But of course, audio-books are perfect as I can ‘read’ a book without even looking at it. And it’s great to be able to multi-task and to ‘read’ while I’m ironing or chopping vegetables!
Thank you Dawn and John. You can find the audio book here.
We have some review copies to give away. Contact us for a code for a one time listen. Here a sample here.