The Dear Friends letters were a series of articles written both as a way of keeping Richard's circle of friends back in the UK up to date with the family's move to Canada, and as a series of articles published in the Prince George Citizen newspaper.
Dear Friends - Introduction
On New Year's Day 2005, Zoë and I were walking across a field when I finally gave voice to my grand plan. One of our friends had 'borrowed' the boys - at the time, Cameron was 7 and Conor 5 - for long enough for us to go and have lunch in one of our favourite pubs, the Bridgewater Arms in Little Gaddesden. We were early, so we walked around some of the trails around the village first (although I'm sure we called them 'footpaths' back then), and naturally we talked about the future, and our plans for moving to Canada. At that stage, we had a general concept, and a reasonable amount of confidence that we could pull it off, but not having been to the places we were talking about, it did still seem somewhat remote, and a lot of the detail was scarily vague.
The plan always was for Zoë to work, and for me to take more of an active role in looking after the boys, and to step back from the standard, south-east of England working day - I was usually out of the house for around 12 hours each day - and travelling which I had become accustomed to. There was also a vague idea that I would 'do some writing'. This was an acknowledgement by me that I had not pursued the one thing which I really wanted to do back when I had more options and more time. Having reached 40, and having spent some small amounts of time writing things for my own amusement, I was surprised to discover - thanks to various small pieces; articles in company publications, postings on websites - that I was capable of writing things which other people would read, and I enjoyed the process.
What I lacked was the time to put it into practice, and I had the half-formed concept that I would have that time in my new surroundings. And slowly, this vague plan became a more concrete idea, one which I kept to myself for some time, a way in which I could at least start the process of becoming a writer; of having the discipline to actually sit down on a daily basis and just write until something worked.
Now, as we trudged up towards the church, all the while wondering why it was so far away from the rest of the village, and whether it was time for lunch yet, I finally came out with it:
"I thought it might be an idea to write something about us moving, and send it to the local paper; see if they might be interested". Zoe didn't laugh, which I took as a good sign. As the months passed, the plan stayed in the back of my mind; perhaps there could be an article or two - maybe some observations on the differences between life in Britain and life in the frozen north. At some point, I hit upon the conceit of writing letters to our friends back home, and that seemed to crystallise things for me. I had a structure; all I needed was a way to make it work
One day in February 2006, with only a few weeks to go before we were due to depart, and with the house (more or less) sold, I thought it was time to call my own bluff, and see if anything could be made of the idea. I wrote a piece of around 1,000 words, and emailed it off. It bounced back, and I actually spent the better part of a week just trying to make contact with the Prince George Citizen. Eventually, I got through, and I got a cautiously positive response. I sent some more, and got a more enthusiastic response. In the general chaos of the time, I don't think that the impact of what I had done really sank in; my vague, seat-of-the-pants plan had actually come to fruition, and on top of all the other things I now had to do, I needed to work out how to pass myself off as a newspaper columnist.
I now have a small but significant pile of newspapers in a cupboard in our house in Prince George. In each of them is a piece of my writing, under my byline, and each time I added another one to the pile, I shook my head in wonderment. If a vague dream can turn into something so concrete, what else could I do?
Well, how about turning them into a book?Back to Non-Fiction