whose life in print?

I'm currently reading Bill Pearson's novel Coal Flat, set in Blackball soon after World War Two. I start to get articulate about my feelings on this book and then I lose the threads in front of the screen, recognise them as wavering threads, easily pushed aside like a cobweb across the doorframe.

The main character in Coal Flat is unsure of where he stands on socialism. Sometimes he feels quite clear on his conviction for a socialist society and other times he finds himself arguing and on wobbly terrain in the company of other socialists, men more sure of themselves and their purpose than himself.

I'm pretty interested in this character. I want to know if he finds clear conviction by the end of the book (I am half way through).

It exerts a pull, Blackball does. A place with character which isn't what they call character when places have lots of old cooking utensils strung up on the ceiling and apparently that is character, period charmer, atmospheric.

We came up to Blackball to the pub when we first moved to Wetville just over four years ago. Met some friendly people and enjoyed the sunshine. In summer it is hard to fathom how wet and foggy and relentless the weather is in winter in Blackball, or in much of the Grey Valley. I saw the photo of Micky Savage in the bar and began to learn the story of the 08 strike and the union beginnings here and West Coast militancy. I can't remember any more how much I knew before we got here.

I remember taking my in laws up there - raining it was of course - and the carefully restrained silence about buying a house in Blackball as we drove past houses decorated with rusted car shells on their front lawns.

As we made good friends with Paul and Caroline and got involved in the Blackball Working Class History project, we began a link which brings us up the valley more purposefully. When someone dies, it is of the pub in Blackball I think to take us, where we are away from home yet peaceful.

Now Paul has sent me a proposal that we organise a plaque for Bill Pearson at the local high school as Pearson loved his time there, according to the biography which Paul has just read. Which is an excellent idea and I can see that now that the museum is open and on its feet, Paul has found not just himself but myself a new project.

I was the generation which had some New Zealand literature at school and plenty of it to read at the library. I took for granted what earlier men and women had written and campaigned for - a widening of the canon. But it was still intensely wonderful when I read Maurice Gee (somewhere in the Plumb trilogy I think but not sure) describing my corner of New Zealand. The part between Stoke and Richmond, the part where not only have I ridden my bike and driven endlessly (before the soulless new motorway of course), but also where some of my maternal relatives grew apples and made cider 150 years ago.

Reading Coal Flat is quite exciting because it is here, or near. Our world in print. I remember reading Rose Tremain's book The Colour not long before we moved here. Just before we left London, a friend and I went to the launch of Tremain's then latest book of short stories. I introduced myself at the end and told her I was about to live on the West Coast, where she had taken inspiration from a museum exhibit for the book. Her initially gracious and interested expression faded as she realised I wasn't a passing enthusiast for the stories on display at the museum but someone hick enough to live there. Outpost of nowhere.

But Pearson is born and bred. A Coaster. It's not a slick story so far, but it is interesting.


Ange said…
My mum's family are dotted around the Coast, and we go back there pretty regularly. Blackball is lovely, I agree. But yes, that relentless low cloud and rain in the winter ...

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