Please welcome Bill Rogers to Dickens and I... today and my thanks to him for a really heartfelt contribution.
I first met Bill's writing whilst helping to judge the LongBarn debut novel award, and my fellow judges and I had no doubt about short listing his book The Cleansing.
Bill's first career encompassed roles as a teacher, Principal Inspector of Schools & Head of the Manchester School Improvement Service, Lead Network Facilitator with the National College for School Leadership, and Fellow of the Teaching Awards. He is currently the author of seven novels – including the DCI Tom Caton Manchester Crime Series and that debut novel, The Cleansing, which also earned him the ePublishing Consortium Writers Award in 2011.
My story begins on a cold January night, on the northern edge of London’s East End. Bursts of orange and red punctuate the sulphurous London smog. The cry of a newborn baby echoes the wail of sirens, as agents of death fall from an ink black sky. It was a Dickensian beginning. And so the story progressed.
During my seventh year my mother, my father, sister, and I were relocated to South Oxhey - made famous last year by Gareth Malone’s TV programme The Choir - a sprawling council estate built to re-house victims of the Blitz. My parents were already terminally ill; my mother with leukaemia, my father with TB. Mum died the following Christmas, Dad, shortly before I sat the 11 plus. My sister and I were alone in the world.
I was sent to a Boarding School in Hitchin, which now has a website devoted to the harsh regime inflicted on us pupils. Before I left home, our neighbours, Phyllis & Lew Isaacs, gave me a boxed, polished Morocco, hard backed copy of Great Expectations.
It was my first introduction to the rich and fascinating world of Charles Dickens, and became a lifeline. Already in trauma, I found it impossible to concentrate during the three hour study sessions every evening. Instead, I made up stories in my head. At night I read one Dickens’ novel after another, beneath the blankets, with the aid of a torch. Each morning brought a caning for homework neglected.
My adolescent mind found resonance with Pip, Oliver Twist, Mr Squeers, and Dotheboys Hall. I moved on to Thomas Hardy, Steinbeck, and D.H. Lawrence. But it was Dickens who propelled me to study English, Drama and History at St Mary’s College.
Nobody has captured Victorian London as effectively as Dickens. The serial nature of his work made it the archetype of the page-turner novel. Master of the social novel, he seamlessly intertwined mystery, romance, crime, class, psychology, and politics. I know he has influenced my writing, for better, and for worse. Great Expectations remains my favourite. It fed my thirst for reading, fired my imagination, and was instrumental in my desire to become a writer. It gave me hope when I most needed it.
Like most of Dickens’ novels my story has a happy ending. I met and married my Estelle. Set about helping to change schools for the better. Found a second career as an author. I can’t pretend I owe it all to Dickens, but the day that I was handed Great Expectations set me on a never ending journey of self-discovery.
“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me... Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
Chapter 9. Great Expectations.