Author Pamela Kelt tells how editing her father’s book brought back many family memories
My father’s book arrived in the post today.
Called Not With A Whimper, it’s a Cold War thriller set in Spain in the 1970s. Dad wrote it in the Seventies but died before he managed to get it published.
The manuscripts languished in a box for years until my stepmother moved house. Did I want them? I’m afraid at first, I felt reluctant, but I accepted dutifully.
With my husband’s assistance, I got an optical character scanner. We fiddled about, trying to get a system going. Dad’s old typewriter was a clunky classic, with erratic shift keys and chipped fonts. Finally, I managed to feed in a chapter at a time, ending with a stream-of-consciousness slab of text, riddled with erratic symbols and punctuation marks. Thank goodness the style was terse. A minimalist 60,000 words that packed a real punch.
It was an odd experience, for I could hear my father’s dry humour in the first-person narrative. Even stranger was the fact that I recognised many of the locations in the book. I had been there.
Dad was born in Dumfries and later attended the University of Edinburgh to do geography, anthropology and psychology. He married on graduation and was forced to endure National Service. Like many Scots, he moved to England to work – and obediently spent his family holidays in Scotland with the grandparents.
All this changed in the late 1960s with the arrival of the package holiday. For £35 each, he found us a fortnight in the south of Spain. The hotel was a converted bodega, literally on the beach near Chipiona. He fell in love with the continental lifestyle overnight.
One bar scene made me smile. Dad mentioned large barrels in the corner, and that was borrowed from the dining room at the hotel, which had three gigantic wine barrels. One ordered a carafe of red, white or ‘rosado’. The rosado was so rough, everyone joked it was just a mix of the red and the white. Another character was the spitting image of Juan, our favourite waiter. I struggled with the heavy dishes laced with garlic and olive oil, and he brought me cheese omelettes and chips. With double helpings of chocolate ice cream to follow.
I soon ran out of books to read, so I resorted to learning the phrase book off by heart. It came quite easily to me, and I developed a love for Spanish, which I studied for years. Dad would always find excuses to help me by testing my vocab.
The poor shopkeeper looked uncertain and produced another box. ‘Más baratos,’ insisted Dad. After much rummaging and sighing, the shopkeeper brought out more and more cigars, each time cheaper and nastier than before. Finally, he went into the back and brought out a huge grubby box of cigarillos that cost buttons. Just what Dad had wanted all the time. They smelt horrible to me, but Dad thought they were just grand.
Peter A. W. Kelt – website – http://peterawkelt.blogspot.co.uk/
Pamela Kelt – blog – http://pamkelt.blogspot.co.uk/
Crooked Cat Publishing – http://www.crookedcatbooks.com/
Pamela Kelt worked in journalism in the 1980s and is now author of six novels and a smattering of stories. She lives in Kenilworth with her husband Rob and enjoys watching her windowsill orchids grow, walking her two daft dogs and keeping up with the best murder mysteries around. Her latest project was editing her late father’s original Cold War thriller, Not With A Whimper. It will be published by Crooked Cat on 13 May in print and in digital.