It is a cliché that our childhoods are filled with memories of warm summer days, rarely marred by bad weather. The summer of 1947 epitomises that notion for me and is one reason why I set my novel Summer Day in that particular summer.
In England the year began with heavy snow and bitter cold. I had turned five the previous November and should have started school at the end of the Christmas break.
Snow drifts had piled up against the ground floor windows of our cottage. Travelling the 3 miles to the village school was impossible. The thaw did not come until March. I entered school after the Easter break.
That exceptionally cold winter was followed by an equally exceptional summer. One not repeated until global warming began to make such summers common place in the UK.
But 1947 was extraordinary in other ways. The post-war Labour government had been in place for 2 years and the details of key policies had received legislative approval and would begin to be implemented in the following year.
The NHS, education reforms, including raising the school leaving age from 14 to 15 and making secondary education available to a broader range of pupils, segregated by an examination taken at 11.
The nationalisation of coal, energy and steel production as well as goods and passenger transportation systems, had all passed the stage of heated debate into a period of phased implementation.
It seemed appropriate to incorporate some of that debate, especially the reaction of some members of the medical and education establishment in a small community.
The central character is a few years older than I was that summer. Like me, he is a lonely boy. His brother and sister are both much older.
The farm his family works is too far from the village to make it possible for regular contact with his fellow pupils outside of school hours.
Then, as now, summer school holidays were long. But for a farm boy they would likely be filled with the need to take some part in the work of caring for animals, tilling and harvesting crops.
Some readers have suggested that he is autistic. That was not my deliberate intention but I concede that I have portrayed him as retarded, both intellectually and emotionally, when compared to children of the same age in today’s world.
As for the other characters who participate in the search for him as the day progresses, they are almost all based on people I knew back then.
Of course, how we see grown ups and their concerns when we are children is very different to the way they see themselves or each other.
And, with the passage of years – more than 60 in this case – my own memory of that childish view of them is also bound to be distorted.
So I can say with confidence that ‘any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.’
The book began life as a short story entitled Bad Boy, written during a series of workshops with the Laois writer and creative writing tutor John Maher in the spring of 2009.
That story eventually appeared in the anthology Pulse of Life, published in November 2011 by the Laois Writers’ Group.
But in that form there was a long unfilled day between the shooting incident and discovery of the boy. I wanted to explore what might have happened during those hours; to the boy, to the dog and to the other family members.
I also wanted to gain a better understanding of the boy and to examine the attitudes of some of the people he encounters.
Few things in my life have made me feel as proud as the review of the book in which my writing was compared to that of Laurie Lee.
Like Lee’s work, it is, on one level, a piece of nostalgia. It’s up to readers to decide if the time and place I’ve depicted is more or less idyllic than the world we inhabit today.
Summer Day is available at the special price of $1.99 from now until December 31st.