‘Tell me when you’re loaded,’ says Jeff. He’s training me on the job. Our Captain has us in skirmish formation, five yards apart in the woods up on Droop Mountain. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting us to get off the track. It’s rough ground to advance over; I’ve never scrambled across fallen trees in full civil war kit while carrying a heavy Springfield musket. Life hasn’t prepared me for this. Why would it? I’m yet to fire my first shot.
I’m sleeping between two Springfield rifles. Each would be as long as I am were the bayonets fixed, but that’s not a good idea in a civil war dog tent, so called because when the soldiers first saw them they said they were only big enough for a dog. There’s two of us in here.
Sometimes, on courses or at workshops, as an ice-breaker you’re asked to say something interesting about yourself. It’s a cruel torture for introverts like myself. My line, which is really about someone else, is that my grandfather was born one-hundred and one years before me, in 1864, around the time of the burning of Atlanta. In genealogy terms it’s a big head-start, two generations and I’m all the way back in the mid-Victorian era. An off-shoot of all this, an important one to me, is...
We were in Cardiganshire, Ceredigion, over the end of May. ‘We’ being my wife, Sally, my youngest daughter, my dog and myself. We go to Wales most years. I grew up there and have a brother and sister who wisely never fought their way out. Why would you, with nook beaches backed by green hills and purple mountains, a sunset-sea to the west, fish and chips on the beach and a mandatory ice-cream every day.
People have been sending me stories lately; lots and lots of them. I'm a story magnet. This isn't some random cosmic aberration, it's because I'm helping to run a short story competition on behalf of the Steyning Festival and the West Sussex Writers. As the final day for entries approached, I received more and more stories every day; a gush of stories, a torrent of stories. They arrived faster than I could process them.
My wife and I were recently in Italy. It was a last minute thing, taking advantage of the fact that our daughter was away with her school. So at short notice I found myself standing on the worn streets of Pompeii, somewhere I’d always wanted to go without believing I ever would. Like most people, I was amazed at the scale of the place; it’s a sizeable town. It seems that the Roman Empire wasn’t made up after all.
The American Civil War statue debate seems to have dropped below the news threshold, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Unless there’s a full blown confrontation, guns and placards on show, madmen reversing cars over people, then it’s not worthy of our collective time.
The battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, just across the state line from Chattanooga, was principally fought on the 19th and 20th of September, 1863. I could barely say the word Chickamauga five years ago; now it’s a place to which I feel strongly attached. I wrote about it in my masters’ dissertation and it is the main set piece battle in my novel, Whirligig. I frequently query my connection, how an interest in the Civil War and then in writing conspired to bring me to that place. But beyond...