Wow! They say it takes a village to write a book, and we’ll get to those good people in a minute. It also takes a town to set it in, in this case at least. I am grateful to the citizens of Bridgely for allowing me to walk their streets as I plotted the journey of my little boy character, Jonty, and his father, known only as ‘Dad’, all the way from their home to the supermarket.
For those who like to know the background to such things, the story has its roots in a trip I took with my son, Jonny. We needed to get some food and a few other bits, and so we decided to walk down to the local supermarket to get them. Somewhere, on the way back, a tiny light bulb exploded in my head, and by the time I got home, I had a pretty clear view of the characters, their motivations and their narrative arcs. Thank you, Bridgely!
Thus was born Let’s Go To The Supermarket! – in essence, in embryo at least. And the final result – 18 months, 13 drafts and a fair amount of blood, sweat and tears later – is this pre-school primer, this wonder of cardboard and glue, words and pictures, that you hold between your hands right now. You are so welcome.
I had thought that the actual writing of Let’s Go To The Supermarket! would be a dark, agonising experience. And so, of course, it proved. How could it be otherwise, when your raw material is the very soil of your very soul? But I had thought it would be a solitary experience too, and in this I was very wrong. Back to that village I mentioned earlier.
In Baby Gazelle Books, this writer found his perfect publishing partner. My editor provided robust feedback all the way through, weighing every plot point and scrutinising every syllable until together we had thrashed out a form and a text that enabled this book to be the very best book it could be. Baby Gazelle also provided a wonderful illustrator, Sandy, whose images of a traffic-free, child-friendly Bridgely are testament to her wonderful powers of imagination. How Sandy managed to capture the town from just a few of my phone pics – rather than walking its streets for 6 months as me and my son did – is another miracle I will never understand. We had a few minor creative differences early on, but as with any great artistic collaboration the finished whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. (Though I still maintain that melting traffic lights would have been really cool.)
It would take too long to enumerate all the ways in which Baby Gazelle Books added value to the project. But to give just one example, it was on my editor’s suggestion that an entire sub-strand of the story, in which Dad finds that the supermarket has run out of blue Rizlas and decides to take a detour via the 24-hour garage (shout out to Bazz!), was completely removed. It hurt, of course it did, and there was a brief hiatus in composition while I rode out the pain. But the decision was the right one, and less than four months later, I was opening my girlfriend Pam’s laptop again to tackle the difficult High Street section.
I am grateful to Pam’s mum, Caroline, who provided a roof over our heads while this book was completed. Caroline’s dry, Yorkshire humour was just the catalyst I needed to shake me out of those dark ruts of despair to which any writer engaged in the eternal wrestle with truth and form is inevitably prey. Her deadpan, salt-of-the-earth one-liners kept this artist’s feet firmly planted on the ground – I will always remember such classic bons mots of hers as ‘man cannot live on Contemporary American Literature Studies MA alone – and nor can his family’ and ‘get out of bed you lazy piece of lard’ and ‘she only stayed with you because of t’baby’.
I should also add that Caroline – coincidentally co-founder and majority shareholder at Little Gazelle Books – also very graciously provided the time and services of her PA, Tamara, to type up my various drafts for me. This was never an easy feat, for I wrote wherever and whenever the muse possessed me, so that my jottings had to be compiled from a random (and not always 100% hygienic) selection of envelopes, receipts, betting slips, beer mats, torn-out pages from the London Review of Books, and Jobseeker Allowance forms. Tamara’s work rate was a revelation to me; she could blitz an entire draft in a matter of seconds – quite something when you consider that the final MS of Let’s Go To The Supermarket! amounts to some 93 words. Thanks Tamara!
Thanks and more thanks to my pals Geordie, Bammo, Tarzan, Gange and Tokemon, for supplying all necessary provisions and refreshments, and for just being there when they were needed – and often when they weren’t. Word, homies.
Jan at The Masons’ Arms was an ever-present sounding-board for my latest ideas too – she it was who pointed out that no child would willingly sign up for a boring trudge to the Asda if there wasn’t some fun in it for them too. So, in a very real sense, it is Jan that we have to thank for the pet-shop interlude – where Jonty gets to say hello to the hamsters and the parakeets on the way to the supermarket – together with the unadulterated joy of that final scene where the boy climbs into the trolley and cries: ‘Let’s go daddy!’ (It’s not for to me pre-empt the literary critics, of course, but I can’t resist pointing out that this final line is of course a deep rhetorical echoing of the opening ‘Let’s got to the supermarket, Jonty!’ Antanaclasis or Antistasis? Anaphoric foreshadowing? I’ll leave that for the scholars…)
To the real, non-fictional Jonny – my son – thanks mate. We literally walked this book together, you and I, forging narrative from our footsteps in an intimate and bonding voyage of mutual psycho-geographical self-discovery. Jonty may only be 4, but I learnt so much from him about economy and precision. He showed me that, in the story, we don’t have to mention the roadworks or the boring industrial park that we cut through to get to the superstore in real life. (Observant readers will notice similar liberties taken with a mini-roundabout just before the start of the underpass sequence.) In this way, the walk at the book’s core becomes a kind of universalised journey with which all readers can identify, as we leave the particularities of Bridgely’s troublesome one-way system far behind us. Love you, son.
Thanks and more thanks! At this emotional milestone in my writing life, there’s so much to express my gratitude for. To BBC Radio 6, Motown and Drake – thanks for providing the soundtrack to my headspace. To Cheerios, Red Bull, Skittles and Cool Ranch Doritos: thanks for providing the physical sustenance that fuelled my artistic wanderings. To Bridgely library: thank you for the many hours of assistance you gave me in researching the best route from Jonty’s house to the supermarket. (I didn’t really use any of it in the end really, but the research provided me with an essential bedrock of understanding from which my fancies could take flight with confidence.) To the staff of Asda: thanks for answering all my questions about shelving and trolleys and sell-by dates. (Ditto.) Not every superstore could cope with a random father and son wandering around the bakery section for hours at a time, taking pics and dictating notes, but you were unfailingly supportive of my project, and even the security guard was really nice that time, eventually.
And so, last but absolutely not least – indeed most! -- to my partner Pam. Pam – coincidentally my editor at Little Gazelle Books – provided blinding flashes of editorial insight on an hourly basis. Too many to mention them all, again, but let’s just say that, were it not for my pulchritudinous Pamela-lama-ding-dong, this book might have been titled Shall We Head Down The Big Asda On The Roundabout Via The Pet Shop So You Can See The Hamsters Son? (Also I Need Some Red Bull). Pam was on hand at every hour of the day and night to provide emotional support and encouragement, and just generally keep me uplifted with her righteously fragrant and delicious presence. Miraculous mother, editor extraordinaire, lithe lover and my bestest friend… thank you thank you, O my Saucy-Pam Saucepan, my light, my loins, my life, my liver.
Oh no, have I embarrassed you? Don’t worry, babe – no one reads the acknowledgements.
About the Author: Dan is the winner of the 2018 Riptide Journal short story competition, and was highly commended in the Manchester Writing School competition 2018. He has words in Ellipsis Magazine, Reflex Fiction, Cabinet of Heed, Bending Genres, The Esthetic Apostle, Spelk, Ginger Collect and Fiction Pool. His first collection of short stories, Hotel du Jack, will be published early 2020. He is also co-author of a comic novel, Kitten on a Fatberg, which will be published in 2019.