If you've read Sin, or happened by one od my interviews, or perhaps my web page, you'll have see the name Mr. Staniforth. As teachers go, he was one of the finest. Ask anyone who had him and they'll agree.
Mr. Staniforth taught English at Western Comprehensive School. Oh, that's the school I went to, once upon a long time ago. He always seemed soooo tall, and he had a voice you could feel in your boots. Strong and deep.
He still does.
As part of our lessons, we had to read 'classic' books. There was Julius Caesar, as our Shakespeare piece. The Mayor of Casterbridge was another. Ol' JC wasn't bad. I seem to recall I quite enjoyed that. The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy, was a different matter. I didn't like that. I didn't find it interesting or engaging. My only real memory of that book, though, is one of laughter. There's a line where someone is described as a 'bucket faced man'. Mr. Staniforth asked what such a person would look like. One of my fellow pupils, I forget who, exactly, piped up "A bit pale?'
Now, that's fast. That's sharp. That's hilarious!
Another classic on the list was Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. It was this book, and Mr. Staniforth's reading of it, that started me on the real road to be a writer. Though I'd written various stories prior to that point, once I'd seen how Mockingbird held the class rapt, and carried me away with the passion and pain of its characters, I had to - one day - be able to do that myself. Not that I'm trying to say my own books are anything like in the league of Harper Lee's of course. Oh, no. But I wanted to be able to carry people away.
After school (after I left, not post hometime), I corresponded a little with Mr. Stanforth. I sent him some of my stories and he returned them with critiques. It was great, actually. His words of encouragement encouraged me, and his red lines prompted me to improve.
Then, life got in the way, as it often decides it must.
I continued to write. I produced a variety of stories. I ran an online magazine. I appeared on Sky TV debating electronic vs traditional publishing. A wrote a short story that was to become the prologue for my novel and, in the process, met an offbeat, supposed lunatic who would fill many years of my life and allow me to have a strange sort of therapy.
A couple of years ago, my book, Sin was published. Since then, I've wanted to hand a copy of Sin to Mr. Staniforth. I wanted him to see what he helped me create. But I chickened out. I couldn't, could I?
Well, thanks to prompts from my dear wife and the help of a friend who's currently living in Australia, I've done just that.
The address I was given was in a village just outside Louth. A week ago today, I drove there, book in hand, heart in mouth. I pulled up outside, walked up the gravel drive and knocked on the door. There was a sports car parked outside, which I didn't think would be the vehicle of choice. There was no answer to my knock, and a letter on the doormat, addressed to a 'Dr. Somebody' told me Mr. Staniforth no longer lived there.
Of course, I could have simply climbed back in my car and driven off, defeated. But I didn't.
A man was driving along the lane opposite on a sit-on mower thing. I asked him if my old teacher still lived there. He told me no, Mr. Stanforth hadn't lived there for 'donkey's years'.
But, he did live right around the corner!
I was stuck, now. I couldn't get out of it. I had to do the deed.
Again, a gravel drive. Always wanted one of those.
A woman was sitting outside, reading. I asked if a Mr. Staniforth lived there. She said yes...
And then there I was, face to face with a man who, simply, inspired me.
And he remembered me. The 'short story guy'.
We had a wonderful conversation. A catch up. He was delighted that I had continued my writing, and it had born fruit. He was delighted with the fact that, not only is Sin dedicated to him, but he also appears briefly within the pages. I was delighted by his delight.
He told me that I'd always had talent.
We joked that I couldn't bring myself to call him by his first name. He'd always be Mr. Staniforth to me, and to many others.
As we parted company, he said thank you for dropping by. He said thank you for the book.
I said no, thank YOU for the book.