A buzzer sounded. We all stood. Quietly, we moved from our circle of chairs and made for the doorway leading out to the narrow staircase and down to the church below. There were about twenty, the Choirmaster and myself. The youngest boy was seven years old, the oldest thirteen. Each of us was dressed in a dark blue cassock and white surplice. The Choirmaster led the way, and I followed at the rear.
I had been reading a story to them. Below us, in the big redbrick church building, the Vicar was coming to the end of his Sunday morning sermon. The buzzer had been operated by the Organist, informing us that it was time for us prepare for processing into the church and the choirstalls, ready to lead the rest of the congregation in song.
The story was mine. I had never tried writing fiction before. Two weeks or so earlier, shortly before the Harvest season, the Choirmaster had booked me to take a turn as ‘guest speaker’ in these weekly gathering of the boys and I had wondered how I would do it. I decided to tell a story about Harvest and its meaning. The characters became a boy called Jason and his three school friends; the youngest of these, Cedric, was the terror of the village and the three friends agreed that his chief job seemed to be to annoy them. In fact, he often meant well but things just went wrong. The story had a fleeting message within it that I hoped would help the boys understand something of the Christian faith. As I read it on this Sunday morning the circle of thirty-odd boys was utterly silent and motionless. Were they interested or or just polite?
It seemed it was interest, because I heard they had asked for another story. St Cecilia’s Day was approaching so I wrote one called ‘The Musical Saint’. After that they wanted another, and slowly I covered the whole church year. It came to an end after the fourteenth, when Sunday mornings began to be organised differently.
Later, I was helping in the production of a BBC Radio London programme for children called The Orange and Lemon Club. A weekly story was wanted and Jason seemed to fill the requirements. The weekly story had to be recorded and sent up to the London studio so every now and then I had to ask for 20 minutes of silence in the house while I read to my tape recorder. Gradually the stories gained favour around London and eventually I decided to see if a publisher might be interested. The Canterbury Press, Norwich, were brave enough to give it an airing and, to my pride and joy, said Yes, please. The stories had begun in the 1970s. The book came out in 1990 and it sold.
I Googled the Jason title the other day and a sad one or two looked out at me. I fell to wondering if it would attract an audience among the children of church-going parents today. If I re-wrote it, bringing the characters and their ways into the current scene, would it it stand a chance? I shall think about it.
Do you think it might?