Title: If Only They Could Talk
Author: Ian Walker
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 28th May 2020
Page Count: 270
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53482988-if-only-they-could-talk
Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/If-Only-They-Could-Talk/dp/1913340279/
Summary: Miles Goodyear’s whole life has been planned out for him. Born into a wealthy brewing family in Chesterfield between the wars, he knows he will go to the local grammar school, followed by St John’s College, Oxford. After graduating, he will then follow his older brother into the family business where he will remain until the next generation eventually takes over when he retires.
But life – and a series of bad decisions – go against him and, as a result, things turn out very differently from what was originally planned.
If Only They Could Talk is the story of one man’s reflection on his life, his failed relationships, his regrets and his dashed hopes. It’s about someone born with so much, who loses everything as he struggles to cope with a changing world. Or at least that’s what his relatives are led to believe as they clear out his house following his death.
Gradually, the house reveals its secrets, but nothing his relatives find there can prepare them for the final twist to Miles’s story.
Favourite things about writing this book
After I retired I had to decide what to do with the rest of my life. Back in 2006 I’d suffered a stroke which meant I could no longer do anything intricate with my right hand. So pottery was unfortunately out of the question, as was becoming a miniaturist. After giving it some thought I eventually decided to take up writing, which was ironic as I can no longer hold a pen. I am the writer who can’t write!
The first thing I tried my hand at was my autobiography. That’s my left hand of course. It is very different to writing a novel. For a start you are dependent on your memory more than creativity. Secondly the story is pretty much set out for you, being as though you are recounting things that actually happened in your life. In a novel there are no such constraints, which is extremely liberating. There are also things you wouldn’t want to put in an autobiography – for example, things about sex, or stories you were told third hand. However these were things that I could write about in this novel.
As an example of this, my father often told the story about his first day working at a brewery in Chesterfield. He said the ladies in the bottling hall grabbed him and pulled his trousers and underpants down. They then stamped his private parts with the brewery stamp, which said Scarsdale Brewery Championship Ales Chesterfield. He also said that it was a very cold day, which is why he went home with the word “Scar” stamped on his dick. He’d probably made the last bit up in order to embellish his tale. However it’s a great story and one that I was able to modify and use in this book.
Inspiration for this novel came from three sources. One of these I can’t tell you about because it would ruin the ending. But the other two came from clearing out my aunt’s house after she died and a visit I made to Chesterfield museum.
My aunt was a widow aged 95 when she passed away. She never had any children and so my wife and I offered to clear out her house. I was amazed by what we discovered. For a start there was an original copy of the Act of Parliament, which authorised the building of the Chesterfield Canal in 1771. We sold this at a specialist auction in Derby. But on the whole the house was mainly filled with junk. There were plenty of old coins and thank you cards from her nieces and nephews dating back many years. There was also a huge pile of old photographs, some of which were taken before she was born. One of these was particularly old. It was in sepia and if I were to guess, it probably dated back to the 1870s. The people in it were almost certainly related to me, but with the death of my aunt there was nobody left who could tell me who they were.
I was able to incorporate this picture into the story. I was also able to base much of the storyline for this book on what I discovered whilst clearing out my aunt’s house.
I said that the second inspiration came from a visit I made to Chesterfield Museum. This was back in 2017 and the museum had a special exhibition about the old breweries that used to exist in town. I went along and was surprised to see that two of the exhibits quoted my father. I went to speak to the curator who told me that they had some tapes of my father recalling his days working for Scarsdale Brewery. My father had died 10 years previously and Scarsdale Brewery had closed in 1959, so you can imagine how shocked I was by this news. The tapes had been recorded back in the 1980s and the curator told me that I could listen to them if I wanted to. It was great to hear his voice after all those years and I was able to use some of his reminiscences in this book.
I was quite nervous about setting this book in Chesterfield. I was brought up in the town, moved away for 40 years, before eventually moving back again. It’s a great place but it isn’t the largest town in the world. Most people would struggle to locate it on a map. However I wanted to set it here, firstly because it’s somewhere I know well and secondly because I’m not aware of any other work of contemporary fiction set here. In the end I decided that all novels have to be set somewhere. The Inspector Morse novels are all set in Oxford, yet they appeal to people who’ve never been to the city. The James Herriot books are set in Thirsk, renamed Darraby, and yet they appeal to people all over the world. The majority of which have never been to North Yorkshire. So why not set a book in Chesterfield? Having made that decision I’m really glad I did.
I’ve tried not to mention any real people in this book. It is a novel after all. However some of the characters are based on real people or a combination of people. That said I couldn’t resist dropping the occasional real person in every now again. So whilst nearly all the teachers at Miles’s school are made up, there is one, called Ratty Owen, who taught me Chemistry in 1969. He was about 100 years old back then, or so he appeared to me at the time. In addition the next door neighbours to Miles’s girlfriend are Mr and Mrs Lock, who were my grandparents in real life.
This book has two storylines running through it. One is set in the present day, with Miles’s relatives discovering things as they clear his house out after his death. The other is the story of Miles’s life. I hate reading books which really grip me and then have a disappointing ending. That is why I tried very hard to have a good ending to this book. As a result if I was to name the one thing I like the most about this book, it is the fact that it has three endings and I like them all. The first is when the house clearance is completed. The second is Miles’s death. Then there is the final twist that doesn’t appear until the very last paragraph. In order to keep this a secret I’ve put a curse on anyone who reads the last page first!
Ian Walker was born in Chesterfield in 1956. His father was chief clerk for a brewery in the town and his mother was a ballet teacher. He went to Chesterfield School before gaining a place at Leicester University where he studied Chemistry and Maths. After graduating he got a job working in the laboratory at Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane London. The following year he transferred to Watney’s Brewery in Mortlake, where he moved into the sales department 18 months later.
A variety of sales rolls then followed until eventually he ended up as Regional Sales Director for Scottish and Newcastle in the West Country based in Bristol. All this came to an end in 2006 when aged just 50 he suffered a stroke and had to give up work. After 12 months of physiotherapy he felt sufficiently recovered to buy a pub in the North York Moors along with his wife Eunice.
In the eight years that they owned it they achieved listings in both The Good Beer Guide and the Good Pub Guide. They also were in The Times the list of the top 50 places to eat in the British Countryside.
In 2016 he decided to retire and move back to Chesterfield where he hadn’t lived for 40 years. He and his wife now live just around the corner from the house where he grew up. He has two grown up sons by his previous marriage.