Finding old books – YAK 1, Widows and Orphans, Ben and the Lighthouse

I’ve written a couple of times about stories I read a child which had a big influence on me but I no longer have the books they were in, or remember who wrote them or even what they were called. There were so many children’s books published and probably these couple weren’t by a well-known author, a writer whose name has faded into obscurity and who no doubt died many, many years ago. I have done all I can to find them – I scour second-hand books shops and web-sites about children’s books but I truly believe they are lost to me.

Just in case you might know these stories, here again is a description, as far as I remember:

  • YAK 1 – this was a story of some children, probably brothers and sisters or cousins, who were sent to stay with some elderly relatives in the country. At the bottom of the garden was an orchard and in it was a decrepit old caravan with an even more decrepit old car still attached to it. The car was so old it was covered with moss, lichen, and trailing vines – its registration was YAK 1. One morning when the children went down to look at it, the car had become an actual yak, and when they went into the caravan, it set off and they had some wonderful adventures in the caravan pulled by the beast.
  • Widows and Orphans – in the same book as YAK 1 was a second story; some children, maybe the same ones who had an adventure with the caravan, were sent to stay with different relatives, maybe grandparents who lived by the sea. In the village was a very strange and rather sinister sweet-shop, owned buy a rather sinister and very strange lady, a massive, fat lady with wild hair, bulging eyes and a beaky nose. She sold sweets in jars, including a jar of ‘widows and orphans’ (or so I remember) Somehow, the children went to the sweet shop at night and the woman had transformed into a massive octopus (or squid) utterly terrifying! The widows and orphans had turned into tiny rowing boats which scuttled across the floor on their oars like horrid little creatures – I was reminded of them when I watched ‘Minority Report’ and the tiny spider robots went in search of the Tom Cruise character. It was really creepy, and almost haunted me! somehow there was an island and a cave and the children ended up in there – I have no idea how or why! An island and a cave appear in a horrifying scene in my novel ‘The Double Act’ – I’ve only just thought of this, but I wonder if my inspiration came from that story from long ago?
  • The Lighthouse – this was a story with a young girl as the main character. She too was sent to stay with relatives (a common theme in children’s books!) who lived by the sea in a clifftop cottage. nearby was a lighthouse and one of the keepers was called Ben. Ben is a very popular name now, but when I read the story it wasn’t and I thought it was a very glamorous name! Ben was a young man and the girl really liked him (in a totally innocent way) he was kind and nice to her and didn’t treat her as a child and had ordinary conversions with her. There was a story-line about smugglers and of course it ended up that likeable Ben was one of the smugglers! the girl was devastated and heart-broken and what’s more felt betrayed that someone she liked so much could be a ‘baddie’. Ben falls from the cliff and either dies or disappears, washed away, presumably dead, and the girl is even more upset. It was the first time I had ever come across a story where the reader is deceived about a character, and is shocked and – like the character – feels betrayed and upset. I’ve never forgotten the girl (who I guess I identified with) or Ben.

I had a thought a little while ago… I wondered if I might rewrite these stories? It would not be plagiarism in that I would never claim it was my plot, I wouldn’t try and pretend it was my inspiration – and it would be filled with so much more detail and action that I have imagined because I can only remember the bare outlines or the story as I outline above, and have no idea of the names of any of the characters, apart from Ben.

I’m intrigued by these ideas – or rewriting stories from long ago, interpreting them… would I bring them up to date or set them at a time they might have been written, no doubt long before I read them! With the Yak and Widows and orphans story, I have no idea of the number of children, two, three or four, or their ages or whether they were siblings or cousins. Ditto with the Lighthouse story – how old was the girl? No idea… Did she come to the cliff cottage on her own or with siblings? Haven’t a clue… Was she staying with relatives, grandparents, some other people? Who knows… Would I write it as a children’s story, or for a wider audience? Needs some pondering…

This isn’t a project I want to take up any time soon – looking ahead to November, maybe something for the National Novel Writing Month challenge?

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