Commentary: The River’s Bride

This story was published last month by Nailed. The title of the piece is taken from a line from the unrecorded Belper song cycle which I composed in the 1990s.  There are connections to my novel The Wood Road North which I won’t spell out too clearly here, plus a character who appears in Belper’s Many Taverns, another story from this collection which is already here on WordPress.

Let’s start, like the story, with the dog. My family had a taste for Jack Russell terriers, but Rex is a combination of the first two larger dogs that I knew as a child.  One neighbour had an Alsatian called Rex, of whom I was encouraged by my parents to be frightened.  Another had a boxer called Jan, a very pleasant creature.  I didn’t really connect these thoughts until I started writing this commentary, which might serve to demonstrate how the memory access enjoyed by the creative spirit is far more complete than that afforded to the everyday conscious.

Colin and Rex appear briefly in The Wood Road North, and in The River’s Bride Colin thinks about the Lord Nelson on Bridge Street in Belper, as well as two of its fictional regulars from the novel. Colin’s previous dog Rosie is named after Dave Swarbrick’s title song on the Fairport Convention album of 1973; not for any particular reason (unless she liked to ‘lie down cosy’) but that’s what was playing when I needed to give her a name.

Although it’s early in the morning and he’s only a casual drinker, pubs and drink are important here, as in most of my stories. In Belper’s Many Taverns we hear from Mark Barrass, and unpublished stories from this collection concern older drinkers, along with others who use pubs as means to different ends.

Mrs Barber is a confection of the old folks I knew, or was related to, during my youth. The broken biscuits and rock cakes, the tea in china cups when there was company of any sort, and the frank, blunt expressions of opinion.  I recently moved to an old house where we could have real fires, and the richly nostalgic smell of a room where coal has been burned still takes me back to those signifiers of life in a different age.

I said that this story had links to The Wood Road North, and in terms of its general shape The River’s Bride resembles the novel, too: it starts out slow and lyrical, before an event causes a change, after which nothing is the same.

In a new and possibly unique feature, I would like to announce a competition. Anyone who knows Belper and its history might be able to guess what the other children used to call old Mrs Barber.  There’s a signed copy of The River’s Bride for the first person who supplies the correct answer by way of a comment.

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