Third Annual Report
Three years ago, I set out in pursuit of a hare-brained ambition to write ten thousand stories and now – even if you discount my distinguished guest authors, the picture sets and the occasional repeats – I have written over a thousand. Already this number enters the realm of more than I can grasp, but it also strengthens my resolve by making the possibility of reaching ten thousand seem more credible.
I often think of the “Arabian Nights,” one of my favourite collections of stories. I have so many different versions upon my shelves and over the years I have amassed a trove of illustrations, posters, cards, scraps, films and even figures relating to the “Tales Of The Thousand & One Nights.”
You will recall the Sultan was convinced of the innate deceitfulness of women and therefore unable to find a satisfactory wife, executing each of the failed candidates, which was surely the ultimate deterrent to successful matchmaking. Yet Scheherazade conceived the ploy of telling the Sultan a story each night and not finishing it until the next night, when she commenced another one immediately. The Sultan was rapt and, after one thousand and one nights, Scheherazade and he had produced three children. By then he had no intention of executing the beloved mother of his family. But, most significantly, through her tenacious pursuit of storytelling, Scheherazade revealed the common humanity she shared with the Sultan and, in doing so, educated him beyond his moral prejudice against women. The multiplicity of tales in the “Arabian Nights” show that everyone has motives for their actions which resist simple moral judgement and that neither sex is more or less deceitful than the other.
Even though – thankfully – I do not have the possibility of a death sentence hanging over me at dawn, I feel I may now presume to have some special understanding of the circumstance of Scheherazade, because I know what it means to tell a story every night for a thousand nights. Unlike her, my imperative is self-imposed and I am blessed with a sympathetic audience, although I do feel the need keenly to give of my best each night and I often work into the early hours until weariness begins to take grasp upon my consciousness. My imagination is released when the tethers of daily concerns are cut away, as my thoughts drift towards the inevitable sleep, and this drowsy moment is commonly when the nightly essay takes flight. Over the course of writing these first thousand stories, my mind has become trained to berth each piece of writing before I take my slumber and I know of readers in other time zones who read my new story each night before they go to sleep, which makes these nocturnal tales of a kind.
After the first three years of my “Tales Of The Ten Thousand & One Nights,” only the opening of the narrative has unfurled and, like Scheherazade, I do not know where it will lead. Like her, I am also part of this story as well as being the teller. But, unlike Scheherazade, who knew the stories she was going to tell, mine are revealed to me as I learn about the people around me day by day and new characters are introduced all the time. It makes the evolution of these tales a shared discovery for both the reader and the writer equally – though I sometimes wonder if, perhaps, there is an overview which is granted to you, my audience, that is not available to me.
For many years almost no-one read or even saw what I wrote, but doggedly I carried on writing just the same because I knew nothing else. All that time, I was searching for a direction that I found quite unexpectedly when I began to write Spitalfields Life, even though old friends remind me now that I was always telling them stories of the kind which fill these pages – as if it were somehow inevitable. Yet the wonder has been that I have discovered such an appreciative audience which has brought a joyous momentum to my work and been instrumental in the success of the book of Spitalfields Life too.
Naturally, each of these anniversaries proposes a moment of assessment and I must confess to you that, as a writer who worked for so long without readers, recognition, or even income, this has been an extraordinary year of fulfilment and delight. Let me admit, I chose ten thousand stories as my target because I calculated this was the number of days I had until I reached the age at which both my parents died. It was a conceit to force me to make the most of my time. Since I began, more than a tenth of those days have passed but I can look back and know that they were well spent, and this permits me to look forward in excited anticipation to those which lie ahead.
So, I hope you will not find it entirely whimsical if I suggest that, after more than a thousand stories, I may now lay claim to the title of ”the Scheherazade of Whitechapel.”
And thus, with all these thoughts in mind, I come to the end of this third year of Spitalfields Life.
I am your loyal servant
The Gentle Author
A thousand stories’ worth of notebooks.
The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, chromolithographic collector’s cards offered with Liebig’s Meat Extract, Antwerp 1901.
For the next week I shall be revisiting some favourites from the past year and then resume with new stories on Monday 3rd September.
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