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Third Annual Report

August 24, 2012
by the gentle author

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.


You may also like to read

First Annual Report 2010

Second Annual Report 2011

47 Responses leave one →
  1. Robson Cezar permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Greetings from the king of bottle tops! X.

  2. August 24, 2012

    as i have said elsewhere, this project is the measure of what one person on the internet can do. you set the bar very high.
    thank you.

  3. August 24, 2012

    Truly wonderful. And as a person who shares her life with black cats I had a further reason to love this post. Thank you for it, for those that preceded it, and those to come…

  4. lindy permalink
    August 24, 2012

    every few months, a wonderful journal called cape breton lives used to arrive in my mail box from nova scotia, canada. it eventually folded, and i missed it for many years until i discovered spitalfield life. different mail box, another world and time, same heartfelt storytelling.
    thank you gentle author.
    good night and good writing.

  5. Libby Hall permalink
    August 24, 2012

    As one who found Spitalfields Life only lately, but who has now read all thousand and one tales, I think I must simply say – thank you Gentle Author, the Scheherazade of Whitechapel.

    (How autocratic and wise Mr. Pussy looks. How lovely a still-life that is.)

  6. August 24, 2012

    Congratulations indeed!
    And a hearty Thank You. Your curiosity, humanity, generosity, and exquisite writing are a joy and an inspiration.

  7. Carolyn Foley permalink
    August 24, 2012

    As one who has been following your blog from the other side of the world, for nearly the whole one thousand stories, I would like to say thank you for all the pleasure you have brought. I am looking forward to the next nine thousand.

    (Give that beautiful Mr Pussy a special pat for me.)

  8. linda permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Quite simply – thank you.

  9. August 24, 2012

    Lovely picture of Mr Pussy and flowers in jug.
    On a recent visit to Penzance, at a dinner party, one mention of ‘Spitalfield’s Life’ was enough
    to start a lively discussion and identify kindred spirits. So you are read and enjoyed in the far West. You’ve inspired us with your endeavour and look forward to the future stories.

  10. August 24, 2012

    In appreciation of your work and your commitment, many thanks.

  11. August 24, 2012

    You’re a beast! Congratulations on three years. Your consistency, perseverance, gift for storytelling, and generosity are a fantastic example. Thank you for sharing it!

  12. August 24, 2012

    Congratulations on a huge achievement! Thank you for one thousand stories and for all the stories to come. I look forward to them!

  13. Les Heasman permalink
    August 24, 2012

    you are indeed the Scheherazade of Whitechapel and I read your tales of the place I grew up near avidly (I come from Bethnal Green). I hope I will still be reading your stories for many years to come and I thank you for writing them. Good luck attend you always.

  14. J M Parham permalink
    August 24, 2012

    People might also be interested to know, apropos The Arabian Nights, that Sir Richard Burton’s massive translation, privately printed, and known as the ‘Benares Edition’ was printed in 1885 in Stoke Newington, not a million miles away from Spitalfields … Long live Scheherazade and her offspring!

    Keep the stories coming!

    All good wishes

    JM Parham


  15. August 24, 2012

    Thank you for your wonderful tales. One of the first things I do each day is to look for your next story. The thing I love about them is that although you are writing about events and individuals and history of Spitalfields and its surroundings, through reading your stories I can’t help but find to find interest in the particular little histories of my own area. It’s contagious.

    Best wishes with the next nine thousand.

  16. Sandie permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Gentle Author

    In continued appreciation of your commitment, your work, your perception of life and your beautiful writing.

  17. Rhianwen permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Congratulations… and long may you reign!

  18. August 24, 2012

    Congratulations Gentle Author.
    Your stories are full of generosity and community, but also a sense of adventure. Thank you !
    Your commitment is inspiring.

  19. Glenn permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Congratulations on 3 years and 1000 stories

  20. Julia permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Congratulations – it’s a massive achievement to produce a daily blog, let alone one that is consistently so absorbing and covers such a wide range of interesting topics. I’m so pleased your resolve is strong for the next nine thousand stories.

  21. Gill Cork permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Thank you, gentle author for your wonderful blog. I only discovered it about 4 months ago but it has brightened up my life and I look forward to reading many more fascinating entries. Congratulations on reaching the 3 year mark – it’s a monumental achievement and you should be proud indeed. Here’s to the next 1000 stories.

  22. Amy permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Keep up the fabulous work! I have learned so much about REAL life in London thanks to you. I finally watched the Queen’s Jubilee concert and got all excited when I saw Kylie’s outfit. I knew the significance behind it! Same goes for when I saw them during the Opening Ceremonies. It’s something I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Thank you. You’re educating an Anglophile in Wisconsin. 🙂

  23. Jim Armistead permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Dear Gentle Author,
    A man may occasionally tire of London on a Wednesday, but by Thursday morning he is once again grateful to have a correspondent there. And a neighborhood! Your work is not only valuable, it is lovable. Thank you. Jim Armistead. San Francisco.

  24. August 24, 2012

    Thank you for your efforts so far – as you have given me (and others) a huge amount of enjoyment over te last few years, and I look forward to many more ! You really are something special. One of my favourite bloggers.

  25. August 24, 2012

    Lovely analogy and some very fine work on the story telling it. I’m game to read the 10 000 and one tales of Spitalfields, keep it up!

  26. Peter permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Keep the good work going I read the stories most days and then have a catch up when time allows.

    I think you may have to have a get together again soon !!!

  27. John Campbell permalink
    August 24, 2012

    love your site! it’s the highlight of my humdrum days and allows me new worlds to explore. Many thanks and please keep up the good work.

  28. August 24, 2012

    Dear Gentle Author,

    You are the first port of call in my day and it has transformed my mornings, it used to be grim Radio 4 News.
    Your blog is an art work, spiritual, philosophical, I could go on but suffice to say it dignifies life and people, often those who would be seen as losers or outsiders. You are the antidote to all the greed and shallowness that is hurled at us each day, mostly through the media. You show and remind us that under our very noses is all the treasure a person could want. You see the richness in reality and everyday things and you have the grace to share it with us all, thank you and I wish you continued enjoyment in your task. May I just add that I also love the occasional piece you add about some aspect of yourself or childhood memory,


  29. August 24, 2012

    The analogy is apt, and distinguishes Spitalfields Life as a true work of art. The imperative to make art comes in many forms, and sometimes we have to create it ourselves; be assured we are as blessed that you found it as you feel with finding a sympathetic audience. There is an overview, perhaps; one that runs through all great writing – the story of the human heart.

  30. Chris F permalink
    August 24, 2012

    I can only concur with all that has been said above, and far more eloquently than I could phrase it. However… I’ve found a little quote by P. G. Woodhouse…

    As we grow older and realise more clearly the limitations of human happiness, we come to see that the only real and abiding pleasure in life is to give pleasure to other people.

    And that is exactly what you are doing.

  31. StephenH permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Congratulations and very well done. Not only is your writing elegant and evocative but you manage to make stories which are specific to a certain place resonate with those of us who live in other parts of the world. Your love of and empathy with the people and community around you are the building blocks of a better and healthier world. All the very best.

  32. Ros permalink
    August 24, 2012

    What can I say after all these wonderful tributes but to repeat what a joy and a gift it is to have your stories to look forward to every day. I know I’m far from the only person whose life is enriched by reading them – may your humanity, perceptiveness and sense of curiosity and adventure continue to shine through all the posts to come. Many congratulations on the first three years – hooray for you!

  33. Steven Gillan permalink
    August 25, 2012

    Thank you so very much for this. I write to you from the far reaches of Southern California to praise Spitalfield Life. It is a daily pleasure, both literarily and graphically. I can’t say that I ever had more than a very passing acquaintance with the neighborhood, I imagine I acquired it from films, tv and stories, but without any sense of it. It was all quaint accents and foggy, grimy, London, somewhere not very upscale as we say here. It seemed not a place to remember fondly as being from, but where circumstances compelled you to go. I know feel as if I have a grasp of where and what, and think that I am emotionally engaged in this place, these lives, and this history.

  34. August 25, 2012

    Bravo! An absolute pleasure to read and a visual delight. I look forward to many more.

  35. August 25, 2012

    A wonderful achievement – 1000!!! And so inspiring, your discoveries and ways of coaxing fascinating tales from people just get better and better. Thank you. Good luck with the next years and may your notebooks always be legible…

  36. andrea permalink
    August 25, 2012

    Congratulations, Gentle Author. Your stories and pictures give us great pleasure. I am one of those who takes a midnight sneak-peek. Thank you for all you do. (- from Canada)

  37. Susan permalink
    August 25, 2012

    I join a long queue in thanking you for a thousand stories. Yours is the only blog I “follow” — an apt term as you have guided me around your corner of London for nearly three years now (I think I joined your circle in October 2009). I concur with the wonderful comments above that you have enlarged my world. I’ve met market traders and curry chefs, watermen and ex bunnies, dog-walkers and a collector of old appliances. I want to visit London and say hello to everyone, but until then, keep guiding us all through Spitalfields.

  38. Jill permalink
    August 25, 2012

    Words are everything, aren’t they? You’re a master and I’d like to thank you again for such wonderful stories. Oh, and I love black cats too! Jill (and Bertie – asleep in the greenhouse, mouse in tummy).

  39. August 25, 2012

    This is always a blog to look forward to – every single day. Thank you so much.

  40. Hannah permalink
    August 25, 2012

    As so many have said before me, thank-you for all your work, commitment and attention to detail. I love your blog; I always find something here to soothe me and remind me what real life is about.
    Also, I was delighted to hear you on the radio recently!

  41. Sarah Lily permalink
    August 27, 2012

    I am one of those who read your story each night before they go to sleep, thank you Gentle Author. I am away from London nowadays but reading your tales make me feel I never left the city that has adopted me!

  42. August 30, 2012

    so happy that you came out into the light to be joined with all that you deserve , dear gentle author.I absolutely prioritise whimsicality in my life and I am glad that you do too,it is in so many of your tales and the subjects you choose may often be relegated as too whimsical by others ,so thank goodness we have the scherhazade of whitechapel.
    You write what people yearn for ,and you do it so well.thank you xx

  43. September 25, 2012

    Thank you for this work of love, gentle wordsmith.

  44. Tony permalink
    October 25, 2012

    Spitalfields Life is truly art. But the thing that (having read the book now) I realise is that for ‘Spitalfields’ just insert the name of your own area, town etc. The characters, people, dreams, joy, work, laughter, distress, new and old, buildings, interests …… they exist everywhere, and it is up to us to notice them. It has made me start to look at everything where I live in a new way. It’s very refreshing!

  45. TokyoDon permalink
    December 13, 2012

    Thank you, GA. You’ve touched so many lives and your goodness shines through in every word you write. You’re an inspiration to us all.

  46. Miriam Delorie permalink
    August 23, 2013

    THANK YOU! for all your wonderful emails that bring a little piece of London to me living in Cape Town, South Africa. They bring back the English countryside, the area where my father was born in Whitechapel and all the smells and sounds that I experienced as a child when we went ‘up to London’ from Hertfordshire where I lived. Please don’t say you are not going to send us these emails anymore? I look forward to them and yes, you are an inspiration to everyone who appreciates life – both past and present! all the best, Miriam

  47. Shawdian permalink
    December 14, 2015

    Once again Thank You for another year of special emails 🙂

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