I’m pleased to welcome Robin Bayley today. Robin is the author of The Mango Orchard and is here to share a very emotive guest post.
The Ultimate Writing Deadline – Robin Bayley
I have always the Douglas Adams quote: “I love deadlines; I love the sound they make as they go whooshing by!” I can’t truthfully claim to be quite so cavalier about them, although admittedly, this article was due a couple of hours ago. But when I was working on The Mango Orchard, I had a very good reason to write as quickly as possible: one of the main characters in the book was very keen to see it finished, and she was ninety eight years old when I began.
The book was inspired by the fabulous stories my grandmother told me when I was a boy. She told me about her father’s adventures in the Americas, about wild jungle journeys, brushes with bandits, hidden bags of silver in a mango orchard and a daring escape from the Mexican Revolution. About twenty years after she had first told me these stories, she showed me her father’s old leather suitcase. As soon as she opened it and I saw my great grandfather’s letters, photos and 1893 Baedeker guidebook, I decided to give up my career, sell my home and retrace his footsteps in search of the bags of silver he had hidden in a mango orchard somewhere in Mexico.
My own journey included encounters with witches (and falling in love with one), drug smugglers, ex-Nazi diamond dealers, bandits and guerrilla fighters, before leading me to the small village in western Mexico where my English forebear had lived. There, I found no silver, but discovered that he had left a secret family behind, now numbering over three hundred. I also discovered that not only had he narrowly escaped from the Mexican Revolution with his life, but that he had also played a part in starting it.
While no bags of silver would have given me anything near the richness of the story I unearthed, the responsibility of my discovery weighed heavily on me. I was no longer an adventurer on a quest; I was the custodian of what I found. It was no longer my story, but the story of hundreds of people, and what I wrote affected how they would be judged by the outside world.
Because it was such a huge story – spanning over a hundred years, two continents and five generations, the most important decision I had to make was how to write the book. Should I write it as fiction or non-fiction? From my great grandfather’s point of view or my own? I decided to write it as non-fiction and took inspiration from one of her phrases: “There are three versions of every story, your version, my version and the truth.” This empowered me to tell the story as I saw it. It was my truth, and I believe that’s all any writer can be asked to reflect.
She read the completed manuscript twice – and the bits with her in, about twenty times. She died just short of her 103rd birthday, just after I had visited her to tell her I had got the publishing deal and that I would dedicate the book to her.