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Published on January 9th, 2013 | by Chris McCooey


Freelance (Part 2)

Tunbridge Wells based writer, Chris McCooey, has earned his living as a full-time freelance non-fiction writer since 1986. In this excerpt we discover more practical tips for the aspiring freelance writer.

When I read a good description or hear a good phrase, or a word that looks interesting like ‘absquatulate’, I write it down because if you don’t make things up as a writer, you actually re-write a hell of a lot, either your own stuff or other peoples’. Of course, if you actually lift whole chunks from somebody else’s writing that is plagiarism. If in doubt about somebody else’s words then acknowledge that you got the idea from somebody else. For my books I always tell people what I’m working on at the time and ask if they’ve got anything that might fit the title. I always start with a good title and fill the book accordingly. For example when I was researching my book Tales, Titbits and Trivia of Kent and Sussex,  I told the group I was giving a talk to (Goudhurst Historical Society) that if they had anything suitable please let me use it … with an acknowledgement, of course.

Bob Brown of Goudhurst came up to me afterwards and said he’d send me something which is how I got the Tale of the Goudhurst Tit.

‘In the early 1900s there was much talk in the village for Goudhurst to have its own parish hall. A public meeting was held in the National School on 1 February 1902 where the plans by Mr Lucas, the architect, and a model by Mr A Barry were on display. Another meeting was called in September when it was announced that the sale of the original site had fallen through. However Major-General Alfred FitzHugh had generously offered an alternative site beside the village pond for free. This offer was taken up and local builders Davis & Leaney built the hall which was completed and opened the following year, 1903.

‘It has been said that nobody noticed the design fault in the windows until the lights were first turned on inside the hall. Then illuminated for all the world and his wife to see was the word TIT. Whilst on the outside the windows still remain today as originally designed, much to the amusement of local little boys, on the inside the top bars of the Ts were soon boarded and plastered over so when lit up they now read III.’ Now you don’t get better titbits than that …

By the way ‘absquatulate’ means ‘to depart suddenly’ and is invaluable to use as a code word with a partner when you want to leave a tiresome party. “I think it’s time to absquatulate?” “Yes, of course, darling. Just let me finish this bucket of G&T” Talking of unusual words, I admired the writer Terry Pratchett describing his Alzheimer’s Disease as an ‘embuggerance’, when he was interviewed for a magazine and went on to say that he “has more supplements than the Sunday papers.” He was brutally honest. “I consult the [inter] net, university researchers and witches, as it’s a good idea to cover all the angles. Science is never an exact science; I’d eat the arse out of dead mole if it offered a fighting chance [of a cure].”

As well as words I like there are words that I absolutely dislike. Like ‘absolutely’. I sometimes shout at the people interviewed on the Today programme who use that bloody word to answer in the affirmative, or even in the negative. It’s so absolutely pretentious. Let’s hear “Yes” or “No”.

Freelance writers should get into the habit of nosing in churches. Even buildings (Victorian-gothic-redbrick comes to mind) that don’t look particularly interesting from the outside can reveal something surprising when you enter and nose.

Take the parish church of St Mark the Evangelist at Hadlow Down on the A272 just south of Crowborough …

In 1835, the Earl and Countess de la Warr made a gift of land for a church, vicarage and school in Hadlow Down, and Lord Liverpool, the then Prime Minister, who lived in nearby Buxted Park, contributed a sum of £100. The church was consecrated in 1836. Just before the First World War, another local dignitary, with money, decided to put his mark on St Mark’s. Charles Lang Huggins, married to Maud Agnes, who lived in Hadlow Grange, funded not a refurbishment, a virtual re-build. Much was pulled down, except the tower and walls of the nave of the original building. Added to these were a new chancel and a chapel and the building re-roofed. Although the leaflet describes this new building as a ‘handsome structure’ I would describe it ‘as a solid, unexciting indulgence, not particularly attractive on the eye’ of a man who made sure that everybody knew that it was funded by Charles Lang Huggins Esq. of Hadlow Grange.

But inside there are two gems – some wonderful stained glass and a family memorial of heart-breaking sadness. Both are in the Lady Chapel on the south side of the nave.

The windows in the chapel depict the Christian year in wild flowers and were given to the memory of Charles and Maud by their nine children. The details and colours are exquisite: lily, sunflower, crowfoot, scarlet Lychnis, daffodil, lady’s smock, bluebell, snowdrop, crocus and primrose.

Perhaps one of the nine children inherited Hadlow Grange because the memorial plaque commemorates the lives of three sons of Basil and Rhona Huggins. Thomas Plummer Huggins was 19 and a Captain in The Buffs when he was killed in action at Dunkirk 28 April 1940. Roderick Huggins was a pilot officer in the RAF and was killed in action in Malta on 13 January 1942; he was 23 years old. The final tragedy was for their third son to be killed in action in Dieppe on 8 August 1942; Derek Anthony Lang Huggins was 26 and a petty officer in the Royal Navy Patrol Service.

Three services; three brothers; three famous actions of the Second World War; three lives given for King and Country, so that we may live in freedom …

And always read the Parish magazine of these local churches. I was giving a talk   in Cheriton one afternoon and was driving along the B road that follows the Saxon Shore Way overlooking Romney Marsh. I’d been into Lyminge church several times but wanted another nose around. I sat and looked through their magazine and got this story. ‘The Sunday School children had gone into the adjacent hall for their instruction and drink and biscuit. On the table was a box of windfall apples with the command TAKE ONLY ONE – GOD IS WATCHING. Further along the table was a plate of home-made biscuits with the notice in a childish hand TAKE AS MANY AS YOU LIKE – GOD IS WATCHING THE APPLES.

For signed copies of Chris McCooeys’ new book Freelance, send a cheque made out to him to Office Annex, Wood Cottage, Modest Corner, Southborough TN4 0LX for £10 which includes post and packing.



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