Monday, October 17, 2011

Interview with author Ray Evans

Today, I'd like to welcome Ray Evans, author of Before the Last All Clear, which I just reviewed last week. Read my review.

Q. Welcome to My Book Retreat! I really enjoyed reading about your experience during the war. You mention in your biography that your daughter suggested you write this book. How did you actually start the process of putting your stories down on paper?

When my wife and I retired, we moved to America to live with our daughter Debbie, her daughter Kimberly was about 5 at the time, so once again the stories were dragged out and recounted at bed time for another generation’s amusement.

One evening after a marathon session of telling the stories to Kimberly, my daughter said it was a shame that our other grandchildren who were living in England wouldn’t get to hear the stories first hand. She suggested I start writing the tales down so they could be passed on among the family. Her theory was that she would never be able to recount the stories in the same way or with the detail I was able to add to them and if not written down they’d eventually be lost completely.

 “There’s no way I can do that,” I told her,
“I’ve never written anything before, let alone a book.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said, “you’re a story teller, and a good one at that. Just write the stories as you told them to Ray and I when we were kids and as you do now with Kimberly. You’re retired so there’s no hurry - you’ve got all the time in the world to write them.”
“I’ll need all the time in the world,” I told her, “my hand writing is awful, and so is my spelling, it’ll take me forever.”
“Then do it on the computer, she said, “that way you won’t have to worry about your hand writing or your spelling.”
“Use the computer? You are joking. I wouldn’t know where to start”.
“Then I’ll arrange classes for you, they do them at the computer store in town, you’ll soon pick it up.”

So that’s how I found myself at 64 years of age back at school taking computer lessons! Now I may not have had the benefit of what most would call a ‘good’ education, but I’ve picked up some street smarts along the years, so I talked my wife into coming along with me. I knew if I got stuck she’d help me out and at least that way I wouldn’t be the only ‘old fogey’ in the class.


Q. Do your children or grandchildren have a favorite story that they've asked you to tell over and over again?

Well, one of Kimberly’s favorites was always Chapter 8 - Stealing Candy from the Pantry which is a tale from when I was billeted with my older brother Frank. The Red Cross had distributed care packages sent from America, and we knew there was candy in there, but we’d not been allowed to have any, so Frank decided to take the situation into his own hands and climbed up over the locked door into the pantry. He got the sweets and threw them over the door to me but then realized he was locked inside and couldn’t climb out. What amused Kimberly was that I was quite happy outside, with the sweets of course, but the following discussion with my brother was what she found funny about the whole thing.

My grandson Tom always liked Chapter 10 - Hero to Scoundrel, where I talk about finding an unexploded bomb on the train tracks. It was not that unusual to find such a thing but what Tom always liked about this story, was that I convinced myself I was going to be a hero for picking it up and delivering it to the local Police station only to discover they were not so impressed and I found myself in some pretty serious trouble.


Q. Those are definitely two memorable stories! Your book ends with your return to Liverpool. What was it like to return? How were things different in your home and school after being away for so long?

My evacuation ‘exile’ changed me tremendously and at the same time it made me who I am today. I learned to be self-reliant, I also learned that if you want something in life, anything really, the only person who will be truly motivated to give it to you is yourself. I knew when I returned to Liverpool after the war, to a city that was a devastated wasteland of rubble and bombed out buildings yet even at the age of 12, I knew the only way I would survive, let alone ever be happy again, would be to work hard and ‘get out’ as fast as I could.

When I went back to Liverpool I was a fish out of water again, after wanting to be with my own family for so long it was shocking to realize we had all changed so much and we were all strangers to each other. It took us quite a while to come back together as a family.

School was just a necessary evil in my eyes. The only reason I ever went to school was because it would be against the law not to, I hated every minute and couldn’t wait to be old enough to leave. I’m sure I was ‘that’ student the teachers hated having to put up with in their class. I had a huge inferiority complex but covered for it with extreme bravado probably to the point of arrogance a lot of the time.

I will say this too though, the hardships and challenges we all faced during the war, are the very same things I credit with giving me the resolve to change my life for the better afterwards. I resolved as a child that once I was old enough, I would do whatever it took to be sure I would never have to beg to have a roof over my head, clothes on my back or food in my belly ever again.

I had no idea at the time of course where that journey would take me, but I embarked on it with some considerable vigor and voracity. As I’ve already said, I credit those early experiences with making me who I am today, the good - determined, single minded and tenacious and the bad impatient, a clothes horse (something I was unaware of, until it was pointed out recently and a bit rudely if you ask me by Debbie) and sometimes I’d have to admit, I still have a bit of an inferiority complex that is most surely rooted in those evacuation years.

Looking back I couldn’t honestly say I wouldn’t change anything, I certainly would given the chance of course. But I am at least able to see where those challenges and experiences gave me what I needed to grow and those same things have in many ways been the driving force behind the many successes I’ve enjoyed in life since, from my very humble beginnings to building a successful business, right down to becoming a published author preparing to release a second book!


Q. It is amazing how much impact our earliest experiences have on our entire lives. How do you think your experiences in Wales affected the way you raised your own children?

My time in Wales was difficult at the start but in the end after two and half years with the Williams’ where I was treated truly like a member of their own family, it gave me a sense of the importance of family that I didn’t realize at the time but definitely tried to emulate when it came to raising my own children.

I remember at one of the billets being made to eat alone in the kitchen {not totally alone, I had their dog for company} while the family ate in the other room at a proper dining table laughing and talking together. I hated that, it made me feel like I was begging for a roof over my head and as if I were stealing the food from their plates, because it was clearly given so reluctantly. So one of the things Lilian and I have always done is to eat together at the dining table, in fact to this day she sets the table for breakfast before we go up to bed.

We were all together a few weeks ago in England to be at my granddaughter Vicky’s wedding and it was good to see all the family together. It’s inevitable as they embark on their own lives that the family get’s fragmented, especially as these days people have to move to where they can make a living at whatever they do. But it was heartwarming to hear Vicky say she always loved the meals we would have where everyone would come to the table and spend hours talking over breakfast or dinner.

Q. That's a wonderful tradition to have. What sorts of books do you enjoy reading? What are you reading now?

I read a lot more now that I am retired but I do especially like biographies and memoirs. I find other people’s lives very interesting and think you can pick up another perspective when you see something through another’s eyes.  I really like Bill Bryson’s style of writing and Jeffrey Archer, he’s a fast read and keeps my attention but he spins an incredible story too.


Q. What advice do you have for others who may want to record their personal experiences in book form as you have?

When I first started to write the book I thought I would do it with a legal pad and my daughter laughed at that. Once she showed me how you could ‘edit’ things on screen I realized I’d have to learn to use the computer but it was well worth the effort because I would never have completed the book doing it by hand.

However, it wasn’t long before the project took on a life of its own. As I was writing, I spoke with my brothers and sisters to get their input, helping me fill in some of the ‘blanks’ from my own memory. We were all evacuated to the same town in Wales, but there were so many of us we had to be billeted in different homes. Because we were separated our personal experiences, reactions and memories of the experience were sometimes quite different.

Also as the writing progressed, I shared parts of it with others and a few people said I should look at publishing the book. Lilian took it upon herself to submit the book to a publisher in England and three days after they received the manuscript, to my amazement, I had an acceptance letter and a contract to publish the book. The first edition was published in the UK in 2005 and then was picked up and published in the US in 2008, the same year it was voted #1 Readers Choice in the Welsh Book Council’s Wales Reads program.

So I guess if there’s a moral to all of this, it’s that if there’s something you think you can’t do in life because you don’t have the education or skills to do it,  if you apply yourself and attack it step by step, you’ll probably be pretty shocked at what you can accomplish or produce.

I like to think these days I’m a dab hand on the computer but when I see my grandkids and what they do with it I realize I’m still a novice. I do Twitter though and now I’m starting to get into Facebook which I think I’m going to like because I can ‘talk’ with people on there – pretty sure that’s going to be quite good fun – it may even catch on!


Thank you so much for visiting with me at My Book Retreat. I've enjoyed hearing all of your stories.

For more information about Ray Evans and his memoir, Before the Last All Clear, visit rayevansauthor.com. Also, be sure to read my review of Before the Last All Clear.

*Photos in this post provided by Ray Evans

1 comment:

  1. What a great story! I'm editing a World War II memoir right now and this helps illuminate the era.

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