– The Dedication –
Between the title page and the prologue, there was another page, in the centre of which he had typed the following dedication: ‘To Bill, for all his help.’
Bill, of course! How could he forget Bill? He and Bill had been friends since childhood. They had lived practically next door to each other in Queensferry, had grown up together, had gone to the same schools, had shared the same boyhood adventures; they had even worked together during their last school holidays, having lied about their ages to get jobs in a nearby hotel. After they left school, they drifted apart for a while. He went to university, lasted only a year there, obtained his first real job, lived in Edinburgh and got married. Like his father before him, Bill joined the Civil Service. He, too, got married and lived in Edinburgh. They met up by chance one day and went on to renew their friendship, with their wives in tow this time. Then Bill and his wife, Marilyn, moved to the north of England – to Darlington, he seemed to recall, on a Civil Service posting – while he and his wife, Ann, moved over to Ann’s hometown in Fife. That was when he began to write the novel and when Bill agreed to comment on it as it developed. He posted each chapter or couple of chapters to Bill, and Bill replied with his observations a week or so later. They kept up their regular, long-distance correspondence over many months, the four of them getting together occasionally during that period.
He looked out of the window at the greyness of the sky, remembering their correspondence. He had been such an arrogant prat back then. All he really wanted from Bill was his endorsement, his encouragement; to be told how clever he was and how good the writing was. He neither wanted nor welcomed criticisms. If he received any from Bill, he either ignored them or argued against them. Poor Bill. The man was such a saint, always willing to submit his careful, practical and helpful comments, almost apologetic when he did make criticisms, not flinching at the rebuffs, quietly persisting through the process. When he thought about it now, the truth was that he didn’t deserve Bill’s input.
He looked away from the window and back to the manuscript. Enough of this gloom, he said to himself. There was a project to get on with, and he had barely begun. He turned the page over. The dedication to Bill would remain; it was well-deserved.
– o –