The sound of cheering mixed with the tapping of typewriter keys. Seated at a small table, surrounded by the cheerful noise of family life and a game on television, James Herriot put down his heart on paper.
With warmth and humor, the colorful people and animals of the storied Yorkshire Dales came alive. His books turned into a publishing powerhouse in the 1970s that continues to this day.
The attention focused on the recovered manuscripts by Harper Lee and Beatrix Potter made me start thinking about the headline I would most like to see. Which manuscript by a favorite author would I love to have "discovered?" So many came to mind, but this is my number one choice for "if only there could be one more book."
Alf Wight, better known by his pen name of James Herriot, began his writing career at the age of 53 after years of soaking up the dialect and customs of the Dales.
He traveled the byroads of a vanishing way of life in the 1930s, paying calls on small farms as a young veterinarian. His first book, with its self-deprecating humor and quizzical and kind portrayal of people and animals, became an unexpected best-seller. Before his stories found their way to publication, however, his road was first paved with rejections.
His seemingly effortless writing style was honed from struggling through fistfuls of rejections for his early efforts. He was in his fifties, spending long hours treating animals in all kinds of weather, and trying to write and be published.
At first, he wrote football stories. Rejection. He tried other forms of what he thought would appeal to readers. Rejection.
James Herriot once said he became "a connoisseur of the sickening thud that a [rejected] manuscript makes when it falls through the letterbox."
He persisted. Hunched over his typewriter, he began writing about his own world—long days of mud, below-zero temperatures, winsome animals, high, wild places and old-fashioned, and often eccentric, farmers.
It's easy to imagine his feelings when his first manuscript, If Only They Could Talk, was accepted and published. Those feelings must have plummeted when his first two books did not sell very well. It would have been easy to become discouraged, but he continued to sit down at the typewriter in the evenings.
Then, his first two books were combined into one: All Creatures Great and Small. They began to fly off the shelves in the United States, and he was on the way to achieving world-wide fame for writing about his world.
When his books reached the best-seller lists in a phenomenal way, I'm sure the publishers who rejected his manuscripts wished they could recall time and do things differently.
By now he found it no hardship to settle down at the end of a working day with the stories flowing effortlessly from his typewriter. Having watched him put in a full day's work in the practice, I used to stare in amazement at the contented figure tapping away. He had one great advantage; he genuinely loved writing...
Jim Wight recalls his father could write away in a seemingly impenetrable bubble, but look up whenever something on the television was worthy of attention (particularly during a football game). Then he'd tune out again, and the typewriter keys resumed their tapping.
I like to imagine James Herriot plunking away on the typewriter keys and writing that one more book to be discovered, read, enjoyed and loved.
Linda Borromeo enjoyed being surrounded by books when she worked at the University of California, Berkeley. She is now the author of Mystery Shores, a novel of secrets along the Pacific Northwest coast. Discover more about her book here.
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