Some twenty years ago or so I was having a conversation with Paul in which something resembling the following exchange took place:
Me: I've been playing that Chumbawamba album pretty much non-stop.
Paul: Which one?
Me: What do you mean, "Which one?" The one that song is on.
Me: That's the one. Love that album.
Paul: You do realize they have more albums, right?
Me: What's that now?
Cut to two decades later where the Chumbawamba discography has pretty much been the soundtrack for my life, and you'll understand why this story is so amazing to me (and also why I owe Paul a debt I can never repay, for this and for bullying me into writing down the stories in my head and ultimately leading us all here).
Track 12 on their tenth studio album ends with a girl singing a rhyme detailing the jobs children had during the Victorian era. It always stuck with me, both for it's catchiness and the haunting nature of the child singing the lines:
One up the chimney goes
Two hawks a tray of matches
Three braves the weaving floor
All pray for the life of Four
Five down the pit descends
Six plows in fields and meadows
Seven spins the handloom round
Eight lies in th' burial ground
That first line bounced around in my head for a long time, and there was a part of me that knew one day I would have to write a story with that as the title, but it wasn't obvious to me what the story was about yet. I didn't want to be literal and write a story about a Victorian child. I'm no Dickens, nor do I want to be. I needed the story to be its own thing.
Then came NaNoWriMo (don't worry, I'm getting to Boff). I had done it for five years, then taken two years off. My friends over at Firewords were encouraging people to give it a go this year and we could all cheer each other on, and I hemmed and hawed about it until finally deciding I would write a collection of short stories, and the title of the collection would be, you guessed it, "One Up the Chimney Goes."
But the story idea still wasn't with me. I wrote about twelve other stories before it snuck up on me one night when I wasn't paying attention. So I wrote it. And I didn't just use the first line, but the whole poem. It's a dark, gruesome tale and I love it.
All together I wrote eighteen new stories, but I failed to connect them in any real theme. Some are dark, several are suitable for my daughter. It's a mixed bag. So what do you do with eighteen new not-connected stories? You prepare them to shop individually.
But I had a problem. I had essentially "borrowed" an entire verse from this song, and though I know historically the band had done things like encouraging people to steal their album, I didn't know how it would sit with them if I published a story with their lyric blatantly used.
So I decided to ask.
Now I knew two members of the band had been involved from the beginning to the unfortunate end in 2012: Boff Whalley and Lou Watts. I found Boff's website and was happy to see a "Contact" section and with a mighty "What the hell can it hurt?" I filled in the blanks. I don't remember what I said, exactly. I'm hoping I came across as somewhat normal.
Regardless of how strange I may have seemed, Boff Whalley wrote me back.
Not only did he do that, but he also asked to see the finished story. I cannot express how incredibly chuffed I am.
It's in editing. By that I mean my wife read it and did line edits and Paul is giving it a once-over as well. As soon as it's polished I will send it to Boff. Who knows what his reaction will be. I certainly hope he enjoys it and delights in the fact that his words inspired someone else's.
We shall see how this unfolds. As always, there are infinite possibilities ahead, but what really sticks with me right now, what makes all of those possibilities, from the horrible to the happy, alright is one simple fact.
Boff Whalley wrote me back.
Edit: I've just realized that my signature file in my email has this web address, and I've written Boff back, thereby giving him that information, thereby creating a minute possibility that he may be reading this post. If so, Hi Boff! I swear I'm not a nutcase. Honest.