mistaking fiction for real life

The facts

“Gosh! Wasn’t it awful yesterday?” said William as the four Outlaws walked slowly down the village street.
“Never stopped for a single second,” said Ginger.
“Nearly as bad as the one in the Bible,” said Douglas.
“Just rained cats and dogs all day,” said Henry.
“I wouldn’t have minded cats an’ dogs,” said William. “Cats an’ dogs would have been rather excitin’. Gosh! Think of ’em all tumblin’ down from the sky!” He gave his short harsh chuckle. “We’d have to have umbrellas made of iron to keep ’em off.”
The others considered this picture with rising spirits.

Verdict

After William had over-indulged in some supernatural fiction, the Outlaws decide to find a ghost. Fortunately, just at that moment, they hear a villager refer to another resident as “a ghost” so immediately go to investigate. They wonder at what he can have done so heinous as to justify being sentenced to eternal life as a ghost:

“P’raps he robbed a bank.”
“Or forged a will.”
“Or didn’t pay his income tax.”
“Or let his motor insurance run out.”

“My mother promised me sixpence if I’d sit quiet for an hour,” said William. “I found a book of ghost stories in the bookcase an’ I read it.”
“Did you get the sixpence?” said Henry.
“Well, I got fivepence halfpenny,” said William. “I started talkin’ about ghosts in the middle.”

For some reason they become convinced that the ghost is seeking to destroy some incindiary political papers, and try to find them before this can happen.

But they manage, instead, to find some rather interesting papers belonging – or, strictly speaking, not quite belonging – to a local author.

The facts

“So what’s your story about?” asked Ginger.
“Well, it’s jolly excitin’,” said William. “It’s about a gang of international diamond smugglers an’ they all pretend to be members of a golf club, but really this golf club’s a sort of blind. It’s the headquarters of this smugglin’ gang. They only pretend to play golf. Really they’re smugglin’ diamonds all the time.”
Ginger considered this in comparative silence. “Sounds like all your other stories to me,” he said at last.
“Well, it isn’t,” said William indignantly. “It’s abs’lutely diff’rent. It’s diff’rent from every other story I’ve ever written in all my life.”

  • Number: 35.2
  • Published: 1965
  • Book: William and the Pop Singers
  • Synopsis: William and Ginger try to save a visiting golfer from an evil gang of smugglers.

Verdict

Somewhat overawed by a visiting and erudite friend of Robert’s, William is converted to the ‘school of nature’ in which the most important characteristic of fiction is that its characters appear genuine and natural.

So, in his latest story about smugglers, William names the characters after residents of the village, and invents a detective, Meredith (“red hair an’ a bit of a limp”), to pursue them.

The doors burst open.
William charged through one, brandishing his fire extinguisher, and Ginger charged through the other, hurtling his trolley before him. But, unfortunately, no rehearsal had been possible and their sense of direction misfired. They charged across the room full tilt into each other. William directed his fire extinguisher into Ginger’s face and Ginger drove his trolley with all his might against William’s solid form. The two struggled on the floor amid the wreckage of the trolley.
“Fire!” shouted William.
“Murder!” shouted Ginger.

So, of course, when a young man with red hair an’ a bit of a limp arrives in the village, William naturally assumes that his work of fiction has, remarkably, turned out to be fact.

They do what they can to save poor Meredith from the evil clutches of Miss Golightly (headmistress of the girls’ school and archvillain of William’s story), but it turns out that the two of them are actually quite happy to meet…

 The facts

“What’ll we have?” said Ginger. “In the newspaper, I mean.”
“They have news in newspapers,” said Henry simply.
“Well, there isn’t any news,” said Ginger. “My father’s always sayin’ there isn’t any. news.”
“Well, we can invent news, can’t we?” said William. “I bet that’s what real ones do, invent it if there isn’t any…”
“There’s lors against it,” warned Douglas. “My aunt once knew someone that was had up by the p’lice for saying somethin’ about someone else that wasn’t true. It frightened her so much she got an awful disease called jaundice an’ turned yellow all over.”

Verdict

“Real newspapers try ‘n’ get news that other newspapers haven’t got,” said Henry. “They call it a scoop.”
“We’ll have one of ’em, then,” said William casually. “We’ll fix that up later. Now let’s go off somewhere. We want to be private. We don’t want people int’ruptin’ us. I bet the editors of ‘The Times’ an’… an’… an’…”
“‘The Poultry World’,” suggested Douglas whose mother kept hens, and studied ‘The Poultry World’ assiduously each week.
“Yes, ‘The Poultry World'”, said William. “Well, I bet they don’t have their mothers shoutin’ up at them every minute not to make so much noise.”

The Outlaws make it seem so easy, but astonishingly enough, they get caught up in all sorts of twists, turns and shenanigans.

“My foot feels funny,” said Ginger. “I think it’s gone to
sleep.”
“Put it to bed, then,” said Douglas, and the others shouted with mirth at his wit.

But there is some neighbourhood drama going on: Miss Milton has a huge bee in her bonnet about a visitor to the village, Mr Helston, not washing his windows. So much so that she breaks into his house to clean them – and finds herself there at exactly the same time as the Outlaws, who have found some of Mr Helston’s papers and convinced themselves that he is a murderer (whereas in fact they are, surprise surprise, just pages from the crime novel he’s working on).

Things come to a head when Mr Helston arrives home with Mr Brown – who has just found out that the visitor is the writer of a series of books of which he is very fond – and discovers the chaos in his house.

William gazed at his father open-mouthed. “D’you mean he’s famous?”
“Of course he’s famous,” said Mr Brown.
Without a moment’s hesitation, William dragged from his pocket the grubby piece of paper and much-bitten pencil that formed his editorial equipment. “I represent the ‘Old Barn Times’,” he said. “Can you kin’ly tell me…” The other four joined in, Violet Elizabeth’s voice rising shrilly above the chorus, “what is the mos’ excitin’ moment of your life?”