A writing starter by Phil Earle and Michael Wagg
“We’re surrounded by stories every day of our lives; all you have to do is look for them.“
This story starts with a badge. A small button badge pinned to Waggy’s cap.
Actually that’s not totally true, it starts with a friendship: our friendship of nearly 30 years, which led us to a café. Or was it a pub? One of the two. Probably the latter, which is where Phil spotted the badge which had a young man’s face on it, and asked Waggy who it was.
Waggy told him it was Edgar Kail, a footballer who played for a team called Dulwich Hamlet around 100 years ago. Phil’s ears pricked up. Waggy liked to celebrate Edgar by wearing the badge on his cap. He said that Edgar Kail was a hero to The Hamlet fans even after all that time, and that they sing about him at every match still now. Phil’s ears pricked up even more.
The next day Waggy emailed Phil to tell him a bit more about Edgar Kail. He knew some facts about him – that he’d scored over 400 goals for The Hamlet; that he was the last non-league player to play for the men’s England team – but it was so long ago, there was a lot more to learn. There were gaps in Edgar’s story. Phil’s eyes opened wide. ‘Let’s fill some of them in.’
‘The gaps? How? There’s not masses online.’
‘Don’t worry. It’s easy, we just ask one question.’
‘No, not what. What if?’
Asking ourselves, and each other, that simple question was all we had to do to get us started with our story and to keep us going. What if? The answers we came up with, the stories we started to tell each other, were inspired by real lives but they were imaginative, fictional ones.
They led us first to Adolf Jäger, a real German footballer who had once played against Edgar’s Dulwich Hamlet so many years ago. There is a friendship between their two clubs still today. We knew that was going to be important.
Then they led us to imagine Adi, our teenage hero. He was going to be important too. We decided he would be the grandson of Adolf in the story. Adi became more and more important as the writing went on, as he would be the one closest in age to the people we were writing the story for. Aspirational characters are important. They tie the reader to the end of the tale.
The answers led us to imagine football match reports, old letters and telegrams; and then different scenes, in different places, where Edgar and Adolf could get to know each other more.
‘Where would they meet?’ ‘In Hamburg, where Adolf lived. Then on an island in the North Sea!’
‘What if?’ ‘What if they meet at Wembley Stadium!’
We were excited by the possibilities, never mind the characters.
The answers we came up with eventually led us to a village in Scotland where Edgar lived as an old man. A village we’d never been to or heard of. That was a surprise to us but we loved it. We imagined Adi, our hero, turning up unexpectedly at Edgar’s front door one day to give him a surprise. Adi would have something in his hand. Something he needs to return to Edgar.
‘What’s he returning?’
‘I don’t know. Something small and simple.’
‘Something that doesn’t seem important and isn’t really valuable.’
‘Yes, but something that means the world to him.’
‘To both of them. To Edgar & Adolf.’
We talked and talked, usually while walking the dog. What if? And then one day we stopped in our tracks. We looked up at each other and at the caps we were both wearing. They both had a badge pinned to them now, and that reminded us where this chapter of our own story had started. This time all four of our ears pricked up. So did the dog’s!
‘The story starts with a badge!’
The next morning Waggy woke up to find that Phil had slipped a sheet of paper under his bedroom door. It was typed on one side. Waggy rubbed his eyes and read the first line:
‘Scotland, 1983. Adi steps from the train on to the station platform. He’s seventeen and feels a long way from Germany, his home …’
We’d started writing. It started with something as simple as a badge.
What will kick off your story?
Edgar & Adolf is published by Oxford University Press & is available to buy via our Bookshop: Edgar & Adolf | Just Imagine… (justimaginestorycentre.co.uk)