Last week I went to visit a book shop in Holt to see if they would like to stock my book. The first question I received was "Is it connected to Norfolk?" and when I answered "No", I soon realised that I wasn't going to get much further. No attempt at persuasion led to an iota of budge and in the end I accepted I was in the presence of a closed mind encircled by a brick wall, so picked up the box of my beautiful books and left.
This in microcosm is what I have faced throughout this project. There are a lot of people who think that because the men in the group photograph aren't famous then they won't be of interest to anyone but those with some kind of material connection to them. "Well, I suppose their families must be pleased with what you've done" or "Have you shown this to people in Berkshire?" or "The Regimental Museum must be interested". It's as if people see that what I'm doing is family history and military history and immediately decide that it is therefore like all the other family history and military history they know. The fact is, though, that when people actually do see what I'm doing (rather than what they think I'm doing), they are surprised. OK, the stories are of specific men and specific families from specific places doing specific things, but some of those stories are good stories whoever they're told about, and I have used all of the stories to make things that are aimed at connecting with all of us who step upon this strange planet with its mysteries and compulsions and horrors and opportunities. In amongst traditional means of showing history, I make use of technology to tell old stories in new ways, allowing connections to be made that are not generally seen. I have very few answers but I hope that what I do stimulates interesting questions. And it is gratifying when I get the sort of effusive reaction that so many people have given me when they have been to one of my presentations or seen the exhibition or the book.
Being human, it is somehow easier to hold on to the knockbacks - particularly when I've been hearing the same things for over 21 years (repetition makes the heart growl longer). So I would be dishonest to say that when I left the bookshop in Holt I did not feel a mite despondent. By this advanced age, I should have learned that life can go up as well as down, but still it was a welcome surprise to open my post the next morning and find a letter from Melvyn Bragg containing the phrase "It's a magnificent book". I know one is supposed to treat triumph and disaster just the same, but it would seem churlish not to allow me just a hint of basking glee.