‘I believe we all have a certain time in our lives that we’re good at. I wasn’t good at being a child.’ The epigraph from Victoria Wood to this endearingly honest memoir says it all. In it the best-selling children’s writer Nicholas Fisk lays bare his teenage soul as he beckons us into the world of late 1930s suburbia where he grew up.
On the surface it’s a comforting place of ‘horse-drawn milk-floats, lorries delivering Corona soft drinks, postmen with conical hats peaked in front and behind, and “Wallsie”, the Walls Ice-Cream man, pedalling his freezer-box trike’. But underneath it’s all embarrassment and uncertainty for the third-person narrator Nick (real name David Higginbottom) as he searches for an identity, from the kid who’s jeered at by bullies as a ‘Muvvers’ darling’ to the shy, gangling young adult affecting to smoke a pipe because the girl he fancies doesn’t like cigarettes.
Though Pig Ignorant is lightly written, inevitably the big subjects – sex and death – lurk beneath the wry humour, as Nick gets his first job with a theatrical agency and finds his faltering way into Soho jazz clubs where he moonlights as a guitarist. Soon there are girls, idealized and distant in this world before the Pill, impossible to understand and sexually dementing. Death comes in the form of the Blitz, the ‘clamped-down dark of the blackout’, the night when the family home is nearly hit, and the day when Nick sees the ghastly dust-whitened face of an elderly man whose torso is pulled out of the rubble. Pig Ignorant ends with another rite-of-passage, Nick’s call-up into RAF. It’s a brilliant book, the story not only of the making of a man but also of the making of a writer.
With best wishes, as ever, from the SF office staff
Jess, Isabel, Rebecca & India