Life Is Now: A Fluffy White Tail.

Once upon a time there was an ordinary man. He worked as a civil servant, he had a wife and two little daughters named Juliet and Rosamund. The only slightly unusual thing about him was that he used to tell stories to his little girls whenever they went anywhere in the car. Sometimes they were stories that everyone knows like Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk, but more often they were stories he'd made up, the little girls liked these better, as they were unique and all their own.

One day, the family had to travel from their home to Stratford-On-Avon, a journey of a hundred miles or a little more. The girls asked for a long story that they hadn't heard before. Their father thought for a moment and then began: "Once upon a time there were two rabbits called Hazel and Fiver."

That was the genesis of the wonderful story that later came to be called Watership Down. I know so much because Richard Adams tells us so in an intruduction to the book which I have in my audio copy. The story wasn't finished on that first day, but he went on telling it on journeys to and from school, basing different characters on people he had known in the past, until finally the long, thrilling tale came to an end.

There were no thoughts of making this tale into a book at all. It was just going to be a story for the children, but Juliet and Rosamund thought it was far too good to waste, and I for one am so glad they did! The finished book was rejected seven times before it found a publisher. It could have been left mouldering on a shelf somewhere, but I'm so glad Richard Adams persiveered until the book was published by Rex Collins in a tiny first edition of only 2,500 copies. And that could have been the end of it, only then it was picked up by an American publisher, it began to gain attention and eventually became a best seller, and the iconic classic it is today.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that Watership Down is my bolt hole book, my comfort book, the one which sends me off to sleep most nights into a sweet green place of happy dreams. I can't even begin to put into words how much this epic tale about a group of rabbits has helped me. Some people would call it a children's book. I wouldn't. I actually didn't understand it as a child, in fact parts of it frightened me. Part of the reason Richard Adams found it so hard to find a publisher was that the book was about rabbits that could talk and think, though they never did anything physical which real rabbits couldn't do, but was written very much in an adult style. So children would find it difficult, but adults wouldn't read a book about talking rabbits as they'd think it was babyish. The book's a lot of things, but babyish it is not. Engaging, moving in places, thrilling, funny, informative, all those yes, but very very far from babyish. I first read it right through when I was about fourteen and I think the book helped me to grow up.

And why am I telling you all this, you might wonder, I've written blog entries about this before. Well, Richard Adams is resting with the angels I heard yesterday. He's one of so many that this awful year has taken from us and I've been sad about all the ones I've admired, but this one is different. This feels like I lost a family member, and it's not just because he's gone, I don't have a right to cry really, he wasn't my father, grandfather, family member, however much I feel like he was. I'm crying because I left something too late.

I first got my unabridged audio copy of Watership Down in 2011. I'd owned a braille one before that, and an abridged recording read by the wonderful Roy Dotrice had been in and out of my life via the public library, but 2011 was when I finally had it all in audio, read by the wonderful Ralph Cosham, and that's when it became my every day book. Over the next couple of years, as life started getting tough at times, I'd think: my word, what would I do without this book! I only wish I could let Richard Adams know what it's doing for me! Then I'd google him, look at his official website, try to find a contact address, an Email address, an address for his agent, something, I'd never be able to, but I'd never try too hard, I'd always be doing it in the middle of some sleepless, frantic, distraught night, so I'd go back to my book and in the morning life would go on and I'd forget. I actually did get to thank Ralph Cosham before he died in 2014, for which I'm profoundly grateful, but I could never find a way to thank the author of the book that did and continues to do me so much good.

And now it's too late. I can't get over the thought that if I'd tried a bit harder, concentrated a bit more, I'd have found a way. Oh come on, I can hear you saying, you're being obsessive. What do you think he would have cared anyway, to be thanked by some crazy woman who reads his book every night before she goes to sleep, he would have had better things to do than read your stupid letter even if you'd sent him one. But that's the point isn't it. I'll never know, and he'll never know how much I valued him because I didn't take the trouble to find a way of telling him.

And it's really made me think. We're always hearing it: Life's short, never take people for granted, don't forget to live, don't forget to let people know how you feel. It's a lot easier said than done isn't it. Life happens and gets in the way. This isn't a mistake I want to make again. A new year's resolution for me maybe, one I sincerely hope I can keep. If I need to tell someone something important I'll do it today, not tomorrow, I'll make sure I take the trouble to find a way. Please let me take this lesson to heart and always remember, in the words of my favorite of all favorite books, that "Life is now."

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