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Changing History

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Changing History

The trouble with research is that you just don't know what you don't know.

A few years ago I wrote a short story called 'Billy From the Wells', about a ballet dancer from Sadler's Wells who finds himself in the trenches at Christmas of 1914. Being a meticulous sort, I checked that the Wells was actually in existence in 1914. Billy appeared in It Never Was Worthwhile in time to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War and was the subject of more than a few complimentary reviews. It's certainly one of my favourites of the collection, and I've always felt a certain parental pride for the piece.

Which is why I may never forgive Misha Herwin.

Billy is making a return appearance in Discollection, my random collection of yarns to be released in April. Misha kindly offered to edit all of the stories and, among the comments of 'bollocks has two ells, surely?', was one that triggered my smug mode. There, in red, she'd added: 'Sadler's Wells ballet in 1914? Are you sure?'

Yes, Misha (shakes heads patronisingly), of course I'm sure.  It started life as Richard Sadler's Musick House in 1683.

Hang on, let's double-check... Oh bugger.

She's right, damn her. Sadler's Wells Ballet School was established in 1931, and the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet didn't entrechat onto the stage until 1946. And there's the problem: how do you know when you've done enough research? You don't know what you've missed because you've missed it. The only foolproof way of finding out for sure is to expose your magna operi to the eagle eye of the diminutive dragon lady. And then don't be tempted to argue when she catches you out. And she will.

Having found out that there were effectively no notable ballet companies in Britain in 1914, I've had to export Billy to Paris. He had to become Billy From the Opéra on the way, but he seems to have enjoyed his enlistment into the British Army even more.

‘Well, when you’re down the Bois de Boulogne and some big chap in a uniform wants to give you a shilling, what’s a girl to do?’

Dance, Billy, dance. 

I like your blog, but dont you think a mincing gay is a bit sterotypical in the 21st century?
Comment by WayneDrain  23/03/2017 11:06:35
That's a very fair view, Wayne, and one I thought hard about when I wrote the story. Billy is actually based on a real person I met some years ago - a theatrical dresser who was a very talented ballet dancer. He was as camp as a row of tents and a fantastic character - hugely intelligent and uproariously funny. I agree that Billy in the story is something of a stereotype in his demeanour, but I hope that events show him to be much more than a Julian and Sandy pastiche
Comment by Jem Shaw  29/03/2017 10:12:07

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