IT was good enough for Shakespeare… so having also left KES at the age of 14, Stuart Caldwell is bidding for similar fame as he unleashes his second novel on the world.
While you can pick up references to his home patch at various points of the Bard’s works, Stuart has placed the intriguingly-named Fart and Toast firmly on familiar territory, with the action starting in West Street and various aspects of Stratford life getting a mention, including the Herald – though the action quickly rocks around the world.
He bills it as a whimsical novel and it has to be read to be truly understood. Even in my wildest 1970s visions of life with Debbie Harry I never thought of tandem skydiving with her but it happens here, along with many other strange occurrences in a rather quirky adventure.
To get an idea of the plot, the author describes it thus: “If you’ve been waiting for a novel about a good-hearted baker from Stratford-upon-Avon who collects belly button fluff, knows a thing or two about potatoes, presents fourth-rate concerts at an elderly care home and gets embroiled in the conspiracy to end all conspiracies, this could turn out to be the most compelling read of your life. It’s even got a swan murderer and a rock star with a broken penis!”
And when it comes to placing it in the hall of fame for English literature written by those who left KES at 14, he also explains the genre: “I’d say it’s a humorous, slightly surreal, vaguely romantic, faintly satirical, quirky, adult fiction mystery, if that helps.”
While it embraces many exotic locations, its Stratford roots are authentic: “The West Street home of the central character was actually my aunt’s in the 1950s, whilst the backyard is that of the John Street terraced house where I lived till I was seven.”
His inspiration for all this madness is not easily explained but could be accounted for by a life that has seen him work in various roles in various places, from Stratford to Australia and back again; fanatical support for Aston Villa, a love of steak and ale pie or other options – it is certainly an original piece of work and is one of those books you’ll have to tackle and make your own mind up.
It’s dedicated to wife Louise (nee Thurman) who also grew up in Stratford and the family has been back in the area for some 25 years after the Australian chapter.
His first book was very different – a serious political thriller. “It’s out of print and I fully intend it to stay there,” he said. Work on book three, alongside his day job running a greetings card company, is well under way, with 20,000 words already in the bag and the setting once again in Stratford, though the year is 1971 this time.
So what about being sent packing from KES before his time? He told us: “I was indeed expelled. The teachers didn’t think school was as funny as I did and didn’t enjoy my recital of the verb bonio. Basically I was the class clown, a benign, silly rebel, so my expulsion was cumulative rather than one shattering event. I often regret those days – but we are what we are and I think leaving KES may have been instructive in its own way.”
Fart and Toast is available to buy from Amazon.