Authors: Stuart Donald
Stuart has taught himself his craft so well that some stories could pass as the real Munro.
What a superb tribute to Neil Munro's stories of Para Handy and his crew. This book is a joy to read, and the âfactnotes' giving the background to each tale serve to make the stories even more enjoyable. A double treat of delightful seafaring tales and local history in one book.
Review by GA Kerr on Amazon
Complete New Tales of
The continued voyages of
the Vital Spark
Chronicled with affection,
acknowledgement and apology
to Neil Munro
To the memory of my parents
who had the kindness and good sense
to introduce me to Para Handy at an early age
who worried about my childhood wanderings on the Firth
but still encouraged me to make them
For our next generation
ANDREW and SUSAN
THE AGE OF THE VITAL SPARK â This ï¬ne picture of passengers disembarking from Williamson's turbine Queen Alexandra captures perfectly the atmosphere and the ambience of the turn-of-the-century Clyde as Para Handy knew it. Here are the well-dressed daytrippers he longed to carry, the gentry en route to their estates, the curious crowds thronging the pierhead for the social event of the day, and the conï¬dent elegance of the new breed of ships, with the grace and the silhouette of liners in miniature. Sadly we shall never see their like again!
ï¬rst met Stuart Donald in 1992 in that bastion of Cowal bookselling, Fiona and Gregor Roy's Bookpoint in Dunoon, and after we got talking he mentioned that he was working on some Para Handy stories, written in Munro's style and set in authentic West Coast locations. In that wonderful timbre which he exuded when taking someone into a conï¬dence he lowered his head to my level and murmured conspiratorially, “I can't expect them to compare with Munro's originals, but I think they are fairly good!”
Some sample stories duly arrived and it did not take me long to agree with Stuart's belief. They were very good stories indeed. We agreed that there should be a trilogy of tales brought out a couple of years apart under the titles
Para Handy Sails Again
Para Handy All At Sea
Para Handy At The Helm
. The ï¬rst two books sold quickly and reprinted, but sadly, the ï¬nal volume never made it to press. In September 2000 Stuart lost a long and brave battle against cancer.
My quandary was what to do with Stuart's literary legacy and after taking advice from both Gregor and Stuart's wife, Maureen, I decided to reissue the ï¬rst two books as a compendium volume in order to maintain the corpus. This is it and I am proud to publish it.
Stuart wrote of Munro's creation in
Para Handy Sails Again
, “Nobody could ever manage to recreate that world with the same matchless quality of craftsmanship, affection or accuracy. My hope is that my own efforts in that direction will entertain rather than irritate, and provide an acceptable extension to the Para Handy repertoire.”
Well, Stuart's misgivings were unfounded as he did manage to recreate Para Handy's world and his stories have irritated no one. Long may they remain in print.
Neil Wilson, September 2001
nyone who is planning to tamper with a national institution approaches the task with some trepidation and, in my efforts to extend the repertoire of the much-loved tales about the Clyde puffer
and her kenspeckle Captain and crew, I am no exception.
Neil Munro's characters are a national institution to many Scots, and the tales have a remarkable provenance. They were ï¬rst created to feature in Munro's anonymous columns in the
, on which paper he rose to become editor. Although they were dismissed as âslight' by their creator (who saw them as an interruption to the writing of his serious, and nowadays sadly neglected, historical novels) they have rarely, if ever, been out of print for three-quarters of a century. Year on year new generations of readers are captivated by the gentle humour and kindly atmosphere of these chronicles of a long-lost world and a gentler society, on which we tend to look back with much affection, and nostalgic regret for what has gone for ever.
Trying to live up to the expectations of such enthusiasts while having the impertinence to try to recreate Para Handy and his people was always going to be a daunting task.
However, at the risk of offending the purists, I have to say at once that writing these stories has been great fun â which, in an ideal world, all writing should be; and that there were occasions when they wrote themselves, in the sense that I would embark on a particular tale with no clear idea of where or how it would come to its conclusion.
In retrospect, however, I am surprised that a volume of new Para Handy tales has not been attempted before this. There have been no less than three television reincarnations of the
and only in the most recent of them was there any serious attempt to dramatise some of Neil Munro's original storylines: the others were, basically, ânew' creations. The most faithful of all the attempts to transfer Para Handy from the printed page was, in my view, the 1953 ï¬lm
which, though never formally acknowledged as being based on Neil Munro's own characters, so obviously and so successfully in fact was.
Whether I have succeeded in creating an acceptable extension to the original tales will not be for me to judge, and I offer no attempt to defend my efforts in terms of their authenticity or readability. That is a matter for the personal judgement of those who may read them.
I would, however, defend the concept of writing new tales built round Neil Munro's creations, for I believe it has in fact been done before â and during his lifetime. In my documentary volume
In The Wake Of The Vital Spark
I put forward the proposition that the 18 ânew' stories published for the ï¬rst time in the recent Birlinn edition of the original tales were, in fact, the work of hands other than Neil Munro's. I won't reiterate the arguments here, but my conviction about that point was one of the factors which encouraged me to proceed with the present work.
I close the case for the defence by stressing that I believe Neil Munro to be one of the ï¬nest writers of humorous ï¬ction which this, or any other, country has ever produced. I grew up with the Para Handy tales, and know them â literally â almost off by heart. I therefore approached the whole task with both affection and respect for their creator. I like to believe that Neil Munro would not be taken too aback by imitation, for it is, we are told, the sincerest form of ï¬attery.
And I am certain that he would not look too unkindly on whoever was rash enough to attempt it â for that surely is the kind of sympathetic and forgiving man he was.
I certainly don't ask the readers to be either sympathetic or forgiving, however â but simply to read on, and come to their own conclusions and form their own judgements!
My one intention and my only wish is that these new tales might entertain and amuse, for if they fail in that, then they fail in everything.
This is the same introduction which appeared in
Para Handy Sails Again
The Encounter at Inveraray
chugged past the hamlet of Newtown, tacked almost as an afterthought onto the Lochgilphead road at the southern limits of the Burgh of Inveraray, the town's capacious pier came into view. Para Handy was astonished to see a huge crowd thronging both that structure and the stone quayside onto which it abutted, all of them staring across the water towards the approaching puffer.
“My Chove, Dougie,” he said, “we've not always been such a centre of attention in the past! But I've always said, the time would come when the ï¬ner points of the shup would at last be recognised by the public at large. I'm glad we gave the lum a fresh coat of pent at Tarbert yesterday mornin', for she's neffer looked bonnier and plainly the news hass got around!”