I have broken with tradition this week and am posting my author’s note first. This is because this week’s story is quite different for the other ones and needs some explanation. The story this week is a picture book designed for everyone over the age of five (not just for children). It is designed to fit the self-ended picture book layout of twelve two-page spreads.
As I am not an illustrator, and as the pictures are crucial to the story, I have included a brief description of each illustration. These descriptions I have indented, italicised and coloured blue to separate them from the actual text which is in black. I have intentionally left the descriptions brief because illustrators need to be given the freedom to explore their art on their own terms.
Window is a wordless collage picture book that shows the same view out of one window over a long period as the urbanisation starts to affect a formerly rural area. I loved looking at this book as a child and seeing the world change. The book raises many questions for the reader.
Where’s Wally is a book full of busy pictures in which the reader is challenged to find Wally. However, as you spend time finding the be-striped gentleman in each scene, you notice many other interesting characters whose stories make you wonder.
In this book, I have tried to combine the best elements of both Window (the structure and some themes) and Where’s Wally (the busy, colourful, detailed images) and have added a poignant narrative. In the narrative, I wanted to explore the themes of memory, nostalgia, imagination, change, disability and the passage of time. My intention is that families could read this book repeatedly and still find something new and interesting both in the pictures and the text.
The idea for this book was the first one I had at the start of the Man on a Wharf Challenge. However, I decided that I needed to write some more conventional stories first. Four stories into the challenge and I think I’m ready to share this one with you all. I hope you enjoy it!
Mr Marconi Remembers
by Chalky MacLaan
Every picture in the book shows Mr Marconi from behind, in the foreground, sitting on a park bench and looking down at the dock area from a nearby hill. On each page, the picture of the dock area changes, but Mr Marconi is always there, remembering. There are clear indications by posters, cars, fashions, etc. of the year in which the scene is set.
Every day, Mr Marconi loves to walk to the docks. In winter, he wears his beanie and greatcoat. In summer he wears his wide brimmed hat. It is not too far and Mr Marconi knows the quickest way. When he gets there, he always sits awhile and remembers…
In the first picture, Mr Marconi is 90 and it is 2014. The dock area has undergone serious renovation and it is now a lawned promenade area. You can see tourists snapping pictures, children playing, families picnicking, young lovers strolling, young soldiers on parade, businessmen on mobile phones, young men working, some disabled people, some people happy, some sad. The old crane structures are still there but have been incorporated into the new modern environment. There is a slightly 1960s futuristic vibe about the place.
He remembers holding his father’s rough hand as he stepped down the gangplank of the black steamship. He looked at all the people around him and listened to the strange new sounds. He asked his father when they would be going home. “This is our new home,” father replied, looking toward the city.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 5 and it is 1929. The dock area is a hive of activity. There is a passenger ship with many European immigrants disembarking. You can clearly see a little five year old boy, holding the hand of his father. They are quite obviously new to the country and know no one: no one is there to meet them. It is just before the depression, so the area doesn’t look too run down.
He remembers running around cranes and jumping over barrels, searching for a hiding place. When his friends finally found him, they laughed. Shutting his eyes, he started counting as the game continued. They played all day. They only returned home when the stevedores started shouting at them.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 10 and it is 1934. The dock area is busy, but there are many signs of the great depression, including the edge of a shanty town in the park next to the dock (a ‘Hooverville’). The dock area also looks a bit run down and unkempt. A bunch of kids can be seen gallivanting around the docks, playing amongst the equipment.
He remembers lining up with the other young men, ready to cross the sea again. The grey boat behind him loomed over the crowd, casting a long shadow. Would he ever come back? He patted his side. In his pocket was a letter and on that letter were three words which made him feel brave.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 18 and it is 1942. The docks look like they have been tidied up. A warship is docked and young soldiers are lined up ready to board. There are many family members waving goodbye to the soldiers. One soldier is staring towards the crowd where an old couple and a young lady are standing.
He remembers the people cheering as the boat pulled alongside the wharf. Spotting someone in the crowd, he waved. He held on tightly to the railing so he didn’t fall over. He could almost taste his favourite meal and feel the warmth of a hug. He picked up his stick and followed the stream of soldiers.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 21 and it is 1945. The docks are a scene of celebration as another warship (looking a bit battered) is about to dock. On the ship are many happy soldiers waving to the crowds. Many of the soldiers are injured. One injured soldier waves at an older man and a young lady.
He remembers lowering the crane hook. The round handle of the lever fit snugly in his palm. He concentrated to make sure the goods went in the right place. The toots of ships and trains rose to him on the breeze as he paused a moment and looked to the horizon. He felt like he was floating.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 22 and it is 1946. The dock is busy and orderly. There is a train in the siding being loaded by a crane. The crane operator is visible.
He remembers taking her by the hand and leading her into the ship. He put his arm around her shoulders and she smiled. She looked so beautiful. The scent of roses lingered around her. He was happy.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 25 and it is 1949. It is night time and a passenger ship is berthed at the dock. Passengers are boarding. One young couple are half way up the gangplank and the woman is peering back to the crowd on the docks. The young man is gently guiding her into the ship. They are dressed in neat clothes as they have just been married.
He remembers strutting around like a king. He talked to everyone; everyone knew him; everyone asked him questions. On his way home each night, he looked at the crane and thought about the years he had spent working on the docks. His boy came running to him as he approached the gate.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 35 and it is 1959. The docks are busy. A foreman is talking to a worker. At the gate waits a woman and a young boy.
He remembers his last day at the docks. The ageing steel structures creaked and groaned as he left his meeting. His feet felt heavy as he trudged to the gate. He had thought he’d work here forever.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 48 and it is 1972. It is an overcast and windy day. There are fewer workers on the docks and the whole area is starting to look quite unkempt. The cranes appear to be a more modern automated system. One man walks across an empty section holding a box in one arm and a piece of paper in the other.
He remembers walking by on a dark, rainy afternoon, arm in arm with his wife. “They’re closed,” she whispered. They stood there and listened to the rattle of the raindrops on the new fence. He put his hand out and touched the wire mesh.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 62 and it is 1986. The docks are closed and abandoned and surrounded by a wire mesh fence. It is rainy and overcast and the docks behind are somewhat obscured. An old couple stand arm in arm in the rain, looking at the fence. On the fence is a poster with a design for the new docklands area (similar to the dock area on pages 1-2). There is also a ‘vote 1’ political poster.
He remembers bringing his grandchildren here. He told stories of his childhood and laughed for the first time in ages. He could hear birds calling to one another and the distant swish of the sea. As his words flowed out, he felt lighter.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 76 and it is 2000. The docks are all fixed up (as on pages 1-2) but there are few people around. A man stands next to a younger man, obviously happy and telling stories. There is a young boy and a young girl nearby.
When he finishes remembering, Mr Marconi picks up his cane and goes home. He smiles, knowing that tomorrow he’ll visit again.
In this picture, Mr Marconi is 90 and it is 2014 again. Mr Marconi has stood up and it is obvious that he is completely blind as he holds a cane. The dock area is actually run down and unfixed since pages 19-20. For several pages, the scenes have been a combination of Mr Marconi’s memory, nostalgia and imagination. Some elements of the pictures in pages 17-22 (he has to retire from his job on page 17 because of his increasing blindness) are things which don’t really fit in the era of those pictures or are things from his own past. These shouldn’t be noticeable on first inspection, but should be noticed when the reader goes back and reads the book again, knowing the ending. There is also an updated poster on the fence, showing that the dock area will actually be redeveloped in 2016.