I’m very fortunate to have met many people who had a formative influence on my childhood from afar. Patrick Moore was one of them, David Braben another, but there was a man who I would dearly have loved to shake by the hand and thank him for a gift he gave me, though he never knew it.
You probably know me most for my books; Elite: Reclamation, the Shadeward Saga and the others. I’ve been writing for a long time. In fact I can trace my writing ‘career’ back to the very moment in Christmas 1985 when, out of an overstuffed box, tumbled a cassette, a manual and a novella in the lap of a wide-eyed 14 year old boy.
You’ve heard of Raxxla, I presume? Read on, Commander.
That Novella is the stuff of Elite lore. A simple story perhaps, but one that inspired me to write. I suddenly realised that it was acceptable to write adventures in space, something my traditional school frowned upon and others around me did not understand.
Robert Holdstock wrote that story, The Dark Wheel, a story that sparked the imaginations of thousands and, for me having read it, it was the moment I became a writer. Raxxla, the Dark Wheel… those were all Robert’s creations.
I still have the first ever thing I wrote. You won’t be surprised to hear its an Elite story. It’s not very good, in fact it is the worst kind of teenage angst imaginable, but it was where I began.
Alas, Robert Holdstock died in 2009, unexpectedly, from an E. coli infection. I never met him, though I suspect we might have got on well. We had a few things in common; space games perhaps, wine and beer for certain and a love of woods for sure…
I discovered that a memorial had been created for Robert, a bench, placed in three acres of woodland. A fitting memory to the author of Mythago Wood. To my surprise it was in my county, Kent, and not all that far away.
So today I went there. It’s pleasant enough on its own, there’s even a staked out representation of the aspect of the HMS Victory there.
I do suggest a stout pair of walking boots and fair weather. Brace yourself for a climb and a search. You’ll walk about three miles all told, enough of a quest for our old labrador. There is also an oak tree for him there somewhere, but the brambles overwhelmed me before I found it.
(Edit – Robert’s partner got in touch and has offered to show me the tree on a future occasion, so I’ll reblog about that then. She also let me know that “Rob would be really thrilled!” 🙂 )
But the bench is easier. (If you’d like to try the quest yourself, the car park is here and a map can be found here – I’m not going to make it easy for you with GPS co-ordinates!). It is in the midst of Victory Wood, a new plantation that is slowly maturing. One day it will grow into a mature forest.
The bench itself stands on a ridge, overlooking the Kent countryside, looking west across a beautiful landscape. Upon it is a plaque with a dedication to him, with lines from a poem he wrote. A fitting tribute to an author I hold in high esteem.
It left me with a mix of feelings. Happy that I’d made the pilgrimage, yet sad that I will never get to meet him. Honoured that, in a small way, I’m able to follow in his footsteps and humbled with the responsibility that entails. I hope he’d be approving of what I’ve written in the Elite Dangerous universe.
It’s worth it for the view alone, but for any fan of Elite, or Robert’s Mythago Wood (or his many other books) it’s well recommended to take a trip there and thus find a moment to reflect on all his contributions.
If you have enjoyed any of my books, you owe a debt of gratitude to Robert Holdstock. Without his inspiration I would never have written that teenage tripe, never refined what talent I had on fan-fiction, never responded to the Elite Dangerous kickstarter and never have been asked by Frontier Developments to write the official Elite Dangerous novel.
So from one Elite author to another, thank you Robert Holdstock. Right on, Commander!