white book page on brown wooden table

Before diving into the notes, I ought to explain how I came to take on this role. Mark Woodward, the author of Mouseman, is an old university friend of mine. I say “friend” – we studied English together, and for a few years afterwards we’d meet for an occasional drink. He was what used to be called a mature student, maybe ten or fifteen years older than me, though he had one of those faces it was difficult to put an age to. I can’t say we were ever close, but as a couple of working-class students surrounded by Fionas and Henrys, we had a certain affinity. In those days universities were for posh kids, and polytechnics for people like us.

Eventually we lost touch, as you do, though by that time it was obvious that our lives had taken different paths. I am currently Head of Basic Skills at Russetshire Council, though as my team consists of a couple of tutors and one rather dim trainee, that may not be as grand as it sounds. MW, on the other hand, seems to swan around all over the place doing nothing in particular except post pictures of his travels. There’s nothing like an exotic sunset to brighten a wet Wednesday over tepid tea in the council canteen.

I’d not seen him for ten years or more when he called me out of the blue at the office. I learnt later that he’d tracked me down through a complex chain of acquaintances, but at the time it disturbed me a little. During the course of my career, I’ve learnt the three essential rules for success in public service: don’t take personal calls at work, avoid decisions wherever possible, and never fiddle your expenses. As my first boss explained to me, fiddling your expenses is worst – not because it’s immoral, illegal or a waste of taxpayers’ money, but because if a rival is out to get you, expense claims are the first place they’ll look. Luckily Malcolm, my current boss, was out, so I was able to take the call without pretending it was Dev from Accounts.

MW didn’t bother with pleasantries.

“I’ve finished writing my book,” he said.

“Your book?”

“Surely you remember my book?”

How could I have forgotten it? It was all he talked about in the pub – in every pub we went to, in fact. We both wanted to be writers back then, and when we met we’d swop ideas and read extracts from our work in progress. 

“The one you started years ago?”

“Of course! What other book could it be?”

“Congratulations, I guess. But what…”

“I have a proposition for you.”

It seemed, to cut a long story short, that after years of obsessive editing, his book was finally finished and he was planning to publish it himself. He didn’t say if he’d offered it to any proper publishers, and I was too polite to ask. But now he wanted it annotated.

“Some readers might not get the slang,” he said. “or the 1970s references. It just needs a bit of explanation. I’d do it myself, but I’m going away.”

Which came as no surprise to me – diligence was never his forte. Still, to be frank, it seemed a bit odd. Though I’d read a handful of chapters, of course – nobody he knew could escape it back then – I had no idea why he would ask me.

“The Twix bar,” he said, “in Chapter 1. We discussed it in The Swan and Cemetery, remember?”

As that was at least twenty years ago, I can’t say I did.

“You said Twix was first made in 1967, but it was called a Raider bar in Europe until 1991. You thought it was a clever way to let readers know when the book was set – within a year or two, of course. So when I needed someone to writing notes, naturally I thought of you.”

I didn’t see what was so remarkable about the history of the Twix, but as he’d remembered it for so long I wasn’t going to argue with him. In truth, I felt a little flattered. When we were at university I always seemed to play second fiddle, and later, when we’d meet for a drink, we always discussed his writing first. I was curious to see what he’d done, and it gave me a chance to read the book without actually having to pay for it.

I also had another motive. Though he never seemed to pay much attention, I couldn’t help but wonder if my writing had somehow… seeped into his. Stranger things have happened in the world of fiction. I was about to ask if he’d written a brief explaining what he had in mind when Malcolm strode back into the office, looking more than usually peeved, and I had to cut him off abruptly.

“Thanks, Dev. I’ll get back to you.”

Eventually, as you will have gathered by now, I agreed to write the notes for his book. They’re based partly on my own research, partly on information supplied by text or email from the author, and partly on consultation with a focus group of elderly folk, recruited from Computers for the Terminally Bewildered – an afternoon IT course for the over-65s. When adding online references, I have tried to choose sites which don’t use cookies, or whose cookies can easily be disabled. The links all worked at the time of writing, but please let me know if any are broken.

There’s not much more to say, except that I hope you find the following collection of facts, definitions and background information illuminating and entertaining. Notes for the first two chapters are publicly available, but notes for the remaining chapters are exclusive to subscribers to the mousemanbook newsletter.

Jon Smallwood

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