Liner Notes – Thetford Park

My name is Jake – short for Jacob – Jacob Short. 

Liner notes are thoughts about the books I’ve written, translated, adapted, whatever it is I do to words – butcher. I tried to stay sober as I wrote.

These liner notes are about Thetford Park: Halifax to Liverpool on a coal burning ship stuffed with ammo. What could possibly go wrong?

Enjoy.


Plot

The plot is point A to B – young men crewing a ship from Halifax to Liverpool on a ship loaded full of ammo. You are young, cold, wet, perpetually hungry and lacking sleep. You don’t know if you’re going to make it or not. Life expectancy is just a concept at this point. That’s Thetford Park.

 


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The Author(s)

Jean (John) Bédard

John Bédard served in the Canadian Merchant Marine from 1942 to 1950 and the Canadian Armed Forces from 1950 to 1953. Working for Immigration Canada, he served at most of the Canadian port of entries, including the Port of Montreal, before immigrating to the US in 1964.Convincing his wife, Thérèse to move to Southern California, he worked as a janitor in a juice factory, a women’s shoe salesman, and a grocery store security guard before proudly becoming an American citizen and immediately joining the US Customs Service. John retired as a Senior Inspector after 20 years, including a 2.5 year tour in Laos as an advisor from 1972 to 1975.


Pierre Bédard

At 17, Pierre published an essay in the San Diego Reader. At 19, he translated Victor Hugo’s Hernani into English, a significant play taught in many drama departments today. His first job after graduating from UC San Diego was editing the TOPGUN manual. Moving to the Bay Area in the early ’80s he went on to get an MBA (’89) and JD (’09) from Santa Clara University while working as a sales and business development executive at Sun Microsystems, Adobe, and IBM.


Conception

After John Bédard wrote Border Guards, he started work on Thetford Park. He called the book Voyage 8-East. At the time, the book was nothing more than a notebook of character sketches somewhat organized into chapters, standing alone in silos.

I  collected John’s notes and began to weave his strongest character sketches, family legend, and other research on Canada’s “Park” ships into Thetford Park.  I was lucky enough to take a cruise aboard the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a “Liberty” ship, a merchant mariner berthed in San Francisco.  

I stitched things together, applied some glue, visited Greenwich, established a timeline, and published Thetford Park.

That simple.


Writing Process

This book is an effort by both father and son – the father to birth it and the son to bring it to market. It includes the things (baggage, trauma, and good times) at play in every relationship.

With a ninth grade education and a coarse 1940’s style and approach, John wanted to be heard. I adapted the writing, dampened it out and gave it a timeline from Halifax to Liverpool – on a ship full of ammo. I birthed the book establishing a time and space for his characters.

I used a washing machine technique. I believe in obsessive repetition when writing. The washing machine method – writing is rewriting.

Write. Rewrite. Rewrite. More rewrite.

And then, rewrite some more. I printed the chapters out, set up a card table, and began to build the timeline, identifying  and fixing holes in logic and the time space continuum.

I looked at chapter page count. Tempo. Tenor. Not boring.

Since I didn’t have to translate from French to English, it allowed me to do many more rewrites. I mixed and matched chapters. Finding the thread was harder than it seemed, in terms of laying out a reasonable timeline.


Factoids

  • Thetford Park is fiction based on fact. “Park Vessels” in fact existed, and John sailed on several of them starting in 1944. Prior to 1944, he was on the Canadian Coast Guard ship CCGS Ernest Lapointe, an icebreaker commissioned in 1941.  John Bédard was likely one of the first galley boys on the Lapointe, which today is dry-docked at L’Islet, Quebec, at the Musée maritime du Québec. That’s the author on the fantail of the ship, a light icebreaker, on the cover of the print edition of the book.
  • Thetford Park is very popular in the United Kingdom. Over 300 readers have downloaded and/or purchased the book, available exclusively on Amazon.com worldwide, but a full third of the sales come from the UK.
  • It might be Thetford! Could it be the region and city of Thetford in the UK?
  • It might be Liverpool! Maybe it’s the terminus in Liverpool, on the Mersey River docks.
  • I changed the ending twice, though I did keep the same ending John visualized. The out of body experiences and the overall conclusion of the Thetford Park were from John. The mysticism of Thetford Park, talking to spirits on watch and communing with the creatures populating the afterlife are John’s themes. John doesn’t dare disavow the other world lest they mess with his way through life. The crew takes on the same attitude.The mysticism of Thetford Park, talking to spirits on watch, communing with the hereafter are all themes, or certainly, if not themes, events which are acknowledged as we move on through life.
  • There was never a Thetford Park. There were many “Park” ships, and if the Thetford had existed, she would have been the Thetford Mines Park, named after the city of Thetford Mines, located in the Eastern Townships of Québec.
  • The name is in honor of my mother’s family of asbestos miners and engineers. My grandfather and many of my uncles knew their way around cordite, so it’s appropriate that the ship was headed to war full of ammo. Jean sailed on several Park Ships in his career as a merchant seaman. I added his life’s details to the back of the latest edition of Thetford Park, adding the small book Jean du Sud, written by his brother Michel, to the back of the novel. 

Motive

Though Thetford Park was first conceived by John Bédard, I put the meat and bones on it, enough to turn it into a minor novella or book. “Motive” is really about the backstory. Why I done it.

I graduated from Santa Clara University School of Law in December of 2009. I had taken four and a half years to get through the part time program, working full time at IBM while attending classes four nights a week. While continuing to work, I studied to take the California Bar, which then ran three days.

I took the bar in July of 2009.

Telling you if you passed or failed (at the time) was sheer torture. You were given a website address and told to enter using your username and password after the appointed hour results were due to be posted.

If you passed, you got into the website.

If you failed . . . you didn’t get in. Not to the website, and certainly not to the California Bar.

I was traveling a lot at the time and found myself in my hotel room in Mumbai at two in the morning, overlooking the Arabian Sea at Juhu Beach, aimlessly trying to enter my username and passcode into the California Bar website. I knew my fate after thirty tries.

I failed the bar exam and had to make a call: study for the next sitting of the exam in February, or give it up.

And so I decided to finish Thetford Park. And so my father enjoyed a reading or two before he passed in September of 2012.

I timed my writing of Thetford Park to the sitting of the California Bar in February . Figuring that it was as good a mark in the sand as any , I went for it and got a reasonable draft that I published on Lulu.

I remember reading him passages as he was recuperating in the convalescent facility after falling at home. It somehow felt right.

The characters are all John’s. He had titled the original book Voyage 8 East. I never knew for sure which of the characters were John (or Jean), nor did I ask. The easy guess is Jacob Short, the cabin boy, but I imagine he is a pastiche on a multitude of people at different times in the voyage.

Jean began the voyage in Halifax. I ended it in Liverpool. When I think of my work on this book, I think of the threading of a thread through a curtain of cold, hard salt water, bringing the crew to Liverpool in a logical manner.

Whatever the reason, and for your readership, my father and I are always thankful. I say that both of us are thankful because I’m certain his spirit senses it. He believed in the hereafter. Who am I to question that belief?


My name is Jake, short for Jacob – Jacob Short. 


 

 

 

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