The King’s speech in my Book: A Stutterer’s Story
Between 2005 and 2008 I was researching and writing my book, Nor the Years Condemn, an historical fiction based on the true story of the young Australians of the Empire Air Training Scheme, World War Two – Now available at Amazon, Smashwords, also Dymocks, Gleebooks, Berkelouw Books Paddington and the Australian War Memorial.
This year we saw the release of the highly acclaimed film, The King’s Speech, the inspirational story of speech-impeded 1940s King of England, George VI, and his remedial partnership with Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, as played by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush respectively. I haven’t seen The King’s Speech as yet, though I massively look forward to doing so. Last night on ABC TV, however, I watched The King’s Real Speech, an excellent recent documentary on the true story, people and period behind the film. What an eye-opener it was for me as to how the then King and many others were guided by the Australian therapist to be able to manage and in some cases effectively overcome their speech impediment: Stuttering.
As a life-long stutterer myself, it occurred to me that I ought to share with you some pertinent coincidences re the above history and my book, Nor the Years Condemn, just in case it has to wait for publication until such time as my great grandchildren reach Retirement Age.
Writing from a combination of research and personal experience, it’s accepted as typical of an author’s early efforts that they should bring something of their own personality to that of their main characters. Hence, aside from whatever similarities that future readers of my book may or may not see between my personality and that of the story’s main character, the main character is a stutterer. More specifically, he has grown up with a stutter of an intensity such that he’s been able, with early help, to effectively overcome it. This main character, Daniel Quinn, a young man of 1940s Australia, also happens to be a promising student and exceptional sportsman who becomes a Spitfire pilot. This is where Art most radically, most violently, departs Reality. Alas, one can but dream. Even be inspired by one’s dreams to write stories.
Daniel Quinn is, however, by no means the soul stutterer of the story. (!) So too stutters Stephen Maddox, in the course of the narrative one of Quinn’s ‘wingmen’ – so-called for their role of flying closely off their leader’s wing in combat, holding his life in their hands by watching his back, keeping enemy fighters off it while the leader (hopefully) shoots down the enemy. Maddox’s hyper-intelligent persona and demeanour are based on an old acquaintance of mine (by the name of Stephen whose wife’s maiden name was Maddox), the character’s (acute) stutter being historically typical of some acutely intelligent people. As readers of Nor the Years Condemn will see, Maddox’s affliction, ironically, disappears in the air. This phenomenon was based on another old acquaintance of mine from my 2SER days, whose quite pronounced stutter disappeared when the live radio microphone in front of him switched On, his vocal delivery becoming, on cue, not only flawless but one of the smoothest, most resonant things you’ve ever heard. How this happened was quite mysterious, yet it remains perfectly consistent with the nature of ‘Stuttering’, which has always been and seems to remain something quite mysterious. In a clinical context, the last thing I heard on the ‘latest research’ into stuttering is that we still don’t know what it IS.
In the course of my story’s narrative, Daniel Quinn is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a decoration at the time conferred upon subjects of the British Empire for gallantry in air combat and second only to the more famous Victoria Cross. Consistent with historical fact, in order to be presented with his DFC, Quinn must visit the London residence of a certain King of the period. Enter one George VI…
RAF Hornchurch, SE England.
Jillian Brown raised her sherry. ‘In any case, here’s to Flight Lieutenant Daniel Quinn, Distinguished Flying Cross.’
The three clinked glasses, Maddox still pensive, as was Quinn, taking a gulp of his beer.
‘Thanks to you both. I s’pose…’ He took a drag of his cigarette. ‘Y’think there’ll be some sort of ceremony or something?’
Brown stared at him in gaunt disbelief.
‘…What?’ Quinn put to the face before him.
‘You haven’t heard…’
‘Heard what?’ persisted Quinn.
‘It’s at the P-Palace,’ offered Maddox.
‘What? The Strand Palace?’
‘No. The B-Buckingham.’
Quinn searched Maddox’s eyes. Then Brown’s.
‘You’re pulling my leg…’ His expression dropped. ‘…You’re not pulling my leg.’
They shook their heads in silence before him.
* * *
A sunny morning, Quinn had walked by himself down The Strand, across Trafalgar Square, beneath Admiralty Arch and down The Mall. The long, tree-lined avenue opened out onto beds of red and violet lupins, beyond them, the gold and white statue forms of the Queen Victoria Memorial. And there the great building stood before him.
‘Do you have business here today, sir?’
‘Yes, I do, officer.’
‘Flight Lieutenant Quinn, D. Royal Australian Air Force.’
The policeman checked down his list. ‘Ah, yes, sir. Welcome to the Palace, sir.’
* * *
Quinn hadn’t expected the sense of awe he felt when the King of England and the British Empire was brought into the room, nor that the monarch would be wearing Royal Air Force uniform himself.
With the ribboned cross of the DFC pinned to his chest, Quinn took one step back and saluted. Speak only when spoken to, the equerry had instructed. If and when you are, address him as Your Majesty in the first place, thereafter as Sir.
The King put out his hand. Quinn shook it.
‘I see you are from Australia, Flight Lieutenant.’
Quinn caught the King’s “fwom”. ‘Yes, Your Majesty.’
‘You’re very fortunate. I had the great pleasure of visiting it when opening your new Parliament House.’
There was something striking to Quinn about the way the man spoke: as if each word had been specially chosen the moment before use. ‘Yes, sir. We all heard you on the wireless. I thought your speech was very impressive, sir.’
‘I am most relieved you found it so.’
‘If there is any one duty I perform in a state of abject terror, Flight Lieutenant, it is public speaking. In this, the only greater aid to me than my wife’s daily coaching is the work of my Australian speech therapist.’
Quinn returned the King’s smile, noticing he wore on his tunic not only the five rank bands of Marshal of the Royal Air Force, the ultimate rank of the service, but also a pair of wings on his chest.
‘I beg Your Majesty’s pardon, but I wasn’t aware that you’re a pilot.’
‘I was… Though not a very good one. I flew at the end of the last war, although not in combat, and not in your class.’
‘Surely you’re being modest, sir.’
‘No, Flight Lieutenant. I read the citation accompanying your award. And it is no exaggeration when I say it is young men like yourself upon whom the success of our fight against Herr Hitler directly depends. We are m-most proud of you. And in your debt. Once again, congratulations to you, and our thanks.’
The King put out his hand again, Quinn shook it, stepped back a pace, saluted, about-faced, and the next recipient’s name was called.
* * *
So there we are, folks: just a snippet of Nor the Years Condemn that I couldn’t resist sharing with you as it currently seems topical though the book was finished 3 years ago. (Just for the record, short of seeking my pilot’s licence, I have flown a small number of light aircraft – even one featured in my book – and did evidently display a certain aptitude for it. Whether I’d have cut it as a Spitfire pilot in 1942, well, who can say? As far as I can figure, I’d certainly have had more chance at becoming a Spitfire pilot than I’d have had at becoming an F-18 pilot in my own era, the odds of which would, I assume, be described by a Professor of Probability as ‘ziltch’.)
If you’d like to have a read of excerpts from the beginning of Nor the Years Condemn, CLICK HERE.