Losing a manuscript on the number 22 bus

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Monday 2nd December 2013

IMG_0036The best thing about moving is saying “to hell with unpacking boxes” and setting off to explore your new area instead. That’s why we pitched up in the pretty village of Moreton at the weekend – to see the idyllic Dorset countryside where the legendary Lawrence of Arabia lived until his death in 1935.

We couldn’t visit Clouds Hill – TE Lawrence’s tiny cottage, now owned by the National Trust, is closed for the winter – but we walked through the fields and around the pretty churchyard in Moreton where he is buried.

Afterwards we popped into Moreton Tearooms (left) for a brilliant lunch. The café was once the village school and has deservedly won a stack of awards. It’s also a treasure trove of information about TE Lawrence so we spent ages reading it all. It was fascinating stuff and has made me resolve to read more of Lawrence’s work. But the one fact that stuck in my mind was that he rewrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom three times. Most writers rewrite and rewrite, but it was the next snippet of information that leapt out at me. One rewrite was necessary, I read, because he lost his manuscript while changing trains at Reading railway station.

Actually, he’s not the only writer to have seen his precious work vanish into thin air. Jilly Cooper, for instance, has described the heartstopping moment when she realised she’d left her Riders manuscript on a London bus.

Interviewed by Elizabeth Day in 2011 she said: “It was awful, awful. I’d finished the first draft, I went out to lunch and then I got the bus home – the number 22 bus – and I left it behind.

“Everyone was very kind and the Evening Standard put out an appeal. That was 1970, I think. Then I suppose it was 14 years later, I started writing it again. I hate to be conceited but I think it’s probably one of the best books I ever wrote because the characters had built up over 15 years.”

So if you’re a writer and you haven’t saved your work for ages stop what you’re doing immediately and BACK IT UP. I’ve just backed mine up for the third time this morning.

3 comments so far

  • I read recently that the same thing happened to Ernest Hemingway. He was in Lausanne and his (then) wife came to visit bringing his precious manuscript. Somehow it never arrived. There seems to be some doubt about whether it was lost accidentally or deliberately. Whichever, I can’t imagine Hemingway taking it quietly.

  • I’m not sure but think it was mentioned in Emylia Hall’s Heart Bent Out Of Shape, there’s certainly a lot about Hemingway in it as one of the characters is a professor with special interest in him.

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