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Phil Scoble


WRITING FIVE


DECADES


OF HISTORY ‘W


rite a history of Dartmouth based on


what’s been in the Chronicle, from 1955 to the modern day’. This challenge sounded simple back in 2007 when I took on the job of writing ‘The Chronicles of Dartmouth: Volume II’ for Richard Webb. Writing the book has been many things: fun, scary, exciting, daunting, uncomfortable and high-pressured, but it has never been easy.


2,000 hours of reading, writing and editing: I have read nearly 3,000 Chronicles and written more than a million words of notes, before com- mitting the 130,000 words the book contains to paper - not to mention finding the 400 carefully chosen il- lustrations!


My travels have taken me all over the South Hams, to the national News- paper archives in London, to strange cellars in which people store their personal back copies of the Chronicle (which they have kindly allowed me to borrow) and even to the mysterious Newton Abbot Library. It’s been a challenge of epic pro-


portions which I am amazed I’ve completed. But back in 2007 when I walked into the Dartmouth Chronicle


archives for the first time (which weren’t indexed, or even arranged into year order, when I arrived) I was full of hope for a straightforward job of committing the history of my adopted town to paper. Richard and I had discussed the project and I was absolutely looking forward to the task of writing my first book.


Looking back I took it on a bit like an Enid Blyton character: jauntily go- ing off on an exciting writing adven- ture, which would be finished before a spiffing tea of pop and crumpets. Then I opened my first Chronicle (the first edition of 1970 as it hap- pens) and I was suddenly gripped with panic: The bright children’s story had turned into a horror.


The question was: what stories are


important? That is a really tricky ques- tion. You see, everyone has different priorities, different interests and yet all want to be represented in the paper. I think that is the biggest challenge about being a local journalist: keep- ing everyone happy. I am a football fan, a lover of history and an ex-actor who revels in the arts and loves all things community-based. And yet even with this broad interest base and an understanding demeanour, I found it tough to remain enthusi-


astic and motivated to cover ALL the varied groups, events and people who were looking for coverage in the paper during my five-year tenure. I made up for it by desperately


trying to cover ALL events and wrote between 35-40 stories a week, nor- mally writing between 3,000 and 4,000 words.


But in the book I had between 1,500 - 2,000 words per YEAR. It was almost terrifying – I wanted to run away screaming at just the thought of having to make those choic- es. But they had to me made. I tried to go back to basics: what is


‘news’? Well, again, this isn’t a straightfor- ward question, frankly.


‘News’ - as opposed to ‘olds’ is, basically, ‘new tidings’, or ‘reports of things that have happened’. All of this stuff happened and these stories are the tidings of them, so that wasn’t really that helpful.


Perhaps a better way of looking at it is ‘things people would be interested to hear’.


So I decided, after the moment


of terror, to just go with the things that caught my eye and make notes on anything which seemed vaguely


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