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Great Novelist

When A. J. Cronin retired as a London doctor because of ill health, he moved to a quiet farming community in Scotland. There Cronin hoped to start a new career as a novelist, a dream he had had since childhood.

For months he worked in a small attic room, filling tablet after tablet with handwritten text, and sending it off to a London secretarial bureau to be typed. Finally the first typed chapters were returned in the mail. He picked them up eagerly, anxious to get a fresh impression of what he had written.

As Cronin read the manuscript, his disgust mounted. How could he have written such terrible material? He was a failure already—with his first book only half written. He stomped out into the drizzling rain for a lonely walk, throwing the manuscript onto an ash pile beside the house.

Crossing the heath, he met a neighbor, an old farmer, digging a drainage ditch in a boggy field. The farmer inquired how Cronin’s writing was coming along. When Cronin reported what he had done with his manuscript, the old farmer was silent for several minutes. Then he spoke.

“No doubt you’re the one that’s right, and I’m the one that’s wrong. My father ditched this bog all his days and never made a pasture. But pasture or no pasture, I cannot help but dig. For my father knew, and I know, that if you only dig enough, a pasture can be made here.”

Ashamed of himself, Cronin walked back to the house, picked the manuscript out of the ashes, and dried it out in the oven. Then he went back to work, writing and rewriting until it satisfied him. The book was Hatter’s Castle, the first in a long string of successful novels.

Bits & Pieces, January 5, 1995, pp. 11-13

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