Bricklayer Robert Field is hoping to hit a bullseye with his first published novel. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones talks to the Devon-based tradesman about his burgeoning literary career.
“I started writing more than twenty years ago, and my debut novel, 501, is far from my first published work,” explains the 69-year old. “It’s become a compulsion to me – I have these stories to tell and need to tell them. I was working full time whilst writing the book so it took a couple of years to complete, and I was coming home in the evening and living these characters for a long time, but that’s been the case with every work I’ve completed. It’s a process I really enjoy, but I can’t deny that it does involve some sacrifice.”
Robert Field has spent a lifetime in the building industry. Born into a large catholic family, his mother’s traveller roots meant they were frequently on the move – whilst his father’s income meant they were often on the breadline. In order to relieve the financial pressures to which his homelife was subject, and despite being academically gifted, Field left school at 15 years old.
“I started out dry stone walling in around Gloucestershire and Worcestershire and, although I would become a brickie by trade, my work would evolve into general building. I’m semi-retired now, but try to spend a couple of days a week on the tools just to keep my hand in.
“My upbringing has made me restless by nature, and I’ve travelled pretty widely in search of work over the course of my career. I suspect that’s why I feel the need to write – it gives me the opportunity to live other lives even though I’m settled with a family of my own.”
So where did the motivation to make darts his subject matter come from?
“Much of the background for what I write comes from lived experience, and darts is a way of life in our family. My wife’s cousin is actually Scotty ‘Dog’ Mitchell, the Lakeside World Champion, and it’s a talent that runs in the family because she’s a very handy player herself. We play together in the same team, and have done for several years, so the routine of competing and practising with teammates is certainly something I know all about.
Of course, it is important to stress that all of the characters in my book are fictitious but the importance of the game to individuals is undoubtedly in the background.”
Set in the fictitious George Inn, 501 explores the camaraderie of pub life and follows the stories of the ladies darts’ team, ‘Six of the Best’. Darts is a constant in the otherwise tumultuous lives of Katy, Irish, Maggie, Lena, Scottie Dog and Pegs, whilst the novel is not shy to address some challenging issues head on.
Although it might now attract bumper prize pots, celebrity supporters like Prince Harry and Stephen Fry, and some of the best viewing figures on Sky Sports, Darts has its roots in the working class pubs and clubs that play host to the shared dramas of family and friends – it is a vital ingredient in the glue that binds working class communities together.
“For the people who play together in league and area teams it’s contact, it’s familiarity, it’s banter,” declares Field, “but how well do you ever really know the people you play and practice with week in and out? This was my inspiration for 501.”
Whist 501 is his first novel to make it into print, its author has further works currently being considered by a London publishing house. Field has also seen three of his pieces performed on stage, and was previously shortlisted for the Carlton Broadcasting Awards. “Regardless of any future commercial success writing is something that I will continue to do,” confesses Field.
“As much as anything when people read your work it is a justification for what I’ve put into it, because if you add the hours of labour up it would amount to many years. In truth, once I’ve started the process it becomes difficult to stop, so I don’t think this will be the last time I see my name in print.”
501 can be purchased via robert-field.com or from Amazon Books.