How'd you do that, Mr. Herriot? (said a reader of 'All Creatures Great and Small')

How'd you do that, Mr. Herriot? (said a reader of 'All Creatures Great and Small')

Do you ever read something special, some Sustaining Book, and wonder how the author did that? (Seriously, do you need to be a writer to think that way? Or do you need to think that way in order to be a writer?)

One of the first books that ever made me wonder "How'd he DO that?" was "All Creatures Great and Small," by James Herriott. (For my first post about it, catch up here.) Back when I started reading the stories, I saw his mention of "thirty years ago" or "thirty years later" and wondered how in the world he could remember it. (In other words, I was well under 30.)

How could the stories' riches -- panic one night, reassurance the next, uncertainty so realistic day by day -- really get written so well?

It was Chapter 9 of "All Creatures" that gave me the key. "Mr. Herriot" refers to his diary.

At the time I started reading this book and its sequels, I'd just started keeping my own diary every night. I'll do it tonight, too. Thus, I love finding scene's like Chapter 9's practical joke between James, the narrator and victim, and Tristan Farnon, his boss Siegfried's irrepressible brother. Tristan has been on the phone telling James about a large horse with a cut on his leg. (Both horse and cut are fictional, but James doesn't know yet. He agrees to see the patient.)

" 'Well, I'll be along straight away. Try to have some men handy just in case we have to throw 'im.'

" 'Throw 'im? Throw 'im? You'd never throw this 'oss. He'd kill yer first. Anyways, I 'ave no men here so you'll 'ave to manage on your own. Ah know Mr. Farnon wouldn't want a lot of men to help 'im.'

"(Oh lovely, lovely. This is going to be one for the diary.)"

Next to those words in my copy, there's a tiny "yay!" in pencil. It was an early confirmation that there were rough notes for these stories -- and an early hint that my own notebooks might turn into something.

I'm sure the practical-joke story was meant as light comedy, but (of course) I'll take it more seriously.

For more fun with words, stop by the Margaret Serious page on Facebook.

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  • Thank you for reminding me of one of the most delicious aspects of reading, which is to be so impressed and bowled-over by something that a writer has done that even in the thick of the story my mind exclaims "How'd he/she DO that?"!

  • In reply to folkloric:

    You're welcome. Thank you for the description of reading as delicious!

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