Encouraged by an army colleague to pursue his love of writing Colonel S Ray enrolled with The Writers Bureau in 2000. He has had over a hundred articles published – one resulting in a committee forming to look after the welfare of stone quarry workers and their families in Pune.
by Col. S. Raye
"Nippy weather, what!" said the old Colonel, refilling his briar pipe. We were in the drawing room, sipping whisky sodas, chatting about the old days in the regiment. I waited till he lit the pipe, a few puffs and a contented smile. "Chill in the air. Cold start to the millennium, Sir", I said. He was miles senior to me, a Colonel on the staff, after commanding his regiment, when I had first met him. I was a young Captain. He pulled out a newspaper from the pile on the centre table and gave it to me. "You've done a bit of writing. Give it a shot, old chap." I studied the advertisement. "Why not be a writer?" We chatted on for some more time, had another drink and then I left.
Late January, 2000. I got the course details and sent the fees to The Writers Bureau Ltd, 7 Dale Street, Manchester, England. I was a student again, this time in my late fifties. My first corrected assignment arrived with the tutor's remarks ...
"A nice start, but could it work harder?"
"Do not capitalize names."
"Do not repeat information you have already given the reader."
"Use original words. It is a good way of adding atmosphere and authenticity to a piece of writing."
Finally, "This was an excellent start to your course." This last remark boosted my morale sky high. That evening, I rushed to the old Colonel like an excited schoolboy and showed him everything. He was happy, wished me luck, and we had a couple of whisky sodas in celebration.
I got involved in the course, sent the assignments, studied the corrected assignments with the remarks of my tutor and ensured that I did not repeat the mistakes and errors. I continued to send articles to local periodicals. I strictly adhered to the advice of my tutor and implemented the points in my work. I found that I had more articles published than ever before. In nearly three and a half decades, while in the army, I had had approximately fifty articles published. Now, I had exactly a hundred and two articles published in a short period of exactly one and a half years.
I started being recognized. I got fan mail. Readers wrote to me, complimenting me on my articles ...
"This letter is to inform you that I have been reading your write-ups with great interest and admiration. Sincere good wishes."
Some of the articles were published with stamp sized photographs. Perfect strangers accosted me and congratulated me on my pieces. At parties, people would come up to me, pat me on the back and even offer me a drink, rather embarrassing, especially if the wife was around. The course made me confident at attempting diverse subjects. I started writing on sports, travel and tourism, films, television, wildlife, health care, and on women related subjects.
I wrote two articles on hospitals and got a complimentary letter, "Information on the type of patient care provided by the hospital will help our clientele, particularly the ex-servicemen to seek medical attention. Sincere thanks for efforts made to publish such informative articles ...
Brigadier ............... Commandant, Military Hospital, Kirkee"
I wrote articles on graveyards. A group from the United Kingdom, visiting war graves in India, were told about me and my article by the locals escorting them. I was summoned on the cemetery.
I met Keith Otter. His father, serving with the Royal Corps of Signals, had been wounded in the jungles of Kohima, fighting the Japanese during World War II. Evacuated to Military Hospital, Kirkee, he succumbed to his injuries and is buried at the Kirkee War Cemetery. I had a chat with the visitors. Major John Hawthronwaite (Retd.) gave me an elegant lapel pin of the Royal British Legion, that I proudly display on my tweed jacket or my regimental blazer.
I wrote a couple of articles on the tiger. One of the articles "Last of the tigers" was sent to The Writers Bureau, as part of an assignment. The remarks of my tutor, "An interesting well-researched article with a strong sense of direction and a clear focus" made be bold. I sent it. It appeared in The Times of India, the premier publication in India and the World's largest selling English broadsheet newspaper (Source" ABC – Audit Bureau Circulation – U.S.A. April-September 2004).
As part of another assignment, I had attempted a piece on the Corps of Signals of the Indian Army. The remarks of my tutor "Again a strong article which should fit into your chosen market very comfortably". I sent it. It was published with a letter from the Signals Officer in Chief ...
"Your well written article is on pages 23 and 24 of THE SIGNALMAN which I am dispatching to you with my compliments ...
Lieutenant General ... Colonel Commandant, Corps of Signals."
Brigadier John Neeve (Retd.) Royal Corps of Signals, on a visit to India also complimented me on the article at a party at the Signals Training Centre Officers Mess at Panjim Goa.
The article that gave me the greatest personal satisfaction was one about the stone quarry workers of a village on the outskirts of my hometown, Pune. These were the "poorest of the poor" of one of the poorest countries of the World, my country, India. Breaking stones the whole day long, the quarry worker takes home a salary of Rs.3500,00 a month, approximately £45.00. the article "A DAY AT THE STONE QUARRIES" published in a local newspaper, was instrumental in awakening the dormant philanthropic feelings in a few top-notch industrialists, who formed a committee to look after their welfare, started a school for the children, a community health care centre and opened up better employment avenues.
I had written an article "WINTER GETAWAY: GOA" as part of an assignment. It came back with the comments and remarks of my tutor "GOA, is a well-written, thoroughly researched article. It gives the reader a real sense of the location, which is so important in a good travel piece." I sent it to The Times of India. It came out in the winter of 2004, in the travel and tourism section of the newspaper.
Festive, Winter Week – Christmas 2004/New Year 2005. We were at lunch in one of the restaurants in Panjim, Goa. An elegant old lady walked up to our table and spoke to me. "Are you the gentleman who wrote that beautiful piece about Goa in the Times of India?"
I got up and introduced myself and replied in the affirmative. She called her husband over to the table. He was Tenente Coronel Manual Fernandes Tomas (Retd.) of Regimento de Cavalaria (Lieutenant Colonel Manual Fernandes Tomaz of the Regiment of Cavalry) as it is said in Portugese. We had a nice chat. He did not speak much English. His wife was the interpreter. They invited me to visit them in Portugal.
Nippy weather, what! Winter of 2008. The old Colonel is no more. He passed away in the summer of 2006. I would remain grateful to him and my tutor who taught me the ropes. I have since matured and am more confident and successful. The sky is the limit.
Could I write a book? Could I win the Booker? Wishful thinking. I will give it a shot, Sir. Cheers!
“I’m currently working on my fourth book, have been paid for my writing by at least 15 different magazines, and now earn half my income from writing – all thanks to The Writers Bureau’s course."
Sarah Plater - Writers Bureau Writer of the Year 2017