Meeting and interviewing the Gentle Author in October 2013 was a strange experience for me as I’d never met anyone anonymous before. He is the proud owner of the Spitalfields Life blog based around Hackney, London. The blog was started in August 2009 and has grew in popularity ever since.
As both of his parents died at the age of 79 years and 6 months, he worked out that, if he lived to be exactly the same age as them, he would have 10,000 days left alive. Or has he sees it, 10,000 stories to tell.
Sometimes his blog ideas have to be planned months in advance, but he is strict at writing one entry per day, and he won’t go to sleep until his piece of writing is finished. He publishes his writing immediately; that way he gets an instant response online and feels that he is giving something to the community. He confessed to always having a handful of ideas on the go, even if it takes him up to a year to get to write the piece he wants.
Clearly well read and a passionate fan of literature, the Gentle Author told me that he is a big fan of Dickens, claiming that ‘he was the original blogger’. Being such a fan of books, he brought out his own, Spitalfields Life, in March 2012. 10,000 copies were sold in hardback and it includes one hundred of his stories over six hundred pages. He was flattered and overwhelmed with the support he received, especially as he uses no promotion and his popularity has been spread by word of mouth alone. His success also surprised me, as he doesn’t actually have a desk, an office, any staff or an income from his blog. But I can honestly say I have never come across someone so passionate about what they do.
‘I only write the stories nobody else would do’ he told me. His blogs range from locals in Hackney, from shop owners, to pub landladies. He has grounded himself in Hackney, the place where he grew up, and it is clear just how much he loves his area and its people. However ordinary they may seem to you and me, the Gentle Author sees a spark of something special in each and every person – or place – he writes about. The layout of his blog is memorable and impeccably smart. He used to do all of his own photography for the blog but he now often has friends that help out and take some of the photographs for him.
When I asked what had been his favourite story to write, he paused and thought for a moment, before deciding on Maurice Franklin. He is a 92-year-old wood turner, and the Gentle Author’s blog post about him was viewed by 350,000 people in one day, which is still his highest hit to date. The Gentle Author seemed genuinely flattered and appreciative that so many people wanted to read his work. He truly is a modest man with so much love and compassion to give to his community.
Following his first book, he has since brought out another: The Gentle Author’s London Album. It was published by his own publishing company, Spitalfields Life Books, and it has a gold inside cover which reminds the Gentle Author of opening something new and special like a bar of chocolate or a packet of cigarettes. Now with the publishing company, he has begun to branch out and publish other people’s works such as Brick Lane, Phil Maxwell’s collection of black and white photographs from 1982 to the present day. The Gentle Author is very keen on publishing photo books, as he reminded me that the only colour books in the UK tend to be cookery books.
Having made the promise of 10,000 stories, I asked what his plan would be should he reach that number: his response was, ‘I’ll carry on till I drop’. He has stayed anonymous for all of these years, with many people mistaking him for a woman. The reason for his anonymity is that he is more interested in other people’s stories than his own. However, on his last ever post, he plans to come forward and confess who the Gentle Author truly is. I am a curious follower of his blog, reading it each morning over breakfast, so I have my fingers crossed that he reaches 10,000 stories and beyond.