The life of a 70-year-old author, who survived years of childhood poverty, has proved to be golden material for an autobiography.
David Wagner’s new book Boy tells of life on the road with his mother Dolly since the age of six, after they were evicted from their home in Regent Street, Barry.
“History is usually written for the rich and famous and I thought it’s time it was written for the impoverished,” said David, who was signing copies of his book at AB Snell and Son, Penarth, last weekend.
After a period in the workhouse David and his mother, a former concert pianist, left and began travelling around the country looking for housekeeping or manual work, in Wales, South England and the Midlands.
“I was never in any place more than a few months,” said David. “You couldn’t look forward to next week. My mother was a very determined woman, she would go anywhere and try anything.”
Set in the 1940’s and 1950’s Boy tells the story of the first 15 years of David’s life. “It’s a world which has disappeared now,” he said. “I used to busk in pubs at the age of ten blacked up as Al Jolson, people didn’t think anything of it then.
“I have tried to introduce the next generation to it through the book. I’ve been telling these stories to my friends for years. People are very kind, they’ve said they found it fascinating.”
Boy includes David’s recollection of characters he met during his childhood, including a pig breeder with a glass eye from Pontllanfraith and a foster father with one leg.
“He took us in when my mother spent a year in hospital,” said David. “He had a smoke house and used to hunt rabbits. I never met my father, my foster father was the closest I had. He would do anything to keep the family provided for.”
Without a formal education, David learned to read from his mother and by reading his favourite author, Dickens. “Dickens was my tutor, I learned my English from him,” said David. “My mother, when she had pennies spare, she would buy me a book. Second to food was a book.”
Boy, which took a year to write, has the same title as Roald Dahl’s childhood memoirs. “My foster father used to call me boy, it was my second name,” said David. “I was called boy more often than I was called David. It was only after I discovered Dahl had called his book boy too.”
Now secretary for Barry Arts Centre, David settled in Penarth 35 years when he met his wife Pamela. “She was a good influence on me, I became respectable,” said David. “I never felt hard done by. That’s the way it was, you survived.”
David’s book can be purchased on Amazon or at AB Snell and Son. He has already started work on a sequel, Lad, which will detail the adventures of his later working life.
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