Not Far From The Junction, by Will Ashon, is the first novelette in Open Pen’s second series of pocket size paperbacks. As ever with these little books, the author’s concept and realisation are innovative. This is a work of non fiction but offers up stories as remarkable as any work of imagination. It provides a reminder that kindness and hope exist in people from all walks of life.
On 21st May 2019 the author set out from Redbridge in East London to hitchhike north, reaching Sheffield before attempting the return journey. Nine different drivers offered him lifts of varying length. With their permission, he collected transcripts of their conversations. The book is a collage of these voices, cross cut but with clear signposts to who is talking. The author has removed his contribution enabling each interviewee to take centre stage.
The drivers include people from diverse backgrounds, ages and experiences. One is ex-army and suffering PTSD. Another talks enthusiastically of a recent spiritual journey. A husband is planning to move country and shares tales of drug taking sessions he regards as beneficial ceremonies. A young family simply like to help out when they can. A highway worker is pleased to offer a lift, something forbidden when driving a work vehicle. A builder regularly picks up hitchhikers – although he sees fewer these days – as he enjoys having company he can chat to when driving.
All involved talk of their work and families, aspirations and challenges. Redundancy, money issues, and relationships feature widely. There are differences in culture and expressed opinion, but each driver proved willing to stop and help an unknown traveller on his way.
It is interesting to consider how an initial picture of a person is formed from the early part of their conversation. Perspective changes as further details are shared. The complexities of any person belie easy categorisation. I caught myself forming judgements that proved shamefully fluid. In trying to build a coherent picture of a character, I was forced to face up to my own prejudices. Whatever decisions the people being interviewed may have made in their past, they are doing what they can to get by in a life that offers hard knocks as well as moments of satisfaction.
The structure and writing style take the reader on a journey, one that is poignant in places but also captivating. While the stories that unfold may be discomfiting at times, this is a recommended read.
Not Far From The Junction is published by Open Pen.