“Da Capo” – a novel by Burt Surmon

As I finished Burt Surmon’s latest book ‘Da Capo’ while sitting in glorious Spring sunshine in my garden in Adelaide, I asked myself the question that I have asked other people from time to time: What was the defining moment, the key inflection point that set you on the path that ultimately led to your being right here, right now, in this specific place at this particular moment in time?

What was your “road not taken” or “sliding doors” moment, your Donna Noble decision when she turned left instead of right, met The Doctor and changed the course of history?

I tell my grown-up kids that my first such moment was deciding to learn German instead of Latin at secondary school in England where I grew up. If I had chosen Latin, I’d have gone to Oxford instead of Leeds and so wouldn’t have worked in a foundry or gone to London. If I hadn’t gone to London I wouldn’t have met the woman who would become my wife and their mom, wouldn’t have come with her to Australia and they wouldn’t exist.
Like Burt Surmon’s narrative, it’s a complicated story with many unexpected twists and turns. And thank goodness for that.

A fictionalised biography in the form of a novel, ‘Da Capo’ is an engaging story which recounts the life, loves, travels and adventures of Australian Toby Hill from the 1930s to the present day. It reads like a thinly-disguised autobiography written in the third person.
Mr Surmon uses the metaphor of ‘black swan’ events to describe those times when fate or the universe throws Toby a curve ball that knocks his life in an unexpected direction.
It resonates with many of the responses I received when I asked people about their turning points, their fork-in-the-road moments. Like Mr Surmon’s story, many people have had several such experiences along the way which set their lives off in new, unpredictable directions. Toby seems to have had a rather large share of them!

I like the way Mr Surmon’s style has developed from his two previous books: ‘On a Clare Day’ which recounts his and his wife’s experiences in giving up city life to start a vineyard in the Clare Valley, and ‘Damned Murder?’, a contemporary murder mystery set in and around Clare.

The writing in ‘Da Capo’ is more pared back and streamlined, more minimalist, which complements the intensity of the narrative. Because a lot happens in Toby’s life. The events and incidents come thick and fast. The entire vineyard experience recounted in detail in ‘On a Clare Day’ is covered in a dozen pages in ‘Da Capo’.

Toby’s story is quite a roller-coaster ride, a bit like an express train that you can’t get off, very event-driven and packing a lot of material into a breakneck narrative. And there is a huge amount of stuff in there to which readers can relate – growing up and coming of age in Australia, overseas travel and adventures, first job and subsequent career and lifestyle changes both planned and unplanned, new and lost loves.

As the narrative draws to a close, you can see that the protagonist has come to terms with the circumstances of his life. He is able to forgive himself and others for past mistakes and occasional failures and to appreciate his and their achievements. It makes me want to describe it as “The Redemption of Toby Hill”.

Da Capo is published by Wakefield Press

Yvonne Dumsday
Interesting you should ask that question Ian Short. I had a choice to make in my life path when I was 21 and have often wished we got a chance to come back again to that actual point in time so I could make the other decision to see how my life would have panned out. I am not wanting that “ instead” ( as I might never have met Jim) but would like to have it “as well”. As that could only happen in a book or in a film, I am happy (on the whole) with the way things have panned out.

Ian Short to Yvonne Dumsday
If I had chosen Latin, I would never have met Jim.

Marg Bonnar
I’m curious you use “mom” and not “mum”…and my moment is too painful to go into right now but always love your writings.

Ian Short to Marg Bonnar
West Midlands, Black Country and Birmingham dialect.

Mum or Mom?

Marg Bonnar
And I chose Latin…

Brenton Westell
I remember you teaching Robert Frost… 😉

Ian Short to Brenton Westell
Thank you, you have made my day. PS. It’s “your teaching”; “teaching” is a gerund and takes the possessive. 😉

Brenton Westell to Ian Short
I was only ever a “B” student 😂

Ian Short to Brenton Westell
Every few years, someone feeds me a line in a perfect context that allows me to do a tongue-in-cheek gerund joke. It’s an antiquated and obsolescent “rule” which few people know and even fewer care about. It makes no difference to our communicating or understanding. I only ever refer to it for the sake of irony and gentle self-deprecation.

Ian Short to Brenton Westell
I remember one of my teachers cracking a weak joke and laughing. I joked back, “You shouldn’t laugh at your own jokes.” He came straight back with, “I can’t help it, I’ve never heard them before.” When he got his breath back after laughing at that, he gasped, “Thank you, thank you. I’ve waited twenty years to use that line.”
I only had to wait another twelve years before I could use it.

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