Lucy Vickery

Woe is me

In Competition No. 2933 you were invited to submit a blurb for a misery memoir. Thanks to Tom Dulake for suggesting this excellent challenge. The winners would be worthy occupants of what some bookshops call the ‘Painful Lives’ section, which service the reading public’s appetite for ever more harrowing accounts of extreme suffering. Unsure whether to congratulate or commiserate with the miserabilists below, I award the bonus fiver to W.J.Webster; the rest take £25 each.

Slow Drags the Harrow is Len Sprague’s fearless account of a life survived through sheer unyielding endurance. When he was seven his mother was convicted of poisoning his brutally sadistic father. Sent to live with his widowed Aunt Myrah he often went without food as she tried to ‘starve out the Devil in him’. He left school at 15 and earned money running drugs for a paedophiliac urban gangmaster. Eventually he escaped by walking to Tilbury and stowing away on a Patagonian cargo ship. He kept himself alive by eating rats and drinking bilgewater. But once in South America his journey to redemption began. All this is told in spare yet unsparing prose as an ultimately heart-warming hymn to the indomitable human spirit. To read Slow Drags the Harrow is to take a virtual round-trip to Hell with a faithful guide at your side.
W.J. Webster
The author, son of unmarried carnival workers, was born in a decrepit but brightly painted van at a roadside campground in Kentucky. After both parents went to prison on fraud and arson charges, he got a rough-and-ready upbringing from assorted magicians, fortune-tellers, knife-throwers, jugglers, drug dealers, pickpockets, merry-go-round operators and other carnies and hangers-on. Then the competing jailhouse conversion experiences of his mother and father set the stage for a cult-versus-cult custody battle pitting renegade Mormon polygamists against a nude Scientology commune. In his teens he broke with both parents, and established himself as the charismatic leader of a secretive urban fellowship where young runaways dabbled in self-dismemberment and cannibalism.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in