Nelson writes novel based on disabled peddler

Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson Image credit:

Back in the 1960’s singer Willie Nelson passed a vendor, living on the streets, selling an assortment of ribbons, pencils and colourful papers outside Lenard’s Department store in Fort Worth, Texas.

Sales were poor, in fact the seller hadn’t made a single penny that day. For hours the desperate vendor, an amputee below the knees, had been shouting “Pretty papers!” and “Pretty ribbons” to every passer-by, but only one acknowledged his existence.

Nelson released a Christmas song titled “Pretty Paper” in 1963 paying tribute to the amputee which includes such moving sonnets such as…’Crowded street, busy feet, hustle by him. Downtown shoppers, Christmas is nigh. There he sits all alone on the sidewalk. Hoping that you won't pass him by.’

Over the years “Pretty Paper”, which was initially recorded by Roy Orbison, has been covered by various artists such as Glenn Campbell and Chris Issak and now the tale is about to be given a new lease of life thanks to David Ritz.

Author Ritz helped Nelson to write his 2015 memoir “It’s a Long Story: My Life”. The pair are working together again on a new novel titled “Pretty Paper” which captures the singer’s memory of the peddler outside Leonard’s.

In the book Nelson tracks down the vendor, called Vernon Clay, desperate to know his turbulent history which led him to sleep rough on the streets. Clay is reluctant to share his backstory at first but over time the two form a friendship.

As the novel progresses we find out Vernon used to be a credited guitar player and songwriter, but after a string of bad luck which takes their toll over the festive season he finds himself homeless.

The story, despite rotating around an upsetting subject, has a happy ending and as the papers Nelson includes funny anecdotes and an interesting history of Fort Worth in the 1960’s.

Pretty Paper by Willie Nelson and David Ritz is on sale now.