My Dad died on Boxing Day; my first grandson is due to be born in June. As you can imagine, moving up a generation like this, all of a sudden, has caused a welter of emotions. As I sat in front of a blank computer screen, trying to write a eulogy for my Dad, I realised the common theme streaking like a silver thread through my memories of Dad was books. He was an avid reader, and a prolific writer.
When I was very small, he made up stories for me and my sister. He used to come home, still in his fire brigade uniform, smelling of smoke (health and safety rules being somewhat relaxed forty years ago) and tell us outrageous tales of giants with broken noses who had been abused by horrid, thieving boys. He revelled in stories of dragons (complete with rasping voices) and effete-sounding monsters.
As we got older, he’d read books with us, finding new favourites as well as sharing stories from his own childhood. Every Saturday, he took us into the street market in Brighton. We’d buy deliciously scary American import comics with lurid titles: ‘Astounding Stories’ and ‘Tales from the Crypt’ being particular favourites. Armed with those and a huge bag of sherbet chews, we were nearly set for the day. On the way home, there was one more stop to make: Lanes Bookshop – a second hand emporium of delights. Mr. Lane himself was a dour man in general, but he patiently discussed with a little girl the merits of various books as I weighed them one against the other, trying to stretch my pocket money as far as it would go. He even put books by when the decision was too agonising. I still have copies of most of Ray Bradbury’s work with ‘8p’ written inside in Mr. Lanes neat lettering. The shop is long gone, as is Mr. Lane, and now sadly, my Dad. But the memories of those days come back to me in a heady rush as I open a second hand, yellowed treasure and breath in that spicy-musty smell.
It was experiences like those storytelling sessions and glorious Saturdays of my childhood that made me a writer. If the adults around a child have their noses pressed in books, the small child copies them. Nobody ever had to tell us to read; in fact, they had to tell us to stop. It was the same with writing. Dad called writing my ‘real job’ long before it paid enough to become my day job. He made me believe that what I did was valid and his absolute belief in me was worth more than I can ever say.
My father’s study lays empty, but I can still find him there in the pages of the books he read and we enjoyed together. He’s there in the pages of the local history he wrote for QueensPark Books, and for various websites. He’s there when I write. Who did I call first when I signed each new contract? Dad. There’s a shelf in his study that he added each new book of mine to as it was published.
Now I have a grandson on the way. I’m sorry he’ll never meet his great granddad in person. But he will know him. After all, I know where to look.