In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Writing as a form of Suicide
I stare at the screen, which stares back, unblinking and arrogant. What I have written is not right; it does not say what I want it to say, and stare as I will, it will neither change nor fade away. “Damm it!” I stretch out my left hand and pull back the curtain at the window above my desk to study the clock. “Bugger me, it’s 1.30 in the morning.” The clock is a handsome piece, golden face set in green marble, bearing the legend, ‘Mobil Security Annual Meeting, Baltimore, and April 1999’. Three years and a lifetime have passed since that was presented.
I rise stiffly from the computer, and, taking my half-filled mug of cold coffee with me, depart for the kitchen. I feel suddenly cold, and I shiver, reflecting that my normal indoors dress of shorts and a tee shirt may be suitable for the South of France in summer, but not for Epsom in February. The hairs on my bare legs are standing in rigid protest, and in deference to their well being, I switch on the central heating. It seems like ages since it went off, and the last creakings of the cooling house had momentarily upset my concentration. I make a fresh coffee and sip it, my back against the bookcase, staring once again at the screen.
“So why do you do this?” I ask myself.
“Do what?” myself replies, playing for time.
“Write, you fool. What do you think you are achieving?”
“I don’t know,” I mumble.
“Do you think you are going to write the great British novel, or become the next Shakespeare, or do you simply want to see your name in print?”
“No idea,” I mumble again. “I’ve not thought about it.”
“Well, think about it.”
So, as instructed, I think about it. No, certainly not Shakespeare. The man was a genius. Well, he was, or whoever wrote the books was. He knew, he understood so much, about life and people, about ambition and fear, about joy and despair, but most of all about love. And he could write. He had a way with words, their selection, their sounds, their nuances and their positioning, one against the other, chosen each to enhance the other. “And gentlemen of England, now abed, will hold their manhoods cheaply, when they speak who fought with us upon St Crispin’s Day.”
No, I will never be Shakespeare, with his truths, as meaningful today as four hundred years ago. So, then, the Great British Novel, is that your aim? No, not guilty my lord.
“All right, you would like to see your name in print?” Again I ask myself the question.
“That would be a bonus, but it is not the driver. I want to say what I need to say in my words, using those words in the most pleasing way I can. If anyone else reads them, that would be fine. If they enjoy them, that would be even better.”
“It’s not much of an answer, is it?”
“No, you’re right, it’s not any kind of an answer.”
I have written four books in my lifetime, two in the last two years. The first was called ‘If you can’t stand a joke.’ It was written because I wanted to know if I could write. It was set in England, and Denmark, places I knew, and Israel, which I didn’t know. Foolishly, as it turned out, I gave it to my wife to read. Far from constructive criticism, or a loyal “Well done, love,” I was questioned as to when I had been at Eilat and made love on the beach?
The second, written ten years later, in 1990, was called ‘Casters of Shadows’, and was a murder story located in Britain, Australia and Vietnam, during the war, all of which places I knew. This was better, but was written to fill in the hours of sleeplessness after my divorce.
Following the ten-year rule, ‘The killing of Alex Millar’ came along for the Millennium. This was born after a painful labour, in the long dark evening of the soul, after Jeanne and I parted. It was undertaken to heal the wounds of the past and exorcise the ghosts. The wounds, even after four years were still open, untreated and untreatable, ready to be re-infected by the most mundane events of the present. The ghosts were not exorcised; they are still smashing plates and throwing the furniture around. I am on first name terms with these ghosts, who visit at the most unexpected times and in the most unusual places.
Book four was ‘Allez les Reds’, a love story and a football tale. Commercial stuff this, with a male and female interest.
I was loaned a copy of ‘Disgraced’ by J M Coetzee, set in South Africa, which I know well, and the book, I think, won the Booker Prize. It was probably the least enjoyable and most badly written book I have ever read, and yet he won an award. If he can get away with that, surely I can write too.
I finished the coffee and returned to the kitchen.
“Finished?” I ask myself.
“No, you ding a ling, the bloody writing?”
“For now, yes.”
“And did you work out why you want to write?”
“Well, find an answer to the question, and one day you might, just might, be able to write.”
I didn’t answer. There’s no future in talking to yourself, is there?
Written by my Father B.M