My Father In Reflection
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
The series is a journey of reflection and a final honour to laying the ghosts and demons that have been with me since l was five.
From as far back into my teenage years as l can remember, my Father wanted to write a book. One of his Sisters is married to an author, who used to write crime novels, l don’t think he has written anything recently, and looking on Amazon l see that he had published six books, the first in 1968 and the last in 1977. My Father had a clipping from a newspaper tucked into in the ocean of his paperwork as l have come to call it. The clipping displays a photograph of his parents holding a copy of the the 1968 book, which had just been published and according to the newstory, he had received a signed contract to produce a second book which was duly published.
Six books stretching from 1968 to 1977 and then he stopped, l know not if he had written anything under another name, but l do not think he did. My Father’s Sister perhaps understandably used to tease my Father, not in a hostile way but in a way to encourage and motivate him to write – to follow his passions. This did cause some frustration with him to say the least.
He wanted what his Brother-in-law had, he wanted that recognition, he wanted to see his name in print. He would say to people that it was unimportant, but that wasn’t true, because my Father with all of his beliefs nothing was ever unimportant if it made him look good to others.
He did write and like his Son quite prolifically. He always had something on the go in terms of a story or a manuscript. He was always researching this, and that and something else. However, his dream to see his name in print was never realised, not professionally anyway.
In the end after many attempts of applying and sending a few copies of his manuscript off to publishing houses [213 on one book alone], he resigned to the fact that it was never going to happen for him. It was at this point that he considered his ‘writing classes’, were a waste of time and that they failed to make him a professional published writer and author.
Behind where l sit l have half a dozen huge lever arch files that contain writing class stories for nearly ten years, and in addition to those l have several of his manuscripts. Thankfully in my PC [as in not just on paper] l now have the computer saved copy of the half finished autobiography he was working on at the time, and l hope that this one – is just that, a real autobiography. The others he wrote were filled with fabrications of his life, and l failed to recognise him in them. He wrote more stories or excursions into his mind than manuscripts thank goodness.
He would get a kick out of telling me that he was a successful author with X amount of books published on several occasions, l remember a conversation we had in 2015. When l corrected him and said, “No Dad, these are self-published there is a difference. If your books were self-published and had achieved sales or a readership, l think then you could Josh me around with that, but you only print off 6 – 10 copies and there is only 2 people maybe 3 that read them.”
“Well what have you got published? Eh, eh?” He would chide me with.
“Well years ago, you know l was published in two main genres horror and soft porn, but recently nothing. I don’t have a focus on anything. I could with your attitude include documents l had published in the animal industry, or poetry l had submitted over the years, but currently l am not that bothered. I write, but l am not desperate to see my name in print and you are. Sure we all have a story to tell, but we have to ask ourselves always if that story is what is looking to be read by the market at the time. If you stopped trying to write these novels of yours and perhaps tried your hand at non-fiction, l think you would have a market for your knowledge.” l said.
“Ach, what do you know? Horror and soft porn, hardly quality subjects are they?”
“Well l can think of several authors in both genres who would disagree with that, but at least my stories were published and they sold, and they were read and l got paid, so you tell me Dad, how unimportant are those things?”
The conversation would usually drop at this point.
I feel sure that we have all at one point or another had conversations with ourselves late at night, when we muse at our directions.
NB: My Father was stationed in Butterworth/Penang in Malaysia in the late 60’s with the RAAF – his references to ‘during the war’, refer only to the fact that Vietnam was a war going on at the same time and the Americans used to come over to Malaysia on R&R, was he actively on duty for this conflict? No, not active duty.
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