Monthly Archives: June 2013

How my Dad taught me to be a Writer

My father, much like me, is not an educated man. He knew his job and he did it well, but it was all ‘On-the-Job’ and ‘If-you-hurt-yourself-you’re-doing-it-wrong’ type of schooling. But, despite his limited education, he taught me a lot of things.

My Dad taught me the importance of family, and that if someone reaches out to you for help, it is imporant to reach back. He taught me that manners go a long way; that doors should be held open, rides should be given, and other peoples tires ought be changed on the side of a snowy highway. He taught me that you catch more flies with a little honey, but that sometimes you have to punch a man in the face when the prick has it coming. He taught me that it’s okay to kill something and eat it, but that real men are never cruel for the sake of it, and you can never, ever, stand by with your thumb in your ass while someone else lets their cruelty run free.

I think that’s where the face punching comes in.

Of the many things my Dad taught me, something that stuck with me, like snot pasted on a door knob, was that books – stories – were important, and should be given a piece of your time.

We did not have much money when I was growing up. We weren’t flat broke – the mortgage was always paid on time, there was always food in the fridge, and I got a new pair of running shoes the week before starting school – but there weren’t any vacations that you couldn’t drive to in a couple of hours, and I didn’t get a new dirt bike for my birthday. But my Dad would always reach into his wallet and pull out some cash when I wanted a book.

My father has likely never seen the inside of a university, but he was well-read. The floor to ceiling bookshelf in our living room had dog-eared copies of “Of Mice and Men”, “The Old Man and the Sea”, and big books of poetry by people like Robert Service. My dad always had a book on the go – quite often something by Stephen King – and would always make time to read to me when I clambered in his lap with my favourite blanket and a beat up copy of “The Hobbit”.

While my Dad didn’t have a lot of schooling, he was of the opinion that people who didn’t read were ignorant, and so he encouraged me to figure out what kind of stories I liked, and then to sit my ass down and read them.

I learned to love a good story from a very young age, which led me to want to write them when I grew older.

Then, as I started to struggle my way through my first novel, and found it very difficult, two more of my old man’s lessons made their importance apparent: You need to have a little “stick-to-it-iveness” when things get rough in your life, and “If you spent as much time just doing what you need to as you did fucking whining about it, you’d be done already.”

It was with these words ringing through my empty head that I finished a novel length piece of writing…and then got it published.

So, to my Dad, and every other dad who read to their children, and encouraged their jackass kids to do something difficult, thanks very much.

I (we) wouldn’t have done it without you.

 

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Lean on Me – and I’ll try not to fall over.

For the past three days, I have been ill. I’ve been struck down with a horrid case of strep throat, which has seen me bound to the couch, with a great deal of free time on my hands. During that free time I have made the horrible mistake of thinking, well, I guess “hallucinating” would be more accurate, as a good deal of that free time was spent in the grip of a fever. Whether lucid or confused, excessive thinking often leads me to ruin…or at least more thinking.

In my living room – where the couch is – I have a sixteen foot wall, nine feet high, covered in book shelves. I cannot say that I have every book I’ve ever owned, but I have a good quantity of them. And, as I sat, sweaty and miserable, they took on the appearance of a road map of my life, spelled out in a series of yellowed, don-eared pages.

Standing in front of my bookshelf the last couple of days, I would pluck books off the shelf at random, open them to a page towards the middle, and have a look inside. I don’t remember the subtle nuances of each book, but I remember the feeling of them, the pleasure they generated during specific sections of my life. I remember leaning on them in the rough times of growing up, I remember the hurt they helped to bandage and the bruises they helped to mend. In looking at them now I hoped to re-capture some of that lost feeling they generated then, to find a little of that old courage still lingering among the crackling pages.

I discovered that not all feelings are meant to last, but some meanings are never forgotten.

As I’ve worked on the craft of writing, and my own ability as a story-teller has grown, my tastes and needs in my own reading has changed. What fascinated me when I was twelve, doesn’t necessarily do it for me now. But on the other hand, some of the voices that spoke to me from the page when I was a boy are even louder now that I’m a man.

Sometimes I can still lean on those old characters, and they shore me up and push me forward. Sometimes I find very little of substance and we all fall over.

When I look at those old books that don’t speak to me as clearly now as they did two decades ago, I cannot think they are bad – although if I read them for the first time today, I might, indeed, think they sucked. They gave me what I needed at the time, they spoke to the audience that I was then, and the memory of them remains, even if the voice has faded a little.

I cannot help but wonder, then, how my work will be viewed in years to come. Will anyone even read it, or remember it ten years from now? Will it be remembered fondly by those that did read it, or line the bottom of someone’s hamster cage? – just more shit among the little brown droppings.

As I look at my collection of books, at my own personal road map, I have hope for my own work. I hope that it will be looked back on as a way-stone in someones life – a mile marker on a small victory, perhaps a lesson learned or a goal achieved. I hope that someone will think well of it, even if they found they have out-grown it a year from now.

I hope that someone is able to lean on me, even if I do have a tendency to fall over.

As always, thanks for reading.

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