As regular readers of The Elementary Circle will know, in recent months I’ve been getting rather jaded about the waiting game. I’m an ‘almost-there’ author. I’ve finished three novels, and have heaps of ideas for others, but now I have to sit back, and wait to see if there’s an editor at a publishing house who believes in my work as much as my agent does. The problem is, I’m rather impatient, and after a good three years of hard slog, can’t wait for some return on my efforts, even if that return is simply the recognition that comes with a bona fide book deal.
If you’ve read my blog before, you might also know that I’m an orphan. I lost both my parents back in 2003, when I was just nineteen. Since Mum and Dad died, I’ve spent five years at university, and three years travelling the world, only to come back ‘home’ at the end of April. When Mum died, my sister and I were forced to sell our family home almost immediately in order to put ourselves through school and university, and simply live. At Christmas 2003, over the space of three weeks I lost both my Mum and my home, with thirty years of my parents’ marriage relinquished to boxes which went almost straight into storage, scattered across the lofts of various family friends, where they have remained ever since. I moved into a friend’s family home, and have called their house home ever since.
I was always a Daddy’s girl. A tomboy as a child, my Dad was the one who taught me to play cricket, who took me skiing, introduced me to Scouting, and sat up late at night reading me tales by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll. My Dad was my idol, my role model. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Mum dearly, but when my Dad died, I lost my best friend.
I grew up surrounded by my father’s stories. He had spent his twenties travelling the world, a natural-born linguist, and I not only inherited Dad’s talent for languages but also his desire to travel. When I finished my Masters and still had some of my inheritance from the house left over, it seemed natural to spend the money on seeing the world, because if Dad had been given the money at 24, that’s exactly what he would have done with it! In fact, my Dad actually met my Mum (who was Romanian) when he was travelling around the world.
But travel wasn’t the only thing me and my Dad have in common. My Dad was a writer. When he died, I actually remember an old RAF pal of his sending Mum a package with an old story they had written together inside, and last week, when I was feeling particularly down, I went in search of it.
Two hours later I gave up, empty handed.
The whole writing business had just got me so down. After months of trying to stay upbeat, and trying to keep inspired and active, I was defeated. Fed up with not even getting rejections from publishers, just total radio silence, and beginning to doubt both myself and my talent, I needed my Dad. I needed the one person who knew me inside out, which he always did, because I was the female version of him! I needed his advice. Dad had been the one who had helped me with A Level options. He had planned my Gap Year with me, and not just chosen Cambridge colleges with me, but walked me to the gates of my university interview. Unlike other Dads, mine hadn’t just stood on the sideline of my cricket matches, but had been out on the pitch alongside me – the umpire, the coach, the facilitator of the match. My biggest fan.
I needed my biggest fan again. Writing had become such a lonely pursuit, and without Dad around it just felt even lonelier …
And then on Sunday I got a message from one of my closest school friends. Katherine now lives in London, but her parents still live just twenty minutes away from my old family home, and this weekend just gone, they had tidied out their loft, only to find several boxes of things from my parents house. Things I hadn’t seen for eight years.
I assumed the boxes would be full of Dad’s photo albums, or old clothes we hadn’t been able to part with so soon after Mum’s death, but last night when I went round to Katherine’s house, I was in for a surprise.
The boxes are full of my father’s projects. Thirty years of his work. Pages and pages of notes. Poems, letters, postcards to Mum, letters, songs, books, research. Loose-leaf folders packed with handwritten sheets, and boxes full of type-written stories. Ideas, opinions, connections. My Dad’s brain boxed.
Eight years after his death, it’s the closest thing I will ever get to a new conversation with my Dad … and it genuinely couldn’t have come at a better time! There I was literally a week ago wondering if I might have access to one single story Dad had written, and now I’ve been presented by boxes full of his life’s work. Notebook after notebook, one project after the other, it seems like nothing had been thrown away since the early seventies. I could never be so grateful to discover a closet hoarder in the family!
I sat in tears, surrounded by my Dad’s work. By songs, and poems, and sketches, and ditties, and family tree research, and research into Greek mythology, church names, and World War One. Every intrigue, every interest had been documented. In a world where most of my possessions have been bought post-Mum and Dad’s death, here were pages and notebooks that my Dad had physically touched! Line after line of his handwriting, word after word of his own.
But that wasn’t the only way Dad spoke to me last night …
Because amongst those boxes of projects, were letters from publishers. Letters very similar to the ones I’ve spent the past six months receiving. Rejection letters, and alongside them frustrated queries from my Dad to other publishers, months after submitting manuscripts, asking why he had heard nothing.
In a world before the internet, in an era where literary agents were scarce, and in a time when stories weren’t written on computers, but arduously typed, page after page, on a type writer, my dad had been a frustrated almost-there author too!
And you know what, his stories have survived! He may never have gotten published, or seen his name on the spine of a book, but his stories have still survived him. And now, his stories sit on my book shelves. This time I’m his number one fan. Because whenever I feel down, whenever I miss my Dad, not only can I reach for one of his stories, and have him speak directly to me once again, but I can remember that Dad was in this place too, and that if he were here now, he’d be telling me about the time he submitted a book called ‘The Michael Enigma’ about the position of churches called St Michael around Great Britain (??? Yes really!) to publishers, and waited 11 months to hear anything back. And while my Dad isn’t here to tell me those stories, the stories themselves still are.
Dad’s stories live on, on my bookshelf and in my heart, and you know what, even if my stories never get printed, I’ll make sure that I keep every single one of them, so that one day, my daughter, or my grand-daughter, will be able to pick them up, and hear my voice when I’m no longer able to use it any more.
I love you Dad,