Wednesday, October 12, 2011

From Pongwiffy to Shakespeare

   When she was three years old my baby girl crawled on my lap in my study and asked me what I was doing.

"I'm writing a book," I said.

"Well, that's just adicalus,' she said. She had heard her mother use the word 'ridiculous' (probably in relation to my efforts to build a patio) and it had become her word of the month.

'Come on,' she yelled, grabbing my hand, 'let's get out of here and do something fun!'

My little baby is 24 years old now and has just this week started a degree course in creative writing and comparative literature in London.
junior in january
To say that she is gifted is an understatement. I don't know when she discovered books were fun. I like to delude myself that it was when I was reading her Pongwiffy the Witch and doing all the funny voices. But as her favourite authors are Ian Banks and Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski I think I might be deluding myself.

I don't know when she discovered that writing could be as good as playing crocodiles. But I had been writing professionally for 15 years when I read her school essay on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and felt like giving up. She got an A+ of course. People have sometimes said she must be a chip off the old block but she really isn't. She's a completely new block made of a wood of much finer grain. She's antique mahogany. I'm kind of the bent shelf in the garage.

Her big sister is group general manager of a pub chain - now there's a chip off the block if ever there was! Except she's great with people and organising things. So really - I don't know where either of them came from.

I never encouraged Junior to write, or even talked much about it when she was growing up. I was more into playing 'crocodiles' at the beach (her sister would sometimes forget I wasn't a real crocodile and try to hold my head under the water) or water fights or hide and seek. I was a bit like Chandler Bing in Friends - they knew I had a job but they weren't quite sure what it was.

So now she's off learning serious creative writing. How do I feel about this? All fathers are absurdly protective of their offspring. The only time I ever got into a fight my whole adult life was when a bloke said something to her in a bar.

So do I want to go into the writing business? Well, yes and no. There have been times when I have been crazy with despair over yet another rejection, over a book cover, over an editor. Do I want her to go through that? And failure! Authors and Disappointment are so well acquainted they have nicknames for each other.

I don't even know what the publishing world will look like when she gets out of university. A week might be a long time in politics, but in the modern publishing world go to sleep for a week and you've missed two new social networking sites and a vital marketing tool.

But as we speak there she is she is dissecting Homer's Odyssey, reading the Tempest and Dante's Inferno (usually in an afternoon) and is just about to start Beowulf. She devours great literature like a whale trawling plankton. I am in awe of her.

So I don't know. Will she write one day? I hope so and I don't hope so. I love what I do with an absolute passion. I love stories and the written word. But writing has also brought me so low I once climbed out onto the windowsill and threatened to jump. A mate eventually talked me down.

(This wasn't such a big deal because my study is on the ground floor but I did knock over a pot plant.)

But you know what I mean. So my decision: keep my mouth closed and say nothing. I learned to do this anyway when she was a teenager and now it's just good policy. She grew up a long time ago anyway. Me, I'm still working on it.

But I do know this: I hope that one day the most important book in her library is not Homer or Dante or Shakespeare but whatever book she reads her kid at night. I know it was for me, because I had junior and her big sister tucked under my shoulder at the time, and it's the one book I'd give anything one day to read again.

With all the funny voices.


  1. Best. Blog. Ever!

    I love it! I don't even know Jnr and I am proud of her!

    L x

  2. I know you are so proud of her! I agree with you...those books we read with our kids are always foremost in my mind. Even the books my parents read to me remain some of my favorites and now I read them to my boys. I know one of my boys is a reader. I can only hope they will develop a lifelong love of reading, as I have.

    Great post, Colin!