Posted by: philcarradice | August 6, 2010

Sorry Dad – I Cheated

As someone who spends most of his days going into schools, helping children make poems and stories, I often get asked what inspired me to become a writer. There are several parts to the answer.

Firstly, of course, there’s love of books. The smell, the feel, the sight of a book has always fascinated me, right from my earliest days. My first prized possession was battered book of poems by Kipling, Stevenson et al, given to me by a beloved grandfather. I still have it, nearly sixty years on – and I still read it.

As a child of the Sixites, when all my mates were wanting to be the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, I was different – all I wanted was to see my name on the cover of a book.

The books that I loved as a child are still my favourites. When I was seven or eight I devoured the Sherlock Holmes stories – I even tried to write some myself. One I remember, after reading Conan Doyle’s The Five Orange Pips, was called The Three Grapefruit Pips. Original, eh? Talk about ripping people off!

Then there was/is Treasure Island, a magnificent book with a wonderful hero/villain. I still don’t know how to describe Long John Silver, which is exactly how it should be. And, of course, my favourite of favourires. Winnie the Pooh. Years later I lived in the Asdown Forest and took my sons to all the places AA Milne wrote about – Pooh Bridge and the rest.

Other influences include my teachers. They must have seen something in my writing because I can still recall one saying to me “Carradice, you, boy, could be a writer” – no christian names in those days, you notice.

But my greatest inspiration was my father – perhaps not in quite the way he intended. Dad was, shall we say, a little careful with his money. And as a young teenager I was always after ten shillings – that shows my age – to take my girlfriends to the pictures on a Friday night. I’d ask Dad and he’d shake his head. “No way, son,” he’d say. “We’ll have a competition. Whoever writes the best opening to a story gets the ten bob.”

Now that was fine by me, I loved writing and even thought I was pretty good at it. But Dad was the judge and every week he’d look at my efforts and say “Yours is rubbish. I win.”

I fell for it every time. I’d have to spend Friday night walking my girlfriend around the town in the wind and rain while my mates were all curled up, warm and happy, in the back row of The Grand. This was Pembroke Dock – you can’t imagine how windy, cold and frightened I was. Pembroke Dock on a Friday night is still not the best place to find yourself.

And so it went on. Until I finally gave my father this – “There was a silence like the silence that preceeds the dawn. It was as if every living creature was watching, waiting, holding its breath.” My father looked at it, then shrugged and said “I can’t beat that. It’s wonderful.  Here, have a pound.”

Until the day he died I never had the nerve to tell my father I didn’t write that. I copied it from whichever Biggles book I was reading at the time. Sorry Dad.

But that was the first time I ever received money for a piece of writing, my first paid gig, so to speak.  And it inspired me to want more, even if I hadn’t actually written the piece. The next time, I vowed, I certainly would.  Later, I learned I was in good company. Even Dylan Thomas ripped off his first published poem!

Inspiration comes from many sources. My father supplied one – and then the hard work took over. I know it was worth it and never stop thanking Dad for what he gave me, even if it was not quite how he intended. But then again, maybe he did – a wise man, my father.


Responses

  1. When I was about nine or ten, I won a school poetry competition by, I’m ashamed to say, copying a poem from a book I found in the school library. Obviously I was clever enough to choose one that wasn’t famous or astoundingly well written. Quite resourceful of me, really.
    I love the smell and feel of a book too, Phil, and the process of physically turning the pages (like opening doors)
    Your reminiscences have made me want to go and read some Winnie the Pooh and Sherlock Holmes. I think I’ve only ever read one Sherlock Holmes story. I used to enjoy the old black and white films with Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel??? as a particularly bumbling and amusing Dr Watson.

  2. What did Dylan Thomas rip-off??

    • Hi Elen

      At the end of 1926 Dylan Thomas sold his first poem to the Western Mail. He was 12 years old. But it was a ‘rip off’ from a woman called Lilian Gard and had firt appeared in the Boy’s Own Paper in Novemebr 1923. The poem was called ‘His Requiem’. Quite why Dylan did this is not known but presumably it was to prove himself to his father and to his friends – prove himself as a writer.

  3. Sounds like your dad was a brilliant pyschologist, Phil. At any rate his tactics worked for you.

  4. Love the story about your Dad! I think, to be honest, he deserved to be ripped off. Well done!

  5. Fascinating Phil. Now to check my copllection of Biggles books and find which one has the lines you cribbed.

    • I could be wrong as it was rather a long time ago, but I think the book was “Biggles Sweeps the Desert.” I don’t know about you but I love the WW1 Biggles books – “Biggles of the Camel Squadron,” that type of thing. The writing was fresh and vibrant – later on Johns got so used to churning them out he lost the vital spark that sustains the interest. And, of course, those early Biggles books weren’t written specifically for children. They were written as stories that adults and children could all enjoy – surely the essence of good children’s writing?

  6. Went to a charity bookshop this morning and picked up a pristine hardback copy of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” for 50 pence.
    Really looking forward to reading it

    • Hey Paul, a Sherlock Holmes convert. Stick to the short stories – Silver Blaze and The Speckled Band are undoubtedly the best. Don’t know if they’re in Adventures, though. The only long novel/story worth reading, I think, is The Hound Of the Baskervilles but I’m sure there are people out there who would thoroughly disagree.


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