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.