At my Writer’s Group meeting today we were talking about the personal influences on our writing. Most of us said that we all liked to read as children. Many of us were good at English at school or had English teachers with whom we’d had a positive relationship. Many of us had written for the school or University paper or had been involved in amateur theatre.
Some of us were fortunate enough to have parents or siblings who worked as journalists. Someone’s mother even had a book of poetry published in the 1960s. There were fathers who were historians and aunts who were gardening writers. One brother even worked for the Arts Australia Council, the body responsible for giving struggling writers their government grants.
I didn’t want to mention the reason I started writing from a very young age. I certainly didn’t have the auspicious beginnings or connections most of the others in the group had.
I started writing because I wanted to be like my Irish grandfather. Grandpa Jimmy O’Sullivan was a fisherman and by his own admission was nothing special. Just an ordinary, everyday bloke.
He liked a drink and a smoke and the occasional flutter on the horses. He liked a clean shirt every day and a nice roast (with extra gravy) on Sundays.
In some ways my grandpa was just an ordinary bloke. Except for one thing. He told the most extraordinary stories. Stories he made up himself. Stories about leprechauns and fairy rings and birds that flew all the way from Iceland. There was the story about the little fox who knew the way to fairyland and the hippo that thought it was a cat. I remember one instance where he held a group of six year olds enthralled as he told us the story of the enormous salmon that almost pulled a fishing boat under the sea and the fisherman who tried to catch it; his very own version of Moby Dick.
My grandpa was a weaver of dreams and imaginings. His melodious voice kept out the rain and the wind and the fear of the dark. He kept us entertained for hours. He made us believe there were such things as happy endings and magic.
A story teller. A keeper of dreams. That’s what he was. Tell us a story, Grandpa Jimmy, we used to say.
And he did. Every time. He had hundreds of stories at his disposal. Hidden away up his sleeve, he used to say. He never wrote any of his stories down, but he remembered them all in minute detail.
Telling a story is an art as hard to master as singing well, playing an instrument or painting on canvas. It takes practise and dedication.
In time I hope to be able to tell a story as well as my Grandpa Jimmy. In his honour.