I have another moving essay for the attic today. This piece by Rachel Nightingale, about her dad and his influence on her writing, really touched me. There’s something special about the relationship between daughters and their dads.
‘Now, as I’m about to become a published author, I wish more than anything to share that moment with my Dad. But I can’t.’
Rachel Le Rossignol has been writing since the age of 8 and holds a Masters degree and PhD in Creative Writing. She has won the Mercury Short Story competition (junior section) and her short stories have been shortlisted in a number of competitions. Rachel’s second passion after writing is the theatre, performing, working backstage and writing plays. No Sequel, won the People’s Choice Award and First Prize at the Eltham Little Theatre’s 10 Minute Play competition and Crime Fiction was performed at Short and Sweet Manila and Sydney.
Rachel’s first novel, Harlequin’s Riddle, which is the first in the Tarya trilogy, will be published by Odyssey Books later this month. The inspiration came from a quote by Broadway actor Alan Cumming about that in-between moment just before an actor steps onstage, which inspired Rachel to wonder might be found in that place between worlds.
When achieving your dream makes you sad
Late last year I received the email all writers hope for. ‘I love your book and I want to publish it.’ I went through a kaleidoscope of emotions—elation, excitement, fear, relief. As the months progressed, and I signed the contract, then went through the editing process, then started planning a launch, the ever-changing whirlwind of feelings continued. I was thrilled to be able to tell all my friends, but terrified at how my book would be received. I was worried about how on earth I was meant to suddenly ‘market myself’, but excited to finally be able to put ‘author’ on border patrol documents when I was leaving the country.
Recently though, with the launch drawing closer, a new emotion has crept in. I should have seen it coming, since it’s been a companion through many of life’s milestones, such as having my first child and gaining a PhD, but this time around I felt it more intensely than ever before. That emotion was grief.
My Dad, Bob Larkins, was a published author and a damn good writer. His book, ‘Chips’, about the life and films of Chips Rafferty, was published by Macmillan when I was a teenager. Another book, about the films of Audie Murphy, was published (posthumously) by McFarland in the US in 2004. He worked as a journalist, film critic and copywriter throughout his adult life and he loved words, books and writing.
Dad was one of those parents who was very careful about what media my sister and I consumed. We were only allowed to see age-appropriate movies and shows, but at the same time he not only nurtured a love of reading, but encouraged us to read well above our age. He protected us from the darker side of the world with which adults have to come to terms, and he encouraged us to cherish ideas and to think outside of the conventional. Visual media can stunt your creative imagination—books can enable it to flourish.
Dad placed high demands on the books that crossed his path. He had grown up in country Tasmania, so he preferred a good story to fancy highbrow literature, but that was no excuse for poor writing. He introduced me to all kinds of authors and we would talk about why he loved them. Ray Bradbury was one of his favourites. Bradbury is a master of word craft but his stories also make you think, whilst transporting you to other worlds, times and places. He became one of my favourite authors, too.
Dad also nurtured a sense of play with words. We would listen to the ‘My Word’ radio shows, where comedians would take a saying like, ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’, then spend their on air time constructing a short story that would end with a clever play on words. Then we would try it ourselves. My Dad’s response to this particular phrase was to tell a story about an Egyptian priest, which concluded with ‘A-Fu and his mummy, A-Soon, partied.’
‘Growing up in a house full of books, with a parent who loves and values stories, is wonderful, fertile ground for growing a storyteller.’
I decided to become a writer when I was about eight. Partly because I wanted to be a writer like my Dad, but also because I could feel the stories racing around inside my mind. Growing up in a house full of books, with a parent who loves and values stories, is wonderful, fertile ground for growing a storyteller. Even at the busiest or darkest times in my life I have found solace in stories—sometimes writing my own, sometimes reading those written by others. Now, as I’m about to become a published author, I wish more than anything to share that moment with my Dad. But I can’t.
In 1998 my Dad suddenly became jaundiced, and the doctors discovered he had pancreatic cancer. By the time they found it, it was already too late. In a final act of love and storytelling, Dad flew from Sydney to Hobart to spend time with my sister and me, and we travelled around the areas where he had grown up as he told us about his childhood and youth, pointing out significant buildings and telling us about all the naughty things he’d done, like walking across the forbidden lawn at his high school when it snowed and leaving untraceable footprints. The next time we saw him was on a palliative care ward in the Blue Mountains in Sydney. He was emaciated and lost in a cloud of morphine, the stories gone.
Grief never goes away. It surges again and again, like the tide, perhaps a little further from the shore, a little less intense, but it never leaves you. Watching my children grow up without knowing their grandfather, there has been a constant, dull ache, especially as my son has taken ever more delight in playing with words. He is quite the pun-smith now and Dad would have loved having pun-filled conversations with him, constantly raising the stakes and finding ever-new ways to make each other groan. Even now, eighteen years after Dad’s death, I get the urge to call him when I see bad writing in the newspaper (his pet peeve) or excellent writing in a movie (something he always hoped to find but rarely did).
More than anything though, I wish my Dad could be there at my book launch. I know he would have a huge, proud smile on his face. I want to stand in front of my friends and family and thank him for handing me the key to a world of stories. For giving me a love of words. For inspiring me to be a writer, like him.
When I hold my first book in my hands, it will be a dream come true. I wish he could be there to share it with me.
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