When did you last read your father?
’Nice one Dad’, for making that writing breakthrough
Okay, nepotistic spoiler alert. I’m reading my dad’s new novel, Another Kind of Country . Reading anything your father has written is an unnerving experience (which is why I sometimes wake sweating in the dead of night wondering if my grown children will ever speak to me) because it’s impossible to put aside his voice in your head.
I could namedrop the hell out of other writers I know, whose works I’ve managed without a whisper of their dulcet tones slipping through my skull. But with the old man, it’s different. Those other guys, they never peered at me, resigned, disappointed, over the top of a report card as I estimated how badly I’d murdered a maths exam. I never “borrowed” their car at 16 because I absolutely had to get to that party and, of course, they didn’t break up with my mum around the time I was appropriating that car.
They also didn’t occasionally return from business trips abroad with presents so generous it still catches my breath to remember their unveiling. And nor did they spend their whole lives saying, “Yeah, course you can do that. If you want it, just go and get it.” Maybe it was because he said it so much, that I never really believed it. Fathers, eh? We tend to have history with those lads.
But back to his latest work of fiction. He has been writing all his life, something I only became aware of in recent years. I knew he had had aspirations, but thought it was only since he had eased away from the business world that he had begun to concentrate on getting published. I was wrong.
A few bob
Apparently, he announced at nine to his mother that he was going to be a writer. I’d say, from the stove of an army barracks kitchen, with a bunch of other rugrats mewling at her, she must have gone, ah here, would you not pick something that might make a few bob? Undertaker? Hotel manager, perhaps? Undeterred, he motored on, started up a school mag, edited the college paper, picked up a teaching job and wrote the promised novel. The stage was set, step aside Tom Wolfe and Johnny Updike, there’s a new force in town.
It didn’t happen. The book received lovely, favourable, complimentary rejection letters. But PFOs nonetheless. My mother and father went back to Plan A, knocked out the sprogs and, for a good many years, he wound up running his own pretty successful publishing company.
While everyone else’s auld fellas were settling into golf pants, he reinvented himself as an English language teacher and began darting round the world on short-term contracts. And writing.
First, up popped a memoir, followed by a couple of books that saw the light of day but got no real traction, and then some fallow years. What do you do when your dad is telling you he’s written another one and he can’t get someone to take it on? “Chin up, the world’s your oyster, keep cracking on, hard work prevails.” All that positive guff?
The punt paid off. Another Kind of Country came out at the start of this year, the follow-up to The Berlin Crossing from 2011, both published by Hodder Headline.
When he made that deal, I should have tapped him for cash. Not because he was particularly flush, but because I have never seen him so ridiculously happy, refusal would not have been an option. He ground it out, he kept going, looking for what he wanted and, in a strange twist, got it.
It’s one thing to say “nice one” to your kid on bringing home another watercolour of dubious quality, and another to say, “Seriously, nice one” to your old man for making the breakthrough. But here I sit, with his book in my paw, thinking, fair play Da, and still not able to get his bloody voice out of my head.
If tense, Cold War love stories are your thing, pootle off now to your local book shop and ask for Kevin Brophy. No bias here, mind, but he’s worth a read. With more to come, because as I write this, I know he’s off somewhere, tapping out the words too.