Sunday, September 27, 2009


It is often said that there is a book in each of us. I have never believed this of myself. I still don’t, but the pendulum is swinging.

So why am I writing these stories? Maybe here I need to indulge in a little meta-writing: let’s write about writing.

And maybe I need to go back a bit, as usual. Over the years, I have amassed a fund of stories and experiences which I have thought to be funny, or at least entertaining. No place for false modesty here – I have trotted these stories out on festive occasions and they have generally been well-received. Perhaps, at times, I have trotted them out once too often, but that’s another story which probably involves wine.

When I retired from full-time work four years ago, people inevitably asked me, “What are you going to do now?” My lazy reply was, “Nothing – that’s what you do when you retire.” That response did not satisfy. One has to do something, I gather.

Then “You should write,” became a common refrain, from many. “But I’m not a writer,” I would defensively reply.

Then I recalled a story told to me by my wonderful friend Noel Tovey. Noel has been a very successful actor and theatre director. He is an aboriginal man, now in his seventies. When he was a seventeen-year-old homosexual living in Melbourne, oh, so long ago, he was at a private gay party which was raided by the police – that’s what happened in those days. The knowing responded by giving a false name when applying for bail and then disappearing off the radar. The courts were quite happy with this arrangement, too. Being young and unknowing, Noel gave his real name and ended up serving time in prison. You don’t want to imagine what a handsome, dark-skinned teenage boy would have gone through.

This is all getting a bit too long, but at least I’m not digressing.

Noel’s agent suggested that he should write a book of his experiences. Noel replied, “I’m an actor, I can’t write a book.”

“But you tell great stories,” said the agent, “Just write them down.” He did and the resultant book, “Little Black Bastard”, I highly recommend to you. He turned it into a very successful one-man stage show.

So I had my inspiration. “Just write them down”. But I still needed encouragement. On my 65th birthday (official retirement time), my great friends Tommy Murphy (as you Aussies would know, he is a highly successful young playwright) and his other half Dane Crawford, presented me with a white box tied in bright red ribbon. (OK, one digression: you know in the movies when the heroine gets a present she doesn’t fiddle about untying ribbons and tearing wrapping paper, she just lifts off the lid? Well, this box was just like that.) Inside was a beautiful pad of antique parchment and a very stylish silver Parker pen, which I now use for my longhand reflections. The birthday card just said, “Now write the fucking book!”

I was caught and they didn’t throw me back.

So now that I have a few stories under my belt, I ask myself: who am I writing for? The first answer is “Me”. A writer whose name I can’t recall wrote, “I write for the reader in me”. That’s not bad. I needed to discover if I could write and if I liked reading what I wrote. So far, so good. I thoroughly enjoy writing and publishing my stories. I am amazed at what I remember.

The second answer is, of course, “You”. When I write something, I hope someone will read it, I hope they might enjoy it and, if so, tell me. This encourages me to write more. I’m also keen to get constructive criticism. Last night my mate Damian talked for almost an hour on what he likes in my writing and how he thinks I could improve it. I lapped it up, but of course, I’m free to ignore his fine advice.

“You” includes also my family. My brothers Robert and Chris lived through the farm years and the floods with me and have made invaluable suggestions and corrections, drawing on their own memories. And I want their children and grandchildren to be able to read stories of the “olden days” and know their family history.

A final point: my stories are true, as true as memory will allow. (The monumental mendacity of my schooldays is behind me, I hope.) In the future they may involve painful memories, which scares me a little.

So I hope that none of my readers thinks that I find the death of a little puppy under a fat lady funny. I don’t. But it happened and I think it raises questions about human nature, as in, “What would you have done?”

My reaction to my first encounter with a Jewish sister shames and embarrasses me. I didn’t like writing it (I actually used much stronger language at the time) but it is true and it helps to explain myself to me.

So I trust that you will continue to read and, I hope, enjoy my ramblings and musings. Please know that at no time have I any desire to offend anyone. But I find myself bounden to the truth.

PS: I should point out that I have had no replies expressing offence – so far. And thank you for your encouraging comments – good for my ego, you know.

Whither I goest thou will be goesting, to paraphrase appallingly the beautiful Book of Ruth.

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