I grew up surrounded by words. As a child my father read to me vociferously, first nursery rhymes, then stories and later still poetry. By the time I was going to primary school, I was aware of the radio being permanently set to Radio 4 and in the years to come I would absorb plays, classic novels and short stories. Before I knew what metre or journalism meant, I appreciated the familiar cadence-like scanning of the daily shipping forecast and the delightful prose of the short journalistic essays on From Our Own Correspondent.
As the years passed, I devoured the classics and vintage classics. By the time I started secondary school, my father had introduced me to what would become some of my favourite authors and preferred writing forms: the surreal short novels of Muriel Spark, the insightful essays of G.K. Chesterton, the side-splittingly funny accounts by Alan Coren and the raw beauty of Second World War poets like J.E. Brookes. To this repertoire, I was adding discoveries of my own: the essays of Karel Čapek, novellas of Bohumil Hrábal, short stories of Dubravka Ugresić… These gems had been beyond my father’s ken but I had been receptive to them thanks to the foundation that dad had given me.
The love of words was accompanied from a young age by a love of writing. As class mates struggled with essays and turning imagination into words, ideas just flooded out of my pen. Upon leaving school I would look for outlets for my love of writing, whether editing university magazines, copy-writing for corporates or drafting contracts. In the last two years, however, I have allowed myself to return to creative writing, usually non-fiction and always short form: short stories, essays and vignettes and most recently, a format I rediscovered following the sudden loss of my dad.
My father left us his writings on the same disk that contained his last wishes. Apart from one book manuscript, all of these were short form too: short stories, poems and mini-sagas: retelling a myth, legend, famous story in exactly 50 words.
I must have been ten when my dad introduced me to the concept of telling a story in 50 words – no more, no fewer. He had been seduced by this form when he heard the hauntingly beautiful Homecoming by Roger Woddis, the runner-up entry in a competition on Radio 4’s Today programme. He encouraged me – a child – to try this form too because of the mental discipline of working with exactly 50 words and the enhanced bond and respect it creates for each of those 50 words.
It is an irony really that as I had started to immerse myself in creative writing once again, rather than my daily practical writing, and was gaining the confidence to share my writing product, the man who introduced me to and nurtured my love of words should disappear from my life. It seems only fitting therefore that in these dark days I look to writing for comfort and the promise of return to life.