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.
You can find Rachel at her website, Facebook and Twitter.
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.
If you’d like to contribute a personal essay for Writers in the Attic, please contact me here. The topic is fairly broad—anything to do with writing, your writing life or what writing means to you. 600-1000 words is a good length.
I acknowledge the time and effort involved in writing these pieces by sending a small gift as a thank you.
I love reading every essay I receive, so please don’t be frightened to take the plunge!
Congratulations Rachel! I loved reading your post. Our writing journey and stories really amaze me. You and I have experienced the opposite. My Dad is one reason why I didn’t put my first book into print (it is an eBook)… I was afraid he’d read it and judge me because he didn’t believe I’d be able to make a living from being creative. So, far he has been right. The other was, I didn’t have the confidence to truly put myself out there. Thankfully, a lot has changed in my life, and my Dad and I have grown closer. With my third memoir complete, I’m now seeking a publisher, and I hope my Dad will get to read them before he departs. I feel your Dad is super proud of you too ♥
Thanks Leanda – I get a clear picture of my Dad grinning proudly whenever I tell anyone I have a book coming out. I’m glad you and your Dad have grown closer – parents are human and sometimes how they see things changes over time. Good luck with finding that publisher – I bet when you do your Dad will brag about it!
True, Rachel… parents are not given an instruction or rule book to guide them. While he (my Dad) may see things differently, I do too, and I believe it starts with me. Thanks so much for sharing your positive vibes.
Thanks so much for popping by today, Leanda, and sharing a bit more of your story. I’m glad you’ve been able to repair the relationship with your father. Good luck finding a publisher—my fingers and toes are crossed. x
Thank you Louise! Very kind of you… and well done sharing the love here in the attic. I’m enjoying reading writer’s stories ♥
I’m glad you’re enjoying reading the essays posted here, Leanda. I’m loving receiving and sharing them. They’re all different, yet moving. It’s the best series in the world to host!
Thank you for sharing your story, Rachel. I read it just after writing a poem about the loss of my father, and it moved me to (more) tears. I am ever so grateful for the loving influence my father had on my life, and can only imagine the depth of your loss. Platitudes such as ‘he’ll be there with you’ cannot replace his actual presence. I wish you well on your journey to being published.
This essay particularly resonated with me, too, and for similar reasons to you. I’d love to read your poem one day! x
Thank you Louise. When it is ready I will let you know. 🙂
I look forward to that! 🙂
Thank you Rachel. Enjoyed reading your wonderful word-filled childhood in Tassie with your Dad and final time with him. Feel he’ll be there in spirit, proudly smiling at your launch. Congratulations.
It was lovely to read about Rachel’s wonderful word-filled childhood! I’m not sure I believe in an after-life, but at times like Rachel’s book launch, I hope there is!
Congratulations on your book Rachel. You have a wonderful father who has passed his talent on to you. Many happy memories to x
Yes, what a wonderful legacy to leave your daughter, indeed! 🙂
Oh, Rachel. Thank you so much for sharing that heartfelt tale with us. I’m sitting here with tears brimming over — for the love you had for your Dad, and for your devastating loss. I feel absolutely confident in suggesting that he would have been incredibly proud of your achievement. Congratulations on your forthcoming book launch. Having him in your thoughts on that day, and so many other days, is the next-best thing to having him there in person.
Louise, thank you once again for providing the forum for another writer to reveal a part of their personal journey. That attic of yours is crowded with wonderful tales, and inspirational people.
I’m glad you’re enjoying these posts from the attic, Maureen. This post really moved me, too. xx
Thanks for your thoughts and wishes – I’m so surprised and touched! I’m used to writing alone in my attic!
Thanks for being part of this series—it’s been an honour to share your beautiful essay, Rachel! Best wishes for the launch of your book. x
Thanks for sharing Rachel, what a beautiful post and congratulations.
Thanks for visiting and I’m glad you enjoyed it, Kooky! x
What a beautiful, bittersweet story. Congratulations Rachel on a wonderful achievement.
My thoughts exactly, Fi. It will be a bittersweet day for Rachel. x
You are one fortunate person, Rachel, to have such a father. And you do him proud. Thanks for writing this tribute to him. It gives heart to those of us who have not been so fortunate in our fathers to recognise that such other fathers exist.
It’s a beautiful tribute to Rachel’s father, Lis. And a bittersweet reading experience for you. It must churn up many emotions. xx
I feel the ache in your heart. My mum passed away two weeks before my debut launch (2013). She did get to hold my book. She said, “Heavy, isn’t it?” (She used to love her little M&B books!) The best advice I received at the time was this… “Give yourself permission to be happy.” Your dad would want that, too.
Very wise words of advice, Jenn! (From time to time, we all need remind ourselves that we are allowed to be happy!)
I’m so glad your mum got to see your book, but I can’t imagine how hard your launch would have been.
Thanks for reading and commenting today. xx
What a beautiful gift Rachel’s father has given her. To be surrounded so warmly by a diverse love for words while growing up is such a special thing – I would have loved ‘playing along’ to the radio show she mentions.
Rachel’s children seem to have inherited this rich legacy and I’m so sorry her father can’t be there to share her joy.
Those games sound like so much fun, I agree, and what a lovely legacy with which to leave your daughter. It’s just a pity our loved ones aren’t immortal! x