Sunday saw the passing of my father's birthday. Had he been here to celebrate it, he would now be turning 91. Sadly he died aged 57 of a long list of possible medical causes. in all honesty, our relationship was always a little strained. He had some serious 'issues' resulting from his wartime service, which led to alcoholism and eventually contributed to his death at 57, yet, in a different way, he is also one of the reasons I write what I do and why I read so widely.
For me, books offered an alternate world, a world filled with nice people, adventures and an escape from some of the unpleasant realities of life in a rather odd household. Both my parents read a lot, and my grandfather had a wide collection of books on natural history, history and some of the sciences. I suppose I'm a bit of a geek, because one of my favourite escapes was the Encyclopedia we owned - all twelve volumes of it. My father at one time must have had a subscription to a Penguin series of short stories and anthologies, because it was in these pages that I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C Clark and Isaac Asimov among others. In the library I discovered books on the sea and on space travel and dived into all manner of fantastic fantasy worlds these books provided.
I dreamed of going to sea as an Apprentice on a Tramp Steamer, or of pacing the quarterdeck of a great battleship in the Royal Navy, or simply embarking on the sailing adventures of the boys that populated the pages of books by Blyton, Westerman and others. Gradually my horizons broadened. I found a whole world in books. I met exotic peoples, read of cultures unlike my own and learned that almost everyone, everywhere shares the same dreams and ambitions in one form or another. I have also learned, through reading histories, that nothing is ever 'black and white', there is always another facet to any event the histories don't always tell, or mention in passing, but don't expand.
The habit of reading has stood me in very good stead through my occupational career, and now serves me well as I try to create stories that are as readable and as informative as those that inspired me as a child and young adult. As I have said, imagination is a great thing, the grist of progress in society. I will confess it occasionally got me into some strange and sometimes dangerous scrapes - like trying to make my own deep-sea diving suit out of old inner tubes and a gold-fish bowl. Or to build a boat out of an old wardrobe (Using a piece of corrugated iron roofing, folded and nailed over a piece of wood at one end, with a spacer about a third of the distance back from that, and a flat board nailed across the open back end made a very successful 'canoe'). I had my successes as well, though now I look back, they were not as numerous, or as spectacular as I would have liked.
Books represent, to me, a treasury of all human knowledge and experience. They inspire, they annoy, they provoke - they are a resource that can take you to the outer reaches of space, or to the depths of the ocean trenches - all from the comfort of the armchair, and all within your own head. Come to think of it - a whole lot 'greener' than the television, the internet or the tablet ...
Writing is, according to those who have studied it, the single greatest invention of the human race. Through being able to make a record of what we know and think, we have been able to pass on knowledge far more efficiently than any other species. And it is all there in a book.
Anyone short of a good book to read?