I’ve got an awful lot to thank my grandad for. He was, and still is, my hero. He gave me so much in his lifetime; a love of golf, a thirst for knowledge and passion for books. But the greatest gift, the legacy he left, is the one he delivered the day he died.
He’d been suffering from a form of dementia for a few years. I’d tried to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad, that he was just getting forgetful. That denial left me the day he didn’t recognise his great-grandchildren. It’s a day I’ll never forget. It crushed me.
Not long after that, my grandad went into a care home. I never visited him and didn’t see him during the last six months of his life. I didn’t want to see the shadow of my hero. I wanted full-fat grandad, not grandad light. It’s the most selfish thing I’ve done. It’s a source of shame. And it’s without question my biggest personal regret.
Sage advice at such times is to cling to a happy memory. You know – the whole, remember the good times thing. What I came up with surprised me.
A nicotine stained mint.
The surprises continued as I penned a poem. Yes, a poem.
It’s a simple rhyming couplets poem, and as far as ‘real’ poetry goes, it’s pretty bad. But it worked for me. It helped me capture a single moment of utter joy. (You can read The Nicotine Mint over at my personal blog.)
It made my family smile.
It made me smile.
And it still makes me smile.
That was November 2009, and that’s when my writing started. It’s like a light was cliched on.
I wrote more poetry, mostly pretty bad if I’m honest. Then I started writing short stories, before discovering a passion for writing personal stories. I shared these true tales of various embarrassing ‘highlights’ of my life on my personal blog. The feedback was positive. Driven by my attention seeking nature, I wrote more and more. I discovered two things. I loved writing, and I was quite good at it.
I’d been writing marketing content since I was 19 years old, but this was different. This was writing for writing’s sake. This was writing to entertain my friends and family. This was writing for me. It helped me make sense of ’stuff’.
By day, I was a Senior Marketing Manager by night I was a writer. It was my hobby. My escape. My passion.
In January 2013, my grandad and I formed a formidable writing partnership. He’d kept a journal of his life, particularly his war years. He’d approached a few publishers in the late 90’s, but they felt his account lacked broader appeal. This really upset him.
I approached my friend Phil Smith, editor of The Scots Magazine, and he agreed that the story of Jim Anderson’s escape from Singapore would be of interest to The Scots Mag readership. I edited the relevant section of his manuscript and added some additional content to give it some context.
What made this so special, was this – my grandad loved the Scots Mag. Seeing his photo and reading his words mixed with my own in a magazine he hugely respected, was a proud moment for me. A cross-generational, beyond the grave, Anderson mash-up.
I’m proud of the remarkable man my grandad was, and while I’ll always regret my failure to visit him during his last six months, I have, over the last six years stopped crucifying myself for my selfishness.
Now eight months into this writing adventure I appreciate more than ever my grandad’s legacy. Without him, I genuinely don’t believe I’d be making my living as a writer. He unwittingly set me on a course that I’ll never deviate from. I’m a writer.
It’s what I do.
It’s who I am.
It’s what I love.