If a person ever asks me what book or author made me want to be a writer, I would have to give them a blank stare.
There is no such book. There is no such writer.
There is only my grandmother, Anne Richards.
My grandmother has been dead a few years now, and I miss her more deeply as the seasons pass from fall to winter, spring to summer.
She was not a writer. But she was a storyteller. She was not a modern woman. But she was a loving one. She was not a gifted person. But she made the best baked goods. She was not famous. But she shone like a star for me.
I spent a lot of my youth in her and my grandfather’s house on Glanmor Terrace in Wales. It was not a large house and it could be cold in the winter and the upstairs windows rattled in a gale and the wind spooked me like no ghost story could. They had a small bathroom in the house, which my grandfather built, and an outside lav, which was always full of spiders’ webs and damp toliet paper. But it was a fun place to hide away with a copy of the Sun, diligently searching for spelling errors, of course. Their back garden was long and slim and was squeezed between the neighbours’ identical ones. Identical in length and width only. My grandfather was a wicked green thumb and had a large veg plot and flowerbeds. Oh, and there was a gooseberry bush at the bottom of the garden and noisy crows, rooks, and ravens in the big oak that lorded it over the three gardens. In fact, there was no other tree on the entire street.
Windy, wet days were the best. That’s when my grandmother would strike a Swan match, turn on the gas heater, and blue flames would whoosh to life and then settle down into a lovely blaze of orange. Ensconced in her favourite seat, my grandmother would light up a cigarette, never inahling, though, just puffing away, nibbling on slices of apple and sipping her tea with no sugar.
That’s when I would lie before the fire and beg her to tell me stories of her growing up in Ireland. She would puff and laugh. But she always gave in.
I could sit forever listening to her stories. And in my memory it always seemed like I did, lost, in some way, like a character out of an Irish legend who has stumbled by accident into the land of the sidhe.
The sliced apple, the cigarette smoke, the warm gas fire, the persistent draught from under the hallway door, and the torrent of rain on the conservatory roof. What a mood! Maybe that’s why I love gothic tales.
My grandmother knew nothing about plot, structure, tone, dialogue, pov, anything about the craft of telling stories, but I was spellbound, curled up in a fetal ball at her feet, listening to her every word, letting them become as important to me as the blood that pulsed inside.
And her stories weren’t grand, opulent, masterpieces. They were simple ones about her early life in Ireland and especially about her one brother, John, who was a classcic trickster spirit. I think I loved these stories about her brother the best, the way he would upset the proverbial apple carts and muck about and frighten and amuse and cause a huge amount of mirth — as well as lots of frustration. But my grandmother would always tell her stories about her brother so reverantly, attentive to everylittle detail of his many hijinks and capers. I could tell he vexed the other family members but at the same time they loved him in spite of his devious ways. Part of the proof of that was the many stories my grandmother told about him. In fact, he always showed up in her stories, even if it was to say that John was not around that day, or he’d gone to snare rabbits (or poach), or he was just simply missing, escaped into the wild woods around their cottage. Even his abscense made the stories tingle more with life. My grandmother knew this, I secretly think. Maybe that is why she told me so much about him; maybe she wanted to pass his spirit on to me, keep him alive forever.
If wish I’d told her how much of a great sotryteller she was.
“It’s you — nobody else — who determines your destiny and decides your fate. Nobody else can be alive for you; nor can you be alive for anybody else. Toms can be Dicks and Dicks can be Harrys, but none of them can ever be you. There’s the artist’s responsibility; and the most awful responsibility on earth.” ee Cummings
“I really do believe that a fiction absolutely self-conscious of itself as a different form of human experience than reality (that is, not a logbook of events) can help to transform reality itself.” Angela Carter