Next Thursday, my eighth novel, SEARCHING FOR A SILVER LINING is published. It’s the book I am most proud of, not least because I worked so hard to make it a truly memorable book. It is also personally special to me because of the happy hours I spent talking to my Dad about his memories of being a teenager in the 1950s while I was writing it. But I never thought during the many months spent writing my book that it would be published without Dad seeing it.
But that’s what is happening. A week ago today, I lost my lovely Dad.
Still, as I write that sentence, I can’t quite believe it. Life without him is going on – because life does – but the world is a little dimmer and quieter without his presence and infectious sense of humour. The bottom line is that I write what I write because I inherited Dad’s love of comedy and his natural storytelling skill. My earliest memories are of Dad making me laugh. He would make my toys move and talk with funny voices, and tell me stories that made me giggle. He made books come alive for me and my sister and often recited favourite tales verbatim on our walks. So much of what I now do for a living can be traced back to those special times.
When he died, I didn’t want to think about my writing, my stories. They suddenly seemed trivial. All I could think of were his stories – the ones he’d tell over and over again, the ones we had now lost. How do you carry on promoting a new book when life floors you like this?
I’m not sure I know the answer.
But here’s what I do know. My amazing, talented, hilarious Dad had one solution whenever life chucked a spanner in his path: create something to redress the balance. When he was unexpectedly made redundant at the age of 56, Dad sought something creative in response: he joined a TV and Film Extras agency.
Over the years he had a ball, acting alongside famous people from Scarlett Johansson, Johnny Depp and Michael Sheen, to Catherine Tate, Patrick Stewart and Philip Glenister. And from each new job came new stories – hilarious, stitch-inducing tales of the crazy things he was asked to do. Such as posing with a bolshy duck in The Village, or running up a hill with a Zimmer frame in Hustle. Or the time while filming The Libertine when he asked Johnny Depp what his previous acting job was (Dad’s had been Emmerdale, of which he was mighty proud) to be told ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and Dad replied, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that. Were you in it?’
Dad understood that, when something bad happens, creating something new and hopeful in its place is the best response.
I can’t bring my Dad back. I wish I could – I would swap every printed copy of my books from here to eternity for one more day with him. But what I do have is the book he was so involved in the writing of. So many of Dad’s memories are woven into the story – in Reenie’s tales of her band The Silver Five’s exploits and in Grandpa Joe’s diary entries that Mattie Bell discovers as she embarks on a road trip like no other. Even the songs that form the chapter headings in Searching for a Silver Lining are my Dad’s favourites from the 1950s. It’s as if the things I loved most about being Brian Harvey Dickinson’s daughter have been infused into the story.
Dad was SO proud of my writing. Every week he would call me with shelf updates from my local Waterstones and WHSmith stores – the booksellers knew he was my Dad and would show him the latest sales figures for my books. He would frequently rearrange shelves so that my books were more visible – several times I was congratulated for being a Richard and Judy pick because a certain sparkly-eyed septuagenarian had been working his magic on the shelves… I know he was proud of this book and loved chatting with me about it.
Those are the things I’m hanging on to as I prepare to do all the book promotion in the coming weeks. So if you see me on Twitter and FB and appearing on lovely book bloggers’ sites talking about my book, please know I’m doing it hoping my lovely Dad is looking on approvingly from the major stage (with the enormous audience) he’s just been called to. And thank you for all your love and support – it’s helping me so much to carry on doing what Dad was so proud of.