This is a blog written by a writer, but it isn’t aimed only at writers. It is aimed at those who have cherished dreams, felt awe at the achievements of others, yet never got around to doing anything about it themselves: Too many responsibilities. Never enough time. Too much self-doubt. Sounds familiar? It should. This blog, then, is really about you and me and the inspiration which makes any achievement possible.
For a while, I considered making Stephen Hawking the main focus of this subject. After all, my novel, Scarab, draws its motivation from quantum physics, an area that Stephen Hawking has written extensively about. In many ways, Hawking personifies the best in all of us — formidable courage in the face of debilitating illness, high-octane brilliance, and an insatiable sense of humor. His work on astronomy and black holes is a source of inspiration to science fiction writers everywhere. Surely, the greatest mind since Einstein would offer the best backdrop to any rumination about science, art, and the imagination? Perhaps. But it would not be completely honest. There is another man, not as brilliant, nor as famous, who inspires me even more. That man is my father.
As a small boy growing up in Athens, I loved stories – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Moby Dick, Alice in Wonderland, The Time Machine. My parents would take turns recounting these tales to me from memory, since we had no easy access to books. We were desperately poor. I’m told that we had fled Egypt years previously with only the clothes on our backs — in my case, a nappy, since I was barely a year old at the time. Greece, then, as now, was in the midst of a sustained economic crisis. My father was a skilled fitter-and-turner, and often worked three different jobs a day to make ends meet, yet, he barely managed to put enough food on the table. There was certainly no extra money for books. But that did not stop me from making up my own stories.
My favorite topic was outer space. Russia’s Yuri Gagarin had been the first man to orbit the earth a few years previously, and that left a lasting impression on everyone. In response, President John F. Kennedy announced that America would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and got busy getting it done. Maybe it was because the space program kept our chins up by forcing our gaze skywards; maybe it was because it touched the ineffable in us; whatever reason, we couldn’t not stop talking about it. We talked about it at the grocery store, the bus stop, the church, and at school; and, of course, we talked about it around our Spartan dinner table. What keeps the moon up, I wanted to know. What lies beyond the edge of the universe, my mother would ask and dunk another ladle of hot lentil soup into my bowl. And my father would glance up at the ceiling and laugh in awe of it all.
He had a small lathe and some old tools in one of the rooms of our small house that he used to make shafts and pistons for clients for a bit of extra money. One day he decided that he’d make amends for my lack of books. He mounted some rods left over from past jobs into his lathe and, like a magician, proceeded to turn them into magnificent toy rockets. He painted them red, yellow, silver and blue with old paint he had mixed himself, left them to dry, and then surprised me with them the following day. It was the best gift anyone had ever given me, then, or since, and something I have never forgotten. I picked them up in awe and wonder and took to racing through our tiny house and even tinier garden with a rocket in each hand, trying not to bump into things, but really, I was transversing the stars.
Recently, my father turned 82. He now lives in South Africa with my mother. I live in Australia. My sister, born ten years after me, lives an hour’s drive from them. Father still runs his own business and still works with lathes and tools, although the lathe is now called a CNC machine and the tools are best and latest of their kind. A man of small stature and little formal education, he banished self-doubt, made the time, found the inspiration, and relentlessly set about achieving every goal he ever set his mind to. How can I do any less?
Deciding to take the Indie route to publishing, daring to imagine a time when our hobby is our full time job is daunting. Sometimes the fuel runs low and inspiration wanes. But as I amble towards my keyboard to begin working on my next novel since Scarab, I can’t help thinking about my father, Gagarin, J.F.K., Hawking, and those red, yellow, silver, and blue toy rockets that started it all. And this fills me with a quiet confidence.