Writing has long-lasting impact…
The written word has always held tremendous power. From the fear and awe created in the middle ages, through various misguided mantras penned by dictators and tyrants in the intervening centuries, right up to the modern penchant for spin and hype – words have an amazing capacity for good and much potential for destruction too.
All authors need to remain mindful of the impact their words might have.
Here’s a short, hopefully positive, story…
Picture the scene: there’s a young boy, over there. Can you see him? He’s probably only about eleven years old and is being led by his mum, on a typically grey Midland morning, along the street to where the local library bus is waiting for them. He’s holding tightly to her hand and having to scamper to keep pace with her longer strides but, if you look closely, you’ll note that he’s made sure he’s on the road-side of her, because that’s what ‘gentlemen’ are supposed to do.
The boy loves this big, bright yellow, Winnebago which is packed full of books. He looks forward to its visits although, for him, they really don’t come around often enough. Let’s face it: if you can only borrow two books at a time on your library card, and you’re eleven, and you read voraciously, then fourteen days is a very long time to have to wait between recharges…
They arrive at the bus and he scrambles up the steps, disappearing into the shady interior like Aladdin into the Genii’s cave. Once inside he goes straight to the sci-fi section because a couple of nutters called Clarke and Asimov have started to bend his mind and the US Saturn V lunar programme has captured his imagination and he searches high and low for aliens and spaceships… but unfortunately there are no new space creatures or time machines lurking on the shelves this week. His head drops in disappointment. What’s he going to read?
Eventually, on one of the shelves, he finds a book which has a nice picture on the front but he’s not too sure about the blurb. It’s something about dragons, which might not really be his thing. It’s also probably a bit too grown-up for him – the words look quite complex and, from the look of it, it might even have stuff like kissing inside. Blushing slightly, he decides that he’d better keep the details hidden from his mum, just in case…
The book is called Dragonflight. Originally published in 1968, it was a recipient of a Hugo Award (not that an eleven year old knows what that means) and it was, without doubt, one of the most enjoyable books that this particular little boy ever read.
It was, in fact, so memorable that I can still remember taking it down off the shelf, in the library bus. I can still remember holding it and wondering whether I should smuggle it home. I can still remember devouring it and then the next dozen or so books in the series (I can’t remember if there was any kissing, but there were a lot of girls in leading roles…).
Right now, more than thirty years later, I still have five of the series, complete with their yellowing paper, in pride of place on my bookshelf. I don’t, of course, have Dragonflight; it had to be returned a fortnight later.
The author was a lady called Anne McCaffrey who has sadly, at the age of eighty-five, just been called to take her gifts elsewhere. Apparently she was still writing, still delighting young minds and still corresponding with her many fans right up to her final moments and I’m certain her talents will be being put to great use wherever she finds herself now.
I’d just like to record my thanks. Thank-you Anne. Thank-you so much… Your positive and uplifting stories made a little boy very happy and laid an inspirational foundation stone upon which I continue to build my life and, hopefully, my writing.
Anne Inez McCaffrey, science-fiction and fantasy writer.
Born 1 April 1926; died 21 November 2011