Once upon a time a long time ago (about twenty-six years, or over a quarter of a century) I wrote my first short story that wasn’t a university assignment. I gave it to one of my tutors to read. Send it to a short story magazine, he said; so I did.
The magazine I sent it to was Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Australian Short Stories’. Some months later the few pages arrived back in my hands accompanied by a letter that said something like this (it WAS a long time ago and I wasn’t clairvoyant enough to keep the letter): I really like this story and it should be published. I can’t take it, not because it’s not good but because I have a backlog of stories that will take many editions to clear, and when I do I will be closing the magazine. Do send it to someone else. Do keep writing.
The last sentence is probably the only one quoted truly, and because it was from a real publisher, someone I didn’t know and not associated with the course I was doing, the words lifted my soul. They have returned to me at times when the thought of trying to write seemed futile and a waste of time, and why ever does the world need another book anyway.
This morning I was the only person in my local whole food store, until Bruce Pascoe walked in, and memory pulled up those words from that far away time. I stopped his shopping: You don’t know me, I said, but this is what happened. I told him the story, that his encouragement to a stranger who had sent her first writing to him was a real driver for me to keep studying and writing. I said I had done a PhD, partly because of him, and won a world prize from that.
Keep writing, he said, and gave me his address in case I find another short story around somewhere.
The moral of this story? You never know what a few words of encouragement or praise could mean to someone, or who you’re saying them to. Bruce Pascoe could have just bundled that little story into an envelope and returned it, but the words of support that came back with it have stayed with me for twenty-six years.
Thank you Bruce. I just wanted you to know that.