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William Bernard Ready

EVER SINCE I REMEMBER I HAVE BEEN TELLING stories, listening to stories, reading stories, and I think that that is the first quality that a writer should possess, keeping his eye on the reader. A writer is first of all a man in search of an audience, all else comes from that and anything goes to get attention. So before I could tell or be told the truth, I was telling lies, and, bestride an old saddle-backed trunk in my parents' bedroom, I used to ride with Arthur and his company and listen in envy to my companion Billy Cox who could tell better lies than I could. One day his uncle had a dromedary; that quenched me for weeks, for all the greatest qualities with which I had endowed my relatives never came near to that great feat. All my uncles, poor glum heroes in the British Expeditionary Force in France, I had as spitting ten Germans before breakfast and tearing down German planes from the skies, or later, beating up on the Black and Tans in Ireland-all lies, fine that caused my companions to listen and my parents to bewail, half-heartedly, my tendency away from the truth.

Now I was brought up in an old-fashioned way, in Cardiff, Wales, where I was born of John and Nora Ready, their first born child and son, in September 1914. That was before radios and television were thriving, so that families were thrown back upon themselves for their entertainment, and night after night I used to hear stories from my mother, from my grandparents about the old days, about the family, about my Uncle Park, who drank, about my great-grandfather John Ready, who was killed in the pit disaster at the Morfa in 1890, on an Easter Monday, about how the workings were under the sea, which rushed in, so that the funeral service was held out on the water, and the wreaths were cast on the tide, and about my great-great-grandfather Con Mahoney, who used to sing a song called "A Bonny Bunch of Roses0" that was a Napoleonic, anti-British song. My father used to tell us about the life around the Cardiff Docks, about Jim Lehane, who one whole night tippled and sang the various Masses with the mate of a Belgian boat that they were coaling. My grandfather remembered the Franco-Prussian War; he used to excuse MacMahon the Marshal of France, just because his name was MacMahon, and I loved it all. I knew where I came from, and I was happy about it, because of the stories that came out of it.

There were always books for me to read. They were not children's books. When I tried to join the Public Library I was too young and forged my headmaster's signature, Brother Berchan, who when confronted with my childish scrawl by a virtuous and angry librarian blandly announced it was his own. To my sorrow I missed out on The Wind in the Willows, the Peter Rabbit stories of Beatrix Potter, all such books because my parents, with little schooling, did not know about them, but there was a set of Dickens, an illustrated history of the World War, books of Irish history, and poetryhardly poetry-patriotic jingles that I used to mouth, like Davis's Lament for Owen Roe O'Neil. From school I got nothing at all, no books, no stories, just an ability to read, but with that I entered the world of books through the Public Library and I read through A. G. Henty, P. G. Wodehouse, Kipling, Edgar Wallace, Edgar Rice Burroughs, receiving no direction I just read and read and read and dreamed and dreamed and dreamed and lied and lied and lied. One of my favorite times for dreaming was Sunday evenings, at evening service. Our parish was blessed, or afflicted, year after year, all through the days of my youth, with the dullest preachers that it is possible to imagine, and they would hold forth sometimes for nearly an hour.

When I started in High School I began immediately to write for the school magazine. I attended that school for nearly ten years, and I never had a single thing accepted. Nothing I ever wrote came near to being accepted. Occasionally in Form Gossip there would be a derisive note about Rejection Ready, but that was all, and they were quite right. I used to write like Walter Scott in his dotage or like Maurice Walsh at his worst. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, and I never got any encouragement, and that was fine; that was the way it ought to be. My teachers made me read and write in a disciplined form, they made me translate from proper Latin into decent English, and they beat me if I did not do so. I owe everything to them.

From school I went to work in a library, in Cardiff Public Library, and I was the worst bargain that the Library Trustees ever made. I was reading six hours a day, with constant interruptions from my superiors, and with time off to pass my Library exams, which I passed only so that I could remain a reader.

Then, for four years, I went to Wales University, and some gifted and intelligent men taught me. They never gave me the least encouragement as a writer. The only man who ever encouraged me in those days was David Mathew, whose book, The Mango on the Mango Tree, has recently been such a critical success. I think that the only reason that he encouraged me was that after I had read him something of mine he would say: "That's fine, Will. Now hear this.,, And for the next hour or so I would sit, squirming, listening to some of his writing, which was all very well, but .

Then, one evening, I looked within me, and I began to think about my life as a boy, about the Army, and how different a life it was going to be for my son, a baby, asleep in the next room. For him, for my wife, for my friends, all this in America, and for myself, I wrote a story about a football game. Substantially the story was a true story, as are all my stories, in a way. Hanging up in the living room back in Cardiff, Wales, there is a picture of a football team: it was a good football team, barring the weight. We were always getting pushed off the ball by big agricultural louts who had no more science than these bulldozers. The picture was hanging up in the living room. The team broke up in 1939, because of the war, and some of the boys were killed during the next six years, but just before the war we played a great game: it was as if Santa Clara nearly beat Cal; it was that good, and we lost only because we were the lighter team.

I submitted it to the Atlantic Monthly. There was a long silence, then there was a guarded and approving letter, full of good sense. Would I do this? Would I do that? I described the physical nature of the field, of our coach, and tidied up the ending, and they published it. That story paid me $1,000, and it resulted in a lot of letters. I was on the way. It was like swimming after the early foundering. I found that I had something to say, to write, and the Atlantic stories tripped off my tongue, until there were about five of them. Afterwards I began to write for the Saturday Evening Post and four or five of these stories tided me over the hungry days of a teaching fellowship. The Bruce Company of Milwaukee published a collection of my stories in 1950, The Great Disciple; and the Henry Regnery Company of Chicago published my novel, The Poor Hater in 1959. I have written many other articles and stories, have been anthologized many times, and hope one of these days to make enough money from my writing to live on.


EDITOR'S NOTE Besides his B.A. from Wales University, Mr. Ready has a Diploma in Education from Oxford and an M.A. from Manitoba University. He served in the British Army in Africa, Italy, etc., from 1939 to 1945. He taught at St. Paul (Minnesota) College, 1946-50, and at the University of California, 1950-51. He was acquisitions head of the Stanford University Library, 1951-54, and assistant director of the Library, 1955-56; since then he has been director of libraries at Marquette University, Milwaukee.

Originally published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig, Sixth Series, 1960.


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