My favourite stories have no pages, no illustrations and no publisher. But for those treasured tales, I'd swap every book in my collection.
Growing up, my Dad didn't read to me at bedtime. Instead, he did something far better. He used to make up stories. Freestyle. Freestyle! And I took this completely for granted.
In my memory, there was a new one every night of my childhood but that can't be right that would equal thousands of stories over the years. I know there were a lot of them though. And I know they all came from the alchemy of imagination and memory.
A war baby, my Dad's childhood was one of running around the countryside to which his family had moved from the big city. It was a childhood of rationing and of friends whose dads never came home. It wasn't a wealthy childhood (I don't think many were in the immediately post-war period). But these were not sad stories.
They were generally tales of adventure and derring-do. Of MI5 and German planes and bombsites and secret tunnels. There were comedy farces involving bikes with no brakes, and there were complex spy sagas that ran across several bedtimes with endless twists and turns. I loved the Famous Five but my dad and his friends' capers would have left those dorks crying on Kirrin Island.
I clearly remember trying to record my Dad telling stories, so I could listen again on my own time, during the day, when my Dad was at work. Somehow, it wasn't quite the same. The recording flattened something, or maybe it was the lack of mannerisms, expressions. Perhaps he was on to me, and it dented the magic. Perhaps, though I don't want to admit it, part of that magic was in the way it was received. The ears of a Daddy's girl.
And now my Dad is "Grandad Seaside" to my kids. Who all love his stories, which no longer seem to feature his own childhood, but are instead real life missives about the people he's met, or more often the animals. My seven-year-old's favourite story from me is actually about the time Grandad Seaside mistook a dog in a car for a mean old man giving him evil looks. He went over to see what the old fella's problem was and ended up adopting the dog. Murphy lived with us until he was fifteen.
Everything that touches my dad becomes a story, but as far as I know, he's never written them down. But those stories stirred something, sowed a seed in me that never stopped growing. They shaped the way I saw the world, as a playground filled with secrets and adventure. Even now, I can't pass a bookcase without assuming there's a secret corridor behind it; an old tree with assuming there's a secret network of tunnels under it. My dad's stories are probably the reason I'm a writer now. They're definitely the reason I often used to take my kids to explore nearby a disused asylum close to our old home. We got chased off by a security guard once, but spent the whole walk home excitedly making up ghost stories and time travel adventures.
Stories don't have to cost anything, or come in fancy wrapping (though those are nice too), but you never know where a little bit of imagination can lead. Or the lifelong effect it might have.