Today’s book review of a single piece is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.
Grandfather’s Uncle by Philip J McQuillan
Synopsis: The subject of this memoir, Big Philip, as he was affectionately known, sprinkled ordinary conversation with bits of poetry, quotes from Shakespeare and old farmyard saws. We start with glimpses of McQuillan’s pre-Great Depression origins and then fast-forward to his colorful home life, favorite hobbies and mini-obsessions. The scenery along the way is littered with Philip’s choice phrases and idiomatic expressions. It is a ramble through an as–big–as–life scrapbook where Big Philip’s little recipes, his night job as a radio announcer, his board game “crimes” and his love for horse racing, golf, and gardening paint a richly detailed portrait of the man we cannot help but grow to love.
Genre: biographies and memoirs
Philip Jude McQuillan was born in 1954 in Michigan, spent his early school years in Philadelphia, PA and Vineland, New Jersey, USA. After a brief career in commercial shipping, he moved to Costa Rica and spent 20 years there raising a family, teaching English and Spanish in his free time. In 2001, he returned to the US with his second family, and eventually moved back to his hometown to spend time with his father in his waning years.
A first-time author, Philip draws inspiration from his father Philip Louis. He says, “I encourage everyone to write about someone they knew and loved. Having passed away, their stories are sacred memories that should be preserved.”
After a touching preface in which Philip (junior) talks openly about how much his father meant to him. This immediately struck a chord with me as my father died September 2001, twenty-six years younger than Philip senior, or ‘Big Philip’ as his son calls him. As ‘little’ Philip says, “It’s sad to think that in two short generations, no one alive will know anything about the life that he lived.” This book is entitled ‘Grandfather’s Uncle’ and while I only met one of my grandfathers, I certainly didn’t meet his uncle and don’t have a clue who he was. From time to time, I suggest to my mum that she writes her autobiography (amongst other things she worked for the racing driver Stirling Moss’ sister, Pat, who was a showjumper) and although her side of the family has its family tree, that’s mostly names and lines, not the essence of who the people are. With this in mind, I read on.
Through Philip’s recounting of his father, we’re shown what a wonderful man he was. They say the good die young, but Big Philip was an exception, he was 98.
I don’t know whether it was the era of their upbringing, but Big Philip was a ‘if you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself’. I’m like that. I was a secretary for 20+ years and I have a friend who’s going to help out with my admin. I’ve had an assistant before (in a previous job) and found it hard to let go but when you’re constantly swamped, it’s needs must… like wanting to edit your manuscript “just one more time” when you know you have to let go.
Although this story is primarily about Big Philip, we do get glimpses into the other ‘characters’ in his life, his wife, Jean, his then-daughter-in-law, Melanie and later, one of Little Philip’s friends, Andy.
The incident where Big Philip devised a ramp support reminded me of a ‘gadget’ my father made for me: I used to sell at car boot sales (still do when the weather’s nice and I have enough stuff) and used to use decorator’s pasting tables. They were famous for being unstable so he made a wooden support to prop them up. The tables are long gone but the support isn’t. I don’t know why I keep it but it’s something my father did for me so I’ll always hang on to it, despite him having been the hoarder, not me.
Although Big Philip reminds me of my father, he shared my mother’s love for gardening. Like Jean, my father would ‘help’ (potter) but their spouse would do most of the work.
This eBook ends with an Afterword in which Philip invites us to write a chapter about someone special to us. I have so much I could write about my father that I’d overrun a chapter but it’s a great idea and I hope he does receive enough submissions to have another book.
Amongst the text are occasional bolded words (Big Philip’s favourite words, we’re told at the start) which initially didn’t bother me but after a while, I noticed how many there were. The occasional one or two would have been better. I know it means that he had plenty of favourite words but as the saying goes, “Less is more”. My only other suggestion to the author would be to rename the book to something more fitting to his father, not necessarily ‘Big Philip’ (as that might suggest a totally different kind of book!) but the title has to encompass the topic and in this case it isn’t about his grandfather’s uncle but his father. Perhaps use one of the aforementioned bold phrases. I’m sure there’ll be one in there that leaps out. Along the same line, the photograph of Big Philip at the back would make a good front cover.
Dotted throughout this charming book are quirky phrases that Big Philip is quoted as saying and one of my favourites, which could apply to me as I’m a couple of inches shy of six feet tall, was, “She’s a tall drink of water”. Little Philip says that his father was an avid reader – it’s a shame he wasn’t a writer too.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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