There was a time long ago (winter 2008), when the weather was harsh and I was idly pottering around the home thinking of things I could do to pass the long winter months. Ever since I was a boy I had had a love of music, and not just of the listening variety. At school I had wanted to learn to play an instrument, but alas it was not to be. I settled for singing, acting and taking music as a school curriculum course. I learned how to read music. I learned how to write music. I even learned how to bash out a tune on the piano and play a few chords. When I was about 15 I bought myself a guitar with my hard earned pocket money and composed a few songs. I still have them in my closet. Maybe they'll see the light of day one day. Anyway, time passed and life took over, but a growing ache occasionally visited me and reminded me that I had never learned to play an instrument. I usually let it rumble by unvisited.
But a funny thing happened in that winter of 2008. As the ache touched me once more I decided, what the heck, I was going to take up an instrument. I had always wanted to play the oboe or clarinet at school but now it was the saxophone. It was still a woodwind instrument, but it was something I felt was a little more versatile to play at home. So I visited the local music store and rented myself a tenor sax. I even bought an instruction book. I took it home, opened it all up and spent the next hour trying to get a noise out of the thing. It wasn't as easy as I had imagined. Still, that wasn't a concern, I knew I could do almost anything I put my mind to if I really wanted to. And I really wanted to.
I also took a slip of paper away with me from the music store that day. The slip of paper contained a name and a phone number. The name said 'Ray Guyll.' He was supposed to be a good teacher according to the guy at the music store. So I gave him a call and ended up speaking to his wife, Barbara, and arranging my first lesson. It was to be late on a Friday evening, after another week at work. Still, it was what was on offer.
I took my shiny tenor sax to the man and opened it up. I even put it together (I had been practicing!). He asked me to play something! I politely declined as all this stuff was decidedly new to me. Still, we persevered and over the next couple of lessons I managed to play one or two tunes in such a way as you could actually recognize them.
During our times together, Ray had spoken to me of times when he had taught music to bands and also played jazz when he was younger. I decided I'd google him and see what kind of person I was dealing with! The results I got from google were a little confusing. Instead of Ray Guyll the jazz player, I just got a page of Ray Guyll the ventriloquist dummy maker. That couldn't be right. Eventually I found a site that had a picture, and lo and behold it was indeed the same man. Mysteriouser and mysteriouser!
The following week I asked him about this dummy business and he told me his story. I also told him about my passion to write. Over the following weeks the sax lessons diminished and the 'dummy talk' increased. The next thing that happened was that somehow I was writing children's stories about his dummy characters, sprinkled in with a measure of my inventiveness too. Gwillville came of age! The rest as they say is history. I never did learn to play the tenor sax and Ray still plays his sax and also now directs the Microsoft Jazz Band.
The Gwillville books that will start to hit the stores over the next few weeks come from a pedigree of inventiveness and creativity that has its roots firmly planted in those fun and innocent days of ages past. A time when children's stories were fun and led to dog-eared books being passed from friend to friend. So as Fergus Fedderfeeny's Food Factory wends its way onto your bookshelf, remember one thing: Never, ever give up on your ideas. One day there will be a spark that will ignite them. Anything can happen in real life, just as it can in fairy tales. It just needs a little magic.
So, anyway. It's time to go and see the man. One of the best and most respected dummy makers in the business - Ray Guyll