One of the best things about blogging is reading the comments that people are moved enough to post in the little box at the end. And last week was no exception. I received a very interesting comment from a writer compadre, Laura Belgrave, about how she was a different sort of child with one foot in the real world and the other in an imaginary one. On the same day, a fellow blogger, Mike Senczyszak posted a blog about why he continues to write even though it can sometimes be a struggle. Both writers inspired me; set my mind to thinking. Why do I do this when nobody asked me to? Why do I continue to write when the tangible rewards are very few and far between? Where did this questionable pastime spring from? And after some reflection, I decided I could not answer this without going back to very early childhood. Because I believe the majority of writers are not just grown adults that one day say, ‘do you know what? I need to write my memoirs!’. I believe, in the main, we were born writers. Even if it took us until adulthood to realise it.
I was the second youngest of six children, born into fairly reduced circumstances. Right from the start, I didn’t much like those circumstances. And the need to escape was instilled in me from almost as early as learning to walk and talk. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t the most special or gifted of those children. My siblings will all have their own unique story to tell – why they turned out the way they did. But I can only tell my story. As much as I enjoyed playing games with my brother and sisters (we invented some kick-ass games, by the way, with Sindy dolls, Action Men and other toys – always with madly convoluted stories you wouldn’t expect children to concoct), I would always earmark a large section of the day that was reserved entirely for myself. That wasn’t easy in a two-bedroom house with eight inhabitants, but I suppose this was where I had to get creative. The lack of solitude was the very reason that I learned to become so adept immersing myself in a fantasy world, and finding new and creative ways to do it.
I have vivid memories of an old chocolate tin that had once contained colourfully wrapped confectionery (but sadly no longer did), but what it had come to contain was so much better. The tin had been packed full of tiny toy soldiers and other small people of a similar stature. I decided that tin was a prison (like you do) and the people within were the unlucky incarcerated inhabitants or the evil prison guards. And from that tin grew my very own world. Every prisoner had a character and a back-story – how they had come to find themselves locked up in such a hellhole. But the lead character was a little plastic motorcyclist complete with a painted white helmet and black and blue suit, who had long since lost his motorbike (somewhere in the Black Hole of Calcutta, i.e. my house). Unfortunately, due to the permanent loss of bike, this meant he had to walk around in a fixed mid-crouch at all times. But this didn’t matter to me; he was the main protagonist (aka my favourite toy in the tin). Toy soldiers are ten-a-penny, but bike-less motorcyclists? They're special. I want to say his name was Ricky? But I can’t swear to that, I was just a little girl. Anyway, the main gist of the story was that Ricky, on a daily basis, had to contrive new and riskier ways to escape from the clink. But poor Ricky never did make it out, I’m sorry to say. I used to sit there on the floor in some corner of the bedroom, obscured only by the post of a bunk bed and murmur the character’s dialogue to myself. I didn’t know it then, but this was the makings of my quest to be a writer. I’m certain of it.
As time moved on and I grew in years, I felt it just wasn’t fitting for a child transitioning into her teenage years to continue playing with a tin of toy soldiers. But I secretly mourned its loss – that was my quiet time; my retreat into another dimension that wasn’t as crappy as the real one. Until one day I hit upon an idea that I could just write stories down in a book instead. I know, in a book! Genius! And jotting stories in a book was a less dubious pastime than 'the tin', right? So at around the age of 11 (I’d guess) was the official beginning of my foray into writing. Exercise book after exercise book; every penny of my meagre pocket money spent on another one, stacking up and up, and stashed away in a cupboard that really ought to have stored more useful things. I remember the excitement of popping into Woolworths to buy a new set of five shrink-wrapped empty books. I simply loved it; the prospect of those clean pages opening the door to a new place. Sometimes it would be a stand-alone story, but usually I would be ensconced in a long-term soap opera - continuously playing out in my mind, but desperately yearning to be put down on paper.
I don’t consider myself in any way an exhibitionist, but I even took my books to school. I let my school friends read them (a class-full of girls and boys – I am seriously cringing at the recollection, as the stories had to be awful). But you can see, even then I must have needed feedback - some form of validation. I even wrote a book specifically tailored for my form class, titled, ‘The Haunted Philpott’. Mr Philpott was our secondary school history teacher/form tutor, and we had a love-hate relationship with him. I remember he looked a little bit like English cricketer Geoff Boycott, so I found a picture of the cricketer from the sports pages of a newspaper, tore it out and pritt-sticked it onto the front of my book. The entire class read it, and I believe it was a big hit. Just because we thought it would be funny, I actually left it propped up on the table in the classroom whilst we wrote a history essay in silence (well, silence apart from our snickering), just so Mr Philpott could see the book. That huge title, ‘The Haunted Philpott’, and Geoff Boycott’s massive black-and-white face emblazoned across the front. Mr Philpott must have been a good sport, because I recall his wry grin from across the classroom. I’m lucky he didn’t confiscate it and (heaven forbid) read the bloody thing! I could have been in big trouble. Honestly, these recollections are all just coming back to me now. And man, I was a weird kid... *shudder*
So you see, that was the evolution of my writing career (did I say career? Ha-ha…I meant hobby). It all really stemmed from that tin of soldiers and the mountains of cheap exercise books. From childhood, it was all about finding an escape from my reality – and although I’m fairly content with my current reality – it still is. The lure of another world will always be calling me. That’s why I do this. That’s why I write. If I’m never successful, if wring never makes me rich, I’ll continue to write anyway. Because it makes me happy. Because it’s a release from the stresses of life. Writing has got me through some very tough times – when my sister died, that's all I did. There’s a lot to be said for stepping out of your own existence into another one. It’s a place you created, so it’s infinitely better than TV; better even than reading (and I love reading). So I suggest everybody tries it – if they haven’t already. Like I say, I do believe the majority of us writers were born this way, but I’m sure others can drift into it during adulthood. I also strongly believe the old saying, ‘everybody has a book in them’. The bulging cupboards at my mother’s house will attest, I just happened to have hundreds in me. I really ought to pop back to London one day to burn them… *shudder*