Those of you who know me will know that I have been writing for some time. Actually it feels like I’ve always been writing one way or another.
My earliest memories of writing were in school. Now that I have written that last sentance I realise how silly it seems. Of course my first memories of writing were in school, that’s where I learned to write. I’m sure that everyone reading this will have similar experiances. My literary career didn’t start out well, however.
The first thing I remember was before I could write, before I could even read. We had been set the task of writing about windmills. Now, something is telling me that the class had been split in to two different year groups but that may be my brain trying to excuse me from any blame. The elder kids just got on with the job in hand. All I could do was sit there as the other children started to mill around. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea how the shapes were made or what the squiggles on the paper were. But salvation was in front of me and this salvation took the form of a card with a picture of a windmill on it.
Usually these cards were hung up but throughout this particular lession my classroom colegues had been taking them down, passing them between one another arguing over who was to have them next. I finally took my chance and managed to snag the windmill card, safe in the knowledge that this must be a card about windmills. After all, I was in the first year of my school life; everything with a picture on was about the thing that was in the picture. Not long after copying the contents from the back of the card down in to my text book I presenteed it to the teacher. I thought I had done well, after all my work was neat and I had all of the words about windmills from the back of the card in it.
This goes some way to explain my dismay when I was shouted at by the teacher. I had no idea what I had done wrong. There wasn’t a mess anywhere. I hadn’t bitten anybody (life was simpler back then and so was I). To my shame I was told, in front of the whole class, that the cards did not contain the content I had believed them to. The cards were actually spelling aids, the pictures on the front mearly an indication as to the letter the card was about. All I had managed to do was to copy down a list of words that started with the letter W.
My next memory is of reading. I can remember that I never had the Spot books when I was young, even though I always wanted them. I do remember reading the Hungry Catapillar but we learned to read with the books I can only discribe as ‘Jonny Red Hat’ books. With the cynicism of age that sounds rather like a euphamisttic name for a condom. I wonder if that is something I can get started at the pub?
“I met this great girl at the bar guys so I’m going to head off.”
“Hay, don’t forget to take a couple of Jonny Red Hats with you.”
Perhaps in years to come, barbers will be asking their patrons if they would like a Jonny Red Hat for the weekend. But, to get back on topic, my reading was hindered by my love of books.
I know that sounds strange but I was brought up with Wind in the Willows and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. By the time I was learning to read I was really in to the Famous Five stories and so I wasn’t impressed with the exploits of a youth whose single defining character trait was a penchant for rouge head gear. I found it a real struggle to learn how to read. In my mind, I was the worst in the class although I’m not sure that was actually right. But, I managed it and was soon reading the books I wanted to read.
Skipping forward a few years and a teacher asked my mum in to talk because she thought I had something wrong with me. I had started drawing little black squares all through my writing and mother was told that I should be taken to a psychologist because I was depressed. My mum knew right away, in that way that mums do, that the reason for the black boxes was me trying to correct the sentances I’d got wrong in as neat a way as possible.
And then my writing career was finally brought to an end at the hands of an unsuspecting comment.
I was a big fan of Doctor Who. I wasn’t the only one of course, a lot of the boys were and there was always a fight for the old Target novelisations when they cropped up at fairs and jumble sales. This was back in the days when Doctor Who was still on the telly. It wouldn’t be consigned to the scrap heap until my last year of Juniour school if I remember rightly.
The problem of course was that I was writing what I was interested in and that was always science fiction, no matter what task was set. I think it was my parents who relayed the message to me after a parents evening. I would be better at English if I didn’t write about space all the time. That was it. I suddenly didn’t want to write anymore and stopped trying.
I do wonder how many kids are stopped from taking a path they would otherwise enjoy by an offhand comment that would be perfectly acceptable if it were one adult talking to another. Children see the world in a more black and white way than we do. That particular comment made me think that I was no good at writing. So, I reasoned at the time, what was the point?
I started again in Secondary school. Of course, there was creative writing that was done as part of school but my yearning to write didn’t come back to me until I wrote music (after starting to play the guitar). At the time I was also getting in to comedy and wanted to be the person making the jokes so air started to write them as well. I wrote my first book when I was at school. It was rubbish but the ideas were there. I wish I had done some more actually. Learned a little more of the craft. The story took place at school where a giant whirlpool opened in the sky and sucked three friends in to a paralel dimention. Honestly, it was the Harry Potter of it’s time, without the literary ability. I had done what was always told “Write about what you know” which was basically school and science fiction. Something at that point made me realise that I could do it and years later, after writing comedy for comedians, performing myself and contributing to my first magazine, I felt confident when asked to ghostwrite for the first time.
I didn’t enjoy ghostwriting. The books did very well but since I didn’t get a choice of who I was ghostwriting for I found myself spending a lot of time with people that I didn’t particularly like. I got through it though and started writing more short stories. This time I didn’t worry about other people’s opinions. I wrote for myself. I wrote to excercise my own demons, partly for entertainment but mostly for the love of doing it. My work sold. I’ve never made a living from putting pen to paper but it has allowed me to explore my feelings on different areas of my life. It’s also giving me a little extra income once in a while, which is always welcome.
And so, today I start on my latest project. After spending some time away from the keyboard I am starting on a new novel. Once again, it is for no one other than me. I don’t know if anyone else will even see this. Somehow it doesn’t matter. For me, the point of writing is to tell a story that you’ve got inside you and once it’s told I can move on to the next one. I know that it will be set in London, in a 19th century world that has access to a more advanceed technology. I have to explore that world now.
It’s a start anyway, I had better get going on it actually. Now, am I sitting comfortably?