Like many of my friends, I’m finding the older I get the more I look back. And the more I look back, the more relevant to Now, the past becomes. It’s becoming increasingly poignant as my writing matures.
When I look back at my life as a writer, I have one particular vivid memory. It was the day after Parents Evening. I was 10. The English teacher had told Mum my writing was so good that he would share my stories around the staff room at break time. Having six children with a husband away for months at a time in the Navy, it hadn’t been noticed.
And so the following day after school, my wonderful writer Mum appeared at the door with a present. It wasn’t even my birthday and she was known for watching the pennies. So this was special. It was a blue Brother typewriter “to type my stories on.”
It was more than a gift. It was a confirmation, a symbol. It gave permission.
As time went on, during visits to the library, I discovered the Writer and Artists Year Book.
It was from there I heard about Outpost Magazine run by Howard Sergeant MBE. Aiming high (it was then the oldest poetry publication in the UK) I sent him some poems. A week later, a hand written letter from the man himself arrived, asking to see more of my work.
So had that meant he hadn’t liked what I’d sent him? Instead of being overjoyed, I took it as a rejection, and never did reply. I hoped he’d notice and write again, which of course, he didn’t.
Mum thought she and I should join the local writers circle. I was eleven. It was run by the Editor of our local newspaper, so a man of some professional stature.
Mum read my stories aloud to the group, as I’d feigned a sore throat. He liked my stories so much, he asked to take them to a publisher he knew. The tension and excitement mounted. We waited. And waited. He chaired whole meetings for weeks with no reference at all to the stories. Being slightly overawed by him, it was awkward.
Then Mum plucked up courage to ask about them. Flustered, he said he’d lost them. He hoped I’d kept copies and left the meeting early. I hadn’t. So if you’ve ever read stories about a lonely pony called Deblin who glowed green when he was visited in the night by special powers…
There were more disappointments to come.
Being published in an anthology, then discovering Mum had to pay to have it included, like all the others. I was furious. She hadn’t told me because she knew I’d say no. She desperately wanted her daughter to be published, bless her heart. I hadn’t realised then what a wonderful thing that was to do.
Being told very definitely by a laughing careers officer at school that I would never be a writer. A secretary, nurse or hairdresser like so many others in my year… but a writer? Laudable professions as they were, they weren’t for me. This was the most damaging encounter of my writing life. It affected me for a very long time and I stopped writing completely because of it.
I realised many years later of course, that he was just someone brought in by the school. Never had he read any of my work or spoken to teachers.
But, as with us all, the observing never stopped. And the listening, the reading. All skills we naturally hone every day, all essential tools for our craft.
If you’ve ever had a period of not writing, for whatever reason, you’ll know what a desolate, cold, barren place it is to be. But then the feeling you get when it whispers in your ear “I’m back” makes you the happiest person alive. And thankfully, a few years later that’s what happened.
Looking back, it’s been a series of more downs than ups and these are just a few examples. A few years ago, an acquaintance begged to see a play I’d written as her son wanted to act. Flattered, (or stupidly!) I emailed it. There has never been a word uttered or a response since, even on the occasions we bump into each other. And I can’t ask for it back either. Lesson learned.
But then the ups are definitely off the scale. Joining a script writing group at the local theatre and having a play chosen by the judges of their Writing Festival. Having the whole family watching as well as a hundred or so in the audience, not all to see my work of course, but they were there nonetheless. Strangers listening to words I had written, laughing along to lines I’d written to be funny.
The children’s poetry chosen for anthologies by well respected Editors.
Joining The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, such a wonderfully supportive group of writers. It is because of them I’m tackling the biggest challenge of a novel. They didn’t have a poetry group, so my novel-writing began just so I could be part of it all. The Critique groups have proved invaluable, not to mention meeting the wonderful people who attend them.
So there it is, my writing journey.
The poetry anthology, Spring Poets ’72 still sits on my bookshelf. I often wonder how many of those young people, like me, went on to write. The blue typewriter is sadly long gone now, discarded, no doubt during one of our many house moves. As is the letter from the wonderful Howard Sergeant. And everyone knows if I only had one thing for Christmas, it has to be the Writer and Artists Year Book. Wrapped up and labelled every year, lying conspicuously under the tree.
Experiences such as these shaped my writing life. And I’m reminded of them in particular whenever I meet a young person who wants to be a writer. I tell them they can be and not to listen to anyone who says they can’t. But to embrace the downs as well as the ups. And strive towards making their very own Now.