A lot of my earliest memories are garbled affairs: I can remember the Moon Landing in 1969, fallout during Three Day Weeks and making up games based on Rentaghost during break times on the Primary school playground. However, there is clarity when it comes to learning the recorder (playing in front of the whole school once) and in an ability to make up stories on the spot. In fact, so good was I at doing this, I was asked to make up a spontaneous narrative in front of my Year Six class. It turned into a week long event, each ‘episode’ ending with a cliffhanger. I wish there were memory of exactly what it was that was told, but there’s no recollection of detail. What I can remember clearly however is the excitement each time the job was done.
Spinning tales has always made me happy.
Today, I’d like to share a piece that was written for the first ‘serious’ writing course I took part in, which required an autobiographical submission on my early experiences with words. It is as good a start to this feature as I could hope to present, and it covers the three main stages of my literary journey very well.
The book that began it all, by the way, was Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama.
One Small Step
This is the third time I’ve had bronchitis in the last four months.
On what is the hottest day of the year so far, again I am confined to bed. Every time there’s a cough, fear nibbles a little deeper, concern I will be trapped in this bright pink duvet forever. This is where it begins: anxiety that will, in time, become something far more dangerous than a chest infection. For now it is simply an accompaniment to ill health and ineffective medicines: reminder that I am fragile and mortal, perpetually frightened of ending up in hospital.
I am petrified of dying.
This panic pollutes my heart, unmistakable bitter saltiness even now: perpetual paranoia constantly bolstered by over-protective grown ups who believe I need to be sheltered from the World, who take care over everything. At nine I don’t yet grasp it is sadness binding me to these neuroses like thin cotton, digging into my chest, restricting the breathing… that I am doomed to be a victim of my own over-active imagination and ill health for the next three decades. For now, listening to the radio, singing along to music and trying to fight boredom is all there is.
My father attempts to lift flagging spirits by bringing me a book. He urges me to read it, to lose myself in musty, damp-smelling pages. We talk about the man on the moon, my first real memory: Neil Armstrong on our ancient black and white television in a cramped upstairs flat, which seems a thousand years ago. He reassures me, this too is all about space, that I will enjoy the story. Science fiction is one of the few real connections we have, music is the other: the rest of the time he remains an unknown quantity. Never here, always working, my sense of him hazy and without affection. I sense his presence only in passing, influence far less less potent than my Grandparents or Mother. To be brought this therefore is significant: I must really be ill.
I read the book and am amazed how quickly I am sucked into a virtual world. The story is re-read countless times in the following days, as I latch onto the last sentence and its open-ended coda.
My teacher has already told me that good stories should always have a beginning, middle and end. Great Nanny loved to use the phrase ‘bad luck comes in threes’: she died because it was her time, this is not yet mine. The third bottle of sickly yellow medicine will be the last: I am going to get better and this imprisonment will finally come to an end.
One day, perhaps I could write a story as great as this.
I plant a seed, possibility of something to do well, and unaided.
That day was buried a desire to describe, tell what could be seen in my head so clearly. That hope, placed with a confidence I didn’t yet fully grasp, was quietly hidden away from layers of uncertainty and doubt: you can write like this if you want to. Your body may be faulty but your mind is capable of so much, if you will only allow it the opportunity to rise above the clouds, into space… and the unknown.
The only thing that prevents you from brilliance is your own fear.
Conquer that, and you are capable of anything.
I have glandular fever, and am without a job.
I have fallen out of college, earnest dreams put on hold: not intentionally, but through circumstances which create their own wholly acceptable justification. I’ve met a boy, and for the first time in my life experience the breathless thrills of sexual passion… but practicalities inevitably intercede. I lack any financial ability to escape the parental home. Fear remains a constant companion, eroding rational decision making. When my recently-redundant mother begins her own business and asks me to join her, I see a way to escape but also a means to remain safe should anxiety threaten to dominate.
With hindsight this is one of the biggest mistakes I will ever make: I am not yet aware of just how caustic the consequences would become, or what might result from such a close extended association first with my mother and then my father, who joins the business shortly afterwards. Anxieties may briefly recede in my twenties but still hover unseen, constant companions increasingly inflamed by proximity to adults whose ideals became progressively more alien to my own. Expression is progressively stifled, silenced by responsibility. My perception slowly warps, slow curve inwards, away from the light of quality and towards parody and unoriginality. The distractions of reality serve only to compound the problem.
The seed inside remained shrouded in self-imposed darkness.
My father and I find a new topic of conversation: ‘Personal Computers’, machines that one day I hope posses the capacity to do things I could only currently experience as fiction. Here was my childhood future made real, breathless possibilities and access to the World itself. When he presented me with the offer to buy myself and my partner a brand new machine I didn’t consider any ulterior motive. Still thinking as a nine year old, I grasped a way to experience a larger Universe outside of personal gravity. It never occurred that he might be trying to buy back some of the time that was lost with me as a child.
Neither did I grasp that I was being slowly pulled away from what it was I’d planned for my life, weighed down by a duvet of both practicality and duty. The technology created an impression of freedom, that I was independent and empowered, but in the end it was simply a distraction from a truth brain remained unwilling to grasp. I may have felt this was growing up, but work and gifts simply acted as distraction, confining the sickly girl to bed a little longer. By the time I understood what had happened, the damage had already been done. Sadness became something far more dark and insidious, and threatened to consume me completely.
I haven’t had an asthma attack for nearly a year.
My daughter has just turned two. My eldest son is seven, and the nightmares of my twenties are receding. I have a new and utterly glorious set of distractions: work has become my husband’s worry. The irony of him taking control of my parents’ business via a management buyout is never lost on me, that ultimately their need to ensure I was safe has been fulfilled. I have travelled a long road to be here: loathing and self doubt, anger and disbelief, finally compounded with Post Natal Depression. There is finally a name for my sadness, and one man to thank for saving me. My husband’s devotion has been unwavering, his love a constant reminder, if it was needed, that my worth as a person is measured by my actions, and not mistakes.
Finally, with the right conditions, the long-dormant literary seed begins to germinate.
From the radio I learn that Arthur C. Clarke has died. Sitting as my daughter sleeps next to me, staring at a computer screen, I begin to cry uncontrollably. Somehow, between the first time his book was picked up and now, I truly lost my way. What mattered so much in those early days, that talking and telling is far more important than simply standing back and listening, was erroneously put aside. Allowing the demands of others to overtake what granted me the ability to overcome my anxieties was simply wrong. With my parents that resulted in resentment and bitterness, but with the birth of my own children I know the opportunity exists to start again. The impetus is simple: writing makes me happy. Without it, something is missing, has been for far too long.
I finally awaken to my own possibilities.
Twenty five years worth of scattered attempts, fragments on hard drives and archived on CD’s has never been fully realised. When I am able to move past the fear and the uncertainty of my own mortality, that constant fragility, I know what must be done. In this quiet moment without the distractions of work, family or briefly life itself, I make a promise. I will no longer allow the world to distract me from my task. I begin here and now, allowing confidence to find its own direction.
So many other things have evolved in the last thirty-two years, yet this transformation has just begun. I no longer need a publisher to make words appear around the world, all that is required is a computer and a grasp of technology. My father gave me these gifts: a love of words and the means to spread them with so that I can sit and create a web page: it is one small step to combine all that I have learnt.
I may yet forgive my parents for what has gone before.
Publishing my first blog entry, I take my giant leap into a larger Universe.