It’s the same old cliché isn’t it, when someone tells you that they have wanted to be a certain profession from as far back as they can remember. You see it all the time on shows like Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor, singers telling us, “I was singing before I was out of nappies”, when they are barely out of nappies as it stands. Or musicians, claiming they were banging a drum fresh out of the womb and a dancer recounting anecdotes of a tutu clad baby, performing dance routines for their nursery class. And although I hate clichés, and roll my eyes with the rest of you at these kind of tales, I can’t help but confess that when it comes to writing, it is genuinely all I have ever wanted to do.
My mum loves to tell the story of the time that aged four, during a class discussion at school, the teacher asked us what we would like to be when we grew up. And whilst the other children dreamt of being a princess or a ballerina, I stood infront of my entire class and told them that I wanted to be an author.
Because even then, as a small child, writing stories was my favourite thing to do. From the first moment that I learned to hold a pencil (albeit a special triangle one as my fingers just would not co-operate with a round one!) I starting writing and I didn’t stop.
I’ll never forget my mum buying me my first type writer, aged six. It was a little blue one in its own carry case with a white plastic handle, bought second-hand from the school jumble sale. And I thought that it was the best present I had ever received, even better than my Cabbage Patch Kid doll which, believe you and me, was my favourite toy in all the world. I had raced home as fast as my little legs could carry me, my mum rushing along behind me, the type writer bashing against her legs as she told me to slow down. And I had rushed up the stairs, set up the type writer on my old wooden desk that my Grandad had lovingly made for me, rolled in a fresh sheet of crisp, white paper and off I went. I banged away on that old typewriter for hours each day, typing out page after page of smudged black text, writing stories and poems, some of which still hang on my mums notice board to this day.
Aged ten I had asked Father Christmas for an electric typewriter, certain that with this I would be able to escalate my career to the next step! I had been pre-warned that, at the time, a present such as this cost a lot of money and not to be too disappointed if Father Christmas hadn’t left it for me on Christmas morning. So I felt as though I had hit the jackpot when there it was waiting for me on Christmas morning, wrapped in red foil paper and tied with a huge silver bow. And whilst my friends were out on their roller skates, playing tag or hide and seek, I sat in my bedroom jabbing away at the keys, writing books about boarding school, magical lands and other mystical stories that I had read about from Enid Blyton.
I wrote my first book aged eleven with my best friend from primary school, Rachael. We would tear the pages out of our school exercise book, feigning innocence when our teacher questioned why our books were becoming so thin. We called it The Terrible Twins and wrote about Alexandra and Elizabeth and the mischief that they got up to. It took us hours to write it, weeks of drawing childish illustrations, lovingly coloured in with our felt tip pens that smelled of strawberries. I would love to know what happened to that book, it was our pride and joy, even more so now that Rachael is no longer with us and the memory of it even more precious. I love that we still talked about that book years later, funnily enough it popped up on my TimeHop yesterday morning, imagining a time when we were so naïve that writing books for a living was ever an option.
But I didn’t just write, I read too. Anything and everything that I could get my hands on, I still do. From Topsy and Tim, through the entire works of Enid Blyton and on to Judy Blume before I had even left primary school. I will never forget the embarrassment of being asked to read out loud to the teacher and realising that the only book I had with me was Are you there God, its me Margaret? Reading to your teacher about bras and periods was not something that any ten old would intentionally choose to do!
By the age of eleven I had read every children’s book in our local library and my Mum was asked to sign a special form to say that I would be allowed to move on to the adult section. There I discovered Virginia Andrews, fell in love with the Flowers in the attic series, cried for Cathy and Chris and the twins, and the more I read the more I told myself that one day, I would write a book of my very own.
At high school I looked forward to every English lesson without fail. While my friends moaned about reading Shakespeare or the prospect of writing another story, I read the entire book cover to cover on the first night we got it and wrote ten pages of a story that I didn’t want to end. I went on to study A Level English at college and it was inevitable that I studied English and Writing at university several years later.
Throughout my pregnancy with Lewis I began to keep an on-line journal, documenting our journey, our days as a little family and the events that followed. After losing Joseph my writing became a form of therapy, an outpouring of grief, and I wrote and I wrote, putting down every thought in my head, trying to find a way to make sense of it all.
And then one day, as my marriage ended and my dreams for the future crushed, I simply stopped writing.
Call it writers block, call it heartbreak, call it what you like. I just didn’t have it in me anymore. I had no motivation, no enthusiasm, no words to express how I was feeling. Weeks passed, months flew by and eventually, it simply slipped away from me.
Opportunites came along, amazing opportunities, that I passed up on along the way. Not only was it far too painful for me to even begin to write about certain subjects and share those thoughts with others, I no longer believed in myself that I could do it.
And then Gaz came along, and children came along and as we all know, the time just passes us by. “You should write a book”, my friends would tell me, “You used to love writing!” and yet I would look around at my little ones, knee deep in nappies, barely managing to keep my eyes open, and I would tell them, “Maybe one day….”.
It’s very hard as a writer to find that confidence to be able to put yourself out there and share your work. I think that a lot of people will confess to having written a few lines here and there, penned a few poems in their teenage years, wrote stories that they would never dream of sharing. And so to lay it out there for others to read, and inevitably to critique, is hugely nerve-wracking. Even when writing fiction, there is always an element of truth in every story line or a little piece of you in each character. To put it out there, particularly when sharing factual writing of your own life, is very hard and I think that for a long time, I held back a great deal.
When I fell poorly last Summer and the neurological symptoms worsened, I started to worry that I was allowing this illness to win. I found myself forgetting words, jumbling my sentences and losing the ability to focus and concentrate as I once had. It was for this reason that I started a blog, something to keep my brain ticking over, a little something to focus on and document my life with the children along the way. It was entirely for me at the time and yet when people began to show an interest I was completely taken aback. I never for one minute thought that anyone would be interested in what I had to say, let alone that they would take my little doves into their hearts.
And now, incredulously – all thanks to my blog – new opportunities are coming my way and I am absolutely ready to grasp them with both hands. I am flattered, excited and filled with anticipation of where this may lead and that the prospect of actually doing something that I love for a living is no longer just a childish daydream.
I suppose the fact of the matter is that without a reader, a writer would never have the audience to launch their career. And although I am only tentatively beginning to take the first steps towards mine, I have all of you lovely people to thank for making this a possibility!!