I wrote a few stories as a child. Mostly they dealt with grand themes such as giant robots taking over the earth. Everyone always died horribly at the end. At the age of ten, I wrote a story for a competition in ‘The Pony’ magazine, which was supposed to be about the future of the horse. In my story, the earth had suffered a nuclear apocalypse and everything had perished. I painted a moving picture of the last horse dying in the icy wind, guarding the body of her dead foal. It ended:
Earth’s last horse was dead.
Earth was dead.
It didn’t win.
I entered a poetry competition at school – no, that’s not true. I was given to understand that failure to enter the poetry competition was not an option. The subjects were typically girlie – Clouds, Magic, Kittens – that sort of thing.
After not very much thought and even less interest, I came up with the following, thus doing for cannibalism what Hannibal Lechter did for flower arranging.
In the jungle dark and deep
A cannibal village lies asleep.
But there among the cooking pots
A man’s dead body hangs and rots.
With bones and blood all strewn around
The village sleeps without a sound.
And then, next morning, they awoke
And took the body down to soak
In blood, for over half an hour.
Then coated it in self-raising flour.
Then the women sat and licked it
But the rival village came and nicked it,
So that was the end of that.
A definite improvement in style over Earth Apocalypse, I think everyone will agree. Samuel Taylor Coleridge had Kubla Khan and I had The Cannibal Village. You can see how people would easily confuse the two.
I’d changed schools by this time so a completely different teacher was able to put a red line through my one and only poem and write ‘See me’ at the bottom. I sometimes think the teaching profession was never grateful for the opportunities I offered them.
Most of my school essays were returned with ‘See me’ written at the bottom. Or occasionally at the top if they were particularly exasperated. I do remember having an entire story rubbed out by my form teacher – we wrote in pencil in those days – because, she said, it was full of slang and inappropriate language. It was my second year at junior school and I would have been seven or eight so I’m not sure entirely sure how inappropriate my language could have been. The story concerned a group of children forming a gang to rescue a donkey and she objected to ‘gangs’.
Out of a desire to be as irritating as possible, I put together a little something in which seven year old children spoke to each other in beautifully phrased, well-rounded and grammatically correct sentences (or as close as I could get at the age of eight) and with the vocabulary of the Poet Laureate.
She didn’t like that, either. I saw her again.
Mostly, however, it all went on inside my head – which I think we have already established is not a tremendously healthy place to foster ideas. I was far too impatient to sit down and physically write anything, so in my head it all stayed. And then I had to go to work. And then I had to work some more and it all just got buried.
It wasn’t until I painted that wall in Harrogate – and I really feel there should be some sort of plaque erected. Or a small statue, perhaps – that it all became too much to hold in any longer and I started to write, the results of which you see before you today.
So while it’s not true to say I’ve always written, I have always dreamed.