The challenge today is to write about writing.
In my childhood I was an avid reader. Without the internet, mobile phones or even television, there seemed to be fewer distractions. It seems strange to write that now, even a little bleak, although at the time I don’t ever remember being bored. On the contrary there was never enough time to do all that I wanted to do.
I recall that being ill was a great way to catch up on a book or two because when you were ill you were sent to bed and that was were you stayed until you got better, between spoonfuls of syrup and mugs of chicken stock. When I had devoured all the books I had chosen in the library I flipped through magazines and dog-eared pages of the family Encyclopaedias and dictionaries until I was finally well enough to leave the bedroom and return to school.
My first real attempt at writing was a national competition for schoolchildren and although I’d written numerous short stories and poems before, this was, for me, a very long story, ten to fifteen handwritten pages long.
All I recall about that story was that it was about a cat that became sentient. Unfortunately it didn’t leave a lasting impression, either on me, or on anyone else for that matter.
It wasn’t a very good story and although I finished it and sent it off I don’t remember getting any feedback on it.
Photocopying was not generally available at the time. I might have made a few notes, but the only real traces are those that should be somewhere in my mind, but I can’t recall them.
I think it put me off writing for many years but life is never that simple is it.
Thinking about that story now illustrates an important lesson but I’ll come back to that before I leave you.
So life and school continued and I read my way into my teens through phases.
The adventure phase slid into the crime novels phase which morphed into the Science-Fiction and Fantasy phase.
I loved how those intense crazy books stretched the limits of my imagination and allowed me to travel to different challenging worlds or discover dystopian visions of how our own world could become.
Then I started looking at the girl next door in different ways. Noticing details that I had previously missed. The way she walked, the sound of her voice or the way she pouted her lips.
Over the weeks and months I noticed her girlfriends and other girls that I crossed on the streets. Then it was girls in magazines, girls from abroad, girls with different skin colours, girls with different hair, girls with different shaped eyes.
Girl after girl. Crush after crush. It became a full blown preoccupation, interrupted solely by schoolwork, mealtimes and far too early-to-bed times.
As you can see, I’m often distracted from the task I’ve been given. I set out earlier to write about writing and here I am lost in girls and adolescent infatuations.
Staying focused has always been one of my biggest problems, specially when my mind comes across an obstacle. Rather than drilling through it or climbing over it, I have an annoying tendency just to skirt around it, leave it for another day, or just find something completely different to do.
As far as writing is concerned I think it’s impossible to determine exactly why I left it aside for so long and equally difficult to say with certainty why I decided to take up writing again after so many years.
I promised to expand on the lesson I referred to earlier.
I wrote a long story in my teens. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. I should have realised at the time that I had clearly demonstrated that I knew how to write a story, I only had to continue writing better stories or even to indulge in the pleasure of just writing.
I remember reading recently that you should write your first ‘bad’ book from start to finish just so you can say to yourself that you’d succeeded in writing a book.
Knowing that you were capable of writing a book you should then put that into practice by writing the book that you really wanted to write.
That’s great advice but somehow I already know that I’m capable of writing, not one, but many books.
Did you see what I did there? I’ve just admitted that I’m going to write my first book.